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You've Got to Read This: Contemporary American Writers Introduce Stories that Held Them in Awe
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You've Got to Read This: Contemporary American Writers Introduce Stories that Held Them in Awe

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  431 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Thirty-four of America's most distinguished fiction writers--including Oscar Hijuelos, John Irving, and Joyce Carol Oates--introduce the short stories that inspired them most.
Paperback, 640 pages
Published September 17th 1994 by Harper Perennial (first published 1994)
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4.12  · 
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 ·  431 ratings  ·  53 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Mar 02, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Short stories are the three minute singles of the literary world and anyone who has been pasted to the wall by the furious power of 19th Nervous Breakdown or the limpid beauty of Waterloo Sunset and yet hasn't managed to keep awake during an entire Stones or Kinks album will know what I mean. A great short story has a pungency and a pure serendipity. Alas, though, for every Paint It Black there are a couple of Angies (ouch) and for every Lola there's a few Plasticmen (ecch).

So it is with every
Jul 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
just received this from Paul Bryant - thanks. It's massive (600 big p) - I can see this taking up most of February. Looks tasty, but the Biblical style of the book (Awe), the weight, puts me off reading it in public.

a bunch of fantastic stories on the whole. Will do a proper review soon. (Tomorrow I hope).

Where to start? This review will be a work in progress as it'll take me a couple of days (United are on tonight). Firstly I'd read half-ish of the stories (17), but thought I'd re-read all but
Dec 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Buddy Read With Jenny

An anthology perfectly titled. If you love short stories then, yes, you've got to read this. Thirty-five American contemporary authors (many familiar to me and some not) were asked to choose one short story that "left them breathless, held them in awe, or otherwise enthralled them when they first read it." Writers' writers. How can you go wrong?

It's a BIG book (615 pages) so Jenny and I chose to take it on as a team--we decided to read one story per night and then discuss the merits, favorite l
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jul 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: Mikki
I've been reading this throughout the months with my reading buddy Mikki, and for a more detailed discussion you can read our comments on both our reviews (see below). It is SO HARD to talk about this anthology. For the most part, these stories were fantastic, some because of the visuals and beautiful writing, some because of the completely disturbing twists or ends, some because of the well-written raw characters.

My absolutely favorite story has to be "Reflection" by Angela Carter. The concept
Oct 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: short story lovers
This is my favorite collection of short stories. The choices range from classic to contemporary and each story is introduced by the writer who chose it. The introductions lend an extra layer of enjoyment to most of them. We used this as the anthology for our short story discussions in the constant reader group until we'd read them all and it was a perfect fit for us. However, I would also recommend it simply as a good read for anyone who loves the short story form.
Susie Findell
May 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: had-to-own
I read about this book in a New York Times article about the five books you should never pack away and I was intrigued. So I ordered it from the library and started reading it. I couldn't read the first short story (it was about calves being led to a slaughterhouse; it is a parable). But the next short story was spell binding.

The great thing about this book is well respected contemporary writers each introduce the short story that awed and impacted them. Based on the recommendation to reading th
Sep 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This is one of the best anthologies of short stories I've ever found. The editors sought out many talented writers to ask which stories had inspired them over the years, and each story is accompanied by an explanation by its recommender about why they love it so much. So the book combines wonderful fiction and insight into the reading tastes of several important authors. It's a good concept with a great result.
Nov 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who writes
Shelves: lit
Read this in Kerry Madden's class and I owe her for Tillie Olson. Don't always agree with what the writers who picked the stories say about them, but it's clear that we gather our muses and inspirations from very personal places.
Dec 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading this book for many months. It's huge, but short stories are perfect during busy times.

I liked all these stories -- all chosen by other writers, who do introductions to each story; some of the writers both chose someone else's and a story of theirs is also chosen and introduced by another author -- but a few just knocked my socks off. I was surprised in a few instances: I absolutely loved Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," which I thought would've too familiar for me to really enjoy
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite collections of short stories and contains several stories that I read over and over. Each story in the collection is recommended by a famous fiction writer as a story that overwhelmed them with its impact and accomplishment. I'll identify some of the stories that I go back and reread because they affected me so much. Donald Barthelme's "The School" is a mere two and a half pages but they are perfection. A school teacher explains to us in an escalating and evolutionary ...more
Jan 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
For some reason, I'm having a difficult time finishing this collection. I keep reading it on and off — usually off. I like anthologies and short fiction, but something about this one makes me want to put it down after a story or two. Many of the selections I've read (I was halfway through) have been good to great. I'll continue this when I feel the urge to do so.

(Updated to May 20, 2009)

Many of the stories in this anthology reward a close but quick reading. Oftentimes, English students and would
Jul 05, 2010 rated it liked it
This book was just too heavy. Sad, but true. I did read the three shortest stories so I could feel better about returning it after making it sit on my nightstand for 4 months.

Favorite Quotes:

One day, we had a discussion in class. They asked me, where did they go? The trees, the salamander, the tropical fish, Edgar, the poppas and mommas, Matthew and Tony, where did they go? And I said, I don't know, I don't know. And they said, who knows? and I said, nobody knows. And they said, is death that w
David Fleming
Jul 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing

If you love, I mean love, you some short stories, then you've got to read this! It's a collection of short stories selected by established writers at the time of this book's printing. It first caught my attention when I learned it was being used as an ad hoc textbook for the undergraduate creative writing students at Iowa University. My thinking was, "Hey, good enough for the Iowa Workshop, good enough for me."

And it was! This collection really speaks to what the short st
Sep 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
This is the book that I have been reading before I go to bed, for a month or so, and I am very glad to have read this book, as all the stories are good, and some are even great.

Among the stories in this collection that I had read before are “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien (arguably the best Vietnam War story ever written) and “No Place for You, My Love” by Eudora Welty. I loved some of the stories I read here for the first time, such as “A Mother’s Tale” by James Agee, “The School” by D
Sara Q
Nov 14, 2010 marked it as to-read
Found on WorldCat while searching for Borges' short story The Aleph.

Checked out a library copy and had it just long enough to read the Aleph story - which was amazing. The whole book seems like a really clever idea for an anthology -- well-known contemporary writers select and introduce a short story that influenced them. Oscar Hijuelos introduced The Aleph as the story that made him want to be a writer. There are many other great writers represented in the collection as both selected and select
May 09, 2008 added it
A very good, even excellent, anthology that has pretty strong selections, some classics and some less well-known.

The element that sets it above many similar anthologies are the prefaces to each story, written by a leading contemporary author. The preface to John Cheever's "Goodbye, My Brother" by Allan Gurganus is a marvelous piece of writing in its own right, and as good of a preface/encomium as I've found.

One important note: read the story before you read the preface. Most of them have spoile
Apr 25, 2014 rated it liked it
In the introduction I think it's mentioned that the stories in this collection are supposed to be stories not often anthologized, often overlooked. Additionally, a reference was made to the fact that some preferred stories couldn't be put in, for whatever copyright, etc, reasons. Because of these factors, I think this anthology isn't as strong as many others I've read. Sadly, most of the stories here I will forget I ever read.

These were the few that stood out:

"Pie Dance" by Molly Giles
"The Small
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The title pretty much explains itself. The way that worked best for me was to read the story, then read the introduction by the author who selected it, then read the story again. This anthology brought me to several stories I now read annually or biennially. In ascending order of amazement.

A Distant Episode - Paul Bowles
Cathedral - Raymond Carver
A Good Man is Hard to Find - Flannery O'Connor
The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
The School - Donald Barthelme

and always

I Stand Here Ironing - Tillie
Feb 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is a great anthology that doesn't follow a specific theme but rather goes into all tiny corners of short fiction. I loved some of the stories and dreaded others but each one taught me something new. Worth noting: don't read more than one / day, the styles are very different (since we're talking about different authors too).
Nov 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
The thirty-five short stories in this collection were chosen and introduced by thirty-five writers of great distinction. Many of the stories collected in this volume are often anthologized, while others are less known. This collection represents a literary community with a diverse range of voices, time periods, experiences and styles, but all with a common devotion to story.

Lavinia Petrache
Feb 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is a great anthology that doesn't follow a specific theme but rather goes into all tiny corners of short fiction. I loved some of the stories and dreaded others but each one taught me something new. Worth noting: don't read more than one / day, the styles are very different (since we're talking about different authors too).
Jul 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: short story fans, literature lovers
Okay, I'll admit I didn't read this whole 600-page volume. But I was recently reminded how much I loved the strange and haunting story "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" by Delmore Schwartz. And also how wonderful short stories can be for busy readers. The introductions by other authors add depth and appreciation.
Sherry (sethurner)
Oct 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this with two other online book friends, and really enjoyed the collection. What was really nice for me was the short introduction to the writer by the author who chose the story. One that made a big impact on me was the very brief story by Alice Walker called "The Flowers." The combination of familiar and unfamiliar writers (to me) was a real plus. Thumbs up.
Nov 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I'll admit - I read this a long time ago, but it made a huge impression. I loved the idea of peeking into the minds of contemporary authors and learning what inspired them, and maybe shaped some stories that I loved to read... Many of them liked stories that I had also read, but often for different reasons. I learned a lot abou tthe authors, and about the stories themselves.
Aug 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading this book for 9 years. It has some of the world's best short stories in it. This book is responsible for introducing me to the greats (Grace Paley, Ray Carver, Flannery O'Connor, James Baldwin.) Every year I treat myself to a few more of its stories.
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Really great way to learn about authors you may not have read, as recommended by authors you already know and like. And you don't have to read a whole long book- just a short story or an excerpt. Good for lazy people who love to read!
Oct 16, 2007 added it
Picked up the book this afternoon and inhaled seven of the short stories. Reading the introductory essays is interesting and where I don't necessarily agree, I'm enjoying the insights and perspectives on the stories.
Robin Yaklin
Jul 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-story
Another one that sits within fingertip reach. It is an introduction to a wide variety of authors and contains a graph or two or three justifying their selection from the contemporary writers who chose them.
Celeste Ng
Jun 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
The stories themselves are great, but the passages that introduce each are what sets this anthology apart--each contemporary writer explains why he or she chose this particular story, providing insights you don't find anywhere else.
Abby Peck
Jan 30, 2008 rated it liked it
This book was so big and overwhelming to me, I picked out several stories that I really enjoyed but think the idea behind it (authors introducing short stories they really like) would have been better served in smaller volumns and maybe one a year for several years.
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Hansen was born in Omaha, Nebraska, attended a Jesuit high school, Creighton Preparatory School and earned a Bachelor's degree in English from Creighton University in Omaha in 1970. Following military service, he earned an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1974 and held a Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship at Stanford University. He later earned an M.A. in Spirituality from Santa ...more