Released in 1959, Goodbye, Columbus won the 1960 National Book Award and helped to launch the career of one of the greatest living American authors. The title novella is terrific and everything you’d expect from Roth—sad, funny, and thought-provoking. Bonus points for “The Conversion of The Jews,” which is one of the five included short stories.
2. Tumble Home, by Amy Hempel
It would have been difficult to make this list without including Tumble Home. For the Hempl-ites out there, it’s important if only for the fact that it’s the longest uninterrupted period we can have with Amy’s writing. Yes, I am aware that I am talking about her work as if it were a drug. Yes, I’m okay with that.
3. The Pedersen Kid, by William Gass
Gass is one of the (or at least one of my) meta-fiction godfathers. The Pedersen Kid, taken from the collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, is absurd and very well-written. It’s one of my favorite things to read when it’s snowing.
4. Hapworth 16, 1924, by J.D. Salinger
It’s always with some pause that I call J.D. Salinger one of my writing heroes, because on more than one occasion I’ve actually wished for his death, just so I’d get a chance to read more of his supposedly hidden-away work. Hapworth is the least well-known of his long-format “published” material, and for anyone who’s interested in the Glass family, this is an important read because we get to see Seymour as child.
5. Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, by Herman Melville
This piece holds a special place in my heart because when we read it in college, we went on a week-long binge where we answered everything with the infamous response, “I would prefer not to.” Our writing teacher was not amused. We were.
6. The Dead, by James Joyce
A great way to get into Joyce (read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man next) if you’re so inclined. A haunting story and one of the few times, in my opinion, that the use of epiphany is done so in an organic and believable way.
7. Carrying the Body, by Dawn Raffel
Technically, Carrying the Body is a novel, but considering it’s shorter than most of the works on this list, I didn’t have an issue with putting it on here. Dawn Raffel isn’t my favorite author—I don’t even like Carrying the Body all that much—but what she’s doing is such an extreme form of minimalism that it deserves to be read, just to be able to take note of the results. I dig boundary-pushing and Raffel is an extremist.
8. The Former World Record Holder Settles Down, by Courtney Eldridge
From the collection Unkempt, a solid group of stories. This is a novella about a former porn star, once (in)famous for having sex with 197 men, now trying to lead a normal, happy life. Eldridge deserves a wider audience, and The Former World Record Holder Settles Down is proof why.
9. In the Penal Colony, by Franz Kafka
I am tired of In the Penal Colony playing second fiddle to The Metamorphosis. The Metamorphosis is overly dramatic, supremely unrealistic, and boring. I recognize that In the Penal Colony is not quite novella length, but I don’t care. I will no longer call the collection its usually bundled in The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. From now on, the new title is: In the Penal Colony and Other Stories, and yes, The Metamorphosis is one of them.
10. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Find me someone who hasn’t read A Christmas Carol and/or doesn’t know the premise. It’s impossible. It is the world’s most famous novella, hands down.
Born and raised in The Bronx, Joe Stracci now lives in Purchase, NY, where he’s at work on Whitney, his first novel. A section of it will be published in an upcoming issue of Alaska Quarterly Review. Find him at Artificial Night: Greetings from the Apocalypse.