Last March over at the Mookse and Gripes Goodreads group we had a bit of fun with the first run of Mookse Madness. I set up a competition unoriginally based on NCAA Basketball’s March Madness, pitting 64 books against each other in a single elimination tournament. There were four sections, each with 16 books: 1800s, 1900-1949, 1950-1989, and 1990-present. The winner? Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, which beat Middlemarch in a tough finals match. I was surprised, but not sad, that these two met in the finals, for it meant that somewhere down the line books like 2666, The Master and Margarita, The Age of Innocence, The Rings of Saturn. And though he won the Nobel Prize last year, Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day failed to make the finals in Mookse Madness!
We are doing the tournament again this year, but not with novels this time. This is Mookse Madness: Short Stories. Here is the thread that announced the list and where you can find further information.
Below are the 64 short stories that will be fighting against each other for the championship in our second season, and for the first time I’m revealing the four groups (or brackets, as we call them in the U.S. at this time of year). What we have is a list of classic and contemporary stories, no author getting more than one on the list (even if many deserve it), and the story selected may not be the one that author is most famous for.
Our goal is modest. It is not to figure out what the all-time greatest short story is. To the extent there is a greatest short story, it’s likely not on the list. If it is on the list, it’s likely many of us will fail to see its virtues. No, as a group our goal is simply to engage with a variety of stories, having fun and hopefully lively, vigorous, and courteous conversations about stories in our literary culture and what one means to us personally, facilitated by this completely bonkers format that forces us to compares apples to oranges, just to see what there is to see. This is particularly hard, but fun, when two favorites face off. It forces us to make a choice and really think about that choice. Or not! One can simply flip a coin — there are no rules!
It would be impossible to make a list that everyone is happy with, so I didn’t try too hard. But a bit on how this list was — well, more like, was not — formulated. I tried to select authors folks are likely to have come across and stories I thought people could get behind and enjoy. To reiterate: this list was not made with the intention of defining the most worthy or the most representative or the most exemplary or the most important short stories. The list was not made with the intent of shedding light on unfairly neglected authors and their masterpieces. I went to many many lists of “best of” (and the group’s own suggestions), and while doing so I purposefully made a list that contains an equal number of male and female authors, but that was about the only hard and fast criterion. A casualty of this approach is most other kinds of diversity. I didn’t, for example, check year or country of origin or race, and I’d be happy if we addressed this failing and what, as a culture, we’re missing out on when such stories and authors rarely if ever get general cultural attention.
When the time came to start slashing, I did away with some that probably should have been on the list — like Carver and Cheever: sometimes the greats stumble at the finish and fail to get into the tournament. Feel free to chat about surprising exclusions or inclusions below or, better yet, over at the group thread! The list will not change (but go ahead and winge appropriately!).
I know the most helpful thing will be the diagram of the matches and the schedule, but I’ll get those up within the week. For now, see what you think of the list. Read these stories! Join in the fun! Tell your friends!
I hope this yields some great conversations but also some great discoveries!
- Amy Bloom: “The Story”
- Elizabeth Bowen: “The Demon Lover”
- Julio Cortázar: “The Island at Noon”
- Alice Eliot Dark: “In the Gloaming”
- Louise Erdrich: “Sister Godzilla”
- Neil Gaiman: “Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar”
- Claire Keegan: “Foster”
- Katherine Mansfield: “The Fly”
- Ian McEwan: “Dead as They Come”
- John McGahern: “The Beginning of an Idea”
- Tim O’Brien: “The Things They Carried”
- Frank O’Connor: “Michael’s Wife”
- Vladimir Nabokov: “Signs and Symbols”
- Annie Proulx: “Them Old Cowboy Songs”
- Jean Rhys: “La Grosse Fifi”
- Saki: “The Open Window”
- Sherwood Anderson: “Death in the Woods”
- Isaac Asimov: “Nightfall”
- Honoré de Balzac: “A Passion in the Desert”
- Jorge Luis Borges: “The Lottery of Babylon”
- Willa Cather: “Paul’s Case”
- Roald Dahl: “A Man from the South”
- Andre Dubus: “A Father’s Story”
- Deborah Eisenberg: “Mermaids”
- Franz Kafka: “In the Penal Colony”
- Jhumpa Lahiri: “A Temporary Matter”
- Maile Meloy: “Travis, B.”
- Alice Munro: “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”
- George Saunders: “The Semplica-Girl Diaries”
- Elizabeth Taylor: “A Dedicated Man”
- Kurt Vonnegut: “Harrison Bergeron”
- Tobias Wolf: “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs”
- Robert Aickman: “The Inner Room”
- Margaret Atwood: “Rape Fantasies”
- Isaac Babel: “The Story of My Dovecoat”
- Andrea Barrett: “Servants of the Map”
- Truman Capote: “A Tree of Night”
- Leonora Carrington: “The Debutante”
- Kate Chopin: “A Pair of Silk Stockings”
- William Faulkner: “A Rose for Emily”
- Alistair MacLeod: “The Boat”
- Guy de Maupassant: “The Necklace”
- Jill McCorkle: “Intervention”
- Stephen Millhauser: “Eisenheim the Illusionist”
- Bharati Mukherjee: “The Management of Grief”
- Edgar Allan Poe: “The Tell-Tale Heart”
- Eudora Whelty: “Death of a Travelling Salesman”
- Joy Williams: “The Skater”
- Roberto Bolaño: “Gomez Palacio”
- Ambrose Bierce: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
- Angela Carter: “The Bloody Chamber”
- Mavis Gallant: “Dede”
- John Gardner: “Redemption”
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman: “The Yellow Wallpaper”
- Ursula K. LeGuin: “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”
- Jack London: “To Build a Fire”
- H.P. Lovecraft: “The Call of Cthulhu”
- Lorrie Moore: “People Like That Are the Only People Here”
- Joyce Carol Oates: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”
- Edna O’Brien: “Sister Imelda”
- Flannery O’Connor: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
- Tillie Olsen: “I Stand Here Ironing”
- Katherine Anne Porter: “The Grave”
- William Trevor: “The Piano Tuner’s Wives”
This is a great idea. With 64 novels, people can’t really participate without doing a lot of reading. But with short stories, if you have not read them yet, there is time to do it and participate. My quick count tells me I have read 16 of the 64 on the list. That leaves a lot I have not read, but it sounds like this might be fun. Even if reading 64 stories is too much, once it is down to 8 everyone should be able to make time to read just that many.
One side note, less than a year ago a stage adaptation of Alistair MacLeod’s “The Boat” had its world premiere. It was an excellent show and was my introduction to the story, which I read for the first time after seeing the play. If a production ever comes your way, I highly recommend it.
Thanks, David (and glad to see you joining over at Goodreads too — I think you’ll like the folks there!). I’m very interested in seeing “The Boat.” I had no idea it had been adapted for the stage. I’m officially jealous!
Trevor, I love “Rape Fantasies” and “Travis, B.”!…surprised to see no Hemingway or Fitzgerald….and picking only one Munro story must have been so hard!