After perhaps five and a half decades of reading stories and three or more of publishing them, I’m still no closer to knowing how to choose my favourites, let alone the best. There’s part of me – not a part I much like if I’m being honest – which would have loved to be able to select a dozen perfect stories, each one building on the previous to show, cumulatively, what the form can do, while simultaneously offering a short history of its evolution. Well, not me; not today. After all, the people who want that can just go out and buy A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders, a magical book which raises the art of close-reading to near-mystical levels of insight and pleasure. I decided the only way I could do this was to be honest. What follows are almost certainly not the best stories I’ve read. I wince at the omissions (no Saunders, Cheever, Moore, Munro). No, this is a list divided roughly into stories that have lived inside me for a long time and those which I’ve read more recently and can’t shake off. 
Maybe people who know me well will see some kind of unifying taste emerge from my selection. I don’t. In fact, as I get older, I find I care less about the meaning of stories. Once I saw them as hieroglyphs encoding important human truths.  Now, the less they ‘mean’ the better. I might be wrong about this, or maybe I’m just getting lazy, but what I increasingly like about stories – and I’m reading more of them now than I ever have – is that they exist at all: small, opaque distorting reflections of life. As Edmund Burke once said of poetry, they lend existence to nothing. Or, to adapt Wallace Stevens, the meaning of a story is another story. You have been warned.

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