The 30 Best Short Stories You Can Read On Your Commute

If you commute to work every day on public transportation, you know that the time you spend on a crowded bus or underground is not always the most pleasant part of your day. But, short stories make it much more fun. They’re engrossing, they’re entertaining, you can usually read them in one sitting, and hey, they’ll probably even make you smarter. Here, we’ve collected thirty of our favorite stories — all available to read or download instantaneously, all by women, all truly brilliant — just waiting to be gobbled up on your next ride to work. Happy travels!


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"North Of " Marie-Helene Bertino

In this story, a perfect blend of the fantastic and the realist traditions, a girl brings Bob Dylan home for Thanksgiving dinner. No, the real Bob Dylan. And you thought your family get-togethers were weird affairs.
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"In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried," Amy Hempel

One of the most widely anthologized short stories, and for good reason. After all, it's a funny story that's also about death, grief, and love, but utterly devoid of cliché or over-sentimentality. Hempel is a contemporary master, and, though you'll undoubtedly read her entire life's work, this is the place to start.
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"Labyrinth," Amelia Gray

There's no one quite like Amelia Gray. In this story, told in her signature detached, winking style, a town puzzles over a labyrinth and what might be at its center. Plus, it's short, so even you lucky commuters who only have a quick hop will be able to get a dose of good story weirdness before work.
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"The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis," Karen Russell

Be warned: this story will creep you out. A group of boys find a life-size facsimile of a boy they used to bully in their regular hangout, prompting some to think about what they've done, and some, not so much. A long one, for trips to your favorite place (or far away from it).
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"Marion," Emma Cline

A striking short story about two girls and their budding sexuality on a pot grower's ranch. You'll think about this one for days.
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"Stone Animals," Kelly Link

In this story, a family moves into a new house only to find that their things (toothbrush, soap, King Spanky the cat) are slowly becoming, well, haunted. Also, the lawn seems to be infested with rabbits. This is a longer one, some 30 pages, so it can either take you to work and back home again, or you can sink into it for a lengthy ride. But, beware: if you plan to keep the second half until the end of the day, you might end up reading it under your desk.
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"Likable," Deb Olin Unferth

So short you can read it between subway stops, but one you won't forget, whether you're growing more likable or more unlikeable by the day.
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"Man V. Nature," Diane Cook

It's like the beginning of a joke: three men are stranded on a lifeboat. They've been on an annual boys' weekend, but one of them, it soon becomes clear, is not well-liked by the other two. But, while this story is often funny, as a good joke should be, it also spools out into an arresting look at humanity and delusion and one desperate man's search for connection.
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"Between the Pool and the Gardenias," Edwidge Danticat

A harrowing, deeply affecting story of a woman who finds a baby on the street and tries her best to make it her own.
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"Tributaries," Ramona Ausubel

Imagine a world in which every time someone falls in love, they spurt a new arm out of their body. Or, depending on the quality of the love, it might just be a hand. Maybe it's long. Maybe short. And then, what if you don't grow a new limb? What if you think you're in love, but you stay smooth and two-armed? These are some questions that Ausubel addresses in this bonkers (and bonkers-good) story.
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"How to Talk to Your Mother," Lorrie Moore

We could all use a little help (and entertainment!) in this arena.
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"The Fathoms," Amanda Korman

I like to call this story "Mary Gaitskill Goes to Mikvah" — it's about a young Jewish woman balancing her life and self-awareness as a sexual being with her faith and the traditions thereof. Also, it's funny.
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"The Embassy of Cambodia," Zadie Smith

Now, this is a long one, so best used for exceptional commutes. That's fine, though, because this is an exceptional story, about a live-in maid named Fatou and her struggles against a backdrop of badminton — but told in an unusual style that makes the story swirl like gossip, bounce like speculation, and seem like real life.
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"Black Box," Jennifer Egan

A truly modern story by one of our contemporary greats, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Egan, first published as a series of tweets on @NewYorker, framed as dispatches, almost aphorisms, from a lady spy on a caper in the Mediterranean.
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"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," Joyce Carol Oates

You may be asking yourself these questions while you're on the train, but in this oft-anthologized story, Oates will get you to investigate something much, much deeper and scarier. A horror story of personality.
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"The Knowers," Helen Phillips

What if you could punch your social security number into a machine and find out the day of your death? Would you? Would you want your partner to do it? What does it mean to know? In this inventive and moving short story, Phillips takes something fantastical and uses it to investigate that which, in our very real world, makes us the most human.
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"Bettering Myself," Ottessa Moshfegh

Let it be known: Ottessa Moshfegh is The Next Big Thing in literary fiction, so get to know her now. This story, about a young alcoholic teacher trying (sometimes) to better herself, is bleak and despairing but also sharp-voiced and funny. It will also, most likely, make you feel better about your job performance when you get to where you're going.
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"Now, Let's Consider This Case," Onyinye Ihezukwu

For a quick subway ride to meet your friends for gossip (or if you're just missing their chatter), read Ihezukwu's amazing mouthful of a short story, which tells of the "Association of Jobful Women at the Shopping Plaza" — all that they say, all that they do, and all that they say about what they do. You'll finish and realize you've been holding your breath the entire time.
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"Wenlock Edge," Alice Munro

Munro is the anointed master of the contemporary short story — she just won the Nobel Prize in Literature, after all. This story, in which a girl attending a dinner at an older man's house is asked to do some extremely strange things in return for his hospitality, is one of her best.
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"The Garden Party," Katherine Mansfield

First published in 1922 (but an enduring classic for good reason), this story investigates the biggest themes of life and death in the context of the most frivolous event. Plus, it's brilliantly written, of course.
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"Drinking Coffee Elsewhere," ZZ Packer

In this story, a self-identified misogynist freshman at Yale struggles with her blackness on a predominantly white campus, her confusing sexuality, and her own custom-crafted method of survival: constantly pretending one thing is another.
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"Nemecia," Kristin Valdez Quade

This beautifully written, fierce short story tells of a girl growing up with her strange, angry cousin, who claims to be a killer, but is something else entirely. For anyone with a family that surprises.
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"Your Duck is My Duck," Deborah Eisenberg

A characteristically delightful short story from linguistic gymnast Deborah Eisenberg, this one perfect for anyone who spends their commute dreaming of a free ride to a rich friend's beach house to work on their art. If only because you'll realize that it might not be all it's cracked (quacked) up to be.
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"The Rememberer," Aimee Bender

All of Bender's stories are magical and brilliant, getting at real human emotions from the weirdest of avenues. This quick bite of a short story begins: "My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don't know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It's been a month, and now he's a sea turtle." Intrigued, aren't you?
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"Olikoye," Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This seven-minute read, written by one of the most talked-about contemporary authors, is deceptively simple — the story of how a baby got its name — but still moving, and like everything of Adichie's, gorgeously written.
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"Descent of the Aquanauts," Kathryn Davis

Davis's weird, electric story about a bunch of girls on the beach with an older woman, who tells them stories about girls getting sucked into the sea. For reading on your way to the Rockaways (or whatever beach you'd most like to be consumed by) this summer.
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"Anthropogenesis, or: How to Make a Family," Laura Van Den Berg

What might happen if one lover was made out of ice, the other out of fire? And, what might happen when they had children? A hint: it's beautiful — and terrifying.
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"Hell-Heaven," Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri never disappoints. This story, a meditation on the narrator's mother and her deep, ever-unstated love for a family friend, is as lyrical and moving as ever, investigating yearning and family and what it means to be from somewhere.
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"Wasteland, Wasteland, Wasteland" Claire Vaye Watkins

In this mysterious story from one of our best young storytellers, a (not-)mole-man is found wandering near "a gamblers’ outpost in the sun-blanched, sand-scraped Mojave," and the only guidelines the town has to deal with such a discovery are from a binder given to them by the U.S. Department of Energy.
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"Broads" Roxane Gay

If you like a little erotica on your commute (hey, no one can tell what you're reading on that tablet of yours!), peep at this short story by the inimitable Roxane Gay, which investigates the concept of the "broad" alongside all the sex.
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