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Short Fiction to Help You Prepare for the SAT (and Beyond)

Posted in Test Prep on November 11, 2010 by

Sick of flipping through the Blue Book for sample Reading Comprehension passages and toting stacks of flashcards around to practice vocabulary? We’ve compiled a list of our favorite short fiction to help you prepare for the SAT, college, and beyond. As you read, be sure to note unfamiliar words and quiz yourself about the story’s structure, point of view, and argument, if applicable.

With these engaging page-turners, SAT prep might even begin to seem – dare we say it? – fun.

1. The Knife Thrower and Other Stories by Steven Millhauser

This is reading like you’ve never seen it before: dark, forbidden and indulgent. Flying carpets, a diabolical theme park, an enchanted emporium, a midnight baseball game, a mysterious sisterhood… Whatever his subject, Millhauser imbues it with his trademark style – gorgeous sentences, a strong sense of atmosphere, and a love for extremes. The Knife Thrower and Other Stories has been called one of the “cleverest, sexiest” story collections ever written and is perfect for the modern Romantic, or anyone who wishes to find the sublime in ordinary life.

2. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (and other stories) by Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers’ literary output was famously slim but exceptional. Her novella, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, is considered one of the finest ever written. It depicts the love triangle of headstrong cafe-owner, Miss Amelia, hunch-backed Cousin Lymon, and ex-convict, Marvin Macy. Told in a readable, limpid style, this southern Gothic tale is exactly what its title suggests it is–a song-like story that explores the relationships between “lover” and “beloved” and begs the question, “Are we doomed to love only those who do not love us back?”

3. The Dubliners by James Joyce

Joyce’s “The Dead,” one of the stories included in this collection, is famous for the epiphany at its conclusion. One of the most analyzed stories ever written, it tells the story of a commonplace dinner party at the end of which the awkward and self-deluded Gabriel Conroy comes to terms with the true nature of his relationship with his wife and those around him. Whether you plan on majoring in English or squeaking by with Composition 101, you’ll probably be assigned this piece at some point in your life.

4. Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

Goodbye, Columbus was written by Roth before American Pastoral, Portnoy’s Complaint, and the many other novels about sex, death, marriage, politics, and Jewishness that comprise his extraordinary body of work. Among other stories, the book contains a novella which concerns the summer romance between the humble Neil Klugman and self-assured and wealthy, Brenda Patimkin. Winner of the National Book Award, Goodbye, Columbus is the first collection from a writer who redefined the possibilities of American fiction with his comic genius, sculpted rage, and verbal wizardry.

5. Interpreters of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Some of the most perfect stories ever written (one reviewer compared these bittersweet, elegant tales to “mathematical proofs”). This Pulitzer-Prize winning debut concerns age-old subjects like young love, separation, infidelity, cultural shock, and generational conflict. In the tradition of John Cheever and Raymond Carver, Lahiri’s understated, resolutely plain prose conveys epiphanies and moments of insight and wonder with remarkable assurance and restraint.

6. Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Though almost a cliche of literary excellence, this collection sets the standard for novels-in-stories and multi-generational women’s fiction. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Tan’s stories are compulsively readable, appear in countless literary anthologies, and are often excerpted on standardized tests. These timeless tales concerning Chinese and Chinese American women are set in modern-day San Francisco and early twentieth century China, and focus primarily on mother-daughter relationships and the deep, unspoken bonds between women.

7. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor

The name, “Flannery O’Connor” is practically synonymous with “southern Gothic.” Dark, grotesque, and disturbing, these stories concern subjects such as racial bigotry, hypocrisy, self-delusion, false liberalism, religious fervor, and alienation. Punctuated by moments of violence and fierce conflict, this collection is classic O’Connor and especially notable for its title story which concerns floundering Julian Chestney and his contempt for his mother’s racism.