Five short fiction stories you can read free online during quarantine

Although courses continue online, many students may have more time on their hands now as their class meetings, clubs, sports and possibly even work have been suspended.

With that extra time, students may find they finally have time for leisure reading. Reading is a great form of entertainment, and has a whole host of other benefits.

It improves focus, vocabulary, ability to write effectively, and exposes the reader to ideas more diverse and complex than many TV shows dive into. 

So without further ado, here are five suggestions for short fiction reading during quarantine — and they’re all available online.

CommComm – By George Saunders

This lovely piece by George Saunders is nothing short of incredible. Saunders, one of America’s preeminent writers of short fiction, will make you laugh, and then cry — arguably one of the best outcomes from reading.

With unique voice and style, Saunders captures the human element in difficult, strange, awkward or crushing situations, and does so beautifully.

Saunders’ themes, which largely surround empathy, character and love are always relevant, but even more so now.

If you like Saunders’ writing, consider purchasing a copy of his short story collections “Tenth of December” or “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” from your local bookstore.

“CommComm” is available online from The New Yorker.


The Variable Man – By Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick was a hugely prolific writer of science fiction in the mid- to late-20th century.

With a minimalist style and voice akin to Ernest Hemmingway, Dick’s “The Variable Man” is one of his most popular pieces of short fiction.

While “The Variable Man” hasn’t seen the commercial success of Dick’s other works such as “Paycheck,” “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” or “Minority Report” which have all been adapted into movies, it’s a classic piece of short science fiction.

If you enjoy Dick’s suspenseful, prosaic science fiction, many of his works have been anthologized online or in print.

“The Variable Man” and others by Dick are available via Project Gutenberg.


Incarnations of Burned Children – By David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace left a pretty significant impression on the literary world, especially with his sprawling masterpiece “Infinite Jest.”

“Incarnations of Burned Children” sits at the opposite end of the length spectrum from “Infinite Jest,” and is the shortest of all the stories in this list.

It reads fast, too — the story is composed of nine long sentences, whisking the reader through the narrative at hyper speed.

This one’s sure to break your heart. If you want more David Foster Wallace, several narrations of his works are available on YouTube.

“Incarnations of Burned Children” is available to read online via Esquire.  


The School – By Donald Barthelme

If you read “Incarnations of Burned Children” and are feeling bummed out, “The School” might be the pick-me-up needed.

It’s a quirky story that starts out with much sadness, but ends strangely, beautifully and happily without growing dull or coming anywhere close to being insipid.

Barthelme’s “The School” and its theme are a great thing to behold during quarantine.

More works by the prolific Bartheleme are available online via Jessamyn. “The School” is available via NPR.


Anthem – By Ayn Rand

While Ayn (rhymes with ‘mine’) Rand’s writings and her philosophy of objectivism were and continue to be some of the most controversial writings of 20th century America, they are well worth the read.

Anthem may not fit the scholarly criteria for short fiction as it sits at just over 100 pages in most editions, yet it’s beautifully written and a manageable taste of Rand’s writing style and philosophy.

If you enjoy it, consider one of Rand’s awesome masterpieces, “The Fountainhead,” or “Atlas Shrugged.”

“Anthem” is available for free via Project Gutenberg.