As much as I love getting right into a good novel, I also love being able to finish a story in one sitting. A good short story is hard to write, but also a delight to read. The following is a list of authors (and their anthologies) that I think have gotten it right.
The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury
The grandfather of science fiction reportedly wrote a short story every day and it shows in his masterful use of the genre. The Illustrated Man begins with the narrator meeting an Illustrated Man, a man covered completely in tattoos. His tattoos each tell a different story and these short stories form the content of the book. If you like stories starring creepy kids, try The Veldt or Zero Hour.
Look at the Birdie, Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut has something of a nihilistic reputation, and while there's still enough twists, absurd details and bleak endings in this collection to keep it feeling like him, some of his short stories are surprisingly upbeat and optimistic. Ed Luby's Key Club offers thrills, Hall of Mirrors provides gripping horror, The Petrified Ants will make you think, and The Honor of a Newsboy will make you go aww.
Tales of the Unexpected, Roald Dahl
Adults who loved Roald Dahl as a child can rediscover him all over again. His short stories contain that dark humour so frequent in his children's tales, but feature more adult themes. Mrs Bixby and the Colonel's Coat is a fantastic tale with a twist, while Lamb to the Slaughter, a delicious murder mystery, is my personal favourite.
The Arabian Nights
Although not technically a short story anthology, the stories do meet the criterion of being able to be read in one sitting. The Arabian Nights concerns a Persian king who takes a bride each night, only to execute her the next morning. Eventually, his vizier's daughter offers to become one of the brides. But on the night of their wedding she tells him a story so exciting that he postpones her execution so that he can hear the end. This continues for one thousand and one nights, until the king terminates his policy. Well known Arabian Nights tales include Aladdin and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
William Sydney Porter, who wrote under the pen name O Henry, is undoubtedly the master of writing short stories with a twist ending. There's even a literary award in his honour. His story The Gift of the Magi, where a young woman sells her hair to buy a chain for her husband's watch and her husband sells his watch to buy her hair clips, has been imitated hundreds of times. You can read his work at Project Gutenberg.
Great choices Carly. I've often thought that short stories are not as valued as they should be. I love Dahl's twisted tales for adults and O.Henry and Ray Bradbury are master storytellers. My other favourite short story writers are Saki (Hector Hugh Munro) and Edgar Allan Poe.