When I hear “public domain,” I picture the free books on my Kindle with the boring primary-color covers and uninspiring content assigned to my AP English classes in high school.
So when I decided to comb through our library and find “guilty pleasures in the public domain,” I was shocked to find more titles than I could fit in this blog posts. Ghosts, sci fi dystopias, Mean Girls-esque revenge—the public domain has it all! Plus, they’re all super low time commitments and will make you sound smart to all of your friends. Pull out your beach chair, throw on some sunscreen, and have a go at these five short stories that you won’t be able to put down.
1. Scandal in Bohemia
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Read time: 40 minutes
Genre: Victorian detective mystery
Similar to: Obvious television references aside, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.
No doubt you have seen Benedict Cumberbatch (swoon) play this manic, brilliant, and frighteningly perceptive detective in the BBC show Sherlock. Lucky for us, the original Sherlock of 1887 is equally as entertaining. In “Scandal in Bohemia,” meet the original Irene Adler, the woman, as she contends with Sherlock’s cunning attempts to retrieve a scandalous photograph of a compromising situation.
2. The Open Window
Read time: 10 minutes
Genre: Ghost Story
Similar to: Henry James’s Turn of the Screw
Do you know, sometimes on still, quiet evenings like this, I almost get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through that window—
Have you ever stayed in an AirBnB and thought that something was just wrong with it? Saki takes you into that house and describes in juicy, gorey detail exactly why this renter has the heebie jeebies. More specifically, he has a fifteen-year-old girl do it for him. Packed with ghosts, suspense, and comically formal language, this is a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat right up to the punchline.
3. The Mask
Author: Robert Chambers
Read time: 35 minutes**
Genre: Surrealist sci fi
Similar to: It’s on the Poe-Bierce-Lovecraft continuum
The mask of self-deception was no longer a mask for me, it was a part of me.
Three sculptors and their paramour live in Paris when one discovers of a powerful new liquid that can turn living things into pure, beautiful marble. Meanwhile, an ominous play can infect the minds of its readers and cause madness. If you loved True Detective (season 1, obviously) and didn’t quite understand Wikipedia’s definition of Carcosa, this maze of a story will tell you all you need. Try to guess the ending. Just try.
**If the Yellow King pulls you into his madness, read the whole collection of short stories. Carcosa demands it.
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Read time: 15 minutes
Genre: Smart Dystopian Fiction / Sci Fi
Similar to: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The world could do with a good deal more mess, if you ask me.
Although I have to admit that this one is a bit of a downer, it’s definitely my favorite on the list. It is not only compelling but also one of those beautifully poignant reads makes you think. It’s set in a world where science has cured aging. For every child born another person has to volunteer to die, and Mr. Wehling has just had triplets. This story will make you rethink whatever deep-seated beliefs you have about reproduction and over-population. You know, light summer fun.
5. Bernice Bobs Her Hair
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read time: 50 minutes
Genre: Tales of the Roaring ‘20s
Similar to: It’s like Mean Girls, but with more flappers
But, of course, you’ve either got to amuse people or feed ‘em or shock ‘em.
This story is simply delightful. It has all the charm of 1920s’ dialogue and the teeth of the best female rivalry story. Bernice visits her posh cousin Marjorie for a month before she goes to school in New York. Unfortunately, Bernice is simply a bore that Marjorie can’t stand. Marjorie’s offered “makeover” turns out to be a slippery slope akin to a deal with the devil. Toss back some juice and settle in for some good old-fashioned malarkey. This tale’s the bees knees!