Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14). Calvino calls this one-of-a-kind masterpiece a novel. Yet its plot is simply Marco Polo describing to Kublai Khan the cities in his kingdom. The book's true setting is the border between poetry and prose. It proceeds not by plot but by theme and variation, like a piece of music, and its lyrical beauty can be experienced over and over.
The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka (Dover, $3). Freud made the world modern by teaching how dreams might be interpreted. Kafka teaches how literature can harness dreams — and nightmares. This example of his visionary, original work continues to influence contemporary writers and reveals him as a supreme and unforgiving black humorist.
Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges (Penguin, $23). When I think of prose with the compressive power of the best poetry, Borges immediately comes to mind: One doesn't read Borges's dense, rich stories so much as wander dream-like through their protean passageways.
The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel (Norton, $25). Babel is a supreme example of the writer one gets when a great teller of stories is crossed with a transformative stylist. In Babel, brevity runs deep. His work glories in human contradiction and vitality. A consummate writer of place, his depiction of Odessa presents life on the page.
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (Dover, $4). I don't know if it is defensible to say that Sherwood Anderson invented the American plain style that Hemingway and so many other writers would run with. I do know that his book of stories that makes an imagined Ohio town into a central character ranks as one of the seminal books of American literature.
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16). Welty, while writing in an age in which tone would become a dominant feature of fiction, never relinquished the power of mood. The South has produced quintessential writers of place, none better than Eudora Welty.
— Stuart Dybek has garnered four O. Henry Awards and a MacArthur 'genius grant' across his long career as a fiction writer. Two new Dybek story collections, Paper Lantern and Ecstatic Cahoots, have just been published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.