A Pocket Book of Short Stories is something I have seen in National Book Store since I was in grade school. Over the years, I developed the impression that these old stocks waited year after year for buyers that rarely came along. I never thought I would actually own a copy until Kai gave me her book.
With the increasing number of must-read authors nowadays, I rarely get the chance to read (or reread) classics. Each year, circulating before-you-die checklists remind me of how little of classic literature I’ve read. The short stories included in this collection, diverse as they are, share one thing in common: they all belong to a different time, and that is exactly what constitutes a classic—something recognizably dated, yet still works even after all those years. Nevertheless, certain problems arose in my reading which I think mostly have to do with chronological distance. I had to read “The Killers” twice to appreciate it (like my first time with “Hills Like White Elephants,” which grows better with every reading). Other stories I grasped immediately. I admired O. Henry’s narrative skill in “A Municipal Report” and Somerset Maugham’s excellent characterization in “Rain,” which had a strong impact on me, that deviously crafted story. Then there are those I completely fail to appreciate, despite repeated readings, like Sherwood Anderson’s “Seeds.”
I am particularly fond of two stories about women: Dorothy Parker’s “Big Blonde” and Katherine Mansfield’s “Bliss.” I remember Mansfield’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which I taught in class last semester. If anything, this second encounter made me realize how much I want to read more of her. I looked up her story collections, but the only one available from the Rizal Library—The Garden Party and Other Stories—is dilapidated to the point of decay.
Although some stories here barely leave any impression on me, there are also those I would want to assign to my students if ever I teach again—stories I would want them to remember. For these are not stories you simply breeze by and forget. You contemplate them because they bother you, and eventually you find that in the course of such reflection, the story has carved out a space inside you, a small repository of beauty that you will carry with you wherever you go.
Introduction (M. Edmund Speare)
The desire to tell stories and to listen to them is one of the qualities inherent in all human nature, and the storyteller’s art is perhaps the oldest of all the arts in the world, and the best-loved.
[The short story] is just the right length in a world of tumult and hurry…
The essential quality of the short story is its economy. …here everything must show intensity of concentration, a squeezing of a slice of life into the narrowest of compasses…
The Devil and Daniel Webster (Stephen Vincent Benét)
There was sadness in being a man, but it was a proud thing too.
Big Blonde (Dorothy Parker)
To her who had laughed so much, crying was delicious.
There was nothing separate about her days. Like drops upon a window-pane, they ran together and trickled away.
Somewhere in her head or her heart was the lazy, nebulous hope that things would change and she and Herbie settle suddenly into soothing married life.
Paul’s Case (Willa Cather)
It was at the theater and at Carnegie Hall that Paul really lived; the rest was but a sleep and a forgetting.
Seeds (Sherwood Anderson)
There is a note that comes into the human voice by which you may know real weariness. It comes when one has been trying with all his heart and soul to think his way along some difficult road of thought.
‘We all want to be loved and the world has no plan for creating our lovers.’
‘I have seen under the shell of life and I am afraid.’
Bliss (Katherine Mansfield)
Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at—nothing—at nothing, simply.
Disorder and Early Sorrow (Thomas Mann)
Bert is blond and seventeen. He intends to get done with school somehow, anyhow, and fling himself into the arms of life.
Rain (W. Somerset Maugham)
But the most striking thing about him was the feeling he gave you of suppressed fire. It was impressive and vaguely troubling. He was not a man with whom any intimacy was possible.
A Municipal Report (O. Henry)
I must tell you how I came to be in Nashville, and I assure you the digression brings as much tedium to me as it does to you.
She was exquisite, she was a valuable discovery. Nearly everybody nowadays knows too much—oh, so much too much—of real life.
‘Isn’t it in the still, quiet places that things do happen?’
A Lodging for the Night (Robert Louis Stevenson)
‘As for change, let somebody change my circumstances. A man must continue to eat, if it were only that he may continue to repent.’
The Procurator of Judea (Anatole France)
‘It is a knotty point, how far one is justified in devising things for the commonweal against the will of the populace.’