A literary friend posted on FB: “What books do you read once a year?” I posted one (Masters and Masterpieces of the Short Story) off the top of my head but he got me thinking of the many anthologies I hold dear. I keep most of them within easy reach of my bed--a little Chekhov before sleep, perhaps? Or some Porter? There is something so neat, so compact about a short story, especially one acknowledged as a classic. You know you will get all the factors that compose a satisfying story—a set-up, a conflict, and a resolution—in short order without the time-commitment of a novel.
One of the (many) benefits of having older brothers and sisters was—I got to read all the English textbooks they brought home from college! And they attended Duke, Centre, and Georgetown. How fortunate for me! Through these volumes I discovered some of the greatest authors in the world--Hemingway, Faulkner, Melville, Conrad, Tolstoi, Joyce, Mansfield, Welty, de Maupassant, Bowen, Mann, Maugham, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Lawrence, Woolf, Camus, James—to name just a few. I devoured them all and paid close attention to the notes scribbled in the margins by my elders.
The Art of Modern Fiction (Rhinehart and Company, Inc. 1949) introduced me to Hemingway's “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” Faulkner's “A Rose for Emily,” Tolstoi's “Three Arshins of Land,” and Clark's “The Portable Phonograph.” Although it is fifty years now, I well remember reading each for the first time and the frisson I felt reading their last paragraphs. I’ve never forgotten Mann’s “Little Herr Friedemann,”” Zweig’s “The Invisible Collection,” or Trilling’s “The Other Margaret,” either.
I discovered Welty (“Petrified Man” and “A Worn Path”), Bowen (“A Queer Heart”), and Maugham (“Rain”) in Masters and Masterpieces of the Short Story (Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1966) mentioned above. Someone slipped a magazine article in this one which I use as a bookmark: “The Ten Greatest Thinkers” by Will Durant--from The American Magazine of March 1927!
One of my siblings brought home Twelve Short Stories (The MacMillan Company, 1961) in 1966. It includes Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams,” Mansfield’s “The Garden Party,” Joyce’s “The Dead” and nine other classics. What a great way for a 14-year-old to discover great literature!
Through Classic Short Fiction (The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1972) I discovered Conrad (“The Secret Sharer”), Kafka (“A Country Doctor”), and Lawrence (“The Rocking-Horse Winner”) and found another gem from Melville--“Bartleby the Scrivener.”
A Pocket Book of Short Stories (Washington Square Press, 1941) is perhaps my favorite. Cather’s “Paul’s Case,” O. Henry’s “A Municipal Report,” Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw,” and de Maupassant’s “The Necklace” had such an impact on me!
All of these volumes came to me at least slightly dog-eared, and perhaps I should I feel a little guilty that all lost their covers long ago—but I don’t. They are all well-worn, well-read, well-loved. Thank you, Amy, Andy, John, and Louisa!
What books do you read at least once a year?