Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Best of O. Henry - O. Henry

37 of O. Henry's short stories collected from over 600 of his stories. A real treat to read. This was one of those many classic collections that I picked from my publisher Indialog's office in Delhi last year - they do have a fine collection of classics. It was with great anticipation that I started reading this book and I really enjoyed reading all those stories that impacted me in my schooldays, again.

I most remember 'The Last Leaf' which is one of the best ever short stories I'd ever read - of a painter who paints his life's masterpiece and while doing so saves a life. Then I remember of course 'After Twenty Years' - about two friends who meet after twenty years and its so visual - and the 'Gift of the Magi' - about a couple so in love that they sacrifice their most valuable possessions to buy a Christmas gift for the other. As I read it, I remembered 'The Furnished Room' as well.

In this collection I met the great detective Shamrock Jolnes who stars in more than one story and is a most interesting character and another of his ilk, detective Toctocq. But each story comes with well etched characters and a fine twist in the tale. Most of them I suspect, will remain with me for much longer now.

When I analyse the short stories of these great writers and some of the other much hyped ones, I can detect a clear difference. The stories stick in O. Henry's - the characters and situations appear credible and real and they come alive and what happens in the end is a real jolt. You are involved in their story, in the twists that live deals them. In some of the stories I have read of other hyped writers, there's much pretty prose and not much of a story you can take away. Most times I am wondering what the story was all about. With O. Henry you can tell your friends all about those stories just like you tell them movie stories. That then is the hallmark of a great story - they cry out to be told and you feel good sharing them.

O. Henry is the pseudonym of William Sydney Porter, North Carolina born in 1862. He gave up formal education at fifteen, worked as an apprentice under a pharmacist, as a bookkeeper and as a teller in a bank. He served a five year sentence for embezzling funds from the bank, and it was in prison that he started writing short stories under his pseudonym. O. Henry died in 1910, almost a pauper, due to excessive alcoholism.

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