If you were ever offered a book that claims to consist of 50 greatest short stories, won’t you be apprehensive in buying it? Or would you not reconsider, even once, the leap of faith that you’d be taking to buy it? Wouldn’t you think over, and over, and over the fact that how could someone else choose 50 ‘greatest’ stories for you? Wouldn’t you find it dubious to dive into an ocean of 50 stories that are hand-picked for you by someone else?
I did. I very much did, I felt uncertain, when I first saw the book- 50 GREATEST SHORT STORIES. I looked at it, picked it up, turned it, read the names of the authors- Anton Chekhov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Edgar Alan Poe, and then the ones I, due to my narrow horizon, had never heard of- Ambrose Bierce, D.H. Lawrence, Kate Chopin, and wondered, wondered if I wouldn’t regret spending my money and time on it. But as they say, you’d never know what it holds for you, until you open it (here, until you read it,) I had no choice but to give up on my what-ifs and take a plunge. So, yeah, I did buy it, read it, and thus this review.
Before I tell you what new I discovered through this book, let me tell you the time I took to finish this average-sized book. It took me a month and a half, more than I took to complete ‘O Jerusalem!’ and ‘IT’, to finish this an only almost-600 pages book. Professional commitments and laziness and life happened in between, stretching the reading time this long.
Now, let’s start with the question, most important of all- if this book is worth your few bucks and time? A very easy yes from my side. I gave it a rating of 5 on Goodreads, and that is for the obvious reasons, which I will tell you about in the forthcoming paragraphs.
To say that these stories are the best 50 ever written would be wrong. There must have been many more, written with a more intriguing style, based on a more intricate plot, narrated with the smoother flow, yet most of these 50, if not the best, must be among the best short fictions of history.
But, choice is highly subjective. What fascinates me in a story for a reason, might make you repulse it for the very same reason. What works for me might not work for you, and vice-versa. I have read comments, where people claim to having read more brilliant stories than this collection, and yes, they must have. With umpteen stacks of short fiction out there, the chances are bleak that these 50 are the greatest. But, as I said before too, these, for me, have to be among the greatest.
With this book, I got a chance to familiarize myself with the authors- Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Guy De Maupassant, Anton Chekhov- I so wanted to read, from quite some time now. And what better way is there to start with an author other than his/her short stories, right? Some of them surprised me, by not making me feel the way I thought I’d feel; while some amazed me, in a good way.
Better way to drill down this book would be to go story by story or writer by writer. With 50 stories in the store and more than 15 writers to discuss about, I’ll not cover each story and every author; only the ones that I loved or did not like that much.
So, first of my hands are down, and head bowed to Edgar Allan Poe. That man held the wand in his hand, created a world so dark and piercing that you see only what he makes you see, feel what he makes you feel; you become his puppet for the moment, and obey the master as a puppet should. You feel the chill through your spine, cold on your palms, and shivers on your arms. All these 3 stories- The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Black Cat- made me live the horror seclusively in the dark. Though, I loved the latter two better than the first one.
I always wanted to read him, and these short stories have only avouched for his longer works.
Anton Chekhov was another name I was excited about. His ‘The Lady with the Dog’ and ‘The Lottery Ticket’ have turned me into his admirer. The first one is the story I had heard a lot about, but, if you ask me now, I liked the latter one better than the first. It certainly was coincidental, but The Lady with the Dog had similarities to Tolstoy’s epic Anna Karenina. In a way, while reading TLWTD, I relived a much shorter version of Anna Karenina. And yes, I now love both of them for their uniqueness and superficial similarity.
His ‘The Bet’ was a wonderful one too. Yet, ‘The Lottery Ticket’ took it all away from me.
Now, the best discovery that I made while reading this collection was of an author with military background. His name is Ambrose Bierce. I hadn’t heard of him until I read him in here. Out of 50, four are his stories- ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’, ‘A Horseman in the sky’, ‘The Boarded Window’ and ‘A Resumed Identity’. Among the whole collection, I liked all of his stories, but the latter two- ‘A Boarded Window’ and ‘A Resumed identity’ are two of my favorites. ABW reminded me the power of a twisted end, of the way a line can explain the whole story. I’m warning you here, keep yourself from jumping directly to the ending of the story; by doing so, you’d be preparing yourself for one of the worst self-inflicted pains.
If you haven’t read him, please go ahead and do read. And if you already have, you are among the lucky folks, aren’t you?
Another new author and a new story I learnt about are Frank Stockton and his ‘The Lady or the Tiger?’. This story, when I finished reading it, illuminated a path, taken not by many, while writing short stories. What that is, I would refrain from telling you, for I fear that any spillage on that part might ruin your enjoyment of the story.
Never heard of this one too? Go, get the whole story online (very easily,) and enjoy it.
The shortest story of 50 was a story of merely one and a half page; ‘My Financial Career’ by Stephen Leacock. Shortest it was, but was better than few longer ones in the book that I did not like much. It is another example that highlights the brevity at its best.
Then there were stories, about which I hadn’t heard of before, but they affirmed my belief on the power of short stories. The particular ones that I’d like to bring limelight on are ‘To Build A Fire’ by Jack London, ‘Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger’ by Saki, ‘Amy Foster’ by Joseph Conrad and ‘A School Story’ by M.R. James.
‘Amy Foster’ has even been adapted into a movie. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but the story is wonderfully narrated. ‘To Build A Fire’ was my second-last read of the book, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ being the last one, and what a story it was! It was one of the most engaging stories of the whole collection. Long it was, but when something is equally well-narrated, the length doesn’t really matter.
If you ask me, I’d say there were only a few stories that I did not like the way I liked many others; ‘The Valley of Spiders’ by H.G. Wells, ‘The Blind Man’ by D.H. Lawrence, ‘A chameleon’ by Anton Chekhov, ‘A Haunted House’ by Virginia Woolf and ‘The Fiddler’ by Herman Melville are few of them. Not that I hated them, but couldn’t come to like them much.
Now, another important question to ponder over is if this book is worth spending your money on? Well, that depends. When I saw this book, the way I could read all these stories without buying the book, was to take the pictures of the index and read them online. Each and every story of this book is available online. This, I haven’t checked by myself for every story, but, chances are high that you will find them out there, unlike full-fledged novels.
Then why did I spend my money on what I could have gotten for no money at all? My idea was, by the end of this book, I will either have a collection of stories that I can go back to anytime I want to, compare them whenever I want to, without having to look out for them online, or I will have a collection of stories that I will remember to never get back to, in future.
You definitely can skip the part of buying the book, and check for every story directly online. But for my own convenience in future, be it re-reading the stories, or comparing them, or checking them for one thing or the other, I wanted to have a such hardcopy.
The only suggestion I’d give to those who plan to read this book is- pick a story randomly from the index, and approach the entire book this way. When I proceeded with the stories chronologically, I found it hard and tedious and not-worth-my-time kind of journey. But the moment I started reading stories randomly, I, for some reason not known, started enjoying it. It might have been just me. But, if you find it difficult, like me, try the other way I mentioned. It ought to do the trick.
Have you read any of the stories, whose names I mentioned above, ever? Did you like them? Which are your favorite ones? Any suggestions for short stories, other than these, are welcomed too. And, if you want, I can even share all the 50 names with you; in case you prefer to spend your money on the stuff that is not available online, unlike this one.
Do share your thoughts, suggestions, and asks in the comment section below. You know I look forward to them.
IF YOU ARE A FIRST- TIME VISITOR OF MY BLOG, DO REFER ‘First-Timers‘. IT WOULD HELP YOU IN EXPLORING THE PLACE.
No credit for the image used.
Copyright © 2018 by Idle Muser. All rights reserved.