Friday, October 21, 2022

Review: The World's Greatest Short Stories edited by James Daley (Dover Thrift Edition)

Although short stories are not my usual choice of reading now, I read quite a number of them in school. I even taught a few once upon a time. So when I remembered that this collection was sitting on my shelves, I decided to see if it was indeed a collection of the world's greatest. My conclusion is that while many of these (or at least their authors) might have been influential, the stories themselves are not necessarily the greatest despite the title's assertion.

I had in fact encountered many of the included stories before in my schooling. They are, by and large, fairly accessible and they do make it easy for students to discuss theme, character, setting, plot, and other elements of fiction. The stories are from a hundred year or so span of time (1853-1962) and are heavily US and Eurocentric. There is only one story from a Japanese author and one story from a Nigerian author. Hard to make the case then, that this is a collection of the "world's" greatest, isn't it? Additionally, out of the 20 stories, a mere 3 are written by women. The stories are almost exclusively canon and not particularly representative of the varied world we live in. In short, there are no surprising stories here.

Personally I loathe Herman Melville and the only thing he contributes to for me is an insomnia cure so starting the collection off with Bartleby the Scrivener made me wary from the outset. (And in the spirit of full disclosure, I skipped reading it again because it almost killed me with boredom the last time I read it). I did enjoy revisiting some of the other stories: The Death of Ivan Ilyich, The Yellow Wallpaper, The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket. I did come across stories I hadn't read but only two stories from authors I was unfamiliar with. This isn't terribly surprising though since the majority of the stories are staples of English classes and available for free in the public domain with only the shortest of stories toward the end of the time period covered here still in copyright. I think that this is an okay introduction to short stories (although I'd still supplement it with a broader range and more diverse authors) but for those who did anything much with English in school, you probably have all of these stories in anthologies already on your shelves. And know that the big claim made in the title (world's greatest) is just that: a big claim for a collection with such a narrow focus.

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