Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Essays, Short Stories and a Change of Heart

I was never a fan of short stories or essays until a year ago... I didn't like the fact that they were over so soon-I felt like I was getting a snippet of something that could be longer and better. However, on a trip to Washington D.C. to see the Red Sox play the Washington Nationals and visit my college roommate, I was encouraged (wait a minute, was that forced?) to read a book of essays by E. B. White. Despite the fact that we lived 5 hours from each other, she lent me the book. If you read E. B. White's books as a child (Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little), you will love him even more as an adult. He is insightful and witty and his essays will downright pull you in and not let you go. It is a book to own and re-read throughout the years; it is a book that will grow with you. Run to the bookstore and buy Essays of E. B. White. It might open up a whole new world for you just as it did for me.

After reading most of the essays in the book, I felt comfortable moving on to short stories. It was obvious that I had been missing out on something. We read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows in the Meredith College book club. It is the story of a book club that meets during the German occupation of Guernsey during WWII. One member of the book club reads the Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb. I was curious about these essays, so I got an alumnae library card at Meredith College and checked out a VERY old copy of the essays. I was entranced. Though they are called essays, some of them seem to be short stories that fall somewhere in between the categories of fiction and non-fiction.

And so I moved on to fiction-specifically short stories by Willa Cather. My favorite short story of the bunch was The Bohemian Girl, but there was not a bad story in the entire collection. (The Essays of Elia and many short stories by Willa Cather are all in the public domain and can be downloaded for free through book reading applications like Stanza and Kindle.)

I found a collection of short stories at a yard sale about a month ago for 50 cents. I love to own the books that I read, and so I try not to pay more than $1 for a used book. I decided to read a short story by W. Somerset Maughm called The Book-Bag. It was extremely interesting, beautifully written, and quite tragic.

Next on the list was The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad. This was such a wonderful short story. I first read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness at camp in Brasil. There is a bookshelf full of old, termite eaten books which has yielded up some of my favorite books. The Secret Sharer did not disappoint. As with all of his books that I know of, it takes place on a ship. I am amazed by his grasp of the English language (he uses nautical words that I have never even heard of), yet he only learned to speak English around the age of 20. His command of the English language is much better than many native speakers; this only enhances the beauty of his writing.

Long post short, don't be afraid to try something new. I have grown so much since I allowed my college roommate to challenge my notion of good writing. Now if I could only learn to like modern fiction...

1 comment:

Kittymama said...

I'm intrigued! Perhaps you might share some of these with me when we see each other!