Collecting Rare Books and First Editions - The Short Story and The Private Library (Part II)
By L. D. Mitchell
In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic. Not far from this village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley or rather lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquillity. I recollect that, when a stripling, my first exploit in squirrel-shooting was in a grove of tall walnut-trees that shades one side of the valley. I had wandered into it at noontime, when all nature is peculiarly quiet, and was startled by the roar of my own gun, as it broke the Sabbath stillness around and was prolonged and reverberated by the angry echoes. If ever I should wish for a retreat whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley. From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of Sleepy Hollow.
Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Folks who do not collect a particular author in depth often are less tolerant of short stories that are not among an author's best work. Accordingly, instead of buying a book of short stories that are all by a single author (such as Irving), they may buy instead anthologies that reflect the "best" work done in this form in a particular genre ...
...or, they may buy anthologies of short stories that have been honored with a particular prize...
...or, they may buy anthologies of short stories that encompass literary traditions with which they are largely unfamiliar.
Folks who collect illustrated books may prefer collections of short stories published by the likes of The Folio Society. The Limited Editions Club, or any number of private presses. The image below, via L. W. Currey, is from H. P. Lovecraft's “stillborn first book of fiction, consisting of the seven gatherings printing the story” The Shunned House (despite the title page, not actually printed by The Recluse Press until 1928).
Many authors have been honored for their short stories. In fact, many authors are far better known (or at least as well known) for their short stories as for their work in other literary forms. Among numerous masters of the short story who come immediately to mind are Kōbō Abe, Borges, Cheever, Cortázar, de Maupassant, Hemingway, O'Connor, O. Henry, Poe, Prus, Twain, Wodehouse, Woolf -- the list could be extended many times over.
As good as these authors were, though, perhaps none made the short story his own as much as the Russian physician who also became one of the world's greatest dramatists ...
The article by L. D. Mitchell was published in The Private Library. It is presented here by permission of the author. Thank you very much.
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