A little over a week ago, I made myself take a break to have a wonderful breakfast at the harbor (it was awesome) with my husband and we browsed a few stores afterward. Even with the e-book revolution, I still find myself looking for physical books, new or old, for research or to just add to my growing library of subjects I love to read.
I went into this great antique store with a variety of fun items, room after room in a small historic house. I casually walked through and my eye will generally go to old vista photographs and old hardback books. I usually see older versions of the literature classics, like John Steinbeck, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens, etc.
Tucked up on a little shelf above an old Chinese screen with some pamphlets was a small green hardback book, approximately 7 inches by 4 ½ inches. What caught my eye was the title: The World’s Greatest Short Stories by Sherwin Cody published in 1902. The name rang a bell somewhere in my cluttered mind, but my curiosity always gets the better of me and I continued to dig for more information.
Sherwin Cody (1868-1959) was an entrepreneur and writer of many books on writing, and best known for his home study writing courses advocating colloquial style and grammar. At the time that this particular book was published, it was used by Cornell College, Harvard University, and Vassar College to name a few.
I flipped through the book; there were penciled notes from one of the previous owners that highlighted quotes of what made up a strong short story from authors such as Balzac, Poe, Kipling, and Dickens. Intrigued I asked the shop owner, “How much is this book?” She smiled and said, “Oh, just take it.” I tried to give her something for it to no avail and ended up thanking her, but I did buy a cool old vista black/white photograph taken somewhere in the hills of California, circa 1890-1910.
“The stories contained in this volume have been selected with the specific view of illustrating the history of the art of short story writing, and of affording suitable examples for the study of the constructive side of art. No person can read any short story critically and intelligently without an elementary knowledge of both these subjects.”
Cody goes on to explain that modern fiction began with short stories and they been ranked as independent art. I find this quite interesting for them to be describes as “independent art” in 1902 with boom of independent artists and books today.
Something for writers to learn from today?
Cody praised the short stories of Aladdin’s Lamp (The Arabian Nights Entertainments), Rip Van Winkle (Irving), and Gold Bug (Poe) among the world’s masterpieces. He referred to Aladdin’s Lamp as the origin of modern romance, Rip Van Winkle as what a short story owes to the essayist with simple narratives, and Gold Bug as perfection in its plot construction.
My take on old short stories and novels is that you can always learn something or at least refresh yourself with some of the masters. I look at characters, plot, and narrative as a growing process with every story I write, but research should consist of reading modern books as well as the masters. The World’s Greatest Short Stories by Sherwin Cody is now on my bookshelf.
What iconic author and story stands out in your mind?
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