Wednesday, December 17, 2008

O. Henry a la Carte – O Henry

©1973 Hallmark Cards, Inc., Kansas City, MO

Sometimes finding the right holiday reading occurs at the annual book fair. In June I picked up this little gift book from days gone by at the local hospital fund-raiser. The $3.00 price clip on the dust jacket made this an excellent buy for the holidays in 1973. The seventy-five cents I paid at the fair seemed a good exchange.

As an O Henry fan, I was happy to get a great little collection of his writing at a pocket-change price. Specifically, I was interested in having a simple copy of his famous Christmas story “The Gift of the Magi” (which is the only selection mentioned in the sub-title of this little volume). The collection, selected by Jan Miller Gilmore, includes both short stories and poems by the author.

The poetry leaves a bit to be desired, being much the same as the simplistic verse I was writing in high school. I was mildly entertained by the selection “Nothing to Say” which presents a politician who has nothing to say on the matter and proceeds to discourse ad nauseam on the topic of which he has nothing to say.

Among the short fiction included in the book are (of course) “The Gift of the Magi” which causes me to ask each time I read it, how can one have “sixty cents of it in pennies” when the total amount is $1.87 cents? Also you will find the age-old favorite “The Ransom of Red Chief” which is always good for a laugh and a sigh.

New to me, but well worth the reading were the stories “The Last Leaf” and “Hearts and Hands”. I was not quite so impressed (save with the exercise of superb language) with “Springtime a la Carte”. Another selection that is awkward for the collection is the little two-page snippet entitled appropriately enough “A Strange Story” which provides a good foundation on which to build a story by Edgar A. Poe.

For holiday fare, this is an excellent little volume because it is filled with easily read, wonderfully written stories that touch the depths of the English language while remembering the hearts of the reader. One thing that the editor did well was to anchor the book (begin and end) with two of the more powerful stories (“The Gift of the Magi” and “Hearts and Hands”) included.

As a reader, I’d give the book three stars; as a gift-book, it could easily reach the coveted five-star rating. So, I’ll split the difference for purposes of rating and give O. Henry a la Carte four out of five reading glasses.

Benjamin Potter, December 17, 2008

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