Best known for his short stories with a twist ("The Gift of the Magi" is an often taught story in literature anthologies), O. Henry was a prolific and popular writer and here is collected all of his output in 1,692 pages. Collected from 14 different books he published in his lifetime (including a couple of posthumous collections) these stories mostly run from 4 to 10 pages that can be read in minutes. But not all in one sitting; attempting to read all these contiguously is both a misuse of their purpose and an approach that will dull your appreciation of their worth. I read through them in 5 different stretches over a period of 9 months, interspersed with my other ongoing reading.
And what comes through is the breadth of life experiences that O. Henry wrote about with casual and apparently facile knowledge, which makes the thumbnail biography with which I started this review the more fascinating. O. Henry was, or was able as a writer to convince the reader (even better as an indication of his skill as a writer), the characters he write about. Perhaps his biography is more interesting than his output. Or maybe if we read close enough between the lines we can read his biography in the gentle humor, irony, optimism, and acceptance of fate in his writing voice. Either way, this collection is a classic and a worthy buy to keep on the shelf and pull down for doses as needed.
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