Tag Archives: New York City

The Pocket Book of O. Henry Stories

O. Henry Stories
by (real name) William Sidney Porter

I have a warm place in my heart for O. Henry Stories.  He is a master of the surprise ending; many of the stories leave you with a chuckle and an open mouth of disbelief.

One of my favorites is “Springtime à la Carte,” where a girl makes a living typing up menu cards for the restaurant downstairs but is heartbreakingly because her country love has deserted her.  Or so she thinks.

I also like “The Skylight Room” and “The Green Door” because they have  a touch of destiny and fantasy (and true love of course).  “A Retrieved Reformation” is very touching, about the reformation of an ex safe-cracker.  But picking a favorite is futile because every time I flip through the stories I remember each with fondness and a smile.

There is a distinction between the stories O. Henry wrote about the southwest and those about New York City.  The NYC tales have an urgency and an urban desperation, and are very mute (being considerably third person).  The southwestern tales are homey and grand and more developed.  Take for example “The Pimienta Pancakes,”  “Ships,” and “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking,” whose plots take longer to develop and come from a specific character’s point of view.

According to The Literature Network, where you can find a solid collection of O. Henry stories to read online, in 1884 he started a humorous weekly called The Rolling Stone.  I wonder if that’s where the modern magazine got its name.


Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger, 1951

Banned by multiple groups, controversial, and different, this is a book that has emerged into our pool of literary classics and is increasingly taught in high schools around the US.  I read it in 11th grade with mixed emotions, first apprehension from how other high-schoolers described it, next confusion but at the same time an empathetic understanding, and finally sadness that came from the truths that were revealed at the end.

{This novel follows the protagonist Holden Caulfield through his oppulent yet empty and confused life in New York City for the period of one week after he is expelled from prep school.  The reader shares his fancies, his fears, his memories and his struggle with the death of his brother Allie, and in that way also learns about his mental illness and alienation.  It is not stated openly, but in this book Holden sees the world through something akin to OCD or depression.  His anchor in life is his little sister Phoebe, a wise and intuitive force.

His most trusted mentor, a past teacher, urges Holden to change his mind and not run away, that it is the stronger man who lives humbly, rather than dies nobly, for a cause.  Holden had the idea of becoming a “catcher in the rye,” a godlike figure who symbolically saves children from “falling off a crazy cliff” and being exposed to all things “phony,” the evils of adulthood, and losing their kindness, spontaneity, innocence, and generosity.}

The hardest part of reading this story is deciding whose side you are on, the side of reason or the side of the antihero, Holden?  Will he be happier in reality after he goes to a mental hospital?

Knowing the historical and literary context of this novel would add to understanding and appreciation.  I would caution anyone who starts to read this book to keep their head about them, and I would specifically caution adults to not base any perceptions of teenagers on the teenager portrayed in this novel.  In June 2009, Finlo Rohrer from the BBC wrote that, 58 years since publication, the book is still regarded “as the defining work on what it is like to be a teenager. Holden is at various times disaffected, disgruntled, alienated, isolated, directionless, and sarcastic.”   But I would disagree.  Yes most humans probably go through a period of feeling isolated and directionless, not necessarily as teenagers, but what Holden is feeling and how he is acting is not the norm for all adolescents.  One must also remember that his mental state is shaky, which indubitably colors his experiences.