21 Essential American Short Stories

Leslie M. Pockell, you have my thanks. Because you remain true to the second word in the collection you’ve edited, 21 ESSENTIAL AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, I can clear my shelves of several other anthologies I was keeping around for a single tale or two. You have excellent taste.

Chances are, many readers will be familiar with most of the stories in this volume; several are all-time favorites of mine since being taught them in school. I can recall being a student who didn’t particularly care much for reading, but experiencing a jolt of joy in English class when introduced to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” Talk about an eye-opener.

Same with other stories I first ran across as assignments in our textbooks: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ever-disturbing “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Ambrose Bierce’s tense “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” O. Henry’s ironic “The Gift of the Magi” and Frank Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger?,” which could be the only short story to get away with not having an ending.

Pockell makes some interesting choices with some usual suspects, perhaps most notably in Edgar Allan Poe, whom he represents not with a horror tale, but a detection one with “The Purloined Letter.” The inclusion of Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” makes sense, while Joel Chandler Harris’ “Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby” may catch you off-guard.

Other authors making Pockell’s cut are Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Stephen Crane, Jack London, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton, James Thurber, William Faulkner and that esteemed man of letters, H.P. Lovecraft. Surprise! —Rod Lott

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Comment by Will E.
2011-02-11 09:19:01

Lovecraft made it in?! Wow. Which one? “The Outsider” perhaps? I daresay it could be “Call of Cthulhu”! One of the great pleasures of my reading life has been watching Ye Olde Providence Gentleman grow in stature over the last couple decades to (nearly) full literary acceptance. Don’t know where Harold Bloom stands on him, though.

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Comment by Matthew
2011-02-11 19:19:08

I imagine Harold Bloom would hate Lovecraft since he has been highly critical of Poe and he threw that temper tantrum when Stephen King won the National Book Award.

Comment by Rod Lott
2011-02-12 11:18:59

Daresay it is indeed “Cthulhu” that made the cut.

Comment by Will E.
2011-02-12 17:26:03

thanks, Rod. Great news. Yeah, Matthew, I was being a bit snarky about Bloom; I know he was *not* happy with King winning that award. I assume he feels the same way Edmund Wilson felt about HPL back in the ’40s: barely worth considering. Oh well, fuck them.

Comment by R
2011-02-11 11:28:06

I’m trying to imagine a world in which Rod didn’t particularly care for reading. But I can’t. So I’ll just go back to imagining a world in which Ninjas battle space aliens.

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Comment by Al Harron
2011-02-12 12:45:24

No Robert E. Howard, I take it? Lovecraft may have battered down the gates of the American pantheon, but it seems Howard still has a bit to go before he’s accepted.

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Comment by Rod Lott
2011-02-12 14:44:55

You take correctly.

Comment by Al Harron
2011-02-13 15:28:14

Regrettable, but I’m confident it’s only a matter of time: Penguin Classics have a Howard collection, the Library of America have a story in “American Supernatural Tales,” so the march has begun.

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