Collecting Rare Books and First Editions - The Short Story and The Private Library (Part I)
By L. D. Mitchell
Just why it should have happened, or why it should have happened just when it did, he could not, of course, possibly have said; nor perhaps could it even have occurred to him to ask. The thing was above all a secret, something to be preciously concealed from Mother and Father; and to that very fact it owed an enormous part of its deliciousness. It was like a peculiarly beautiful trinket to be carried unmentioned in one’s trouser-pocket-a rare stamp, an old coin, a few tiny gold links found trodden out of shape on the path in the park, a pebble of carnelian, a sea shell distinguishable from all others by an unusual spot or stripe-and, as if it were any one of these, he carried around with him everywhere a warm and persistent and increasingly beautiful sense of possession. Nor was it only a sense of possession-it was also a sense of protection. It was as if, in some delightful way, his secret gave him a fortress, a wall behind which he could retreat into heavenly seclusion. This was almost the first thing he had noticed about it-apart from the oddness of the thing itself-and it was this that now again, for the fiftieth time, occurred to him, as he sat in the little schoolroom...
Conrad Aiken, Silent Snow, Secret Snow (1934)
Given the tremendous demands on one's time in modern industrialized societies, we have always thought it interesting that more book collectors do not have a number of collections of short stories on their bookshelves. This literary form, born of oral storytelling traditions, is less complex, with fewer characters and plot devices, and appears far better suited to the pace of modern life, than its wordier cousins, novels and novellas. Short stories are just the right length for consumption during a subway ride, or a break during a hectic day, or the hour before dawn when one's household (hopefully) is still abed.
Short story collections have been published for a wide range of authors. Among the many literary worthies who have produced exceptional work in this form are such well-known authors as Honoré de Balzac, Heinrich Böll, and Haruki Murakami. Of course, not every short story in collections is (to use baseball parlance) a "home run." This is not a problem if one is collecting everything written by a particular favorite author. As we shall see in the next post, though, some folks are much more selective ...
The article by L. D. Mitchell was published in The Private Library. It is presented here by permission of the author. Thank you very much.
>>> Part 2