The Ransom of Reading

Recently, I finished reading The Best Short Stories of O’Henry.

I urge you to read it, as I thoroughly enjoyed it. Through his unique, classic form of storytelling, O’Henry forces you to finish all of his anecdotes, as they are, almost without exception, filled with wry humor. O’Henry is an expert storyteller. Before you can stop him, he sucks you into twentieth-century New York or the yokel town of Summit, and forces you to dine with such distasteful personages as Wentworth Caswell or the infamous “Red Chief.” To illustrate his characters’ personalities he rarely, if ever, states any facts describing individuals. Instead, he shows what they are not with such blinding clarity, that the reader cannot help but envision a character so real they could be standing before you.

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With a stealthy, but knife-like precision, he pins all the individuals’ traits with remarkable distinctiveness. Then, after he abducts you with his matchless writing ability, O’Henry keeps you occupied with his unprecedented wit. When, in the closing of “The Ransom of Red Chief,” you read O’Henry’s prose concerning the demonic little “Red Chief,” you have read the epitome of witty storytelling. The very idea of two kidnappers being forced to pay the father of their hostage to take the child back is comical enough, but when he adds that “(the father) cannot be held responsible for what the neighbors might do if they saw someone returning (the child),” you fully realize the extent of O’Henry’s mirthful genius. Although this hilarity is most apparent in “The Ransom of Red Chief,” it is present in almost all of O’Henry’s short stories. “A Cosmopolite in a Cafe” illustrates this perfectly.

Set in a bustling cafe in New York, the story chronicles the conversation between someone who claims to have no special feelings for any one place, a strange young man, and the narrator. It proves with accurate wittiness that there really is no such thing as a “true cosmopolite.” This droll form of storytelling is unique in O’Henry, and I would pay any ransom to read his works again.