The Gift of the Magi and Other Short Stories by O. Henry
I mostly remember “The Gift of the Magi” from its Sesame Street retelling. Burt sold his paper clip collection to give Ernie a soap dish for his rubber ducky, and Ernie sold his rubber ducky to buy Burt a box for his paper clips. So sweet.
That one story was all I knew of O. Henry until reading this little collection. It was really interesting to see the kind of stories that were enormously popular a century ago. There were several cases where it seemed like the humor didn’t translate or the style seemed overdone, but mostly I could see the appeal. A few of the stories seemed clichéd to me, but it’s not unlikely that I got that feeling because this story was the original source of the cliché. I didn’t know that crime was such a theme of O. Henry’s stories. There were a couple pieces about someone recently released from prison, and what he does next. Several of them were about one person outsmarting another, with a signature twist at the end.
One story was set in Nashville and went on about how it was such a boring, sleepy little town. That was kind of hilarious to me, but I guess the setting was pre-Grand Ole Opry, etc. That story was kind of problematic in other ways because of its portrayal of African-Americans as cheats and former slave owners as deserving the loyalty of their recently freed slaves.