OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScatter gun reading this last couple of weeks (and birdshot writing it must be said).

I’ve been flumoxing around in that treasury of short stories, Hammerton’s ‘The World’s Thousand Best‘. Árpád Berczik, for example, and his amusing ‘A Pursuit of Venus‘, which I’m sure could be re-worked, and suspect was itself a re-working of a tale told many times.

This was a Hungarian writer of the nineteenth century and as the preface to the ‘East European and Others’ section confesses, ‘nothing is more difficult to convey from one language into another’ as humour. Moving from American into English might not seem such a leap, might even be thought a step that we do not notice we have taken.

I also got to read a couple of stories by Solomon F. Smith (1801-1869), from the following volume of the same set. Smith’s ‘Wooding Up‘ is one of those river boat tales that we associate with Mark Twain, whom Smith preceded, and it has the same lively humour about it. More fun, to me, was Jenks’s Whiskers, in which a speculative investment in those eponymous handlebars – the narrator buys them off Jenks – doubles the money when the new owner comes to collect his purchases on the night of a ball, and opts to take only one for the time being. Jenks, without his whiskers is a lesser man, but without one side only of them, he is a lost cause so far as the ladies are conscerned. He must secure his freedom to remove the other by buying it back, at almost any price!

This story had the ring of O Henry more than of Twain for me (and I think the editor may have mentioned that in his introduction). Smith preceded Henry, and who knows, perhaps gave him some ideas! Or perhaps like Forster’s novelists they were all in some magical circular room somewhere out of time.

Whiskers apart, I’ve also been plodding on through Florence Goyet’s study of ‘the Classic Short Story’, plodding not because of the text – which is thought provoking and engaging – but because my e-reader makes pdf files difficult to read without a magnifying glass, and I can manage only an hour or so of slow progress at a sitting.

This week’s tranche hit the comparison of short stories and travel writing, reminding me that I read a while ago a very good collection of shorts from Paul Theroux, those these were short novels. Fiction and travel writing have a lot in common, though when first introduced to the idea – by Scottish writer and M Litt tutor Tom Pow, who created a fictional ‘guide’ for his travels in Peru – I found it difficult to accept the fiction/fact dichotomy that’s set up by casting real experience into a digestible, fictionalised form. Johnny Morris (and fictional companion Tubby Foster), of course, did just that in my childhood.

I travelled to Islay this week as well, and here’s a photograph of a gem I found…a fact is stranger than fiction woollen mill, still operating its Victorian & Edwardian equipment, though not now with water power!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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