30 Short Stories in 30 Days: The List

Last year, for the month of January, I read a short story every day. I set this challenge for myself as a concrete goal that would expose me to many authors, genres, and writing styles in a short time and collectively improve my own writing. And it did: After each story I’d reflect on what I’d read in terms of both content and writing, and then I’d write a blog post about it.

What I forgot to do was post a complete list of the 30 stories. So, requested by a reader and terribly belated, here it is– the 30 (actually 31) stories I read for this challenge. The links included are to the blog posts I wrote for each story, most of which contain links to where the story can be found online.

Enjoy!

30 Stories in 30 Days: The List

  1. “The Saucier’s Apprentice” by S.J. Perelman (Day 1)
  2. “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe (Day 2)
  3. “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury (Day 3)
  4. “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck (Day 4)
  5. “The South” (El Sur) by Jorge Luis Borges (Day 5)
  6. “The Door” by E.B. White (Day 6)
  7. “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez (Day 7)
  8. “Three Questions” by Leo Tolstoy (Day 8)
  9. “The Tale” by Joseph Conrad (Day 9)
  10. “A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka (Day 10)
  11. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (Day 11)
  12. “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant (Day 12)
  13. “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry (Day 13)
  14. “Graven Image” by John O’Hara (Day 14)
  15. “The Nightingale and the Rose” by Oscar Wilde(Day 15)
  16. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor (Day 16)
  17. “The Standard of Living” by Dorothy Parker (Day 17)
  18. “The Happy Man” by Jonathan Lethem (Day 18)
  19. An Upheaval by Anton Chekhov (Day 19)
  20. “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs (Day 20)
  21. “Almost No Memory” by Lydia Davis (Day 21)
  22. “The Three-Day Blow” by Ernest Hemingway (Day 22)
  23. “The Second Bakery Attack” by Haruki Murakami (Day 23)
  24. “Putois” by Anatole France (Day 24)
  25. “The Ghosts” by Lord Dunsany (Day 25)
  26. “Nicolas was…” by Neil Gaiman (Day 26)
  27. “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut (Day 27)
  28. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Day 28)
  29. “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov (Day 29)
  30. “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen (Day 30)
  31. *Bonus story! “The Apostate” by George Milburn (Day 31)

30 Stories, Day 30: The Little Match Girl

 GOOOOOAL! It’s the last day of my 30 day reading challenge (one short story a day in efforts to learn from the masters) and I celebrate with one that I’ve been meaning to read for a very long time now—ever since someone (I believe it was the talented Daniela?) mentioned it was one of her favorites. It certainly is a classic, and I should have known I would love it; it is written by Hans Christian Andersen, who has penned some of my own all-time favorite fairytales.

Enjoy 🙂

Oh, and a heads up—I plan to do another story tomorrow, just to round out the month. No one here has disparnumerophobia, right?

The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen

Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. “Rischt!” how it blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as she held her hands over it: it was a wonderful light. It seemed really to the little maiden as though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass ornament at top. … The little girl had already stretched out her feet to warm them too; but–the small flame went out, the stove vanished: she had only the remains of the burnt-out match in her hand.

Synopsis

A poor child wanders the snowy city streets on the last night of the year. She has no hat, gloves, or slippers—she had slippers, but they were secondhand, too large, and fell from her feet and were lost beneath a carriage—and is dreadfully cold and hungry.

She thinks of going home, but it is just as cold at home: the roof has gaps in it and does not shelter against the bitter wind, and furthermore, her father might hurt her, because she did not sell a single match today.

The girl sits at a corner stoop between two homes. She is freezing: her hands and feet red and blue with cold. A match might warm her! she thinks—though she hesitates to use rather than sell them.

She gives in and strikes a match.

Lo! it becomes a wonderful light and warms her: it is as a magnificent iron stove. She holds her hands to it; it warms them; she makes also to warm her feet, but the match goes out.

She strikes another.

This time the match lights up so brightly she can see through one of the home walls beside her: inside is a brilliant dinner table with porcelain and roast goose stuffed with apples and dried plums. Even more brilliantly, the goose hops out of the dish and floats right up to the little girl—but the match goes out.

She strikes another.

The third match takes her beneath the most glorious Christmas tree she has ever seen. It is lit with thousands of lights, and colors shine all about. She reaches out to touch them, but the match goes out.

Oddly, the lights remain—and they rise up higher and higher until they become stars. It is as the girl watches them that she sees one fall.

Seeing the falling star, she knows that someone has just died; for her grandmother, beloved and long deceased, has told her a falling star is the sign of a soul’s ascension to heaven.

She strikes another match, and in its light sees her beloved grandmother.

“Grandmother!” cries the girl. She doesn’t want to lose her grandmother with the light as she lost the stove, and the roast goose, and the Christmas tree; instead she begs her grandmother to take her with her, and rubs the entire bundle of matches against the wall. The bundle gives a resplendent light, brighter than noon-day; her grandmother is radiant, and guides the little girl, by her arm, into the brilliant sky. Neither is cold, or hungry, or anxious; for now they are in heaven.

At dawn, on the corner stoop, people passing observe a little girl with rosy cheeks and a smile; a bundle of burnt matches beside her. She has frozen to death.

Observations

This is one of those cases, I think, where fiction is more powerful than nonfiction. Rather than enumerating and trying to dissect and resolve the issues of poverty, the desperate and the starving, we are given a short, demonstrative portrait. It doesn’t preach; it only shows. The portrait is beautiful, and saddening, and real, and moves us far more than any statistics ever could.

That said (I say! I think I feel a moral coming on), one should be careful not to underestimate the value of short stories—especially if those stories are thought of as “simple” or intended for children.

Literature like this—like “The Little Match Girl”—has the power to change the world.

Vocab

farthing: an obsolete monetary unit and coin of the UK, equal to a quarter of an old penny

Remember—a bonus story tomorrow! Until then.

30 Stories, Day 8: Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy

Now I can finally say I’ve read some Tolstoy. Wahoo! …Just War & Peace left to knock out…no big…

Here is day 8 of my whirlwind bedtime adventure to read 30 short stories in 30 days (…and hope that some of it will rub off in my own writing):

“Three Questions” by Leo Tolstoy

“It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.

…He had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to anyone who would teach him. And learned men came to the King, but they all answered his questions differently.”

Synopsis

As the title and excerpt suggest, this is the story of a king who seeks the answer to three questions which he feels will help him be the master of all his affairs. He puts out the word and offers great riches to anyone who can provide satisfactory answers to his questions (see paraphrased below):

  1. When is the best time to do each thing?
  2. Who are the most important people to work with?
  3. What is most important to do?

People come from far and wide to answer the king’s questions, but there is a great degree of discord among the answers. Discontented at the scattered and unconvincing replies, the king sets out to seek the answers himself by visiting a wise old hermit.

This hermit will only see commoners, so the king is careful to dress in plain clothes and leave his horse and his body guard at some distance from the hut. When the king reaches the hermit’s home he finds him sitting in his front yard, digging. He approaches and asks his questions.

The hermit hears but does not answer; he merely continues digging. The king, seeing that the man is tired, offers to take the spade and dig awhile in his place.

When the king has dug and dug and has dug so much that he can dig no more, he puts down the spade and repeats his questions. Then, before the hermit can answer, somebody comes running out of the wood towards the hermit’s hut.

It is a man holding his stomach, wounded and bleeding. He stumbles up to the hut and falls before the hermit and the king, who take him in and dresses his wounds. The blood does not stop flowing for a long time, so the king must constantly wash the bandages and redress the wound, wash the bandages and redress the wound.

The king, tired from his travels and the laborious garden work, falls asleep at the side of the wounded man’s bed.

When he awakes the wounded man is staring at him. The man is a stranger to the king, but the king is not a stranger to the man. He begs forgiveness, and the king says he has nothing to pardon him for. The stranger explains: he had been on a mission to avenge his brother (whom the king had had executed) and heard that the king had come to visit the hermit, alone. He came after the king but found his guard instead, and the guard wounded him to his present state. Then, fate of fates, the king himself took him in and tended his wounds. He is in the king’s debt, he says, and he and his sons will gladly be his servants for the rest of their days.  The king forgives the man and promises to send his own physician to attend him, as well as to restore his brother’s property which was seized.

Finally the king approaches the hermit and asks his questions a final time. The hermit replies that he has been shown his answers: (spoiler Alert: stop reading if you want the morals to be a surprise!)

  1. the most important time is the present, because it is the only time over which we have any control
  2. the most necessary person or persons are present company and
  3. the most important of all affairs is to do your present company good.

I highly recommend reading at least the last paragraph of the story to see those answers in their whole context as the hermit presents them.

Favorite line:

“Remember then: there is only one time that is important—Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.”

Observations

Not a single word out of place here. Everything reads easily: is simple, flows unburdened by unnecessary descriptions or flashy adjectives and adverbs. The story is short and to the point, and I know if I ever attempt to write any fables or instructive tales (for they are some of my favorite stories) I will be revisiting this as an example.

In the vein of simplicity, there was also no difficult or extraordinary vocabulary. The point of tales such as this is not to be whimsical or eloquent; it is to communicate, and most often to communicate to an audience composed of or including children. Using language which is accessible to all ages is not just wise but necessary if you want all ages to be receptive to your story.

Finally, Three Questions is different from one of my deepest impressions of fables, which is that usually the characters are animals. In this story the subjects are human through and through—but it is still effective. [Might have to do a separate post sometime in the future on what makes a good fable.] Perhaps a parable is a more accurate description. Actually, although only a short story, the style and telling of this piece reminded me a bit of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. All I know is, after reading this I feel less intimidated and more excited to read War and Peace and Anna Karenina!

Vocab

None; this story is purposefully simple.

Hasta mañana.