How is it possible there was a time when I shied away from short stories?
With temperatures way down in the -20C area last night I was more than happy to let my husband brave the cold while taking our dog for a quick whip around the block. Deacon gets suited up as well and is quite happy to shove his face into snowdrifts so don't feel too sorry for him.
Once they were out the door I poured a cup of tea and grabbed my new short story collection London Stories. My eye went straight to George Gissing's story.
Christopherson was written in 1906. For bibliophiles out there this story will handily fill you with no small amount of guilt so be warned. It's about a chance meeting between two men in a bookshop 'where Great Portland Street opens into Marylebone Road.' Just as one of the men pays for a book he is approached by the other who asks to have a look inside the cover. Sure enough, there is a name written there...W. R. Christopherson, 1849. Just as the gentleman thought, the book used to be his and he looks at it longingly.
Christopherson is a man in his sixties, out of work and looking the worse for wear. Through further conversation it's revealed that his wife works to the point of exhaustion for very little money and is not well. Christopherson, in denial as to his financial state, spends his wife's earnings on collecting ever more books. Over time, the two men run into each other in bookshops and eventually Christopherson offers his new acquaintance a peek at his library. A library would insinuate some sort of order but this is not the view which greets the visitor. Books are stacked everywhere with mere pathways here and there so as to navigate the run-down flat. So many, in fact, that the usually comforting aroma of leather, paper, and ink, fills the senses to the point of nausea.
A well-off relative of Mrs. Christopherson, Mrs Keeting, has made an offer to the down at heel couple. Free room and board, as well as food, for keeping her house in Norfolk ready for any guests who choose to visit. But there is no place for thousands of books.
The idea of parting with any of his beloved collection fills Christopherson with despair but what are the books value compared to the health of his wife? I won't give away the ending but if you have fifteen minutes why not enjoy the story in its entirety here.
And just a thought when it comes to short story collections. Do you start at the beginning and read your way through or dip in and out?