Selected Shorts: Expect the Unexpected

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Guest host Neil Gaiman introduces stories with surprises.

Ordinary events yield unexpected results in the four tales on this program.  First Jane Yolen’s “The Baby Sitter,” includes some familiar details: a creepy Victorian house, mysterious footsteps, and a teenage narrator in peril.  But it turns out to be a ghost story with a twist.  The story is from Yolen’s collection of modern myths, Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  She is a prolific young adult and fantasy writer, but this story has wit to spare for all ages.  The reader is SELECTED SHORTS’ late host and creator Isaiah Sheffer.

James Thurber’s classic character doesn’t just expect the unexpected, he craves it.  In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” Thurber introduces a milquetoast with attitude, who escapes from a drab life into a series of adventurous fantasies.  Gaiman and SHORTS literary commentator Hannah Tinti discuss Thurber’s lasting appeal. 

The third story on this program is Ray Bradbury’s eerie, “The Pedestrian.” It’s based on an actual episode in Bradbury’s life, when an innocent stroll down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles attracted the attention of police.  Though published in 1951, it anticipates our media-dominated lives, and may have been the starting point for one of Bradbury’s most celebrated dystopian fantasies, Fahrenheit 451.  Reader Jamey Sheridan starred in the Stephen King mini-series “The Stand” and has a recurring role on “Homeland.”

Finally, we return to James Thurber is a more gently humorous vein.  “The Wood Duck” is part memoir, part story, and chronicles the author’s chance encounter with a duck with nine lives.  SHORTS regular Malachy McCourt infuses this quirky tale with bemused indignation.

“The Baby-Sitter,” by Jane Yolen, performed by Isaiah Sheffer  

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” by James Thurber, performed by Dick Cavett

“The Pedestrian,” by Ray Bradbury, performed by Jamey Sheridan  

“The Wood Duck,” by James Thurber, performed by Malachy McCourt

The SELECTED SHORTS theme is David Peterson's “That's the Deal,” performed by the Deardorf/Peterson Group.

For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit

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And for more thoughts on the stories in SHORTS, check out literary commentator Hannah Tinti’s site at