Deal Me In – Week 43 Wrap Up

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(Image from cafepress.com)

Happy Hallowe’en to everybody! Below are links to new posts since the last update:

Katherine read “[Answer]” by F. Paul Wilson http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/deal-me-in-week-43-answer/

Randall read Ray Bradbury’s “The Smile“.http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-smile-by-ray-bradbury.html

Dale read Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Merry Menhttp://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/robert-louis-stevenson-the-merry-men/

I read my first Salman Rushdie “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella Consummate their Relationship” http://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/salman-rushdies-christopher-columbus-and-queen-isabella-consummate-their-relationship/ this is another Deal Me In “twin” as Dale also posted about this story just last week.

Our year of fifty-two stories is winding down. Has anyone else begun building a roster for next year? I came up with one of my four “suits” over the weekend – I’m doing a “stories published in The New Yorker magazine” suit (gotta put that digital subscription with access to the short story archive to good use, right?). I have ideas for my other suits, but I’ll keep them secret for now. :-) What are your short story reading plans for 2015?

Salman Rushdie’s “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella Consummate their Relationship”

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(Nine of diamonds picture credit: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/6867/ )

Week 43 of my annual Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge produced the nine of diamonds which led me to the story. “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella Consummate their Relationship” by Salman Rushdie. Originally published in the June 17, 1991 issue of the New Yorker magazine, I “own” it via my digital subscription, which allows access to the vast short story archive of that fine publication. (Deal Me In fodder for years to come!) This story was recommended to me for DMI2014 by my blogging colleague and trusted reading advisor, Dale, whose work you may read at his excellent blog “Mirror with Clouds” coincidentally, Dale also had this story on his DMI roster and drew his card last week, just missing a “strange coincidence.”

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This very short story contains the author’s speculation on what the “relationship” between two famous historical figures might have been like. Once again I was amazed at how a skilled author can pack so much into just a few pages – how a story of such brevity can feel so complete and not leave the reader wanting to read more. The story follows the multiple petitionings of Columbus at Isabella’s court and their initial lack of success. The ups and down of Columbus’s emotions as he despairs of ever being accepted or even heard. After one failure, Rushdie writes of Columbus: “Invisibility claims him. He surrenders to its will.” At one point though, the later-to-be-famous explorer muses that “The search for money and patronage is not so different from the search for love.” and somewhat changes his approach.

What finally wins over the queen to patronage is her own epiphany – albeit prompted by external events: “Isabella…is shaken by the realization that she will never, never, NEVER! be satisfied by the possession of the known. Only the unknown, perhaps only the unknowable will satisfy her.” She then agrees to finance Columbus’s travels into an unknown that she may hopefully possess.

As a former history major, I must somewhat red-facedly admit that I don’t know very much about the preliminaries surrounding Columbus’s initial voyage (other than what every school kid in America learns, right or wrong. I do remember that Isabella was a quite powerful and effective monarch, who would likely make most lists like “top ten monarchs,” etc. (There’s a good bit of homework for you- who else would you put on that list?) Reading this story makes me want to read more about her and this period in history. And how appropriate that Deal Me In’s “hand of fate” led me to draw this card during the week of the “Columbus Day” holiday here in the U.S…

(Below: author Salman Rushdie)

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What are your reading experiences with Salman Rushdie? Any recommendations? This story is worth seeking out at your library or via the New Yorker archives if you have access.

(Below: Columbus pleads his case before the monarchs)

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Deal Me In – Week 42 Wrap Up

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A busy week for many book bloggers, with Dewey’s Readathon taking place Saturday (in which at least three DMI-ers participated – congrats to you all). Below are links to new posts. Only ten stories to go!

Dale read Salman Rushdie’s “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain Consummate their Relationship” (where the title may ‘longer than the actual story’) http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/salman-rushdie-christopher-columbus-and-queen-isabella-of-spain-consummate-their-relationship-santa-fe-ad-1492/

Randall (in Mississippi) read Mississippi’s own Richard Wright’s “The Man Who was Almost a Man” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-man-who-was-almost-man-by-richard.html

Katherine tried Greg Bear’s “The Fall of the House of Escher” http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/deal-me-in-week-42-the-fall-of-the-house-of-escher/

Candiss pans Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” (pan intended) http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/deal-me-in-challenge-story-42-the-classics-club-the-great-god-pan-by-arthur-machen/

I read Vladimir Korlenko’s “The Shades: A Phantasy” and found myself getting reacquainted with… Socrates! http://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/men-of-athens-let-us-investigate-this-question-vladimir-korlenkos-the-shades-a-phantasy/

On a related note. I also visited a “Local Authors Fair” at a nearby library on Saturday. I picked up a few short stories collections/anthologies from amongst the many, many authors there. I talked to about a dozen authors, and all those that I talked with at length enough to mention and describe the “Deal Me In” concept liked the idea and (I think) were excited they might be featured at some point in 2015…

See you next week!

Jess Walter’s “We Live in Water”

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It will come as no surprise to regular readers that I enjoy short story collections. Even acknowledging that predilection, I found Jess Walter’s 2013 collection “We Live in Water” to be particularly good. The author is scheduled to visit Indy in November as part of the annual Vonnegut Fest (see copy of flyer below), and the book club (in which I am a regular participant) that meets at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library here in town had considered reading something by him but eventually felt there wouldn’t be time to include it in addition to our already scheduled monthly meetings. Being a rebel, and emboldened by a ringing endorsement from the library’s curator, Chris, I read a book of his anyway. I’m very glad I did.

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“He watched the fish come to the end of its blue world, invisible and impassible, turn, go around and turn again as he sensed another wall and another and on and on. It didn’t even look like water in there, so clear and blue. And the goddamn fish just swam in circles, as if he believed that, one of these times, the glass wouldn’t be there and he would just sail off, into the open.”

The above passage is one of my favorites from the title story, “We Live in Water,” which in my opinion isn’t even the best, or second best story of the book.

One thing that most of the book’s thirteen stories have in common is that the protagonists are often quite flawed individuals, living on the fringes of ‘civilized’ society, or – if they’re not quite flawed – the world they navigate certainly is. Oren Dessens, e.g., in the title story is a habitual absentee parent who frequently “comes apart” in the face of challenging circumstances he is unequal to. While he is away trying to wriggle out of self-created messes, his young son Michael (who, not as flawed, tells part of the story from an outpost in time 34 years later) entertains himself by watching the fish in a large home aquarium. While watching, he stumbles upon perhaps a depressing truth about our lives, prompting him to later (seemingly out of the blue) ask his dad the mystifying question, “Do we live in water.”

I think my favorite story was “Don’t Eat Cat” which is set in a darkly amusingly constructed post-zombie-apocalyptic world where things are still surprisingly normal as the “zombie population” (“I know, we’re not supposed to call them zombies.” – an oft-repeated refrain in the story) has been incorporated into the structure of civilization. Some even hold down jobs, like at “Starbucks-Financial” for example. (In this future world, most major corporations are “food-service-bank” conglomerates, such as “Walmart-Schwab” and “KFC/B-of-A”). The people of this world who have become zombies have done so from an addiction to a drug, “Replexen,” and include the wife of the protagonist, Owen. Part of the story involves his obsessive searching for her, even though there’s really no way to “bring her back” in this end-times world.

The following passage explains Owen’s view fairly well:

“Everyone has an opinion of when it all went to hell: this war, that epidemic, the ten billion people threshold, the twelve, the environmental disaster, the repeated economic collapses, suicide pacts, anti-procreation laws, nuclear accidents, terrorist dirty bombs, polar thaws, rolling famines- blah blah blah… But here’s what I’ve come to believe. That maybe it’s no different now than it ever was. Maybe it’s ALWAYS the end of the world. Maybe you’re alive for awhile, and then you realize you’re going to die, and that’s such an insane thing to comprehend, you look around for answers and the only answer is that the world must die with you.”

Pretty gloomy stuff, eh? Yet the story itself is not without a lot of humor. Admittedly rather dark humor, but still…

Another favorite story was “Thief“, where Wayne, a father of three – fourteen, eleven and nine year olds, notices that someone has been stealing quarters from a big glass jar of coins on the floor of his bedroom closer. The jar’s name in the house is The Vacation Fund, since, after about every two years it has filled up sufficiently enough to fund or at least subsidize a family vacation (“just like Wayne’s dad used to do it”). Wayne’s speculations about who might be the thief serve to illustrate how much his children have become strangers to him, each in varying ways and degrees of course. He contrives an elaborate ruse to catch the guilty party red-handed, and the reader is on the edge of his seat wondering what the impending confrontation will be like.

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Other entries include “Anything Helps” – kind of a day-in-the-life story of a panhandler/recovering alcoholic, who at one time when he falls off the wagon shares that he “…had a beer. In a tavern. Like a real person, leaned up against the wall watching baseball. And it was great. Hell, he didn’t even drink all of it; it was more about the bar than the beer.” I liked that.

Virgo” takes us into the mind of a man who has what you might call an “inclination for stalking.” When his world collapses around him due to his behavior he offers the following: “I suppose it’s what Tanya thinks of me too. Maybe everyone. That I’m crazy. And Maybe I am. But if you really want my side of the story, here it is: Who isn’t crazy sometimes? Who hasn’t driven around a block hoping a certain person will come out; who hasn’t haunted a certain coffee shop, or stared obsessively at an old picture; who hasn’t toiled over every word in a letter, taken four hours to write a two-sentence-mail, watched the phone praying that it will ring…” This is clearly another protagonist with a tortured soul.

I’ll mention one final story. “Whellbarrow Kings” is The Odyssey (I capitalized that on purpose) of two down-and-outers chasing a fool’s dream of getting some easy money by pawning a discarded big-screen projection TV. There’s humor in this story as well, as the two hapless men steal a wheelbarrow as part of their impossible quest. The two men on the wheelbarrow quest demonstrate another common theme: that most of these “flawed protagonists” still retain at their core a certain dignity, one that makes you root for them and certainly makes you want to read further.

Have you read anything by the Author Jess Walter? His novel, “Beautiful Ruins” was a best-seller and is on the short list of potential 2015 reads for yet another book club I participate in. I hope it’s selected, though I’ll proabbly read it either way. Like I said, I’m a rebel. :-)

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“Men of Athens, let us investigate this question!” Vladimir Korlenko’s “The Shades: A Phantasy”

Week 42 of the 2014 Deal Me In Challenge brought me to Vladimir Korlenko’s short story, The Shades: A Phantasy. I own it as part of the collection Best Russian Short Stories, edited by Thomas Seltzer.

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(Above: Socrates; below: Hemlock)

 

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2,413 years ago, one of the most well-known philosophers in human history met his end. Socrates of Athens had been tried for “impiety” and “corrupting the youth” of that city. Found guilty, he was sentenced to death, a sentence to be carried out by drinking hemlock. It is after this verdict is issued that Korlenko’s story takes place.

We learn that, due to the Delian festival (where no blood may be shed in Athens) taking place, Socrates’s death sentence is delayed for thirty-two days. This gives his accusers and condemn-ers time to second guess his conviction. Not enough time, though, as the sentence is carried out, despite the efforts of many on behalf of Socrates.

After Socrates’s death, one of his most devoted students, Ctesippus, is understandably distraught, and his coping mechanism is to wander aimlessly in the hills. He recalls how often Socrates had eloquently spoke out for and defended those in need while “…when Socrates himself needed a champion, no one had been found to defend him with equal strength. Ctesippus blamed himself and his friends,and for that reason he wanted to avoid everybody – even himself, if possible.”

After Ctesippus becomes lost in the now darkened wilderness (oh, he loses track of time too :-) ) he has a vision or perhaps an ordinary dream. In this dream he sees both Socrates and another recently deceased Athenian citizen, Elpidias. As is often the way when a Greek philosopher is involved, an educational “dialogue” ensues, pitting Socrates, a champion of truth, vs. the Olympian gods revered by the superstitious Elpidias, and even the mighty Zeus with his dreadful thunderbolts cannot win a debate with the wise philosopher. As Socrates & Elpidias walk and converse “the soul of Ctesippus, released by sleep from its mortal envelop, flew after them, greedily absorbing the tones of clear Socratic speech.” Ctesippus learns a lot (as did I!) and after his experience reports back details to Plato and other members of The Academy. Stunned to a reverent silence, the gathering of philosophers sit in awe of Ctesippus’s story.

Finally Plato breaks the silence and says, “Let us investigate this dream and its significance.”
“Let us investigate it,” reply the others.

I thought this was a perfect understated ending to the story, evoking the spirit of inquiry popularized by the classical philosophers. As a Classics Minor waaaay back in college, I do remember the name Ctesippus making multiple appearances in the stories about Socrates (as related by Plato) but I don’t recall if this specific story is reworked from one in antiquity.

I also had not heard of Korlenko (I also found it spelled Korolenko in places) before reading this story but would read him again. Would you like to read this story? It’s available online at http://www.classicreader.com/book/2151/1/

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Above: The famous 1787 painting by Jaques Louis David, “The Death of Socrates”

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Above: Hmm… Did Korlenko himself cultivate “The Socrates Look”? I’d call that a big yes…

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Above: gratuitous pop-culture tie-in – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure included an encounter with Socrates. Ted immediately establishes “philosophic cred” with the ancient by stating, “Like sands through an hourglass, these are the days of our lives.” On that note I think I’d better stop. Until next week, readers – be excellent to each other! :-)

“I’ll Get You Your Asteroid!” Ben Winters’ “Last Policeman” Series.

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Before I started blogging about books and literature, I never used to go to “book events,” but now it seems like I’m going to them “all the time.” :-) Almost all the ones I’ve been to have been enjoyable too, and I always think, “I need to write a blog post about this!” but rarely do. So I have a backlog of four or five book events that I’m going to try to catch up with, even if some of them took place quite awhile ago now. So here goes (Part I of) nothing.

If you were following the news in early September, you may have heard about the “near miss” (in astronomical terms, at least) of asteroid “2014 RC.”

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Also, a bit further back (in July), a local bookstore, Indy Reads Books (see link at left under “local interest”), hosted a kind of “launch party” for author Ben Winters on the release of the final volume of his “Last Policeman” series. What’s the connection? Well, for those who don’t already know, Winters’ trilogy is set in a world facing an imminent and catastrophic asteroid impact.

(below: Travis DiNicola, Executive Director of Indy Reads, introduces Winters, who waits in the wings with his family)

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I read the first book of the trilogy (“The Last Policeman”) in preparation for this event and, though not a frequent reader of detective novels, did enjoy this one, mainly because of the premise and setting. Think about it, how would the people of the world react in such a situation? (and perhaps more importantly, how would you?) I suspect civilization would break down much faster than it does in The Last Policeman, but maybe that comes later as I progress through the next two books. We’ll see.

Winters gave an entertaining talk, including rendering some Bon Dylan tunes on a … ukulele(!). Dylan is a favorite of the series’ lead character, Hank Palace. If fact, we learned from Winters that he wanted to title the book “Slow Train Coming” (or maybe just “Slow Train” – I cant remember) from the Dylan song…

“And there’s a slow,
Slow train comin’
Up around the bend…”

…which does seem appropriate based on the book’s premise, but – as I’ve learned at other author events – publishers usually win the arguments regarding a book’s title.

(Below: a ukulele-wielding Winters entertains us as an adoring daughter looks on…)

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Anyway, Winters also challenged us with a few trivia questions about the series, with some token prizes of false mustaches (in honor of the third book’s cover erroneously picturing Palace WITHOUT a mustache) in addition to a big prize of all three books in the series to one lucky winner. With the novel fresh in my mind, I was fortunate enough to win one of the mustaches. :-) Thankfully the monetary value of such a prize does not compromise my amateur status in the trivia world.

Below: my “prize” – the bandit mustache – which I later tried on…

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…though it made me look nothing like one of the famous bandits of cinema, from the classic file Treasure of the Sierra Madre

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<ahem> Getting back to the book, the novel starts out with Palace investigating a “suspicious” suicide. Even though suicides have become quite common in the world depicted in this pre-apocalyptic novel (can I coin that term here, by the way, or is it already taken?), there’s something about this one that doesn’t quite smell right, and that’s enough to start another, investigative  slow train rolling, which gains momentum throughout the first book. In a nice touch, the start of the different sections of the book are illustrated with a depiction of the asteroid’s progress, with data that, though Greek to me and probably most readers, Winters explained as “basically GPS coordinates for outer space.”

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Winters shared some interesting anecdotes and inside info on the book and series’ progress, and my favorite was the story of his research to see if an asteroid with the timing characteristics as he describes in the book was scientifically feasible. He related a visit with Tim Spahr at Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics  (Winters is a former resident of New England). Spahr was intrigued by the novel’s premise, and though it appeared a “normal” NEO (near earth object) wouldn’t necessarily fit the specifications, after some puzzling assured the author that “I’ll get you your asteroid!” I love it!

Have you read or heard of The Last Policeman series? (It won a 2013 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original) I have posted about a short story by Winters once before “The Man on the Monon (If You Believe)”  and have also enjoyed another of his short stories, “The Old Slow Man and His Gun From Outer Space” in an anthology of “Weird Western” stories, “Dead Man’s Hand.”

Below: Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics

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(Below: The great 1950’s film “On the Beach,” based on Nevil Shute’s novel of the same name was one inspiration for this series. It also takes place in a world where “the clock is ticking” with time running out as a radioactive cloud slowly approaches a – to this point anyway – unaffected Australia – another “slow train comin'”)

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Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

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The title of this book is somewhat misleading. I knew something of the subject matter going in – an “underground” book club in Iran’s capital that read forbidden (and decadent!) western books – but Lolita is only one of several books that is discussed. The other primary ones being The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller, and Pride and Prejudice. Other works by the four authors often come into the discussion as well.

The author was a professor of western literature at the University of Tehran at the time of the Islamic Revolution that took place in Iran after the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini. (The education field is not generally a good vocation to find oneself in a the time of revolution, let alone teaching western literature in a country undergoing an Islamic Revolution!) Nafisi was educated in the United States and returned to her home country just as the revolution was taking hold. Her excitement soon turned to dismay as oppression – particularly of women and the intelligentsia – became more and more prevalent in the new regime.

The book does not unfold in actual chronological sequence, as we are introduced at the very start to her private book club (meetings were held in Nafisi’s home) which was formed toward the end of her time in Iran (she left in 1997). It is often through the personal stories told by the handful of students in this underground book club that we learn of the vile and relentless oppression that women faced (still face?) in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Much of the book’s narrative focuses on the requirement that women wear a veil, something the author and others refused to do, resulting in great persecution.

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We also learn more of the horrors of the long war between Iraq and Iran. The tactic of “human wave” maneuvers where “thousands of Iranian soldiers, mainly very young boys ranging in age from ten to sixteen and middle-aged and old men, cleared the minefields by walking over them.” Also a result of that war were the many bombing raids on Tehran, with Nafisi (along with family and students) frequently seeking shelter, sometimes reading as they wait for an all clear signal. One of my favorite passages of the book speaks about this:

“If a sound can be preserved in the same way as a leaf or a butterfly, I would say that somewhere within the pages of my Pride and Prejudice, that most polyphonic of all novels, and my Daisy Miller is hidden like an autumn leaf the sound of the red siren.”

(There were color-coded sirens for when bombs were on the way, imminent or immediate)

Overall, though, I had several problems with this book, some admittedly due to a cultural bias (e.g., the introduction of characters whose names gave no clue to me – a western reader – as to gender, which I would have to later (and sometimes much later) discover via context, left me not remembering “who was who” for the most part.) but others I felt should have been corrected or dealt with via editing. Primary of these was the author’s seemingly arbitrary use and non-use of quotation marks for dialogue. Why? At least be consistent. I’m not a fan of the ‘no quotation marks dialogue’ in general but when you switch back and forth like the author did, reading becomes more of a chore and too much of one’s reading effort is spent on this issue instead of the story. “I hate when that happens.”

Another bone of contention was the disjointed time line of the book. It’s “all over the place” and again another portion of my reading effort is spent trying to stay oriented chronologically. I was also continually off-put by the author’s caginess regarding some of her personal history. Maybe it is a matter of public record, but what exactly were her own thoughts about the revolution? It seems hinted at that she was actively in favor of it during her time as a student in the U.S., but she’s pretty scant on details. Is she maybe embarrassed to have supported a cause that morphed into such an evil regime (I sure would be), or does she assume the reader already knows her personal history? This latter option would be consistent with the literary parts of the book, where the readers’ familiarity with those works appears to be a given assumption. Fortunately, I was familiar with almost all of the works discussed, but not, for example, Nabokov’s “Invitation to a BeHeading.” At one point, she even writes like we all have the same copy of Pride and Prejudice saying “Please turn to page 148 and visualize the scene as you read the passage…” What?! Thankfully she eventually quotes a passage, but ‘please turn to page…’ Should have been edited out, certainly.

I should also mention that Nafisi spoils the ending of at least three works (no concern to her, obviously, as we were expected to be familiar with all of them to begin with). I was almost expecting her to tell us something about rosebud by the end of the book.

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Am I sorry I read this book? No, but I was expecting more based on reviews and praise that had been heaped upon it. I read this book for a book club meeting. The reactions of the group were mixed, but for “show and tell” one of the members brought a copy of (at least most of) the literary works it discusses – a hefty stack! A couple members had also travelled to the Middle East (in their cases Egypt and Qatar) and shared some of their observations and experiences. I will say the book made for a good and often lively discussion.

A few quotes from the book:

“Living in the Islamic Republic is like having sex with a man you loathe.” (The author says this to her husband at one point. He doesn’t ask her how she would know what the latter feels like)

After the Revolutionary Guard “raids” a coffee shop “Every time something like this happened, I, like many others, would think of leaving, of going to a place where everyday life was not such a battleground.”

“No one ever taught me to be happy.” An unutterably sad statement by one of Nafisi’s students, Nassrin. This was a depressing book in many ways, but that short sentence pretty much sums it up for many.

(Below: The Ayatollah Khomeini, an architect of evil…)

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Deal Me In – Week 41 Wrap Up

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A little late with the wrap up this week, but here, finally, are links to this week’s posts by DMI participants:

Dale read Ernest Hemingway’s “Now I Lay Me” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/ernest-hemingway-now-i-lay-me/

I read Alexander Pushkin’s “The Queen of Spades” http://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/the-queen-of-spades-by-alexander-pushkin-brought-to-you-by-the-queen-of-clubs-via-deal-me-in-2014/

Katherine read David Copperfield’s story “Eagle” http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/deal-me-in-week-41-eagle/

Randall read William Hoffman’s “Amazing Grace” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/10/amazing-grace-by-william-hoffman.html

OTHER LINKS Of SHORT STORY INTEREST

A review of Margaret Atwood’s new collection “Stone Mattresshttp://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/10/stone-mattress-margaret-atwood-review-short-story-collection

Actually, here’s a second review (they’re popping up everywhere!) http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/lucy-sussex-reviews-margaret-atwoods-stone-mattress-short-stories-20141003-10pi83.html

Free Alice Munro stories available online? Sounds good to me! (a couple of these have been read by our Deal Me In group this year) http://www.openculture.com/2013/10/read-14-short-stories-from-nobel-prize-winning-writer-alice-munro-free-online.html

Tis the season to be… scary. Interesting post about Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic short story collection “In a Glass Darkly” whose influence persists today. (Note: I did not watch the linked videos and don’t know if any might be “objectionable”…) http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/Dubliner-inspired-horrors-from-ghost-stories-to-the-Twilight-movies-VIDEOS.html

“The Queen of Spades” by Alexander Pushkin (brought to you by the queen of clubs via Deal Me In 2014)

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It was back to “Holy Russia”***in week 41 of Deal Me In 2014, as I drew the queen of clubs. If you’ve been following my Deal Me In posts, you already know that in this year’s version I assigned the clubs suit to “stories by Russian authors.” This is also the second story of Pushkin’s that I’ve read, as last year his “The Snowstorm” was assigned to the Queen of …Diamonds http://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/alexander-pushkins-the-snowstorm/

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I own “The Queen of Spades” as the “cover story” in an e-book titled “Best Russian Short Stories” where a queen of spades card is the picture featured on the “cover” page. I’ve read ten of the nineteen stories the volume contains and have enjoyed them immensely.

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This story begins with a card party “at the house of Narumov.” The reader is immediately drawn to a character, Hermann, who seems content to only observe the games the others play. His explanation?

“Play interests me very much, but I am not in the position to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous.”

(This reminded me a little of what my Dad used to say about gambling: “Never bet what you cannot afford to lose.” I’m sure that’s not an “original” of his, but certainly sound advice, and I have always followed it.)

Soon, we learn of a story about one of the players’ grandmothers, Countess Anna Fedotovna, who when young apparently had a supernatural ability to pick the winning cards in the game of Faro (I think this is the game being played in the story, though it is not specifically named). Tomsky, the grandson, marvels about how he doesn’t understand why she doesn’t play, what with such an ability at her disposal.

Hermann, now aware of a “surefire” way to win that, I guess, doesn’t “risk the necessary,” begins a quest to gain this knowledge from the aged countess. We all know that nothing is ever certain in gambling though, and Hermann’s plans to cash in on Countess Anna’s ability do not develop the way he envisioned them…

This story (published in 1834) was not among my favorite stories in this collection, and as I was re-reading the introduction, I learned that its editor says this is not a “true” Russian story, and that it more properly belongs to the “romantic” period and could have just as well been written by “John Brown in an American magazine.”

I only have two Russian stories left to be dealt from my DMI 2014 “shoe” and will admittedly be sorry when they are exhausted. Sorry enough to have another suit dedicated to them in next year’s Deal Me In? We’ll see…

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For info about the card game Faro, check out this Wikipedia article. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faro_(card_game)

***Okay, any other fans of musician Al Stewart (of “Time Passages” and “Year of the Cat” fame) out there? One of my favorite songs of his has always been “Roads to Moscow” – especially the haunting final lines, which I’ll share below:

“And now they ask me of the time
That I was caught behind their lines and taken prisoner
“They only held me for a day, a lucky break”, I say;
They turn and listen closer
I’ll never know, I’ll never know
Why I was taken from the line and all the others
To board a special train and journey deep into the heart of holy Russia
And it’s cold and damp in the transit camp, and the air is still and sullen
And the pale sun of October whispers the snow will soon be coming
And I wonder when I’ll be home again and the morning answers
“Never”
And the evening sighs and the steely Russian skies go on forever”

(Below: Al Stewart’s greatest hits album – still on regular rotation on my iTunes apps!) :-)

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Deal Me In – Week 40 Wrap Up

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A lot of great stories and posts this week. Check out the links below.

Candiss is back, and with a “doubleheader” covering Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and Anton Chekhov’s “Gooseberries” http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/deal-me-in-challenge-stories-39-40-an-unexpected-relationship-between-chekhov-and-le-guin/

Dale brings us Dorothy Parker’s “The Waltz” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/dorothy-parker-the-waltz/

It’s the Ace of Spades at Time Enough at Last which means Randall shares with us “February 1999: Ylla” by Ray Bradbury http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/10/february-1999-ylla-by-ray-bradbury.html

Katherine drew the King of Clubs and reviews “A Cascade of Lies” by Steve Rasnic Tem http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/deal-me-in-week-40-a-cascade-of-lies/

At two stories a “pop”, James is down to just four cards in his deck after reading Grace Paley’s “In Time Which Made a Monkey of us All” and “A Prince of Thirteen Days” by Ayala Dawn Johnson http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/10/05/grace-paley-vs-alaya-dawn-johnson/

My story was so short, I almost felt like I had the week off, but Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” was, pound for pound, one of the best I’ve read recently. http://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/kate-chopins-story-of-an-hour/

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