Sun in the Heart by Roberta Spindler – Selection 46 of #DealMeIn2019

 

The Card: ♠Nine♠ of Spades (playing card image found at kickstarter.com/projects/1894542039/oracle-mystifying-playing-cards )

The Suit: For Deal Me In 2019, ♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠ are my Suit for darker, sci-fi, Ghost, and “alternative-type” Stories. How’s that for a broad category?

The Author: Roberta Spindler is a New-to-Me Author. From the “About” info in the anthology which this story is from, I learned that she is a video editor who has “written since her teens.” You can find her author page on Goodreads.com but you may want to brush up on your Portuguese first. (photo is from goodreads)

The Story: “Sun in the Heart” is from the Solarpunk short story anthology “Solarpunk: Ecological And Fantastical Stories From a Sustainable World.” The book is published by World Weaver Press, I’ve read some of their other offerings and actually won a hard copy of this particular book via a Twitter giveaway. (I guess I can no longer say,”I’ve never won anything!” which I often do when I fail to win a raffle at the office or whatever.) 🙂

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2019.

Sun in the Heart

“Almost ninety-seven years had passed since the implants had begun to be used, and they had already acquired the status of true salvation of mankind. But in Lucio’s view, it was ironic that men depended on sunlight to survive, since the problems began when solar flares, already absurdly intense since 2214, tripled their strength three years later.”

Do you know of the “Solarpunk” literary genre? There’s a good definition of it in the lead-off of the Wikipedia article here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solarpunk but the short of it is: “a movement that encourages optimistic envisionings of the future in light of present environmental concerns, such as climate change and pollution as well as social inequality.” I particularly like that the future envisionings are optimistic. We can all use that these days, right?

Anyway… This story takes place, by my calculations using a couple references within, during the 24th Century. It’s setting is near São Paulo, Brazil. Brazil has become a new world power since it was their scientists who developed the technology which saved humankind from the devastating effects of a changed planet. Their development of the concept of “photonutrition” led quickly to implants and eventually sophisticated tattoos which allowed their bearers to live off of sunlight. This seemed pretty far-fetched to me – and perhaps to you also! – but who is to say what technologies or currently unsuspected refuges humanity might flee to if the situation of a changing planet becomes desperate?

I’ve often pondered myself about what “migration response” to a potential dying or inhospitable Earth may be in our eventual future, and I admit it’s usually been along the lines of “everyone will want to move to the polar regions!” (this reminds me of an old post I wrote about an Arthur C. Clarke short story, “History Lesson,” where humanity faces an almost similar challenge) or “we need to speed up our space exploration program if we’re going to terraform Mars or Europa or Titan or whatever might-be-able-to-be-made-habitable worlds in our solar system!” but I only recently began to think about fleeing in a technological sense. “Maybe by the time when – or if – Earth becomes uninhabitable, we’ll be able to download ourselves into our android bodies!” This story is closer to this latter response than others I’ve read so far.

“Heart in the Sun” centers around a couple, Lucio and Laura, whose young son has reached the age where he is ready for his first “photonutritive” tattoo. ***Spoiler Alert***  Their pre-appointment discussion was quite poignant in that it brought up the differing pasts of the couple, one of whose family had the means to pay for whatever technology was necessary for the survival of their children while the other’s could only afford enough for one child. A sort of steampunk version of Sophie’s Choice? The cost of whatever form a potential future migration takes has been a topic of my ponderings as well. What if we can survive but very few can “afford” the financial cost? I fear this may actually happen some point down the road…

♪♫♪ Personal Notes: I know there are other “punk” genres out there including “Dieselpunk” and my favorite “Steampunk.” To this day I remember when I first heard of Steampunk – I met a couple who were fans of it at O’Reilly’s Irish Restaurant and Bar in downtown Indy one evening. This was probably 10 years ago or so, but I remember being fascinated that this whole demimonde existed with me being totally unaware. I’ve since read a couple steampunk anthologies and novels as well.

What about you? Are you “into” any non-mainstream literary genres that you’d like to share? If so, do tell. Bonus Points if it’s something else I’ve never heard of!

“Chaunt” by Joy Williams – Selection 37 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♦Jack♦ of Diamonds

The Suit: For Deal Me In 2019, ♦♦♦Diamonds♦♦♦ are my Suit for stories which I intended to listen to rather than read. Several of this suit are from The New Yorker, which often includes an audible file of the author herself reading the story. Sadly, for this one, my iPad was taking an inordinately long time to load the audio version, so I just read it the old-fashioned way. 🙂

The Author: Joy Williams. I know I’ve read her before, but I can’t remember what. I do know I haven’t blogged about her before.

The Story: “Chaunt” from the December 10, 2018 edition of The New Yorker magazine. I “own” it via my digital subscription to that publication. The best part is, as a digital subscriber, I have access to their short story archive going back “forever.” Me like. 🙂

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2019.

Chaunt

“Night was best, for, as everyone knows but does not tell, the sobbing of the earth is most audible at night. You can hear it clearly then, but the sobbing still harbors a little bit of hope, a little bit of promise that the day does not afford.”

This was a puzzling story indeed, and it was only with pointed, post-reading research that I may have finally got a handle on it. The main character, Jane Click, (probably non-accidental initials) is living in a kind of rest home-like facility, and grieving the death of her young son who, along with a friend was killed by an automobile while bicycling to the nearby “ghost town” named Chaunt.

The facility where she now lives, called The Dove, is on a barren stretch of land in a world that is deteriorating around her – perhaps the result of climate change, (The author is a noted advocate for conservation and environmental issues) but there are no details given. Those left running things are a younger generation, seemingly trying to make the best of what has been left to them by the generation of which Jane is a part.

There is also a somewhat Christ-like fellow resident of The Dove whose name is Theodore. He volunteers to drive Jane to Chaunt to see the ruins of a church where her son used to play, but – he doesn’t have a car. Her son’s friend is named Jerome – yet another name with religious overtones. Everything feels so hopeless in Jane’s existence, In spite of the faint glimmer offered by the quotation above. Since no details are given about “How did it come to this” I’m assuming the takeaway from the story for the reader is supposed to be an emotional one. One clue about the state of things is given by a brief conversation between Jane and a fellow resident of The Dove:

“There’s something we should have done and we didn’t do it is my suspicion. But life goes its merry way without us. Everything’s provisional.” “I disagree,” someone said. “I think what’s happened is permanent and not provisional at all.”

A bleak future may be in store for us and our upcoming generations, but one must have faith in human ingenuity and resilience, as I do. It’s funny that the luck of the draw for Deal Me In had me picking this story just after reading one from an anthology “Solarpunk: Ecological And Fantastical Stories In a Sustainable World” (another of my sources for #DealMeIn2019. More on that one later I hope.

What about you? Have you read any “End of the World Stories?” One such that I was reminded of when reading this one was Ray Bradbury’s “The Last Night In Earth” which I once blogged about here.

(author pic from a  New York Times article; playing card image found at http://climaterevolutioin.co.uk/wp/2017/10/27/jack of diamonds)

“The Virgin of Monte Ramon” by Mia Alvar – selection 34 of #DealMeIn2019

 

The Card: ♥A♥  Ace of Hearts.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2019, ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ is my Suit for “Stories by favorite authors.”

The Author:  Mia Alvar – Alvar is a new favorite of mine. A Filipino-American author who’s also lived in Bahrain. I tore through her story collection “In the Country” which contained several first-rate stories

The Selection: “The Virgin of Monte Ramon” A sometimes heartbreaking story of friendship between two social outcasts. Beautiful writing made me put this on my DMI list as one of my few re-reads this year. I own it as an e-book copy of “In the Country.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2019. At the bottom of that post will be the cards I’ve drawn and links to any posts I’ve written on the stories. Also, check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

The Virgin Of Monte Ramon

“Although I am dead, Daniel told my mother, I shall live on through my grandson. He told my mother to name me after him, her father, not after the boyfriend who would end up deserting her. Daniel Wilson would not reveal specifics, but said I would be different from other children and remind my mother every day of the family’s legacy of pride and courage. And so I arrived: with a telltale lightness to my skin, and the vague buds of feet and toes that never quite articulated themselves.”

Although this story is at times heartbreakingly sad, it can also be viewed as a paean to friendship, and how valuable friendship can truly be, especially to those who are outcasts yet somehow find each other. The story is told in first person by a disabled prep school student, Danny. He has been told all his life that his physical disability was a kind of mystical legacy from a grandfather who was a hero in World War II:

“As a soldier he helped evacuate the wooden statue of the Virgin of Monte Ramon – the gilt, gem-encrusted patroness of our town – from her church into the nearby mountains. This was to keep her safe from wartime desecration, yet strangely it was those carrying her who felt protected as they ventured deep into the forests and mountain trails.”

When Danny meets his soon to be friend, “Annelise,” it’s an encounter that readers especially can appreciate:

“…and I saw Annelise for the first time. Though a schoolgirl in uniform herself, she was unlike the others. She did not blush or chat with her classmates, or glance at us from the corners of her eyes every so often. Instead, she was reading a book.”

Annelise has physical problems of her own that I won’t go into, but both she and Danny are mercilessly teased by schoolmates who could be “violently, unimaginatively cruel.” While Danny is relatively well-off, Annelise lives in “the ravine” the poorest section of town. The story’s climax, or at least one moment of epiphany, occurs in the ravine during a heavy rainstorm at the onset of the monsoon season.

“I noticed as the children played that they were trying not to slip and fall. The care they took had slowed their movements into a kind of dance. I turned to Annelise, who said, ‘The rain has crippled everyone,’ and laughed. I laughed too.”

This was one of many great stories in the book, which I heartily recommend (a rare 5-star rating from me on goodreads) You can find out more about it at amazon

What about YOU? What short stories have “struck your fancy” lately? Tell me about them.

♫♫ Personal Notes: The name of Danny’s friend, “Annelise” reminds me of one of my all-time favorite short story characters, “Annieanlouise” from one of my all-time favorite stories, Rudyard Kipling’s “The Brushwood Boy.” I blogged about it almost eight years ago. You can find that post here.

(below from google images – a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary from the Philippines)

Statue of General MacArthur’s famous “return” at Leyte Gulf. The first person narrator’s prep school in this story is called “General Douglas MacArthur Preparatory” 🙂

“The Striding Place” by Gertrude Atherton – Selection 35 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♥J♥  Jack of Hearts.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2019, ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ is my Suit for “Stories by favorite authors” and, though I haven’t read much by Atherton, the story I have read was a home run.

The Author: Gertrude Atherton – perhaps most famous for her novel, Black Oxen, published in 1923, was a prolific American author in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Raised by a grandfather who “insisted she be well read” she was naturally (or nurture-aly!) well equipped for a literary career!

The Selection: “The Striding Place” which I don’t own, but is available to all of us online (see link below) is a truly frightening tale of a missing person and the unique way in which he is eventually found.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2019. At the bottom of that post will be the cards I’ve drawn and links to any posts I’ve written on the stories. Also, check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

What about you?

While walking, perhaps in the woods, have you ever came to the barrier formed by a stream and stopped, contemplating jumping across at its narrowest point? The banks might be muddy or slippery and yet you still take a chance and “go for it” because, after all, what’s the penalty if you fail to clear it? Some muddy clothes and maybe wounded pride? Both things may be quickly remedied or forgotten. What if, however, a more formidable waterway, due to quirk of topography, also narrowed at one point to a “jumpable” width. Might such a spot become a local legend, particularly in the guise of a proving ground for the young to test their courage? This is what the titular “Strid” of this story turns out to be…

The Striding Place

“Weigall was not a coward, but he recalled uncomfortably the tales of those that had been done to death in the Strid. Wordsworth’s Boy of Egremond had been disposed of by the practical Whitaker; but countless others, more venturesome than wise, had gone down into that narrow boiling course, never to appear in the still pool a few yards beyond. Below the great rocks which form the walls of the Strid was believed to be a natural vault, on to whose shelves the dead were drawn. The spot had an ugly fascination.”

Some spoilers follow, but by all means, do read the story. It’s not that long and is available online at: https://americanliterature.com/author/gertrude-atherton/short-story/the-striding-place

Mr. Weigall is our main character and is sojourning in Yorkshire, entertaining a guest at his “country estates” for the sport of grouse shooting (I mean, what else is one to do in England in August?). But casting a pall on the occasion is a report that a “chum of Weigall’s college days,” Wyatt Gifford, has mysteriously disappeared, leaving no trace. Some locals suggested it might be a suicide, but Weigall dismissed such nonsense, as they – along with other friends – had recently been together at a funeral of yet another acquaintance and all seemed normal with him (well, as normal as such an occasion might allow, I suppose).

Anyway, search parties have been unsuccessful in their attempts to find Gifford and we join Weigall walking near “the ‘Strid.” He muses about the danger of the place and becomes a bit mesmerized by the roar of the water and the visual motion of the rapids. Suddenly he sees a foreign object “describing a contrary motion to the rushing water, an upward backward motion” He realizes it’s a struggling hand and that “doubtless, but a moment before his arrival” a man had been swept into the current, and was now trying to resist the force of the water in order to free himself.

Weigall leaps into action in an attempt at rescue, at first mindful of his own safety – until he recognizes a french-cuffed shirt sleeve and lower arm – and cuff link – as one belonging to his very friend Wyatt. He renews his efforts at greater risk to himself and using a long stick finally frees the man from the awful current, leaving the man “liberated and flung outward” into the quieter pool downstream from the ‘Strid. Weigall believes the valiant rescue complete, knowing that “the danger from suction was over”  and that “Gifford was a fish in the water and could live under it longer than most men.”

Weigall scrambles down to the quiet pool below but doesn’t find quite what he was expecting..

This was a truly chilling story and I liked it a lot.

I found the picture above via google images. Apparently it’s a ‘strid on the “Bolton Abbey Estate”. It looks smaller and less formidable that what my imagination cooked up while reading the story, but is nonetheless a jump I wouldn’t attempt myself.

♫♫ Personal Notes:  I was surprised to find myself remembering a nearly fossilized memory from my youth when reading the story. I believe it was in 1978, and I was on a summer camping trip out west with my family and one of our stops was Zion National Park in southern Utah. We stayed in the campground, which is bordered by the Virgin River (which has sculpted the wondrous Zion Canyon over the eons). My little brother Gary and I liked to “swim” in the very shallow river which, at least at times, had a reasonably strong current. I remember one day we invented a game at a ‘strid-like narrowing of the river. One of us would man one of the miniature “Pillars of Hercules” on either side of the ‘strid, while the other would go upstream and pretend being caught in the current and sweeping downstream, thinking he would be saved by the other at the narrowing. The other would grab the floater’s arm, pretending he would rescue him, then suddenly let go and let him be swept away, cackling maniacally. Somehow we found this hilarious, and to kids our age, I guess it was!

<below (from wikipedia): grouse shooters, of course>

August-1922-m-mcdonald-a-member-of-lord-woolavingtons-house-party-a-picture-id3432611

My #24in48 Readathon Wrap-Up

Thoughts on my July 2019 #24in48 Readathon experience.

I like the idea of an online readthon. So what if I can rarely read the volume of words/books that are generally the goals of these events? I can still appreciate how they make me focus more on reading and, at the very least, encourage me to fill any available gaps in a busy schedule with… reading!

There are other readathons which are more in the tradition of the “Cultural -athon Phenomenon” and by this I mean literally reading for “24 hours straight” for example. This is why I prefer the “more sensible” 24in48 Readathon. You have two whole days to try to hit a goal of 24 hours of reading.

Of course, that’s still too hardcore for me 🙂 , and for the past few years I’ve tried to read 24 stories in 48 hours (probably more like 12 hours of reading – still a healthy increase over my normal amount, though)

So Friday night I took out some of my short story anthologies and collections and picked nine of them to use to populate a reading roster. You can see my list below. And yes, naturally, as the host of the Deal Me In Challenge, I can’t “play it straight” and have to assign the stories to playing cards and draw one card at a time to randomize my reading order.

And below the stack of ACTUAL books (no e-reading this time!) that my 24 stories were collected from.

Did YOU participate in the #24in48 readathon this go-round?  What were some of the favorite things that you read?  How many hours of reading did you get in?I must report that I didn’t succeed in reading 24 stories, finishing at 18 or 19, but here are some thoughts on my reading and a few of my favorites.

Sadly, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t encounter – or discover – more great new to me stories during the Readathon, but I did revisit some old favorite authors (M.R. James, Ray Bradbury and Thomas Hardy) And finally cracked open an anthology that I was once excited to dive into but has lain neglected on my shelf for years (The My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me anthology of fairy tale re-tellings, which includes some “heavyweight” authors among its story contributors). From this last anthology, I really enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s “Orange” which is told in the unique format of an interview with a ‘survivor’ of an event, with the catch being only the interviewee’s answers are given. I couldn’t resist the challenge of trying to guess what the questions were (some were obvious, some less so, but I guess the reader could also come up with his own that “fit” and that would still be okay). I’m not usually a fan of ‘gimmicks,’ but this one worked for me.

Maybe my big surprise was how much I liked the two John Updike stories that I read (“Poker Night” – about the hours immediately following a man’s cancer diagnosis and “The Other” an interesting psychological study of the impact of a man marrying a woman who has an identical twin sister. Maybe I’d been unfairly biased against Updike in recent times. He edited the “Greatest American Short Stories of the Century” anthology, which my ‘after work short story “book” club’ used as source material for over a year, and which also became the subject of good-natured ridicule for so many of the stories being downers.

Two of the Thomas Hardy stories I read were re-reads (if you can even call them that after a gap of twenty-six(!) years) and were ones that I had tagged as ‘recommended’ back in the day. Based on that recommendation, I was a little disappointed in both, but I did certainly enjoy Hardy’s writing style after not having read anything by him in many years. I’m guessing “Two on a Tower” was my last foray into his mastery.

The deck of cards I used was one I picked up during my January vacation in Gibraltar. Turned out it was a great place to be when the temps here at home went sub-zero at the same time!

Let’s see, what else… Oh, I was actually disappointed in the Ray Bradbury story, “The Concrete Mixer” though from a social commentary standpoint one could certainly appreciate it as prescient. The other Bradbury story I got to, “The Highway,” was more consistent with what I’ve come to expect from him, and I did like it much more. Both stories are part of his generally wonderful collection, “The Illustrated Man.” Love that cover!

I also read a couple of Robert Howard’s Conan stories, which were probably the hardest of my reading during the weekend. I had a volume of his work gifted to me 4-5 years ago.  Each of his stories runs about 30 pages or so and I’ve begun to feel them a bit formulaic, with certain elements always seeming to repeat. I had the idea of creating a Conan the Cimmerian reading drinking game to fit all the recurring elements (e.g., mention of cleaving a skull: finish your drink!) but that will have to wait for a future blog post or reading challenge…

I read four stories from “Tales for the Not Nervous” (some text pictured below from “River of Riches”) an Alfred Hitchcock anthology I first heard about via The Writerly Reader blog. More than anything else, this anthology made me realize how badly I need reading glasses! My arms were almost not long enough for me to hold this away from my eyes so I could focus. *sigh* getting old, I guess. I also noted that the story “Dune Runner” was in this anthology, which is one that I didn’t read for the readathon, but it has been recommended to me by several people over the years.

I only got to one of my Sherman Alexie stories, and it (“Catechism”) wasn’t really even a story in the traditional sense. I must go on and finally read this collection, though, as it has also been languishing on my shelf for awhile.

I find it impossible to do a readathon without taking some walking breaks. Saturday morning, before the sun blazed through the morning haze and made being outside intolerable, I walked over to White River State Park and paused for a moment to take a picture looking back east toward downtown Indianapolis, where I actually live now (a little beyond and to the right of that tallest building in the background.

 

The Story of Keesh by Jack London – selection 3 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♥3♥  Three of Hearts. Playing card image found on Pinterest from the “Undertale Souls” deck of cards. I thought it would be appropriate to have a card featuring snow since the story involves the Inuit People of Alaska. 🙂

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ is my Suit for “Stories by favorite authors” and London certainly qualifies. I – and other Deal Me In participants – have written about many London stories over the years.

The Author: Jack London, one of the Titans of American Literature. I’ve posted about several of his works before, including Before Adam, Negore the CowardA Relic of the Pliocene, and Moon Face, to name a few.

The Selection: “The Story of Keesh” which I own as part of my e-copy of The Complete Works of Jack London. The story is in the public domain and may be read for free online in many places, like the link at the bottom of this post.It was first published in 1907.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2019. At the bottom of that post will be the cards I’ve drawn and links to any posts I’ve written on the stories. Also, check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

The Story of Keesh

“Keesh lived long ago on the rim of the polar sea, was head man of his village through many and prosperous years, and died full of honors with his name on the lips of men.”

***spoilers follow*** This one was, frankly, a bit of a disappointment. At least compared to other Jack London stories I’ve read. There just wasn’t enough to it for me. It’s basically an old folktale of a young boy (he has only seen “thirteen suns” – after each winter of no sunlight, when the sun returns, that counts as one year, so he is…13) who rises to a place of respect in his “igloo village” due to his crafty method of hunting polar bears.

It all starts out when he speaks up at a council one night, because, since his father has died (in the act of slaying a large bear to provide food for the village) he and his widowed mother’s meat apportioned to them by the tribe is “ofttimes old and tough, this meat, and, moreover, it has an unusual quantity of bones.” The men of the tribe, brave hunters all (just ask them), are neglecting their duty to provide for the rest of the village fair shares of the “community” meat.

The men react harshly to this upstart and Keesh vows never to return to the council but sets out on his own with arrows and his father’s spear. He’s gone a very long time and his mother and her comforters fear the worst, but he shows up with – lo and behold! – a big hunk of bear meat and directs the other hunters in the tribe that the rest of his kill may be found and returned if they take their sleds along the path he has come. Naturally, Keesh makes sure that everyone in the village from “the least old woman and the last old man” receive a fair portion of the meat.

With Keesh being so young, the men of the tribe suspect some trickery and even suggest that “witchcraft” might be involved, and that he “hunts with evil spirits.”  Such is the way with any who are ignorant of how something extraordinary is achieved, isn’t it? Keesh, when questioned, puts them straight and says, “It be headcraft, not witchcraft.” His method of bringing down the bears was quite original, I must say.

So, an easy read, but too short to sate my story hunger for one week. A better story, with more “meat on its bones” if you will, featuring the natives of the far north is London’s tale “Negore the Coward” which I’ve wrote about before and linked to in the header of this post.

What short stories did YOU read this week? What is your favorite of Jack London’s many short stories?

You can read the story online here: https://americanliterature.com/author/jack-london/short-story/the-story-of-keesh

 

The Crabapple Tree by Robert Coover – Selection 2 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♣6♣  Six of Clubs. Playing card image found on Pinterest from a 19th century deck. The bones are quite appropriate for one section of this story, heh heh.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ is my Suit for “Award Winning Stories” which I’m defining for Deal Me In purposes as stories that were featured in either the O. Henry Prize Winning story anthology of 2016, or the Best American Short Stories anthology from 2017.

The Author: Robert Coover, who I’ve never read before. Picture is from wikipedia. From what I hear, he has a penchant for horror stories told in a kind of fairy tale language.

The Selection: “The Crabapple Tree” which I own as part of my e-copy of The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016. I guess I also own it as a digital subscriber of The New Yorker, which published the story in its January 12, 2015 issue. The story is essentially a retelling of the classic Grimm’s tale “The Juniper Tree”- somehow being set in the contemporary world makes it even more chilling. Read it online at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/12/crabapple-tree (I believe The New Yorker still allows three free articles read per month online).

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2019. At the bottom of that post will be the cards I’ve drawn and links to any posts I’ve written on the stories. Also, check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

The Crabapple Tree

“Marleen seemed to live in a storybook land of her own. When she spoke, she spoke to the world, the way singers do, and what she said seldom made any sense.”

This was a great – and creepy! – story told in a fairy tale-like voice, which made it very easy to read. Tolstoy famously said that all great literature is one of two stories: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. This story would fit into the latter. The stranger is the second wife of a local farmer whose first wife had died giving birth to his son, Dickie-Boy. The narrator of the story and her friends refer to the woman as the Vamp, thinking she may be a former prostitute and, even if not, certainly 150112_r25994the possessor of a certain power over men.

With this stranger came her daughter, Marleen, who becomes a playmate of both Dickie-Boy’s and also (at least initially) the daughter of our narrator. The Vamp is a mean spirited person, and trouble lies ahead for this family as first Dickie-Boy, then the farmer himself die under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Local authorities are curious about these deaths, but not so much so as to truly “investigate.”

“…the little boy had never quite seemed part of this world in the first place, so it wasn’t as sad as when his mother died.”

He is buried under the crabapple tree (where his mother had also been buried) and Marleen has a strange bond with the tree. One time, while playing with a pile of bones, stringing them together into a kind of horrible puppet, she even tells the narrator’s daughter that “the bones were those of her stepbrother, whom her mother had cooked up in a black-beer stew, which her stepfather ate, gnawing all the little bones clean before burying them.” The narrator continues that her daughter stopped seeing Marleen about that time.  (No kidding!)

The Vamp later runs off (or also disappears?) and Marleen takes over the farm on her own, building an extension of the house to protect the tree and the story ends with the chilling “Its apples were said to be poisonous, but birds gathered in its laden branches like twittering harpies to eat them, and, if anything, they got louder and bigger, and there were more of them than ever.”

So, what was Marleen anyway? Near the end of the story the narrator admits that “Over the years, we got used to thinking of Marleen as something eerie but mostly harmless at the edge of our lives.” In a past era of history, she would certainly be considered a witch, and possibly subjected to the fate that often befell those so designated. In this story, she has a natural affinity and “familiar”ity with animals and even speaks a kind of bird language at times. A fascinating character to be sure.

u-g-pysik20♫♫ Personal notes: This story got me thinking about those acquaintances in our lives who we only know through the eyes of our – or their – children. When I was growing up, there were a few neighborhood friends whose houses I’d occasionally visit, but it seems that most of our “playing” was outside, and those times where I got an inside glimpse of how another family lived were rather rare. Of course, upon my return home, I would be debriefed by my parents about “did you have a good time at “X”s house?” and “what did you do all afternoon?” etc. and I wonder now if my own parents were forming opinions based on the keyhole-view their child provided of the neighbors…

What short stories did YOU read this week? What memories and stories do you have of playing at friends’ houses when YOU were growing up?

 

“Hog for Sorrow” by Leopoldine Core – Selection 1 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♣9♣  Nine of Clubs. Playing card picture at left found from one of my personal decks, this one is a “Runic” deck that I purchased in Iceland in 2017. (I had the deck out since I brought it as show & tell at my short story book club since we read M.R. James’ “Casting the Runes” this month. 🙂

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ is my Suit for “Award Winning Stories” which I’m defining for Deal Me In purposes as stories that were featured in either the O. Henry Prize Winning story anthology of 2016, or the Best American Short Stories anthology from 2017.

The Author: Leopoldine Core, who I’ve never read before. “Born & raised” in New York’s East Village, she is the author of the story collection “When Watched,” which won a Whiting Award. If Goodreads’ author profile (where the pic above was found) is current, she teaches as NYU and Columbia University.

The Selection: “Hog For Sorrow” which I own as part of my e-copy of BASS (Best American Short Stories) 2017. The author’s own notes in that volume state that the story is “actually about the construction of morality – how fixed states of virtue and evil are falsely projected onto people, much the way gender is.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2019. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Hog for Sorrow

“She tried to imagine the women who loved his smell. A wife. Daughters. Possibly girlfriends. These women were lurking in the private lives of even the ugliest men she saw.”

One of the questions I’m constantly asking myself regarding my reading life is whether or not I’m becoming a more “discerning reader.” Do I have good literary taste? Do I “get it” when reading works that those “in the know” have praised? This is partly why I devoted one of my Deal Me In suits this year to “award winning stories”  – ones that, having already been vetted by someone who presumably knows more about literary merit that I do, I should be able to appreciate – IF the answer to those questions above is yes.

That’s a long way of saying I thought this was a really well written story, and I can understand why it made it into the Best American Short Stories anthology. Maybe there’s hope for me yet!

There are just a handful of characters in the story: Friends Kit and Lucy, Sheila (their “boss”), Ned (a customer”) and Lucy’s dog Curtis. Curtis may be my favorite character. The story starts with minimal information. Kit and Lucy are in some kind of a waiting room. At first I wondered if it was a doctor’s office or something. Boy, was I off. They are young prostitutes, waiting to be assigned to their next “client.”

We follow the story from Kit’s perspective and, as one might guess, it is a rather jaded one. At various times in the story, she muses that “College was a lot like being a prostitute, only she never got paid.” Then, on the prospect of growing old and ugly, “It’ll be nice to be left alone.” Her friend Lucy (probably slightly more experienced in the business) advises her that “Crazy people have one tactic, to convince you that you’re crazy. So you can’t let them.”

The thing that made the story blossom for me is how the two girls become friends and how they “come to understand how rare friendship is” (as the author says in her contributor’s notes). The catalyst for their friendship is, oddly enough, the weird john, Ned (the “Hog for Sorrow” in the story’s title), whose particular fetish serves to bring them closer.

The end of the story is somehow heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time:

“‘Becoming a prostitute is like getting very sick,’ she thought. ‘You don’t want people and they don’t want you. Only she did want people. A little.'”

This story also made me wonder how many times – if any – I’ve read works where a prostitute is the main character. I haven’t come up with any yet, but I’m sure I’m forgetting something. What about YOU? Can you think of any?

♫♫ Personal/Trivia Notes: Do YOU know what the word “tribeca” refers to? You can see in the picture of my open kindle app in my iPad above that I highlighted it in blue (by my system, blue are words I looked up in the dictionary while reading that I will, presumably, try to remember the definition of when I scan through a book again). So, though I’ve heard the word before I never looked it up until reading this story. For the trivia points, can you tell me what it means? (residents of NY are ineligible for the points)

My wrong turn at the very beginning of the story, when the setting and landscape are only slowly revealed (we’re several paragraphs in before we get the phrase “considering the pleasureless nature of their business”) oddly reminded me of a phenomenon I frequently experienced back in college. A few basketball-loving friends and I would often go at odd hours to the main gym of the (small) school’s athletic facilities, and by main gym I mean our actual home court that varsity games were played on. Anyway, the big bright lights that illuminated the court were, naturally, not left on in off hours, but we would turn them on in our early morning or late night sessions. By their nature the  lights took several minutes to reach “full strength” and those few minutes always struck me as an eerie almost-altered state of consciousness. Things were revealed slowly in the cavernous building. You could “see enough to play a little” almost immediately but it was somehow disorienting during those first few minutes.

Looking back, I’m surprised we random students even had access to do this (I’m sure things would be different in today’s world), but I’m thankful that thinking about this story made me remember something I hadn’t thought about in many years. I love that reading re-opens doors to your memories like this!

 

“It’s the Most Wonderful Day of the Year!” Announcing the 9th Annual Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge!

Short stories “saved my reading life” way back when I was about 30 years old. Though I’d read a lot in high school and college, somehow my reading habits had atrophied from a lack of exercise. At some point, I eased my way back into reading when I picked up a few books of short stories and thought, “Well, certainly I can find the time to regularly read short stories!” so I started doing just that. One thing led to another, and they proved a useful “gateway drug” that guided me back to being the voracious reader I’ve been ever since.

Then, once I started blogging, it only took me a year ( 🙂 ) to invent the Deal Me In Challenge and I’m very proud in the knowledge that literally THOUSANDS of short stories have been read ALL OVER THE WORLD as a result of this challenge. So I guess all that’s left to ask is….

Will YOU become part of this great tradition in 2019?  The rules of the challenge are not difficult:

IMG_3919-0

Deal Me In logo above designed by Mannomoi at https://dilettanteartiste.wordpress.com/ follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/callmemanno

What is the goal of the challenge?

To read 52 short stories in 2019 (that’s only one per week – versions with a lesser story requirement are noted below)

What is the purpose?

To have FUN and to be exposed to new authors and stories and maybe get in the habit of reading a short story a week. Isn’t that enough?

What do I need?

1) Access to at least fifty-two short stories (don’t own any short story collections or anthologies? See links to online resources below)
2) A deck of cards
3) An average of perhaps as little as just thirty minutes of reading time each week

Where do I post* about my stories?

(*You don’t have to post about every single story, of course, – or even ANY story – but if you have something to say about the story you read any given week, your fellow participants would love to hear it.)

1) On your own blog or website if you have one.

2) If you don’t have a blog or website you may comment on any of my Deal Me In posts, sharing thoughts on your own story. Better yet, you can tweet about short stories you read using the hashtag #DealMeIn2019. In fact, I encourage everyone who does blog about the stories they read to use the hashtag (which I will link to in my sidebar in 2019) when you publish a post. Fellow DMI’ers can find them more easily and, hopefully, retweet them too.

How do I pick which stories to read?

The 52 stories themselves are totally up to you. Before you get started reading, come up with a roster of fifty-two stories (you can use any source) and assign each one to a playing card in a standard deck of cards. It can be fun to use different suits for different types of stories, but that is optional. I’ve often included one wild card for each suit too, so I can maybe read a story I’ve heard about during the year, or read another by an author I’ve discovered through this challenge. Each “week,” (if you’re like me, you may occasionally fall a story or two behind – that’s okay) you draw a card at random from your deck and that is the story you will read. There are links to many participants lists in last year’s sign up post if you want to see some examples. I’ve already posted my own 2019 roster.

What if I don’t have time to read a story every single week?

You don’t have to read your stories on a regular schedule (I almost always fall behind at least once during the year) and can catch up once a month if your prefer – OR try one of the challenge variations noted below, the Fortnight (or “payday” if you prefer) version is one story every two weeks or the “Full Moon Fever” version with just thirteen stories read or selected on seeing each full moon…

How do I sign up?

Leave a comment below with your URL, and I will link you on my home page, where I’ll eventually have a section in my sidebar for “2019 Deal Me In Participants.” I hope to occasionally publish some kind of wrap-up post, linking to other Deal Me In participants’ posts I’ve seen recently, or just giving an update on how things are going.

Late sign-ups (we always get a few) are allowed and encouraged too. If you can, I’d love you to add where in the world you’re blogging from and where or how you heard about the Deal Me In! challenge.

Some short story resources:

Links:
Classic Horror Stories:
AmericanLiterature.com short story of the day
EastoftheWeb’s short story of the day:
The Library of America’s short story of the week archive:

Free online novels.com has a wide selection; or check here for a few more. Heck just google “free short stories on line” and you’ll have enough to last a lifetime of Deal Me In Challenges!  Check out The New Yorker too. Last I checked you could access a limited number of their published stories per month. If your local library is like mine, they’ll likely have a good collection of annual O’Henry Prize-winning volumes, or the yearly Best American Short Stories anthologies.
Looking for some really short stories? Try here If you have recommendations for other free sources of short stories, feel free to share in the comments.

Deal Me In Variations:

The Deal Me In “Fortnight Version” – just use two suits from your deck and assign a story to each card, drawing a card every two weeks. If you get paid bi-weekly, you can use that as a reminder to draw a new card (I guess this makes the fortnight variation a.k.a. The “payday version.”)

The Deal Me In “Euchre Deck Version”If you work for “one of those companies” where you only get paid twice a month on the 15th and 30th, e.g., use a euchre deck!  Note: I’ve experimented with an accelerated euchre deck version for a couple readathons, especially the 24 in 48 readathon, where, instead of trying to read 24 hours out of 48, I try to read 24 short stories in 48 hours. Also pretty challenging!

The Deal Me In “Full Moon Fever Version” – this would be the baby steps way to ease into the Deal Me In routine, basically reading just one story a month (who doesn’t have time for that?). Just use one suit or face cards only and you’re set. Seeing the full moon in the sky can also serve as a reminder – “hey, I need to read my next short story!” 🙂

Not sure when the full moons occur? Not surprisingly, that information is available in many places on line, one of which is HERE.

You could also try using the new moons, as well, or BOTH new and full moons. In the past, we’ve had a couple Deal Me In’ers have a full moon add-on in addition to their 52 stories.

Other participants in the past have added their own wrinkles: Reading a story a week for only half the year, reading two at a time and trying to find a “connection” between them, reading essays, plays, poems, or famous speeches… Feel free to twist, spindle or mutilate this challenge any way you see fit to suit your own plans – the only element that should probably remain is the use of playing cards to determine your reading order.

So, how about it?  Are you UP for a challenge? If so, Deal Me In 9.0 might just be for you!  Shall we “Deal YOU in?”

“The History of the Invasion Told in Five Dogs” by Kelly Jennings – Selection 50 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠K♠  King of Spades. Playing card picture at left found on pinterest. Samoyed pic from wikipedia.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠ is my Suit for (mostly) dark/horror/sci-fi stories.  I’ve been a digital subscriber to the “Fantasy and Science Fiction” magazine for some time now, and many of its short stories have found their way onto my DMI (and other readathon) reading lists.

The Author: Kelly Jennings, who I’ve never read before. She lives in Northwest Arkansas. You can find her on Twitter at @delagar and she has an active blog at delagarbibliopgraphy.blogspot.com

The Selection: “The History of the Invasion Told in Five Dogs” I own a copy as part of the May/June 2017 edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. I picked it for Deal Me In because I found the title irresistible.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

The History of the Invasion Told in Five Dogs

“Resistance. That’s nearly as funny as Refugee Camp. But lots of us who survived the Camps did have the notion we could fight the invaders, especially those of us who were young and stupid.”

Okay. All those who had a dog or dogs growing up, please raise your hands. Mine’s up too, and while reading this story I remembered how family history is sometimes linked to “which dog you had at the time” a certain event happened. It’s also coincidental that I can remember five dogs: Flip, Rex, Tip, King, and Ring.  Rex was the only one we kept at, or I should say that lived his life at, my childhood home in Indianapolis. The others we bought with the foreknowledge that they would eventually handed over to my Granddad, who lived in the mountains of West Virginia, where the dogs could “roam free” and we could still visit them a couple times a year.

I think I could likely write my childhood history told in five dogs, but it would be an incomplete history. I also remember being fascinated as a kid about the concept of “dog years” vs. “human years.” I had to look up a conversion chart (shared later in this post) after reading this story to refresh my memory, as I, sadly, have not owned any dogs in my adult life. I loved how the author describes (pictured below from my kindle app) that the story came to her at a dog park in Fort Smith, Arkansas. It’s easy to see how the other dogs in the park could become “characters” in this story, just as Tolstoy’s “faces in the town square” ended up populating his endless novels. I was also reminded by the title of the sci-fi novel, “Earth Abides,” where in the new, post-apocalyptic world of that book, they give names to the years instead of numbers, and wasn’t one year known as “The Year Princess Died”? Princess being the survivors’ dog.

We don’t learn too much about the invaders in this story either (just that they are extraterrestrial and are applying their version of “terraforming” to the earth [the actual terra!], which leaves “us” with 10 months out of 12 being winter-like). Humans are outmatched and outgunned, and as our narrator says, “It’s hard to fight a civilization that’s capable of leaping across galaxies and rebuilding planets.”

It’s the nature of telling the story in five dogs that appealed to me about this one. There are five chapters and each begin “FIRST DOG,” “SECOND DOG,” etc. We learn about the breeds and names of the dogs, except  the THIRD DOG, whose brief story is a simple tragedy. They include a Weimeraner mix and a Samoyed as the final dog, where the narrator has fled to the high Rocky Mountains and has joined a survivor camp of 35 people. This compound of people also begins to wonder if they’re the last “survivors” left:

“Sometimes, when I’m standing up on Red Rock looking out across the frozen world, I think like Merle, that we should try to find these other people while we still can. I think if someone else is out there, maybe we aren’t, after all, doomed. Or at least not yet.”

Not a very upbeat story, but again, its attraction for me was the unique framing of it which I found fascinating. How about YOU? What are some of your favorite stories or books that involve dogs? (I can think of one novel my book club read where dogs were the star “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”). What about stories or novels about alien invasions? Recommend some to me, please. 🙂 Or just tell me about YOUR favorite dog.

♫♫ Personal notes: In the post invasion world of this story, some humans opt to become “adjuncts” – a kind of pet/servant for the alien invaders, this called to mind my copy of the “Classics Illustrated” version of H.G. Wells’ novel, The War of the Worlds, which I read over and over in my formative years. Particularly the panels pictured below.

ci124h_3

« Older entries