Now reading: “The Stolen Bacillus and other Incidents” by H.G. Wells

This collection of short stories is the October selection of my book club, The Indy Reading Coalition. Usually, in October we have a seasonal theme of ghost stories, or – last year – we read a collection of Edgar Allan Poe works. We struggled to decide on something this year but finally went with H.G. Wells who, though not a writer of the horror genre per se, did write a lot of off-beat, unusual stories. Plus, our club had read and enjoyed one of his other stories (“The Flowering of the Strange Orchid”) as part of our “Short Story Month III” in July of this year.

In addition to this collection, I’m looking forward to a busy reading month in October. I plan to finish Mockingjay (the final installment in Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” trilogy) and also read “Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier to count toward my personal Project: Civil War reading. Then, late in the month I have another meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Book Club, which is reading “Welcome to the Monkey House” – another short story collection. That’ll be a lot of short stories to read in a month, but Im looking forward to it. That would make four “books” in October, which is kind of my “par score,” but if I read anything else this month it might by The Sparrow, or A Prayer for Owen Meany, which I’ve wanted to get started on for a long time.

That’s me. What’s on your agenda…?

Finished “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins…

…and I’m already starting the third and final book in the “Hunger Games Trilogy,” Mockingjay. The second book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’m glad that I didn’t discover this series until all three had been published (I similarly lucked out earlier this year with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books). I won’t review Catching Fire separately, but intend to write a longer post about my impressions after I’m done with the final installment. One review of the second book at I read online (I think it was Bloomberg.com) mentions something like ‘Collins has joined J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer as authors who have written books for children that adults want to read.’ I’d have to agree with that. I’ve been reading some ‘deeper’ stuff lately so these books have been a refreshing change.

“Why? Because of the Sermon on the Mount, sir.” — Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut

(above: the Emelie Building – home of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library)

We had a really great meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Book Club yesterday in downtown Indianapolis.  The club meets the last Thursday of the month at the future home of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. There were ten people in attendance – double the last meeting – from all walks of life and including one of the directors of the library, and a woman who as I understand it is the driving force in its creation.  We also had retired persons, representatives from an audio books company here in town, Taped Editions, Inc., someone from the corporate library of the Eli Lilly Company, a former teacher of English Literature.  A great eclectic group.  I am already looking forward to next month’s meeting, where we will be reading Welcome to the Monkey House, a collection of Vonnegut’s short stories.

The quotation in the title of this post comes from a story in the prologue where a young Vonnegut went to lunch with his father and uncle to meet labor organizer Powers Hapgood (above), who uttered the words in answer to a judge’s question of  “Why would a man from such a distinguished family and with such a fine education choose to live as you do?”  “Why, Because of the Sermon on the Mount, sir.” Vonnegut goes on to explain “what, exactly is the Sermon on the Mount” – basically it’s the “meek shall inherit the earth” part.

The main character in this book, Walter F. Starbuck, though poor, is mentored from an early age by a scion of one of those rich, dynastic families, Alexander Hamilton McCone.  Starbuck is ’trained’ to play chess with McCone in return for his sending him to Harvard someday.  At Harvard, Starbuck becomes an idealist and is caught up in the communist movement and ends up going to jail in addition to inadvertently informing on a friend.  After his original hitch in prison, he goes on to become a minor employee of the government who is caught up in the Watergate scandal and goes to prison yet again.  Starbuck has the Forrest Gump-like quality of having history “happen to him” by way of which we get a great story which allows the author to comment on society and its ills.

We talked a lot at the meeting about the ‘deeper meaning’ of much of the book, but I also pointed out that just based on the ‘face value’ of the writing itself, the book has great value as well.

One of my favorite, not as ‘deep’ parts of the book was in chapter twelve, when the recently released Starbuck is wandering Manhattan and spots the Coffee Shop of the Hotel Royalton:

“I believed that I was the ugliest, dirtiest little old bum in Manhattan.  If I went into the coffee shop, everybody would be nauseated.  They would throw me out and tell me to go to the Bowery, where I belonged.

“But I somehow found the courage to go in anyway – and imagine my surprise! It was as though I had died and gone to heaven! A waitress said to me, ‘Honeybunch, you sit right down, and I’ll bring you your coffee right away.’ I hadn’t said anything to her.

“So I did sit down, and everywhere I looked I saw customers of every description being received with love.  To the waitress everybody was ‘honeybunch’ and ‘darling’ and ‘dear.’ It was like an emergency ward after a great catastrophe. It did not matter what race or class the victims belonged to. They were all given the same miracle drug, which was coffee.  The catastrophe in this case, of course, was that the sun had come up again.”

Great stuff.


(above: Vonnegut puffing away – no doubt on a Pall Mall…) I recommend this book, although I wouldn’t suggest making it your first Vonnegut book.  One thing we talked about at the meeting yesterday was that the more Vonnegut one reads, the easier it becomes.  The reader becomes acclimated to the author’s, quirky, tangential writing style.

Have you read any Kurt Vonnegut?  What are some of your favorite books of his?

I also found on the internet a great old review of Jailbird from the NY Times in 1979.

Book Blogger Hop

This is a weekly ‘get together’ for book bloggers over at Crazy for Books

Here is the link to sign up for this event

Welcome Hoppers!  This is only the second time I’ve ‘signed up’ for this.  Hope you enjoy your stay.  Feel free to comment or just browse, or point me back to your blogs if you think we share some interests.

-Jay

Part of the hop requires that participants answer a books/blogging question each week.

Here’s this week’s Hop question:
How do you spread the word about your blog?
(e.g. Social Networking sites, Book Blog Directories, comments on other blogs…)

I have to admit I am pretty unambitious about spreading the word.  I tell my friends, and especially friends in various book clubs I frequent.  I do try to comment on other blogs when they’ve written about a book I’ve read or about authors that I’m interested in – hoping they will visit me in return.  For the most part, my blog is just an outlet for me to talk more about books.  The one book club that I regularly attend meets once a month and “that’s not enough!” for me…  🙂


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