The Value of the Indefinite

It was another good day at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club yesterday – for many reasons. First, we had two special guests, Majie Failey (author of a biographical book on Vonnegut, “We Never Danced Cheek to Cheek”) and author Dan Wakefield, who has a book coming out on Vonnegut’s letters at the end of October – not to mention he is also the author of the novel, “Going All the Way,” which was later made into a movie starring the then still relatively unknown actor, Ben Affleck. We also had, by my count anyway, five first time attendees and a record nineteen attendees in all. With so many people there I resolved to just “shut up and listen” for once and try to give others the opportunity to talk more.

20120727-072710.jpg

I stuck to my strategy for the most part, except for one interlude when the topic came up about a letter Kurt wrote to his father while he (Kurt) was a prisoner of war. He advised his father not to write him back. There was some speculation on whether he said this because he actually didn’t want to hear from him or just because he knew the letter wouldn’t reach him where he was. At this point, it was revealed that the Vonnegut Library (located down the hall from where the book club meets) has among its displays a letter from Kurt Sr. to his son that has never been opened. If I am not mistaken, it was donated to the library under the expressed condition that it would remain unopened. One of our new attendees, an english teacher visiting from Ohio, was incredulous that such a potentially historical artifact had been left unopened. A brief debate flared up about whether it should be or not, with one member relating a story from his family about (I think it was) his mother who had requested that he and his sister burn an old box of love letters (without reading them, of course) when she passed away, since she wasn’t ready to part with them while she still lived. “And you did?!” asked the new attendee, again lamenting the loss of potentially historical documents. “Yes,” he said. “We honored her request.”

I eventually piped in and defended the “unopening” of the letter, relating, perhaps clumsily, the philosophical idea of the quality of the “indefinite.” While the letter remains unopened it can be thought to contain just about anything – a quality it would lose if its contents were to become known or fixed. We already have hundreds, maybe thousands, of letters related to Vonnegut that HAVE been opened so allowing one to remain unopened doesn’t seem so egregious. I admit this is a favorite concept of mine, reading about it a couple times before, once – I think, anyway – in Stephen King’s book, “On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft.” He spoke of the almost “magic” quality of an unspoiled ream of paper or notebook, awaiting whatever stories it might become. Kinda neat, huh?

The first time I remember reading about this is in a seemingly less likely place for a book blogger, though… In my years spent as a “serious amateur” playing in chess tournaments, I read many books about that game. One of my all-time favorites was by Scottish Grandmaster, Jonathan Rowson, who also studied philosophy and wrote a PhD thesis on “Wisdom.” His book was titled “The Seven Deadly Chess Sins,” covering in a general way the common types of mistakes chess players make in the course of play. Naturally, today I remember very little of that part of the book. What stuck with me was something he talked about in the opening chapter. Something called “the value of the indefinite.” For my money, it’s essentially the same thing we were talking about yesterday. Here’s the passage, talking about the starting position of a chess game:

20120727-072720.jpg

“Let me borrow a Taoist idea to explain why this position is so fascinating. It is called ’the value of the indefinite’ and, suitably, is conveyed by considering an uncarved block of wood. Such a block has not been made into any particular object and serves no definite function. It has no distinctive shape and has no obvious aesthetic value. So if it’s worthless and plain you might suppose it’s not worth much, that it lacks value. The only way to make use of it is to carve it in a certain way, paint it, varnish it, make something of it, right? No. Give the matter further consideration and you see immense value in the uncarved block of wood. When you carve it, you gain something, but something else is lost. It may become one thing, but it loses its original potential for being an infinite number of different things. So, as Santo and Steele put it, in their Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: ’A valuable actuality is gained, but an even more valuable reservoir of potentiality is lost.’ “

So, one never knows (or at least I never know) where discussions on books, authors and literature might lead. Perhaps that is why I enjoy them so much…

(Below: Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson – a wise man indeed)

20120727-072730.jpg

Advertisements

“Omelas, Bright-Towered by the Sea”

20120722-115006.jpg

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin (and other short stories I’ve read recently)

In catching up (and I AM caught up now – hallelujah!) with my 2012 short story reading project, I’m reading stories faster than I am able to blog about them, so this post is a bit of a catch-up with just brief comments on the last six I’ve read.

Maybe the best of the group was “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin, a highly acclaimed science fiction writer.** The story tells the tale of the city of Omelas, where all the citizens enjoy a seemingly unadulterated happiness. Well, ALMOST all, I should say. The city has a dark secret to its happiness that the reader only discovers midway through the story. Largely allegorical, the tale asks the question of how much we would be willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Apparently, most of the citizens are willing to accept the sacrifices their city has deemed necessary. Some are not, however and they are the titular “ones who walk away…” This story won the Hugo Award for The Best Science Fiction Short Story of 1974. Wikipedia has a list of nominees and winners – take a look and see how many you’re familiar with.

Another good one was “Cumberland Breakdown” by Joyce Carol Oates. This was another from her collection “I Am No One You Know,” from which I’ve read another story, “The Mutants,” as part of this year’s reading project. In this story, two children, Melora (13) and her older brother Tyrell (16), are coping with the loss of their father, a volunteer fireman who lost his life fighting a fire at the house of some “welfare people,” the Barndollars. Tyrell especially resents that the act of saving these poor, “probably drunk and smoking in bed,” people has taken away their father. With Melora tagging along, Tyrell contemplates revenge and stalks the Barndollars, meeting them in the final pages of the story, which did not end as I expected.

I also read a sad story by Katherine Mansfield titled “Marriage a la Mode.” Published in 1921, it deals with a man fighting a seemingly hopeless battle to prevent losing his wife to her new “Bohemian” friends and lifestyle. As a last ditch tactic, he writes her a traditional “love letter” which she reads to her friends(!) who enjoy a good laugh over it. She feels ashamed and resolves to write him back in kind, but her resolution is tested by the pull of her new friends.

20120722-115034.jpg

My recent reading also included two stories by James Joyce, both from “The Dubliners.” One, “The Boarding House,” didn’t do much for me, being the “standard fare” of the daughter of a boarding house owner being compromised by one of the boarders and the natural attendant consequences. The other was better. Titled “A Little Cloud,” it deals with a reunion of two friends who had grown up together but had, at the time of the story, been separated for quite awhile. One had gone off and “made a name for himself” while the other has settled into a traditional life. The traditional life friend feels some jealousy and envy of the one who went off to seek his fortune. This was kind of an analysis of the concept of “the grass is always greener” that I thought was very well done. I enjoyed neither of these stories as much as I did “The Dead.”

20120722-115016.jpg

I also read my second Henry James story of the year. Though I enjoyed it less than the other one (“The Middle Years”), “The Tree of Knowledge” was an interesting look at the concept of self-delusion and how we may support each other in our self-delusions. In a nutshell, it’s about a couple, the man being a professional – though certainly not brilliant – artist, who have a son who also wants to follow an artistic career path. Not too remarkable a situation until you throw in the old family friend, who “has always loved” the artists wife, and has carefully protected her from the knowledge of “the truth” about her husband’s lack of real talent. He finds he wants to protect the son from this truth too, leading to a cerebral story that may be a warning about the futility of getting tangled up in the lives of others.

20120722-115026.jpg

So, have any of the above stories – or authors – struck your fancy at some point in your reading life?  What did you think of them? Do you have any recommendations for  my future short story reading?

**Those who are not fans of the sci-fi genre may have heard her name in the 2007 movie – based upon the 2004 book – “The Jane Austen Book Club.” In the movie, ***SPOILER ALERT*** the only male (Grigg) in the book club is a sci-fi fan and recommends reading Le Guin to fellow member, Jocelyn, who’s a bit of a literary snob and thus above reading sci-fi even though Grigg explains that his recommendations are not the standard ray gun & robot sci-fi. She’s also blind to the fact that Grigg is clearly interested in her, but eventually reads them and is swept away, driving immediately over to his house and only realizing after she’s there that it’s five o’clock in the morning,so she waits in her car and falls asleep. He sees her when he’s leaving to go to work the next morning, and taps on her window… “I read these books!” she gushes, and they head inside and tear off each others clothes. So cliche. That happens to me all the time <cough cough> when I recommend books to women who look like Maria Bello and they actually read and like them. (below: the cast of “The Jane Austen Book Club” – that’s Jocelyn & Grigg on the right)

20120722-115048.jpg

Just Started: “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”

Okay, so this book came up kind of randomly in my reading queue yesterday. It’s been on my TBR list since October of 2010, but when I found myself at work on my lunch hour with “nothing to read,” I remembered that I had bought this book by Muriel Barbery and that, “I think it’s still in the backseat of my car.” I ventured out into the parking lot (& thus the blast furnace that is the “summer of 2012 in Indiana”) just long enough to rescue it and began reading…

How’s this for the two main protagonists describing themselves in the first few pages?

First, Paloma, the twelve-year old daughter of a family residing in elegant Parisian hotel: “…the fact is I am very intelligent. Exceptionally intelligent. Even now, if you look at children my age, there’s an abyss between us. And since I don’t really want to stand out, and since intelligence is very highly rated in my family – an exceptionally gifted child would never have a moment’s peace – I try to scale back my performance at school, but even so I always come first.”

Next, Renee, the 54-year old concierge of the hotel:
“I am short, ugly, and plump, I have bunions on my feet and, if I am to credit certain early mornings of self inflicted disgust, the breath of a mammoth. I did not go to college, I have always been poor, discreet, and insignificant. I live alone with my cat, a big, lazy tom who has no distinguishing features other than the fact that his paws smell bad when he is annoyed. Neither he nor I make any effort to take part in the social doings of our relative species.”

Two characters after my own heart (in many, not all, ways). I’m hoping the book will live up to what’s promised in the dust jacket. A novel that “…exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.” I’ll probably finish it this weekend and have more to say then. I’m on page 90 of 325 now and loving it so far.

Also, credit for my being aware of this book goes to a trusted fellow blogger, Alex, at “The Sleepless Reader.” She wrote a review of this book , leading me to put it on my list.  Have any of you read it?

I Can’t Believe I Read the Whole Thing

20120716-072343.jpg

Yesterday, I finally finished “A Clash of Kings,” the second book in the George R.R. Martin series, A Song of Fire and Ice. I liked it well enough, but I can’t see myself reading any more of these. The multiple-point of view writing (and I don’t mean jumping around between two or three characters, but many, MANY more) and the cast of thousands to keep track of is just too much heavy lifting for this (perhaps lazy) reader. Particularly annoying to me was Martin’s continually throwing in so much detail that in my mind doesn’t advance the story. I imagine that it’s because he has this whole imaginary world he’s created, compete with its history, and he wants to “get it in there” so his time in creating it hasn’t been wasted. This reached a peak for me in the “climactic” battle for King’s Landing, which includes a considerable naval engagement. Early in the chapter he names a few of the ships, and I’m thinking, “please, PLEASE don’t tell me he’s going to tell me the name every ship of the hundreds in this battle!” He tries to, but probably “only” calls a few dozen by name. Enough! He also goes overboard, to my taste at least, in describing what the different characters are wearing. Well into the second book, I’m more interested in what they are doing.

.

20120716-072357.jpg

If there is one character whose story I’d really like to know the rest of, however, it would be the young Arya Stark (pictured above as played by actress Maisie Williams). She kicks butt. In fact if the story were more about her (and maybe the direwolves!) I think I would be eager to read the rest.

Also, when I was about half way through reading this book, I did buy the first season of HBO’s adaptation of the series. I enjoyed it in spite of the gratuitously high levels of gore and sex, and I look forward to watching the second season when it becomes available on DVD or iTunes. I thought the performances of Peter Dinklage (pictured below as Tyrion Lannister) and Lena Headey (as the deliciously evil Cersei Lannister) very well done. You may also remember Headey from the short-lived tv series, “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”

20120716-072406.jpg

So ends my sojourn in the land of Westeros (I think). If I am to learn the rest of the story, it will likely be through the subsequent seasons of the HBO series. What about you? Have you read these books? I know they have a passionate following. Can you convince me to read on? I’m willing to listen…

20120716-072415.jpg

Back to Back O. Henry Stories

After a recent burst of Reading, I’m almost back on schedule with my short story reading project. I’m supposed to read one a week and I’m up to 25/52 completed for 2012. As luck would have it, my last two stories from my list – randomly selected – were both by a master of the form, O. Henry. (and here I’ll let you enjoy a laugh at my expense, as I had always thought it was “O’Henry” you know, like he’s Irish, but no, it’s just “O. Henry,” which I at least did know was a nom de plume for William Sydney Porter – pictured below)

I acquired these stories in 1978 in a book of twelve by this author. I know the exact date because its title page is inscribed with “To Jay, Merry Christmas from Mom & Dad, 1978.” (see photo below) It’s funny because I don’t remember being quite “literarily” self aware back then so I’m not sure why they would given me this book as a gift. Although… now that I’m typing this, a fossil of a memory is starting to come to the surface. I think I remember reading the O. Henry story, “The Gift of the Magi” for a class in school, and maybe liked it or talked about it with my parents, so they got this book so I could further explore his work. That would be very like them. Anyway, enough with the personal.

20120709-123820.jpg

The first of the two stories I read was titled “A Madison Square Arabian Night,” in which a high society- type gentleman, Carson Chalmers, in a restless mood, advises his butler to choose “at random” a homeless person to dine with him because, “on that night he felt the inefficacy of conventional antidotes to melancholy.” His guest turns out to be a down on his luck painter, who lost business because his portraits displayed the “true nature” of their subjects – sometimes a nature one didn’t want to own up to. Chalmers asks him to paint a portrait of his estranged wife using a photograph as reference…

The other story, “The Last Leaf,” was my favorite of the two. A young woman, living in a kind of “artists colony” in Greenwich Village, is stricken with pneumonia (which O. Henry personifies as “a cold, unseen stranger” who “stalked about the colony, touching one here and there with his icy fingers.“) and has more or less resolved to die. She even links her deterioration to the leaves dropping off a vine of ivy on the wall across the street, which she can see from her window. Her roommate and neighbor try, each in their own ways, to save her…

Both stories are very short and can be read in just a few minutes. They can be read for free on-line:
The Last Leaf
A Madison Square Arabian Night

Have you read any O. Henry? How did you find him?

Time Enough at Last

20120708-110925.jpg

Growing up, I was a big fan of the television series “The Twilight Zone” – and of course I mean the ORIGINAL series. I believe (I hope so, anyway, since its run lasted from 1959-1964) that it was in syndication (re-runs) when it made its impression on me. I can clearly remember many a night in college watching with friends at 11pm on WGN out of Chicago. I’ve alluded to the show briefly in a couple prior posts here at Bibliophilopolis, but Wednesday I was “inspired” to write a post about one famous episode in particular…

On federal holidays and weekends, one thing you can count on cable tv’s sci-fi (nka “SyFy”) channel for is a “Twilight Zone Marathon.” I stumbled upon one in the evening on Independence Day. Like many of us, I have my own favorite episodes (and the series was famous for both good AND bad episodes) and a “marathon” guarantees you’ll catch at least some of your favorites. After joining the fray about 7:40 pm, I struck it rich with just the second episode I saw.

(***MAJOR Spoilers Alert!***)
Like many other episodes it has become almost iconic in entertainment history. It’s titled “Time Enough at Last” and features Burgess Meredith as “Mr. Bemis,” a coke bottle lensed glasses-wearing bank teller who is also a persecuted bibliophile. Persecuted by his wife (she vandalized a poetry book of his, first by crossing out the printing and then by tearing out the pages! – yep, she sounds like a keeper…) and also by his boss (who doesn’t like the fact that Bemis spends his lunch hours at the bank reading). In spite of this, he is not deterred from taking the next opportunity to get comfortable in the downstairs vault, ensconced with his brown bag lunch and a newspaper. The headline of the newspaper features some brute force foreshadowing as it mentions “H-BOMB CAPABLE OF TOTAL DESTRUCTION.” Naturally, soon thereafter the vault is rocked with a tremendous explosion (the “special-effects requirements” of which are clearly beyond the budget of the half-hour show).

A stunned and dazed Bemis staggers up the stairs from his unintentional bomb shelter to discover the world “destroyed.” Scenes of blood and gore of the thousands of victims are mysteriously absent (well, I guess this was television of the late ’50s so maybe that’s not a surprise), but Bemis is nonetheless distraught and wonders what he can do now. There is plenty of food left in the city’s remnants, so that’s not a problem. He is concerned about loneliness and how to fill the days ahead even contemplates suicide. It is just about then that he realizes that, amidst the ruins in which he is standing is part of the structure of the public library. Now his post-apocalyptic life can have a purpose! Reading! Now he has all the time he needs to read anything he has ever wanted.

20120708-111006.jpg

Some time elapses, and we next join Mr. Bemis after he has arranged his reading for the next year in towering stacks. “January, February…” he revels as he descends the steps of the ruins on which he has piled his “to be read” list. Of course, this IS “The Twilight Zone,” and the viewer knows it’s not over. Upon espying a book just out of reach, Bemis grabs for it greedily, causing his glasses slip off his face and fall onto the concrete steps, accompanied with the sickening sound of breaking glass. He desperately picks them up and the remaining glass crumbles from the frames. “Oh, that’s not fair,” he moans. “There was TIME now…”

20120708-110941.jpg

Rod Serling’s closing narration:

“The best laid plans of mice and men…and Henry Bemis…the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis…in the Twilight Zone.”

I love it. It does concern me a bit, however, in that it makes me wonder how those who love to read are viewed by “society at large.” I think there is less of a social stigma for us readers in today’s world than there used to be, but I’m not sure if “we’ve come a long way, baby” or not. Indeed, Serling’s intro to this episode feels at best condescending (“bookish little man”) to those of us who are book lovers.

“Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He’ll have a world all to himself…without anyone.”

What do you think? Have you faced “discrimination” or social ostracism because you’d just as rather read a good book in a comfortable chair as “go boating on the lake” or “hang out at a noisy bar” with friends? Even more importantly, 🙂 what are your favorite episodes of TheTwilight Zone?

“The Chekhov of the Suburbs”

John Cheever’s short story, “The Swimmer”

20120705-074817.jpg

I had a day off yesterday, so in addition to knocking off almost 200(!) more pages of “A Clash of Kings” I drew another card from my deck to pick a short story, and I got the Jack of Clubs, leading me to John Cheever’s famous short story, “The Swimmer.” (and today’s ’coincidence’ is that John Cheever, the Jack of Clubs, and I all share the same “initials.”)  🙂

20120705-074827.jpg

Though first published in the magazine, The New Yorker, in 1964 (cover of this issue pictured above – note the 25 cents price) , I acquired this short story in my anthology buying spree of the early/mid-90s when I purchased the hefty “World of Fiction.” It’s one of those ultra thick books with dictionary-like “tissue paper” pages, allowing over 1200 pages even though it’s less than two inches thick (my copy is pictured below, sorry the cover of the book is almost the same color as my table at Panera this morning…). That number of pages allows it to include about 90 short stories, and for $5.98 at Half Price Books, that comes out to about seven cents a story. Entertainment on the cheap!

20120705-074955.jpg

I had never read this story before, and I don’t believe I’ve ever read any Cheever either, although I was certainly aware of him. I didn’t know what to expect, and – even a few pages in – I was still trying to understand what was going on…

***MINOR spoilers follow***
It starts simply enough, a group of apparently well-to-do couples spending a languid Sunday morning by the pool, all a bit hungover. The protagonist, Neddy Merrill, a man who “…had an inexplicable contempt for men who did not hurl themselves into pools,” hatches the idea that he might be able to make the eight-mile trip home “by water” (not entirely of course, but cutting through private and public swimming pools along the way). Well, this guy’s a bit nuts, I immediately think. He has an imagined map in his mind of the route he will take, and has even named it “The Lucinda River” after his wife. He starts off with youthful vigor and he is infused with a strange energy: “Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny, and he knew that he would find friends along the way.”

He does well at first, but soon begins to tire and finds that the attitudes of his friends and acquaintances along the way are changing. He faces a difficult “portage” at Route 424, where he presents a strange sight to passing travelers, “standing barefoot in the deposits of the highway – beer cans, rags, and blowout patches – exposed to all kinds of ridicule, he seemed pitiful.” Not too far into the journey even a reader who is sometimes slow on the up-take (like me) realizes that the swimmer’s journey must be allegorical. I won’t spoil the meaning or denouement of this story (partly because I’m not sure I know the former) – but you can read it online for free at: http://shortstoryclassics.50megs.com/cheeverswimmer.html

I did a little On-line research after finishing it, which is when I found out that Cheever was sometimes referred to as “The Chekhov of the Suburbs” (high praise indeed, considering Chekhov’s fame as a master of the short story). I also learned that the story was made into a motion picture with Burt Lancaster (pictured below) starring as The Swimmer.

20120705-074851.jpg

I’ll leave you with a quotation of Cheever’s I found to be quite amusing:

(From an interview with Annette Grant)
“The legend that characters run away from their authors — taking up drugs, having sex operations, and becoming President — implies that the writer is a fool with no knowledge or mastery of his craft… The idea of authors running around helplessly behind their cretinous inventions is contemptible.” 🙂

What are your thoughts on Cheever? Any favorite stories? (I still have one, “Torch Song,” yet to be drawn in this year’s Project: Deal Me In.)

“The Exiles” by Ray Bradbury

What happens to fictional literary characters after a reader puts a book down? If through being read they had gained a type of existence – albeit temporary – how long does it last and by what means can it be sustained? I’ve actually pondered this question for years. I even once encouraged my second book club to come up with a “dramatis personae” of those character’s we’d thus far encountered – in hopes of “keeping them alive” a little longer. This idea was met with little interest, though. It turns out that Ray Bradbury was one of what I’m sure are many others who have contemplated this topic. In fact, he published a short story about it back in 1949…

The Exiles

I first read this story in August, 1994, singling it out for special recognition with two asterisks beside it in the table of contents of my trusty Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. When I started reading it again here in 2012, I had wholly forgotten the plot and most details, but upon re-reading I can see why I liked it. Indeed, I probably liked it more this second time around. Originally published on 9/15/49 in Maclean’s Magazine under the title, “The Mad Wizards of Mars”(see photo below)

20120702-074612.jpg

Bradbury envisions a future in the year 2120 where books dealing with horror and the supernatural have been banned or removed from circulation and destroyed. In this future, an exploring spaceship is headed to Mars and encounters “difficulties.” It is of little surprise to the reader, though, since the story opens on a shore of an empty Martian sea with Shakespeare’s three witches from Hamlet chanting incantations and practicing sympathetic magic in an attempt to destroy the approaching craft and its crew. You see, in this story, the planet Mars is where the fictional characters of supernatural literature – and even their deceased authors – have continued to exist “in exile.”

Recent years have been rough for them, however, as the destruction of their works on Earth has continued to weaken their power as the years have passed. They see the spaceship’s approach as a final siege of their very existence and something that must be stopped no matter the cost. One of these inhabitants (this one an author of supernatural tales) of Mars puts the premise of this tale rather eloquently:

“I wonder who I am. In what Earth mind tonight do I exist? In some African hut? Some hermit, reading my tales? Is he the lonely candle in the wind of time and science? The flickering orb sustaining me here in rebellious exile? Is it him? Or some boy in a discarded attic, finding me, only just in time!”

One can clearly see in this story some of the themes later fleshed out in Fahrenheit 451, which was published about three years after this story. One can also catch some glimpses of the technophobic side of Bradbury (somewhat shocking for a writer of sci-fi and fantasy). Indeed, one cannot find many of his works in electronic format, because he actively resisted their publication via that medium. I looked in vain (so far at least) for a copy of this story on line to link to here, but alas… This should not stop you from seeking it out in your neighborhood bookstores or in a collection of his shorter works. If you’re a fan of literature, you won’t be disappointed.

(“I went to the library three days a week for ten years.” – Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012)

20120702-074620.jpg

July Reading: The Month Ahead

A new month is upon us again. Already. What’s on tap in my reading for July? Let’s start with the leftovers from June:

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
In fairness, it was late June when I “re-engaged” with this chunkster. I’m almost a third of the way through it as of last night, though. Like the first book in this series, I find some of the characters more compelling than others, which makes Martin’s penchant for skipping from one (of many, many) character to another with each new chapter’s beginning somewhat vexing. I’ll get through it, though. The jury’s still out on whether I will continue on to book three… (author Martin is pictured below)

20120701-110444.jpg

Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox by John Waugh
I’ve stalled again on this one, with only about 150 pages to go, I haven’t opened it in more than a week now. More discipline is required from this reader. (you can tell I never would’ve made the cut as a West Point Cadet!) Below: author John Waugh

20120701-110451.jpg

Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut

20120701-110042.jpg

A “required” read, this one is of course for my monthly meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club. I am so looking forward to reading this non-fiction work of Vonnegut’s musings. Only a couple more Vonnegut books to go for me and I’ll have read them all (I finished the last novel in May, and I think I just have this one and Armageddon in Retrospect left to go overall).

Probable reads:
Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie – a shorter, hopefully lighter read. A story with an interesting premise that I learned of via a fellow book blogger.

20120701-110054.jpg

Panther in the Sky by James Alexander Thom – this one’s appeared before at least once on my “the month ahead” posts. I think it’s finally time I gave Shawnee leader Tecumseh (portrait below) some attention…

20120701-110115.jpg
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – a local book discussion group is meeting on this one on July 10th. Though I’m familiar with the story through the movie and pop culture in general, never having read this classic is a serious gap in my cultural literacy that needs to be addressed. Not sure if I’ll be able to read it in time for that meeting though.

20120701-110105.jpg

Also I’ll be continuing to catch up on my 2012 short story reading project, which I’ve been enjoying doing the past few days already. 🙂

That’s about it for me. What about you? What’s on deck in your reading plans for July? I’d love to hear…