A Few More Short Stories I Read in September

Three more short stories…

I’ve already posted this month about a couple of short stories that I read for my annual project, those being “Reunion” by Maya Angelou and “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut by” J.D. Salinger. My habitual short story schedule is to pick and read one each Saturday morning. There were five Saturdays in September, so what were my other three stories? I’m glad you asked…

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First, I read Margaret Atwood’s “Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother.” Originally published as part of her collection “Bluebeard’s Egg and other Stories,” this was probably my favorite of the three. It reminded me a lot of Marilynne Robinson’s novel, “Gilead,” which I have also read recently. The narrator recalls stories told to her by her mother, and admits that, as a child, she hadn’t yet realized “that she (her mother) never put in the long stretches of uneventful time that must have made up much of her life: the stories were just the punctuation.” I loved that. Aren’t we all, armed with our own stories, just like that as well? I found Atwood’s writing beautiful, and her attempts to explain the difficulty of writing about a past age ring so true. She says, “It is possible to reconstruct the facts of this world – the furniture, the clothing, the ornaments on the mantelpiece, the jugs and basins and even the chamber pots in the bedrooms, but not the emotions, not with the same exactness. So much that is now known and felt must be excluded.” I found this story in my anthology “The World of Fiction” edited by David Madden. A great collection of close to one hundred stories.

(below: Margaret Atwood)

Second, I read a Flannery O’Connor story titled, “Parker’s Back.” What could this story title mean? Some sort of ‘prodigal son returns’ theme I assumed, with Parker being the star. Well, knowing O’Connor I should have know it would be a dark tale, and it was, though not as “bad” as others of hers that I’ve read. We meet O.E. Parker in the midst of a domestic squabble with his wife. I liked the opening sentence: “Parker’s wife was sitting on the front porch floor, snapping beans.” I’ve done that! Several times in my youth while visiting grandparents, a batch of green beans straight from the garden would be distributed amongst a few of us to begin preparing them by breaking them into ‘bite size’ units. A great memory and one that made me feel at home in this story immediately. Of course, that was the only part of the world spun by O’Connor in this story that was comfortable.

(below: Flannery O’Connor)

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The title of the story comes from the fact that Parker is covered in tattoos, but only on his front, his back remains untouched. Self-centered at his core, he has no interest in tattoos on his body that HE can’t see. He came by his obsession by seeing, when a child, a tattooed mad at a carnival whose varied tattoos created a beautifully artistic “arabesque” wrapping his body. Parker’s tattoos are less artful: “Whenever a decent-sized mirror was available, he would get in front of it and study his overall look. The effect was not of one intricate arabesque of colors but of something haphazard and botched.”

Flashbacks tell us the story of how he met his strictly religious wife (she thinks of his tattoos as “Vanity of vanities”) and at the end of the story he finally decides to get a tattoo to cover his back. A tattoo that could not help but please his wife, he thinks. If you’ve read much Flannery O’Connor, you know this won’t turn out well… I found this story in another anthology, The Norton Anthology. One benefit of this anthology is that each story is followed by a handful of ‘discussion questions.’ The one’s following this story weren’t the greatest though, but one did touch on the handling of chronology in the story – how do the glimpses back into the prior lives of the characters add to the story, etc.

The third, which I just finished, from my “Short Story Masterpieces” anthology, was John Cheever’s “Torch Song.” A famous title, and one that I’d certainly heard of, but I had remained ignorant of the work of Cheever (with whom I share the same initials and – I just learned today – birthday) until I read his great short story, “The Swimmer” earlier this year. I really liked this story for the most part, but it turned dark in – I thought – an unpleasant way toward the end. It follows the lives of two friends, Jack and Joan, two New York residents who came there from the same home town in Ohio. I understand the term “torch song” to refer to a love song that laments an unrequited or lost love and perhaps this is indeed the meaning in this story. Jack and Joan were never lovers, yet they crossed paths often in their lives and, as a reader, even though they always seemed married or involved with someone else when they met, I kept thinking, “C’mon, Jack, you should find a way to get together with this girl.” In fact, I was a little reminded by their relationship of the characters Jake and Brett from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, for whom I had a similar feeling. I was disappointed with the direction that “Torch Song” took, however, and though I found Cheever’s writing to be great (as it was in “The Swimmer”) I didn’t like this story as much as the other two.

(John Cheever)

So, that about wraps up my short story reading in September; only twelve more for me to “deal” with this year now. What short fiction did you consume this month? I’d love to know…

(I participate in The Short Story Initiative hosted by Nancy at Simple Clockwork. If you are a regular – or even occasional – reader of short stories, please check out her site and share with the rest of us what you’ve read.)

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(Pictured below: three of my many short story anthologies; they were already somewhat battered when I bought them second-hand, but some of their condition is due to my frequent use as well…)

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Banned Books Week at the Vonnegut Library – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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In honor of “Banned Books Week” (starts Sunday!) the book club at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis read Ray Bradbury’s often-banned novel, “Fahrenheit 451.” At our meeting yesterday, we were also lucky to have a special guest, Jonathan Eller, who is the Director and General Editor of the “Center for Ray Bradbury Studies” in … Indianapolis! Located on the IUPUI campus, it’s part of the “Institute for American Thought” which in turn is part of the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts. This “discovery” makes me wonder what other local hidden literary treasures might await me if I looked around a bit more.

Anyway, on to the book. This marked my third reading of this classic. The first time, in January 2001, was simply for my own pleasure. The second was just in 2010, when I re-read it for a discussion at Bookmama’s bookstore. A brief post about my 2010 reading of the book may be found here. I had no regrets about having to read it yet again for the KVMLBC. It’s a short book too, checking in at under 50,000 words. It can be read in a just a few hours, even by a slow reader like me. I won’t re-hash the plot of the story (I’m assuming “everyone” has already read it and, if not, please buy a copy and get started now.) 🙂

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I was looking for ‘something different’ while reading this time around, and I was struck by how “fire” itself could almost be considered a character in this novel. (I felt something similar last year when reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – also for the KVML book club for banned books week – and found the Mississippi River also arguably taking on the role of a character). Initially, in Fahrenheit 451, fire is destructive only. In Fire Chief Captan Beatty’s lecture to the novel’s protagonist, Guy Montag, he describes it thus:

“What is there about fire that’s so lovely? No matter what age we are, what draws us to it? It’s perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. If you let it go on, it’d burn our lifetimes out. What is fire? It’s a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledygook about friction and molecules. But they don’t really know. It’s real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences.”

Later when Montag, after his escape from the city, stumbles upon some men around a campfire, the “personality” of fire had changed:

“It was not burning, it was warming. He saw many hands held to its warmth, hands without arms, hidden in the darkness. Above the hands, motionless faces that were only moved and tossed and flickered with firelight. He hadn’t known fire could look this way. He had never thought in his life that it could give as well as take. Even its smell was different.”

It’s little wonder that fire holds a place as one of the four original, primordial “elements” is it?

(below: Nazis burning books; these events happened not too long before Bradbury began work on the earlier versions of Fahrenheit 451. “I hate those guys.” )

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(And so did Indiana Jones, even if he did get Hitler to sign his dad’s “Grail Diary”)

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Due to our special guest’s presence, I also learned a lot about the book – and Bradbury – that I didn’t know. Here are a few tidbits:

The inspiration for Fahrenheit 451 was the 1940 novel, “Darkness at Noon,” by Arthur Koestler.

The original publication of Fahrenheit 451 included some books with asbestos board for covers (!) According to Eller, who has seen one, they have not aged well and should be opened only if wearing a breathing mask of some sort. This edition is pictured at the top of this post.

Eller also told us that Bradbury had a soft spot in his heart for the pedestrian, and that he felt they were a kind of “indicator species” for society (much in the same way ecologists view amphibians in the world of biology). Coincidentally, when Bradbury passed away earlier this year, I searched online for a story – any story – of his to read as a small tribute, and the one I found was “The Pedestrian,” a great short story about a future where being a solitary pedestrian late at night was apparently an arrest-able offense. Eller shared with us that Bradbury wrote this story after an encounter with law enforcement he had himself while out walking. This story may be read online here. It should be mentioned here also that an innocent pedestrian is also victimized in Fahrenheit 451 when the government, having allowed Montag to escape their televised chase, chose a pedestrian as a stand in to hoodwink the viewers into thinking they “got their man.”

We also learned about some of the earlier phases Bradbury’s story went through before it became the final version we know today. The highlight of our meeting (at least to me) was seeing some of the literary artifacts that Eller brought with him. One of these was an original copy of “Galaxy” magazine, wherein the Bradbury short story, “The Fireman” was published. This story was Fahrenheit 451 in, perhaps, it’s “larval” stage…

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Several of those in attendance were curious as to the reasons that Fahrenheit 451 had been banned.  It was mostly “foul language,” (“hell,” “damn,” – you know the type) and the sterilized amendments (many of which were published) seem but minor changes in today’s world.  One member of the club had a book (recently published, too) from a local school that STILL had the amended, sanitized text. Mr. Eller was surprised to learn this, and planned a call to, I think, Simon & Schuster… Eller has also written a book about Bradbury and  A Barnes and Noble review of “Becoming Ray Bradbury” may be found here

Overall, another wonderful day at the KVML…

A couple final things: I read somewhere before that Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper will burst into flame. Later I learned it’s actually 451 degrees Celsius at which paper combusts, but that Bradbury felt Fahrenheit sounded better as a title. I can’t remember where I read this, though. Can anyone confirm or deny? It’s interesting to note also that Bradbury was a steadfast supporter of “real” books over e-books, energetically opposing his own titles being released in electronic form. But – one can’t burn an e-book…

Free Stories!

As I was pondering making my annual short story reading project a “public” challenge next year, I realized some might not want to participate because they don’t want to have to BUY a bunch of short story anthologies or author’s collections. Never fear! There are ways around that, as many great, classic short stories are available in the public domain and may be found free in the internet. We can also take another step for those who don’t want to have to go searching for a story via Google or a search engine. With this in mind, I thought I’d share a couple resources.

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One is a smart phone app “Short Stories eReader.” I’ve had this on my iPhone and iPad for over a year now, and often will utilize it when I’m trapped in line or can steal a few reading minutes here or there. The selection has grown quite a bit in that time too. You can search for stories by author or genre, and can build a decent library very quickly.

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Another resource is The Library of America’s “short story of the week” website. It serves up a new story each week, but you can also review stories that have been the selections for previous weeks. Browsing through their archive, I only noticed about ten stories that I’d already read. Humbling, as I read a LOT of short stories.

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Happy perusing! (and let me know if you’d be interested in a short story reading challenge for 2013)

“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”

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I admit I somewhat enjoy it when a story has a cryptic title. I’ve read at least two this year with strange names that provided no real clue to what the stories might be about, “The Mutants” by Joyce Carol Oates, “Kaleidoscope” by Ray Bradbury. Then, this weekend when I drew the King of Hearts from my short story deck, I was led to the J.D. Salinger story, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut.” What the heck could that be about?

A few years back, I purchased a slim paperback volume, “Nine Stories,” by J.D. Salinger. As of this morning, I’ve still only read five of the nine (this is what I tend to do, “ration” stories in a collection out over time, so as to delay that dreaded “they’re all gone” feeling when the supply has been exhausted). The collection was published in 1953, and features some other famous stories, such as A Perfect Day for Bananafish – which I read a couple years ago (and didn’t like) and “For Esme – with Love and Squalor,” which fellow blogger Dale at Mirror with Clouds posted about. When it came time to pick my 52 short stories for this year’s “Project: Deal Me In,” though, I had to include a couple more Salinger stories. This was one of them.

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***spoilers follow***
The story details a visit between two old college friends, Eloise (now married and with an eleven year old daughter, Ramona) and Mary Jane (divorced). A business errand of Mary Jane’s brings her near her old friend’s house so she stops for a visit. Once inside, they “head straight for the liquor cabinet.” Downing highball after highball (over the initial protests of Mary Jane) they begin to commiserate about how their lives have turned out. (Eloise has some harsh things to say about the male of the species too.)

Unhappy in her marriage, Eloise recalls an early love, Walt, a soldier who went off to war and was killed, though not “in action” in the traditional sense. This was a man with the right qualities, the ones that Eloise cherished anyway: a sense of humor and intelligence. It is in Eloise’s relating a story of Walt’s tenderness from their past where we learn the source of the title of this story. Walt comforts an injured Eloise by saying “Poor Uncle Wiggily.”* Eloise describes him: “Ah, God, he was nice. He was either funny or sweet. Not that damn little-boy sweet, either. It was a special kind of sweet.”

This event from the past is somehow linked to Eloise’s dealing with her daughter’s oddness (which includes an imaginary friend and beau, Jimmy Jimmereeno). Early in the story the daughter describes Jimmy to Mary Jane then later goes outside to play. After the adult women have become drunk and the child returns indoors, Eloise asks her, “What happened to Jimmy?” and Ramona replies “He got runned over and killed.”

Eloise sends Ramona to bed after checking her forehead to see if she’s feverish, but is shocked later when she checks on her in bed and finds her lying “way over on one side” of the bed (as she used to do make room for the imaginary Jimmy).

“I thought you told me Jimmy Jimmereeno was run over and. Killed.”
“What?”
“You heard me,” Eloise said. “Why are you sleeping way over here?”
“Because,” said Ramona.
“Because why? Ramona, I don’t feel like-“
“Because I don’t want to hurt Mickey.”
“Who?”
“Mickey,” said Ramona, rubbing her nose. “Mickey Mickeranno.”

Eloise shrieks at Ramona to get in the center of the bed but then finally softens and feels some sympathy for her poor, disturbed girl, holding her glasses from the nightstand and repeating “Poor Uncle Wiggily.” Somehow she has been transported to another time when she herself was a “nice girl” and capable of feeling sympathy and worthy also of receiving it. A time so distant from the present that she weeps. A sad story, but with a kernel of hope at the end(?)

Have you read this Salinger story? What was your take on it? What is your favorite from his collection,”Nine Stories?”

*I discovered in my “research” that “Uncle Wiggily” was a beloved character from a popular series of children’s books from 1910 to about 1940. He was an elderly rabbit, plagued by rheumatism, who encountered and escaped troubles by either his wits or by coincidental good fortune. I’ll have to see if I can find one of the 76(!) books in which he appears.  Have you ever heard of Uncle Wiggily? I hadn’t, but then I wasn’t alive in 1940, or 1950, or 1960, or, well… let’s just say I’m too young to have known about him.  🙂

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Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

It’s a phenomenon familiar to all of us. Who hasn’t heard someone talk about going back to the school where they spent their childhood years and remarking “how small” everything is now – almost as if everything else is what has changed and not themselves? Of course it’s a matter of perspective, but still one that is charming and thought provoking.

(below: author Esther Forbes)

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I wondered – would I experience a similar phenomenon when reading a book that I hadn’t opened since childhood (junior high in my case)? Enter “Johnny Tremain” by Esther Forbes, a Newbery Award winner from 1944. I first read it at Indianapolis P.S. #89 while in the sixth grade (I think). Unlike in my adult life as a reader, where I am surrounded by books I want to read, back then, even though I may have been surrounded by books, there were only a few I LIKED to read, and these I revisited many times. Johnny Tremain was one of these, which makes it even more remarkable how much of the book I had forgotten.

(pictured below: The Newbery Medal)

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Briefly, it’s the story of an apprentice silversmith in Boston in the 1770’s – a time when rebellion was fermenting in the British Colonies. Though only fourteen or fifteen, Johnny is talented and precocious, effectively running the day to day business of the silver shop of his aged master, Mr. Lapham. Johnny is treated with deference by everyone in his immediate circle and this treatment goes to his head. As his master would say, “pride goeth before a fall,” however, and when Johnny takes the reckless step of working on the sabbath in order to complete an order for the wealthy John Hancock, an accident occurs which puts an end to his apprenticeship.

Johnny drifts somewhat idly for awhile until, while searching for a new trade, meets “Rab” – a printer’s apprentice at the shop where the Boston Observer is published. Through Rab, who, though only a couple years older, is mature far beyond his years, Johnny begins to learn more about responsibility and also how to act better and to better treat those around him.

Through his work at the printing shop and delivering newspapers riding his spirited horse, Goblin (of course, Goblin was one of the things I remembered well from this book!). Johnny quickly becomes deeply involved in the work of The Sons of Liberty, and plays a role in famous events such as the Boston Tea Party, and Paul Revere’s ride. In the process, Johnny “becomes a man” and perhaps this is the main appeal to young readers. In fact, while reading this book, I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous “story graphs.” Johnny’s story would be the “man in hole” variety.

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So, did re-reading this book feel like returning to an old school building and finding everything “smaller?” Not really, but one thing I did realize is that when I first read this book, I WAS Johnny Tremain (how could I not identify with him, reading it at that age, when I was admittedly a bit precocious and full of myself as well). Reading it now, though, Johnny was “just” a character – but a very good one and one that I will always remember fondly.

My blogging friend and former fellow-founder of a book club, Dale, has also just reread Johnny Tremain and posted about it on his blog, Mirror With Clouds. What about you? Have you, as an adult, revisited a childhood favorite book? What were your reactions?

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I Opened the Box

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Pandora by Joanna Parypinski

This just-published horror novel was a great warm-up read for me as I prepare for my traditional October foray into readings that feature horror, the macabre, and the supernatural. Probably everyone is familiar with the story of “Pandora” from Classical Mythology, the poor unfortunate who – through curiosity rather than malice – releases a plague of evils upon mankind after opening the box wherein they were contained. The author of this book, via several “interlude” chapters, gives the reader a glimpse into the history of “the box,” peering further and further backward into human history. The last of these deals with a “brief history” of ancient Greece and ends – with great effectiveness, I think – “The box came before this.” (One of my favorite glimpses of the box’s past was the story of Eliza, who brought it to America. In her case, the box “consumed her” – in a way my imagination made similar to Tolkein’s “The One Ring” and its pernicious effect on the creature Gollum)

When we start the story, however, the box has taken up residence in the basement (buried hidden behind a wall, naturally) of a house in the town of “Sickle Falls.” A young couple, Maria and Chris Vakros, is just moving into the house, unaware of the tragedy that marked the end of the last resident’s ownership.

Maria quickly senses the presence of something evil in the basement, while young Benjamin Behren, a fourteen-year-old neighborhood boy plagued by bullies and by the awkwardness of that age, has personal experience with the basement from previously being dared to go into the house and basement while it was unoccupied.

We meet other residents of Sickle falls including writer Edna Murphy, struggling to retain her grasp on her sanity as she writes about a character who has lost his. There’s also Father O’Clery, who somehow knows something of the precipitant evil that the town unwittingly awaits. The loathsome bully, Rocco, and his sidekicks give us a sufficient dose of non-supernatural evil too. And then, there’s also “The Reaper”…

In addition to “interlude” chapters that detail fragments of the history of the box, there are also interludes that tell the story of The Reaper, a self appointed avenging angel who murders the impure while traveling the country. The Reaper’s weapon of choice? Not the familiar scythe we’re used to seeing the fabled “grim reaper” depicted as carrying. No, this reaper uses a razor-sharp sickle. And guess where The Reaper’s headed now? Why, Sickle Falls of course. Lots of work to do there. I should mention here that Parypinski pulls off a nice “twist” involving this character, one I didn’t see coming, anyway.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, much more than I did a “more credentialed” ‘horror in the basement’ novel by Chris Bohjalian (The Night Strangers) last year. It’s worth a read and perfect for October…

(below: a “scythe” – the traditional implement of the grim reaper. I’ve held one before – I think it was on my Granddad’s property in West Virginia – and remember thinking, “this could do some damage if wielded maliciously.’ The handle on his did not look like this one, though. It was that classic ‘weathered gray’ look that tools take on once they’ve reached a sufficient age. The smaller implement, the “sickle,” a hand held tool that can be used for smaller jobs, like weeding. I think my mom has one of these for her garden. Coincidentally. I’m currently watching season 3 of the tv series “Breaking Bad” and some of the bad guys left a chalk drawing next to one guy’s car as their calling card. The DEA agent called it a scythe, but it could also be a sickle, maybe. Oh, well. Guess I went a little overboard on the sickle/scythe thing there, but that’s me being me!)

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“The Next One…”

With all the ‘favorites’ lists I’ve been seeing lately (Top Ten Tuesday, Book Blogger Appreciation week, etc., etc.), I noticed that I usually find it difficult to answer questions of the “what’s your favorite ____” variety, and I thought I’d share a quick story which gave me an idea…

I’ve written often before about my “chess years” and once before about former World Champion Mikhail Tal, of the Soviet Union (via Latvia, in his case). I met him at the “National Open” chess tournament in Chicago. As a former world champion, he was naturally one of the main draws of the tournament, I’m sure boosting participation and entry fees significantly. Tal was known as “The Wizard of Riga” for the sometimes stupendous nature of his play and his nearly hypnotic glare over the chessboard. He often took wild and crazy chances in his games, risking much in hopes of bewildering his opponents. In 1960 he defeated defending world champion Mikhail Botvinnik, a player known for his especially sound and unflappable style of play. It created quite a stir in the chess world. “How can he get away with playing like that!? Especially against the mighty Botvinnik!?” Sadly, Tal lost the title back in a rematch soon thereafter. Plagued by health problems the rest of his career, he likely never reached the heights that his potential promised.

One of the side events at the 1988 National Open was a “simultaneous exhibition” by Tal. Even if you don’t play chess, you may have seen photos or heard stories of famous masters taking on many players at once, usually surrounding the master in a circle (or square) of tables, with the master making a move on one board, then moving to the next game and so on, and so on, until all the games are over. The players challenging the master are instructed to wait until he reaches their board to play their move – even if they’ve already decided on one – to allow the master to quickly ‘get back into that game’ rather than take a moment to see “what’s changed” on the board (which he could certainly do, it would just ‘waste’ a few seconds). Anyway, one of my friends and fellow competitors, (and also a former teammate), Les, also took part in this tournament and got to speak to Tal afterward. I remember Les telling me that he had asked the grandmaster “What is your favorite (of all the games you have played) game?” and Tal replied – I’m sure not for the first time – “The next one.” Les always thought, and I agree, that this was a great answer.

So the next time someone asks me what my favorite book or short story or horror story or non-fiction book is, I’m going to reply in kind and simply say, “The next one…” 🙂

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

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“Gilead” means “hill of testimony” or “mound of witness.” Its meaning is taken from a mountainous region east of the Jordan River. In Marilynne Robinson’s novel of the same name, Gilead is a small farm town in Iowa. Living in the town is the dying (he has a heart condition) reverend John Ames, a preacher’s son – and also a preacher’s grandson. John, having married only late in life, has a young son himself, and this novel is the text of one long letter to his son, intended to be read by him when he “grows up.”

It’s not too often that I decide to read a book when knowing so little of “what it’s about.” All I knew of this one was that it seemed constantly praised by those whose opinions I value, and that it won the 2005 Pulitzer prize. It certainly had the credentials. In fact, had I known more about it, I might have been scared off due to the strongly religious themes (with me being a relative heathen). That would have been a shame, as I would have missed out on a beautifully written book.

For me, Ames’s lengthy letter represents the universal struggle one has when one gets older and sees the end of life approaching. Questions like, “What’s the meaning of life after all?” and “How can we best share what our multitude of experiences have taught us with our offspring.” It could be argued that these are unanswerable questions – or at least that any answers would be woefully incomplete, but Ames sure gives answering them the old college try. I guess it’s what one would expect from someone who has been able to write thousands of sermons in his lifetime (an output rivaling St. Augustine – as Ames says, “It’s humiliating to have written as much as Augustine, only to have to find a way to dispose of it.” – this when contemplating cleaning out the attic)

Not being a philosopher or theologian, I feel unqualified to review this book on those levels, but I will say I enjoyed it in spite of my inexperience with those fields. I fell in love with Robinson’s writing quickly, too. A couple favorite passages that are representative:

“I remember walking out into the dark and feeling as if the dark were a great, cool sea and the houses and the sheds and the woods were all adrift in it, just about to ease off their moorings. I always felt like an intruder then, and I still do, as if the darkness had a claim on everything.”

“The twinkling of an eye. That is the most wonderful expression. I’ve thought from time to time it was the best thing in life, that little incandescence you see in people when the charm of a thing strikes them, or the humor of it.”

It’s also amazing how someone with sufficient erudition, can suffuse what may have otherwise been considered just another ordinary tale of a life with such magic it becomes a Pulitzer prize winner. This was perhaps my favorite line in the book:

“…this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe.”

That blew me away. Have you read Gilead? What did you think of it? Can you recommend anything else written by Robinson? I think I want more…

(below: art from the original NY Times review in November 2004)

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And now… The Short Story Initiative!

Nancy at Simple Clockwork is retooling the “Short Stories on Wednesdays” meme and creating a new, monthly version to replace it. This monthly version is called…

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Each month will have a common theme and a “Mister Linky” where participants can link back to their blog posts or websites. The theme for the first month is “Getting to know each other,” and participants are asked to answer the following questions, so here goes…

1. Why do you want to join The Short Story Initiative?

I think I’m “grandfathered in” by having participated in Short Stories on Wednesdays! 🙂 AND because I want to hear of new stories and new writers, and connect with other readers who enjoy this form.

2. What kind of short stories do you read? Is there a specific genre or culture or nationality you would like to explore through short stories?

I read all kinds. In my annual short story reading project I try to have several different categories. I also enjoy re-reading those stories which are really, really good.

3. Who is your favorite short story writer? Why?

“Too many to mention,” but I’ll name some: Chekhov, Kipling, Kurt Vonnegut, H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde, M.R. James (ghost storie!s), Ernest Hemingway, William Trevor, Haruki Murakami, Jack London, Edgar Allan Poe. I admire any writer who, with the economy of words required by the short story form, can tell a complete story that includes some depth of plot and character.

4. What is the most memorable short story you have read?

Again, too many to pick just one. Some stories I find myself recommending often to others are: “The Black Monk” by Anton Chekhov, “The Waiting Supper” by Thomas Hardy, “Brushwood Boy” by Rudyard Kipling, “Smee” by A.M. Burrage, and “The Three Hermits” by Tolstoy – to name just a few.

5. What is your experience with short stories in the past? Is it a good or bad experience?

Good, of course, or I wouldn’t be here! 🙂 I have many hefty SS anthologies in my personal library, and many collections by specific authors. In my old book club, we had a tradition where, for each July meeting, it was “short story month.” Each member would pick a story and share it via photocopy or emailed PDF and the group read all the stories. It was always my favorite meeting of the year, as I was exposed to many new authors and stories that I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise.

6. Share one book confession when it
comes to short stories?

I used to think O. Henry was “O’Henry.” (you know, like he was an Irishman!)

7. Share something about yourself that has nothing to do with short stories.

I’m a total trivia/quiz show addict. At least once or twice a week I can be found at the local bars that feature the Buzztime trivia game (I’m “OTTO” in that network – if you participate, look me up!). I’ve tried out for the tv show “Jeopardy!” twice and made it to the contestant pool both times but have never gotten “the call” to appear on the show. My current term in the pool expires in January, so keep your fingers crossed for me. 🙂

(“This… is… Jeopardy!”)

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I look forward to getting to know the other short story afficionados out there, and I’d like to add a big “thank you” to Nancy for her administrative efforts for The Short Story Initiative.

Jay

September Reading – The Month Ahead

What reading do I have planned for September? Let’s start with my “required reads.”

The Great Gatsby by. F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Yes, I’ve read this before (at least once) but my “Great Books” discussion group is reading this for our September meeting. We usually discuss shorter works, but we don’t meet over the summer and for September’s meeting it is traditional to read a novel. That’s what they tell me, anyway, I haven’t been a member for that long yet. 🙂

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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This is the September selection for the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club. In honor of “National Banned Books Week,” we read a book that has suffered the ignominy of being banned. Last year it was Huckleberry Finn. I’ve read this before too. Twice. It will be interesting to see what my fellow KVMLBC members, an intelligent group, will have to say about this one. I always learn a lot at these meetings. It’s a good choice, too, with Bradbury having just passed away earlier this year.

Speaking of re-reads, I’m doing a nostalgic re-read of Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes – a favorite from my youth. Look for a post on this around the middle of the month. Fellow blogger Dale at Mirror with Clouds is also re-reading. Why not join us?

I’m also reading Pandora by Joanna Parypinski. A just-published first novel. After reading a short story of hers in an anthology a few months ago, I stumbled upon her blog and, since she is a graduate of Butler University (here in Indianapolis, just down the road from my office) thought I’d “support the home team” and read her book. I’ve already started and am enjoying it thus far.

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What else? Well, there are five Saturdays in September, and that is the day of the week I draw a card to pick which of my fifty-two scheduled short stories to read. The Queen of Diamonds led me, on September 1, to Maya Angelou’s “Reunion,” which I just posted about. Four more to go, though, and I look forward to learning which ones fate picks for me this month.

There’s also my neglected “Author Biography” 2012 reading project. I have a Charles Dickens bio (Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin) queued up in my e-reader, but haven’t been able to get into it yet.

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That’s about it for me. So, what are YOU reading in September. I’d love to hear about your reading plans…

-Jay

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