Top Ten Tuesday: Top of The Summer To Be Read List

Each Tuesday, the book blog “The Broke and the Bookish” hosts a “Top Ten Tuesday” meme. Hundreds of fellow book bloggers participate. It’s a great way to discover and connect with new blogs and bloggers. This week’s topic: “Top Ten Books at the Top of My Summer To Be Read List.” Here are mine, not in any particular order:

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1. The Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I count Murakami as one of the great “discoveries” resulting from my joining the book blogging community over three years ago. I’ve wholly enjoyed everything I’ve read by him thus far. This is one of his most acclaimed books. I just bought it and can’t wait to get started.

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2. St. Patrick’s Batallion by James Alexander Thom

This will be my second Thom read of the year, after finishing the wonderful “Panther in the Sky” (fictional biography of Tecumseh) in January. I was already aware of this title (published in 2006) but became further intrigued a couple Fridays ago when the author was at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, which had a “birthday party” for him and his wife Dark Rain Thom. The book covers a little known story from the Mexican American War.

3. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Recommended by many, set in the American Southwest, and by another new favorite author. How could I go wrong with this one?

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4. Driving Alone: A Love Story by Kevin Lynn Helmick

Not generally well-known, but I read about this one in the New York times book pages. Sounded really good. More of a novella at just over 100 pages, it only has 12 reviews so far on Goodreads…

5. The Daylight War by Peter Brett

I wrote about Peter Brett’s “Demon Cycle” books quite awhile back.  Not my normal genre, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first two, as have many of my reading friends. Shout out to the Borough of Books blog too, where I first learned of them.

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6. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Long on my list, I finally obtained a copy this year. Tonight at the last meeting of the season of my Great Books Foundation reading group, I’ll propose this as a candidate for our summer novel to read before the next meeting in September. I’ll still read it either way…

7. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Heard of this book through a coworker, Jeri, and have since seen it mentioned on many other book blogs. An intriguing premise with the 2011 Tsunami as a backdrop, it sounds irresistible.

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8. Who Owns the Future? by John Lanier

This non-fiction book will likely be one that causes me to lose some sleep. About the digital revolution and its consequences, it’s another one I first heard about via The New York Times.

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9. The Brotherhood of the Grape by John Fante

A friend has been nudging at me to read this for awhile now, even gifting me his second-hand copy. This summer will be the time I get it read.

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10. In The Devil’s Territory by Kyle Minor

This one will satisfy my short story sweet tooth. Highly acclaimed, I’m really looking forward to reading these. I learned of this book through the blog of The Missouri Review

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11. The Shift Omnibus – Hugh Howey

Prequel to the self-published e-book blockbuster, “Wool” (which I read and thoroughly enjoyed earlier this year), this may be the one I’m most looking forward to. You better not disappoint me, Mr. Howey… 🙂

Sorry, I guess that’s eleven. I must have mis-counted in my prep work. I don’t want to bump any of these, though. 🙂  Is it too nerdy to say that just coming up with this list makes me want to take the day off and start reading NOW?  I hope not.  I can’t do that anyway… <sigh>

What about YOU? What’s on your list? Will we be reading any of the same books this summer? Tell me all about it. 🙂

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May I Refer You to the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin?

Sometimes, when reading books written hundreds of years ago, one wonders how much true relevance these works retain in our modern age. In the case of GOOD books, I believe the answer is “quite a bit.”

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is one of my all-time favorite works of American Literature, full of nuggets of wisdom (as one might expect from something done by the man also responsible for “Poor Richard’s Almanac”) and valuable lessons about life and how to make a success of oneself. Having read it multiple times, it’s become one of those handful of books that I find lives strongly enough in my otherwise pedestrian memory to be often quotable and apropos. I was reminded of this today when reading the internet news story about the kerfluffle over the “revelation” (shocking!) that actor and activist George Takei (that’s “Sulu” in the world of Star Trek, for those unfortunates who don’t know) does not write all of his own material for his Facebook and Twitter accounts. While I don’t “like” or “follow” either, both are shared often by others that I do follow. In short, they are unfailingly a great source of humor, and I’m one among probably millions who enjoy them.

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Mr. Takei’s reaction is something along the lines of “who cares who writes it,” but there are some purists who I guess are offended, thinking he should expend the necessary time and energy himself to write all his own material. And this is where Benjamin Franklin comes in…

In “Chapter X – Poor Richard’s Almanac and other Activities,” Franknlin relates how he became fond of a Presbyterian preacher from Ireland named Hemphill and often attended his sermons, finding them pleasing “as they had little of the dogmatically kind, but inculcated strongly the practice of virtue, or what in the religious stile are called good works.” The more Orthodox of the congregation, however, resisted him and made efforts to silence him for his “heterodoxy.” Franklin of course took up his cause and was almost able to win the day, until it was discovered that some of Hemphill’s sermons were retreads of those written by someone else, whose discourses had been quoted in The British Review. This revelation made Franklin’s defense of the man an impossible task, and he and those on his side were forced to “officially” give up the fight.

Franklin left them with the following parting shot, however: (underlines are my own)

“I stuck by him, however, as I rather approv’d his giving us good sermons composed by others, than bad sermons of his own manufacture, tho’ the latter was the practice of our common teachers.”

Touché.

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Father’s Day Reading

Scanning through all the Father’s Day posts and tributes on Facebook this morning, I decided to post my own (it’s here at my personal blog, The Warped and Faulty Reservoir). Then I got to thinking about what might be an appropriate thing to read for Father’s Day. I first thought of one of my go-to authors… Among Kurt Vonnegut’s many memorable short stories is one called “This Son of Mine,” which I read as part of that authors Bagombo Snuff Box collection. I never posted about that story specifically, but I did post about the collection itself here.My buddy Dale at Mirror With Clouds did devote a short post to this story last year, though. It may be read here.

The more I thought about it, though, I decided I should read something particularly related to MY Dad. To meet these ends, I chose to re-read the great Robert R. Service poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” (I was also reminded of this great poem just last night while playing Buzztime Trivia at my local bar. The question of where Sam McGee was from was the easiest 1,000 points I got all night. 🙂 )

This was a poem that Dad had memorized and liked to recite aloud – a tradition my younger brother has carried on (I think, anyway – I’m not sure if he does the entire poem). Robert W. Service, a.k.a. “The Bard of the Yukon” lived from 1874 – 1958 and spent some time in the Yukon Territory not long after the start of the great Yukon Gold Rush. That area and era were the source and inspiration of much of his work, among which perhaps most famous is his poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” (I’ll include the entire text of the poem after the fold.) Also, if you’d prefer, you can listen to this reading by none other than Johnny Cash.  (Very good, but I still prefer my Dads rendition). Or, maybe even better, a reading by the poet himself 

(Below: Robert W. Service)

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What about you? Will/did you do any Father’s Day-Specific reading? What made the cut for you and why? I’d love to hear some of your stories…

I found a great illustrated version of the poem at http://belatednerd.com/robert-service-a-la-john-severin/ I included a couple frames of the illustrations below.

The Cremation of Same McGee by Robert W. Service (publ. 1907)

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Read the rest of this entry »

Voltaire’s “Memnon the Philosopher”

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This was my 24th short story in my 2013 Reading Project.

The year is 1749, and the Frenchman Voltaire, who “for over half a century dominated the intellectual and artistic life of Europe” is cranking out stories full of satire. One such story is “Memnon the Philosopher,” a cautionary tale that tries to protect us from getting too full of ourselves or too confident in our intellectual capabilities.

The story (the full title of which is “Memnon the Philosopher, or Human Wisdom”) begins with Memnon resolving to himself to become a great philosopher. That’s philosopher not in the often current sense of the word as one who takes philosophy is college and studies Plato and Descartes, but in its original sense of a seeker of wisdom or enlightenment, a literal lover of knowledge – as the etymology of the word indicates. He believes this will be a easy task, all he has to do is “divest himself entirely of passions.” Oh, well, if that’s all. What!?

He is quickly divested, all right, but of all the things he holds dear. One is reminded of the adage “the best laid plans of mice and men…” here. At the nadir of his downswing, he encounters an angel-like being, who claims to be from “a little star near Sirius” (!) (What? This was written in 1749 and features a extra-terrestrial?! Better call the folks at “Ancient Aliens”). This being claims to be of a race whose duty it is to “watch over other worlds that are entrusted to us.” He advises Memnon that he “…you may be sufficiently happy if you never again take it into your head to be a perfect philosopher.” Memnon then muses that earth must be the “madhouse” of all those worlds. “Not quite, but very nearly…” is the reply.

Here is a reading of this story that I found on YouTube if you’d like to give it a listen. The language of its translation is more modern and might be somewhat easier to follow than the version I read. The full text can also be found for free in many places online if you just care to google…

(below: François-Marie Arouet, a.k.a. “Voltaire” 1694-1778)

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Have you read any of Voltaire’s work?  I have to admit my only exposure before this morning had been when I read “Candide” in college.

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I have also lately been re-reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin recently too, and was re-learning of his early efforts to acquire books and form a subscription library.  As a relative contemporary of Voltaire, I’m sure the honorable Franklin was well acquainted with the works of this literary giant of his age.  I should read more by him too…

Douglas Watson’s short story “Against Specificity”

“…there comes a day when a certain truth starts to tug at your mind, gently but insistently. This truth is a little bit like a child who pulls at the sleeve of someone older and ostensibly wiser. It also resembles a change in tides,which swings all the boats moored in a harbor around to face away from where they’ve been facing – except that this truth does not turn you around completely. No, the direction in which you are pulled is entirely new to you.”

One great thing about reading a short story per week is that it’s pretty easy to find something different and new if you’re struggling to decide what to read. This was the case a couple weeks ago when I drew the two of diamonds for my 2013 Short Story Reading Project which I call “Deal Me In.” I read one story per week (52 total) throughout the year. For the most part, I come up with a list in advance, and assign each story to a playing card (52 weeks in a year, 52 cards in a standard deck, right?). Each suit has a “meaning” too, and this year diamonds was my suit for “authors I’d never read before.” Also, “deuces are wild” so the four deuces in the deck are for stories I didn’t include in my list prepared in advance. I pick which story to read each week randomly, using a deck of cards. On May 25th (I usually draw a new card on Saturday mornings, a prime time when I am free to get some quality reading in.) I drew the two of diamonds and went off looking for a story…

One resource I had found in May (National Short Story Month!) was the blog of The Missouri Review. They featured a story a day with different guest-post-ers writing about a story of their choosing. One post that intrigued me was on Douglas Watson’s story “Against Specificity,” and thus I was off to find and read it.

This was an unusual story, written in the (rarely used) second person. The reader is told that he is tired with “Thing A” and has begun to covet “Thing B” (these are the exact terms used in the story – I am not withholding specifics). Our neighbor, for instance, has “Thing B” and couldn’t be happier. Oh, if only we too could have “Thing B!” We are stuck with old (yet familiar and comfortable) Thing A. We go on a search for Thing B, which leads us to the “Thing Exchange” where trade-ins of one thing for another thing are possible. It is an odd place, with seemingly disinterested salespeople. Eventually, however, we complete a transaction and walk out of the Thing Exchange with Thing B. Life will be new and improved now, you’d better believe it!

But will we truly be happy with Thing B? That is the real question examined in this story and indeed likely in many of its readers’ lives as well.

The story is part of the collection “The Era of Not Quite.” I intend to read more from this volume in the coming months.

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What short stories have YOU read lately? Any you’d suggest that I put on my list for next year’s Deal Me In??

(below: author Douglas Watson, winner of the innaugural BOA Editions Short Fiction Prize)

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What is to be Done About “Moon-Face?”

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“We all experience such things at some period in our lives. For the first time we see a certain individual, one who the very instant before we did not dream existed; and yet, at the first moment of meeting, we say: ’I do not like that man.’ Why do we not like him? Ah, we do not know; we only know that we do not. We have taken a dislike, that is all. And so I with John Claverhouse.”

The above paragraph provides insufficiently just cause for the actions contained in the darkly comic story that follows. The narrator of London’s story, “Moon-Face,” has an unfounded dislike – no, that word in insufficient; lets try “hatred” – for the hapless John Claverhouse. There is not a good reason. It is likely because the narrator himself is a bitter man, and cannot stand to see another of his species meet misfortune with an unflappably cheerful attitude. It also has something to do with Claverhouse’s physical appearance (leading to his Moon-Face moniker), which is described unkindly by his enemy:

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“…cheekbones wide apart, chin and forehead melting into the cheeks to complete the perfect round, and the nose, broad and pudgy, equidistant from the circumference, flattened against the very centre of the face like a dough-ball upon the ceiling.”

The narrator admits physical appearance may have sparked his hatred, saying that Claverhouse had become “an offense to his eyes.” He also speculates that it is Claverhouse’s attitude: “What right had such a man to be happy? … Ah, how it grated on my soul that he should be so happy!”

A man of action, he begins to wage a campaign of evil against Claverhouse, releasing his livestock, burning his barn and haystacks, and other cruelties I don’t care to repeat. Finally, he decides that “the earth should be quit of him” and he “bends his intellect” to plotting the demise of Moon-Face (see the final picture in this post for a hint of a spoiler…). The manner in which he carries out his plans is as humorous as it is effective. I found myself laughing in spite of the fact that such violence is certainly no laughing matter. Perhaps that is the challenge that London set for himself when writing this one – to make his reader laugh despite the inappropriate-ness of such a reaction. If so, congratulations, Mr. London. In my case you succeeded.

(below: London – one of my favorite authors)

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This story is very short and can be found online in many places. Here’s one. I own it as part of an eBook of “The Complete Works of Jack London.” Quite a bargain, purchased for just a couple dollars.

Have you read Jack London? What are you favorite books or stories?

(Below: Wile E Coyote – Hmmm… makes me wonder if he ever read London’s “Moon-Face”)

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Reality Check – a novel by Eric Garrison

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Part of my unofficial “Mission Statement” here at Bibliophilopolis is to read more local writers and more ‘unknown’ or independent authors. Last weekend I read a book that killed these two birds with one stone. It was Eric Garrison’s fantasy novel, Reality Check. I was already aware of this author from the FaceBook group of the local NaNoWriMo’ers, where for the most part I’m a long-standing lurker, and had also checked out his web page. Then, a couple weeks ago I’m sipping coffee in “Mo Joe’s” Coffeehouse, and I see a post card-sized advertisement for this novel on their bulletin board. I thought, “Now here’s a writer who’s really putting forth the effort.” As a firm believer that effort should be rewarded (not that I’d argue that my reading or blogging about a book is a particularly sought after prize), I decided to read this novel. I’m glad I did, as it was quite an enjoyable read.

Reality Check (subtitled “A Tale of Quantum Entanglements”) begins, appropriately, in a lab. Three friends – Lee (the protagonist), Dionne, and Cecil – are working with a machine, the Q-T (Quantum-Turing) computer, which is a big step up from primitive virtual-reality machines and games. They’re having problems, though. Their most recent beta tester of the game their machine runs has trouble ending the “simulation,” coming out of it with a seemingly different personality and knowledge of a alternate world that takes several minutes to wear off. Her reaction prompts Cecil to exclaim “Holy shit! The thing actually works.”

It doesn’t exactly work how it’s supposed to, though, prompting Lee (an engineer) to grab his virtual toolkit and head into a simulation himself. His consciousness emerges in an alternate reality, with steampunk-ish giant airships and two familiar faces – his friends Dionne and Cecil. They are, at their core, the same people he knows, but unaware of their counterparts in HIS reality. Lee’s adventures continue, and, when his programmed time in this simulation and alternate reality expires, instead of returning to the lab, he finds himself in a third reality. Again, his two friends occupy a place in it, but they -and especially HE – are again different and changed.

Throughout all the realities, Lee’s secret (in the real world) love for Dionne endures and presents him with many unique challenges. His struggles in dealing with them, and his efforts to return home to his familiar reality fuel the rest of this fast-paced novel.

I think, with a plot line featuring alternate realities, it is a delicate business to write a story where the reader doesn’t himself become “entangled” (that word again) in them to the degree that blurs the novel  beyond one’s capability to enjoy it. I am reminded slightly of that movie, Inception where, in my opinion anyway, the “delicate business” was not handled so well.  Garrison’s novel, however, does NOT take you so far removed from ‘reality’ as to cause this blurring, though – not an easy achievement.

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Another, perhaps better, example was the “Ship in a Bottle” episode of the Star Trek:The Next Generation series, where confusing multiple realities were handled much better (and wrapped up quite nicely, I’d say). Mentioning Star Trek reminds me also that this book includes many nods to the sci-fi genre, references that its fans would certainly appreciate.

(below: actor Daniel Davis as Professor Moriarity in ST:TNG’s “Ship in a Bottle”)

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This book is available on Amazon I purchased a Nook copy, but it had some issues with inconsistent font size which were somewhat distracting. I haven’t seen the Kindle version, but am hoping it is free of those issues.

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten “Beach” Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by the literary folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. A different topic is introduced each week and participants are charged with coming up with a top ten list. This week’s topic: “Top Ten Beach Reads (however YOU define a beach read)”. I’ve decided to define it as a book I’ve read during a vacation of any kind since I’m more of a mountains and canyons guy than a beachgoer. Another “requirement” for me would be a book read more for fun and entertainment than one read to learn something from its great literary merit.

I’ll start with a couple from my childhood and move on from there.

10. The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander

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This series was The Lord of the Rings of my youth. Great adventure and quite the page turners – all five of them.

9. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

First read for school (maybe 5th or 6th grade), I remember having this with my on summer vacation camping trips with my family, reading it multiple times. I had little choice than to read the same books. More than once – it wasn’t like we took a big library with us; space in the pop up camper and car was limited.

8. The World of Null-A by A.E. Van Vogt

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Although you’ve likely never heard of this pulpish sci-fi novel, I have memories of reading this one multiple times during summer vacations during high school. It was a slim volume, which also made it easy to take along since it didn’t take up much space. I believe there were several “Null-A’ novels in Van Vogt’s oevre.  I’d like to do a nostalgic re-read some day…

7. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Probably the most ’edifying’ book on this list, it made quite an impression on me, and I’ve taken it with me on multiple trips – just like an old friend.

6. Lightning by Dean Koontz

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I have a friend who was a big Dean Koontz fan when I first met her. I remember being impressed that she had a list of all his books in her purse with the ones she had read marked off. She recommended this one and I took it with me on a trip in the early ’90s. Easy read,intriguing time-travel-ly plot.

5. Wonderboy by Simen Agdestein

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This is the story of the youngest Chess Grandmaster the world as of the time of its writing. I read it in 2004 when I travelled to Minneapolis for a “vacation” and to participate in the HP Global Chess Challenge (the biggest chess tournament in U.S. History). It was a great vacation, and this book was perfect reading during my down time during the event. Oh, and by the way, Magnus is now the highest rated chess player in the world and will challenge world champion Viswanathan Anand of India in a match this fall.

4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I guess if you’re going to read ‘magical realism,’ a vacation is the right time to do it. I remember reading through this at the lodge at Hawks Nest State Park in West Virginia in 2010. Almost incomprehensible, the book was still somehow enjoyable to me.

(below: Hawk’s Nest Lodge and it’s cable cars descending down into the New River gorge)

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3. Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

I read this during a vacation in the nineties. The only problem I could find with it was that it ended too soon.

2. Insomnia by Stephen King

I have quite fond memories of reading this one in Utah’s Zion National Park in 2006, more than once throwing it in my backpack and, while cooling down after a hike, reading it on the lawn of the Lodge or in one of its comfy rocking chairs, soaking up the sun in that beautiful setting.

(below: Zion National Park Lodge – right where I read a lot of Insomnia)

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1. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

While I wouldn’t argue this book has great literary merit, it IS memorable to me for sentimental reasons. Practically my whole family read it during one of our annual “getaway weekends” – this one at Clifty Falls State Park. One nephew and I have lobbied to make a ’group read’ a tradition at subsequent years’ weekends, one time reading the same author’s novel, Deception Point, but he and I seem to be the only ones willing to continue to carry the banner. We were disappointed that this year’s annual “getaway” was just before Dan Brown’s latest novel, “Inferno,” came out.

(Below: view of the Ohio River from the grounds of Clifty Falls State Park Lodge.  I like sitting out there and watching the barges go up and down the river)

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Well that’s it for me. What about you? How did you define a “beach read” and what were your selections? Did we have any in common. I’m off to The Broke and theBookish to find out…

J.D. Salinger’s “The Laughing Man”

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“The only son of a wealthy missionary couple, the Laughing Man was kidnapped in infancy by Chinese bandits. When the wealthy missionary couple refused (from a religious conviction) to pay the ransom for their son, the bandits, slightly piqued, placed the little fellow’s head in a carpenter’s vise and gave the appropriate lever several turns to the right. The subject of this unique experience grew into manhood with a hairless, pecan-shaped head and a face that featured, instead of a mouth, an enormous oval cavity below the nose.”

Or so the title character of J.D. Salinger’s short story, The Laughing Man, is described in the first couple pages of the tale. But – surprise! – the story isn’t really about the Laughing Man. Instead, we learn that the Laughing Man is a recurring character in the stories told by a kind of “scoutmaster” to his charge of nine- and ten-year old boys. This group is called the “Comanche Club” and their leader/scoutmaster is John Gedsudski, aka “The Chief,” who is a law school student.

Though revered by the “Comanches,” the chief is not much a physical specimen himself – at least by adult standards. He takes the boys after school and some “saturdays and on most national holidays” in an old bus to various adventures or to play sports, particularly baseball. And – after the games or on camping trips – there are always continuations of his “serial” stories of the Laughing Man. At one point in the story, however, The Chief introduces the boys to his new girlfriend, Mary Hudson. The boys are dismayed, but eventually are won over by her, most likely because of her fondness for, and proficiency in baseball.

Perhaps the Chief is playing a bit out of his league with this girl, however, and as you might expect, the relationship doesn’t last. The curious thing, and I guess the ‘gimmick’ of the story, is that – as the fate of the Chief’s relationship rises and falls, so does the imagined welfare of the Laughing Man. Maybe, with the Chief becoming jaded – for possibly the first time in his life – some of that dose of reality seeps through and contaminates the imaginary world of the Laughing Man – with dire consequences.

I liked the story. The fantastical character of the Laughing Man was genius, and the world he inhabited was like the real world, but not exactly. The boys are told he lives “in a tiny cottage with an underground gymnasium and shooting range on the stormy coast of Tibet”(!) and that he makes frequent trips across the “Paris-Chinese border” (what?!). His diet? He “subsisted exclusively on rice and eagles’ blood.” (Loved that one!). The boys’ burgeoning imaginations are well fed by these stories, and we hear of them “sizing up elevator operators as potential arch-enemies,” and fancying that they are “the only legitimate living descendant” of the Laughing Man.

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I own this story in my copy of Salinger’s famous collection, “Nine Stories.” This was the sixth one of the nine that I’ve read. The Laughing Man was originally published in 1949 in The New Yorker (cover pictured below). I’ve also posted about one other of the nine, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” as part of my 2012 short story reading project. I didn’t start with any Salinger stories on this year’s roster, but Saturday morning I drew the two of clubs and this year “deuces are wild” so I raided Dale’s “Deal Me In” roster at Mirror with Clouds and picked this story. Dale has also posted about The Laughing Man. You can read his thoughts here.

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Have you read this story? How did you like it? Are you a Salinger fan? (Coincidently, I’m reading the classic The Catcher in the Rye right now as well – for the first time – for shame!)  Below: J.D. Salinger on the cover of Time Magazine in 1961.

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