“A Relic of the Pliocene” – a short story by Jack London

20130831-084717.jpg

I drew the Ace of Spades this morning for my short story reading project. This meant I was to read Jack London’s story, “A Relic of the Pliocene.” The first order of business was for me to learn/re-learn just when the Pliocene was. (I remember once, on a road trip, recruiting my Mom and my brother – both geologists – to help me learn the geologic eras and their order. Today I only remember them incompletely. Time for a refresher course!) Here’s a summary. There’ll be a quiz next week.

20130831-084727.jpg

Turns out it’s in the Cenozoic Era just before the most recent period (the Pleistocene). It doesn’t help that those two words are very similar, does it? Anyway, the Pliocene was home to prehistoric man and some giant creatures, including the Saber-toothed Tiger and the Great Wooly Mammoth. It is about the latter that London’s story deals with.

The story’s narrator is camping “in the far north” where he surprisingly plays host to a campfire visitor, a fellow human with the most curious mukluk boots. The visitor tells our narrator that they are made from Mammoth hide, which our narrator scoffs at. Mammoths have long vanished from the earth, after all. Not long vanished, explains the visitor. Only recently so, for he killed the last one with his own hand…

When asked where this singular event occurred, the visitor “waved his hand vaguely in direction of the northeast, where stretched a terra incognita into which vastness few men strayed and fewer emerged.” He then tells the narrator the tale of his hunt – “…a hunt such as might have happened in the youth of the world.”

The strange visitor finishes the tale and afterward, in exchange for some tobacco the narrator has given him, leaves him the mukluks as a gift and disappears into the night. Though the narrator’s rational side tries to convince himself of the impossibility of such an encounter, chalking it up to the fevered imagination of isolation or a dream, but the physical evidence of the mukluks and his missing half a pouch of tobacco confirms that he didn’t dream it all.

Another interesting tale of the north from a master storyteller. Of course, we already knew from the poetry of Robert W. Service, that “there are strange things done in the midnight sun…”

Have you read this story, or others by London? What are your favorites and recommendations for further reading?

(Below: Jack London. This is the picture that graces the cover of my volume of his “complete works.”)

20130831-084752.jpg

Literary Reinforcements! New Works of J.D. Salinger to be Published!

We learned this week that there are indeed (as speculated by many) unpublished works by J.D. Salinger, and that we will be seeing them in print over the next several years. How’s that for liteary excitement? There is an article in the NY Times that describes what we might expect. I’ve gotta admit I’m looking forward to seeing what has been kept under wraps “all these years,” though I doubt my hopes of a complete volume of stories featuring “The Laughing Man” will be realized, however… 🙂

How do you feel about this revelation? Are you looking forward to some new Salinger for the first time in decades? If you had your choice which story or character would you like to see further explored?

(below: photo of Salinger is from the NY Times article linked above)

20130828-123132.jpg

“He’s going to have a second act unlike any writer in history. “There’s no precedent for this.” – filmmaker Shane Salerno,director of the documentary, “Salinger,” to be released next month.

Lazy Saturday, Crazy Sunday

20130824-081038.jpg

“Crazy Sunday” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I get up just as early on the weekends as I do during the week. I hear people talk about how they like to “sleep in” on the weekends and wonder how they’re able to do it. How do they get their bodies to accept to different sleeping/waking routines? As I’ve gotten older, it’s become a blessing, though, as I’ve come to cherish those early few quiet hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings where the world has only partially awakened and there are no demands from the outside placed upon my time. So I usually read or walk or both. This is why I assigned Saturday morning as the time that I pick which short story to read for my “Project: Deal Me In,” (wherein I read one story per week selected by “the luck of the draw” from a list of 52 stories I came up with at the end of last year). Today I drew the three of clubs, which I had assigned to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story “Crazy Sunday.”

I’ve read a few of Fitzgerald’s stories over the years. Some favorites among them have been Babylon Revisited, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, and also The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I think I enjoyed all of these more than “Crazy Sunday,” but it wasn’t a bad story. It deals with Joel Coles, a struggling, alcoholic screenwriter in Hollywood. His life has settled into a “workaday rhythm” during the days Monday-Saturday (it seems he usually works on Saturdays too) but on Sunday there is a respite and, rarely, recreation. Fitzgerald calls Sunday “not a day, but rather a gap between two other days.”

Coles is currently working for a famous DirectorandGeneral Hollywood power broker, Miles Calman, who, though he despises “rummies,” seems to have taken an interest in our protagonist. That’s nice, but no story yet, right? Well, that’s why we add Calman’s beautiful but unhappy wife, Stella, into the mix. Seems Calman is a bit of a philanderer and Stella chooses Coles as her confidant.

I’m certainly no F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar, but I do know that he spent some of the later years of his own career writing screenplays in Hollywood. His fame as a novelist preceded him and I suppose he likely felt something of a lowering in station in that new work, and that some of this deflation is explored in this short story. Fitzgerald’s tendency to love or romanticize “messed up” women is also well-known, and Stella fills that role to perfection.

What about you? Have you read this story, or others by Fitzgerald? What do you think of him and which are your favorites? And here’s a bit of trivia for you: “What does the “F” in F. Scott Fitzgerald stand for? (I’ll add the answer in the comments in a few days.)

This story is available to read online at: http://gutenberg.net.au/fsf/CRAZY-SUNDAY.html

Crazy Sunday was part of the collection, “Babylon Revised and Other Stories”

20130824-081047.jpg

But I own it as part of my collection The Best American Short Stories of the Century

20130824-081126.jpg

So… What Are You Doing Saturday?

20130813-073035.jpg

(Gene Stratton Porter)

We here at Bibliophilopolis received the following invitation yesterday:

“Hello

Bookmamas and the Irvington Library invite all of the Bibliophilopolis readers to a 150th birthday party for Indiana author and environmental movement leader Gene Stratton Porter on Saturday, August 17 at 1:30 at the Irvington branch library, 5625 East Washington. Hear a biographer speak about Gene, watch a DVD of her life and contributions and eat birthday cake! No reservations needed. 275-4500.”

So, if you’re in the Indianapolis area, why not stop by the library (pictured below) Saturday to learn more about this remarkable woman?

20130813-073017.jpg

Also be sure to stop by Bookmamas Book Store – just a couple blocks away – for some book browsing & buying  🙂

20130813-073026.jpg

 

My Old Man by Ernest Hemingway

20130810-090741.jpg

Week/story #32: Ernest Hemingway’s “My Old Man”

This was probably my least favorite of the Hemingway stories I have read thus far. The competition in that group is quite stiff, though, so that doesn’t mean this was a bad story. One thing about it that didn’t help was that the setting was that of horse racing, something I have never been able to get excited about. It always seemed to me to be a contest of “one rich guy’s expensive horse beating other rich guys’ expensive horses” – something I didn’t have a vested interest in.

***Spoiler Alert****

One of Hemingway’s earliest stories, it’s told by “Joe,” the twelve-year-old son of the title character, who is an aging jockey whose best years are behind him and who’s beginning to have to cut corners to remain competitive and to continue “earning.” The turning point, where the father “breaks bad” for good, is where he takes advantage of an unscrupulous tipster and a “fixed” race featuring the great horse, Kzar (a real – and legendary – European racehorse of the early 20th century).

20130810-090750.jpg

The father eventually puts together a big enough stake to buy his own racehorse and, riding it himself, participates in a steeplechase event that is the climax of the story. The horse is leading going into the home stretch, and, as young Joe watches, a terrible accident occurs. Within minutes, the boy loses the race, his father, their horse (shot after he has broken a leg), and his illusion of the father’s character (he overhears other jockeys speaking of how he “had it coming” after “all the stuff he had pulled”). One of his father’s associates tries to comfort Joe at the end of the story, telling him “Don’t listen to what those bums said, Joe. Your dad was one swell guy.” Joe is, I think, old enough to know better, though, and the story finishes with him thinking:

“Seems like when they get started they don’t leave a guy with nothing.”

I own this story as part of my volume, Ernest Hemingway The Short Stories. Other stories of his that I’ve posted about are: “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” “Hills like White Elephants,” “Soldier’s Home,” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” What are some of your favorite Hemingway stories?

I read this short story as part of my 2013 Short Story Reading Project,”Deal Me in.” Here is a link to my page describing the project. I’m curious – Would you consider participating if I made it a public “Reading Challenge” in 2014?

20130810-090827.jpg

Happy Book Lover’s Day!

Did you know that today was National Book Lover’s Day? Neither did I, but I heard on the radio this morning that it was so I googled it and – sure enough there is such a thing. How will you be celebrating? I will probably start by working from 8 to 5, but after that I think I will get started with reading Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being.” What will you be reading?

20130809-073804.jpg

Oh, and I have a another tidbit to share:

My first literary neologism: The “Frankenslam!”

(below: Mary Shelley, author of “Frankenstein”)

20130809-073812.jpg

I recently learned on Twitter about a book that deals with the lives of Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and the romantics. It’s Lynn Shephard’s “A Treacherous Likeness.”  It sounds very interesting, but I’m not sure if it would be my up of tea or not. It did get me thinking about Mary Shelley again, and her wonderful “monster.” I remember, the first time I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, marveling and how articulate and literate her “Modern Prometheus” was. Although I knew enough not to expect some grunting, lurch-ing Lon Chaney (Boris Karloff?) version of the monster, I was still surprised at his intellect.

How did come by it? Well, during the novel, he finds a portmanteau containing three books which help him educate himself. It is in chapter fifteen when the “monster” describes how he came by part of his education:

“One night during my accustomed visit to the neighboring wood where I collected my own wood and brought home firing for my protectors, I found on the ground a leathern portmanteau containing several articles of dress and some books. I eagerly seized the prize and returned with it to my hovel. Fortunately the books were written in the language, the elements of which I had acquired at the cottage; they consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sufferings of Young Werther. The possession of these new treasures gave me extreme delight; I now continually exercised my mind on these histories…”

20130809-073836.jpg

(above: John Milton, author of “Paradise Lost”)

20130809-073829.jpg

(below: Plutarch’s Lives)

20130809-073821.jpg

It is primarily from these three books that the monster slowly constructs his mighty intellect. How fortuitous that ‘divine providence’ saw fit to not only provide the poor wretch with some books, but some classics! (Perhaps this was the same providence which caused a watertight sea chest to wash ashore “with everything he needed” on Robinson Crusoe’s island?) Anyway, it set me pondering about these three books. I wonder how many of us (besides the monster) have read them all? I assume Mary Shelley did, but at this point, she’s the only person I know of who has completed the relatively rare “Frankenslam!”

I’m on my way, though, as I actually own copies of all three, and have read Geothe’s “The Sufferings of Young Werther” and much of Plutarch’s Lives (and the monster notes that the portmanteau contained “a volume” of Plutarch’s Lives, not all*). I’ve attempted Milton a couple times without success, but maybe trying again should be how I celebrate National Book Lover’s Day? (And I wonder, perhaps it was on August 9th that the monster found the books… )

What about you? How far along are you with the Frankenslam? Have you started? Finished? Will you be joining the small club of those who have managed it?

*re-reading further, he relates that it is the volume that contains the lives of the founders of the ancient republics. I may have to do some research to determine exactly which volume it translates to.

(below: my personal library’s raw materials for a Frankenslam. Note the “used” sticker on the spine of Paradise Lost & Paradise Regained – must’ve bought that at the Wabash College Bookstore way back in the day… Perhaps I should purchase “a leathern portmanteau” in which to keep them?)

20130809-073932.jpg

“Double Birthday” by Willa Cather

20130805-071312.jpg

(Willa Cather)

Now that I’ve been blogging for a few years, there is a growing list of authors that I hadn’t read (or even heard of, in some cases) before I started blogging that are now among my favorites. Haruki Murakami, William Trevor, John Green and Margaret Atwood are a few examples. Also near the top of the list of these would have to be Willa Cather. Her short story, “The Old Beauty” was my ’gateway drug’ in 2012, and I haven’t looked back. Her novel, “The Professor’s House” which encompasses within its pages the wonderful “Tom Outland’s Story” will, I’m sure, be a lifelong favorite, as will the short story, “The Enchanted Bluff” which was, well, enchanting. Next up will be her novel, “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”

20130805-071300.jpg

But first, I was happily reminded that I had included a story of hers in my 2013 Short Story reading project, “Deal Me In,”  where I prepare for the year by picking fifty-two stories and assigning each to a card in a standard deck of playing cards. I read one a week, and the order is determined by drawing a card from the deck. Generally, each suit has a theme, and hearts was my suit for stories by female authors. This week I drew the ace of hearts and was led to Cather’s story, “Double Birthday.” It’s now one of my favorites for the year thus far.

“Even in American cities, which seem so much alike, where people seem all to be living the same lives, striving for the same things, thinking the same thoughts, there are still individuals a little out of tune with the times – there are still survivals of a past more loosely woven, there are disconcerting beginnings of a future yet unseen.”

With a great introductory paragraph like that, one should not be surprised that this short story – about the Englehardts, an uncle and nephew, both named Albert, separated by a generation, yet sharing the same birthday – would not disappoint. The Englehardt family has effectively squandered its once mighty fortune, making them pitiable to many others, but not themselves. Another character, the upstanding Judge Hammersly, doesn’t see how Albert “can hold his head up” in the face of his changed fortunes.

It’s a story that subtly condemns those who look down upon others who happen to reside in a different class, and yet there is some irony too in that the elder Englehardt, a doctor by trade, also himself unfairly judges a girl – a talented singer who he has “discovered” and clearly loves – for failing to pursue and nurture her talent to the extent he feels that she should. The Englehardts are just the type of people that Cather describes in her opening paragraph.

The Younger Albert is quite aware oh his “fallen” condition and how he is viewed by member of the upper class to which he once belonged, but…

“He believed he had had a more interesting life than most of his friends who owned real estate. He could still amuse himself, and he had lived to the full all the revolutions in art and music that his period covered. He wouldn’t at this moment exchange his life and his memories… for any one of these massive houses and the life of the man who paid the upkeep. If Mephistopheles were to emerge from the rhododendrons and stand behind his shoulder with such an offer, he wouldn’t hesitate. Money? Oh, yes, he would like to have some, but not what went with it.”

Near the end of the 22-page story, the Englehardts enjoy a birthday dinner with the daughter of Judge Hammersly after which the elder tells the younger: “Albert, good wine, good music, beautiful women; that is all there is worth turning the hand over for.”

I liked the story a lot and will admit I have frequently thought as the younger Albert does when contemplating changing places with some of his friends who are better off. Fortunately, our world has produced wonderful writers such as Cather who can so eloquently put these feelings into words for me.

I couldn’t find the text of this story online, but many of Cather’s works (especially e-books) can be purchased relatively cheaply. I own the story as part of a treasured anthology, “The Best American Short Stories of the Century.” Another fans of Willa Cather out there? What are your favorites among her novels and stories?

20130805-071339.jpg

Shirley Jackson’s short story “Paranoia”

20130801-072214.jpg

Literary “resurrection-ists”

It’s a seemingly widespread phenomenon in the arts. Successful writers, musicians, etc., don’t let their own deaths stop “new” works of theirs from being released. Earlier this month, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s book club read two just recently published works from that author, who died in 2007. This was not the first new, posthumous material of his we’ve read either. It happens often in popular music too. It seems every month we’re learning about the discovery of one “previously unreleased recording” or another. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when author Shirley Jackson, who died in 1965, had a “new” short story in the most recent issue of The New Yorker magazine.

I have mixed feelings about all this. If I’m a fan of the artist, of course I’m curious about these “unknown” works, but am also tempted to be skeptical as to their quality. For what reason were they never published? Did the author himself feel they needed more polish? Did he decide to abandon the idea of publishing or selling a finished story because it just didn’t turn out the way he wanted? There has to be at least a small percentage of posthumously posted works that are ready, though, and only haven’t been published due to the fickleness of fate. I’d like to think that this “new” Shirley Jackson story would be part of that small percentage.

(below: Shirley Jackson – photo from shirleyjackson.org)

20130801-072225.jpg

“It had been an exceptionally good day, altogether, and Mr. Beresford walked along swiftly, humming to himself.”

The story, “Paranoia,” documents an ordinary man’s extraordinary commute home from work. Mr. Beresford is smugly pleased with himself, having remembered his wife’s birthday for instance, and also to pickup her favorite candy as a gift before heading home. Sadly, this lunch-pail variety “hubris” will not be tolerated by the unexplained evil forces at large in his world. His paranoia begins with the discovery that he is being followed by “a man with a light hat and a thin mustache.” Afterward, no matter what path he takes, or what mode of transportation (bus, cab, subway, walking) he chooses, he sees the same man or others who appear to be his operatives. (It reminded me of the old joke about the guy who says, “It’s not that I’m paranoid, it’s just that everyone is out to get me!”) Will he make it home safely, and what will he find when he gets there? These are the questions that propel the reader forward in the short story.

I haven’t read much Shirley Jackson, though her classic short story “The Lottery” is one of my favorites – and perhaps without that story, the world may never have known the literary and cinematic pleasures of The Hunger Games trilogy, which had to find some inspiration from “The Lottery.” Her book “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” had been on my TBR list for far too long. Perhaps it’s finally time to read that one… What do you think of Shirley Jackson? Which of her works have you read? How do you feel about literary resurrection-ists? Do you read The New Yorker? I’m a relatively recent e-subscriber (it was the unlimited access to their vast archive that got me, admittedly mostly for the short stories).

20130801-072520.jpg

20130801-072233.jpg

There was an interesting interview with Jackson’s son regarding the discovery of this – and other – unknown works. It may be found here. A good summarizing quotation about this story from the piece was: 

“The story explores one of her common themes, the gradual realization of no escape, where the horror is that there is no help coming, no way out, no relief from any direction.”

(Below: that great literary/cinematic resurrection-ist from Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” Jerry Cruncher <on the left> played by Billy Bevan in the1935 movie adaptation)

20130801-072245.jpg