Time for a Read-a-thon!

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I’ve been blogging for a few years now, and I’ve often seen posts by my fellow bloggers about upcoming “Read-a-thon” events. I’ve often wanted to participate, but they always seemed to fall on an inconvenient date for me. Not so this time! Tomorrow, 10-12, is the “Dewey’s 24-hour Read-a-thon” event, and guess what? It’s also the start of my staycation! So, I’m going to take the plunge and see how much I can read in the twenty-four hours starting when I get up tomorrow morning.

Since this is my first time, I’ll not likely be doing anything besides just reading (there are a lot ancillary events going on) and perhaps updating my progress regularly here on my blog. Hundreds of bloggers are participating. Are you one of them? Looking at the sign up list, I don’t recognize many of the blogs and bloggers so this may also be a good way to discover some new and interesting book blogs. Maybe some fellow participants will even discover mine? 🙂

Weekends are a prime reading time for me anyway, so this won’t be a great personal sacrifice to me (unless I forego my normally scheduled Saturday visit to BW3s to play Buzztime Trivia – hey, maybe I could make that a personal reward if I can reach a certain threshold of pages or books or stories?) Ooh, good idea, Jay. 🙂

Later tonight or early tomorrow morning I’ll post a tentative schedule and list of potential reads for those who want to play along at home.

More information about the read-a-thon maybe found at: http://24hourreadathon.com/

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Negore the Coward by Jack London

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This story was my 40th of the year as part of my annual short story reading “project: deal me in.” I had just re-started my reading of London’s novella, “Before Adam,” this week, but apparently the hand of fate decided I needed even more Jack London, as I drew the eight of clubs from my dwindling deck…

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What makes a coward? We all know that there is a fine line between cowardice and discretion (that better part of valor), but how often is one only perceived as a coward when, in reality, he is not – or may even be the opposite. I became aware of this concept at a very young age. One of my earliest memories of watching television was seeing re-runs of the old Chuck Connors western series, Branded. I admit I was probably just attracted to the opening intro and song, but the point was, though thought one, Chuck Connors was definitely NOT a coward. I mean,
look at him! :-).

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Anyway, in Jack London’s short story, Negore the Coward, the title character’s thought to be a coward, and from the perspective of others, including the woman he loves, he seems to be nothing but a coward. The setting of the story is in mid-nineteenth century Alaska, where Negore and his native tribe are fleeing a ruthless band of Russians (Alaska was Russian territory until we “bought it” from them, remember?). He has disappeared from the tribe, but returns and catches up to Oona, who he calls “his woman” and her father, the blinded Kinoos, whose bravery from a previous showdown with the Russians is the stuff of legend.

When Negore explains his side of the story, Oona admits she may have misjudged him, but as there were no witnesses to Negore’s version, he still must prove himself to her with an act of bravery equal to that of her father – “Art thou willing to do no less than what Old Kinoos hath done?” Of course he is, which sets up the climax of the story.

Read it for yourself for free online here.

I’ve really enjoyed a Jack London “reading renaissance” the past year or so, for which i’d like to thank my blogging colleague, Dale, over at Mirror with Clouds, who through several posts helped me remember how great a writer London is. What about you? Have you read any of Jack London’s short stories?

(“Jay not like a story by Jack London? ‘Impocerous!'”)

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

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This 1943 novel is now among my favorites that I’ve read this year. It was selected as the “summer read” for a Great Books Foundation discussion group in which I participate. Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend that meeting, but I will share a few thoughts here at Bibliophilopolis.

The book is the story of a young girl named Francie Nolan. She is daughter to Katie and Johnny, sister to Neeley (short for Cornelius) and niece to Sissy and Evy, and granddaughter to Mary Rommely, the matriarch of a family of Austrian immigrants that includes many remarkable women, of which Francie is (or is becoming) one.

The Nolan family is Irish and, perhaps stereotypically, Johnny is an alcoholic. The family survives through a tenaciousness that Katie embodies and likely inherited from her mother. Katie is largely uneducated but realizes early that education is the key to escaping their poverty-stricken circumstances. In a favorite passage of the book, during a long talk, Katie asks her mother:

“Mother, I am young. Mother, I am just eighteen. I am strong. I will work hard, Mother. But I do not want this child to grow up just to work hard. What must I do, Mother, what must I do to make a different world for her? How do I start?”

“The secret lies in the reading and the writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day. This must be until the child learns to read. Then SHE must read every day. I  know this is the secret.”

“I will read,” promised Katie. “What is a good book?”

“There are two great books. Shakespeare is a great book. I have heard tell that all the wonder of life is in that book; all that man has learned of beauty, all that he may know of wisdom and living are on those pages. It is said that those stories are plays to be acted out on the stage. I have never spoken to anyone who has seen this great thing. But I heard The Lord of our land back in Austria say that some of the pages sing themselves like songs.”

Later the family is able to acquire a used copy of “the complete works” for twenty-five cents. Smith’s description of this book reminded me very much of my first copy of Shakespeare, that I read about a third of the plays before it had fallen apart so much as to make holding it together difficult.

And what is the other great book Mary Rommely recommends? “The Bible that the Protestant people read,” she says. How they came by a copy of the Bible is another favorite part of the story for me. Katie’s sister, Sissy, is in a hotel with her man and asks him, “What is that book on the dresser?” He explains that its a bible and she tells him she’s going to “hook it” (steal it). He says that that’s why they put them there, so that people will read it, reform and repent and bring it back so that others may benefit. Sissy’s reaction, “Well, here’s one they’re not going to get back,” and so Katie’s modest library was complete…

The other thing that struck me about the book was the crushing poverty in which Francie’s family lived, scrimping and saving for just a penny here and a nickel there. The U.S. Government shutdown we’re currently experiencing reminded me of this a little. In one news story they were interviewing people who had been furloughed or otherwise affected by it. Listening, it seemed the hardship was too much to bear (and this was like on day 3 of the shutdown) and I remember thinking, “Do these people truly have nothing set aside at all to make it through any tough times and bumps in the road? Are so many people in this day and age really living literally hand to mouth?” That’s depressing, if true. Even Katie Rommely, with her pitiful little coffee can bank of pennies and nickels, would be better prepared than today’s spoiled and “entitled” masses, I think.

(Below: Author Betty Smith)

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All in all, a great book, with many characters that I cared about. A tale of the triumph of will and resolve to overcome unfavorable circumstances.

(Below: I saw this photo on eBay – this is the same edition as my dilapidated old copy of Shakespeare’s works. Maybe I’ll add a picture of that one too when I get home –  oh, the limitations of blogging on one’s lunch hour… – this one’s in much better shape than mine. 🙂 )

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An Edgar Allan Poe Tale That Shall Not Be Named?

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I ‘discovered’ a new to me Poe story yesterday. I have a thousand-page volume of his works of which I’ve read “all the famous ones” and explored the remainder in piecemeal fashion. Scanning the contents last night, I was drawn to “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdermar”(!) The similarity in name to Harry Potter’s nemesis was unmistakable and, amid wondering if J.K. Rowling had ever read the story, I decided to explore further…

Our narrator admits that his attention “for the past three years, had been repeatedly drawn to the subject of…mesmerism.” The term mesmerism has gradually fallen out of use, yielding for the most part to the modern term, hypnotism, but those in the know are aware that Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer’s (below) mesmerism was essentially the forerunner of the concept of hypnotism or “animal magnetism” as it was once commonly referred to.

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Poe’s narrator, while fascinated by mesmerism, is amazed that no one has tried it in “articulo mortis” – at the time of death. (I personally find this less amazing, as that time in one’s life is “not the best time to ask” whether or not one wants to be hypnotized.) Our hero is in luck, however, as he just happens to know a man – the M. Valdermar of the story’s title – who is dying of tuberculosis (described in that horrible fashion at which Poe is an undisputed master) and who is also scientifically curious…

Valdermar’s “regular doctors” send word when the man is nearing death, and our narrator continues with his plan. Though “scheduled” to die by midnight, Valdermar survives through the night and, in answer to a query replies in barely a whisper, “Yes – asleep now. Do not wake me! – let me die so!”

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Over the next few hours his body undergoes some changes in appearance, but death has not yet totally claimed him. Communication with the man continues, but is slowly breaking down. Eventually, he appears to be quite dead, and plans are being made for his removal, when a sudden vibration seizes the body, after which he began to speak in a new voice, one:

“…whose sound was harsh, and broken, and hollow; but the hideous whole is indescribable, for the simple reason that no similar sounds have ever jarred upon the ear of humanity.”

Nice, huh? How long will Valdermar continue to exist in this way? What will become of him? Read this short story for free online and find out

http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/eapoe/bl-eapoe-facts.htm

There are some similarities between this story and the Character That Shall Not be Named from the Harry Potter books. Both are thought dead but are not, really. Or are they? Re-animation of a “form” does not necessarily mean it’s alive. Does it? What do you think?

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“Party Talk” – a ghost story by John Gaskin

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It’s October and time to read some ghost stories. I was quite fortunate in my first choice. I still had a handful of stories remaining unread in my collection, “Haunts: Reliquaries of the Dead,” which features many great, scary stories. Some of those I’ve posted about before are linked below (my favorites were “Is There Anybody There” and “City of Dreams”)

Grandfather’s Teeth and Grandmother’s Slippers

Is There Anybody In There?

City of Dreams

The Door

Our narrator in the story is a party guest and writer of ghost stories. He allows himself to be trapped into a conversation with an old lady at the party who, reclining on an old-style chaise longue tells him, “Sit down. I have a tale you must hear.”

She relates a story from her youth where she, after committing an indiscretion with a youthful gardener, is shuttled off to live with an aunt, out of the way and out of the view of public shame. She is kept busy with many tasks, one of which is planting some roses amongst some old graves near the transept of the local church. During her shallow excavations, she unhappily discovers she has uncovered several bone fragments. She stores them behind the old tombstone of one Elenor Ward. She learns from a young rector that Elenor was a victim of a local knave also known for getting other young girls “in trouble.” The young ward walks her partway home to her aunt’s residence (“Toburn Hall” – described by the author as being “large and untenanted by youth or laughter”). On the remainder of the walk, she notices a discomfort in her boot and when reaching home is shocked to find the suspected “pebble” to in reality be a tooth from among the bones she had unintentionally disturbed. She resolves to return it to rest with the others the next day and places it on a mantelpiece in her bedroom. This, predictably, sets up a night of terror that completes the story of the old party guest.

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(photo from http://julieannchristian.wordpress.com/)

Gaskin’s not done with us yet, though, as a further, added twist left me with not a few goosebumps on my arms this Friday morning…

I highly recommend this story and the book which includes it. It may be found for sale at amazon.com  or Barnes and Noble

Author Gaskin lives in Northumberland in the U.K. And is also the author of a story collection called The Long Retreating Day: Tales of Twilight and Borderlands, which I may want to check out now that I’ve read this story.

This post is also written in conjunction with the R.I.P. VIII Challenge.

Will YOU be reading any ghost stories this month? What are your plans?

(below: a “chaise longue” perfect seating for a ghost story, wouldn’t you say?)

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October Reading – The Month Ahead

I’ve been a bit of a reading slacker this year compared to the last three years. I’ll probably even end up a few books short of my unofficial “par score” of fifty books in 2013. Part of this is because my blog’s focus seems to keep slanting more toward short stories, which, honestly, was not my original intent. As a fairly busy person, though, it’s a logical practical decision to read more shorter works. We’ll see if the trend continues into 2014, when I hope to take my annual short story reading project “public” and make it a reading challenge that hopefully other bloggers or readers will participate in. Anyway, back to October 🙂

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I am going to revisit Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” as it is the October reading selection of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s  book club. What’s more, I’m supposed to lead the discussion, so I’d better be prepared. It’s an awesome book, though. I could probably just ask one question and let everyone talk for the next hour, but I’ll try to add a little more value than that.

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I’m also currently reading a great non-fiction book called “Osman’s Dream.” It’s by Caroline Finkel and is a history of the Ottoman Empire (Osman being the first Sultan of that mysterious – to me, anyway – entity). I’ve learned a lot so far in just the first eighty pages, but look forward to becoming a little more conversant with that corner of world history, which I’ve hitherto neglected.

Bookmama’s bookstore is having a discussion of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” next week. I’ve read it before, but may revisit in time to drop by and attend. As a kid, I always loved the movie version with James Mason and Pat Boone(!)

(below: James Mason leads his intrepid group of explorers deeper into Carlsbad Caverns… oops, er, I mean The Centre of the Earth!)

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I also plan to read Jack London’s novella, “Before Adam.” Recommended by an old college/H.S. classmate of mine, I tried a few pages a couple of weeks ago and the premise is fascinating…

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Since it’s October, I’m sure I’ll also squeeze in some ghost or horror stories (I bought a new anthology recently!) and hopefully blog about a few for the R.I.P. Challenge, to which I’ve already contributed a couple posts.

Let’s see, what else… I’ll continue reading stories for my “Project: Deal Me In” annual short story challenge, and there are a couple other books that I’ve read a few pages into but haven’t really officially “started” yet, those being Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being” (which I got far enough into to appreciate that that title doesn’t quite mean what you would think… & It’s also a finalist for the coveted Mann-Booker prize!).

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Also there’s James Alexander Thom’s “St. Patrick’s Batallion,” which is much shorter than his other books that I’ve read, so I should be able to knock it out in a few days, right? 🙂

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That’s it for my plans, but what about YOU? What are you planning to read this month?

Update on the Banning of Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man

Thought I’d better post an update in case not everyone has heard that the ban imposed (by a North Carolina county school board) on Ralph Ellison’s Invisble Man was rescinded at the special board meeting referred to in my previous post. For the L.A. Times’ article on the story, click here. Hurrah!

Below: author Ralph Ellison

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