Alexander Pushkin’s “The Snowstorm”

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Five lonely playing cards remained in my 2013 short story deck (see my Project: Deal Me In – for details, check out the link in the “Pages” section on the left) this morning. Now there are four, after I riffled them a bit and out fell the queen of diamonds, leading me to Alexander Pushkin’s short story.

As you might expect, the snowstorm in the story’s title plays a major role in the events of the tale. In the Russian empire in 1811, star-crossed lovers decide to elope, but their conspiracy is thwarted by a violent snowstorm. Now I haven’t experienced a Russian winter or snowstorm myself, but I’ve learned a little of their danger (albeit at a cheaper cost than Napoleon’s retreating army) from reading Tolstoy’s story “Master and Man,” which was one of the stories I read in the innuagural Project: Deal Me In in 2011. (Coincidentally, Tolstoy also penned a short story with the title “The Snow Storm”- perhaps I should add into my list for 2014 short story reading?)

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The storm’s fury is such that only one of the two lovers is able to keep their appointment. The girl, Maria Gavrilovna, falls into a deep fever in the weeks that follow, and her parents decide to relent and accept her young lover, who was thought beneath her station since, obviously, she was consumed by her love for him. When she recovers, they invite him to their home along with promises of their newfound acceptance of him, but, in an inexplicably “insane letter” he tells them he “will never set foot in their house again.”

The rest of the story follows, for the most apart, the diverted path of her life. But what is the mystery of the lover’s estrangement? Just as it seems we will never know, and Maria appears to be “moving on” the truth is revealed in an O. Henry worthy twist.

Have you read any of Pushkin’s stories? This one may be read for free online at: http://www.cadytech.com/dumas/related/snow_storm.php – It’s only eleven pages so I’m thinking you should give it a try, even if you thought – as I did – that Pushkin “only wrote poetry…”

(Below: Alexander Pushkin)

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“Death by Drive-In” – an entertaining short story anthology from the folks at Coffin Hop.

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From the folks at Coffin Hop:  http://coffinhop.com/

These are stories inspired by the classic era of the b-movies often shown at drive-in theaters.  I grew up watching the tv versions of a drive-in theater with the local legend, “Sammy Terry” on Friday nights on WTTV and then “Science Fiction Theater” on Saturdays, so I actually enjoyed this collection quite a bit. Sure, there were a few stories that didn’t quite do it for me, but isn’t that the case with all anthologies? (It has been in my experience.) I blew through the seventeen stories it contains in just a few hours, and there were several that were very well done, I thought. (The ones that didn’t do it for me were generally the ones that relied too much on the gross-out factor. There was also some careless editing, particularly in one story the femur is misplaced in the lower leg which, as an inveterate stickler, I found distracting.)

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Some of my favorites:
“The Colossal Monster” by Ron Smales – this one was kind of the switcheroo of the classic sci-fi film, “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” for in this story radiation causes the victim to inexplicably grow in size. A scientist finds a way to “cure” him, but will it be in time, and might there be other, less supernatural forces that are stacking the odds against him?

(Below: Grant Williams as the afflicted Scott Carey in 1957’s “The Incredible Shrinking Man” – a classic!)

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“Microwave Popcorn” by Dan Dillard
A great, short story with a couple helpings of humor added to the recipe. A somewhat superannuated employee at a factory, facing an imminent pink slip, is temporarily changed into an electrified man by the collaboration of faulty wiring and a break room microwave. He uses his newfound powers to set a few things right. In one of my favorite lines, when confronted, he admits, “guilty, as CHARGED.” Nice.

“The Queen of Screams” by Penelope Crowe
An aging, b-movie horror queen falls out of favor and resorts to drastic, plastic surgical measures in a desperate bid to regain her former status.

The collection also included stories by two authors I’ve read before. I posted about Joanna Parypinski’s novel, “Pandora”, last year, and – though I never blogged about it – I also enjoyed Red Tash’s novel “This Brilliant Darkness.”

In this collection, Parypinski’s “Poseidon’s Revenge” features a likable, trident-wielding heroine who takes the concept of an actress questioning her character’s “motivation” to a whole new level. Tash’s entry, “A Lycan for Pinterest” (ha ha – great title!) uses our culture’s growing obsession (probably not too strong a word) with that social media as a vehicle to explore the potential of an inter-species(?) relationship.

There were also several stories featuring homages to the characters of classic horror. “The Lagoon” by Nina D’Arcangela (I assume that’s a great nom de plume), told in the first person by someone you quickly realize is not a human, was another good one falling into that group.

(below: remember this chilling scene from the original “Creature from the Black Lagoon?”)

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“Retirement” by Jamie Friesen features an aging Godzilla, basking on a beach at a resort reminiscing about the glory of his past ravagings. A.F. Stewart’s “Revenge of the Monsters” is also in a similar vein. All the classic horror icons (Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, the Mummy, etc.) are hanging out at their favorite watering hole when they decide to go on another rampage, lest we puny humans forget their powers.

(below: Power lines stop Godzilla? Bah!)

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Julianne Snow’s “Little Shop of Cupcake Horrors” was amusing and reminds us that we should be careful who we buy our flour from… (I read this one morning before work while sitting in Panera, and – trust me – I gave the display case a wary glance on my way out…) 🙂

So overall a fun collection. If you’re a fan of the classic b-movie horror/sci-fi/fantasy from the height of the drive-in era,you’d probably enjoy it too.

If youre interested in getting a copy of this anthology (profits for which go to benefit litworld.org) check the following link. http://coffinhop.com/death-by-drive-in-collectors-ep/

“The Dungeon Master” by Sam Lipsyte – another of 2011’s “Best American Short Stories”

For the second week in a row, the luck of the draw has led me to read a short story from my anthology “The Best American Short Stories of 2011.” I drew the nine of diamonds. Diamonds are my suit for new to me authors in my annual short story reading project, Deal Me In. This is the ninth story I’ve read from this anthology, and the fourth of those to which I’d give my highest recommendation.

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The Dungeon Master – as you might guess form the title – is a story that provides a quick look into the demimonde of RPG’ers (role-playing gamers). As Lipsyte notes in the contirubtor’s comments section of the anthology, the story took about twenty years to germinate before fully blossoming, putting its genesis back around 1990, before these types of games were fully benefitting from Computer enhancements. I.e., the dungeon master rolls dice (doubtlessly many-sided) to determine characters’ fate in this story.

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The story’s narrator is a 14-year old boy, who we only know by his character name (Valium) in the game, and who is one of a small band of social misfits that regularly gather at The Dungeon Master’s house (or rather, his dad’s house) to play the RPG. Most readers will recognize this small group from their own school days, whether from being part of a similar one themselves, or just knowing “that kind of kid” from their own experience. There are, I’m sure, social pockets of friends like this everywhere even today, though the games they play have certainly evolved. And how surprised should we be that social outcasts, frequently picked on, would flee to another world, – even an imagined one of their own creation – as often as possible?

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There is ample humor interspaced with the narrative too. Even the first sentence: “The Dungeon Master had detention,” contributes. Among the place names in their game world are things like “Mount Total Woe” and and inn named “The Jaundiced Chimera.” The dungeon master of this story is a harsher one than others who play the game would tolerate, but his small group seem to be willing to face the consequences of the strict worlds of his creation. He seems to be trying to teach them how better to handle the world: “…as the Dungeon Master hopes to teach us, the world is not a decent place to live.”

Although I personally never got caught up in the Dungeon and Dragons craze, I did enjoy this story, and I was surprised to see that it can apparently be read online at The New Yorker: It was originally published in the October 4, 2010 issue.

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It’s even fairly short. You should give it a read.

Are you familiar with the role-playing gamer’s world? I’ve always been fascinated by those who get caught up in it. I even live in the city where the annual, HUGE “GenCon” convention is held, uniting all kinds of “gamers” from all over the country and world. Many even roam the downtown area IN COSTUME during this extended weekend. Always a fun time of year to people watch… 🙂

(below: anyone see the 1982 TV-movie adaptation of Rona Jaffe’s novel, “Mazes and Monsters?” It capitalized on the nascent Dungeons and Dragons craze at the time and focused on the obssessive nature of some of the game’s players that became a stereotype.  In the still from the movie below, can you identify that actor in the upper left? 🙂 It was actually pretty decent for a tv movie; worth a watch if you can find it.)

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Magnus Carlsen – The “Wonderboy” is all grown up

I used to be pretty active in the world of tournament chess. Though just an amateur I reached a fairly respectable level of competence, allowing me to occasionally compete with and enjoy the play of the chess masters and professionals (like Salieri in the movie “Amadeus,” I could pretty well understand and appreciate what the best and more gifted players could do – I just couldn’t often replicate it myself). I also was always proud of the fact that I had once played in the largest tournament in U.S. History, the 1986 World Open in Philadelphia with 1,506 players. This record stood until 2005, when it clearly became threatened by a new announced tournament, The HB Global Chess Challenge, held in Minneapolis. At that time, the decision to go was an easy one, so a friend and I flew off to spend a few days in the Twin Cities.

It was a very strong tournament and I finished on “minus-2” (chess-speak for finishing with two more losses than wins. At the higher levels, the are often a lot of drawn games, so -2 or (+2) might be arrived at many ways, e.g., you could draw six games and lose two,or win three and lose five, etc. I had a lot of draws – these players were hard to beat!). This was one of the final tournaments I played in, but the thing I remember most about it today is that during the tournament I was reading a book, Simen Agdestein’s “Wonderboy: How Magnus Carlsen Became the Youngest Grandmaster in the World.”

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The Game of Chess has had its share of prodigies throughout its history, and Norway’s Carlsen is one of the more recent. Many of them “burn out” early (think Bobby Fischer, who I’ve written about on this blog a few times – here, here, and here) and enough have suffered from some form of mental illness to create an unpleasant stereotype. Carlsen (knock on wood) defies this stereotype and has grown into a “normal” happy young adult who just happens to also be extremely good at chess.

The past few days, I’ve re-read this book (well, at least the text, I didn’t replay all the moves of Carlsen’s games that are included) and was awestruck once again by the prodigious memory and talent of the chess grandmaster. For instance, as a child he was fascinated by flags and by age five had memorized all the few hundred municipalities in Norway and their coats of arms, size, and populations. He also memorized similar data for the countries of the world. Whatever he became interested in, he would learn – and remember – everything about it. He thinks he has “a few thousand” entire chess games memorized and in the documentary linked below a fellow grandmaster tests him by setting up positions from historical games, with Carlsen correctly identifying them. Amazing stuff.

I predict that the seemingly well-rounded Carlsen will NOT suffer the fate of many of his predecessors. For one thing, he has a very supportive family and circle of friends. Agdestein sums this up well in the book saying:

“There are many random events that play a decisive role in one’s life. The cards are not dealt out equally. We come from different countries and different places and end up in different environments, with all the conditions and directives this involves. But the most important thing is family.”

Why write about this book now, eight years later? Well, this past Saturday morning the latest world championship chess match began in Chennai, India (at 4:30 a.m. EST!) and Carlsen is the challenger to defending champion Viswanathan Anand of India. It’s a much anticipated match, where most expect a changing of the guard (or generations) in top level chess will occur.

I’d also like to share a link to a great short documentary about Carlsen and the upcoming match. It might dispel some of the stereotypes about chess masters.

There is pretty good live coverage of the match that is available on the Internet (yes, I’ve gotten up pretty early the last couple days) .

The first two games were rather disappointing draws by repetition, and today (Monday) is a rest day. Game three is tomorrow (also at 4:30 a.m.) and there are 12 games in the match. If it’s tied after twelve, they go into an exciting tie-breaker format where the amount of thinking time the players start with is continually reduced until a winner is produced. My thought is there will be no tie-breaker. Carlsen is now the much higher rated player and seems pretty invincible. I do hope Anand, roughly representing MY generation, will keep it close.

(below: a still from game one’s live internet coverage)

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(Below: Magnus, at only 13, had Garry Kasparov – at the time the highest rated player in history – on the ropes in the first of a two-game mini match. This game ended in a draw)

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(Magnus lost the second game rather routinely and said afterward ( as Agdestein notes,”without a trace of irony”) ‘I played like a child.’)

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(below: from the documentary linked above – Magnus takes on one of the chess hustlers in New York’s Washington Square Park. Among the fans watching: yes, that’s Liv Tyler – or Arwen from the Lord of the Rings movies 🙂 )

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Caitlin Horrocks’ short story “The Sleep”

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The Sleep by Caitlin Horrocks

To arm myself for my annual short story reading project (Deal Me In) in 2013, I couldn’t resist adding a couple new anthologies to my collection, which now numbers about two dozen. (And I just this moment realized that this could be thought of as a collection of collections – a neat idea? 🙂 ) Anyway, one of the new additions was the annually published “The Best American Short Stories of 20__” which has proved to be a good source indeed. It should be, based on the title, right?

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A couple things that I like about the collection are that (1) it introduces me to some new (to me) contemporary authors, particularly women authors, and (2) there is a great section in the back of the book that shares “Contributors’ Notes” by all of the authors about their particular stories in the book. Though many readers would just as soon NOT know the genesis of literary works, I am the opposite and am always curious as to the “how did he/she come up with THAT idea” questions. This collection satisfies that curiosity. Indeed, as I recall, it was a quick review of this section that helped me select which stories from the book to add to my 52 stories to read for 2013.

Author Caitlin Horrocks begins her notes with, “I am a good and dedicated sleeper. It’s a state I look forward to and find very difficult to let go of in the mornings, especially dark winter ones,” thus immediately establishing a common ground with this reader and probably the vast majority of others as well. She goes on to relate how reading an article about “historical sleep patterns, including alleged winter hibernation” intrigued her enough to lead her to write the short story, “The Sleep.”

The story is written in the first person plural by a representative of the Town of “Bounty.” The precise geographic location of the town is not given, though it is clearly in the upper Midwest (Minnesota? North Dakota?) where the winters are harsh and dark. One resident, Al Rasmussen, has survived a personal tragedy and announces to his fellow townsfolk that he intends to hibernate during January and February. He is provisioned with “crackers, tinned soup…, vitamin C, and canned juice” and has designed and built a DIY heater that “runs on grease.” The neighbors are skeptical and voice objections, all of which Al has already considered. He even says, “Don’t try to convince me anything worthwhile happens in this town during January and February,” and from the way Horrocks describes the town, he is probably right about this.

That’s the other side of the story. This is a dying town. The High School has been closed, and the kids rolled into another one nearby. Many of the main street’s stores are closed, forced out of business by the big box stores – not in town but in easy driving distance. The children of the town learn in school, via modern technology, of the outside world and have taught the adults that “none of us was special.” Given this environment, hibernation doesn’t seem like such a bad idea at all, does it?

Al’s experiment actually goes really well: “What was it like? How did it feel?” his neighbors ask. “I had these long dreams,” he said. “Unfolding over days. I dreamed I was in Eden, but it was mine. My farm. I picked apples every day.” Others in the town began to “feel like suckers” for not hibernating themselves. The second winter, others try it, also with beneficial results.

Some are opposed to the idea of The Sleep. Primary among these is the town librarian, Mrs. Drausmann. She tries to lobby for her fellow citizens remaining in “the real world” saying how she has books and people can use the library’s computers and get their music and movies.” A sleeper brutally squelches this argument: “If you’re dreaming, you have your own movies.” Later in the story, we see Mrs. Drausmann again, who stays awaKe with her books because “she had her own kind of dreams.”

As additional years pass, more and more citizens begin participating in “The Sleep,” so many that the town’s economy is affected. Where will this lead? Surely the town must have a threshold of participating citizens in the winter months below which it cannot function? And they are not totally isolated from the outside world, (e.g., a local food chain’s corporate lackeys visit the town to see “why winter quarter sales are down 90%”)

The final paragraph sums up the “new” version of the town of Bounty pretty well, I think:

“Now we are the people of Bounty, the farmers of dust and cold, the harvesters of dreams. After the lumber, after the mines, after the railroad, after the interstate, after the crops, after the cows, after the jobs. We’re better neighbors in warm beds than we ever were awake. The Suckers of the last century, but not of this one.”

Food for thought, eh?

This story was originally published in The Atlantic for Kindle and may also be found in the anthology mentioned above.

The author’s website is here http://www.caitlinhorrocks.com/

Finally, I found an interesting interview of the author online at:
Interview: http://southeastreview.org/2012/10/caitlin-horrocks-1.html

(below: Yes, I admit I’ve often felt envious of bears…)

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Have you heard “The Howling Man?”

As is the way with many of my generation, I’m an unapologetic fan of the classic tv series The Twilight Zone. I’ve even written about or referenced it a few times on this blog (here, here, and here). One of the short stories in my roster for this year was Charles Beaumont’s “The Howling Man” which was also adapted into a screenplay for Rod Serling’s program.

(below: Rod Serling, the host of “The Twilight Zone”)

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“A fever dream of forests full of two-headed beasts came, then the sound of screaming. I awoke, but the scream shrilled on – Klaxon-loud, high, cutting, like a cry for help.”

Beaumont takes a character, David Ellington, places him alone in an unfamiliar setting, heaps on a helping of fevered delirium, and only then allows him to tell us a story. The story of The Howling Man.

Ellington becomes ill on a “walking trip” through Europe and seeks refuge from a harsh storm at the Abbey of St. Wulfram’s. Expecting to be greeted with charitable hospitality, he is instead surprised to be seemingly unwelcome and discouraged from lingering. His physical condition does not permit them to deny him succor, however.

Days of delirium follow, extending into a fortnight, interspersed with his hearing the terrifying screams. “They were totally unlike any sounds in my experience. Impossible to believe they could be uttered and sustained by a human, yet they did not seem to be animal.”

Though he can hear the screams clearly, the monks of the abbey and their leader, Father Jerome, do not seem to hear them. Later we learn that “Sound had, in these years, reversed for (them): the screams had become silence, the sudden cessation of them, noise.”

When Ellington recovers a bit, he discovers the source of the screams, a man locked in another cell of the Abbey. As more is revealed by Father Jerome, the reader begins to suspect what a special prisoner this “man” really is. Ellington himself, however, is a bit slow on the uptake, demanding to know who the man is, and an exasperated Father Jerome finally asks him, “Are you such a fool, Mr. Ellington? That you must be told?” The prisoner is the antagonist in the most ancient of struggles.

I couldn’t find a free online copy of the story, but you tube (no longer) has a video of the Twilight Zone episode if you’d like to watch. The original Twilight Zone series is available on either Netflix or Amazon Prime Video (can’t remember which, but maybe both) as of 11/2017.

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One other note: I found this story interesting, too, in that it contained a hint of American isolationism, personified by Ellington’s father, who warns him about the potential perils of visiting Europe: “…Describing in detail, and with immense effect, the hideous consequences of profligacy, telling of men he knew who’d gone to Europe, innocently, and fallen into dissolution so profound they had not been heard from since…” Written after World War II, I found this opinion somewhat telling.

(below: author Charles Beaumont)

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Top Ten Tuesday – “sequels I can’t wait for…”

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the wonderful folks at The Broke and the Bookish

“Top Ten Sequels I Can’t Wait to Get my Hands On” I haven’t done one of these in a while, so I thought I’d better make an effort to “keep my membership current” :-A) Then I saw this topic and thought, “No way I can come up with ten. I don’t read series!” Looking over my “Read” list on Goodreads, though, I realized that more accurate would be “I don’t finish series!” There are some I wouldn’t mind continuing with, and a few that I’m re-reading, so although I think the spirit of this week’s topic is meant more to be ‘sequels that haven’t been published yet that I’m waiting on,’ I’ll go ahead and be a rebel. In fact, that’s the only way I’d come up with ten anyway… 🙂

Here we go, from least anticipated to most anticipated:

10. The Madness Underneath (Shades of London #2) by Maureen Johnson

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I found the first book in this series, “The Name of the Star,” surprisingly good. Good enough to recommend to a few friends who have now also read it and proceeded on in the series. Maybe I will too…

9. Siege and Storm (The Grisha #2) by Leigh Bardugo

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The first book, “Shadow and Bone” was one I read after a gushing NY Times review by Laini Taylor (author of the confusingly similar – to me, anyway – titled, “Daughter of Smoke and Bone”). It is somewhat standard YA fare, but I found the setting intriguing, with all the Russian-sounding names and places. This one I’ll likely read, but not sure when it will reach the top of the batting order.

8. Speaker for the Dead (Ender’s Game #2) by Orson Scott Card

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Probably gonna see the Ender’s Game movie here this upcoming weekend. I hadn’t gotten around to reading the original Ender’s Game until this year, but thought it was very good. Somewhat afraid that a weaker sequel might “ruin” it for me, but we’ll see. Other trusted reader friends have enjoyed the whole series, but I’m not generally a Sci-Fi/”space wars” kinda guy…

7. Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins

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Yes, I’ve already read this series, but re-read the first one before the movie and want to do the same with book 2. Plus a gang of friends is organizing a group outing to go see the movie soon, and I’d like to be able to remember what the heck is going on… 🙂

6. Insurgent (Divergent #2) by Veronica Roth

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I liked the first one well enough and am kind of curious where things end up for Tris and the Dauntless (and the other factions). Like a lot of other series on this list, this is one that I’ve recommended to some of my friends who are “recreational readers.” It has been well-liked by all so far.

5. Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer

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The first book, “Cinder,” was perhaps my favorite YA read of the year (not that I read that many), but I found the premise of having the protagonist be a cyborg to be fascinating. I even forgot she was in just a few pages! I’ve recommend this to others too and it’s been popular with them, so why not press on with the series?

4. Taran Wanderer (The Prydain Chronicles #4) by Alexander Lloyd

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Another re-read. The Prydain Chronicles were a favorite of my junior high reading years. Earlier this year I started re-reading the 5 books and only made it up to book #3. I’d like to go on, though, and I remember that number 4 was a favorite back in the day… The Prydain Chronicles are kind of like a younger person’s Lord of the Rings. Fun reading for any age, though. You should check them out. THe picture above is of the actual old edition I have from the 70s(?)

3. The Daylight War (The Demon Cycle #3) by Peter Brett

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The first two books were awesome. I don’t often read this genre, but I found the characters in this series to be very well done. And the world plagued by demons was awesome. I couldn’t wait for this one to come out when I finished #2, but when it finally did, I didn’t get to it right away and still haven’t. I have no idea why. I wrote an earlier post praising this series. You can find it here.

2. The Shift Omnibus (prequel to the Wool Omnibus) by Hugh Howey

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Are “prequels” allowed for this list? I’m assuming they are – as long as they are published after the original. The Wool Omnibus was a surprise favorite read of earlier this year for me. I always meant to write an epic post praising it, but never have (story of my blogging life). Maybe it’s time to do that too. I’ve kind of been waiting for the opportunity for a significant stretch of uninterrupted reading time/days where I could read this one in just a few days, like I did the first one…

1. Whatever “new” J.D. Salinger work comes out…

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This is the only one on the list that I really “can’t wait” to get my hands on. This was BIG news  when it came out recently that previous unpublished works will be released. Salinger’s “The Laughing Man” was one of my favorite short story reads of 2013.

Well, that’s it for me. What are you unable to wait for?

“Driving Alone: A Love Story” By Kevin Helmick

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This novella was a favorite part of my recent participation in Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon. Clocking in at only 75 pages, I was able to dispatch it in just about two hours. What an experience those two hours were, though!

I’m not 100% sure where I first heard of this book, but it may have been at Bibliophiliac’s blog, which gave it a promising review back in February. I noted it as “to read” on my Goodreads account and later included it in an e-book buying spree. After reading, a song came up my random play on iTunes that has a stanza that fits the novella nearly perfectly:

“When I want to run away,
I drive off in my car
but whichever way I go,
I come back to the place you are”

From (of course!) the song “In Your Eyes” – on Peter Gabriel’s 1986 album “So.” The song was also made famous (infamous?) in the 80’s hit movie, “Say Anything.”

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The novella’s protagonist, Billy Keyhoe, seeks to avoid his troubles by employing the “drive off in my car” approach. He is a very bad character who has just beaten his girlfriend for the umpteenth time and fears the promised retribution of her father, since this time the beating was much worse than usual. The initial stages of his flight include a pathetic failed attempt to rob a convenience store via using his “charm” to con the young female clerk, who ends up chasing him off with a shotgun (or does she…).

Later, on his way to Texas (he starts in Georgia) he stops to relieve himself at a crossroads and encounters the enigmatic girl, “Feather.” She seems to “appear out of nowhere” and appears to understand things about him that she couldn’t possibly know. She also has a “Cheshire smile like she knew something no one else in the world knew.”

When she says she is hitchin’ Billy offers her a ride. She quickly and continually gets under his skin by calling him “Cowboy” because of his hat. At one point the car hits and kills a cat darting into the road. She calls him a killer and he senses she doesn’t just mean the cat. Later, when he exasperatedly tells her he’s “had enough of her shit!” she replies, “Demons, huh?” When he asks what she means she says, “Demons. They always come when yer drivin’ alone.”

As a reader, we’re still trying to figure out the nature of this mysterious girl, and it is this subtext of her possible supernatural-ness that makes the novella such an intriguing read. It keeps the reader on his toes, providing a few “Wait, what just happened?” moments along with their sister “Wait, does that mean that…” moments.

Look for this book on Amazon.com

I got my e-copy at Barnes & Noble, but, searching now, I don’t see it available(?) It’s definitely worth a read if you can find it.

What are some of your favorite novellas? If you participated in the Readathon last month, what was your favorite read?

 

 

Experiment in Bibliomancy

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Are you familiar with the term “bibliomancy?” I was probably in my thirties when I first came across it. I was going through an M.R. James reading phase, and was devouring his various ghost stories, quite greedily too, if the truth must be known. In his famous story, “the Ash Tree,” the character Mr. Crome is seeking on guidance on how to deal with the supernatural goings-on at Castringham Hall, picks up a bible and attempts the “old and by many accounts superstitious practice of drawing the sorts.” By this, the character means randomly opening the book and pointing his finger at the text to gain answers to questions that have been posed. The results of this practice in “The Ash Tree” are spot-on (once we later finish with the whole story) but I suspect some “literary license” was invoked to make them so.

(Below: MR James – A Titan of the Ghost Story genre)

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Roughly defined, bibliomancy is “the use of books in divination,” and it seems that “sacred books” are preferred, though not required. I was reminded of this practice a few days ago, by a post by Nina at her Multo(Ghost) blog. She used a non-sacred text (as I did in the experiment I attempted on 11/1) and shared some of the results. I was surprised out how relevant the answers she got could be interpreted, and when I inquired if they were all the result of her “first cast” she elaborated that she had asked several other questions in addition to the three she wrote about and only shared the most reasonable. I decided to be harsher in my approach, giving only three chances. I chose for a text, my electronic copy of Jack London’s complete works. Checking in at just over 8,000 pages, it allowed me to pick random pages by dragging the progress bar back and forth a bit and then alighting wherever it landed. Here are my results:

Question 1: Should I try again to do this NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) thing, which I have failed at twice already?

“Every feature of the man told the same story, from the clear blue eyes to the full head of hair, light brown, touched with grey, and smooth parted and drawn straight across above the domed forehead.” (From the story “By The Turtles of Tasman”)

Analysis: Not that good of a “hit” unless I focus only onthe first few words “every feature of the man told the same story.” I could interpret this as either meaning 1) if I try again, it’ll be just the same old story of failure to stick with it or 2) My imagination is not robust enough to produce a high volume of creative output – all my stories are the same. Interesting…

Question 2: what should I do about my long standing Colts season tickets agreement?

“He was splendidly muscled and hard as steel, and there were innumerable stories in circulation among the fisher-folk regarding his prodigious strength. He was as bold and dominant of spirit as he was strong of body, and because of this he was widely known as ‘The King of the Greeks.'” (From the story “The King of the Greeks“)

Analysis: (background) I have shared 4-6 Colts tickets with a friend for many years. They are in her name so it has always been a handshake agreement. Frankly, I’m getting burned out and also more sensitive to the outrageous cost and financial impact. I’m thinking about making this my last year. Again not a very specific hit, but I found it interesting that the passage could be said to describe a promising athlete (Andrew Luck?) but he is described in the past tense (Peyton Manning?). Unfortunately, I don’t think it provides much in the way of advice on what to do – unless it is meant to remind me that the new “Luck Era” we are entering into is not something to be missed? Hmm…

Question 3: Any advice for the focus of my blog in 2014?

“Gradual as was my development as a heavy drinker among the oyster pirates, the real heavy drinking came suddenly, and was the result, not of desire for alcohol, but of intellectual conviction” (from the novel “John Barleycorn”)

Analysis: Now this one was interesting. I have gotten more and more involved in the book blogging community (clearly, these are the “oyster pirates?”) the past few years, and my progress has been quite gradual. I have often had the sense that I am in effect building toward something of a critical mass where the blogging will lead to something else. This may come suddenly (as the heavy drinking does in the text), I don’t know. It’s hard to spend too much time on blogging, but it IS true that it is somewhat hard to define “intellectual conviction” that drives me to continue.

So, all in all, a fun experiment that perhaps I shall repeat some day (maybe I’ll make it a November 1st tradition?). I think the benefit of the practice lies in how it nudges you to think a little abstractly about your questions in order to bring them into range of the text randomly chosen. The forging – or attempt at forging – those links was a pleasant mental exercise.

What about you? Have you ever heard of – or attempted – bibliomancy? Why don’t you give it a try and share your results on your blog. Leave a link in the comments if you do…

<Below: an ancient bibliomancer? (From an interesting blog post at New World Witchery  )>

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