Santa Brought Me This

Santa Brought Me This

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I can’t wait to sink my teeth into this one and find out more about the life of this remarkable writer. A fair percentage of the total words I read in 2013 came from his pen. There’s also a nice short piece on NPR about this biography at http://www.npr.org/2013/10/17/230497660/jack-london-believed-function-of-man-is-to-live-not-to-exist

How about you? Was Santa good to you, literarily speaking? Tell me of your new additions to your library…

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“One Autumn Night” by Maxim Gorky

This morning I completed my 2013 Short Story Reading Project, “Deal Me In.” I read one short story a week choosing the order at random from having assigned each of the stories to a playing card in a standard deck, then drawing one card per week (well, more or less; I’m not saying I never fell behind). I’ll be doing it again in 2014. Would you like to join me?

Anyway, the last story in my deck was Maxim Gorky’s “One Autumn Night,” which I own in a couple of places. It’s part of my “Great Short Stories of the World” anthology and also my “Best Russian Stories” anthology. I was also amused to discover that, when I made my list of stories of 2014, I included this Maxim Gorky story as well (it didn’t sound familiar because, after all, I hadn’t read it as of then!). So I had to maintain my 2014 list a bit, replacing it with another Russian story, Andreyev’s “Lazarus.”

(Below: Maxim Gorky – on the right – with titan, Leo Tolstoy)

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Anyway, back to this week’s story. It’s a touching tale of a young man who finds himself without shelter or food on a cold “Autumn Night” in Moscow. The strong opening lines of the narrator set the stage nicely: “Once in the autumn I happened to be in a very unpleasant and inconvenient position. In the town where I had just arrived and where I knew not a soul, I found myself without a farthing in my pocket and without a night’s lodging.”

Scavenging for something to eat around the “steamship wharves,” he encounters another poor wretch, the young woman, Natasha, in similar circumstance if for different reasons. Together they scrounge a loaf of bread and take refuge from the elements (a bitterly cold, freezing rain) under an upside down skiff. Here he learns a little of her circumstances, including how her face came to be marked up, although he could probably already guess that. Her abusive husband has thrown her out, leaving her with a somewhat low opinion of the male of the species: “What wretches all you men are! I’d burn you all in an oven; I’d cut you in pieces. If any one of you was dying I’d spit in his mouth, and not pity him a bit. Mean skunks! You wheedle and wheedle, you wag your tails like cringing dogs, and we fools give ourselves up to you, and it’s all up with us! Immediately you trample us underfoot… Miserable loafers.”

In spite of this relentless invective, Natasha doesn’t seem to hold the narrator personally responsible, and indeed comforts him with tenderness when she realizes he is also miserable. They survive the night and venture out into the dawn of the following day, “taking friendly leave” of each other. They never meet again, though the narrator admits that “for half a year I searched in every hole and corner for that kind Natasha, with whom I spent that Autumn Night just described…”

Have you read any Gorky? He was a favorite of the Soviet State, which named a huge park in Moscow after him. You might be familiar with it from the Martin Cruz Smith novel, “Gorky Park.” You also may have heard of it in the Lyrics of the Scorpions song, “Wind of Change.”

You may read the story for free online at http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/13203/

Prefer a audio recording? Try here: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=A0cg8-_y_ug&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DA0cg8-_y_ug

(Below: Moscow’s Gorky Park in winter, or perhaps the morning after a late Autumn Night)

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Join me for my 2014 Short Story Reading Challenge!

“In a novel you might get away with a loose line or two, a saggy paragraph, even a limp chapter. But in the … short story, the beginning and end are precisely anchored tent poles, and what lies between must pull so taut it twangs.”

– Geraldine Brooks

Only one week to go in 2013, so it’s time to set up my (4th) annual short story reading project, “Project: Deal Me In!” (aka DMI2014) I’ve gone through my heaps of anthologies and friends’ recommendations to come up with 48 stories to read next year, dividing them into “suits” and assigning them each to a card in a standard deck of paying cards, leaving four open spaces for a “deuces wild” element. That makes 52 stories total. One per week. On a certain day each week (I prefer Saturday mornings), I’ll draw a card to determine which story I will read that week. Pretty easy, huh? My selections are listed at the bottom of this post. I included only three past favorites this year, and have 23(!) authors I have never read before. What do you think of my choices? Do you know of a story you’d like to suggest that I read as one of my wild cards? Let me know, I’m happy to be guided…

BUT… What I’d really like to say is… “Why don’t you join me in this challenge in 2014?” (picking your own 52 stories, of course!) Let’s face it, it’s a much less onerous reading assignment than almost any other challenge you’ll find out in the blogosphere. One short story a week? Come on, anybody can do that, right!? All you need is a deck of cards, a short story anthology or two (or a public library, or an Internet connection) and a little imagination. There are hundreds (thousands?) of great short stories in the public domain too. I’ll share a few links below. Have a busy month or two and fall behind? Big deal. With short stories you can catch up in just a couple hours. Why not play along? It’s almost crazy if you don’t! 🙂 Dale at Mirror With Clouds joined me last year and will be doing so again this year (see his 2014 list), but the more the merrier, right?

I’ll be creating a separate page for this “challenge” in the next week or so, but if you’d like participate, leave a comment here with your blog’s url, and I’ll link to you on that page, and also link – on my weekly post – to any weekly DMI2014 posts you make.

My Prior Years:
2011

2012

2013

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My Stories for 2014:

Note: As the year progresses, I’ll note which week the story’s card was drawn and add a link to my post (if I write one) specifically about the story.

Hearts (stories by female authors)

A – “Meneseteung” by Alice Munro (week 27)
2 – Wild “The Garden” by Joanna Parypinski (week 25)
3 – “Bear Dance” by Edina Doci (week 44)
4 – “From Brussels to Ottignies” by Monica Westeren (week 12)
5 – “Class of 1990” by Rebecca Emin (week 33)
6 – “Hydraulic” by Ekaterina Sedia (week 10)
7 – “Fado” by Katherine Vaz (week 46)
8 – “The Last Speaker of the Language” by Carol Anshaw (week 50)
9 – “Axis” by Alice Munro (week 29)
10- “North Country” by Roxane Gay (week 20)
J – “Diem Perdidi” by Julie Otsuka (week 5)
Q – “The Other Place” by Mary Gaitskill (week 23)
K – “Undressing the Vanity Dolls” by Katherine Vaz (week 14)

Spades (mostly darker stories)

A – “A Stone Cast Into Stillness” by Maurice Broaddus
2 – Wild “Dark Cloud Rising” by Marianne Halbert (week 13)
3 – “Beautiful Monsters” by Eric Puchner (week 26)
4 – “The Hungry House” by Robert Bloch (week 8)
5 – “The Eyes” by Edith Wharton (week 49)
6 – “Mrs. Bullfrog” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (week 16)
7 – “The Autopsy” by Michael Shea (week 9)
8 – “Tenth of December” by George Saunders (week 21)
9 – “That in Aleppo Once…” by Vladimir Nabokov (week 28)
10- “The Redfield Girls” by Laird Barron (week 32)
J – “Miracle Polish” by Steven Milhauser (week 1)
Q – “The Half-Skinned Steer” by Annie Proulx (week 35)
K – “It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby

Diamonds (stories recommended by others)

A – “Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin (week 40)
2 – Wild – “Amphetamine Twitch” by Frank Bill (week 2)
3 – “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Andre Gide (week 34)
4 – “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury (week 17)
5 – “Perfection” by Mark Helprin (week 37)
6 – “Beyond the Wall” by Ambrose Bierce (week 45)
7 – “The Business of Madame Jahn” by Vincent O’Sullivan (week 38)
8 – “Mateo Falcone” by Prosper Merimee (week 47)
9 – “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella Consummate their Relationship” by Salman Rushdie (week 43)
10- “The White Wolf and the Spirit Hunter” by Frederick Marryat (week 15)
J – “The Things” by Peter Watts (week 6)
Q – “The Two Sams” by Glen Hirshberg (week 7)
K – “The Bell in the Fog” by Gertrude Atherton (week 31)

Clubs (“The Russians are Coming!”)

A – “The Cloak” by Nikolai Gogol (week 36)
2 – WILD “The Nose” by Nokolai Gogol (week 48)
3 – “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov (week 30)
4 – “God Sees the Truth but Waits” Leo Tolstoy (week 39)
5 – “The Shades: A Fantasy” by Vladimir Korlenko (week 42)
6 – “The Christmas Tree and the Wedding” by Fyodor Dostoevsky (week 3)
7 – “Lazarus” by L.N. Andreyev (week 11)
8 – “The Outrage: a True Story” by Alexander Kuprin (week 22)
9 – “St. John’s Eve” by Nikolai Gogol (week 19)
10- “Her Lover” by Maxim Gorky (week 24)
J – “The Black Monk” by Anton Chekhov (week 18)
Q – “The Queen of Spades” by Alexander Pushkin (week 41)
K – “Twenty-Six and One” by Maxim Gorky (week 4)

Sources: The Best American Short Stories of 2012, Public Domain/Linked by Fellow Bloggers, Dark Futures: Tales of SF Dystopia, Great Short Stories of the World, The Meantime: Nine Short Stories from Brussels, The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, The Best American Short Stories of the Century, Twenty-Six and One and Other Stories, Haunted Legends anthology, A Knowing Look and Other Stories, and “others”… 🙂

Links:
Classic Horror Stories:
AmericanLiterature.com short story of the day
EastoftheWeb’s short story of the day:
TheLibrary of America’s short story of the week archive:

These links alone would provide you with enough FREE short stories to do this project for years, and there are MANY other sites if you look around a bit. There’s even a short stories app for the iPhone (also free).

Some of the Books I’ve Read This Year…

Like many of us, I use Goodreads.com to keep track of “To Read” lists and to sometimes take a peek at what our reading friends have been up to. I wanted to share a cool “mosaic” of the covers of the titles it thinks I’ve read (they’re actually a few short, so I guess I haven’t been too good about updating for every single book). I just screenshot-ed it from my iPad, then sized it a bit. Pretty cool though. 🙂

How many of these books have YOU read? Are you on Goodreads? How much do you “rely” on it for your reading record keeping?

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The “Live Tweeting From a Book Club Meeting” Experiment

(This actually went pretty well, I think. It WAS quite a challenge trying to keep up with all the great discussion – and especially to convert the highlights to tweet-sized bursts of text. By my count, I sent out 45 tweets, including a few photos (the latter with help from my friend, Bob). The hash tags used were #vonnegut #bookclub #slaughterhousefive – if you search for these individually or in combination you can see the tweets. Or you can follow me (@bibliophilopoly) and also see the tweets I forgot to add the hash tags to… 🙂

I don’t know how many might have followed along, but we did actually get a handful of comments from the twitterverse, which the in-person group was happy to hear.

I’ll try this again in January, when the club will be discussing the Library’s first two issues of its Literary Journal, “So it Goes.” I should point out that an official, much more detailed (and literate!) record of the meetings is posted to the Book Club’s blog (also linked on the left in my blogroll). http://vonnegutbookclub.wordpress.com/

February is my turn at the discussion leader helm again for the short story collection, Welcome to the Monkey House, so I’m sure I won’t be doing any live-tweeting then. Maybe someone else will pick up the baton?

(Below: My ham-handed tweeting efforts)

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I’ll be Tweeting from the Vonnegut Library Book Club Meeting Today!

Just a heads up that I am going to be “live-tweeting” (from my @bibliophilopoly account) at today’s meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s book club, where we’ll be discussing the book, Slaughterhouse Five.  I’ll probably start about 11:30 a.m. EST or a few minutes after if you’d like to tune in.  I’ll be using the hashtags #vonnegut, #bookclub, and #slaughterhousefive if you want to follow along or tweet questions or comments of your ow. I’ll try to share any I see. THe meeting only lasts about an hour. This will be my first time trying something like this, so I have no idea how smoothly (or roughly!) it might go…  Wish me luck!

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten New To Me Authors I read in 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by the blog, “The Broke and The Bookish.”

Thank God for my short story reading project. Without it, I don’t think I have read ten “new to me authors” this year. About half of the following are form short story reading. Here they are, in descending order with #1 being my favorite.

10. Kevin Lynn Helmick
His novella “Driving Alone: A Love Story” was “different” and brilliant.

9. Douglas Watson
I loved his short story collection “The Era of Not Quite.” Read my post about it here.

8. Kyle Minor
His story collection “In the Devil’s Territory” was one of my favorite books of the year. I posted about it here.

7. Caitlyn Horrocks
Her short story, “The Sleep,” will be a finalist in my upcoming 2013 short story reading project awards post. See my post about it here.

6. Hugh Howey
I was spellbound by his runaway self-published hit “Wool” earlier this year. What a page-turner!

5. Henryk Sienkiewicz
The “elder statesman” on this list, his short story, “The Lighthouse Keeper of Aspinwall” was wonderful.

4. Neil Gaiman
Yes, I’d never read him until this year’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” He hasn’t seen the last of me…

3. Steven Milhauser
His unique short story “Phantoms” was also among my favorites of the year. I think he also has a new story in the latest New Yorker. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s in my plans.

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2. Ruth Ozeki (above)
I just finished it, but certainly one of my favorite novels of recent years was her “A Tale for the Time Being.” I highly recommend it.

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1. Betty Smith (above)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was my other favorite novel for the year. A classic that I had somehow neglected until now. Also highly recommended.

Other new to me authors I enjoyed (“Honorable Mention” if you will): Alexander Pushkin, Rob Smales, Lori Benton, Jade Eby, R.J. Sullivan, Robert Rebein, Marissa Meyer (the Lunar Chronicles one, not the Yahoo CEO), Stephen Chbosky, Eric Garrison, Orson Scott Card, Kristal Stittle, Hagiwara Sakutar, Sam Lipsyte, Claire Keegan, Charles Beaumont, Rebecca Emin, and Alice Adams.

What a fun list to put together! Being reminded of discovering all these great, new (to me) authors made me feel good about my 2013 reading accomplishments.

What about YOU? Who were your favorite literary discoveries in 2013?

“Roses, Rhododendron” by Alice Adams

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This touching short story was #50 in my 2013 Short Story Reading Project. It was first published in The New Yorker magazine in 1975. I own it as part of the epic collection “The Best Short Stories of the Century” edited by John Updike.

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It is narrated by “Jane,” one of the characters, and related mostly in the form of remembrances. I was immediately intrigued by one of Adams’ opening philosophical salvos:

“Perhaps too little attention is paid to the necessary preconditions of “falling in love” – I mean the state of mind or place that precedes one’s first sight of the loved person (or house or land). In my own case, I remember the dark Boston afternoons as a precondition for love. Later on, for another important time, I recognized boredom in a job. And once the fear of growing old.”

Jane and her friend Harriet, though nearly opposites, personality-wise, were thick as thieves growing up, and Jane has many fond memories of Harriet’s house, family and property which she was “in love” with. Similar to what becomes of many close childhood friendships, they end up drifting apart. As an adult, Jane thinks many times of writing Harriet, who has become a frequently published poet. She finally does, in care of a magazine that recently printed some of her work, and receives no immediate response (it doesn’t occur to Jane that “an inadequately staffed magazine could be at fault”). When she finally does receive a response, though, it is well worth the wait. Harriet talks of her parents, who have both – as Jane already knew – died since she and Jane last saw each other. She mentions too that during the difficult period when her parents were dying, the picture that moved her (Harriet) most was not of her parents, but one of her and Jane on their bikes “...on the top of the hill outside the house. Going somewhere.”

She goes on to say of her parents:

But they were so extremely fond of you – in fact, you were a rare area of agreement. They missed you, and they talked about you for years. It’s a wonder that I wasn’t jealous, and I think I wasn’t only because I felt included in their affection for you. They liked me best with you.”

I also loved the finale:

Jane says: “An amazing letter, I thought. It was enough to make me take a long look at my whole life, and to find some new colors there.” I showed Harriet’s letter to my husband and he said, “How odd. She sounds just like you.”

Yes, a powerful letter to be sure. Have you read anything by Alice Adams? I believe this is my first experience with her, unless I’ve read a stray, anthologized story somewhere. I’m not easily moved by reading a story, but this one quite nearly pulled it off. 🙂

(Below: author Alice Adams)

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Allegra Goodman’s short story “La Vita Nuova”

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My 47th story this year was another good one from my anthology, The Best American Short Stories of 2011, edited by Geraldine Brooks. This story takes its name from a 13th century work of Dante Alighieri. The English translation, which you might’ve been able to guess, is “The New Life.” It centers around a year in the life of Amanda, an art teacher at a school near Harvard University. We learn in the very first sentence that her fiancée has left her. The story deals with her reactions to this “traumatic event.”

(below: *from Wikipedia* a famous painting of “Dante encountering Beatrice”)

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One of her first acts is to bring her unused antique wedding dress to school and allow her class to use it as a canvas for sort of an ad hoc art project. This attracts the negative attention of school administrators who do not renew her employment at the end of the school year. She then spends the summer as a nanny/tutor for one of her former students, and establishes a unique bond with him.

I found her character to be quite interesting and sympathetic. Another part of her healing occurs when she begins to paint those Russian-type dolls (you know, the ones that are nested one inside the other until you are finally down to a little tiny doll), representing, from small to large, the growth of herself and other people she knows. I also liked that, as we would infer from the story’s title, it’s a tale of change. Amanda’s life has undergone an upheaval, and what follows will surely be a new life, with new people and maybe a new city being part of it. Certainly almost all of us have those key moments in life where we undergo a sea change – one so marked that we could almost have one of those Dorothy moments: “I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more.” Some are likely more aware of these moments when looking back in time, but the ones who navigate them best are the ones who are aware they are taking place. Ones like Amanda.

Have you heard of – or read anything by – this author? Do you subscribe to or read the New Yorker (edition in which “La Vita Nuova” was published is pictured below)? It’s been a relatively recent addition to my reading regimen…

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Top Ten Tuesday! – Top Ten Books on my Winter Reading List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the talented folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. Hundreds participate EVERY week. Why not be one of them – if you’re not already? & If you’re visiting Bibliophilopolis for the first time, I invite you to look around a bit to see if our reading tastes overlap orjustleave a comment to say “Hi.” I usually check out every tenth TTT post on their list. I’d like to view more, but there’re just way too many. 🙂

Top Ten Books on my Winter To Read List:

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10. The Universe vs. Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
I’ve forgotten where I first heard of this one, but it sounded interesting. It’s on my TR shelf at Goodreads.com which I’ve promised myself to clear out. (Where have I heard that before?)

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9. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
This one’s been around for awhile and I’ve been hearing good things about it for just as long. My blogging colleague Dale at Mirror with Clouds is reading it now, so unless he pans it in a review, it’ll be part of my winter list.

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(above: Eleanor Catton with her prize-winning novel)

8. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
The 2013 Mann-Booker prize winner. I enjoyed one of the other finalists for this year’s prize so much (see my last post), I thought I should give the winner a try.

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7. Dirtyville Rhapsodies by Josh Green
Recommended to me by author Robert Rebein at a book event this summer at Bookmama’s Bookstore. Green was also a student here in Indy. AND it was reviewed favorably by my local blogging colleague, Melissa at  so I’ll give it a read.

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6. Annals of the Former World by John McPhee
A non-fiction classic. Recommended by a neighbor of mine from I was growing up, who has now lived in New Mexico for many years. He visited here this summer and we talked books. It was also a favorite of my Dad, who didn’t dispense his approbation lightly.

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(above: Herman Melville)

5. Benito Cereno by Herman Melville
Somehow I was volunteered to lead a discussion of this novella next month. I’ve read it before, but probably twenty years ago and I remember almost nothing

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4. Our Lady of Artichokes and other Portuguese-American Stories by Katherine Vaz
I met a couple from Portugal who were in town for a conference and happened to visit the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. Over lunch at Bluebeard (a restaurant named after a Vonnegut novel!) I mentioned my annual short story project and asked for recommendations. This was one of them.

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3. Crimes in Southern Indiana: Stories by Frank Bill
I was intrigued by this title, and then I also heard some good things about it. As an Indiana resident myself, I feel I should read it. 🙂

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2. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
Several friends and acquaintances have read this one. It’s my turn.

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1. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
Finally I will read this, which has been on my list for a long time. Its another Mann-Booker prizewinner (from 2005). My friend and co-worker Jane gifted her copy to me after she finished it or her book club. So, no excuse not to read it now. 🙂 This will be first up if I ever finish Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior”

That’s it for me. What books will you “hole up with” while you’re awaiting spring…?

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