“The Old Soldier’s Story” by James Whitcomb Riley – selection #38 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♣5♣  Five of Clubs

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, Clubs is my suit for “Stories by Legendary Indiana Authors.”

The Selection: “The Old Soldier’s Story” from my copy of “The Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley” which I own as a “Nook Book. .”

The Author: Known as “The Hoosier Poet” James Whitcomb Riley is a towering figure in Indiana’s Literary History. In Indianapolis, his name is still “all over town” (including Riley Children’s Hospital) and his home is a museum in the heart of the Arts District downtown.

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storylegacy project seal of approval 2roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

 

The Old Soldier’s Story

“It is a story as told by a friend of us all, who is found in all parts of all countries, who is immoderately fond of a funny story and who, unfortunately, attempts to tell a funny story himself, one that he has been particularly delighted with.”

Okay, so this short story is really short. In fact, it’s just a small frame around an “old joke” (but I hadn’t heard it before, perhaps because I’m a child of the late 20th century). What charmed me about it, though, was how Riley sets it up. The old soldier, who tells the story (joke) within the story, is a character whose “type” we are probably all familiar with, even across the gulf of time between now and when this work was written. He is a poor story teller, stumbles over the order of the events in the story, and – what’s even worse – his audience has heard the tale many times before!

Yet this is a kinder, gentler audience of a bygone era. One that is described with tenderness by Riley.

*Spoiler Alert!* I’ll summarize the funny story below, but if you’d like to read Riley’s version first (which frankly isn’t that much longer) it may be found online here.

The story/joke the soldier tells is of another soldier who, in battle, has his leg “blown off” by enemy fire and appeals to a comrade in arms to carry him back behind the lines so that the doctors can help him. With shells bursting all around, as the comrade carries the wounded man in a scrambling frenzy, the wounded man is hit again, and this time his head(!) is taken off. In the chaos of battle, though, his rescuer doesn’t realize this and returns to the medical tent with his cargo and is greeted by an officer who asks him why he brought “that” (meaning the body) with him. The rescuer, still unaware, says the man’s leg has been shot off so he’s bringing him to the doctors. The officer corrects him and says his head has been shot off, upon which the rescuer exclaims, “Why, he told me it was his leg!”

♫Personal Notes: I dragged a few members of one of my book clubs along with me on a downtown Indy “ghost tour” a couple months ago, and one of the stops was Riley’s home in the Lockerbie Square neighborhood, where he is alleged to sometimes appear. We didn’t get to meet him that night, however. Coincidental that I drew this card the week of the Riley festival in the poet’s home town of Greenfield, Indiana. Also coincidental that I’ve drawn two poets in a row, since they are scarce in my short story deck for Deal Me IN 2016.
Have YOU read anything by James Whitcomb Riley? I’ve actually had another story in Deal Me “IN” 2016 that features him as a character, “The Devil and James Whitcomb Riley.

below (from Wikimaps) the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana

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“The Table of the Elements” by J.T. Whitehead – selection #37 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

 

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The Card: ♦K♦ King of Diamonds

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, diamonds is my suit for “Stories” by Contemporary Authors with an Indiana Connection

The Selection: “The Table of The Elements” a collection of poems published in 2015.

The Author: J.T. Whitehead – I met him at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (he also happens to be the husband of the Library’s executive director, Julia Whitehead) at the “launch party” for this book. He also serves as the editor of the Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, “So It Goes.”

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storylegacy project seal of approval 2roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

 

The Table of the Elements

Okay, so, full disclosure: I don’t (or very rarely) read poetry. I usually don’t “get” poetry. My dad used to like to attempt to memorize poems, and some of his favorites were Poe’s “Annabel Lee” or “The Raven” and Robert W. Service’s “The Cremation of Sam Magee.” As a kid I did like listening to them, and enjoyed their rhythm and meter. Most poetry these days, it seems, is not of the rhyming type, which I think somehow makes it even harder for a brute like me to appreciate it. Nonetheless, I did enjoy working my way through this slim volume of poems.

First of all, I love the concept. Not surprising, since I love the Periodic Table (Nerd alert!) :-). The book is divided into two parts, the first with poems about specific elements, the second with poems about compounds (like nitro glycerine for example – see picture above from infohive.net). I asked the author if he was aware of Sam Kean’s great book “The Disappearing Spoon: and Other True Tales of Love Madness and The History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements” (Long title; great book – see here for the summary on Goodreads.com). He said he wasn’t but “funny you should ask” as he did encounter other poets who told him he had ripped off their idea. They just weren’t sure how he found out about it(!)

Anyway, instead of reading just one poem for Deal Me “IN” I ended up reading them all as they are mostly short. Here is one favorite, and about one of my “favorite elements” as well.

Mercury

Namesakes

are as fast

& just as slick

& kill as quick-

Limo lengthy

classy chassis

metal monster

classic auto

Crashing head-ward

tires skidding

metal mangled

causing death

fastest planet

hottest planet

closest planet

chasing death-

gods’ messenger

winged messenger

Death’s messenger

& coming fast –

Tide turner

Skin burner

Gill filler

Fish killer –

Quicksilver –

the slowest killer –

The fastest killer –

A killer –

I have now also acquired a Periodic Table deck of cards (actually two decks – to accommodate more elements) and the King of Diamonds is the card for Iron. There was a poem about Iron included in the book (not all elements were represented, especially trans-uranium ones 🙂 )

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(Sometimes when you go to book events, the author will sign your book for you.  Actually, pretty much ALL the time they will 🙂 )

I found a nice interview with Whitehead at http://www.vonnegutlibrary.org/as-is-for-arsenic-an-interview-with-national-book-award-nominee-j-t-whitehead/

Buy this book online from The Broadview River Press at http://www.thebroadkillriverpress.com/apps/webstore/products?page=2

Note: Mercury image from periodictable.com

I Read Five Short Stories for The R.I.P. Challenge

A couple weeks ago I posted about my intention to read 24 stories for this year’s edition of the R.I.P. Challenge, and this is my first “report.” My original post listing the stories and where I found them may be found here. I’m using a euchre deck to randomly select the order in which I read them, and plan to do a quick summary after every five cards (equivalent to each hand in euchre,see? 🙂 ) then one for the final four cards/stories (which will correspond to the “widow” in a game of euchre). I’m rating the stories according to the rank of trump in that game:

Right Bower – 5 stars

Left Bower – 4.5 stars

Ace – 4 stars

King – 3.5 stars

Queen – 3 stars

Ten – 2.5 stars

Nine – 2 stars

(above: the first hand I was dealt for Peril of the Short Story – not a bad hand if diamonds end up being trump) 

♦J♦ The first was “Schroedinger’s Gun” by Ray Wood, which I found in a “free” tor.com anthology. (I follow them on Facebook and occasionally they post a link to download stories or collections). The premise of this one was interesting. The protagonist, a detective of the future uses a “Heisen Implant” to help her in her crime solving work. As the title of the story and the name of this implant might indicate, the implant allow her mind to hop back and forth between the infinite number of possible universes or timelines. A great idea, but my problem with the story was that the rest of this future – seemingly otherwise contemporary – world gave little indication that the technology of this device might be possible. My rating: King

♠A♠ The second story was R.M. Cooper’s “What We Kept of Charlie” from Midwestern Gothic Magazine. In spite of the intriguing title, I struggled to comprehend this one, which was quite short. Charlie has suicidal tendencies, and the narrator relates to us in journal form how this sad event and its aftermath came to pass. My rating: Queen

♦K♦ The third story was my favorite. I liked Shirley Jackson’s “Nightmare” so much I almost wrote a whole post about it. Maybe I still will. A run-of-the-mill secretary in New York is sent on a cross-town errand by her boss and finds the city caught up in a bizarre, promotional contest urging citizens to “Find ‘Miss X!‘” She slowly comes to suspect that she herself might be this Miss X. Great story with a typical Shirley Jackson feel and atmosphere. I found the ending a little perplexing, though. My rating: Left Bower

♣Q♣ The fourth story was from Grimm’s a fairy Tales – “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About The Shivers” – a title I found irresistible when coming up with my list for R.I.P. The title character does not experience terror like the rest of us, but wishes he could. After many failures, he is finally set with the task to spend a few nights in a haunted castle. I guess maybe what we learn from this tale is that what scares people differs from person to person. My rating: King

♣A♣ The fifth story was Clint Smith’s “The Jellyfish,” a bizarre sci-fi/horror blend. The protagonist, Paul, has made up his mind to do away with himself (two ‘suicide stories’ in my first five!) and hikes to a seemingly remote area to complete his task. Things initially go according to plan until a fleeing deer and then it’s pursuing hunters discover him. Add to this a mysterious “entity” (the titular – but not literal – jellyfish is also present). My rating: Ace   

What about YOU? How is your R.I.P. Challenge reading coming along?  If you’re not participating – or even if you are – you may check out what everyone else has been posting about by visiting the review site here. – Already over 120 posts this year!