Another Reading Challenge!? Introducing “The Frankenslam!” – a 2018 Frankenstein Bicentennial Reading Challenge

2018 is the Bicentennial of the publication of Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. In honor of this occasion, I created for myself a reading challenge and – upon further reflection – decided to “make it public,” so here goes.

Just what is a “Frankenslam?” Well, when I first read Shelley’s novel – maybe 25 years ago – I remember being struck by how articulate and literate the “monster” was. Do you know how this came to be? If you haven’t read the book you won’t know, but even if you have you may have since forgotten. At a certain point in the novel, the monster is heading back to his “hovel” in the woods and stumbles upon someone’s lost “leathern portmanteau” which contains three books – a volume of Plutarch’s Lives (he doesn’t say specifically other than it contained the lives of the first leaders of the ancient republics,  so maybe that can be intuited(?) – extra credit available there!)  The second is Goethe’s The Sufferings of Young Werther (a.k.a. “The Sorrows of Young Werther”) and the third is John Milton’s Paradise Lost. My challenge to myself is to read all three of these in 2018, thus acquiring a similar ‘base knowledge’ to that of Frankenstein’s monster.  Who’s with me??

To complete a Frankenslam, participants will need to accumulate One Billion (say these last two words like Dr. Evil if you want) Volts (according to nationalgeographic.com each bolt of lightning can contain up to a billion votes – get it?). How do you accumulate volts? By reading the three books, each having a value in volts:

Paradise Lost 375 million volts; Plutarch’s Lives – 350 million volts; The Sufferings of Young Werther – 275 million volts.  If you can finish those three then, congratulations, you have completed a Frankenslam! Ideally, I and other Frankenslammers would also love to read a blog post describing your reaction to these three books (50 million volts) and how they helped shape the “monster,” but the most important thing is to READ them all.

Maybe you are more ambitious than that, though.  If so, there’s also a ‘double secret’ level, the Frankenslam Dunk!  Which you can earn if you also read the original Frankenstein novel itself (200 million volts) and watch the iconic 1931 film version (100 million volts) for a total of 1.3 Billion volts.

If you’re less ambitious, you can try The Frankenlay-up. Reading just one or two of the three books from the leathern portmanteau.

Universal Frankenstein - angry mob

If you don’t have time to do so much reading, do a light-hearted Villagers with Pitchforks and Torches level and maybe just read the Classics Illustrated Comic Book 51wPPHD6o+L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_version of the novel (50 million volts), eat a bowl of Frankenberry cereal (10 million volts – I hope this is still around(?)), watch Young Frankenstein (25 million volts), watch The Bride of Frankenstein (25 million volts) and maybe a few episodes of The Munsters (5 million volts each). Watch an episode or two of the animated Milton the Monster series (for 4 million volts each).

Other ways to accumulate points, er volts:

Convince your book club to read Frankenstein (100 million volts); Go to Geneva Switzerland, the “birthplace” of the novel (100 million volts). Discuss the novel with a reading friend who has read it (25 million volts; limit 4 friends). Buy a leathern portmanteau yourself to proudly carry evidence of your completing a Frankenslam.

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So, have I got everyone “charged up” about this challenge?! You can follow your progress with the convenient scorecard below:

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Okay, so yes, this really is kind of a tongue in cheek challenge, but seriously, wouldn’t it be worthy to have these three famous books under your belt?  Do you know any readers in your circle who have read all three? I’d bet the number of people out there who have is a relatively small number.  I suppose that Mary Shelley herself had read them so as to be able to include them effectively in her novel, but who else?? The only one I’ve read completely is The Sufferings of Young Werther. I’ve tried Paradise Lost before but without success. I’ve read a few individual lives of Plutarch but not a “volume” so I have a lot of reading to do.

Won’t you join me in this unique challenge for 2018? Leave a comment below and I’ll link to you on my sidebar. I’ll also post a “quarterly report” with my progress and updated scorecard.

 

From Chapter 15 of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:

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

“I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced in me an infinity of new images and feelings that sometimes raised me to ecstasy, but more frequently sunk me into the lowest dejection. In the Sorrows of Werter, besides the interest of its simple and affecting story, so many opinions are canvassed, and so many lights thrown upon what had hitherto been to me obscure subjects, that I found in it a never-ending source of speculation and astonishment. The gentle and domestic manners it described, combined with lofty sentiments and feelings, which had for their object something out of self, accorded well with my experience among my protectors, and with the wants which were for ever alive in my own bosom. But I thought Werter himself a more divine being than I had ever beheld or imagined; his character contained no pretension, but it sunk deep. The disquisitions upon death and suicide were calculated to fill me with wonder. I did not pretend to enter into the merits of the case, yet I inclined towards the opinions of the hero, whose extinction I wept, without precisely understanding it.

“As I read, however, I applied much personally to my own feelings and condition. I found myself similar, yet at the same time strangely unlike to the beings concerning whom I read, and to whose conversation I was a listener. I sympathised with, and partly understood them, but I was unformed in mind; I was dependent on none and related to none. ‘The path of my departure was free’; and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.

“The volume of Plutarch’s Lives, which I possessed, contained the histories of the first founders of the ancient republics. This book had a far different effect upon me from the Sorrows of Werter. I learned from Werter’s imaginations despondency and gloom: but Plutarch taught me high thoughts; he elevated me above the wretched sphere of my own reflections to admire and love the heroes of past ages. Many things I read surpassed my understanding and experience. I had a very confused knowledge of kingdoms, wide extents of country, mighty rivers, and boundless seas. But I was perfectly unacquainted with towns, and large assemblages of men. The cottage of my protectors had been the only school in which I had studied human nature; but this book developed new and mightier scenes of action. I read of men concerned in public affairs, governing or massacring their species. I felt the greatest ardour for virtue rise within me, and abhorrence for vice, as far as I understood the signification of those terms, relative as they were, as I applied them, to pleasure and pain alone. Induced by these feelings, I was of course led to admire peaceable lawgivers, Numa, Solon, and Lycurgus, in preference to Romulus and Theseus. The patriarchal lives of my protectors caused these impressions to take a firm hold on my mind; perhaps, if my first introduction to humanity had been made by a young soldier, burning for glory and slaughter, I should have been imbued with different sensations.

“But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read it, as I had read the other volumes which had fallen into my hands, as a true history. It moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting. I often referred the several situations, as their similarity struck me, to my own. Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with, and acquire knowledge from, beings of a superior nature: but I was wretched, helpless, and alone. Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me.

 

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It’s the Most Wonderful Day of the Year – Announcing the 8th Annual “Deal Me In!” Short Story Reading Challenge!

“My short stories are like soft shadows I’ve set out in the world, faint footprints I’ve left behind.” – Haruki Murakami

stonehenge sunrise solstice

It’s a little known fact that, in ancient Britain, there once lived a race of great storytellers. They were, in fact, specialists in the form of short stories, generally told around a blazing campfire during their long hunting excursions. So great did their passion for the short story grow that they began to hold sacred the shortest day of the year and considered it a great feast day when all would gather and share their stories. Each “clan” of this race (there were about 52 known clans, broadly formed into 4 tribes of 13 clans each) would have a master storyteller, and at the great festivals beautiful painted stones would be drawn from a ceremonial bag to determine the order in which each clan’s grand storyteller would present his family’s best effort. Little-known-fact.png

Now, at this time at the mere Eve of Civilization, “Science” in its modern form was unknown and, in its form of that time,  was inexact and varied from tribe to tribe, leading to tribes calculating different days for the shortest day of the year, but, eventually, the tribes realized a standardized date for their feast would be a good thing so, on the great Plain of Salisbury, they created a great and wondrous stone calendar. The position of the rising and setting sun at certain times, when viewed from the center of this stone calendar would mark the shortest day of the year.**

Later, in the 21st Century, it was thoughts of this vanished civilization that led me to create the Deal Me In! short story reading challenge, which in 2018 will celebrate its 8th year, with thousands of stories having been read – and sometimes blogged about – by bloggers all over the world.

**Okay, I may have fabricated parts of this story, but there IS a great stone calendar in England that tells great time to this day!

Will YOU become part of this great tradition in 2018?  The rules of the challenge are not difficult:

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Deal Me In logo above designed by Mannomoi at https://dilettanteartiste.wordpress.com/ follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/callmemanno

What is the goal of the challenge?

To read 52 short stories in 2018 (that’s only one per week – versions with a lesser story requirement are noted below)

What is the purpose?

To have FUN and to be exposed to new authors and stories and maybe get in the habit of reading a short story a week. Isn’t that enough?

What do I need?

1) Access to at least fifty-two short stories (don’t own any short story collections or anthologies? See links to online resources below)
2) A deck of cards
3) An average of perhaps as little as just thirty minutes of reading time each week

Where do I post* about my stories?

(*You don’t have to post about every single story, of course, – or even ANY story – but if you have something to say about the story you read any given week, your fellow participants would love to hear it.)

1) On your own blog or website if you have one (I will link to your post at the bottom of my weekly post. I currently plan to do my weekly post on Sundays)

2) if you don’t have a blog or website you may comment on any of my Deal Me In posts, sharing thoughts on your own story – or start one at WordPress or Blogspot – it’s easy and free to create a basic blog.

How do I pick which stories to read?

(The 52 stories themselves are totally up to you.) Before you get start reading, come up with a roster of fifty-two stories (you can use any source) and assign each one to a playing card in a standard deck of cards. It can be fun to use different suits for different types of stories, but that is optional. I’ve often included one wild card for each suit too, so I can maybe read a story I’ve heard about during the year, or read another by an author I’ve discovered through this challenge. Each “week,” (if you’re like me, you may occasionally fall a story or two behind – that’s okay) you draw a card at random from your deck and that is the story you will read. There are links to many participants lists in last year’s sign up post at https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/its-the-most-wonderful-day-of-the-year-announcing-the-7th-annual-deal-me-in-short-story-reading-challenge/ if you want to see some examples. I’ve already posted my own 2018 roster.

What if I don’t have time to read a story every single week?

You don’t have to read your stories on a regular schedule (I almost always fall behind at least once during the year) and can catch up once a month if your prefer – OR try one of the challenge variations noted below, the Fortnight (or “payday” if you prefer) version is one story every two weeks or the “Full Moon Fever” version with just thirteen stories read or selected on seeing each full moon…

How do I sign up?

Leave a comment below with your URL, and I will link you on my home page, where I’ll eventually have a section in my sidebar for “2018 Deal Me In Participants.” This year, I hope to go back to a weekly wrap-up post, linking to other Deal Me In participants’ posts I’ve seen recently.  Late sign-ups (we always get a few) are allowed and encouraged too. If you can, I’d love you to add where in the world you’re blogging from and where or how you heard about the Deal Me In! challenge.

 

Some short story resources:

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

Free online novels.com has a wide selection; or check here for a few more. Heck just google “free short stories on line” and you’ll have enough to last a lifetime of Deal Me In Challenges!  Check out The New Yorker too. Last I checked you could access a limited number of their published stories per month. If your local library is like mine, they’ll likely have a good collection of annual O’Henry Prize-winning volumes, or the yearly Best American Short Stories anthologies.
Looking for some really short stories? Try here

Deal Me In Variations:

The Deal Me In “Fortnight Version” – just use two suits from your deck and assign a story to each card, drawing a card every two weeks. If you get paid bi-weekly, you can use that as a reminder to draw a new card (I guess this makes the fortnight variation a.k.a. The “payday version.”

The Deal Me In “Euchre Deck Version”If you work for “one of those companies” where you only get paid twice a month on the 15th and 30th, e.g., use a euchre deck!  Note: I’ve experimented with an accelerated euchre deck version for a couple readathons, especially the 24 in 48 readathon, where, instead of trying to read 24 hours out of 48, I try to read 24 short stories in 48 hours. Also pretty challenging.

The Deal Me In “Full Moon Fever Version” – this would be the baby steps way to ease into the Deal Me In routine, basically reading just one story a month (who doesn’t have time for that?). Just use one suit or face cards only and you’re set. Seeing the full moon in the sky can also serve as a reminder – “hey, I need to read my next short story!” Not every calendar year has 13 full moons, but we are lucky in that 2018 IS one of the years it does – lunar calendar below for reference.

2018 moon phases calendar

You can try the using the new moons, as well, or BOTH new and full moons. In the past, we’ve had a couple Deal Me In’ers have a full moon add-on in addition to their 52 stories.

Other participants in the past have added their own wrinkles: Reading a story a week for only half the year, reading two at a time and trying to find a “connection” between them, reading essays, plays, poems, or famous speeches… Feel free to twist, spindle or mutilate this challenge any way you see fit to suit your own plans – the only element that should probably remain is the use of playing cards to determine your reading order.

So, how about it?  Are you UP for a challenge? If so, Deal Me In 8.0 might just be for you!  Shall we “Deal YOU in?”

 

Bartleby, er, I mean, “Tipton the Xerox WorkCentre 7556PS – A Tale of a Government Sponsored Enterprise”

Just for fun, below is a modern retelling of the beloved Melville tale, “Bartleby the Scrivener” that I wrote last year after our short story “book” club read that story…

Bartleby Tipton the Scrivener Xerox WorkCentre 7556PS – A Tale of Wall Street a Government Sponsored Enterprise”

I believe it was in my fourth or fifth year of employment at National Home Loan Finance Bank (NHLFB) that the company took on several new Scriveners (Xerox WorkCenter 7556PS’s).  It was perhaps by some coincidence, I supposed at the time, that their names were also names of counties in the state in which my company was located.  Two Scriveners Xerox WorkCentre 7556PSs, one named Tipton and the other Fulton, were assigned to specifically perform their duties for my department.  In the early days of his employment, Tipton’s performance was beyond reproach.  Any documents that were sent to it for printing or scrivening copying were quickly returned in flawless detail.  He was such a good scrivener copier that we could send files of all kinds.  His performance was such that the Scrivener Xerox WorkCentre 7556PS (Fulton) that labored next to him was rarely called upon to do tasks as all of my coworkers “preferred” to have Tipton do their work for them.

After a time, however, Tipton’s behavior began to change and his performance faltered.  Occasionally, documents were sent to him for reproduction or printing yet when my coworkers went to collect them from him, they were nowhere to be found.  He would happily provide lists of documents he was working on, yet these missing ones would not be included. It was around this time more of my peers began to take their work to Fulton instead of Tipton.  Thinking that Tipton’s problem may have been that he had been overburdened, I initially overlooked his poor performance.  Later, however, his actions became more erratic.  Sometimes, though he was obviously working on documents we had requested from him, he would refuse to give them up to us.  Clutching them tightly so that we could only regain them from him after employing much force – sometimes even to the point of damaging the documents or ripping them, naturally rendering them useless or ruined (at which point we would normally turn to Fulton for assistance). Sometimes he would even hide the documents and only a physical search of his person could find them. I need hardly say that this situation was intolerable.

This was only the worst of his behavior, though.  He would sometimes reproduce documents in a very messy fashion, with random lines or smudges – again rendering them useless for official use.  Often he would act like he did not even recognize us; we thought he was joking and, in turn, showed him our corporate ID badges.  His indifference to them – and subsequent refusal to perform duties for us – eventually led us request that a doctor proficient in treatment of Scriveners Xerox WorkCenter 7556PS’s come to visit. One day he arrived with an assortment of tools of his trade and worked with poor Tipton for a couple hours, at the end of which period he declared Tipton to be “cured” and able to perform his duties “as effectively as he had in the beginning.”  I and the members of my department were very happy to hear this news, as we all had admired and respected the work Tipton had produced when he first came here.  This was two weeks ago.

As I write these words today, however, Tipton has reverted to his poor behavior, seemingly at an even worse level than before.  On a given day, there are only a few employees that he will recognize and work for, and even which few employees these are changes from day to day with no rhyme or reason that we can discern.  We have suggested that he take some time off and have even forcibly attempted this, but he claims he can just ‘reboot’ and will be fine.  We’ve tried to let him do this, but it hasn’t worked.  At this point, I fear we are going to have to discontinue his employment here.  I do worry about what future he will have if he leaves, however, for what other institutions might be willing to retain his services based on his recent performance here?  Sadly, his partner Fulton has now also begun to show similar signs of deterioration – probably caused by the added burden of work formerly done by Tipton now falling to him.  It’s just hard to get a good scrivener Xerox WorkCenter 7556PS these days, though I hear rumors of a new “Bartleby 7556-B” that will soon be available for employment.  Perhaps he will be up to the task, though I “prefer not to” speculate about that at present.

My 2018 Deal Me In reading list

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(Deal Me In logo above designed by Mannomoi at https://dilettanteartiste.wordpress.com/ follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/callmemanno

What gall it must take for a blogger – who hasn’t even come close to completing his annual reading project for THIS year! – to take time to plan out the next year’s?  Well, gall I got, so here goes! I should note that I am planning to “host” (using that word very loosely, here, basically I’m just going to announce) the 8th Annual Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge a week from today, which will be the “shortest” day of the year – at least for us Northern Hemispherians.  So, I thought maybe I should have a list of my own that I could point back to “to get everyone started.”

I’m trying to keep mine relatively simple this year. No grand, overarching theme, and all the stories I already own and have a kindle version of (no more looking desperately while thinking, “which of my anthologies was that story in?!?”). Also of note is that I’ve only read four of these authors before (albeit for one of the four I have devoted a whole suit of stories – in memoriam. I’ll keep deuces wild, and was thinking this year I might allow the wild cards to be re-reads of favorite stories from Deal Me In’s past – or just the past in general.

So, without further ado…here are my 2018 stories/essays:

Suits:

♦♦♦Diamonds♦♦♦

everywhere stories

Stories from the anthology “Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet” (“a diverse collection of stories by writers who have lived and worked aorund the globe or traveled extensively. Their connection to these places isn’t casual. The stories go beneath the surface, the way all great fictions do.”)

♦A♦ – Eggs – Susi Wyss (Central African Republic)

♦2♦ – Wild Card – My Island Tale – Rebecca Emin (England) – (week 36)

♦3♦ – The Boy with Fire in His Mouth – William Kelley Woolfitt (Uganda) week 10

♦4♦ – Rue Rachel – David Ebenbach (Canada) week 6

♦5♦ – Heathens – Alden Jones (Costa Rica) – week 29

♦6♦ – The Money Pill – Tim Weed (Cuba)

♦7♦Visiting Chairman Mao  – Jocelyn Cullity (China) week 8

♦8♦ – When Stars Fell Like Salt Before the Revolution – Jill Widner (Iran)

♦9♦ – Comfort Me with Apples – Rochelle Distelheim (Israel) week 30

♦10♦ – A Husband and Wife are One Satan – Jeff Fearnside (Kazakhstan)

♦J♦ – Au Lieu des Fleurs – Matthew Pitt (France)

♦Q♦ – The Ring – Marc Nieson (Hungary)

♦K♦ –  Jean – Holly Painter (New Zealand) – week 39

♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠

As I often do, I’m going to devote a suit to dark/horror/sci-fi stories.  These are chosen from several sources, as noted below.

♠A♠ – Unseen – Unfeared – Francis Stevens (from “The Weird” anthology) (week 5)

♠2♠ – Wild – Monsters of Magnitude – Thomas Hardy(!) (week 37)

♠3♠ – Evil Opposite – Naomi Kritzer (from “Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine”)

♠4♠ – The Cage – Jeff Vandermeer (from “The Weird” anthology) (week 47)

♠5♠ – Touched – Kim Sheard (from “Strange New Worlds II” anthology) (week 35)

♠6♠ – The Salamander – Merce Rodoreda (from “The Weird” anthology)

♠7♠ – Mr. Templar – Jason Sizemore (from “Irredeemable”)

♠8♠ –  The Fish of Lijiang – Chen Qiufan (from “Invisble Planets” anthology) (week 1)

♠9♠ –  The Town Manager – Thomas Ligotti (from “The Weird” anthology) (week 38)

♠10♠ – Grave of the Fireflies – Cheng Jingbo (from the “Invisible Planets” anthology)

♠J♠ –  Gods, Fate, and Fractals – William Leisner (from “Strange New Worlds II”) (week 3)

♠Q♠ – Worlds that Flourish – Ben Okri (from “The Weird” anthology) (week 12)

♠K♠ – The History of the Invasion Told in Five Dogs – Kelly Jennings (from F&SF magazine)

♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥

selected stories

The “Grandmaster” short storyteller William Trevor passed away last year so I’m going to devote a whole suit of stories to feature some of his that are included in William Trevor: Selected Stories. I read his story collection “After Rain” very early in my blogging “career” and it contained several of my all-time favorite stories.

♥A♥Solitude – William Trevor (week 2)

♥2♥ – Wild – maybe a re-read of a favorite…

♥3♥ – Child’s Play – William Trevor (week 11)

♥4♥ – The Potato Dealer – William Trevor (week 14)

♥5♥ – Of the Cloth – William Trevor (week 34)

♥6♥ – Low Sunday, 1950 – William Trevor (week 43)

♥7♥ – Death of a Professor – William Trevor

♥8♥ – The Hill Bachelors – William Trevor (week 4)

♥9♥ – Justina’s Priest – William Trevor (week 41)

♥10♥ – Rose Wept – William Trevor (week 9)

♥J♥ –  Cheating at Canasta – William Trevor (week 28)

♥Q♥ –  Old Flame – William Trevor

♥K♥ – Sacred Statues – William Trevor – (week 40)

♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣

russian emigre stories

Stories from “Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanofsky.” For one prior year’s iteration of Deal Me In, I devoted a suit (also clubs) to stories by Russian authors and to this day it remains one of my all-time favorite DMI suits, so I’m hoping to recapture some of that “magic” in 2018.

♣A♣ – The Visit to the Museum – Vladimir Nabokov (week 13)

♣2♣ – Wild Card – Dethroned – I.N. Potapenko (week 38)

♣3♣ – The Lady from Monte Carlo – Dovid Knut

♣4♣ – The Murder of Valkovsky – Nina Berberova

♣5♣ –  The Tunnel – Irina Guadanini (week 31)

♣6♣ – They Call Her Russia – Vasily Yanovsky

♣7♣ – The Life of Madame Duclos – Irina Odoevtseva

♣8♣ – Atlantis – Vladislav Khodasevich

♣9♣ – A Scattering of Stars – Ivan Lukash

♣10♣ – The Atom Explodes – Georgy Ivanov (week 42)

♣J♣ – The Astrologist – Mark Aldanov

♣Q♣ – Klasson and His Soul – Boris Butkevich (week 32)

♣K♣ – In Paris – Ivan Bunin (week 7)

 

What do YOU think of my selections?  Are YOU thinking about doing Deal Me In in 2018? Look for the “official” announcement post on 12/21!