The Sun Also Rises

This was my first Hemingway novel. Initially, I was a little disappointed because it didn’t seem to be “about anything.” Kind of the literary equivalent of Seinfeld’s proverbial “show about nothing.” The action deals predominantly with a bunch of friends – though seemingly not “close” friends for the most part – none of whom (other than the narrator, Jake) seem to have jobs, idling away their time in post World War I Paris and later Spain, getting drunk and getting into petty arguments and hurting each others’ feelings. But of course there’s more to it than that.

Right away the novel struck a few chords with me. One is a nearly universal wanderlust that I would argue almost everyone experiences at times during life. I, for one, am a “chronic sufferer” of this. It seems I always want to move somewhere else, move on to something different, go on a long trip of discovery; in short, anything to avoid the enemies of routine and staleness. Very early in the book, Robert Cohn exclaims, “All my life I’ve wanted to go on a tip like that,” but will “be too old before I can ever do it.” Sadly, though, Jake crushes our hopes later when he says “Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.” I must say I disagree – and hope he’s wrong.

Possibly my favorite parts of the novel, in fact, are the two episodes when Jake “gets away from it all” – once when he goes on a fishing interlude with his friend Bill en route to Pamplona, and then after the dust settles (literally!) from the bullfighting, and he sojourns in San Sebastian. I almost felt like I was on vacation myself when reading those parts. The latter one also seemed to be a respite for the narrator – AND the reader – from the manic scramblings of the group of friends. It was refreshing.

Then there’s The Bullfighting Thing. I confess that I’ve never understood the appeal of the “sport” – and likely still don’t. Especially in recent years the tradition has been increasingly attacked and condemned for its barbaric nature. What this novel gave me more of an appreciation for, however, is that for most it’s not the killing that people love so much as the traditions of the spectacle. We get a brief glimpse into this when learning about those known as “aficionados” which I took to mean “those that get it” and understand the deeper meaning of what’s going on. I remember years ago reading a book about the series of annual chess tournaments in Linares, Spain (for years they were the chess equivalent of Wimbledon in professional tennis) where attending bullfights was a frequent diversion for the grandmasters on their days off. I learned then something of the super-celebrity status of many famous bullfighters – kind of like what we see that Romero is on the eve of in this book – including the legendary Manolete.  Below- a picture of Hemingway himself (white pants; close to bull) in the ring…

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Okay, here’s a slightly off-topic digression for you. While reading book two of the novel, a song kept running through my head. It’s by a band that I bet you’ve never heard of, The Judybats from Knoxville, Tennessee. On their 1991 album, “Down in the Shacks Where the Satellite Dishes Grow,” there was a song called “Saturday” that references bullfighting. Here’s a quick sample of lyrics:

He dreams of being a matador
Waving the cape
Killing the killing machine
A hero of the ring he drives his car
His spirits soar his spirits soar

It’s actually a great “undiscovered” CD and band if you’d care to check them out. 🙂

I also really like the book cover of the edition pictured below. It’s so sensational and, like many, is somewhat misleading about the contents of the book. Check out the agony-filled face, the bottle of wine, the gnarled, tortured hands. This is not how I pictured Jake while reading. Then there are the salacious teasers: “Could he live without the power to love?” and “It was a cruel way to be wounded.” Blah blah blah. I guess that’s what moves paperbacks off the shelves, though.

Well, I see I’ve exceeded my recommended blog post length. But what about you? Have you read The Sun Also Rises? What did you think about it and about Hemingway? Which of his novels should I read next? I’d love to hear from you…

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“El Estocada” by John David Anderson

For week 2 of The 2015 Deal Me In short story reading challenge, I drew the five of diamonds. (An explanation of the challenge may be found here. You can also check out my complete list of stories I’ll be reading in 2015 if you’re interested.) 2015/01/img_39191.jpg

El Estocada

We see it all the time in sports. The relentless questions posed to aging superstars on ’the wrong side of thirty’ – “Have you lost a step?” “Do you still have enough arm strength to make ’all the throws?’”, etc. Having these reporters nipping at one’s heels must be incredibly exasperating, and if sports superstars fall victim to them surely superHEROES would face the same challenge. Such is the case for The Sentinel, a past his prime superhero guardian of the city where this story is set.

2015/01/img_5336.pngWe meet him in a bookstore, where he is enjoying some quiet moments just “perusing” – an activity in stark contrast to his normal, superheroic duties. Though enjoying some down time, he is troubled by a recent encounter with a reporter who suggests that The Sentinel ‘allowed’ an old couple to die during an attack of an arch-villain. When The Sentinel points out that he had saved a school bus full of children instead of the elder victims, and that he had to make a choice, the reporter suggests that, in his younger days, The Sentinel was fast enough to have saved both of them. This earned the reporter a broken and bloody nose, something The Sentinel regrets. Just a little, though.

The action in this story takes place mainly in the bookstore when The Sentinel spots a young woman sitting in the store reading the newspaper. He is immediately attracted to her: “She wore a magenta dress with gold swirls embroidered into the hem, the straps revealing sharp shoulders and toned arms. Her hair reminded him of tree bark, with its layers and undulations, its palpable topography. He wondered what it smelled like.” Not exactly a conventional description – tree bark(!) – but who am I to guess what a superhero’s thoughts would be like. The Sentinel’s encounter – and its aftermath – with the woman completes the story in a way I found quite satisfying.

I was also curious about the meaning of the title so I had to ’research’ it before reading. I’m no expert on bullfighting (what little I know is from Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and from following the big annual international chess tournament that used to be held in Linares, Spain) but the term “estocada” refers to the final thrust of the sword of a matador which kills the bull. This title is quite appropriate for the story in multiple ways, including a bit of a surprise ending…

(below: the legendary bullfighter, Manolete)

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I recommend this story and the antholology “Indy Writes Books” that includes it. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, it may be purchased at Indy Reads Books bookstore in downtown Indianapolis or online. Worth noting is that all proceeds from the sale of the anthology go to support adult literacy programs in Central Indiana. (Oh, and “full objectivity disclosure”: Bibliophilopolis is also a “First Edition Sponsor” of this book 🙂 )

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Stories Like White Icebergs

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I didn’t really start getting into Hemingway’s writing until a few years ago. I’d only read the famous short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” for a class in high school. That was it. Then a couple years ago I was blown away by one of his short stories, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” and began further exploration, including one novel (The Sun Also Rises) and several more short stories. After this additional exposure I began to learn a little more about him, and also his “Iceberg Theory” (or theory of omission) of writing which, as you might guess from the name, proposes that most of the story should lie “beneath the surface.

” I already enjoyed Hemingway’s economy of words and learned from a fellow reader (Hi, Richard!) in my Great Books Foundation discussion group at the Nora Library to think in terms of “everything in a Hemingway story is there for a reason.” (I can still hear Richard asking, perhaps somewhat mischievously, “Why is he giving him a cigar?!?” at our discussion of the Hemingway story, Indian Camp.) I learned a lot at that meeting. 🙂 Another Hemingway story that had been frequently recommended to me was the story, “Hills Like White Elephants,” so when coming up with a roster of stories to read for my 2013 short story reading project, I made a place for this one as the “five of clubs.”

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***spoiler alert*** But why not just read the story online yourself, though? One place you can find it is here:

  What was memorable to me about this story, which involves a couple traveling in the Ebro valley in northeastern Spain to a city where the woman will have some kind of procedure (never actually mentioned but clearly An abortion), is that the two characters themselves could be said to apply the “Iceberg Theory” to their relationship. Hemingway doubtless is applying it to the story, but their relationship adds another layer. An ice cube floating in a puddle of water on an iceberg? I’m sure that can happen in nature, so why not literature. Have you read this story? What did you think of it? Do you enjoy the theory of omission or do you prefer stories that are told in a more straightforward way? (Below: the Ebro valley in Spain – looks beautiful!)

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What is your favorite Hemingway story?

“Theft” by Katherine Anne Porter

I completed my sixth short story from 2013’s “Project: Deal Me In” this last weekend. Although I doubt anyone is actually keeping score, I DO realize this will only be my fourth post related to this project. I’ve also read John Updike’s “Gesturing” and Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf” and still entertain hopes of eventually posting about them. :-):

Note: This post includes SPOILERS. I couldn’t find the story online anywhere.  I have a copy of it in the John Updike edited book, The Best Short Stories of the Century, which was a gift from my fellow citizen of Bibliophilopolis, Richard. (Thanks again, Richard!)

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Saturday morning I drew the Jack of Hearts. Hearts being my suit for “women authors” in this year’s project, I was led to Katherine Anne Porter’s story “Theft.” I read a story by Porter (“Flowering Judas”) for last year’s project, but somehow it didn’t make a lastng impression on me. This year’s story was much better received – by this reader anyway.

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Checking in at only six pages, “Theft” is one of the shorter of the short stories I’ll read this year. The theft which gives the story its name doesn’t really happen until the mid-point of the story, although the first sentence hints that  something may be missing: “She had the purse in her hand when she came in… She surveyed the immediate past and remembered everything clearly. Yes, she had opened the flap and spread it out on the bench after she had dried the purse with her handkerchief.” If it weren’t for the title of the story, this passage could also describe a simple “misplacement” of the purse rather than hinting it’s been stolen.

The main, unnamed character’s “survey of the immediate past” gives us a glimpse into the apparently dissipated life she must lead (for my part, I thought she mighti as have well been traipsing around Paris with that crowd from “The Sun Also Rises”) which gives us some footing when the story is rejoined “live.”

After a visit by the “janitress” of the building where she lives, she notices the purse is missing and that there can naturally be only one explanation for her purse’s disappearance. She frets for awhile because she realizes that it would be “impossible to get it back without a great deal of ridiculous excitement.”

Eventually, after considering that the purse, though having little real value and not containing hardly any money, had been a gift, she confronts the woman, who at first energetically denies the accusation. The janitress soon relents, however ,admitting the act and pleading “don’t never tell on me. I musta been crazy. I get crazy in the head sometimes, I swear I do.” She explains that she thought she’d give the purse to her seventeen year old daughter, who could use some “nice things” to help her attract a man. The telling passage is “She’s got young men after her maybe will want to marry her. She oughta have nice things. She needs them bad right now. You’re a grown woman, you’ve had your chance, you ought to know how it is!”

“You’ve had your chance.” Ouch! After this, the woman tries to give the purse back to the janitress, who then doesn’t want it either. “I guess you need it worse than she does!” Is the final, cutting barb thrown at her by the janitress.

Though the stolen item had been recovered, I thought the woman had lost far more in terms of her own dignity and self-respect. The final musing of the woman is “I was right not to be afraid of any thief but myself, who will end by leaving me nothing.”

What have you read by Katherine Anne Porter? She is most famous for short stories, but did write at least one novel (that I’m aware  of). Any recommendations?

(Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980); picture from Wikipedia)

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A Few More Short Stories I Read in September

Three more short stories…

I’ve already posted this month about a couple of short stories that I read for my annual project, those being “Reunion” by Maya Angelou and “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut by” J.D. Salinger. My habitual short story schedule is to pick and read one each Saturday morning. There were five Saturdays in September, so what were my other three stories? I’m glad you asked…

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First, I read Margaret Atwood’s “Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother.” Originally published as part of her collection “Bluebeard’s Egg and other Stories,” this was probably my favorite of the three. It reminded me a lot of Marilynne Robinson’s novel, “Gilead,” which I have also read recently. The narrator recalls stories told to her by her mother, and admits that, as a child, she hadn’t yet realized “that she (her mother) never put in the long stretches of uneventful time that must have made up much of her life: the stories were just the punctuation.” I loved that. Aren’t we all, armed with our own stories, just like that as well? I found Atwood’s writing beautiful, and her attempts to explain the difficulty of writing about a past age ring so true. She says, “It is possible to reconstruct the facts of this world – the furniture, the clothing, the ornaments on the mantelpiece, the jugs and basins and even the chamber pots in the bedrooms, but not the emotions, not with the same exactness. So much that is now known and felt must be excluded.” I found this story in my anthology “The World of Fiction” edited by David Madden. A great collection of close to one hundred stories.

(below: Margaret Atwood)

Second, I read a Flannery O’Connor story titled, “Parker’s Back.” What could this story title mean? Some sort of ‘prodigal son returns’ theme I assumed, with Parker being the star. Well, knowing O’Connor I should have know it would be a dark tale, and it was, though not as “bad” as others of hers that I’ve read. We meet O.E. Parker in the midst of a domestic squabble with his wife. I liked the opening sentence: “Parker’s wife was sitting on the front porch floor, snapping beans.” I’ve done that! Several times in my youth while visiting grandparents, a batch of green beans straight from the garden would be distributed amongst a few of us to begin preparing them by breaking them into ‘bite size’ units. A great memory and one that made me feel at home in this story immediately. Of course, that was the only part of the world spun by O’Connor in this story that was comfortable.

(below: Flannery O’Connor)

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The title of the story comes from the fact that Parker is covered in tattoos, but only on his front, his back remains untouched. Self-centered at his core, he has no interest in tattoos on his body that HE can’t see. He came by his obsession by seeing, when a child, a tattooed mad at a carnival whose varied tattoos created a beautifully artistic “arabesque” wrapping his body. Parker’s tattoos are less artful: “Whenever a decent-sized mirror was available, he would get in front of it and study his overall look. The effect was not of one intricate arabesque of colors but of something haphazard and botched.”

Flashbacks tell us the story of how he met his strictly religious wife (she thinks of his tattoos as “Vanity of vanities”) and at the end of the story he finally decides to get a tattoo to cover his back. A tattoo that could not help but please his wife, he thinks. If you’ve read much Flannery O’Connor, you know this won’t turn out well… I found this story in another anthology, The Norton Anthology. One benefit of this anthology is that each story is followed by a handful of ‘discussion questions.’ The one’s following this story weren’t the greatest though, but one did touch on the handling of chronology in the story – how do the glimpses back into the prior lives of the characters add to the story, etc.

The third, which I just finished, from my “Short Story Masterpieces” anthology, was John Cheever’s “Torch Song.” A famous title, and one that I’d certainly heard of, but I had remained ignorant of the work of Cheever (with whom I share the same initials and – I just learned today – birthday) until I read his great short story, “The Swimmer” earlier this year. I really liked this story for the most part, but it turned dark in – I thought – an unpleasant way toward the end. It follows the lives of two friends, Jack and Joan, two New York residents who came there from the same home town in Ohio. I understand the term “torch song” to refer to a love song that laments an unrequited or lost love and perhaps this is indeed the meaning in this story. Jack and Joan were never lovers, yet they crossed paths often in their lives and, as a reader, even though they always seemed married or involved with someone else when they met, I kept thinking, “C’mon, Jack, you should find a way to get together with this girl.” In fact, I was a little reminded by their relationship of the characters Jake and Brett from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, for whom I had a similar feeling. I was disappointed with the direction that “Torch Song” took, however, and though I found Cheever’s writing to be great (as it was in “The Swimmer”) I didn’t like this story as much as the other two.

(John Cheever)

So, that about wraps up my short story reading in September; only twelve more for me to “deal” with this year now. What short fiction did you consume this month? I’d love to know…

(I participate in The Short Story Initiative hosted by Nancy at Simple Clockwork. If you are a regular – or even occasional – reader of short stories, please check out her site and share with the rest of us what you’ve read.)

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(Pictured below: three of my many short story anthologies; they were already somewhat battered when I bought them second-hand, but some of their condition is due to my frequent use as well…)

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More Short Stories Finished

After some effort this weekend, I’ve finally gotten caught up on my 2011 short story reading project. I now have only seven stories to go, and – if my calculations are correct – I also have seven Saturday’s left in 2011. I’ve even already started to assemble my stories for 2012, when I intend to have a new “deck” to draw from which to draw my random “story of the week.”

What stories have I read recently to catch up? So nice of you to ask! There were quite a few the past few days…

1) “The Cock Lane Ghost” by Howard Pyle

Although this one was in one of my short story anthologies, I’m not even sure it was intended as a work of fiction. It’s more just a recounting of a famous ‘haunting’ case in London where a young girl heard numerous “rapping/tapping” and “gnawing” noises when in bed in her home on London’s Cock Lane. Allegedly, this famous case was widely considered to be “real” even after it had been debunked upon closer examination. (So often is the case where the credulous cling to their initial beliefs). This “story” I largely considered a waste of time.

2) “Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was a much more pedigreed short story, one that I’m sure many of you have heard of. The other two short works of Fitzgerald’s that I’ve read were more along the supernatural front, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” both of which were welcome additions to my collection of read stories. This one is the poignant tale of Charlie Wales, a formerly “dissipated” man who lost his fortune (in the market crash of 1929) and his wife (to suicide), leaving his daughter in the custody of his sister-in-law and her husband. Seemingly reformed and with his life back on track he is concentrating his efforts on reuniting with his daughter. Circumstances throw obstacles in his way during this sad tale. Descriptions of his “old life” led me to think he would have been at home as one of the people hanging out with the main character in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

3) “H.P.” by S. Baring-Gould

This one was a ghost story quite dissimilar from all that I had perviously encountered. Not knowing anything about it, I wondered if the title referred to that master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft. But no, it refers to the ghost, “Homo Paleolithicus” (or something like that). An archaeologist is temporarily trapped amongst his excavations of a primitive skeleton by a cave in…

4) “Soldier’s Home” by Ernest Hemingway

This one was recommended to me by fellow blogger, Jillian, over at A Room With a View (link on my blogroll). I read another Hemingway story earlier in the year as part of my project (“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”) which I really, really liked and wrote a blog post about, after which I received several recommendations for other Hemingway stories to read. (I have a whole book of them!). This one was very sad as well, though, dealing with the return home of a soldier with what would today be called at least a mild case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Harold Krebs’s thoughts on how different his once familiar world now is to him are fascinating.

5) “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett

I’d read this story years ago, but didn’t remember too much about it. In fact, over the years I think it had become muddled with a similar story I read (which I also don’t remember!). The story deals with a young girl, living in isolation with her mother in a modest cabin in the woods. One day, she encounters a young man walking in the woods with a gun. He is hunting birds, and collects them (stuffed by a taxidermist after he shoots them). He charms the girl at first, and when she learns that he is particularly interested in a White Heron, she hopes to gain his favor by determining the location of its nest. She does this after scaling the highest tree in the area (a passage described beautifully by Jewett). On her way back to meet the young man, however, she has second thoughts about revealing the bird’s location…

6) “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This was another favorite that I revisited for this project. When I first read it years ago, it kind of reminded me of the classic movie, Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman (yum yum), wherein an evil, scheming husband tries to convince his wife that she’s losing her mind. In this story, the husband’s motive is presumably innocent, but his attentions to his wife are having the same effect. Staying in a rented country manor for a few months, he chooses a room on the second floor as their bedroom. Unfortunately for his wife, who is “recovering” her health from what sounds like a mental imbalance or “hysteria,” the room contains the most disconcerting yellow wallpaper, which over the course of the story takes on a life of its own. Gilman’s description of the wife’s journey into “madness” is riveting.

7) “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver

A local book discussion group (whose meetings I keep missing) is actually meeting to discuss this story on Wednesday evening, so I’m glad it came up in my random order. A great short story dealing with two couples who are sitting around a dining room table drinking gin and tonics and musing over what the true meaning of love is, and what forms it may take. E.g. One of the women was previously in an abusive relationship but maintains her ex-husband loved her, while her current husband disagrees. The other couple are younger and have only been together for eighteen months, their love not yet having been fully “tested.” A thought provoking short story that made me thirsty for a drink of gin… I don’t know much about Carver, but I seem to recall he struggled with alcohol-related problems, which is maybe why his descriptions of this “drinking party” seem so realistic and thirst-inducing. 🙂

Have you read any of these stories or authors? Which are your favorites? Can you recommend any stories for me to include in my 2012 Short Story reading schedule?

Jack’s Book

A couple of months ago I wrote about a trip to Half Price Books to pick up “I Capture the Castle” for a book club read. As usual, I didn’t escape the trip without picking up some other, random purchases. More recently, I made a similar trip to pick up “The Sun Also Rises” for yet another book club read. This time, my “collateral damage” included “Jack’s Book,” an “oral history” of the famous author, Jack Kerouac, by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee. I read this book over just a couple days last weekend. I recommend it highly, but only if you are already somewhat familiar with Kerouac.

I’ve read several biographical accounts of Kerouac (& friends) in the past, but what made this one unique was the lengthy quoting of his friends (Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Carolyn Cassady, Luanne Henderson, John Clellon Holmes, Al & Helen Hinkle, Lucien Carr – the list goes on an on). It was fascinating to read again about some of these stories that I already knew but to this time hear them through some of the other characters and in their own words.

Kerouac’s interlude at Big Sur received more attention in this book than in some of my other reading. It was truly a sad stage of the author’s life to read about. Lenore Kandel (the then girlfriend of poet Lew Welch) had this to say about that: “He (Kerouac) was in a very bad place, and he went there to clear his head. But it’s a really elemental place, Big Sur, and it really burns. I guess it must be a little like an acid trip, a very heavy concentration of reality.”

Another thing I pondered while reading – and this is kind of a favorite speculation of mine – is whether or not this group of friends and aspiring writers (later to become known collectively as “The Beats”) knew they would become as famous as they did, or rather that their work and the “movement” would take hold. Clearly their ambition or goal was clear, but did they really think it would become reality? I remember a discussion at a book club meeting last year where we were talking about the book, Fahrenheit 451, which certainly has become an undisputed classic, and I posed the question “Do you think Bradbury knew he had something special when he was done writing?” I like to think he did, at least to some degree. The same goes for the “Beat Generation” standard bearers. I guess what I really hope is that it’s not just a kind of crapshoot whether books become popular or not.

Another memorable observation in the book – this one by John Clellon Holmes – was this one: “Most books that come out are contained. That is, ‘I want to read that book.’ But what happened when On the Road came out was , ‘I want to know that man.’ it wasn’t the book so much as it was the man.” He noted also that Kerouac became “more and more confused as it went on.”

This book also contained several more “convergences” with my other recent reading. The authors describe a meeting of Kerouac with Kurt Vonnegut in the late sixties in Cape Cod. Apparently, Vonnegut and others were playing poker, and Kerouac joined in but was not on his best behavior (drunk again) and kind of made an ass of himself in that company. Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” is also quoted at one point, and Holmes mentions that he had discussions with Jack regarding how “Dostoevsky wrote in the 1880’s that Russia is talking of nothing but the external questions now,” and that “with appropriate changes, something very like this is beginning to happen in America, in an American way.” The book also re-prints the famous, original New York Times book review by Gilbert Millstein, which helped launch On the Road, and within it is a reference to The Sun Also Rises: “Just as, more an any other novel of the twenties, “The Sun Also Rises came to be regarded as the testament of the “Lost Generation,” so it seems certain that “On the Road” will come be known as that of the “Beat Generation.”. I love it when all my reading starts to link together like this.

How do you feel about Kerouac?

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The Story of Keesh by Jack London – selection 3 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♥3♥  Three of Hearts. Playing card image found on Pinterest from the “Undertale Souls” deck of cards. I thought it would be appropriate to have a card featuring snow since the story involves the Inuit People of Alaska. 🙂

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ is my Suit for “Stories by favorite authors” and London certainly qualifies. I – and other Deal Me In participants – have written about many London stories over the years.

The Author: Jack London, one of the Titans of American Literature. I’ve posted about several of his works before, including Before Adam, Negore the CowardA Relic of the Pliocene, and Moon Face, to name a few.

The Selection: “The Story of Keesh” which I own as part of my e-copy of The Complete Works of Jack London. The story is in the public domain and may be read for free online in many places, like the link at the bottom of this post.It was first published in 1907.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2019. At the bottom of that post will be the cards I’ve drawn and links to any posts I’ve written on the stories. Also, check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

The Story of Keesh

“Keesh lived long ago on the rim of the polar sea, was head man of his village through many and prosperous years, and died full of honors with his name on the lips of men.”

***spoilers follow*** This one was, frankly, a bit of a disappointment. At least compared to other Jack London stories I’ve read. There just wasn’t enough to it for me. It’s basically an old folktale of a young boy (he has only seen “thirteen suns” – after each winter of no sunlight, when the sun returns, that counts as one year, so he is…13) who rises to a place of respect in his “igloo village” due to his crafty method of hunting polar bears.

It all starts out when he speaks up at a council one night, because, since his father has died (in the act of slaying a large bear to provide food for the village) he and his widowed mother’s meat apportioned to them by the tribe is “ofttimes old and tough, this meat, and, moreover, it has an unusual quantity of bones.” The men of the tribe, brave hunters all (just ask them), are neglecting their duty to provide for the rest of the village fair shares of the “community” meat.

The men react harshly to this upstart and Keesh vows never to return to the council but sets out on his own with arrows and his father’s spear. He’s gone a very long time and his mother and her comforters fear the worst, but he shows up with – lo and behold! – a big hunk of bear meat and directs the other hunters in the tribe that the rest of his kill may be found and returned if they take their sleds along the path he has come. Naturally, Keesh makes sure that everyone in the village from “the least old woman and the last old man” receive a fair portion of the meat.

With Keesh being so young, the men of the tribe suspect some trickery and even suggest that “witchcraft” might be involved, and that he “hunts with evil spirits.”  Such is the way with any who are ignorant of how something extraordinary is achieved, isn’t it? Keesh, when questioned, puts them straight and says, “It be headcraft, not witchcraft.” His method of bringing down the bears was quite original, I must say.

So, an easy read, but too short to sate my story hunger for one week. A better story, with more “meat on its bones” if you will, featuring the natives of the far north is London’s tale “Negore the Coward” which I’ve wrote about before and linked to in the header of this post.

What short stories did YOU read this week? What is your favorite of Jack London’s many short stories?

You can read the story online here: https://americanliterature.com/author/jack-london/short-story/the-story-of-keesh

 

Ghachar Ghochar – a novel by Vivek Shanbhag

ghachar ghochar

“How did I slip into this way of life? I can only look back and wonder.”

I went into this book “blind” – not really knowing what it was about or even where I had heard of it.** Given the type of story this is, however, my reading experience actually might be enhanced by that situation, as it’s only sneakily revealed just how disturbing it truly is. It’s told as a kind of tiered flashback by (yet another!) unnamed narrator who is currently sitting in “Coffee House” – his refuge from his family and wife. The waiter at the coffee shop, Vincent, acts almost as an oracle to the narrator, who goes there seeking wisdom or advice from him. The narrator himself is rather shiftless – an idler who doesn’t seem to have an independent bone in his body – and it was easy for me to immediately not like him very much.

His story is one of a “family group” that once lived together in a very small home until, after its current, aging patriarch has lost his job, the narrator’s uncle has an idea to start up a business selling spices. It takes off and, with it, naturally so do the family’s fortunes. At the time the book begins, they are living (still all together) in a much nicer house. The narrator has even gotten married (“he never even held a woman’s hand until his wedding day”) but his wife has become dissatisfied with his not really “earning his way” in the family. (He does receive a salary and has a ‘lofty-sounding title’ in the new company but he doesn’t really do anything and rarely even shows up to “the office.”) I think he and the family could have tolerated her disdain, though, if she hadn’t also interfered when a “threat” to the family’s status quo presents itself via a woman showing up at their house asking to see the uncle (a pregnant mistress perhaps?)… The family feels that the uncle, having become the major provider, cannot be disturbed by any outside “distractions.” I think the uncle is very well aware of this and takes full advantage of it. The family treats her unkindly and basically runs her off, with Anita, the narrator’s wife, being the sole “dissenting opinion” in the matter. This is apparently intolerable, though how much so is not revealed until the book’s final pages…

One thing I admired about the book is that it’s one of those that surprises you – and does so to such a degree that I was unable to resist the urge to look back in the book searching for “clues” that might have led me to anticipate what was truly going on with this family.

I also think the book could be considered to be a warning about the corrupting nature of money, or especially newly acquired money. One of my favorite quotations from the book was the following:

“It’s true what they say—it’s not we who control money, it’s the money that controls us. When there’s only a little, it behaves meekly; when it grows, it becomes brash and has its way with us.”

I cannot neglect mentioning that I loved the concept expressed in the novel that Ghachar Ghochar (generally meaning “hopelessly entangled” – see book cover above) was a phrase that only existed in the family of Anita, and the fact that her sharing those words with the narrator was a kind of intimacy. As the narrator says:

“Of course, those words could never mean to me all that they meant to her; nor would I ever utter them as naturally as she did. But she had shared with me this secret phrase that didn’t exist in any language, and now I was one of only five people in the world who knew it.”

It also got me thinking – are there any “invented” words or phrases that only my family or friends only used/use among ourselves? I thought of a couple, but one that still shows up from time to time at family gatherings is “defanon” (pronounced like “deaf” and “anon” strung together) which my (very young at the time) brother used once when telling a story, concluding – after escaping a dangerous situation – that “I got out of there like defanon!” I think it was a convolution of real words he heard once, but whatever its genesis, thereafter any hasty exit from a predicament in my family’s subsequent storytelling included the simile “like defanon!”  Gee whiz, now I’m wondering if I should even have shared this story, since this word may now get out “loose” in the world… I guess for once I can be glad that probably only a few people actually read my blog regularly. 🙂  What about YOU?  Does your family have any special words or phrases that no one else would understand? Care to “out” them here and share with me?

Ghachar Ghochar is a surprisingly short book as well, which makes it an easy one for me to recommend to others. 🙂 A definite five-star read for me.

(below: the author with an alternate cover of the book picturing the ants which were some of the “clue providers” I noted on the second pass)

vivek

**One thing I always try to do – but often fail to do – is make a note of where I have heard about a book that I’ve added to my TBR list. This book is a case where I failed to make a note of it, and now I can’t remember. (Though I want to say I heard of it via NPR or maybe the Sunday edition of New York Times, the book section of which I occasionally will peruse online over breakfast on Sunday mornings.)  If it was an individual who recommended this to me, and you’re reading this, please remind me so I can give you credit – and so that I may THANK you. 🙂

Deal Me In – Week 29 Wrap Up

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An exciting week for me in my role as Deal Me In host, as a couple more bloggers have raised the Deal Me In banner! Please take a moment if you can to check out the following two blogs and welcome them to the “Wonderful World of Deal Me In” 🙂

New Deal Me In-ers:

Randall at Time Enough at Last has launched his “Deal Me In Litehttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/deal-me-in-lite-introduction.html

Deal Me In hits Tasmania! Check out this post by Pam at Travelin’ Penguin: http://travellinpenguin.blogspot.com/2014/07/sunday-market-and-short-stories.html

As an “extra” this week, I also discovered an old song via Pandora that “deals” with a subject familiar to Deal Me In participants. Perhaps a little on the “too spiritual” side (for relative heathens like me), it’s still a fun listen. Tex Ritter, I believe, recorded the original, but here’s Hank’s take:

Hank Williams version of Deck of Cards: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gib-V-FQAT0

On to this week’s posts:

Susan reviewed a couple stories, Jimmy Buffett’s “Take Another Road” and “I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever” on Goodreads.com: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/849506616?book_show_action=true&page=1

Katherine read “Every Mystery Unexplained” by Lisa Mason and introduces us to “The Blue Room Illusion” with a video http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/deal-me-in-week-29-every-mystery-unexplained/

Randall (new Deal Me In’er – see link above for his roster) posted about his first three stories:
Ray Bradbury’s “All on a Summer’s Nighthttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/all-on-summers-night-by-ray-bradbury.html
John Barth’s “Toga Partyhttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/toga-party-by-john-barth.html
And Edward Everett Hale’s “My Double and How He Undid Mehttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/my-double-and-how-he-undid-me-by-edward.html
And – just like that – he’s all caught up in his Deal Me In “Lite” (six-month) variation of the challenge!

I read another Alice Munro story “Axishttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/chekhovs-gun-thoughts-on-axis-a-short-story-by-alice-munro/

Dale “laughed and cried” when he read Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything that Rises Must Converge” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/flannery-oconnor-everything-that-rises-must-converge/

That’s it for this week! Happy reading!

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