“Stories Time!”

Tonight is my book club’s annual “Short Story Month” (where instead of reading a single book, we read short stories; each member picks a story for the group to read); this year we had eight of our nine members suggest a short story. I finished reading the last of them last night and… I liked them all! A few brief thoughts follow:

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”

This story was totally NOT what I was expecting. I guess I should’ve known that Fitzgerald was capable of a story like this since we read his “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” a couple of years ago, but this one blew me away. The protagonist is a young man sent off to prep school where he disappointedly marvels at the “exceeding sameness” of his classmates. He does bond with one of them however, and is invited to spend a holiday with the family at their home out west. His new friend Percy brags that his father is the richest man in the whole world and owns a diamond “as big as the a Ritz Carlton” hotel. The visit leads him to a kind of domestic Shangri-La which Percy’s father stops at nothing to protect. A fantastical story which I enjoyed quite a bit. I also discovered on YouTube a copy of an old radio theater adaptation of the story which I listened to with amusement. I’ll try to add a link to that when I find it again.

Jack London’s “A Piece of Steak”

This one was my pick. I read it during one of my favorite high school English classes. It’s a classic story of the age old struggle between youth and experience. Dramatically taking the form of a wily old prizefighter’s bout against an “up and coming” contender who has strength but not experience. London’s descriptions of the characters are extremely well done. Sadly, I’m reaching the age where this theme is of more interest to me than I’d like to admit…

Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

This was probably the third or fourth time I’ve read this story, which is found in many anthologies. Taking place during the American Civil War, it deals with the execution – by hanging – of a man who tried to sabotage the bridge in the title of the story. What the reader is treated to is a Twilight Zone-esque tale with a twist of an ending. Good stuff.

Rudyard Kipling’s “Rikki Tikki Tavi”

I haven’t read Kipling in awhile, but he did happen to write one of my all-time favorite stories, “The Brushwood Boy.” <insert goosebumps> This particular story deals with the time honored, proverbial fight between a Cobra and a Mongoose, and is set in colonial India. It reads a bit like a children’s tale but, I believe, still makes great reading for adults. It called to mind for me a book I read one summer during my college years that dealt with the history of The British East India Company and all the exotic lands it controlled. Sadly, looking back today, I can recall almost nothing of the details of that book. 😦

“Casey at the Bat” – a poem by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

Short and sweet. This famous poem is not dissimilar from the “Tortoise and the Hare” fable where overconfidence meets its comeuppance. Today’s readers can scarcely know how popular this poem was in its day, and how deeply woven into the public consciousness it was.  My dad would frequently quote from it (a favorite taunt of his during any kind of game where he held the advantage was “it’s looking dark in Mudville…”) and I suspect it was well known in his family when he was growing up. This poem, like several of our stories this month, touches on a classic theme too – in this case the “hubris” of “The Mighty Casey.”

“A Shameful Affair” by Kate Chopin

This one may have been the least memorable of this group, and I’m not sure I like the ending, where the readers kind of left to speculate about just what has happened. I think I know, but am also anxious to hear what my fellow club members think tonight. The story, in a nutshell, is about a bored “aristocratic” girl who has a dalliance with a rough around the edges farmhand (who is an eminently more likable character than she is) and the consequences that follow.

Alice Hoffman’s “The Conjurer’s Notebook”

This author may be the “discovery” of this year’s Short Story Month for me. It certainly wins the Oscar for “Best Character” in the form of the female character, Dorey, who lived (by her wits) through the holocaust, marries an American soldier and returns to America, where she meets his possessive grandmother, Violet. I loved this story and am eager to read more by this author. As Hoffman describes, Dorey is one of those people who “knew how to deal with what happened to them in this world” while “others do not.”

A.M. Burrage’s “Smee”

I’ve read this story many times. It’s one of my favorite ghost stories ever, and I’ve written about it here on this blog before, so I’ll just refer you my previous post.

Links to most of these stories are posted at my book club’s website (see blogroll to the left) if you’d like to read some of them for free.

What about you, do you have experience with any of these authors or stories? Are any of them among your favorites? Would you recommend other stories by them?

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“Bumper Crop”

 

Without fail it’s my favorite book club meeting each year:  “Short Story Month!”  We’ve been doing this every July now, starting with 2008.  Each of our nine members picks a short story for the members to read.  Most of them pick a ‘famous’ story that’s available in the public domain and thus on the internet, while a couple share an actual copy or copied pages from a book.  I love the variety and the change of pace from our normal meetings.  And there are always a few previously unknown gems discovered (at least by me, anyway.)

This time around, we even have a couple repeat stories.  With some member turnover since inception, a couple stories that have been picked before were picked again (well, one was a short story picked during our “Ghost Story Month” – another favorite meeting of mine), but we decided to just read them again anyway.  Some members hadn’t read them the first time, or weren’t part of the club the first time, and heck, they’re just darn good stories too.

So far, we’ve heard from all but one member (come on, Carla! 🙂 ), and here’s what we’ve got so far:

F. Scott Fitzgerald – “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz”

Kate Chopin – “A Shameful Affair”

Ernest Lawrence Thayer – “Casey at the Bat”

Jack London – “A Piece of Steak”

Rudyard Kipling – “Rikki Tikki Tavi”

Ambrose Bierce – “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

Alice Hoffman – “The Conjurer’s Handbook”

A.M. Burrage – “Smee”

I consider this a bumper crop of stories.  Yeah, yeah, I know Casey at the Bat is a poem (the member who picked that one is a chronic troublemaker…  🙂 ).  Also the member who selected An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge described it as “a dark story that keeps you hanging until the end.”  If you’ve read that story before, you may appreciate the humor in that description…  Chopin, Thayer, and Hoffman are all new authors for the club, whereas for some of the others we’ve read novels, and some are making their second appearance in Short Story Month.

What about you?  Have you read any of these stories?  Have you ever participated in a book club that read short stories (either every now and then, or exclusively)?  I’d love to hear about it…