“The Beautiful Lady” by Booth Tarkington – selection #48 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♣9♣ Nine of Clubs

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

The Selection: “The Beautiful Lady” (actually more of a novella than a short story, but it was too late to change now! J

The Author:  Booth Tarkington of Indianapolis.  One of the standard bearers of The Golden Age of Indiana Literature. He also won the Pulitzer Prize. Twice.

 

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 postlegacy project seal of approval 2For a look at my deck of cards/storyroster 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 Beautiful Lady

“To fall in love must one behold a face? Yes; at thirty. At twenty, when one is something of a poet No: it is sufficient to see a grey pongee skirt! At fifty, when one is a philosopher No: it is enough to perceive a soul! I had done both; I had seen the skirt; I had perceived the soul.”

Just the quotation above should be enough to let you know what kind of story this will be, but I will drone on a little more about it… The narrator of the story is a man of twenty-four who is down on his luck in Paris. He has a half-brother who is seemingly a villain. He had a “full” brother who is now dead and whose two children the narrator tries his best to support and pay for their schooling at a nunnery. The beginning of the story finds him so penniless (franc-less?) that he has accepted a humiliating job for the term of a week. The job is to be a living advertisement for a theater and consists of him having to shave his head bald, allowing an advertisement to be painted on the top of his head, then to sit at the venue with his eyes pointing to his lap so passersby will see the ad and perhaps be curious enough to buy a ticket. He hates it. You probably would too.

One solace he has is that the act of shaving his head bald adds years to his appearance, making him seem as if “a man of forty.”  He hopes this will lead to no one recognizing him on the street to observe his humiliation. One day, the appearance “upon the lid of my lowered eyelid” of a beautiful grey pongee skirt (yeah, I had to look that up) is what sets this story ablaze. The wearer of the Pongee skirt (the Beautiful Lady of the story’s title, naturally) is accompanied by a young man who pauses to laugh at the narrator. She is shocked and sympathetic. “Ah!” she cried. “The poor man!” Her voice:

“…was North-American. Ah, what a voice! Sweet as the mandolins of Sorento! Clear as the bells of Capri! To hear it, was like coming upon sight of the almond-blossoms of Sicily for the first time, or the tulip-fields of Holland. Never before was such a voice.”

The narrator doesn’t see the lady during this “encounter” but perhaps will again during his next “job.” For my part, I loved this story. It was a bit predictable in its plot twists, which honestly stretched credibility to its seams, and also in its saccharine sweetness, which makes my admission of liking it something of a guilty pleasure, I suppose. It made me think of times in my own life where things weren’t going as I hoped or maybe when I was “ashamed” of a current employment or living status, and doesn’t it always seem to work out that you run into people you haven’t seen in a long time when you’re looking – or at – your worst? I believe Tarkington captures this phenomenon nearly perfectly in this story, which is one of my favorites of Deal Me “IN” this year.

What have you read by Tarkington? The Magnificent Ambersons? Alice Adams?  Some of his shorter works? I’d love to hear about your encounters with this author.

Next up in Deal Me “IN” 2016: Selection #49: “Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler’s List” by Michael Martone. (I’ve been wondering all year what this story is about…)

Booth Takington’s “A Reward of Merit” story #13 of 2016 Deal Me “IN” 2016


The Card: ♣A♣ Ace of clubs

The Suit: For 2016, ♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ is my suit for “legendary” Indiana authors”.

The Selection: “A Reward of Merit” contained in “The Collected Short Stories of Booth Tarkingon” which I own as a kindle version. I picked this story from that collection because I was intrigued by the title.

The Author: Booth Tarkington of Indianapolis – one of the standard bearers of the “Golden Age” of Indiana Literature.

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? 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/story roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in thislegacy project seal of approval 2 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 now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

 

A Reward of Merit

When I hear the name of author Booth Tarkington, the first thing that comes to mind is his, uh, magnificent, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Magnificent Ambersons,” which I’ve read more than once, not to mention watching the Orson Welles film adaptation multiple times as well. That wasn’t the only Pulitzer Prize for fiction he won, though. He also won for Alice Adams in 1922, making him one of only three authors to win the award more than once. Can you name the other two? I’ll save that answer for the end of this post… 🙂

collected shorts tarkington

I would describe this story as a tale of youthful hijinks, escapades, or monkey business. It amusingly explores how distorted the view of the world can sometimes be for those who are too young to have “put all the pieces together” in their understanding of how life really works. It has almost a Tom Sawyer-ish feel, focusing on two idle young boys, Penrod and Sam, and the adventures they run into one rainy afternoon.

***Spoilers Follow*** (If you’d like to read this story first, it’s available online at http://cozycoffeehouse.blogspot.com/2007/04/booth-tarkington-reward-of-merit.html )
Pernod and Sam encounter a “stray” horse in the alley. It is basically old and has sort of been “discarded” by its former owner. The boys don’t know this, and with their youthful logic surmise that a lost horse must worthy of a great reward to its finders. They are sharp enough to discern that it is nearly starving and end up feeding it nearly half the provisions in Penrod’s house.

Eventually, the risks involved in their little enterprise begin to become apparent and, after being “found out” by the family’s cook, Della, they figure they are in big trouble for trying to hide the horse in a carriage house and also for “stealing” food for it. This leads to the humorous declaration by Penrod when the boys are contemplating how they might be able to escape the trouble they’ve found themselves in:

“I don’t know where you’re goin’, but I’m goin’ to walk straight out in the country till I come to a farm-house and say my name’s George and live there!”

But what actually happens at the end of the story? It turns out the adults in Penrod and Sam’s circle view their acts in a wholly different way. To them they are acts of kindness toward an unfortunate animal, and for that the boys are presented with a “Reward of Merit” the value of which far outweighs their fanciful imaginings of what a monetary reward might have been – yes, a happy ending. I enjoyed the story a lot, and it brought back some funny memories of some of my own childhood antics where I was as clueless as poor Penrod and Sam.

I wasn’t aware of it before writing this post, but “Rewards of Merit” were once a real thing commonly given to children by encouraging teachers or other adults. Many were fanciful cards with beautiful illustrations. One website I found with examples and explanations is http://www.merrycoz.org/merit/MERIT.xhtml – also where the images above and below are found.

In preparation for writing this post, I also read an old essay from The Atlantic about Tarkington. Though curiously mean-spirited and acerbic, I did find much of interest in it, including the observation that the Penrod stories were written in “the precisely defined period when the stable was empty but not yet rebuilt into a garage”

Also from the article in the Atlantic:

“To be caught with Tarkington in one’s hands is to be suspected of nostalgia, a willingness to endure the second-rate for the sake of some moonlight on the Wabash, which must still be flowing somewhere through the heartland. But if that’s what one is looking for, disappointment will soon set in with the realization that Tarkington was himself in the throes of nostalgia, setting most of his work two or three decades before he wrote it. He was, in fact, a kind of historical novelist, whose books can now be read only through a double glazing of time.”

As promised – the answer to the trivia questions above – Other multiple Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winners: John Updike and William Faulkner. Please tell me you know which is which…

  
(Ace of Clubs image above found at https://www.spicherandco.com/home.php?cat=1217)

Have you read anything by Booth Tarkington? What other short stories have YOU read lately?

May Reading – The Month Ahead

I used to post fairly regularly near the start of a month about what was on deck for my reading but have kind of fallen out of the habit in recent months (years?). BUT, I was sitting here this morning thinking about my May plans (reading and otherwise) and thought I’d jot down what’s on my reading docket…

Books:
“The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science” by Will Storr
I actually just passed the halfway point in this book. It’s been fascinating reading thus far, especially the more “sciencey” sections discussing how the brain often conspires to delude us in our thinking. Storr, a journalist, seems to earnestly attempt to understand the thinking of a wide range of belief systems that fly in the face of facts and traditional evidence. Storr asks himself the question, “Why don’t facts work?” and the answers are unsettling thus far.

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2. “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen and “Northanger Abbey” by Val McDermid

northanger abbey2
A friend just completed reading my copy of Jane Austen’s classic about the same time I heard of this new treatment of the story. I thought it might make for good blogging to read both and write about them in comparison. Oh, and it would be a good excuse to read some Austen for the first time in many years too. 🙂 This feels a little ambitious to read both, and I’m not sure I’ll find the time, but my instincts tell me it might be fun. We’ll see.

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3. “If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? – Advice for the Young” by Kurt Vonnegut
This book is a collection of graduation speeches by the late author, and it is the May selection for the book clubl at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library here in town. It includes an introduction by author (and friend of Vonnegut) Dan Wakefield, who is scheduled to join us at our meeting. Can’t wait to read this one.

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4. “Scapegoat of Shiloh: the Distortion of Lew Wallace’s record by U.S. Grant” by Kevin Getchell
I went to a lecture by the author a couple weeks ago. As a fan of Lew Wallace, I am interested in reading this.

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(above: two new purchases in April – see? I don’t only buy e-books, so get off my case!)

Reviewing books I’ve previously read:
A couple book clubs I (irregularly) participate in are discussing books that I’ve already read. Twice. The Carmel Clay Public Library is discussing Booth Tarkington’s “The Magnificent Ambersons” (set in Indianapolis) next week, and the relatively new book group at Indy Reads Books book store is discussing Carson McCullers’ “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” toward the end of the month. I won’t read these a third time, but I will certainly review them and revisit my “incisive underlinings” (ha ha) in my copies.

There’s also a new edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Welcome to the Monkey House” short story collection that I picked up at a book signing by author Gregory Summner, whose non-fiction work, “Unstuck in Time” has become a reliable reference work for me when dealing with Vonnegut’s novels. This new edition has some background info on how many of the stories came about, which I look forward to reading.

Other items:
Of course I’ll continue reading a short story a week for Deal Me In 2014, but fate determines which stories those will be. I have a strong roster, though, so I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

I want to get refocused on increasing my vocabulary. For several months starting back in October, I was creating monthly “bundles” or sets of flashcards on my iPad and reviewing them fairly frequently. Yeah, that only lasted through January, though. Seems my laziness knows few bounds. It was a good system, and I need to return to it(, dammit).

I also have a big backlog of blog posts to write or finish about books (-not short stories)  I’ve read. I’ve let my blog’s focus drift too heavily toward short stories and would prefer it to be more balanced. I need to post about some of these books(!)

Well, those are my reading/literary plans for May. What are YOURS? I’d love to hear about them…