Deal Me In 2017 Catch-up Post: selections #5 thru #8

IMG_3919-0Yes, I’ve been a bad boy and have not posting about the stories I’ve read recently, but at least I have still been reading my story weekly.  What have I missed sharing?  Well, I thought I’d go ahead and do a brief wrap-up of selections 5-8, which I have completed.

“Week” 5 – ♦A♦ – Letter from a Birmingham Jail (essay) – Martin Luther King

mlk-birminghamWell, Deal Me In’s “randomizer” just missed in having me draw this card the week of the Martin Luther King Holiday here in the United States, but since February is also “Black History Month” here, I figured DMI’s hand of fate was trying to land it somewhere in the middle.

Confession: I don’t remember reading this essay before, though I have of course been aware of it. I certainly haven’t read it as thoughtfully as I did this time  – I know that at least must be true. It’s also an essay that has perhaps added meaning in these challenging political times, and I was amazed at how chock-full it is of quotations that are part of the mainstream now. We are, for example, reminded that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and that “History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up there privileges voluntarily,” and that “groups are more immoral than individuals.” How true this last…

For those who don’t know, the famous letter is King’s answer to one group of his critics (eight white clergymen) who were urging him to end his policy of nonviolent resistance and allow the issue of integration to be “handled in the courts.” King effectively gives many arguments and cases why he should not do so. His frustration with the lack of support from more moderate whites is also transparent throughout. At one point he says, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negroes’ great stumbling block in the stride forward is not the White Citizens “Counciler” or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice.”

A great and iconic essay that rightly belongs in my copy of the Joyce Carol Oates-edited collection The Greatest American Essays of the Century. I recommend revisiting it if you haven’t lately, or even reading it for the first time if you never have. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments.

“Week” 6 – ♦K♦ – The Devil Baby at Hull House (essay) – Jane Addams

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For week 6, DMI’s hand of fate kept me in the same suit and same source, leading me to this interesting essay by Jane Addams, a woman of letters who, though I was certainly aware of, I had never read before. This essay was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1916, and later was included in Addams’s “The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House in 1930.

To understand the setting of the story, one must know first that Hull House (above) was a “settlement house” in Chicago and, according to Wikipedia, Hull House became, at its inception in 1889, “a community of university women” whose main purpose was to provide social and educational opportunities for working class people (many of them recent European immigrants) in the surrounding neighborhood.”

It seems that Hull House became the center of what we would now call an “urban myth” – one in which a “Devil Baby” had been born there and was being kept secret from the public. The rumor became so powerful that Hull House became inundated with “pilgrims” who visited there and refused to believe the repeated denials of the “Devil Baby’s” existence. Addams expertly uses this phenomenon to examine just what are the kind of people who are likely to believe such a story, even when contradicted by those who would certainly know better. In the essay, the standard “profile” of these visitors becomes one of an “older woman” and Addams also notes that “…the story constantly demonstrated the power of an old wives’ tale among thousands of people in modern society who are living in a corner of their own, their vision fixed, their intelligence held by some iron chain of silent habit.”  The essay drifts a bit into an examination of old age, but returns to conclude that the legend was so widely believed “because the Devil Baby embodied an undeserved wrong to a poor mother…”

A very interesting read that goes much deeper that I first expected.

“Week” 7 – ♦3♦ – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

caged-birdThe randomized order of DMI continues to honor Black History Month, and I was pleased to have an excuse to finally read this, which I must sadly report, I was apparently unequal to. Upon finishing, I still didn’t know why the Caged Bird Sings until I googled it. It was taken from the third stanza of a poem by African-American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar:

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.

This essay was actually adapted from the opening sections of the 1969 “autobiographical fiction” book of the same title, and tells of the author’s childhood growing up in Stamps, Arkansas. There are undoubtedly some great sections, including a “showdown” between Angelou’s mother and a local group of “white trash” kids who harass her family at the store they own. I found the day to day life descriptions well done too, but probably just fell victim to “unrealistic expectations” for this work, since it is such a famous title. I probably should read through it a second time or, better yet, read the entire book, not just an excerpt.

“Week” 8 – ♠K♠ – Double On-Call – John Green

john_green_by_gage_skidmoreGreen is a local “literary hero” here in Indianapolis. (His office is just a few miles from mine, and a coworker has even bumped into him grabbing lunch at the nearby Whole Foods store!). This was a good story and quite unlike his other work that I’ve read. The quotation it leads off with might give you some indication:

“God is weak and powerless in the world and that is precisely the way, the only way in which he is with us to help us.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What does THAT mean? I think that I still don’t know even after reading the story, which is about a very young man who works as a chaplain in a hospital, where we meet him during a “double on-call” shift – or two consecutive nights of being on call at the hospital, chained to his pager. On this particular night, the crisis du jour is a young couple who brings in their baby who “fell.” Fell as in that’s the transparent “story” they’ve come up with to explain away its head trauma, caused by the father. It is the young chaplain’s duty to talk with the father and get him to realize the magnitude of what he’s done.

Not a pleasant story, but one well told. I read in some online reviews (but was unable to confirm) that this was an earlier story of Green’s, tidied up to be published in a volume titled “Double on Call and Other Stories.”

That get’s me current, though I am currently reading “Safety” by Larry Fitzpatrick for selection #9.  What have YOU been reading lately?

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

“Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler’s List” by Michael Martone – selection #49 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♦A♦ Ace of Diamonds

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, Diamonds is my suit for Contemporary Indiana Authors

The Selection: “Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler’s List” from the short story collection of the same name (with the subtitle: “Indiana Stories”).  I own a paperback copy, and another of its contents, “Schliemann in Indianapolis” made an earlier appearance in this year’s Deal Me “IN” challenge.

The Author: Michael Martone (his picture at left (that’s an Indiana flag shirt!) found at http://www.erinpringle.com/2014/07/2014-summer-library-series-four.html ). Last year I was quite impressed with “Winesburg, Indiana: A Fork River Anthology” which he edited, and I had heard of this volume through the grapevine so it found a place on my Deal Me “IN” roster. He was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and is currently a professor at the University of Alabama.

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. The 2016 iteration of Deal Me “IN” is also a “Legacy Project” officially endorsed by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission!

Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler’s List

“During the war, the top hemisphere of the streetlight globes were painted with a black opaque glaze. They stayed that way after the war. No one seems to mind. Parts of dead insects show in the lower half of the globe. There’s more and more of them in there summer after summer.”

What list?  Why Fort Wayne? Is there any truth in this? These are all questions I asked myself when I first heard of this story. Perhaps reading it would provide some answers…

Perhaps not, though. Other research indicates that Fort Wayne was potentially a prime target during World War II – due to industrial production, etc. – whether or not it was really on a list is a bit unclear.  This “story” (it felt more to me like I was reading a prose poem) is about a city that was once on ‘high alert’ during wartime, and centers around the narrator’s grandfather who lived in those times.

It tells of times where the city would practice blackouts – one particularly vivid episode was when the grandfather (he was a “block warden” because “everyone remembered the way he’d kept calm during The War of the Worlds.”) participated in a demonstration to emphasize the importance of absolute dark. “Grandfather said that the (Civil Defense) man lit a match when the rest of the city was all dark. He said that you could see the whole park and the faces of everyone in the park… The man blew out the match with one breath. The people went home in the dark. Were they wishing they could do something about the stars.”

It also seems that the grandfather never quite fully exited the “war footing” mentality and even decades later would still see and feel things about the city in that context and through the lens of a slight paranoia.  This gave the story a haunting quality.

I enjoyed this piece less than the other one I read for Deal Me “IN,” but it was still quite good and I’d like to once again recommend the book Martone edited “Winesburg, Indiana.” Which is full of great, short vignettes about the people of a fictional Indiana town.

Have you read anything by Michael Martone?  What did you think of him?  What are some of your favorite literary depictions of the “Home Front” during the war?  One I can think of is the excellent “Under the Apple Tree” by Indiana author Dan Wakefield.

Deal Me In Bonus: Trivia question:  Which iconic 1968 cinematic space traveler hailed from Fort Wayne, Indiana?

Below (from Trip Advisor) Fort Wayne, Indiana

fort-wayne-is-indiana

“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

riley-hosp

“Peyton Manning – Champion: This Doesn’t Happen Very Often” by David Hoppe – selection #29 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♠J♠ Jack of Spades (found one with a bit of a “Colts Blue” thing going on 🙂 )

The Suit: For 2016, Spades is my suit for “Indiana-related Short, Non-fiction Works”

The Selection: “Peyton Manning – Champion: This Doesn’t Happen Very Often” from the book of short essays, “Personal Indianapolis.”

The Author: David Hoppe. He has lived in Indiana since 1980 and is a contributing editor and regular columnist for the Indianapolis alternative weekly magazine, Nuvo. Find out more about him at his website: http://www.davidhoppewriter.com/index.html – you may also see and read some of Hoppe’s recent work at http://www.nuvo.net/blogs/Hoppe/

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.

 

“Peyton Manning – Champion”

“He grew up in New Orleans and came of age in Tennessee. Who would’ve guessed that Peyton Manning had so much Hoosier in him.”

Okay. Full disclosure time. I’ve been a pretty rabid Indianapolis Colts fan ever since their relocation in 1984. I suffered through some horrible seasons with them early on, saw some brief glimpses of the glory possible (the Ted Marchibroda/Jim Harbaugh-led run to the almost Super Bowl in 1995, then finally in the 2006-07 season got the payoff with our only Super Bowl win. In the past ten or twelve years I’ve been a regular attendee of the games and have been a season ticket holder for most of that time. SO… I was really interested to read this piece by writer David Hoppe.

I enjoyed Hoppe’s describing how “a certain alchemy” can occur between a (great) athlete and the city he represents. And his claim that a “true champion” like Manning goes beyond even that. He lauds Manning’s charity work, his ability to “make teammates better” and his self deprecating humor, on continual display through tv commercials or even a Saturday Night Live appearance (a classic!)

This piece was written in early 2012, when the handwriting was beginning to appear on the wall that Manning’s time in Indy was likely coming to an end (“unceremoniously by injury”). The decision to let Manning go and draft Andrew Luck was divisive to Colts fans in Indiana. Many felt he “deserved better” or saw it as another opportunity to denigrate our somewhat troubled owner, Jim Irsay, for “letting him go.” Those of us fans who have an understanding of the NFL beyond the personal, emotional attachments that surround players who are your favorites knew that the “Manning, Out – Luck, In” transaction was likely more the result of circumstances beyond both sides’ control.

Hoppe also talks about how his (now-adult) son he grew up during Peyton’s tenure in Indy. His concluding remarks pretty well sum up the way many in town came to terms with the changing of the guard:

“My son also knows that this is the way things go. Change happens, usually in ways we can’t control. You get used to it the best you can and try to look forward to what comes next. Losing a champion, though, is tough to take.”

Agreed, but I also feel the future is bright for the Colts, with the potential of having two superstar quarterbacks back-to-back. Still, though, for Peyton’s last visit here in November of 2015 (as quarterback of the Denver Broncos, where his NFL career enjoyed what must have been a truly gratifying Indian Summer) I, as always, donned a Colts jersey for that game, one that I rarely wore in the past because “everyone else was wearing it” -one featuring the number 18…

♫ Personal Note: (actually, most of this entry feels like personal notes!) Our new quarterback is also great – even literarily speaking. Did you know that he has a public, on-line book club?! I’m not kidding! Check out http://www.andrewluckbookclub.com for the details. As Terrell Owens would say, “That’s my quarterback!”

Image below from andrewluckbookclub.com (I read both these books and have read 5 of the 6 selections he’s come up with so far.

andrew_luck.0.0.PNG

“Meneseteung” by Alice Munro

This week I drew the ace of hearts for my Deal Me In project . This led me to the Alice Munro short story, “Menesetung.” I own it as part of the massive volume “The Best American Short Stories of the Century.”

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On a personal note, this volume remains, to date, the only “material compensation” I have ever received for writing this blog, as one of my readers – who also happens to be a fellow participant in a local Great Books Foundation reading group I often attend – made a gift of it to me over a year and a half ago. I think I’ve read about sixteen of the stories so far, blogging about most of them. Thanks again, Richard! 🙂

This story was first published in the New Yorker in 1988…

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…and was later included in a collection of Munro’s stories titled “Friend of My Youth.”

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Munro is something of a rare bird among writers, choosing to specialize in short stories as her primary form. To date, I’ve only read a few of her stories, from the one collection of hers that I own, “Too Much Happiness.”

“Menesetung” is basically the story of Almeda Joynt Roth, a late 19th century poet of Ontario, Canada (Not coincidentally the region where Munro is from). Each chapter is introduced by a few lines of her poems. I must say I found the structure of this story a little tedious, as points of view and points in time jumped around quite a bit. There were also times when a fictional local paper, the Vidette, is quoted as a way to introduce new topics or passages. Though I struggled with the format, there was some indisputably amazing writing in the story, especially when Munro describes life in the province where she grew up. For example:

“From her window she can see the sun rising, the swamp mist filling with light, the bulky, nearest trees floating against that mist and the trees behind turning transparent. Swamp oaks, soft maples, tamarack, butternut.”

This passage reminded me a little of one of my favorite passages in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which I read a couple years ago.

There was also a great passage about the sort of “Victorian stuffiness” of Roth’s time – when it came to the interaction of the sexes. She is rather sweet on a neighbor gentleman, but must wait on him to “make the first move” thus we have the following:

“She does not invite him to come in – a woman living alone could never do such a thing. As soon as a man and woman of almost any age are alone together within four walls, it is assumed that anything may happen. Spontaneous combustion, instant fornication, an attack of passion. Brute instinct, triumph of the senses. What possibilities men and women must see in each other to infer such dangers. Or, believing in the dangers, how often they must think about the possibilities.”

Isn’t that great?

Overall, though, the story wasn’t one of my favorites this year. Perhaps, like many, it just requires a deeper dive on the readers part. Sadly, this week I lacked the time and energy to read this one over again. Maybe someday.

The odd title of the story refers to the name of a river in the region of Ontario where the story takes place. It is speculated it may have a deeper meaning, but I won’t go into that. Oh, and this week’s “coincidence” is that Munro’s birthday is just a few days after this posting, July 10th. So, happy early 83rd to Alice Munro! 🙂

Two other Deal Me In participants this year have read Munro, both choosing her short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” but what about you? Have you read any Alice Munro? What do you think of her, and what recommendations do you have for further reading?

(Below: Alice Munro)

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Deal Me In – Week 15 Wrap Up

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Below are links to the stories I found that are new since last week’s wrap up post. If I’ve missed one, or if you finished after my publishing this, you may share a link in the comments and/or I will include it next week. Until then, happy reading!

Oh, and as always I encourage everyone to read each other’s posts, leaving a comment or “some other evidence” of your visit. 🙂

James read Haruki Murakami and Grace Paley: “A Perfect Day for Kangaroos” and “Zagrowsky Tells“, respectively. http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/04/07/grace-paley-meet-haruki-murakami-a-deal-me-in-short-story-challenge/

Dale read his four of spades entry, “Kaleidoscope” in Ray Bradbury’s classic collection, The Illustrated Man: http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/ray-bradbury-kaleidoscope/

Returning Reader’s nine of clubs was Dambuzdo Marechera’s story, “Oxford Black Oxfordhttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/short-story-15-oxford-black-oxford-dambuzdo-marechera/

My ten of diamonds led me from Transylvania to the Indian Ocean as I read Fredrick Marryat’s “The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountainshttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/the-white-wolf-of-the-hartz-mountains-by-frederick-marryat/

Katherine presents another “magical” post, featuring “Disillusion” by Edward Bryant http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/deal-me-in-week-15-disillusion/

Hanne drew “Richard Wagner’s two of hearts” (from what has become my new favorite novelty deck of cards) and read the Louise Eldrich story, “Love Snares.” http://readingoncloud9.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/love-snares-by-louise-erdrich/

If you’re looking for some extracurricular short story reading and are a fan of dystopian literature, check out my preceding post about the anthology, “Perfect Flaw.”