Deal Me In – Week 50 Wrap Up

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This reading challenge is not a sprint but a marathon – and we’re nearing mile 26… Below are links to new DMI posts since the last update.

Dale finally got another baseball story as his six of hearts led him to Zane Grey’s “The Manager of Madden’s Hill” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/zane-grey-the-manager-of-maddens-hill/

Below: Zane Grey

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For Randall, it was the three of spades and Ray Bradbury’s story “Hopscotch” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/12/hopscotch-by-ray-bradbury.html

Katherine drew the queen of diamonds and read Edgar Allan Poe’s story “Te Facts in the Case of M. Valdermar” http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/deal-me-in-week-50-the-facts-in-the-case-of-m-valdemar/

I read a new-to-me author’s story, Carol Anshaw’s “The Last Speaker of the Language” https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/the-last-speaker-of-the-language-carol-anshaw/

Two weeks to go! Our next draw will actually determine the order our next two stories :-). Look for a post from me in the next week “officially” announcing DMI 2015. Hopefully we can have as great a group of participants as we’ve had this year.

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Deal Me In – Week 36 Wrap Up

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New Deal Me In Posts This Week:

Randall shares a funny(!) tale from Edgar Allan Poe, “The Angel of the Odd” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-angel-of-odd-by-edgar-allan-poe.html

James reads Haruki Murakami’s “The Year of Spaghetti” and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Arrangers of Marriage”http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/09/02/haruki-murakami-vs-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie/

Dale tries on Junot Diaz for the first time, with that author’s story, “Edison, New Jerseyhttp://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/junot-diaz-edison-new-jersey/

Katherine read Raymond Feitz’s “Geroldo’s Incredible Trick” http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/deal-me-in-week-36-geroldos-incredible-trick/

I read Nikolai Gogol’s signature story, “The Cloak
https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/the-cloak-by-nikolai-gogol/

Other Short Story-related links:

Are short stories “annoying buzzing insects set upon this world” to distract writers from longer works? Interesting article. http://www.locusmag.com/Roundtable/2014/09/anton-strout-guest-post-the-eternal-epic-struggle-of-novels-vs-short-stories/

Nice interview with Margaret Atwood (I love her) and her new short story collection. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/qa-margaret-atwood-on-her-new-collection-stone-mattress-maddaddam-and-how-to-kill-a-man-in-the-arctic/article20375640/?page=all

I particularly liked the following quote from her:

“I talk about money and artistic excellence and there’s only four forms: There’s a good book that makes money, there’s a bad book that makes money, there’s a good book that doesn’t make money, and there’s a bad book that doesn’t make money. So of those four, the first three I can live with.” 🙂

Margaret Atwood

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Another review of the upcoming Atwood release is at http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-stone-mattress-by-margaret-atwood-book-review-these-short-stories-are-razor-sharp-9700477.html

I’m a big fan of this series and it has contributed many stories to my Deal Me In short story decks. The 2014 edition comes out next month. http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/pageviews/review-best-american-short-stories-2014-exhibits-writing-storytelling-best-blog-entry-1.1923816

“Hop-Frog” by Edgar Allan Poe

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(above: an African Bull-Frog. I love this picture – although I suspect in this Poe tale, it more resembles the King than Hop-Frog!)

What is a punishment suitable for a king? And I don’t mean a good and benevolent king, but one who “…does not scruple to strike a defenseless girl?” (and the punishment must also serve for his seven ministers who “abet him in the outrage”) Leave the answer to Edgar Allan Poe, and his character, Hop-Frog, via whom the punishment is dealt…

(below: I found a lot of great, old illustrations for this story on-line; most were not spoiler-free, but the three I included are. 🙂 )

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The story “Hop-Frog” was first published in 1849. I was familiar with it only by means of its curious title, which I had heard mentioned multiple times over the years. Yesterday morning, curiosity finally won out, and I opened my e-book, “The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe”…

Poe begins with some brief history about the tradition of court jesters or “fools” and also speculates on why, apparently, most humorous men are fat men. “Whether people grow fat by joking, or whether there is something in fat itself which predisposes to a joke, I have never been quite able to determine; but certain it is that a lean joker is a rara avis in terris.” Certainly at this time of year, there is one certain public figure which provides evidence in favor of this observation.

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But back to the story… The hapless “Hop-Frog” has the misfortune of being a jester for a thoughtless and cruel king. Captured from his homeland, along with the sweet girl, Tripetta, who was “very little less drawfish (than Hop-Frog) although of exquisite proportions, and a marvelous dancer,” Hop-Frog lives out a persecuted existence in the king’s service. He earned his name from only being able to “get along by a sort of intersectional gait – something between a leap and a wriggle – a movement which provided illimitable amusement… to the king” The silver lining to his condition, though, was “the prodigious muscular power which nature seemed to have bestowed upon his arms, by way of compensation for deficiency in his lower limbs,” which “enabled him to perform many feats of wonderful dexterity, where trees or ropes were in question, or anything else to climb.” This proves to be a valuable skill in this story, which becomes one of revenge.

The stage is set when the king begins planning a great pageant of masquerade entertainment and wants suggestions from his dwarf. When they are not quickly provided, the king forces Hop-Frog to drink wine to “make him merry” so that humorous ideas will be more quickly forthcoming.

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Hop-Frog hates to drink due to the ease with which he is overcome by alcohol. Tripetta knows this, and attempts to intercede when a second drink is about to be forced upon the dwarf. For her trouble, she is thrown violently to the ground, and – amid laughter – the goblet of wine dashed in her face.

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Seeing his only friend treated thus, Hop-Frog seemingly remains calm, but the beast has been awakened. He skillfully plots his revenge, beginning by suggesting the king and his ministers take for their part in the masquerade a jest from his own country, called “The Eight Chained Ourang-outangs.” They eagerly agree, and so their fate is set…

Read the story on-line at: http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/eapoe/bl-eapoe-hop.htm  I now count it a new favorite among his many, many great stories. Not as well-known as his most famous dozen or so, but of equal merit in this reader’s opinion.

Other Poe on this blog:

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

The Devil in the Belfry

The Cask of Amontillado

Poe: A Life Cut Short

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

And – for the trivia points: what is it with Poe and Orangutans? I’ve just – for a book discussion in a couple weeks – finished another famous story of his where they play a prominent role – do you know which one I’m talking about?? 🙂

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Poe’s “The Devil in the Belfry”

“It was a bright cold day in 1839 and the clock was striking thirteen…”

Do you recognize this sentence? Probably not exactly, as I have sacrilegiously tweaked the first sentence of George Orwell’s classic novel “1984.” I often ponder the genesis of literary works and wonder how accurately – if indeed at all – their lineage may be traced. Was Orwell familiar with the following story?

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I was unaware of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Devil in the Belfry” until this past Saturday morning. As is my custom I drew a card from my deck representing my 52 short stories in my annual reading project and was presented with the two of spades. This year “deuces are wild” in my project, so by my “rules” I am allowed to pick any story I want as long as I try to stay within the guidelines of the suit. This year spades represent “stories of a darker nature,” and I was happy to comply.

It’s funny how I decided to pick this story, though. My place is (almost literally) littered with short story anthologies, many of which specialize in “dark” stories. Saturday morning, I had returned to my toasty bedroom to read (it was bitterly cold overnight) and realized I didn’t bring any physical books with me, AND that my iPad (also full of material worthy of the spades suit) and iPhone (loaded with the same Nook app) were now down the hall in my living room charging up. Looking around, I saw my original iPad. Though not as up-to-date with my nook library, it was fully charged and did include The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe. And isn’t that all one really needs if he wants to laze around in bed reading a bit before starting his day?

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First published in 1839, this was a truly odd story. It was reminiscent to me of something by Washington Irving, who liked to describe the old (often Dutch) towns of New York State. Poe’s town is in a Dutch borough called “Vondervotteimittis”* (Yeah, I had trouble pronouncing that too, more on this in a minute…) and is kind of a seventeenth century Shangri-La, where nothing much has changed in the collective memories of its inhabitants. It is a well ordered community, where the houses are all essentially the same, as are the crops and even the personalities of its citizens. The dwellings are built in a circular formation, surrounding the borough’s pride and joy, its beautiful, seven-faced clock in the steeple of the “House of the Town Council.” It has seven faces, naturally, so that it may be readily seen from any dwelling in the surrounding village.

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Regularity and uniformity have been carried to the extreme in this place, however, and the reader suspects that a town whose three precious resolutions are: “…it is wrong to alter the good old course of things,” “There is nothing tolerable outside of Vondervotteimittis,” and “…we will stick by our clocks and cabbages” is in for some kind of rude awakening. That reader would be correct.

The story may be read on line at http://www.eapoe.org/works/tales/dvlbfyd.htm
If you don’t care to read it, proceed to the spoilers.

***Spoiler Alert***
The existing order is overturned one day when several inhabitants notice a strange personage approaching their town from the surrounding hills. The ’person’ is carrying a fiddle “five times his size” and heads straight to the bell-tower, and attacks the belfry man. The inhabitants are too under the routine spell of the clock (by force of habit, they must count along with it as it rings out the 12 o’clock hour) to stop this devil’s actions. Once the tower has tolled for the twelfth time, though, they are ready to act – only to be confounded when it rings thirteen. The borough is thrown into chaos, and Poe ends the story with an “appeal to all lovers of correct time” to at some point march en masse to evict this devil in the belfry to restore order…

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Here I must also admit that I’ve never read Orwell’s 1984 (yet another serious gap in my cultural literacy). Perhaps this Poe story – which I viewed mainly as just as interesting curiosity – was “sent” to me to remind me to rectify this cultural literacy gap.

Are you familiar with Orwell’s famous novel? Do you know if he was aware of this Poe story? Why do you think the novel begins with the clock striking thirteen? I eagerly await edification.

*say “Vonndervotteimittis” out loud and see what it sounds like… Did you get “Wonder what time it is?”

(below: Charlie Daniels. – The Devil Went Down to Vonndervotteimittis???”)

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“There is still one door of freedom open…”

Today (December 3rd) marks the 118th anniversary of the death of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). Coincidence (or was it something “more?”) led me to draw the seven of spades for my short story reading project, which led me to his short story, Markheim. I own this story as part of my volume “Great Ghost Stories of the World.” Published in 1885, it was somewhat reminiscent of Poe’s stories “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat,” both written about forty years earlier. Also clear is the influence of Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” published shortly before Stevenson’s story was written.

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**spoilers follow** (If you’d like to first read this story, one place you may do so on line for free here.)

“I seek a Christmas present for a lady.”

So tells the title character to an aged shopkeeper. This is just a pretense, however, as his real intent is of a criminal nature – to rob and plunder the old man’s quarters located above the shop. This plan could hardly be accomplished without incapacitating the shopkeeper in some way. Markheim chooses the most extreme way, stabbing the man to death when he turns to replace an item on the shelf.

Almost immediately Markheim is plagued by paranoia and fear of being discovered. Every sound from the street outside and every creak of the old house seems to him to point to a potential witness or discoverer of his actions. As Stevenson eloquently describes, “Time, now that the deed was accomplished – time, which had closed for the victim, had become instant and momentous for the slayer.” He even considers abandoning his scheme and escaping the neighborhood by “plunging into a path of London multitudes.”

His respect for “the practical” eventually persuades him that to leave now after “…having done the deed, and not to reap the profit, would be too abhorrent a failure.” He heads upstairs to search for the man’s stash of money. Soon, though no one has entered the locked building, he hears a step mounting the stairs. “What to expect he knew not, whether the dead man walking, or the official ministers of human justice, or some chance witness blindly stumbling in to consign him to the gallows.”

Whether his visitor is the devil himself (as Markheim believes) or a corporeal manifestation of his own conscience, we aren’t told for sure, but Markheim finds himself defending his “life’s work” as not his own fault, and that he was instead forced into his actions by circumstance and fate. His visitor at one point says that “Evil, for which I live, consists not in action, but in character.”

Their debate naturally causes a re-evaluation by Markheim of the path he has chosen. He claims that “…this crime on which you find me is my last,” but his visitor knows better and seems to convince Markheim that he is deluding himself on that score.

An early arrival home of the shopkeepers servant-girl forces Markheim to a decision. Does he continue his evil ways or not?

“He… went downstairs slowly,thinking to himself. His past went soberly before him; he beheld it as it was, ugly and strenuous like a dream, random as chance-medley – a scene of defeat. Life, as he thus reviewed it, tempted him no longer; but on the farther side he perceived a quiet haven for his bark.”

A good story. I didn’t find it as engaging as Poe’s work mentioned above (or Dostoevsky!) but it was an effective study of guilt and remorse – AND the possibility of redemption.

I’ve written about Stevenson a couple times before – about the novel, “Prince Otto,” and in general related to Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde How about you? Any thoughts on Stevenson or the topics covered by this story?

A Spark of Genius, Quenched in Misery

Early in his biography, “Poe: A Life Cut Short,” Peter Ackroyd relates that, a few weeks before his death, Poe had admitted “I do believe that God gave me a spark of genius, but He quenched it in misery.” After reading this short biography (only 140 pages), I would have to agree.

Ackroyd has also written a well-received biography of Charles Dickens, and it was actually that book I was looking for when I stumbled upon this Poe biography. I went ahead and read it first, as I’ll admit I like to follow “the hand of fate” whenever it presents itself to influence what i’ll read next. I’m so glad I did, as I learned a lot about this famous author (1809-1849). I was surprised and saddened to discover what a struggle his life had been, not knowing he had spent most of it destitute (and I mean REALLY destitute) and had actually earned most of the little money he did earn through his work as an editor rather than a writer. The estimated total amount he had actually earned from his books – in his entire life – was less than I earn in average day. Admittedly, this does not allow for the change in the relative value of the 19th century dollar to that of the 21st century one, but we could change it from a day to two or three months and it remains a pitiable fact.

I had known, for example, that Poe had been at West Point but was dismissed (he had come to realize he didn’t want to “waste the prime of (his) life in service” and had thus tried to resign but wasn’t allowed. Ackroyd humorously relates that later Poe’s “plan to leave the Academy, through dereliction of duty, succeeded admirably.” (& reading – even just briefly – about Poe’s time at West Point also served to rekindle an interest of mine in a temporarily abandoned read, “The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomatox” which I have once again picked up and am making good progress again now. Thank you, Mr. Poe and Mr. Ackroyd.)

Another common thread in the biography was that Poe’s life was strewn with women he lost to (often premature) death. His own mother, his de facto adopted mother, and his young wife later in his life. Echoes of these losses reverberate through his work, and in all likelihood greatly influenced the morbidity and horror that suffuses his most famous tales and poems.

I was reminded also of Poe’s great influence over subsequent literature. His stories, The Purloined Letter, and Murders in the Rue Morgue are universally acknowledged as the birth of the detective story in literature. His stories of fantasy are thought to also have influenced those patriarchs of science fiction, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. And his poetry remains influential to this day. Quite a legacy for one man, wouldn’t you agree? Particularly one who died when he was only forty years old!

Like so many great artists, though, Poe wrestled with the demon of alcohol abuse. It was repeated by many that knew him that he didn’t necessarily drink often, but when he did, he couldn’t stop. His inability to control his demons led him to his premature death in somewhat mysterious (how fitting) circumstances. Baudelaire wrote once that Poe’s death was “almost a suicide – a suicide prepared for a long time.”

My old book club once devoted a meeting to several of his short stories and poems, and it remains one of my favorite meetings that we ever had. What are your thoughts about Poe? Are you also a fan, or is he too macabre for your tastes?

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(Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849; in this biography, the author commented several times on Poe’s phsyiognomy, and on how one side of his face was quite different from the other.  I had never really thought about that until now, but I can see what he’s talking about in most photographs or portraits)

Back on Schedule with my Short Story Reading

I completed three short stories this weekend. Two for my “one story per week” project (which I’m now caught up on again) and one for a “Great Books” discussion group meeting this evening. I’ll just mention them briefly here, maybe writing more about one or two of them later.

First, I read the sci-fi tale, “Instinct” by one of the household names of that genre, Lester del Rey. This is a tale of the future, where humankind has died out and the “alpha race” of the planet is now robots (robots!). Apparently, there is an ongoing project to re-create man as the robots have learned that the. One thing they are “missing” in their existence is a kind of instinct. Some interesting moments, but not one of my favorites from all the short stories I’ve read recently. You may know I have a random method of choosing the order in which I read my 52 selected stories. Sometimes this leads to strange coincidences. Last week was also the much-anticipated release of the debut CD of future(?) alternative music star, Lana del Rey (no relation).

Secondly, I read Haruki Murakami’s “The Mirror” from his collection of short stories, “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.” This one was quite short, but Murakami packs quite a punch in just a few pages. This is the story of a man who worked as a night watchman, and after being in a gathering of people who shared each of their ghost stories, is compelled to tell his own. The ghost he encounters on his rounds one night turns out to be just his own reflection in a mirror (or is it?). Some great moments here, my favorite of which is when he seems to realize that, instead of what he does being reflected in the mirror, he senses he is being compelled to mimic the actions of his counterpart… Spooky, good stuff.

The third tale is the classic Edgar Allan Poe story, The Black Cat. Like the more famous “The Tell-Tale Heart,” it involves a man trying to hide the evidence of his crime, only to unwittingly reveal it due to guilt or overconfidence or supernatural reasons. The narrator is a condemned man of questionable sanity and a clear victim of alcoholism, which ostensibly leads him to his crimes. There is also some mechanical similarity to “A Cask of Amontillado” (wink, wink). Good reading.

Have YOU read any good short stories lately?

Blast from the Past I

This is my first post of a new category: (I.e. When I don’t get much reading done on my current books so I talk about something i’ve read in a prior year…)

The book I want to talk about now is The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe. Back in October, my book club had an “Edgar Allan Poe Month” where we read a selection of his shorter works. My old paperback of Poe works also had several other Poe stories which were not part of our club’s reading list, and the long story above was one of them. I believe it is EAP’s longest work.

What was memorable to me were the meticulous descriptions of the privations endured at sea after a mutiny and storm left the protagonist and a few others with no water & provisions (cannibalism even makes an appearance – ugh!). Then, late in the book, the story takes a sci-fi turn featuring hollow-earth theory overtones. A peculiar, short little novel, but I enjoyed it very much.