September Reading – The Month Ahead

What reading do I have planned for September? Let’s start with my “required reads.”

The Great Gatsby by. F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Yes, I’ve read this before (at least once) but my “Great Books” discussion group is reading this for our September meeting. We usually discuss shorter works, but we don’t meet over the summer and for September’s meeting it is traditional to read a novel. That’s what they tell me, anyway, I haven’t been a member for that long yet. 🙂

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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This is the September selection for the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club. In honor of “National Banned Books Week,” we read a book that has suffered the ignominy of being banned. Last year it was Huckleberry Finn. I’ve read this before too. Twice. It will be interesting to see what my fellow KVMLBC members, an intelligent group, will have to say about this one. I always learn a lot at these meetings. It’s a good choice, too, with Bradbury having just passed away earlier this year.

Speaking of re-reads, I’m doing a nostalgic re-read of Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes – a favorite from my youth. Look for a post on this around the middle of the month. Fellow blogger Dale at Mirror with Clouds is also re-reading. Why not join us?

I’m also reading Pandora by Joanna Parypinski. A just-published first novel. After reading a short story of hers in an anthology a few months ago, I stumbled upon her blog and, since she is a graduate of Butler University (here in Indianapolis, just down the road from my office) thought I’d “support the home team” and read her book. I’ve already started and am enjoying it thus far.

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What else? Well, there are five Saturdays in September, and that is the day of the week I draw a card to pick which of my fifty-two scheduled short stories to read. The Queen of Diamonds led me, on September 1, to Maya Angelou’s “Reunion,” which I just posted about. Four more to go, though, and I look forward to learning which ones fate picks for me this month.

There’s also my neglected “Author Biography” 2012 reading project. I have a Charles Dickens bio (Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin) queued up in my e-reader, but haven’t been able to get into it yet.

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That’s about it for me. So, what are YOU reading in September. I’d love to hear about your reading plans…

-Jay

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?

“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?

“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…