Deal Me In – Week 52 Wrap Up

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We’re finally at the end of DMI 2015. Congrats to all who have made it this far! I’ve really enjoyed sharing the challenge with everybody and am appreciative that many have already re-upped for another year. As reading challenges in the blogosphere go, I think this one has a lot going for it, both practically (as to the “reading burden” it imposes) and entertainment wise (all the authors you are exposed to via your own reading and reading others’ posts). I think we’re up to fifteen or sixteen sign-ups for 2015, and I expect a few more will straggle in (as they did last year). I also realize we’ll lose a few to attrition and the demands of “life,” but that is the way it goes with blogging…

I’d also like to thank those ‘core members’ of our group who have already visited and commented on some of the newcomers’ rosters – and encourage others to do so as well if they have the time and feel so inclined. I think we have a nice little informal community here and growing it a little bit would not hurt.

Anyway, on to the new posts this week:

Dale was introduced to Katherine Anne Porter via her story “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/12/26/katherine-anne-porter-the-jilting-of-granny-weatherall/

James compared and contrasted Joan Didion’s “Where the Kissing Never Stops” and “Don’t Call it Syphilis” by Jessica Mitford (and who says the DMI’s randomizing hand of fate doesn’t have a sense of humor!?) http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/12/26/joan-didion-vs-jessica-mitford-a-deal-me-in-short-story-non-fiction-special-edition/

Katherine read Kevin J. Anderson’s “Just Like Normal People” http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/deal-me-in-week-52-just-like-normal-people/

Randall read Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/12/everything-that-rises-must-converge-by.html

(And be sure to checkout Randall’s “mini-reviews” of his advent calendar stories while you’re there.)

I read “Maurice Broaddus’s “A Stone Cast Into Stillness” from my Dark Futures anthology. Dark was right! https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/a-stone-cast-into-stillness-by-maurice-broaddus/

That’s it for this year. “Deal Me In 2014 is dead. Long Live Deal Me In 2015!”

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Deal Me In – Week 29 Wrap Up

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An exciting week for me in my role as Deal Me In host, as a couple more bloggers have raised the Deal Me In banner! Please take a moment if you can to check out the following two blogs and welcome them to the “Wonderful World of Deal Me In” 🙂

New Deal Me In-ers:

Randall at Time Enough at Last has launched his “Deal Me In Litehttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/deal-me-in-lite-introduction.html

Deal Me In hits Tasmania! Check out this post by Pam at Travelin’ Penguin: http://travellinpenguin.blogspot.com/2014/07/sunday-market-and-short-stories.html

As an “extra” this week, I also discovered an old song via Pandora that “deals” with a subject familiar to Deal Me In participants. Perhaps a little on the “too spiritual” side (for relative heathens like me), it’s still a fun listen. Tex Ritter, I believe, recorded the original, but here’s Hank’s take:

Hank Williams version of Deck of Cards: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gib-V-FQAT0

On to this week’s posts:

Susan reviewed a couple stories, Jimmy Buffett’s “Take Another Road” and “I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever” on Goodreads.com: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/849506616?book_show_action=true&page=1

Katherine read “Every Mystery Unexplained” by Lisa Mason and introduces us to “The Blue Room Illusion” with a video http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/deal-me-in-week-29-every-mystery-unexplained/

Randall (new Deal Me In’er – see link above for his roster) posted about his first three stories:
Ray Bradbury’s “All on a Summer’s Nighthttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/all-on-summers-night-by-ray-bradbury.html
John Barth’s “Toga Partyhttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/toga-party-by-john-barth.html
And Edward Everett Hale’s “My Double and How He Undid Mehttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/07/my-double-and-how-he-undid-me-by-edward.html
And – just like that – he’s all caught up in his Deal Me In “Lite” (six-month) variation of the challenge!

I read another Alice Munro story “Axishttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/chekhovs-gun-thoughts-on-axis-a-short-story-by-alice-munro/

Dale “laughed and cried” when he read Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything that Rises Must Converge” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/flannery-oconnor-everything-that-rises-must-converge/

That’s it for this week! Happy reading!

Deal Me In – Week 23 Wrap Up

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Below are links to new posts and reviews since our last update. We’re nearly at the halfway mark of Deal Me In 2014! Please take a moment to visit and read the posts of your fellow challenge participants.

Susan read a few more stories from Alaska Traveler and commented on them at Shelfari: http://www.shelfari.com/books/32614884/Alaska-Traveler-Dispatches-from-Americas-Last-Frontier/reviews/4517561

Returning Reader shares two stories: Milly Jafta’s “The Homecoming” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/short-story-22-the-homecoming-milly-jafta/ and the Flannery O’Connor classic “A Good Man is Hard to Findhttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/short-story-23-a-good-man-is-hard-to-find-flannery-oconnor/ As an added bonus, the latter includes a link to an audio recording of the author herself reading it.

Dale read G.K. Chesterton’s “The Song of the Flying Fish” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/g-k-chesterton-the-song-of-the-flying-fish/

I read Mary Gaitskill for the first time and found her story “The Other Place” extremely good, if disturbing… https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/mary-gaitskills-the-other-place/

Katherine read an Edgar Allen Poe story featuring “detective” Auguste Dupin: “The Mystery of Marie Rogethttp://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/deal-me-in-week-23-the-mystery-of-marie-roget/

Candiss merges Deal Me In with Angela Carter Week ( http://beautyisasleepingcat.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/angela-carter-week-8-15-june-2014/ ), reading that author’s “The Fall River Axe Murdershttp://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/deal-me-in-challenge-angela-carter-week-the-fall-river-axe-murders-by-angela-carter/

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson

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Back in early 2006, after repeated recommendations by my friend Jim, I finally read Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series. In case you’re not familiar with the series, one of the themes is that of a world that has run down, a civilization that has decayed to the point that it could hardly be called one any more. At one point, in one of the later books, the hero Roland stumbles upon a kind of “control room” where apparently the conditions of the world of his and his companions can be adjusted by changing the settings on the room’s control panels. Now, the fact that our lives are governed by forces beyond our ken is certainly not a new one (see Homer, for example) but this technological manifestation of a control room was a neat twist that I hadn’t encountered before.

What I think I’m coming to realize now, the more I read, is that many authors have access to such a control room of sorts – one that not only changes the destinies of the characters themselves, but also the laws of nature or rules of the world they inhabit. Many of the stories in Kevin Wilson’s collection, “Tunneling to the Center of the Earth” take place in a world whose conditions have been tweaked ever so slightly. Behavior and environments that “could never be” in The Real World are present, and present with such a light touch that even a stodgy reader is able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the stories nonetheless…

Of the eleven stories in the book, only a couple didn’t “do it” for me. Of the remaining nine, there are some real treats. “Grand Stand-in” deals with a woman who works for a kind of rent-a-grandmother service for families whose children don’t have a grandmother and are thus robbed of the experience. (See? Not part of the world we live in, but not that far removed from reality.) Things go swimmingly for the stand-in Grandma until she gets a new “assignment” for a family whose grandma is… still living.

Another favorite was “The Museum of Whatnot,” featuring a young woman who works in a museum of curiosities. Her mother is concerned that she’ll “never meet a man” while working in such an oddball place, and it seems she may be correct – until a doctor begins visiting every day, just to look at the museum’s collection of spoons…

“The Shooting Man” is the darkest of the tales, but also quite effective. It would not be out of place in a collection of Flannery O’Connor short stories:  A husband is insistent that his wife go with him and his friends to see a traveling sideshow-type performance that includes the famous “shooting man” – who appears to shoot himself in the forehead every night for curious audiences. She doesn’t want to go, but eventually relents. Predictably, she finds it gruesome and distasteful, while he becomes a bit too curious to learn what the “trick” is.

The title story involves three recent college graduates who, searching fruitlessly for some aim in life, having “devoted our academic careers to things we couldn’t seem to find applicability to the world we were now in.” So (why not?) they begin to tunnel in the backyard of one of their parents’ homes…

Probably my favorite though was the longest story titled “Go, Fight, Win” whose main character is a sixteen year old girl who is the “new girl” at school, and whose mother pushes her to try out for the cheerleading team. “Penny” doesn’t really want to, but does so for her mother’s sake, or perhaps just to get mom off her back. Add to the mix a strange and precocious neighbor boy and Penny’s obsession with building plastic model cars (Aha! That story finally explained the book cover picture) and the result is a great story. I enjoyed this short book and was also impressed with how convincingly he wrote from the female voice in some of these stories.

Has anyone else read any Kevin Wilson? I first heard about him last July through Melody’s blog, Fingers and Prose.

(Below: author Kevin Wilson. Looks an awful lot like poker player Tom Dwan!)

The author’s website may be found here.

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A Few More Short Stories I Read in September

Three more short stories…

I’ve already posted this month about a couple of short stories that I read for my annual project, those being “Reunion” by Maya Angelou and “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut by” J.D. Salinger. My habitual short story schedule is to pick and read one each Saturday morning. There were five Saturdays in September, so what were my other three stories? I’m glad you asked…

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First, I read Margaret Atwood’s “Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother.” Originally published as part of her collection “Bluebeard’s Egg and other Stories,” this was probably my favorite of the three. It reminded me a lot of Marilynne Robinson’s novel, “Gilead,” which I have also read recently. The narrator recalls stories told to her by her mother, and admits that, as a child, she hadn’t yet realized “that she (her mother) never put in the long stretches of uneventful time that must have made up much of her life: the stories were just the punctuation.” I loved that. Aren’t we all, armed with our own stories, just like that as well? I found Atwood’s writing beautiful, and her attempts to explain the difficulty of writing about a past age ring so true. She says, “It is possible to reconstruct the facts of this world – the furniture, the clothing, the ornaments on the mantelpiece, the jugs and basins and even the chamber pots in the bedrooms, but not the emotions, not with the same exactness. So much that is now known and felt must be excluded.” I found this story in my anthology “The World of Fiction” edited by David Madden. A great collection of close to one hundred stories.

(below: Margaret Atwood)

Second, I read a Flannery O’Connor story titled, “Parker’s Back.” What could this story title mean? Some sort of ‘prodigal son returns’ theme I assumed, with Parker being the star. Well, knowing O’Connor I should have know it would be a dark tale, and it was, though not as “bad” as others of hers that I’ve read. We meet O.E. Parker in the midst of a domestic squabble with his wife. I liked the opening sentence: “Parker’s wife was sitting on the front porch floor, snapping beans.” I’ve done that! Several times in my youth while visiting grandparents, a batch of green beans straight from the garden would be distributed amongst a few of us to begin preparing them by breaking them into ‘bite size’ units. A great memory and one that made me feel at home in this story immediately. Of course, that was the only part of the world spun by O’Connor in this story that was comfortable.

(below: Flannery O’Connor)

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The title of the story comes from the fact that Parker is covered in tattoos, but only on his front, his back remains untouched. Self-centered at his core, he has no interest in tattoos on his body that HE can’t see. He came by his obsession by seeing, when a child, a tattooed mad at a carnival whose varied tattoos created a beautifully artistic “arabesque” wrapping his body. Parker’s tattoos are less artful: “Whenever a decent-sized mirror was available, he would get in front of it and study his overall look. The effect was not of one intricate arabesque of colors but of something haphazard and botched.”

Flashbacks tell us the story of how he met his strictly religious wife (she thinks of his tattoos as “Vanity of vanities”) and at the end of the story he finally decides to get a tattoo to cover his back. A tattoo that could not help but please his wife, he thinks. If you’ve read much Flannery O’Connor, you know this won’t turn out well… I found this story in another anthology, The Norton Anthology. One benefit of this anthology is that each story is followed by a handful of ‘discussion questions.’ The one’s following this story weren’t the greatest though, but one did touch on the handling of chronology in the story – how do the glimpses back into the prior lives of the characters add to the story, etc.

The third, which I just finished, from my “Short Story Masterpieces” anthology, was John Cheever’s “Torch Song.” A famous title, and one that I’d certainly heard of, but I had remained ignorant of the work of Cheever (with whom I share the same initials and – I just learned today – birthday) until I read his great short story, “The Swimmer” earlier this year. I really liked this story for the most part, but it turned dark in – I thought – an unpleasant way toward the end. It follows the lives of two friends, Jack and Joan, two New York residents who came there from the same home town in Ohio. I understand the term “torch song” to refer to a love song that laments an unrequited or lost love and perhaps this is indeed the meaning in this story. Jack and Joan were never lovers, yet they crossed paths often in their lives and, as a reader, even though they always seemed married or involved with someone else when they met, I kept thinking, “C’mon, Jack, you should find a way to get together with this girl.” In fact, I was a little reminded by their relationship of the characters Jake and Brett from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, for whom I had a similar feeling. I was disappointed with the direction that “Torch Song” took, however, and though I found Cheever’s writing to be great (as it was in “The Swimmer”) I didn’t like this story as much as the other two.

(John Cheever)

So, that about wraps up my short story reading in September; only twelve more for me to “deal” with this year now. What short fiction did you consume this month? I’d love to know…

(I participate in The Short Story Initiative hosted by Nancy at Simple Clockwork. If you are a regular – or even occasional – reader of short stories, please check out her site and share with the rest of us what you’ve read.)

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(Pictured below: three of my many short story anthologies; they were already somewhat battered when I bought them second-hand, but some of their condition is due to my frequent use as well…)

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Six down, Forty-six to go…

Each Saturday morning this year, I draw a card from my short story deck to randomly see which of my 52 planned stories I will read next. When I’m good I read the story the same day, but I often fall behind. I was good this week, though. 🙂

I am also enjoying how the hand of fate often seems to pick a story that is somehow appropriate for me at the moment. This morning, for instance, I woke up in a pretty good mood. There’s nothing better to “bring you down” than a Flannery O’Connor story, though, and now my mood is back to a more normal middle of the curve…

“The Geranium” was O’Connor’s first published short story and was one of the six that she submitted for her masters thesis in the creative arts. It’s also part of the collection, “Everything that Rises Must Converge.”

***Spolier Alert***

It’s a depressing story of an older man (“Old Dudley”) who has left his home in the South to live out “his declining years” in New York with his daughter. Moving was a rather spontaneous decision that he now regrets, and made partially just because when he was a boy he had seen New York in a picture show, “Big Town Rhythm.” We don’t get the impression that his daughter much cares for him other than taking care of him is “doing her duty.” Dudley had never imagined how alien a place The Big City would be to him and longs for his carefree days fishing on the river back home and using his daily catch to supplement the fare at the boarding house where he was living before the move.

The city is also a place he doesn’t fully understand. He got lost once on a simple errand to get groceries down the street. The “underground train” (subway) is a mystery to him, and it seems they always “just have time to make it” whenever they must catch one. He is shocked when he learns that seeing a black man in the hallway of his daughter’s building doesn’t mean that one of the other tenants has “got ’em a nigger” but rather the man is possibly going to rent the apartment next door.

One small joy that helps keep him going in this strange environment is looking across the gap between his daughter’s apartment building and the next and seeing a potted pink geranium. The neighbors, who he doesn’t know, put out the geranium every day about ten and take it in at five-thirty.

As you might guess with an O’Connor story, though, his one lifeline to happiness comes crashing down by the end of the story, and what lies behind where the geranium would sit is a rude, nameless neighbor who threatens Dudley about looking into his apartment, warning him that, “I only tell people once.” What Becomes of Dudley after this we can only guess, but the reader must know that there is now a finality to his “big city unhappiness.”

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A Good Short Story is Hard to Find (unless you’re reading Flannery O’Connor)

A couple Wednesdays ago, I ventured to the far north side of Indianapolis to attend a “book discussion group’ (is there a difference between that and a book club?) meeting at the Carmel Public Library. The book to be discussed was Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find and other stories.” Up until a few weeks ago, the only O’Connor I had read was the famous title story, which seems ubiquitous among the many short story anthologies that I’ve read. Viewed by itself, that particular story is pretty strange, and if I were left with that as my only exposure to O’Connor I would much likely have an altogether different opinion of her than I do today.

Reading a collection of her stories taught me that the morbidity I encountered in A Good Man is Hard to Find is part of her writing style, and the more stories I read, the more I got used to it and began to expect how the stories might turn out. A common theme is that many characters generally begin pretty sure of themselves and their view of the world, which later becomes shattered by degrees or sometimes in one fell swoop. This collection contained ten stories, primarily in the 12-20 page length, with one longer one of about thirty-five pages.

I learned also, that O’Connor was a master of the simile, sometimes “one-liners” and sometimes a bit more lengthy. A few favorite examples:

“(he was) frail as a dried spider”
“(they were) as silent as thieves hiding.”
“(his) stare seemed to pinch her like a pair of tongs.”
“his knees worked like old hinges.”

“The graduates in their heavy robes looked as if the last beads of ignorance were being sweated out of them.” “She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity.”
“His mind had frozen around his grandfather’s treachery as if he were trying to preserve it intact to present at final judgment.”
“(his eyes) were alert but quiet…as if they belonged to one of the great guides of men. He might have been Vergil summoned in the middle of the night to go to Dante…”

Aren’t those great? I also enjoyed some of the names that she assigned the characters, which often reflected their natures. There may for instance be found among them a Mrs. Hopewell, and a Mrs. Cope. Other names are less thinly veiled, like a Mr. Shiftley, who is indeed “shiftless.”

All in all, I enjoyed the stories and the discussion. Though a large group (nineteen!), every one was well behaved and willingly listened to the opinions of others. I learned that they meet the first Wednesday of every month, and I hope to “go back for more.” They’re next reading the best selling novel, Cutting for Stone, and I’m already about a hundred pages into that one (I’m reading it concurrently with my own book club’s August book, The Historian, and, at this point anyway, Cutting for Stone is “winning”…)

One other quick note regarding something that reading O’Connor has made me think of: the author lived a relatively short life, dying when she was only 39, and the body of her work consists only of two novels and two collections of short stories (of which – the latter format – she is widely recognized as one of the masters). I thought that, unlike many other favorite authors, her “oeuvre” is manageably finite. I.e. One could read all she wrote and even become an “expert” or scholar of her work much more easily than other more prolific authors.

How about you all? Have you experienced Flannery O’Connor’s stories? What do you think of them?

P.S. I just realized I didn’t even talk about the omnipresent religious themes in her work. I suppose that would have to be a topic for another, much longer post… 🙂

below: Flannery O’Connor’s trademark bird…

August Reading – The Month Ahead

Hard to believe that it’s already August(!) but… I must not dwell on that while there is plenty of reading that needs to be done :-). I am keeping up a five books per month pace so far this year (36 completed thus far), and I luckily have several books that are partially read that will make it easier to get five done this month. Here’s a recap:

Already started:
We Make a Life by What We Give by Richard Gunderman – this collection of essays on philanthropy (by a former college roommate no less) is taking me awhile to get through. Each essay, though they only average about 10-14 pages, takes me an Hour or so to digest fully since they are so thought provoking. I think I only have about 7 more to go though and fully hope to add this to the completed list this month.

A Good Man is Hard to Find (and other stories) by Flannery O’Connor. I’m reading this for a book discussion this week up at the Carmel Library (north side of Indianapolis). I’ve only got about 75 pages to go and hope to wrap it up tonight. I spent some time yesterday reading a little biographical info about O’Connor too, so hopefully I won’t be the biggest ignoramus at this discussion meeting… 🙂

Book Club books:
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This is the reading selection for my primary book club (meeting 8/25). It’s one I picked and have wanted to read for quite awhile, but the reviews I’ve seen on goodreads.com have been a little mixed, and I worry that either I (or worse, the other members of my club) won’t like it. It’s a bit longish too, but the one fellow book clubber who’s read it swears it’s a fast read. We’ll see.

“A Book to be Named Later” by Kurt Vonnegut. I missed the last Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club meeting, which was “just” a continuation of June’s discussion anyway, so I’m not sure yet what the next selection is. A strategically sent email or two should yield me the answer soon, though.

Others:
Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov. I enjoyed his autobiography so much last month that I went and read Foundation immediately after (it’s a short book). Foundation and Empire is the second book of the original Foundation trilogy and I’m sure I can make room for it is month.

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope. I need to get back to my mini-project of reading Trollope’s Barsetshire Novels” – especially if I’m to “keep up with the Joneses” (actually “the Anas” since my blogging colleague, Ana the Imp, is reading his Palliser Novels…) http://anatheimp.blogspot.com/2011/07/vixens-tale.html

What Else? Well, I simply must get back and caught up on my “Project: Deal Me In” and read a bunch of designated short stories. (as usual I’ve fallen woefully behind in a project, both in its execution and its record keeping) I’m sure there may also some random, wild card books that will pop up – as they always do. And of course I’m always open to SUGGESTIONS FROM READERS too. Got any? Even if you don’t, I’d love to hear what you’ll be reading in August…

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