Deal Me In Doubleheader: Weeks 32 & 33 – “Your Book: A Novel in Stories” by Cathy Day and “More Than the Game ” by Barbara Swander Miller

I’ve fallen behind pretty egregiously in Deal Me In, so I’m going to combine my week 32 & 33 selections in one post. Both selections were by Indiana authors so I’m also counting this as a “Reading Local” post. Now in its fifth year, Deal Me In is an annual short story reading challenge (explained here). My list of stories I’m reading this year, with links to those I’ve posted about, may be found here.

Unlike week 31’s selection, my week 32 story was a perfect fit for the Indy Writes Books anthology. The three of diamonds led me to the fascinating and delightful Cathy Day story, “Your Book: A Novel in Stories,” which traces a kind of life cycle of an author’s book and even the author herself.


Among other things, it follows the various ways that “the word gets out” about books (goodreads, word of mouth, seeing a friend or stranger reading a book you’ve heard of, etc.). In this regard, I know much of what’s in the story is true because I’ve witnessed it myself over the years. We readers often forget that we’re consuming a finished product that has undergone quite a history just to get to the point where it’s fallen into our hands. I think the following is a good representative passage from the story when dealing with this process:

“She loves the stories inside the books, yes, of course, but she also loves the stories outside the books, which is the story of how a book travels from the author’s imagination into the reader’s imagination. To do so, it must travel a vast maze called commerce, and your editor has devoted her adult life to understanding that maze, which is why she lives inside it and inside this office, even when she isn’t physically there.” 

 
Three of diamonds image from http://eprints.utas.edu.au/6843/

For my week 33 story, via the ten of hearts, I returned to the “Hoosier Hoops and Hijinks” anthology, tackling Barbara Swander Miller’s “More than the Game,” a story that is a mystery not in the whodunit sense, but rather a young man’s exploring why there was such a rift between his father and recently deceased grandfather, who was a standout basketball star for the local “Red Rollers” basketball team. Young Tim is just beginning to become interested in basketball and has begun to regularly participate in a local pickup game with other youths – a scene repeated countless times all over my state and one in which I participated in myself when I was young. Tim also experiences – or hallucinates? – a couple spectral encounters with his grandfather and old teammates that lead him to discover his grandfather has bequeathed “a box” to Tim, that his dad doesn’t want him to have…


I was a little surprised at how different this story was from the others I’ve read in this anthology (two of which are part of my 2015 deal Me In roster, one of which (“Fallen Idols”) I’ve already posted about.

What short stories have you read recently? Have you ever tried a “reading local” focus to your reading plans?

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“Small Planes Flying Low” a short story by Victoria Barrett

IMG_6026Above: officials inspecting the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103

I drew the four of diamonds for week 27 of the Deal Me In challenge. In this challenge, at the beginning of the year, participants pick fifty-two stories to read and assign each to a card in a standard deck of playing cards. Draw one every week and you’re done at the end of the year. The randomized order of the reading sometimes presents interesting coincidences, which I enjoy. An explanation of the challenge is here. My list of stories for 2015 is here. My lists for prior years are on the sidebar.

Four of diamonds pillow found at https://www.onekingslane.com/sales/12928

I own a copy of this story as part of the “Indy Writes Books” anthology, a fundraising publication of Indy Reads Books that features Indiana writers and donates its proceeds to local adult literacy programs. Bibliophilopolis is happy to be one of many sponsors of the project.

Those writers contributing material to Indy Writes Books were asked “to contribute work that had something to do with reading, writing, literacy, books, or bookstores,” and the story I read this week qualifies by taking place in a comic book store called Cosmo’s, where our young female protagonist, Rae, is employed. (Although the world of comic books and those who are passionate about them is not one I’m very familiar with, my brothers and I did accumulate a box or two of them when we were kids so, armed with that credential, I pressed on with the story…)

The story takes place in 2001 and is sparsely populated with just a few characters – Rae, Joel (the store owner), two adolescent male customers, Devin and Jackie, and Camille, who has a crush on Joel and works in another shop that Cosmo’s shares a strip mall with. Initially, there didn’t seem to be too much to the story other than some typical teenage banter between the customers and Rae, or the Boss-employee dynamic between Joel and Rae. But then a report comes on the Radio that Al-Megrahi, a Libyan terrorist, has received a life sentence for his role in the Pan Am 103 over Scotland in 1988. Rae is unfamiliar with this historical event and Joel explains to her that “300 people” were killed in the incident.

This – at least momentarily – sobers up the occupants of the store as Rae ponders the magnitude of such a tragedy. She is sure she couldn’t even name 300 people, a number which “was like her whole universe multiplied by eleven.” The story ends with a little spat between Rae and Joel, which she regrets, musing that “She felt safer here than anywhere else. Three-hundred people are a whole universe, but so was Cosmo’s.”

I liked the story and appreciated that the name of the store is both a person’s name (“Cosmo” – you know, like Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld) and a homonym for Cosmos, meaning the universe (you know, like Neil deGrasse Tyson’s or Carl Sagan’s) . I also enjoyed playing the “What Does The Story’s Title Mean?” game with this one, and must admit I don’t fully know. A Google search of the phrase “small planes flying low” yielded some conspiracy theory-related hits, and also the information that such a group of planes is one recommended way to overcome anti-aircraft and radar-aided defense. There is, of course, a plane in the story, but I’m not sure if the title phrase relates to that incident or not. I’m also not sure if I mind not knowing the true meaning of the title, as it’s fun to speculate about. 🙂

IndyReads-Covers5

If the Indy Writes Books anthology sounds like something you’d be interested in, please consider purchasing a copy. More info may be found at http://www.indyreads.org/indy-writes-books/

What interesting short stories have you read lately?  Can you think of any books or stories where you have been unable to determine the meaning of the title?

Magnificent Obsession – a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas

2015/02/img_5408.jpg(A “READING LOCAL*” post)

*One of my reading goals for 2015 was to read more works with a local connection, written by Indiana authors or maybe written about or taking place in (or near) my home state. I thus peppered my annual Deal Me In short story reading challenge’s roster with Indiana authors and also have in mind several novels as well. I was pointed to many of these longer works by Dan Wakefield’s introduction to the Indy Writes Books anthology, which I posted about in early January. This novel was one of those. It’s now an early favorite for my favorite book of the year.

**some spoilers follow**

“(I) hope this youngster will be able to realize how valuable a person he is,” said Dr. Bliss… “now that he has had his life handed back to him at such a price.”

Published in 1929, Magnificent Obsession was a refreshing break (from reading more contemporary authors) for me and recalled to my mind several other classic works. In brief, it’s the story of Robert Merrick, whose early life mimics that of countless other children of privilege. His grandfather – a great character who I loved – was a self-made millionaire, and the success of his company, Axion Motors, assures that no one in his family need “work” for a living again. “Bobby” is in full possession of this knowledge and behaves accordingly. For a while. Things change when he is injured in a boating accident and saved by a breathing apparatus borrowed from the house of a Dr. Hudson. What’s remarkable about that? Well, as the apparatus is being used to save Merrick’s life, the doctor himself is fatally stricken and could have been saved if HIS apparatus were not being used elsewhere.

(below: the edition I own)

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Dr. Hudson was also the head of a neuro-surgical hospital – the same hospital that Merrick is taken to for treatment. The doctor was much loved and the staff of hospital naturally harbor some resentment of their young patient, whose life had been saved at the cost of their beloved colleague and friend. The staff behaves professionally, however, and keeps this information from him as long as possible, but he can sense something is wrong and eventually learns the truth from Nancy Ashford (another great character!), Dr. Hudson’s ultra efficient and matronly – though still relatively young – assistant who pretty much ran the business of the hospital. A long talk with Nancy leads Merrick to decide to dedicate his life to becoming a doctor himself in an effort to repay what he’d stolen from the world via Hudson’s death. This becomes the “magnificent obsession” in the title. Or at least one magnificent obsession.

The novel includes a tortured and convoluted – yet somehow still quite functional – plot that I think even Thomas Hardy would have been pleased to count among his own. It includes Hudson’s daughter, Joyce, a “wild child” herself who knew and had been interested in Merrick off and on before the accident. There’s Hudson’s young widow, Helen, who Merrick meets – not knowing immediately who she is to him – and “rescues” from driving her car off the road into a ditch (& I never cease to be amazed how charming and beautiful – and unattached! – women are unfailingly cast into the paths of literary protagonists. If only real life were so accommodating!). Douglas’s narration of their initial meeting in this way was one of my favorite passages of the book. Just as important, there’s Dr. Hudson’s “secret journal” discovered by Mrs. Ashford and Merrick. Written in cypher, it is slowly decoded and reveals Dr. Hudson’s “secret of success” – a kind of “pay it forward” approach to life based on the gospel of Matthew (chapter 6, verses 1-4).

“Take heed that Ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have the glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth. That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”

Worth noting is that Douglas began writing novels later than most, after spending time working as a minister. Though a bit of a heathen myself, I do like the sentiment of giving in secret. It seems too often philanthropy is engaged in as much for the recognition as to help those in need. I wish more people would understand that “verily” good deeds have their reward.

The book reminded me a little of 1918’s The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (another Indiana writer) in that involved the emerging automotive industry and the redemption of a formerly idly rich protagonist. It also called to mind the literary classic “Pride and Prejudice” in how Merrick, with his bottomless wallet, was continually putting things right in a Mr. Darcy-esque way – all in service of the lovely Helen Hudson, who liked him initially – until SHE found out who HE was to her. I’ll also admit that some of the books plot turns and twists were a little too convenient to be believable – which usually draws my ire as a reader – but somehow that never really bothered me in this book.

(below: an older edition – apparently the cover artist thought Robert Merrick must look like Tony Curtis…)

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Have you read Magnificent Obsession? Or anything else by Douglas? I think I may give “The Robe” a try this year too – maybe it and “Ben Hur” would be a good Easter time reading mini-project. We’ll see.  Maybe you’ve seen the blockbuster movie version of Magnificent Obsession, starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman? After reading up a bit on it, it sounds like it has some major differences compared to the book. Should I give it a try?

“El Estocada” by John David Anderson

For week 2 of The 2015 Deal Me In short story reading challenge, I drew the five of diamonds. (An explanation of the challenge may be found here. You can also check out my complete list of stories I’ll be reading in 2015 if you’re interested.) 2015/01/img_39191.jpg

El Estocada

We see it all the time in sports. The relentless questions posed to aging superstars on ’the wrong side of thirty’ – “Have you lost a step?” “Do you still have enough arm strength to make ’all the throws?’”, etc. Having these reporters nipping at one’s heels must be incredibly exasperating, and if sports superstars fall victim to them surely superHEROES would face the same challenge. Such is the case for The Sentinel, a past his prime superhero guardian of the city where this story is set.

2015/01/img_5336.pngWe meet him in a bookstore, where he is enjoying some quiet moments just “perusing” – an activity in stark contrast to his normal, superheroic duties. Though enjoying some down time, he is troubled by a recent encounter with a reporter who suggests that The Sentinel ‘allowed’ an old couple to die during an attack of an arch-villain. When The Sentinel points out that he had saved a school bus full of children instead of the elder victims, and that he had to make a choice, the reporter suggests that, in his younger days, The Sentinel was fast enough to have saved both of them. This earned the reporter a broken and bloody nose, something The Sentinel regrets. Just a little, though.

The action in this story takes place mainly in the bookstore when The Sentinel spots a young woman sitting in the store reading the newspaper. He is immediately attracted to her: “She wore a magenta dress with gold swirls embroidered into the hem, the straps revealing sharp shoulders and toned arms. Her hair reminded him of tree bark, with its layers and undulations, its palpable topography. He wondered what it smelled like.” Not exactly a conventional description – tree bark(!) – but who am I to guess what a superhero’s thoughts would be like. The Sentinel’s encounter – and its aftermath – with the woman completes the story in a way I found quite satisfying.

I was also curious about the meaning of the title so I had to ’research’ it before reading. I’m no expert on bullfighting (what little I know is from Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and from following the big annual international chess tournament that used to be held in Linares, Spain) but the term “estocada” refers to the final thrust of the sword of a matador which kills the bull. This title is quite appropriate for the story in multiple ways, including a bit of a surprise ending…

(below: the legendary bullfighter, Manolete)

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I recommend this story and the antholology “Indy Writes Books” that includes it. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, it may be purchased at Indy Reads Books bookstore in downtown Indianapolis or online. Worth noting is that all proceeds from the sale of the anthology go to support adult literacy programs in Central Indiana. (Oh, and “full objectivity disclosure”: Bibliophilopolis is also a “First Edition Sponsor” of this book 🙂 )

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