Deal Me In – Week 39 Wrap Up

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We’re at the three quarter post of the Deal Me In 2014 track and thus now in the home stretch. Below are links to new posts this week.

Dale read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/nathaniel-hawthorne-young-goodman-brown/

Randall read Ray Bradbury’s “Junior” http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/09/junior-by-ray-bradbury.html

Katherine read Joyce Carol Oates’ “The Hand Puppet” http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/deal-me-in-week-39-the-hand-puppet/

I read Leo Tolstoy’s “God See’s the Truth But Waits” but may not post about it. I did post about a remarkable non-DMI story, “Axolotl” by Julio Cortazar if you want to read something 🙂 https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/axolotl-a-remarkable-short-story-by-julio-cortazar/

Candiss checked in with an update ( http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/the-mathematics-of-a-post-free-blog/ ) and I for one am glad to hear she is still reading her short stories, even if there haven’t been any posts lately. 🙂

This is a non-DMI post of James’ but it does deal with short stories if you’d like to read http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/09/27/a-short-story-review-omnibus-with-carter-borges-russell-fitzgerald-lee-chandler-hemingway/

I missed Bellezza’s post last week about the Edgar Allen Poe classic, “The Black Cat” http://dolcebellezza.net/2014/09/21/the-black-cat-by-edgar-allen-poe/

 

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“Three Girls” – A short story by Joyce Carol Oates

Brushes with greatness

David Letterman used to have a segment on his show where he went into the audience and did quick interviews with “ordinary people” who had had a fleeting encounter with a celebrity. If I recall correctly, when the audience member finished relating his story, Dave would then read his show’s “writer’s embellishments” which added some more (comical, of course) flavor to the story. It was a popular segment (though not on the same level as his “stupid human tricks” -naturally!) and one of my favorites.

(Hoosier native David Letterman in 2011)

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The Joyce Carol Oates short story, Three Girls, from her great collection “I Am no One You Know” documents a brush with greatness that two young, college-age girls experienced. Told in a sort of flashback format and in the second person as one girl is years later recalling the story to the other, it was a compact and thought-provoking story.

The two girls – not named in the story – are in New York City at “Strand Used Books” at Broadway and Twelfth. And who should they see in the poetry section? None other than Marilyn Monroe! The famous actress is dressed down – almost like a man in a long overcoat – an obvious attempt to avoid recognition and the accompanying harassment that is so often the price of fame. The two girls are described by the one telling the story, who says, “we were not ’conventional’ females. In fact, we shared male contempt for the merely ’conventional’ female.” Until they meet Monroe in the store, they would have assumed that she was one of those “conventional females,” but as they watch her browse and peruse several books they begin to realize that she is not unlike them. “Here was the surprise: this woman was/was not Marilyn Monroe. For this woman was an individual wholly absorbed in selecting, leafing through, pausing to read books. You could see that this individual was a READER. One of those who READS. With concentration, with passion. With her very soul.”

(note: found the photo below at http://www.sandradanby.com/famous-people-reading-marilyn-monroe/)

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The two girls clumsily watch the star while trying to look like they’re not watching her. They begin to feel protective of Monroe, who has found at least a momentary anonymity in this bookstore which is a favorite haunt of theirs. Seeing the actress in a new light, they feel pity for her burden of fame. I particularly liked the following passage: “And that was the sadness in it, Marilyn Monroe’s wish. To be like us. for it was impossible, of course. for anyone could have told Marilyn Monroe, even two young girl-poets, that it was too late for her in history. Already, at age thirty (we could calculate afterward that this was her age) “Marilyn Monroe” had entered history, and there was no escape from it. Her films, her photos. Her face, her figure, her name. To enter history is to be abducted spiritually, with no way back.”

(below: author Joyce Carol Oates)

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A great short story, only about ten pages, but like almost all of Oates’ work that I’ve encountered, it did not disappoint. It had the added bonus in that this tale was missing that “dark element” that is prevalent in much of her fiction.

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I have found the “I Am No One You Know” collection to be a great group of stories and have posted about several of them before. (The Mutants, Cumberland Breakdown, and In Hiding to name a few) What are your favorite works by Joyce Carol Oates? Have you had a “brush with greatness” you’d like to share with the citizens of Bibliophilopolis?

(Below: actress Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits {her final film})

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Top Ten Tuesday – My “Favorite” Reads of 2012

Top ten books I read in 2012:

Top Ten Tuesday is an entertaining weekly meme hosted by the imaginative folks over at The Broke and The Bookish. It’s almost impossible to not want to compare one’s own list to others and seeing how many we have in common and/or realizing “I can’t believe I forgot to include X,” etc. It’s also a great way to discover new book blogs and learn about books that weren’t otherwise on one’s radar. Since there are now literally hundreds of participants, I usually pick a digit from zero to nine and try to visit at least the entries that end in that number, e.g. 3, 13, 23…

This week’s topic is “Top Ten Books I Read This Year.” It’s been a great reading year for me, and I’ve certainly read more than ten books that I enjoyed very much. So these are ten of those memorable books, counted down with #1 being my favorite.

10. Earth Abides by George Stewart

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I only learned of this 1949 sci-fi classic this year, but am glad I did. Though parts of it feel a little naive today, what with the explosion of post-apocalyptic literature, this book was a refreshing read and a trailblazing effort of that genre. I liked how in the post-apocalyptic world of this book, the survivors decide to start their new year on the winter solstice (hey, that’s coming up fast!) instead of the arbitrary January first. And how they “named” their years. E.g., “The Year the Dog Died” (sorry, the dog’s name escapes me as I’m typing this). Update: it’s Princess. “The Year Princess Died.”

9. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

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I never blogged about this book, but it was an interesting review of introverts and their place in the current world. Somewhat of an introvert myself, a lot of it rang true with me. Amusing also was the section discussing how many companies are moving toward the (more extrovert-friendly) “open office” concept, eschewing or limiting the number of traditional offices in favor of a cube-farmy feel. I lost my office to this whim last year. “It’ll foster team building and mentoring,” they said. It fosters me buying better headphones… 🙂 I was also reminded of a friend’s telling me of a definition of introvert/extrovert that I’ve always liked: “An extrovert gains energy through interacting with others, while in introvert loses energy.” I’ll second that.

8. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

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I just wrote about this one. (scroll down 🙂 ) I only discovered Murakami last year, but will likely devour his entire oeuvre before too long. I really enjoy his odd, supernatural-tinged writing.

7. Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd

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My 2012 “Author Biography” reading project never really took hold, although I did read a few, and this was my favorite of them. I blogged about this book earlier. Poe’s story is a tragic one…

6. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

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I had heard of this book “for ages” and finally got around to reading it this year. Some of the best writing I encountered, even if the subject matter wasn’t something I’d normally choose.

5. The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox by John Waugh

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A really great history of West Point’s 1846 graduates, many of whom were key players in the U.S. Civil War, including Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and George McClellan. I still hope to write a blog post about this one someday. I felt like I knew many of these people by the end of the book, and it was difficult to read about some of their deaths, Jackson’s in particular. I am rarely moved to the degree I was in reading it.

4. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

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Never blogged about this depressing book either, but it was such a great commentary on what our lives have become in “Corporate America” and “Suburbia” it’s hard to believe it was written in … 1962! This one hit home with me.

3. I Am No One You Know (short stories) by Joyce Carol Oates

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Some have argued that Joyce Carol Oates is an “acquired taste” and, if that’s true, I admit to having fully acquired it now. This book is a collection of short stories, many of which are quite powerful and all of which are extremely well-written. My favorite story might’ve been “The Instructor.” You should check out this collection.

2. The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

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Subtitled “and other tales of madness, love, and the history of the world from the periodic table of the elements,” this book was the most fun I’ve had reading non-fiction in quite some time. The title gets its name from an old chemistry lab trick – a spoon fashioned from the metal Gallium would look like an ordinary spoon, but since gallium has a very low melting point, if it were to be used to, say, stir one’s coffee, the spoon would disappear. (They should use this gag on an episode of Big Bang Theory)

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Atwood also wrote one of my favorite short stories of the year (“Significant Moments in the Life of my Mother”) and is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. This book is a dystopian masterpiece. I’ve started and stopped a post on it several times but seem unable to do it justice. I’ll keep trying. “Nolite te bastardes carborundurum!” 🙂

Well, those are ten of my favorites. I can’t wait to see what others have chosen as their favorites. Do we share any? Do you have recommendations for other books I might like based on these favorites? I’m all ears. 🙂

“The Mutants” by Joyce Carol Oates

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Still catching up on my short story reading project, I drew then ten of hearts today and was led to the Joyce Carol Oates story, The Mutants. I acquired this story when I bought her collection “I Am No One You Know” and other Stories. A couple years back, for one of my old book club’s annual “short story months,” someone had initially picked the disturbing Oates story, “The Girl with the Blackened Eye” but later changed her mind. After I had already bought the book. 🙂 No matter. I was simply left with another batch of short stories to explore, and I’ve read maybe half of them now. I have scheduled myself to finish this collection in 2012 though, so I guess I’d better get cracking on the remaining ones too.

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I have learned in my previous reading of Joyce Carol Oates that she pulls no punches and can write about anything, even something horrible, in a frank and matter of fact manner. This story was no exception. Based upon the title alone I had no idea what to expect from her with a story named, “The Mutants.” In fact, you probably could’ve given me a hundred guesses and I still wouldn’t have come up with “something related to 9/11″…

The protagonist of the story is a “dreamy, beautiful young woman of that genre, American Midwestern Blond, which indicates not so much a physical as a spiritual type.” Sounds like someone I’d like to know, but we don’t even learn her name in the pages that follow. Her name is not important to the impact of the story, which is one of those that have that great quality of indefinite-ness which allows a motivated reader to perhaps add some of the finishing touches himself.

The young woman is returning to her high-rise apartment in lower Manhattan one morning when she is shocked to see from the corner of her eye the startling image of a low-flying commercial jet – a prelude to the next instant when she is knocked to her knees from the power of the nearby impact. The rest of this very short story deals with her immediate reactions to the disaster. Readers are not told, directly, if she survives the coming hours or not (it seems there is damage to her building as well,) but we do learn how the story got its name:

“She was hollow-eyed and gaunt yet wakeful, no longer the dreamy-eyed blond. A mutant being, primed to survive. Were there not undersea creatures that acquired an extra set of gills, eyes on stalks of either side of their blade-thin heads, cunning in the desperation of survival…”

I presume Oates is saying that, in a way, the 9/11 attacks made mutants of us all (mutants in the simple, pure, non “sci-fi” meaning of something changed). This was a powerful story packed into just eight pages.

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The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates (a damn good writer…)

I took a break this past weekend from my “regularly scheduled” reading and read a book that I’ve had on my iBooks app for about a year. It’s Joyce Carol Oates’s novel, The Tattooed Girl. The funny thing is I don’t remember when I bought/downloaded it or why. I know last summer someone in my book club had picked a JCO short story for our short story reading month, and I seem to recall that I had foolishly/accidentally bought an e-copy of the book both on my Nook and my iBooks app. But now I only see The Tattooed Girl in my iBook library, and NOT I Am No One You Know, the short story collection. Maybe I had meant to download the one book and accidentally downloaded The Tattooed Girl. Regardless of all that, I am really glad I had, because I really, really liked the book. In spite of being pretty dark and often depressing, it is one of my favorites thus far this year.

In addition to the title intriguing me (yes, I may be that shallow when it comes to girls and tattoos 🙂 at least that’s what some of my friends would argue… ) in the midst of the Stieg Larsson books’ juggernaut, the storyline was interesting to me too. Described in the Goodreads.com summary as a tale of “dark passions, prejudice, and the strange forms love can take” it also included several themes of interest to me, personally (in addition to the aforementioned tattoo fascination). The main character, Josh Siegl, is an introverted, middle-aged scholar who has, several years ago, written a best seller about the holocaust, and a family’s tragic navigation of that event. Although now working on a new translation of Vergil’s epic poem, The Aeneid, he has been “drifting” for some time now, and is also beginning to experience symptoms of a neurological disorder. Though “in denial” about his condition, he does decide to take the drastic (to him anyway) step of hiring an assistant. His various neuroses, however, lead him to find a reason to avoid hiring any of the qualified applicants. Something of a “cold fish” Oates says of him at one point, “He hated raw emotion, melodrama. He hated the willful sabotage of reason, the triumph of the blood.” Now that’s good stuff…

Enter Alma, the title character, who Siegl meets while she is working in a bookstore. Though not very literate, she somehow catches his attention and interest, and she ends up becoming his assistant. We the readers have met her previously when she wandered half-starved into a cafe where Siegl frequently plays chess, meeting there the waiter Dmitri, a predatory, bitter, small-time criminal/pimp amalgam. He pays her enough attention to win her confidence and make her fall in love with him. This allows him to use her, as pretty much everyone has all her life. (in a nice touch, Oates has the Alma character coming from a Pennsylvania town – perhaps based upon the actual town of Centralia – which an underground coal mine fire has rendered a nearly literal hell on earth).

Dmitri’s influence helps poison Alma against Siegl, leading her to adopt his anti-Semitic and holocaust denial views and opinions. Siegl is for a long time ignorant of her anti-semitism and continues to treat her kindly. Both of them experience personal growth as a result of their association, but the reader is unsure if the growth will be enough to overcome Siegl’s illness and Alma’s prejudice. I hoped for a happy ending. Whether or not that hope was in vain I’ll leave for you to find out if you choose to read this excellently written novel.

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“In Hiding” – a short story by Joyce Carol Oates

Yes, I have become addicted to reading a short story in the morning as part of my routine. Now that my “required reading” of short stories for my two book clubs (both meeting today!) has been exhausted, I am turning to a couple other collections I have loaded and ready on my Nook reader.

The first is Joyce Carol Oates’ collection, “I Am No One You Know,” which I purchased because I thought one of the stories was going to be part of my book club’s short story month in July. However, the member who had originally picked a story from that collection (the disturbing “The Girl With the Blackened Eye”) retracted it and picked something else. Too late for me, as I had read it anyway, but now I am left with a whole book of Stories to nibble on in the mornings.  Below: Joyce Carol Oates

The second is William Trevor’s collection, “After Rain,” which was brought to my attention by one of my favorite bloggers, Ana, over at Ana the Imp (a link to her awesome blog is on my blogroll “to the left”) Her blog is often about history and politics, but I have also found her insight on books helpful, and she has yet to steer me wrong. I’ve only read the first story in this collection, but I’m sure I’ll be posting on some of them as time goes by. Below: William Trevor

Back to today’s story. ****SPOILER ALERT!**** “In Hiding” is about a “single mom” poet/writer who finds herself beginning a correspondence with an inmate serving a life sentence (he claims to be innocent, naturally) who has poetic ambitions of his own. Though hesitant, she allows the correspondent relationship to slowly grow, and he sends her more and more poetry and excerpts from his diary. She is painted earlier in the tale as a typical low self-esteemed person; her husband – who she was surprised would ever like her in the first place – left her and she is now living (hiding?) in a small town in New York. I guess this is why she willingly engages in this correspondence.

She sends the inmate some paperback books and other collections of poetry, and even inquires with various publishers about the possibility of publishing some of his poetry, but without success. Eventually, their correspondence lessens to a trickle and then stops. She speculates that perhaps he has found another correspondent and is actually relieved. Some time later, she receives a form letter from an “Innocents Defense Fund” – or something of the like – requesting financial assistance in the inmate’s interest. She sends $500, receiving another form letter that thanks her. She begins to feel that her contribution was too small and sends another $1,500. Another thank you – another form letter – follows.

Nothing happens until one day, looking out the front window of her house, she sees a strange car with out of state license plates in her neighborhood. Something tells her “it’s him” as it creeps past her house and turns right further down the block. It returns shortly after and slows to a stop in front of her house. A man gets out, looking very much like the photos that the inmate had sent her. She retreats to an inner room of the house in fear, and there is a knock on the door. She waits, but then in horror hears her son answer the door (she has forgotten that it’s Saturday, and he is home). He seeks her out In her “office” where she has slid into a closet-like alcove, and the story ends with his inquiry, “Why are you hiding, Mom?”

Short and sweet. I like that how the story ends – or at least what happens next – is left to the reader.

Have you read any Joyce Carol Oates? What do you think of her as a writer?