The Easter Egg by Saki

20140418-073520.jpg

I was looking around for some “Easter-type” short stories to read for this weekend and found one on line, H.H. Munro’s (a.k.a. Saki) “The Easter Egg” that I thought would fit the bill. I was actually looking more for stories in the “spirit” of Easter than this one turned out to be, but I’m glad I read it nonetheless…

Madame Barbara is ashamed of her son, Lester, who has proven time and time again that, unlike the “good fighting stock” of the family which he was born into, he has all the worst qualities of a coward. Saki describes Lester and his shortcomings wonderfully:

“As a child he had suffered from childish timidity, as a boy from unboyish funk, and as a youth he had exchanged unreasoning fears for others which were more formidable from the fact of having a carefully-thought-out basis. He was frankly afraid of animals, nervous with firearms, and never crossed the Channel without mentally comparing the numerical proportion of life belts to passengers. On horseback he seemed to require as many hands as a Hindu god, at least four for clutching the reins, and two more for patting the horse soothingly on the neck.”

If the hapless Lester were not offered some chance to redeem himself for his life of craven timidity, this wouldn’t be a short story worthy of Saki, though, would it? The opportunity presents itself when he and his mother travel to Knobaltheim “…one of those small princedoms that make inconspicuous freckles on the map of Central Europe.” It seems the Prince, a steadfast representative of the old guard of Europe and opposed to “progress” is coming to town for some grand affair. Among the gifts for this dignitary is the Easter Egg in the title of the story. But something seems not quite right about this and Lester is the first to notice…

I’ll leave the details for those industrious enough to read the story. I was particularly fond of the last lines of this story, which are quite good and almost goose-bump inducing. A very short story and worth a read.

The story may be read at http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/EasEgg.shtml

Or listen via YouTube at http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wc6EUa7Mra4

I own a copy of Saki’s collected stories, pictured above, but rather than dig it out, I read this one on line at the link provided above.

(below: Illustration from Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant”)

20140418-073613.jpg

Two other short stories I like to read around Easter are Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant”  and Leo Tolstoy’s “The Three Hermits” (which I also once blogged about here). Both are quite good and are appropriate for the season, I think.

Have you read any of these stories? What do you think of Saki’s works? Do you do any special reading around this holiday?

(Below: gratuitous picture of my Mom’s Easter Egg tree.  Did anyone else grow up with an easter egg tree in the house each year?)

 

20140418-073512.jpg

 

 

May Reading – The Month Ahead

I’m always interested in hearing what my friends are reading (this is why Goodreads.com is favorited in my browser). Maybe you are the same way? Here’s what I think I’ll be working on in May:

First, a few ‘required’ reads, including a re-read of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slapstick, for the monthly meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club. The club has covered all of his novels already and this will be the first “repeat” since I began participating. I think this was only the third Vonnegut novel I had read at the time of my initial reading, and – now that I’ve learned so much more of this author and his works – I’m really looking forward to revisiting it.

20130503-072826.jpg

20130503-072839.jpg

(above: the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s replica of Kurt Vonnegut’s study)

One of the reading groups at Bookmama’s Bookstore in Irvington is meeting on the 29th to discuss the second half of the Tolstoy Classic, Anna Karenina. I attended the first meeting, but have kind of left the daunting novel lie fallow for a few weeks. I need to pick it up again and see what happens to Anna, Vronsky, Constantin, & Kitty. When I finish this book, a serious gap (one of very many, I’m afraid) in my cultural literacy will finally be filled. I wouldn’t mind seeing the movie adaptation with Keira Knightley in the title role either…

20130503-073304.jpg

My Great Books Foundation discussion group is meeting on the 21st to discuss the famous Lawrence Sargent Hall story, “The Ledge.” It is also my turn to lead the discussion, so I plan to thoroughly read this one and be prepared.

(below: Lawrence Sargent Hall, author of “The Ledge”)

20130503-072916.jpg

I’ve also been reading Veronica Roth’s novel, Divergent, and may even wrap that one up this weekend. I’m liking it so far, but I admittedly have a thing for dystopic fiction. This one kind of feels like Harry Potter meets Hunger Games meets Brave New World. I know a few of my fellow bloggers were disappointed in the sequel, but enough of them also liked this one to cause me to take the plunge.  Oh, and it’s set in a post-apocalyptic(?) Chicago too (don’t you recognize Lake Michigan on the cover?), so as a midwesterner that’s a plus.

20130503-072930.jpg

What else? Oh, yeah, I hope to start reading The Shift Omnibus by Hugh Howey. It’s the anticipated prequel to the addictive “Wool” omnibus, which I tore through last month and have been recommending around to anyone who dares ask me. Someday I’ll post about “Wool” – if I can get my act together and write something decent.

20130503-072941.jpg

There are four Saturdays in May, so that means I’ll read four stories for my annual “Deal Me In” short story project. Which stories I read, however, will be determined by the luck of the draw, which is part of what makes this annual project so fun for me. That, and my line-up of fifty-two stories this year is perhaps my strongest yet. AND It’s not too early to starting thinking about coming up with YOUR OWN list of fifty-two stories for 2014 and join in the fun. Fellow blogger Dale at Mirror With Clouds is also doing the short story “Deal Me In” project with me this year.

Well, that’s about it for me (even though I will likely read a few random and unanticipated stuff too, as always). What about YOU, though? What will you be reading in May? I’d love to hear about your reading plans…

February Reading – The Month Ahead

I haven’t done one of these posts in awhile, but I thought I’d share what’s in store for me, reading-wise, in the month ahead…

Starting with my “required reading,” I have two books and one short story I’ll be reading for book clubs or discussion groups.

First, for the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library book club, we’re reading “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater.” This will be a re-read for me, as I read it last year “immediately” upon discovering it was the only one of Vonnegut’s novels that I hadn’t read. I look forward to giving it a deeper reading this time, though, in hopes of being better prepared to “discuss it intelligently” with the largely erudite membership of that group…

20130203-163057.jpg

I’ve also just started today in reading Willa Cather’s “The Professor’s House,” which is the February selection of a discussion group at a local library whose last meeting I crashed when I learned they’d be discussing Muriel Barbery’s “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.” I became hungry for more Willa Cather after reading her wonderful short story, “The Old Beauty,” as part of my annual short story reading project last year.

20130203-163618.jpg

Speaking of short stories, I’ll be re-reading Isaac Beshevis Singer’s classic tale, “Gimpel the Fool,” for a local discussion group/chapter of the Great Books Foundation. It’s been so long ago that I read this one the first time, though, that it will be practically the same for me as reading it for the first time. (Memory problems…)

(below: Isaac Beshevis Singer)

20130203-163800.jpg

Other, non-required reading includes Lloyd Alexander’s “The Prydain Chronicles” of which I began a “nostalgic re-read” of last month. I first read these books when I was but ten or eleven years old. The fact that they were written for younger readers has not diminished my enjoyment of them this time, though. I’m already on the third book (of five), and they’re quick reads so I also am padding my book total for 2013 (heh, heh).

20130203-163125.jpg

I’ll also have four short stories for my 2013 short story reading project that I’ll Knock off this month. In fact, I finished the first one yesterday (Poe’s “The Devil in the Belfry,” which I had never even heard of before today.) but there will be three more, decided – as always – by the turn of (hopefully) a friendly card.

What else? Oh, I’m considering reading Anna Karenina for a discussion at a bookstore in March, and it’s so long I’d better get started on it in February if I’m to have a chance at finishing it in time. Dale at Mirror With Clouds has said he’ll consider reading it along with me too – any other takers?

20130203-163629.jpg

One other book I’m intrigued with is “Generations of Winter” by Vassily Aksyonov, a novel that I first learned about via Ana’s review at Ana the Imp. I’m a long-time pushover for “anything Russian” (perhaps a relic from all those years playing chess, that favorite of Russian pastimes…) so this would be a natural choice for me too.

20130203-163113.jpg

That’s about it for me, although I’m sure I’ll read some other random short stories as well. But what about YOU? What books and stories are in your reading plans for February 2013?

“Three Are Ye, Three Are We…”

20111102-121311.jpg

Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “The Three Hermits.”

This is a great little short story that I first read back in 1994. It was part of an anthology I own called “The World of Fiction.” Essentially, it is an illustration of a point made in Mathew 6: verses 7&8:

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

***Spoiler Alert! Read no further if you would first like to read this story (linked below) for yourself. I urge you to, as it is only about five pages long***

An orthodox bishop is traveling by ship to the “Solavetsk monastery” with some pilgrims when he learns from a fisherman of an island inhabited by three devout hermits. His curiosity piqued, he persuades the captain of the ship to stop at this island and put him ashore so that he might meet these men. The bishop finds there three very old men, dressed in rags, with long beards, and one hardly able to articulate his words. The bishop proclaims he is there to “do what I can to teach you…” He asks them how they go about their prayers to save their souls and those of the rest of mankind. They respond, “We pray in this way, ‘Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.’ ”

The bishop surmises that they must understand something of the trinity but then advised them, “You do not pray aright,” and proceeds to teach them the Lord’s Prayer, which turns out to be an agonizingly slow task, due to their frail memories and vocal chords. When, finally, he thinks they’ve “got it,” he departs and wishes them well, no doubt quite pleased with himself. A while after sailing away from the island, though, he and the other passengers see a disturbance on the waves pursuing them very rapidly. Wondering what it might be, they soon realize it is the three hermits, gliding supernaturally over the water. They are despondent because they have already forgotten the bishop’s instruction and wish to be trained anew. A realization then hits the bishop and he says, ‘Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.”

Maybe what I like about this story is that the church official is actually able to see that his dogmatic approach to prayer may not be the best after all.

This story may be found free on-line in many places, one of which is linked here.

This is the second Tolstoy short story I’ve read this year for my project (the other being Master and Man). I still have neither read War and Peace nor Anna Karenina, choosing instead to test the waters with his shorter works first. What about you – have you read much Tolstoy? Do you think I would like W&P or AK?

Master and Man – a short story by Leo Tolstoy

For my fifth week of “Project: Deal Me In!” I drew the three of diamonds, which led me to the famous Leo Tolstoy short story, “Master and Man.” And how appropriate that I happened to read it this week, as winter has just dealt much of the country a staggering blow. Here in Central Indiana, our portion of this storm was mostly ice and sleet, making travel hazardous and even convincing me to work from home yesterday. What does this have to do with Master and Man? Well, this story by Tolstoy takes place during a blizzard in Russia (where I’m sure they would laugh at our reactions to this latest storm here in America).

*****Warning: some spoilers follow*****
The “master” and the “man” are – quite naturally – the main characters in the story. The master (Vasili Andreevich Brekhunov) and his servant (Nikita, a local peasant) strike out into the teeth of a strengthening blizzard (with the aid of perhaps the third main character, the I’ll-fated horse Mukhorty) so that Vasili can be the early bird and purchase a tract of land before his competitors know it’s on the market and react themselves. We learn a little of how poorly Vasili treats Nikita (perhaps an alcoholic, but currently “on the wagon”), and we also see, in contrast, how well Nikita tends to and cares for the horse.

Vasili’s single-mindedness in pursuit of monetary gains leaves him not very well-stocked with common sense. His eagerness to arrive at their destination leads him to try an imprudent short cut, and they get lost more than once (whenever anything goes wrong, in his mind it always somehow happens to be anybody’s fault BUT Vasili’s, where the true blame lies). After stopping at a small village not far from their destination, they decline offers to stay the night (well, Vasili declines on their behalf) and they strike out again, this time to get completely lost and stuck in a kind of ditch. Nikita advises there is nothing for them to do but spend the night where they are. Their sledge (carriage) is not big enough for them both to stay “inside” so of course Vasili takes shelter inside while poor Nikita and the Horse do the best they can vs. the elements.

The last few chapters detail what must be a very long night for everyone, and how they each deal with the situation tells a lot about them. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but in the end a familiar Tolstoy theme reigns, and we have kind of a not happy, but not completely sad either, ending on our hands. This story can be read for free online in many places, one of which is the link below.

http://www.fullbooks.com/Master-and-Man.html

What do you think of Tolstoy? Have you stuck to his shorter works (as I have us far), or have you read the imposing volumes, War and Peace and Anna Karenina? I did make a small step this year and actually purchased War and Peace, but I haven’t started it yet, even with the temptation of a couple bloggers hosting War and Peace read-alongside at present.

-Jay

February Reading – The Month Ahead

January was a good reading & blogging month. I discovered a new book that will likely remain among my all time favorites (A Prayer for Owen Meany), I wrote a personal record number of blog posts, I met some new and interesting fellow readers, the number of visitors to Bibliophilopolis increased by roughly fifty percent for the third month in a row, I discovered the Classics Circuit and have thoroughly enjoyed following it. A great month! Now… how can I “top it” in February? I probably can’t…

First of all, what will I be reading/finishing this month? Well, I have two reading obligations, one for my book club – Alex Flinn’s “Beastly”, which I’ve already read, but may read again since it’s short and I’d like to have it fresher in my mind for our meeting at the end of the month. For the KVML book club, we’re reading The Sirens of Titan. I can’t wait for that, as I’ve had it in my hands for awhile now, but the club kept picking other Vonnegut books to read. Then, I have to wrap up my Xenophon reading and write MY classics circuit post for this Friday. I have a couple hours of reading to go on that one. What else? Oh, yeah, the Bobby Fischer book I mentioned the other day in a post will be gobbled up quickly, I’m sure – as a “former(?) nerd chess player” I could probably read that thing in one sitting almost. Then there’s my short story project. I’m already a post behind (Raymond Carver’s, “Are These Actual Miles?”) and am currently reading Tolstoy’s “Master and Man”

That seems like a lot, BUT with the NFL season being over, suddenly I will have these huge, three to six hour chunks of time that I’ll no longer be “wasting” with my eyes glued to a television, so opportunities abound…

Soooo… what are you reading this month? Anything “good?” 🙂

-Jay