#24in48 Update #1:

If you read my last post, you know I’m participating in the “24in48” challenge this weekend, the goal being to spend 24 of the 48 hours (between midnight Friday to midnight Sunday) reading. I’m spicing up my challenge by playing a mini-game of Deal Me In, with 24 short stories each assigned to a card in a euchre deck of paying cards. My list of stories I’ll be reading is in my previous post.

I got up extra early today and have read five stories so far. I’m also going to rate the stories using the rank of cards in the trump suit in euchre, from “Right Bower” (the best, i.e. “five star” rating) proceeding downward from Left Bower, Ace, King, Queen, Ten to a “nine” as being my equivalent of a one star rating. (I doubt any stories of this poor quality made it past my screening process, but we’ll see.) A quick recap of the first five:

Story #1 “The Dead Hand Loves You” – Margaret Atwood: the first card I draw is a forty-two page story?! Wow. Probably the longest of my deck. This was a great story, though. A “starving writer” makes a deal with his three college roommates, who he owes 3+ months rent to, that he’ll split any proceeds of the novel he’s working on with them if they forgive his debt and extend his residency another month. No one expects his work to have any market value but, lo, he writes a cult horror classic!

My rating: Ace

Story #2 “Lusus Naturae” – Margaret Atwood

I learned a lot of vocabulary with two Atwood stories right out of the gate! I didn’t know or had forgotten that lusus naturae is a term for freakof nature, which describes the (unreliable?) narrator of this shorter Atwood story. The family of a child who would be more at home in a circus side show is Embarrassed by her and fakes her death so that the rest of them, including a sister hopeful of making a good marriage, may have a chance at a normal life. Things are going okay until the neighbors find out…

My rating: Left Bower

Story #3 “The Power of Words” by Edgar Allen Poe

The deck of cards I’m using for this project features “animals” and the one I drew for this story has a butterfly on it. Appropriate, since this Poe “story” is really more like a dialog from the Greek Philosophers, the subject of which would today be called “The Butterfly Effect”

My rating: Queen

Story #4 “The Domain of Arnheim” by Edgar Allen Poe

It’s true that it was “in Xanadu did Kublai Khan a stately pleasure dome decree” but Poe’s insanely rich character, Ellis, searches the world for a suitable place to create a work of art from nature, which by the end of the story we learn is the titular “domain.” I was unaware of this Poe story before today, but it is one that made quite an impression on me.

My rating: Left Bower

Story #5 “The Beauties” by Anton Chekhov

Shout out to my blogging colleague at Short Story Magic Tricks for piquing my interest in this one last week. There’s not much a “plot” here, it’s almost more of an essay on the effect the beauty (feminine beauty, in this case) can have on a man. You know when Chekhov writes something like “I saw the bewitching features of the most beautiful face I have ever met in real life or in my dreams,” that you’re in for a treat of a story.

My rating: Ace

That’s where I stand now at about 730am. How is YOUR 24in48 Readathon proceeding? Have you read any of these five stories? Okay, enough time wasted… I’m “going back in!” See you after five more stories. Maybe. 🙂

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“Revenant” by Margaret Atwood

I drew the two of hearts for week 26 – the midway point! – of Deal Me In 2015. Deuces are wild, and hearts is my suit “for women authors only” so, having recently started Margaret Atwood’s newly minted collection, Stone Mattress, I thought reading the second tale in that book an appropriate choice. For a brief summary of how Deal Me In challenge works, see the 2015 sign up post. If you want to see what my 52 stories for 2015 are, check out my roster.

After reading and doing some minimal research, I learned that the first three stories in the book (“Alphinland,” “Revenant,” and “Dark Lady”) actually, when read together, make up a tidy little novella. In “Alphinland” I met the author character, “Constance” who made a killing writing a wildly popular fantasy series which lent its name to the story title. In “Revenant” I met Gavin, who was married to Constance, but now is in the twilight of his life, in ill health (he’s become “an atrophied bundle of sticks and twine”) and – as a “literary” author himself – somewhat embittered by the enduring fame of his former wife’s work.

In “Revenant” Gavin is now “under the care” of the latest woman in his life. Her name is Reynolds, and her “babying” of him got on not only Gavin’s nerves, but this reader’s nerves as well. Gavin’s recalling his somewhat lecherous past fuels the first part of this story, but the main “action” takes place when a pretty young female graduate student visits Gavin and Reynolds in their home. Apparently she has based her thesis on some of the great writer’s work (as Gavin reacts: “Thesis on my fucking work,” he says. “Christ defend us!”). Or that’s what he thinks at first.

The story – and the others in this collection from what I’ve heard – deal with the issue of aging and not always in a happy way, it seems. Atwood also takes some time out in this story to comment on an aspect of the current state of high education: “’Every halfwit has an M.A. They’re like popcorn…’ ‘Tiny little kernels,’ he says. ’Superheated in the academic cooker. The hot air expands. Poof! An M.A.” Not bad, he thinks. Also true. The universities want the cash, so they lure these kids in. Then they turn them into puffballs of inflated starch, with no jobs to match. Better to have a certificate in plumbing.'” Pretty damning, huh? I guess we should also remember that these are the grumblings a of a bitter old man, though.

I’m not so “in tune” with the publishing world that I often await an author’s new book with great anticipation. I guess it’s happened a couple of times with series, but those are rare cases.  When I learned last year that Atwood had this short story collection “coming out in 2015,” however, I began counting down the days. I have been so impressed by everything I’ve read by her so far, particularly The Handmaid’s Tale and The Robber Bride. Since all these stories have to do with aging, and its effect on us humans, I’m sure I’ll find them fascinating. Though she’s got more than a couple decades on me, at seventy-five Atwood speaks from authority on this subject and has gotten me thinking a little more about the subject of aging than maybe I’d like to. 🙂 Nonetheless, I look forward to reading the rest of the stories in this collection.

What is your favorite Margaret Atwood work?

Playing card image from http://playingcardcollector.net/2013/07/18/kashmir-playing-cards-by-printissa/

Deal Me In – Week 45 Wrap Up

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New posts this week from the DMI crew:

Coincidentally, with me also reading The Martian Chronicles this week, two of us drew a Ray Bradbury story from their Deal Me In deck.

Dale read “Some Live Like Lazarushttp://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/ray-bradbury-some-live-like-lazarus/

And Randall read “Let’s Play Poisonhttp://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/11/lets-play-poison-by-ray-bradbury.html

The avalanche of stories from Returning Reader continues:
1) Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Eva is Inside Her Cathttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/short-story-30-eva-is-inside-her-cat-gabriel-garcia-marquez/
2) the Ernest Hemingway classic “The Snows of Kilimanjarohttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/short-story-31-the-snows-of-kilimanjaro-ernest-hemingway/
3) Anton Chekhov’s “Gooseberrieshttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/short-story-32-gooseberries-anton-chekhov/
4) Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales
http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/short-story-33-a-childs-christmas-in-wales-dylan-thomas/
5) Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa’s “An Unexpected Deathhttp://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/short-story-34-an-unexpected-death-ungulani-ba-ka-khosa/

Katherine has exhausted her hearts suit after reading Robyn Carr’s “Natasha’s Bedroomhttp://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/11/08/deal-me-in-week-45-natashas-bedroom/ There’s also a magic trick video featuring her card 🙂

I missed Halloween by one day in drawing Ambrose Bierce’s ghost story, “Beyond the Wall” (I got goosebumps) https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/11/08/beyond-the-wall-a-ghost-story-by-ambrose-Bierce/

Candiss posted about Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endinghttp://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/deal-me-in-challenge-story-45-happy-endings-by-margaret-atwood/

Some other short story content from the week that I found interesting:

Have you heard of author Ron Rash before? I hadn’t, but this collection sounds like it would be at home on my bookshelf http://www.thedailynewsonline.com/entertainment/article_6fa4c738-66d1-11e4-9fcb-dfce161211a2.html

Great article about an event in NY where some of the authors featured in The Best American Short Stories (2014 edition) read their work at a Barnes and Noble. I’ve included some stories from The BASS series the past couple Deal Me In challenges. Looks like I may want to do so again. 🙂 http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/07/jennifer-egan-writing-technologies-short-stories

I follow a couple Irish literary accounts n Twitter and they appear to have a thriving short story culture over there. The Davy Byrnes award is one of their prestigious writing prizes. (I’ve read one story from this source in a previous DMI, Claire Keegan’s “Foster”. https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/a-perfect-opportunity-to-say-nothing/)
Here’s a collection of the cream of that crop.
http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/six-of-the-best-davy-byrnes-stories-2014-1.1988889

Deal Me In – Week 12 Wrap Up

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First, how about a Short Story QOTW?
Haruki Murakami: “My short stories are like soft shadows I’ve set out in the world, faint footprints I’ve left behind.”

Below are links to all the posts I saw as of the time of this writing. If there’s one I missed, feel free to link in the comments to this post. As always, I encourage everyone to visit and read the posts of your fellow participants, leaving a comment if you wish.

Hanne five of spades (Napoleon!) led her to share the William Trevor story “On the Sreets” http://readingoncloud9.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/week-11-on-the-streets-by-william-trevor/

James takes a break from connecting his stories – or does he? – with Isak Dinesen’s “The Fish” and Grace Paley’s “The Long Distance Runner” http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/03/17/grace-paley-vs-isak-dinesen/

Dale’s three of spades treated us to Ray Bradbury’s tale “Long After Midnight” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/ray-bradbury-long-after-midnight/

Returning Reader’s King of Clubs yielded another story from the Granta Book of the African Short Story, Camara Laye’s “The Eyes of the Statue” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/short-story-12-the-eyes-of-the-statue-camara-laye/

Katherine at The Writerly Reader joins the mind of Edgar Allen Poe in his story/essay “Maelzel’s Chess Player,” about a chess-playing automaton that was a touring sensation for many years. And she also shares another video with us. http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/deal-me-in-week-12-maelzels-chess-player/

(below: “The Turk”, a.k.a. Maelzel’s Chess Player)

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Candiss drew the three of hearts and so offers us a seat at “a banquet for the open mind” with Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel” http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/deal-me-in-challenge-story-12-the-library-of-babel-by-jorge-luis-borges/

Hanne’s second (week 12) story was Margaret Atwood’s “Stone Mattress” http://readingoncloud9.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/week-12-stone-mattress-by-margaret-atwood/

For my part, I took the train to Ottignies when my four of hearts led me to “From Brussels to Ottignies” by Monica Westeren. https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/from-brussels-south-to-ottignies-by-monica-westeren/

See you all next week!

Zenia: Aphid of the Soul

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I’m a “play by the rules” kind of guy. Always have been. I was raised that way. I think most people are, and it’s a good thing, too, as I think that having a convincing majority of us willing to abide by the rules of society provides a necessary kind of “herd immunity” for civilization to work. Sure there are outliers, but as long as their numbers are few, civilization can tolerably survive. That’s for most of us. Some of the more unfortunate among the rule-followers, however, have a non rule-follower that is part of their lives, wreaking the havoc that “their kind” predictably cause. Zenia, the infuriating villainess of Margaret Atwood’s “The Robber Bride” doesn’t follow the rules…

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Do you know what an aphid is? If you’re into gardening or botany you certainly do. Aphids (pictured above) are sap-sucking pests that cause more damage to domestic plants than any other species. Even if you’re familiar with them, you may not have ever seen a picture of them. Most are hard to see with the naked eye unless you look very close. I remember (long ago) whlen I was young, I learned not to harm ladybugs. I didn’t know why then, but it is because they dine on aphids. The three main female characters in “The Robber Bride” could have used a friendly ladybug in their lives since, in my favorite quotation from the story, Atwood describes her character as “Zenia, aphid of the soul.” I loved that.

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I don’t remember exactly how this book found its way onto my reading list. I do know that – after reading Atwood’s dystopian masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale, last year – I definitely wanted “some more.” (Yes, I’m picturing Oliver Twist meekly holding out his porridge bowl now – as you should be!) 🙂

The Robber Bride follows the lives of three women: friends Charis, Tony, and Roz. The lives of all three have been scarred by an association with Zenia, a mysterious woman for whom it’s difficult to know which of her many accounts of herself are true – if indeed ANY are. One of Zenia’s apparent hobbies is “stealing” the men of other women, even her “friends.” Her interest in these men is fleeting however, and it seems her real reason for stealing them might be “just because she can.” It’s a way to show her ’dominance’ I think. It reminded me a little of that old Dolly Parton(!) song, Jolene:

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can

Are you old enough to remember that one? (Oops! My research just turned up the fact that Miley Cyrus did a cover version of the song more recently, so maybe “everyone” remembers it!)

Anyway, this novel was a great exploration of how good people (the rule-followers) struggle to deal with bad people (the rule-ignorers). After a dramatic beginning, where the three friends are eating lunch at the trendy “Toxique” restaurant only to have Zenia “return from the dead” and re-enter their lives, I was off and running and thoroughly enjoyed the book, even though I expect most readers of this book are women (indeed, one blogger mentioned that “you’d be hard-pressed to find a male fan” of Atwood’s work). I’ll happily count myself among that minority!

What have you read by Atwood? I’ve read the aforementioned The Handmaid’s Tale and a short story Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother, which I loved and mentioned previously on my blog here. Any recommendations on what I might read next? As always, I’m willing to be guided…

(below: gratuitous insertion of an illustration from Dickens’ Oliver Twist – “please sir, I want some more.”)

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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. 🙂

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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