“Winter Elders” by Shawn Vestal – selection #11 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: 10♦ of Diamonds (image at left found here.

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Diamonds is the domain of Lachesis, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that were.”

The Selection: “Winter Elders” from my hard copy of Pushcart Prize Winners anthology XXXIX “Best of the Small Presses.” Originally published in Ecotone magazine #15

The Author: Shawn Vestal – who grew up in Idaho, but is now a columnist and reporter for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. See his info on Goodreads.com here.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Winter Elders

“He noticed he didn’t feel surprised. He hadn’t expected this, but now that he was in the middle of it, it didn’t feel unexpected.”

Our protagonist is Mr. Bradshaw. A new father, a former member of the Mormon Church, and a man who had expected to have “found his place” in the world by now, but is concerned because he still hasn’t. The story opens with him being visited by two young missionaries of the church, still hopeful of drawing him back into the fold. They tell him they’re just checking in to “see if there’s anything we can do for you.” He gruffly suggests that they could rake his yard, and when they’re done with that, clean out his gutters. Their undaunted reply: “Don’t think we won’t.”

Bradshaw’ wife Cheryl, once his “partner in cynicism” has changed now, since the baby had been born, and was “always serious” now. She has no patience for the missionaries who, throughout the story, exhibit a dogged persistence in their attempts to reclaim “Brother Bradshaw.”

A health crisis for the couple’s baby precipitates an angry driveway confrontation between Bradshaw and the more vocal of the two elders, which sets up the passage quoted above.

I enjoyed the story and felt it deftly described the inner struggles of a young father who has yet to truly come of age. There was a lot of great writing too, e.g. describing the missionary “…there was something stubborn in him and, deeper, the sense that he was proud of his stubbornness.” And once, during a theological argument with the elder, Bradshaw becomes frustrated and angry and “…a gate unlocked inside him. The beasts trampled out.”

I hadn’t read this author before, but certainly would be happy to again.

Did YOU read any good short stories this week?

(below: great cover of  the issue (15) of Ecotone Magazine that includes this story. Buy one at https://ecotonemagazine.org/issue-15/ )

The Mongerji Letters by Geetha Iyer – selection #4 of Deal Me In 2017


The Card: ♠5♠ of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “the things that are.”

The Selection: “The Mongerji Letters” from Orion magazine. As of this post’s publishing, the story is available on line at https://orionmagazine.org/article/the-mongerji-letters/  I own a copy of the story via The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016 collection.

The Author: Geetha Iyer – yet another new to me author. To quote Orion Magazine’s info on her, she “…was born in India and grew up in the United Arab Emirates, and moved to the United States to study biology. She has since become an MFA student at Iowa State University’s Creative Writing & Environment program. She writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry bent toward place-based and science writing.” She currently lives in Panama City, Panama. You may visit her website at https://geethaiyer.wordpress.com

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

The Mongerji Letters

“Since the collapse of one of the last dynasties of the common era and the subsequent end of the era itself, historians have searched for descendants of the Mongerji family, as well as descendants of the scribes who, under their employ, collected samplings of flora and fauna from around the world. The only evidence discovered thus far are the letters that follow. They are from Mr. Mongerji, his wife, Kavita, and two of the three Mongerji children, all addressed to a Mr. Chappalwala, thought to have been the last of the Mongerjis’ scribes. Archivists continue to seek Mr. Chappalwala’s side of the correspondence.”

This was a rather bizarre story. The introductory paragraph quoted above is all the grounding that the reader is given. The nature of the world in which these letters were written (“created” is probably a better word) is left primarily to our imagination. What is clear, however, is that the family whose members wrote them are in decline, probably throwbacks to an older world – i.e., the “common era” referred to in the intro. The correspondence is multi-generational, but the letters covered in this story seem to span 15 years, from “__18” to “__33” – the first two digits that would tell us the century are strategically omitted…

The letters have some kind of magical quality as the envelopes that contain them also contain somehow “compressed” examples of the flora and fauna from wherever the Chappalwalas are sending them, often resulting in near tragic events upon opening – in once case a giant tree springs out of the envelope and it is all the Mongerjis can do to get it stuffed back in.  Another time, an opened envelope floods their living room with water and a living polar bear(!)

I won’t claim I totally understood this story, but it did leave me with a vague impression of the decline or even”decay” of the natural world’s beauty due to a continued siege by humanity’s progress.  The writing was superb too, and the perspectives of the different Mongerji children of the current generation added additional layers to the story’s complexity as well.

The “magic” property of the letters is not explained, but I liked the following passage because it refers to one of my favorite creatures, discovered via a prior Bibliophilopolis read – this one for The R.I.P. Challenge – The Axolotl!

“I asked Dhidhi whether if we left the fruit outside the envelope the eggs would hatch, but she said that everything trapped inside the Chappalwala envelopes was like an axolotl — it would never really grow up.”

Below: some of the beautiful artwork from Orion Magazine where the story was originally published. Did you notice the envelopes in each picture?


Playing card image in DMI header from http://nonregistrability55.rssing.com/chan-24181537/all_p1.html

“The Anything Box” by Zenna Henderson – selection #3 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♥Q♥ Queen of Hearts

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, Hearts is the domain of Atropos, one of the “Fates” from Classical Greek Mythology who “sang of things that are yet to be” i.e. the future. She’s also frequently represented as holding a pair of scissors with which she snips the thread of life which is spun by her two sisters, Clotho and Lachesis.

The Selection: “The Anything Box” which I own as part of the anthology “The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction” anthology, volume 2. I have several stories from this book included in my Deal Me In list for 2017.

The Author: Zenna Henderson (pictured at above right), who I’ve never read before. She was “an American elementary school teacher and science fiction and fantasy writer,” according to Wikipedia. Many of her stories feature a school setting or the southwestern United States (she was from Arizona) – or both.  She also wrote a series of stories about “The People” – humanoids who are here on Earth because their home planet was destroyed. Sounds intriguing – perhaps I will explore these sometime…

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

“The Anything Box”

“I swore by the pale hollow of her cheek that never, never again would I take any belief from anyone without replacing it with something better.”

The narrator of this story is a teacher. A teacher in what seems to be a school of the future, though that is never really explained in detail. It certainly doesn’t feel like a bright future either. That part is probably irrelevant to the impact of the story. It’s the story of Sue-lynn, one of the narrator’s students. One she doesn’t quite know what to make of at first, one who is quiet and keeps to herself for the most part…

Eventually, though, the teacher notices some peculiar behavior:

“She had finished her paper – far ahead of the others as usual – and was sitting at her table facing me. She had her thumbs touching in front of her on the table and her fingers curving as though they held something in between them – something large enough to keep her fingertips apart and angular enough to bend her fingers as if for corners. It was something pleasant that she held – pleasant and precious.”

Sue-lynn seems like a nice enough kid, but the other children have, of course, noticed that she is “different.” Her imaginary “anything box” – for that is what she’s holding in front of her – is her way to escape from her troubled home life. Her mother and father frequently quarrel, leading to the husband disappearing for long stretches of time. One male fellow-student in particular is disturbed by her and causes trouble. The teacher intervenes on Sue-lynn’s behalf, and gets close enough to her to eventually find out more about her “imaginary” box. Or is it imaginary?

I’m not 100% sure what the author intended the story to be about, but I think it may resonate with many readers the way that it did with me – that is to say in recalling school days and how, as we age, our capacity for imagination is slowly and methodically snuffed out. One of the narrator’s mean-spirited fellow teachers seems to have it in for Sue-lynn, frequently calling her “disturbed”, etc., even making us wonder if ““Maybe a child can smile a soft, contented smile and still have little maggots of madness flourishing somewhere inside,” but fortunately Sue-lynn has a champion on her side in the form of the narrator.

At one point, though, even the narrator feels compelled to intervene and stop the child’s “overactive” imagination and advises that her “anything box” is “just for fun” and shouldn’t be taken so seriously. A crisis follows in which Sue-lynn “loses” the box and blames her teacher. Later she has a “fainting spell” and a doctor is called. She seems to recover but only to the point that she “puttered along quite satisfactorily except that she was a candle blown out.”

 

Does the story end happily, though? If you’d like to read for yourself, it’s part of several anthologies. One is the one I own, and is available in kindle version for just $7.99:

anything-box

Have YOU read anything by this author before? What else by her would you recommend?

Next week: The five of spades and  Geetha Iyee’s “The Mongerji Letters” – yet another new-to-me author.

I Read Five Short Stories for The R.I.P. Challenge

A couple weeks ago I posted about my intention to read 24 stories for this year’s edition of the R.I.P. Challenge, and this is my first “report.” My original post listing the stories and where I found them may be found here. I’m using a euchre deck to randomly select the order in which I read them, and plan to do a quick summary after every five cards (equivalent to each hand in euchre,see? 🙂 ) then one for the final four cards/stories (which will correspond to the “widow” in a game of euchre). I’m rating the stories according to the rank of trump in that game:

Right Bower – 5 stars

Left Bower – 4.5 stars

Ace – 4 stars

King – 3.5 stars

Queen – 3 stars

Ten – 2.5 stars

Nine – 2 stars

(above: the first hand I was dealt for Peril of the Short Story – not a bad hand if diamonds end up being trump) 

♦J♦ The first was “Schroedinger’s Gun” by Ray Wood, which I found in a “free” tor.com anthology. (I follow them on Facebook and occasionally they post a link to download stories or collections). The premise of this one was interesting. The protagonist, a detective of the future uses a “Heisen Implant” to help her in her crime solving work. As the title of the story and the name of this implant might indicate, the implant allow her mind to hop back and forth between the infinite number of possible universes or timelines. A great idea, but my problem with the story was that the rest of this future – seemingly otherwise contemporary – world gave little indication that the technology of this device might be possible. My rating: King

♠A♠ The second story was R.M. Cooper’s “What We Kept of Charlie” from Midwestern Gothic Magazine. In spite of the intriguing title, I struggled to comprehend this one, which was quite short. Charlie has suicidal tendencies, and the narrator relates to us in journal form how this sad event and its aftermath came to pass. My rating: Queen

♦K♦ The third story was my favorite. I liked Shirley Jackson’s “Nightmare” so much I almost wrote a whole post about it. Maybe I still will. A run-of-the-mill secretary in New York is sent on a cross-town errand by her boss and finds the city caught up in a bizarre, promotional contest urging citizens to “Find ‘Miss X!‘” She slowly comes to suspect that she herself might be this Miss X. Great story with a typical Shirley Jackson feel and atmosphere. I found the ending a little perplexing, though. My rating: Left Bower

♣Q♣ The fourth story was from Grimm’s a fairy Tales – “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About The Shivers” – a title I found irresistible when coming up with my list for R.I.P. The title character does not experience terror like the rest of us, but wishes he could. After many failures, he is finally set with the task to spend a few nights in a haunted castle. I guess maybe what we learn from this tale is that what scares people differs from person to person. My rating: King

♣A♣ The fifth story was Clint Smith’s “The Jellyfish,” a bizarre sci-fi/horror blend. The protagonist, Paul, has made up his mind to do away with himself (two ‘suicide stories’ in my first five!) and hikes to a seemingly remote area to complete his task. Things initially go according to plan until a fleeing deer and then it’s pursuing hunters discover him. Add to this a mysterious “entity” (the titular – but not literal – jellyfish is also present). My rating: Ace   

What about YOU? How is your R.I.P. Challenge reading coming along?  If you’re not participating – or even if you are – you may check out what everyone else has been posting about by visiting the review site here. – Already over 120 posts this year!

R.I.P. – Peril of the Short Story

rip-xi

This year is the eleventh “R.I.P. Challenge” (Readers Imbibing Peril) at Stainless Steel Droppings. So… time to create another short story reading list for myself! I’m a little late getting started, but this will be my fourth year participating. Last year for the annual R.I.P. challenge I read 13 short stories, employing the “Deal Me In” approaching of assigning them to playing cards and determining the order I read them randomly via “the luck of the draw.”  This year, I’ll again be doing the “Peril of the Short Story” version of the challenge, and I’m feeling more ambitious so am reading 24 stories, assigning them to the cards in a euchre deck.  I have until 10/31 to complete the reading, so it’s very do-able.  The cards I’m using are from a new deck in my collection, the Bicycle “Celtic Myth” edition.  Pretty cool, huh? 🙂

♥♥Hearts♥♥

♥9♥Ballroom Blitz” by Vernoica Schandes (from “Some of the Best From Tor.com” anthology) read 10/17

♥10♥Black Hole Sun” by Alethea Kontis & Kelli Owen (from “Dark Futures: Tales of Dystopian SF”) read 10/15

♥Q♥Blood and Fire” by Desmond Riddick (from “The End Was Not the End” anthology) read 10/8

♥K♥Blood of the Hunting Moon” by S.M. Harding (from the “Decades of Dirt” anthology) read 10/8

♥A♥How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon the Gonles” by Lond Dunstan (from “The Weird” anthology) read 10/15

♥J♥Blood Allies” by Josh Green (from “Dirtyville Rhapsodies”) read 10/15

♦♦Diamonds♦♦


♦9♦I Am Become Death” by Franklin Thatcher (from “Strange New Worlds II”) read 10/8

♦10♦In the Greenwood” by Mari Ness (from “Some of the Best of Tor.com”) read 10/28

♦Q♦Mastodon” by Erin Fortinberry (from “Midwestern Gothic” magazine) read 10/29

♦K♦Nightmare” by Shirley Jackson (from the “Just An Ordinary Day” collection) read 9/20

♦A♦One Eye, Two Eyes and Three Eyes” by Unknown (from “Grimm’s Fairy Tales) read 10/17

♦J♦Schroedinger’s Gun” by Ray Wood (from “Some of the Best of Tor.com”) read 9/16

♣♣Clubs♣♣


♣9♣ “Scradni Vashka” by Saki (from “The Weird” anthology) read 10/15

♣10♣ “Stewwelpeter” by Glenn Hirshberg (from the collection “The Two Sams”)mread 10/16

♣Q♣ “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers” by Unknown (from “Grimm’s Fairy Tales) – read 9/23

♣K♣ “The Halls of War” by DeeDee Davies (from “The End was Not the End” anthology) read 10/15

♣A♣ “The Jellyfish” by Clint Smith (from the “Indiana Science Fiction 2012” anthology) read 9/23

♣J♣ “The Spider” by Hans Heinz Ewers (from “The Weird” anthology) read 10/28

♠♠Spades♠♠


♠9♠ “The Too Clever Fox” by Leigh Bardugo (from “Some of the Best of Tor.com”) read 10/29

♠10♠ “The Very Hot Sun in Bermuda” by Shirley Jackson (from “Just An Ordinary Day”) read 10/17

♠Q♠ “Tin Cans” by Ekaterina Sedia (from the “Haunted Legends” anthology) read 10/8

♠K♠ “Torching the Dusties” by Margaret Atwood (from the collection,”Stone Mattress”) read 10/14

♠A♠ “What We Kept of Charlie” by R.M. Cooper (from “Midwestern Gothic” magazine) read 9/19

♠J♠ “Wicked Witch for Hire” by Katherine Nabity (from “Bounded in a Nutshell”) read 10/15

I admittedly didn’t put a lot of thought into picking these, simply going through my kindle & nook apps and picking some from every applicable anthology I could find.  I did pick a few because I was familiar with the authors from prior short story challenges, but the rest I picked because the title sounded intriguing.  I also included a couple of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, of which I have a recent edition.  Of course, my old standby anthology, “The Weird,” makes a few appearances as well.  The suit assignments are random. What do you think of my selections?

Related blog posts by all the R.I.P. participants are available at the review site.  As of this posting there are already 43 for this popular challenge. So, what about you? Are YOU participating in the R.I.P. challenge this year?  Is this your first time, or, if not, how many times have you participated?

Autumn Full of Apples by Dan Wakefield – Selection #26 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♣6♣ Six of Clubs.

The Suit: For 2016, Clubs is my suit for “Stories by ’Legendary’ Indiana Authors”

The Selection: “Autumn Full of Apples” first published in Redbook magazine. I own a copy via the 1966 edition of the “Best American Short Stories” anthology series.

The Author: Indianapolis native Dan vonnegut lettersWakefield, whose novel “Going All the Way” may be his most famous work. He also edited a recently published collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s Letters. Another favorite, recent read of mine was his novel Under the Apple Tree, which I heartily recommend. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting him briefly on a couple of occasions at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. Wakefield has also, just this year, had a city park in Indianapolis named after him. His website may be found at http://danwakefield.com

 

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storylegacy project seal of approval 2roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

 


Autumn Full of Apples

“Our year began those days in the hot blaze of fall, the sun was still bearing down too hard and moving back from summer’s rule reluctantly, wanting still to be king and hating to watch his green work burn away into yellow and red and finally turn to smoke. Footballs exploded off practiced toes, lockers came clicking and rattling to life in the school’s long sealed and musty halls, and a gold blare of brass rose up to the windows from the marching band, reborn again.”

Wow. How’s that for scene setting? Though I’m more than a generation or so younger than Mr. Wakefield, this quotation reanimated vivid memories of my own school days when the new year of school was just beginning. And I’d never really thought about it before, but when you’re that age, the more natural “New Year’s Day” is indeed the first day of school. A day of new beginnings, a blank slate on which to write new accomplishments – or failures – perhaps also a chance for new friends and adventures. Wakefield captures that sentiment almost perfectly in this short story.

It’s the story of the narrator, Dan, and his new love, Katie Deane. They meet when she stumbles in the school hallway, dropping her Algebra book. Dan, all chivalry, picks it up and hands it to her, trying to ease her awkward feeling of clumsiness “I drop things all the time,” she says. “Well, that’s okay. Everyone does.” Although there are references earlier in the story to “last year’s girl,” it seems that Katie is Dan’s first “true love” (I know, whatever that means), and they go through some of the stereotypical ‘courtship rituals’ of that era.

The clock is ticking on the wondrous autumn of this story, though, just as it has each year on all autumns in the real world. Is the life of Dan and Katie’s romance linked to that of the short season, or will it endure? At the conclusion of this story, my money’s on the kids…

(above: I found an appropriate “Autumn six of clubs” at http://worldsedge.deviantart.com/gallery/39568425/Playing-Cards )

Reading the story a second time to prepare for writing this post, I realized that some readers may find the story too syrupy sweet or too idyllic to be believed, but I didn’t feel that way at all and enjoyed it to the fullest.

Personal notes: ♫ I love literary coincidences and there was a big one related to drawing this card and reading this story. It so happens I read it the same week as one of my book clubs was meeting to discuss Indiana author Ian Woollen’s great book, Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb. In looking online for more info on Uncle Anton, I found an article written by Dan Wakefield (here if you’d care to read) himself. It turns out Woollen (who graciously drove up from Bloomington to join our book club’s meeting – hopefully I will post about that event soon also) is the nephew of Wakefield’s high school girlfriend, Kithy Woollen, upon whom the character of Katie Deane in this very story is based(!)

With this post I’m now halfway through the 52 stories of Deal Me “IN” – If you have any “calendrical” expertise, you may have noted that I should be closer to having published 32 or 33 posts by now.  Yes, I’m slacking.  I have, though, now gotten through a rough stretch at work and now have also put some other stuff behind me, so hope to pick up the pace over the next couple months to get back on schedule.  This is also the first year (out of six) where I’ve committed to posting about every single one of my fifty two stories, and, as usual, I may have overestimated my stamina here. 🙂
Note: Wakefield pic above found at hoosierhistorylive.org

#24in48 Readathon – Final Check-in

Yeah, I was too lazy to stop reading and post a few more check-ins or updates yesterday, but this did allow me to finish my 24 stories. I’ll try to do some ultra-brief summaries of the last fifteen and some overall thoughts.  As you may recall from my last few posts, I’m applying the “deal me in” apparatus to randomize my reading order of the stories, and since there were 24, I used a euchre deck.  I also rated them by the ranks of trump in a game of euchre, corresponding to #of stars in traditional reviewing. 🙂

img_7592

(I love these cards)

Story #10. ♣J♣ Jack of Clubs How a Muzhik Fed Two Officials – M.Y. Saltykov

Nice bit of satire from another Russian author I hadn’t read before. Two snooty “officials” find themselves somehow stranded on an island and realize they have no idea how to take care of themselves without the supporting apparatus of the state. Fortunately for them, they find a Muzhik (peasant) and are able to fall back to their old idle ways. My rating: Ace (=3.5 stars)

Story #11 ♦K♦ King of Diamonds – Rust and Bone – Craig Davidson

This story was the “find” of the Readathon at the time I read it. An aging boxer tells us the story of how his life came to this. Just a great story well told and great writing, like the following, when a younger version of the fighter is driving south of the border for an “underground” fight: “June bugs hammered the windshield, exoskeletons shattering with a high tensile sound, bodies bursting in pale yellow riots.” My rating: Right Bower (=5 stars)

Story #12 ♦J♦ Jack of Diamonds – Christopher Hitchens – Vanessa Veselka

Not my favorite. An exploration of hunanity’s addiction to faith and whether or not it might be “cured” somehow. My rating: Queen (=2.5 stars)

Story #13 ♠10♠ Ten of Spades – The Tale of the Three Apples Finally a story from The Arabian Nights! The hand of fate had teased me thus far in not drawing any “spades.” This tale (an early one, told during the 19th night of the Thousand and one) had plenty of classic folk/fairy tale characteristics – multiple misunderstandings, some acted upon quickly and without mercy. E.g. someone you don’t know tells a tale that implacates your wife? Better kill her and cut her into 19 pieces. Don’t give her a chance to explain herself or verify the story!  Not a bad start for spades. My rating: Ace

Story #14 ♦9♦ Nine of Diamonds – His Footsteps are Made of Soot – Nik Korpon

Largely incomprehensible (to me) story to me. Maybe I read it at the wrong time. A surgical assistant of some kind in a run-down future world(?) tries to improve his station and that of his invalid mother(?)

Group #4

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Story #15  ♥9♥ Nine of Hearts – The Discovery of Telenapota – Premendra Mitra

Saturday afternoon I had to get out of the house and ended end up reading for awhile at the Central Library in downtown Indy, then headed over to “The Tap” for a bite to eat and a couple beers. I was by myself so had my kindle with me and got some more reading in. Maybe it was the atmosphere or an incipient buzz from my high %ABV beer selections but this story blew me away and actually moved me (rare for me). This story (and author) was the discovery of the Readathon for me. I even reread it I mmediately upon finishing. “Finding Telenapota is not all that easy… From your familiar world you will enter another. An unknown mist-clad universe, bereft of all feeling. Time will stop dead in its tracks.”  And “Ruins of deserted palaces will gleam in the phantom moonlight. Lone colonnades, broken arches, the debris of courtyard walls. A ruined temple somewhere further down. They will stand like litigants, waiting in the futile hope, for the recording of some evidence in the court of time. You will try to sit up. A strange sensation will once again make you feel as if you have left behind the world of the living and entered a phantom universe peopled only by memories. The night will be far gone. It will seem an endless dark in which everything lies stilled, without genesis or end.  Like extinct animals preserved in museums for all time.”  And I thought stories told in the second person weren’t supposed to be any good… My rating: Easily a right bower (=5 stars!)

Story #16 ♠Q♠ Queen of Spades – The Hermits

My second Arabian Nights (from the 148th night) tale, and not as good as the first one. These stories seem full of Allah testing and tempting his followers. This time with a beautiful woman, “Go out from me, O woman deceitful and perfidious! I will not incline to thee or approach thee. I want not thine company or wish for union with thee; he who coveted hthe coming life renounceth thee, for thou seduceth mankind, Those of past time and those of present time.” Gee whiz. Misogyny anyone? My rating: Queen.

Story #17 ♦Q♦ Queen of diamonds – Sunshine for Adrienne – Antonia Crane

There was nothing sunny about this story, from The New Black anthology. featuring a woman with a traumatic past and a drug-addicted present, it illustrates that, even though misfortune may befall those who once harmed you, that does not necessarily clear a path for you to recovery. My rating: King

Story #18 ♣Q♣ Queen of clubs – The Servant – S.T. Semyonov

Another solid entry from the Russian writers. “Gerasim” is a man out of work and becoming desperate. He begs a shady friend of his to find him a position in his master’s household. How far is he willing to go to get a job? Will he take one at the expense of someone else? Is he that desperate yet? My rating: Ace

Story #19 ♣K♣ King of Clubs – The Signal – Vsevolod Garshin

The struggles of our Russian protagonists to find work continue in this story. Two laborers, though they have basically the same job for the railroad, view their lots in life differently. One is disgruntled, the other happy. Will the happy one be able to keep the other out of trouble or for causing harm to innocents? Maybe not,but in the end he receives help from an unexpected quarter. My rating: Left Bower (4 stars)

Group Five

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(above: interesting that the “Deal Me In Gods” put Lennon & McCartney together…)

Card #20 ♠A♠ Ace of Spades – The Caliph Omar Bin Al-Kattab and the Young Badawi

Pretty forgettable tale from night #396 out of 1,001. At least it had a good ’moral of the story’: “Who doth kindness to men shall be paid again; ne’er is kindness lost betwixt God and men.” My rating: King

Card #21 ♠K♠ King of Spades – The Man Whole Stole the Dish of Gold Wherein the Dog Ate

The jobless, poor, and panhandling have migrated from my Russian stories to Arabia. This protagonist benefits from the kindness of one of the dogs owned by a rich man, and his fortune turns around when the dog gives him a golden bowl. His ascendancy runs concurrently with the fall from fortune of the rich man. Not bad, but nothing too special. My rating: King

Card #22 ♥Q♥ Queen of Hearts – The Vegetable Man – Luigi Ugolini

My last entry from “The Weird” anthology.  The title says it all, a man is “bitten” by a plant in Brazil’s Mato Grosso, and begins to change into something more to a herbivore’s tastes… My rating: King

Card #23 ♠9♠ Nine of Spades – The Hunchback’s Tale -Arabian Nights

Probably the best of my Arabian Nights stories. a farce worthy of any of the more modern writers in that style. A man invites a hunchback/dwarf (?) into his home, and his guest dies an “accidental” death, choking on a piece of fish (though his host is really to blame, as it seems to amuse him to try to cram the food down the poor man’s throat(!)) Anyway, fearing trouble with the law, he leaves the dwarf at the house of a doctor, who stumbles into the body at the top of some stairs, sending it tumbling down and leading HIM to think HE has killed him, the poor corpse makes a couple more stops before his journey mercifully ends. My rating: Ace

Card #24 ♠J♠ Jack of Spades – The Prior Who Became a Moslem

Seems conversion in the days of the Arabian Nights is only as good as the latest “miracle” you’ve seen.  Oh, and I used the “moslem” spelling from the Richard Burton translation that I read. Better than Musselman which I’ve seen used in other older translation.

GENERAL THOUGHTS ON MY 2016 #24in48 READATHON EXPERIENCE

I’m afraid the only way I’m going to be able to read for a lot of hours in a short time is if I can switch things up fairly often, and reading short stories allows me to do this.  I kind of felt this readathon was like “Speed Dating for Readers/Authors” – spend a little time with one, note some impressions and move on. After it’s over, look back and “let them know” which authors you might like to see again and hope “they felt the same way about me” too.  For this batch, I definitely want to read more by Premendra Mitra and Craig Davidson. I also want to continue my exploration of The Arabian Nights, and I suspect my subconscious is already working on some type of challenge/reading order randomization based on the night (of the 1,001) that the tales were told.  You may not have heard the last from me on this. 🙂   My confidence in the Russian writers was also reaffirmed and I was happy to read five authors this time that I hadn’t read before.  Vsevolod Garshin’s The Signal made me want to seek out other work by him. Thanks to the #24in48 readathon, I’ve now finished up two anthologies, both of which I heartily recommend:  “The New Black” and “Best Russian Short Stories” compiled and edited by Thomas Seltzer.  You could do a lot worse than these two if you’re looking for some great short story reads.

Well, that wraps things up for me.  I hope everyone enjoyed the #24in48 readathon as much as I did.  How did YOU do with your reading?  Did you follow along on Twitter too?  I enjoyed the chatter there marked with the 24in48 hashtag.  Can’t wait for the next readathon.

Another Challenging Weekend Ahead: #24in48 meets Deal Me In (Part II)

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I had such fun with my twist for last year’s #24in48 Readathon that I’ve decided to repeat my approach this year. My goal is to read 24 stories in 48 hours rather than read an actual 24 hours out of the 48 (although I may try to do this too as I have some required book club reading that is looming large…)

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As the host of the annual Deal Me In short story challenge, I’m going to let the luck of the draw again decide the order in which I read my 24 stories. I’ll be using a euchre deck and, also like last year, will be rating my stories not with a number of “stars” but with the rank of trump in a game of euchre e.g. a “right bower” rating is a five-star read. I probably explained this method better last year, so take a peek HERE if you want to see that. 🙂

Here are my suits and stories:

Clubs – Russian Stories (I devoted clubs to Russian stories once in a prior year’s Deal Me In Challenge and it was one of the best decisions I ever made)

♣9♣- The Revolutionist – Mikhail Artzybashev

♣10♣- Hide and Seek – Fyodor Sologub

♣Q♣- The Servant – S.T. Semyonov

♣K♣- The Signal – Vsevolod Garshin

♣A♣- Vanka – Anton Chekhov

♣J♣- How a Muzhik Fed Two Officials – M.Y. Saltykov

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Spades – Tales from The Arabian Nights (I’ve always wanted to read more of Scheherazade’s tales and this is a good excuse)

♠9♠- The Hunchback’s Tale -Arabian Nights

♠10♠- The Tale of the Three Apples

♠Q♠- The Hermits

♠K♠- The Man Whole Stole the Dish of Gold Wherein the Dog Ate

♠A♠- The Caliph Omar Bin Al-Kattab and the Young Badawi

♠J♠- the Prior Who Became a Moslem

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Hearts – Tales from The Weird anthology (a repeat of one of my suits from last year. This anthology does not disappoint, and I still have a lot of stories from it to go before I finish)

♥9♥– The Discovery of Telenapota – Premendra Mitra

♥10♥– The Dissection – Georg Heym

♥Q♥– The Vegetable Man – Luigi Ugolini

♥K♥– Genius Loci Clark – Ashton Smith

♥A♥– The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles – Margaret St. Clair

♥J♥ – The Salamander – Mercè Rodoreda

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Diamonds – From The New Black Anthology (a great modern day anthology from which I’ve featured several stories on Bibliophilopolis before. I think this wraps up the volume for me.)

♦9♦– His Footsteps are Made of Soot – Nik Korpon

♦10♦– The Etiquette of Homicide -Tara Laskowski

♦Q♦ – Sunshine for Adrienne – Antonia Crane

♦K♦ – Rust and Blne – Craig Davidson

♦A♦– That Baby – Lindsay Hunter

♦J♦– Christopher Hitchens – Vanessa Veselka

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I’m excited that I have never read almost ALL of the authors of these stories before and am looking forward to getting immersed in them over the weekend. I wonder what new favorite writers and stories I shall discover…

What about you?  Are you doing the #24in48 Challenge this time?  What is on your schedule for reading?  I’d particularly like to hear from others who might read short stories during this event. 🙂  Cheers, and good luck to all the participants.

Booth Takington’s “A Reward of Merit” story #13 of 2016 Deal Me “IN” 2016


The Card: ♣A♣ Ace of clubs

The Suit: For 2016, ♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ is my suit for “legendary” Indiana authors”.

The Selection: “A Reward of Merit” contained in “The Collected Short Stories of Booth Tarkingon” which I own as a kindle version. I picked this story from that collection because I was intrigued by the title.

The Author: Booth Tarkington of Indianapolis – one of the standard bearers of the “Golden Age” of Indiana Literature.

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in thislegacy project seal of approval 2 year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

 

A Reward of Merit

When I hear the name of author Booth Tarkington, the first thing that comes to mind is his, uh, magnificent, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Magnificent Ambersons,” which I’ve read more than once, not to mention watching the Orson Welles film adaptation multiple times as well. That wasn’t the only Pulitzer Prize for fiction he won, though. He also won for Alice Adams in 1922, making him one of only three authors to win the award more than once. Can you name the other two? I’ll save that answer for the end of this post… 🙂

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I would describe this story as a tale of youthful hijinks, escapades, or monkey business. It amusingly explores how distorted the view of the world can sometimes be for those who are too young to have “put all the pieces together” in their understanding of how life really works. It has almost a Tom Sawyer-ish feel, focusing on two idle young boys, Penrod and Sam, and the adventures they run into one rainy afternoon.

***Spoilers Follow*** (If you’d like to read this story first, it’s available online at http://cozycoffeehouse.blogspot.com/2007/04/booth-tarkington-reward-of-merit.html )
Pernod and Sam encounter a “stray” horse in the alley. It is basically old and has sort of been “discarded” by its former owner. The boys don’t know this, and with their youthful logic surmise that a lost horse must worthy of a great reward to its finders. They are sharp enough to discern that it is nearly starving and end up feeding it nearly half the provisions in Penrod’s house.

Eventually, the risks involved in their little enterprise begin to become apparent and, after being “found out” by the family’s cook, Della, they figure they are in big trouble for trying to hide the horse in a carriage house and also for “stealing” food for it. This leads to the humorous declaration by Penrod when the boys are contemplating how they might be able to escape the trouble they’ve found themselves in:

“I don’t know where you’re goin’, but I’m goin’ to walk straight out in the country till I come to a farm-house and say my name’s George and live there!”

But what actually happens at the end of the story? It turns out the adults in Penrod and Sam’s circle view their acts in a wholly different way. To them they are acts of kindness toward an unfortunate animal, and for that the boys are presented with a “Reward of Merit” the value of which far outweighs their fanciful imaginings of what a monetary reward might have been – yes, a happy ending. I enjoyed the story a lot, and it brought back some funny memories of some of my own childhood antics where I was as clueless as poor Penrod and Sam.

I wasn’t aware of it before writing this post, but “Rewards of Merit” were once a real thing commonly given to children by encouraging teachers or other adults. Many were fanciful cards with beautiful illustrations. One website I found with examples and explanations is http://www.merrycoz.org/merit/MERIT.xhtml – also where the images above and below are found.

In preparation for writing this post, I also read an old essay from The Atlantic about Tarkington. Though curiously mean-spirited and acerbic, I did find much of interest in it, including the observation that the Penrod stories were written in “the precisely defined period when the stable was empty but not yet rebuilt into a garage”

Also from the article in the Atlantic:

“To be caught with Tarkington in one’s hands is to be suspected of nostalgia, a willingness to endure the second-rate for the sake of some moonlight on the Wabash, which must still be flowing somewhere through the heartland. But if that’s what one is looking for, disappointment will soon set in with the realization that Tarkington was himself in the throes of nostalgia, setting most of his work two or three decades before he wrote it. He was, in fact, a kind of historical novelist, whose books can now be read only through a double glazing of time.”

As promised – the answer to the trivia questions above – Other multiple Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winners: John Updike and William Faulkner. Please tell me you know which is which…

  
(Ace of Clubs image above found at https://www.spicherandco.com/home.php?cat=1217)

Have you read anything by Booth Tarkington? What other short stories have YOU read lately?

“I Can Hear the Clicking at Night” by Ann Gamble – Story #7 of Deal Me “IN” 2016


The Card: 5♥5 The Five of Hearts

The Selection: “I Can Hear the clicking at Night” – from Punchnel’s – an online magazine founded in 2011 and based in Indianapolis. This story appeared in June 2014. I admit that I may have only chosen it because I found the title intriguing. 🙂 It’s one of the shortest works I’ve ever read for Deal Me In and would more properly be classified as Flash Fiction.

The Author: Ann Gamble (check out her website at annmariegamble.com)

The Suit: This year for Deal Me “IN”, Hearts are my suit featuring selections from Indiana magazines, or Midwestern magazines featuring Indiana authors.

img_5408-1What is Deal Me “IN” 2016?  (For an explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster see here. Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection”of some kind. )

 

 

“The control panel’s in there—that’s why the door is behind the desk. There’s only one man allowed in that office, and he reads all our files. Then he decides.”

“I Can Hear the Clicking at Night”

I’m always impressed when a “whole story” can be effectively told in a very abbreviated manner – the aim of flash fiction. Clocking in at just about twenty paragraphs, “I Can Hear the Clicking at Night” encompasses a woman’s visit to her grandfather in the hospital. Though not in an “intensive care” unit yet, he is clearly approaching the end of the line.

“The End of the Line” – Do you ever wonder about where you will find yourself at “the end of the line” in your life? It seems the older I get the more I think about it. Like I’m sure just about all of us I hope, when my time comes, to “go quickly” and not after a prolonged illness which ends up being the fate of many.

On arriving for her latest visit the man’s granddaughter, Kate (though he mistakenly introduces her to a nurse as “Loretta”), finds on his bed table “one of those books about the secrets on the back of the dollar bill” and “grits her teeth.” The grandfather’s world has shrunk to a few rooms in the hospital and the few people the work there or visit him. Already with a mind easily seduced by ’conspiracy theories’ he constructs his own about death at his own end of the line…

Certainly not a happy story, but one I found interesting and thought-provoking. The story may be read online at http://www.punchnels.com/2014/06/22/i-can-hear-the-clicking-at-night/

(Five of heart image found at http://playingcardcollector.net/2013/07/18/kashmir-playing-cards-by-printissa/ )

Other works from Punchnel’s I’ve posted about:

The Man on the Monon” by Ben H. Winters

The Gods of Indianapolis” by Jason de Koff

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