Posted in Short Stories

“…a great deal of goodhumoured pleasantry followed…”

I am in an unofficial club that I don’t think has too many members.  It’s the “I’m A Man Who Has Read Pride and Prejudice and Liked It” Club.  Perhaps there are more members of this club than I realize.  It’s been a number of years since I have read Pride and Prejudice and I haven’t read anything else by Jane Austen since, until now.

I found Austen’s short story, The Watsons, on my shelf and decided to give it a try.  The story was forty pages of Dances, Card Games, Gossip, Carriage Rides, and Dinners of which “a great deal of goodhumoured pleasantry”  always seemed to follow.  All of this centered around the youngest Watson daughter, Emma.  The Watson family seemed to be fairly low on the society ladder that exists as a backdrop in both this story and Pride and Prejudice.  The Edwards (or the Edwardses, rather) were a few steps up on the ladder and the Osbournes were even higher.

Emma has a number of sisters, none of whom seem to have any matrimonial prospects, another huge “issue” in Austen’s stories from what I understand.  Details are not really given as to the problem these sisters have, but money, or lack thereof, seems to be a part of it.  Emma had been raised by an Aunt but has now come to live with her father.

As she is presented at her first Ball, much discussion takes place about her dark complexion from both men and women.  Several men at least take a slight interest in her including Lord Osbourne, one of the wealthier men at the Ball.  At one rather memorable moment, Emma dances with the ten-year 0ld, Charles Blake, a friend of the Osbournes.  By the end of the story and after several glances from other men, Emma is still alone.  Conversations revolved around who danced with whom and how often and in what order, who had relationships with whom and which ones didn’t work out.  Emma’s sister-in-law and brother pay her a visit and her sister-in-law makes a big deal out of Emma not having any marital prospects while her brother makes a big deal out of the fact that Emma’s Aunt doesn’t have any money.  Apparently it’s simply a given that their father, who is ill, doesn’t have money.

Making up for the general lack of plot, Jane Austen’s wit and wisdom seems to flow through every conversation, every dance, every meal and every card game.  I believe all of Jane Austen’s other novels are on my book shelf unread (by me).  I think I’ll have to read at least one more sometime this year.

Posted in Fiction

“…the black desert of the electronic night…”

Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash has been on my list for a while now.  I finally got around to it this month.  I had heard that it made the list of Time Magazine’s Top 100 English Language Novels.  I don’t disagree with it being included on the list, it just surprised me.

Snow Crash

It’s a difficult novel to explain.  As opposed to summarizing the plot in detail, I think I’ll just write about the characters and other interesting things about the story.

The novel takes place somewhere in the future in the United States.  A computer hacker named Hiro Protagonist (that’s right) moves around between Reality and the Metaverse (a virtual reality).  In Reality, he is a pizza delivery guy working for a Mafia-owned pizza restaurant.  Delivering a pizza late is not a good thing!  In his Metaverse, he is an expert sword fighter.  Y.T. is a fifteen year-old female Kourier.  She delivers packages and mail by skateboarding along the highway while “harpooned” to other vehicles.

“Snow Crash” is a virus that is part computer, part biological, and can result in a spiritual or religious transformation or could just kill you.  A Pentacostal Russian Orthodox group floats around on The Raft in the Pacific Northwest after being infected by it.  One of the more memorable questions asked by those attempting to get the antidote for the virus is “a virus, a drug, a religion, what’s the difference?”.

Hiro goes back and forth between fighting off the bad guys and speaking to a virtual Librarian.  The Librarian gives him information reaching back to the Biblical Old Testament and Sumerian culture about the nam-shub of Enki, the antidote for Snow Crash, which is what Hiro eventually finds, with the help of Y.T.

The Librarian points out an interesting fact in explaining to Hiro the effects of Snow Crash.  In the Old Testament, when the Tower of Babel was built, mankind went from one language to many languages.  In the New Testament, at the day of Pentacost, the followers of Jesus went from speaking many languages to one “spiritual” tongue or language.  The ability to go back and forth from one language to many languages was similar to computers’ ability to use binary code (one language) to translate many languages according to the Librarian.

The novel was reminiscent of The DaVinci Code though it was written about ten years before.  Snow Crash doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as The DaVinci Code but is twenty times more thought provoking.

Posted in Short Stories

“It certainly was cold…”

From my understanding, To Build a Fire is one of Jack London’s more popular and well-known short stories.  Having read a few of his stories in the past, the title gave me a general idea of what to expect.  It was a man vs. wild story and from the beginning, I didn’t have to guess who was going to win.

The story follows a man known to his dog as the “fire-provider” as he trudges along the Yukon trail in -50 degree weather.  He’s trying to get back to his “boys” at a logging camp.  His “old-timer” friend from Sulphur creek has given him specific directions on how to survive.  Directions he doesn’t heed.

The struggle and ultimate hopelessness build as the fire-provider’s efforts to warm his wet feet slowly wane.  London’s descriptions of the stinging and numbness of the man’s hands and his gradual inability to use them are (sorry) chilling, as is the man’s gradual attitude change from “I can do this my way” to “there are worst ways to die”.

Anyone who has read anything by London probably knows how well he writes from a dog’s point of view.  He’s able to do it in a way that isn’t cartoonish or cutesy.  I loved the way he described the dog’s instinct as “the mysterious prompting that arose from the deep crypts of its being.”  The dog followed his master’s orders even though he knew they would end up in disaster – for his master.  The ability of the dog to adapt to the weather as opposed to the inability of his master develops as the main theme.  The wild prevails.

Posted in Short Stories

” ‘I don’t want to lose the way to Fornaci’ “

I’ve known for a long time that Ernest Hemingway has a series of short stories revolving around the character of Nicholas Adams.  Up until now, I had not read any.  Last night, I read A Way You’ll Never Be.  I don’t know whether these series are all a part of a larger story or not.  I don’t know whether there is any chronological order to the stories.  Any Hemingway buffs out there can feel free to share any information with me.

I say I haven’t read any until now, but the story in my previous post, In Another Country, may have been a Nicholas Adams story.  The American soldier may have been Nicholas Adams, but he wasn’t named in that story.  In A Way You’ll Never Be, Nicholas Adams appears to be an American soldier in the war in Italy who goes ahead of his platoon saying that Americans are coming.  Throughout the story, though, the question exists about whether Nicholas is really American or whether he is Italian.

Nicholas displays episodes of mental and emotional breakdowns and isn’t always aware of reality.  At one point, he rambles on about the differences between grasshoppers and locusts.  It seems that back home, he used one or the other for fishing bait.  The apparent psychological problems made me question whether Nicholas really had a mission to tell Italians that the Americans were coming.  Was that in his head or a part of reality?  Hemingway’s writing again poses many questions beyond the surface of the action.

The final line of the story, ” ‘I don’t want to lose the way to Fornaci’ “, emphasizes Nicholas’ disorientation both mentally and physically.  The inherent scars from In Another Country make their way to the specific person of Nicholas Adams in A Way You’ll Never Be.

This is the book on my shelf that I’m getting these stories from.  I think this story was about 13 pages, a little longer than  the previous one.  Thirteen more pages toward my 2012 project.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories (Scribner Classics)

Posted in Short Stories

“…the war was always there…”

Ernest Hemingway’s In Another Country  is five pages that have been sitting on my bookshelf for a long time.  I read the story last night and have been thinking about it since then.

When I read “…the war was always there…” in the first line of the story, I thought that this could probably be used to describe most of Hemingway’s writing.  A wounded American soldier in Milan during “the war” goes to physical therapy at a hospital that used new “machines” to help wounded soldiers recover physically.  I imagine the machines looking something like weight and exercise machines in a gym.  Other soldiers in PT discuss the reasons for the medals they’ve won.  The reasons appear to divide the soldiers as opposed to unite them.  Some wounds are accidents and are not as medal-deserving as other wounds.  The fact that one of the soldiers is American seems to cause further division.  A major begins getting physical therapy for his hand and strikes up conversations with the American soldier.  While talking, it becomes clear that the major is rather bitter regarding marriage.  Later, the soldier understands that the major had married a woman only to have her die of pneumonia shortly thereafter.

As usual, Hemingway’s stripped down style of writing provides a depth to his story that amazes me.  I keep thinking depth should have more words, but he doesn’t need them.  His phrase “…the war was always there…” seems not only to indicate that the war was taking place in Milan at this particular place, but also that the war would always be there in the hearts, minds and souls of the soldiers.  While newfangled physical therapy may help with the physical wounds, the psychological ones may never be fixed.

Now I’ve read five pages toward my 2012 reading project!

Posted in Books in General

Books I’ve read more than once…

Over at Bibliophilopolis , a challenge was made about books that you’ve started but haven’t finished.  It made me think of the reverse question:  How many books have you read more than once?  I confess that I typically don’t read books more than once, but I think I can come up with ten that I have.  What about you?

1.)  The Chosen – Chaim Potok

2.)  The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

3.) The Stranger – Albert Camus

4.) Siddhartha – Herman Hesse

5.)  Gilead – Marilynne Robinson

6.) Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis

7.) The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien (I’ll count this as one)

8.) Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare (I know, it’s a play, but I’m still counting it)

9.) Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

10.) Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White

11.)  Fear and Trembling – Soren Kierkegaard

12.)  On the Road – Jack Kerouac

13.)  Orthodoxy – G. K. Chesterton

Posted in Fiction

“…the ghost of a dry smile…”

Captains Courageous is the first full-length novel I’ve read by Rudyard Kipling.  I think it’s possible he could become a favorite.  I say full-length, but it was only 144 pages.

Harvey Cheyne, the son of a millionaire (i.e., spoiled brat), falls off a luxury liner in the Atlantic Ocean after he gets sick from smoking a cigar.   Manuel, a sailor on the We’re Here, a Gloucester schooner, rescues him and brings him aboard his ship.  After Harvey has “words” with the Captain of the ship, Disko Troop (a great name!), he realizes that his life has been saved and that his attitude probably won’t get him very far, he apologizes to the Captain and jumps in as a helping hand.  He befriends the Captain’s son, Dan, and learns the ropes (literally, sometimes).  Harvey ultimately earns the respect of the crew, a handful of colorful characters.  He realizes that the work of a sailor is a work worth doing.

During Harvey’s apology to Disko Troop, Kipling writes that Disko gave Harvey “the ghost of a dry smile”.  I liked the way Kipling used this phrase to imply both the fondness Disko felt for Harvey and his unwillingness for Harvey to see that fondness – at least not right away.

When Harvey eventually returns to his parents, his father reacts to the changes in Harvey in a rather surprised manner.  He hadn’t recalled seeing Harvey with such a sparkle in his eye.  I don’t think hard work was the only lesson Harvey learned.  It seemed that he was affected just as much by the adventurous life of the crew of the We’re Here.   Harvey’s father tells the story of his climb to the top of a major railroad company as one of heading west, sleeping in desserts, encountering all types of people, fighting criminals – a similarly adventurous life.  One he hadn’t realized his son was missing out on.

Many conversations took place on the We’re Here.  One aspect of the novel that could frustrate readers is that the speaking voices of the crew were written exactly like they talk.  I think this is called “eye dialect”.

One of the deeper conversations among the men on the We’re Here revolved around the role of The Sea in their lives.  They seemed to come to an odd, but probably right, conclusion that while The Sea could not be controlled and that their work and livelihood could be wiped out with one violent storm, it did not mean that they stopped doing what they were doing.  At the same time, they could not put too much faith in their work and jobs, because at any moment The Sea could destroy it all.  Living with this tension perhaps was the key to their enjoyment of this life and adventure.

This is the only Kipling novel that takes place in and around the United States.  I’m interested in reading his novel, Kim, in the near future.

Has anyone out there read anything else by Kipling?