Posted in Short Stories

The Ugly Duckling and Magic?

I’m sure that at some time Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Ugly Duckling” has been animated, but I’m not sure if it’s been Disney-fied (maybe it has, I just can’t remember it).  I read Andersen’s original story this weekend and was confronted with some questions about fairy tales in general.

I noticed no magic in this story.  Andersen beautifully describes the countryside and I am sure readers may think of nature itself as magical.  I wouldn’t disagree with them, but that’s not the magic of which I’m thinking.  Casting of spells, magic wands, and fairy godmothers are not included.  Animals talk; however, I consider this more literary device than magic.  Readers need to know what the animals are thinking and how they are acting.  Talking animals is as good of a way to find out as any.

I won’t go into details about the story because it’s familiar.  If by chance someone is not familiar with it, I highly recommend and encourage them to read it.  I have to ask myself the question, though:  what makes a fairy tale a fairy tale?  Does it have to include magic?  And if so, what kind of magic?  Are talking animals enough to consider a story a fairy tale?

One point in the story, perhaps minor, perhaps not, that could be considered magic is how the swan egg got into the duck’s nest in the first place.  Nowhere in the story is that discussed or revealed.  Could swan eggs be magic?  Or did the swan egg simply role down a hill and land in the duck’s nest?

The answers to these questions don’t really have any bearing on my enjoyment of the tale – which I enjoyed very much.  The questions just popped up as I read it.  Any fairy tale experts out there?

Posted in Books in General

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters That Remind Me of Myself

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, sponsored by The Broke and The Bookish, are characters that remind me of myself.  The top ten lists I’ve put together recently have been fun, but I especially appreciated this one.  It made me go back over the years and relive some of my favorite reading experiences.

The first book I read in which I recognized a character that reminded me of myself was Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  No, I didn’t see myself in the title character, but in the narrator, Nick Carraway.  In fact, many of the characters in which I’ve seen myself have been “side-kicks”.  I would like to think that I’m the extremely loyal friend like Samwise Gamgee in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but I admit that I have a jealous streak like Ron Weasley in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Several characters in Chaim Potok’s novels, Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders in The Chosen and Asher Lev in My Name is Asher Lev and The Gift of Asher Lev, reminded me that I can question my faith (or worldview or life philosophy) without abandoning it.

Sal Paradise in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road would be me (for the most part) if I ever went “on the road” with a group of friends like he did with Dean Moriarty.  The closest I ever came was Myrtle Beach during spring break in college – not exactly the same.

I’m probably too old to say that I see myself in J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, not to mention it’s a little cliche, but when I was sixteen and reading the book?  Absolutely!

Somewhere in E. M. Forster’s A Room With A View, Cecil Vyse says that some people in the world are only good for books – he rather pompously includes himself in this category.  As much as I love books and while some of my friends might put me in Cecil’s category, I can’t say I see myself in him.  At the same time, I’m not the free spirit that George Emerson appears to be, either.  I saw myself more in the vicar, Mr. Beebe, with an ability to somehow combine the enjoyment of real life and books.

I don’t believe I’m as old as Santiago in Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea and I’m not much of a fisherman, but the older I get, it becomes easier to relate to this guy.

What characters remind you of you?

Posted in Short Stories

Vonnegut on fathers and sons

I find it interesting that I’ve read two stories back to back about fathers and sons.  I read another short story from Kurt Vonnegut’s collection Bagombo Snuff Box called “This Son of Mine”.   The Vonnegut stories I’ve read so far combine a small “slice of life” moment with major insights into relationships and the world in general.


This is the age-old story in which a son disappoints his father by not wanting to take over the family business.  Merle and Franklin (named after Benjamin Franklin- one might be inclined to think “high expectations”), the father and son already mentioned, shoot clay pigeons with Rudy and Karl, a father and son who “seem” to have the perfect relationship.  In just a short time together, Vonnegut incorporates comparisons and contrasts in which he draws this bittersweet conclusion while Rudy and Karl play music:

…the music wasn’t speaking anymore of just Rudy and Karl.  It was speaking of all fathers and sons.  It was saying what they had all been saying haltingly, sometimes with pain and sometimes with anger and sometimes with crueltly and sometimes with love:  that fathers and sons were one.

It was saying, too, that a time for a parting in spirit was near – no matter how close anyone held anyone, no matter what anyone tried.

Posted in Fiction

“…with a few eleventh hour apologies.”

Stories about baseball always seem to involve fathers and sons and reconciliations with a few play by play narratives thrown in.  Some are better than others.  John Grisham’s short novel, Calico Joe, includes all of these, although the reconciliation part is questionable, in fact for me, it was a big question.

Paul Tracey is twelve years old in 1973.  His father, Warren Tracey, is a mediocre some-times pitcher for the Mets whom Paul hates – and for good reason.  Joe Castle of Calico Rock, Arkansas is the rookie Cubs phenom whom Paul idolizes.  A fateful encounter between the two players brings both of their careers to an abrupt end.

Thirty years later, Paul wants to get his dying father and Joe together for a reconciliation of sorts.  This is the part that I found questionable.  Nothing about the relationship between Paul and his father makes me convinced that this meeting between Warren and Joe would ever happen; however, it does and it seems to do something for Paul, although I’m not sure exactly what.  He states that he doesn’t want to hear a “few eleventh hour apologies” from his dad but it seems like that’s what the novel wants.

It has a sentimental ending that I didn’t find horrible and it was about baseball so it can’t be all bad.

Did I mention that the book is short?

Posted in Non Fiction

The Long Recessional by David Gilmour

The first book on my summer reading list that I’ve finished is David Gilmour’s The Long Recessional:  The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling.  Knowing very little about Kipling’s life, it was interesting to put the man with the writing.  At the turn of the twentieth century, much of his writing took the form of political analysis and opinion, even many of his stories and poems.  Being British, but living in India as a child, gave him a somewhat “unique” perspective on the world.  He could be a hateful person and knew it; he was even proud of it at times.

His imperialistic beliefs would make him controversial by today’s standards.  In spite of being a staunch supporter of the British empire, he leveled much of his hatred and political criticism at the British government itself when he felt they were not bettering the world and the lives of those living in their colonies.  At the same time, he frequently referred to those native to the empire’s colonies as though they were children who did not know any better and needed the empire to bring “civilization” to their countries.  Gilmour does an outstanding job at presenting Kipling as the complex person that he was as opposed to presenting him as either all good or all bad.

Kipling and his wife, Carrie, lived in Vermont for a number of years when their children were born.  He was a friend of and greatly respected by Mark Twain.  In addition,they “hung out” with Thomas Hardy and his wife when they lived in England.  When Kipling won the Nobel Prize, many thought Thomas Hardy should have received it.  Gilmour does not say whether this caused any “bad blood” between the two authors.  If I was to award the Nobel to one of these men, I probably would have given it to Hardy, also.

Kipling’s knowledge of world politics led him to predict in the 1890’s that Germany would rise up to cause problems and start a Great War sometime around 1914.  His son, John, died fighting in the Battle of Loos during World War I.   He railed against the United States for not getting into the war sooner.  He personally knew Theodore Roosevelt, whom he admired greatly and Woodrow Wilson, whom he did not.  What came as a surprise to me was his great dislike for Winston Churchill.  Kipling lived to see Hitler come to power, but died before Germany’s European invasions.

His daughter Josephine died at the age of 6 of pneumonia.  His only surviving child, Elsie, never had children.  Kipling seemed to very much enjoy children and would play endlessly with his own and the children of friends and neighbors.  Not having any grandchildren was a huge disappointment to him.

The book concentrated mostly on Kipling’s involvement in politics, discussing his literary work as it related to world events occuring during his life and his opinions thereof.  I realize that literature and history go hand in hand, but I would guess that history buffs would find the book more intriguing than literary buffs.

Posted in Books in General

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on my Summer Reading List

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  It’s a fun an interesting way to get to know other book bloggers and what they are reading.

This week the topic is “books on my summer reading list”.  Here it is and its subject to change without notice.

1.  Calico Joe by John Grisham: I’m not a huge Grisham fan and I think I’ve only read one of his books, The Innocent Man.  As this one is about baseball and it seems baseball stories are difficult to come by, I thought I’d give it a try.  Besides, it’s short.

2.  The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling by David Gilmour:  As I’ve been reading Kipling as a part of my 2012 reading project, I wanted to read a biography.  I’m in the middle of this one right now and so far he strikes me as a complicated person.

3.  City of Bones by Cassandra Clare:  Not my usual genre but Daughter, The Eldest highly recommends it so I thought I would see what its all about.

4.  Hard Times by Charles Dickens:  The second part of the year will include works by Charles Dickens.  I’m starting with this one.

5.  Bleak House by Charles Dickens:  This one has been on my shelf for a while.  I’ve read the more “popular” works by Dickens so I’ll read some of his lesser known works this year.

6.  Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein:  Last year I read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress  and enjoyed it.  I’ve gotten several high recommendations for this novel.

7.  I, Robot by Isaac Asimov:  Isaac Asimov is another one of my reading project authors for 2012.  I’ve read absolutely nothing by him, so this will be the first unless I read one of his short stories before this one.

8.  For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway:  This will be a re-read, but it’s been a long time.  I re-read The Sun Also Rises last year and it was as great as it was when I was in high school – which was a little while ago.  Looking forward to this one.

9. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks: This will round out Brooks’ novels for me.

10.  Sign Talker by James Alexander Thom:  As I’ve come to appreciate the effort that goes into good historical fiction with the works of Geraldine Brooks, I thought I’d give Thom a try as he comes highly recommended.

Posted in Short Stories

“Show us which button to push, Lou.”

Last week, Jay at Bibliophilopolis posted about Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “The Package”, included in the collection Bagombo Snuff Box.  He didn’t disclose the story’s ending but made the build up so interesting that I had to give it a try.  It was well worth it.  I won’t go into all the details of the story because you can read both the story and Jay’s post for yourself.

The story’s timeframe and setting was both brilliant and humorous,  a good way of describing much of Vonnegut’s work.  The encounter between pull-himself-up-by-his-bootstraps Earl and born-with-a-silver-spoon-in-his-mouth Charley takes place over the course of a few hours, decades after the two were fraternity brothers in college, while Earl and his wife are discovering their brand new large house with photographers from Home Beautiful magazine.  The home comes with all the latest gadgets requiring the continuous pushing of buttons.

While the ending has a certain twist to it, Vonnegut really gives you everything you need to know throughout the story in order for the ending to “ring true”.  The story is one of my favorites so far this year.

Posted in Fiction

“…in the great human quest to figure it all out.”

Geraldine Brooks has been one of my favorite new (to me) authors that I’ve discovered in 2012.  People of the Book is the third novel of hers that I’ve read (I’ve previously read Caleb’s Crossing and the Pulitzer Prize-winning March).  I think this novel made the book club rounds a few years ago.


In this novel, Dr. Hannah Heath, an Australian rare book conservationist, is commissioned by the United Nations to travel to war-torn Sarajevo in the mid-90’s to examine a 500 year-old haggadah, a book used by Jewish families during their Passover seder.  The book had been saved by a Muslim museum curator when fighting in the city threatened to destroy many of the museum’s exhibits.

I have an admiration for people who follow their dream even if it’s to an obscure career that nobody understands.  In Hannah’s words, Brooks describes her:

I’m not ambitious in the traditional sense.  I don’t want a big house or a big bank account…I don’t want to be the boss of anything or manage anyone but myself.  But I do take a lot of pleasure in surprising my stuffy old colleagues by publishing something they don’t know.  I just love to move the ball forward, even if it’s only a millimeter, in the great human quest to figure it all out.

As Hannah examines the centuries-old book, she discovers small items embedded in the parchment or the paint of the “illuminations” (illustrations) such as a butterfly wing and a cat hair.  With each of these minute items, the novel has a flashback to a time when the book was saved during the continuous battles between Muslims, Jews and Christians.  The book’s preservation is credited to members of all three religions.  These flashbacks go backwards in time with interludes in the present in between each.  The flashbacks end with as many questions as answers, none of them include complete stories, allowing the reader to wonder and imagine what might have happened, and in addition, brilliantly illustrating the concept that not every detail of history is saved or is available to those of us in the present.

During the present day sections, Hannah explains her tense relationship with her mother and ultimately discovers the identity of her father.  This is the only aspect of the novel that doesn’t quite ring true.  It turns it into a soap opera.  I think the novel would have been just as thrilling without this story line.

As with her other novels, Brooks’ attention to historical detail must have been the result of hours upon hours of research.  Something that’s difficult to get my mind around.  In an afterword, she cites and explains her sources, both people and books.  She’s also careful to point out that, though she based some of her characters on some historical figures she encountered, the people in the novel are fictional.

Posted in Short Stories

The April Witch by Ray Bradbury

In memory of Ray Bradbury who passed away this week, I read his short story “The April Witch” this weekend.


Cecy Elliot, the “witch”, belongs to a family of beings with magical powers.  She can become a leaf or a bird or a cloud or almost anything she wants.  Her parents warn her, though, that she cannot marry a human or she will lose her powers.  In spite of her parents’ warning, she wants to fall in love.

She goes into the “head” of Ann Leary, a nineteen year-old girl, with the hopes of making her fall in love with Tom, a 22 year-old man.  Unknown to Cecy, Ann and Tom had already had a relationship that didn’t quite work out.  Cecy gets Ann to say things to Tom that Ann doesn’t really feel, much to Tom’s confusion.  While Ann doesn’t realize Cecy is in her head, she does wonder why she’s saying these things to Tom.  Ann fights back and ultimately wins.

As usual, Bradbury’s writing is beautiful and the story plays out like a fairy tale.  The setting is Illinois and the time period is sometime prior to the invention of the automobile  when horse-drawn carriages are still used for travel.  While I might have felt a little sorry for Cecy in her failure, I had to admit I was rooting for Ann the whole time.

Posted in Non Fiction

Does anyone remember Wacky Packages?

My guess is the age of the average blogger would prevent many from remembering Wacky Packages.  I found them mentioned in Michael Chabon’s wonderful little book Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasure and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son.  In his book, Chabon reveals his age and based on when the book was written, he would be just slightly older than myself.  His works have interested me for a while now; however, before this book, I had only read his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which happened to be the first book I wrote about on this blog.

Manhood for Amateurs By Michael Chabon

Manhood for Amateurs weaves Chabon’s incredibly sharp humor with pop culture both now and then (when he was a kid) and with some social commentary about the way he sees things and with personal stories of his family both then and now.  Because it’s written in the form of a series of short reflections about all of the above topics, it’s difficult to write about everything the book brings up.  However, I’ll mention a few.

His reference to Wacky Packages took me by surprise because I had completely forgotten about them; however, as a kid I remember walking to a Seven-Eleven in Fairborn, OH to buy them.  They were similar to Baseball cards in nature with the pink bubble gum stick made of who knows what.  The cards made fun of various food or household products by adding typical “gross out” characteristics that most kids loved.  Chabon includes these items in his thoughts on the ability of kids today to be able to “rebel” against the adult world.  In his mind, these cards were the beginning of adults taking advantage of and endorsing kids desire to “rebel” and therefore negating the rebellion.

He writes a heart-felt section about his wife and her sometimes superhuman qualities in dealing with him and their four kids.  He follows that section with an analysis of the female comic book superheroes he enjoyed as a kid.  He was partial to someone called Big Barda as opposed to the more popular ones such as Wonder Woman and Super Girl.  Then he relays a rather comical conversation he had with his sons while they were attempting to draw female super heroes.

Towards the end of the book he speaks of the phenomenon of radio songs becoming nostalgic.  It seems to him that the time it takes music to become “oldies”  is getting significantly shorter, something I seem to notice myself.  I could relate to the paragraph he wrote about radio songs reminding him of places and people of the past:

No medium is as sensuously evocative of the past as radio.  No other medium deploys that shocking full-immersion power of random rememberance.  But for the power to have its maximum impact, the process of remembering has to be random at both ends.  Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” is playing over the PA in a Gap store at the Mall in Columbia on an unremarkable afternoon when you’re sixteen, and then one day you’re forty and driving to get your kid from nursery school and the song comes on, and there in your minivan you can smell the chlorine from the mall’s fountain, and hear your best friend telling you about Pauline Kael’s review of Last Tango In Paris as reprinted in Reeling, and see the vast blue wall of denim before you, and remember the world in which Bill Murray was God and Jimmy Carter was president and in which, at the Gap, they sold nothing but Levi’s.

Ultimately, I think what I enjoyed the most about this book was experiencing the point of view of a man who loves to read and write fiction.