Posted in Short Stories

“The Gambler, The Nun and The Radio”

Another Hemingway short story!  In this one, a Mr. Frazer is in the hospital with a broken leg.  We don’t get a lot of information about Mr. Frazer although he seems to be a writer.

During his stay, he encounters a professional, but unsuccessful, gambler, Cayutano Ruiz, in the hospital after being shot by someone he took for $38.  Several of Ruiz’s friends visit him  and a conversation ensues with Mr. Frazer about religion. According to one of the friends, religion is the opium of the people (he couldn’t remember from whom he had heard this).  Mr. Frazer, to himself, decides that there are many aspects of life that could be considered “opium”.  He comes up with his own list.

Mr. Frazer enjoys the hospital’s radio (my guess is this story takes place before television) to listen to music, baseball and football.  As the hospital is in Montana, the radio picks up more stations as the local ones sign off for the night.

Speaking of religion, a nun nurses both Mr. Frazer and Ruiz.  Sister Cecilia comes with her own quirks and eccentricities.  She enjoys listening to baseball with Mr. Frazer but has to repeatedly run to the chapel to pray when the game’s action gets tense:

The world series nearly finished me.  When the Athletics were at bat I was praying right out loud:  ‘Oh, Lord, direct their batting eyes!  Oh, Lord, may he hit one!  Oh, Lord, may he hit safely!’  Then when they filled the bases in the third game, you remember,  it was too much for me.  ‘Oh, Lord, may he hit it out of the lot!  Oh, Lord, may he drive it clean over the fence!’  Then you know when the Cardinals would come to bat it was simply dreadful.  ‘Oh, Lord, may they not see it!  Oh, Lord, don’t let them even catch a glimpse of it!’

She doesn’t see how anyone could enjoy football, until she discovers Notre Dame.


Posted in Fiction

Charles Dickens’ Hard Times

We are now ready to tackle Dickens.  We are now ready to embrace Dickens.  We are now ready to bask in Dickens.  In our dealings with Jane Austen we had to make a certain effort in order to join the ladies in the drawing room.  In the case of Dickens we remain at table with our tawny port.

This is the first paragraph in an excerpt from Vladamir Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature that I found in a preface to my copy of Dickens’ Bleak House.  I think I would have enjoyed having Nabokov, author of the infamous Lolita, as a professor (it also reminds me that banned book week is coming up).  The rest of this lecture is just as amusing, but informative.

But this post isn’t about Bleak House or Nabokov or Jane Austen.  It’s about Charles Dickens’ short novel Hard Times.  In spite of it’s brevity, it seemed to take me a long time to read.  Part of the reason could have just been me, but I would put a little of the blame on the novel, itself.

My understanding (and I’m by no means an expert) is that the majority of Dickens’ novels, including Hard Times, were written in serial form for magazines.  When I’ve read other Dickens novels, the question always persisted as to whether he made the story up as he went along or whether he knew how it would end when he started.  Usually, some small part of the story at the end would tie back to the beginning, giving the impression that he did have the story all figured out before he started writing and giving the impression of a brilliant mind and storyteller.

Hard Times was written in the same manner and while the characters are classic Dickens and his writing is superb in his character descriptions, the individual chapters don’t quite equal the whole.

The novel begins as though it’s going to be a story representing class conflict – not surprising as the impoverished seem to gain Dickens’ sympathies in many of his novels.  The Gradgrind  school in Coketown led by Thomas Gradgrind, Sr. seeks to knock out of it’s students any desire for fun or imagination.  While the Gradgrind family can be said to be wealthy, it’s not so much that money and the lack thereof come into conflict as hard cold facts conflict with art and creativity and just plain fun.

Thomas Gradgrind’s daughter Louisa and his son Tom, Jr. take central stage in the plot.  Louisa submits to being married off to a colleague of Gradgrind in order to keep her irresponsible brother out of money trouble.  Some side plots are intertwined as Stephen Blackpool one of the hired “Hands” of Coketown is falsely accused of robbing the Coketown bank and Sissy Jupe leaves the circus to live with the Gradgrinds.  The novel begins and ends with the circus.

My favorite character in the novel is Coketown, itself.  While Dickens desperately tries to paint the town as black and gloomy and dirty, some of his charm seems to always sneak in making the town’s bark worse than it’s bite:

A sunny midsummer day.  There was such a thing sometimes, even in Coketown.

I find even the name of the town a little humorous.

The major disjoint of the novel revolves around Thomas, Sr. At the beginning of story, he’s   hard and cold and willing to marry his daughter off to a braggart and boorish friend.  By the end, he is repentant and willing to do almost anything to appease his daughter.  Characters can change, it’s true, but usually the change process is part of the story.  I looked and looked but couldn’t find reason for this change.  It seemed to be pulled out of thin air.

A minor character named Mr. Sleary, one of the circus people, spoke with a lisp.  Dickens wrote with a lisp when his character talked.  I don’t think I’ve read anything more frustrating.

Posted in Libraries

Library Memories: Boone County Public Library of Northern Kentucky

As this is the current library I visit and utilize, I don’t know whether the word “memories” is appropriate as it implies something in the past; however, my experience at BCPL over the last few years is what has prompted me to recollect the libraries that have had an impact on me both as a child and an adult.

As the most recent recession hit my family and others rather hard, I’ve come to fully realize and appreciate that the vast education and entertainment resources available at BCPL (and many other libraries) are FREE!  That may seem to be stating the obvious but it can be easy, especially when such a top notch library like BCPL is available, to sometimes forget that fact.

In addition to all the books I’ve read from BCPL (still the first and foremost reason I utilize the library), the movies, music and games continue to attract me and my family.  I’ve come to enjoy the live concerts that they sponsor (usually on Friday nights).  Various kinds of music and, many times, local artists headline the concert series each season.  One of the more memorable concerts for myself has been Jeffrey Foucault, a folk singer I had not heard of before seeing him on the BCPL concert schedule.  He’s now one of my favorites.  I also saw the Louisville band The Muckrakers along with Brigid Kaelin (who has played the musical saw while performing with Elvis Costello).  I’ll mention one more time – all of these concerts are FREE!

(Brigid Kaelin)

The Main Branch of the library in Burlington, Kentucky had just started construction when I moved to the area.    At the entrance, patrons are greeted by a statue of Mary Draper Ingles, best known (at least by me) as the heroine in James Alexander Thom’s novel Follow The River.  I believe the river in the title references the Ohio River – only a few miles away from BCPL.  While I haven’t read this novel yet, I’ve read Thom’s novel Sign-Talker recently.

BCPL main branch

(Main Branch view from Highway 18)

MDI statue

(Mary Draper Ingles statue at entrance of Main Branch)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the small but mighty Lents Branch here.  This is the branch that I visit most.  The friendliness of the staff continues to make it a pleasure to walk into every few days (that’s about how often I visit).  If an item is at another branch, I can request it online to be sent to Lents and it will be there usually within 24 hours, saving me a trip.

BCPL is a fitting end to my library trip down memory lane.  As most libraries are, BCPL is a significant contributor to the culture and education of it’s community.

Posted in Short Stories

“A Day’s Wait”

Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Day’s Wait” is only three pages, but three pages of Hemingway prose is well worth the read.

A nine-year old boy comes down with influenza.  In overhearing the doctor tell his father that his temperature is 102,  he silently waits to die.  The boy had heard a friend of his in France indicate that a temperature over 44 means a person will die.  Of course, the one little bit of information the boy didn’t get was the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit.

The story is told from the perspective of the boy’s father who doesn’t realize until the end of the day what the boy is thinking.  Two paragraphs describe the father going hunting on a wintry day with his Irish Setter-vintage Hemingway.  A certain kind of bravery exists in the boy’s “stiff upper lip” in the face of death, even though it’s slightly misguided – vintage Hemingway, also.

Posted in Books in General

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books Read During The Lifespan of My Blog

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  So far it’s been a fun way to find out what others are reading and get some good ideas on books to read in the future.  This week the topic is Top Ten Books Read During the Lifespan of Your Blog.   Even though my blog is less than a year old and I haven’t read as many books compared to some blogs I’ve visited, it was still difficult to determine exactly which books I would include in my list.  Here’s what I came up with (not in any particular order):

1.  We Make A Life By What We Give by Richard B. Gunderman

2.  When I Was A Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson

3.  Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

4.  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

5.  The Sea Wolf by Jack London

6.  1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

7.  Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

8.  For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

9.  White Fang by Jack London

10.  11-22-63 by Stephen King

Posted in Libraries

Library Memories: The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

In 2006, I moved to Northern Kentucky of the Greater Cincinnati Area.  For a couple of years, I made the trek across the river via the Brent Spence bridge to work in downtown Cincinnati.  One of my first tasks outside of work was to find the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.  A couple of blocks away, I was pleased to find it to be a large building that spanned two blocks with the magazine area crossing over 9th Street.  It reminded me of the Atrium at Circle Center Mall in Indianapolis.  While most libraries have a drive-up drop-off to return books, CPL also has a drive-up to pick up books.

A sculpture of giant books with a waterfall graces the entrance on Vine St.  Inside, the building has three floors.  Taking stairs or elevators to the second floor, crossing through the magazine area, then taking a spiral staircase back to the first floor brings you to the children’s section.  The second floor has a huge computer lab that is continuously utilized by thousands of patrons.

I discovered an interesting aspect of CPL when I was looking for a copy of Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons for my book club (which was still in Indianapolis).  The on-line catalogue stated that CPL had the book and that it was in.  It also had a message that said to see the Information Desk.  This was the first of many times in which I requested an either out-of-print or obscure book from the Information Desk and they brought it up from what I imagined to be a dark and dusty basement.  I’m glad they were able to keep these books as opposed to throwing them away.  My imagination would sometimes get the better of me in wondering what kind of secret place these books were kept.

For a brief time, I worked in Blue Ash (north side of Cincy) and became a regular visitor of it’s branch.  While I was working here, a colleague of mine was listening to a group called The Little Willies.  After listening for a while, we figured out many of the lead vocals were by Norah Jones.  Not thinking I would be able to find this music on CD at the library, I looked it up any way.  Sure enough, there it was at the Blue Ash branch.  I picked it up at lunch and enjoyed listening to it for several weeks.

My favorite part of the downtown branch of CPL was the reading garden.  Set up with garden tables and chairs, trees and fountains, while the weather was warm (and sometimes when it wasn’t), I would spend several lunch hours a week there, getting away from the hectic grind.  What I liked best about the garden was the tall vine covered brick wall that surrounded it, keeping out the busyness of downtown.

I stopped working in downtown Cincy in 2009.  Since then, I haven’t been as frequent of visitor to CPL.  There are still a few out-of-print books that they have that I want to get.  Two of them are childrens books written by Chaim Potok:  The Tree of Here and The Sky of Now.  I’ve looked for these books for years and could never find them, then one day I looked on-line at CPL and there they were with the message “See Information Desk”.

Here’s one last picture:  Baseball and books – what could be better?

Posted in Short Stories

“The Little Man on the Subway”

Now Patrick Cullen was an intelligent Irishman.  That is to say, he admitted the existence of banshees, leprechauns, and the Little Folk, and kept an open mind on poltergeists, werewolves, vampires and such-like foreign trash.  At mere supernaturalities, he was too well-educated to sneer.  Still, Cullen did not intend to compromise his religion.  His theology was weak, but for a mortal to claim godship smacked of heresy, not to say sacrilege and blasphemy, even to him.

Isaac Asimov wrote his short story “The Little Man on the Subway” along with an author friend who went by the name of James MacCreigh.  It was published in 1950 in a small magazine called Fantasy Book.

A little man practicing to be a “god” hijacks Patrick Cullen’s subway.  The little man, named Crumley, calls his followers Crumleyites.  Cullen’s disbelief in Crumley’s claims disappears with a simple Obi Wan Kenobi-style wave of Crumley’s hand.  Other Crumleyites don’t get converted that easily; they have to go to factories to be made into Believers.  Several Disciples (super-Believers) rebel against Crumley and unwittingly create their own “god”, considerably worse than Crumley.

Crumley ultimately releases Cullen from his spell sending him back to New York and back to his subway.

While Asimov could be considered to be poking fun at religion in general with this story, I get the impression that his humorous irreverence is aimed mainly at the organizations that  can result from religion.  For some, there is a difference.

This is the second short story by Asimov that I’ve read.  This one has a little more serious undertone than “Christmas on Ganymede”, but I also have to describe it as, well, cute.  It’s not how I thought I would be describing Asimov’s stories.  Both of the stories I’ve read were written early in his career.  Perhaps I need to contrast these with stories written later on?  Or perhaps all his short stories are cute and I just didn’t know it?

Posted in Libraries

Library Memories: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

Flash forward from Junior High to adulthood.  Sometime around the mid-90’s I discovered the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library.  The downtown branch on St. Clair was a nice lunch hour walk from the office.  I guess maybe I should fill in a little of the years in between, though.

During high school and college I utilized the school libraries which were all wonderful.  In fact, a specific memory of college just popped into my head that I might have to write about sometime.  It was also during this time that I bought a significant number of books.  Most are still on my shelf, now.  I don’t recall what made me wander down Pennsylvania St. the first time, but it was the beginning of a great “friendship”.  By this time, in addition to books, IMCPL (and most other libraries) had CD’s, movies (first VHS and then DVD).   IMCPL even had works of art that could be borrowed.  I had friends who shared an apartment.  They would check out different paintings each month to decorate their living room.

While books were first and foremost, I checked out music and movies quite frequently, too.    One of the fondest memories I have of when my kids were younger was watching all five seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show with them -which I checked out from IMCPL.  We laughed ourselves silly!

I recall an incident at the Wayne Branch on Girls School Road that was indicative of the changes in technology taking place at the time.  I was waiting in line at the check-out desk behind a gentleman who was rather upset at the steep fine he had incurred on his overdue videos.  As I recall the fines for overdue videos back then were significantly more than the fines for overdue books.  The very pleasant lady behind the desk showed him how to keep track of his account and how to renew books on-line.  After her friendly presentation, the gentleman stormed out of the branch saying that he had one problem with what she was telling him – he didn’t have a computer and he never wanted one, he didn’t “believe in them”.  As I stepped up to the counter,  she looked at me and said “I have a love/hate relationship with computers myself, but I think they’re here to stay.”

The Main Branch of IMCPL moved temporarily to the former Indiana State Museum building (ISM had moved to a new building) sometime around 2004/2005 – my dates are little foggy here.  This move was to accommodate the renovation, remodeling and expansion of the Main Branch on St. Clair.  I don’t know all the details, but I do recall that this expansion took much longer than anticipated.  I had already moved from Indianapolis when it was completed.  I have been back to the Main Branch since it’s been completed.  All I can say is that I could take a week-long vacation to this library now!  It’s huge!  See the pictures below!

Posted in Fiction

“…try to be a filter, not a sponge.”

I didn’t realize when I was reading it that Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being A Wallflower was over a decade old.  As I contemplated the title prior to reading it, I envisioned lots of teen angst.  It was there, along with a little more.

Daughter, The Eldest gave me the book warning me that there could be some things that might make me uncomfortable.  But apparently, not so uncomfortable that she was afraid to give me the book – of which I’m very glad.

The book consists of a series of letters written by Charlie, a high school freshman in 1991, to an unnamed friend.  As Charlie’s story unfolds, we understand that he is shy, awkward, intelligent.  We also slowly begin to understand that he suffers from mental illness.  As Charlie makes friends with a couple of seniors, he encounters and confronts many of the issues teenagers face:  sex and drugs being the two major (and to a parent, scarrier) ones.  The novel is a little more graphic than I would prefer teen and YA books to be (or any books for that matter), but it stops short of being gratuitous.

Charlie also becomes friends with Bill, a first-year English teacher.  Recognizing Charlie’s intelligence and problems, Bill assigns extra books for Charlie to read – simply because he feels the books would benefit Charlie.  The books that are assigned to Charlie are fairly standard high school English books:  The Catcher In The Rye, The Great Gatsby, To Kill A Mockingbird, Hamlet, The Stranger, Walden, A Separate Peace, This Side Of Paradise.  These were all great books that I read myself when I was in high school (with the possible exception of Walden -which I was only required to read part of).  Bill also assigned Kerouac’s On The Road.  I had not heard of this novel until I was an adult out of college, but it’s a great book, too.

Then, out of left field, Bill assigns to Charlie Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead!  This choice floored me.  I’ve never read this book or anything else by Rand (but have always wanted to – my reading project for 2013 is starting to shape up).  I only know a little about Rand, but this book seemed completely out of place with the other books Bill assigned.  Charlie reads the book and absolutely loves it.  In the course of discussing it, Bill brilliantly tells Charlie to “…try to be a filter, not a sponge.” I don’t know if it’s just a natural ability for me or not, but I’ve always read books as a filter as opposed to a sponge, even as a teenager.  If I absorbed and adopted as my own every thought, idea or philosophy presented in the books on my bookshelf, I don’t think I’d be able to function.  Even if I don’t adopt an idea, it doesn’t mean I cannot appreciate it or at least understand it.  On rare occasions when I’ve been criticized for what I let my kids read, the criticism always comes under the assumption that my kids and all kids are sponges as opposed to filters.  While I very much recommend parents and teachers being involved with teenagers’ reading (and providing guidance to them in general), I think that teenagers have more filter than adults give them credit for.

I’m happy to have read this novel and have to confess that I’m proud that Daughter, The Eldest felt comfortable enough to give the book to me to read.   I’ll probably be back to YA novels sometime, but now I’m on to Charles Dickens.

Posted in Short Stories

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”

Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” seamlessly weaves together a story from the points of view of four different characters:

-Francis and Margot Macomber, a famous married couple – beyond Francis’ money and Margot’s good looks, the reader doesn’t know why they are famous;

-Robert Wilson, a hunting guide hired by the Macombers on an African Safari and

-a lion.

The Macombers are not exactly in the running to win “couple of the year”.  As the story begins, they are dealing with the fact that Francis performed an incredibly cowardly act by running from a charging lion while on safari the previous day.  Both Robert Wilson and Margot regard Francis with utter contempt.  Wilson’s contempt is kept to himself, while Margot’s is pretty much out in the open for all to hear.  The reader gets a retelling of Francis’ moment of cowardice even from the point of view of the wounded lion.  The lion’s thoughts are reminiscent of Jack London’s stories – although this part of the story is kept to a minimum.

The next day, the Macombers and Wilson set out once again, this time to hunt buffalo.  Francis redeems himself to a certain extent in the eyes of Wilson; however, Margot isn’t interested in a redeemed Francis.

I have a suspicion that the word “short” in the title of the story doesn’t just describe Francis lifespan but describes more the part of Francis’ life that is actually happy.

So far, of the short stories I’ve read by Hemingway, this is my favorite, even if the characters are not very likable.  Wilson, though not virtuous, has a certain appeal, but if I had to put my sympathies with anyone, it would be the lion.