John Steinbeck: Junius Maltby

4♦  4♦  4♦  4♦  4♦  4♦  4♦  4♦

It’s week 13 of my 2014 Deal Me In project (Sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis).  That means we are a quarter of the way through the year – which in some ways is hard to believe.

This week I drew the four of diamonds which brought me to John Steinbeck’s short story “Junius Maltby”.  While the story flowed relatively well, for me it was divided into three parts.

For the first part, Steinbeck introduces the reader of the story to Junius and his family, making the point that Maltby is a reader and a reader of fiction at that, specifically enjoying Robert Louis Stevenson.  Steinbeck proceeds to connect Junius’ reading to his laziness.  Maltby is somewhat of a free spirit and while the garden needs weeding, he tends to have his nose in a book and his feet in the pond.  Tragedy strikes part of his family – while he’s reading.  In some ways, I bristled at this first part because I really wanted Steinbeck to paint a man who reads in a better light – but he didn’t.

In the second part, Junius’ free-spiritedness rubs off on his young son, Robbie and his hired hand, Jacob, who doesn’t work and isn’t paid.  The three of them enjoy pretending they are characters in Stevenson stories until the school board decides it’s time Robbie gets an education.  Robbie’s imaginative activities make him the envy of the other kids and Robbie himself becomes quite the little man on campus.  Robbie’s teacher even begins to enjoy the Maltby farm.  At this point, it appears Steinbeck is making a case for children playing and using their imaginations.  However, those pesky things like food and clothes, or the absence, thereof, become emphasized to a great degree by the school board – and in some ways, by Steinbeck.

Here’s part three: As though Maltby had never noticed their lack of food or clothes, at the urging of the school board, he suddenly realizes that he should be providing for Robbie in a more material manner and so they set off to San Francisco.  At which point, Junius indicates to Robbie’s teacher that for twenty years prior to the farm, he had been an accountant.  AN ACCOUNTANT!?

There is always that proverbial book club question “How did this book resonate with you”?  I have to say that reading and hanging around the “farm and pond” as an alternative to accounting resonates with me significantly more than I want to admit.  Thanks, Mr. Steinbeck.

The Count of Monte Cristo at page 400…

Just to give anyone reading this the benefit of the doubt – there could be MINOR SPOILERS in this post.  The edition I am reading is considered ‘Complete and Unabridged”.  That would be my recommendation.  I don’t think it will disappoint.

596370

I can easily imagine the original serial format of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo causing 19th Century periodical readers to hang out at newsstands at midnight waiting for the next installment.

In one of my more astute literary observations, I can sum up the first 400 pages with “Best prison break ever”!  I thought it would be slow and methodical; however, it grabbed me by surprise and hasn’t let go.  Anyone who has ever said 19th Century French literature can’t be entertaining has never read this novel.

Franz d’Epinay’s visit to the Count’s island, Monte Cristo, is memorable for his hashish-induced dream involving statuesque Greek goddesses.  Suffice it to say it did nothing to dispel certain French stereotypes.  At page 400, Franz has taken a backseat in the plot but I’m hoping he’ll reappear.  But if he doesn’t, dozens of other fascinating characters move in and out of the intricate but fast-moving storyline.

Yes, at times, the question might arise as to why certain characters don’t recognize the Count as someone from their past; however, I’m having too much fun for that to really matter.  And at this juncture, I’m a little confused about Bertuccio’s story, but I’ll keep reading and perhaps it’s significance will become clear.

And where will Madame Danglar’s “dappled grays” eventually end up?  My curious mind wants to know.

 

 

 

Ray Bradbury: Long After Midnight

3♠  3♠  3♠  3♠  3♠  3♠  3♠  3♠

It’s week 12 of my 2014 Deal Me In Project and I drew the three of spades which corresponds to Ray Bradbury’s short story “Long After Midnight”.   Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a story by Ray Bradbury so I looked forward to choosing one of his stories.  At four pages, it’s also one of the shorter stories on my list.

120552

Three EMT’s arrive at the scene of a young girl’s suicide.  The scene bothers Latting, the least experienced of the three men, while the more seasoned Carlson and Moreno have built up their defenses to deal with such situations.  In the ambulance, Latting discusses life and love and family with his colleagues and manages to put a small nick in their armor.  I liked the fact that Bradbury didn’t completely break the veneer of the older men.  This made the ambulance discussion more realistic.  And this realism gives more of an impact to the surprise discovery Latting makes and the validity of his final question.

I admit that the final discovery took me by surprise.  While this particular story is not science fiction or fantasy, it’s a good reminder that writers known for these genres don’t need to be excluded when discussing works of social commentary.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Celestial Railroad

J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣

People get ready, there’s a train comin’.  Actually, there’s a parody comin’.  In his short story “The Celestial Railroad”, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress for a little social satire.  He’s not so much making fun of Bunyan’s work, which I believe was widely read in Hawthorne’s day, as he is humorously pointing out the effect of new technology, namely the railroad, on the society of his time.

In Bunyan’s allegory, pilgrims carry their burdens on their back up a mountain to Heaven.  Hawthorne’s narrator realizes that now all he has to do is throw his burdens in the baggage car while riding in the lap of luxury on a new-fangled locomotive right into the Celestial City.  While traveling, he and his companion, Mr. Smooth-it-away, get a glance at some of the old-fashioned pilgrims and get a good laugh:

Apollyon (the engineer) also entered heartily into the fun, and contrived to flirt the smoke and flame of the engine, or of his own breath, into their faces, and envelop them in an atmosphere of scalding steam.  These little practical jokes amused us mightily, and doubtless afforded the pilgrims the gratification of considering themselves martyrs.

Some of the narrator’s other companions have names like Mr. Live-for-the-world, Mr. Hide-your-sin-in-your-heart, and Mr. Scaly-conscience.  Whatever indictment Hawthorne is making on his society, it’s definitely a light-hearted one and by no means scathing.  Perhaps new technology can have it’s negative effect on humanity’s spirit, but, based on this story, Hawthorne only seems to be bothered by it a little bit.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

375802

“All is not always as it seems.”

When I began reading Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game, something made me a little skeptical about whether I would like it.  I think it was the idea of a six year-old boy pegged as a military genius.  I decided; however, that I would just go with it and see what happens, after all, it’s considered science fiction.  I stuck with it and enjoyed a great story from a great story teller.

The first third of the novel takes Andrew “Ender” Wiggins from his home to a space school where he is trained in military strategy and impresses his commanders with his intelligence and mettle, in spite of his tendency toward compassion and emotion.  I started getting pulled into the story more when Ender’s older siblings, Peter and Valentine, make their own secret plans that intertwine with Ender’s education.

As with much good science fiction, Card, while writing in the early 1980’s, has a grasp on technology and enough foresight to make some amazing predictions about internet use and its influence on world politics.

As I was making my way to the end of the novel, I knew a specific plot line would have to somehow be resolved.  As the end got closer, I realized there were not many possibilities left (at least not ones that would work) and took an educated guess as to how the novel would end.  I have to hand it to Card for his storytelling techniques that managed to keep me on the edge of my seat reading even when I knew I had figured out what would happen.

I have not seen the recent movie version of this novel and while most science fiction novels make for easy film adaptation, Ender’s Game seems like it would have some difficult sections to take to the big screen.

Kurt Vonnegut: Find Me A Dream

7♣  7♣  7♣  7♣  7♣  7♣  7♣

At a very concise 10 pages, for Week 10 of my Deal Me In 2014 project, I read Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Find Me A Dream” from his collection Bagombo Snuff Box.  The conciseness worked wonderfully well and provided a few subtly memorable characters.

361923

Arvin Borders is one of the most prominent citizens of Creon, Pennsylvania, the sewer pipe manufacturing capital of the world.  At age 46, he is also one of the more eligible bachelors of Creon.  He brings his date to the Creon Country Club for an evening of drinking, dancing, mingling and schmoozing.

Hildy Mathews, a relatively well-known actress and widow, accompanies Arvin to the Country Club; but at the time of the story, she’s outside on the patio crying into her highballs.  She’s still “mourning” the death of her husband.

While not literally in the story, Hildy’s dead husband plays a significant role in the conversations of the evening.  As Borders puts it, her husband was:

A dope fiend, an alcoholic, a wife-beater, and a woman-chaser who was shot dead last year by a jealous husband.

When he reveals his name to the band, they realize that Hildy’s dead husband was “probably the greatest jazz musician who had ever lived.” As the story continues, Vonnegut never mentions the Jazz musician’s name.  I found it incredibly funny that I could probably insert the name of any great Jazz musician and they would more or less fit the above description.

And then there is Andy Middleton, the leader of the band, the Creon Pipe-Dreamers.  I love his name, Middleton.  It reminds me of “middle of the road”, “fair-to-middlin'”, and even perhaps “Midwest”.   Andy discovers Hildy on the patio and begins talking to her with his band’s so-so music in the background.  Much talk is made of the band’s “average-ness”, but Hildy makes a proposal to Andy that promises to make him above average; however, from Andy’s perspective, something could be said for remaining average.

Classics Club: Favorite Literary Period

The monthly meme question at The Classics Club for March happens to be the question I submitted so I thought I would take a stab at answering it:

What is your favorite “classic” literary period and why?

It’s not difficult for me to pick my favorite literary period.  In coming up with a list of my favorite books, by and large, they fall into the category of “Early Twentieth Century”.  Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jack London always come to mind when determining favorites, as do J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesteron, Evelyn Waugh and John Steinbeck.  Recently, I’ve discovered Willa Cather and Edith Wharton – while Cather could be included in favorites, the jury is still out with Wharton.   And I can’t forget Margaret Mitchell and her one great novel.

I don’t know who decides which years “Early Twentieth Century” encompasses but I would ask to be allowed to include J. D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut and Flannery O’Connor in this period, as well as James Baldwin, whom I just read for the first time last week.  These authors all published something in the 1940’s and/or 1950’s which I will still include as “Early” even though several of them continued publishing into the “Later Twentieth Century” and in some cases into the “Twenty First Century”.

Why is this time period my favorite?  That’s the more difficult part of the question to answer.  In some respect, it’s simply that these were the authors I read when I first discovered literature during the summer before 10th grade.  They were the first authors I read when I discovered that there was something more to reading than just an exciting plot – that there was something about the words chosen and the way they were put together.  But one could learn this with any literary time period.

I think another reason would be that from my historical perspective, the “Early Twentieth Century” is on the edge of the old and the new.  It’s far enough in the past to be intriguing but yet close enough to the present to see direct connections and influences to the world in which I live.

Just curious, do you have a favorite literary period?