Posted in Books in General

The TBR Triple Dog Dare

TBR Final Dare

The final TBR Triple Dog Dare is sponsored by James at James Reads Books and I’ve decided to jump in and take the dare. From January 1, 2016 to April 1, 2016, I will only read books that I already own. I’m ordering a couple today and I will count those. Since many of the books I have on my shelf fall into the classic category, I can also count them toward my Classics Club reading.  I’m looking forward to seeing how many books I can knock out during the first three months of 2016.

If you are interested in joining, there’s still time!

Posted in Short Stories

A Fourth Anniversary Top Ten List

Today is the fourth anniversary of Mirror With Clouds. To celebrate, I am posting my top ten favorite short stories that I’ve read in 2015.  They are in order from 10 to 1.

10.) Here We Are by Dorothy Parker- A very funny story with one of my favorite quotations of the year:

“We have been married,” he said, “exactly two hours and twenty-six minutes.”

“My,” she said, “it seems like longer.”

9.) Miami-New York by Martha Gellhorn- One of Ernest Hemingway’s wives seems to have more of a sense of humor than he did.

8.) Death of a Favorite by J. F. Powers – One of my favorite narrators comes in the form of a cat.

7.) The Country Husband by John Cheever – A depressing but brilliantly written story about life in the suburbs with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” as the soundtrack:

Then Donald Goslin, who lived at the corner, began to play the “Moonlight Sonata”. He did this nearly every night. He threw the tempo out the window and played it rubato from beginning to end, like an outpouring of tearful petulance, lonesomeness, and self-pity – of everything it was Beethoven’s greatness not to know. The music rang up and down the street beneath the trees like an appeal for love, for tenderness, aimed at some lonely housemaid – some fresh-faced, homesick girl from Galway, looking at old snapshots in her third-floor room.

6.) The Half-Skinned Steer by Annie Proulx – I liked this story so much I read more of Proulx’s Wyoming stories from her collection Close Range.

5.) Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates – This is the story that has pushed me beyond simply an appreciation for Oates’ work. It’s by far the scariest story I read this year.

4.) In the Gloaming by Alice Elliot Dark – Tear jerker? Yes. Sentimental? No. Saddest story I read this year.

3.) God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen by Ernest Hemingway – A disturbing story with one of my favorite first lines:

In those days the distances were all very different, the dirt blew off the hills that now have been cut down, and Kansas City was very like Constantinople.

2.) A Silver Dish by Saul Bellow – The title by no means gives away how funny and irreverent this story is.

1.) A Voice in the Night by Steven Millhauser- My fascination with Steven Millhauser’s work only increased with this story and it contained one of my favorite final lines:

A calling. Not Samuel’s call but another. Not that way but this way. Samuel ministering unto the Lord, his teacher-father ministering unto the generations. And the son? What about him? Far, far to the west of everywhere, ministering unto the Muse. Thanks, Old Sea-Parter, for leaving me be.


Posted in Short Stories

Mark Twain: Experience of the McWilliamses with Membranous Croup

Deal Me In – Week 52

9♠ 9♠ 9♠ 9♠ 9♠ 9♠ 9♠ 9♠

She turned away in disdain and left the room; and since that time there is one episode in our life which we never refer to. Hence the tide of our days flows by in deep and untroubled serenity.

As I said last week, I’ve been waiting for this story all year because the title is one of the stranger and funnier ones I’ve seen.  In reviewing the table of contents in my The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain, I noticed that a few titles contain the McWilliamses so I’m guessing this couple might show up in more than one story.


Twain’s portrayal of Mr. and Mrs. McWilliams manages to satirize both marriage and parenthood.  As their small child makes a few minor coughs, Mrs. McWilliams flies into a whirlwind of worry. Mr. McWilliams then makes some attempts to appease her even though each attempt is thwarted by his wife.

Mr. McWilliams tends to be the “voice of reason” much perhaps the way Twain himself would be. The narrator actually relays the story to the reader as it was told to him by Mr. McWilliams unlike many of Twain’s other stories that are narrated by a fictional version of the author.

It’s possible that Twain might also be making fun of wealthy people because the McWilliamses have a full-time nurse that takes care of their kids and during Mrs. McWilliams flurry of dread that their child has something terminal, the family seems to fly from one room to another in a house that apparently has many rooms. While the satirization of the rich may be more subtle, it’s rather humorous thinking of wealthy people being so helpless.

I selected this story by drawing the Nine of Spades for Week 52, the final week of my Deal Me In 2015 short story project. My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Fiction

Carson McCullers’ The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

I read Carson McCuller’s novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter a few years ago. While I don’t remember disliking it, I have to admit I don’t remember much about it at all. I had heard a few things about McCullers’ novella The Ballad of the Sad Cafe so I decided to give it a try.


I’ve heard that McCullers’ work is considered Southern Gothic so I had to do a little bit of research about the term. On, I found out that Southern Gothic grew out of the English Gothic stories of the 18th and 19th century. Southern Gothic stories began in the early 20th century in the southern United States.

Again, according to, Southern Gothic tales do not necessarily contain the supernatural or “horror” related details as other Gothic stories might, but they instead focus on the grotesque, bizarre and unstable aspects of human nature.

Here are some Southern Gothic examples from The Ballad of the Sad Café:

  • The cafe’s owner and the story’s protagonist, Miss Amelia, uses her kidney stones in a charm bracelet for her Cousin Lymon.
  • Miss Amelia’s relationship with the hunchback she refers to as Cousin Lymon is ambiguous at best.
  • The unofficial (and literal) boxing match between Miss Amelia and her estranged husband Marvin Macy draws quite a crowd.

The sad part of this story is the way the people are never able to quite get their relationships right. Marriages, friendships, community – all of them seem to be a little off. The cafe that Miss Amelia accidentally sets into place becomes a kind of sanctuary for the people of her town – but as with most relationships in this story, it doesn’t last.

Here’s a little of what it’s like living in Miss Amelia’s community:

There is no good liquor to be bought in the town; the nearest still is eight miles away, and the liquor is such that those who drink it grow warts on their livers the size of goobers, and dream themselves into a dangerous inward world. There is absolutely nothing to do in the town. Walk around the millpond, stand kicking at a rotten stump, figure out what you can do with the old wagon wheel by the side of the road near the church. The soul rots with boredom. You might as well go down to the Forks Falls highway and listen to the chain gang.




Posted in Short Stories

Jack London: Koolau the Leper

Deal Me In- Week 51

A♣ A♣ A♣ A♣ A♣ A♣ A♣ A♣

All his lusty whole-bodied youth was his, until the sharp pangs of impending dissolution brought him back. He lifted his monstrous hands and gazed at them in wonder. But how? Why? Why should the wholeness of that wild youth of his change to this? Then he remembered, and once again, and for a moment, he was Koolau, the leper.

It’s the next to the last week of Deal Me In 2015 and I selected the Ace of Clubs which corresponded to Jack London’s “Koolau the Leper”.


When I think of lepers, I tend to think of the Biblical term “the least of these”.  People with whom society wants no part. In London’s story, Koolau is the leader of a colony of lepers that are forced to live in a secluded section of one of the Hawaiian islands. London’s descriptions of the colony’s members, which are probably accurate, remind me of The Walking Dead.

What is fascinating about London’s portrayal, though, is that he gives guns to these lepers. With Koolau as their chief, they attempt to defend themselves when what little of the world they have becomes threatened.

London put plenty of action into this story. It reminds me of a Rambo movie and while I’m not a huge Rambo fan, I found the action to be quite enjoyable.

My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

I now know which story I will be reading next week: “Experience of the McWilliamses with Membranous Croup” by Mark Twain.  Because of the rather humorous title, I’ve been looking forward to reading this one all year.




Posted in Short Stories

Bradbury of the Month: December-The Sound of Summer Running

For my final installment of Bradbury of the Month, I read “The Sound of Summer Running”.  Just by the title, I could tell it would be full of themes familiar to Ray Bradbury readers.


Many of Bradbury’s stories contain some sort of fantasy or magical element; however, it’s not uncommon for him to take something ordinary and give it a magical twist without turning it in to fantasy. In “The Sound of Summer Running”, the very ordinary act of a young boy wanting new shoes for summer gets the Bradbury magical treatment:

Somehow the people who made tennis shoes knew what boys needed and wanted. They put marshmellows and coiled springs in the soles and they wove the rest out of grasses bleached and fired in the wilderness. Somewhere deep in the soft loam of the shoes the thin hard sinews of the buck deer were hidden. The people that made the shoes must have watched a lot of winds blow the trees and a lot of rivers going down to the lakes. Whatever it was, it was in the shoes and it was summer.

The young protagonist makes a deal with the shoe salesman to work so he can pay for his new shoes. While it’s not as obvious, Bradbury seems to also put something magical into the act of working to buy one’s dreams. The kid’s excitement is inspiring.

For 2016, I will be selecting another Annual Featured Author. I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of authors. Unlike Ray Bradbury, in 2016, I’m going to be a little riskier and select an author whom I’ve never read before. Stay tuned to see who I finally pick.


Posted in Short Stories

Joyce Carol Oates: Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Deal Me In – Week 50

5♥  5♥  5♥  5♥  5♥  5♥  5♥  5♥

“Now put your hand on your heart, honey. Feel that? That feels solid too but we know better…”

For Week 50 of my Deal Me In 2015 short story project, I selected the Five of Hearts which corresponds to Joyce Carol Oates’ story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”.  This is one of Oates’ earlier stories and I couldn’t help but wonder if her stories published in the 1960’s are as scary and disturbing as the stories she has published in more recent years.  The answer is “Yes”!

In spite of the scary and disturbing aspects of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, this is the most well-written Oates story that I’ve read (although I’ve only read a handful) and firmly agree with John Updike for including it in his anthology The Best American Short Stories of the Century. 

Arnold Friend is what I will call the perpetrator in this story. He’s not the protagonist. Oates perfectly develops him as a character that I was afraid to “look at” but to whom I couldn’t close my eyes. I had to keep reading. The psychological intensity involved in the conversation between Arnold Friend and the protagonist puts this story at the top of my list of scary story recommendations.


My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


Posted in Fiction

The Call of theWild by Jack London


This isn’t the first time I’ve read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. I think it might be the third time; however, I know it’s at least the second time. I also know that it’s the first of London’s works that I read which lead to some of his other more well-known novels and a lot of short stories. In fact, at one time, London was the by far the most tagged author on my blog. Since I noticed that he’s fallen behind some other authors, I thought I’d help get him caught up. I only  have three stories left for my Deal Me In 2015 short story project and one of those is a London story so I’ll have another post of his work here in the near future.

Another more personal reason for reading The Call of the Wild is the newest member of my household – a three year-old Siberian Husky named Jakoby. It’s only been three weeks but he is pretty much a part of the family, now. Buck, the protagonist in The Call of the Wild, in my mind has always been a husky; however, he is actually half St. Bernard and half Shepherd dog.

From previous reading(s), I remembered Buck’s grueling transformation from domesticated hunting dog to wild wolf of the Yukon. I did not remember the passages about his relationship with John Thornton. As sentimental as it might sound, I keep thinking for these passages as the “love” passages. The title of the chapter that includes these is “For the Love of a Man”:

Love, genuine passionate love, was his for the first time. This he had never experienced at Judge Miller’s down in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. With the Judge’s sons, hunting and tramping, it had been a working partnership; with the Judge’s grandsons, a sort of pompous guardianship; and with the Judge himself, a stately and dignified friendship. But love that was feverish and burning, that was adoration, that was madness, it had taken John Thornton to arouse.

Another reason this “love” chapter takes on more meaning at the end of the book is that this love doesn’t go on forever. The loss of it is simply one more example of both man and nature’s brutality – a theme found in so many of Jack London’s works. The manner in which London finally moves Buck permanently into the wildness of his ancestors is writing that is truly breath-taking:

When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack.


Posted in Short Stories

Steven Millhauser: Miracle Polish

Deal Me In – Week 49

2♣ 2♣ 2♣ 2♣ 2♣ 2♣ 2♣ 2♣

I selected the Two of Clubs and my fourth and final Wild Card for Week 49 of my Deal Me In 2015 short story project. Deciding not to ruin a good thing, I selected “Miracle Polish”, my fourth, but probably not final, Steven Millhauser story.

I’ve said several times on this blog that a mark of a good story teller is if the reader knows where the author is headed at the beginning of the story but still wants to go there. As Millhauser opens his story, I got the sense that things weren’t going to go as well as the narrator at first thought:

I should have said no to the stranger at the door, with his skinny throat and his black sample case that pulled him a little to the side, so that one of his jacket cuffs was higher than the other, a polite no would have done the trick, no thanks, I’m afraid not, not today, then the closing of the door and the heavy click of the latch, but I’d seen the lines of dirt in the black shoe creases, the worn-down heels, the shine on the jacket sleeves, the glint of desperation in his eyes.

And so the narrator buys a bottle of Miracle Polish to get the stranger to go away. As the narrator uses the polish to shine up his mirrors he realizes that the mirror reflects something different than usual. It doesn’t reflect a younger or better looking person, but instead it reflects a person who has not had the bumps along life’s road that the narrator has had. The mirror has taken all of the world-weariness away. As the narrator sees his just-as-world-weary girlfriend in the mirror, the plot ensues.


The events that have made the narrator and his girlfriend so saddened by life is never revealed to the reader but this makes the story that much more intriguing. However, knowing that the Miracle Polish isn’t ultimately going to bring anything good gives the reader the drive to see what happens.

While this may not be my favorite Millhauser story, his great details and unusual storytelling made it worth reading. “Miracle Polish” is included in the 2012 edition of the The Best American Short Stories.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


Posted in Short Stories

Looking Forward to Deal Me In 2016!

It’s that time of the year when I post my new Deal Me In list. Deal Me In is a short story challenge (I actually consider it more of a project) hosted each year by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. Participants create their own list of 52 short stories and assign each one to a card in a regular deck of playing cards.  As there are 52 weeks in a year, participants randomly select a card each week to determine which story to read and post about if they so choose.  2016 will be the fourth year I have participated and it’s introduced me to a ton of new authors and a great appreciation for the short story form.

In 2016, I’ve opted for a topical theme for the stories I’ll be reading.  The stories in each suit have a general topic in common and here is where you can find my Deal Me In 2016 list of stories.  Below is a brief explanation of each suit:


Legend has it that St. Patrick used the clover to illustrate the concept of the Trinity so I decided to use Clubs for stories by authors that have some connection to Catholicism.  Most (not all) of these stories are coming from an anthology The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. I’m looking forward to exploring these stories to see what they have might have in common.


Since the diamond is an intregal shape in the game of baseball, I’m using Diamonds for stories about baseball.  Something about the game lends itself well to fiction. I’m curious as to what I might find out by reading a series of stories involving the sport. Most of these stories are coming from the collection Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar.


They say “home is where the heart is” and for the past nine years my home has been Kentucky, so Hearts is my suit for authors with a connection to the Bluegrass state.  Most of these stories are coming from Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs.


OK, this isn’t really a topic, but I’ve used Spades for stories that happen to already be on my shelf but haven’t been read, yet. I admit that this was also an excuse to include a few favorite authors on my list again this year. At the same time, a few favorite authors are not included on my list this year; however, expect to see some week-long readings involving these authors.

An interesting side note: I determined the categories first with a general rule that I wouldn’t include multiple stories by the same author within an individual category.  I was surprised to find out that three authors showed up in three categories and three authors are included in two categories.

And I also included my obligatory Christmas story just to see what time of year it might get selected.  It’s pretty easy to figure out which story that is. As in previous years, the Two’s in each suit are wild to give me an opportunity to read stories or authors that I discover along the way.