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!

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.

 

Mark Twain: Experience of the McWilliamses with Membranous Croup

Deal Me In – Week 52

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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.

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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.

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.

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I’ve heard that McCullers’ work is considered Southern Gothic so I had to do a little bit of research about the term. On www.study.com, 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 www.study.com, 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.

 

 

 

Jack London: Koolau the Leper

Deal Me In- Week 51

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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”.

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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.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

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

Deal Me In – Week 50

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“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.

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