The TBR Triple Dog Dare Update

TBR Final Dare

The final TBR Triple Dog Dare is sponsored by James at James Reads Books so I thought I would post an update. The Dare requires participants to read only books that they already have during January, February and March. While I can’t say the number of books I’ve read so far is anything to post about, I will say that I’ve become very inspired to read the books that are already on my shelf.

I’ve read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and am almost finished with Steven Millhauser’s collection Voices in the Night: Stories. The Millhauser book I am counting even though it’s from the library. I’ve had it since before the beginning of 2016. I planned on reading Jack London’s Martin Eden, also from the library; however, it had to be returned before I got a chance to read it (I couldn’t renew it). So the London novel will have to wait until the spring.

Next up will be the Bronte sisters. I’ve had Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre on my shelf for years. It’s high time I read them.

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.

 

 

 

The Call of theWild by Jack London

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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.

 

Annie Proulx Week, Day 2 – The Blood Bay

That night he froze to death on Powder River’s bitter west bank, that stream of famous dimensions and direction – an inch deep, a mile wide and she flows uphill from Texas.

Annie Proulx’s “The Blood Bay”, set in the 1880’s, begins with a group of cowboys stumbling across a man who has frozen to death in the Wyoming winter.  Any story that has someone freezing to death is going to remind me of Jack London; however, so far, Proulx’s writing brings to mind London in theme and style, also.  In this story, the man who dies alone is only the catalyst for a very short and darkly comic tale.

One of the cowboys takes a liking to the dead man’s boots and his grisly manner of removing them as well as his encounter with the horse that gives the story its title sets the stage for a great punchline.  Just as in some of London’s stories, the fun and games inside a warm cabin provide a stark contrast to the wicked cold outdoors.

I would recommend this story to anyone wanting a quick introduction to Proulx’s work.

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Annie Proulx: The Half-Skinned Steer

DEAL ME IN – WEEK 17

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It’s Week 17 of Deal Me In 2015 and I drew the Six of Diamonds.  This brought me to Annie Proulx’s short story “The Half-Skinned Steer”.  This is the second work of Proulx’s that I’ve read.  Prior to blogging, I had read her short story “Brokeback Mountain”.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  Jay also posted about this story last year.

Proulx took me by surprise with her ability to effectively incorporate a cross-country road trip within a short story.  Mero leaves his home of sixty years in Massachusetts to head back to his childhood home of Wyoming where his brother Rollo has died.  Proulx perfectly blends the physical and natural world with Mero’s aging confused mind.

In theme, this story reminds me of Jack London’s “To Build A Fire” or, for that matter, any of London’s man vs. nature stories. In “The Half-Skinned Steer”, Proulx doesn’t explain the exact outcome of this classic conflict; however, the reader has a good idea who wins.

The story contains one of the best opening paragraphs I’ve read in a while:

In the long unfurling of his life, from tight-wound kid hustler in a wool suit riding the train out of Cheyenne to geriatric limper in this spooled-out year, Mero had kicked down thoughts of the place where he began, a so-called ranch on strange ground at the south hinge of the Big Horns.  He’d got himself out of there in 1936, had gone to a war and come back, married and married again (and again), made money in boilers and air-duct cleaning and smart investments, retired, got into local politics and out again without scandal, never circled back to see the old man and Rollo, bankrupt and ruined, because he knew they were.

Mero’s remembered story of the red-eyed ghostly omen of the half-skinned steer gives the reader a clue as to why he left Wyoming in the first place. The bad luck that had been there sixty years prior (and that Mero apparently left behind) seems to have not gone anywhere.

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This story is included in my anthology Best American Short Stories of the Century and I can see why.  I think I would include it with a few other stories vying for my favorite of the year.  I highly recommend it.  It’s also included in Proulx’s collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories.

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Jack London: Negore, The Coward

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Hey!  It’s Jack London week here at Mirror w/ Clouds!  I just finished reading his novel  Before Adam and posted about it here.  Then, this week I drew the Eight of Hearts for my Deal Me In 2014 project which brought me to London’s short story “Negore, The Coward”.   My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  Jay also posted about this story last year.

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“Negore, The Coward” poses some interesting questions both from a literary standpoint and from a philosophical one.  Negore is branded a coward by his people of Alaska as they fight the Russians in the mid-Nineteenth century.  His reasoning behind his act of cowardice isn’t actually known until he returns to his people and to Oona, the woman he loves.  Oona only half accepts his explanation, but gives him an opportunity to prove himself once more.  I’m still not sure how I feel about Oona.  She asks for a lot.

But attempt to prove himself is what Negore sets out to do.  Does he succeed?  I’ll have to leave that up to anyone who happens to want to read this story.  It can be found here for free.

As I’ve said, the story asks some fascinating questions.  Which is better – a dead brave man or a coward who has managed to survive?  Are there things worth dying for or should survival be priority?  Aside from these philosophical questions in general, I also couldn’t help but be curious about what Jack London, himself, thought.  Survival plays a key role in much of his writing.  The brutality of nature tends to be a common enemy to humanity.  Just a gut feeling makes me think London could very well have thought that anyone who is able to survive, regardless of the means, has a certain amount of bravery and cowardice is only in the eye of the beholder.  Are there noble reasons to be considered a “coward”?  Can sacrifice be viewed as “cowardly”?

All in all, a very enjoyable and thought-provoking story.

 

 

Before Adam by Jack London

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And so it is with much that I narrate of the events of that far-off time.  There is a duality about my impressions that is too confusing to inflict upon my readers.  I shall merely pause here in my narrative to indicate this duality, this perplexing mixing of personality.  It is I, the modern, who look back across the centuries and weigh and analyze the emotions and motives of Big-Tooth, my other self.  He did not bother to weigh and analyze.  He was simplicity itself.  He just lived events, without ever pondering why he lived them in his particular and often erratic way.

I’ve posted before about how much I enjoy Jack London’s descriptions of the wild North.  His ability to capture a certain rugged, individualistic mindset among the bitter cold and snowy wilderness never ceases to amaze me.  I discovered his lesser known novel Before Adam via Jay’s post at Bibliophilopolis. 

London’s unnamed narrator describes a series of dreams he has during the novel’s present day (early Twentieth century) that takes him back to the Mid-Pleistocene era.  The dreams are so vivid that the narrator believes he is living out the adventures of his pre-historic ancestor whom he calls “Big-Tooth”.

While the present-day narrator pops in every once in a while, the bulk of the novel is Big-Tooth’s story.  The plot is not complicated and London’s writing is different in style.  At first,  I was disappointed that his writing did not include more of his great descriptions of the environment.  I felt like the writing was choppier, more immature; however, as I continued reading, I concluded that London still brought forth the same themes of his better known writings and that the writing style he used in this novel could be described as primitive – as was the time period about which he wrote.

One of the more fascinating scenes comes as Big-Tooth and his friend, Lop-Ear, steal a glance at the fire used by the Fire People (called so because they were the only ones who had fire).  They watch it with the same wonder as anybody who has watched and used new technology.  Fire, landing on the moon, the internet – as the reader, London allows me to put the same emotions and questions to fire as I could to any of the technological advances in my lifetime or London’s.

In the brutal man vs. nature story of Big-Tooth and his people, London quite realistically gives them a sense of humor.  While Big-Tooth and Lop-Ear are not as developed mentally to get sarcasm or the finer details of wit, they enjoy playing games with each other, playing jokes, and laughing:

In spite of the reign of fear under which we lived, the Folk were always great laughers.  We had the sense of humor.  Our merriment was Gargantuan.  It was never restrained.  There was nothing half way about it.  When a thing was funny we were convulsed with appreciation of it, and the simplest, crudest things were funny to us.  Oh, we were great laughers, I can tell you.

As far as favorites go, I probably don’t rank Before Adam up there with other London novels such as The Sea Wolf and The Call of the Wild but it added more dimension to an already favorite author.