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

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“Morality” by Stephen King

I read Stephen King’s short story “Morality” this week.  The cover of the book said it was “chilling” so I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I haven’t read a lot of Stephen King’s work.  What I’ve read prior to this story, I’ve enjoyed.  It wasn’t quite the case with this one.

It starts out well enough, with a married couple, Chad and Nora, struggling with finances.  Chad is a substitute teacher trying to write a book.  Nora is a physical therapist taking care of an elderly pastor who is recovering from a stroke.  The pastor realizes Chad and Nora’s difficulties and makes a proposal to Nora.  Before he dies, the pastor wants to commit a sin – not just a little sin but a BIG sin.  He’s willing to pay Nora $200,000.00 to help him.  He explains to her the sin and what she has to do.  Nora tells Chad the situation and then they struggle to decide whether they should do it.

At this point, my interest was piqued because the reader doesn’t yet know what this “sin” is and what Nora has to do.  The premise of the story was something it seemed only Stephen King could create.  However, this is where the story starts to disappoint.  The actual “sin” that Nora commits, while a crime, is by no means as “chilling” as I would have expected.  The other aspect that drove me crazy was that the pastor didn’t do anything other than pay Nora.  I suppose by paying her he was somehow  involved in committing the sin, but for someone who was really excited about “sinning”, he didn’t do much of the dirty work.

Chad and Nora’s marriage takes a strange, but not unforeseen, turn before the story ends.  While I was disappointed in this story, I’m still planning on reading more of King’s work.  Perhaps his short stories aren’t as fascinating as his novels and novellas.  I haven’t read enough of any of them to make an informed decision, though.

“There was a sound of thunder.”

I’m not sure where or when it originated, but there is a theory known as “the butterfly effect”.  It’s premise is that a butterfly in, say, Peoria could flutter it’s wings and ultimately it would lead to a typhoon in the Indian Ocean.  In recent weeks, I’ve heard this theory used in stories about time travel.  If someone goes back in time and changes one little thing or perhaps one big thing, the “present” world would no longer be life as we know it.  Stephen King’s novel, 11/22/63, deals with this idea and the BBC science fiction television show, Dr. Who, uses this concept even if they haven’t necessarily called it that on the show that I’m aware.

Now I have read Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Sound of Thunder”.  I learned of this story because it was mentioned in King’s novel. It involves a character named Eckels who is an avid hunter.  He hires a company with a Time Machine to take him into the past about 65 million years so that he can shoot a T-Rex.  In “Jurrasic Park” fashion, he heads back to Dino land with the assistance of several guides (who have been there before).  He’s severely warned to stay on the “Path” that’s been laid out for him.  Venturing off the path could cause him to step on a mouse – or a butterfly – and cause all kinds of changes to the present (like which president got elected).  Eckels’ encounter with the T-rex is more intense than he thought it would be and he tracks mud and other things into the time machine and brings it back to a slightly different present.  “There was a sound of thunder” is the line that chillingly ends the story.

Bradbury’s writing has always interested me.  I read one of his more autobiographical novels a number of years ago, Dandelion Wine.  It opens with a great paragraph of a boy waking up on his first day of summer vacation.  In “The Sound of Thunder”, Bradbury writes a paragraph describing Eckels’ first step from the Time Machine that is reminiscent, at least in style, if not content, of that opening paragraph:

The jungle was high and the jungle was broad and the jungle was the entire world forever and forever.  Sounds like music and sounds like flying tents filled the sky, and those were pterodactyls soaring with cavernous gray wings, gigantic bats out of a delirium and a night fever.

I find it fun to read stories and novels that are related to other stories and novels that I’ve read.  King also mentioned a short story by Shirley Jackson (of “The Lottery” fame) called “The Summer People”.  I might have to read that one sometime soon.

Blockade Billy by Stephen King

Each July for the last five years, my former book club, The Indy Reading Coalition, would collect a short story from each member for the rest of the group to read.  As I wasn’t a short story reader prior to this, I enjoyed the change of pace.  For the last few years, I always wanted to find a short story about baseball, but never could.  I seemed to gravitate toward Ring Lardner, but eventually would give up and choose something different.  The final July (2011) of our club, another member chose “Casey At the Bat” by Ernest Thayer, and I finally felt somewhat satisfied that baseball got a little bit of representation in my book club before we decided to call it quits.

However, that still had me thinking about baseball stories and not knowing where to look for more.  I had read W.P. Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe, a number of years ago.  That’s the novel on which the movie, Field of Dreams, was based.  That was a great book, especially when I found out the the film’s character, Terence Mann (played by James Earl Jones), was actually another reclusive, controversial author, J.D. Salinger, in the novel.  And the film contains one of my all-time favorite movie lines: “Is this heaven?with the response “No, it’s Iowa”.

All that to point to the book I just read yesterday, Blockade Billy by Stephen King.  It’s a novella (80 pages) about, you guessed it, baseball!  The story is told by George Grantham, a former member of the New Jersey Titans in the late 50’s.  He’s talking to Stephen King in the present day from what he calls a “zombie hotel”, an appropriate term for a nursing home, in a Stephen King novel, perhaps?  It’s the story of William Blakely, a player from the Davenport Cornhuskers (another Iowa reference) who is reluctantly called up to the major leagues to catch for the Titans.  Reluctantly, in that they had nobody else they could get.  While Blakely ends up being called “Blockade Billy” and performs well, the team doesn’t make it to the playoffs.  Blakely is an odd character that doesn’t seem to have it all together.  When told what to do, he simply repeats the words that were told to him.  The coach and owner of the team discover that Blakely has an even stranger and scarier (it’s Stephen King) background story.  I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that if you’ve ever gotten mad at an umpire (and who hasn’t?) you may find this story kind of satisfying.

Blockade Billy/Morality   [BLOCKADE BILLY/MORALITY] [Hardcover]

The entire story is told in the words and mannerisms of Grantham and sounds much like a Ring Lardner story.  Lots of details about various plays that probably only an old baseball player would remember.  But any baseball fan would love.  I sense from the story that Stephen King, himself, is a huge baseball fan.

While at 80 pages, this story would not have probably passed for a short story with my book club, but it only took me one day to read it.  However, now, I’m looking for another baseball story or novel.  Any suggestions?

 

 

“…where mortals dance in defiance of the dark…”

“Life turns on a dime” says Jake Epping in Stephen King’s novel, 11/22/63.  So do great stories.  A wonderful scene occurs in the novel when, Jake, a Maine English teacher in 2011,  who is George Amberson, a Texas English teacher in 1961, chaperones  the Sadie Hawkins dance with the new Librarian, Sadie Dunhill.  The dance takes the reader back in time thanks to King’s incredible ability to bring attention to the little details that make up the differences between our current decade and the one fifty years ago.  After the DJ plays Danny and the Juniors’ “At the Hop”, he requests the presence of the two chaperones to dance to music that they listened to as teenagers (or so he thinks).  At this point, the opening notes to Glen Miller’s “In the Mood” can be heard even though it’s only a book with words.  George/Jake and Sadie then perform the “swing” of their lives and none of their lives (there’s about four or five between the two of them) will be the same again.

11/22/63

Dancing and “In the Mood” are recurring themes in this story, the first full length novel of King’s that I’ve read (I know, and I call myself a reader!).   What surprised me most about the book was the hopefulness about life it expressed.  I’ve been told that this book is a little different from much of King’s work.  Since I don’t have anything to compare it to at the moment, I’ll simply say that the “King” of horror can be sentimental – and without being (too) sappy.  Brutal murders and mutilations do occur frequently and play a major role in the plot.  But as George/Jake points out, in expressing what one might call his “world view”:

It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shoots and echoes, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life.  Behind it?  Below it and around it?  Chaos, storms.  Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns.  Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand.  A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.

As the title and cover of the book imply, Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of John F. Kennedy plays a central role in the novel’s plot. It’s not surprising that Oswald is the historical figure who King focuses most of his narrative, making him a fairly well-developed character.  I can’t write too much about the plot without giving away the many great twists and turns that readers deserve to discover and enjoy on their own.   One more scene, though, warrants mentioning.  The suspense that King builds as Jake/George  ascends  the stairs of the six floors in the Book Depository to confront an animal-like Oswald is nothing short of brilliant.

On a final note, the novel makes an intriguing case for the idea that gunning down people for their ideals only makes those ideals stronger and last longer.  Perhaps the dark doesn’t win, after all.