A Top Ten List…so far

Since we’re at the halfway point of 2018, I thought I would put together a top ten list of my favorite short stories so far. I have no scoring technique. This is based only on my personal likes and dislikes so at any point another story could jump to the top. We’ll see what makes it to the final top ten list in about six months. Here’s where we stand now, though:

10.) A Jury of Her Peers – Susan Glaspell

9.) Blood Burning Moon – Jean Toomer

8.) Evenings at Home – Elizabeth Hardwick

7.) The Gift – Janice Holt Giles

6.) Roses, Rhododendron – Alice Adams

5.) I’d Love You to Want Me – Viet Than Nguyen

4.) The Reach – Stephen King

3.) Death of A Right Fielder – Stuart Dybek

2.) Faith – William Trevor

1.) My Son the Murderer – Bernard Malamud

I guess I also reserve the right to change some of these around if no other stories take their place. I had a difficult time deciding where stories 2, 3 and 4 fell.

Do you rank the stories/books you read? What short stories have been your favorite so far in 2018?

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William Trevor: Faith (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 24)

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Afterwards, Bartholomew told himself that what had occurred must surely be no more than a mood of petulance, an eruption from his half-stifled impatience with the embroidery and frills that dressed the simplicity of truth with invasive, sentimental stories that somehow made faith easier, the hymns he hated. For Bartholomew, the mystery that was the source of all spiritual belief, present through catastrophe and plague and evil, was a strength now too, and more than it had ever been. Yet there was disquiet, a stirring in his vocation he had brought upon himself and wished he had not…Bartholomew – not knowing what he should otherwise do – continued to visit the lonely and the sick, to repeat the Te Deum, the Creed, the Litany. He felt he should not and yet he did.

It’s Week 24 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project and I finally selected a Two – the Two of Hearts to be exact – which I’ve designated as a Wild Card for which I pick whatever story I want. I’ve been preparing to read a William Trevor story whenever I selected a Two so here it is. And though I’m not surprised, “Faith” is one of Trevor’s many masterpieces.

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Bartholomew, a passive clergyman and his sister with the prickly personality, Hester, move to a small parish in Oscarey outside Dublin – mostly at the doings of Hester. The congregation is few and made up mostly of elderly people. So in a sense its a dying church. Bartholomew suffers what might be called a crisis of faith but continues to conduct his duties as a pastor. Hester confronts head-on her own terminal illness.

Trevor makes these characters and situations so real and intriguing that just reading the story is enough. A reader doesn’t have to analyze anything for the story to be satisfying. But then there’s that title. It at least makes me want to ask a few questions. Does it take more faith to move on in the face of looming doubt or to move on in the face of looming death? And is faith the same thing as courage? I find both of these characters courageous in their own way.

This story is included in the collection William Trevor: Selected Stories. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Graham Greene: Dream of a Strange Land

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I drew the Eight of Spades this week for my Deal Me In 2014 project which gave me my final Graham Greene story of the year, “Dream of a Strange Land”.  Greene’s work has been hit and miss.  When it’s a hit, I’ve really enjoyed his work.  When it’s a miss, I really haven’t.  I’ll call this story a hit.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

A doctor called Herr Professor receives a patient in his large home.  The patient makes a plea for the doctor to continue treating him as he has; however, the patient has Hansen’s disease, better known as leprosy, and anything less than putting the patient under quarantine would be against the law.  Greene begins to paint with subtle and unusual stokes the fear that grips the patient at the thought of isolation .  It seems that the patient is already significantly alone and isolated and taking away the small and minute pleasures that give him even an ounce of joy is more than he can stand.  I found it interesting that the patient didn’t have a huge family or a ton of social connections from which he would be taken away.  Greene tends to take things in a direction that one wouldn’t expect.  His subtlety in doing this reminds me of William Trevor’s stories.

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Then we cut to a different scene where Herr Professor receives a military acquaintance who has decided that a party for his General will be moved to the doctor’s house including a large orchestra and gambling casino.  In a matter of hours, the doctor’s house is turned into a hustling and bustling “to do” with many guests, lots of drinking and gambling, and lively music.  The reasons behind this change of plans for the party is never really explained which is probably the one issue I would have with the story.

The patient makes his way back through snow and pine trees to the doctor’s house during the party (of which he is unaware) to make one final plea.  Not expecting to hear and see the party through the window, the patient almost feels he is dreaming in a strange land.  Through the window,  the doctor and patient exchange a final glance in which the patient realizes it’s not a dream.

This story is a great study in mood and atmosphere.  The difference between the extravaganza in the house and the quiet snowy evening outside gives the reader a contrast that works amazingly well and takes care of whatever shortcomings there might be in the plot.

Note:  Thanks to Emilia (see below) for pointing out that the story does contain a specific reason for moving the party to the doctor’s house.

Second Anniversary and some favorites…

Today is the second anniversary of my blog!  It’s been a fun outlet for all of my reading and I’m looking forward to what 2014 will bring.  It’s always been difficult for me to pick favorite books or stories, but there have been a few that stand out over the past year.

My favorite short story is J. D. Salinger’s “DeDaumier-Smith’s Blue Period” and it would also rank up there as the funniest story I read this year.  William Trevor’s “After Rain” was a very close runner up as favorite and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Camel’s Back” was a close second for funniest.  A few honorable mentions would include Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Feathertop”, Willa Cather’s “The Enchanted Bluff”, Salinger’s “The Laughing Man” and Kurt Vonnegut’s “Ambitious Sophomore”.

William Trevor and George Eliot are the winners for favorite “new-to-me” authors with Margaret Mitchell and Mark Helprin being next in line.

Picking a favorite novel has proved to be a harder task but I’ll go with Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick which I finally read after it sat on my shelf for a very long time. And finally, here are a few quotes from the past year that I enjoyed:

Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.

-Ishmael in Melville’s Moby-Dick

Men will sometimes reveal themselves to children, or to people whom they think never to see again, more completely than they ever do to their confreres. From the wise we hold back alike our folly and our wisdom, and for the recipients of our deeper confidences we seldom select our equals. The soul has no message for the friends with whom we dine every week. It is silenced by custom and convention, and we play only in the shallows. It selects its listeners willfully, and seemingly delights to waste its best upon the chance wayfarer who meets us in the highway at a fated hour. There are moments too, when the tides run high or very low, when self-revelation is necessary to every man, if it be only to his valet or his gardener. At such a moment, I was with Mr. Crane.

-Willa Cather on meeting Stephen Crane in her essay “When I Knew Stephen Crane”

The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul.  Not drowned entirely, though.  Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs.  He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad.  So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.

-and Melville again from Moby-Dick

Reading in 2014 – the long and the short of it

Since today is the first day of the final month of 2013, I thought I would post about my reading plans in 2014.  I’ve discovered that I don’t like having to follow a long list of books.  I’m going to continue reading for The Classics Club and my goal of reading 60 classics in three years.  It’s just that my final list of 60 won’t look like my original list.  In 2013, as I read a book that I considered a classic and it wasn’t already on my list, I simply added it and took another book off the list.  I’ve read 22 classics in 2013, so I’m meeting my goal. Back in February, I bought The Count of Monte Cristo and it’s been sitting on my dresser ever since – taunting me.  So in 2014, Alexandre Dumas’ novel will be my one-book reading project.

My favorite reading project of 2013 was my Deal Me In short story project.  Apparently, I don’t mind following a long list of short stories.  Ever since my former book group, the Indy Reading Coalition, started reading short stories every July, I have become increasingly more appreciative of this form of fiction.  One of the members of this book group, Jay at Bibliophilopolis, started a project a few years ago where he selected 52 stories that corresponded with each card in a regular deck of cards.  Since there also happens to be 52 weeks in a year, he randomly selected a card each week and read the story that went with that card.  In 2013, I joined him in doing this with my own list of short stories and found it to be a fun project that was easy to stick to throughout the entire year.  Well, I still have four stories to go for this year, but I think I’m going to make it.

For 2014, I’ve put together another list of short stories (I’ve come up with 48 stories and made 2’s wild).  I’m looking forward to randomly reading these over the next year.  In determining which stories to use, I feel like I left some authors out; however, even though William Trevor and Haruki Murakami didn’t make the list, I plan on reading ad hoc stories and novels from these authors.  I also feel like I snubbed Jack London by only putting two of his stories on the list, but since he is the author I’ve posted about most on my blog, I don’t feel that bad.  And I’m fairly certain I will be reading more of his work in the coming year.

What are your plans for reading in 2014?

William Trevor: The Piano Tuner’s Wives

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William Trevor’s short stories have a mood that blends the happy and the sad – blends them into something beautiful and real.  “The Piano Tuner’s Wives” stands as evidence of this.

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Owen, a piano tuner and blind, married Violet forty years ago.  After Violet dies, he marries Belle.  Forty years previously, he had chosen Violet over Belle.  Belle never married after that rejection and based on the story, never seemed to really get over it.  By most standards, Belle was the prettier woman – but Owen was blind and looks didn’t matter.

The story revolves around descriptions of the two marriages and in usual Trevor fashion, major plot devices are not needed to keep the reader interested.  Violet and Owen complimented each other well during their marriage.  Violet managed to become Owen’s eyes giving him more than adequate words for his imagination.  She also became his driver and propelled his piano tuning business to something more than it would have been without her.

Belle, by all indications, as gracious a woman as Violet, has to live in her shadow.  The shadow, though, seems to be cast more by Belle herself than by Violet or by Owen.  Owen gets two different pairs of eyes to help him see – both in some form or fashion influenced by the other.

Book Sale!

Periodically, my public library, Boone County Public Library (that’s the Boone County in Northern Kentucky of the Greater Cincinnati area), has a book sale.  My guess is that the books that they sell are the ones that have gone through the reading cycle and now don’t have a huge demand.  Since my reading typically doesn’t depend on what’s currently popular, I almost always find something of interest to me when I check out the sales.

This past weekend, the Scheben branch held its sale.  Yesterday afternoon, I wandered over to see what I might find.  It’s interesting that the books for sale are not necessarily in any specific order as the other books in the library.  I think they had them grouped roughly by genre.  I thoroughly enjoy walking up and down the rows of books seeing what might catch my eye.  My two middle kids were with me.  They looked briefly at the teen section then went and sat in a corner with their iPods.  They knew Dad might be a while, but they’re used to it by now.

Here is a rundown of the books that I found:

– The Reef by Edith Wharton:  I have yet to read anything by this author; however, one of her short stories is on my Deal Me In list.  That particular card has not yet popped up in the deck, yet.  I don’t think this novel is as well-known as her novels Ethan Frome, House of Mirth, or Age of Innocence.

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck:  I will probably read this very soon.  I’ve gotten a sudden interest in Steinbeck.

Nights At The Alexandra by William Trevor:  I’ve discovered Trevor’s short stories this year and have greatly enjoyed them.  This novella will probably get read in the near future, also.

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster:  Forster’s novel A Room With A View has been a favorite of mine for a long time; however, I’ve never read any of his other works.  This one and Howard’s End seem to be the other novels of his that pop up on my radar from time to time.  I think all of his novels have been made into Merchant/Ivory films.

Anchored In Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash by John Carter Cash:  The fact that this book was written by Johnny and June’s son made it difficult to pass up- which reminds me that I have Johnny Cash’s autobiography on my shelf somewhere.  I need to read that, too!

Song Yet Sung by James McBride:  My wife just read McBride’s autobiography The Color of Water for a book group.  I’m not sure what she thought of it.  Something about this novel sounds intriguing even though I was a little disappointed with his World War II novel, Miracle at St. Anna.

– And finally, I found a short story compilation that I am sure will get used for my 2014 Deal Me In project.  Bernard Malamud, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Anton Chekhov, to name a few of the authors included.

The great thing about this book sale was that I got the above books for free!  Each summer, BCPL hosts an adult reading program where adults read books, listen to music and watch movies from the library for “Library Bucks”.  Over the past four summers, I have accumulated an entire drawer full of these.  I can use them at the book sales or to pay fines (which I admit I occasionally have).  It’s looking like I might not ever spend the Library Bucks as fast as I get them.  I only spent five of them for these books!

Check out the website here of a great public library!