ArtSunday

The World’s 100 best short stories, sort of… volume 10: humor

Statistics prove that there are 25 bathtubs sold to every Bible… and 50 to every dictionary, and 380 to every encyclopedia… proving that while we may be neglecting the interior, we are looking after the exterior…. – Will Rogers

Will Rogers (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Will Rogers (image courtesy Wikimedia)

And now we reach the last volume in the collection The World’s 100 Best Short Stories. The subject/theme of this volume is humor. There are some well remembered writers such as P. G. Wodehouse, Will Rogers, George Ade, and, oddly enough, Emile Zola. There are some not so well remembered writers such as Emile Gaboriau, Charles Brackett, H. C. Witwer, and William Hazlett Upson. And there are some figures whose literary legacy is either based on a single work (Frank R. Stockton, mentioned previously) and Booth Tarkington, a writer extraordinarily popular in his time whose reputation is now all but eclipsed.

This is the weakest volume in the entire collection. There are reasons for this and we’ll explore them.

But first, a digression. Continue reading

CATEGORY: UnitedStates

A letter to my nieces, November 2016

By Amber Healy

CATEGORY: UnitedStatesIn the early afternoon of Election Day 2016, I traded messages with a good friend, heart swelling with hope.

“To think … maybe, just maybe, the kiddos we love who are little right now …they’ll never know a world where a person of color or a woman couldn’t be president.”

Within hours, I watched the country turn a deeper red, crimson spreading from coast to coast, revealing the true colors of the United States.

Despite winning two million fewer votes from the American people than his opponent, Donald Trump secured more than the required 270 Electoral College votes to secure the presidency, effective January 2017.

It was not supposed to be this way. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The consolations of literature…

 

Life is a jest; and all things show it/ I though so once; but now I know it. – John Gay

It’s just words, folks, just words…. – Donald Trump

John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)

John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Friends ask me with some regularity why it is that I spend so much of my free time reading and contemplating and writing about literature. I forswore writing about politics several years ago. (I think it was about 2010 that I gave up trying to say anything useful on the topic. I may have let slip the odd veiled or not-so-veiled reference in the essays I write about literature, but my active days as a critic of this, that, or the other political activity or politician are over.)

Great days – or if the Chinese curse is more apt, interesting days – are upon us, however, and while I can and do find comfort at times in Lord Byron’s flippancy:

I would to heaven that I were so much clay,
As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling—
Because at least the past were passed away—
And for the future—(but I write this reeling,
Having got drunk exceedingly today,
So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling)
I say—the future is a serious matter—
And so—for God’s sake—hock and soda water!

I find that as I contemplate the changes likely to be wrought in my country with the election of the author of one of the epigraphs that begin this essay, that I must find more – and healthier – consolations than the one the 6th Baron of Newstead Abbey proposes.

And so I turn to literature.  Continue reading

CATEGORY: World

After Donald, of squandered talent, wasted time, and a lost future

Trump will reign over dust and desolation…

On 1 September 1859, telegraph operators across Europe and North America watched in horror as their equipment began to spark and behave erratically. Some disconnected their equipment from their power supplies and discovered they could still transmit.

Cables arced. Sparks flew. Operators fled as their offices caught fire.

What became known as the Carrington Event was the result of a solar eruption as a magnetic field containing a plasma mass equivalent to Mount Everest was flung out from the sun towards Earth. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Volume 8: Men

‘Shall I betray my best friend…? He is all that I have in the world. He saved me from the bear when its claws were already at my throat. We have suffered hunger and cold together. He covered me with his own garments while I was ill. I have brought him wood and water. I have watched over his sleep and led his enemies off the trail. Why should they think of me as a man who betrays his friend?’ – Selma Lagerlof

Selma Lagerlof (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Selma Lagerlof (image courtesy Wikimedia)

In my essay on volume 7 of The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, the volume devoted to stories about women, I bemoaned the fact that eight of the ten stories in that volume were written by men. In this, volume 8, a collection devoted to stories about men, only one of the ten stories is by a woman, the Swedish author and the first woman Nobelist, Selma Lagerlof. Lagerlof’s story is the best description of what male friendship is like in this volume.

Life is full of ironies, isn’t it?

Among the stories in this volume is one by another major literary figure, Fyodor Dostoevsky. That story, “The Thief,” is also an interesting depiction of male friendship, though its real focus is, as is often the case in the great Russian’s work, identity. And, as one might expect in a collection of stories about men, there are stories about sailors and cowboys and duels and war. So, as anyone who knows a little psychology and/or sociology would expect, these male centered stories are about men doing things together. You know, like fighting and shooting at each other….

It’s great to be a guy, for sure. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Volume 7: Women

“It was almost a miracle, her kind of death, because out of all that jam of tonnage, she carried only one bruise, a faint one, near the brow.” – Fannie Hurst

“I love her like a madman, and I would kill myself this instant to rejoin her, if she were not to remain unknown to me for eternity, as she was unknown to me in this world.” – Alexandre Dumas

Fannie Hurst (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Fannie Hurst (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Volume 7 of The World’s 100 Best Short Stories is devoted to women. The ten stories in this collection seem to be efforts to find a theme that explains who women are. The various tales depict women as self-destructive, as self-sacrificing, as helpless victims, as brilliant tacticians. And yes, the collection also gives women the all too familiar Madonna/whore treatment.

At least one reason for this particular set of views of women may come from the authorship of the stories. Of these ten stories about women, only two are written by women.  One is by the redoubtable Fannie Hurst, one of the great “women’s authors”of the 20th century (she is the author of great pot boiler melodramas such as Imitation of Life and Back Street, both have which have been filmed multiple times with stars ranging from Claudette Colbert and Irene Dunne to Lana Turner and Susan Hayward. The other is an author named Bernice Brown about whom there is scant information, though she seems to have written for magazines such as The Century and, if the example from this collection is an indication, is an interesting proto-feminist.

So, we have a volume of stories that mainly tell us how men saw women in the early 20th century with a couple of women authors trying to tell us how women saw themselves.  Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Volume 6: Courage

“It can never be said…. Because there’s no guide for the search and no definition for the thing found. There’s only the necessity…for man to go beyond himself, to go beyond reason, even beyond truth….” – Dana Burnet

Nicolai Gogol (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Nicolai Gogol (image courtesy Wikimedia)

This, volume 6 of The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, has as its theme courage. I think that it’s the most frustrating volume of this collection that I have yet read. (With the exception of a classic tale by Gogol, none of the stories are memorable.) When I was searching for a quote, for example, to use as sub-heading, I probably spent the better part of two hours fumbling through the volume trying to find any quote that would work as a stand-alone. I had hoped to use a quote from the Gogol classic, “The Cloak” (you likely know it by its more common English translation, “The Overcoat”) mentioned above. No luck – whether it was the translation or the late hour when I was searching, no usable quote appeared from the only canonical author in this volume.

So I find myself using a quote from a popular author of the time, one Dana Burnet.

And here we go. You may, at this point, like those guys in Holden Caulfield’s Oral Expression class, begin yelling “Digression!”- but, as Holden says, “I like it when somebody digresses. It’s more interesting and all.”

I couldn’t find a picture of Dana Burnet. Burnet was a highly successful writer who wrote for Broadway and for Hollywood (including at least two screenplays for Jimmy Stewart movies). And so you see a picture of Nicolai Gogol.

Because you can’t find Dana Burnet’s picture. On the freaking Internet. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Volume 4: Love

“Youth prefers to be tortured by youth…Youth to youth is the end of all wisdom.” – Konrad Bercovici

Konrad Bercovici (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Konrad Bercovici (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The theme of this fourth in the ten volume collection The World’s 100 Greatest Short Stories (volume 1 here, volume 2, here, volume 3, here) is – Love. Though there is less – shall we say variation? – on the theme in this collection than in the previous collections on Romance and Mystery, the stories are, nevertheless as interesting and thought provoking as those in the earlier volumes.

In one way or another, all the stories in this collection are about romantic love. Some involve memories of romantic love viewed from the perspective of age and wisdom (or lack thereof) whether treated sentimentally as in Hermann Sudermann’s “A New Year’s Eve Confession” or Gouverneur Morris’s “A Postscript to Divorce” or comically as in Ring Lardner’s “The Golden Honeymoon.” Some involve the foolishness and passion of youth as in Barry Benefield’s “Down Bayou Dubac” and Sherwood Anderson’s “I’m a Fool.” A couple, surely daring for their time, involve explorations of love for those less traditionally inclined – “Mademoiselle Olympe Zabriski” by Thomas Bailey Aldrich and “Boless” by Maxim Gorky.

Perhaps the most interesting of these stories about love and its power to make fools of us all are those in which youth and age collide.  Continue reading

ArtSunday

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Vol. 2, Romance

“Only a moment; a moment of strength, of romance, of glamour — of youth!… A flick of sunshine upon a strange shore, the time to remember, the time for a sigh, and — goodbye!” – Joseph Conrad

Thomas Burke (image courtesy deeprootsmag.org)

Thomas Burke (image courtesy deeprootsmag.org)

This second volume  (volume 1 here) in the collection The World’s 100 Best Short Stories takes as its theme “Romance” and, thankfully, treats with that term in its classical sense “the fascination with far off places and times” rather than focusing on its more recent interpretation as “boy meets girl and complications ensue.” That is something of a relief, the latter variation on the term having been pretty completely spoiled by young adult fiction of one kind or another.

As a result, the stories in this second book take the reader from the American Wild West to the France of Louis the 15th to (kinda sorta) ancient Egypt to the slums of London.

There are a couple of interesting issues to discuss concerning this collection of stories, some related to the stories as stories, some related to the stories’ adaptations by other media. That brings up the old issue of the experience of fiction vs. the experience of the re-interpretation of fiction as visual art.

So. To a few of the stories…. Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

Resolved: that future presidential debates ought to use the Lincoln-Douglas format

Partisan discourse can’t sink much lower. Now is the time to resurrect a format that was made for political debates.

The third and final “debate” between presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is now mercifully in the rearview mirror, but like a direct hit from an aggrieved skunk, it might take weeks for the stink to fully die down. This trifecta of vitriolic spew has held a mirror up before the face of the American system of political discourse, and what we’re seeing is utterly wretched.

And for what? What have we learned? Did the debates make us smarter? Did it leave us more capable of rendering an informed decision? Did it shed light on the election and the best interests of the Republic?

The sad truth is that the truth is pretty sad. These charades, these lowest common denominator spectacles, these premeditated travesties of dishonesty and rhetorical misdirection, we call them debates but they are no such thing. A real debate between candidates would be a wonderful thing, though. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The world’s 100 best short stories, sort of…Vol. 1: Adventure

“The percentage of fiction which can hold its place with succeeding generations is, I believe, much smaller than critics suppose. Every generation has a right to insist that its own enjoyment of of experience is in one respect the best enjoyment, because the most complete.” – Grant Overton, editor-in-chief,  The World’s 100 Best Short Stories

Richard Connell, author of

Richard Connell, author of “The Most dangerous Game” (image courtesy Wikimedia)

You can find some good books at the library. A couple of years ago Lea and I were at our local library donating some books and ran one of those periodic sales libraries have when they get rid of perfectly wonderful books for no reason at all. So, because I’m no fool, I grabbed some good buys.

I bought a set of ten leather bound volumes – first editions, mind you – called The World’s 100 Best Short Stories. Published by Funk and Wagnalls in 1927 and edited by a newspaper editor, writer, and critic named Grant Overton, the set is organized thematically to allow readers to sample stories according to their interests. Besides the “Adventure” theme in Volume 1, there are volumes themed “Romance,” “Mystery,” and “Humor,” for instance. The range of authors goes from popular short story authors of the time of these volumes’ publication like the pictured Richard Connell to classic members of the literary canon such as Victor Hugo to figures who straddled both the popular and literary worlds such as Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s a terrific collection of enjoyable (and enlightening) reading for any mood.

What dd this nifty collection set me back, you ask? Two bucks. $2. Two hundred cents.

Yeah, I got a deal. Continue reading

S&R Honors: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize: a personal view (S&R Honors)

Bob Dylan’s award feels like a sop to a generation many of whose finest artistic talents took a popular art form (the rock song) and raised it to unheard of heights of artistry in both musical expression and lyrical content.

Part 2 of a series.

“Life is more or less a lie, but then again, that’s exactly the way we want it to be.” – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan by Martin Sharp (image courtesy Dangerous Minds)

Bob Dylan by Martin Sharp (image courtesy Dangerous Minds)

Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature and I have been struggling with how I feel about that. Like many, my first response on being told the news was astonishment. It felt to me momentarily as if it were 1967 again when The Times of London gave a full page, serious, and respectful review to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and in an editorial in that same newspaper William Rees-Mogg, less than a month later, excoriated the British criminal justice system for its heavy handed treatment of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to maximum sentences for a minor drug bust in a now classic editorial titled “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?

It felt, then, like the counter culture was winning, that finally, to use a truly quaint term, “the establishment” was seeing the world as my g-g-generation saw it. Mick and Keith should be set free by “The Man” to make more music and Sgt. Pepper was great art.

As another of my heroes of those days said famously a couple of years later, all their received wisdom, their rules, their culture, didn’t “…mean shit to a tree.”

Zeitgeist is a helluva drug, isn’t it? Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Being Queen Elizabeth…the First

Did Elizabeth lift England to greatness or did England make Elizabeth the great queen she became?

“Through all her [Elizabeth’s] wavering and inconstancy, her hesitation and uncertainty, there was one faithful element – her sense of responsibility to her position.” -Katharine Anthony

Queen Elizabeth I (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Queen Elizabeth I (image courtesy Wikimedia)

My latest foray into reading is a classic biography that I found in an antique store. In the mid 1920’s Literary Guild was founded as a competitor to the successful Book of the Month ClubCarl Van Doren, a noted biographer and critic was selected as the first chairman of Literary Guild. Katharine Anthony’s Queen Elizabeth was a best seller for Literary Guild in 1929.

It’s easy to understand why. Anthony writes with the fluidity and ease of a novelist. Though Queen Elizabeth was a quick read, it never felt under researched or careless. Tudor scholars would probably dispute some of the facts as Anthony presents them given that new information about Elizabeth and the Tudor dynasty has likely been discovered. But for compelling narrative, Anthony holds her her own with luminaries such as the aforementioned Carl Van Doren, Barbara Tuchman, David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin. Continue reading

Book-Review

H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines…Adventures in Boyhood Dreaming….

“Haggard’s heroes attain a legendary stature as their adventures strip away what Tarzan, Lord Greystoke, calls ‘the veneer of civilization,’ and perpetually confront them with danger and death.’ – Robert Morsberger, Afterword to King Solomon’s Mines

1965 Hammer Films poster for

1965 Hammer Films poster for “She” starring Ursula Andress (image courtesy Wikimedia)

This begins with Ursula Andress.

Back in junior high, when my buddies and I were the sort of slobbering idiots about girls and women that one our current POTUS candidates seems to be in advanced middle age, Hammer Films, the British film company that specialized in remakes of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy announced that it was releasing a new film version of the H. Rider Haggard adventure novel, She. More important to my crowd’s budding libidos, the film would star original Bond girl (there’s a respectful term) Ursula Andress (Andress was the first Bond girl, appearing in the first James Bond film, Dr. No, as the tastefully named Honey Ryder).

We dutifully, lustfully went to see She – which was a typical Hammer film: a lot of fun once one put one’s critical thinking skills on hold. In the aftermath of that experience, and without telling my friends, who would have laughed at my bookishness, I decided to read Haggard’s novel.

It was a lot of fun, too, and a damned sight better than the movie, Ursula Andress notwithstanding. I planned to go on and read King Solomon’s Mines, too, but something distracted me (probably baseball or a guitar) and I never got back to the Haggard universe.

Until last week. Continue reading

Playing Marco Polo…WITH Marco Polo: S&R Honors

Marco Polo is one of our most renowned travelers and explorers. Yet there is controversy about whether he actually went where he says he did. If only he’d taken a selfie stick and set up an Instagram account….

Marco Polo dressed as a Tatar (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Marco Polo dressed as a Tatar (image courtesy Wikimedia)

On my book shelves are several of the nicely bound sets of what used to be termed “classics” (i.e., books considered sacrosanct members of the Western Canon) that were all the rage many years ago when the American middle class aspired to be like their betters and give the appearance of being cultured – back when part of being cultured meant being well read, of course. Please do not misconstrue my intent here; owning a handsome set of “classics” is not the same as having read them. Lea and I have bought most of these sets in used book stores and antique shops and found almost all of the volumes in a given set in mint or near mint condition (after all, sitting on bookshelves year after year does cause some slight aging, as does being moved from the prominent bookshelves in the den to the ratty ones in the basement).

Thus it is that I have, as mentioned above, several sets of these “collections of ready made culture” (I have mentioned one popular collection in another essay). The set from which the book that is the subject of this essay, Travels of Marco Polo, The Venetian, is taken is called, interestingly, “The Programmed Classics,” and is published by Doubleday. It’s a handsome book, though the translation by 19th century “Orientalist” William Marsden is, at best, creaky.

So, to Marco Polo’s travels…real or made up…. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

James Hilton, WP Kinsella and The Bettys: writing to remember, writing being forgotten…

There are two motivations for writing – one pure and one not so much.

“There’s only one thing more important… and that is, after you’ve done what you set out to do, to feel that it’s been worth doing.” – James Hilton

Goodbye Mr. Chips and Other Stories by James Hilton (image courtesy Goodreads)

Goodbye Mr. Chips and Other Stories by James Hilton (image courtesy Goodreads)

This is about being a writer.

The motives for someone wanting to do more than write, to become that person that others refer to as a writer, may be so individual as to be specific to very single person who aspires to that moniker. But I doubt it.

My suspicion is that there are two motives that drive writers, one fairly – shall we say pure? One, not so much. The first, purer, motive is that writers are blessed (or cursed, I can never decide) with the desire to preserve that which they have known or known about or would have liked to know. That act of preservation is part of the title of this essay: one might call it writing to remember. When done really, really, really well, it gives us lines like this:

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

Then there’s that other motive, the – less than pure one, shall we say. That’s the desire for recognition: fame, money, respect in one form or another, either because of critical success or financial reward (I have met famous writers who were humble and I have met famous writers who were smug enough to deserve a boot up their asses). It may be of interest only to me that the humble famous ones were far less rich than the smug famous ones. Maybe Ms. Lauper pegged it when she intoned, “…money changes everything….” Continue reading

Police Violence

What if cops were Skittles?

According to Vox, police have killed over 2,000 people since Ferguson. Their map of fatal encounters illustrates the point with red dots.

That made me wonder. What if cops were Skittles?
Continue reading

democracy-in-america

Democracy in America: a bad idea

It’s now clear that democracy, as practiced in an anti-intellectual society like ours, doesn’t work. Let’s give elitism (properly understood) a try.

Democracy+ElitismMany of you probably read Andrew Sullivan’s New York Magazine piece back in April. If not, you should do so as soon as possible – it’s among the most important and insightful political essays we have seen in a generation and will reward your time. I won’t even try to summarize his message, because no paraphrase I could provide would do it justice. Short version: the US is in trouble, and democracy is perhaps the reason.

Sullivan got me to thinking, in some depth, about where I am politically and how I got here. More importantly, where do I go now? Continue reading

Monorail to the Future: reasserting the American Dream for #HopeTuesday

With the 1962 World’s Fair, Seattle asserted itself as the city that invented the future. Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, Key Arena, the Pacific Science Center and other Jetsonesque architectural wonders, gave us a stunning Mid-Century Modern vision of our presumed technotopian future. In 2000 the EMP Museum opened, inserting a postmodern generational overlay in the form of Frank Gehry’s gripping postmodern architectural style. Ever upward, ever forward.

For #HopeTuesday today, I offer you a metaphor. Let’s rekindle our dream of a clean, sustainable, prosperous future with opportunity for all – a true and attainable American dream. I took this shot of the World’s Fair monorail, which connects the EMP and Seattle Center with downtown, in November of 2013. What could possibly be more optimistic, more hopeful, for Americans than a train destined for a technological Utopia?

Monorail, EMP Museum and Seattle Center

Monorail, EMP Museum and Seattle Center

ArtSunday

Book Review: Apalachicola Pearl by Michael Kinnett

“History written by men reveals no cowards except those of the enemy, tells of great deeds of worth and cause, but shows only one face, and fails to distinguish the testimony of those consumed by its passing.” – Michael Kinnett

Apalachicola Pearl by Michael Kinnett (image Southern Yellow Pine Publishing

Apalachicola Pearl by Michael Kinnett (image Southern Yellow Pine Publishing

Michael Kinnett’s Apalachicola Pearl is clearly a work of a lover of history. This tale of one Florida city’s role in the Civil War is based on Kinnett’s  research into the annals of the city. In his preface, Kinnett claims that his novel is based upon “journals I found hidden beneath a floorboard in the attic of the Orman House Museum.” Whether this is true or the author’s invention is a matter for reader conjecture. If true, Kinnett is indeed fortunate to have found such a trove of material; if it is a literary invention, it is a wonderfully clever one.

The novel is a melange of two forms: while it purports to be the journal of the main character, one Michael Brandon Kohler, it eventually evolves into a historical adventure. Further – the character who gives her name to the title to the novel, LaRaela Retsyo Agnusdei, known to both characters and readers as Pearl, appears only briefly in the novel near its beginning and at its end.

Either of these choices on the part of the author might seem to jar the reader enough to make the novel an unsatisfying read, but the narrative is packed with so much action and historical information that one is carried along by the quick pace and the wealth of detail about 19th century Florida life that Kinnett offers.  Continue reading