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

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


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


Brexit Britain Bigotry Bake-off

Turning every unemployed person into a doctor is neither possible nor desirable. But if you do the math, that seems to be where England is heading.


We’ve been here before…

It’s a few months since I wrote about my despair following the Brexit referendum and, as I feared, the walls are coming up. It’s not like Europe has much experience with forcing foreigners and minorities to be physically labelled and publicly humiliated.

So post-Brexit Britain’s new idea of forcing companies to label their foreign employees and humiliate them for not hiring locals is a depressing return to the dark ages.

A further idea is to replace all foreign employees with locals. They’re starting with the NHS — the country’s ubiquitous universal health service — which currently employs about 1.2 million people, of whom 55,000 are EU citizens (30,000 of whom are doctors). 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


Examining a cynical, fake-patriotic Facebook meme

Instead of making yourself a tool for those whose agendas run counter to the best interests of the nation that flag represents, how about stepping back and asking  who’s playing you, and why?

This meme came across my Facebook feed earlier today.


Obviously somebody has an issue with Colin Kaepernick (and other black athletes) protesting injustice in America by refusing to stand during the national anthem. Continue reading


Did Russia poison Hillary? An inductive argument

clinton-collapse-696x385Dear Hillary,

Get rid of all your stuff. I know I sound like Inconvenient Jesus right now. Just do it. All the pantsuits, all the jewelry, all the hairspray, the mouthwash, everything, especially the sentimental stuff. If you can’t pass through the eye of the needle, the road ends here.

Continue reading


Jose Saramago: Our Doppelgangers, Our Selves…

The Double is, ultimately, a meditation – on who we are and, more importantly, on why we are.

“Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered.” ― José Saramago, The Double

The Double by Jose Saramago Image courtesy Goodreads)

The Double by Jose Saramago Image courtesy Goodreads)

The use of doppelgangers in literature is a common enough  device. Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “William Wilson” and Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” explore the idea of a double who shares an intimate relationship with the protagonist.  In novel form Dickens treats the idea in A Tale of Two Cities and Dostoevsky explores it in The Double. Of course the device has been given permutations, the most famous of which is likely Robert Louis Stevenson‘s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde wherein the doppelganger idea is blended with an exploration of chemically induced multiple personality disorder.

The Portuguese Nobelist Jose Saramago (whose Baltasar and Blimunda I wrote about last year) offers a postmodern spin on the doppelganger. Saramago’s The Double is both a story of a man who accidentally encounters his human duplicate while watching a video and a meditation on identity, self-hood, and the power of language. Continue reading

Never forget…what, exactly?

Yesterday, Big Think posted an interesting collection of Gallup Poll results, along with some commentary: Obama Actually Made America Great Again. Here’s the Data. To hear the rabidly irrational Obama opposition on today, of all days, I can only say that these are funny numbers to describe how Obama has ruined America in eight years.

What’s truly deplorable is that, of all the ways Bush (with a boost from Dems) ruined America Continue reading


#HopeTuesday: Moving the goalposts faster than the ball – our expectations of humanity’s progress vs reality

We’ve never had it so good. “We,” as in all of humanity, and “good” as in just about every measure of life, liberty and happiness.

by djerrid

Here are a few of the many, many examples. Infant mortality, educational attainment, lifespan, reduction in violence, communication both locally and globally, justice, nutrition, wealth. You name it, we’re better than ever. You are blessed to live in the best time for human beings.

So…why do we feel like the world is falling apart? Why are we so afraid and discontented: with each other, for our future, for our well-being? Of immigrants, of suicide bombers, of the zika virus, of Russia and China flexing their muscles, of the refugee crisis, of the rise of nationalism in Europe and elsewhere, of Trump, Hillary and Congress’s tendency to put party and personal ambition well above the country’s interest, of income and other forms of inequality? Continue reading


Book Review: Lament for the Fallen by Gavin Chait

“Review a little history and you’ll see that creators seem to find inspiration in adversity.” – Gavin Chait, Lament for the Fallen

Lament for the Fallen by Gavin Chait (Image courtesy Goodreads)

On the surface Gavin Chait’s debut novel Lament for the Fallen seems to have a classic sci-fi plot: an alien comes to Earth, interacts with humans, reveals remarkable super human powers in helping his human hosts/friends, then returns to his home, humans having been taught an important lesson or two. If it seems that this plot line that has been used with remarkable success in the genre, it’s because it has. While it is well known among my friends and critics that I am not a fan of science fiction books (which I noted again very recently), I am a fan of sci-fi films. Besides the ubiquitous and just okay behemoth E.T.: the Extraterrestrial, other films that have explored the genre interestingly include The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Starman.

Having said all this, I suppose I should make a clarification. Lament for the Fallen is not about an alien visiting Earth. It is about a human who has lived his life in a “space city” (think colony – that’s important to the themes of this work) visiting Earth and doing some of those remarkable things mentioned above. To miss this might cause one to miss important themes and ideas that this book explores.

As I find I must say too often in my role as crusty old professor, read more closely, students. Harrumph…now to this excellent book… Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Writers of slender acquaintance: Jorge Ferretis

“He would never wish to see his son as he himself had been once, living discontentedly amidst men at the beck and call of masters.” – Jorge Ferretis

Jorge Ferretis (image courtesy Enciclopedia de la Literatura en Mexico)

I’ve finally made my way through the lengthy collection of stories A World of Great Stories, I’ve found a number of the selections rather creaky (likely a fault of older translations) or by authors who are obscure outside their own countries. (I see this as a positive since it introduces American readers to talented authors they might not otherwise encounter.) There is a sincere effort by the various region editors to include representative work from most of the world – the U.S., British Isles, eastern and western Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. Africa is not represented, an omission one feels more keenly now than might have been felt when the collection first appeared in 1948. Still, it is a collection that has reminded me about – or introduced me to – writers such as Sherwood Anderson, Rudyard KiplingRhian Roberts, Lauro de Bosis, Karel Capek, and Ryunosuke Akutagawa, writers who represent all the previously mentioned geographic regions except Latin America.

This essay on Jorge Ferretis, A Mexican author you may, like me, not be familiar with, completes the full tour of all the geographic regions covered by the story collection I’ve been blathering on about. He’s a good choice because he allows us to talk about Latin American literary history a bit. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Writers of slender acquaintance: Ryunosuke Akutagawa

“Of course, problems in practical morality are different from the production technique pointed out by Strindberg, But there was something in the hint he had received from the passage that was disturbing…. Bushido and its mannerism–” – Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Ryunosuke Akutagawa (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The short stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa are highly esteemed in Japan, and one of that country’s highest literary awards, the Akutagawa Prize, is named in his honor. Most American readers, however, likely know him through the adaptation of one of his stories, “In a Grove” by the master Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa into the cinema classic Rashomon.

A tormented soul, like so many short story masters, Akutagawa took his own life at 35. He left behind a body of work that is fascinating in its questioning of Japanese cultural and philosophical thought, particularly of philosophies such as the above mentioned Bushido. Highly influenced by his study of Western literature (as a student at Tokyo Imperial University he translated works by both William Butler Yeats and Anatole France), Akutagawa sought to reconcile Eastern and Western thought and culture in his works. The tension in his stories arises, almost always, between the truth that the individual perceives and the facts of any incident. Continue reading


Writers of slender acquaintance: Karel Capek

Our houses and machines will be in ruins, our systems will collapse, and the names of our great will fall away like dry leaves. Only you, love, will blossom on this rubbish heap and commit the seed of life to the winds.” – Karel Capek

Karel Capek (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The Czech writer Karel Capek, in terms of being a writer of slender acquaintance, falls somewhere between Rudyard Kipling, a Nobelist remembered now only for children’s stories and Rhian Roberts, a Welsh writer of great promise who published a few short stories and then disappeared. While he is often (erroneously) credited with having coined the word for a creation that may haunt the 21st century,  was nominated for the Nobel Prize numerous times, and even has literary awards named for him, Capek is not widely read now.

He should be. His central themes – the ability of technology to overwhelm and destroy humanity, the dangers of rampant consumerism, corporatism run amok, the evils of authoritarianism of both left and right political persuasions – will resonate powerfully with contemporary readers. Given that Capek died in 1938, his prescience about the power of these forces in our lives makes him a writer who should be widely read and discussed. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

Writers of slender acquaintance: Lauro De Bosis

Award-winning Italian writer lost his life protesting the fascism of Benito Mussolini.

Lauro De Bosis (image courtesy Wikimedia)

“Every regime in the world, even the Afghan and Turk, allows its citizens a certain amount of liberty. Fascism alone, in self-defense, is obliged to annihilate thought.” – Lauro De Bosis

This week’s writer of slender acquaintance is less a mysterious one like Rhian Roberts and more a tragic one like – well, like many artists who oppose and are destroyed by repressive regimes. As I mentioned last week, I am meandering through a massive collection of short stories called A World of Great Stories. As I made my way through the Italian section (and came across one of the worst edited “story” selections I have read so far in this volume – and that’s saying something – an excerpt called “The Travelers” from Ignazio Silone’s The Seed Beneath the Snow), I encountered De Bosis and a piece (it’s not really a story, it’s a heartfelt autobiographical essay about and against Mussolini and Italian Fascism) he wrote before his last flight (De Bosis was an amateur aviator). Continue reading

Donald Trump

New Yorker starts analysis of Trump with, “honestly…”

What have we learned about that?

Well, actually, the headline is just a hair away from that, “Being honest about Trump.” I think it qualifies, though. So would WSJ in this piece, I think.

For all of my complaints about Glopnik’s article, I love his description of the center:

“While the habits of hatred get the better of the right, the habits of self-approval through the fiction of being above it all contaminate the center.”

One has to love this much naive honesty. The problem with their fiction is that they’ve believed their own PR just a bit too much. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Writers of slender acquaintance: Rhian Who…?

“It is therefore only right that we should all turn out to make our farewells.” – Rhian Roberts

A World of Great Stories, eds. Hiram Haydn and John Cournos (image courtesy Goodreads)

I haven’t mentioned my reading in the last couple of essays. That isn’t because I haven’t been reading (don’t be silly), but because I’m dividing my time between a couple of works. One of these is a crime fiction novel by an author I have reviewed before, William Mark (my review of his latest, Crossing the Blue Line, will appear sometime next week.

The other, whose cover is pictured at right, is called A World of Great Stories and contains 115 “stories” (more on why the quotation marks used shortly) by authors from around the world. So far I’ve finished the American/British section (which includes not just the U.S. and England but Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and am into the section on Europe which starts, quite naturally, with the French who are after all right across the Channel.

The Welsh representative is the Rhian of this essay’s title. Her name is Rhian Roberts and if there were ever a writer with whom one’s acquaintance is going to be slender, it would be she.

But more on Ms. Roberts anon. First, a few words about this book. Continue reading