Sunday, January 26, 2014

Where Did Everybody Go?

Most of my readers vanished a few weeks ago.

Somehow, for reasons I cannot discover, my readership dropped from about 80 to 100 per post to 10 to 20 per post.

Where did you all go?

This year, I've been going through one of those 'should I keep doing this' phases that most of us go through from time to time .  I was planning on hanging up my hat for good after the TBR Triple Dog Dare ends on April 1.  But to suddenly drop to readership levels I had back during my first year was something of a shock.

An unpleasant shock.

In the course of trying to figure out what happened, I visited Wordpress.com where many of you keep your blogs.  Checking it out was kind of fun.

So, I'm not giving up blogging, I'm just moving to Wordpress.com

I'm at jamesreadsbooks.com from now on.

Please update your readers, etc. as needed.  I'm also on Facebook and I just started using Twitter under my full name jamesbchester so please feel free to look for me there.

I may continue double posting both here and at Jamesreadsbooks.com for a while, just in case people wonder where I am and stop by this site, and the TBR Triple Dog Dare will still run from the page here at Ready When You Are, C.B. until the first of April.  I'll have to post a link over on my new blog as soon as I figure out how to do it.  (I'm actually having fun trying to figure out how everything works over at Wordpress.com.  Yes, I'm a nerd.  I confess.  I even own four seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Four complete seasons.)

I tried importing my posts from Ready When You Are, C.B., but without success. I think it'll be fun to start the whole thing over and see what happens now that I have a better idea what I'm doing than I did all those years ago when this blog started.

That's all for today.  I'm still working on adding you all to my blog roll over at James Reads Books so please don't think I've forgotten anyone.  I should have it all up and running at full speed soon.

See you at James Reads Books.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Deal Me In Short Story Challenge: George Orwell meet Isak Dinesen

This is what I get for cheating on a challenge....

Since I've long had this collection of essays by George Orwell on my TBR short story shelf, I decided to include some of them in my deck for the Deal Me In Challenge.   Because I'm a natural over-achiever, I decided to up the ante and make my own version of the Deal Me In Challenge by drawing two cards (stories) at a time and finding some way to connect them.  It's proven difficult.

It's tough to think of two authors who could be further apart than the two I drew this time around, George Orwell and Isak Dinesen.  Adding to the challenge is the particular essay I drew, the seven  of diamonds, "Inside the Whale," which is largely a review of Henry Miller's novel The Tropic of Cancer.  It's also a meditation on the writers of Miller's generation and the generation proceeding him with a healthy mix of political history thrown in.  It's terrific.  So far, every one of the Orwell essays have been wonderful.  He's a master of the form.


Just as Isak Dinesen is a master of her form, the short story.  The eight  of spades was "The Dreaming Child" from Winter Tales.  It's not quite a fairy tale, but almost.   In "The Dreaming Child' a destitute, unmarried woman leaves her baby son, along with a 100 rixdollars payment, with a boarding house keeper in a disreputable section of Copenhagen,  The boy is raised by Mamzell Ane, another boarder, who tells him stories about the wonderful life he left behind where he was the child of wealthy aristocratic parents who lived in a fine house and will one day return to take him home.

Mamzell Ane essentially convinces the little boy that he is a character in a piece of fiction:

It was, she said, by no means unheard of, neither in life nor in books, that a child, particularly a child in the  highest and happiest circumstances, and most dearly beloved by his parents, enigmatically vanished and was lost.  She stopped short at this, for even to her dauntless and proven soul the theme seemed too tragic to be further dwelt on.  Jens accepted the explanation in the spirit in which it was given, and from this moment saw himself as that melancholy, but not uncommon, phenomenon: a vanished and lost child.

(I love how Mamzell Ane equates life and books.  What's in each is equally real, equally valuable as evidence.)

Just before the boy turns six, a wealthy, childless woman arrives seeking to adopt the him.  He believes she is his long lost mother, finally returned to take him home.

"Mamma," he said, "I am glad that you have found me.  I have waited for you so long, so long."

Once he arrives at his new home, a mansion in a much better section of Copenhagen, the boy soon convinces everyone in the house that he really is the couple's son and that he remembers everything and everyone in the house from the time before he was lost.  His new parents, and the household staff, soon are caught up in the boy's story.  Not only do they believe him, they are the better for it.  Each member of the household begins to become the person the boy remembers, a better version of themselves.

Orwell's essay on Henry Miller and the generation of writers between the World Wars is about what makes Miller's characters so compelling and why his writing benefits from avoiding direct political engagement.

How can these connect?

In his essay "Inside the Whale" Orwell discusses what it's like to read Henry Miller:

"When you read certain passages in Ulysses you feel that Joyce's mind and your mind are one, that he knows all about you though he has never heard your name, that there exists some world outside time and space in which you and he are together.  And though he does not resemble Joyce in other ways, there is a touch of this quality in Henry Miller. Not everywhere, because his work is very uneven, and sometimes, especially in Black Spring, tends to slide away into mere verbiage or into the squashy universe of the surrealists. But read him for five pages, ten pages, and you feel the peculiar relief that comes not so much from understanding as from being understood.  "He knows all about me," you feel; "he wrote this specially for me."  It is as though you could hear a voice speaking to you, a friendly American voice, with no humbug in it, no moral purpose, merely an implicit assumption that we are all alike.  

If we can read the boy in "The Dreaming Child" as an writer, a creator of tales, this is just the reaction he produces in his audience, his new parents and their household staff.  They come to believe he really did know them because he understands them so well.  So much so, that by the story's end, the wealthy woman who took him in confesses to her husband that he really is her long lost son, the product of a failed relationship she had before marrying into the position she now enjoys.

I know this experience of finding an author who understands me.  I almost always feel it with Tennessee Williams who somehow managed to loosely most base all of his plays on various members my family though no one in my family ever met him.

Which author best understands you?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Deal Me In Short Story Challenge: The Five of Hearts (Tobias Wolff) and the Jack of Clubs (Bordertown)

One of the challenges I signed up for this year is the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge.  The idea is to assign 52 different short stories to one card in a deck, then draw a one each week and read the corresponding short story.


I decided to liven this up a little bit by reading and posting on two stories at once.  My own personal challenge will be to find a way to link the two random stories.  Today my challenge is to connect a story by Tobias Wolff with a story from the Welcome to Bordertown anthology of urban fantasy.  We'll see how it goes.

"The Night in Question" by Tobias Wolff is a slice of life story about a brother and sister who have a relationship that has stood the test of time and trial by fire.  In "The Night in Question" the brother is trying to tell his sister a story he heard in church.  Although he has only recently become a convert to full bore Christianity, she is already tired of hearing him tell stories from sermons.  This story is about a man faced with the terrible choice of either sacrificing the life of his beloved son or the lives of five strangers.

The sister stops her brother before he can finish. She has had enough of her brothers terrible church stories.  She knows the message will once again be about how right it is to sacrifice one person for the lives of many others and that this will tied to the story of Jesus's crucifixion.  The sister, who has sacrificed so much for her younger brother, born so much suffering from his years of addiction, their father's abusive behavior, years a sacrifice for her little brother, cannot bear the suggestion that one life should ever be forfeit for the sake of another.  After all they have been through the idea of sacrificing the one person you love to save the lives of strangers is something she cannot countenance.

The Jack of Clubs led me to a story about every genre readers dream job.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Bordertown series an introduction is in order.  Terri Windling invented Bordertown in the mid-1980's as a place where everyone could come and play.  The idea is that there is a town between the human world and the elvish world of faerie called Bordertown.  There humans, who cannot enter the world of faerie can mingle with elves who cannot enter the world of humans.  Terri Windling came up with the world and invited everyone to submit stories set there.  Since Bordertown first appeared five volumes of short stories and three novels have been released.

Will Shetterly's "The Sages of Elsewhere," which appears in Welcome to Bordertown is about a human man who runs a bookshop in Bordertown, the secret dream job of every genre fan.  When he is offered the chance to purchase a rare magical book, he does so reluctantly only to find the book talks back when spoken to.  He hopes to quickly move the book on to a prospective buyer as soon as he can, but a talking magical book means an elvish origin and this means trouble for a simple bookstore owner.

Soon, there is a mob outside his door figuratively demanding his head on a spike, threatening both his life and his livelihood and a talking book just really isn't much help in the circumstances.

So how does this fantastic story in the realm of faerie relate to a slice of life a la Tobias Wolff?

Both are about stories, the power of stories and collectors of stories.  "The Night in Question" features a brother who collects anecdotes from sermons and a sister who doesn't want to hear them.  "The Sages of Elsewhere" features a bookstore owner who must get his book into the hands of the right buyer.  In each the root of the problem comes from people trying to deal with a story they don't want, to hear in "The Night in Question" and to own in "The Sages of Elsewhere."

One story is stopped before the end; the other ends with a book that turns its pages into wings a flies away.




Monday, January 6, 2014

Deal Me In!

One of my long-time blogging friends Gautami Tripathy pointed me towards a reading challenge in a comment yesterday.  I was whining about how few people seem to participate in reading challenges these days, usually complaining that they never finish them as though we will all be graded on this and no one wants to risk lowering their overall G.P.A.

I say signing up for challenges and making your reading list is not just half the fun, it can sometimes be all the fun you need at the moment.

So, I'm signing up for the Deal Me In short story reading challenge at Bibliophilopolis.

The idea is to select 52 short stories and assign each one to a card in a deck of cards.  Each week you draw a random card and read that story until you have read all 52, hopefully by the end of the year at the rate of one story a week, but who cares about that.

I won't be cheating the TBR Triple Dog Dare because I still have lots of short story anthologies on my TBR shelves from back in the day when I ran a Short Story Monday feature each week.

Here's my list of stories.  (I'm cheating a little by including some essays by George Orwell. I've had this anthology of his for some time now, and his essays are really good.)

Hearts

2.  “Ghosts” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
3.  “The Thing Around Your Neck”  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
4.   “The Arrangers of Marriage” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
5.   “The Night in Question” by Tobias Wolff
6   “The Life of the Body” by Tobias Wolff
7   “The Other Miller” by Tobias Wolff
8. “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff
9.  “The Two Lives of Consuela Castanon” by John Hersey
10.  “A Game of Anagrams” by John Hersey
Jack.  “Page Two” by John Hersey
Queen.   “To the End of the American Dream” by John Hersey
King.  “The Wedding Dress” by John Hersey
Ace.  “The Private Life” by Henry James

Diamonds

2.  “The Next Time” by Henry James
3.  “The Figure in the Carpet” by Henry James
4.  “John Delavoy” by Henry James
5   “Raffles and Miss Blandish” by George Orwell
6   “Marrakech” by George Orwell
7.  “Inside the Whale” by George Orwell
8.  “England Your England” by George Orwell
9   “Boy’s Weeklies” by George Orwell
10.  “The Pale Pink Roast” by Grace Paley
Jack.  “An Interest in Life” by Grace Paley
Queen. “In Time Which Made a Monkey of Us All” by Grace Paley
King. “Faith in the Afternoon” by Grace Paley
Ace.  “Living” by Grace Paley

Spades

2.  “Come On, Ye Sons of Art” by Grace Paley
3.  “Enormous Changes at the Last Minutes” by Grace Paley
4   “The Long-Distance Runner” by Grace Paley
5   “In This Country, but in Another Language, My Aunt Refuses to Marry the Men Everyone Wants her To” by Grace Paley
6.   “Mother” by Grace Paley
7   “Zagrowsky Tells” by Grace Paley
8.   “The Dreaming Child” by Isak Dinesen
9.   “The Fish” by Isak Dinesen
10.   “Peter and Rosa” by Isak Dinesen
Jack.  “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” by Haruki Murakami
Queen.   “A Perfect Day for Kangaroos” by Haruki Murakami
King.   “Man-Eating Cats” by Haruki Murakami
Ace.   “The Year of Spaghetti” by Haruki Murakami

Clubs.
 
2.  “The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes” by Haruki Murakami
3.  “Firefly” by Haruki Murakami
4   “The Lady in the Lake” by Raymond Chandler
5.   “No Crime in the Mountains” by Raymond Chandler
6.   “Trouble is my Business” by Raymond Chandler
7.   “Red Wind” by Raymond Chandler
8.   “A Canary for One” by Ernest Hemingway
9.  “A Natural History of the Dead” by Ernest Hemingway
10.   “A Prince of Thirteen Days” by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Jack.  “The Sages of Elsewhere” by Will Shetterly
Queen.  “Our Stars, Our Selves” by Tim Pratt
King.  “The Wall” by Delia Sherman
Ace.  “A Tangle of Green Men” by Charles de Lint

Now all I need is a deck of cards.  I think I have around here someplace.....