All aboard to Bookingham for another Juniper giveaway!

Friends and readers, I am delighted to announce that we have put our heads together, and the magnanimous Duke of Bookingham is currently hosting a Juniper-themed giveaway over on her tumblr!

bookingham giveaway 1

photo by The Duke of Bookingham

bookingham giveaway 2

photo by The Duke of Bookingham

You may notice there seems to be a set in these pictures. That’s because an advance copy, a finished hardback, and an audiobook of Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index are all up for grabs as prizes!

You can enter her giveaway and read the full details here, or, if you do not have a tumblr account, there are alternative entry methods via Rafflecopter (see link below). Ends October 7th. Good luck!!

enter via Rafflecopter

*

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30 Stories, Day 12: The Necklace

I have been wanting to read Guy de Maupassant ever since a friend recommended Bel Ami to me. After this short story, which is twelfth in my 30 day short story reading challenge, I think I may just have to bump Bel Ami up a few notches.

In this post my observations include a running theme I’ve noticed between the twelve short stories I’ve read so far this month. It’s something I’m actually applying to my own latest short story in progress– I’ll later share how it turns out 🙂 For now, to Guy!

“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant

Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin case, a superb diamond necklace; her heart began to beat covetously. Her hands trembled as she lifted it. She fastened it round her neck, upon her high dress, and remained in ecstasy at sight of herself.

Then, with hesitation, she asked in anguish:

“Could you lend me this, just this alone?”

Synopsis

Mathilde Loisel is miserable in her marriage to a clerk in the Ministry of Education. She feels she has married beneath her and daydreams, from her average home, of luxuries and delicacies: antechambers, tapestries of strange birds in faery forests, footman and torch-lit halls; saloons, perfumed rooms and antique silks; delicate meals and silver with which to eat them; for fancy clothes and jewelry. She is so miserable for want that she cannot even visit an old friend come into wealth, because every time she comes home from such a visit she is perfectly wretched.

One day the woman’s husband brings home an invitation to an elite party, which he has worked hard to procure. She flings it away and asks what she’s meant to do with such a thing.

“Why, darling, I thought you’d be pleased,” the husband replies. She rarely goes out, he says, and this would be a chance to see many important people. The woman asks, furious, just what she’s to wear to such an affair.

The man asks what it would cost for a fancy dress she could wear to the party and use again for other events. After some consideration (Madame desires the maximum amount, but is careful not to sound unreasonable) she suggests a 400 franc allowance. Reluctantly, her husband forks it over.

Madame buys a suitable dress, but as the day of the party nears her husband observes her looking more miserable than ever. He asks her what is wrong. She replies she is miserable because she has no jewels to wear with her dress, and she shan’t even be able to look anyone in the face.

Her husband suggests asking her wealthy friend to borrow something. Delighted (she doesn’t know why she didn’t think of it herself!) Mathilde goes to visit her friend, Madame Forestier, and is offered her choice of jewels. She settles on a single, breathtaking diamond necklace and is wildly happy.

At the party Mathilde is a huge success: she is elegant, the most beautiful woman present; men whisper and stare and line up to waltz with her. Even the Minister notices her. Madame Loisel dances all night, in a cloud of bliss and beautiful happiness, until four o’clock in the morning.

When they return home it is like exiting a fairy tale. Madame is low and Monsieur thinks of work in a few hours.

Then things go from bad to worse: Madame realizes the necklace is absent from her neck. Distressed, the couple check all their pockets and the folds of her dress; she retraces her steps and decides she had it when she left, so it must have fallen at some point in the journey home. The husband searches the streets, inquires at the police station, offers in the paper and to cab companies.

“Write to your friend,” Monsieur advises his wife, “and tell her you’ve broken the clasp.” If her friend thinks she’s getting it fixed, he reasons, it will buy them enough time to find it. She writes.

A week goes by. Monsieur Loisel (who “has aged five years” in those seven days) says they must look into replacing the diamonds.

They find a like necklace at the Palais-Royal for forty thousand francs. They manage to bargain it down to thirty-six thousand but even so it takes three days to assemble the funds: Monsieur Loisel inherited eighteen thousand from his father, and must borrow the rest from a hundred different places.

Finally, Madame Loisel takes back the (replacement) necklace. Madame Forestier says, rather haughtily, that she might have returned it sooner. Loisel is relieved that she doesn’t take it from its case on the spot for fear she learns it is a substitution.

For ten years the couple lives in poverty to pay back what they owe. They dismiss their servant and move flats; Madame takes charge of all of the grueling housework herself, learns to haggle at the marketplace; her husband takes up odd jobs and night work.

By the time it is all over Madame Loisel has become a stooped, coarse woman made rough by the hard labor of poor households. She looks back and wonders how things would be different if she had never lost the necklace.

One day, as Madame Loisel is out for a walk, she encounters her rich friend Madame Forestier—still young, still beautiful. She decides to tell her the truth.

She is so changed that Madame Forestier does not recognize her at first. Loisel explains she has fallen on hard times, then admits that it is because she and her husband have spent the last decade paying for the necklace that she lent her for the party. “But you brought it back,” her friend protests. “No,” Loisel replies. They had replaced it.

Madame Forestier, moved, takes her old friend by the hands and (spoiler alert!) reveals that the necklace she loaned her was an imitation—not worth more than five hundred francs.

Observations

I am starting to notice consistencies between many of the short stories I’ve read so far this month: this one, like others, spends little or no time and space discussing the characters themselves. No detail of physical appearance is given. Mannerisms, likes and dislikes, hobbies are not discussed; we are given only a few brief elements of introduction for both of our protagonists here: that Monsieur works for the Ministry of Education, and Madame is miserable in her lust for riches.

I’m starting to see that keeping characters as generic as possible can have its functions, too. For one, it pares down the word count, which is good when you’re submitting short stories to magazines—flash fiction seems to be all the rage these days, and (though admittedly, every magazine is different) many will not accept stories above 5,000, or 4,000, or 3,000 words. But more than shortening word count, keeping characters generic can change the mode of storytelling: turn it into a fable, fairy tale, or parable. See Tolstoy’s parable “Three Questions”, for example, where the characters are even stripped of names and referred to as “the king,” “the hermit,” and “the bearded man.”

Back to this story in particular: it’s simple. It’s clean. No convoluted language bogs down the telling and the story progresses quickly.

And who doesn’t love a neat twist at the end?

Vocab

A whoppin’ one word, folks:

tureen: a deep covered dish from which soup is served

P.S. Yep, that pic is definitely the heart of the ocean from Titanic.

30 Stories, Day 11: The Lottery

For Day 11 of my 30 day short story train (reading for writing ‘013!) I read a dark mystery/thriller. This one is awesomely unsettling and makes me want to write a dystopian short. But judge for yourselves: in this post I include a synopsis, my writing craft observations, a couple new words and a link to the story itself. Enjoy!

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations. Chips of wood, Mr. Summers had argued, had been all very well when the village was tiny, but now that the population was more than three hundred and likely to keep on growing, it was necessary to use something that would fit more easily into he black box. The night before the lottery, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves made up the slips of paper and put them in the box.

Synopsis

It is June 27: the day of the lottery. Immediately we are given a dose of lottery culture: in bigger villages the event can go as long as two full days, but in this small village it will take only three hours; children, and men, and women must assemble for it in the town square. A few of the more rambunctious children, playing, begin to gather up piles of stones.

The lottery is conducted by Mr. Summers, who arrives carrying a black wooden box and sets it upon a stool. The box is old and in shambles: it has been used for as long as anyone can remember, though it is not the first. In fact, the ritual has changed somewhat from its time of conception: they used to use wood chips, but as the village grew the box became too small to accommodate so many pieces; thus, the switch to paper was made. Each year Mr. Summers and the village postman, Mr. Graves, would prepare the slips of paper the night before the lottery.

Much rigmarole is involved in the tradition: each year lists of households and families and head figures must be drawn up, and each year Mr. Summers must be sworn in as the lottery official. Other original parts of the ceremony have faded out.

Mr. Summers takes role. For every person absent, another (a grown son, or a spouse) must draw on their behalf.

Finally, the lottery begins. As per tradition, the men are each called to take a slip of paper from the box and hold it, without looking, until everyone has taken one. It goes by alphabetical order: “Adams,” is called, then “Allen,”; “Andrews,” then “Bentham.” As each man approaches the box he addresses Mr. Summers by first name—Joe—and Summers does likewise. Then each man draws and returns to his family, not looking at his hand.

Meanwhile, there is chatter among gathered adults: a village up north, it is said, is quitting the lottery; in some places the practice has been long since abandoned. Most present shake their heads and say that the young are never satisfied.

“Zanini” is reached, and all the men have drawn. Mr. Summers give the signal and all the men unfold their slips. “Who is it?” the crowd murmurs. “Who’s got it?”

A man—Bill Hutchinson—is identified. He’s got it.

Hutchinson goes quiet; his wife protests, saying Summers didn’t give him as much time as everybody else to draw. The crowd argues back, telling her to be a good sport and that his chance was the same as everyone else’s.

Hutchinson is asked how many children he has. Three, he replies; it is them, himself, and his wife that make up the household. Mr. Graves collects slips and restores them to the box as Hutchinson’s wife continues to protest. Then, with only five papers in the box (including the “it” paper) each family member is made to draw. Then, one by one, they reveal them. Every slip is blank, until the fifth and final one: Tessie, Hutchinson’s wife, has the one with the black dot.

She continues to protest, but already the crowd are gathering stones; the children return to their piles, and then the rocks fly.

Favorite line

“[The adults] stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed.”

To me, this one line near the beginning says it all: stones in the corner. The adults smile out of necessity, not laughing; this ritual is not a pleasant one, and the stones are an ominous presence. In story craft, many argue that an item such as this can only be used to foreshadow something. This is often referred to as Chekhov’s gun.

Observations

If not already adequately stated, the foreshadowing in this story is awesome: the image of children piling stones in a corner reeks of darkness, and even though we can’t articulate exactly what they’re for in the beginning they have been planted in the back of our minds and colored our perceptions.

I LOVE how Jackson kept the driving mystery (What is the lottery for?) all the way until the very end. Stepping back, I see and admire how she started in action on lottery day and only introduced details about the lottery as the story went along. This neatly adheres to what is perhaps one of the most basic, but often overlooked rules of story writing: to not frontload a story with information. It’s just, in The Lottery it is especially effective because withholding a whole-picture explanation makes us readers keep reading.

I LOVE that Jackson built up the tension and darkness as we got closer to the truth. There are plenty of signs along the way: the stones. The way the adults don’t laugh. The uneasy/forced expressions exchanged. Then, when all the men have their cards, the whispers that ripple through the crowd and what is said: “Who has it?” “Who is it?” (Good news would not be whispered); Mrs. Hutchinson’s negative reaction (if it wasn’t clear yet, it’s clear now: “winning” this lottery is not a good thing); and finally, the black dot.

Although, to be perfectly honest, I could not help remembering the black dot from Muppet Treasure Island and having a small giggle afterwards.

Vocab

perfunctory: carried out with little or no effort or reflection

duly: following procedure or what is appropriate; as might be expected

11 stories down, 19 more to go.

30 Stories, Day 9: The Tale

 

Reading better to write better, day 9:

“The Tale” by Joseph Conrad

Yes, it is impossible to believe, till some day you see a ship not your own…but some other ship in company, blow up all of a sudden and plop under almost before you know what happened to her. Then you begin to believe. Henceforth you go out for the work to see—what you can see; and you keep on it with the conviction that some day you will die from something you have not seen.

Synopsis

A man and woman sit in a drawing room. The woman requests a tale, and after some back and forth—the man declines in a tone that suggests she may as well have asked the moon; she says he was a great storyteller before the war; he says he has only five days leave; she says it can be of another world—the man begins a tale of a Commanding Officer and a Northman in a war-ridden world.

The officer is the head of a naval ship whose task is to watch for trouble. It is portrayed as a nerve-wracking job: one without the certainties of the bloodstained battlefield. One that “pretends there is nothing wrong with the world,” and lulls into a false sense of security.

One day, the second in command sees something in the water. They steer closer to examine the object and look around for signs of wreckage. No wreck is found. The crew can only conjecture as to what the object is and who left it: could it have been left by one of the vessels rumored to be supplying the Germans? Eventually they excuse it—probably it was only some sloppy move on the part of a neutral ship.

But soon after the mysterious object a heavy fog rolls in and blinds the way. Gradually, at varying thinness in the fog, the ship inches for and weighs anchor in a familiar cove. There they will wait until the way is clear.

But when the fog dissipates a little they see another ship in the cove. It is right at the mouth: a miracle, the sailors murmur, that they did not strike her on the way in. A smaller boat is sent to investigate and reports that the other vessel is a neutral, but one they do not recognize. Their story, the scout reports, was one of engine trouble: they too had come to the cove seeking refuge. Nothing appears to be out of order, but the first and second in command debate amongst themselves of the surreptitious possibilities: if the other vessel is benign, why didn’t they give sign of life as they entered the cave? Surely they would have heard their ship. In fact, they passed so close to one another that the second in command wagers the crew on the other ship must have held their breath so as not to be heard.

The commanding officer decides to investigate himself. When he boards the unknown vessel he meets the other commanding figure: a robust Northman. The Northman repeats his story: that the fog has followed their ship for a week and rather disoriented him, and then on top of that they had engine trouble. The commanding officer voices doubts and rather bluntly accuses the Northman of supplying enemy submarines for profit—for which the punishment is death.

The Northman proclaims innocence, but the commanding officer is certain of guilt. When the Northman will confess nothing the c.o. orders the Northman’s vessel out within half an hour. “In this fog?” the Northman protests. The officer assures him not to worry, and gives him a specific course to help him navigate to port.

The course, the narrator concluded, would dash the Northman and his crew straight into the rocks. It was a test, and when the vessel crashed and went down it proved at least one truth: the Northman really hadn’t known where he was. But—somewhat bitterly, the narrator adds—it proved nothing of the crew’s guilt or innocence. And now he—yes, he, the narrator himself—would never know whether the murdered corpses that lay in the ocean bed because of him were innocent or guilty.

Favorite line

“It was a funny world and terribly in earnest.”

Observations

A story within a story is always intriguing. In this tale, in the beginning, the wife—the woman who asked the man to tell the story—is not a very good listener. She keeps interrupting him! Pipe down, lady—have some coffee or pie or gin if you must, but let the narrator narrate! But this device proves effective: as the story goes on, she fades away, and we become submersed. This a perfect set up for the symmetry that comes at the end: when the narrator steps back and reveals that he is the very Commanding Officer he speaks of. Well-played, Mr. Conrad. Well-played.

It was told very effectively, in such a way that I found myself looking along with the c.o. for signs of guilt in the Northman. There were a few suggestive hints (at one point the Northman admits that a poor man seeks to profit, but protests that he’d seek to do so at the price of aiding an enemy—he’d go mad with nerves, he says, or else lose himself in drink. He is, incidentally, rather drunk in this whole episode), but nothing conclusive.

This makes the ending—one of the best psychological endings I’ve seen in a story—even more effective: it leaves the reader haunted and disturbed, as the storyteller is, by an open-ended question that cannot be answered.

Vocab

equable: not easily disturbed; calm and even-tempered

flippant: not showing a sincere/respectful attitude

fatuous: silly, pointless

complicity: involved with illegal activity or wrongdoing

Come back for another tale tomorrow!

30 Stories, Day 7: A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

On day 7 of my 30 day short story challenge I get into magical realism. *Rubs hands together* Eeeeexcellent…

“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez

The light was so weak at noon that when Pelayo was coming back to the house after throwing away the crabs, it was hard for him to see what it was that was moving and groaning in the rear of the courtyard. He had to go very close to see that it was an old man, a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who, in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn’t get up, impeded by his enormous wings.

Synopsis:

The story begins with a man, Pelayo, throwing crabs out of the house after three nights of lashing rain have turned the beach into stew. It is then that he discovers a wingèd old man face down in the mud.

Pelayo and his wife Elisenda first tell their wise old neighbor of the creature, seeking her advice: she tells them that the angel was probably coming for their child, who was sick with fever, but was knocked down by the rain en route. She advises that they club the celestial being to death.

Pelayo and Elisenda, of course, haven’t the heart to do so. They lock him up in the chicken coop instead. The baby’s fever falls and its appetite returns; grateful, the happy couple decide they will set the angel out to sea with several days’ provisions.

But the husband and wife have second thoughts when the crowds begin to flock. Onlookers from far and wide treat the angel like a circus attraction, throwing scraps of food at it and provoking it to action. The priest visits and declares that his superiors must be consulted for instruction. The ill arrive en masse, diseased seeking miracles and cripples pulling the angel’s feathers and touching themselves with them so they might be healed, but the angel is an ancient, decrepit being and largely listless; even his miracles are sad and unsatisfactory. A leper’s sores do not heal but grow sunflowers, and a blind man does not regain sight but grows three new teeth.

Eventually people lose interest in the angel. But by such time as this Pelayo and Elisenda, who began charging admission, have earned a small fortune. With their savings they build a two story mansion, a rabbit warren, and Elisenda dresses in only the finest silks. The coop, in contrast, is left derelict: treated only with incense when the chicken dung becomes too putrid. The angel is ever their captive.

As time goes on (and the coop collapses with more bad weather) the infant grows into a child; the angel is adopted into the household: a blind, elderly creature, constantly stumbling into people and being in everyone’s way. He begins to run a fever at night; his wings are balding, in a state of miserable disrepair; he seems to be dying.

Then, when the worst of winter passes, the angel’s heath unexpectedly recovers and new feathers begin coming in. He tries to fly again and, though ungainly at first, eventually recovers and wings out to sea.

Favorite line

“He was lying in the corner drying his open wings in the sunlight among the fruit peels and breakfast leftovers that the early risers had thrown him. Alien to the impertinences of the world, he only lifted his antiquarian eyes and murmured something in his dialect when Father Gonzaga went into the chicken coop and said good morning to him in Latin.” I just love this image.

Observations

Gabriel García Márquez is the king of magical realism. Crabs fill the house when it rains too much, a casual aside in this story is a young woman whom divinity turned to a spider, and everything about the angel is so real and tangible: his struggling in the mud. His molting, parasite-ridden wings. His unearthly patience and endurance for all the provoking—even a cattle brand (although he rises and gusts and shouts in foreign tongue at this). The “consolation” miracles (see: leper, blind man, and paralytic) are perhaps my favorite: twisted and broken, not unlike the majestic, aged creature which cast them.

I’m a little surprised that this tale is not more didactic: that it leaves the reader with no clear moral or instructive takeaway at the end. It’s just sort of an unusual, magical episode. That’s it. There are no consequences as the wise old neighbor or priest seemed to warn of: the child’s life is not taken, and none are bedeviled or tricked into something wicked. The angel is not vengeful toward his captors; he simply takes his freedom and leaves.

 Vocab

ragpicker: a person who collects and sells rags

ingenuous: innocent and unsuspecting

sidereal: of/related to the stars

befuddled: unable to think clearly

sacramental: related to religious ceremony; a sign of divine grace

penitent: a person who repents of sin/wrongdoings

hermetic: airtight; protected from outside influences

repose: temporary rest

tribulation: a cause or state of great suffering/trouble

deign: to do something that one considers to be beneath one’s dignity

standoffish: distant and cold; unfriendly

30 Stories, Day 6: The Door

On the sixth day of 30 Short Stories, my anthology gave to me…a wonderfully nonsensical story by a renowned grammar nazi!

(Apologies for the shabby rhyme. Ahem:)

“The Door” by E.B. White

“More and more (he kept saying) I am confronted by a problem which is incapable of solution (for this time, even if I chose the right door, there would be no food behind it) and that is what madness is, and things seeming different from what they are.”

Synopsis

An unnamed narrator seeks a way forward through a confused description of non-doors (see: “One was an opening that wasn’t a door, the other a wall that wasn’t an opening”).

The narrator remembers lab rats: ones that have been trained to jump at a card with a circle on it for food. Those rats, he remembered, were tricked one day: a card was put in a flat place—one that did not give way to food—and the rodents went mad, confused, and then totally passive. He compares himself to the rats; says he doesn’t know which card to jump at.

His life, he says, has been full of situations without solution. Doors are compared to objects; goals; stages of life. “The door with the girl on it,” is one. Home (“householder’s detail”) is another.

The problem is that the doors keep changing. “It is inevitable that they will keep changing the doors on you…because that is what they are for.”

Favorite line

“You wouldn’t want me, standing here, to tell you, would you, about my friend the poet (deceased) who said, “My heart has followed all my days something I cannot name”? (It had the circle on it.)”

Observations

I absolutely love the way this story is written. No, it isn’t clear, but yes, it flows; no, it isn’t coherent, but yes, it makes sense, and resonates; it flows and swells along, pulling back and forth, a pendulum, tick tock, back and forth, a maddened maze unto itself, a vehicle for the message. “The medium is the message,” it has been said. Nowhere do I find that to be truer than with this story.

This was an especially pleasant surprise given that the author is E.B. White—E.B. White of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. I was expecting the story to be something very cut and dry; something dull, flat, and grammatically sound. I daresay it was grammatically sound (at least, all the commas were in the right places), but that did not make it any less unstable and desperate and compelling. I can tell right now: this is one I will read again. This one has something to teach.

There is only one line of spoken dialogue in this story: “Here you have the maximum of openness in a small room.” It is unclear to me what this (the maximum openness, or the small room) is, but the ambiguity allows for many interpretations: is this a metaphor for all of the possibilities in one’s life? The choices, or “jumps” we make within a maze? (For some reason, on initial reading I thought of a realtor; and then a mental patient.)

The ambiguity/lack of clarity in this story are unique and poignant and I think done with great delicacy. Some readers would be impatient or upset with not having a clear idea of what’s going on, but that is the great skill of this story: it moves in such a way that treads that thin line, that moves with mastery, that pulls one through and after it with strange allure so that even though it is less than lucid our attention does not waver.

Vocab

All these words are fictional scientific terms that were designed for the sake of the story:

tex, koid, oid, duroid, sani, thrutex

Another lesson: it’s okay (sometimes even beneficial) to create new words for the sake of your story! Don’t be afraid to break the rules.

Une autre histoire demain…

30 Stories, Day 5: The South (El Sur)

Today marks day five in my 30 day, self-imposed short story challenge. I’m in the midst of trying to find homes for some of my short stories and decided I need to read more short stories myself—to enjoy some good literature, to learn, and to improve my own writing. I share my findings with you. Enjoy!

“The South” by Jorge Luis Borges

Every Argentine knows that the South begins at the other side of Rivadavia. Dahlmann was in the habit of saying that this was no mere convention, that whoever crosses this street enters a more ancient and sterner world. From inside the carriage he sought out, among the new buildings, the iron grill window, the brass knocker, the arched door, the entrance way, the intimate patio.

Synopsis

Juan Dahlmann is reading an advance copy of The Thousand and One Nights when he unconsciously strikes his head against an open door. He does not even notice until a woman sees him bleeding and screams.

Dahlmann is fevered and miserable for eight days before he is taken to a sanitarium and treated for septicemia. It is unclear exactly how much time he has passed there, though it seems that the summer has changed to fall by the time Dahlmann is released.

In need of convalescence, he sets out for a remote ranch in the south. On the train he takes out the same book, The Thousand and One Nights, that had been the cause of his illness in the first place. Full circle, he muses, it will do him no harm now. Then, after inspecting his ticket a train attendant tells Dahlmann that he won’t be able to get off at the station, but at an earlier stop a short distance away.

Dahlmann walks to the general store where he arranges for a bed and something to eat. He has wine and sardines and meat, and as he is eating he feels something against his face: a spitball of breadcrumb. He excuses the incident and begins reading.

Another spitball comes. Men at another table laugh at him. Thinking it would not be wise to start a brawl in his current state, Dahlmann stands to leave. The shop owner begs him to pay no attention; those customers are half high. But Dahlmann confronts the peones. One of them curses in his face and takes out a knife, challenging him. The owner protests, saying that Dahlmann is unarmed. An old man throws Dahlmann a blade.

Thinking that at least it would be a respectable way to go, Dahlmann goes out into the open plain to fight.

Favorite line

“Dahlmann closed his book and allowed himself to live.”

Observations

Dahlmann reads “by way of suppressing reality”. There’s a fair amount of play between dream and reality here, especially with Dahlmann being sick and disoriented. Then he has wine with dinner and talks about how far away everything feels, people seem.

Also, something bad seems to happen every time Dahlmann picks up A Thousand and One Nights. Coincidence? It seems too pointed to not mean something.

Based on what I remember of Jorge Luis Borges, I was expecting the blurs between reality and fantasy to be more vivid and captivating. Was a little disappointed, and will continue looking for more stories I can learn from as far as that element goes.

One thing I find really interesting is that Borges himself thought of this story as one of his best, if not the best. I’ve also read The Encounter by him (in Spanish, of course) and liked it better. I will have to read more of his work and see whether or not I agree with his verdict.

Vocab

daguerreotype: a photograph made using iodine-sensitive silvered plate and mercury vapor

auscultation: listening to the heart, lungs, or other organs via stethoscope or other instruments

septicemia: blood poisoning, especially caused by bacteria or their toxins

vestibule: an enclosed entrance compartment in a railroad car

impetus: the force, energy, or momentum with which a body moves; the force that makes something happen or happen quickly (like a catalyst?)

sumptuous: luxurious; splendid and expensive-looking

conciliatory: intended to pacify

peon(es): (Spanish) a farm worker or unskilled laborer

torpid: mentally or physically inactive; lethargic; listless

poniard: a small, slim dagger

Until tomorrow, fellow readers!

30 Stories, Day 3: A Sound of Thunder

Hello, wordsmiths! Today is the third installment in my venture to read 30 short stories in 30 days with the long-term goal of improving my writing. Today I report on this:

 “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury

“Anything happens to you, we’re not responsible. … Six Safari leaders were killed last year, and a dozen hunters. We’re here to give you the severest thrill a real hunter ever asked for.”

Synopsis: A man named Eckels, two safari guides and two fellow hunters journey back sixty million years to hunt a Tyrannosaurs Rex. The hunt must be conducted with the utmost of care; Time Safari Inc. has laid out specific rules, provisions, and a literal path from which the party must not stray (not even to touch a blade of grass): to do so could alter the future drastically. As the party confronts their game, Eckels falters and stumbles off the path. The party picks up the slack and fells the beast, but one of the guides, Travis, tells Eckels he’s really stepped in it now and threatens to kill him if he changed anything. The hunters return to the future and Eckels finds a dead butterfly in the mud caked to his boots; the future changed. There is a sound of thunder: Travis making good on his word.

Favorite line: [Describing the effects of the Time Machine] “… all, everything fly back to seed, flee death, rush down to their beginnings, suns rise in western skies and set in glorious easts, moons eat themselves opposite to the custom, all and everything cupping one in another like Chinese boxes, rabbits into hats, all and everything returning to the fresh death, the seed death, the green death, to the time before the beginning.”

Observations: Bradbury writes very concisely, using vivid imagery. Check out this brief passage describing the sensation of time traveling back sixty million years in a whir:

“The Machine howled. Time was a film run backward. Suns fled and ten million moons fled after them. “Think,” said Eckels. “Every hunter that ever lived would envy us today. This makes Africa seem like Illinois.”

The Machine slowed; its scream fell to a murmur. The Machine stopped.

The sun stopped in the sky.”

Look at how short and simple those sentences are. But how much they convey! And how perfectly! I am envious of such detail and delivery.

A criticism: I find it unrealistic that Time Safari Inc., who claims to have to jump through all manner of hoops to get the government’s permission to do what they do, seems to let anyone who walks in with $10,000 go back into the past without first laying out the rules and making sure the person understands the significance of not disturbing anything. It is only after Eckels and the other two hunters have gone back that one of the leaders lectures them—and clearly, as the story plays out, that’s a little too late in the game. Now, I might be a harsher critic than the average reader, but if the whole of the story resides on a detail that lacks credibility…well, that’s something I’ll make a personal effort to avoid in my own writing.

Vocab: No new words! Interesting. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing; common language can make a story more accessible. A lesson in itself!

30 Stories, Day 2: The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death

“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allen Poe

“There were sharp pains, sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim…shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellowmen. And the whole seizure, progress, and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.”

Synopsis: An omniscient narrator tells of the Red Death, a plague-like epidemic devastating the land, and the land’s prince, Prospero, who ignores the cries of people and shuts himself, along with a thousand nobles, inside a great imperial abbey. Safely separated from the diseased world, Prospero and the courtiers eat and drink and dance in the cheer of a ceaseless masque. Despite the lavish and gay atmosphere there is a wordless unease among them—a certain ebony clock in a room with glaring red windows makes the music die and the courtiers pause at every hourly knell—but all continue largely unbothered until a gaunt figure, clad in grave wrappings and wearing a mask of blood, is noticed. Prince Prospero confronts him and the figure is revealed to be none other than the Red Death, a horrific entity without face or form. All fall to ruin.

Favorite line: “Who dares?”

This is the first (and almost only) spoken line in the entire story. It is uttered by Prince Prospero when courtiers first notice (and take offense at) the figure in ominous costume.

Observations: Told by an omniscient narrator, this story captures something I have never attempted but very much admire: the sort of storytelling voice of old; one used for legacies, fables, and stories told by candlelight at the bedside; one that creates a presence in itself, even if the narrator is nameless and removed. I’ll definitely come back to it if I ever attempt to write anything like that.

Another element that struck me was the play of color in the story: one which might be seen as symbolic, but even if not specifically interpreted still a powerful device. Let me elaborate: there are seven chambers in Prospero’s imperial suite, and each are adorned in a different color: blue, purple, green, orange, white, violet, and black. The black room features red-tinted windows and is the most avoided of the chambers. One needn’t a specific symbolic interpretation to feel the foreboding in those details. The ebony clock also resides in this fearsome room, and sends chills down the courtier’s spines every hour. To me such details are wonderfully portentous, and I get a sense of blood and death even before I know what’s coming.

According to the ever-wise Wikipedia, The Masque of the Red Death is sometimes looked at as an allegory for the inevitability of death. I can appreciate that interpretation, though I think the story stands well enough simply as a gothic bedtime story.

This was a brilliant read for me as I am currently researching epidemics.

Vocab:

 brazier: a barbeque; a portable heater with a stand for lighted coals

perforce: (adverb) used to express necessity or inevitability

habiliment: clothing

vesture: clothing

besprinkled: means what it sounds like. I just love it.

untenanted: unoccupied

mummer: a person who wears a mask or fantastic costume in traditional masked mime

Another story tomorrow, dear readers. Until then!

Forum Friday: What Banned Books Have You Read?

This Friday, my fellow readers, writers, and bloggers, let’s get our hands dirty.

Let’s talk contraband.

This week (September 30 to October 6) is Banned Books Week in the United States. For those of you unfamiliar with it, this is an annual event among the national book community that celebrates the ability to read freely and aims to fight censorship by drawing attention to banned and challenged titles.

My Forum Friday question for you, then, is this: what controversial titles have you read? (And which did you like best? Which are you hoping to read next?)

If you need some ideas check out the following resources:

  1. The ten most challenged titles of 2011, according to bannedbooksweek.org
  2. The 100 most frequently challenged books (1990-1999), as listed by the American Library Association
  3. The 100 most banned and challenged books (2000-2009), again by the American Library Association

Your favorite contraband might be popular titles– children’s, young adult, or adult fiction, anything is game!– like these, which are banned novels I have read:

  • The Hunger Games
  • To Kill a Mocking Bird
  • Brave New World
  • Harry Potter (series)
  • Catcher in the Rye
  • Killing Mr. Griffin
  • Bless Me, Ultima
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • The Kite Runner
  • Speak
  • Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Julie of the Wolves
  • Goosebumps (series)
  • The Outsiders
  • Flowers for Algernon
  • Lord of the Flies

And finally, the one that made me say “WHAT?”, #87:

  • Where’s Waldo?

(I kid you not.)

Of those– oh, how could I choose a favorite?– I grew up on Julie of the Wolves, and then the entire Harry Potter series; but Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, Flowers for Algernon and Catcher in the Rye are all literary gems and have haunted and stayed with me for many years (except in the case of Brave New World, which I am actually reading for the first time right now). I love them all.

One banned title that I really want to read (but I don’t even think has been released in the US– I read about it in The Guardian) is Julian Assange’s unauthorized autobiography.

How about you?