O’Connor, Flannery. Everything That Rises Must Converge. New York: The Library of America, 1988.
Reason read: September is Southern Writers Month.
Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are like the crack of the whip dangerously close to your head. Sometimes humorous, sometimes peculiar, often times violent, but always breathtakingly true. Imagine the nervous laughter that bubbles up when you realize that whip has missed your face. You laugh because you want it to be a skillful miss as opposed to a clumsy mistake. Imagine the quirkiness of characters who are dangerously misunderstood. There is always something a little sinister about O’Connor. She enjoys the abrupt turn of events that take her readers by surprise. She holds us witness to the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity.
Everything That Rises Must Converge is a compilation of nine short stories:
- “Everything That Rises Must Converge” – we start with the discomfort of a mother’s obvious prejudice.
- “Greenleaf” – a fight over property and propriety.
- “A View of the Woods” – a punch to the gut when you least expect it.
- “The Enduring Chill” – another tale about an overbearing mother.
- “The Comforts of Home” – mother and son disagree about taking a brash girl into their home.
- “The Lame Shall Enter First” – a widower tried to take in a second son with horrible results.
- “Revelation” – another story heavy on the racism.
- “Parker’s Back” – a man obsessed with tattoos
- “Judgement Day” – an elderly and racist father is terrified of dying in New York City.
Quotes I liked, “There was a continuous thud in the back of Asbury’s head as if his heart and got trapped in it and was fighting to get out” (p 565), and “Behind the newspaper Julian was withdrawing into the inner compartment of his mind where he spent most of his time” (p 603), and “In addition to her other bad qualities, she was forever sniffing up sin” (p 655).
Author fact: Flannery O’Connor died too young at the age of thirty-nine. Imagine the books and stories she could have written had she lived to a hundred!
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Everything That Rises Must Converge in “Growing Writers” or “Southern Fiction” but she did mention O’Connor as a great fiction-writer and a classic.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. Once in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107), and again in the chapter called “Southern Fiction” (p 222).
Strout, Elizabeth. Olive Kitteridge. New York: Random House, 2008.
Reason read: In Rockland, Maine, there is a festival dedicated to lobsters. Read Olive Kitteridge in honor of the critters.
Comprised of thirteen short stories with varying narratives, Strout cleverly tells the story of Olive Kitteridge. Olive is lurking in most of each connecting tale. Sometimes characters gossip about her, like in the story called “Winter Concert.” In the first story “Pharmacy” Olive’s husband, Henry Kitteridge, doesn’t seem to have a happy life since he retired from his old fashioned pharmacy. Olive is presented as a woman who doesn’t suffer fools easily. She shows the world an angry and proud face most of the time. I think they call it “Yankee stoicism.” Other stories:
- “Incoming Tide” – Olive is present when a woman tries to commit suicide.
- “The Piano Player” – Angela O’Meara plays the piano for ungrateful guests.
- “A Little Burst” – Olive’s only son is getting married to a woman she doesn’t like.
- “Starving” – Harmon is starving in his marriage while he befriends a girl with anorexia.
- “A Different Road” – a couple are victims of a crime by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Winter Concert” – A couple attends a concert where the wife learns of her husband’s secret rendezvous.
- “Tulips” – bitterness.
- “A Basket of Trips” – a death cuts a marriage short.
- “Ship in a Bottle” – a girl is stood up on her wedding day.
- “Security” – Olive tries to visit her son in New York; a story about expectations.
- “Criminal” – the story of a neurotic kleptomaniac.
- “River” – My favorite story of the the bunch. Olive is a widow and learning to be polite.
Author fact: Strout also wrote Amy & Isabelle and Abide with Me. Both are on my Challenge list. I read Amy & Isabelle in 2007 and I read Abide with Me in 2013.
Book trivia: Olive Kitteridge won a Pulitzer in 2008.
Playlist: “Good Night, Irene,” “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “The First Noel,” “We Shall Overcome, “”Fly Me to the Moon,” “My Way,” “Feelings,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Beethoven, “Fools Rush In,” “Whenever I Feel Afraid,” Phish, Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” and Debussy.
Nancy said: Pearl said Olive Kitteridge would be an excellent choice for a book club.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the curious chapter called “The Maine Chance” (p 135).
Perrotta, Tom. Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies. New York: Berkey Books, 1994.
Reason read: June is short story month.
Comprised of ten short stories:
- The Wiener Man – Your past is never far behind you. A mother connects with an old friend.
- Thirteen – Coming of age is terrible when trying to help a best friend get the girl.
- Race Riot – Which side are you on? Racial tensions and peer pressure and a bad combination.
- Snowman – revenge is not as sweet as you think.
- Forgiveness – standing for the flag is a choice.
- A Bill Floyd Christmas – Bill loses his wife and latches on to another family to fill the void.
- You Start to Live – take chances in life.
- The Jane Pasco Fan Club – Dating in high school can be dangerous.
- Just the Way We Were – prom memories.
- Wild Kingdom – sometimes people can be animals.
Lines I liked: “The world was a still as a photograph” (p 61) and “She had that voice special tone of voice that she only used when she had company,” (p 119).
Author fact: Perrotta is from New Jersey.
Book trivia: all of the short stories are linked and are in chronological order.
Setlist: “We May Never Pass This Way Again,” Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” The Carpenters, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Donny Osmond, Aerosmith, Grateful Dead, a couple of Jim Croce songs, “I’ve got a Name” and “Operator.”
Nancy said: Pearl called Bad Haircut “heartfelt yet unsentimental.”
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Near Novels: Linked Short Stories” (p 175).
Ogawa, Yoko. The Diving Pool: Three Novellas. New York: Picador, 2008.
Reason read: Japan celebrates a national Cultural Day on November 3rd.
Comprised of three novellas:
- The Diving Pool
- The Pregnancy Diary
- The Dormitory
Here is what you need to know before you dive into Ogawa’s work. At the height of tension the story ends. Period. If you don’t care for cliffhangers you should make up your own endings or just don’t read Diving Pool at all. It’s that simple. Ogawa’s writing is like a subtle psycho-killer movie. Instead of the monster being front and center, there is absolutely nothing tangible to confront. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, not because a blood-dripping ghoul is staring you down, but because there is nothing to see. The darkness is a wisp of toxic smoke, a hint of danger darting in the corners of your periphery. In Ogawa’s stories it is what isn’t being said that is far scarier than the certainty. In the title story Jun admits he is aware of the protagonist’s cruelty. Then what? You don’t know what happens next. In “The Pregnancy Diary” a sister gives birth to a child who may, or may not, have a birth defect. In the last story, “The Dormitory” a cousin hasn’t been seen for days and the manager of his dormitory always has an excuse for his absence. After you have read these stories you are left without resolution and without resolution your imagination questions the reality.
Favorite lines, “Perhaps it’s because he’s falling through time, to a place there words can never reach,” “When we grow up, we find ways ti hide our anxieties, our loneliness, our fear and sorrow,” and “The baby haunted the shadows that fell between us.” Can’t you just feel the ominous chill between the lines?
Author fact: Ogawa also wrote Hotel Iris (on my Challenge list) as well as The Housekeeper and the Professor (finished).
Nancy said: Pearl had a couple of mistakes on this title. She called it “Divining Pool” (both in the chapter and the index), and she referred to Yoko Ogawa as a male.
About The Diving Pool she said it was like The Housekeeper and the Professor, “delicate and retrained” (Book Lust To Go p 117).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 116).
Newman, Mark. My Fence is Electric: and Other Stories. Australia: Odyssey Books, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing I was selected to read and review My Fence is Electric.
It would have been great If Newman had called his book, My Fence is Electric: and Other Eclectic Stories because the stories are both electric and eclectic. Twenty seven in all; ranging from a single paragraph to several pages long, they run the gamut of plot, theme, character, voice and emotional impact. Newman’s talent as a writing chameleon is apparent in every paragraph. The very first story reminded me of Lovely Bones while another had me thinking of the Daley twins. Despite the entire volume being extremely short, take your time with this one. Savor the stories as if you would an elaborate charcuterie. Each bite is a different adventure.
Author fact: Newman has a a website here.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Complete Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.
Reason read: Doyle died in July. Read in his memory.
If you were to read the Complete Sherlock Holmes in chronological order, you would not start with the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The short stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, twelve in all, start after Holmes and Watson have gone their separate ways and are no longer sharing rooms of a flat together. Watson is by this time married with a house of his own while Holmes is still on Baker Street. One constant that remains throughout all the stories is Holmes’s ability to confuse people with his keen sense of observation. “How could you know that?” is a constant refrain. Another constant is that all of the stories are told in first person from Watson’s point of view.
- “Scandal in Bohemia” – a Duke and heir King is blackmailed by an actress. Sherlock, with the help of Holmes, attempts to end the threat but the woman outsmarts them.
- “Red-Headed League” – what do you get when you mix a redhead, an Encyclopedia, a bank, and a scam? Answer: a Sherlock Holmes mystery, of course!
- “A Case of Identity” – How far will a man go to keep his stepdaughter from marrying?
- “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” – Did a man really murder his father or is there more going on?
- “The Five Orange Pips” – a curse has come down through the generations, terrorizing a family.
- “The Man with the Twisted Lip” – This was my favorite. A man goes missing and is believed to be dead while his wife has faith he is alive.
- “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” – Who stole this precious jewel?
- “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” – another crazy story about a father not wanting his daughters to marry because of losing the inheritance.
- “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” – is it a spoiler to say this is one story where the criminals get away?
- “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor” – Just what the title says, a guy does the right thing.
- “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet” – family devotion illustrated with a coronet.
- “The Adventure of the Copper Beaches” – a really interesting story about trying to thwart a wedding (another common theme for Sherlock).
Author fact: rumor has it, Sherlock Holmes is somewhat modeled after Dr. Joseph Bell, a professor of Dolye’s at Edinburgh University.
Book trivia: Despite publishing two novels previously, Doyle’s career didn’t take off until he started writing short stories. The twelve listed above were published together in 1892.
Nancy said: Pearl included the Complete Sherlock Holmes in a list of private-eye mysteries.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the really long chapter called “I love a Mystery” (p 117).
What to tell you? I spent February in a tailspin of old memories. To blame it on one singular event would be too simplistic. As they say, it’s complicated. Very. In other news I have been running! Successfully, I might add. February saw 40 miles conquered. Here are the books planned and completed:
- Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez (EB & print).
- Little Havana Blues edited by Julia Poey and Virgil Suarez (EB & print).
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber (EB, AB & print).
- The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (EB & print).
- All Deliberate Speed: reflections on the first half century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr (EB & print).
- Barrow’s Boys by Fergus Fleming (EB & print).
- Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark (EB & print).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- The 21: a journey into the land of the Coptic martyrs by Martin Mosebach (just started reading).
Leisure (print only):
- Migrations: Open Hearts, Open Borders: The Power of Human Migration and the Way That Walls and Bans Are No Match for Bravery and Hope by ICPBS.
- Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock.
- Morning Star by Nick Bantock.
- The Museum at Purgatory by Nick Bantock.
- Alexandria by Nick Bantock.
- The Gryphon by Nick Bantock.
I am consistently running (yay). My head is finally screwed on straight – somewhat (yay). Things are not perfect but I can say February is mostly fixed.
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber – in honor of Charles Dickens and his birthday being in February. Weird, I know.
- Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez – in honor of my childhood.
- Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology edited by Virgil Suarez and Delia Poey – in honor of Cuba’s reformed constitution.
- The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley – in honor of February being friendship month.
- Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark – in honor of Clark’s birthday.
- All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half Century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. – in honor of February being Civil Rights month.
- Barrow’s Boys: A stirring Story of Daring, Fortitude, and Outright Lunacy by Fergus Fleming – in honor of Exploration month.
- Making Tracks by Matt Weber – a Christmas gift from my sister.
January is a month of great indecision. I can’t decide if I want to say more…
If there is one thing I can say for the January books, it is that most all of the fiction made mention of great music. Some musicians I knew, some I didn’t. Some songs I knew, some I didn’t. I had fun looking it all up though.
- Sanctuary by Ken Bruen (EB & print). Music: Philip Fogarty, Anne Lardi, Rolling Stones, Snow Patrol, Johnny Duhan.
- The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (EB & print).
- Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland (EB & print). Music: Lucinda Williams, Slim Dusty, Nick Cave, The Warumpi Band, Ry Cooder.
- The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett (EB & print). Music: Charles Tenet.
- Graced Land by Laura Kalpakian (EB & print). Music: Elvis, Elvis, and more Elvis.
- The Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel (print). Music: Leonard Cohen, Beethoven, and the fictional heavy metal band, Panda Bear Soup.
- The Passage to India by E.M. Forster (EB & print).
- Barcardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten (EB & print).
- Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset (EB & print).
- The Persuader by Lee Child (EB & AB).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Fine, Thanks by Mary Dunnewold (EB). Music: Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Mose Allison, Talking Heads, Aaron Copeland (can you tell, Dunnewold really likes music!).
Te, Jonathan. The Beijing of Possibilities: Stories. New York: Other Press, 2009.
Reason read: Okay, so I have a confession. I wanted to read this in honor of January being the month for the Chinese New Year (on the 25th), but as the loan was coming from the east coast, it took an inordinate amount of time to arrive. I didn’t think I would have time to read it before January 31st, so I changed the reason to China’s Lantern Festival, which is in February. Well, to make a long story short, I finished Beijing before January 31st, so I’m back to the original reason, the new year.
Beijing of Possibilities is comprised of twelve witty, sharp, and compelling stories all taking place in contradictory Beijing. Many of the stories address the conflict between old and new. Ancient tradition clashing with modern ambition. Beijing is a hotbed of contradictions. Each character exemplifies and amplifies what happens when cultural norm meets current forward trajectory of capitalism.
The brilliant thread running through most all stories: the ancient Monkey King and the modern Olympic pride of the city.
Author fact: Tel has written other collections of short stories, none of which are on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Quite unexpectedly I found black and white photographs in each story. What a nice surprise!
Nancy said: Pearl described the stories in Beijing of Possibilities as surreal with “Italo Calvinoist tendencies” (Book Lust To Go p 62).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “China: the Middle Kingdom” (p 60).
Kramer, Joel P. “A Harrowing Journey” The Greatest Adventure Stories Ever Told. Edited by Lamar Underwood. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2002.
Reason read: June is short story month.
By the time you finish reading “A Harrowing Journey” you are breathless and stunned, wondering how anyone could survive the adventure Kramer and his companion, Aaron Lippard, experienced for 120 days in the wilds of New Guinea. Human-eating crocodiles. Near drowning. Cannibal tribes in the deep interior of New Guinea. The loss of supplies. The goals was to be the first to cross New Guinea without engine power but they were lucky just to survive.
Author fact: Kramer is an adventure photographer.
Book trivia: Kramer has written a full book on the adventure called Beyond Fear.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned “A Harrowing Journey” from The Greatest Adventure Stories Ever Told because it was a story she found so “desperately foolhardy” she found herself “wincing in sympathetic pain” while she read it (Book Lust To Go p 3).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A Is For Adventure” (p 1).
Alexie, Sherman. “The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above.” Ten Little Indians. New York: Open Road, 2003.
Reason read: June is Short Story Month
A man looks back at his childhood to paint a picture of his mother, Estelle. As a member of the Spokane Indian tribe and a force to be reckoned with, Estelle was by turns someone to admire and someone to avoid. Sounds like practically every mother I know. She spent most of her lift as a spiritual guru to white women as she adores their culture over her own.
Quote to quote, “I wasn’t a vegetarian by choice, I was a vegetarian by economic circumstance” (p 42).
Author fact: Alexie has won a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Book trivia: Ten Little Indians actually only has nine stories.
Nancy said: Pearl included Alexie in her list of short stories she most enjoyed.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102).
Willis, Connie. “Ado.” The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories. Burton, MI: Subterranean Press, 2007.
Reason read: June is short story month.
Imagine a world where everything you could possibly say or do offends someone on some level. We are approaching that world fast and furious but Willis suspected its arrival thirty-one years ago. “Ado” is a tongue in cheek look at political correctness gone way too far. She uses the example of teaching Shakespeare to a group of students as an example. To teach the Bard the main protagonist must run it by the principal, take the particular play out of a vault, allow for students to refuse to attend the class, and then wait for the special interest groups to protest loudly. There is a computer that reads the Shakespearean text line by line to look for offensive material so that for example, a play like ‘As You Like It’ can be subject to a restraining order by the group Mothers Against Transvestites. The only safe subject is the weather. It’s such a ridiculous society you cannot help but laugh out loud while secretly shuddering over Willis’s apropos vision.
Author fact: I have more than a dozen Willis books on my Challenge list but she has written so much more.
Book trivia: The Winds of Marble Arch was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.
Nancy said: Pearl called “Ado” a “sly appraisal of where political correctness is taking us” (Book Lust p 247).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Connie Willis: Too Good To Miss” (p 246).
Willis, Connie. “At the Rialto.” Impossible Things. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.
Reason read: June is Short Story month.
Dr. Ruth Baringer, a quantum physicist, runs into obstacles everywhere she turns trying to attend a conference in America’s playground, Hollywood, California. She can’t even check into her room without it becoming a major event. Trying to attend different events at the conference become confused and convoluted. Even trying to connect with her roommate is impossible. Everything is insane. Meanwhile, a colleague wants her to go to the movies instead…after all, they are in Hollywood.
Story trivia: “At the Rialto” won a Nebula Award for best novelette.
Author fact: Willis was given the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award in 2012.
Nancy said: Pearl said Willis also wrote “wonderful” short stories and mention “At the Rialto” as one not to be missed.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Connie Willis: To Good To Miss” (p 246).
June was all about giving up various elements of my life for the sake of family. I’ll go off the book review protocol to say one nice gesture threw off a myriad of plans. Because of one nice gesture I:
- sacrificed a camping trip,
- postponed my first trip of the season to Monhegan,
- cancelled plans with my mother,
- lost four training days,
- lost hours of sleep but gained a kink in my back due to sleeping on an air mattress,
- got behind on reading and writing end of year reports,
- spent more money than I budgeted due to a cancelled flight,
- missed a day of work, and
- have no idea if I actually helped or not.
Anyway. Enough of that. On with the books:
- Book of Reuben by Tabitha King
- Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- Sun Storm by Asa Larsson
- Soldiers of God by Robert Kaplan
- From a Persian Tea House by Michael Carroll
- Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov
- Because of the Cats by Nicholas Freeling
- Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian
- Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope
- “Shadow Show” by Clifford Simak
- “The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above”
by Sherman Alexie
- “At the Rialto” by Connie Willis
- “The Answers” by Clifford Simak
- “Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
- “What You Pawn I will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie
- “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx
- “Harrowing Journey” by Joel P. Kramer
- “Ado” by Connie Willis