My Fence is Electric: and Other Stories

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.


Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

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.

Short stories:

  • “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).


February’s Finale

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:

Fiction:

  • 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).

Nonfiction:

  • 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.

February Fixed

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.

Fiction:

  • 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.

Nonfiction:

  • 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.

Leisure:

  • Making Tracks by Matt Weber – a Christmas gift from my sister.

January Jinxed

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.

Fiction:

  • 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).

Nonfiction:

  • Barcardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten (EB & print).

Series continuations:

  • 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!).

Beijing of Possibilities

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).


“Harrowing Journey”

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).


“Life and Times of Estelle…”

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).


“Ado”

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).


“At the Rialto”

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).


Sacrificial June

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:

Fiction:

  • Book of Reuben by Tabitha King
  • Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Sun Storm by Asa Larsson

Nonfiction:

  • Soldiers of God by Robert Kaplan
  • From a Persian Tea House by Michael Carroll

Series continuations:

  • 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

Short Stories:

  • “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

“Brokeback Mountain”

Proulx, Annie. Brokeback Mountain. New York: Scribner, 1997.

Reason read: June is Short Story Month and LGBTQ Pride month.

Confessional: I saw the movie before I even started the Book Challenge. As a a rule, I would rather read the book first so my imagination is not tainted by images of the movie. I can only compare this avoidance to a hearing a song and how you sometimes lose the interpretation after you see the accompanying music video.
Having said all that, I was surprised at how the written story moved so fast. In a mere sixty-four pages Proulx tells the devastating story of Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar. Both young men find themselves on the same job as ranchers guarding sheep on Brokeback Mountain in beautiful Montana. One accepted amorous advance leads to a deep connection that time and space cannot sever or erase. The love they have for one another remains strong despite the fact they put distance between them and move on to have relationships with women.

Line that moved me the most, “In a disquieting way everything seemed mixed up” (p 16).
Oddly enough, I didn’t take notice of the movie’s most famous line “I wish I knew how to quit you.” It is an original line from the book but there were others I liked better.

Author fact: E. Annie Proulx has ties to Connecticut.

Book trivia: Everyone knows of the 2005 movie starring Jake Gellenhaal and Heath Ledger. It won an MTV award for best kiss…or something like that.

Nancy said: Pearl called “Brokeback Mountain” Proulx’s “most famous story” (Book Lust To Go p 264), but that surprised me. In regards to the written word I would have figured Postcards or Shipping News to be more well known. Maybe the movie is the reason “Brokeback” is more widely known. Pearl calls the movie “superb.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “WY Ever Not?” (p 264).


“What You Pawn…”

Alexie, Sherman. “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” Ten Little Indians. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Reason read: June is National Short Story month.

If the idea of countdowns or running of out time makes you anxious, this short story might make the sweat bead on your brow just a little. The main protagonist, Jackson Jackson, spots his grandmother Agnes’s stolen powwow regalia in a pawnshop window. She had lost her battle with breast cancer so the regalia is all that the grandson would have left of her…if he can get it back. The shop owner makes a deal to sell back the regalia for $1,000. There is only one problem. No one Jackson Jackson knows has $1,000. As an additional gesture of kindness, the pawnshop owner gives the grandson twenty bucks and twenty-four hours to come up with the rest of the cash. The clock is ticking, however the twenty immediately vanishes in the form of “three bottles of imagination.” It might infuriate the reader but subsequently every time Jackson comes into money it is frittered away on something else. Hamburgers vomited back up. Losing lottery tickets. A cigar that will only burn away to nothing. Drinks with strangers. A round for everyone at the bar. But it is the kindness of strangers that gives our hero a break.

Line that stayed with me for obvious reasons, “Indian alcoholics are either sprinters or marathon runners” (98).

Author fact: Alexie has lived on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Book Story trivia: “What You Pawn…” was first published in the New Yorker Magazine in 2003.

Nancy said: nothing specific.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102). The reading of this story marks the completion of this chapter.


“Shadow Show”

Simak, Clifford. “Shadow Show.” Strangers in the Universe. New York: Berkley Publishing, 1950.

Reason read: June is National Short Story Month.

The show of life must go on, even though one of the key actors has passed away. Bayard Lodge, Chief of Life Team 3 with psychologist Kent Forester, must figure out how to keep their play going. Much back and forth debate is given to the question of who did the dead man embody? What was his part? Just who would be missing from the group? Unfortunately, the end was predictable but it was entertaining read all the same.

Author fact: Simak won awards for his short stories but none for the ones I am reading for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Strangers in the Universe is a very thematic book.

Nancy said: Pearl considers “Shadow Show” one of Simak’s best and shouldn’t be missed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).


“Garden Party”

Mansfield, Katherine. “Garden Party.” Garden Party: and Other Stories. Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1922.

Reason read: June is National Short Story Month.

“Garden Party” illustrates many themes: wealth versus poverty, insensitivity versus compassion, death versus life.
Wealthy Mrs. Sheridan has been preparing for an elaborate garden party with flowers and tents, food and music. Servants and gardeners and workers toil like busy bees here, there, and everywhere setting up chairs, organizing the musicians, placing the flowers just so. The excitement catches with her four children, too. But when a terrible accident leaves a man dead right outside their gates daughter Laura doesn’t thinks it’s appropriate for the show to go on. She questions the sensitivity of their actions. Later Mrs. Sheridan allows Laura to bring a basket of food to the dead man’s family. Walking through the poor neighborhood gives Laura a new perspective and in the face of mortality she learns about living.

Quote to quote, “The very smoke coming out of their chimneys was poverty stricken” (p 71). What a devastating image.

Author fact: the location of the garden party was modeled after Mansfield’s own property.

Book trivia: my copy of Garden Party was marked up like someone was editing the book. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl asked her readers not to neglect Mansfield, calling “Garden Party” brilliant.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Kiwis Forever! New Zealand in Print” (p 124).