Saturday, October 18, 2008

My Brain On Books III

click the pic to learn about the Read-a-thon

This post will be organized like a blog inside a blog with recent updates stacked atop previous ones.

The current updates begin under the following list of the short story collections from which I'll be reading. I post the list fyi but mostly to keep it handy to copy/paste titles from it into the updates as my intention is to post an update with first impressions after reading each story.

Happy Reading Read-a-thoners!!!
  1. Storyteller by Leslie Marmon Silko
  2. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway (contains 25 short stories to support the discussion of craft)
  3. The Sincerest Form: Writing Fiction by Imitation by Nicholas Delbanco (contains 24 short stories associated with discussion of craft and suggested exercises for imitating the elements of craft exemplified)
  4. The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories edited by Daniel Halpern (contains 81 stories from all over the world)
  5. Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living by Bailey White
  6. Complete Stories by Dorothy Parker
  7. The Collected Stories by Grace Paley
  8. The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor
  9. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
  10. A Celestial Omnibus: Short Fiction on Faith edited by J. P. Maney and Tom Hazuka
  11. Homeland and Other Stories by Barbara Kingsolver
  12. faithless: tales of transgressions by Joyce Carol Oates
  13. Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories edited by John Klima (eleven stories from eleven modern fiction writers each given one of the winning words from the Scripps National Spelling Bee between 1996 and 2004)
  14. Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese

5:00 AM I made it I made it I made it.

Now to convince myself it is OK to let go and be sleepy. I stopped with the caffeine and energy drinks at 10PM but still wired on something.

4:33 AM I am still here. My eyes aren't so sure.

4:11 AM End of the Event Meme:

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? the 10th hour between 2 and 3PM PST

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? How long do you want this to be? But then what does high mean? And whoose interest? This is not the time to ask me hard question like list good books. I would still be at it 24 hours from now.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Can't think of anything at the moment but I'm barely thinking at all.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? the instructions, organization and directions to the mini-challenges were much easier to follow.

5. How many books did you read? I read IN 8 short story collections. I read 7 short stories of varying lengths and 13 vignettes. And I commented on each one here. Though I had anticipated reading twice as many stories, I still feel I fulfilled my goal for the day. To get a good strong start on an intensive study of the art of the short story.

6. What were the names of the books you read? The list of the story collections has been at the top of this post all day.

7. Which book did you enjoy most? It's a toss up between the story about the cambist in Logorrhea and the vignettes in Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Neil Gaiman's The Study In Emerald and Barbara Kingsolver's Homeland. See I can't make up my mind on such things.

8. Which did you enjoy least? I guess that would be Obisan but that isn't a dis on the story. It is the fault of the term 'enjoy'. The story had something other than enjoyment in mind. It was meant to be disturbing.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? N/A

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Very likely. And Reader is my niche.


3:55 AM Just spent the last hour hour reading 13 vignettes from Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living by Bailey White. It was the perfect antidote to the horror of Obisan. I laughed out loud at least thirteen times. These mini-stories are like a cross between stand-up comedy and parables.

Here's a taste from the first one pages 4-5:
When Mama starts to move across a room, people pay attention. You can never be sure she's not going to grab you by the top of the head to steady herself. and she's pretty free with that walking stick, too. The room grew quite. I don't know whether it was the faltering gait or the look in her eye or the mismatched safety pins holding her glasses togehter or the Band-Aid with the "Sesame Street" characters on it on her arm, but by the time she got to the counter, everybody was watching.
One hour to go. I think I'm going to make it!

2:22 AM I'm still at it and seem to be going strong as I complete my 39th hour awake.

I just finished the story Obasan by Joy Kogawa which is in A Celestial Omnibus: Short Fiction on Faith edited by J. P. Maney and Tom Hazuka. It is apparently an excerpt from her novel of the same name. I cannot bear to contemplate it let alone comment on it right now. I'm feeling too vulnerable; emotional defenses wobbly under the sleep deprivation. The story contains graphic descriptions of the aftermath of the the bombs dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Nuf said for now.

How can I take such images and emotions to bed with me in just two and a half hours? I'm thinking I need to find something lighhearted to counteract that. Powerful, powerful story though. I'll probably keep an eye out for the novel.

Sun 12:12 AM The story I read last was The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairytale of Economics by Daniel Abraham from Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories edited by John Klima. Abraham was given the challenge to write a story featuring the obscure word cambist. (See #13 in the list above for further explanation.)

Cambist means: 1. a dealer in bills of exchange. 2. an expert in foreign exchange. 3. a manuel giving the moneies, weights and measures of different countries with their equivalents.

I selected this story precisely for its theme related to the economy because that is one of the themes my NaNo project has. And I'm for sure going to make use of it for reflection on the theme and will probably pull some quotes and plant them in my projects notes. The story reads a bit like a fable crossed with a novel of the 1800. Its value lies in its ability to lead one to reflect on the meaning of value and how value is calculated.

The protagonist, Olaf, is the cambist for the Kingdom. A local noble with a reputation for cruelty and debauchery sets his sights on Olaf as his latest anti-boredom ward. He brings the cambist tens of thousands of guilders in an obscure Protectorate's bills and holding an obscure regulation pertaining to the duties of a cambist orders him to exchange them for their fair value in pounds sterling within 24 hours or forfeit his job and to also beware of giving them an arbitrary value as more than loss of his liscence to practice would be forfeit if such a charge could be prooved.

None of the cambist's manuals can tell him anything about the value of the bills, the library has little info pertaining to them or the country who issued them. Olaf sweats it out for over twelve of the 24 hours before Lord Iron will return. The solution comes to him in the middle of the night. The next day he hands Lord Iron an evelope with his 'fair value' for the guilders--some nine pounds--explaining that he had discovered fair market value by testing the market--by taking the bills himself to several local merchants and then accepting the best offer made by a glass blower who wished to use them as exotic wrapping paper for his products.

This infuriates Lord Iron who can barely listen to Olaf's patient explanation about the measure of anything's worth; that it is nothing more nor less that what one can purchace with it which is nothing more nor less than what another is willing to exchange for it.

Lord Iron is not done with Olaf though. Six months later he calls him in to settle a bet he has made with another profligate noble on which they have each wagered their lives: Lord Iron wagering both his own life and Olaf's that Olaf will be able to compute the value of a day in the King's life as measured by the value of a day in a prisoner in custody of the Crown.

The third challenge Lord Iron confronts him with a year or so later is to calculate the worth of a man's soul.

The results of those last two calculations are startling and provoking of deep thought. They have the flavor of Talmudic reflection. This story should be made required reading by every literate person in America from age 13 up. Beginning with our elected officials and all of those working for them from the Cabinet level down to the lowliest clerk. Next in line would be every member of the media. Once they all comprehended the principle involve maybe there could finally be dialogs of substance among them and then between them and the rest of us. Then between every employee and employer.

Ah, well. It was a fable after all, I guess I can be excused for wanting to write one of my own.

8:22 PM Nope, I didn't fade away yet. Even though this is now my 33rd hour awake I'm having a strong hour at the moment. It was a different story about an hour ago as I was finishing the story Homeland from Homeland and Other Stories by Barbara Kingsolver. I had to get up and move for awhile and besides I needed to think about that story before I could make my comments on it here.

That after all is what today is about for me. It isn't about how many pages I can read or how many stories. It is about what I can learn about story weaving from the stories I read. That requires giving each one space to be itself before rushing on to the next. A short story is different from a novel and not just in length. Everything is compressed; every paragraph pregnant with implication; every image oozes meaning when massaged. Some stories, like Kingsolver's Homeland, must be held whole like a carved ivory bead in the mouth--probed by the tongue for the meanings of its grooves and knobs.

So I got on the mini-tramp again and this time did a serious workout, doing a shuffle dance step to the beat of 70s songs for twenty minutes; got my blood moving; broke a sweat. Does that sound impressive? Ha. Only 'cause you didn't see me needing Ed's help to climb down off the thing once I stopped bouncing. But considering that the first day I had it last Sunday I could barley shift my weight while standing still in the middle I guess a twenty minute stint that went aerobic for at least five even without once lifting a foot clear is worth modest accolades.

So about Homeland. I am in awe of Kingsolver's storytelling as ever. This story was narrated by a woman named Gloria who has grown children of her own now as she remembers the years she was ten and eleven, when her failing Great-Grandmother, a full blodd Cherokee, came to live with her family in the Carolina coal mining town of Morning Glory in the fifties. Morning Glory is the name of the town for a good reason. The vines grow so fast a man standing still could be tied down and "not found until first frost." The houses wore the vines like fur coats.

The relationship between young Glorie and Great Mum develops as quietly and gently as the tobacco smoke rising from Great Mum's pipe as they sit together on the porch swing in the evenings as Great Mum tells her great-granddaughter the stories of her people, ending each story with the imperative to "Remember that." Great Mum calls her Waterbug and when asked why refuses to explain for many months.

The story when finally told was powerful. Waterbug was of the star people who gazed upon the sea before there was a world, seeing nothing of interest. Then Waterbug went down and skated on its surface, then diving to the bottom and bringing back mud that immediately upon breaking the surface grew and grew and hardened into the island that is Earth and began bringing forth all the voices and life that now exists. The star people tied it down with grapevines to prevent it being lost again.

Everything I understand about the meaning of story and storytelling is wrapped up in that little story. Grand Mum and not just been idley telling her granddaughter stories to pass the time or entertain. She was passing on the wisdom of her people to the last one of her line who showed the slightest interest. She was handing over her mantle as keeper of the stories. And that story was the key to all the rest for it explains how story telling calls up life out of the abyss.

4:22 PM

Mid-Event Survey:

1. What are you reading right now? I'm about to pick up Homeland and Other Stories by Barbara Kingsolver and read the title story. It is about 29 pages LP. I have two Large Print books in my collection for today and two more with nearly as readable fonts. The rest are more challenging for my eyes. I wish I'd thought to line up some short stories in electronic format but I don't want to waste the time to go looking for them now.

2. How many books have you read so far? I'm not counting books today. I'm counting stories. I've read and commented on here five stories if I'm allowed to count having read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's story twice first the English translation, The Eyes of the Blue Dog, then again in the language he wrote it Ojos de Perros Azul. This was for the mini-challenge still open on Sarah Dillon's blog.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? Probably Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories edited by John Klima as I just love the concept of handing a writer an obscure word and asking them to weave a story out of it. I just might borrow that concept for the NaNo novel project and add obscure vocab words to the list of inspiration jumpstarts along side current event headlines, photos and a list of possible crisis to dump the family in. I'm thinking of taking those lists and then using random.org to generate a combo of one of each that I must generate a story from. Read more about my NaNo project in yesterday's post.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? Not this time. My inlaws just happened to leave town for ten days Thursday afternoon and my husband had to work this morning and this afternoon had an event to attend and will sleeping early tonight.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Not really. Other than the attacks of the drowse that hit about three times. Ed has been extremely cooperative. He just got home with pizza and the smell is about to make me swoon. Earlier he brought me energy drinks and corn chips smother in guacamole.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? That I'm still awake?

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nothing I can think of except maybe somehow solve the conumdrum I deliniate in #8

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? I guess I would have to seriously consider making new posts everytime I make progress reports instead of updating a single post as the fact that most visitor's are dependent on a list that reflects only recent new posts and not updates to older posts. So my traffic is much less than last year even though the participation has more than doubled. I know I was warned. But I know myself too well. My fussiness would make creating new posts each time such a chore I'd probably post updates half as often as this or even less.

9. Are you getting tired yet? I was tired when I started, having been unable to sleep at all last night. I'm working on hour 30 awake!!

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? I'm finding the occassional little bounce on my mini-tramp is very helpful for getting the kinks out of joints and the cobwebs outta my head. I can even read while on it if I move gently enough.


2:55 PM Where did those two hours go? I spent a few minutes on the mini-tramp twice. I poured an energy drink over ice and took it and my book out to the porch to read but spent several minutes playing with the Merlin our cat and Flipdizzy the stray kitten who took up residence under the porch last August. She fell asleep in my arms and I struggled to hold her and hold the book open, keeping its pages angled at the light just right, to sit still enough to not disturb Dizzy while turning pages and flinching from the occasional drops falling on me. I was sitting under the awning but earlier it had rained and when the sun came back and warmed the porch roof the underside began to rain. If it had been more than a very occasional misty droplet I wouldn't have risked the library book. Dizzy was sleeping on my right wrist over my watch so I don't know what time it was when I finished the story I was reading but I know I didn't move immediately. I just don't know how long between closing the book and my first glimpse at my watch. I know I sat there conscious of Dizzy purring and twitching and breathing against my chest and left arm. I know I went over the story in my mind from start to finish, image by image. I may have dozed myself. All I know is that when a sharp cracking sound of a branch breaking or a kid's popgun from across a fence or two caused either me or Dizzy to startle and the other to follow suit so close I'm still not sure which of us was startled by the crack and which by the other's startle. When Dizzy freed my arm and I caught sight of my watch it was almost 3PM.

The story I read while outside was Everything That Rises Must Converge from The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor. I have read this story multiple time. The first time while in Jr. High. At least once more while in High School. And at least once each in the first and second decade of my marriage. I thought I remembered it well and I was sure nothing in it would surprise me. I wanted to reread it because I gave a title to one of my storyseeds written while in my thirties which was a play on the title of this story and I remembered that the theme of my story was also a riff on the theme of this one. I needed to reread it to refresh my memory of just what I was trying to do with my When Everything That Rises Is Submerged, which is a coming of age novel with a protagonist between 13 and 15 who is frustrated by her English teacher who keeps confiscating her library books--Flannery O'Connor,Dostoevsky, Henry James the Brontes--when she is caught reading them in class instead of the assignment which she had finished. She is also in conflict with her mother the way the young man in O'Connor's story is, holder her in contempt for a level of cluelessness that pains her.

I remember being in complete empathy with the twenty-something, college grad son in this story every single time I read this story before today. And this time I was shocked to discover that I felt deeply for his mother this time and was disgusted by his smug self-righteousness; his 'educated' ethics that can be contempteous of his mother's racial bigotry and see her as needing to be taught a lesson while being completely oblivious of his own cruelty toward her that was rooted in a prejudice more disturbing than her's. Her's had been innocently absorbed from her raising in the pre-WW2 culture of the deep south. His was almost studied, practiced with conscious effort. She showed herself to be capable of kindness and thoughtfulness while his gestures of solidarity with the snubbed colored people on the recently desegregated bus held not one whit of kindness and smacked of a using of them that was as disgusting as slavery itself.

Oh, Boy! I think if I go on to write my own story it will have to be rethought from the roots up. Because it was rooted in an anger very much like that of the cruel young man in O'Conner's story.

And I wonder how many of Flannery O'Connor's stories I misread as badly as this one when I read them in my late teens through early thirties?

And there just went another hour. I think I need to pick up something real light next. I'm going on 29 hours awake because anticipation of the read-a-thon kept me too wired to sleep. I seem to have overcome the last wave of sleepies tho. Hope it lasts a few hours.

12:55 PM Again its been two hours! And no it didn't take me two hours to read Ojos de Perros Azul I took a detour past Dewey's on my way to comment and decided to take the challenge to go play Free Rice for a few minutes. A few minutes! Don't know how many minutes I was at it but I earned 6660 grains of rice.

Now re Ojos de Perros Azul it was interresting to 'read' the same story over in its orriginal language. I recognized maybe one in ten words. But I 'heard' most of the words in my head as clear as if spoken by one of our many immigrant neighbors. I remember that pronuciation in Spanish is fairly straightforward. There is little variation in the vowel pronunciation for example. What struck me was how musical it seemed, how much more alliteration there was which made it flow smoother.

Well I've now been awake nearly 26 hours. I need to get on the mini-tramp for a few minutes, grab an energy drink and then choose my next short story. At this rate I'll be doing good to read and comment on one story per book in the above list let alone the two per I aimed for.

10:55 AM It's been over two hours since my last update and I've only read one more story. I took a bit of a detour. Tho it is read-a-thon related. First some catching up at Dewey's again. Learned about Sarah Dillon's mini-challenge to spend an hour reading in a language other than your own which I enjoyed participating in last year and decided that if I could find a way to fit it into my short story project I'd do it again. It took me over half an hour to find a complete Spanish version of Gabrielle Garcia Marquez's Eyes of the Blue Dog (Ojos de Perros Azul). Once I had it, I signed up at Sarah's blog. Then proceded to read the English version whish is in The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories edited by Daniel Halpern a trade paperback I bought for a dollar off the Friend's of the Library shelf at the library the day I went to check out the other short story collections I had ordered for this project.

Eyes of the Blue Dog like much of Garcia Marquez's stories is very surreal. How could it not be when it is set in a dream in which a man and woman discuss the frustration of not being able to find each other in their waking worlds. They devise the phrase 'eyes of the blue dog' as a phrase for recognizing one another. But he is unable to remember his dreams. While she relates to him how she goes about every street and public place repeating the phrase and writing it on napkins and walls and floors, she is unable to remember the name of the city she is currently in. Dreamlike indeed. So dreamlike it drew my mind into the vortex where dreams are waiting. I had to spend ten minutes on the mini-tramp to wake up. Then I stepped outside to see if it was warm enough to sit out there for a bit. On my way back in the house my cat, Merlin, got out and I had to chase him to the end of the driveway.

I'm off to read Ojos de Perros Azul I'll be back to report on the experience. My Spanish is as rusty as the hinges on Davey Jones locker seeing as it is based on two years of high school classes that ended over 33 years ago.

8:44 AM I just re-read the story 'Little Errands' in Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese. You can see my review of this story collection in Tuesday's post below. This really short story at only four pages is entirely an inner monologue of a person with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) who frets over every step of every task checking repeatedly that each step has really been done and still fretting that maybe he had been mistaken in his memory of completing certain steps. He has to open and reseal letters to confirm the right check was really inside. He opens and reopens the trap of the mailbox to be sure the letters went in and still frets that maybe they hadn't been in his hand in the first place. He turns the car radio off and on and off again repeatedly and still frets as he procedes to his appartment that he misjudged the feel of the click and will find a dead battery upon returning the next morning. A misunderstanding with his neighbor has him repeatedly calling and knocking on his door to attempt to clarify himself and being repeatedly rebuffed he resolves to write him a letter.

I laughed aloud at the ending again as I did the first time tho maybe not as spontaneously or as energetically. It still tickles me. Partly because I see elements of my own behaviors in this poor guy's. I don't obsess on the same things but my thoughts go in similar circles and moibus strip loops about other things. In trying to pin down the difference it occured to me that his thoughts are stuck in the past--in whether or not he did something and did it correctly--whereas mine are stuck in the future--in planning what I'm going to do.

Part of me is still stuck in the planning stage for this read-a-thon and I'm a bit befuddled to find myself already in the midst of it.

7:44 AM I haven't gone back to reading yet as I went over to Dewey's to checkout what's up. Decided to answer the questions posed in the hour 1 post.

Where are you reading from today? Home. This moment from the living room. I'm hoping the gorgeous fall Indian Summer will hold so I can sit on the porch later.

3 facts about me … 1) I am visually impaired with RP aka Retinitis Pigmentosa aka Tunnel Vision. When I gaze into the center of my coffee cup I cannot see any of its edges. I've also got a cataract in my right eye that needs tending to. 2) I have been in love with story since I was in the crib. I started making up my own before I could hold crayon. 3) I'm doing NaNoWriMo for the fifth time next month. The short stories I'm reading today are part of the prep work for my NaNo project. see yesterday's post below and this one for why.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? 14--see list at top of post.

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? My goal is to read and comment on two stories out of each of the 14 story collections. I would also like to make it the full 24 hours as I did last October but, well, see next answer.

If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time? Get a good solid night's sleep before the Read-a-thon starts!!! Ha. I never have (the first time I got seven the second time I got five or so) but this time is the worst as I've already been awake since 11:20 Thursday morning and that was only five hours of sleep then!



6:44 AM Well, I didn't oversleep. I didn't sleep. Though I lay in the dark for a full hour twice, I could not calm my thoughts or pulse towards sleep. This is a prank my mind has played on me before big events since before I started kindergarten. So I'm going to be hitting my 24th hour awake at 11:20 AM.

When I opened my eyes to look at the glowing red numbers of the clock and saw 4:00 I gave up, knowing the alarm was going off in 22 minutes anyway. I sat up and turned on the lamp and picked up the novel I've been reading all week--Betrayal by Kathleen O'neal Gear and W. Michael Gear. I read in it until a quarter til 5 and then set it aside. I don't plan to pick it up again until after I've slept Sunday and it will most likely be Monday before I actually get to.

So at a quarter to 5, I started the coffee pot and fixed a bowl of cereal and read the intro to Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman as I ate. I chose to read the first story, 'A Study in Emerald', which was an intriguing blend of Lovecraftian Science Fiction with a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The open paragraphs are so similar to the Sherlock Holmes stories I read around age twelve I could easily have mistook them for one if I'd encountered them out of this context.

This is my first introduction to Neil Gaiman. I've been reading reviews all over the blogs for months and have several of his titles on my wish list aka my library to-be-requested someday list. Now I definitely know I want more.

The flavor of the Victorian era was rendered exact right up to the moment the erzatz Holmes/Watson team entered the murder scene and saw the writing on the wall. In blood. Green blood. A study in emerald indeed.

It took me much longer than I expected to read this single story but two things contributed to that which I hope will not be a factor for the next several hours. I had to call my husband at 5:15 and his getting-ready-for-work routine distracted me and around 6 I began to wrangle with an attack of the drowsies which required me to get up and do some gentle two-stepping on my new mini-tramp. My balance isn't good enough yet to lift my feet off the surface but I can work up a sweat and get my blood moving with just five minutes of moving my feet.

Well, Ed left at 7 and it's quiet except for the music on the XM satellite 40s on 4. I intend to alternate among the decades through the 70s throughout the day.

5:00 AM Let's get started y'all. (i've set this to autopost at 5AM. if this parenthetical is still here I may not have had time to stop in here before starting. At least I hope it's not because I overslept.)

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