Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Art & Artists: Fiction

The next Genre Reading Group meeting will be on Tuesday, April 28 at 6:30pm and the topic up for discussion is true crime.  Our most recent meeting topic was novels about art and artists of all kinds. 

We love it when newspaper comics are SO on target!











The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
(powells.com) Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist, has a perfectly ordered life--solitary, perhaps, but full of devotion to his profession and the painting hobby he loves. This order is destroyed when the renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes Marlow's patient.

When Oliver refuses to talk or cooperate, Marlow finds himself going beyond his own legal and ethical boundaries to understand the secret that torments this silent genius, a journey that will lead him into the lives of the women closest to Robert Oliver and toward a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism.

Moving from American museums to the coast of Normandy, from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth, from young love to last love, The Swan Thieves is a story of obsession, the losses of history, and the power of art to preserve human hope.

(powells.com) As The Devil Wears Prada demystified the world of high fashion, this funny and insightful debut novel dishes the crazy and captivating Manhattan art scene. When painter Jeffrey Finelli is run over by a cab, the art world clamors for the instantly in-demand work by the late “emerging artist”—especially an enormous painting called Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him.

Gallery receptionist and aspiring artist Mia McMurray finds herself at the center of the hype. She is an amused witness as a Birkin-toting collector, a well-muscled Irish artist, a real estate baron, and Lulu herself, the artists niece and muse, battle over the brand-new masterpiece. In the midst of the madness, Mia finds her own creative expression and artistic identity, not to mention love.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
(powells.com) On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

Claire makes her living reproducing famous works of art for a popular online retailer. Desperate to improve her situation, she lets herself be lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting — one of the Degas masterpieces stolen from the Gardner Museum — in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when the long-missing Degas painting — the one that had been hanging for one hundred years at the Gardner — is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery.

Claire’s search for the truth about the painting’s origins leads her into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life. B. A. Shapiro’s razor-sharp writing and rich plot twists make The Art Forger an absorbing literary thriller that treats us to three centuries of forgers, art thieves, and obsessive collectors. it’s a dazzling novel about seeing — and not seeing — the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
(powells.com) In this richly imagined fiction, Harriet Scott Chessman entices us into the world of Mary Cassatt's early Impressionistpaintings. Chessman's gift for storytelling mingles with her extraordinary understanding of these beautiful and significant works of art. This literary tour de force rises out of a sustained inquiry into art's relation to the ragged world of desire and mortality.

The story is told in the absorbing and lyrical voice of Mary Cassatt's sister Lydia, as she poses for five of her sister's most unusual paintings (reproduced in this edition). Ill with Bright's disease and conscious of her approaching death, Lydia contemplates her world with courage, openness, and passion. As she addresses and comes to accept her own position as her sister's model, she asks stirring questions about love and art's capacity to remember.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper illuminates Cassatt's brilliant paintings even as it creates a compelling portrait of the brave and memorable model who inhabits them with such grace, and the times in which they both lived.

Marie, Dancing by Carolyn Meyer
(powells.com) Marie van Goethem, a fourteen-year-old ballet dancer in the famed Paris Opera, has led a life of hardship and poverty. For her, dancing is the only joy to counter the pain inflicted by hunger, her mother's drinking, and her selfish older sister. But when famed artist Edgar Degas demands Marie's presence in his studio, it appears that her life will be transformed: He will pay her to pose for a new sculpture, and he promises to make her a star. As Marie patiently stands before Mr. Degas each week, she dreams about supporting her family without being corrupted like most young dancers. She dreams about a life as a ballerina on the stage of the Opera. And she dreams about being with her true love. In this deeply moving, historically based account, Carolyn Meyer examines the life of the model for Edgar Degas's most famous sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Includes an author's note.


Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D’Art by Christopher Moore
(powells.com) It is the color of the Virgin Mary's cloak, a dazzling pigment desired by artists, an exquisite hue infused with danger, adventure, and perhaps even the supernatural. It is... Sacre Bleu.
In July 1890, Vincent van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or did he? Why would an artist at the height of his creative powers attempt to take his own life... and then walk a mile to a doctor's house for help? Who was the crooked little "color man" Vincent had claimed was stalking him across France? And why had the painter recently become deathly afraid of a certain shade of blue?

These are just a few of the questions confronting Vincent's friends — baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and bon vivant Henri Toulouse-Lautrec — who vow to discover the truth about van Gogh's untimely death. Their quest will lead them on a surreal odyssey and brothel-crawl deep into the art world of late nineteenth-century Paris.

Oh la la, quelle surprise, and zut alors! A delectable confection of intrigue, passion, and art history — with cancan girls, baguettes, and fine French cognac thrown in for good measure — Sacre Bleu is another masterpiece of wit and wonder from the one, the only, ChristopherMoore.

(rottentomatoes.com) A sweeping romance set at a bohemian artist colony on the picturesque coasts of pre-war England, Summer in February is based on the true story of painter Sir Alfred Munnings (Dominic Cooper, Mamma Mia!, My Week with Marilyn) and his blue-blood best friend Gilbert (Dan Stevens, "Downton Abbey"). Born into a working-class family, Munnings rises to become one of the premiere British artists of his time, winning the affection of aristocratic beauty Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning, Sleeping Beauty). But when Gilbert falls for Florence as well, a love triangle emerges with tragic consequences. (c) Tribeca


Helvetica (DVD)
(rottentomatoes.com) In 2005 a number of provocative, award-winning ads appeared that touted the Helvetica font; Gary Hustwit explores the subject protractedly with his feature-length essay film Helvetica. The documentary, produced in 2007 (and thus commemorating the typeface's 50th anniversary), uses the omnipresent font as a lens through which it examines contemporary visual culture and how typeface is used, aesthetically, spatially, and culturally, to impart shape and character to urban environments. Hustwit then segues into a discussion with a number of acclaimed designers about their work, their creative visions and processes, and the aesthetic reasoning behind various decisions regarding font. Hustwit interviews over 20 design experts in the film, including Michael C. Place, Paula Scher, Matthew Carter, and David Carson. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

(powells.com) The Picture of Dorian Gray is a familiar story of greed, sin, and arrogance. A young man, infatuated with his own handsomeness and youth as depicted in a perfect portrait, makes a bargain he will come to regret. No one can save him from his appetite for pleasure and his awful fate--not the man who idolizes him, not the woman who loves him, and not even himself!

Published in 1890, The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde's only novel. At first the subject of intense controversy, it has endured as a classic for years. A cautionary tale of innocence sacrificed for the sake of vice, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic whose lessons are still relevant today.


Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe
(goodreads.com) The Oval Portrait is a short horror story written by Edgar Allan Poe and first published in 1842. Our protagonist takes refuge in an abandoned castle and discovers a room with a series of paintings accompanied by a small book describing them. His attention is attracted by an oval portrait depicting a young woman of rare beauty. The book tells of the artist falling in love with the girl and marrying her. It was not soon after that the girl realized her husband was already married to his art. One day the painter decides to paint his wife and in doing so with such fervor, he didn't notice that as the days passed she became more and more saddened. When the portrait was finished he was shocked to discover that the painting of his wife was much, much more than life-like.

(mtholyoke.edu) This classic novel of Bohemian life by Henry Murger is based on a series of magazine sketches later made into a successful play. The novel is a series of loosely united chapters beginning with the first meeting of the four main characters ("Gustave Colline, the great philosopher, Marcel, the great painter, Schaunard, the great musician, and Rodolphe, the great poet" [123]) and ending with their departure from Bohemia in favor of bourgeois life. Jules Janin called the book "a first chapter in the code of youth" (qtd. in Maurice 111).

His purpose in telling the story, he said, was to glorify and legitimize Bohemia. "Scenes de la Vie de Boheme is only a series of social studies, the heros of which belong to a class badly-judged until now, whose greatest crime is lack of order, and who can even plead in excuse that this very lack of order is a necessity of the life they lead" (36), wrote Murger at the end of the first chapter.

(rottentomatoes.com) The third film from pop-music-obsessed director Baz Luhrmann tweaks the conventions of the musical genre by mixing a period romance with anachronistic dialogue and songs in the style of his previous Romeo+Juliet (1996). Ewan McGregor stars as Christian, who leaves behind his bourgeois father during the French belle époque of the late 1890s to seek his fortunes in the bohemian underworld of Montmartre, Paris. Christian meets the absinthe- and alcohol-addicted artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo), who introduces him to a world of sex, drugs, music, theater, and the scandalous dance known as the cancan, all at the Moulin Rouge, a decadent dance hall, brothel, and theater that's the brainchild of Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent). Christian also meets and falls into a tragically doomed romance with the courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman), who becomes the star of the play he's writing, which parallels the couple's romance and utilizes rock music from a century later, including songs by Nirvana, Madonna, the Beatles, and Queen, among others. Loosely based on the opera Orpheus in the Underworld, Moulin Rouge was shown in competition at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. ~ Karl Williams, Rovi


The Great Man by Kate Christensen
(powells.com) From the acclaimed author of TheEpicure's Lament, a novel of literary rivalry in which two competing biographers collide in their quest for the truth about a great artist.
Oscar Feldman, the "Great Man," was a New York city painter of the heroic generation of the forties and fifties. But instead of the abstract canvases of the Pollocks and Rothkos, he stubbornly hewed to painting one subject — the female nude. When he died in 2001, he left behind a wife, Abigail, an autistic son, and a sister, Maxine, herself a notable abstract painter — all duly noted in the New York Times obituary.

What no one knows is that Oscar Feldman led an entirely separate life in Brooklyn with his longtime mistress, Teddy St. Cloud, and their twin daughters. As the incorrigibly bohemian Teddy puts it, "He couldn't live without a woman around. It was like water to a plant for him." Now two rival biographers, book contracts in hand, are circling around Feldman's life story, and each of these three women — Abigail, Maxine, and Teddy — will have a chance to tell the truth as they experienced it.
The Great Man is a scintillating comedy of life among the avant-garde — of the untidy truths, needy egos, and jostlings for position behind the glossy facade of artistic greatness. Not a pretty picture — but a provocative and entertaining one that incarnates the take-no-prisoners satirical spirit of Dawn Powell and Mary McCarthy.


Impromptu (DVD)
(rottentomatoes.com) Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin, better known in the literary world as George Sand, not only took a man's name, but trotted around wearing pants and smoking cigars in public. No great shakes today, but in the 1800s she was perhaps the most famous (or infamous) woman in the world. One of the first original celebrities, aside from her garb and literary output, she was known to inspire many duels and broken hearts among other famous hedonist artists. One character describes her in Impromptu, as "that graveyard." The film engages in a sexual roundelay among Sand's (Judy Davis) many friends -- Eugene Delacroix (Ralph Brown), Alfred DeMusset (Mandy Patinkin), Franz Liszt (Julian Sands), and Frederick Chopin (Hugh Grant). The entire crew heads off to the summer estate of the Duke and Duchess d'Antan (Anton Rodgers and Emma Thompson), invited there by the culture-vulture hosts. Sand takes a bead on the sickly Chopin and spends her time throwing herself at him. Also on hand is Liszt's mistress Marie d'Agoult (Bernadette Peters) and Felicien Mallefille (Georges Corraface), Sand's recently jilted lover. Mallefille is jealous of any of the other guests who glance in Sand's direction and continually challenges them to duels. Marie, on the other hand, is enlisted by Sand to deliver a note to Chopin. But Marie, jealous of Sand, delivers the note substituting her name for Sand's. And as the weekend continues, the sexual merry-go-round continues at full tilt.


Now You See Her by Whitney Otto
(amazon.com) Kiki Shaw, a game show question writer, is about to turn forty. She doesn't mind that, except that she's also disappearing. Parts of her that were always there are vanishing, and no one seems to notice. As she contemplates this experience, Kiki makes certain discoveries about her life and those of the women closest to her. Perhaps they will all evanesce bit by bit, until they detect where they misplaced themselves and their once-promising lives.


Bellocq’s Ophelia: Poems by Natasha Trethewey
(powells.com) In the early 1900s, E.J. Bellocq photographed prostitutes, which were first collected and published as Storyville Portraits. In Natasha Trethewey's stunning second collection, she creates the life of Ophelia in the image of one of Bellocq's subjects. Through Ophelia, a very white-skinned black woman living in a brothel, a sad and poignant story is told with beautiful precision and depth.


Pretty Baby (DVD)
(rottentomatoes.com) After making a series of acclaimed and controversial films in his native France, director Louis Malle made his American debut with this disturbing but visually beautiful story about Hattie (Susan Sarandon), a prostitute working in New Orleans' Storyville district at the turn of the century. When Hattie becomes pregnant, she opts to keep her baby and gives birth to a daughter named Violet, raising her in the brothel where she continues to work. Twelve years later, Violet (Brooke Shields) is old enough to attract the attentions of the brothel's customers, but emotionally has one foot in the adult world of her surroundings and the other in the naïveté of childhood. With Hattie's consent, Violet's virginity is auctioned off to the customers of the house; but for Violet, the pull between childhood and adulthood becomes most clear -- and most painful -- when she draws the affections of Bellocq (Keith Carradine), a photographer who has been working on a photo series about Storyville prostitutes. Violet's blend of childlike innocence and adult sensuality is profoundly attractive to him, but their relationship quickly becomes problematic, especially when Hattie leaves Violet behind to get married.


Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner
(powells.com) In the City of Lights, at the dawn of a new age, begins an unforgettable story of great love, great art—and the most painful choices of the heart. With this fresh and vibrantly imagined portrait of the Impressionist artist Edgar Degas, readers are transported through the eyes of a young Parisian ballerina to an era of light and movement. An ambitious and enterprising farm girl, Alexandrie joins the prestigious Paris Opera ballet with hopes of securing not only her place in society but her family’s financial future. Her plan is soon derailed, however, when she falls in love with the enigmatic artist whose paintings of the offstage lives of the ballerinas scandalized society and revolutionized the art world. As Alexandrie is drawn deeper into Degas’s art and Paris’s secrets, will she risk everything for her dreams of love and of becoming the ballet’s star dancer?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

there, their, they're..its ok

The next Genre Reading Group meeting will be Tuesday, March 31st at 6:30pm and the topic up for discussion will be novels about art & artists!

We met earlier this week to talk about language, grammar, and linguistics.  GRG members come from various regions of the country so this meeting was full of information and laughter as we shared our particular regionalisms during the discussion.

(amazon.com) The Word Detective, aka Evan Morris, is in and open for business. This collection of Morris's language columns, which appear in newspapers worldwide and on his award-winning website, cracks the case on hundreds of perplexing words and phrases.

Fielding questions from his loyal readers with his distinctive brand of humor and unique approach to language, Morris hears from Sean via the Internet, who wants to know if nerd made its first appearance on Happy Days. (Morris, however, traces it back further-to Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss.) Ryan M. isn't quite sure if being caught red-handed is a reference to dye bombs put in bags of money that detonate when stolen. (The word Detective explains that it came into use during the 15th century, when the blood on the murderer's hands gave him away.) Laura V. is under the impression that a potboiler is a book that can be read while waiting for a pot to boil. (Morris relieves her of this assumption by explaining that a potboiler is written by a writer in desperate need of something to boil in a pot.)

(venezky,Stanford.edu/early-modern) "Perhaps the most successful of the series issued after the Civil War was the Appleton School Readers, authored by William Torrey Harris, Andrew Jackson Rickoff, and Mark Bailey. This series represents what is probably the first modern, corporately sponsored reading program. The authors were all highly visible educational figures, selected to represent different regions of the country, different expertise in education, and at least with the first two, to facilitate entry into major school systems" (Venezky, 1990b, p. xx).

(amazon.com) In what other language, asks Lederer, do people drive on a parkway and park in a driveway, and your nose can run and your feet can smell? In CRAZY ENGLISH, Lederer frolics through the logic-boggling byways of our language, discovering the names for phobias you didn't know you could have, the longest words in our dictionaries, and the shortest sentence containing every letter in the alphabet. You'll take a bird's-eye view of our beastly language, feast on a banquet of mushrooming food metaphors, and meet the self-reflecting Doctor Rotcod, destined to speak only in palindromes.


The Story of English: A Companion to the PBS TV Series ed by Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil
(amazon.com) The first book to tell the whole story of the English language. Originally paired with a major PBS miniseries, this book presents a stimulating and comprehensive record of spoken and written English—from its Anglo-Saxon origins some two thousand years ago to the present day (present = 1986), when English is the dominant language of commerce and culture with more than one billion English speakers around the world. From Cockney, Scouse, and Scots to Gulla, Singlish, Franglais, and the latest (again, 1986) African American slang, this sweeping history of the English language is the essential introduction for anyone who wants to know more about our common tongue.

GENERAL DISCUSSION:  PBS no longer sells the series, but you can find episodes in 10 minute segments on Youtube.  My favorite episode is The Mother Tongue.  Here are the first 10 minutes:

 

(amazon.com) Persnickety, cantankerous, opinionated, entertaining, hilarious, wise...these are a few of the adjectives reviewers used to describe good-writing maven Bill Walsh's previous book, Lapsing Into a Comma. Now, picking up where he left off in Lapsing, Walsh addresses the dozen or so biggest issues that every writer or editor must master. He also offers a trunkload of good advice on the many little things that add up to good writing. Featuring all the elements that made Lapsing such a fun read, including Walsh's trademark acerbic wit and fascinating digressions on language and its discontents, The Elephants of Style provides:

  • Tips on how to tame the "elephants of style"--the most important, frequently confused elements of good writing
  • More of Walsh's popular "Curmudgeon's Stylebook"--includes entries such as Snarky Specificity, Metaphors, Near and Far, Actually is the New Like, and other uses and misuses of language
  • Expert advice for writers and editors on how to work together for best results
(amazon.com) Women, Men and Language, 3rd Ed provides an up-to-date account of gender differences in language to answer the question: "Do women and men talk differently?" The book takes the reader from an initial "men talk like this; women talk like that" approach to a more nuanced idea of women and men performing gender in their everyday interactions. It covers a range of sociolinguistic research, looking at grammatical and phonological features a well as at aspects of conversation such as compliments or swearing, and the growing use of the word "like" by younger speakers. Written in a clear and accessible manner, the book explores:

  • the idea that gender is not a given but is socially constructued
  • the linguistic strategies used by male speakers to dominate female speakers
  • the characteristics of language use in same-sex groups
  • the way children develop gender-appropriate speech
  • the role played by gender in language change
  • the social consequences of gender differentiated language in the workplace and in the classroom
This updated third edition concludes with a new chapter summarizing new developments and assessing possible future trends for the area.  Using both historical record and contemporary sociolinguistic research, Women, Men and Language succinctly demonstrates that women and men do talk differently.

(amazon.com) For word buffs, for puzzle lovers, for anagram addicts, for crossword enthusiasts, for Scrabble players, for readers with an eye for the eccentric, and an ear for the unusual, this is the ultimate guide to the lighter side of the English language, written by a seasoned wordsmith and self-confessed verbaholic.

(amazon.com) Walter J. Ong’s classic work provides a fascinating insight into the social effects of oral, written, printed and electronic technologies, and their impact on philosophical, theological, scientific and literary thought.

(amazon.com) Playful and practical, this is the style book you can't wait to use, a guide that addresses classic questions of English usage with wit and the blackest of humor. Black-and-white illustrations throughout.

(amazon.com) At long last, The New Well-Tempered Sentence rescues punctuation from the perils of boredom, with wholly original explanations of the rules of punctuation, whimsical graphics, and utterly unforgettable characters (yes, characters in a grammar book). Gordon teaches you clearly and simply where to place a comma and how to use an apostrophe. Gradually, as you master the elusive slashes, dots, and dashes that give expression to our most perplexing thoughts, you will find yourself in the grip of a bizarre and bemusing comedy of manners. Witty, saucy, and utterly unforgettable, The New Well-Tempered Sentence is a must-have for anyone who has ever despaired of opening a punctuation handbook but whose sentences despair without one.


The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E.B. White
(amazon.com) A prescriptive American English writing style guide comprising eight "elementary rules of usage", ten "elementary principles of composition", "a few matters of form", a list of forty-nine "words and expressions commonly misused", and a list of fifty-seven "words often misspelled". In 2011, Time magazine listed The Elements of Style as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.

(amazon.com) From apian (like a bee) to zodiac (little-animals circle), a word book that spots the animal origins of words and names.  There are mice in your muscles, and blackbirds in your merlot. Behind adulation is a dog's wagging tail. Peculiar houses a herd of cattle. Grubby is crawling with bugs. Wordhound Martha Barnette collects more than 300 common (and a few not-so-common) words that have surprising animal roots. Tracing word origins back to ancient Greek and Latin as well as to European roots and American slang, the entries offer a guided tour through literature, science, folklore, politics, and more--with a wilderness of animal meanings at every turn.   For fledgling word sleuths as well as those who fawn over etymologies, this is a delightful smorgasbord for writers, students, and word lovers.


101 Two Letter Words by Stephin Merritt, illustrated by Roz Chast
(amazon.com) Rolling Stone has called singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields “the Cole Porter of his generation”; O, The Oprah Magazine has hailed cartoonist Roz Chast as “the wryest pen since Dorothy Parker’s.” Together they have crafted a wonderfully witty book that is sure to prove useful to Scrabble players and Words With Friends addicts—and to delight anyone in thrall to the weirder corners of the English language.

With the mordant wit and clever wordplay of Edward Gorey or Shel Silverstein, Stephin Merritt has written an original four-line rhyming poem for each of the 101 two-letter words included in The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. Here are poems about familiar words (such as at, go, hi, no, and up) as well as obscure ones (such as aa, ka, oe, qi, xu). And every one of the 101 poems is accompanied by a full-color illustration by the incomparable cartoonist Roz Chast.  101 Two-Letter Words is perfect for any language lover or Scrabble player (it may even improve your score!). 101 color illustrations

(amazon.com) Too often, when struggling to find just the right turn of phrase, exclamation of joy, or witty barb, it's easy to forget that history is positively brimming with rich words deserving of rejuvenation. Lesley M. M. Blume gathers forgotten words, phrases, names, insults, and idioms, plus fascinating and funny anecdotes, etymologies, and occasions for use. Let's Bring Back: The Lost Language Edition takes readers on a philological journey through words from the not-too-distant past. From all-overish to zounds, the vintage vernacular collected here will make any reader the cat's meow among friends, relations, and acquaintances.


GENERAL DISCUSSION: Noam Chomsky is an established author on the topic of linguistics http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/people/faculty/chomsky/publications.html

(amazon.com)  In this must-have for anyone who wants to better understand their love life, a mathematician pulls back the curtain and reveals the hidden patterns—from dating sites to divorce, sex to marriage—behind the rituals of love.  The roller coaster of romance is hard to quantify; defining how lovers might feel from a set of simple equations is impossible. But that doesn’t mean that mathematics isn't a crucial tool for understanding love.  Love, like most things in life, is full of patterns. And mathematics is ultimately the study of patterns—from predicting the weather to the fluctuations of the stock market, the movement of planets or the growth of cities. These patterns twist and turn and warp and evolve just as the rituals of love do.

In The Mathematics of Love, Dr. Hannah Fry takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the patterns that define our love lives, applying mathematical formulas to the most common yet complex questions pertaining to love: What’s the chance of finding love? What’s the probability that it will last? How do online dating algorithms work, exactly? Can game theory help us decide who to approach in a bar? At what point in your dating life should you settle down?

From evaluating the best strategies for online dating to defining the nebulous concept of beauty, Dr. Fry proves—with great insight, wit, and fun—that math is a surprisingly useful tool to negotiate the complicated, often baffling, sometimes infuriating, always interesting, mysteries of love. 

GENERAL DISCUSSION: Find Dr. Fry's TED talk on the mathematics of love here:


(amazon.com) "The great book of nature," said Galileo, "can be read only by those who know the language in which it was written. And this language is mathematics." In The Language of Mathematics, award-winning author Keith Devlin reveals the vital role mathematics plays in our eternal quest to understand who we are and the world we live in. More than just the study of numbers, mathematics provides us with the eyes to recognize and describe the hidden patterns of life—patterns that exist in the physical, biological, and social worlds without, and the realm of ideas and thoughts within.

Taking the reader on a wondrous journey through the invisible universe that surrounds us—a universe made visible by mathematics—Devlin shows us what keeps a jumbo jet in the air, explains how we can see and hear a football game on TV, allows us to predict the weather, the behavior of the stock market, and the outcome of elections. Microwave ovens, telephone cables, children's toys, pacemakers, automobiles, and computers—all operate on mathematical principles. Far from a dry and esoteric subject, mathematics is a rich and living part of our culture. An exploration of an often woefully misunderstood subject, The Language of Mathematics celebrates the simplicity, the precision, the purity, and the elegance of mathematics.

(amazon.com) In a world of rapid technological advancements, it can be easy to forget that writing is the original Information Technology, created to transcend the limitations of human memory and to defy time and space. The Writing Revolution picks apart the development of this communication tool to show how it has conquered the world:

  • Explores how writing has liberated the world, making possible everything from complex bureaucracy, literature, and science, to instruction manuals and love letters
  • Draws on an engaging range of examples, from the first cuneiform clay tablet, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Japanese syllabaries, to the printing press and the text messaging
  • Weaves together ideas from a number of fields, including history, cultural studies and archaeology, as well as linguistics and literature, to create an interdisciplinary volume
  • Traces the origins of each of the world’s major written traditions, along with their applications, adaptations, and cultural influences
(amazon.com) Serendipities is a careful unraveling of the fabulous and the false, a brilliant exposition of how unanticipated truths often spring from false ideas. From Leibniz's belief that the I Ching illustrated the principles of calculus to Marco Polo's mistaking a rhinoceros for a unicorn, Umberto Eco offers a dazzling tour of intellectual history, illuminating the ways in which we project the familiar onto the strange to make sense of the world. Uncovering layers of mistakes that have shaped human history, Eco offers with wit and clarity such instances as Columbus's voyage to the New World, the fictions that grew around the Rosicrucians and KnightsTemplar, and the linguistic endeavors to recreate the language of Babel, to show how serendipities can evolve out of mistakes. With erudition, anecdotes, and scholarly rigor, this new collection of essays is sure to entertain and enlighten any reader with a passion for the curious history of languages and ideas.


How to Read a Poem: and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch
(amazon.com) How to Read a Poem is an unprecedented exploration of poetry and feeling. In language at once acute and emotional, distinguished poet and critic Edward Hirsch describes why poetry matters and how we can open up our imaginations so that its message can make a difference. In a marvelous reading of verse from around the world, including work by Pablo Neruda, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, and Sylvia Plath, among many others, Hirsch discovers the true meaning of their words and ideas and brings their sublime message home into our hearts. A masterful work by a master poet, this brilliant summation of poetry and human nature will speak to all readers who long to place poetry in their lives.


A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch
(amazon.com) A major addition to the literature of poetry, Edward Hirsch’s sparkling new work is a compilation of forms, devices, groups, movements, isms, aesthetics, rhetorical terms, and folklore—a book that all readers, writers, teachers, and students of poetry will return to over and over.

Hirsch has delved deeply into the poetic traditions of the world, returning with an inclusive, international compendium. Moving gracefully from the bards of ancient Greece to the revolutionaries of Latin America, from small formal elements to large mysteries, he provides thoughtful definitions for the most important poetic vocabulary, imbuing his work with a lifetime of scholarship and the warmth of a man devoted to his art.

Knowing how a poem works is essential to unlocking its meaning. Hirsch’s entries will deepen readers’ relationships with their favorite poems and open greater levels of understanding in each new poem they encounter. Shot through with the enthusiasm, authority, and sheer delight that made How to Read a Poem so beloved, A Poet’s Glossary is a new classic.


GENERAL DISCUSSION: Last year, the Perez Art Museum Miami hosted an exhibit on concrete and visual poetry



(amazon.com) “Sherlock Holmes could glance at a bowler hat and tell that its owner's wife had ceased to love him. In this brilliant book about metaphor James Geary is no less astonishing, as he deciphers the subtle implications embedded in advertising slogans, familiar slang and government double-talk…. You'll scarf down every page of I Is an Other and then ask for more.” —Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and author of Book by Book and Classics for Pleasure

For lovers of language and fans of Blink and Freakonomics, New York Times bestselling author James Geary offers this fascinating look at metaphors and their influence in every aspect of our lives, from art to medicine, psychology to the stock market.

(amazon.com) The author of Reading the OED presents an eye-opening look at language “mistakes” and how they came to be accepted as correct—or not.  English is a glorious mess of a language, cobbled together from a wide variety of sources and syntaxes, and changing over time with popular usage. Many of the words and usages we embrace as standard and correct today were at first considered slang, impolite, or just plain wrong.

Whether you consider yourself a stickler, a nitpicker, or a rule-breaker in the know, Bad English is sure to enlighten, enrage, and perhaps even inspire. Filled with historic and contemporary examples, the book chronicles the long and entertaining history of language mistakes, and features some of our most common words and phrases, including:

Decimate
Hopefully
Enormity
That/which
Enervate/energize
Bemuse/amuse
Literally/figuratively
Ain’t Irregardless
Socialist
OMG
Stupider

Lively, surprising, funny, and delightfully readable, this is a book that will settle arguments among word lovers—and it’s sure to start a few, too.


A Dignity of Dragons: Collective Nouns for Magical Beasts by Jacqueline Ogburn, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli
(amazon.com) To catch a glimpse of one unicorn is lucky;
to see a grace of unicorns is to witness a marvel.
In this book, you will also find . . .

a riddle of sphinx,
a splash of mermaids,
a dignity of dragons,
and more.

With inventive groupings, luminous artwork, and a fact-filled glossary, A Dignity of Dragons makes for a bestiary to treasure. For within its pages, you’ll learn about all the creatures you may be lucky enough to see, if you know where to look.

What are YOU reading?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

short stories

It was nearly standing room only for our short story discussion.  Have a read at our wide ranging discussion and pick out one or two (or more!) for your own reading list!


Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe
(powells) Over 150 years after his death the stories of Edgar Allan Poe continue to intrigue and entrance. Master of the fantastic and the macabre, Poe takes readers on a journey beyond the limits of the imagination to realms where anything is possible. Edgar Allan Poe was a pioneer of the short story genre, and his Tales of Mystery and Imagination have an inimitable gothic atmosphere.


GENERAL DISCUSSION:  (Brown Univ Library) Baudelaire published extensive translations of Edgar Allan Poe’s works from 1852 until 1865. These translations reflect the affinity he felt for Poe as a poet and writer. Baudelaire admired the visionary quality of Poe’s text and related to him on many levels . Both lived in poverty, suffered from addictions and depression. Both were under appreciated by the literary establishment of their times. Both embraced mysticism, the fantastic, the macabre and the grotesque in their writings. Finally, both were searching for answers to philosophical questions in their aesthetic and literary pursuits. It is also worth noting that Baudelaire’s translations and critical notes provided some form of income to the poet who was constantly facing a difficult financial situation.

With the exception of four poems, Baudelaire’s translations focused on Poe’s short fiction. Baudelaire chose the tale “Mesmeric Revelation,” published in the Wiley & Putnam edition of 1845,as his first translation of Poe. It appeared in 1848 in La Liberté de penser, a philosophical and literary periodical that was published during the Second Republic. There was a hiatus of three years in Baudelaire’s publication of translations during which he devoted time to reading and studying Poe’s fiction, poetry and philosophy. Between 1848 and 1855 Baudelaire published some translations of Poe in newspapers such as Le Pays. Translations of complete works started appearing in 1856 with the publication of Histoires extraordinaires, followed by Nouvelles histoires extraordinaires in 1857, Aventures d’Arthur Gordon Pym in 1858, Eureka in 1863, and Histoires grotesques et sérieuses in 1865. Baudelaire’s translations were published by Michel Lévy who bought the rights for several of the texts. Through his translations, commentary and criticism, Baudelaire contributed to the favorable reception Poe generally received in Europe and to the high esteem in which European symbolist and surrealist poets held Poe. (http://library.brown.edu/cds/baudelaire/translations1.html)



GENERAL DISCUSSION: The first studio album from the group, The Alan Parsons Project, was an homage to Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination.  A significant remix of the album was released in 1987.




The Outlaw Album: Stories by Daniel Woodrell
(powells) Daniel Woodrell is able to lend uncanny logic to harsh, even criminal behavior in this wrenching collection of stories. Desperation-both material and psychological--motivates his characters. A husband cruelly avenges the killing of his wife's pet; an injured rapist is cared for by a young girl, until she reaches her breaking point; a disturbed veteran of Iraq is murdered for his erratic behavior; an outsider's house is set on fire by an angry neighbor.
There is also the tenderness and loyalty of the vulnerable in these stories--between spouses, parents and children, siblings, and comrades in arms-which brings the troubled, sorely tested cast of characters to vivid, relatable life. And, as ever, "the music coming from Woodrell's banjo cannot be confused with the sounds of any other writer" (Donald Harington, Atlanta Journal Constitution).


"Mr. Know All" by W. Somerset Maugham

So many of Maugham's stories, plays, and novels have been filmed/produced, and "Mr. Know All" is no different.  Set aside 20 minutes and watch the excellent production in two parts below!

PART 1 OF 2



PART 2 OF 2





Veneer by Steve Yarbrough
(powells) Acclaimed short story writer Steve Yarbrough, whose works have been included in the Pushcart Prize anthology and The Best American Mystery Stories 1998, once again demonstrates his gift for vividly rendered characters and evocative themes in his latest collection of fiction. Veneer presents a variety of characters from cultural backgrounds and settings that range from California to Mississippi to Eastern Europe. Yarbrough's sensitive portrayals of loss and longing are individual and unsettling; a disaffected college football coach, a movie star with a "substance problem," and a small-town girl coming to grips with the murder of her mother are just a few examples of the turbulent lives he portrays. In every instance, each character is "constantly searching for some way to bridge the gap, so small and yet so vast, between a right move and a wrong one."

A poignant theme running through this collection is the conflict between appearance and reality. Yarbrough presents the reader with deep narrative layers, juxtaposing the gritty present with nostalgic recollections of an idealized past or hopeful projections into a rosy future. "Veneer," the title piece, beautifully reveals the depth of this conflict. On the surface, the narrator, a married man whose family is away on vacation, enjoys a dinner with a woman who has been a longtime friend. Beneath that "veneer," however, lies a more complex, perhaps troubling, relationship between the two friends, a relationship only partially obscured by the comic recounting of a childhood Independence Day.

Yarbrough is at his best when he offers us brief glimpses into his characters' minds and imaginations, brilliantly exposing subtle vulnerabilities as cracks in the veneer. "Bohemia" follows the travels of two young lovers as they explore Europe. The woman fears that her lover will abandon her, and when she wakes to find him gone one evening, she believes her fear is confirmed. Yet his return does not alleviate her insecurity. The reality of her lover's presence and her continued anxiety emphasize the many layers that constitute the woman's world. Diverse in locale, character, and content, the stories in Veneer present rare views into the rifts between husband and wife, parent and child, one sibling and another. Crafting these compelling, deceptively simple stories is a writer whose "true subject is the human heart."


Best American Short Stories 2006 edited by Ann Patchett
(powells) “While a single short story may have a difficult time raising enough noise on its own to be heard over the din of civilization, short stories in bulk can have the effect of swarming bees, blocking out sound and sun and becoming the only thing you can think about,” writes Ann Patchett in her introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2006.

This vibrant, varied sampler of the American literary scene revels in lifes little absurdities, captures timely personal and cultural challenges, and ultimately shares subtle insight and compassion. In “The View from Castle Rock,” the short story master Alice Munro imagines a fictional account of her Scottish ancestors emigration to Canada in 1818. Nathan Englanders cast of young characters in “How We Avenged the Blums” confronts a bully dubbed “The Anti-Semite” to both comic and tragic ends. In “Refresh, Refresh,” Benjamin Percy gives a forceful, heart-wrenching look at a young mans choices when his father — along with most of the men in his small town — is deployed to Iraq. Yiyun Lis “After a Life” reveals secrets, hidden shame, and cultural change in modern China. And in “Tatooizm,” Kevin Moffett weaves a story full of humor and humanity about a young couples relationship that has run its course.

Ann Patchett “brought unprecedented enthusiasm and judiciousness [to The Best American Short Stories 2006],” writes Katrina Kenison in her foreword, “and she is, surely, every story writers ideal reader, eager to love, slow to fault, exquisitely attentive to the text and all that lies beneath it.”


GENERAL DISCUSSION: Patchett's introduction to BASS 2006 was included in her essay collection, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.  (powells) The New York Times bestselling author of State of Wonder, Run, and Bel Canto creates a resonant portrait of a life in this collection of writings on love, friendship, work, and art. "The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living." So begins This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, an examination of the things Ann Patchett is fully committed to — the art and craft of writing, the depths of friendship, an elderly dog, and one spectacular nun. Writing nonfiction, which started off as a means of keeping her insufficiently lucrative fiction afloat, evolved over time to be its own kind of art, the art of telling the truth as opposed to the art of making things up. Bringing her narrative gifts to bear on her own life, Patchett uses insight and compassion to turn very personal experiences into stories that will resonate with every reader.


Family Furnishings: Selected Stories 1995-2014 by Alice Munro
(powells) From the recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature — perhaps our most beloved author — a new selection of her peerless short fiction, gathered from the collections of the last two decades, a companion volume to Selected Stories (1968-1994).

By all accounts, no Nobel Prize in recent years has garnered the enthusiastic reception that Alice Munro's has, and in its wake, her reputation and readership has skyrocketed worldwide. Now, Family Furnishings will bring us twenty-five of her most accomplished, most powerfully affecting stories, most of them set in the territory she has so brilliantly made her own: the small towns and flatlands of southwestern Ontario. Sublty honed with the author's hallmark precision, grace, and compassion, these stories illuminate the ordinary but quite extraordinary particularity in the lives of men, women, and children as they discover sex, fall in love, part, quarrel, head out into the unknown, suffer defeat, find a way to be in the world. As the Nobel Prize presentation speech reads in part: "Reading one of Alice Munro's texts is like watching a cat walk across a laid dinner table. A brief short story can often cover decades, summarizing a life, as she moves deftly between different periods. No wonder Alice Munro is often able to say more in thirty pages than an ordinary novelist is capable of in three hundred. She is a virtuoso of the elliptical and… the master of the contemporary short story."

GENERAL DISCUSSION: Alice Munro was profiled in The New York Review of Books last week: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/feb/05/alice-munros-magic/


Spoiled Brats: Stories by Simon Rich
(powells) Twenty years ago, Barney the Dinosaur told the nation's children they were special. We're still paying the price. From "one of the funniest writers in America"* comes a collection of stories culled from the front lines of the millennial culture wars. Rife with failing rock bands, student loans, and participation trophies, Spoiled Brats is about a generation of narcissists-and the well-meaning boomers who made them that way. A hardworking immigrant is preserved for a century in pickle brine. A helicopter mom strives to educate her demon son. And a family of hamsters struggles to survive in a private-school homeroom. Surreal, shrewd, and surprisingly warm, these stories are as resonant as they are hilarious. *Jimmy So, Daily Beast


The Seven Deadly Sins Sampler compiled by the Great Books Foundation
(greatbooks.org) This anthology includes 14 short story masterpieces selected for discussion and reflection. Ideal for book groups and for courses in literature, creative writing, ethics, and religion. With a foreword by Al Gini, author of The Importance of Being Lazy and Why It's Hard to be Good.


The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
(powells) In this darkly comic short story collection, Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, brilliantly weaves memory, fantasy, and stark realism to paint a complex, grimly ironic portrait of life in and around the Spokane Indian Reservation. These twenty-two interlinked tales are narrated by characters raised on humiliation and government-issue cheese, and yet are filled with passion and affection, myth and dream. There is Victor, who as a nine-year-old crawled between his unconscious parents hoping that the alcohol seeping through their skins might help him sleep, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who tells his stories long after people stop listening, and Jimmy Many Horses, dying of cancer, who writes letters on stationary that reads "From the Death Bed of Jimmy Many Horses III," even though he actually writes then on his kitchen table. Against a backdrop of alcohol, car accidents, laughter, and basketball, Alexie depicts the distances between Indians and whites, reservation Indians and urban Indians, men and women, and mostly poetically between modern Indians and the traditions of the past.


"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
(Nat'l Endowment for the Humanities) First appearing in the New England Magazine in January 1892, "The Yellow Wall-paper," according to many literary critics, is a narrative study of Gilman's own depression and "nervousness." Gilman, like the narrator of her story, sought medical help from the famous neurologist S. Weir Mitchell. Mitchell prescribed his famous "rest cure," which restricted women from anything that labored and taxed their minds (e.g., thinking, reading, writing) and bodies. More than just a psychological study of postpartum depression, Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-paper" offers a compelling study of Gilman's own feminism and of roles for women in the 1890s and 1910s.


Enormous Changes at the Last Minute: Stories by Grace Paley
(powells) In this collection of short stories, originally published in 1974, Grace Paley "makes the novel as a form seem virtually redundant" (Angela Carter, London Review of Books). Her stories here capture "the itch of the city, love between parents and children" and "the cutting edge of combat" (Lis Harris, The New York Times Book Review). In this collection of seventeen stories, she creates a "solid and vital fictional world, cross-referenced and dense with life" (Walter Clemons, Newsweek).


Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie
(powells) Sherman Alexie's Ten Little Indians, a massively acclaimed national best-seller, "serves up nine seamless stories formed in the gut and delivered from the heart, depicting Native Americans caught in contemporary cultural crosshairs" (Elle).


War Dances by Sherman Alexie
(powells) Fresh off his National Book Award win, Alexie delivers a heartbreaking and hilarious collection of stories that explores the precarious balance between self-preservation and external responsibility in art, family, and the world at large.


I Want To Show You More by Jamie Quatro
(powells) Sharp-edged and fearless, mixing white-hot yearning with daring humor, Quatro's stories upend and shake out our views on infidelity, faith, and family. Set around Lookout Mountain on the border of Georgia and Tennessee, Quatro's hypnotically revealing stories range from the traditional to the fabulist as they expose lives torn between spirituality and sexuality in the New American South. These fifteen linked tales confront readers with fractured marriages, mercurial temptations, and dark theological complexities, and establish a sultry and enticingly cool new voice in American fiction.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: The reader fiercely champions the story "Help" from Quatro's collection.


From Death to Morning by Thomas Wolfe
(goodreads) With his reputation again in full flower, Thomas Wolfe stands among our nation's greatest writers. William Faulkner admired his breathtakingly stylish prose, which also inspired Jack Keroac's experimental lyricism. The collection of fourteen stories includes "No Door," "Death the Proud Brother," "The Face of War," "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn," "The Four Lost Men," "Gulliver," "The Web of Earth," and five others.


The Girl Who Heard Dragons by Anne McCaffrey
(powells) Anne McCaffrey's dragons are the stuff of which SF/fantasy legends are made. All of her dragon books have been national bestsellers. The Girl Who Heard Dragons is a feast for McCaffrey fans and for all readers; a big, satisfying compilation of her fiction. Best of all, it opens with an original short novel of Pern, “The Girl Who Heard Dragons.” In addition, the book contains twenty-four beautiful black and white drawings by award-winning artist Michael Whelan. Romance, humor, colorful description, and affecting characters are Anne McCaffrey's hallmarks and the fifteen stories herein have these virtues in abundance. No wonder the Chicago Sun-Times described her as a “master of the well-told tale.”


Halloween Horrors edited by Alan Ryan
(goodreads) Included in this collection are Halloween tales of terror by Robert B. McCammon, Whitley Strieber, Michael McDowell, Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell, Charles L. Grant and others. Edited by Alan Ryan, author of The Kill and Dead White.


Wait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories by Craig Johnson
(powells) Ten years ago, Craig Johnson wrote his first short story, the Hillerman Award–winning “Old Indian Trick.” This was one of the earliest appearances of the sheriff who would go on to star in Johnsons bestselling, award-winning novels and the hit television series Longmire. Each Christmas Eve thereafter, fans rejoiced when Johnson sent out a new short story featuring an episode in Walt's life that doesnt appear in the novels; over the years, many have asked why they cant buy the stories in book form.

Wait for Signs gives Longmire fans a chance to own these beloved stories—and one that was published for the first time in the Viking edition—in a single volume. With glimpses of Walt's past from the incident in “Ministerial Aide,” when the sheriff is mistaken for a deity, to the hilarious “Messenger,” where the majority of the action takes place in a Porta-Potty, Wait for Signs is a necessary addition to any Longmire fan's shelf and a wonderful way to introduce new readers to the fictional world of Absaroka County, Wyoming.


Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories by Ron Rash
(powells) From the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of Serena and The Cove, thirty-four of his finest short stories, collected in one volume. No one captures the complexities of Appalchia — a rugged, brutal landscape of exquisite beauty — as evocatively and indelibly as author and poet Ron Rash. Winner of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, two O. Henry prizes, and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, Rash brilliantly illuminates the tensions between the traditional and the modern, the old and the new south, tenderness and violence, man and nature. Though his focus is regional, the themes of Rash's work are universal, striking an emotional chord that resonates deep within each of our lives.

Something Rich and Strange showcases this acclaimed master's artistry and craftsmanship in thirty-two stories culled from previously published collections and two available for the first time in book form: "Outlaws" and "Shiloh." Each work of short fiction demonstrates Rash's dazzling ability to evoke the heart and soul of this land and its people — men and women inexorably tethered to the geography that defines and shapes them. Filled with suspense and myth, hope and heartbreak, and told in language that flows like "shimmering, liquid poetry" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution), Something Rich and Strange is an iconic work from an American literary virtuoso.


"Cannabalism in the Cars" by Mark Twain
(wikipedia) The story is about a group of men trapped on a train during a snow storm. After a week, the men gradually realize that they must resort to cannibalism for survival. They hold ineffective elections to select candidates, and follow parliamentary procedure to a fault.


"Bicentennial Man" by Isaac Asimov


Bicentennial Man (film, 1999) (rottentomatoes)
Bicentennial Man follows the life and times of the title character, an android, who is purchased as a household robot programmed to perform menial tasks. The Martin family quickly learns that they don't have an ordinary robot as Andrew begins to experience emotions and creative thought. In a story that spans two centuries, Andrew learns the intricacies of humanity, life and love.


Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg
(goodreads) In a twenty-first century Earth where the development of the positronic brain has revolutionized the way of life, beloved household robot ""Andrew"" struggles with his unusual capacity for emotion and dreams of becoming human.


"Second Variety" by Philip K. Dick
(wikipedia) A nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the West has reduced much of the world to a barren wasteland. The war continues however among the scattered remains of humanity. The Western forces have developed "claws", which are autonomous self-replicating robots to fight on their side. It is one of Dick's many stories in which nuclear war has rendered the Earth's surface uninhabitable.


Screamers (film, 1996) (rottentomatoes)
This action-packed sci-fi thriller is set upon the planet Sirius 6B in the year 2078. The planet has been decimated by a vast nuclear war. Many have survived, but their continued survival is threatened by the dreaded screamers, strange shape-changing mechanical creatures who use razor sharp knives to hack up any life-form in their way. They earned their name because when they kill, they make a horrible high pitched sound. The first screamer makes its appearance as a lone soldier approaches a bunker. He has come to deliver an important message from the NEB to its enemy the Alliance. Unfortunately, the low flying screamer gets to the soldier first, and quicker than Popeil's Vegamatic, slices and dices the fellow into tiny pieces. Later a jet crashes near the bunker. Aboard it is a nuclear reactor. One man survives the crash. The man, Ace, knows how to make a bomb with the reactor. Alliance-leader Col. Joseph Hendricksson takes Ace and they travel across the great irradiated desert to met with the NEB leaders. Along the way they find a small boy and though they don't want to, bring him along. Unfortunately, by the time they get to the NEB headquarters, the screamers have killed all but Becker, a tough soldier, Ross, who is nearly mad, and sexy smuggler Jessica. When Becker and Ross see the boy, they think he is a screamer and kill him. They are right and soon the little group find themselves surrounded by the hellish killing machines, all of which have taken the shapes of small boys.


"The Jar" by Ray Bradbury
(cliffsnotes) This story takes the reader to a carnival side show and to "one of those pale things drifting in alcohol plasma . . . with its peeled, dead eyes staring out at you and never seeing you." The protagonist of "The Jar" is Charlie, a man so charmed with the jar that he persuades the carnival owner to sell it to him. When he takes the jar home, Charlie's poorly constructed living room becomes a palace and the jar becomes it emperor.

The Jar directed by Tim Burton (youtube)

Animatrix: The Second Renaissance Parts 1 & 2 (wikipedia article)

GENERAL DISCUSSION: In discussing films adapted from short stories, it's difficult not to mention The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  (powells) Today, F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for his novels, but in his lifetime, his fame stemmed from his prolific achievement as one of America's most gifted story writers. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a witty and fantastical satire about aging, is one of his most memorable stories.

In 1860 Benjamin Button is born an old man and mysteriously begins aging backward. At the beginning of his life he is withered and worn, but as he continues to grow younger he embraces life — he goes to war, runs a business, falls in love, has children, goes to college and prep school, and, as his mind begins to devolve, he attends kindergarten and eventually returns to the care of his nurse. This strange and haunting story embodies the sharp social insight that has made Fitzgerald one of the great voices in the history of American literature.


(film, 2008) (rottentomatoes) David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's story, re-teams the director with Brad Pitt, who takes on the title role. What makes Button such a curious case is that when he is born in New Orleans just after World War I, he is already in his eighties, and proceeds to live his life aging in reverse. This sweeping film follows the character's unusual life into the 21st century as he experiences joy and sadness, loves lost and found, and the meaning of timelessness. Cate Blanchett co-stars along with Tilda Swinton, Elias Koteas, and Julia Ormond. ~ Perry Seibert, Rovi


The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike
(powells) Since its debut volume 85 years ago, publication of The Best American Short Stories has been a regular literary event, providing an annual showcase for America's greatest established writers and consistently discovering and introducing the best talent of the upcoming generation. Just one writer, though, has the distinction of being published in the series five decades running: John Updike. It is therefore fitting that Updike, America's reigning literary patriarch, was chosen to edit this collection. These 55 stories were chosen from the entire archive of Best American Stories (since the series inception in 1915), a pool of over two thousand. Each in their turn was originally chosen from thousands of stories published that year in the country's most prestigious journals and periodicals. As Updike notes, "A fathomless ocean of rejection and exclusion surrounds this brave little flotilla, the best of the best." Included are most of the accepted 20th century masters of the short story: Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O'Connor, John Cheever, Raymond Carver, etc. But Updike also uncovered some forgotten gems. How many, for example, still remember Benjamin Rosenblatt or Grace Stone Coates? In his selection of contemporary authors, as well, Updike did not limit himself to the usual suspects; included are fine (though relatively unknown) writers such as Alice Elliott Dark and Carolyn Ferrell. "I tried," Updike explains, "not to select stories because they illustrated a theme or portion of the national experience, but because they struck me as lively, beautiful, believable, and, in the human news they brought, important."


Short Story Omnibus edited by Great Books Foundation
(greatbooks.org) This collection breaks new ground as a resource for the variety and richness the short story form offers. The collection features 39 selections in four categories: short stories, sudden fiction, novellas, and graphic stories. These stories, spanning a century and a half, are among the greatest ever written. Complete with discussion questions and brief author biographies, the Short Story Omnibus is an ideal text for book groups as well as literature and creative writing courses.


Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood
(powells) A collection of highly imaginative short pieces that speak to our times with deadly accuracy. Vintage Atwood creativity, intelligence, and humor: think Alias Grace.  Margaret Atwood turns to short fiction for the first time since her 2006 collection, Moral Disorder, with nine tales of acute psychological insight and turbulent relationships bringing to mind her award-winning 1996 novel, Alias Grace. A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband in "Alphinland," the first of three loosely linked stories about the romantic geometries of a group of writers and artists. In "The Freeze-Dried Bridegroom," a man who bids on an auctioned storage space has a surprise. In "Lusus Naturae," a woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In "Torching the Dusties," an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. And in "Stone Mattress," a long-ago crime is avenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite. In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.


The World of the Short Story: A Twentieth Century Collection edited by Clifton Fadiman
(library journal) At age 82, Clifton Fadiman continues his prolific publishing career, here presenting 62 of the world's best short stories from 16 countries. His criteria? "Each story had to be both interesting and of high literary merit." Fadiman fulfills both requirements and much more, offering a cornucopia of superior 20th-century writers that includes Franz Kafka, D. H. Lawrence, Isaac Babel, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever, Sean O'Faolain, Graham Greene, Robert Penn Warren, Colette, John Updike, Donald Barthelme, and James Thurber. (Regrettably, J. D. Salinger is not included due to lack of permission.) Here is a truly remarkable collection of this century's short stories that readers from all over the world will read with delight. Glenn O. Carey, English Dept., Eastern Kentucky Univ., Richmond


The Best American Humorous Short Stories
(powells) Alexander Jessup has collected some of the best in American humorous short stories into one volume. The truly great American storytellers are represented in this volume. Edgar Allan Poe who is known primarily for his horror stories is represented here with his story "The Angel of the Odd." Edward Everett Hale has written a delightful story entitled "My Double: And How He Undid Me." "A Visit to the Asylum For the Aged and Decayed Punsters" was written by Oliver Wendell Homes. And no collection of humorous short stories would be complete without "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain. There are twenty other stories to delight the reader.


Past Perfect, Present Tense by Richard Peck
(powells) Though Richard Peck is best known as a novelist, he has been writing praised and popular short stories throughout his career. His first, "Priscilla and the Wimps," is perhaps the most-read children's short story of all time. Others have inspired his award-winning novels: A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder began with a story called "Shotgun Cheatham's Last Night Above Ground;" and "The Electric Summer" was the jumping point for Fair Weather. Now here are thirteen of Richard Peck's stories, including all of his previously published tales and two brand-new ones. He has also written entertaining notes about the stories, an informative introduction about the genre, and tips on how to write short stories, including "Five Helpful Hints" that will be a valuable aid to aspiring authors.


The Awakening by Kate Chopin
(powells) When first published in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity. Audiences accustomed to the pieties of late Victorian romantic fiction were taken aback by Chopin's daring portrayal of a woman trapped in a stifling marriage, who seeks and finds passionate physical love outside the straitened confines of her domestic situation.
Aside from its unusually frank treatment of a then-controversial subject, the novel is widely admired today for its literary qualities. Edmund Wilson characterized it as a work "quite uninhibited and beautifully written, which anticipates D. H. Lawrence in its treatment of infidelity."

Although the theme of marital infidelity no longer shocks, few novels have plumbed the psychology of a woman involved in an illicit relationship with the perception, artistry, and honesty that Kate Chopin brought to The Awakening. Now available in this inexpensive edition, it offers a powerful and provocative reading experience to modern readers.

Here are some of the individual short stories fired at me at the speed of light!
"Patented Gate and the Mean Hamburger" by Robert Penn Warren
"I Want to Live" by Thom Jones
"The Ledge" by Sargent Hall
"Stranger in the Village" by James Baldwin
"The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe

GENERAL DISCUSSION: Flash fiction! The standard definition seems to be stories under 2,000 words.  Click here to read more about these super quick reads!