Valentine’s Antidote

February 14, 2013

Here’s what we read: 

“G.B.S.–Mark V” by Ray Bradbury, in Long After Midnight (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976, ISBN 0394479424), Northampton Branch Library, barcode 33245001242082)

“Blind Date,” J. Lane Linklater,  in 100 Crooked Little Crime Stories

“The Librarian and the Robbers,” Margaret Mahy, in Best Shorts: Favorite Short Stories for Sharing

“Freeway Exit,” Alan Cook.

 Chapter II of “The Relic Men,” Loren Eiseley, The Night Country

“Marriage a la Mode” by Russell Baker, , in his The Rescue of Miss Yaskell and Other Pipe (2/2) Dreams, NY: signet 1943, isbn 0451134729

We concluded with an excerpt from Chapter 20, “If They Hang You,” The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1992, ISBN 9780679722649
Main Library, barcode 33245002317560

Posted in Short stories | Leave a comment

Money Matters

Our January 17, 2013, our Short Story Club examined the many ways in which “Money Matters”–and riches that can prove more important than money. While we explored the common thread of the coin of the realm, we found that it mattered in ways we did not expect, and that the most interesting thing about money is how its presence or absence can highlight things that matter even more–be they memories, a life’s journey, or a friend old or new.

From the travels of a dollar bill, which showed that the dollar’s life journey is worth more than the dollar itself, no matter how ragged one grows through experience–to two sisters reunited by material and spiritual poverty, who find together the greatest wealth life has to offer; from two lovebirds who impoverish themselves to enrich each other–to an unemployed man who discovers the true riches of love and family; our stories spanned human experience to find common ground in the contrast between money’s power over our lives, and the pull of all that has intrinsic, but not monetary, value. The concluding tale, thought at first to offer a contrast to these heartwarming stories, also concluded despite its grim events that some things are worth more than money, and that one can even gain in wealth by sticking true to one’s personal values, just like the poor farmer visiting a pawnbroker who decides that his memories are worth more than the $100 he is offered, and thereby keeps a WWII relic worth a fortune, of which he’d otherwise have been cheated.

Our selections included:

“The Autobiography of a Dollar Bill” by Lelia Plummer, originally published in December 1904 in Colored American Magazine 7. This story is included in A Treasury of African-American Christmas Stories, Volume II, compiled and edited by Bettye Collier-Thomas (New York: H. Holt, 1999, ISBN 0805060456). The book can be found in the Main Library’s nonfiction collection at 394C T71o, barcode 0805060456.

As we learned later, the journey of the dollar bill from person to person through many lands and experiences, and the value of the wisdom gained through the journey, were metaphors for the life of a slave. The group also discussed a modern means of seeing where money travels, “Where’s George?”

“The Richer, the Poorer” by Dorothy West, who at her death was the last surviving member of the Harlem Renaissance. This story appears in The Last Leaf of Harlem: Selected and Newly Discovered Fiction by the Author of The Wedding, by Dorothy West; edited by Lionel C. Bascom (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008, ISBN 9780312261481). It can be found in the Main Library’s Fiction collection at Fic West D., barcode 33245006876660.

“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry appears in several books at Hampton Public Library, among them:

The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry; illustrated by Erik Blegvad (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1972). Held at the Willow Oaks Branch Library in the Fiction section at Fic Henry O., barcode 33245000982514, 
and in
Classic American Short Stories: 17 Stories from Hawthorne to Fitzgerald, edited by Clarence C. Strowbridge (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, c2002, ISBN 9780486422510). This book is in the Main Library’s Large Print collection at SC C569a, barcode 33245007267679.

“The Gold Coin” by J. A. Paquette, Jeff’s Messy Desk, June 4, 2011,

“Souvenir” by Kurt Vonnegut, can be found in the author’s collection Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: Putnam, 1999, ISBN 9780399145056).

Posted in Short stories | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Snowed In,” December 20, 2012

It’s wonderful the way the Short Story Club selections–and our conversations about them–spontaneously find common themes.  We expected that chill in the air, that frostbitten sense of both comfort and entrapment.  What chilled us even more was the way that themes of burial and death slid in under the snow–a blanketing silence, a premature burial, snow as both a literal cause and figurative omen of loss and parting.  Fortunately, hilarity lightened the somber mood with tales of snowblowers and families gone mad in their snowed-under state.

While we can’t capture the companionship we felt, buried in our world of imagined snow, we offer you the list of our selections that night:

L. B. Taylor Jr., “Tragic Teardrops in the Snow,” in the author’s collection Ghosts of Virginia’s Tidewater (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011, ISBN 9781609492267).

Ronald Paxton, “Shenandoah Christmas.”  (Though this story is not yet collected, the author’s first novel, Winter Songs, has just been released by World Castle Publishing, 2012, ISBN 9781938961526).

Robert Olen Butler, “Snow,” in the author’s collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain: Stories (New York: H. Holt, 1992, ISBN 9780805019865).

Robert Service, The Cremation of Sam McGee (New York: Greenwillow Books, 1987, ISBN 0688069037).  A copy is located in the children’s nonfiction collection at the Willow Oaks Branch of Hampton Public Library, j811 Se69c, barcode 33245003225507.

A trio of hilarious snowy tales, following the perspectives of a man, a woman, and a child facing snow days:

1. J. G. Fabiano, “A Man and His Snowblower versus the Rest of the World,”

2. Kathy Stevenson, “Snow Days,” NewsWorks, Feb. 3, 2011

3. David Sedaris, “Let It Snow,” available in two of the author’s collections at Hampton Public Library:
Print: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (New York: Little, Brown, 2004, ISBN 0316143464), located in nonfiction at 817 Se27d, with copies at the Main Library (barcode 33245006152732) and the Northampton and Willow Oaks branches
Ebook: Holidays on Ice (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2009, ISBN 9780316158510), available to HPL patrons through OverDrive in EPUB and Kindle formats.

The evening concluded with one last tale, an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Snow Queen” into Japanese culture and history:
Kara Dalky, “The Lady of the Ice Garden,” in The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1, ed. Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Debbie Notkin, Jeffrey D. Smith (San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2005, ISBN 1892391198).  The Main Library holds a copy in the Science Fiction Short Story section, SC J231t, barcode 33245006542684.

Posted in Reading, Short stories | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Fragile Past and the Indestructible Present

At November’s meeting, we read “Jeffty is Five” by Harlan Ellison and “How to Be Confident,” a chapter from “This is How” by Augusten Burroughs.

I thought about “Jeffty is Five” long after the reading was over. I loved its combination of nostalgia for the past and the continuation of old things into the present. Jeffty wasn’t listening to old radio shows and reading old comics, which would have been nostalgic enough. The comics had continued and the old radio stars were acting in new productions. The story didn’t go back in time; it blended it into a beautiful, harmonious unity of present and past. As a fan of old movies, I was intoxicated by the thought. Imagine a new Sam Spade movie…starring Humphrey Bogart. “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Two: Blondes Still Rule” starring Marilyn Monroe. A new album of original songs by George Gershwin, sung by Ella Fitzgerald backed by Nelson Riddle. Or dare I suggest a new Shakespeare play in which the whole plot is set off by one character accidentally texting the wrong person? These ideas have the excitement that people must have felt in those times when something new by their favorite artists was released, but added to that excitement is the hindsight of knowing how exciting and meaningful their works still are decades—even centuries—later.

Of course, Jeffty was not aware that anything was remarkable about it. It was just the way things were for him. Much like the past, how precious his world was could only be sensed as an observer. And like the past, its magic was fragile and easily misunderstood. It was obliterated by the aggressive present that will admit no competition.

Transitioning between thoughts on this tale and “How to Be Confident” is a tricky one, especially since transitions have never been my strong suit. The two stories, however, did not feel unrelated when read in close proximity. Burroughs’ lesson is that confidence is not something that is gained. It is not the possession of something (in particular, it is not the possession of ability. Competence, according to Burroughs, is often mistaken for confidence). Rather it is the lack of self-consciousness, and the ability to remain task-focused rather than focused on what others may think.

How did this relate to Ellison’s story? The link felt clearer right after I heard both works, and will be difficult to articulate. But it felt like a lack of self-consciousness loosens the hold the present has on us. So often we’re encouraged to live in the present, but our thoughts can range so far. If they want to muse on the past and range far into the future, perhaps that can deepen our appreciation of the present rather than limiting it.

Posted in Short stories | Tagged | Leave a comment

Happy Halloween!

Our last meeting featured “The Little Room” by Madeline Yale Wynne, in American Fantastic Fales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps, edited by Peter Straub (New York: The Library of America, 2009).

There are a lot of great stories in this book, and I highly recommend it for the season!  And I don’t just mean the Halloween season.  With the days getting shorter, darker, and colder, tales like “In Dark New England Days” by Sarah Orne Jewett and “Thurlow’s Christmas Story” by John Kendrick Bangs seem eminently appropriate, while classics like “The Jolly Corner” (Henry James), “The Panelled Room” (August Derleth), “Young Goodman Brown” (Nathaniel Hawthorne), “Berenice” (Edgar Allan Poe), and “The Yellow Wall Paper” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman), as well as many other great gothic works, make this a memorable, disturbing, and at times downright terrifying collection.  Anyone who enjoys curling up with a creepy tale on a cold, dark evening will love this book!

And by the way, there was a good article, “The State of the Short Story,” in Publishers Weekly on October 26th. Hope you enjoy it!

Posted in Short stories | Tagged , | Leave a comment

When’s the last time somebody read you a story?

C’mon, you’re not too old to have somebody read to you!

At 6:30 PM on the fourth Thursday of the month, adults 18 & up gather to share favorite short stories. We’ll be listing here the stories read, so you can enjoy them too.

Join us, either here or at the Hampton Public Library, 4207 Victoria Boulevard, Hampton VA. We’ll be happy to have you visit!

From September 27, 2012:

“Spenser” by Robert B. Parker, from The Lineup: The World’s Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives.
This is an enlightening fictional interview with Spenser in the form of a short story. Everything you need to know about Spenser in just a few pages!

Throw Him Away and Get a New One” by Patrick Whittaker.
This story contains several fascinating twists–with interesting characters and a lot of humor, it has the flavor of a modern-day Twilight Zone episode (set in Britain)–both in terms of nightmare and turned tables!

It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dog” by Delbert R. Gardner, published in Green’s Magazine (Fiction for the Family), Vol. II, No. 2, Winter 1974. See more of Delbert Gardner ‘s writing.
This funny story by a local author (read by his wife) carries a surprising (and hilarious) truth. Who knew man’s best friend could be his rival as well?

Posted in Short stories | Leave a comment