RIP Short Stories: Nabokov and Borges, Elizabeth Bowen, Eudora Welty, and Elizabeth Taylor

Although October is over, I still have a few more RIP short stories to share about. I really put off writing today’s post simply because of the five stories I read, I didn’t really enjoy three of them and the other two (both rereads) are ones I like but still didn’t completely understand. I bet you can guess which ones fit in that category.

I’ll begin with the two that I really like, despite the confusion I felt as I reread them. The first is Vladimir Nabokov’s “The Visit to the Museum.” In this story, a man goes to a museum on the request of a friend to purchase one of it’s paintings. When he meets with the museum director, however, he in essence is taken into his worst nightmare. This story seems pretty straight forward, and it is wonderfully written. The narrator’s confusion and frustration is magnified as I read, since I deal with claustrophobia myself. At any rate, it’s a frustrating story to read, but as with most of Nabokov’s stories (I haven’t read his novels yet), it is a masterpiece. I do recommend it.

The next story is Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Circular Ruins.” A man approaches some ancient ruins with one goal in mind: to dream a person into creation. If that sounds like an odd premise, trust me, it is. As when I read Borges the last time, this story was marvelously confusing, and yet, I enjoyed reading it more than I did last time. As I read great literature, I am impressed by the author’s ability to capture a confusing premise in mere words: words which I struggle to grasp control over. Reading great literature is a challenge: I need to reread Borges more often to better appreciate it.

The other three stories were less engaging for me. Maybe I’m getting tired of reading short stories? I’ve found I go through phases and every time I try to do a short story reading project I tire of it by the end. Nevertheless, my first works by these authors were still good.

Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Happy Autumn Fields” took one woman named Mary into a dream or ghost-like experience with her predecessors Sarah and Henrietta. It’s a strange take on the term “ghost story” and because the scene starts in the middle, I was quite confused for the beginning of the story. In Eudora Welty’s “Clytie,” the titular character was haunted by faces. She intrigued me, but I never felt completely connected to Clytie. Her life story was a sad one, and I wanted to better understand her. Finally, Elizabeth Taylor’s “Poor Girl” focused on a haunted governess, over which her young seven-year-old charge seemed to have power. I am drawn to stories of governesses (as I read this story, I remembered that I need to reread The Turn of the Screw) and this was an interesting take. As I ended, I wondered as I often have on reading these ghost stories just what happened. This was another creepy tale of a haunted life.

(These stories are not in the public domain).

I have one more week (four more stories) of RIP short stories from my Everyman’s Ghost Stories volume. It’s been fun to see how classic authors and the editor of this volume have interpreted “ghost stories.” It goes to show that although I am a “please don’t scary me” person, there are plenty of spooky-ish stories that work just fine in bring the season to life.

I’m not sure which volume of stories, essays, or poems I’ll tackle after this one, but I like having something a little different to report on each week.

Happy Halloween: Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann

Initially, Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann (Roaring Brook, July 2011) left me both incredibly impressed by the gorgeous illustrations and a bit wary of the ghoulish setting for the story. I’ve mentioned before that I am not a fan of Halloween; Bone Dog is a Halloween picture book, complete with a visit to a graveyard and a haunting by skeletons. I’m not sure preschool aged kids need that spookiness. Yet, as a whole, this Halloween book gives a sweet message of friendship beyond the grave for a child dealing with the death of a dog, and the humorous bits lighten the creepiness factor for kids.Continue Reading

The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carman Agra Deedy and Randall Wright

I don’t often read middle grade fiction, but when I heard about The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright (published by Peachtree Publishers, October 2011) at BEA in May, I was excited to read it. After all, the subtitle is “A Dickens of the Tale” and I knew that Charles Dickens and his friends were characters in the tale about animals, friendship, and finding a place. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love Victorian literature. What could be better?

Further, since BEA, I’ve seen dozens of reviews in the blogosphere and at Goodreads, etc. talking about how fun it was to join Charles Dickens in a small inn in Victorian England. I was excited to read it, although it did take me a while to get to it.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed. It was mediocre writing, the historical aspects did not feel grandly Dickensian or Victorian (the story simply had Dickens as a character), and overall, it was just a okay story. While the tie between Dickens’s novel and Pip and Skilley’s story was creative at the end and it may give kids a positive perspective on Victorian literature (simply because Dickens is a friend), there was nothing spectacular that made me excited about the book throughout my reading of it.Continue Reading

Inferno by Dante (translated by Hollander and Hollander)

I feel like this week is a week for books I’ve read that I recognize I need to reread: first Blake, and now Dante. But isn’t that point of reading the classic masterpieces by magnificent writers like Blake and Dante, that you know you miss something magnificent and will enjoy it all the more on reread?

I had attempted reading Dante in the summer of 2010 and quickly stalled. There were so many footnotes full of unfamiliar details: it was overwhelming. Besides, it hot and sunny outside and medieval poetry was just not sinking in.

Reading Dante’s Inferno (as translated by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander) this fall went much better. The poetry is amazingly readable, and I found myself reading the footnotes after each canto with interest: rather than trying to grasp the meaning and symbolism behind each person, action, and setting, I just let it wash over me. In one ear and out the other. As such, I missed a lot, but I enjoyed my first full experience with Dante, and now I want to revisit it with more careful reading and understanding at another point, maybe in conjunction with some criticism and explanations.Continue Reading