Wednesday, May 31, 2006

All bound for Mu-Mu Land

Hi, anyone who might stumble here in late May and early June, 2006! We're traveling the land in our ice cream van, just like those Justified Ancients, and we wanted to let you know that on the way to your town our posts will be meager if not downright nonexistent. But if we have any fans left--hold on; we promise to be back to butcher a few more classics soon. Thanks for being there and enjoy the silence...


Your Faithful Editors

Friday, May 26, 2006

"Love" by William Maxwell

Read by Scoot. Time 7:24. Details to come...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Saturday, May 20, 2006

"Looking for a Rain God" by Bessie Head

Read by Scoot. Time 9:58. Details to come...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Thursday, May 11, 2006

"Lenten Loves" by Henri Murger

Read by Jonathan Strong. Time 14:14.

Details to come...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Friday, May 05, 2006

"The Warm" by Robert Sheckley

Read by Scoot. Time 19:33.

Details to come...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"Cat's Eye" by Luisa Valenzuela

Woman or she-beast? Were-panther or simply a modern, empowered Argentine female... we leave conclusions up to the reader regarding this surreal drama. Read by Scoot. Translated by Christopher Leland. Time 8:37.

Her works have been compared to the sinuous national dance of her native country, the tango. And like a tango-dancer, Luisa Valenzuela has teased and taunted the readers of her politically charged and confrontative stories and novels, which include Bedside Manners and The Lizard's Tail. We're now going to say those two words we've almost grown to despise: "Magic Realism." OK, she's Latin American and she owes her debts to Garcia-Marquez, but is this the only way to characterize this type of writing which has been around at least since the days of Ovid? Since Valenzuela seems to live and teach permanently in the United States these days, we can guess what she thinks of modern-day Buenos Aires and the chances a woman and a writer has there. Then again, maybe it's just that the money is better.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

"An Act of Reparation" by Sylvia Townsend Warner

New wife and old wife meet and it all ends up in a tale of ox-tail soup and a subtle sort of revenge. What the husband doesn't know... well, perhaps he will never find out. Read by Scoot. Time 23:59.

Pity poor Sylvia. Gangly, bean-pole, four-eyed Sylvia, sent home from kindergarten and home-schooled by a mother who may have really resented her. All set to go to Germany in 1914 to study with Arnold Schoenberg, until World War I had to go and quash her dream to be a composer. The man she loved was over two decades older than her--and married. Her other lover, a "poetess," died too soon of breast cancer. And then there were the critics. But pity not poor Sylvia! She did have a successful literary life, touching upon Bloomsbury and the "Chaldon school," and her stories would be published in the New Yorker and other magazines for over forty years. She wrote several biographies, helped prepare books on English church music and travel guides, was active in the Communist party when that was still a good and brave thing to do, and collaborated with her longtime partner, Valentine Ackland, on volumes of poetry. In the quiet villages of Dorset and Somerset she created quite a stir with her novels and ended happily mixed with the ashes of Valentine, so it sounds like her pains were worth it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"The Glow-Worm" by Frederic Prokosch

The celebrated Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova comes to visit Texas in the early twentieth century and leaves a lasting impression on a young boy and his family. The dancer ignites something in the lad which he perhaps has not realized before, a longing to visit "realms and passions immeasurably remote from Austin." Read by Scoot. Time 5:56.

There is a long line of books on a shelf in our study, all by Frederic Proksoch, and most all but forgotten today, in a world of chick-lit and manly thrillers. But once upon a time Mr. Prokosch made a huge splash with his first novel, The Asiatics, in 1935, and managed to carve out a literary career for the next several decades as he traveled the globe, until his death in France in 1989. He invented what has been termed the "geographic novel," and landscape does indeed often play a bigger role in his works than human characters. Which is to say that they are truly sui generis, some of them both sloppy and overwritten, but most of them brilliant in their own peculiar ways. Interestingly, considering today's news of plagiarizing novelists and fake memorists, Prokosch ended his days tainted with the discovery that he had forged poetry volumes here and there and probably invented much of what he relates in his still beautifully composed last book, the autobiography of sorts, Voices (1983). Which is why we're including this vignette here: because he never wrote short stories, and because many critics considered the chapters of this last book to be little fictions--ironically, the one we present here might be among the most truthful of the whole book. Since he is our favorite "pet author," we could go on and on here, but advise you instead to start scouring the usual places for those foxed and faded copies of his books which can still be found.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

"At the River" by Patricia Grace

Amongst the many Maori stories we have posted, we still haven't had featured one about eel-hunting, and so we felt compelled to introduce to you this sweetly sad episode set most likely in the New Zealand highlands. The last days of a tribal elder cause his wife and descendents to rethink their attitudes not only to eel-hunting, but to life. Read by Scoot. Time 10:01.

Here's the entire Wikipedia entry about author Patricia Grace: "Patricia Grace
QSO (born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1937) is a notable Māori writer of novels, short stories, and children's books. She currently lives in Hongoeka Bay, Plimmerton." From an external link at that venerable site, we see that she has been a writer-in-residence at the University of Wellington in Victoria. (The "QSO" means "Queen's Service Order," a badge of merit for public servcie, by the way.) And elsewhere they say that Plimmerton, where Grace now lives, is quite lovely. Anyone have anything else to add?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

"The New Melusine" by Johann Goethe

What to do with a wife who is nearly perfect but has the bad habit of occasionally becoming as small as an elf? In this self-contained fairy tale from the unfairy tale Wilhelm Meister's Travels, the narrator discovers that good things sometimes have hidden liabilities. Probably not surprised, are you? Translated from the German by Gertude C. Schwebell. Read by Jonathan Strong. Time 31:12.

Novelist, dramatist, poet, politician, painter, philosopher, scientist... the list goes on and on for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German polymath and iconoclast who lived from 1749 to 1832. Just as varied were the movements Goethe was associated with: the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Sturm und Drang, and Empfindsamkeit (Sensibility). His thoughts and his works would go on to influence all the European arts for over a century, and may still be influencing us today. Even Darwin owed him a debt! Imagine all that, cribbed from just the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry. We are simply exhausted thinking about everything else we don't have time or space to include here...

Monday, April 17, 2006

"Three-Minute Novel" by Heinrich Mann

Well, three minutes to read on the page, perhaps, but three times that to read aloud. Here we have a complete bildungsroman in just a few pages, with the requisite gambling and fatal romance. Translated by Victor Lange. Read by Jonathan Strong. Time 9:46.

Overshadowed by his much more famous brother Thomas, Heinrich Mann nevertheless had a substantial literary career of his own. Like his younger brother, he ended up in Los Angeles because of the Nazis and continued to write novels which dealt with German society and class differences there. His dates are 1871 to 1950. We wish we could think of something more exciting to say about him here, but we can't. Maybe there was a reason he was the less successful brother.

Friday, April 14, 2006

"The Fall of the Roman Empire" by Haruki Murakami

Is this narrator crazy? you might ask, and we wish we had a ready answer for you. Maybe he's just a little... obsessive, and a little muddled when it comes to mixing up history and the weather and his girlfriend's sexual particularities. And maybe neither his diary nor his memory is telling him the truth. Translated from the Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum. Read by Scoot. Time 10:35.

We like this little anecdote about the popularity of Haruki Murakami's 1987 novel, Norwegian Wood: A big bestseller in Japan, it was sold in two volumes packaged together, one volume green, the other red. Devoted fans would dress in colors to match their preferred volume. Imagine the streetgang warfare. We saw him give a lecture once in America, and it was supremely boring--he didn't even read any fiction! (But it must be admitted that at that point his English was still pretty uncertain.) Well, we concede that his fiction might be a lot more interesting, and you might want to begin with the stories collected in The Elephant Vanishes (including the one here) or a novel like Kafka on the Shore or Sputnik Sweetheart. At the very least, they're good titles!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"The Angel" by Hans Christian Anderson

Flying to heaven with a recently deceased child in his arms, an angel conveys to the child touching secrets and profound wisdom. A discarded plant is rescued, as well--and all ends happily, we guess--but it's still so depressing! Translated by E. V. Lucas & H. B. Paull. Read by Scoot. Time 6:04.

Maybe we're not supposed to be praising all things Danish these days, and after all he does have that middle name guaranteed to provoke some people, yet this is one writer whose works still live and affect lives. Anderson was the unschooled and unhappy child of desperately poor and alcoholic parents in Odense, Denmark--yet he had the wits and imagination to rise above his surroundings and captivate his countrymen and then the world with his various writings, most especially his original fairy tales which still are read nightly to children everywhere. Despite the fact that 2005 saw great celebrations upon the bicentennial of his birth, there are still very melancholy aspects to this "ugly duckling's" life--which one is welcome read about elsewhere.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

"Aeronautics" by Harry Crosby

Surrealism's somewhat heavy hand certainly shows in this stream-of-whacked-out-consciousness escapade from playboy poet Harry Crosby, first published in the famous modernist magazine transition. The litany of bizarre visions all ends, not unsurprisingly for those who know their Crosby, in awe of the mighty power of the sun. Read by Scoot. Time 7:16.

Those who have read Geoffrey Wolfe's bestselling biography of Harry Grew Crosby know already the short, sweet facts of his life: escape from moneyed but straightlaced Boston Brahmins, flight to bohemian paradise with flighty wife, founding of press to publicize his work and that of other American ex-pats, double-suicide with someone not his wife. But Crosby is also an interesting writer if taken in small doses, and his diaries especially reveal the heady excitement and glamour of those far-off halcyon days of Paris in the 1920's. What other dilettante could boast that T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and D. H. Lawrence all endorsed his work? (Well, sure, there were some literary kickbacks via the Black Sun Press.) If we had the money and an opium habit, Harry Crosby would be our role-model, too.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"The Ghosts of August" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Traveling in Italy, a couple and their young children visit a famous writer who lives in a semi-ruined palazzo in the hills, an enormous place with, of course, a secret. Ghosts may indeed walk in the noonday Tuscan sun. Translated by Edith Grossman. Read by Scoot. Time 6:44.

Cien años de soledad has never been one of our favorites here (a little long, isn't it?), but, hey--who are we to argue with so many people who do worship that book? Besides, we really do admire his short stories, especially the ones saddled with that bugaboo description "magic realism." There is no doubt that Garcia Marquez is one of the most famous and important writers in the modern world, a Colombian who helped make Latin American fiction trendy and whose every publication is something of an event. And he's a friend of Fidel! We point you next to his (much better) short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, which you can find over there at Miette's site.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

"On the Sidewalk" by John Updike

April Fool? OK--it's not really Jack Kerouac; it's John Updike imitating On the Road, of course, when Updike was very young and Kerouac was still a new sensation. Bet we didn't fool anyone. Read by Scoot. Time 6:34.

John Updike, John Updike, John Updike: prolific, prolix (perhaps), and peculiarly poetic to plenty of people. His short stories tend to get overshadowed by his novels, especially the more lapinate ones, but At the A&P is still deservedly in lots of anthologies out there and many of his humorous or more sardonic pieces (such as this) can be found beyond the pages of the New Yorker, his home away from home for so many years. His territory may be a little north and a little cautious of John Cheever (another writer we have yet to get to here), but it is somewhat similar in its examination of middle-class angst and couples on the brink of divorce or worse. And that's the furthest we're going to examine the many works of Mr. Updike--most of which we haven't read! Just find one of his books, read the jacket flap, and you'll know the rest.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

"A Far Cry" by Zona Gale

Scene: small-town America, probably somewhere in the midwest circa 1925. Main characters: Mr. and Mrs. Dasher, their 40-year-old unmarried daughter Jerry, and the little son of Mr. Dasher's gravely ill niece. Time: a hot summer night, with the card for the iceman's visit tomorrow morning already in the window. Ready, set--action! Read by Scoot. Time 17:13.

Sigh. Who even remembers Wisconsinite Zona Gale today aside from a few proud midwesterners and a few avid readers with a nostalgic bent? Maybe those readers would know that Gale was born in 1874, published her first novel in 1906 (Romance Island--probably had one of those beautiful Art Nouveau covers of the period), and won a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1921 for her adaptation of her novel Miss Lulu Bett. And that she was active as a suffragette, spent most of her life in her hometown of Portage, and died in 1938 shortly before the publication of her last novel (Magna). Well, now you know, too.

Monday, March 27, 2006

"The Drowned Giant" by J. G. Ballard

As a medical student, J. G. Ballard would have had to perform dissection on a human cadaver, and this story shows the influence of that no doubt very formative experience. But here the giant--a colossus from another world? a Greek god? a nightmare?--is given a symbolist treatment which Kafka or Baudelaire would have had to brood long upon. Read by Scoot. Time 25:46.

The Shanghai-raised British author J. G. Ballard became known to most people outside science-fiction circles with the publication and subsequent filming of his childhood autobiography, Empire of the Sun. Those in the know were already familiar with Ballard's upending of sci-fi traditions and practical invention of the dystopian novel in such works as The Drowned World (no relation to this story or the Madonna tour). Things got weirder with Ballard by the late 1960's, with the auto-erotic novel Crash (no, not that movie, but the other movie), the very unsettling Atrocity Exhibition (no wonder Joy Division stole the title!), and our personal favorite, Why I Want to F#*k Ronald Reagan, which sent the 1980 Republican National Convention all atwitter. (Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy is pretty good, too.)

Friday, March 24, 2006

"Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!" by Conrad Aiken

Ah--a shipboard romance: the stuff of Hollywood and of clichés. This one doesn't quite avoid all the conventions, but it does give a certain poignancy and clarity to class and cultural differences of the early twentieth century, as the narrator follows the transatlantic voyage of an Irish working girl whose one wish is unfortunately fulfilled. Read by Scoot. Time 38:04. Maybe the longest story we've posted yet!

We had thought for a long time of including Conrad Aiken's stunning "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" here, but that story is even longer than this one, and with so many people having read it in some anthology or other, it might be superfluous to feature it here. Unfortunately, much of Aiken's prose is shockingly out-of-print, although his poetry remains more accessible. Aiken used to be one of the most famous writers around, but apparently his stock has fallen in this post-postmodern world (well, how many writers born before 1900, if not 1970, haven't see that happen?). However, perhaps still relevant even so, Aiken's grave figures in the popular book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (he was born on the banks of the Savannah River, though after his parents' violent deaths, he was raised in Massachusetts), and he is the father of writer Joan Aiken.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

"Lake Ghosts" by Ilse Aichinger

Three ghosts, three histories, one lake in Germany. This is a somewhat enigmatic, impressionistic European travelogue, taking us to a place where few of us might want to fish or swim. Translated from the German by Harry Steinhauer. Read by Scoot. Time 10:37.

In 1996, it says here, Ilse Aichinger signed a declaration for spelling reform in Germany. And about time, we concur! Well, that may be somewhat inconsequential when considering the life of this Austrian writer in general. Like so many other writers, she studied to be a doctor but wound up writing for a living instead. Her books have dealt with Nazi persecution and how the last great war changed the lives of women and Jews in so many ways. Aichinger's first book was published in 1945 and the latest in her long career in 2001--and, who knows, there may yet be more.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

"Seen from Paradise" by Dorothy Richardson

At last, she has a place to get away from friends and family--just a cottage in Cornwall, but paradise to one trying to write in peace and solitude. And then friends go and write to say they're coming to invade her privacy with tub-plants and orders to fulfill (after all, it is their place). But, honestly! Read by Scoot. Time 13:57.

Don't you just love authors' bios which begin with the likes of "daughter of an impoverished gentleman"? And then "obliged to earn her own living" and "working as a secretary-assistant to a dental practice"? We mean, as if writers were like ordinary people or something! Not that we're not sorry to hear of Dorothy Richardson's mother's suicide in 1895, but we're more interested in learning how she beat James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and practically everyone else to the punch when it came to inventing stream-of-consciousness prose. It's nice to know, too, that good old socialist H. G. Wells (really, why have we neglected him for so long?) championed her cause and that she was fairly successful as a journalist in a day when such things were not so common. But a bit daunting, we admit, to be reminded that her massive novel series, Pilgrimage, took over her life after 1912. Only one of us here has read all thirteen (admit it--just a bit tedious!) books, but now at least another of us can say that he has read at least this one story, first collected in 1989 in Journey to Paradise.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"The White Paper" by Jean Cocteau

Dockside at Toulon, sailors come and go, whistling boleros. One besotted admirer falls in with a tattooed brute fresh from the brig and sadly in need of a "fetish chain." Ooh--kinky! Read by Scoot. Time 9:14.

Film-maker, artist, novelist, dramatist, boxing manager, provocateur, and above all, poet: Parisian Jean Cocteau was one of the most important figures in the history of the arts of the twentieth century. Another one of those people who knew everyone and influenced them all. (Yes, even you, Ernest Hemingway!) Actually, this story is only "attributed to Jean Cocteau," though his indelible stamp is upon it and there is no question that he illustrated the collected "confessions" from which it comes. Where to begin with M. Cocteau? Well, you could start with his days of opium addiction and the novel Les Enfants Terribles. Or look at his surrealist masterpiece, Blood of the Poet. Maybe read the play he wrote for Edith Piaf between hot affairs with Princess Nathalie Paley and actor Jean Marais. Or just skip right on to his resplendent 1946 film, Beauty and the Beast. Obviously, we all have a lot of work cut out for us.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

"Showing Off" by Rose Macaulay

We're cheating here a little, because this is not technically a short story, even if it is a type of fiction in the form of a Ruth Draper-ish monologue in Rose Macaulay's delicious collection of Personal Pleasures, and we want to include it because we love this author and wanted to include her on this site somehow. Here, we meet someone we've all met at one time or the other, someone who's done and seen everything but doesn't have the sense to stop straining credibility and our ears. Read by Scoot. Time 5:22.

Among Rose Macaulay's thirty-five books one may find much to amuse oneself, particularly works such as Dangerous Ages, about three generations of women dealing with the thoroughly modern 1920's, and especially The Towers of Trebizond, which aside from having a curiously ambiguous narrator, is a marvel of wit and wisdom. She really did deserve being made a Dame of the British Empire, but should have been awarded it long before her death in 1958 at the age of seventy-seven. We are thankful for the fact that she pursued literature instead of becoming the historian she had once intended to become. She might have been unhappy in love, but at least that allowed her to laugh both at herself and the world.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

"Nightmare" by Shirley Jackson

Whether this story is maddeningly funny or maddeningly frightening we leave to the listener to decide. It's a fine spring day in New York City and Miss Toni Morgan has a package to deliver for her boss, but somehow the world around her is not cooperating, or maybe she's just feeling a little paranoid. Read by Scoot. Time 33:09.

Most people (including ourselves) know Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" and her novels We Have Always Lived in the Castle or The Haunting of Hill House, but perhaps not much more of her ouevre, although it includes a great many more stories and books she wrote before her untimely death in 1965. She was married to the critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, with whom she had four children. Somehow we suspect it wasn't the easiest thing in the world, being married to a critic with four kids while trying to write modern gothic tales, because the two memoirs she wrote about her family life were titled Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons. Perhaps she felt a bit persecuted.

Monday, March 06, 2006

"Potiphar's Wife" by Brion Gysin

You might remember the story of Joseph the shepherd and Potiphar his rich employer from the Old Testament; well, this isn't exactly that, though there are some parallels, obviously. Set in corrupt, smuggler-ridden post-World War II Morocco, which will be familar to readers of Paul Bowles, this is the tale of innocent Yussef and married Zuleika--who may just not be all that good for each other. Read by Scoot. Time 24:08.

Standing in the shadows and hidden in the indices of many mid-twentieth-century accounts of the Beats and other dharma bums is Brion Gysin, a true Renaissance man, inventor of the "cut-up" and the Dream Machine, painter, collagist, historian, jazz musician, shipyard welder, poet, novelist, "Sufi maverick," and anarchist of sorts. Although he described himself as "the man from nowhere," he was English, Canadian, American, and French, in that order. Maybe it was just the drugs, but he obviously wanted people to experience some kind of otherworldly, perhaps divine, experience through his work. Hassan-i-Sabbah, the Old Man of the Atlas Mountains, might be able to tell you more...

Friday, March 03, 2006

"The Tuesday Night Club" by Agatha Christie which we are introduced to the author's greatest character and perhaps most unlikely detective, sweet old Miss Jane Marple. No surprise that this story contains both arsenic and a little bit of old lace, for it's the first time the public will meet Raymond West's aunt in the quaint little village which seems to have more than its share of mysteries and those quaint souls intent on solving them. Read by Scoot. Time 23:45.

Go, you--there are plenty of places where you can find out more about Miss Agatha Christie, far better places than this. (Though we will hint here at the story of her kidnapping, which we've always loved, whether it was a hoax or not; it just seems so fitting.) Surely the bookstore or library nearest you will have a whole shelf or two fitted out with some of the many mysteries of Dame Agatha. So, if this story is the kind of thing you like, stop reading this and get to those volumes as soon as you can!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"Game" by Donald Barthelme

Two people locked in a bunker deep underground act as some sort of sentinels guarding a mysterious console which may be attached to some sort of doomsday device. One plays jacks, the other doesn't. We don't know what it means, either. Read by Scoot. Time 12:11.

People say Donald Barthelme did more than just about anyone to change the face of the American short story during the 1960's and '70's, despite of or perhaps because of appearing regularly in the generally conservative New Yorker magazine. His wildy experimental, careening and erratic, always unpredictable prose had affinities with pop art and the revolutionary spirit of the times. He wrote a great many short stories, and a few novels as well, and he won some prizes and made some money, and then he died in 1989. Oh, well.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

"Untitled" ("The Shower Curtain") by Marcel Cohen

Could this be our shortest reading yet? In an enigmatic little snippet of fiction, a shower curtain may be an important clue--oh, come on, it has to be! Read by Scoot. Time 1:52.

Who is or was Marcel Cohen? We don't know, but will have to find out. We do know this comes from a collection of similarly short pieces called The Emperor Peacock Moth. Nice title. Ah--here's something from the Burning Deck website, publisher of Mr. Cohen: "Marcel Cohen was born in 1937 in Asnieres and works as a journalist in Paris. He has written two novels, Galpa (1969) and Voyage a Waizata (1976), stories, and several volumes of very short stories whose admirable density brings them close to being poems, Miroirs (1981), je ne sais pas le nom (1986) and Le grand paon-de-nuit of 1990. He has also published a volume of interviews with Edmond Jabès, From the Desert to the Book (which has been published in English by Station Hill Press)." That enough for you?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"The Art of Vietnam" by Dallas Wiebe

Out of the blue, a Vietnam war veteran receives a summons from an old war buddy who asks his friend to come see himself and the wife he met in that country. What follows is disturbingly indicative of how battle scars can influence one's perspective on the world and on one's ability to tell a straight story. Read by Scoot. Time 10:13.

We don't know if Dallas Wiebe was ever in Vietnam himself, but we do know that he is from Kansas and has taught extensively in the Midwest. As his publisher's website says, "Burning Deck has published three volumes of short stories: The Transparent Eye-Ball, Going to the Mountain, and Skyblue’s Essays. His most recent book is Our Asian Journey (MLR Editions Canada), a fictionalized account of the great Mennonite trek to Central Asia in the 1880s and a study of the impact of language (Biblical) on a community. He has received the Aga Khan Fiction Prize, a Pushcart Prize (1979), an Ohio Arts Council Fellowship, and the Ohio Governor's Award for the Arts." Thanks to author and scholar Alan Leibowitz for donating several Burning Deck volumes to our collection!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

"The Novel as History" by Harry Matthews

...Or perhaps "History as Novel (more accurately, as Short Story)." From recounting the time he was trapped in a bar during a blizzard in Detroit to the dawn of the Enlightenment, a long-winded raconteur barely leaves his listener enough time to think, "He's full of it!" Read by Scoot. Time 7:38.

At the time of this story's publication in the collection Country Cooking and Other Stories, in 1980 by the Burning Deck Press, the author had already been publishing fiction for nearly twenty years in places such as The Paris Review and Antaeus, and had been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant. Which is our way of saying we don't really know anything about him except what it says in the book's front matter and really should find out more soon!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

"On Trains" by James Alan McPherson

When this story was written, most of the porters on American trains were black. Over thirty years later, not much has changed, and so this story's exploration of black and white relations on a long-distance train ride is still topical and still relevant. Read by Jonathan Strong. Time 12:09.

A professor at the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop for a quarter of a century, James Alan McPherson is a Georgia native who studied to be a lawyer at Harvard and Yale but ended up publishing two award-winning collections of short stories, Hue and Cry and Elbow Room and (in 1969 and 1977, respectively). Though he is not a prolific writer (the best kind, usually), since then he has also published Crabcakes and A Region Not Home. John Updike selected his story "The Gold Coast" for his anthology, Best American Short Stories of the Century, so you know he must be good!

Monday, February 13, 2006

"The Unstrung Harp" by Edward Gorey

It is that time again, time for C(lauvius) F(rerdick) Earbrass to begin the doubtful enterprise of embarking on yet another novel, which will seriously disrupt his croquet matches and reading of the Compendium of the Minor Heresies of the Twelfth Century in Asia Minor. In the midst of his anxieties, he receives a mysterious silver-gilt epergne-and-candelabrum hybrid from a mysterious admirer and contemplates a stuffed fantod in a belljar. Read by Scoot. Time 19:20.

You might be as surprised to find Edward Gorey lurking on these pages as we are, since he is more often thought of as an illustrator than fiction-writer--though even if one takes away the idiosyncratic charm of his cross-hatched drawings (something one would never truly wish to do!), one will still have much to appreciate in his droll and acerbic prose. There are legions of his fans, us included, who still miss the tall bearded man in the big strange house on Cape Cod and his sporadic offerings of amusing books--and especially the whimsical musical "entertainments" he specialized in during his later years, sometimes appearing in these plays himself. The cult of Gorey is immortal, and it has already outlasted many of those delightful dust-jackets he designed for Manhattan publishers from the 1950's through the 1980's, which one still sees in used-book stores everywhere. Like Gorey himself, you can spot them at several paces. And want to take them home.

Friday, February 10, 2006

"Alternatives to Sex: An Introduction" by Stephen McCauley

Here's a "Stories to Go" exclusive, offered to our faithful listeners between our regular short stories: Stephen McCauley, author of such novels as True Enough, The Man of the House, and The Object of My Affection, introduces us all to his latest work, the forthcoming Alternatives to Sex. Look below and you'll find Mr. McCauley reading Lorrie Moore, as well as James Thurber some months ago. Now you'll hear his own words in his own voice. We hope you'll enjoy this brief excerpt and the author's commentary--and that you will rush right out to buy the book as soon as it hits your town. Time 6:40.

OK, Steve, what percentage do we get?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Authors, anyone?

We've just become aware that recently a few new people have been taking a peek at this site, and so first of all we want to welcome them--as well as give a hi-howdy to anyone who's dared to venture back here after recent problems with downloading and listening and story selection. We still have a backlog of things we want to accomplish--and must admit it might take a long time or never. What we'd really love is an Author's List so one could navigate to any particular entry with ease, but there doesn't seem to be any easy way for us Bloggers to do that. (Well, we could hand-stitch it, but that would take a very long time.) If anyone out there could show us how to create an index efficiently, please let us know! In the meantime, don't forget that there is one easy way already to find an author or topic, so easy that we've often forgotten it ourselves--just use the "Search This Blog" feature at the top of the page. Of course, if you don't know which authors or stories we've already featured, this might not be too helpful--but if the author or story you're looking for has already been presented, that search feature should lead you right to that page or those pages.

We'll be looking for more ways to improve this site as we go along. Sorry if the pages are getting a little more cluttered with options nowadays (more than we like, actually), but in an effort to "maximize our potential" and cooperate with the many methods of listening on- or offline, it looks like more clutter is the way to go. You might note that we now feature the timing of new entries (and will try to update previous ones, although Blogger updating can be very slow). And in the future we promise to have readers always say "The End," just in case there might still be any confusion. (After all, quite a few stories do have unexpected or abrupt endings.) Any further suggestions?

One other note: all of our entries past and present have been encode to 48 or 56 kbps, in an effort to balance file size with quality. Being that these are only monophonic voice recordings, that seems to work for us, but does it for you? We do wonder when our ISP server space will run out, even if we don't quite understand all these technical things...

Thanks as always for reading these bothersome notes.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

"How to Become a Writer" by Lorrie Moore

"How does one become a writer?" authors are probably often asked by acolytes and critics alike. This story might not help much, but it is a cleverly disguised bildungsroman disguised as a guide for would-be fictionists everywhere. Read by Stephen McCauley. Time 16:15.

It is up to the reader to decide how much of this story might really be autobiographical; Marie Lorena Moore the real person grew up surrounded by books and music, the daughter of parents who had both wanted to be writers at one time. By the time she was Lorrie Moore the writer, she had already won a Seventeen magazine contest and was fast on her way to tenure at The New Yorker and teaching college students to write. She is one of those somewhat rare writers known equally as much for her short story collections as her novels. Her fiction, as one might guess, can often be elusive, spurning or parodying convention.

Stephen McCauley's forthcoming novel Alternatives to Sex will be his sixth; he continues to live in Cambridge, Massachusetts despite everything. Look for a special advertising supplement from Mr. McCauley within the next day or so. If he's lucky, as he says, Oprah may mistake this latest novel for a memoir.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

"The Man in Pyjamas" by Eugenio Montale

On his way down the corridor of a hotel late at night, a guest overhears another guest's anxious voice on the phone in her room. Immediately the unintentional eavesdropper begins to conjecture all sorts of possible scenarios--all that's possible within the space of a couple of pages, that is. Read by Scoot. Time 4:18.

Let's consider this story absurd, since that's how it's categorized in the anthology from which it came (after having first appeared in London Magazine some month, apparently, in the 1960's). The author himself was not so usually absurd, since he was the rather serious translator into Italian of many writers in English, from Shakespeare to Hawthorne, as well as himself. More importantly, Montale was "the most influential Italian poet of the twentieth century," as it says right here in that anthology, and is said to have transformed modern Italian poetry the same way T. S. Eliot transformed English poetry. Who would have ever guessed that from this little scribble of a story?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

"Cynthia" by Aldous Huxley

A goddess meets her god--or so the ugly, lovestruck "god" thinks. Here's one of those tales which might be told by Oxford graduates as they pass the decanter and thumb through Zuleika Dobson once again for inspiration. Read by Sebastian Stuart. Time 13:50.

The anthology this story comes from is so old it doesn't even mention Huxley's most notorious novel, Brave New World, which hadn't even been published yet. The author and satirist, one of the famous English Huxley family of scientists and artists, was only about 25, a recent college graduate (Balliol at Oxford) himself, when he included this story in his 1920 collection, Limbo. Soon after he would add Leda, Mortal Coils, and Antic Hay to his shelf at the booskhops. It was a long way from there to the swamis and Hollywood and the wild LSD trips that helped inspire a generation of rock stars and hippies until his final injection on the same day that both C. S. Lewis and John F. Kennedy died.

Fresh from several ghostwriting stints, Sebastian Stuart will soon be adding another book to the shelf that holds his thriller The Mentor. It's a comic novel he co-wrote called 24 Karat Kids, and it's already been blurbed by Woody Allen. He has spent much time recently doing scholarly research, as well as writing comic skits for hire, and he will be seen in a forthcoming documentary about his grandfather, the renowned anthropologist Branislaw Malinowski.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Get clicking!

What? You haven't clicked on our link to Librivox yet? If you haven't already, do so now--soon you'll be listening not just to short stories, but to entire books--novels and other works of wonder from out of the public domain and into your earphones! This is an important site everyone should know about, and even yours truly has taken part in the communal readathon. We thank Hugh McGuire from way up in the magical city of Montreal for putting together this important--nay, crucial--resource.

Just to listen to while on your way to the library or bookstore, of course...
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Sunday, January 29, 2006

"Silent Movie" by Charles Baxter

Maureen is tired of men--their voices, their demands, their ways, their world. And she is, most of all, tired of that man living with her. Read by Jonathan Strong. Length 10:37.

When he was a small child, Charles Baxter was dandled on the knee of rabble-rousing writer Sinclair Lewis. When he grew up, Charlie became a writer himself, specializing in tales of married couples like this one trying to cope with the large and small despairs of our existence, and of other lives of that famous "quiet desperation" in the American Midwest, where the author, as Lewis did, lives. Actually, his writing is not quite as sober as that description might suggest, because we all know the other side of that equation is a quiet joy. Look for Saul and Patsy, his most recent novel, and A Relative Stranger, the collection from which this story comes, and many others.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

"A Girl Called Apple" by Hanan Al-Shaykh

Apple is an unmarried woman approaching middle age in a culture which, much like any other culture, expects most adults to marry, settle down, and have children. Living as she does with her family in an infrequently visited oasis, Apple's choices may be few, but her willpower strong. Read by Scoot.

Not surprisingly, the writer says she wrote this story after a visit to Yemen. Though she now lives in London, Hanan Al-Shaykh is a Shi'i Muslim from southern Lebanon, and is considered one of the most important female writers in the modern Arab world. Al-Shaykh began her career, as so many writers do, as a journalist in Cairo and Beirut. Her books, which, in part, examine power struggles between the sexes in the Middle East and beyond, include Women of Sand and Myrrh and Only in London--which gives you an idea of the cosmopolitan scope of her writing. Interestingly, the title of one of her lectures was "The New Scheherezade," so one might assume she has many more stories to tell us.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

From the top shelf...

Just in case you missed this (of course you did!), here is the explanation we gave to a recent visitor to this site, one who wondered if our last story offering, by Jane Bowles, was complete. Since this answer applies to quite a few of our stories, we thought we might repeat and revise it:

Yes, as abrupt as it is, that is the end of the story. But you're not the first to wonder if the whole file of the day has been downloaded; indeed, as we have lately discovered, some of our offerings have been accidentally truncated--those have been fixed (permanently, we hope). We try to keep most of our downloads as small and brief as possible, usually choosing the shortest stories in the collections we own. (This doesn't mean, therefore, that they are all favorites!) Because most of our readings are so short or fairly short, many of them number among the authors' fragmentary or even not-quite-finished works. Other times, especially with the more experimental stories, the endings are purposely unsettling or left dangling. It's up to the reader to decide whether the way the story ends is successful or not. Don't worry; we'll try to have more unquestionably complete stories as often as we can... Thanks, Marc, for your query.
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Monday, January 23, 2006

"Andrew" by Jane Bowles

A young man who joins the military becomes friends with another, strange young man whose officers allow him to camp out in the woods and cook meat over an open fire. Be prepared for fireworks! Read by Jonathan Strong.

Many people know her as merely the frail wife of writer/composer Paul Bowles (featured here previously), someone who followed him to Morocco, where she came under the thrall of an Arab woman who eventually, some say, led her to her destruction. Well, that may be partly true, but Jane Bowles was an excellent if idiosyncratic writer in many critics' regards, albeit one who took some decades to be fully recognized and realize her just rewards--post-mortem, as if often the case. Her play In the Summer House might be her most widely recognized work, but she is also well-known for her novel Two Serious Ladies and more recently for her collected stories, wherein this one is drawn. So, you see, she was much more than the neurotic portait of her in The Sheltering Sky. Not that we should ever think actual, "real" people ever haunt the otherworld of fiction, any more than those famous real toads in imaginary gardens!

Friday, January 20, 2006

From the desk of...

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We continue to shuffle the virtual papers on our virtual desktop, trying to keep the "IN" box stack lower than the "OUT" box stack...

Recently we have discovered to our shock and dismay that cyber-critters apparently were nibbling away at the kilobytes of our digital files, so no wonder new and old visitors alike were having difficulty sometimes downloading complete stories! Several of the stories in our files were indeed truncated, no matter what our server had been telling us (oh, those coy servers!). For this, we greatly apologize for the frustrations we have caused now and then--or constantly. From this moment on, we intend to lay our digital traps with more care and catch these culprits before they do greater harm. Rest assured that we promise to become more vigilant and will always compare file sizes thrice before posting.

A recent visitor asked how to listen to our stories using iTunes; since we are not users of this fine program, we invite any readers out there to help guide us toward the best answer. What follows is a modified transcript of our very tentative response:

"...We've only just tinkered a little with that program, so don't know it very well (not being Apple or iPod persons ourselves, as much as we respect those fine products). On a Windows machine we do know that you can just do a search for "Stories to Go" in the iPod search box, and it should take you right to the recent episode(s). (Or at least that's how it worked last time we tried it.) Then you can just click and play through that program, right on your computer. Additionally, we think the program will help guide you toward archiving our files. From this website, one can probably right-click on one of the orange "feed" buttons and save it to your "feeder" program (such as iPodder). Or you can do it the easy way, as we do when we encounter material we like on podcasting websites, by right-clicking, saving it to one's computer, and then listening to it either on that computer or transferring it to one's digital audio player (they're just humble mp3 files, after all).

"Frankly, despite being podcasters ourselves, we are not experts on this and have often been overwhelmed by the little switches and levers that can inadvertently bring the whole machine to a crashing halt (see E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" for the most accurate description of our lives today, written some seventy or so years ago). Being simple sorts, we just like saving the mp3 files to our computer and dealing with them from there. Of course, it's not automatic, but we have found we just couldn't keep up with the sheer proficiency of any feeder program!

"If you're confused by all this, we don't blame you. Let us know how this works for you--and good luck!"

Lastly, we'd like to point out the fine work of fellow podcaster Jay King, who recently contacted us. Though he hasn't been doing this for too long, he's created some very interesting content, including his own productions of stories from Calvino's Invisible Cities (that seems to be a popular work among bloggers!). Despite whatever ideas this website may give you, there really is a lot of originality and energy out there in the blog/photoblog/vidcast/podcast-osphere. Give Jay a listen at

PS Don't forget the divine Miette at the link down below to your left and some fine music-oriented podcasts from Podchaostrophe (formerly "podcasts with a lower-case p" by the mysterious "governor"), to be found at

We almost always really enjoy "guy's" musical selections and skills at arranging them.

Lastly, for mostly non-literary thrills, venerable eclectic nonprofit freeform New Jersey radio station WFMU's regular accumulation of dj bloggers, "Beware of the Blog," is one of the greatest delights of the Internet Age:

Not to neglect the inimitable though oft-imitated for all things Momus and Momusian or the world's greatest Alexandrian library of avant-gardia, Where else can one go to hear both Gertrude Stein and the Tape Beatles, look at Aspen magazine or outsider art, or watch Man Ray's or Marcel Duchamp's groundbreaking films?

"The Hit Man" by Bobden Uyl

A man walks into a bar... In this case, a bar on Jonkheren street in Amsterdam (or is it Rotterdam?), where a captive audience is entertained by a hired killer's tale of woe. There is sometimes, perhaps, little difference between the witness and who will be witnessed. Translated from the Dutch by E. M. Beekman.

Bobden Uyl is that next thing to a hit man: a hired writer, one whose works have been translated into German, Russian, Spanish, Bulgarian (!), and of course, English. As the book we're cribbing this from says, "His main theme is travel, from which his characters often return empty-handed or having made discoveries that they did not expect at all." We'll leave it to our listeners to determine whether any of this is to be expected or not. This year Mr. Uyl will be 75 years old, if that makes any difference to anyone.

Monday, January 16, 2006

"The Green Bird" by P. K. Page

Two young people visit the home of two much older people, perhaps not entirely willingly. In the course of their visit, however, at least one of them is profoundly affected by what she encounters there. Read by Scoot.

Patricia Kathleen Page is the grand old lady of Canadian literature, an English-born poet who has been publishing since the early 1940s; although she is a prize-winning poet, she has written fiction, as well. Her first book was The Sun and the Moon in 1944; her latest is 2002's Planet Earth, which has been ranked as one of the fifty most essential Canadian books. Though she grew up on the prairie and spent much time in Brazil, she now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Friday, January 13, 2006

"A Mean Teacher" by Mitch Sisskind

What happens when a teacher is more difficult than her most difficult student? Is there any room for forgiveness here? This rather droll story gives us an unlikely glimpse of modern education (circa 1970). Read by Jonathan Strong.

Mitch Sisskind is a licensed gemologist (believe it or not) who is from Chicago but now lives in New York City; he is a former high-school football coach, and a teacher himself. A collection of his stories, Visitations, was published in 1984 by Brightwaters Press. This particular story was originally published in a 1971 collection of experimental fiction called Anti-Story, which is as fine a guide to what the 1960s wrought in the world of literature as any. One wonders what they call "anti-stories" nowadays. Oops, we forgot--that kind of stuff just doesn't get published anymore!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

"The Sons of Angus MacElster" by Joyce Carol Oates

Due to popular demand, we finally present a story by American author Joyce Carol Oates, which is in its own way a retelling of Ovid's account of Diana and Actaeon. In this story of violent revenge set on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia in 1923, no one is turned into a stag, though a cruel father does meet more than his comeuppance. Read by Scoot.

By 2010 it is estimated that Joyce Carol's collected works will require new annexes in most public libraries and will number in the hundred-thousands. Seriously, it is hard to imagine a more prolific writer (Asmiov, anyone?), one who has to rely on a couple pseudonyms as well to keep her publishers on their toes. From her one-room schoolhouse in rural New York state to her establishment at the solid center of America's literary scene, Oates has entertained and dazzled readers since the 1960s. Our favorite Oates title: You Must Remember This, Because It is Bitter, and It is My Heart, which is even better than her famous story of a girl gone wrong, Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

"Up in the Gallery" by Franz Kafka

Here is the English part of today's bilingual edition, also read by Irmina Haupt. Kafka's story was translated by Willa and Edwin Muir. Time 3:15.

"Auf der Galerie" by Franz Kafka

How about something different today--a bilingual edition? Here is Franz Kafka's little parable in its original German and in its English translation, by Willa and Edwin Muir. Read by Irmina Haupt. Time 2:34.

This tiny squib is one of Kafka's shortest, most dreamlike works, about a circus equestrienne (at last, a chance to use that beautiful word!) who dazzles her audience--and the reader. One feels that the narrator, acting as witness, is brought both to tears and speechlessness by this lovely vision at a public performance.

Irmina Haupt is the pseudonym for a young video artist who has worked and traveled extensively in North America, the Canary Islands, the Middle East, and Europe. Her center of operations is now Munich, where she creates installations for museums and galleries, though probably not like the one in this story! She recently visited the States, though not exclusively to read this story for us; like Kafka himself, she is of Austro-German extraction and apologizes for any confusion due to her semi-Viennese accent. And we think in this description we've been able to mention more geographic locations than any other so far!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"Arabella Hardy" by Charles Lamb

An orphaned girl from the East Indies is entrusted to the care of a ship's first mate, who is the object of much merriment to his mates. In this story, presented much like one side of a magazine interview, we are told of a memorable voyage back to England, where the girl learns valuable lessons about human nature and gender stereotyping. Read by Scoot.

The dry facts about Charles Lamb: Born in 1775, the son of a barrister's clerk. A clerk himself in various offices until his retirement in 1825. Best known works the Essays of Elia and his Letters. On a less statistical note, Lamb had an exceptionally unhappy private life which nonetheless did not impede the many stories, adaptations, essays, and poems which flowed from his gentle-spirited pen.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A new year, a new beginning....


"Stories to Go" is back. After over two months of computer breakdowns which led to virtual nervous breakdowns, we are glad to finally start publishing again. We will try to stay on a schedule of one story a day every three days, with short descriptions of the story, its author, and its reader (when necessary). Eventually we hope to go back and fill in the gaps of previous stories and dates, providing the information and synopses (however short) of all we've been promising.

Thanks to all the readers who have contributed to this site over the past nine months, which allowed us to rest our voices and provide some much-needed variety here. Thanks most to all the listeners who have been tuning in over the past year--for your support, your good wishes, your kind messages, and your willing ears. As a well-known fast-food franchise used to say, "we do it all for you!"

Sorry to those who have had problems with downloading--these are continuing issues, most often with Apple computers, which are beyond our control. All we can suggest is that anyone experiencing problems retry downloading at another time, stream the story off our site or other sites which link from us, look for the podcast on iTunes, or try another computer. We can't go door to door fixing problems, however much we'd like to give personalized readings everywhere!

"Cities and Memory 1 & 2" by Italo Calvino

In somewhat of a break from a tradition, we present 2006's first title: the first two chapters from Italo Calvino's acclaimed Invisible Cities, which actually does read as much if not more like a collection of short stories than a novel, as it is usually labeled. These pages introduce us to Calvino's complex conception of place and time as shaped by memory, interpreted by Marco Polo!

We have seen Calvino on these pages previously, and we are glad to have him back. Did you know he was the son of two botanists and the brother to a well-known geologist, and that he was born in Cuba? Of course, although he traveled around a great deal, he spent most of his life in Italy. There, he specialized in highly intellectualized works that explore the limits of fiction and the boundaries of science and philosophy. Most important of all was his love of language: "Everything can change, but not the language that we carry inside us, like a world more exclusive and final than one's mother's womb," he once said.

We have been keeping Michael Armstrong's recording in cold storage for some months until we were ready to revamp this site, so we are overjoyed to finally unthaw this offering and serve it to you. Michael Armstrong is a writer and educator who divides his time between England, Italy, and America, where he has worked with both graduate students of English and inner-city children. He is especially interested in understanding the nature of human creativity, so it is no suprise that he reveres Calvino. We thank his for his extreme generosity in taking time out of his busy shedule to read for us.