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.