The Black Cat, No. 8, May 1896

Welcome to the 8th issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

When reading stories that are 122 years old, I expect that a few of them will challenge my modern sensibilities.  In the first 7 issues of The Black Cat, usually one story a month has had some questionable element, often in the form of a “savage”: a character of Indian, Chinese, or Native American decent who has been written in line with every stereotype that, well, originated in the 1800s. On the feminism end of things, there have been some very traditional female characters, but also a few that were given agency and, you know, things to do.

This month though… Oh, 1896.

Stories

“For Fame, Money, or Love?” by R. Ottolengui

Two of the stories this month featured the inconstancy of women, faithless and fickle things that we are. Andrew Manning recreates the rooms of a dead college friend, Kraig, who believed that music could be a purer way of communicating. When Kraig’s fiance forsook him for a man with money (instead of the fame that his weird pipe organ invention will bring), he composes a song of grief and dies. It turns out Manning was the man with money, and he too was spurned by the woman when she left him near the alter for a third man, our narrator, who she is apparently, maybe going to marry for love.

R. (Rodrigues) Ottolengui was a writer of detective fiction and dentist with several novels to his name by the time this story was included in The Black Cat. This is a mildly creepy tale and is, therefore, my favorite of the month. (It was a low bar…)

“A No Account Niggah” by Leonard M. Prince

Yeah, that’s the name of the story. I’m sorry.

I read it. I’d like to say that the title, which is also a refrain in the story, is used with some irony: that the heroic actions of Rafferty—saving a young boy from bandits on the high plains—prove that the people around him are ignorant and prejudiced. It really doesn’t though.

“A Hundred Thousand Dollar Trance” by Eugene Shade Bisbee

Mesmerism was quite the fad in the late 1890s. This story proposes how hypnosis could be used to bilk people out of a lot of money. Rich men are mesmerized during a demonstration and convinced to write large checks. Pretty simple story, not terribly interesting from the guy who gave up a gems encrusted skull last month.

“The Misfit Gown” by Elmer Cook Rice

The Helping Hand Charitable Society is run by the wealthier girls of Brinkdale. Every year a new president of the society is elected. She has to be single and under 30 years-old. Every girl who has been president has ended up married. So, this story is about the rather tedious machinations of woman versus woman in a competition that will lead them to a husband.

If you look up Elmer Cook Rice on Amazon you will find that an author of the same name wrote books about making money by breeding small animals like squabs, hares, and ducks.

“The Shifting Sand” by C. C. Van Orsdall

“I need not tell you that my letter contained a story as old as love itself—the story of woman’s faithlessness.” Thus tells the story of a Southwestern prospector who went off to make his fortune for his fiance only to be spurned. He decides he might as well kill himself (and they call women hysterical…), but can’t decide how he wants to do it. Which leads him to find an Indian burial tomb complete with  jars of gold dust. But when he retreats from the tomb during a sudden storm, all that he grabs is a jar of glass beads. And, of course, he can’t find the tomb again.

I’ll admit, by this point I was just rather annoyed by this issue of The Black Cat and didn’t give this story much of a chance. I really hope the June issue won’t be so depressingly old.

Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 8, May 1896

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

 

Review ~ Poe: A Life Cut Short

Cover via Goodreads

Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd

Edgar Allan Poe served as a soldier and began his literary career composing verses modeled on Byron; soon he was trying out his ‘prose-tales’—often horror melodramas such as The Fall of the House of Usher. As editor of the Literary Messenger he was influential among critics and writers of the American South. His versatile writings—including, for example, The Murders in the Rue Morgue and “The Raven”—continue to resonate down the centuries.

Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Poe opens with his end, his final days—no one knows what happened between the time when friends saw him off on the steam-boat to Baltimore and his discovery six days later dying in a tavern. This mystery sets the scene for a short life packed with drama and tragedy (drink and poverty) combined with extraordinary brilliance.(via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I believe Jay from Bibliophilopolis recommended this book to me when I was bemoaning a lack of good Edgar Allan Poe biographies. Poe’s work has been some of the most influential on me as a writer and a reader. By even the most inaccurate account, Poe lived a very interesting, if short, life.

What Worked
Poe: A Life Cut Short is part of Ackroyd’s “Brief Lives” series and I surprised at just how small this book is when I found it at the library. It’s only 205 pages, but it also has a small form factor—it’s the height and width are smaller than the usual trade paperback. Which considering the ginormity of my other current reads, The Count of Monte Cristo and Poe’s unabridged works, was kind of nice.

I liked the straight-forwardness of this biography. With Poe, there often is a want to explain him, whether via substance abuse or Freudian analysis or psychological diagnosis. Ackroyd resists that and  sticks to the facts as best as he can find them. He uses letters to and from Poe as well a public record. Poe himself even engaged in myth-making. He would write to people about events that clearly never happened, such as occasional arrests of which there is no record. Very often, contradicting impressions of Poe exist and the biography presents both, showing that Edgar Allan Poe was probably very charming and polite in some company and very much not when around other people.

What Didn’t Work
Lately I’ve been saying this about every nonfiction book I read: more dates, please. Also a rough-sketch timeline would have been great. These are minor quibbles.

I’d also like to read more of the actual letters used as sources, but that isn’t the purview of this book.

Overall
Good biography. It gives me a little firmer footing on Poe-the-man as I continue through his works this year. If I find a copy of this books cheap, I might add it to my collection.

Publishing info: Doubleday, 2008
My Copy: hardback, Tempe Public Library
Genre: biography

Sunday Salon, 5/26

Sunday Salon

Reading

I didn’t finish reading anything in the past week. I went to the library on Tuesday, swearing that I wouldn’t check out any books since I still had two out. Yeah, like that happened…

Deal Me In: I read “The Other Hangman” by John Dickson Carr after pulling 8. Set in an unnamed Western town, the tales tells of the last hanging that occurred there. The first two-thirds of this story was great. Lots of atmosphere and small town civic pride. One not-very-nice man is sentenced to hanging for the killing of another not-very-nice man. But in the last few pages the entire narrative is turned on its head with an epic told-not-shown. It all made sense in the story, but the telling of it was pretty disappointing.

DealMeIn
Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters: Inside His Films, Notebooks, and Collections Poe: A Life Cut Short Spectacle of Illusion

What Am I Reading Next Week?

  • Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd – I really should manage to finish this in the next couple of days.
  • Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters: Inside His Films, Notebooks, and Collections by Britt Salvesen, Jim Shedden – This is a shiny book that caught my eye at the library.
  • The Spectacle of Illusion by Matthew Tompkins – A shiny book that padded out my recent Amazon order.

Watching

I’ve been checking movies out from the library too. Searching (2018) is one of them. The conceit of this movie is that everything that the audience sees is what is on the screens and desktops in David Kim (John Cho)’s life as he searches for his missing daughter. It works, mostly. There was a meme a few years back putting John Cho in every movie. I’d be good with that.

Doing

I’m working on this and that. Summer league started last week and I started back on my watercolor painting class. But mostly, Eric and I have been playing some EverQuest 2 in our spare time. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen a few of these updates:

Reesa is not fond of orcs and she’s been busy.


The Sunday Salon is a linkup hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz

Down the TBR Hole 19

TBRHole

This is a meme started by Lia at Lost in a Story. The “rules” are:

  • Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 (or even more!) if you’re feeling adventurous) books. Of course, if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
  • Read the synopses of the books.
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?

I’m modifying this a little since my to-read shelf is a mess of books that are mostly in storage. Instead, I’m going to look at my wishlist—all those books I add on a whim during my travels around the book blogging community—and weed out the ones that don’t quite sound as good now. The “keepers” I’m going to look for at online libraries or add to my Amazon wishlist.

 

Preparing the Ghost cover

Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer by Matthew Gavin Frank

Science, history, and giant squids. KEEP.

 

Frankly Disillusioned cover

Frankly Disillusioned by Dean Metcalfe

I have not yet tired of reading the biographies and memoirs of magicians-who-aren’t-Houdini. KEEP.

 

Houdini & Lovecraft cover

Houdini & Lovecraft: The Ghost Writer by Ron Wilkerson

Speak of the devil… I suffer from Houdini fatigue and buddy celebrity fiction fatigue*, so this is GO for me.

*Lovecraft was the ghostwriter on “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs,” a story published by Weird Tales and originally attributed to Harry Houdini. The magazine and Houdini wanted to be mutually beneficial to each other and Lovecraft needed the money.

 

The Bone Key cover

The Bone Key: The Necromantic Mysteries of Kyle Murchison Booth by Sarah Monette

Bride of the Book God 2 recently reviewed this book and I remembered that it was on my TBR. KEEP!

 

Guns of August cover

The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman

I should read this book. Knowing more about the beginning of WWI would be a good thing. By all recommendations, this is one of the best. KEEP.

Anyone have any experience with any of these? Any arguments for KEEP or GO?

Sunday Salon, 5/19/19

Sunday Salon

Read

Finished reading Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman. I reviewed it on Thursday. I enjoyed it, but I almost feel like I should post a list of post-2000 movies that I’ve enjoyed. There are good movies made after 1989!

Deal Me In: I pulled 10 which was “Cargo” by Sean Logan from New Traditions in Terror, edited by Bill Purcell. Frank is paid a large packet of money to drive mysterious cargo through zombie- and rebel- dotted Mexico. He isn’t supposed to open the cargo and he’s supposed to follow the eleven point list of directions to the letter. New Traditions stories take the usual horror tropes and monsters and gives them a twist. Here, the twisted trope is less the zombies and more the old-fashioned Blue Beard “follow directions or you’re dead” type stories.

DealMeIn
Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

Reading

Poe: A Life Cut Short

I didn’t get quite as much Bout of Books reading done as I wanted, but I never do. This week I’m hoping to finish Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd. And I’m keeping up with The Count of Monte Cristo.

Did/Doing

Web-pocolypse: I’m the webmaster-type person for our local ultimate frisbee association. On Friday, the web site went down. There has since been much consternation and emails to different support people. Very annoying.

Wicked Witch Retired: Been rewriting, which for me is a slow process.

Nothing much else is planned for the week.


The Sunday Salon is a linkup hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz

Review ~ Life Moves Pretty Fast

Life Moves Pretty Fast Cover via Goodreads

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them from Movies Anymore) by Hadley Freeman

For Hadley Freeman, movies of the 1980s have simply got it all. Comedy in Three Men and a Baby, Hannah and Her Sisters, Ghostbusters, and Back to the Future; all a teenager needs to know in Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, and Mystic Pizza; the ultimate in action from Top Gun, Die Hard, Beverly Hills Cop, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; love and sex in 9 1/2 Weeks, Splash, About Last Night, The Big Chill, and Bull Durham; and family fun in The Little Mermaid, ET, Big, Parenthood, and Lean On Me.

In Life Moves Pretty Fast, Hadley puts her obsessive movie geekery to good use, detailing the decade’s key players, genres, and tropes. She looks back on a cinematic world in which bankers are invariably evil, where children are always wiser than adults, where science is embraced with an intense enthusiasm, and the future viewed with giddy excitement. And, she considers how the changes between movies then and movies today say so much about society’s changing expectations of women, young people, and art—and explains why Pretty in Pink should be put on school syllabuses immediately.

From how John Hughes discovered Molly Ringwald, to how the friendship between Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi influenced the evolution of comedy, and how Eddie Murphy made America believe that race can be transcended, this is a “highly personal, witty love letter to eighties movies, but also an intellectually vigorous, well-researched take on the changing times of the film industry” (The Guardian). (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This was an addition to my TBR during Nonfiction November 2017. Books Are My Favorite and Best recommended it paired with Bret Easton Ellis’s Rules of Attraction. I really enjoy reading about movies and this book sounded like it might be fun.

What Worked
A couple years ago I realized that I didn’t find many recent comedy movies very funny. Or to be more specific, I didn’t really care for American comedies post-2000. I even caught myself thinking, “I don’t really like comedies as a genre,” which is a lie. One of my favorite movies, Ghostbuster, is a comedy. Many of my frequently re-watched movies are comedies. What I didn’t like about 2000s comedies was the raunchy, sort of dumb humor that many of them relied on. But was I seeing this clearly? Had the comedies really changed? Life Moves Pretty Fast presents a theory as to why there are more comedies like The Hangover these days and fewer comedies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Lower” humor is easier to translate and there is a lot of money to be made by American films in foreign markets.

Overseas markets and studio consolidation are two topics that Freeman returns to over and over in the book. Studios are less likely to take risks on films that have only a niche market. It could be argued that something as quirky as Back to the Future wouldn’t get made today by Disney or Universal (are there any other movie studios left?). Rom-coms and weepies (genres that often feature more female-centric casts) have also fallen by the wayside in an era when every movie needs to be a blockbuster with foreign appeal. Freeman makes very convincing arguments.

What Didn’t Work
Freeman is the first to admit that this is a book of personal favorites. She doesn’t cover the Star Wars franchise for example, because she’s never cared for the movies. By necessity, really, a lot of cherry picking occurred. Not all 80s movies are great, and many great movies have been made since 1990.  (One of my other favorite comedies is A Knight’s Tale, released in 2001.) Also, in an ironic nod to the title, though originally published in 2015, Life Moves Pretty Fast is maybe already a little out-dated. While the big movie studios might not make “80s” movies anymore, streaming services like Netflix might be moving into that space. Netflix as a content producer is a relatively recent thing. In the area of teen comedies, I think “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” (2018) could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of John Hughes’ movies.

But What Also Worked
Life Moves Pretty Fast also includes interviews with actors and directors, and lots of crunch film history bits. Did you know that Taylor Sheridan was asked to rewrite the main character of Sicario (a really great not-80s film) as male, but he refused? Did you know that many of Eddie Murphy’s early roles were originally planned for white actors? Honestly, it was the stories about films in Life Moves Pretty Fast that I enjoyed most.

Publishing info: Simon & Schuster, 2016
My Copy: trade paperback, Tempe Public Library
Genre: essays

Bout of Books 25!

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 13th and runs through Sunday, May 19th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, Twitter chats, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 25 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. –From the Bout of Books team

Bout of Books was the first readathon I ever did, so many years ago. I did it on a whim! It’s continued to be my favorite low-stress readathon. And, um, shouldn’t all readathons be low-stress? My goal is to make some progress on the library books I have out. Am I going to finish all these books? Of course not! Will I end up reading something else entirely? Quite possibly. But this is Bout of Books: read one page == “win.”

TBR

Scheduled Reading
The Unabridged Edgar Allan Poe The Count of Monte Cristo
Plus short stories!

Library Books
Poe: A Life Cut Short Conjure Times: The History of Black Magicians in America
Finished!
Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don't Learn Them from Movies Anymore)

DNF for now.
Whose Body? (Lord Peter Wimsey, #1)

Progress

Challenges

Thursday: If you like that, try this!

Wednesday: Book plot emoji

Tuesday: Bookish favorites

Monday: Introduce Yourself #insixwords