Deal Me In, Week 13 ~ “You Don’t Even Feel It”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“You Don’t Even Feel It” by Lawrence Block

Card picked: Three of Diamonds

From: Murder on the Ropes

Thoughts: Keisha’s husband Darnell is a junior middleweight champion. After being married for twelve years with three daughters, Keisha was under the impression that Darnell would retire. He intends to, but not until after another two fights. He knows he can win these fights and tie-up another two belts. He’s in good health, at least on the outside. Keisha, though, notices his forgetfulness and the way he’s started to slur his words. “Getting hit upside the head? You don’t even feel it,” Darnell assures her, which isn’t reassuring at all.

This was not a great story. Boxing is, basically, a sport where two men* do damage to each other until one man can’t take it anymore. This leads to complications for everyone involved: the boxers, the boxing industry, and boxing fans. “You Don’t Even Feel It” handles this without any complexity and in a somewhat preachy manner. It doesn’t even scratch the surface.

*And women too. It will be interesting to see if any of the stories in this anthology include women.

Magic Monday ~ House of Mystery

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature.  I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

House of Mystery: The Magic Science of David P. Abbott by edited by Teller and Todd Karr

House of Mystery: The Magic Science of David P. Abbott (Volume #1)House of Mystery: The Magic Science of David P. Abbott (Volume #2)

A note from Teller:
This two-volume set includes Abbott’s Book of Mysteries, a collection of super-mysteries which, so far as I know, has never been surpassed. Abbott was a genius who built his work on the devious principles he learned from spirit mediums, who could not afford to get caught.
With these miracles, Abbott fooled Houdini, Kellar, Okito, Ching Ling Foo, and all the greatest minds in magic, and recorded his secrets in step-by-step detail in two of the most delightful and detailed books ever written on the art of magic.
This edition’s annotations and the newly-rediscovered articles and letters, including seven original hand-illustrated Kellar letters, make this set as essential for the history buff as it is for the professional performer.
— Teller (via Goodreads)

I’ve been wanting to get my hands on these two books for a couple of years now. And I still do! I read a browser-based scanned edition made available by the Conjuring Arts Research Center. I’d love to own my own copy. These texts are pretty lush. They contain all of David P. Abbott’s written works, as well as introductions and asides from Teller and Todd Karr that give each work context. There are crunchy historical bits: letters, photos, stories from contemporaries about Abbott and his performances. Included is an extended section on Joseffy in volume 2; Abbott’s The Marvelous Creations of Joseffy is given full treatment.

House of Mystery gives me further insight into the kind of man David Abbott was. His descriptions of his tricks are incredibly detailed. Almost mind-numbingly so. He was also a very peculiar skeptic. If he couldn’t find a complete explanation for phenomena, he was likely to officially say “I don’t know,” rather than to speculate publicly.

SmallAce

What Am I Reading?

Been a slow couple of reading weeks. I’m still working on Rebecca and Magic in Theory.

On the Blog

Took last week off from blogging, more or less. I was pretty busy and I’ve been a little slumpy as far as reviewing goes. I had intended to have Rebecca reviewed for Thursday, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Instead, I’ll probably do a Throwback Thursday.

Deal Me In, Week 12 ~ “The Gentleman from San Francisco”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Gentleman from San Francisco” by Ivan Bunin, translation by D. H. Lawrence and S. S. Koteliansky

Card picked: Jack of Hearts

From: The Gentleman from San Francisco and Other Stories

Thoughts:

The gentleman from San Francisco–nobody either in Capri or Naples ever remembered his name…

With that, Bunin sets up this story. The Gentleman from San Francisco is an industrialist, a wealthy man who has decided to take his wife and daughter on a two-year holiday to see the world. First stop, Europe. We are given lots of details of the scheduled activities during the ocean voyage, especially as they pass Gibraltar, and the entertainments at Naples and Capri. Despite those details, we never learn the Gentleman from San Francisco’s name, his wife’s name, his daughter’s name, the name of the Asian prince who is traveling incognito… In fact, we don’t get any names until Capri when we hear of Carmela and Giuseppe, dancers at the hotel. By then though, it’s seemingly too late. The Gentleman from San Francisco dies of a heart attack and is shipped back home on the same vessel that brought him to Europe.

Throughout, there’s a definite contrast between the “haves” and “have nots.” For every description of luxury, we’re also shown the misery of the sailors and servants. Indeed, the Gentleman from San Francisco has made his riches off the backs of others:

He had worked incessantly–and the Chinamen whom he employed by the thousand in his factories knew what that meant.

There’s another contrast though that I think might be more important. Against both luxury and misery is nature. Storms seem to dog the Gentleman from San Francisco’s sea voyages and it felt to me like the grandeur of cathedrals and cemeteries in Naples was ruined, not by character indifference, but by the weather. It is, in fact, nature that does in the Gentleman from San Francisco (although it could be argued that it was his decadence that helped). It is with the weather that this cheery Russian tale leaves us:

…nor did any one know of that thing which lay deep, deep below at the very bottom of the dark hold, near the gloomy and sultry bowels of the ship that was so gravely overcoming the darkness, the ocean, the blizzard…

We may be indifferent to each other, but nature in indifferent to us, and death is indifferent to everything.

About the Author: Ivan Bunin won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1933, but he was already a two-time Pushkin Prize-winner when “The Gentleman from San Francisco” was written and published in 1915. This is my first experience with Bunin.

Deal Me In, Week 11 ~ “How Carlos Webster Changed His Name to Carl and Became a Famous Oklahoma Lawman”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“How Carlos Webster Changed His Name to Carl and Became a Famous Oklahoma Lawman” by Elmore Leonard

Card picked: Six of Clubs

From: McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

Thoughts: When Carlos Huntington Webster was fifteen, he had a run-in with the notorious bank robber, Frank Miller, while Carlos was having an ice cream at the local pharmacy and five-and-dime. It’s the kind of place where Carlos is trusted enough to scoop his own cone and leave a nickle on the counter while the owner is in back taking care of a few things. Miller and one of his cronies came in for a pack of cigarettes, but decided to rob register since it was currently under the charge of a “greaser” boy. Unfortunately, things went south when Junior Harjo from the tribal police walked in on the affair and was shot for it. Some of this event, or maybe none of it, might have influenced Carlos’s decision to join the US Marshals and to later kill Miller in a shootout.

Identity and ethnicity is important in this story. Carlos points out that he is not Mexican, a “greaser” in Miller’s words. His mother, who he never, knew was Cuban. The woman who raised him was Indian (or rather, Native American) and his father might have some Cherokee on his mother’s side.  Social standing in 1920s Oklahoma has some correlation to one’s status as a “breed.” When Carlos joins the Marshals, he’d nicknamed Carl. He doesn’t like it, but he sees the advantage since he looks like his father aside from his dark hair.

About the Author: I’ve read a few novels by Elmore Leonard, most recently Raylan back in January/February. I was a little disappointed in that novel. It seemed strained and, maybe at age 86, Leonard wasn’t doing his best work. This story has one of the the things I enjoy most in Leonard’s stories: a hero doesn’t entirely have pure motivations. There’s even a smidge of Raylan Givens in the character of Carl Webster when he tells Miller, “If I pull my weapon, I’ll shoot to kill.” Or, at least that’s the story that’s told about Marshal Carl Webster…

Is This Your Card?

Review ~ Fangirl

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cover via Goodreads

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind? (via Goodreads)

Back in February, I was looking for something lighter to read, something that wasn’t set between 1850 and 1930, where I often find myself. I decided that I’d check to see if the digital library had Rainbow Rowell’s Landline available, Landline being her more adult novel. (To recap: YA? Just generally not my bag of tea. I’m 40 and cantankerous. Young people annoy me. ;) )

Landline was all checked out, but Fangirl was available. I’d read the blurb when Fangirl came out and I…just wasn’t that interested. But then I read first couple of sentences.

There was a boy in her room.

Cath looked up at the number painted on the door, then down at the room assignment in her hand.

Pound Hall, 913.

This was definitely room 913, but maybe it wasn’t Pound Hall—all these dormitories looked alike…

And once again, Rainbow Rowell got me with the nostalgia. See, when I was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I lived in Pound Hall. I started out in Sandoz Hall, but after nearly two months I moved to Pound when I was given the opportunity to have a no roommate. I lived for the rest of that year and the next on the 5th floor and then moved down to the 3rd for my junior and senior years. I know Pound Hall. Even though I could probably figure where 913 is, I see Cath and Raegan’s where mine was on 5: at the end of the hallway by the stairwell. I see the cinder block walls and the built-in desks and bookshelves.

PoundSingleMine

Floor plan of my room in Pound Hall.

There are other nostalgia things as well: Love Library’s stacks that had their own weird air currents, dashing back across campus after dark when alone (when you’re a freshman girl) because you’re certain you’ll be attacked (fairly unfound fear, shed by second semester), and the fact that starting out no one from Omaha actually knows where East Campus is. Fangirl kind of made me marvel at how *I* managed to make it through freshman year. It also made me really appreciate where I am now.

So, the story itself. The blub makes it seem more like this book going to be about writing fan fiction than it is. Sure, there’s some comment on fan fiction’s place within the realms of what is “legitimate” writing, but Fangirl is really about the girl. It’s about Cath dealing with all those college-y things and her own brand of crazy while having this very firm backbone of Simon Snow fandom to help her stay upright. And, to make this about me again, how much did ST:TNG and X-Files help introverted me? There is a beauty to fandom; it gives people common interest, a starting point. Fangirl is a love letter to that.

Publishing info, my copy:  St. Martin’s Press, Kindle Book, Sep 10, 2013
Acquired: Tempe Public Library OverDrive Collection
Genre: YA

Deal Me In, Week 10 ~ “Otherwise Pandemonium”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Otherwise Pandemonium” by Nick Hornby

Card picked: Nine of Clubs

From: Thrilling Tales, edited by Michael Chabon

Thoughts:

“So let’s say this is the story of how I ended up getting laid–a story with a beginning, and a weird middle, and a happy ending. Otherwise I’d have to tell you a Stephen King-type story, with a beginning and a weird middle and a really fucking scary ending…”*

Except, that really isn’t the story our unnamed narrator tell us. The weird middle gets most of the word count here. (Our narrator is unnamed because he’s decided that us readers don’t need to know “all that Holden Caulfield kind of crap.”) Our narrator, forced by his mother to buy his own VCR, purchases a used model from an appliance repair store. The store’s hippie proprietor is somewhat mysterious about the machine and it’s paranormal abilities are soon discovered.

The story is written in a light engaging style. Our narrator is a fifteen year old boy and his opinions are full of the injustices of life during puberty. He also explains several times that he’s not a creep, but he is fifteen and, you know, wants to have sex.

The title refers to the Johnny Mercer tune “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” a song that our narrator’s mother often sings when things aren’t going so well. Like when she signs him up for jazz band in their new hometown of Berkley.

* I had really hoped that I’d draw the ten of clubs next week and read the story after this one in Thrilling Tales: “The Tale of Gray Dick” by Stephen King.

I’m going to put a **SPOILER WARNING** here because what didn’t work for me has to do with the speculative fiction crux of the story.

The VCR allows the watcher to fast forward through network TV, essentially allowing the him to see into the future. For example, he watches the Lakers beat the Pacers in the NBA finals while earlier playoff games are still occurring. This would seem to set this story in 2000. Our narrator continues to watch six weeks into the future when network television suddenly goes dead after a period of disasters/war. But there is also a passing mention to 9/11, which isn’t until 2001. But the story is told from a present that is during the six weeks after the NBA finals. This confuses me and puts me ill-at-ease with this story. After further thought, I suppose it’s possible that Lakers/Pacers matchup might be wishful thinking for 2002. The Pacers were knocked out of playoffs in the first round by the eventual finalists, the Nets. I guess my problem is, if Hornby means to put this in an indefinite future, why use such concrete details? Yes, it gives it reality, but can also cause problems.

About the Author: Nick Hornby is an author I keep *intending* to read, but I haven’t quite gotten to. I’ve had Fever Pitch on my shelf, literally a physical shelf, for a few years now and The Polysyllabic Spree has been on my TRB list for much longer.

 

Review ~ Dead Wake

This book was provided to me by Crown Publishing Group via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Cover via Goodreads

On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship–the fastest then in service–could outrun any threat.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small–hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more–all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history. (via Goodreads)

For me, the joy of nonfiction is when I find myself interested in something I never thought I’d want to know about. I recently realized that my knowledge of World War I is rather scant, but did I really want to know the details of early WWI German submarine warfare? Turns out, I did. At least when Erik Larson is writing about submarine warfare through the lens of Walther Schwieger, the captain of U-20, who sank the Lusitania.

Larson writes nonfiction like pointilists  paint. Readers are given these individual stories, about Schwieger, about William Thomas Turner the captain of the Lusitania, about President Wilson, about the men, women, and children, survivors and victims. All the details, all the individual little stories that he presents eventually come together to show the larger story, or at least the feel of the larger story.

Dead Wake has a more solid narrative than Thunderstruck or The Devil in the White City. It feels like there was less detective work in the research for this book and more natural narratives in the wealth of accounts and documents the surround the Lusitania and this period of WWI. Despite its subject matter, Dead Wake is a lighter book, but still as entertaining and informative as any of Erik Larson’s other books.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/ePub ARC provided by Crown Publishing. Sale Date: March 10, 2015
Acquired: Edelweiss
Genre: Non-fiction