Saturday, February 28, 2015

Night Shift by Stephen King

Photo: First edition hardcover, from the book's Wikipedia site.

Very successful collection of short stories that spawned some (really bad) movies.  I'd read this book as a much younger guy, but had forgotten most of the stories, so I went back to it and appreciated it all over again.  I've lost somewhere my original copy--the one shown here--and so I've had to make do with the "Children of the Corn," movie tie-in version I have here now.  Somebody, probably me, had switched copies over the years, and I can't tell you why.  Odd.  And I want the original one back.

The ones I remembered from (literally) my youth were: "The Last Rung on the Ladder" (still my favorite here), "Jerusalem's Lot," "Graveyard Shift," "Strawberry Spring," "The Bogeyman," "Gray Matter," and, because of the incredibly bad movies, "Children of the Corn" and "Lawnmower Man."

"The Last Rung on the Ladder" and "The Woman in the Room" work especially well because there's nothing supernatural in them.  Both stories--especially the former--read well because they are of the "Nothing's More Scary than Real Life" genre--which should be a genre if it isn't.

All of the stories are either good or very good, but I was pleased to discover a couple more.  "One for the Road" works really well, and is one of the scarier ones here.  If "Jerusalem's Lot" was originally a chapter in Salem's Lot--I think I got this right from King, who said it opened his book and was taken out just like Stoker's "Dracula's Guest" opened up Dracula and was taken out--then "One for the Road" takes place after Salem's Lot ends.  It's mentioned in the story that Ben Mears had burned the town down.  I would've put this story last in the collection, rather than second-to-last.  "Jerusalem's Lot" opens it up, so it would've been nice book-ending to have "One for the Road" end it.  Or perhaps that's too-slick serendipity, like the similar paths taken by Stoker's and King's vampire stories.

"One for the Road," "Strawberry Spring" and "The Last Rung on the Ladder" are the best-written stories here.  Almost all of these stories, by the way, were originally published in Cavalier magazine, a now-defunct magazine of a certain sort, if you know what I mean.  I wonder what men of the 70s made out of these well-written, and sometimes philosophically-bent, ruminations next to those explicitly explicit pictures of...well, you know.  It'd be a little jolting, I'd imagine.  He also got paid a few hundred bucks, per story, by that magazine, which is really good money for short stories, especially in the 70s.  My guess is that the magazine was trying to become the next glossy picture and literary high-end magazine of one of its bunny-themed competitors, and failing miserably.  (That bunny magazine, by the way, still pays a few thousand dollars for a short story, and always has.  So the lie could also be "I was reading the stories!" instead of "I buy it for the articles!")

Anyway, what I've learned here is that King has an idea and he writes it.  The simplicity of that is sort of shocking to me.  So here we have a story about a possessed laundry-pressing machine; a story about monstrous and blind rats; a story about trucks taking over the world; a story of a company that hurts those you love to help you quit smoking; a story about a hitman done in by the toys sent by the mother of his latest victim...and they all work, in varying degrees.

Think it, write it; think it, write it; think it, write it.  And why not?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"A Matter of Principle" by Charles W. Chesnutt, Library of America

Photo: Charles Chesnutt, at 40.  From his Wikipedia page. The reason I include his picture will be apparent when you read below.

I haven't read one of the short stories sent to me, for free, from the Library of America.  This is a service I recommend, and I've written about a few of the stories (Charles W. Chesnutt's "Baxter's Procrustes," one of my most-read blog entries, can be read here; another, Henry James's "Paste," can be read here).  I've fallen almost two years behind on these, as they're sent to an email I rarely check, and I have trouble finishing things (::cough::--novel-::cough::) besides.

These Library of America emails highlight a short story, short novel, article, or other piece of writing that the Library of America has collected in a volume of that author.  I own a couple of these, and can say that they are worth the price--though a high price it is.  I didn't say I could afford it; I just said each was worth it.  Anyway, these are high-quality and important stories, diary entries (soon I'll read Gideon Welles's diary entries about his first-hand knowledge of Lincoln's assassination) and other things.  They're short, often between five and twenty pages, so they don't take long to read.  Sign up for this service here.

The story of this blog entry, Week 264 (like I said, I'm several years behind) is Charles W. Chesnutt's "A Matter of Principle."  (The Library of America apparently loves Charles W. Chesnutt.)  You can read this story on your own here--but before you do, read the following disclaimer.  The story is about what, at the time, was called...Well, here's how the Library of America introduced the story, and its author:

Several of his stories and novels deal with the comic—and occasionally tragic—effects of the social confusion and legal complications that result from attempts to determine or avoid this “color line.” As a light-skinned African American, Chesnutt particularly reserved what he called “a very kindly irony” for those of his fellow Cleveland residents who were regarded as black by white society yet who presented themselves as superior to their darker neighbors. Or, as biographer William L. Andrews writes, Chesnutt satirized “an assimilationist philosophy among upwardly mobile, light-skinned Afro-Americans which implied ‘absorption’ into the white race as its goal.”
Why would Chesnutt write about this, and what exactly is it?  This explains it, from Chesnutt's Wikipedia page:

"Chesnutt was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Andrew Chesnutt and Ann Maria (née Sampson) Chesnutt, both "free persons of color" from Fayetteville, North Carolina. His paternal grandfather was known to be a white slaveholder and, based on his appearance, Chesnutt likely had other white ancestors. He claimed to be seven-eighths white, and identified as African American. Given his overwhelming European ancestry, Chesnutt could "pass" as a white man, although he never chose to do so. In the 19th century and in many southern states at the time of his birth, Chesnutt was considered legally white. Under the one drop rule later adopted into law by the 1920s in most of the South, he would have been classified as legally black because of having some known African ancestry."  Check out Chesnutt's Wikipedia page for other interesting things about an interesting guy during interesting times.  A talented and creative author could not make up the "one drop rule."

Back to my disclaimer: The story is all about race, which some people find iffy, and it contains language that is simply not acceptable today--more stinging in this story, to me, because it's used by African-Americans in judgment of other African-Americans.  Chesnutt's writing was written in a light-hearted way, and this story was meant to be seen that way when it was published in 1899.  It may not seem light-hearted to the reader today; or, at least, some of its words and tone may not.  So consider yourself forewarned.

Anyway, the bottom line for this blog entry is this.  I got to thinking that the main characters of this story, as well as the Congressman in it, and the story's author, Charles Chesnutt--and, say, Derek Jeter--would have had no problem at all walking into a southern restaurant, in the 50s, let's say, that had a sign saying it would not serve African-Americans.  Why?  Because they didn't look African-American.  But what does that even mean?  (This is the essential question behind Chesnutt's story.)  One could legally answer that question, apparently, by using the 1920s "one drop rule" of the South.  But, I mean, what does it mean, really, since one can't always tell, by sight, who is, and who is not, African-American?  If Chesnutt, or Derek Jeter, or countless others who don't look African-American, can walk into a restaurant that didn't serve African-Americans--and then get served--well, then, the whole racial divide is unnecessary and undefinable, isn't it?  If it's possible that you can serve an African-American, and not know it, then what's your problem, exactly?

Now fast-forward to today, to some states, like Arizona, where, by law, businesses don't have to serve any member of the lesbian, gay, trans-gendered community.  Or to Kansas, where, by law, business owners don't have to hire someone (or, they can fire someone) based solely on his sexual orientation.

(I know you can see where I'm going with this.)

It's the same thing, isn't it?  Can you always tell who's gay and who isn't?  Is anyone's gay-dar that perfect?  Isn't it possible that some gay men and women could walk into a bakery that won't serve gay people--and get served?  If so, then isn't the whole thing as unnecessary and undefinable as the situation above?  If a gay person who doesn't "look" or "act" like a gay person can walk into a restaurant that doesn't serve gay people--and then get served--then isn't it all ridiculous?  If it's possible that you can serve a gay person in a business you own, that you proudly exclaim doesn't serve gay people, and still not know that you're serving gay people, than what's your problem, exactly?

Doesn't sound reasonable or logical to me.

P.S.--This is why literature is important.  A story from 1899 will have relevance to racist America, 1930-1960 (rough estimate), and also have the exact same relevance to something happening today.

I'm just sayin'.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

When People Say Stupid Things About Others

Just a few quick things...

--Giuliani used to be the Joe Torre of NYC for those of us who don't live in NYC: a classy guy amidst a whirlwind of blech!  Not anymore.

--And, yeah, Obama loves his country.  The proof is the job he took--again, I might add--though he knew he'd have to deal with idiots saying stuff like this.

--And now the governor of Wisconsin says he doesn't know if Obama loves his country.

--Yeah, he does.  So much, in fact, that he's trying to make health care, voting and the economy fair for everyone.  In a democracy, what's better than that?

--I've had enough of people saying stupid crap about Obama.  Make it a point to notice: Those who are saying such things, they're not the President.  And they've had unsuccessful political aspirations, even if they're otherwise successful politicians, like Giuliani, who wanted to run for president many years ago, but just didn't have the support of his party.

--And, P.S.--Just because you don't like somebody, that doesn't mean you have the right to stay stupid crap about them.

--People who say such things, those things say more about them than they do about the person they're complaining about.  And they don't know this, because they keep on saying them.

--I've had it with people who say stupid crap about anyone, actually.  I wish I had the time to say stupid things about people.  Things get back to me every now and then about people who say crap about others, including about me.  I don't play that game.  I don't have time to.  I'm too busy actually doing my job, writing my stuff, livin' my life.  So busy, in fact, that I don't even know the stupid things said about people, or about me, until someone (or MSN) tells me. 

--Do I retaliate by doing the same?  Nope.  I simply don't have the time.  That's just not who I am.

--I'm not saying that makes me a better person.  I'm just saying that it's not what I want to do, and it's not who I want to be.  I don't define myself by comparing myself to others.  I just decide who I want to be, and then I try to be that.  Sometimes I fail and do incredibly stupid things, too--but usually not to the detriment of others.  Just myself.  I pretty much just leave other people alone in life.  I stay in my cave and I do what I do. 

--And I don't have the jealousy and bitterness that people like that have, that make them say the stupid things about people that they do.  I simply do not get jealous, or bitter, about others.  Because, again, I don't compare myself to others to begin with, so there's nothing to get jealous or bitter about.

--I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

To Sell or Not to Sell: An Open Plea for Ideas or Advice

A quick blurb about some housekeeping on this site and on my other blogs, plus some ideas.

--I deleted the AHS blog because a) the season's over, and b) despite my best intentions, I didn't have time to keep up with it.

--I'm running into the same problem with this season's Walking Dead blog, but I'm hoping for a revival of my own, much like the characters had in the latest episode from Sunday, February 15th.

--The analytics show that I can make some money off this blog, and my Walking Dead and my baseball blogs, if I can keep them up.  To do that, I'd either have to sell stuff on them (like, my already-published stories, if the rights have reverted back to me) or I'd have to place ads.

--I'm open to anyone's ideas and / or comments about this.  (Please send me an email [address above] or place a comment.  Thanks.) 

--I am loathe to put up ads, but who couldn't use more money?  And what if they weren't obtrusive?  I've seen sites where the ads were just off to the side, or down below.  Though that makes me wonder how much money was being generated that way.  And if you're not bringing in revenue, why have the ads to begin with?

--But I could create links to pages to sell my stuff.  Or I could set up such links on this page.  But then I'd have to figure out how to get PayPal on this page.  And how much would that cost?  And is it worth it?

--Anyone have any ideas about how I could sell my short stories, once the rights have reverted back to me?  (I believe the rights to all of the pieces shown on my Published Work tab have reverted back to me by now.)  Again, emails or comments are fine, please and thank you.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin -- Book Review

Photo--Paperback copy, and the one I read, from its Wikipedia page.

A very good book, but not as good as its predecessors.  This has been much remarked upon, so I won't belabor what's already been said...

Except to say that Martin has to try something different, and focus on different characters, doesn't he?  Readers forget that the writers themselves also have to be entertained (as U2 reminded its fans when the band made techno-pop stuff the masses hated); I would imagine that after approximately 4,000 pages (which probably means up to 8K to 12K pages, edited and often deleted), Martin felt that, to stay sharp, he would have to focus on different characters--many of them not the major ones--and also do little things, like refer to characters by their new status, or tongue-in-cheek nicknames, in the chapter headings.  This doesn't always work, and is at times confusing, but you've made it this far, through 5K or so pages, so you'll get it before long.  He did this a bit in the previous book, perhaps less successfully and more irritatingly, but you got through that, right?  So will you here.

And you'll like this one more than the last, I think.  It really picks up in the second half--maybe the last third, if you're picky--and it goes by in a rush after that.  Like Stephen King and maybe a few others, Martin's writing is compulsively readable, even when its not at its best, so you'll find yourself sailing along, even if you're not completely thrilled with what's going on.  This is a must, if one is to read about seven thousand pages before it's all over, so it's a good thing he's able to do this.

By the end, you'll be far further along than the Game of Thrones series on HBO, so you'll have to be quiet about what happened.  (Notice the lack of a summary of any kind here.)  There won't be another book in 2015, or so said Martin recently in an interview, so we'll have to make do with the show for now.  I expect the show to drag out quite a bit of what happens here, unless they want to finish with the show before Martin finishes with the books.  (He'll share his outlines and notes of the last two books with the show's creators, I would assume.)  If so, this would be a rare event.  Normally the book(s) end first for the movies and shows (a la Harry Potter) to drum up even more interest in the movie and successive books.  That may not be the case here, as J.K. Rowling was a quicker writer than is Martin.  But who knows?