Book Sleuthing

I have accidentally developed a new hobby as a book sleuth. Not a sleuth IN a book, though of course I have that too, but sleuthing FOR books. I have a very clear memories of childhood favorites, many of which disappeared into younger cousins’ homes, or when my parent moved. Every once in awhile I become seized with a desire to find one, and – ta-da!-the used books sites on the Web make it possible. Of course it helps to remember a title. Or author. Without one of those it is a lot more challenging.

My most recent book sleuthing adventure was drawn-out but successful in the end. It started not with a book, but a play,a new production of Our Town. I hadn’t seen it in years and my daughter had never seen it, so off we went. It was off-Broadway. Way off, downtown in Greenwich Village at the Barrow Street Theater.

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That “Barrow Street” stuck in my mind. I was sure I had read a story with that as the title. I was a pre-teen. It had a neat trick ending that I never forgot. It was in an anthology in my grandmother’s house.

Amazingly enough, I was able to track down the author online. Richard Sherman. Not someone famous, not a name that lived on, but apparently a successful writer of popular fiction in his time. Could I find the anthology? The game was afoot.

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Well, I did find an anthology. The date was right, and it was cheap on ABE and it turned out not to be the one. “Barrow Street” was it, the right story, but it was the only familiar one and the stories by familiar authors were not their best.

A few years later, I was looking at this wrong book on my shelf and suddenly remembered a name. Bennet Cerf! Who remembers him? He was a founder of Random House but in my childhood was also a well-known television personality. And he was the editor of my grandmother’s anthology. I was sure of it.

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Searching his name plus anthology proved too frustrating. He edited many. But I remembered some of the other stories! I added more authors to the search and there it was. Reading for Pleasure, 1957. cerf

It is next to me as I write this. And here I am, a twelve-year-old bookworm in my grandmothers house, leafing through it just because it was a book and it was there. I am reading Stephen Vincent Benet’s unforgettable “By the Waters of Babylon” for the first time and Irwin Shaw – about sex!-, a touching Galsworthy excerpt about the old age of Jolyon Forsyte, Budd Shulberg’s cynical Hollywood story. My world is opening up with every page I read. My first-ever Isak Dinesen, and a strange one it was. My first F.Scott Fitzgerald. A classic Maugham story.

So let’s hear it for grandmothers with books in their house, and editors who create anthologies that last for a lifetime.

6 Sleeping Beauties: Briar-tangled Folklore

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent, a retelling of Sleeping BeautyI recently saw the film Maleficent (enjoyed it!), another adaptation of the Sleeping Beauty folklore, especially of Disney’s famous animated version from 1959. Maleficent is told, contrarily, from the point of view of the “evil” fairy godmother, much like Wicked revisits Oz from the point of view of the misunderstood and ill-treated Wicked Witch of the West.

These reboots are fun, but sometimes it’s unremarked, amid criticism of the many, many remakes of stories Hollywood now produces, that this reconception of stories has been ongoing ever since the printing press was invented. Actually since long before then, but it’s harder to tell how the bards changed each other’s work where we don’t have copious recordings from the firesides.

(The following theory may be covered extensively elsewhere, but I haven’t seen it. Serious scholars employ classification systems to group folkloric tales, and I believe this one is ATU-type 410, under Tales of Magic, Supernatural or Enchanted Wife (Husband) or Other Relative, 400-459, but there isn’t any ATU number for the story elements I’m discussing here, at least, I think not, being a non-scholarly story hobbyist.)

When Disney created its animated film, it springboarded (pun intended, as you’ll see) from the well-known fairy tale of a sleeping beauty by the Brothers Grimm, “Little Briar Rose.” Well, those German brothers were re-telling it themselves, after hearing the French tale of Charles Perrault, “La Belle au bois dormant” or “The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood,” which was part of a collection published back in 1697.

Henry Meynell Rheam (1859-1920) The Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty by German painter Henry Meynell Rheam (1859-1920)

But Perrault was not the original author of his tale either. And going back is where we re-discover the real meaning behind the story. Regardless of what Disney fans might attest, L’Aurore isnt the name of the sleeping princess, but actually the name of her daughter, otherwise Aurora or, more tellingly, Dawn. She is the twin sister of a boy named Le Jour or Day. Dawn and Day are the sleeping princess’s children, and Perrault’s own inspiration for his tale was most likely Giambattista Basile, an Italian, whose tale was published even earlier in 1634, and was called “Sole, Luna, e Talia, or in translation, “Sun, Moon, and Talia.”

Now it gets good.

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Are fairies really the stewards of the wheel of the year?

When considering the “sleeping” princess’s birth, she’s a golden child of exceptional beaty, for whom there’s usually a party with 12 fairy guests, going around in turn, each with a unique blessing to gift her. Combining this with the sleeper’s children, overtly named Sun and Moon (or Dawn and Day), the astrological underpinnings of the tale become apparent. The tale is perhaps analogous to Persephone’s disappearance into the underworld of the dead (like a wakeless sleep) during winter, the fallow season. The 13th fairy guest to the glorious young princess’s celebration, the uninvited one who curses her, is bad luck in number and deed, breaking the previous harmony of the twelve signs of the zodiacal year. In fact, hopping briefly into Norse mythology, the much-maligned Loki also plays 13th guest in a similar legend as well. He, too, arrives uninvited and wrathful to a banquet and arranges the death of the most beautiful golden hero of the world, Balder, and at the point of a mistletoe-tipped arrow no less. At this mournful event, the earth falls into darkness. Sounds wintry, doesn’t it?

I mention such low treachery now, because all of these older versions of the Sleeping Beauty tale have similarly awful acts in them that will horrify a modern reader if taken as straight reportage and not metaphor.

"Sleeping Beauty" by English painter Edward Frederick Brewtnall (1846-1902)

Sleeping Beauty by English painter Edward Frederick Brewtnall (1846-1902)

For example, the sleeping princess is usually raped by traveling royalty who find her irresistible while unconscious. This maintains her “innocence,” but she becomes pregnant and usually bears twin children to her attacker, later her contrite husband in some accounts. That happens to poor Talia before she bears Sun and Moon in Giambattista Basile’s tale, but if we go back even farther, the assault features in the earlier-still version of the Sleeping Beauty tale, “Histoire de Troïlus et de Zellandine” from very popular collected volumes of romances called Perceforest, most likely composed in France between 1330 and 1344.

Increasingly tipping the nod as to the underlying meaning and the solar/seasonal connection, the medieval story from Perceforest in which poor Zellandine delivers a child of rape from within her coma was, apparently, even performed at Catholic Masses in Germany as part of Shrove Tuesday. Well, that very date will soon be celebrated on February 17th of 2015 as Fat Tuesday or Mardis Gras, when we buckle down to the last forty gray days of Lent before Easter or the spring equinox, depending who’s counting. It’ll be helpful to know, for the next gruesome part, that “lambing season” is said to begin at this same time.

So, what of the sleeping beauty’s twins? Well, often it’s one of them, a hungry newborn infant, who suckles the splinter of flax, or what-have-you, from the sleeper’s finger, and that‘s what wakes her from her curse. No romantic kiss as such is involved. It’s the relentless drive of burgeoning new life. The sleeper awakens, not knowing what’s happened to her, but now a mother to delivered babies, suddenly appearing as do other chicks and foals and lambs and calves at this time of year.

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Painting of a medieval sheep market, Norwich, c. 1300

We can tell the sleeping beauty’s twins may also be metaphorically related to the springtime’s new livestock arrivals, because they’re–yes, it’s horrible again–usually ordered to be slaughtered. In Perrault’s tale, they’re actually ordered cooked and served with mustard sauce (sauce Robert). Horrors aside, that sounds a lot like the ritual Passover sacrifice of a lamb or the traditional Easter feast, the culturally widespread sharing of the “first fruits” of the year in spring rites. Anyway, the sleeping beauty’s child or children are saved (whew) by a kind-hearted cook or servant, who swaps out their prepared corpses with, you guessed it, lamb or even kid goat. And the evil queen who’s ordered the slaughter, in these early tales either the king’s legitimate wife or his ogress mother, is satisfied with the substitution. Is it a kid or a kid? She can’t seem to taste the difference. Hmmm.

Battista’s sleeping beauty’s name, Talia, is said in baby name dictionaries to be an old Hebrew or Aramaic name that has the meaning “heaven’s dew” or “lamb,” indicating the blessing of divine abundance. Well, dew is found at the birth of the day, and lamb at the birth of the year. Easter, a very lamb-riffic holiday with plenty of nods to abundant new life, occurs during the sign of Aries, the ram. Aries is a cardinal sign, meaning the beginning of a new season, and as the so-called first house, it’s also known as the youngest sign or “the baby of the zodiac,” which kicks off the year gamboling at the spring equinox. You may note that in Battista’s tale, the innocent lamb Talia is also supposed to be sacrificed with her children to be fed to the royalty.

Sure, there are many shades of Medea and other culinary child-servers in the earliest of these tales, too, but don’t let me sidetracked on that, or the twins Romulus and Remus, or their mother the Vestal Virgin…I’d be here all day. Unlike a clapped-out modern movie franchise’s sextilogy (I’m claiming it as a word), each one of these 6 sleeping beauties remains fascinating to me. I adore the way layered legacies of traditional storylines continue twisting and looping upon themselves while remaining relevant and compelling.

Visiting Poe and Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina (with pix!)

Fort-MoultrieMore literary-themed pictures from my travels! Not yet nineteen years old, in 1827, Edgar Allan Poe was an enlisted Army soldier, stationed for about a year at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, not far from Charleston. A Revolutionary War stronghold established in 1776, it was originally rustic and made of palmettos, in keeping with the state’s bounty. Even today, you can see the sense of a windblown tropical outpost remains.
Battle-Plaque-Fort-Moutrie-SullivanHere’s how Poe described it in “The Gold Bug“:

This island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than the sea sand and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the mainland by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and slime, a favorite resort of the marsh hen. The vegetation, as might be supposed, is scant or at least dwarfish. No trees of any magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie stands and where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted, during summer, by the fugitives from Charleston dust and fever, may be found the bristly palmetto; but the whole island, with the exception of this western point and a line of hard, white beach on the seacoast, is covered with a dense undergrowth of the sweet myrtle…

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Just a few hundred yards from the cannonade is the beach. While there’s now civilization visible along the edges of nearby shorelines, it’s still easy to imagine how empty and remote it must’ve seemed.

While at Sullivan’s Island, it’s reported that Poe heard and was inspired by the local stories of pirates. In his mid-30s, Poe immortalized the setting in his short story “The Gold Bug,” which won the $100 grand prize as well as publication in a contest sponsored by Philadelphia’s Dollar Newspaper in 1843.

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This mosaic of the insect species Poe invented is on the walkway leading to Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island.

The tale featured the mad pursuit of a secret treasure by an entomologist named Legrand, a treasure concealed by cryptography. The story became a sensation, one Poe was uniquely qualified to stoke, having issued a challenge in the years before to solve all qualifying substitution ciphers that were sent to him via Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, and apparently, succeeding. From “The Gold Bug;”

Here Legrand, having re-heated the parchment, submitted It my inspection. The following characters were rudely traced, in a red tint, between the death’s-head and the goat:

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See the link above about for more information about this cryptogram, how to solve it, and Poe’s challenges.

The ingenious story and its author subsequently became so well-known, that, later in 1883, Robert Louis Stevenson would acknowledge the debt he and Treasure Island owed to Poe. Now, there’s not only the Edgar Allan Poe library on Sullivan’s Island named after him, but the fine Poe’s Tavern, with the largest collection of Poe-phernalia I’ve seen. There are so many paintings, framed posters, colorful chalk drawings, quotes, themed menu items… it’s impossible to capture how epically and festively Poe’d, that place is. My burger and fries were really good, too.

Poes-TavernPoe-Tavern-Wall-Pictures-South-CarolinaAnother unique feature of the tavern is that it has tiny Poe-riffic bathrooms, papered in pages from illustrated versions of his work. An additional accompaniment to your restroom visit is provided by a speaker in the upper corner of the room (see the black lozenge attached to the ceiling?), which played a deep-voiced reading of “The Tell-Tale Heart” while I was powdering my nose.Poe-Bathroom-Speaker-Tell-Tale-HeartPoe would also use his formative experiences in South Carolina in two more, lesser-known works, “The Oblong Box,” about a mysterious object on board during a sea voyage from Charleston to NYC, and what eventually became called “The Balloon-Hoax.” The latter was originally published as the true journalistic account of a European balloonist, Monck Mason, traversing the Atlantic Ocean in a lighter-than-air gas balloon, landing on Sullivan’s Island after a mere 75 hours. Published by New York’s The Sun newspaper in April of 1844, along with a diagram and specifications of the craft, it was retracted two days later. (Interestingly enough, Poe had earlier accused The Sun’s editor of having “stolen” the idea for an earlier sensational moon-based hoax from him–such flim-flammery being a known method for juicing circulation in those days–and we are left to ponder its influence upon acknowledged-fan Jules Verne’s later 80-day tale.)

Happy Birthday, Raymond Chandler

On July 23, 1888, Raymond Thornton Chandler was born in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1895, after the divorce of his parents, Chandler moved to London with his mother. From 1900-1905, he attended Dulwich College, and later traveled to Paris and Germany to study languages. In 1907, he returned to England and became a naturalized British subject.

jpg_bridge401In 1912, Chandler returned to America; he lived briefly in St. Louis and Omaha before moving to California. In 1917, he enlisted in the Canadian Army. In December, he arrived in Liverpool, England, and was later sent to France. In June 1918, he transferred to the Royal Air Force, where he began aviation training school. In February 1919, he received a discharge from the Army and travelled along the Pacific coast.

In 1919, Raymond began a love affair with a married woman, Pearl Cecily “Cissy” Pascal, 18 years his senior. Cissy divorced her husband and married Chandler in February 1924.

jpg_copybook3In 1932, at age 44, Raymond lost his job as an oil company executive, due to drinking and absenteeism. He decided to become a detective fiction writer. Before writing his first novel, The Big Sleep (published in 1939), Chandler wrote pulp fiction short stories, published in The Black Mask and Dime Detective.

Chandler developed Ten Commandments for Writing a Detective Novel. He also wrote an essay, “The Simple Art of Murder.” chandlerart

Check out the extensive list of Chandler’s works, including TV, radio, and film, on ThrillingDetective.com.

bigsleeppocketThe Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart as the hard-boiled private eye, Philip Marlowe, was released in 1946. The plot was drawn from two of his short stories: “Killer in the Rain” and “The Curtain.” It also incorporates a bit of “Finger Man.”

Chandler worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter, contributing to Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944), the film noir classic The Blue Dahlia (1946) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951).

In December 1954, Cissy Chandler died. At age 70, Chandler died from bronchial pneumonia on March 26, 1959, in La Jolla, San Diego, California.

Author John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black, resurrected Raymond Chandler’s famous private eye, Philip Marlowe (with permission from Chandler’s estate), in his 2014 novel, The Black-Eyed Blonde.

In 2015, Raymond Chandler will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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Follow me on Twitter @katcop13

FBF Shirley Jackson

shirleyjacksonPatti Abbot has long been the gatekeeper of the Forgotten Book Friday blogs, which have often expanded to cover movies, television shows/episodes, short stories and so on. Bloggers from all over the net send links to Patti and then folks wander around reading what everyone else has chosen to talk about. Now and again Patti organizes a “special” and we all talk about the same author. Well I am pleased as punch to tell you that today’s author requiring all our attention is none other than Shirley Jackson, the great American writer of Gothic and Mystery. And let’s not forget her “mom” humor as exhibited in Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons.

But I digress from the stories that leap to mind at the mere mention of Shirley Jackson’s name. Show me a high school student who hasn’t cringed at the end of Miss Jackson’s famous short story, “The Lottery.” Some time ago I talked about that and some of her other work over at Criminal Element:

Rarely does anyone think of The New Yorker magazine as a place to go to get a quick fix of horror fiction. And yet in 1948 that well-respected magazine published just such a story, which caused great controversy and stirred up a tremendous amount of hate mail. It also was the cause of numerous readers cancelling subscriptions.

The story was published during a time when many town governments across America sponsored weekly cash-prize lotteries as a means of bringing people into town from the surrounding farms to stimulate the postwar economy for the local merchants. The name of the story was, of course, “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.

Click through to Criminal Element for the rest of the article.

And for more articles and insights into Shirley Jackson and her fascinating body of work, visit Patti Abbott for a list of links.

Terrie

Forgotten Book Friday: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The MoonstoneWhile stationed in India, a British army colonel steals a sacred diamond that he eventually leaves to his niece. A generous gift, or payback to the family who shunned him? I choose door number two since the jewel bears a curse that promises disaster to any mortal who touches it.

And so begins Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, first serialized and then published in three volumes in 1868.

In a quote attributed to him in The Guardian, Collins said, “I have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary object of a work of fiction should be to tell a story.” This he does, in rich detail and with unexpected twists and cliffhangers that left me wide awake and reading at three a.m. In The Moonstone, as in The Woman in White, Collins tells his story through multiple narrators, each with a unique voice and perspective, creating a kaleidoscope effect that feels very contemporary.

In The Moonstone, we meet a number of characters early on when the family gathers to celebrate Rachel Verinder’s eighteenth birthday, the occasion upon which she’ll receive the cursed and very valuable jewel. Present for the celebration are her mother, Lady Verinder; two eligible male cousins who compete for her affection; the trusted family servant, and, a bit later in the action, Sergeant Cuff, a laconic and brilliant detective with a passion for roses. And then there’s Rachel: smart, beautiful, strong-willed, secretive, obstinate– not your garden-variety Victorian heroine.

This may sound like a set up for a standard British body-in-the-library murder mystery, but it’s not. Yes, a body turns up, eventually, but its Collins’ characters, each fully realized from the leads to walk-ons, that drive the plot.

My favorite, and maybe Collins’ favorite too, is Gabriel Betteredge, the septuagenarian servant who narrates sections of the story. He now tops my list of fictional characters I’d like to have a beer with. Here’s a sample of Gabriel’s narrative:

“You are not to take it, if you please, as the saying of an ignorant man, when I express my opinion that such a book as ROBINSON CRUSOE never was written and never will be written again. I have tried that book for years—generally in combination with a pipe of tobacco—and I have found it my friend in need in all the necessities of this mortal life.  When my spirits are bad—ROBINSON CRUSOE. When I want advice—ROBINSON CRUSOE. In past times when my wife plagued me; in present times when I have had a drop too much—ROBINSON CRUSOE. I have worn out six stout ROBINSON CRUSOES with hard work in my service.”

Want to read more? You’ll find The Moonstone along with The Woman in White and other Collins’ titles available for free download at Project Gutenberg.

 

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Celebrating Girl Trouble, Bullitt, and Robert L. Fish

Cover-MO-Girl-Trouble-100Mystery Writers of America holds annual awards (called The Edgars after you-know-who) for best crime stories (in long, short, paperback, even teleplay), for juveniles and young adult, also in critical/biographical works. This year’s nominees have been announced, and in an unexpected thrill, The Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble‘s story, “The Wentworth Letter” by Jeff Soloway, which was announced not as a nominee, but as the winner of the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for Best First Short Story by an American Author!

I worked on the backstage of this collection, as did our own Laura K. Curtis, and it’s tremendously exciting news! Follow the link above for more information about the story, a contemporary and witty tale of sordid academics, grasping aficionados, and a lost Jane Austen letter. (And during the loooong haul from the story’s selection to publication, Jeff Soloway was signed to a 2-book deal with Random House’s digital crime imprint Alibi Books with his debut to come later this year, I believe.)

On this occasion, I thought it would also be nice to talk more about Robert L. Fish (who also wrote as Robert L. Pike, A. C. Lamprey–get it?–and Lawrence Roberts), a name and career which isn’t as often disucees today as thirty years ago, in 1984, when his estate originally sponsored the annual prize to be awarded by MWA. Fish was educated and trained as an engineer, perhaps a less-usual occupation for a fiction writer, but his international work as an consultant took him to many inspiring venues and must’ve put him in contact with loads of interesting people.

Among his other stops, he spent a decade living in Rio de Janeiro, and it was Brazil that featured in his first novel, The Fugitive (bottom left below), which won him the 1962 Edgar for Best First Novel: Hans Busch, an infamous Nazi propagandist, arrives in Rio de Janiero with two million dollars in cash, causing the Nazi sympathizers in that country to grow eager with anticipation. Here, finally, is the money they need to rebuild their tattered party. What they don’t know is that Busch’s real name is Ari Schoenberg and that he is a Holocaust survivor whose mission is to infiltrate the burgeoning movement and put an end to it.

Fish would eventually publish more than 30 novels and many short stories (a mere sampling appears below). Considering he submitted his first short story to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1960 at the age of 48, then had major heart surgery to kick off the 1970’s, and passed away too young at the age of 68, we’re looking at a very hard-working and prolific writer.

Fish-NovelsAmong his projects, he was hired by Jack London’s estate to finish The Assassination Bureau, Ltd. (top left) which loosely became a 1969 movie with Oliver Reed and Diana Rigg. Also note the cover (center bottom) which was a tie-in for a 1965-1966 TV series, The Trials of O’Brien, starring Peter Falk as a Shakespeare-quoting trial lawyer with Elaine Stritch as his secretary and a Who’s Who of guest stars. (It’s in the Wikpedia link–but without citation–that Falk often said he preferred this role to his later one as Lt. Colombo.)

Fish-steve-mcqueen-bullittFinally in our little selection, is Mute Witness, a 1963 novel (center right) which became the basis of the classic 1968 film with Steve McQueen, Bullitt. How cool is that? Stone-cold. Fish also served as MWA’s president in 1976. According to reports, when he died, he was found in his study in Connecticut, pen in hand, the model of a dedicated writer.

 

Thanks for your many works, Robert L. Fish, and congratulations again to Jeff Soloway for winning an award with such a prestigious heritage!

Free Public Domain E-books

jpg_2036-Laptop-Cartoon-Character-Displays-Pile-Of-BooksIf you’d like to find free public domain books in electronic or audio format, ebookfriendly.com has recently updated their list of “25 sources of free public domain books.” In another post, they offer “8 tips & tricks to get the most of Project Gutenberg.”

Public domain short stories are available to download from Feedbooks. You’ll find tales from Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and many more.

LibriVox offers an extensive library of free public domain audiobooks, read by volunteers from around the world. jpg_2700-Royalty-Free-Emoticon-With-Headphones

Interested in great deals on current ebooks? Subscribe to Bookbub. Bookbub, a free service, alerts you to limited-time free and discounted ebooks matching your interests. Bookbub works with all major devices and stores. This daily deal site for ebooks has approximately two million members. For information on the listing requirements for your book on Bookbub, click here. Follow Bookbub on Pinterest and Facebook, and check out their blog, Bookbub Unbound.

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Happy ebook and audiobook hunting! Let us know what you find. If you have a ‘go-to’ site for free ebooks and/or audiobooks, share it with us.

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Two Sentence Tuesday: Gothic Winterthurn and Joyce Carol Oates

Mysteries-of-Winterthurn-by-Joyce-Carol-OatesAuthor, editrix, and online gadabout Laura Benedict was recently visiting the editor’s blog of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Something is Going to Happen. In her post, Laura discusses “For Love of Gothic: When Home is the Most Mysterious Place of All” I love things Gothic-inflected and recommend reading the whole thing, but here’s a snippet that caught my eye in particular:

Joyce Carol Oates is a contemporary writer who writes—among myriad other genres—astonishing Gothic stories. Her collection, Mysteries of Winterthurn, is one I turn to again and again, particularly the tale, The Virgin in the Rose Bower. In it, the grand historic house, Glen Mawr—complete with attic, dungeon, and an ironically named Honeymoon Room—abets the brutal acts of murder and deceit perpetrated by its inhabitants. (There is a hint of the supernatural, but a human could easily have committed any of the crimes.) “The Virgin in the Rose Bower” is also the title of the trompe l’oeil mural in The Honeymoon Room. With its devilish putti, strange taloned creatures, and leering androgynous angel, it is quite possibly the most plot-affecting piece of fictional art since the portrait of Dorian Gray.

I love that. It’s a single mural, on a single wall. The house’s inhabitants might see it, touch it every day. It can’t go anywhere. It doesn’t threaten hundreds of thousands of people. No war is ever likely to begin over it. Yet it is absolutely central to the high drama of a few people’s lives. With that painting as a clue, the young detective Xavier Kilgarvan is able to unlock the terrifying, altogether human mystery at the heart of Glen Mawr, and the discovery informs the rest of his life and career.

Realizing I’d never read it–and really, I must!–I went immediately to find a copy. However, no e-version was available to sate my most urgent hunger, but I did order one and managed to find in a review (hat tip: postmodernmystery.com) one of the much-remarked digressions of Kilgarvan, introspective detective of the three mysteries:

Amongst the more churlish criticisms leveled against the art of
Murder and Mystery,—in their classic literary forms, I should
hasten to say—is the objection, whether philosophical or aesthetic,
to the inevitable tidiness of the conclusion, toward which the form
instinctively moves: whereby all that has been bewildering, and
problematic, and, indeed, “mysterious” is, oft-times not altogether
plausibly, resolved: which is to say, explained.  It is objected that
“life is not like that”…As if it were not, to all right-thinking
persons, a triumphant matter that Evil be exposed in human form,
and murderers,—or murderesses—be brought to justice; and the
fundamental coherence of the Universe confirmed.

I consider that criticism churlish, too–Hear, Hear, Kilgarvan! That last passage from Oates was actually 3, not 2 sentences (and yes, I offered a hearty introduction, but I had to set the context, didn’t I?). Following along, here are 2 sentences from my own thematically-resonant if less-accomplished WIP:

She could scarcely believe she was voicing the sentiment. “Somewhere below ground… something leaches out with such corruption I feel it now on my hands, as if I can never get them clean again.”

Please feel free to share 2 sentences you read and/or wrote this week, and wish our frequent 2-sentence maven Leigh much luck on her Moving Day!

Words of Wisdom from Jorge Luis Borges

220px-Jorge_Luis_Borges_1951,_by_Grete_SternAt Women of Mystery, we occasionally profile “Friday Fatales,” women writers and their accomplishments and contributions. I wanted to write a post about some words of wisdom I recently acquired from the brilliant Argentine author, poet, and essayist Jorge Luis Borges, so I figured I’d post it today, giving a nod to male authors, too.

In the fall of 1967 and spring of 1968, Jorge Luis Borges (born in Buenos Aires, August 24,1899) delivered a series of lectures at Harvard.

For more than three decades, the six lectures never made it into print, as the tapes gathered dust in a library vault. Posthumously, the tapes of Borges lectures were transcribed, and This Craft of Verse (Charles Eliot Norton Lectures), edited by Calin-Andrei Mihailescu, was published by Harvard University Press in 2002.

While in the library recently, searching for his short story, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” I stumbled upon this slim volume among the books featuring this important 20th century writer. I promptly borrowed it.

978-0-674-00820-5-frontcoverThe titles of his lectures include: “The Riddle of Poetry,” “The Metaphor,” “The Telling of the Tale,” “Word-Music and Translation,” “Thought and Poetry,” and “A Poet’s Creed.” At the time of the lectures, Borges was near total blindness. He delivered the lectures without the aid of any notes.

Editor Calin-Andrei Mihailescu says, “This Craft of Verse is an introduction to literature, to taste, and to Borges himself.”

Online, I discovered what appears to be a transcribed copy of the lectures. On Ubuweb: Sound, you can listen to the lectures.

I’d like to share some of the nuggets of wisdom from Sr. Borges:

On Poetry: “We feel the beauty of a poem before we even begin to think of a meaning,” and another: “In poetry, a writer works with metaphors — the metaphors need not be believed in. We should think that they correspond to the writer’s emotion.”

Borges mentions points made by other writers: Edgar Allan Poe believed a story should be written for the sake of the last sentence, and a poem for the sake of the last line. H.L. Mencken pointed out that the essence of most novels lies in the breaking down of a man, in the degeneration of character. Borges deeply admired Thomas Carlyle in the writing of prose, and Walt Whitman in the writing of verse.

“If along with the pleasure of being told a story,” Borges noted,”we get the additional pleasure of the dignity of verse, then something great will have happened.”

For even more Borges goodness, visit The Paris Review interview with Ronald Christ in 1966, “The Art of Fiction, No. 39.”

library-book-cartI have a dream that I share with Jorge Luis Borges, who once said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” (I also imagine a jukebox and a movie theatre, too.) We can dream, can’t we? Speaking of dreams, Borges also said, “Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.”

Borges died at age 86 in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 14, 1986, from liver cancer.

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