Friday, October 30, 2009

"The Lottery Ticket." Ventura Garcia Calderon.

One-minute review: a beautiful dancer makes herself available to the theater audience of lustful men through a lottery. The winner of the lottery for that night goes off with her to do what? Well, the winner of this night’s lottery is a black man who stands up and, in full view of the audience of lustful white men, tears his winning lottery ticket into tatters. It’s a matter of black pride to show disdain for a beautiful white female dancer. The whole audience jumps on him and pummels him into the hospital. Since there are no more lotteries for this particular dancer, the author won’t tell us the name of the theater.


75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World’s Literature. Ed. Roger B. Goodman. New York: Bantam Books. 1961.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"I See You Never." Ray Bradbury.

One-minute review: This is no sci-fi story by Bradbury, the sci-fi master story teller. It’s a heart warming separation as Mr. Ramirez who did not have a legal visa in the U.S. must be transported back to Mexico from which he had come. He had had a good life in the U.S., boarding with Mrs. O’Brien. He liked her. To her, he was a good tenant. And now he must leave.


Comment: You get used to somebody; then, for no apparent good reason, he needs to go. Portrait of a relationship. The story of a good-bye. RayS.


75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World’s Literature. Ed. Roger B. Goodman. New York: Bantam Books. 1961.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Nefile's Story." Boccaccio.

One-minute review: Rich man’s cook roasts a crane for dinner. A female friend demands one of the roasted legs. Therefore, when the crane is served, it is brought to the attention of the rich man that the crane has only one leg.


The cook says cranes only have one leg. The rich man is furious. He asserts that cranes stand on one leg when they are sleeping, but they have two legs. He demands that his cook show him one-legged cranes.


The cook finds a flock that is sleeping and standing on one leg. The rich man yells at the cranes and they wake up, stand on two legs and take flight.


The rich man is about to thrash the cook, who says, “Well if you had yelled at the crane on the table as you yelled at the sleeping cranes, it would have put down the other leg.” The rich man laughed at the clever response and the cook is saved from a drubbing.


75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World’s Literature. Ed. Roger B. Goodman. New York: Bantam Books. 1961.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"The Father." Bjornstjerne Bjornson.

One-minute review: Five visits to the priest on behalf of his son—on his birth, his christening, his betrothal, his death by drowning and his donating money on behalf of his son for the poor. With the death of his son, Thord grows old.


Comment; The simple story of a father and his pride in his son. RayS.


75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World’s Literature. Ed. Roger B. Goodman. New York: Bantam Books. 1961.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"A Psychological Shipwreck." Ambrose Bierce.

One-minute review: On a ship, the Morrow, the narrator meets a beautiful woman sailing from England to America. In a violent storm, she is lost at sea and so is the Morrow, but, knocked unconscious, he wakes upon another ship with a roommate, someone he knows named Doyle. Somehow he has been transported to the ship City of Prague, also, like the Morrow bound for New York.


Seems Doyle and the beautiful woman lost with the Morrow were going to New York on separate ships because they are eloping against her parents’ wishes. When the narrator says her name, Doyle is in shock and worries that she will arrive in New York before him and will not know what to do or where to go.


The City of Prague is incapacitated and has to be towed to New York, but the Morrow is never heard from again.


The narrator notices that both the beautiful woman on the Morrow and Doyle, on the City of Prague, are reading the same book and have underlined the same passage: “To sundry it is given to be drawn away, and to be apart from the body for a season….”


Comment: Like O. Henry, Ambrose Bierce, known as “Bitter Bierce,” is a master of the surprise ending. He likes to tell ghost stories and stories of the Civil War. He composed a dictionary of ironic, pithy definitions that are very well worth reading. RayS.


75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World’s Literature. Ed. Roger B. Goodman. New York: Bantam Books. 1961.

Friday, October 23, 2009

"How Light Belief Bringeth Damage." Bidpai.

10-second review: Knight, sleeping in his bed with his wife, hears thieves invading his house. While the thieves listen outside his door, the knight tells his wife that everything he had accumulated he had stolen by means of a magic conjuration that enabled him to fly with the moonbeams and steal. The listening thief, attempts to follow the magic formula and fly with the moonbeams and crashes down out of the house to the ground where, with a broken leg, he is beaten severely by the knight and laments that he had been such a fool as to listen to the knight’s story about flying with moonbeams.


75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World’s Literature. Ed. Roger B. Goodman. New York: Bantam Books. 1961.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"House Party." Walter Bernstein.

10-second review: A guy on the make at a college party. Who’s dumber or more na├»ve? He or she? Each apparently thinks the other is. The boy is a college boy. Dartmouth. She is not a college girl. The girl is a chorus girl. The boy thinks she’s a “cinch.” Is she?


75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World’s Literature. Ed. Roger B. Goodman. New York: Bantam Books. 1961.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Senor Payroll." William E. Barrett.

One-minute review: A group of shrewd Mexicans get around the organization’s rules. The Mexican stokers were great workers, but they could not go from payroll to payroll every two weeks. So they asked for advances during the mid weeks. The company decided that that had to stop. Too much paperwork. Advances would be allowed only for emergencies. There followed many an emergency—wives, children frightfully sick.


Next, the company said they would pay them only if they were quitting. Now the stokers quit and came back the next day to be rehired. Then the company said they would only be rehired after thirty days, so the stokers were rehired using fictitious names.


This time the company quit putting up notices. The Mexicans had won the duel.


Comment: Delightful story in the telling. RayS.


75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World’s Literature. Ed. Roger B. Goodman. New York: Bantam Books. 1961.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"He Swung and He Missed." Nelson Algren.

One-minute review: Boxing story in the language of the ring. Rocco was a man who could take defeat, all kinds of defeat, and still remain standing. He is paid to throw a fight, but he decides not to throw the fight, although he did not know that his wife had bet all that he had been paid to throw it on his assurance to her that he would win. Ironic that he lost anyway. He lost because he banked everything on one punch and he missed.


Quote: “ ‘You told me you’d win,’ the girl told him. ‘I got eight to one and put the whole damn bank roll on you. I wanted to surprise you, ‘n now we ain’t got a cryin’ dime.”


75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World’s Literature. Ed. Roger B. Goodman. New York: Bantam Books. 1961.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"A Wedding Without Musicians." Sholom Aleichem.

One-minute review: A Jewish story by a Jewish story-teller. A pogrom was coming to our town. Hooligans had been sent for who would do the worst to the Jews in the town. But the police chief had called for Cossacks who would beat up the Hooligans and kick them out of town. But horrors! The hooligans would be coming by train while the Cossacks would be coming on horseback and the hooligans would reach the town first.


But the hooligans were coming on a train called the “Straggler Special” because it never arrived any where on time. This time, when the “Straggler Special” arrived in town there were no cars nor crew nor hooligans. Somehow, at the previous station, while the hooligans were drinking and making merry, the cars had become detached from the locomotive, which arrived all by itself.


When the hooligans realized they were in railroad cars without a locomotive, they decided to walk to the next town, our town, and when they arrived, the Cossacks had already been there on horseback and had taken over the town, ready to whip the hooligans out of town, which they did. For the hooligans, the Jews were like the wedding and the hooligans were the musicians who couldn’t stay for the wedding.


Comment: The engineer said that once the conductor gave the signal to go, he went and never looked behind him and, therefore, he never knew that the cars were not attached to his locomotive. Humor in the telling.


75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World’s Literature. Ed. Roger B. Goodman. New York: Bantam Books. 1961.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Lullaby." Leslie Marmon Silko.

One-minute review: The youth and age of American Indians and the assurance that they are one with Nature, that they will pass from old age directly into the heart of Nature. The concluding lullaby that she sings to her aged husband as he sleeps is about the unity of man and nature.


Comment: The literature of old age. The details of their surroundings are specific, clear and true to life. The strength of women. The weakness of men, especially in old age when they have been broken. RayS.


Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Goodbye and Good Luck." Grace Paley.

One-minute review. Jewish. Told in the Jewish vernacular. Aunt Rosie tells her niece about her life. She must have been good looking. She attracted a number of men and also the eye of the well-known Russian-Jewish actor Volodya Vlashkin. She stayed with him in an apartment for many years. Did she sleep with him? Probably. She never says so directly, but there are clues.


She and he get along well together until she meets his wife, which she had not known about, and she walks away from the relationship because “I’m no homebreaker.”


After he is retired and he’s around the house all day, his wife learns about Rosie and they divorce. This time he reunites with Rosie and they are about to be married. So she tells the niece to tell her sister, her niece’s mother, “Goodbye and Good Luck.” And she is off to be married because “she’ll have a husband, which, as everyone knows, a woman should have one before the end of the story.”


Comment: The language of the narrator is interesting and entertaining. RayS.


Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"I Stand Here Ironing." Tillie Olsen.

One-minute review: A mother meditates about Emily, her child who was unsmiling, introverted, different from the Shirley Temple look, who could not love her mother. Her mother rationalizes about why her daughter could not return her affection, but as she talks, she reveals how she had slighted the child, makes excuses for her failure to pay attention to Emily: the baby and the other children who needed her attention. Emily was an enigma. How much was Emily’s fault and how much her mother’s?


Comment: The literature of parenting. Would Emily’s behavior today be diagnosed as autistic? RayS.


Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"First Confession." Frank O'Connor

One-minute Review: Little boy, Jackie, goes to his first confession. In the darkness of the confessional, he is too short to see the priest and climbs up on the elbow rest on his knees. His worst sin? He planned to kill his grandmother, a religious fanatic. She once challenged the children for a crown to hold a finger in a candle flame for five minutes so they could experience what would happen to them in hell.


The priest turns out to be a pretty good child psychologist. When the boy falls off the elbow rest, his sister Nora cuffs him on the ear and the boy tells the priest he tried to kill Nora in addition to his grandmother, but he missed. The priest’s response? Someone will try to kill her and he won’t miss. As for killing his grandmother, “Lots of fellows I saw [hanged] killed their grandmothers too, but they all said ‘twas never worth it.”


For that list of planned murders, the boy received a penance of exactly three “Hail Mary’s.”


The boy leaves the confessional relieved and Nora is jealous that the priest accompanied him on his way and gave him some candy. Nora’s comment? “ ‘Tis no advantage to anybody trying to be good. I might just as well be a sinner like you.”


Comment: If you have been raised a Catholic, the story is even more fun to read. RayS.


Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Friday, October 9, 2009

"The Old Chief Mshlanga." Doris Lessing.

One-minute review: Africa. A young girl walks about her large farm that had been taken over by whites from the black natives who once lived on it. The whites treat the blacks as servants and people to tease and humiliate and then she meets the dignified old man, Chief Mshlanga. She learns from him to treat the blacks as fellow human beings. Part of the story is the description of the beauty of Africa. A heart-warming story of race relations.


Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"The Hunger Artist." Franz Kafka.

One-minute review: Rise and fall of a fad. In the beginning, people were fascinated by the “hunger artist.” They counted the days of his fasting, dropped in to see that he was not eating on the sly. Because of his fast he was emaciated and melancholy in mood. Then he became part of the circus and slowly, his fasting became no longer news. He wasted away into death, a forgotten fad. In his cage, he was replaced by a panther, who represented joy in life.


Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"Slave on the Block." Langston Hughes.

One-minute review: Wealthy white couple romanticizes and fantasizes about a young black man, Luther. The wife even wants to paint his portrait half-naked on the slave auction block. Luther and Mattie, the wealthy white couple’s maid, become a couple and the white people’s play things.


Quote: “So they went in for the art of Negroes—the dancing that had such jungle life about it, the songs that were so simple and fervent, the poetry that was so direct, so real. They never tried to influence that art, they only bought it and could rave over it, and copied it. For they were artists to.”


One day, tired of being the white couple’s playthings, Luther and Mattie stand up to them and the white man’s mother and, directed to leave the household, they do. With the painting of the half-naked Luther on the slave block by the white wife unfinished, which she laments.


Comment: Not much of a story. About the only thing interesting is the bizarre relationship between the fawning white couple and rebelling blacks. RayS.


Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings." Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

10-second review: Pelayo finds a man with wings lying face down in the mud. He is an angel but the mud has prevented him from flying. The angel becomes a sort of freak show as Pelayo keeps him in a chicken coop and everyone comes to see him. In the spring, he begins to sprout new wings and flies away.


Comment: I guess this story is an example of what Marquez calls “magic realism,” improbable events in a realistic setting. I suppose it’s funny. RayS.


Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Youth." Joseph Conrad.


10-second review: The sea. To be young and strong and to be successfully tested by the sea. Exhilarating!


Quote: “…the triumphant conviction of strength, the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires—and expires too soon, too soon—before life itself.”


Quote: “I did not know how good a man I was till then. I remember the drawn faces, the dejected figures of my two men. And I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back anymore—the feeling that I could last forever, outlast the sea, the earth and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort—to death….”


Quote: “…our weary eyes looking still, looking always, looking anxiously for something out of life, that while it is expected is already gone—has passed unseen, in a sigh, in a flash—together with the youth, with the strength, with the romance of illusion.”


Comment: Conrad captures the spirit of youth. One of my favorites. RayS.


Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Friday, October 2, 2009

"Lady with a Lapdog." Anton Chekhov.

One-minute review: The story of an affair. Both are married to someone else. Both are enchanted with each other. Both feel guilty. They separate, but their memories are vivid. They go back to their own married lives. He initiates another contact in the theater of her town. She comes to him in Moscow and the story ends with the two of them realizing—that the affair is complicated and their relationship is just beginning.


Theme: Every affair between a man and a woman that begins in delight eventually becomes a very complicated problem.


Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"The Season of Divorce." John Cheever.

One-minute review: the narrator, the husband, knows his wife’s (Ethel’s) every move, every action, but he does not know or understand her motives, her emotions. She’s a handy device to have around. He can’t understand that she wants more for herself and her life than her marriage and the kids.


Dr. Trencher falls in love with the narrator’s wife. He doesn’t try to hide his love for Ethel—and the narrator accepts that as he accepts his wife[s presence and routine activities. Dr. Trencher’s attentions bring to a head Ethel’s wasted emotional life and presents possibilities for something more than her present routine. But this crisis passes and her routine goes on.


The narrator still does not understand.


Quote: “ ‘Why do I cry? Why do I cry?’ she asked impatiently. ‘I cry because I saw an old woman cuffing a little boy on Third Avenue. She was drunk. I can’t get it out of my mind…. I cry because my father died when I was twelve and because my mother married a man I detested or thought I detested. I cry because I had to wear an ugly dress—a hand-me-down dress—to a party twenty years ago, and I didn’t have a good time. I cry because of some unkindness that I can’t remember. I cry because I’m tired—because I’m tired and I can’t sleep.’ I heard her arrange herself on the sofa and then everything was quiet.”


Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.