Top 3 Favorite Short Stories

Hey y’all, I’m back! I’ve been incredibly busy recently with summer classes, and as of today finished my last summer class before the fall (and my wisdom teeth and ankle surgery *insert whining emoji*). But YAAAY!

I took a really cool class, though, called The Short Story. Can you tell I’m an English major? Anyway, it was very interesting, we covered a lot of different mediums, including radio dramas, “story songs” (aka….songs), and even a comic book. It was really cool to see the different ways in which a short story can be portrayed. However, obviously the main objective was text.

So I thought, hey! I haven’t really been reading for myself in my spare time, but I have been reading a LOT! So I figured, what the heck! Lemme give you guys my top three favorite short stories that we covered in my class (keep in mind, we read a hell of lot more than three, so this was a tough list to narrow down – honorable mentions will be at the bottom)!

So, without further ado:

“Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” – Stephen Crane

I’m sure some of you might have read this story – really a novella – before in high school. But I dropped out of my public high school for a period of time, and when I went back to a different school we certainly did not cover short stories, mostly just Shakespeare (yaaaassss! <3). But let me tell you: this story is GOLD.

To give you a little background, “Maggie” is set in the poor tenements of New York City at the turn of the century, and centers around a girl, Maggie (duh), and her brother Jimmie. The two grow up in an abusive family with two alcoholic parents. The story progresses from their time as children to their lives as adults, where Jimmie is basically the King of the Streets, and Maggie grew to be a really beautiful woman (Crane describes this as “blossom[ing] in a mud puddle”). The story takes an ugly turn, and I won’t tell you any more than that, for fear of ruining it for you. But oh my God, please go read it.

From the book I was reading, Barbara Solomon’s The Haves and the Have-Nots, it was about 65 pages long – so longer than your average short story, but certainly not longer than a book or even really a modern novella (although it is considered a novella).

I HIGHLY recommend this story. Keep in mind, it is set in the tenement districts of NYC – so a very poor, very depressed time period, with alcoholism and all kinds of other not pleasant things. So if you’re not in the mood for something dark, don’t read it just yet. However, I think it was fantastic, and something that everyone should read. If not for the sake of the interesting plot, at least for the historical significance and imagery.

“The Musgrave Ritual” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It wouldn’t have felt right not to include at least one Sherlock Holmes story. We read practically half of  The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries and it was fantastic!

“The Musgrave Ritual” is honestly the epitome of Sherlock Holmes, in my opinion. While the story is told, as always, through Watson’s perspective, this story is actually set many years prior when Holmes was first starting as an independent detective. Holmes helps an old school acquaintance. His Butler, and the butler’s scorned lover, have disappeared. In order to solve the mystery, Holmes must first solve his friend’s old family “ritual” or riddle:

“Whose was it? His who is gone. Who shall have it? He who will come. Where was the sun? Over the oak. Where was the shadow? Under the elm. How was it stepped? North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five, south by two and by two, west by one and by one, and so under. What shall we give for it? All that is ours. Why should we give it? For the sake of the trust.”

Like WTF??  If you want to know the answer, you’ll have to read the story…. Muah hahaha!

“To Build a Fire” by Jack London

I’m sure many of you have read The Call of the Wild, but for those who have not read any of his short stories – please do! “To Build a Fire,” like most Jack London stories, are very man vs nature. It centers around an older, but physically fit, man in the Alaskan wilderness. Rather than going the easy way to the campsite, he and his dog go through the rough snow storm the long way.

True to Jack London form, he gives glimpses of what the dog is feeling or experiencing through a lens, and makes for a really wonderful read. While certainly not as depressing as “Maggie” it does have parts where you’re going to be yelling at the book and saying “you’re such an idiot,” “how could you?” and “daaaamn!” But it is well worth it!

If you’re interested at all in what it’s like in the harsh Alaskan wilderness in the late 19th century, this story is definitely for you. But I find that it’s just an overall wonderful story, that I think everyone needs to read.

So that’s all, folks! Those are the three most impactful, and exciting stories that I read during my six week session. I hope you guys read them because I really enjoyed them, and think you will too. Hopefully, now that I have two weeks on my own, I’ll be able to finally read some books for my own entertainment and not for a good GPA, but I’ll keep you guys posted!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or e-mail me with the address below! Hope to hear from you soon!

By the way, honorable mention goes to:

  • “A Pair of Silk Stockings” – Kate Chopin (The Haves and Have-Nots)
  • “The Five Orange Pips” and “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries)
  • Because it’s a classic: “The Gift of the Magi” – O. Henry (23 Great Stories)

Until next time!

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Works Cited

Crane, Stephen. “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.” The Haves and Have-Nots, edited by Barbara Solomon, New American Library, a division of Penguin Group, 1999, pp. 219 – 284.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. “The Musgrave Ritual.” The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, Signet Classics, 2014, pp.  421 – 439.

 

London, Jack. “To Build a Fire.” 23 Great Stories, by David Leavitt and Aaron Their, The Penguin Group, 2013.

River of Teeth – Sarah Gailey Review

Hey guys! I’m so proud of myself – I’ve managed to read two books since June. I know, it doesn’t seem like much, but trust me: it’s been hard to find time. That being said, I’m going to talk about one of them: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey.

Now, before I go into the book I think it’s only fair I tell you a little bit about the historical background of this novella:

In 1910, a man by the name of Robert Broussard, et. al.  proposed an idea to the U.S. government – an idea so preposterous it just might work. Or so he thought.

Broussard proposed the “American Hippo Bill.” What is the “American Hippo Bill,” you ask? Well, you see, in the Louisiana swamplands an invasive plant called the Water Hyacinth was running rampant, destroying animal habitats, “choking” the rivers, and making it near impossible to ship anything from the waters. The government tried everything: including an attempt to pour oil over it to kill the plant.

I mean, why they thought just dumping sludgy oil over a water plant was a good idea, I have no idea. But I guess at least they’re nothing if not consistent because their next plan was even more ridiculous. Broussard proposed that in order to get rid of the Water Hyacinth they could bring African Hippopotamus’ into Louisiana waters and kill the plant.

Now that’s pretty crazy right? Well I’m not done.

Not only did they want to bring the Hippos all the way from their natural habitat to kill this plant, they also wanted to ranch them! Their idea was simple: we’ll bring the hippos in, we’ll put them on a ranch, or a farm, and raise them like you would a cow or chickens – let them eat the water hyacinth, and then when the hippos are ready, we kill them and use them as a source for meat. At the time there was a meat shortage, so why not add hippo into their diets!

Needless to say, despite Theodore Roosevelt being 100% on board with this plan (Because he’s TR, and a true badass), there were no hippo ranches to be made in Louisiana.

So what does this have to do with the book? Well, Gailey – who is on a whole other level of creative that I could never reach, decided to write this novel as if the “American Hippo Bill” had passed!!

I was just scrolling through Amazon books and one of the “also recommended” books was this. I saw the cover and immediately knew I had to at least give it a shot. Well, this book was well worth it.

Gailey took some liberties and made this book set in the 1800’s, and I have to say that was a great idea. She takes her own liberties when it comes to time periods, technology used, and the like, but overall her use of those liberties made for a really fun read.33099585

I’m not going to say that this is the next Great American Novel, but it sure was entertaining and honestly worth another read from me.

The story follows a character named Winslow Houndstooth who manages to get a group of “mercenary hippo wranglers” together to complete a year-long job. What they don’t know is that Houndstooth isn’t just doing a job (although he is doing the job) he’s also looking for revenge!

I thought this book was really fun, light, and an easy read. All of the characters are SO different, they all have a purpose, and they all bring something fun, or different to the table. I didn’t know what to expect from this book, and even while reading it I couldn’t tell what was going to happen next. It was just one big rollercoaster.

If you love historical fiction, adventure, heist, and animal books – this is for you. It appealed to my want for something based on fact, something almost swash-buckling, and it still had animals!  The only thing I will say is this: if you don’t like gore, don’t read it. It’s not overly gory, and honestly Gailey does a very tasteful job with that, but there is death in the book and the scenes tend to take a very different turn from what you’d expect. So just keep that in mind if you wanted to read it. It also does have sex in it. They don’t talk about genitals or anything, but there is kissing, and not-at-all-subtle sleepovers.

So again, buyer beware.

Otherwise, I thought it was excellent! It was fun, it was interesting, it was cool that it’s based off of real life, and I really enjoyed it! Good news too: she’s making a sequel! Comes out in September!!

Also, I just looked it up and it looks like Edward Norton and RatPac Entertainment are creating a movie on the topic! I assume the movie is about the true story of trying to get the bill passed and such, but how cool would it be if it were a killer hippo story??

Anyway, if you like these kinds of books, and like history, and a really short read (160-something pages) READ THISSSSS!!!! It’s summer – buy this book and bring it to the beach! It’s worth it!

As always, if you have any comments or questions feel free to leave them here or contact me at rachel@booksandcleverness.com!

Until next time!

Rachel

E-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Book vs TV Series: The Handmaid’s Tale

Hey guys! As usual, I’m sorry it’s been for-fucking-ever since I posted last, but I think I have a pretty valid excuse: we bought a townhouse! So I’ve been really busy, I’m trying to get acclimated, and get my doggy acclimated (harder than it sounds), and I just started school again. So, that being said, with all the craziness going on, I’ve managed to read a book!

Now I’m sure you’ve gathered this from the title, but I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I have to be honest, I’ve heard of this book before, and have seen it in passing and book stores my whole life and never had a desire to read it until I saw a trailer for Hulu’s new original series of the same name. I was listening to Britney Spears radio Pandora (like there’s any other station, amirite?) and a REALLY short commercial came on, because I’m not paying for that “no ads” shit, that basically said something like, ‘My name is Offred. But I had another name, once, in my other life – but I was asleep then. Now I’m awake.’ or something like that and I was like SAY WHAAAAAAAAT?? So naturally I bought it immediately.

And I’m really glad I did. This book has it all. It’s interesting and intriguing from the first page to the last (particularly the last), but it doesn’t go overboard. What I mean by that is that a lot of books, especially books set in dystopian societies, tend to want to cram too much information in there. It’s like the author needs to give an explanation for why certain things happen a certain way, and while I fully agree that authors should give you information, I don’t always believe they should give you all of the information.

There are some books, like The Martian, where more information is needed because most of the readers aren’t fluid in botany, engineering, or frickin’ space travel, But some books, like Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA by Tony Mendez (the real-life guy that Ben Affleck played in Argo) that overloads you with information. I really, genuinely, honestly, do not give a fuck about all of these acronyms – I understand that a lot of government branches have long names and they require acronyms, but do you really need to bring up like twenty different branches throughout the first fifty pages and then NEVER bring up what the acronyms stand for again? I mean seriously, I was flipping through the book like four times a night trying to figure out what the hell branch of government he was talking about at any given time. I respect you, Mendez, you done good in Iran, but chill the fuck out with the acronyms.

Anyway, Atwood does a fantastic job of giving you enough information so that you know it’s sinister, or enough information to know what’s going on or what could happen, without blatantly expressing such. The novel is expertly written, it ebbs and flows back and forth between past and present, and captures the horror, complacency, terror, and understanding that come with being a Handmaid, and a person, in this society.

While I definitely could have used another 40 pages or so of information, she does offer an “Historical Notes” chapter at the very end that I found interesting, and definitely food for thought.

I will say this: if you don’t like kinda gross, but not gory details, don’t read this book. But if you love women fighting back, if you love the power and strength that women can conjure even in the hardest, darkest, and most oppressive of times, you will love this book.

I’m actually mad at myself that I never picked it up sooner, because to me it’s fantastically empowering. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!

Now, as for the TV show…. it’s aight. *shrug emoji*

Before I continue: I’m only three episodes in, so this review may be inaccurate after I watch a few more episodes, but so far I find this show fun, entertaining, but only somewhat accurate to the book, with a few small issues hidden in there too.

Look, I’m never one of those people that thinks it needs to be exact to the book. The only time I get upset is when a movie (or in this case a TV show) changes the facts of the story. For example, I was upset when the Burrow burned down in HP and The Half-Blood Prince. I completely understood that it was for action in an otherwise non-action-y time in the movie, but the Burrow didn’t burn down in the book! The biggest problem I had with that was just the complete lack of accuracy. They could’ve just had a fight at the Burrow – that would have made sense – but to burn down the house meant that in the following movie the Burrow needed to look different than it had the previous five movies, which completely threw me off as an audience member. Now obviously that’s a small example, but honestly those are the kinds of inaccuracies that bug me in this show.

They’ve changed little facts. Like in the book we don’t know what happened to Luke, but Offred mentions he’s dead in the first or second episode (not a spoiler at all, though, guys – it happens like 30 seconds into the show). We never know Offred’s real name because her name is supposed to be a treasure and secret that’s just for her, but in the show we know it’s Jen. In the show Serena Joy is not only seemingly much younger, but also does not have the slight handicap she has in the book, and doesn’t even seem very resentful, and actually seems somewhat pleasant most of the time. The Commander as well has dark black hair in the show, but they make it a point to say that he has grey hair in the novel.

Now, okay, am I being nit-picky? Yes. But isn’t that what I’m here for?  I mean, if the question is: Is this a good, entertaining, interesting show? Then the answer is undoubtedly yes. Yes yes yes. But if the question is: Is the show basically the book but in show format? Then no. They’ve added things in, like Ofglen’s story, and they’ve taken things out, like Serena Joy’s background. Also, is it just me or do the characters seem a little disconnected from one another.

Like Nick and Offred obviously have some kind of tension between them, but Nick isn’t as flirty or sarcastic, or even as douchey in my opinion, and Offred isn’t as snarky back to him. In fact I’ve barely seen any of that and that was some of my favorite stuff from the book.

But I’ll be lenient here. I understand that they’re not making a movie, they’re creating a series and that needs to span at least twelve episodes, and from what I’ve heard they’ve been renewed for a second season. So I guess you can’t really take a 300 page book and turn it into 24 hours. Also, I will admit that I’m still early in the game: from my experience, shows start to pick up around the three episode mark, and I’m about five minutes into episode four, so maybe I just need to give it more time.

So, my final thoughts? Read the book. It’s absolutely incredible. The writing is phenomenal, the imagery is spectacular, and it’s just truly extraordinary, ESPECIALLY in today’s society, with all the crap that’s going on, and this patriarchal thought process that says women are just toys to be played with, have no say over their own bodies, and anything that goes wrong in their lives is directly caused by them and not any extenuating circumstances (*cough cough* sexual assault).

As for the show, it’s a very interesting, fun show to watch. It’s not fun in the traditional light-hearted sense, but it’s an entertaining show that keeps my interest. Have I watched better shows? Yes. Am I hesitant to watch more because they’re 57 minutes long? Yes. But if you have the time, and you like extra drama, then this is perfect for you.

But I still highly highly highly recommend the novel. I think it’s something any feminist (and don’t start on me with the feminist term, I understand people misuse it, abuse it, and use feminism as a crutch. But I’m just a traditional feminist who just genuinely wants women, and people in general, to be equal and treated equally, with the right to do whatever they please with their own body – no shaming involved! That, to me, is exactly what feminism represents, and I will use the term as such) needs to have on their bookshelf. If for no other reason than to empower yourself when you read it.

And for any man interested in this novel – good on you! I’m 100% sure that you’ll enjoy this novel, and if you don’t let me know and I would love to hear why. I think this is a great book for men to read, again, if for no other reason than you can get into the mindset of a woman who has no control over her situation and body. I’m also of the belief that the more you’re enthusiastic to learn about new topics, or topics that may not directly affect you, the more prepared and better off you’ll be for life in general. Education is a wonderful thing!

Okay! That said, I will try to continue watching the show and if I change my mind on any of my opinions stated before I just might write an edited review, so if you’re interesting in keeping a look out for that post or any other articles I write in the future, follow me! You can add your e-mail address to the box on the top right, and you’ll get a notification every time I post on here!

In the meantime, if you have any opinions, comments, or questions, please feel free to comment below or to e-mail me at rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Until next time,

Rachel

E-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Heartless Pt 1 of 2 Review

Alright we have a little bit of a situation.

I started reading Heartless by Marissa Meyer to start the new year off right – haaaay 2017, whaddup? I’m absolutely in love with Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, and I was thrilled when I heard that she was writing a new book – separate from the series – about who The Queen of Hearts was before Alice in Wonderland. That’s awesome, right?!

Except I really don’t like this book so far.

So what’s the deal, you may ask? Why is this even going to be two parts if you don’t like it, you may ask? Well, I got so pissed off at this book that I put it down for three days. In fact, I got so pissed off at this book that I started reading another book! But after careful consideration today, I decided that I’m going to tough it out.

I have not loved a Young Adult fantasy series like I do the Lunar Chronicles since I read the freakin’ Hunger Games in 2010. Six years! It took SIX YEARS for me to find a YA series that I genuinely, absolutely adored. So I think I owe it to myself, and to Marissa Meyer, to give this book a fair chance. After all, the Lunar Chronicles was five books – so I know she’s a great writer.

Now, I’ve made my feelings very clear in a previous blog post back in 2015 why you should stop reading books you don’t like. However, I’m going to tough this one out, and see if she doesn’t disappoint…. For science!

Before I say the bad stuff about the book, let me tell you one great thing: the packaging. The book cover is gorgeous, the hardback is beautiful, and even down to the page it’s stunning to look at it. That’s one thing I can say without a doubt about Meyer’s novels, is that the artwork is phenomenal.18584855

Okay, why do I not like Heartless so far? Well, to start, it’s incredibly slow on the uptake. I understand that she’s trying to build suspense, and set the scene, and I appreciate that. But the way she goes about it is wrong.

The book so far has been about a girl, Cath, who dreams of owning a bakery with her servant, and best friend, Mary Ann. She’s such a wonderful baker that the King of Hearts himself requests for his desserts at parties to include her treats. Now what Cath doesn’t know, is that her parents have arranged for her and the King to get married. At the royal ball, the King is about to announce to everyone that intends to marry her. Spooked, Cath flees from the ball she faints and is revived from the new Court Joker, Jest.

This all seems fine, normal, and dandy right?

Yeah, but that night she discusses with Mary Ann that she doesn’t want to marry the King at all. She wants to open the bakery.

Before I get into that, I want to take a minute to mention that the King is like the world’s nicest man! He’s always happy and kind to everyone he meets, he’s constantly smiling and telling bad jokes, and yes maybe he laughs too much, but I’d rather be around a King who is kind and can laugh at the world than one who can’t stand his people or takes everything too seriously. Just a genuinely sweet man, and she acts as if he’s the grossest thing in the world, and thinks his laughing is so annoying. I mean, look lady, did it ever occur to you that maybe you’re just a stick in the mud?

Anyway, so she complains to her friend-servant that she doesn’t want to marry the King and how awful that would be. Mary Ann, who is a servant, is rightfully upset. She doesn’t understand how anyone could not want to be Queen – she wouldn’t answer to anyone, she’d have all the freedom in the world, she’d be able to do anything she wanted, and the King was a nice man… I mean, come on, you can’t really complain to a servant – who will never be able to move upwards in society, and who has to clean your goddamn bed pans every night – that yeah, I guess it’s a wonderful opportunity for not just Cath, but for her entire family and probably even all of the servants and servant’s families because they’d likely be moved to the castle to serve, but by golly does that bakery on main street sound nice!

Here’s my other thing, if she’s the fucking Queen, why can’t she open a bakery herself? If that’s the only thing in life that she’s concerned with then by marrying the King she would be able to have the money to pay for the bakery, would have all day every day to bake in the royal kitchen which I would assume is pretty top notch, and to buy the specific plot of real estate she wants without going behind her parent’s back and stealing the money they were going to use for her dowry (I forgot to mention that her parents don’t even know she wants a bakery because Cath has never told them, so instead of them listening to her and understanding what she actually wants for her life, they just assume that she would be happy marrying the King. And even when she says she doesn’t want to marry the King, Cath still doesn’t tell her parents what she wants instead). Am I wrong, here? Furthermore, it’s not even like the King would be mad, I don’t think. I think he’d be happy because it would mean she’s making him desserts all day, and bringing in money for the Kingdom. I mean, really.

I understand that in the end she’s going to do something horrible because she is still the “off with their heads!” Queen, but holy crap – I mean, I have no sympathy for her struggle in the least. I’m just waiting for her to know that she’s evil so that at least I can hate her as the villain in this story and not just as annoying narcissistic girl with no empathy for what her loved ones might be feeling.

Now lets move on to this Joker, Jest. Cath feels like she’s in love with him because she had a dream about him and then suddenly lemons and roses appeared in her bedroom. Okay, that’s a little weird, I’ll give you that, but a dream does not a relationship make! Furthermore, in almost every instance Jest has hinted that he’d be happy being the jester to the King and to her – AS THE QUEEN – for the rest of his life. He even talked to the King when he realized she wasn’t ready for marriage and asked the King to slow it down and court her, to which the King was delighted to do because he really, truly cares about Cath for whatever unknown reason other than her goodies (pun intended).

It honestly sounds like a one-sided romance to me. And not in the brilliant way that Meyer’s did in her novel Fairest where we follow the bad guy before she was the bad guy and you can see all of the things that led to her becoming the way she is, including forcing a man to love her by killing his wife and then making herself look like his dead wife. I 22489107mean that character went through some really messed up stuff, and I can’t really blame her for becoming evil. Not that I liked the character, and in that book she did some really dark stuff, but at least I understood. In this, it’s different. The character is just a jerk, but she thinks she’s this thoughtful great person.

So now I’ve reached that impasse where I think, Rae, you’re like two hundred pages in, and even when you skipped ahead  to see how much more of this book you’d have to sit through, she still was on the fence about marrying this King and running off with Jest- do you really want to subject yourself to listening to this spoiled girl go on and on about how she wants this bakery? 

Normally my answer is no. Normally, my response is to say fuck this book – I’m moving on. Life is too short to be reading bad books. But then there’s that flicker that says, Nah, dawg, wait it out. 

Thus, I’m listening to the flicker. Even as I wrote that sentence, I rolled my eyes and put my hand on my face like “oh, I have such a headache, I’m a screw up. Fuuuuuuuuuuuucc…..”

We’ll see. I hope I’m not disappointed, but this bitch better either turn evil real quick so I’m justified in hating her or at least make me sympathize with her in like the next 40 pages because I swear by the time this book is finished I’ll have gouged claw marks into the pages.

I’m going to try to read it as swiftly as possible, but no guarantees it’ll be done in the next few days because at this rate it’s been about four days and I haven’t even touched it. I promise I’ll pick it up, though, guys. I do promise you that, because I’m actually interested in seeing where this experiment goes.

Now I’m off to do me the big science! She blinded me with sciiiiience… na, na naaaa, na…. Science!

I’m sorry I just threw some Thomas Dolby at you. I’ll just be over here if you need me.

Until next time,

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com