Friday, November 19, 2010

The Official J.Wiltz Halloween Short Story Countdown

Like everyone else in this day and age, I'm extremely guilty of littering my Facebook page with lots of pointless posts about my daily thoughts, activities, and excitement ("McRib is back!" and stuff like that). But, every so often I actually put ye olde social network to good use and post something interesting and educational. Like last month when I hosted the Halloween Short Story Countdown, reading selections from the Everyman Library's collection of ghost stories (pictured above) and then posting blurbs about them along with links to websites where they could be found online. For those who missed it the first time around, I thought I'd make it available here at A Day With J. Anything to promote literacy and reading, you know.

By the way, I really love these Everyman story collections. In fact, I've listed several of them on my Barnes & Noble Wishlist (hint hint). Also, while I'm on the subject of Facebook, I hope everyone reading this will take time to visit (and "like") my writing page. Don't call me vain. Call me an industrious young wordsmith trying to develop a readership.

Now then, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado I give you...

The Halloween Short Story Countdown

(1) "The Body Snatcher" by Robert Louis Stevenson. I'm amazed at how fluid Stevenson's dialogue is and the way he manages to jump around without losing focus. The ending is a little cheesy (something you'd find in a "Tales From the Crypt" comic), but overall it's worth reading.

(2) "The Open Window" by Saki. A very short, very compact little ghost story with a humorous twist. I wish Saki had trusted his audience enough to cut out the last sentence, but that's a very minor sin for a story this lighthearted. (Note: when you get to the end, go back and read the first sentence again. Brilliant foreshadowing, no?)

(3) "The Circular Ruins" by Jorge Luis Borges. If you like movies like "Donnie Darko" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" that make you question the nature of reality, time, and perception, this strange/beautiful story is right up your alley. Borges has a very poetic way of phrasing things, even in translation. (Maybe one of these days Pilar or Maria will walk me through the original Spanish? What do you say, ladies?)

(4) "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs. I'm sure you've all seen one version of this story or another (maybe on The Simpsons?), but this is the classic original. The timing is off in a couple of places, but the sick awkwardness of the ending more than makes up for it. Enjoy.

(5) "Uninvited Ghosts" by Penelope Lively. A short and playful ghost story that's perfect for reading to your kids (especially if you can read with a good British accent). Think of it as Casper the Friendly Ghost in short-story mode. Unfortunately, I can't find it online, so you might have to hit up the library. If YOU manage to track it down, please post a link in the comments. Enjoy.

(6) "The Horla" by Guy de Maupassant. Wow! You'll have a hard time finding a ghost story more artfully rendered than this one. Anyone interested in psychology, skepticism, vampires, anti-statism, and/or evolution will find something to like here. (Note for true horror fans: Maupassant, as you'll see, was a strong influence on H.P. Lovecraft, though - dare I say it? - he's a much better writer.) This is horror as literature. Give it a whirl.

(7) "The Visit to the Museum" by Vladimir Nabokov. Ready for a total head trip, courtesy of one of Russia's greatest writers? If so, I've got your passport to insanity right here. (Click the word YES where it says "Available Online?" and it will take you to a Word document. Don't worry, it's safe...and worth reading.) Enjoy.

(8) "Clytie" by Eudora Welty. A nice Gothic tale from one of Mississippi's most legendary literary figures. This story is basically Cinderella on crack and suffering from OCD. You'll love it. (The only online version I could find was in Spanish, which you can translate with Google Translator. Might be better to track down a printed copy, though.) Enjoy.

(9) "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" by M.R. James. This one's a little long-winded at times, and the author can't always make up his mind whether he's trying to be funny or scary. But, it's got some fun Cockney English dialogue and a whistle that clearly inspired The Legend of Zelda. Can't argue with that. Enjoy.

(10) "W.S." by L.P. Hartley. I don't know about you, but I've always thought The Dark Half was one of Stephen King's most interesting stories. Read "W.S." and I think you'll see where he might have gotten the idea for it. Can't find it online, but here's a link to some information. Track it down if you can.

(11) "Honeysuckle Cottage" by P.G. Wodehouse. It's hard to accurately describe just how clever this story is. A man goes to live in a house that was once owned by his deceased aunt, a famous writer of trashy/sentimental/bad romance novels. Before long he realizes that her spirit still inhabits the place, which means that everyone around him speaks and acts as if they're in one of her books. If you can appreciate good writing that lampoons bad writing, this is your candy. And if you agree that romantic commitment is even scarier than haunted houses, you're really gonna love it.

(12) "The Highboy" by Alison Lurie. A fun, fast-paced modern horror story about - are you ready for this? - furniture. Lurie manages the difficult task of being lighthearted and menacing at the same time. This is definitely the only story of its kind in this collection. Check it out.

(13) "Another Fine Mess" by Ray Bradbury. I could be wrong, but this story, written in 1995, may very well have been the first story about celebrity ghosts. (I won't ruin it by saying what celebrities they are, so let's just say Bradbury is clearly paying tribute to some childhood heroes.) The tone is a little sentimental, but I think that was intentional - "Another Fine Mess" is as much a lament for a bygone era as it is a comical ghost story. Great stuff. And for all you Twilight freaks out there, there's even a character named Bella. Enjoy.

(14) "The Quincunx" by Walter de la Mare. Before wading into this story, it's useful to know what a quincunx is. You can find the definition here. That said, this is an interestingly emotional story. It's a little melodramatic in a few spots, but it makes some great observations (I love de la Mare's definition of a house) and raises some interesting questions about family relationships and death. What I really like about "The Quincunx" is that Walter de la Mare doesn't attempt to explain everything. Sometimes a mystery is just a mystery. You can find this story in his collection, Strangers and Pilgrims, or, of course, in the Everyman collection. Enjoy.

(15) "The Happy Autumn Fields" by Elizabeth Bowen. Remember that famous line from Edgar Allan Poe, "All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream"? Well, this story takes that idea and runs with it, weaving the dream worlds of two women living at differents points in history into a single experience. Be prepared to be confused. Bowen's writing is surreal in the true sense of the word.

(16) "Poor Girl" by Elizabeth Taylor. First, to answer the obvious question, no, the author of this story is not the Elizabeth Taylor of multiple marriages and Cleopatra fame. But the main character here - a young governess haunted by confused passions and a fleeting spectre - is a role she could easily have slipped into. Taylor's writing is very fluid, and the emotions of the characters are nicely subtle and complex. If you like your ghost stories with a side dish of infidelity, this is what you've been waiting for. (The link will take you to some information. I couldn't find it online.)

(17) "The Daughters of the Late Colonel" by Katherine Mansfield. There are many ways in which people can haunt each other's lives. This story probes one of the most common: grief. A pair of sisters, Josephine and Constantia (how cool are those names?) struggle to make sense of things after their domineering father passes away. Though it was written in 1921, "The Daughters of the Late Colonel" is surprisingly modern in its presentation. Mansfield's dialogue is especially good. Enjoy.

(18) "The Friends of the Friends" by Henry James. Here's an odd little tunnel of a story for you. It starts off with an unidentified speaker introducing a set of a diary entries, written by another unnamed character, to yet another unnamed character. Names, you see, are unimportant here; James is concerned with the intangible (notice how many times his narrator says she is unable to define something). His depiction of jealousy is very sharp. Watch also for shades of Poe. Enjoy.

(19) "The Looking Glass" by Edith Wharton. Vanity. Parlor tricks. A young man who drowns when the Titanic goes down. This 1937 story has it all. Wharton's writing style clips along at an incredible pace, avoiding needless detail and sketching only what her audience needs to see. She could have used one or two more pages to bring everything full circle here, but don't let that discourage you from tracking this one down and reading it. (Couldn't find it online, but here's a nice biographical sketch.)

And Here's One More

"An Encounter" by James Joyce. It just occurred to me that this story would make a great addition to any Halloween reading list. "An Encounter" is one of the stories that made it difficult for Joyce to get "Dubliners" published back in 1914. Not a ghost story, but definitely creepy...especially if you have kids. (Note: this story is not included in the Everyman collection.)

Final Words

Thus concludes my reading/blogging of Ghost Stories from the Everyman Pocket Library. I had planned to do something similar with Christmas Stories this month, but my work schedule got away from me. Maybe next year. In the meantime, keep an eye on this blog. Hopefully I'll manage to get ahead of myself in the next couple of months so I can cover Love Stories in February, just in time for Valentine's Day.

Thanks for indulging this dorky little endeavor of mine. I hope you've enjoyed it. Cheers.


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