(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘short stories

“Anonymity is the fame of the future”*…

So… late last spring, a strange, beguiling novel began arriving, in installments, in the mail, addressed to writer Adam Dalva at his parents’ apartment. Who had written it?…

It arrived at the height of the pandemic, in a brown envelope with no return address and too many stamps, none of which had been marked by the post office. It was addressed to me at my parents’ New York City apartment, where I haven’t lived in more than a decade. My mother used the envelope as a notepad for a few weeks, then handed it off to me in July; it was the first time I’d seen her after months of quarantine. Inside the envelope was a small, stapled book—a pamphlet, really—titled “Foodie or The Capitalist Monsoon that is Mississippi,” by a writer named Stokes Prickett. On the cover, there was a photograph of a burrito truck and a notice that read “Advance Promotional Copy: Do Not Read.” The book began with a Cide Hamete Benengeli-style introduction attributed to a Professor Sherbert Taylor. Then a fifty-five-page bildungsroman written in short sections with boldface titles. The prose reminded me a bit of Richard Brautigan.

Because I write book reviews, dozens of unsolicited books are sent to my house every month. Many of them, I confess, barely catch my attention before they’re added to a stack on the floor. But I sat down and read this one all the way through. The narrator of “Foodie” is Rusty, who thinks back on his days in high school, when he worked as a thumbtack-maker’s apprentice, then in a floor-mat factory. Rusty meets another kid from school, an idealist called Foodie whose real name is Gourmand, and whom Rusty describes as “a tetherball champ, a king of the taco stands,” in a town “at the edge of the 8-track suburbs.” Foodie, Rusty says, “was the kindest werewolf on the warfront, and I was his hairdresser.” They start spending time with a hulking, ruthless classmate named Dale, who is “right-handed and immoral as parchment,” and fated to die young because he has a white-collar job that causes him to move through time more quickly than his friends do. After Dale’s death, Foodie and Rusty part ways.

The book was good. But who was Stokes Prickett, and how did this person get my parents’ address?…

A most marvelous mystery, solved by @adalva: “On the Trail of a Mysterious, Pseudonymous Author.”

John Boyle O’Reilly

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As we get to the bottom of it, we might recall that it was on this date in 1901 that William Sydney Porter was released (on good behavior) after serving three years in the Ohio Penitentiary for bank fraud and embezzlement; a licensed pharmacist, he had worked in the prison’s infirmary.  But on his release, he turned to what had been a pastime, writing.  Over the next several years he wrote 381 short stories under the pen name by which we know him, “O. Henry,” including a story a week for over a year for the New York World Sunday Magazine.

His wit, characterization, and plot twists– as evidenced in stories like “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Ransom of Red Chief”– were adored by his readers but often panned by critics… though academic opinion has since come around: O. Henry is now considered by many to be America’s answer to Guy de Maupassant.

220px-William_Sydney_Porter_by_doubleday

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 24, 2021 at 1:00 am

Never the Twain shall meet (a turkey)…

 

Pencil sketch of Mark Twain
by Samuel Johnson Woolf, 1906.

With an eye to the digestive challenges that many readers will likely be facing tomorrow, (R)D will be on holiday hiatus, to resume on Black Friday…  In the meantime, a Thanksgiving gift:  Mark Twain’s “Hunting the Deceitful Turkey.”

When I was a boy my uncle and his big boys hunted with the rifle, the youngest boy Fred and I with a shotgun—a small single-barrelled shotgun which was properly suited to our size and strength; it was not much heavier than a broom. We carried it turn about, half an hour at a time…

Readers will find links here to download the full story (as a pdf) or to read online at the Library of America’s site… and will realize that the real gift here is the link on that page to subscribe to their wonderful “Story of the Week” list— a free, downloadable short story, like this one, selected each week from the extraordinary trove of treasures in their stock.  The perfect post-prandial pleasure!

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As we prepare to loosen our belts, we might send safe and satisfied birthday greetings to Jesse Ernest Wilkins, Jr.; he was born on this date in 1923. The youngest ever undergraduate at the University of Chicago when he was admitted at the age of 13, he went on to earn his doctorate there, and thus to become the first African-American PhD in mathematics.  He went on to earn both Masters and PhD degrees in mechanical engineering at NYU.

Wilkins was involved in the Manhattan Project during World War II, then developed mathematical models to calculate the amount of gamma radiation absorbed by any given material (a technique of calculating radiative absorption still widely used among researcher in space and nuclear science).  He then developed the radiation shielding used against the gamma radiation emitted during electron decay of the Sun and other nuclear sources.

Your correspondent, for one, will be using that shielding in his oven tomorrow.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 27, 2013 at 1:01 am

“It’s the stories, man; it’s the stories!”*…

Zachary Kanin

Readers who are readers will be delighted to discover (if they haven’t already) Narrative Magazine, a wonderful web-based literary review (though there is also a thrice-yearly hard copy edition).  Featuring fiction from the likes of Ann Beattie, Richard Bausch, James Salter, Elizabeth Benedict, and Amy Bloom, essays from folks like Gail Godwin, Larry McMurtry, and Rick Bass, it also showcases poetry and your correspondent’s special weakness:  cartoons like the one above (use the pull-down on the page at the other end of that link to see other galleries).

The love-child of two Bay Area literati, Narrative is a 501-c3 devoted to Letters. It’s worthy of readers’ attention– and, dare your correspondent suggest, of their support.

* Jazz giant Charlie Parker would hang around a jukebox at one of the clubs he frequented, putting his coins in to play country-western songs. When friends finally asked him, “Why do you listen to that stuff?,” he reportedly replied, “It’s the stories, man, it’s the stories!” (source)…  not altogether apropos, your correspondent confesses; but it is an awesome anecdote…

As we luxuriate in good literature, we might recall that it was on this date in 1812, just before he published the first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, that George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron– aka Lord Byron– made his first speech in the House of Lords…  as it happens, a defense of Luddite violence against Industrialism in his home county of Nottinghamshire.

Byron in 1813, in Albanian dress, as painted by Thomas Phillips

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