Bambara, Toni Cade

Raymond’s Run

A disclaimer: the Wiki says that tonight’s story is… how to put this… Big in Middle School Circles. But don’t let that put you off (especially if you yourself run in Middle School Circles, or are Big therein). I can be as big of an arrogant elitist as the next lady when it comes to my own sometimes obscurantist needs, but as anyone with a well-rounded appreciation of fiction, I can sit back and take a closer look at the forgotten gems of Middle School. Like those jelly shoes that ladies my age are supposed to nostalge about.

Because we can reminisce about all these things, or read lines like this and put our hands up in admission of the ageless:

“It’s about as real a smile as girls can do for each other, considering we don’t practice real smiling every day, you know…”

That’s pretty good, right? Happy wintertime.

Schwartz, Delmore

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

Well, pilgrims. It’s that day once again when the poisoned blankets of history are celebrated with turkey and squash. And I want to get all excited with you about Delmore Schwartz, and rave a while about how you should be able to listen to the rhythm of his narrative with an almost painful wistfulness for the days when poets were rockstars (even poets with given names like Delmore), and I’d love to get enthusiastically and prattily didactic about the structural inventions in this story and where they allowed fiction “to go” and so on etc ad blatherium. But then I remember: it’s That Day Once Again, and if I get you all excited about a story you might just suffer from some sort of post-tryptophanic hemorrhage before getting to the pumpkin pie, and that would be a disaster.

So maybe instead you should just sit back, undo the button on your bluejeans (but, uh, not in -that- way) and have a quiet listen.

Link, Kelly

The Specialist’s Hat

So it was decided that I needed a table, but in thinking about the sort of table I might need, for the purpose the table would serve, it was further decided that the table needed to have certain bench-like properties. A hybrid, as we say in these times.

The problem is, as you may have heard, money in my country is not worth very much these days and table-benches are beyond my budget, and while there’s a new president whose first order of business, as you may have heard, will be to give me a new hybrid table-bench, I know better than to rely on economies and politics, and I went and gathered what I needed to fashion it myself.

Now, I’m not the handiest of people, and I’m actually fairly dangerous when put in front of power tools and sharp edges and, you know, screws and such, but I built the damned thing, which grew increasingly complicated from the initial idea of Top and Legs, to include such delicate bench-like features as Rabbited Feet and Lots of Slatted Inserts and Dependence on Measurements, and no shortage of other over-ambitious features for an unhandy sort. But it’s built. It’s wonky as all-hell, and if you’re ever over at my house and I invite you to sit on it, it can probably be safely said that I’m not your biggest fan. But it’s built– it’s my civic duty to let you all know that, wonkily or not, I’ve done my civic duty. And now it’s time to sit back and read more stories.

Chugtai, Ismat

The Quilt

This was going to go up during Banned Books week, but then I got a nasty visit from Uncle Rhinovire, and then there was the trip to the Akvariet and then it hit me that neither a short story nor the oral presentation of one qualify, really, as a “Banned Book,” although for reasons that will become evident, this story has been pretty broadly banned (read: it errs on the side of racy).

But that said, I’m happy to take your vote on what our young heroine saw beneath the quilt. A hint: I’m pretty sure it was not, in fact, an elephant.

Ford, Jesse Hill

To the Open Water

As I noted in the whole wide verbal megillah setting up tonight’s reading, I’m taking great issue with the Wikipedia entry on tonight’s author. Here, again, is the first sentence, with my call to fix it:

Jesse Hill Ford (December 28, 1928 – June 1, 1996) was an American writer of Southern literature who produced one good novel (Mountains of Gilead), one popular novel (The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones) and a host of mediocre works entirely at odds with his public posturing at the heir-apparent to William Faulkner.

Wikipedia Entry on Jesse Hill Ford

And maybe that’s true, beats me. I mean, I’ve gotten the impression that he wasn’t necessarily the mowing-the-lawns-of-the-elderly sort of gregarious, in character anyway. And I don’t know enough about his writing to know if the above is true or not.

But in the interest of improving the accuracy and objectivity of the world’s knowledge (which, I suppose, is the point), I’m drawing your attention there now. Hopefully we can resolve this before it becomes a full-on obsession, before I start the Jesse Hill Ford Credibility Restoration PAC, or somesuch.

Fahey, John

The Spring

But in order to be mad scientists, first we had to learn how to be normal scientists.

It’s funny, imagining John Fahey sitting in a hotel rampantly scrawling. Not because he’s so otherwise voiceless, or should relegate his expressiveness to the steel-stringed style, or other reasons fascistic or idiotic. He’s just one of those guys one imagines (if the “one” doing the imagining were “me,” admittedly) never to have put down his guitar for anything other than a whiskey glass or a pee. You just don’t get that good if you have to stop to put it down. So it’s nearly impossible to think of him not only putting it down, but picking up a pen long enough to get good at that too.

And he was pretty good– listen for the mad scientist bit, partially quoted above.

In fact, if he and I were teenage girls, I might have to start a jealous fight with him over this.

And tonight’s super special Feel-Better-Just-For-a-Minute (or Feel-Even-Better-if-You’re-Already-Feelin-Okay) soundtrack by the author, but let’s keep it between us, okay?

Dorman, Sonya

When I Was Miss Dow

This story was brought to my attention a few months ago, making its way inbox-ward on the anniversorry of my trip down Amniotic Lane, timing not unintentional. Now, I would share with you my thoughts on why this was selected as a Birthday Story, but that would involve psychographic profiling of the sender’s right eyebrow and a frame-by-frame comparison of my genuflection style to that of the author. And that’s just for starters.

In other words, not nearly as fun as speculation, and besides, I’m not about to give you all the information you’d need to know to perform such a task. But I will ask you this: have a listen (and keep your jaw taped up off the floor — this is a good one) and a think about it, and see what comes up. It could be worse, after all. We could be discussing politics.

Jansson, Tove

Of Angleworms and Others

So it’s summer right now, if you’re with me hemispherically. Although if you were to zoom in a little closer you’d see that in some places, we’re tying up that chapter, it’s cooling down, and that means it’s time to read you some Tove Jansson.

Now, I was going to read you something from the Moomins, but it’s not quite as charming when removed from the illustrations of big Moomin innocently bent-over butts. Or rather, it’s just as charming, but I’m hopelessly unable to convey Moomin-butt-drawing charm by voice alone.

And besides, the Summer Book is pretty archetypal for changing-tree times. As much as bonfires and maybe as much as the Shrimp Song that Townes van Zandt sang. Any other absolutely perfect end-of-summer stories? I’m in a wood-fire mood.

Singleton, George


In the two days since first reading of tonight’s story, I’ve been deeply ensconced with this idea of show-and-tell, to the irrational (read: batshit) point of showing-and-telling the objects comprising the contents of my desk to the various beasts kicking about the place, or showing-and-telling one runty waterlogged piece of the garden to another.

And then waking from that little spat of brain damage to the discovery that… well, maybe I’d missed the point entirely.

Disch, Thomas

Fun With Your New Head

A couplefew nights ago, catatonic with fatigue after a couple days of travel, I found just the right pace of entertainment watching my cat chase a furry little squeaker all around the place. My conscience wouldn’t let me object– it was nature’s way and the mouse deserved whatever was coming to it, after all… but my sense of rectitude couldn’t allow me to stay for even the chance of a bloody climax, so when the mouse was good and hidden, I went up to bed, with no idea who’d win.

The next morning, having forgotten about the whole scene thanks to a night of Thomas Disch dreams, I made the coffee and fed the cat, whose breakfast made its way back up several minutes later. And right in the middle of the mess was the cutest slick brown fur, with tail still mostly undigested.

Despite the fact that I had to clean it up, I was so proud.