Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stories

There is a great satisfaction in revising stories, and finally being able to leave them in a place you're comfortable with. I am almost done revising a batch of stories I've been working on for some time, and already have ideas for another set. But old business needs to be tidied up before starting new business.

In the meantime, I have been spending my leisure time enjoying the short stories of others. I find I am not quite ready to get drawn into a novel, so I go back to old favorites, and re-read collections, realizing how many good stories I'd forgotten about.

My friend Phil recently sent me a copy of "Lovecraft's Library", which is a bibliographic reconstruction of books that were owned by H.P. Lovecraft. S.T. Joshi, the famous Lovecraft scholar who created the compilation, notes the difficulties in creating the list, as his library was disseminated after his death, and the woman who was asked by Lovecraft's aunt to make a bibliography of everything there really didn't understand what she was looking at. In short--among other types of works in the collection, Lovecraft had one of the greatest collections of weird fiction from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hence, this bibliography has done a lot to fill me in on what I've missed. I've probably read every Victorian ghost story anthology on the popular market dozens of times, so this has been helpful in letting me see what I've missed--and hopefully to acquire it.

Among my own collections, I can make a few recommendations of anthologies worth owning, if you like short stories that deal with the weird, the macabre, or the supernatural--or just plain well-written.


1. M.R. James--"Casting the Runes and Other Stories". This is an Oxford University Press paperback edition. There are many collections of James's works out there, and out of all of them, I find this one to hold the cream of the crop. James's specters are usually demonic in nature, or are apparitions that solely exist based on fear. All of them give you a flavor of European and English villages around the turn of the century, as many of his scholarly protagonists make their studies of old churches, crumbling ruins, and archaeological sites.
"The Scrapbook of Canon Alberic", "The Stalls at Barchester Cathedral", and "An Episode of Cathedral History" are favorites of mine, along with "The Malice of Inanimate Objects", which I often refer to on those days when I feel like I'm being attacked by the furniture, appliances, and crockery in my house. All the stories are interesting and worth reading.

2. "Haunted America", selected by Marvin Kaye (Doubleday, 1990). This anthology has a wide variety of spooky stories, many available in other anthologies. However, this is the only anthology where I've seen Manly Wade Wellman's story, "Nobody Ever Goes There", which provides an unexpected creepiness for some reason. The classic Mary Wilkins Freeman story, "The Vacant Lot" is also in this collection, along with stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Edith Wharton, Henry James, and Washington Irving.

3. "The Haunted Looking Glass", selected by Edward Gorey. (various editions). This is one of my all-time favorites. I first saw this book at an aunt's house, when I was a teenager bored of adult conversation, and wandered into her front library room. As you know I'm a big fan of Edward Gorey's own books and illustrations, so this caught my attention for that right off. It is an exceptional anthology, featuring Algernon Blackwood's, "The Empty House" (one of my favorite Blackwood stories), E. Nesbit's creepy "Man Sized in Marble", as well as classics from Charles Dickens ("The Signalman", the only one of his ghost stories that really keeps my attention), R.L. Stevenson, and Wilkie Collins.

4. Ray Bradbury--"The October Country." I got myself a copy of the original British hardback publication of this, as I prefer the artwork in that edition to that of more contemporary editions. However, regardless of which format you choose, the stories themselves are very creepy, and very original. "The Dwarf", "Skeleton", "The Next in Line", "The Small Assassin", and "The Scythe" are all disturbing favorites of mine.

5. H.P. Lovecraft--"The Best of H.P. Lovecraft--Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre" (Ballantine Books paperback ed., introduced by Robert Bloch). There are many Lovecraft collections out there, but many of them incorporate stories from his imitators. Some of the imitators are reasonably good (Robert Bloch), others not so good (August Derleth), and overall, when I want to read Lovecraft, I want to read the originals. If I want to read the Lovecraft-esque material, I'd rather peruse that separately. Lovecraft does not create a battle between good and evil--his monsters are the blind, indifferent forces of the universe. His successors tend towards the former rather than the latter. In any event--this collection has "Pickman's Model", by far one of Lovecraft's most spine-chilling stories, as well as "The Call of Cthulhu", "The Dreams in the Witch House", "The Shadow Out of Time" and "The Dunwich Horror", along with all his other classics.

6. Washington Irving--"The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent." This is a great collection of American folklore, including the famous "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle," and also includes essays and stories from his travels abroad. There are writings on Westminster Abbey and Stratford-Upon-Avon, as well as observations on English country life in the late 19th century. Another famous Irving ghost story, "The Spectre Bridegroom", is also in this work.

7. Umberto Eco--"Misreadings". (Harcourt Brace, translated 1993). Eco is widely known for his novels and works in semiotics, but it's rare to see a short story collection. I found this one at an antiquarian book fair some years ago. The stories have a sense of humor unique to Eco--if you've read his novels, his literary satire makes perfect sense. Among those in this collection is "Granita", a take on "Lolita" featuring an old woman in a nursing home as the object of affection rather than a 14-year-old girl, "The News from Heaven", which purports to be just that from a disgruntled soul, and "The Phenomenology of Mike Bongiorno", about a wealthy celebrity who is not very smart, and is a "living and triumphant example of the value of mediocrity". A brilliant read.

8. Ambrose Bierce--"The Collected Writings of Ambrose Bierce." (Citadel Press, 1947). Bierce is one of my favorite American satire authors, next to Mark Twain. (I am more fond of Twain's essays than I am of his fiction--with Bierce, I am fond of both.) This anthology divides Bierce's work into that dealing with his military/Civil war themes ("An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" being one of the most famous), the full text of "The Devil's Dictionary" (Comfort: a state of mind produced by contemplation of a neighbor's uneasiness. Brute: see "Husband"), and his collection of supernatural stories, including "The Damned Thing" (similar to M.R. James's "Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad") and "An Inhabitant of Carcosa."


There are many more good anthologies, but these are the favorites at the moment. Gogo Manley and Sean Lewis have edited many fine Gorey-illustrated anthologies, and Dover, Oxford, and Running Press have produced many more.

Now back to revisions for me...and some more reading...

1 comment:

Dr. Satish Bagal said...

i enjoyed your blog. re reading favorites is always great. it also tells us how far we have come and how more mature we have become!

Satish bagal