Where I’m Calling From

f722a95a96127c4a424db65f49faf3b7While I do enjoy reading short stories, I’m not the biggest fan of making my way through short story collections, especially those by the same author. I can imagine that it’s because I’m so used to reading novels that when I go from story to story, I expect the continuity that comes with going from chapter to chapter of a novel. So I guess that’s why it took me the better part of three years to read this collection of stories by Raymond Carver.

This book, which is an anthology of his short stories, is a holdover from college, a purchase required by a professor in my advanced fiction writing class. I can’t remember reading beyond just a couple of the stories back in the late Nineties, but I did remember that my professor was trying to use Carver as an example of a writer who could fully develop very flawed characters, ones who felt more real than the tropes we were all definitely pulling from–or at least that I was pulling from because I remember having a terrible case of writer’s block that semester. A few years ago, I took a class on teaching fiction writing as part of my Master’s program and decided to take this off the shelf in hopes that reading some of the stories of a well-regarded writer would inspire me to do well on the required stories for the class.

All in all, I wrote one story that I still think might be worth a revision and one that I completely scrapped once everything was done (and funny enough, the one that I think is worth it was inspired by a Hemingway short story, not one by Raymond Carver) and I put the book on my reading pile, determined to get through it at some point so I could check it off my “to read” list.

Carver’s characters definitely are well-developed, although I have to say that he definitely calls upon the same types of people. So many of them are men who drink, smoke, are divorced, and might have varying degrees of success in life. I don’t know how much of a reflection of Carver himself all of this is, but the stories certainly explore a type of masculinity that definitely has a darker side. I guess you could call it toxic, to be honest, and while in many cases Carver is showing us how messed up these people (and their situations) are, he also gives at least some of them compassion.

It’s a story collection worth checking out of the library or maybe grabbing on the very cheap at a used bookstore (which may be the only place you can find it because it might be out of print), and it may be one that you don’t read all the way through. If you’re interested, consider these highlights: “Cathedral” (a story about a man meeting his wife’s blind friend for the first time); “So Much Water So Close to Home” (a story about men finding a dead body told through the POV of one of their wives that is fascinating and creepy); “Blackbird Pie” (a man gets a letter from his wife telling him she is leaving him, and his perspective is one of the fog of mental illness); “Whoever Was Using This Bed” (a couple gets strange calls in the middle of the night asking for “Bud”); “Neighbors” (a weird one about people spending time in their neighbors’ place when they’re not supposed to be there); “A Small, Good Thing” (a couple copes with their son ending up in the hospital with life-threatening injuries after a hit-and-run); “Little Things” (a fighting couple literally gets into a tug-of-war over their baby); and “Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes” and “Nobody Said Anything” (both of which touch on fatherhood).

-Tom

You should read this book if:

1. You like conflicted, often damaged male characters.
2. You find stories with a sense of uneasiness intriguing.
3. You’re looking to get better at writing fully developed stories and characters in few pages (a number of these are pretty short).

Episode 30: Tangent Special 3. Pop Culture Books

Episode30_Cover for WebsiteIt’s the thirtieth episode of Required Reading With Tom and Stella! This podcast, which is hosted by Tom Panarese (Pop Culture Affidavit, In Country) and Stella (Batgirl to Oracle: A Barbara Gordon Podcast, The Batman Universe) is two teachers talking about literature. Each episode, we will be taking a look at a single work, analyzing it, criticizing it and deciding if its worth its place in the canon.

This time around is a special look at books about pop culture.

You can listen here:

Required Reading iTunes Page

Required Reading Podcast Page at Two True Freaks

Direct Download

If you like our podcast, feel free to like our Facebook page (just search for Required Reading with Tom and Stella), check out our Twitter feed at @reqreadingcast, or email us at requiredreadingcast@gmail.com.

 

Episode 29: Les Miserables

Episode29_Cover for WebsiteIt’s the twenty-ninth episode of Required Reading With Tom and Stella! This podcast, which is hosted by Tom Panarese (Pop Culture Affidavit, In Country) and Stella (Batgirl to Oracle: A Barbara Gordon Podcast, The Batman Universe) is two teachers talking about literature. Each episode, we will be taking a look at a single work, analyzing it, criticizing it and deciding if its worth its place in the canon.

This time around, we’re taking a look at Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

You can listen here:

Required Reading iTunes Page

Required Reading Podcast Page at Two True Freaks

Direct Download

If you like our podcast, feel free to like our Facebook page (just search for Required Reading with Tom and Stella), check out our Twitter feed at @reqreadingcast, or email us at requiredreadingcast@gmail.com.

Episode 28: The Hunger Games

Episode28_for Website

It’s the twenty-eighth episode of Required Reading With Tom and Stella! This podcast, which is hosted by Tom Panarese (Pop Culture Affidavit, In Country) and Stella (Batgirl to Oracle: A Barbara Gordon Podcast, The Batman Universe) is two teachers talking about literature. Each episode, we will be taking a look at a single work, analyzing it, criticizing it and deciding if its worth its place in the canon.

This time around, we’re taking a look at The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

You can listen here:

Required Reading iTunes Page

Required Reading Podcast Page at Two True Freaks

Direct Download

If you like our podcast, feel free to like our Facebook page (just search for Required Reading with Tom and Stella), check out our Twitter feed at @reqreadingcast, or email us at requiredreadingcast@gmail.com.

 

Episode 27: Frankenstein

Episode27_Cover for WebsiteIt’s the twenty-seventh episode of Required Reading With Tom and Stella! This podcast, which is hosted by Tom Panarese (Pop Culture Affidavit, In Country) and Stella (Batgirl to Oracle: A Barbara Gordon Podcast, The Batman Universe) is two teachers talking about literature. Each episode, we will be taking a look at a single work, analyzing it, criticizing it and deciding if its worth its place in the canon.

This time around, we’re taking a look at Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

You can listen here:

Required Reading iTunes Page

Required Reading Podcast Page at Two True Freaks

Direct Download

If you like our podcast, feel free to like our Facebook page (just search for Required Reading with Tom and Stella), check out our Twitter feed at @reqreadingcast, or email us at requiredreadingcast@gmail.com.

Batman: The Dark Knight Detective Volume 2

bmdkdv2_282-001_hd_5bb7f9dc53bd35.02375967As DC reprints Batman’s adventures from the late Eighties and early Nineties, we come upon a period where Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle begin to solidify as a creative team.   Granted, John Wagner was still co-writing the series with Grant, but as we go through this collection, which features Detective Comics #583-591 and Annual #1, we see a lot of the elements that would make their work on the Caped Crusader so memorable.  We have classic Grant/Breyfogle villains Ratcatcher and The Ventriloquist and Scarface make their first appearances as well as an outstanding three-part storyline featuring a villain named Kadaver and the creation of The Corrosive Man (whose touch melts things away).  There’s also the first annual, which guest stars The Question and is the first part of a three-parter that crosses over into Green Arrow and The Question annuals that year.  Unfortunately, those two books’ annuals aren’t included, which is one of my only gripes about this collection.

I can’t heap enough praise on the creative teams found within these comics–even Klaus Janson, whose work I don’t usually enjoy, has a solid outing courtesy of Tony DeZuniga’s inks.  Moreover, what I found interesting is that these issues were being published concurrently with the lead-up to “A Death in the Family” in Batman and while that title featured art by Jim Aparo and was heavy on the Batman and Robin stories.  Here, Robin is nowhere to be seen–to the point where I had to figure out whether or not these came out after Jason Todd’s death because he was always flying solo.  Not that I needed Jason Todd in these issues, but the two Bat titles are such a huge difference in tone that you can really get a sense of how Batman is a multi-faceted character by reading this and that Jim Starlin-penned Batman run.

-Tom

You should read this book if:

  1. You want to see Norm Breyfogle draw Batman
  2. You want some really solid street-level, non-world-threatening gritty Batman stories
  3. You didn’t hear me the first time when I mentioned Norm Freakin’ Breyfogle

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

9780399182167-usAfter nearly a decade, Justin Cronin wraps up his trilogy of books that started with The Passage. If you’re unfamiliar with the novels or have just started watching the Fox TV series (which is sitting on my DVR), this trilogy of novels is set in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity has been more or less destroyed by a virus that was used for experiments by scientists and the U.S. government and turned thirteen people into vampire-type creatures. Once they get loose in The Passage, the decimation of the human populace is swift and the story picks up about a century later.

That story wound its way through the second book in the series, The Twelve, and now concludes with this one, where Cronin jumps forward in time again for a tale about what it is going to take to both preserve humanity and destroy the original vampire, Fanning (who is essentially The Devil). The latter comes through a confrontation in what’s left of New York City (no spoilers there–the NYC skyline was the image used for the hardcover edition) and Cronin spends much of the first half of the book setting that up in one way or another, first by having us meet Fanning and get his back story and then layering on the mission that select characters have to undertake–most notably, Amy, who is the “star” of or at least the origin point of the trilogy.

Saving humanity winds up being the task of the supporting cast, as they find the cities they have begun to rebuild are not as safe as they thought and one character develops an idea for an ark by fixing up an abandoned freight tanker he found while sailing around the ocean in search of signs of life outside of the United States and North America.

I haven’t gone too much into the details of the characters’ names and some of the settings and circumstances because this is the third part of a trilogy and while Cronin gives you enough context to figure out what went on in the prior two books, going into too much detail would spoil those two books for people who haven’t read. And by the way, that’s one of his strengths as a writer–even if you haven’t read the books in a while, you find yourself getting reacquainted with all of the characters from the two previous installments and he reminds you of why you cared about them in the first place.

Cronin spends his time throughout the novel playing with themes of life, death, good, and evil that are classic literary themes and while the idea that humanity has been ravaged by some sort of mutating virus has been done to the point where it’s hard to break new ground, he manages to make this feel fresh. I think it’s partly becuase the characters are intriguing and you’ve spent so much time with them, and also that he goes for a huge timeframe. Whereas The Strain’s trilogy of novels is immediate in its setting, Cronin gives us a century and then some, taking us way beyond where many of these stories go. As a result, he makes you want to learn about the world of these characters.

As a concluding chapter, The City of Mirrors is deeply satisfying, and that’s a very high compliment because many final chapters in trilogies or long-running sagas often leave fans feeling cheated or wanting more. Cronin knows the job that he had to do and while he takes his time getting it done, he gets it right.

You should read this if …

You like a good creature feature story mixed with comic book-level world building
Post-apocalyptic stories are your thing
You’ve read the first two books of The Passage trilogy