As with the last couple of years, Dan Wickett is promoting May as "Short Story Month" so we are going to jump on the bandwagon. Dan is going to try to read and write about 3 stories every day -- one from a collection, one from a print journal, and one from an online journal. That is waaaay too ambitious for us here at Hobart, but I'll at least try to read one story a day, and I'm going to go ahead and challenge the other Hobart editors to do the same.
Not only that, but I'm starting a day early! Because I just read the new story, "The Gray," by Aaron Gwyn on Esquire's new online fiction component, which looks to be ongoing, and I really hope it is. I think Esquire has good taste in fiction (I mean, look, their second to last post on their book blog was about us!) -- stories in the last year by Woodrell and Percy have both been great, though they seem to not always know how to best feature it. Their napkin project was kickass too.
So, yeah, everyone should go check out Gwyn's story. For those not in the know, he was probably one of the 3 or 4 people who ultimately helped Hobart become what it is now. He had a couple shorts on the website back when everything on the site was mostly just bad short shorts by myself under different names, he was in both of the first couple of print issue, and he encouraged most every writer he knew and respected to send me something, including his teacher at the time (I believe?), Brian Evenson. With that history alone, I would feel required to read this story but, frankly, the reason I'm blogging about it is because the story is really, really amazing.
We may not know exactly what he looked like, but we do know his birthday. The Immortal Bard is 445 today, and still looking good for his age.
To celebrate, the Folger Shakespeare Library has done something cool -- compiled a playlist of songs inspired by the Man from Stratford Upon Avon himself. You can even listen to the playlist right from their webpage.
Update! Further investigation by yours truly has revealed that not only do you have to have Itunes to play the Folger Shakespeare Library "Bill's Birthday" playist, you have to purchase all of the songs. Unless you already own them, which, given the eclectic selections, is impossible. Maybe there is one person in the world who listens to Taylor Swift, John Cale, and Sammy Haggar, but how likely is that, really? However, you can still listen to 30 seconds of each song and imagine what the playist would sound like. Which, come to think of it, is probably what Mr. Imagination himself would have done, right? OK, then. Carry on.
Also, please scroll down and read Jensen's entry about the U Mass Lit Festival.
Short notice, I know, but this weekend (4/24 - 25) Hobart will be participating at the 9th annual Juniper Festival here at Umass. When I say Hobart, I mean me. I'll have copies of the print journal and SF/LD Books on hand. I'll also have copies of the internet on hand to give the gift of the Hobart Web Edition for FREE! No, I don't know what that means, either. If you are in Western Mass, swing by the Fine Arts Center at UMass and say hi.
Cambridge University Press apparently underestimated the demand for the first volume of Samuel Beckett's letters -- it is sold out everywhere. At D.C.'s Politics and Prose it's on back order. At Powell's it is listed as out of stock. Amazon offers the totally unhelpful "usually ships within 1 to 3 weeks."
The volume is getting phenomenal reviews. Joseph O'Neil, in the New York Times Book Review, described it as surprisingly overflowing with humanity. Who knew Beckett was such a prolific and brilliant correspondent? O'Neil essentially said. J.M. Coetzee, writing in the New York Review of Books, also makes the book sound irresistable, calling it a model edition worthy of its subject.
Whether it's truly a surprise that Beckett was a prolific and brilliant correspondent, what a gift that we get to read his letters, and that, by all accounts, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck edited and annotated them with such care. As Tom Stoppard said, "The prospect of reading Beckett’s letters quickens the blood like none other’s, and one must hope to stay alive until the fourth volume is safely delivered."
Or, at the very least, until someone finally has the first one in stock.
Hell is a tricky place. You can't just show up, wander around, and expect to get the most out of your visit. Luckily, there is an excellent guide available, who will take you by the elbow and explain everything going on around you. No, I don't mean Virgil, although he's pretty good, too. I'm speaking of Robert and Jean Hollander, and their excellent verse translation of Dante's Inferno.
The Hollanders give Dante's work an excellent introduction, and then for each canto here is what you get: A brief outline, followed by a translation with the Italian and English on facing pages, and then extensive notes in which the Hollanders explain what's going on, exactly, and summarize the salient points from the centuries of commentary on Dante's work. It's really excellent, the best thing next to taking a course from a knowledgeable teacher. The Hollanders explain Dante's contemporary political references, his place in his chosen literary tradition, even whether Dante and Virgil are moving downward in a counterclockwise or clockwise direction, essential information for the discerning reader.
If you're going to Hell -- and if you're reading this blog, you're on your way -- then this is the way to go.
A couple of things I've kind of enjoyed the hell out of lately: Adventureland & Kevin Wilson's Tunneling to the Center of the Earth.
First, Adventureland had me won over pretty early on, maybe before I'd even seen it (while, of course, being afraid of disappointment) by sheer fact of having Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader and Martin Starr, who are all great (I've been rocking out with a lot of Starr lately, watching, and really enjoying, Party Down on Netflix's "watch now" feature because I don't have TV much less the Starz channel). It also convinced my that Kristen Stewart is pretty sexy, a fact I'd never before realized or even thought of. Anyway, it's good times. I kinda went into it expecting it to be super laughy, which it wasn't exactly, but it was great in the way that an amusement park movie set in the 80's should be.
For anyone making a youth nostalgia film, it's easy enough to nail the signifiers: the clothes and the cars, the great songs (or kitsch classics), the ''casual'' references to famous news events. What's harder to catch is the mood, the vibe, the aspects of an era we didn't even know were defining until the movie revealed them.
and something about that stuck with me, and I thought about it again when reading Wilson's new, kickass story collection, specifically "Mortal Kombat." The story is about these two kinda geeky high school AV guys who have no other friends and then start to grow curious and push into... well... more than just being. It's a really great story though the moment that especially stuck out was this:
They have different game systems, and Wynn's brand, bowing to parental and governmental concerns, will play only a censored version of the game. No Blood. No heads exploding from electrocution. Not nearly as much fun.
That conceit ends up playing a major role in the story and... wow... it's just handled so well. I mean, maybe I just love it because I so specifically remember the "sweat" flying off Kombat fighters instead of blood. I don't even know what I'm getting at exactly but just, it seems like it would be easy to throw some Mortal Kombat references into a story and sucker me into enjoying it, but Wilson doesn't just name drop or add cool trivia but he subtly uses it to his advantage, never being showy.
On an ending note, I was at a friend's this weekend and played some Street Fighter on... I think it was XBox... and it was weird controlling Blanka and Guile again, for the first time in like 15 years and many gaming systems removed, and still remembering how to do Chun Li's "spinning bird kick."