short stories

Horror fiction from Charles Dickens to Charlie Higson – books podcast

Zdislav Beksinski

There is still time remaining to find your Halloween spooky binges (if you are one of those who chooses to indulge in horror only once a year). I’m currently listening to The Guardian Books podcast about horror fiction. So far, so good. It is entirely interesting in that the guests speak to expected horror fiction, but also the important women authors who have contributed to the cannon of horror and terror.

The horror story, beloved of 19th-century armchair thrill-seekers, is making a comeback in some surprising forms. We return to the infancy of the genre with Darryl Jones, editor of a new anthology of 29 classic tales, to find out more about past masters from Charles Dickens to Conan Doyle. Then we turn to Charlie Higson and Robin Ince to find out more about the surprising affinity between horror and comedy, which has led to a collection of terrifyingly funny tales from some of the UK’s best-known stand-ups.

LISTEN 1 |

Things I Liked This Month: February

This post comes from the feelings I had included in an earlier post titled, “Bookishly Me.” One of the points was about how I was feeling a bit underwhelmed by book trends, reviews, and blogging. So, instead of wallowing in some sort of Medieval pit of despair that only the internet can provide, I’ve decided on a sort of “wrap-up.” Here is a collection of Things I Liked This Month: February Edition.

Besides the above illustration, this digest (in no particular order) includes posts from bloggers that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in February, my favorite things from Acid Free Pulp, and other bric-a-brac that I’ve collected from this month.

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I recently re-watched French short film, Entr’act, from 1922 that I wrote a dreadful paper on when I was a college student. I always really liked it and have watched it many, many times. You should, too. It can be viewed in its entirety on Youtube.

The Public Domain Review shared “A Relation of an Extraordinary Sleepy Person (ca.1698),” which is a “Royal Society paper delivered by Dr William Oliver describing a bizarre case he encountered of a man who fell into a ‘profound sleep’ from which no-one could wake him for a full month.”

It was loads of fun writing a most recent post titled, “Storytelling: True Detective and The King in Yellow.” If you haven’t seen the show or read the book, now is the time. Amazon lists the book as #1 Bestseller in Classic Literature & Fiction.

Nina at Multo(Ghost) wrote a post about “The Spectre Girl,” a 19th Century short story utilizing the woman in white lore. I always love all of her posts, but I am a fan of folklore, campfire stories, and white ladies, so this one especially stood out to me. It also is personally poignant as I have just watched my first episode of Supernatural and a ghostly white lady was the central plot.

The streets of Kiev are filled with violence and protest, but in an unexpected change of pace, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published photos of Ukrainian artists taking to the streets to create art. Check the rest out here.

If you need a mental health break today, take a look at the comments section for the post, “‘Beyond the Door’ by Philip K. Dick.” Watch some Twilight Zone and goof off. There are a couple of good recs left in the comments.

“What Did It Mean to be a Female Detective in the Nineteenth Century?” is bookwormchatterbox’s most recent post and she delves into the genre and highlights specific examples. Read it. It’s well-thought out and easily accessible for anyone interested in the origins of the modern sleuth and how female literary detectives were often overshadowed by others like Sherlock Holmes.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie

I’ve never participated in the Weekly Photo Challenge before and because of last week’s post–Bookishly Me–I felt motivated for two reasons. 1) No one has ever seen my face in this here land and 2) my undying love for Kafka and Prague. My reflection off the case surrounding a model from a film version of Franz Kafka’s short story, “In the Penal Colony.” The film never came to fruition and the model finds its home at the Franz Kafka Museum in the Lesser Quarter of the city.

I suggest going to this museum. It reminds me of a weird visual art exhibition if curated by David Lynch. Kafka’s writing is already absurd, horrifying, and kafkaesque. To whomever curates this museum–bravo. It can be so uncanny that there is even a warning sign to children at the cashier’s desk and I saw a crying girl brought out by her mother. This museum is so odd, that there is a water statue out front of two men peeing toward each other.

I have a few photos that count as “selfies” that might have been more interesting, but, alas, they showed too much of my face and for the time being, I would rather be obscured by a clay model of a man being tortured.

If you haven’t already, read “In the Penal Colony.” You can read it for free online, both in English and the original German. Enjoy!

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post script While typing this post, I accidentally typed Frank Kafka instead of Franz. I imagine Frank Kafka lives above a laundromat in Queens and enjoys Indian roti take-out. One day, someone will create a Lynchian curated museum to him, as well.

The Jim Moriarty Mixtape Playlist

While re-watching the previous episodes of Sherlock in anticipation of the new season this past Sunday, I noticed that über-villain and super criminal Jim Moriarty often listens to his headphones, leading me to ponder his ultimate mixtape playlist…

  1. The Thieving Magpie by Gioachino Rossini. What else is there to listen to while you are breaking in to steal the Crown Jewels filmed with a cinematic wink to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange?
  2. Testify by Rage Against the Machine. Actually, I think pretty much any RATM song suits the “consulting criminal,” but this just seems a perfect match. Runners up: Killing in the NameBulls on Parade from the aptly named album Evil Empire.
  3. Send Me an Angel by Real Life. For all those cozy moments when Moriarty tells Sherlock that, unlike him, he is on the side of the angels.
  4. Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon. Mutilating old ladies and warnings of potential evisceration warm this international criminal’s heart.
  5. Antenna by Kraftwerk. Richard Brook, or is it Reichenbach? All those zeros and ones, and the elusive all-mighty computer algorithm that controls everything. German plus computers obviously equals Kraftwerk.
  6. Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees. The song that Moriarty is listening to on his headphones right before that infamous rooftop scene.
  7. Fever by Peggy Lee. Partly, because I imagine him listening to this at the end of a day full of dastardly deeds and also, for any of you fans of the second option to how Sherlock faked his own death in the first episode of season 3.
  8. Sonata for solo violin No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001 by Johann Sebastian Bach. Moriarty mocks Sherlock’s playing of this solo violin Bach piece.
  9. Killing Moon by Echo & The Bunnymen. It’s always been Moriarty’s endgame for Sherlock to kill himself and what better song to make that psychotic Irishman flash his sly smirk.
  10. Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash. Because he doesn’t let getting thrown in the tank get him down.
  11. Money by The Sonics. “Give me money/that’s what I want”. Simple lyrics tell it all. Power, money, and attention.
  12. I am the Walrus by The Beatles. Just because, really.

Celebrating the 200th Post at Acid Free Pulp

How exciting! Yesterday marked the 200th post on Acid Free Pulp. In celebration (and because it’s Friday and time to goof off), I’ve compiled some bookish bric-a-brac for your perusing. Here are some internet finds that I’m finding amusing–or self-indulgent–today. Enjoy!

  1. If you haven’t had your daily dose (or any dose) of German poetry in English translation, I recently put up a new one on my personal project, Translations of Dead German Poets. Haven’t heard of avant-garde poet Else Lasker-Schüler? Well, now you have!
  2. This morning, I read a Q&A with debut novelist Yangsze Choo about her new book The Ghost Bride, which finds its inspiration in Chinese folklore about a woman who is asked to become the wife of a dead man. I’m excited and you should be, too.
  3. Short stories need to make a comeback and I’m a huge proponent of making the push for commuters (trains, bus types) finding the joy in the medium. Here is a list with links to the stories included of classic stories by Margaret Atwood, Grace Paley, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury and more for your short reading pleasure.
  4. If you didn’t catch JJ Abrams talking about the new book on the Colbert Report last night, you need to watch the clip. Co-written with novelist Doug Dorst, S looks super rad and I just want to touch it. Take a look at the photos on Amazon. It seems like some sort of mash-up of BS Johnson and  Mark Z. Danielewski. Me want!
  5. A new art project in London is designing city book benches inspired by such classics as The Wind in the Willows and 1984. The project hopes to raise enough funds for 50-70 BookBenches. Check the photos here.

‡For an honorable mention (or dishonorable?), I point you to this strange and cringeworthy news article. After reading it, I thought, “What poor book was he using?” Librarians and  book lovers, alike, beware….

Have any Friday fun to share? Please leave your finds in the comments.

A Study of Unreliability

In A GroveUnreliable narrators have always been a fascination of mine. Along with their unreliability, I also proffer the concept of the unreliability of memories or remembering, which can sometimes be a part of the unreliability of the narrator or an idea that stands alone. I once wrote a novella that concerns itself with four characters, each with a different perspective and personal relationship to an event that happened early one morning. The concept of having a view from each one of them and how it differently affects them is a curious predicament I enjoy exploring.

In Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s 1922 story, “In A Grove,” each section is a different police interview by a witness (and in one case, the perpetrator) of a murder. The individuals provide information to what they saw before, after, or during the death of a young samurai in a secluded bamboo grove (for you film buffs, this story was part of the basis for Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film, Rashōmon).

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927)

The story, although written over 90 years ago, has a whiff of a more contemporary story. An astute reader could read this short story several times and still find new information, facts that they will now doubt, along with trying to pierce through each character’s testimony. The final section is from the point of view of the murdered samurai via a medium. Having a conduit to “speak” for the dead even further complicates the matter.

Each person who tells their point of view is filtering through their memory and agenda. In some cases, the samurai’s sword is there and sometimes it is not. His wife’s abandoned horse is, in some instances, waiting on the main road, where another testimony claims the horse is absent. By the end of the story, many different conclusions can be made to the frustration of the reader. The story sets out to disorient the reader and weave the multiple truths that have been set forward. Even with the dying man’s own words via the medium, the reader can gather that this is a similar feeling to the experience of trying to solve the story that one just read,

“Then someone crept up to me. I tried to see who it was. But darkness had already been gathering round me…”

As I was finishing up Akutagawa’s masterfully weaved story, I thought of one of my favorite American writers, Ambrose Bierce. Predating “In A Grove” was Bierce’s “The Moonlit Road.” The 1907 short story is similar to “In A Grove” in that it deals with the points of view of different people in relation to a murder. However, the two differ for a few reasons: 1. Like many Bierce stories, there is an element of the supernatural or horror and 2. the testimonies are not necessarily for the same exact moment in time as in the Akutagawa story.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-c.1913)

Each section in “The Moonlit Road” is a statement in first person by someone who is likely affected by the murder of Julia Hetman. The story opens with “I am the most unfortunate of men” and the reader soon finds out that these are the words of the murder victim’s son. He returns from college because of the strangulation death of his mother. She is found by her husband who had crept back into the house after telling a lie about going on a business trip so as he may catch his unfaithful wife in the act. The husband claims to have seen someone fleeing just as he returned to the house.

The statements, at times, can be confusing but are meant to be supped in one sitting. Like “In A Grove,” the reader should consume the entire story at once so they can parse what all of the information means: What the inconstancies are utilized for, who is lying or telling the truth. In one statement, a mysterious man named Caspar Grattan is recounting certain tales that take place at some point in the future. His exact identity is never named but a close reader can piece together who he is and the purpose of his tale.

Like “In A Grove,” the final statement of “The Moonlit Road” is delivered by the murder victim via a medium. Should the reader trust such a recollection? Because of the state of the recently departed Julia Hetman, are her words to be taken at face value?

With both stories and many other unreliable narrators, are their memories distorted either by them intentionally or had misrembering turned their points of view unintentionally sideways? The unreliable narrator(s) can give an interesting perspective on a story. It allows the author to reveal as much or as little information that they deem pertinent at a certain point in the story. Also, the question of why they are unreliable is a quizzical one that only adds to the creative weave that the author has constructed.

Both stories are in the public domain and are available for free in various formats for your convenience: In A Grove by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and The Moonlit Road by Ambrose Bierce.

This is Number 7 on The [International] Reading List.

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