I have to admit that I did very little reading this week. I was busy applying for jobs, and I was in a weird, in-between-books mood of discontent. But I did re-discover a couple of kick-ass short stories that I haven't read in a long time. The first was "Lull," by Kelly Link, from her book, Magic for Beginners. The second came from Yann Martel's story collection, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, and is titled "The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton."
Let's start with "Lull." This isn't a story I'd easily recommend. It's complicated, twisty, and VERY strange. But for some reason, I absolutely adore it. Set up as a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, "Lull" begins as a story about sad-sack middle aged men who play cards together and evolves into a mess about the nature of narrative, the devil, aliens, and clones. It's weird and beautiful at once. The opening paragraphs are some of my all-time favorites. I really enjoyed going back to Link's story and becoming completely absorbed in it again.
Martel's "The Time I Heard..." was an even more rewarding reading experience. The first time I read this story was as a college freshmen. Back then, I had little to no interest in classical music. But as I made friends with musicians and became more introspective, I began to fall in love with classical music. This story was a million times better this time around because of that new musical understanding. The story itself is threadbare, the narrator a little too undercooked, and it might get just a tad melodramatic at the end, all evidence that Martel wrote these stories when he was quite young and before he had any kind of literary fame. But in the middle of the story are some absolutely breathtaking passages describing music. Here is one such passage:
What a strange, wonderous thing, music. At last the chattering mind is silenced. No past to regret, no future to worry about, no more frantic knitting of words and thoughts. Only a beautiful, soaring nonsense. Sound - made pleasing and intelligible through melody, rhythm, harmony, and counterpoint - becomes our thinking. The grunting of language and the drudgery of semiotics are left behind. Music is a bird's answer to the noise and heaviness of words. It puts the mind in a state of exhilarated speechlessness.
So even though I didn't read anything of significant heft this week, I enjoyed my short stories greatly.
Note:My regular schedule for next week will be upset a little, as I am heading to Alabama tomorrow morning and won't be back until Monday night. I will post my Poem of the Week on Tuesday, as well as creating a new list for you all. Best of all, I just bought two new books for the trip: Home, Marilynne Robinsons' semi-sequel to Gilead, and a Dickensian novel by Hannah Tinti entitled The Good Thief that just came out in paperback. You can expect to hear all about them next week!