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ExUrbanis

Urban Leaving to Country Living

Short Story #3: THE $64 TOMATO by William Alexander

April18

Warmer weather has finally come to Nova Scotia and, although it may not stay, I know it will soon be time to be getting out in the garden. With that in mind, I’ve been reading a lot of gardening-related “short stories”. Okay – they’re really essays, but I’m stretching this to give you some variety in Dead Book Darling’s Short Story Challenge.

Farmer seed 1934Introducing the piece The $64 Tomato, The Gardener’s Bedside Reader says:
“Vegetables harvested from the garden have a freshness and fullness of flavor well above and beyond anything one can buy in a supermarket. But how does a homegrown tomato, for example, compare in price to one purchased at the local Piggly Wiggly? In this excerpt from the book The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden (…) William Alexander does the math, with surprising results.”

The results aren’t actually that surprising, given the title of both the essay and the book, but you get the picture. This was an entertaining excerpt of what promises to be an entertaining and down-to-“earth” book. (Sorry – the fresh air’s gone to my head.)

Short Story #2: THE LANDLADY by Roald Dahl

April3

Roald Dahl

According to Wikipedia, Roald Dahl was a British novelist, short story writer, poet, fighter pilot and screenwriter. He is perhaps most popularly known today as the author of children’s stories such as James and the Giant Peach and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

He was a prolific short story writer, and his story The Landlady won the 1959 Edgar Award for Best Short (Mystery) Story. The Edgar is given by the Mystery Writers of America to honor excellence within the mystery-writing field. In 1980, the MWA sponsored an anthology of two dozen short stories that had won that coveted award between 1947 and 1978. My soft-cover copy of The Edgar Winners, edited by Bill Pronzini is literally falling to pieces from having been read so often over the years.

landladyJust ten pages long , The Landlady is classic Dahl. Young Billy Weaver, newly-appointed apprentice salesman, is sent out from London to Bath on the “slow afternoon train”, and told to find his own lodgings. A Bed & Breakfast sign beckons to him from a brightly-lit window that Billy peeks into. He sees a brightly-colored parrot in a cage, a “pretty little dachshund (…) curled up asleep” in front of the fire burning in the hearth, and a room filled with pleasant furniture.

The landlady immediately answers the door, has Billy sign the guest register and offers him tea. All very cozy.

Of course, because it’s an Edgar winner and because it’s Dahl, you just know things aren’t quite what they appear. But despite the reader’s awareness of that (or perhaps because of it), Dahl manages to create suspense and a chill of horror from the moment Billy enters the house.

Breezy & cheery, dark & macabre. Masterfully suspenseful. Brilliant.

Have you read any of Roald Dahl’s short stories?

#2 for Dead Book Darling‘s Short Story Challenge


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Short Story #1: A LESSON ON THE LINKS by Stephen Leacock

February24

Short Story Reading ChallengeI intended to post one short story each month this year to keep up with the Short Story Challenge hosted by Dead Book Darling. This then, is January’s entry, just a shade late.

Stephen Leacock was an English-born Canadian who early in his career as a school teacher, turned to writing fiction, humour, and short reports to supplement his regular income. His stories first published in magazines in Canada and the U.S., became extremely popular around the world. The Canadian Encyclopedia asserts that it was said in 1911 that more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than had heard of Canada.

His short story A Lesson on the Links: The Application of Mathematics to Golf1920s golfer is included in the book My Financial Career and Other Follies which I will be reviewing in the next couple of weeks. In it, Leacock pokes his usual gentle fun at the duffers of the day (this was first published in 1928).

An excerpt:
Here is a very interesting calculation in regard to “allowing for the wind.”
I have noticed that a great many golf players of my own particular class are always preoccupied with the question of “allowing for the wind.” My friend, Amphibius Jones, for example, just before driving always murmurs something, as if in prayer, about “allowing for the wind.” After driving he says with a sigh, “I didn’t allow for the wind.” In fact, all through my class there is a general feeling that our game is practically ruined by the wind(…)

It occurred to me that it might be interesting to reduce to a formulae the effect exercised by the resistance of the wind on a moving golf ball. For example, in our game last Wednesday, Jones in his drive struck the ball with what he assures me was his full force, hitting it with absolute accuracy, as he himself admits, fair in the center, and he himself feeling, on his own assertion, absolutely fit, his eye being (a very necessary thing with Jones), absolutely “in,” and he also having on his proper sweater, — a further condition of first-class play. Under all the favorable circumstances the ball only advanced fifty yards! It was evident at once that it was a simple matter of the wind, which was of that treacherous character which blows over the links unnoticed, had impinged full upon the ball, pressed it backward and forced it to the earth.

Leacock then applies various mathematical formulae, factual or specious is beyond me, although they sound convincing and concludes:
(T)aking Jones’s statements at their face value the ball would have traveled, had it not been for the wind, no less than 6½ miles.

If this makes you chuckle, be sure to check out the whole story, and more of Leacock.

If you’re Canadian, what’s been your exposure to Stephen Leacock? If you’re not Canadian, is your reaction “Stephen who?”

For Canadian readers:
My Financial Career and Other Follies


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The Short Story Reading Challenge

February1

Short Story Reading ChallengeFAILED TO COMPLETE

So, yes, I’ve already entered Library of Clean Reads’ Short Story Reading Challenge which requires me to read entire collections of short stories.

But the Short Story Reading Challenge hosted by Dead Book Darling asks me to read 12 individual short stories. This will allow me more latitude to find a variety of authors. I’m looking forward to this!

1. A Lesson on the Links by Stephen Leacock
2. The Landlady by Roald Dahl
3. The $64 Tomato by William Alexander

Alas, although I read many more short stories and certainly in excess of 12 authors, I failed to blog about them.


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Short Story 2012 Reading Challenge

December21

short story collection reading challenge 2012COMPLETED

Collections of short stories aren’t eligible for a lot of reading challenges so even though I have a large one on my 2012 Bucket List and another in mind for a prize-winners challenge, I can’t count them for anything else. When I saw The 2012 Short Story Reading Challenge, hosted by Laura over at Library of Clean Reads, I knew I was in.

I’m entering at the Tell Me a Story level of 1 – 3 books. That will be another notch on my Challenge Addict belt.

1. My Financial Career & Other Follies by Stephen Leacock

2. The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

3. African Love Stories edited by Ama Ata Aidoo

4. QBI: Queen’s Bureau of Investigation by Ellery Queen

5. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

6. The Museum of Dr. Moses by Joyce Carol Oates

7. The Beggar’s Garden by Michael Christie

8. Bush Studies by Barbara Baynton


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