We need to begin by letting everyone know the serious nature of the work being done here. Part of the latest email discussion among a group of baseball fans has been the question of whether robot umpires should take over the task of officiating balls and strikes in the major leagues. My daughter wondered whether you could still kick dirt on the robot if you disagreed with a call. My concern was far more important: could a manager still turn his cap backwards and get right in the robot’s face? These are important questions of national consequence so you can see that our time in lock down is being well spent.
As I just mentioned to an AF friend, the sports page in Lincoln’s paper used to be worth two cups of coffee. Not so much at the moment. The dinky coverage takes away any excuse to further delay in getting out this month’s update, so I suppose it is okay to begin with some writing news. In the different world we now live in, many of the current story call outs from book, anthology, and magazine publishers have what is being called a “late stage writing” theme. Stories are invited that contemplate mortality, discuss views of the future, etc. I put together two short stories. The “deepest” one wonders what will become of the of the smaller, outwardly inconsequential things that carry special meaning in our own lives but often have little relevance to anyone else. All of us have those things: a china plate, for example, the lone survivor of countless gatherings around a dining room table; a footstool, recovered and refurbished many times over, the sole remnant of wedding gifts received so long ago; an inscribed baseball, a reminder of a magic summer. Those things, and others like them, touch us somehow, not because of their value or their utility, but simply by their presence in our lives. Frankly, I am sad to think of them disappearing.
The second story is lighter, more humorous, and aimed somewhat at veterans. It is a tongue in cheek call to return to active duty those old “war stories” that have been retired for many years (often because those around us had become tired of hearing them). Those that bring a smile can be of particular use in a coronavirus world – and the occasion provides an excuse for the veteran to tell them again.
After researching the publications that made those solicitations, I think the chances of either of the articles being accepted are the longest of long shots. Regardless, though, it was a productive exercise. I enjoyed writing them and the material may eventually be of use for other venues. Both original drafts had to be pared down and shaped to fit the specific requests of the publications. Some of the total package of work may form parts of new articles or suit the needs of different publishers. It is good stuff to have stashed on a shelf. (At least that is what I tell myself when the rejection slips begin to show up.)
There were some interesting comments regarding last month’s newsletter that showed “Time Magazine’s” list of best books about solitude and pandemics. Some were puzzled that Stephen King’s The Stand didn’t make the hall of fame for pandemics books. So am I. Although it may be a stretch to describe an 823 page book (King’s original, uncut version was 1,152 pages) as being hard to put down, The Stand was that way for me. I looked forward to getting back to it each evening. It also especially interested me because a town in Nebraska was a central feature in the book. Indeed, as my daughter Laura pointed out, King used the small city of Hemingford, Nebraska, (which is called Hemingford Home in some of his novels) in other of his books as well, including It, Children of the Corn, and Children of the Corn II. According to “USA Today” here’s why:
“For King, fictional Hemingford Home is where the heartland is. And it is named after the real Hemingford, NE. ‘I originally used Hemingford Home in The Stand,’ King says, ‘because I wanted to place Mother Abigail (a key character) in the American Heartland. That’s Nebraska. Hemingford was the right place …. I love Nebraska and keep going back to it in my fiction – when I’m not in Maine that is.’
Not appearing on any list was On the Beach, a 1957 novel by Nevil Shute that was made into a motion picture (1959) starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins. The absence may be because the book attributed the demise of human life to a radiation cloud that gradually spread over the earth in the aftermath of a nuclear war. The film never explicitly identifies the cause of the malaise. Peck plays the commander of an American nuclear submarine who takes his boat to Australia, the only place that had not yet been afflicted (as it inevitably will be). I have always remembered the book and the movie. I thought both did a good job of looking at how people would chose to spend the remaining days of their lives when confronted by the sure knowledge that all would soon end. The movie also introduced the great song “Waltzing Matilda” to American audiences. When the movie was released, the sound track received considerable air time on the transistor radios that some of us had. (Hey, we’re talking 1950s technology here.)
I mentioned last month that if we were still sheltering in place when time for the next newsletter rolled around, that I would include some information on lists of books variously identified as the world’s greatest or books everyone should read during their life. (I admit to being way behind the curve, especially on the latter list.) Some of the rankings identify as many as 100 titles. There are several lists available. Most of them differ considerably in their choices. Shown below are the top ten from two fairly recent lists:
Top ten “Must read during a lifetime” books: 1. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) 2. 1984 (George Orwell) 3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (J.K. Rowling) 4. The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien) 5. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) 6. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) 7. The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank) 8. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) 9. The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien) 10. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott).
Note: Among those listed in the next ten titles are Jane Eyre, Animal Farm, Gone with the Wind, The Catcher in the Rye, Charlotte’s Web, and Grapes of Wrath.
The top ten among those listed as “The Greatest Books of All Time” has a more international flavor. Those titles included: 1. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy) 2. Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert) 3. War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy) 4. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) 5. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov) 6. Middlemarch George Eliot) 7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain) 8. The Stories of Anton Chekhov (Anton Chekhov) 9. In Search of Lost Time (Marcel Proust) 10. Hamlet (William Shakespeare)
Note: among the titles appearing on the next set of ten on this list are Moby Dick, Don Quixote, Ulysses, Great Expectations, and Crime and Punishment. Hemingway makes his first appearance at number 25 with The Sun Also Rises. The first reference to an author with Nebraska ties is Willa Cather. Death Comes to the Archbishop is listed at number 50.
Now, before we end with a couple of quotes that seem to have special meaning at the present time, here is the usual truly bad pun:
Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl use the bathroom?
Because the ‘p’ is silent.
That one may be the worst ever. Once again, my daughters are to blame.
Some quotes to carry with you:
(Charley Brown calling to Snoopy): “Remember, Snoopy, you only live once.”
Snoopy: “No, you only die once. You live every day.”
(My favorite): From the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” The character Sonny assures a listener:
“Everything will be all right in the end … if it is not all right then it is not yet the end.”
Stay safe and take care of each other.