Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Reading Life Review March 2016

My blogging activity slowed down a bit in March but my reading did not.  In March of 2015 I did 40 posts, this year I did 14.  As of today my blog has had 3,954,587 page views.  There are 2847 posts on the blog.

The top visiting countries of visitor residency are the USA, the Philippines, India, Russia, and Japan.
 The most read posts are, as normal, on short stories by authors from the Philippines. 


I read two nonfiction works in March.

1.  The Tears of the Rajas Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805 to 1905 by Ferdinand Mount.  Highly recommended for those into Indian or British Colonial history.

2.  Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters by Jane Dunn. Very well done biography


The Pendragon Legend by Antal Szerb. Interesting work

I read three novels by Somerset Maugham, The Magician, Liza of Lambeth and The Moon and Six Pence.  I have a collection of fifteen of his novels and will read more eventually.

I also read and greatly enjoyed The Purple Hibicus by Chimamanda Adiche.  I will, I hope, read her two other novels this year.

I read several short stories this month.  Some I posted on, some I did not.  I read a number of short stories by Hortense Callisher, by Daphne du Maurier, and Alan Sillitoe.  

1.  "Kiss Me Again Stranger" by Daphne du Maurier 1952

2.  "Pictures" by Katherine Mansfield 

3.   "The Easter Egg" by Saki, 1911, not one of his best works 

4.  "The Little Photographer" by Daphne du Maurier. 1952,  Very well done suspenseful story. First rate 

5.  "Monte Verità." By Daphne du Maurier 1952.  A very gothic atmospheric story about an ancient cult deep in the mountains. 

6.  "The Apple Tree" by Daphne du Maurier. One of her most loved stories

7.  "Heartburn" by Hortense Calisher .  Kind of amusing 

8.  "The Night Club in the Woods" by Hortense Calisher. Very intriguing and moving work

9.  "The Hollow Boy" by Hortense Calisher set among NYC Jewish immigrants

10.  "The Woman Who was Everybody" by Hortense Calisher, second reading, a reading life story, very moving 

12.  "If 11. You Don't Want to Live, I can't Help You" by Hortense Calisher

12. "A Wreath for Miss Toten" by Hortense Calisher

13. "Time, Gentlemen" by Hortense Calisher 

14. "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Leo Tolstoy. 1886

15  "If You Don't  Want to Live, I Can't Help You" by Hortense Calisher 

16   "Time, Gentlemen!" By  Hortense Calisher 

17.   "May-Ry" by Hortense Calisher 

18  "The Coreopsis Kid" by Hortense Calisher 

19. "The Aliens" by Carson McCullers". Very interesting 

20.  "Mumu" by Ivan Turgenev 1868

21.  "Four French Hens, Three Calling Birds" by Lorrie Moore. 1998

22.   "Fire" by Ethel Rohan

23.   "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" by Alan Sillitoe 1959

24.    "Uncle Ernest" by Alan Sillitoe

25.  "The Match" by Alan Sillitoe 

 26.  "Mr Raynor, The School Teacher" by Alan Sillitoe

27.  "The Downfall of Frank Butler" by Alan Sillitoe 

Irish Short Story Month Year Six

I read for four works by Colum McCann from his latest book, 13 Ways of Looking

Review Policy/Guest Posts

I look at every book I am sent.  If I have directly told you I will post on your work, then I will, on my schedule.  

I am open to relevant guests posts 

To my fellow book bloggers, the greatest readers in the world, keep blogging!  

Mel u

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (1886, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. 2009)

            Leo Tolstoy. 1828 to 1910

            At 76.                                    While an Officer in the Russian
                                                          Army during the Crimean War, at 20

Since beginning The Reading Life in July 2009 I have read  War and Peace, Anna Karenina as well as a few short stories by Leo Tolstoy.  Having recently watched an episode of the BBC adoption of   War and Peace, I have taken on a desire to read it for the forth time, hopefully this year.  

In addition to the major novels, the highly regarded translation team of Richard  Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have published a volume including "The Death of Ivan Illyich" (some treat it as a novella) and ten other short works of fiction. 

Ivan Illyich is a moderately successful Russian official working in the judiciary, in the provinces.  He is reasonably happy in his marriage, sometimes enjoys the petty power his job gives him, enjoys a good meal and a drink and loves to play cards.  He is also dying.  No one, especially his wife, wants to acknowledge this.  The story is  a disturbing very insightful look at the metamorphoses that often accur in a long marriage.  Tolstoy has a very deep understanding of the marriage of Ivan and his wife.  

We see Ivan trying to come to terms with his mortality.  We also learn a good bit about the politics of the life of a judge in Czarist Russia.  

This is a very fine  work of art, worthy of the world's greatest novelist.  If you have been married a while you will be pushed into pondering your relationship.  I am so glad I have experienced "The Death of Ivan Illyich".  

Mel u 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Clara Militch and "Mumu" - A Novella and a Short Story by Ivan Turgenev

If you have a favorite work by Ivan Turgenev, please share your thoughts.

Since I began my blog I have read and posted on Ivan Turgenev's most famous work Fathers and Sons, a few  of his short stories and four of his novellas.  Today I completed one of his lesser know novellas, Clara Militch (1883, in translation by Constance Garnett).  I also read three essays by Henry James on Turgenev, included in the Delphi Publishing's E book edition of the complete works of Ivan Turgenev.  In them James mentions a Turgenev short storiy he especially admired, "Mumu" so I decided to read it.  Frank O'Connor in the leading  book  on the short story, The Lonely Voice A Study of the Short Story said the short stories of Turgenev are world class cultural treasures of the highest order.

Clara Militch is perhaps not as powerful a work as First Love or Faust but it certainly worth reading. The title character is well known actress.  The work focuses on a young man's infatuation with her and his attempt to unravel the reasons behind her suicide by poison.  He has disturbed dreams in which he thinks he sees her.  All and all a decent story with interesting plot turns and well developed characters.

"Mumu" (1868) is set on a large country  estate about 150 Kilometers from Moscow.  Henry James, who knew Turgenev well and greatly admired his work and person, saw the tyrannical capriciously cruel mistress of the estate as loosely based on Turgenev's mother who owned five thousand serfs.  The story does a wonderful job of bring to life what it was like to be a serf.  There are all kind of serfs, from field workers, maids and cooks to physicians (there were two serf physicians, one for the mistress on.y and one for the serfs, neither had the slightest real medical knowledge),  one of the serfs is a huge man, a foot taller than anyone and a deaf mute.  He is a perfect serf, fetching water, keeping the yard up, watching out for intruders and is completely subservient to the mistress.  She moved him from her Moscow estate because he was such a good worker.  He develops a crush on one of the maids.  The problem is that the mistress decides to marry her to one of her other serfs, a business manager, in hopes the marriage will sober him up.  The business manager is happy over the marriage but in fear of the deaf mute.   However the mute accepts what he must.  One day he rescues a three week old puppy from drowning in the river, he takes her back to his garret and names her "Mumu".  The name is one of the few sounds he can make.   As the story progresses Turgenev does a masterful life of letting us see how the mistress runs her estate, taking great pleasure in her power over her serfs.  I really hope others will read this wonderful story so I will leave the deeply moving close unspoiled.  

Mel u

The Tears of the Rajas - Mutiny, Money, and Marriage in India 1805 to 1905 by Ferdinand Mount

I give my thanks to Max u for providing me with an Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read this book.

The Tears of the Rajas Mutiny, Money, and Marriage in India 1805 to 1905 by Ferdinand Mount tells the story of British rule of India in the 19th century through the lives of three intermarried families. It is an important work anyone into Indian history will want to read. 

The biggest portion of the book is devoted to the many revolts against British rule and the crushing of these revolts by the British army and the British East India Company.  This book shows how thoughly dispicable the British rule of India was.  Indians were seen as barely human, other than the supposedly loyal sepoys who in fact often turned in revolt against them.  Experienced British officers counseled new arrivals not to fully trust any Indians.  

India in the 19th century was a geographic designation, not a unified country, just as can be said of the Philippines in the century.  Indians over all shared no common religion, spoke a polyglot of languages, it took rule by a hated colonial power to create a sense of national identity. 

The book talks in great detail about the violence of the revolts and the terrible punishments the British brought to bare on their subjects.  Parts of India were ruled directly by British civil servants or British East India Employees.  These positions were viewed by most as the door way to great wealth via bribes and graft.  The goal of  individual British in India was to retire rich back home.  Very interestingly Mount talks about the Thackarey family.  William Thackarey, the author of Vanity Fair was sent back to England at age five to be educated as was often the custom.  Other parts of India were under the control of local rulers, the Princely states.  Mount goes into a lot of detail explaining how the Princes were allowed to keep their thrones and wealth only by paying huge fees to the British, including yearly taxes, land grants and supplies of troops to fight for the British.  Mount lets us see the extreme decadence of many of the Princely rulers.  The British came at first without wives and many took up with local women.  As they prospered the upper class British wanted home grown wives and we learn a lot about the marriage market.  The trip to India could take up to four months so it was not to be undertaken lightly.

To their credit, some British officials became true scholars of Indian culture and tried to help their subjects.  One gets no sense from this book that the Indian Princes  saw those they ruled as anything more than slaves.  

I endorse this book to all into Indian history.  The British come out looking very bad, as rightly they should.

Mel u

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Pendragon Legend by Antal Szerb. (1934, translated by Len Rix)

"And there have always been individuals, or secret societies,” he went on, “who insisted they were the guardians of some ancient knowledge. From the Egyptian priesthood it was passed down to the mystery cults of Alexandria; from the Alexandrians to the Hebrew Kabala and the Gnostics; from the Gnostics to the Knights Templar and from the Kabala to the late-medieval mystics, Pico della Mirandola, Pater Trimethius, Cardano, Raimundus Lullus, Paracelsus and finally the Rosicrucians. The Rosicrucians are the last link in the chain … ” “And then?” ......So the ancient knowledge now exists as a paradox: our rational minds can’t fathom it.. What followed—occult science—was nothing but fraud and parody: Rational Man’s fancy dress frolic with the irrational. The eighteenth-century Freemasons, the spiritualists, the theosophists, St Germain and Cagliostro all claimed to be thousands of years old. Of course they were lying. On the other hand, lots of people falsely claim that they know the Prince of Wales, but does that make his existence a mere superstition? We just can’t grasp these things with our modern patterns of thought."  From The Pendragon Legend

Last month in my observational of International Holocaust Menorial Day, held on January 27, I posted on Journey Into Moonlight by Antal Szerb.  Considered by many Hungary's greatest writer, he was beaten to death in  a forced labor camp.  Literary purists might say so what to this it does not make his work better or worse and of course they are right but it is important to me to say this.  

Journey Into Moonlight is an acknowledged master work.  The Pendragon Legend has some very good conversations and interesting things are said by the characters, it is funny and you can see the great learning and keen wit of the author.  It was Szerb's first novel and I am sure he had lot of fun writing this.  The setting of the novel moves from London to Wales and back and forth.  

The central character is a Hungarian researcher deeply into occult lore, who is also very many into the reading life.  He meets the Earl of Pendragon who invites him to visit his ancestral castle in Wales where he has an extensive ancient library with lots of "forbidden lore" texts.  Strange entities and persons have been seen in the vicinity of the Pendragon Castle, which has been in the Pendragon family for many generations and the Earl hopes the researcher can explain them.

Between the wars in England and on the continent occult theories and gurus became very popular.  Szerb is having good natured fun with the English interest in this.  Wales has a special meaning in English culture, maybe it suggests backwoods but I am not sure on this.

The book is fun to read, the unraveling of the mysteries fun. The novel is a bit stuck in time.  For me the best part of the novel was in the observations of the Hungarian researcher about the history of the occult and about various literary works.

ANTAL SZERB (1901–1945) was born in Budapest into a middle-class family that had converted from Judaism to Catholicism. He studied German and English literature at the University of Budapest, receiving a PhD in 1924. Throughout the second half of the 1920s he lived in France, Italy, and England, where he worked on his first book, An Outline of English Literature (1929). In 1933 he was elected the president of the Hungarian Literary Academy and the next year published his History of Hungarian Literature, called by John Lukacs, “not only a classic but a sensitive and profound description of . . . the Magyar mind.” It was followed in 1941 by a three-volume History of World Literature. In addition to his critical writings, Szerb produced produced many works of translation, and published newspaper articles, essays, reviews, short stories, and novels, of which The Pendragon Legend (1934), Love in a Bottle, (1935), The Third Tower (written in 1936), Journey by Moonlight (1937), Oliver VII (1937), and The Queen’s Necklace (1943) have been translated into English. Having lost his university teaching position as a result of Hungary’s anti-Semitic laws, Szerb was sent to a labor camp, where it is believed he was beaten to death. He was survived by his wife, Klára Bálint, who died in 1992.   From the publisher New York Review of Books

Mel u

Monday, March 21, 2016

Liza of Lambeth. 1897. The First Novel of W. Somerset Maugham

Somerset Maugham is by far the most sucessful physician turned author of all time.  More movies have been made from his works than any other writer.  

Liza of Lambeth is the first novel of Somerset Muagham, published just after he graduated from medical school.  It draws on his experience working as a physician for a few months in a working class section of London.  While there he saw the harsh lives of women, often with ten or more children beaten by their husbands in rages brought on by alcohol.  

Liza is about twenty, works in a factory and lives with her widowed mother.  Alcohol, especially beer fuels all social life, before we judge to harshly there was no clean water to be had.  The novel does a good job of letting us see the inevitable ruin of Liza when she takes up with a married man twice her age with six children.  Liza has a decent suitor but he just a bit dull.  Her mother is kind of a chain puller and a serious drinker also.  

There is a very well done exciting rather brutal fight between Liza and the wife of the man she is involved with. There are several scenes of spousal battery, which was considered more or less normal, though it was illegal.

                  A Street in Lambeth, in the 1890s

The down fall of Liza is very melodramatic and comes as no surprise.  

Liza of Lambeth reminded me of the works of Balzac and Zola  set in the poor quarters of Paris.  

It is a short work, estimated reading time under two hours.  I found it interesting to experience the first work of Maugham.  I have so far read his master work, On Human Bondage, The Moon and Sixpence, The Magician and a few short stories.  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and other Stories by Alan Sillitoe (published by Open Road Media, 2016, stories from 1959)

Alan Sillitoe's (1928 to 2010, UK) most famous work in his long short story, "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner".  In the obituaries that appeared in the major English journals after his death from cancer he is characterized as the chronicler of the lives of the very poor marginalized people in England in the 1950s.  England struggled to return to prosperity after World War Two and Sillitoe tells the story of the forgotten people, "the angry young men".  It was a time of class distinctions in which old values no longer held.  

In addition to the title story, there are eight other stories as well as a very moving biography by his wife in the new E book from Open Road Media.  I found all of these stories deeply moving.  Sillitoe brings out with near heartbreaking vermisilitude the consciousness and the life experiences of the people in his fictions.  They are tales of a brutal world with few illusions or hopes.  There is deep wisdom and humanity in these stories.  They are the product of a fierce intelligence that misses very little.  

"The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" is Sillitoe's best know work.  This near novella length story centers on a young man in his late teens detention facility for young criminals.  The story is from his point of view.  It took a bit of adjusting for me to be comfortable with his speech patterns but once I found by feet with it I enjoyed his slang ridden argot.  The boy's father died recently of cancer, sometimes he worked, sometimes on the dole.  He was occasionally a violent drunk but mostly sunk in  lethargy with no hope or even thought of a better life.  His mother is an occasional prostitute, she entertains her clients in the new bed bought with the death benifit' from his father.  The boy was arrested for a petty burglary in partnership with a mate.  He loves long distance running.  When he checks into the facility the warden gives him a lecture about how they will turn him into an honest young man fit for decent society if only he follows the rules.  There are big athletic meets in which different detention facilities compete with each other and the warden tells the boy that if he wins the long distance race he will "take care of him".  The boy sees those in the adult world as like living dead zombies with no grasp of the realities of life.  We see in his memories how he came to feel this.  Something very unexpected happens on race day.  This is a very good work, extremally perceptive, and brings to vivid reality the brutal world of the boy.  I am very glad I read this great story.

     From the movie based on the story

"Uncle Ernest"

"A middle-aged man wearing a dirty raincoat, who badly needed a shave and looked as though he hadn’t washed for a month, came out of a public lavatory with a cloth bag of tools folded beneath his arm. Standing for a moment on the edge of the pavement to adjust his cap—the cleanest thing about him—he looked casually to left and right and, when the flow of traffic had eased off, crossed the road. His name and trade were always spoken in one breath, even when the nature of his trade was not in question: Ernest Brown the upholsterer. Every night before returning to his lodgings he left the bag of tools for safety with a man who looked after the public lavatory near the town centre, for he felt there was a risk of them being lost or stolen"

If you saw the lead character in "Uncle Ernest" you would quite likely do your best to block him him out of your consciousness, and for sure you would want to be down wind from him.  Ernest was badly shell shocked in the war, it does not matter which one.  He is evidently a pretty good upholster, we don't really learn how he picked up this skill.  He gets paid when he finishes a job.  When he has decent money he goes to his normal diner and has a meal.  Then he drinks himself into oblivion or at least until his money runs out.  One day he is enjoying a treat breakfast, having just got a good pay, of tomatoes on toast.  Two pre-adolescent girls come in the restaurant and asks what they can eat with the small money they have.  Ernest buys them a nice breakfast.  Soon the girls ate expecting a daily meal.  Ernest begins to give them small gifts.  The older girl senses his extreme loneliness and begins to exploit Ernest, who now has a purpose in life.  He is not at all a pedophile or such, just a very lonely man with few human contacts.  I had to say to much but in a sad as can be seen Ernest is warned by the police to stay away from the girls if he does not want trouble.  I notice the police don't come off real well in the world of people in these stories.  Authority figures in general are denigrated. 

"Mr Raynor the School Teacher"

"The one feasible plan was to keep them as quiet as possible for the remaining months, then open the gates and let them free, allow them to spill out into the big wide world like the young animals they were, eager for fags and football, beer and women and a forest of streets to roam in. The responsibility would be no longer his, once they were packed away with the turned pages of his register into another, more incorrigible annex than the enclave of jungle he ruled for his living."

All the boys in Mr Raynor's leaving term class in a working class neighborhood know that he likes to look at the bodies of the girls in the school. He makes little effort to be stealthy.  The students are rough and could not care less about learning. Mr. Raynor sees his job as just to keep them under control under they are ready for the factory or the army.  There is a very dramatic scene that closes the story in which Mr. Raynor gets into a brawl with one of the students.  

"The Match"

Every wonder how soccer holligans act at home after their team lost from a bad call by the referee?  "The Match" shows us what happens when two married men return home.  In one case it is horrible brutal and nasty and in another quite decent.  

"The Downfall of Frankie Butler"

"And so on and so on, items that have become part of me, foliage that has grown to conceal the bare stem of my real personality, what I was like before I ever saw these books, or any book at all, come to that. Often I would like to rip them away from me one by one, extract their shadows out of my mouth and heart, cut them neatly with a scalpel from my jungle-brain. Impossible. You can’t wind back the clock that sits grinning on the marble shelf. You can’t even smash its face in and forget it."

The plot action of this story is one man just into adulthood talking about his always in a bit of trouble with the police friend Frankie Butler.  The story is a good one but I like most the reflections on the ways of the reading life the quotation above from the thoughts  of the narrator brought to my mind.  Some people are kind of born into the reading life.  Others enter it later.  In the world of the stories of Alan Sillitoe no one grows up in a house with books, no one's father loved to read.  In these stories you have to find your own way into the reading life and define your consciousness where you are without any reading role models.  This is probably not the dominant thing most will get from the story but I found it powerful.

There are four other very interesting, attention holding, very well done stories in the collection. 

The collection is worth reading just for the two opening stories.

This collection is published by Open Road Media.  The next time you are looking for something to read, especially if you prefer E reading as I do, take a look at their very well done webpage.  They have on offer books by over 2000 authors, all very well described and fairly priced.

I will soon read Sillitoe's novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. 

Mel u


Friday, March 11, 2016

"Love to Read but Short on Time, Read Shorter Things" a Guest Post by M. R. Nelson, editor and founder of

Official Bio of M. R. Nelson, Editor and Founder of 

I am a scientist by training, and may finally be using the liberal arts portion of my education. I discovered a love of short form writing when two young children and a busy career interfered with my lifelong reading habit. I started the website Tungsten Hippo ( to attempt to recruit other people to my newfound passion, and eventually started publishing short writing through Annorlunda Books, a publishing company that I own and run.

Tungsten Hippo is a site dedicated to making it easier for people to find good short eBooks to read. It does not attempt to provide an exhaustive list of short eBooks. Instead, it lists only short eBooks that I enjoyed reading. Each book is assigned to one or more categories- and a look at the categories will tell you what sorts of books I tend to read. I may eventually make it possible for other people to contribute to Tungsten Hippo, but right now, the books are all ones I have read and enjoyed.

The site consists of short summaries of books, blog posts about topics related to short eBooks, and quotes from short eBooks.

"Love to Read but Short on Time, Read Shorter Things"

By M. R. Nelson

It all started with a book about a goat.

Okay, that’s not completely true. It all started with a novel that I started reading five times, because I kept getting a few chapters in, then having my reading time gobbled up by my young children and the demands of work. By the time I got back to the novel, I’d forgotten so much that I had to start over. The effects of sleep deprivation might have played a role in this, too. My first child was a terrible sleeper as a baby.

Frustrated, I gave up on reading books for awhile. I  read magazines and websites instead. But I was missing something. I have always been an avid reader, and 700 word articles weren’t satisfying that urge. Worse, most of the short articles I was reading weren’t about anything I really wanted to know. I’d finish them and feel like I’d just eaten a bag of Cheetos: it was enjoyable, but clearly not nourishing. I like a bag of Cheetos every now and then, but I want my regular snacks to be a little more substantial. Similarly, I want what I read to enrich my life in some way. I want to learn things I feel good about knowing, and read stories that make me think.

I don’t remember how I heard about Midnight’s Tale, the aforementioned book about a goat. However I came across it, the blurb caught my attention, and the book was only $0.99. I bought it on a whim, and read it in a single evening. It isn’t really about a goat. Well, it is: the main character is most definitely a goat. But it was also about love and happiness, and how hard those things are to find in life. It was quick to read, but left me thinking for a long time.

I was hooked. Short ebooks were my new reading fix. They were long enough to tell a full story, but short enough that I could actually finish one in the short bursts of reading time my life at that point provided. I starting searching for more. 

The search was not always easy. I was happy to try self-published books: in fact, Midnight’s Tale is a self-published book. But my initial simplistic searches on “novella” demonstrated that this length of book is dominated by romance (a perfectly fine genre, but not one of my favorites) and self-published stories that often read like part of a novel, not a stand alone work. I wanted complete stories, not longer works that had been chopped up into shorter books to game Amazon’s algorithms.

Browsing Amazon’s Kindle Singles helped me find quality things to read, but I also wanted a way to find things to read that didn’t depend on the policies of Amazon or the whims of Amazon’s algorithms, whether or not they were being gamed by a savvy self-publishing author. I went looking for independent sites that would recommend short ebooks. I didn’t find what I was looking for, so I decided to build one. 

Tungsten Hippo is the result. Every Wednesday, I post a recommendation for a short ebook or collection of short writing. Every Friday, I post a quote taken from one of the books I’ve recommended. On Sundays, there are often blog posts, which might be a guest post from an author introducing a new short ebook, a “taster flight” post about three or four short ebooks on a similar theme, a “read together” post pairing a non-fiction short ebook with a fiction short ebook that explores a similar topic, or something else I feel like writing.

My hope is that Tungsten Hippo will provide the same sort of random discovery of new reading material that used to be the norm when we found books by going to the library or the bookstore and walking the aisles. I don’t mind algorithms suggesting things for me to read. Sometimes, they make good suggestions! But the algorithms work from similarity, so if I am relying only on algorithms, I risk missing some great things that are just outside their view because they are unlike anything else I’ve ever read. 

Given my love of short ebooks, it was perhaps only a matter of time before I started publishing them myself. I now also run an indie publishing company called Annorlunda Books, which publishes short ebooks and collections of short writing. My criteria for publication are simple: I like the book, and it taught me something or made me think. 

I’ve published three non-fiction books. The first was my “trial run,” a book of job search advice I wrote from my viewpoint as a long time hiring manager. I thought I should try out publishing on my own work before asking others to entrust me with their books. I enjoyed the publishing process and was successful with my book, so decided to go ahead and solicit books from other authors. This led to two wonderful books:  Unspotted, a book by South African author Justin Fox that takes you into the Cederberg Mountains to search for Cape Mountain Leopards and meet the scientist trying to save them, and Okay, So Look, a humorous retelling of the Book of Genesis by professional comedian and amateur Biblical scholar Micah Edwards. I have also published two “taster flight” collections of classic short stories, Missed Chances and Love and Other Happy Endings. These were so much fun to put together that I’m sure I’ll do more. I have three original more books coming out this year, too: two non-fiction and one fiction. 

My kids are older now, and they both sleep through the night. My work life is as hectic as ever, but I have found my stride as a working parent and have more time to read. Novels and full length non-fiction books are back on my reading list. However, I still love short ebooks. I love how I can fit them in around my life when it gets busy. I love that they are the perfect “palate cleanser” when I’ve finished a longer book and am not quite ready to start another. I love that they let me try out more new authors, and also make me willing to give new genres a try. I love how a good short story can distill some aspect of the human condition down to its absolute essence.

If you’re tempted to try short ebooks, too, here’s how you might start:

Browse to and pick a genre that sounds interesting. Or, try the “Quirky Stories Involving Animals” genre, where you’ll find Midnight’s Tale and several other delightfully offbeat things. Buy a book and give it a try. Repeat. Meanwhile, follow @tungstenhippo on your favorite social media. I maintain a presence on Pinterest and Tumblr, but I’m most active on Facebook and Twitter. 

If you want to be sure you don’t miss any books I post—and get a bonus random recommendation from the archive every week—sign up for the Tungsten Hippo Weekly Digest. It will arrive in your inbox every Sunday. I will never share your email address, not even with the other list I maintain, which is the Annorlunda Enterprises mailing list. Sign up for that to get announcements of new short ebooks from Annorlunda Books, and to get notification when I’m looking for advance readers for my upcoming releases. Annorlunda Books is also on Facebook and is on Twitter as @AnnorlundaInc.

Happy reading!

Here is the link for the page about Midnight's Tale:

And here is the link for Annorlunda Books:

Those are the two most important ones, I think- the first so people can find Midnight's Tale, and the second so that they can find my publishing company.

Here is the one for the Tungsten Hippo weekly digest page:

And one for the Annorlunda Enterprises mailing list:

And here are the social media links for Tungsten Hippo:

And for Annorlunda Books:

End of Guest Post

I offer my great thanks to Melanie Nelson for this very interesting and timely guest post.  Even if you have only fifteen minutes a day to devote to reading, in a year you could read 365 short stories, way more than most allegedly educated persons read in a life time.

Mel u

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Magician by Somerset Maugham (1908)

I offer my thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read this book.  Maugham's work is still under copyright.  A number of his novels can be bought as Kindle editions for $1.95 or less. 

          I like the old covers from the days
          When a classic was just book
Recently I read and posted on Selina Hasting's wonderful biography The Many Lives of Somerset Maugham.  After reading this I wanted to read more of Maigham than just his acknowledged masters works On Human Bondage and his short story "Rain".  I read his novel about a painter, The Moon and Sixpence a few days ago and throughly enjoyed it.  I wanted to read at least one more of his novels so I picked his 1908 novel, The Magician.

I picked The Magician as my next, and perhaps last for a while, Maugham novel as the central character in the novel, the magician, is based on Alister Crowley. In the long ago I read Crowley's very long autobiography and am interested in the influence of occult teachings on English writers. Maugham met Crowley and did not like him.

Oliver Habbo is from an old wealthy family, he was once very handsome and imposing at six foot three.  He has when we meet him become tremendously obese. Maugham goes on and on about this.  Habbo has a  reputation for having sinister powers and is deeply into occult lore.  In the period in England occult doctrines were thought to be derived from the teachings of the Kabbalah and the findings of alchemists. From the novel you can garner the popular perception of this.   Before we meet Habbo we learn of his evil reputation.  Animals are frightened of him.  In a critical scene Habbo is having tea with a man and his fiancé.  An alercation ensues in which the other man throughly trounces Habbo over a slight to his fiancé and her dog.  Habbo makes no resistance and the fiancé dismisses him as a fraud and a coward.  The plot action of the novel unfolds based on the terrible revenge Habbo takes.  

There are about six characters in the novel, all but Hebbo your standard upper class English types. All are skillfully developed.   To me the best part of The Magician is the dark visions Hebbo erouses in the ex-fiancé of the man who beat him, after he makes her fall in love with and marry him, leaving her fiancé heartbroken. These visions were very well done.  The weakest part of the novel for me was the close in which we learn of Hebbo's experiments.  Maybe it was shocking but it seemed almost unintentionally silly to me. 

I am glad I read The Magician.  My next Maugham novel will be Lisbeth, based on his medical work in the slums of London.   He wrote it right after he graduated from medical school.  

Please share your experience with Maugham with us.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham (1919)

Literary trivial pursuit questions

Who is the most sucessful doctor turned writer of all time?

What writer's fiction has been the basis for the most movies?  

Not long ago t read The Many Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings, a first rate literary biography that has motivated me to expand my reading of Maugham beyond On Human Bondage and his great set on a tropical island short story "Rain".  Maugham was a very prolific writer, more movies have been based on his novels than any other writer (per Selina Hastings).  

The Moon and Sixpence is the first person narrative centering on an account of the narrator's acquaintanship with a Charles Strickland.  The narrator is an affluent English gentleman.  He receives an invitation to have tea with a Mrs. Strickland and gradually they become close.  He is shocked to learn her husband has deserted her and their children, moving to Paris to pursue his artistic ambitions.

Mrs Strickland and her brother in law are convinced Mr. Strickland is with a woman in Paris and asks the narrator to go to Paris and report back.  He finds Strickland living alone in a shabby hotel.  We then follow his developing relationship to Strickland, who seems a throughly unlikeable blaggard with no artistic skill the narrator can see.  Mrs Strickland is at first churched, she has been left with no means of support.  She begins to type manuscripts for authors and in time has four typists working for her.

Strickland has little success as a painter and does not much care.  He does an occasional odd job to get by.  Maugham is a great creator of characters.  I loved it when the narrator said as he walked the rougher quarters of Paris he wondered  how Balzac would describe the people he encountered.  

There is an interesting development in which Strickland gets deathly ill and is taken in by another painter and his wife.  Something shocking happens, many secrets in the Balzacian streets of Paris.

Strickland decides to go to a tropical island in the Pacific to paint. He works his way there on tramp steamers.  I don't want to give away the action of the novel as it is very interesting. They"white man in the tropics" segment of the novel might offend the hyper anti-colonial readers but it for sure lets us see how people thought and makes us feel the power the island had for Strickland. After his death Strickland has become world famous, with his work of great value to collectors and is proudly displayed in museums.  

Strickland is very much a cypher.  The Moon and Sixpence is very much worth reading, very perceptive.  I enjoyed it a lot.

I have begun his novel The Magician, based loosely on Aleister Crowley.  Upon completing it, maybe tommorow, I hope to read his first novel, Lisbeth, based on his work as a doctor in the slums of London.

Please share your experiences with Somerset Maugham with us.

Mel u

Sunday, March 6, 2016

"Sh'Khol" and "Treaty" two short stories by Colum McCann (2015, included in Thirteen Ways of Looking)

This is my second post in observation of Irish Short Story Month Year VI.  My first  post was also on two works by Colum McCann (1951, Dublin) from his latest collection, Thirteen Ways of Looking.

My quick thoughts and ranking on the novels by Colum McCann I have so far read and posted upon. 

1.  TransAtlantic - I love this book 

2.  Let the Great World Go On Spinning. Huge international best seller. 

3.  Dancer- a powerful book centered on Rudolph Nureyev.   Parts of it are at perfect but not quite as good as the first two selections.

4.  Zoli -   Good look at post WWII Roma culture. 

5.  Songdogs - his first novel, parts are really good, parts a bit shaky but very much worth reading. About New York City Tunnel Diggers

6.  This Side of Brightness. Interesting work.

"Sh'Khol" is set on the rugged sea coast of Galway, a place I have the great pleasure of visiting.  It is about a woman taking care by herself of a mentally challenged preteen age boy she and her husband adopt d b fore they divorced. Her husband lives in Dublin, she in Galway.  The story is about what happens when the boy without permission or supervision puts on a wet suit his mother got him for Christmad and goes for a swim in turbulent Galway Bay.  He does not return and a very dramatic attempt bybthexauthorties to find him unfolds before our eyes.  Her ex husband accuses her of being neglectful and careless.  This is a very suspenseful story and I will leave the ending untold.  

"Treaty" is told by a seventy three year old Catholic nun, come to Galway to rest.  She is shocked to see on TV a man who tortured her thirty seven years ago when she was working to help the poor in Columbia.  At time he was part of an extreme right wing group but now he is advocating peace and is affiliated with a left wing organization.  She begins to have involuntary memories of the horrible torture she underwent.  She tells others around her and they tell her she might be confused, maybe her memories are not quite right.  The close of the story is very powerful.

Thirteen Ways of Looking is one of many contemporary continuances of the tradition of the great Irish  short story tradition.

Mel u

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Thirteen Ways of Looking and "What Time is it Now". - A Novella and a short story by Colum McCann (2016)

This is the six year in which I have treated March as Irish Short Story Month.  This year i have no Plans other than to post upon a few Irish short stories.  If I had the energy and focus I would create a seperate blog devoted only to the Irish short story.


Colum McCann ( Dublin,1951) has written six highly regarded novels in addition to his short stories and novellas.

My quick thoughts and ranking on the novels by Colum McCann I have so far read and posted upon. 

1.  TransAtlantic - I love this book 

2.  Let the Great World Go On Spinning. Huge international best seller. 

3.  Dancer- a powerful book centered on Rudolph Nureyev.   Parts of it are at perfect but not quite as good as the first two selections.

4.  Zoli -   Good look at post WWII Roma culture. 

5.  Songdogs - his first novel, parts are really good, parts a bit shaky but very much worth reading.

6.  This Side of Brightness. Interesting work.

Today I will just post briefly on a novella and a short story from Colum's latest book Thirteen Ways of Looking.

The title work is a novella centering on the murder of a retired New York judge, killed in the streets of the city.  It is in part murder mystery work overlaid with the judge's involuntary memories of his long life, mostly about his deceased wife and his career as an attorney and a judge.  In the present he thinks a lot about his Caribbean caretaker Sally and his son Eliot, a very sucessful business man in a bit of trouble because of an affair with a female employee.  The unraveling of the murder mystery is really well done.  I will leave the mystery for new readers to discover.  

"What Time is it Now" is kind of a work of meta-fiction.  It is a short story about a writer working on a story about a woman serving in the American army in Afganistan.  I found it interesting.

There is a another Novella and short story in the collection and I hope to read them soon.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (2003)

Purple Hibiscus is the debut novel of the highly regarded Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  This is a great novel, a triumph of the art of the story teller.  It is narrated by a fourteen year old Nigerian girl from a very affluent Catholic family with Ibo roots. The family, the girl, her brother and their mother is rigidly controlled by the father.  He came from a family that believed in traditional tribal religious, his great same is that his own father is what he calls "a pagan".  The father is ashamed of his roots, his racial identity, seeing the ways of white petiole as superior to the traditional culture in which he was raised.  Adichie lets us feel the deep selfloathing of the father and we see how it is causative in his abusive treatment of his children and his wife.  The father is the editor of a newspaper that speaks out on government abuse and also owns a number of factories. He is basically a decent man in many ways, generous with his employees and extended family.  His children attend an elite Catholic school and have been raised in complete isolation from the terrible poverty of Nigeria.  The father very much loves his children and his wife but the harm done to his psyche by the legacy of colinialism is very powerful.  He schedules every minute of their day.  

The novel gives us a deep feel for the day to day life of the family.  In Nigerian culture reverence for parents is very important.  The father, however, cannot accept that his own father never converted to Catholicism.  He also has a sister, a professor at a university.  He reluctantly agrees to allow  his children to spend a few days at her house so they can get to know their cousins.  He tells them they can visit their Grandfather but only under his very strict rules. 

There are terribly things that happen in this novel, reflecting the violence and chaos of Nigerian society. The characters are perfectly done, finely realized.  The girl does not fully understand all that goes on around her but we see her understanding grow through her experiences.  

Purple Hibiscus is very much a family story, a story about the impact of colonialism, about the transition from a tribal Ibo society to a western society.  There is senseless cruelty, violence and corruption but also great goodness in this wonderful novel.  The narrative is very exciting and it is a foodies primer on Ibo gastronomy.  There are lush images of fruit and purple hibiscuses I greatly enjoyed having placed in my consciousness.  

I am so glad I read this wonderful novel.  I hope I can one day read her two other novels.  

Mel u

Bio Data

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times, and Zoetrope. She is the author of the novels Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book, and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year; and the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck. Her latest novel Americanah, was published around the world in 2013, and has received numerous accolades, including winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction; and being named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year.

A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, she divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.  From the author's webpage 

Daphne Du Maurier and her Sisters by Jane Dunn (2014)

Daphne du Maurier (1907 to 1989, UK) was a fantastically sucessful writer.  Her most famous works are Rebecca, My Cousin Rachael, The Jamaica Inn and the short story "The Birds".  Alfred Hitchcock turned several of her works into movies as did other American and British producers.  

Daphne Maurier and her Sisters by Jane Dunn tells the story very well of how Daphne became a famous writer.  Daphne had two sisters, Angela (1904 to 2002) and Jeanne (1911 to 1996), her father was a very highly regarded theatrical director, producer and actor.  Her mother was a former stage actress renowned for her beauty.  The book is a brilliant account of how their theatrical upbringing  influenced their destinies.  Angela was also a novelist and Jeanne was a painter.  Daphne's sisters were both involved in long term romantic relationships with other women.  Daphne also had some romantic ties with other women.  Dunn tells us the theatrical enviorment in which the girls were raised was much more sexually liberal than British society of the period.  A close family friend was J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan.  Dunn tells us that Gerald du Maurier, their father, perfectly fit the image of a man who refuses to grow up, basking in the adoration of fans, his daughters and numerous actresses with whom he had extra-marital romances.  He told his daughters about them and they all laughed at the expense of "Daddy's actresses".  The English theatrical world was very gossipy and full of larger than life characters and gorgeous women.  Gerald valued women, he would have called them girls, based on their looks and how much they worshipped him.  This extended to his daughters.  Their mother was an emotionally remote woman.  Dunn suggests that the lesbian relationships, especially of the sisters, were fueled by their mother's failure to provide them full maternal love.  As children their day to day care was by servants.  

     From the right, Jeanne, Angela, and Daphne.  

I really liked this book and learned a lot from it.   The girls lived through two world wars.  I did not know that British women were conscripted by the government for farm and factory work.  Because of their wealth the sisters partially but not entirely avoided this.  Daphne married a handsome young man, with whom she had three children, who became a major general in the British Air Force during the war and was close after the war to the royal family.

Daphne was very generous with her earnings, even then film rights brought in a lot of money, helping her less sucessful sisters.  She was devastated to discover her husband had maintained a long term affair with a female aid.

The true love of Daphne's life was a huge centuries old gothic mansion on tne sea coast of Cornwell, it is the model for Manderlay in Rebecca.    She and her children, her husband was normally on the continent or Lindon on military business, lived there for twenty two years.

        Daphne and her daughters 

Dunn shows us how events in her life influenced her books.  Much of the cream of the theatrical world are talked about.  

We learn a lot about the business side of being a sucessful writer in the period.  Daphne was very close to Ellen Doubleday.  We follow the sisters from infancy to old age.  The girls were very different in some ways but in others we can see deep similarities.  They were very close but one can feel Daphne as overshadowing her sisters.  

Part of the reason i enjoyed this book is I, like Gerald, have three daughters, each one very individual.  

     From the book.  I really like this picture!

Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters by Jane Dunn is a very good literary biography as well as a social history work of value.  I enjoyed it a lot and highly recommend it.

Mel u