Lazy Sunday CLXII: Spring Break Short Story Recommendations Recap 2022

Another Spring Break is in the books, and as I look wearily ahead to the final weeks of the school year, let’s look back at the good times—and good stories—of this past week:

Happy Reading!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

TBT: Spring Break Short Story Recommendations 2021, Part I: “Black Tancrède”

Going through last year’s Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, I came across the first one of 2021, a delicious little tale of Caribbean horror, Henry S. Whitehead‘s “Black Tancrède.”

It’s a weird little story, but a fun one.  I won’t prattle on too long—here’s me one year ago in “Spring Break Short Story Recommendations 2021, Part I: ‘Black Tancrède’“:

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Spring Break Short Story Recommendation 2022: “Witch’s Money”

Today’s Spring Break Short Story Recommendation 2022 comes from a very old, very tattered collection of short stories I purchased probably twenty or more years ago.  I think I picked it up on a trip with my grandparents when I was somewhere between the ages of ten and thirteen, the amorphous “tween” years.

The collection is called, simply, Short Story Masterpieces, and boasts Robert Penn Warren as one of its editors (the other being Albert Erskine).  I have a vague recollection of attempting to read some of the stories in our hotel room the night that I bought it, and realized that these stories were way over my head at that time.  I could read the words, but I could not comprehend them, at least not fully.

Short Story Masterpieces

However, one story that always stuck out to me was John Collier‘s “Witch’s Money.”  I probably flipped to that story because it had “witch” in the title, and even back then ghost stories and the like fascinated me.  The story—which was published in The New Yorker in 1939—has little to do with hags and haunts, but instead explores a fatal misunderstanding about the nature of “cheques” (or “checks” to my fellow American readers).

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Spring Break Short Story Recommendation 2022: “The Machine Stops”

As is my custom, I dedicate a few days each Spring Break to recommending and reviewing various short stories.  Typically, I read through an anthology of short stories over break and highlight three or four of the best stories from them.

However, I neglected to take an anthology with me when I left town for Easter weekend, and I didn’t have the time to pluck one from my parents’ substantial library.  So, I’m doing a one-off today (and possibly for other Spring Break Shorty Story Recommendation 2022 installments this week), although I am sure this story has appeared in many anthologies.

The story is E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops,” which I wrote about in brief in another post in April 2020, during the early days of The Age of The Virus.  The Z Man wrote about it in one of his posts from the time, which intrigued me enough to read the story.

It is, I believe, one of the great works of prophetic science fiction.  There’s a great deal of that from the mid-twentieth century; Forster was predicting things like FaceTime and social media in 1909.

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Spring Break Short Story Recommendations 2021, Part II: “The Personality Cult”

Today’s short story selection, Michael Noonan‘s “The Personality Cult,” comes from Terror House Magazine, an alternative online literary journal that publishes some excellent works from newer authors (although, it should be cautioned, they publish anything, including pieces that are borderline smut; browse with care).  Indeed, two of my Inspector Gerard stories will appear there later this month.  I’ve been reading Terror House Magazine for a couple of years now, and have been impressed with the gems they publish.  “The Personality Cult” is one such precious stone.

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Spring Break Short Story Recommendations 2021, Part I: “Black Tancrède”

It’s another glorious Spring Break for yours portly, which means it’s time to whip out some classic tales of ghostly spookiness.  This week I’m working my way through Chilling Ghost Stories, edited by Stefan Dziemianowicz, published in March 2020.  It’s a collection that was clearly compiled for the bargain section at Barnes & Nobles, with a list price of just $10 for 471 pages of medium-sized print chills (I picked it up for $8 plus tax thanks to my handy Educator’s Discount card).  The stories were written from 1893 to 1929, with today’s selection, Henry S. Whitehead‘s “Black Tancrède,” being the latest.

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The Learning Bug

Well, Spring Break has come to a close, with distance learning, it doesn’t quite feel the same, for both good and ill.  At about the time of this writing (shortly after 8:30 AM EST), I’d be about twenty minutes into an AP US History class under normal circumstances.  Instead, I’m sipping coffee and grading student responses to a pre-recorded lecture (on George F. Kennan’s containment policy) as they roll in.

I’ve found that, personally, I’m far more productive and focused since the transition to distance learning.  The incentives are in place for me to be so, in that I can just laser-focus in on building out online versions of my classes.  I’ve also been adjunct teaching online for a local technical college for about five years now, so I’ve gotten good at the management side of it.  Indeed, most of distance learning, after the creation of the actual content, is shepherding students through it.

That’s the other key to my productivity:  I know that the more idiot-proof and user-friendly I make the process, the less confusion for the students.  That also makes for less work for me on the back-end, which requires a good bit of planning and work on the front-end.  I pretty much stay at my computer from about 7:30 AM to 3:30 or 4 PM EST most days, so I can facilitate any student queries as they arrive, but the workflow is more flexible—instead of being locked-in to a series of hour-long performances, I’m able to complete tasks in a more organic fashion.

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Lazy Sunday LVIII: Spring Break Short Story Recommendations Recap

Spring Break is (essentially) over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep reading fun stuff!  Today’s Lazy Sunday, perhaps predictably, is going to look back at my Spring Break Short Story Recommendations mini-series.  I’ll also include which of these stories was my favorite of the week.

These are strange times to be a politics blogger.  The Virus holds sway over every discussion, almost absorbing as much mental mind-share as President Trump.  It’s interesting that the same people who are obsessed with Trump are also the very same people that fetishize The Virus.  It’s the same kind of magical thinking:  just as Trump is the cause of all of their problems, so The Virus is the means by which they can exert more social and governmental control over the rest of us.

As such, writing about politics and The Virus has grown dull—and wearying.  Thus, this past week’s diversion into more harmless horror stories.

But I digress.  Let’s get on with the recap!

  • Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part I: ‘The Judge’s House’” – The chilling tale of Malcolm Malcolmson, the diligent mathematics student in search of total isolation, the better to pore over his textbooks.  Malcolmson takes quarters in the titular house in a distant town, but runs afoul of a demonic rat with a “baleful” eye.  Very spooky mood setting from a true master of horror, Bram Stoker.
  • Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part II: ‘Thus I Refute Beelzy’” – A short, skin-crawlingly creepy little story from John Collier.  In just five brief pages, this story depicts a troubled youngster—likely in league with Satan—and his overbearing, hyper-rationalist, abusive father.  The ending is satisfying, but the implication is even more horrifying.
  • Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part III: ‘Seven American Nights’” – A non-horror entry in the week, this story is a bit of sci-fi travel fiction.  A young Iranian visits a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C., that is grasping to hold onto a nation irreparably in decline.  It’s an eerie bit of role reversal, as the Third World is on top, and America sinks into mutated decadence.
  • TBT: Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mother Hive’” & “Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mother Hive’” (Original Post) – This post is more of an “honorable mention,” as I wrote about it last summer.  But when you blog everyday, as I do, you’re not going to pass up the chance to reblog every Thursday (seriously, it saves a ton of time).  Regardless, this tale definitely fits the theme:  an insidious wax-moth begins filling the heads of vulnerable young bees with sweet, silky lies, much like a public school English teacher.  Soon, the once-proud high is on the verge of collapse, with mutated and invalid “Oddities” born in greater numbers.  It’s a shocking allegory—or Aesopian fable—that ends in flames, with a cautiously optimistic coda.
  • Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part IV: ‘The Shed’” – I described this small-town tale as proto-Stephen King:  young boys work together to investigate the disappearance of a local dog—and to overcome a mysterious, malevolent evil, The Shadow.

Naturally, I recommend all of these stories—that’s why their recommendations, after all—but which one do I deem the best of the bunch?

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