Salinger Revisited: Pretty Mouth and Green my Eyes

This is perhaps the oddest story in the collection.IMG 1414 The other stories in the collection tend to follow a certain pattern but this one does not. We have a somewhat mysterious scenario with a man with a young woman apparently in his apartment for a romantic adventure which is interrupted by a phone call from an offstage character. The reader discovers the identity of the man and his caller over the course of the story, but the identity of the woman is never revealed. Instead, Salinger plays an interesting game in which he pushes the reader to believe that the woman is the caller’s wife. The story ends with the caller saying that his wife has just come home and the man abruptly ending the call. I can see two ways to interpret this: One is that the caller has realized where his wife is and is playing a mind game with the man in the room. The other is that the mind game is being played, not on the man, but on us the readers. I rather prefer that second interpretation, that Salinger is taking the conventions of a story like this and pushing the story in a completely unexpected direction.


Dewey Decimal Project: 270.1 DAM When the Church Was Young

NewImage.pngAfter reading, The Gospel of the Lord, I was really curious to read more of the church fathers and eagerly awaited my arrival at this part of the Dewey Decimal system. Of course, dealing with the vagaries of selecting books from the local public library, my choices aren’t always as broad as I would like, so rather than having the option of primary sources to read—aside from St Augustine, with whom I already have at least a passing familiarity, I instead got this book which is mostly summary and occasional quotation.

D’Ambrosio is writing from the perspective of someone deeply imbued with the spirit of a Catholic apologist. With each Catholic father who’s included in here, some aspect of contemporary Catholic doctrine is justified as originating from the earliest days of the Church. While as a Catholic, I’m inclined to agree, the manner in which D’Ambrosio approaches his task felt rather offputting.

 Even so, within the limits of what it was, I found this an enjoyable read and saw it also potentially a good source for figuring uot which of the fathers would be of interest to start with,


Dewey Decimal Project: 262.13 PHA Heirs of the Fisherman

I NewImage expected something a bit different than this. There’s an awful lot of cut-and-paste to fill out the pages of the book with the full texts of the last few popes’ wills and while the accounts of the behind-the-scenes of the elections were intriguing, they ultimately were a bit disappointing. 

When I was doing a bit of research on Pham, I found that he’s apparently a bit of a controversial figure. The author photo on the book jacket shows him in clericals, but he has apparently left the priesthood and has a tendency to offer up inflated credentials to support his expertise as a commentator on a number of subjects.

If I remember the book correctly, there’s some historical/biographical information on a number of popes in this book as well which managed to make an interesting subject rather dry and dull.


Dewey Decimal Project: 253.252 AND Priests in Love

AnNewImage Australian book, Jane Anderson has a definite opinion on priestly celibacy—viz, she ’s opposed to it as a matter of principle, In this book Anderson is looking at cases of priests who have chosen to remain in the priesthood while simultaneously also entering into romantic relationships. For the most part (or in all cases? I don’t remember) these relationships included a sexual component. 

It’s been a while since I’ve read the book so I don’t remember a lot of specifics about it now, although I remember it being simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. 


2016 in rejections (and acceptances)


I set a goal for the year of 200 rejections (with the idea that the number of acceptances would likewise increase). I fell well short of my goal, however, with only 144. The number isn’t reflected in the chart above since it also includes rejections from queries and poetry (more about this later). I tweeted most of the rejections.

The green section of the chart is a bit thicker this year courtesy of two acceptances, “Our Lady of the Freeway” at Headland Journal (it won the 2016 Headland prize as an added bonus) and “Girls” at Flash Flash Click.

Rejections from queries were mostly form, although I did get two helpful rejections and one full request (which was ultimately turned down). I’ll continue putting out queries on the novel until my premium QueryTracker subscription is up in April or May and then I’ll declare the novel dead.


And then there’s poetry. I didn’t mention this last year because frankly, I wasn’t sure if what I was writing was any good or not. Mostly, it’s not, but I did manage to place two poems, one at Westerly and the other at Meniscus, both Australian journals. Given that Headland is a New Zealand journal, apparently, Oceania is the best place to sell my writing.

2016 in reading

My diversity report for the year: Women authors 48% (down from 51.4% last year). Non-white authors were 16.4% of my reading (up from 14.8% last year). I chose my book to hit diversity targets 25% of the time, down from 37.5% last year. I think part of that is that I’ve been more reluctant to let books by white men into my to-read list. My Dead White Men number, meanwhile, despite this climbed from 10.7% of my reading to 14.4%. Non-US authors declined to 39.9% from 41.9%, translations accounted for 10% down from 11.4% while books in Spanish increased to 3.8% from 1.1%.

The authors I’ve met number also climbed slightly from 2.5% from 1.45% Re-reads went up to 5.4% from 3.7%, authors new to me were 71.8% compared to 76.9% last year. Fiction and poetry both declined in my reading, at 47.5% (from 53.4%) and 1.3% (from 5.9%).

My total number of books was 81, down from 88 last year.

And now, my favorite reads of the year, in alphabetical order by title. Worth noting: Only one white man in the list, and mostly women. I think this is the first time my favorite list has included two books by the same author (Mary Rakow was a wonderful discovery this year). Franny and Zooey, was a re-read, but a wonderful re-read. I read La Fiesta del Chivo in Spanish.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

La Fiesta del Chivo by Mario Vargas Llosa

Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

The Memory Room by Mary Rakow

This Is Why I Came by Mary Rakow

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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Dewey Decimal Project: 241 CAM 20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid to Touch

When my wife was an undergraduate , she and a group ofNewImage her friends decided to do an event with the lure being Tony Campolo giving a talk. Of course, Campolo was not remotely within their budget so they came up with the idea of asking if Campolo would record a video message that they could play. When the person who was responsible for talking to Campolo called him and described the event, Campolo responded, “That sounds fun. Can I come?” The person talking to Campolo reiterated that they had no budget for him. “That’s fine. Can I come?”

And so Tony Campolo, on his own dime, came to her college and instead of a bait and switch promise of a Tony Campolo talk, those present had Tony Campolo himself.

When she told me this story, I’d never heard of Tony Campolo. He’s still a bit on the margins of my consciousness given that I’m a Catholic and he’s an evangelical, but he falls outside the stereotypical politically conservative worldview of evangelicals and instead holds rather progressive views (he most recently intruded into my consciousness with a brief online piece condemning the election of Orange Hitler).

This book, while a bit old and focused on some aspects of culture that seem settled (for example, “Can Christians undergo psychotherapy?”), provides an interesting insight into Campolo’s worldview. I suspect that in many instances his point of view has become more progressive than is revealed in this book, but it’s still a very clear look at what it means to be an evangelical liberal and how his religion impacts his political and cultural perspective.


Dewey Decimal Project: 230.0732 The Collar

An amazing book. It was captivating to read about theseNewImage not-so-young men on the road to the priesthood. Englert, after a number of attempts, managed to find a Catholic seminary willing to let him spend a year following the students who attended. Where he ended up was a non-traditional seminary, one catering to “second career” would-be priests, older men who had lived secular lives, in some cases having married and had children before their wives’ deaths, before answering a call to the priesthood.

The brokenness of so many of the seminarians here is fascinating to read. The blind musician who has doubts about celibacy, the ultra-traditionalists who find aspects of academic theology scandalous, the seminarian who discovers after the death of his mentor, an elderly priest with whom he had been sharing an apartment, that the man had a trove of gay pornography hidden away.

Englert does a good job of drawing the multiple characters in his book, and although there was some confusion for me due to two similarly-named seminarians (albeit men in rather different circumstances), the multiple strands of narrative are handled well. I can see this being inspiration for a nice big thick book of multiple characters, a la, Ship of Fools.


Salinger Revisited: For Esmé with Love and Squalor

This is, as far as I’m concerned, Salinger’s greatest title (and he has some
IMG 1414mighty fine titles, especially once we get into the uncollected stories). The structure here is a bit unusual, With the first part being a first-peron recollection of the narrator’s meeting with the titular Esmé (and her younger brother Charles). Esmé is another of these precocious young people so common in Salinger’s fiction (as an aside, I can remember one of my high school English teachers pushing Salinger on us AP kids with the suggestion that we would identify with precisely these precocious youngsters. I passed on Salinger at the time, but when I did finally read Nine Stories, I was very much in a place to be precisely charmed by said characters). The second part shifts into a third-person present-tense narrative which is ostensibly the narrator relaying his wartime nervous breakdown in the aftermath of D-Day and the occupation of Europe leading to V-E day with as much “squalor” as possible. The depiction of PTSD (a term that wouldn’t exist until the 70s) in the story is expertly drawn and given the many parallels between the narrator and Salinger himself, it’s not a far stretch to assume that there are autobiographical recollections as part of the story.

Given the use of the left turn in several earlier stories in the collection, this shows in some ways a both stronger and weaker use. The opening section is far stronger than the openings of “A Perfect Day for BananaFish” or “Down by the Dinghy,” and does a better job of establishing the pre-PTSD character of the narrator, but the dramatic change in form of the narrative in the second half of the story feels a bit forced. Even so, I’m not entirely sure if it’s a problem or a good thing.


Salinger Revisited: Down at the Dinghy

TheIMG 1414 first Glass family story without a Glass fatality. I found Salinger’s use of indirect storytelling reasonably effective here. Even though we’re never in the point of view of Lionel, we still manage to get a sense of the world through his eyes. The opening section of the novel, a conversation between two of the servants in the Tannenbaum household tells us a lot about Lionel without the reader even knowing who Sandra and Mrs Snell are discussing (I can imagine this being a source of great criticism if this story were introduced in a typical fiction workshop). 

It seems that there’s a lot of structural parallelism with “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” with the story beginning with a conversation between two characters (who disappear from the story later) about the protagonist before introducing a third character who will actually interact with the protagonist. In this instance, we have Lionel Tannenbaum standing in for Seymour Glass and Seymour’s sister Boo Boo standing in for the precocious Sybil Carpenter. Of course here, the roles of wise elder and precocious youngster have been reversed. The central concern of the protagonist here becomes more specific from the shallowness of the majority of people in “Bananafish” to Lionel’s sensitivity towards insults, in particular the fact that one of the maids called Lionel’s father a “big, sloppy kike” a phrase that Lionel doesn’t understand, but knows that it is derogatory. It’s possible to see Salinger incorporating ideas he learned from writing both “A Perfect Day for Bananfish” and “The Laughing Man” in this piece as his skills become still more polished.