The Summer of Love has been sporadic since I’m giving most of my love off the internet this Summer. That noted, I wanted to follow-up my post about Frederick Wiseman’s High School with something a little less “SCHOOL IS DEATH!!!” Not that it isn’t, but I can’t say all my associations with school are necessarily bad. In fact, I have a lot of good ones. And one in particular from my own high school experience focuses around a book that looms quite large in my imagination: 21 Great Stories. This book may very well have been one of the most important “things” in my high school life.
You see, it was a book of great short stories (the title is very descriptive in this regard), but it was more than that to me. It was a book I saw around my house for years before I actually started reading it. I remember at least three of my older siblings reading it while they were in high school, and it seemed afterwards they couldn’t help themselves from talking about Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” or my brother Kevin (who I shared a room with) explaining the understated cannibalism of “The Two Bottles of Relish” by Lord Dunsany (a story truly worthy of the Infocult). This selection of short stories almost became mythical for me, my siblings typically never talked about books, but this one seemed to spark their imaginations. In fact, it sparked mine, and led me to actually read the book before I even saw high school (one of my siblings kept this school-issued book in our home indefinitely). I got caught immediately with Carl Stephenson’s “Leiningen Versus the Ants,” and soon after was wondering what the hell I had just read in Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.”
Fact is, it’s unassuming cover, and rather hyperbolic title doesn’t really separate it from any other book at first. The fact that I was watching my siblings get hooked in, and listening to my brothers and sisters talk about it made me want to know, and for me that was what sucked me in, the tales themselves simply sealed the deal. I mean look at the line-up below, which is deliciously macabre when you look close enough. Add to that a series of both great and little known authors that cover the genre gamut from action to western to detective story to straight-up horror.
So I began to think, hey, will the web produce the same thing?
Table of Contents
- War, by Luigi Pirandello.
- Eve in Darkness, by Kaatje Hurlburt.
- There Will Come Soft Rains, by Ray Bradbury.
- Tobermory, by Saki.
- The Two Bottles of Relish, by Lord Dunsany.
- Footfalls, by Wilbur Daniel Steele.
- Hook, by Walter Van Tilburg Clark.
- Wine on the Desert, by Max Brand.
- The Lady, or the Tiger, by Frank Stockton.
- An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, by Ambrose Bierce.
- The Cask of Amontillado, by Edgar Allen Poe.
- The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe.
- So Much Unfairness of Things, by C. D. B. Bryan.
- The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant.
- The Adventure of the Speckled Band, by Arthur Conan Doyle.
- To Build a Fire, by Jack London.
- Leiningen Versus the Ants, by Carl Stephenson. Download Old Time Radio Version
- Eveline, by James Joyce.
- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, by James Thurber.
- What Stumped the Bluejays, by Mark Twain.
- The Pearl, by John Steinbeck.
I found and linked above to 20 out of the 21 Great Stories available online “freely,” and the search and discover process was rather interesting. For the public domain works like Poe’s stories, Arthur Conan Doyle Jack London, and Ambrose Bierce it was fairly straightforward—a link to the Gutenberg or Virginia University etext projects. And then there were a few pdf files I discovered on obscure edu domains for Bradbury, Bryan and Brand’s stories (all of which I believe are still under copyright). For other copyrighted texts like Steinbeck’s The Pearl or James Joyce’s “Eveline,” it was much harder to find anything, most of the first 20 or 30 links on a google search were Cliff’s Notes-like cheats or paper writing services, which a few scholarly critiques thrown in, often hidden behind the JSTOR paywall. I could only find these two on Scribd, and they are rather Google adlink infested, but the best I could do. The only story I couldn’t find in any way shape or form was Kaatje Hurlburt’s “Eve in Darkness,” a rather obscure, but excellent, story by an African-American woman writer from NYC. The only traces were interrupted excerpts from Google Books—which did provide a few of these works as well.
In the end, it became rather apparent that very few publishing platforms at colleges, universities, or even high schools were providing much in the way of critical discussion, analysis, interpretation, or general thoughts and notes. And in the end, this is the anecdotally apparent tragedy of the closed web, a simple anthology of Great Stories that are part of a larger cultural inheritance are left to the online dogs to spam, paywall, adlink, and generally commercialize while the commentary, consciousness, and collective understanding of these works that should ideally be happening at educational institutions and beyond seems all but absent. Can;t help but think we’ve grossly overstated the good Google has done for books online, and wonder if we haven’t generally conceded our mission to the link mongers and spam whores. Anyway, I figured this would be an interesting test, and while I like the idea, I wonder if simply buying a used copy of the original 1969 original for as little as $0.65 on Amazon.com may be a far better and more convenient bet. Sometimes the open web doesn’t seem so open, and I can’t help but think universities and colleges are in many ways to blame for this—seems like we can get the content for just about anything—even if with some copyright/spam-driven difficulty, but what’s much harder to find is actual authentic thinking and learning around these works out on the open web for all to see. Isn’t that were the education comes alive on the web? Don’t we have the tools to make this possible already? Do we really need Apple and/or Google to fix the web for us at an ever increasing financial and spiritual fee? Cheap essay writing service sites have already figured this out, why can’t we?
Odd, this started out as a Summer of Love post, and even an attempt to trump up the power of school and education, but look where I have landed….again. But if you want to see my pain, do a Google Search for James Joyce Eveline (arguably the best story of the collection), and look at the horror that awaits you—so much crap (save Wikipedia) before you get a useful and/or thoughtful resource whether inspired by an institution or not. Depressing.