Summer of Love: 21 Great Stories

Image of 21 Great Stories book coverThe 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

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.

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12 Responses to Summer of Love: 21 Great Stories

  1. Jared Stein says:

    I’m in.

  2. Sami says:

    I think there is a mentality that making “critical discussion, analysis, interpretation, or general thoughts and notes” on the topic would corrupt the mechanism of teaching called grades. So the thinking goes, if it were easy to get ideas about what is being said in these texts, then students wouldn’t have to think for themselves ™. I, on the other hand, agree that such materials be made available.

    We stand on the should of giants, and I don’t believe that being provided that pre-digested material would diminish the education. At the very least it would expose to student to various ideas which were not their own, and under such circumstances I can’t help but think that just the process of exposing students to ideas contrary to their own spurs critical thought.

  3. John says:

    Perhaps it would be possible to create an open website for, with, and of critical commentary linked to the Project Gutenberg (et al) texts discussed?

  4. That’s long been one of my favorite food stories, Jim, even though I don’t like relish.

    Splendid post. I like the way you distinguish between primary texts and discussion about them.

    Rereading it, and your Brian-Lamb-ized recent article, I’m not sure if tech-enabled .edu change has stalled out, or is just moving forward incrementally. Would like to chat w/you about this, when we can.

  5. Brian says:

    This makes me want to re-write the ER article… Having an ‘open web’ is not the end, it should a means to combat the link-rotting/rolling abyss that passes for discourse, a counterbalance to the demand.com logic of online production.

  6. Is demand.com operating under the same logic as the adjunct system?

  7. Reverend says:

    @Brian and Bryan (the Briyans!)
    Just walking down the hall after thinking about these comments I got to wondering if academia isn’t part and parcel of the linkrotting abyss by refusing to understand and engage the open web. Fact is, that’s what is at stake here, who puts what onine, who understands how search engines work, who actively seeks out and tries to promote the best ideas on the web. It’s a basic tenet underlying everything we do, but in the end fear, arrogance, and comfort makes the path clear for a further divorce between the idea of the web and access to ideas—and if, as that special EDUCAUSE Review article states, “Universities are somehow guardians of the world’s knowledge” (paraphrase), than the best and only way to guard knowledge in the digital age is to make it freely available through a mass reproduction like never before. But, that’s what all the laws and net neutrality BS is trying to guard against, and as usual Universities are quiet. I guess my complete disdain for highered these days comes from that very space, that unconscionable sense that undergirds the disregard of the web as a real platform for sharing—and, to your point Bryan, one can make real parallels with the adjunct system and the devaluing of humanity all told. In fact, it’s purely a microcosm of the world writ large that The Wire demonstrated for us brilliantly—I mean look at what pricks the folks from JHU were in Season 4 🙂

    But, as it turns out, a university’s web presence is all about the beautiful campus, olympic size swimming pool, and the visible diversity—nothing else really there on the whole. Just another brochure-inspired link-rotting abyss. I’m increasingly more done with highered every single day, and just look at ProfHacker, oh yeah, I know how we can game the system, jump on the corporate Chronicle train—this is the caliber of folks we are dealing with in highered: diginity=0. And given that, I’d rather sheer sheep.

  8. Pingback: The Open…

  9. Sami says:

    Hang in there Jim! You can fool some of the people some of the time, you can’t fool everyone all of the time. Especially when you a sacrificing the sacred cow to make a buck… Sooner or later someone is going to either yell blasphemy or the entire civilization and society is going to collapse.

  10. Quick thoughts, without any damned time to write them:

    1. During the first 100 years after the printed book was unleashed by Gutenberg, people printed books that tried to look like manuscripts. Especially wealthy people.

    2. The Great Recession. (Did you get to see anything about Brian Hawkins’ jeremaiad at the NITLE Summit this year?)

    3. The Web is being Zittrained by mobile. Mobile wants to be old school tv.

    4. There is no political traction in the US for open content.

    5. It’s going to by 2011 soon. Is it time for a new approach?

    Amen.

  11. Reverend says:

    @Sami,
    I hope it’s not the later, but I can certainly imagine the scenario, I mean we saw how the government in Iran dealt with social media, and more than and us vs them reaction, we should have had a holy shit, look at what power and control leads to, anywhere and everywhere.

    @Bryan,
    Quick replies:

    1) This seems to be the major buzz around Digital Humanities more generally, to somehow change publishing just enough to be palatable. I find this only moderately interesting, and that is on my tolerant days.

    2) Haven’t seen the Hawkins talk, where can I find it?

    3) Love the “Zittrained” comment, would love even more to hear you flesh it out. And the mobile web as old school TV must gnaw away at your soul more than most. I’ve heard and read your eloguence on the possibilities of the mobile, and we are beginning to realize its pre-nascent demise already—that is very, very sad. Thanks Goorizon! “The Messiah will come when he is no longer needed.” -Kafka

    4) True enough, in fact there is no political traction in the US for just about anything worth a damn, but that is why the political avenues the open content folks are taking seem to me dangerous. Making this all palatable by crippling the true power of this stuff is the omnipresent compromise of politics. “Hey, I have an idea, let’s focus on textbooks, and disregard the open web and the platform it provides already.” This really dovetails with #1 quite nicely.

    5) Absolutely, but I am afraid that approach is being rammed down our throats already, once you lock down mobile and do away with an entire tier of net neutrality, it won’t take long for the rest of the House of Usher to implode. Feels like we have spent so much time saying how the web can’t be closed and commodified entirely for such a long time—and so surely even—that we’ll watch just enough of it become so, and maybe even live to rue the days of our self-assuredness.

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