I'm a big fan of SF/F/Horror, and all things in between and out.
Oh, this is a fun treat! It's been years since I read James Thurber's best known story - I remembered it being lighthearted, but boy can memories be faulty!
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is really equal parts whimsy and melancholy. It's an ode to escapism and imagination, no doubt (not to mention wish-fulfillment), but in the end even poor Mitty's imagination seems to have it out for him as much as his life does, and is maybe just as empty and frustrating.
Ben Stiller's reading hits all the right notes. He's able to capture the joy of Mitty's different daydreams, but also scales back when we're following Mitty through the frustrations of his real life, and find the sadness that permeates the story, and Mitty himself.
It's a short little story, and it was a delight to hear it here.
Unfortunately, Bradbury passed away right around the time Shadow Show came out, but for those of us still mourning his passing, this is an excellent way for us to remember him, hopefully shouting, “LIVE FOREVER!” all the way through.
This collection kicks off with an introduction from the late, great Ray Bradbury himself, exclaiming his surprise and delight at the stories written by the authors in this collection, claiming them as his literary children, and he - their Papa.
All the stuff we love about Bradbury is on display here: carnivals and tattoos, coming of age and loss of innocence, the turning points of youthful friendships, rocket ships, monsters, and the importance of storytelling.
The first story is Neil Gaiman’s “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” read by the author, and due to Bradbury’s passing, it’s particularly poignant. It’s the story of an older man struggling with a Bradbury-sized hole in his memories. It might be the most meta stories in this collection, but Gaiman’s reading is unsurprisingly inspired, and I would not be at all surprised if this particular story was nominated for loads of awards in 2013.
Joe Hill’s “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain” is probably my favorite story in the collection, if not my favorite story of the entire year. It’s an homage to a classic Bradbury tale, but it’s so much more than that – a coming of age story where imagination and reality collide when an imaginative girl and a boy who discover something unbelievable on the shoreline. Hill’s story manages to be that wonderful Bradburian trick – a haunting, heartbreaking, coming of age tale that manages to be both whimsical and melancholy at the same time. I mentioned that I wouldn’t be surprised if Gaiman’s story was nominated for awards. I sincerely hope this story is. (I will most likely nominate both myself.)
Bradbury didn’t write female protagonists very often, so one of the pleasant surprises here is how quite a few of the authors dipped into Bradbury’s tradition of childhood stories and memories, but gave us memorable female characters. Alice Hoffman’s “Conjure” is one of these – a story about two best friends who come across an odd man living in a field (perhaps otherworldly), who piques both girls’ interest. Hoffman does an excellent job of dangling one fantastic element in front of us, but like a magician, whose revealing trick leaves you breathless with delight and surprise (in this case, something of a dark one). This is my first experience with Hoffman’s writing, and I’ll definitely be seeking out more of her work.
I’ve never heard Kate Mulgrew read before, but her narrations for both the Hill and Hoffman stories absolutely floored me. They were both excellent stories already, but Mulgrew’s readings are like a force of nature – she tells them absolutely perfectly, and raised them to a newer level.
George Takei read two stories as well – Margaret Atwood’s “Headlife,” which is maybe reminscient of “Marionettes, Inc.” and “Punishment without a Crime.” It’s a good story about a man wanting to escape his life, and fulfill all his secret desires, but Takei’s performance makes it ridiculously fun. Ditto Charle Yu’s short, but fun, “Earth (A Gift Shop)” – a story which might’ve been fun depending on the mood you read it in. But with Takei’s reading, it’s laugh out loud. How is it that Takei’s generally only read abridged versions of Star Trek novels? Get this guy a captain’s chair and a dozen more audiobooks STAT!
Dan Chaon’s “Little America” follows a boy and his kidnapper driving through a dystopian nation, and the tension in this sparse, disturbing tale continues to ratchet up from the very first minute. I don’t think I’ve read anything by Chaon before, but I’m already on the lookout for more. I thought I knew who these characters were and where this story was at the beginning, but the destination they ended at instead was much more surprising and satisfying.
Kelly Link’s “Two Houses” questions the nature and necessity of stories, and particularly ghost stories, following a crew of astronauts travelling between planets. Like most of Link’s stories, there are many layers beneath the surface, and it’s a story that I could listen to over and over again.
Sam Weller’s “The Girl in the Funeral Parlor,” Jacqueline Mitchard identifies her story “Two of a Kind,”and Dave Eggers “Who Knocks?” are all also pretty top-notch.
There are also several Hollywood Tales, a genre and city Bradbury enjoyed playing in. Mort Castle’s “Light” is the third story he’s written (to date) that focuses on Marilyn Monroe, giving us a disturbing take on her life and death, but most importantly, how she became the sensation she is. Jay Bonansinga’s “Heavy” is a slightly more lighthearted tale of mortality and friendship.
A short afterword is provided with each story by the author, to give some insight into their tale, as well as their connection to Ray Bradbury. It’s incredible to hear how Bradbury took some of these authors under his wing prior to them ever selling a story – like Dan Chaon. As a young adult, Bradbury gave Chaon a tour of his office, and spent an afternoon talking with him about writing. Afterward, he critiqued quite a few of Chaon’s stories (including the story presented here). And it was charming to see writers like Harlan Ellison reminiscence (Ellison’s story is, amusingly, twice as long as his story). Others wax on about how Bradbury influenced them.
This is hands down one of the best collections I can remember experiencing, and a wonderful tribute to Bradbury. Perhaps, thanks to his literary children,” Live Forever” isn’t such an impossible feat for Bradbury after all.
If you're not ready for Department Store Christmas Carolers or Mall Santas, plug Holidays On Ice into your ears. Sedaris generally does an excellent job of pointing toward the madness of the holidays, without feeling like a Grinch.
The opening story "The SantaLand Diaries" is about Sedaris working in a Department Store as an elf, and if you've ever experienced a certain frustration (along with Charlie Brown) about the commercialization of Christmas, or Christmas being pushed on you, this story is a can't miss.
The rest of the stories weren't nearly as much fun for me. "Seasons Greetings" and "Christmas Means Giving" in particular ended felt overly mean and cruel.
That said, others, like "Dinah, The Christmas Whore," and "Six to Eight Black Men" were genuinely amusing. I wouldn't call "Monster Mash" fun, but it was incredibly well written.
(There are more stories in this edition than in the previous version. Personally, I think the additional stories are welcome.)
I suspect, like "A Christmas Carol," I'll make listening to "The SantaLand Diaries" and some of the stories an annual tradition.
The best part is unusual ideas. My brain liked it.
This is 63 vignettes. Some are just a few sentences. Others are several pages long. Some are like random thoughts of the author. Some have a little story to them. Many times I laughed. Some times I just said “huh” at the end. The last story was about a translator that was beyond me. I didn’t get it. I probably should have reread it, but I didn’t, so I remain ignorant about the humor in that one. Overall I loved this book. He thinks differently than I do, so I love his messing with my mind. My favorites were the following:
No One Goes to Heaven... ( I loved his view of what heaven was like. I never would have thought of that.)
Constructive Criticism (really good scene)
Kellogg’s (surprising and a good story)
Chris Hansen at the Justin Bieber Concert
The Something by John Grisham
The World’s Biggest Rip-Off
Discussion Questions (I was laughing during his asking the questions.)
B.J. Novak narrated most of the book. Other actors and actresses read parts. It was well done.
Genre: humorous essays