The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: A Short Story

walter mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Kindle Edition. Story Originally published in 1939.

You can read The Secret Life of Walter Mitty online here for free. It’s a quick read. If you’ve never read it, I would love for you to read it since this review is full of spoilers.

Walter Mitty is a married man -at least middle aged but probably older- who lives his daily life taking orders from his wife, but inner life is the place where he gets to be the man he wishes he was. It doesn’t take much for him to retreat into his fantasy life. A hospital, a newspaper headline, any minute reference can send him off into an adventure of mythical proportions.

Unfortunately, Walter often zones out and goes to Fantasyland at the most inopportune moments, including behind the wheel of his car, where he almost hits another car:

“Back it up, Mac! Look out for that Buick!” Walter Mitty jammed on the brakes. “Wrong lane, Mac,” said the parking-lot attendant, looking at Mitty closely. “Gee. Yeh,” muttered Mitty. He began cautiously to back out of the lane marked “Exit Only.” “Leave her sit there,” said the attendant. “I’ll put her away.” Mitty got out of the car. “Hey, better leave the key.” “Oh,” said Mitty, handing the man the ignition key. The attendant vaulted into the car, backed it up with insolent skill, and put it where it belonged.

That brings me to a question I pondered with one of my daughters who also read the story:

Which came first: The Chicken or the Egg?

The story opens with Mrs. Mitty unpleasantly pulling Walter from yet another one of his intense daydreams. He finds him driving them into town at an unacceptable 55 miles per hour, a full 15 mph faster than Mrs. Witty feels is safe. In fact, very few of Mrs. Mitty’s interactions with Walter are free of reproof, command, or request. Walter’s frequent trips to faraway exotic places, and his wife’s responses, left my daughter and me commiserating on what, if anything, James Thurber is trying to communicate here about Walter and Mrs. Mitty’s lot in life. It surely couldn’t be the idea his daughter wrote in the introduction of the Kindle edition:

I celebrate his Daydream Method of small vacations from tedium and “quiet desperation”. As a child I was reassured to know that this practice could continue into grown-up years.

The chicken or the egg question as it came up in our discussion at home was this: Was Walter Mitty given to these sudden and occasionally dangerous daydream vacations because his wife was a nag who made him miserable, or had she become a nag as a result of Walter’s inability to live in reality long enough to do anything more than just enough to get by? Thurber doesn’t tell us, leaving the readers to come to their own conclusions.

Recently, we watched the 2014 film adaptation of this story, which is quite different from the original James Thurber story, save for the frequent daydream vacations taken by the title character. Hollywood leaves us with a Walter Mitty who finds so much real-life adventure, including true love that his need for vacations to Fantasyland diminish to nearly nothing.

Thurber’s original story leaves us with Walter in the rain, leaned up against the wall of a drugstore, where his wife commanded him to wait for her, smoking a cigarette as he heads off into his imagination, where without fear, he faces a firing squad.

More Short Stories and Mid-year Roundup.

Where did the time go? It’s the first day of the third quarter of 2019. I have a birthday coming up very soon, even though it feels as if I just celebrated one. Preparation for the upcoming school year is well underway, and even though we’re still 16 months away from our country’s next major election, we received a political call at our a few nights ago. The mother’s encouragement trusim about long days and short years rings quite true today as I consider how quickly time  seems to be flying by.

Short stories worth a look:

In preparation for the new school year when our kids will be studying British literature (last year was American literature), I had the great pleasure of meeting with several women much smarter than me for a time of literature appreciation. We read short stories by British authors.

One of the best things about short stories (I’m certain I’m repeating something I’ve said before), is that they can be read quickly. Because of that, even those  who have limited amounts of time for leisure reading can read great literature which transmits time tested values of what is True, Good, and Beautiful. Others, such as the first one I will highlight, are just a light and fun good time, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that either.

  • Jeeves Takes Charge, by P.G. Wodehouse (read at link), is a story published in 1916 by the renowned British humorist. Wodehouse is one of my go-to writers when I want to read something that is not only funny, but intelligently so. This story is the one in which we meet the indomitable valet Jeeves for the first time. As the story suggests, he takes charge from the moment Bertie Wooster, the young heir, hires him into his employ.
  • The Red-Headed League, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (read at link) first appeared in a magazine in 1891, and is one of many Sherlock Holmes short stories. A red-headed client appears with a fantastically bizarre and mysterious tale which has left him confused. Holmes, using his masterfully astute gift of deduction, figures out that what appears on the surface to be nothing more than a curious story is actually the beginnings of an elaborate criminal heist.
  • The Blue Cross, by G.K. Chesterton is the first of Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. Of the three stories I read this weekend, this was by far my favorite. Up until this point, I hadn’t read any of the Father Brown stories, but that is about to change. This story, filled with equal bits of mystery, humor, and profound -without being preachy- insights into the nature of man and nature itself, enveloped me from the first. I am very glad to be entering the world Chesterton’s fictional works, albeit a little late.

Mid-year roundup:

  • I took a minute to tally up the book reviews I’ve posted to date this year and I’ve written a grand total of 20. That isn’t many, especially when you consider that four of those were chapter installments of the Feminine Mystique throughout January.
  • In what counts as a pretty big departure from how I’ve handled this blog over the preceding three years, I’ve also written 21 discussion posts, covering everything from education to book trends,  genres and characters, and even a couple on current cultural trends. As I expected, when I began to add more of those kinds of posts, the conversations here were more animated and robust. I appreciated hearing all of your thoughts on the various topics. So thank you.

My favorite books of the year so far:

  • My favorite book that I’ve read so far this year is one that I haven’t reviewed here yet. I haven’t reviewed it for two reasons. The first is that I’ve picked it up and put it down so many times that it took what seemed like forever to read it. I often needed to set it aside and let the ideas marinate for a few days. Now, I want to re-read it and I have a friend reading it along with me so I hope to have a review up in August. At that point, I’ll divulge the title. I do have other favorites which I’ll break down by fiction and nonfiction.
  • My favorite fiction book for the first half of this year was A Girl of the Liberlost. The beauty, language, and deep relational insights of this book have stayed with me.
  • My favorite nonfiction books of the year tied for first place. The first is Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. I find that I am still challenged by everything about this book. It is a magnum opus for the digital age. My second favorite nonfiction book to date at mid-year is Beauty Destroys the Beast, by my friend Amy Fleming. Yes, it’s a favorite because she’s my friend. More than that however, it’s a favorite because it speaks to a subject that I actually care about, and I agree with what she has to say about it.

Looking ahead to the second half of this year:

  • I am currently reading a few books, including a novel by the British humorist P.G. Wodehouse whose short story I reviewed above. In addition, I have three non fiction books in queue. However:
  • School starts around the middle to end of August, and we still have a lot of prepping to do for that.  At that time, my entire reading queue may be overtaken by British literature, so don’t be surprised if all the book reviews here are books by British authors -except for books I’ve already read but not yet reviewed.
  • What we refer to as “birthday season” in our family has meant we’ve been partying like it’s 1999 since May, partying overtime in June, and won’t really let up until the beginning September when all the of seven birthdays in our immediate family are wrapped up. I’ve eaten too much cake. Speaking of which, here’s one I made for one of my girls upon special request:

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This dark chocolate cake, with peanut butter frosting, chocolate ganache drizzle and Reese’s peanut butter cups on top was very good! It was also so rich that no one (guests and family alike) could finish an entire slice. I think that’s the sign of a good dessert; you only need a little of it to be sated. We’re on a sugar moratorium around here to recover, making exceptions for, and only for, each of our respective birthdays.

Summer in Florida is oppressively hot, but we’re still managing to have great fun because, why not? I still can’t believe that we’re half way through 2019!

How’s your year been so far? Read any good books lately?

 

 

More big ideas in short stories

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Short stories, done well, are a literary treasures delivering a wealth of food for thought.

First inspired by Lindsay Brigham Knott’s piece at Circe Institute’s superb classical education blog, then further by Maeve at Wanna Be Martha, I spent a little time during a road trip this weekend reading short stories. The stories, which ran the gamut in terms of content and message, are all well done, literary treasures which delivered a wealth of food for thought. Each of these three linked stories are enjoyable, although in wholly different ways:

  • Thank You, Ma’am, by Langston Hughes: When a young purse snatcher picks the wrong mark on her way home from work one night, he gets far more than he bargained for, in the most unexpected ways.
  • A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor: There’s not a whole lot to love here besides O’Connor’s deft turn of phrase and the uncomfortable irony which rounds out this strange tale. This is classic Flannery O’Connor. You kind of either love her work or hate it.
  • Leaf by Niggle, by J.R.R. Tolkien: This one is last on the list, but certainly not least, as it’s the story I gleaned the most insight from of the three. Niggle fights the battle I have not yet conquered. It’s one which Lindsay Brigham Knott beautifully dissects in her Circe piece; the battle of mastering our time in such a way that we fulfill the duties of our vocations, fulfill our soul’s longings through our avocations, and get proper rest, all without being overwhelmed. Niggle learns this lesson “too late”. I interpret that Tolkien’s way of demonstrating how tough the battle is, even when, like Niggle, our hearts are “in the right place”.

If you happen to take the time to read any of these (or have read any of them), take a minute to include your opinions of them. I’m dying to know!

Related:

The Black Man’s Guide Out of Poverty

BM guide

The Black Man’s Guide Out of Poverty: for Black Men Who Demand Better, by Aaron Clarey, Kindle Edition. Published in 2015.

I ran across this book by accident doing tangentially related research, and decided to spend the $5 to purchase the Kindle edition. I was driven by curiosity more than an expectation that I’d find any new information in it, but I’m glad I took the time to give it a quick read. It is a very quick read.

Author Aaron Clarey says several things in his book with which I vehemently disagree. Those disagreements center mainly on the tenets of my Christian faith against his pretty strident stance of disbelief. However, because he makes it clear that this book is written with very clear and practical aims in mind, I made the decision early in to focus my attention on the steps he offers to black men which will lead them out of poverty, and to base my conclusions and review on whether or not his book does what he says it will do.

I can draw no other conclusion than yes, the lion’s share of the counsel Clarey offers here will help not only young black men, but any young men who would take the advice offered in it. I can speak to the veracity of his advice because much of it –though not all of it- is identical to the path my husband took on his journey to building a successful life and family. This is particularly true of the advice related to education and career choices.

Among the sage pieces of wisdom Clarey offers are things such as:

  • Don’t major in stupid degrees
  • Be suspicious of the education establishment while using it to your advantage
  • Stay out of debt
  • Budget
  • Live minimally
  • Critically gore the sacred cows which are taught in the black community to determine their value and level of truth
  • Be willing to abandon the tribalism and dysfunctional elements of black culture
  • Choose your wife (if you choose to marry) well
  • Don’t get a girl pregnant

There was a lot of sexual and dating advice in the book which many would find problematic at best, and misogynistic at worst. As a Christian, there was plenty there for me to take issue with. The frank talk regarding the nature of relationships, women, and the treacherous landscape created by the current marriage of sex and politics is not for the faint of heart nor clutchers of pearls. Clarey pulls no punches as he expresses his beliefs on those issues.

Conversely, there were elements in those sections that I couldn’t argue with. Even though they offended my sensibilities, the reality is that black men suffer a disproportionate amount of financial harm as a result of poor sexual and relationship choices. These self-inflicted injuries needed to be addressed in a direct and no nonsense fashion, and was also why this book was written for men, to men, by a man. I was just an eavesdropper passing by.

I appreciate that Clarey acknowledged something that isn’t acknowledged anywhere else in American culture in an obvious, unambiguous way. Namely, that for all the wailing and beating of the chest on behalf of so-called “marginalized” groups in this country, American black men are among the most marginalized people in our society. It’s not women, not black women (at least not when it comes to college and career opportunities), and it isn’t immigrants. It’s certainly not the sexually degenerate fluid, who are celebrated everywhere we look. Last I checked, being celebrated is the exact opposite of being marginalized, which underscores how poorly educated our populace is, despite the fact that we experience more schooling than any other generation in history. It’s why you’ll find more and more commentary on the nature of a true education in the archives here. Clarey, to his credit, and using what shouldn’t even be keen skills of observation, got that part exactly right.

There were some definite areas in this book that could stand improvement. Firstly, I think it would have benefited greatly by having a ruthless editor. While the conversational tone made it an easy-flowing read, it also made for frequent errors more suited to a ninth grade composition student than an educated, successful author and consultant. Subject-verb disagreement, which commonly goes unnoticed in conversations, stands out more starkly in black and white.

In the Kindle edition, the charts and statistics which bolstered the arguments presented were not always easy to access and zoom in on. Also, there was profanity which was distracting at times. The latter note is just one more indication that the book wasn’t written with a Christian woman in mind as its audience.

Taken in its entirety, the book does what Clarey’s title says it does: Gives black men the tools and guidance they need to rise above the pack and build a successful life. Because of that, I think it’s worth the time to read it and worth purchasing. This is particularly true for black men who are grappling with the common handicaps and setbacks of being raised in the inner city or from the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

4 out of 5 stars.

 

Short Story Review: The Bachelor

The Bachelor, by Joseph Epstein. Posted at Standpoint Magazine Online, July/August 2018 edition. Read the story in its entirety here.

One of the literature and arts websites I subscribe to is Prufrock, which is published by the Weekly Standard. This short story was included in the latest edition sent to my inbox. Because it is a short story, easily read in 20 minutes, it would be really enjoyable to me if any of you inclined to click over and read it would come back here and share your thoughts.

The Bachelor is written as a first person narrative whose titular character is of course, a bachelor; a lifelong one. At 52-years of age, he is a successful attorney thoroughly enjoying his freedom. The minor things that most of us marrieds have concluded are well worth sacrificing for our beloveds and the families we’ve built are no longer minor sacrifices to the bachelor, and life is good.

Despite the fact that he genuinely enjoys women, he simply hasn’t found one worth the trouble of giving up his autonomy. That is, until he meets Laura Ross.

That’s as much as I can offer without spoiling the story, so click over and read it.

I liked it.

Content advisory: It’s a clean story in so far as it is free of any gratuitous sex or language, but it’s a very adult story and our bachelor is living the life of a healthy, red-blooded, secular bachelor. It’s not a Christian morality tale.

My Man Jeeves and Other Early Jeeves Stories.

my man jeeves early stories

My Man Jeeves and Other Early Jeeves Stories [with biographical introduction], Kindle Edition, by P.G. Wodehouse.Short story collection contains stories of varied publishing dates between 1912 and 1919.

My familiarity with P.G. Wodehouse is limited and quite recent, after reading Krysta’s review of My Man Jeeves at Pages Unbound. I only realized after starting it that the volume I purchased contains a few stories which don’t include Jeeves -or his boss Bertie Wooster- at all, but were among Wodehouse’s early work featuring the narrator Reggie Pepper.

The basic gist of the stories is that of a young wealthy man living well in the big city. Some stories are set in London, while others are set in New York City. This is a book I turned to specifically in the hope that it would make me laugh. And it did. I actually laughed out loud several times while reading Wodehouse’s short stories featuring the genius valet, the narrator’s “man, Jeeves”.

Our narrator, employer of the titular valet, finds himself endlessly involved in the near constant dramas and dilemmas that befall his male friends. Most of these problems which require a unique solution fall in the categories of money crises and romantic hi jinks. Wodehouse is a master at one liners and while I find Jeeves brilliantly entertaining, the narrator and supporting casts are equally engaging and funny.

The great thing about these books is that because they are short stories, they can be enjoyed in bits and pieces without the pressure of trying to complete the whole book. That’s what I intend to do with the additional volumes I’ve purchased since reading this one. The original My Man Jeeves is available on Kindle right now for free.

I’ll round this one out with some of my favorite lines from the stories (all quotes copied from Goodreads).

From My Man Jeeves:

“…there occurred to me the simple epitaph which, when I am no more, I intend to have inscribed on my tombstone. It was this:
“He was a man who acted from the best motives. There is one born every minute.”
From Right Ho, Jeeves:
“You know how it is with some girls. They seem to take the stuffing right out of you. I mean to say, there is something about their personality that paralyses the vocal cords and reduces the contents of the brain to cauliflower.”
From How Right You Are, Jeeves:
“The snag in this business of falling in love, aged relative, is that the parties of the first part so often get mixed up with the wrong parties of the second part, robbed of their cooler judgement by the party of the second part’s glamour. Put it like this: the male sex is divided into rabbits and non-rabbits and the female sex into dashers and dormice, and the trouble is that the male rabbit has a way of getting attracted by the female dasher (who would be fine for the non-rabbit) and realizing too late that he ought to have been concentrating on some mild, gentle dormouse with whom he could settle down peacefully and nibble lettuce.”
From My Man Jeeves:
“I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare — or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad — who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping.”
From Leave it to Jeeves, which you can read free online here:
“Oh, Jeeves,’ I said; ‘about that check suit.’
Yes, sir?’
Is it really a frost?’
A trifle too bizarre, sir, in my opinion.’
But lots of fellows have asked me who my tailor is.’
Doubtless in order to avoid him, sir.’
He’s supposed to be one of the best men in London.’
I am saying nothing against his moral character, sir.”
From Carry On, Jeeves:
“What’s the use of a great city having temptations if fellows don’t yield to them?”
These stories are full of pith, humorous one liners tinged with truths about life and human nature. I highly suggest them.

4 out of 5 stars.

Content advisory: This is another instance where clean does not equal child friendly. These clean, funny stories are clearly written with an adult audience as the target audience.

Big ideas offered in short stories.

In preparing for a class I’ll be teaching this semester, I have been reading a number of short stories. What started out as an exploration of short stories appropriate for middle school aged students turned into a reading of many other short stories purely for the enjoyment.

Inadvertently, I stumbled upon writings that helped me hone my thoughts on a number of issues, one in particular that has jump started my stalled research on a potential book topic. As a result, I am developing a true love of short stories, and encourage you to take the time to read a few. For people who don’t have copious amounts of time to devote to reading for whatever reason, they are an excellent way to read and enjoy thought-provoking, well structured stories.

A few good reads include (each can be read online at the linked titles):

  • White Nights, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The ironic title of this story notwithstanding, the tale of this lovelorn, Mitty-esque protagonist stayed with me for a long time after I finished it.
  • The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant. I chose this one for the slate of stories for our class. This lesson in the perils of female vanity is a timeless tale. Well worth the read.
  • Sweat, by Zora Neale Hurston. The tragic story of a black washerwoman and her abusive, insecure husband. The southern dialect takes a few paragraphs to get used to.
  • The Land Lady, by Roald Dahl. A creepy tale with a lot of room for imaginary exercise. We’ll be using this one in my class this semester.
  • Spunk, also by Zora Neale Hurston. This story of a fatal love triangle, contrasted against the tragic Sweat, exemplifies the observable love/hate relationship Hurston seemed to have with the ideas of love and marriage. On the one hand she found strong men electrifying but was equally wary of weakness in a man masquerading as strength. Again, language barrier alert.
  • The Gift of the Magi, by O Henry. I hesitated to include this one since it is so well known, but it’s probably been a long time since most of us have read it. A wonderful story employing literary irony and the beauty of selfless marital sacrifice. We’re using this one in my class semester because it’s more than just a Christmas story.

Feel free to add more short stories in the comments.