Michael Jones: By the Book

jones by the book 2Michael Jones is the editor of the Echidna blog.

What books are currently on your nightstand?

I don’t actually have a night stand but I just finished reading Shirley Jackson’s last novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I’m currently embroiled in The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell,  along with Being Mortal by Atul Gawunde on audio. I also like to mix in some short stories here and there.

What are your favorite books of all time?

My favorite books are always changing. But some of my perennial favorites are: The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, Pale Fire by Nabokov, The Cider House Rules by Irving, Dubliners by Joyce, David Copperfield by Dickens, World’s End by Boyle; some recent additions are The Patrick Melrose Novels by St. Aubyn, Darkness at Noon by Koestler, and The War at the End of the World by Llosa.

You’ve professed your love for the short story form in the past. Who are some of your favorite short story writers and why?

Yes I truly enjoy a good short story, although I feel the art is waning a bit. Some of my best loved  short subject crafters include: E.A. Poe, just because he was such a proponent of short fiction. Stories like The Tell-Tale Heart lodged themselves into one’s unconscious for life: Alice Munro, because of the mastery she exhibits of her subject’s inner life; the funny and dark T.C. Boyle has a way of placing quirky people in extraordinary situations and making it seem normal.

Besides short stories , do you have any other favorite genres?

Chiefly I read literary fiction and tend to the dark side of things, but in the genre department I stray toward the Sci-Fi and Fantasy realm mostly. I’m a huge fan of George R.R. Martin right now and I love the genre edged Vonnegut and Lethem stuff like Slaughterhouse-5 or Gun With Occasional Music. Horror is another big one for me with Stephen King taking high honors, although Shirley Jackson is looking pretty good of late especially just after reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle; her short classic, The Lottery, is one of those tales that you just can’t erase from memory. I also enjoy a good reference volume now and again.

Being a self proclaimed book critic, are there any other critics whom you admire?

Maureen Corrigan comes immediately to mind. The NPR book critic is pleasing to read or to listen to on the Fresh Air program hosted by Terry Gross. I also enjoy David Denby in The New Yorker, The television critic David Bianculli also from NPR and his own website, tvworthwatching.com, and of course the inimitable Janet Maslin of the New York Times, who is always very informed and insightful.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?

James Joyce, Philip Roth, and Zadie Smith. I’ve always been about diversity and I think each artist could learn from the other.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read?

So, so many.  The Odyssey and The Illiad are two right off the top of my head. I’ve never read The Canterbury Tales, Don Quixote, or Middlemarch. I do have Peter Boxall’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die as a reference and have made a conscious effort to read many from that list, but alas: “so many books…”,  you know the rest.

What do you plan to read next?

I like to keep my options open but it looks like I’ll be tackling the latest historical chronicle by the always interesting Hampton Sides called In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette and, on audio, The Martian by Andy Weir.

Michael Jones: By the Book

Sea Dance / Maureen Jones

Sea Dance
Artist: Maureen Jones / Sea Dance / Original oil on canvas / 24″x24″ / Click on painting for purchasing info
Sea Dance / Maureen Jones

Writing Prompt: #1 Haunted House

Hide and Seek

A Haunted House by Kitty Dew

The children darted through a clustering of yards known as Long Vista, a throwback neighborhood, intimate and almost urban. It had been Nina French’s turf since the year before when her Mother, freshly liberated from her clueless husband, moved the two of them into a small two bedroom Cape on Kline Street. Today Nina was trying to hide. She knew Marky Guildstein was an exceptional seeker and right now he was “it”. Time to risk it, she thought, push the boundaries of the game, like her Dad had said once. She had immediately started down Huddleston Road, the outlet to the rural sprawl of town, when she remembered the old Knowles house. There it sat as if some spiny weed sprouted from the blackest earth. Five gables and one crooked conical spire with a nautical port window from which it was told the specter of Spencer Knowles waited still for his children to return. Nina felt at once emboldened: in part by Marky whom, she’d promised herself she would finally defeat; in part by a new feeling, a funny pressure that seemed to draw her nearer to the murky and decrepit edifice bordering the sanctuary of Long Vista. There was no creaky gate for Nina to push open, instead she pushed one open in her mind. She tiptoed over the sunken slate walkway that led to the Knowles front porch. Here she paused, What if the steps aren’t safe, if they collapse, or maybe some family of rabid raccoons are swarming around in there just waiting for someone like me to jump on with their sharp claws. But it was as if the house itself took hold of her hand and with the kind caress of a maiden aunt saw her in through the jagged yaw of the forgotten threshold. Stepping into the darkness, Nina French considered herself hidden, not even Marky Guildstein would find her now.

© 2014 Michael Jones

Writing Prompt: #1 Haunted House

Cruel Summer

little green plastic army men
little plastic army men

Hunched over the vat of used motor oil, Scotty and Osman watched intently as a black ant struggled to escape its unforgiving viscosity. The doomed insect slowly sank and the boys, cousins, regarded each other, their mouths describing rubbery toroids. Scotty was a bit awed by his older relative from Yonkers and Osman was grateful, happy in the July heat, to be amid the freshly mowed grass and tree forts of the Jersey suburbs. “Go get another one, wait… make it two” Osman directed “We’ll sink them together.” Later Scotty sacrificed some of his plastic army men to the crush of unsuspecting car tires along the main road that fronted his parents home. His mother chastised the boys for this, “…and your father bought you that set for Christmas,” she’d added. The boys chuckled as they inspected the maimed green figures. During a July heat wave when he was 23, a motorcycle crash took Osman’s life. Broken bits lay littered across a tarred and shimmering landscape in Westchester county. He and Scotty were never as close as during that one week when they were young and free and unencumbered; the one they spent together in New Jersey, when it was enough to simply be boys with supreme power over ants and army men.

© 2014 Michael Jones

Cruel Summer

Prankster Art

Is Art really the only form of expression that should not be ridiculed? I think artists especially should have a sense of humor about their art; and Art with a capital A. Self deprecation is a healthy thing, it’s what makes comics funny, the same is true of Art; all art forms. Nothing should be too ‘sacred’ to be lampooned. I say tear down the temples to rebuild them stronger. The Conceptual Art movement takes strides to accomplish this.

As they say, this is nothing new. A favorite example: Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q.?

Conceptual Art
Prankster Art