This time on The Black Laser Reads we are digging into Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic gothic horror tale of postpartum depression, internalized misogyny, and gaslighting from an era which predates all those terms.
I like this story a lot. I first encountered it in my creative writing class at Cabrillo College just before the pandemic. It’s clever and effective and efficient. There is not an extra word in the whole story. And, while it was originally published in 1892, it still feels quite modern. The language didn’t give me nearly the challenge that Bartleby did.
Please listen and enjoy.
The text for this episode came from Project Gutenberg. If you are interested in reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” yourself, you can download a public domain e-book here.
The next couple episodes are probably going to be on the shorter side with the holidays coming up, but if I can find some time, I’ve got something special in my pocket. Come back and check it out!
This time on The Black Laser Reads we visit Herman Melville’s classic tale of capitalist woe “Bartleby the Scrivener”. You didn’t think we were the first generation to feel ground to death under the heel of our economic system, did you?
You might have read this story in high school English, as I did, and not realized how funny it was. A quick scan of the Goodreads reviews reveals a bunch of readers taking this story very seriously. But I think it’s actually quite humorous, especially in the contrast between the narrator’s uppity opinions of himself and his staff and the reality betrayed by their actions.
I tried to inject a little personality into the performance of this one. It’s easy to lose that in the old fashioned writing style, but there’s plenty of it in the text if you can coax it out a little (and deal with all the commas and semi-colons). It was certainly lost on me the first time I read the story as a 16 year old or whatever back in the 1900s. It was a pleasant discovery as I looked through texts for my next read.
Listen and enjoy.
I apologize to my British readers for Turkey’s accent. I did my best. I will work on it for the future.
The text for this episode came from Project Gutenberg. If you’d like to read “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street” yourself, you can find it here.
I’ve got a nice spooky one lined up for next time. If you’d like to be notified when it comes out, subscribe to e-mail notifications and you don’t even need to remember to check. It just shows up! Easy!
Welcome to the inaugural post of the rebooted The Black Laser Reads, a series of audiobooks recorded by yours truly all sourced from the public domain. I attempted this project once before way back in 2011, but I was never happy with the recording quality or the performance. Fly forward 12 years with me and I’ve practiced a ton, figured out how to record myself in much higher quality, and gotten excited for the project all over again.
I even designed a sweet new logo for the series!
We’re beginning with an old standby: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”. This selection was partly inspired by Criterion Channel’s Roger Corman/Vincent Price/Poe retrospective they put up in September (excellent watching all of them) and my simmering hype for the new Mike Flanagan show premiering later this month. Poe seemed a natural start. Plus, Poe was the first one I read in the old version of The Black Laser Reads and who doesn’t love a callback?
Please listen and enjoy.
If you enjoyed it, leave a comment and tell me. If you hated it, leave a comment also! I have tons of texts lined up for this series, and not just short stories. And if you want me to read something from the public domain specifically, let me know.
A huge thanks to Standard Ebooks for providing the text I used in this performance. I mean, they didn’t directly do anything for me, but they do provide an incredible resource for anyone interested in classic ebooks. Really. Go check them out. Fantastic site.
We could also call this “Failure State – Believing in Myself” but it’s not quite as snappy, is it? “Failure State – The Ability to Think My Decisions Are Good Decisions and Not Bad Decisions”.
“Failure State – Feeling Good About The Creative Choices I Make”.
Nah. None of that is good. Let’s go with “Confidence”.
You know that feeling when you’ve been working on something creative and literally at no point at all through the entire process do you feel good about it? Not like the work itself is stupid, but more like you’re stupid? Like, somehow, you totally misunderstood the assignment and you’re spending all this time making something that completely misses the mark creatively, intellectually, and spiritually? You know how you feel that feeling all the time about everything you make?
Good. I’m glad it’s not just me. I feel this way about literally everything I’ve ever made, professionally and personally. My whole career. Everything. The entire time. And I’ve spent most of my adult life working in a creative field! Even when we were doing the greenhouses, I felt this way. I’ve never not felt this way about something. Can you relate?
Worse is that this feeling puts me on edge like crazy. I’m so worried that I am making a dumb mistake that my anxiety spikes and I work myself into a sulky mess. The anxiety also really slows down my progress while I spin out about whether or not I am metaphorically shitting the bed. What a colossal waste of energy.
For example, just yesterday I received a very nice compliment from someone to whom I sent an audition for a VO project. She didn’t need to say anything to me about it. It could have just gone out there into the void like 99% of auditions do to never be heard about again. But, instead, she took time to tell me something nice about the work I put into it. It was really nice! And I really appreciated it! And she absolutely did not need to do it! And what did I say back to her? Just look!
What the actual fuck, Joe. How about a “Thank you!” or a “That’s awesome! I am glad she liked it!”
Instead I offered a self-deprecating joke and then totally hammered it home because I felt weird. Slick, dude. So slick. Then I spent the whole rest of the day thinking about—and feeling bad about—this exchange. So bad, in fact, that I am now writing this post.
I’m not worried about the person who sent me the text and this weird little exchange having some effect on our relationship. We’ve known each other for a long time. It’s totally fine. But, man, am I a doofus sometimes. Like, just be gracious and take the W, dude.
Maybe allow that there is a chance, however slim, that you are actually ok at some stuff and just have faith in yourself? Maybe just a little bit? A teeny tiny bit? A speck of faith?
With professional creative work, I grind and I spin and I torment myself until the deadline comes and it’s time to present the project. I am sure I’ve written about this here before. I make my presentation with this profound shrugging feeling inside my soul that screams “I have no idea if this is good or right or if I’ve completely misunderstood and fucked it up but here it is and oh god I’ll never work again”. And boy does that suck a whole lot. I experience this every time I start a project. And, if I am being honest with myself and with you, the feeling has led me to actually fuck up some projects because I was so far inside myself that I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other to get the thing done correctly. I couldn’t put the right amount of effort in with the time allotted. And those regrets haunt you. I always want to do a good job, but sometimes I get in my own damn way.
And with personal works? Forget about it. As soon as this rears it’s hideous, malignant head the project stops. If I could share with you all the sheer mountain of aborted projects littering my projects archive, you would go mad in the face of true hopelessness. A thousand thousand projects—good ideas all!—begun and abandoned because deep in my heart I truly believe that everything I make is trash and that no one will ever want to read/watch/listen to them.
For the projects that do meet completion, by the time they are finished I have spent so much time feeling weird and uncomfortable about them that I can never see them in a good light. Even when they are good, like the audition I wrote about above. And this feeling of… shame? embarrassment? uneasiness? none of those are right, but you get the idea. This lingering, haunting feeling impedes me standing behind my work or promoting myself with any real vigor. This has been a major professional failing that we will discuss in further depth another day.
I am always in awe of people who can really promote themselves and the effort they’ve put into a project. It’s impressive! I wish I had even a tiny ounce of that, but I don’t. I can feel the inside of my chest just crawling thinking about it. The most self-promotion I can stomach is the occasional post here on The Black Laser and that is insufficient.
Another recent example I can’t stop thinking about. Ever since Verdant folded, I’ve been picking up freelance video edit projects to try and pay for my kids and life and stuff. It has been pretty tough because I live in Delaware and everything is remote. The time gap between the last time I was active and now is quite long, so people have moved on and I am out of their minds. Normal stuff. I sent an email to someone I used to work with to let them know I am on the market and looking. I made a mention in the e-mail of how awkward I find that sort of inquiry e-mail. And while that is completely true, why the hell did I write that? Why self-deprecate at all? All it does is feed the void and that’s not helpful at all. Does this person now think I find them awkward? I don’t. I really just want to work. But I couldn’t help writing some dumb ass shit because I felt nervous about representing myself and, God forbid, asking for something. I wrote that e-mail in May. I never received a reply. I think about it every single day.
Yet things do get finished. Otherwise there would be nothing here for you to read and I’d have starved to death ages ago. Worry not for things will continue to get finished for as long as I am making things. I am more than three decades into feeling like this and I don’t see it letting up any time soon. Just have to live with it and work through it.
The Book of Accidents was my first Chuck Wendig novel. I’m not even really sure how I happened upon it. Perhaps some reddit thread or one of the various book websites that pop into my view while wasting time on the internet. Regardless, I found it. I purchased it. I read it.
And I liked it! And my wife liked it. I generally know while reading something if Sarah is going to click with it. Some stuff—particularly the deep genre science fiction and fantasy books—just isn’t for her. We have different tastes on some things. That’s ok! But when I encounter a novel that has strong horror vibes, a good hook, and a fun mystery to work through without wallowing in bleakness, I can be pretty sure she’s going to enjoy it.
The Book of Accidents is one of those books. What starts off as a story of a man reconciling the death of his estranged father evolves into an inter-dimensional, cosmic mystery. And, boy, what a ride. I don’t usually care about spoilers. It seems to me that the fun of something is the journey, not the destination. But this book has a whole lot of fun twists that I didn’t anticipate and won’t ruin for you. Sarah wanted to talk about the plot while she was reading it, but I refused so as not to ruin the revelations that lay in wait. It took some significant willpower on my part.
The novel absolutely rips along with a tempo that never gives you a moment to stop coupled with short chapters that often kept me up way too late to finish just one more. Wendig here rivals Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 or any Brandon Sanderson novel in keeping me awake reading. It’s rare that a novel can keep me up for longer than 5 or 10 pages at night, leading to me often dragging out novels for much longer than strictly necessary. But I flew through this book in only a few weeks. Fast for me.
If I had one complaint about the book, it’s that Wendig likes to reference real world media, much like Stephen King, to whom this book’s style owes quite a bit. The characters can’t help but mention this month’s popular meme or Dungeons and Dragons or whatever. It’s a quibble, and it is probably just a personal thing, but I’ve never liked this sort of reference. It takes me out of the story’s world just a little, breaks the spell just enough. I like my fourth wall, damn it. If you’re going to break it, do it for something worth more than making a comment about your favorite table top roleplaying game.
Would I recommend this one? Definitely. If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced horror novel, get it. If you’re not looking for those things, but still enjoy a well-written mystery story with some supernatural elements, get it. If all this sounds like the most uninteresting thing in the world to you, I don’t know, go listen to a TED Talk or something.
Goodreads gives you a little tool to track the number of books you read over the course of a year. In 2021, I wanted to read 52 books—a book a week—but that proved a little ambitious. Who knew that infants were so much work? I got half way. A far cry from my 2020 peak of 62 books.
This year I’ve set my goal at a more reasonable 26 books, or one every other week. That is the same number I managed last year, so I feel pretty good that I should be able to make it happen. And if I don’t? Well, that’s how the cookie crumbles, I guess.
I try to read a variety of things, but the reality is that I end up actually reading a bunch of SFF, horror, and technical stuff. A scan through my previous years’ lists confirms this. The examples I’ve considered for this post are all in line.
What *do I have in the list for this coming year? Let’s look.
Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson – I’ve already started this one. I anticipate that I am going to finish it some time in September. Sanderson is not known for his brevity. Coming to this after finishing John Langan’s The Fisherman was a bit of a shock. Their two styles of prose could not be more different. Langan is dense and literary while Sanderson is like watching a comic book movie. Both are good. Both have their places. But, dang, are they different.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – I started this book like two years ago during my writing class at Cabrillo. Fortunately, it’s a collection of essays. Picking it back up will not be difficult. Lamott is charming, hilarious, and just enough of a pain in the ass for her writing to resonate strongly with me.
Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo – I’ve read the entirety of Akira before when it was first collected into five volumes in 2000. A long time ago at this point. I purchased the 35th anniversary collection last year and it’s been sitting on my floor waiting to be read. This is the year. Akira is massive and, along with the film version, a formative work for me.
The Terror by Dan Simmons – I’m about 45 hours into the 50 hours of the audiobook of Simmons’ Carrion Comfort and I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it. I’ve read the Hyperion series, but didn’t know until Carrion Comfort that Simmons also wrote novels that weren’t just love letters to John Keats. Further, the audiobook version of The Terror I spent an Audible credit on is produced with background music. This is going to either be a big hit or a big miss. Either way it is going to shine some light on an idea I’ve had for The Black Laser Reads about doing audiobooks with more production elements than just voice. Also, it’s another horror novel that is well regarded. I am sure it will be a fun one.
Piranesi by Susannah Clarke – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was one of the best books of the year in whichever year I read it. Goodreads tells me I finished the Kindle version in 2016. It is so rich and such a fun adventure that I felt pretty bummed that it was her only novel. One hell of a one-and-done, you know? Shortly after moving to Delaware, Sarah and I went into the bookshop in Bethany and I saw she had a new book, Piranesi, available only in hardback. Instant purchase. My copy is signed by the author, too, which is fun. Piranesi has gotten a lot of good chatter around it, which makes me look forward to it even more.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – This was one of the suggestions by my friend Mike when I solicited Facebook for horror novel recommendations a while ago. The format of this book doesn’t lend itself well to e-reading, which is my preferred way of consuming novels. I hesitated a long time until I finally just bit the bullet and picked up a paper copy. I know almost nothing about what happens in House of Leaves, only that people whose opinions I respect think it is fantastic. That is enough.
The Rhetoric of Fiction by Wayne C. Booth – My understanding is that this work gave us the name for the “unreliable narrator”. It’s dense. It’s academic. He writes about a lot of works I’ve never read. Seems like the perfect thing to shift my brain into a different gear.
Books of Blood, Vols 3-6 by Clive Barker – I find that toggling between horror shorts and other books is a good way to break things up without getting distracted from the main text much in the same way as how I like to have one nonfiction and one fiction book going at any one time. So, really, I guess it’s actually one fiction, one nonfiction, one collection of short stories, and one audiobook in progress at all times. Clive Barker’s Books of Blood fit in perfectly with any combination of things I’m reading. It’s nice to have that short, sweet, horror fix. Palate cleansers.
Off the top of my head and a quick glance around my desk that’s it for now. Certainly I will think of some other things I intend to read this year. I’ll revisit this in a few months and we can check in on my progress. Completing these books will get me 15 books further toward my goal of 26. Not all the way, but not too bad either.
Did I miss anything you think I should definitely read this year? Is something on my list so stupid I should give it a pass? What are you reading (besides this post)? Suggest a book that is outside my normal consumption and tell me why I should read it.
The girls have this book, Little Avocado’s Big Adventure, and it’s got this cute little avocado finger puppet in the middle. Look:
He’s cute! You can wiggle him around while reading it and they absolutely love it. Easy to please, sure, but the little extra jazz is fun. If you look closely enough, you can see that they also think the book is quite delicious.
From the cover we learn that Little Avocado is going on vacation somewhere to sit by the pool. That certainly seems like a Big Adventure, especially if you are 11 months old. While I’m not totally clear on how an avocado wears the flip-flops on the floor next to his lounge chair, I’m willing to go along with the story.
This is nice! Our little avocado buddy is hanging out with other food friends. We’ve got our short and green avocado, a tomato, a lime, an onion, a Mexican bag of tortilla chips, and another slice of lime. Who seems to be in some sort of distress? Perhaps because he’s so tart? Or because he has been cut? It’s not really clear why Mr. Lime Wedge is unhappy. We can only speculate.
He’s getting ready for his trip! I hope he’s packed all the essentials. The onion is crying (or laughing) because that’s what onions do to people. Unless you’re wearing contact lenses, but that’s a discussion for another post. Everything else seems to be in order. The tomato is jumping. The whole lime is having a great time. The bag of chips’ mustache looks great. And the lime wedge is…. screaming?
Oh my god.
The avocado is afraid of being murdered to make guacamole.
The little green avocado is escaping the kitchen where he is due to be cut open, scooped out, and mashed with his friends into the “world’s best guacamole”. And the only one of his friends who has any idea is the already mutilated lime wedge. The bag of chips has been disemboweled and his insides are dancing around the bowl. The tomato and onion have no idea what fate has in store for them. The avocado is abandoning his friends so he does not have to meet the reaper.
This isn’t a story about going on an adventure; this is a story about someone running for their life.
He left the lime wedge! So consumed with fear for his own life, the avocado left his friend who directly requested aid behind to suffer the very ignominious fate the avocado is running from. Perhaps the avocado is a self-centered monster who doesn’t care about anyone but himself.
Nevertheless, he’s on the plane now with some other fruit friends, none of whom are Mexican stereotypes, literally flying for his life.
A good question, to be sure. Based on this map, the avocado is either coming from somewhere in Yukon, Canada or from Russia’s coast along the Kara Sea and is destined for Western Australia, with a layover in New York City.
Though the book claims we’ll never know, I feel like we established where avocado’s flight from the clutches of the grave took him. Palm trees, sunshine, pools. Little guy is in Perth or somewhere in the vicinity.
But, wait a second. Wait a second. What is that on the table next to avocado? Is he drinking from the hollowed out skull of a coconut?? Forget that strawberry, banana, and pineapple seem to be totally cool with this refreshment abomination, witness protection program avocado is a monster! First he abandons lime wedge, and now he is enjoying a beverage from the split open head of another fruit friend? What bleak hell is this book? Murder! Abandonment! Cannibalism! Mutilation! Racism!
And thus ends the nightmare that is Little Avocado’s Big Adventure. Thankfully we only have to bear 12 pages of this ghastly tale. The mind of Brick Puffinton is a truly horrifying place.
These aren’t just personal or professional goals, but a mix of the two. In this era of working from home in the midst of being a stay-at-home parent, the lines between the two types of goals are often hazy, so why not mix them together in this list and let it fly? They’re already mixed together in my head. Besides, work is essentially personal since, for me at least, I work to support my life rather than live to work.
I share these with you as a commitment device. If you, faceless reader, know that I am striving to accomplish these things, then I will more easily be able to pressure myself out of slacking.
In no particular order, here we go.
Record some TBLR episodes: I dabbled with The Black Laser Reads many years ago and then sort of let it drop. However, I’ve been thinking about The Black Laser Reads non-stop since then. A dig through the post archive reveals that only two episodes were released, both in the in summer of 2011. That means it’s been bouncing around in my head for ten and a half years with little public action. I’ve finally got an acceptably imperfect VO booth set up here in my office and an ever-deepening list of public domain works that I am interested in. It’s just a matter now of doing the recording.
Make more photos: Sarah and I have this crazy idea of owning a photo studio one day, but, as a photographer, I feel like I still need lots of practice. I’m getting the dust out and I shoot and process very deliberately, but there are so many aspects I need to improve on before I’d be comfortable charging for the work. Practice practice!
Improve my photo compositing skills: I am like a B-minus level photo compositor. The problem is that I don’t really know what I need to do to improve. I enjoy the work, definitely, but I am at a bit of an impasse where I need some structured education in the matter. I really just want our holiday cards to be better than everyone else’s. Simple.
Write more on The Black Laser: I’ve already started doing this. I’d like to keep it up. At the beginning, I wrote here all the time about anything that interested me. A lot of it is very bad, but that is the price we pay to get better at a skill. Then, for many years—let’s call them “The Quiet Years”—I worried that no one cared at all about what I wrote here. That is the result of my skill and taste levels increasing at different rates. Significantly better taste with moderately better skill. Many ideas were hatched and all were killed by the “Why bother?”s. Much silence ensued. Now, while I am still unconvinced that people are too interested in what I have to write, the whole purpose is the bother. That is, the work is the reason to do the work. And I’m enjoying it again!
Write some more stories: During the class at Cabrillo I was on a streak. Sure, it was for the class, but I was in the mindset and the barrier to the work was low. Then we had COVID hit the world, the cross-country move, the triplets pregnancy, the temporary move to Maryland, the birth of the girls, the unending hospital misery, the loss of Olive, the move back to Delaware, and the struggle to figure out how to be parents who work. Somewhere along the way, the needle just sort of popped out of the groove. I’d like to flip it over and start the B side.
Make a local friend: It’s crazy what social distancing and two little girls who can’t walk yet will do to prevent you from making friends. No one’s fault, of course. As much of an introvert as I am, having a friend within driving distance would probably not be such a bad idea. How to make that friend is a totally different proposition.
Continue to practice my penmanship: My handwriting is not bad, by any means, but it is a funny mix of half-remembered cursive and printing. You will often see both a cursive S and a printing S in the same word. I purchased the Spencerian Penmanship book set a few months ago and was steadily practicing while doing overnights just after we brought Penelope and Beatrice home. After the move back to Delaware, I have not been keeping up with it so well. There’s something about not having 8 hours of forced quiet time every single night to make you lose sight of the learning you were doing. Of course, my penmanship doesn’t matter at all, but it’s something I’d like to improve so I am going to.
That’s kind of a lot of stuff, I guess. But there is kind of a lot of time in a year and it is important to have goals. Keep up with me and see how far I get! Commitment devices!
Also, you might have noticed an audio file embedded in the top of this post. Click it! That’s me reading to you on my website for your enjoyment. I thought that adding audio versions of these posts would be a fun way to add a little value to the site and give me a chance to hone my monologue editing skills. You get all the benefit; I do all the work. Win-win.