“Strawberries and Other Secrets” compiled by James A. MacNeill & Glen A. Sorestad

Strawberries and Other Secrets is a short story anthology published in 1970. Edited and selected by James A. MacNeill and Glen A. Sorestad, the book is separated into five units named for the motifs in the stories they encompass: experiences in conflict, the unknown, laughter, suspense, and human feelings.

This anthology is well-put together and gives a refreshing overview of several genres and styles in the matter of 207 pages, all while remaining loosely and comfortably connected. The introductions for each unit show this tastefully: for example, the transition between “the unknown” to “laughter” states: “The unexpected is only one of the situations in life that prompt laughter,” which does a nice job of directing the reader to leave the fantasy realm, albeit while he/she looks behind. The title is clever, too. It suggests that the mundane (the strawberries, comparable to reality) and the exciting (the secrets, comparable to fiction) are really one and the same. I think the editors compiled this collection to celebrate the empathic power of stories – how they reflect life – as they help us become “sharers of experience” (introduction). For example, three stories with death as a plot point address it through different lenses: “Mirror of Ice” shows terror and anxiety, “Leiningen Versus the Ants” shows courage, and “Lather and Nothing Else” shows virtue and morality. All three represent the anthology’s goal to share experiences, while adding something unexpected and new.

 

How To Punctuate Titles

Dear New Student,

In ISB Humanities we use three rules to punctuate titles. Because the following rules are elements of style, and not grammar, they are guidelines that may differ from school to school. The rules we use here are:

(1) Use the underline for the the titles of: magazines, books, newspapers (don’t include the word ‘the’), academic journals, films, television shows, really long poems, plays, operas, musical albums/CDs, works of art, a website, and even the names of certain vehicles. Note that the guide books say you can use italics or underlines. In the ISB high school, however, assessments you write should use the underline, so that is the habit to build.

(2) Use italics for the above titles when you are publishing to the Internet (i.e. on your ISB blog). This is because the underline looks like a link, and readers might think they can click on it. This is the convention mentioned at Grammar Girl (see how that website title is done with italics, and it is underlined only because I made it a link).

EXCEPTION: religious texts, such as The Koran, or The Bible, are neither underlined nor italicized. The same goes for legal documents, treaties, laws.

(3) Use quotation marks on the titles of short stories, essays, chapter titles, a newspaper article, a song title, a short or regular length poem, a web page (not a web site), a TV episode.

Here are some examples written as if on paper/word processors:

  • Modern Family is a really good mockumentary.
  • We watched Les Miserables on Broadway last night.
  • Scientific American published “Rooftop Farming: Harmful or Helpful?” last month.
  • The album Devotion includes “Wildest Moments”, Jessie Ware’s latest single.
  • “Leiningen Versus the Ants” by Carl Stephenson, included in the anthology, Strawberries and Other Secrets, is a powerful story of nature versus man.
  • The Titanic is perhaps the most famous ship of all time.
  • Christians believe The Bible is God’s word as interpreted by the apostles.

When published online, the above examples would be changed so the underlines are italicized:

  • Modern Family is a really good mockumentary.
  • We watched Les Miserables on Broadway last night.
  • Scientific American published “Rooftop Farming: Harmful or Helpful?” last month.
  • The album Devotion includes “Wildest Moments”, Jessie Ware’s latest single.
  • “Leiningen Versus the Ants” by Carl Stephenson, included in the anthology, Strawberries and Other Secrets, is a powerful story of nature versus man.
  • The Titanic is perhaps the most famous ship of all time.
  • Christians believe The Bible is God’s word as interpreted by the apostles. (This remains the same.)

Don’t worry too much about the punctuating rules – they may sound a bit tricky now, but with practice they’ll be easy to use!

All the best,

Jamie

 

15. “Willpower: Why Self-Control is the Secret to Success” by Roy F. Bausmeister and John Tierney

Willpower: Why Self-Control is the Secret to Success, a New York Times bestseller published in 2011, is a non-fiction self-help book by researchers Bausmeister and Tierney, written to educate the reader about and how to improve their self-control. Throughout the book, psychology studies, pop culture examples, and everyday situations are referenced to accent three main ideas: first, you have a finite amount of self-control that is depleted throughout the day; two, you can strengthen your self-control by forming healthy habits; three, self-control and self-awareness go hand-in-hand, and so self-control can improve your life overall.

Willpower is very similar to The Happiness Advantage in the sense that both use easily-accessible examples (college students and procrastination, pg. 242) and language. The beauty of both books (and it is further impactful in Willpower because of its flowing writing) is that they are entertaining at the same time they are informative. A passage in Willpower describing the mental and physical stress former street performer Amanda Palmer underwent posing as a living statue in Times Square (pg. 35) captures our attention and also serves as a metaphor for how willpower is depleted everyday. As stated in the introduction, I think the researchers wrote Willpower because they felt “Research into willpower and self-control is psychology’s best hope for contributing to human welfare” and that publicizing the information would help laypeople apply the work in their lives. Another incentive may be that the research on it is fairly new, so the authors would earn money from the publication.

14. “Outstanding Short Stories” by Edgar Allan Poe and Others

“Outstanding Short Stories” is an anthology of short stories selected and retold by G. C. Thornley of Penguin Readers. It contains classics from well-known Western authors – Edgar Allan Poe, Katherine Mansfield, Oscar Wilde, etc. – circa the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

There is no distinctive thematic ties between the seven stories included in the book, but there are some style similarities. All use precise and descriptive language (“Lil’s face was still burning; she took off her hat and held it on her knee.” – pg. 45), and dialogue and characterization touches on social norms in the past, such as class seperation, e.g., Lord Mountdrago’s proud reluctance to confide in his psychoanalyst, or Lord Emsworth’s mortification at being commanded by his own gardener. In particular, I liked Anthony Trollope’s “The Courtship of Susan Bell” – I thought the characterization of the cautious, widowed mother and the interlacing relationships between mother-and-daughter and woman-and-man were portrayed well (“After that Mrs Bell thought it her duty to teach her daughter that she would see Aaron Dunn no more.” – 75). The theme of “Courtship” is that true love lasts.

13. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1813, is a classic novel of manners about Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters living in Hertfordshire, England at the turn of the 19th century, as she deals with issues such as marriage, social mores, and upbringing. The Bennet sisters pursue romances with various men, to various degrees of acceptance by society and their status-conscious mother (imagine a more blunt version of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott).

Although the language was difficult to read at first – there were some outdated phrases – I enjoyed Elizabeth’s adventures. In particular I thought the setting was well-written. Austen uses pathetic fallacy (like Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray) to make her pretty descriptions more impactful. Take the phrases Austen writes to describe Elizabeth’s reaction to Mr. Darcy’s estate: “charming views of the valley”, “large, handsome stone building”, and “hill … was a beautiful object” (Chapter XLIII). These show Elizabeth’s changing perceptions and the slow disappearance of her prejudice towards Mr. Darcy. I think the theme of Pride and Prejudice is evident in its title, Elizabeth’s and Mr. Darcy’s misinterpretations in the course of their courtship, and Elizabeth’s statement that “every day confirms my belief in the inconsistency of all human characters”: that is, in order to understand someone’s intentions, you must be open-minded. This theme is also present in Emma.

 

12. “Ariel: The Restored Edition” by Sylvia Plath

The original manuscript of Sylvia Plath’s last poetry anthology, “Ariel” (published 1965), has been restored in this volume along with a foreword by her daughter, Frieda Hughes. This edition offers a deeper look into her life and writing style, complete with notes she made for a BBC radio reading and copies of her drafts.

“Ariel” is a vivid collection, melancholy but mesmerizing. Plath’s style is to overpower with forceful, almost uncomfortable clarity (“You say I should drown my girl./She’ll cut her throat at ten if she’s mad at two.” pg. 38), and to integrate science and mythology/religion with the everyday (“Overexposed, like an X ray./Who do you think you are?/A Communion wafer?” pg. 61); as if to suggest mere living is poetry. Looking at the circumstances regarding “Ariel” and Plath (it lay on her desk as Plath committed suicide), and the frequent topics of her poetry (loss of love, taboo, deception, temptation, etc.); I think the theme of her collection is that love is ephemeral, and she wrote “Ariel” to find closure with her depression. Another clue to this what Frieda Hughes writes: “The breakdown of the marriage had defined all my mother’s other pain and given it direction. It brought a theme to the poetry.” Although the theme is a bleak one, Plath’s composition is lucid and powerful.

11. “On Writing” by Stephen King

“On Writing”, published to much acclaim in 2000, is part memoir, part manual on the art of writing fiction; comparable to the indispensable Elements of Style. In similar concise fashion, Stephen King draws on all inspiration from childhood experiences (seeing his uncle do carpentering) to adult dilemmas (alcoholism) to explain his perceptions of good writing – “story comes first!” – and his pet peeves; such as adverbs.

I was impressed and empowered by King’s anecdotal tips, e.g., he writes about learning the importance of revising when working as a sports reporter for Weekly Enterprise. I loved the casual, yet assertive tone as well: take a look at this quote on the seriousness of writing – “We’ve engaged in an act of telepathy. No mythy-mountain shit; real telepathy.” Because of King’s seamless integration of fantasy and experience, and his description of how writing was like therapy after his car accident, I think the theme of ‘On Writing’ is that art gives life meaning (King states, “Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.) Finally, I liked the fundamental details of the manuscript; such as King dividing the book into three easy-to-digest parts (‘C.V.’, ‘On Writing’, and ‘On Living: A Postscript’); and the added exemplars at the end (I found the reading recommendations list and the example revision of the story especially good).

9-10: “The Fellowship of The Ring” by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Fellowship of the Ring is the first book of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a fantasy series set in the Third Age of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth realm. TFOTR follows the adventure of Frodo Baggins (heir of intrepid Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit) and his company of hobbits, a home-loving people who are spurred to action by Frodo’s stewardship of the One Ring; a terrible tool designed by an evil necromancer, Sauron, that they must destroy by venturing to Mount Doom.

After reading TFOTR, I can see why Tolkien is hailed the father of the fantasy genre. The imagery of Middle-Earth and its inhabitants – supplemented by meticulous descriptions of folklore, song, food, and language – is vividly real. For example, the Elven-song at Lorien (“Ai! laurie lantar lassi surinen … ” pg. 394), the folktale of Nimrodel and Amroth (pg. 354), Gandalf’s letter to Frodo with its fancy runes (pg. 182), and even the lovely house of Tom Bombadil (pg. 136), with its equally lovely pathetic fallacy (“fire in the wide hearth before them … burning with a sweet smell … of applewood”) totally amazed me. Tolkien has thought over every aspect of his world. I think the theme of TFOTR is that friendship can overcome great tests. An example of this is how Sam deduced that Frodo was in danger (pg. 115), but still the entire company refuses to disband. Also, the title is a clue – the fellowship in question is a band of strangers who become the best of companions. In the end, although I found the hero’s journey plot too slow (to get to the House of Elrond inch-by-inch takes 231 pages!), the book was enjoyable.

Note: This counts as two for 16 by May 16.

7-8: “Battle Royale” by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale is an infamously violent dystopian/alternative history thriller set in 1997 in the Republic of Greater East Asia, formerly Japan. As part of the authoritarian government’s battle experiments, a ‘battle royale’, or a fight to the death with only one winner, is demanded of one random third year high school class per prefecture. In the Kagawa Prefecture, Shuya Nanahara and his classmates are abducted to an isolated island to carry out the routine battle royale, and a heart-wrenching killing game marked by distrust ensues.

To me, the best aspect of Takami’s horror story is his expert management of forty-two unique characters in one epic narrative (Battle Royale‘s page count* is equal to a little more than half of Gone with the Wind’s). Even though Shuya is the main character, each student in the class (regardless of being his ally or enemy) is given a perspective, and we see the game clearly through the eyes and voices of forty-two terrified teenagers. Some (like Kazuo and Mitsuko) willingly play the game with a cold menace (pg. 505, “Kazuo Kiriyama walked up to her slowly … He didn’t even bother glancing at the three rain-drenched bodies.”) – others break down, which causes them to kill without thinking (Kaori’s thoughts, pg. 231, “Junya. No mercy. Shoot. Shoot! Cocoa. Junya.”). Friends kill each other and lovers suicide (pg. 88). This diversity in psyche, and the unsettling premise, made me think that the theme of Battle Royale is that fear is the most effective weapon at warping our minds.

I would definitely recommend this book for those not afraid of some disturbing scenes, and people who liked The Hunger Games but wished for something more sophisticated.

*This book counts as two for the ’16 by May 16′ project.

6: “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White

The fourth edition of The Elements of Style, composed in part by master and student, Strunk and White, is the latest of this classic non-fiction guide, first published in 1918. Written for would-be writers, and covering with wit and experience the elementary rules of grammar, composition, and style; this slim writing manual is a succinct read, but immensely useful.

The fourth edition, in all truth, does not vary much from the third edition, save for a few tweaks on the rules of pronouns to make them less explicitly masculine, and the helpful addition of a glossary. The reason for this edition’s existence still rings true to the first’s, that reason being the desire expressed by the authors to help their readers become more lucid communicators. The Elements of Style is itself an exemplar of the pithy and concise style it champions: each rule is stated clearly under a short article title (“Join two independent clauses with a colon if the second interprets or amplifies the first,” – pg. 8), and each word is duly spent to full effect (“Literal. Literally. Often incorrectly used in support of exaggeration or violent metaphor.” – pg. 52). The right and wrong examples are also well chosen and formatted so they are easy to compare (“He cannot eat nor sleep./He cannot eat or sleep.” – pg. 54). I would definitely recommend this to any aspiring author!