Araby, by James Joyce

james joyce

This is one of my favourite Joyce stories. It packs a short lifetime of emotion and apprehension into just a few lovely pages. From Joyce’s collection Dubliners, first published in 1914.

Stepping out into life, like the young hero of this story, demands courage and open eyes. As Joyce wrote in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile, and cunning. 

Araby, by James Joyce [15:00]

My Battle With Drink, by P.G. Wodehouse


Sometimes I think it would be delightful to maintain a podcast site devoted solely to the works of P.G. Wodehouse. But then I realise that I would keep so busy recording Plum’s stories and novels that I would have no time for any other texts for the next decade or so. In any case, Librivox already has a pretty steep leg-up on me. Tonight’s contribution is a rare essay, with tongue firmly planted in cheek. That’s the only way to read or listen to it, which is why I must issue a very tongue-out-of-cheek disclaimer and point out that this text is satire and all truly worrisome issues of substance abuse should be referred to competent authorities and not to tonight’s author (or to his humble narrator).

My Battle With Drink, by P.G. Wodehouse {11:29}

Symbols and Signs, by Vladimir Nabokov


With all the troubles currently underway in the Ukraine and on the Crimean Peninsula, I can’t help thinking of earlier pogroms, massacres, famines, and other mayhem inflicted on the local population as fallout from broader struggles over power and resources. The long-term impact of these experiences on individual human beings is rarely discussed, but is nonetheless harrowing. Nabokov’s short story “Symbols and Signs” hints at how terror and exile have destroyed a single family, even though it seemingly got out of the Old Country alive.

Symbols and Signs, by Vladimir Nabokov [15:01]

Knock, Knock, Knock, by Ivan S. Turgenev


First published in 1870, Turgenev’s story of a young Tsarist officer endowed with an unerring sense of “destiny” remains troubling today. It is precisely this belief in the transcendant, with all its attending dangers to body and spirit, that goes into making the “Russian soul”, on which Turgenev was something of an expert. But he was anything but a fantasist himself, and his works are endowed with a solid sense of both the real and the absurd. As he wrote in his novel Fathers and Sons,

What I’m thinking is: here I am, lying under a haystack … The tiny little place I occupy is so small in relation to the rest of space where I am not and where it’s none of my business; and the amount of time which I’ll succeed in living is so insignificant by comparison with the eternity where I haven’t been and never will be … And yet in this atom, in this mathematical point, the blood circulates, the brain works and even desires something as well .. What sheer ugliness! What sheer nonsense! 

Knock, Knock, Knock, by Ivan S. Turgenev [1:00:31]



Reading Books, by Vernon Lee

Vernon Lee

The author of some forty-five volumes of travel literature, art history, and supernatural stories, Vernon Lee (1856-1935) knew all about not just reading, but also writing books. Born to Anglo-French parents in France under the name Violet Piaget, she adopted a male pseudonym for her English-language publications in Frazer’s Magazine and other journals. In this brief essay she captures the intrinsic appeal of bound and printed books. Does she come across a little bit elitist in this text from 1903? Like they say up in Alaska: You betcha! I assume the modern-day descendants of those Italian contadini she so casually disses draw profound satisfaction from thumbing through their own dog-eared copies of The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey, sounding out the words. But a glance at Lee’s resumé shows that she had every reason to toot her own aesthetic horn.

Now if we can take Wiki’s word for it, her personal library can still be visited in the offices of the British Institute in Florence. I don’t know about you, but the next time I’m in those parts I’d love to run my fingers along the backs of her private collection. I’ll bet it’s a beauty…

Reading Books, by Vernon Lee {10:11}

The Heart of the Spring, by William Butler Yeats


W. B. Yeats is best known for his poems, but he also wrote some cracking good short fiction, particularly earlier on in his career. Tonight’s story take us to the hut of a wizard on the shores of Lough Gill, where one of Ireland’s last Wise Folk prepares to meet his destiny. In his final poem, “Under Ben Bulben”, Yeats had this to say:

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

The Heart of the Spring, by William Butler Yeats {12:25}

Lederhosen, by Haruki Murakami


Buying holiday souvenirs for loved ones who have had to stay home, tending the hearth and watering the plants while you’re off raising hell on a beach somewhere, can be a tricky business. Sure, we all like receiving a coffee cup or ashtray from some exotic locale, even if we never give the thing a second look. If we were smart, we’d leave it at that, because it’s never a good idea to order souvenirs from someone else’s holiday journey: Not only will you probably be disappointed in the gift the other person brings home for you, you will also likely spoil that person’s trip, forcing him or her to run around looking to fill your order rather than enjoy his or her last hours on the beach or the terrace before returning home to reality. Don’t believe me? Then try out tonight’s story, which tells of the perils of German souvenirs. So the rule still stands: When in doubt, just buy them a T-shirt…

Lederhosen, by Haruki Murakami {16:50}