Discovering Chu-bu and Sheemish


I have a book-owning problem, a logical consequence of the book-buying problem I had for ages. The book-buying problem was especially bad when I was in grad school in Iowa City: not only did I have to buy books for school, for fun I would wander into Prairie Lights Bookstore on my way home and see if there was anything interesting on the remainder table (and there almost always was).

The book-buying problem is pretty much under control these days; I get stuff from the library and only buy things I a) must have for a project or b) know I'll like because it's by a writer I love. The book-owning, though still a problem, is not as bad as it used to be, because I've been reading stuff on my shelves and realizing that I don't need to own a lot of it any more.

Sometimes this is a cause of distress, as when FINALLY I read Franny and Zooey after owning it for almost three decades, and realized I HATED it: pretentious prose, annoying characters, and not that much actual story. I hauled that book back and forth across the continent more than once, when I should have just started it one night and put it in a box the next morning to take to a used bookstore.

In fact, I'm amassing quite a stash of stuff to haul to a used bookstore one of these days. Which is not to say that everything I've pulled off my shelf has lost its place. I read something called The Shutter of Snow by Emily Holmes Coleman and really, really liked it. It's a keeper.

Sometimes I'll choose a book precisely because I think it's going to be something I'm content to get rid of after I read it. And a lot of times I'm right about that. But sometimes I'm really wrong.

Recently I picked up Gods, Men and Ghosts, a collection of supernatural tales by Lord Dunsany, off the shelf. I paid a buck for it over twenty years ago, couldn't remember why I bothered to spend even that much, and figured I'd read a few stories and consign it to the resale pile.

But I actually quite like it. The stories are pleasantly creepy, and the prose is excellent. And some of them say really interesting things, like this from the opening of "The Exiles Club":

It was an evening party; and something someone had said to me had started me talking about a subject that to me is full of fascination, the subject of old religions, forsaken gods. The truth (for all religions have some of it), the wisdom, the beauty, of the religions of countries to which I travel have not the same appeal for me; for one only notices in them their tyranny and intolerance and the abject servitude that they claim from thought; but when a dynasty has been dethroned in heaven and goes forgotten and outcast even among men, one's eyes no longer dazzled by its power find something very wistful in the faces of fallen gods suppliant to be remembered, something almost tearfully beautiful, like a long warm summer twilight fading gently away after some day memorable in the story of earthly wars. Between what Zeus, for instance, has been once and the half-remembered tale he is today there lies a space so great that there is no change of fortune known to man whereby we may measure the height down which he has fallen. And it is the same with many another god at whom once the ages trembled and the twentieth century treats as an old wives' tale. The fortitude that such a fall demands is surely more than human.

The story that has truly delighted me, though, is called "Chu-bu and Sheemish," about a small wooden idol who is enraged when his priests bring another idol into his temple. It's very short, very fun, and anyone who has ceased to worship a god others still trust and revere needs to read it. The tale of two jealous idols each overjoyed when the other ends up with bird shit on his head will make you laugh, I am pretty sure.


Very cool -- both the quote from "The Exiles Club" and the story of the idols.

Very good story, thanks for the recommendation.

I just turned my office into a bedroom for my daughter, and have the daunting prospect of a family room full of boxes of books that I need to sort through and see which make the "keeper" cut. I feel your pain, lugging books across the country multiple times.

Fortunately today we have ebooks, which make up most of my new purchases and virtually all of my library borrowings. At least then the new mess becomes virtual, easier to manage.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on November 14, 2011 5:39 PM.

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