Johnny 12 Steps: Organized Crime Trilogy: Part 1 by Nick Tory

Johnny 12 Steps

This book deserves a strong 8 out of 10. I might even go as far as to give it a 9.

I decided one night to sit down and read Nick Tory’s first installment of his Johnny 12 Steps: Organized Crime Trilogy and instantly fell in love with the main character. Here is a man that is so clueless about what is going on around him that he can’t see how much his “Best Friend” hates him, how much the girl of his dreams despises him, and how little he knows about the twelve step program that he tries to make it through in twelve days in order to make his life better and quit his past habits of fighting and gambling. He could be one of the best unreliable narrators ever written, and because of this you will spend your time laughing with the adventures that he finds himself in. It makes this story a truly pleasurable read.

Johnny Tee finds himself trying to save the mom of the girl he has instantly fallen in love with from the clutches of a mobster who has kidnapped her so she can eventually pay off her dead husband’s debt. Johnny isn’t as suave as he thinks he is as he plans, and bungles his way through his rescue mission. Along the way he employs the help of his “Friend” who spend more time desperately trying to get rid of Johnny rather than helping him. He also gets help from a fingerless, toeless bum who has ties with the head mobster and can get Johnny into position to save the day. Of course, whatever the intended outcome of Johnny’s plan is, it always turns out much worse than he could have ever thought or imagined.

Like stated earlier, this book was a fun read, and would be great for any high school boy who struggles with reading and wants to have a great adventure. The problem that I had with the book was the fact that it was incredibly short. When I stated earlier that I sat down in one evening and read the whole book, this is not exaggerated. I would classify this book more as a novella and less a novel. It was still enjoyable, but when I finished the story I was left wondering if there wasn’t supposed to be more to it. And of course there is. Nick Tory has written three other installments in the Johnny Tee story. Of course, if I find myself with a free afternoon again, I might install the next one on my Kindle and read it, but I would rather settle myself into a much larger adventure. I know that it sounds petty that my one complaint was that the story was too short, but I do feel that if it was a little bit longer and still just as enjoyable, I would have given it the 9 that I believe that it deserves.

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Make the World Your Destination

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I was standing by myself in the warm water off the beach in Koh Samui, a tropical island in the southern part of Thailand, and I was contemplating the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Some might wonder why I would be thinking about such a deep subject, and the only answer I would be able to give those people is 42. Some would understand that answer, they would just ask me what the question would be. For those that would scratch their head at the answer 42, I would have to refer them to Douglas Adam’s masterpiece, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In that story, a group of intergalactic mice create a computer to determine what is the answer to life, the universe and everything and they are told 42. Of course, they were disappointed in the answer, and the computer told them in order to understand the answer to life, the universe and everything, they must first know the question. In order to find out the question, they created another computer they name Earth.

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Now, I know you are wondering why somebody who is standing in the warm water of the Bay of Siam on the edge of fall would be thinking about such a thing. Well, it was because I was presented with the number 42 earlier that day as I was traveling on a short boat trip through the Marine National Park of Thailand. While partaking on this tour, I was able to visit secluded beaches, hike up to a private lagoon, watch sea life while I snorkeled in the clear water over a protected choral reef, and watch flying fish and dolphins while I kayaked around the islands where they filmed the movie, The Man with Golden Gun. I was also told on that trip that there are a total of 42 protected islands located in the Marine National Park of Thailand. The coincidence was uncanny. How could I not stop and contemplate the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Maybe I could come up with the all important question, and we will would all be better off for my having discovered it.

That’s when it hit me, the question. Here I stood on the edge of southeast Asia with the question that gave meaning to life, the universe and everything.  Of course, according to the book, this would be the exact moment that the Vogons would come down to blow up the Earth to make way for an intergalactic highway, so I looked up in the sky to make sure my life wouldn’t instantly end. No big spaceships were there ready to blow up everything that I knew, and I could rest assured that the knowledge I now possessed allowed me to reach an epiphany of what it means to live life.

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But what does all this mean? Many wise, old men will tell you that life is not about the destination, but instead about the journey. If we are always worried about what the destination is like then we won’t enjoy the moments that we have in getting to that place. Everything we have placed in the destination will be lost to us, and we will have missed something more important along the way. But the problem I have with that philosophy is when the destination is like this:

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This is what I had to wake up to every morning I spent on the island of Koh Samui. If you close enough out in the water you can see the speck of me standing out there contemplating the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. My destination was a villa I rented with five other friends. It was really hard to do anything but relax at this place. Every morning, I could walk out the back door and see the ocean waves gently crash against the beach that was only a mere walk away from where I was enjoying my coffee. If I wanted to go stand in the middle of the ocean to ponder the greater mysteries of life, I could do it without hesitation and not have anything holding me back. I could take a nap on an outdoor bed while the gentle fall breeze gently whispered me to sleep. A few houses down from our place was a restaurant where I could enjoy some delicious Thai cuisine or an adult beverage. What was there not to like about this place? This destination rocked. I was in paradise, and enjoying every minute of it. Maybe life was about the destination and those many old, wise men had gotten it wrong all those years.

This got me thinking about my life so far, and how lucky I had been. I have had some amazing experiences, and have seen some incredible things. I have been able to do it on a shoe-string budget and the only cost has been I have had to discard a few superfluous luxuries along the way. But I wouldn’t give up all of my experiences for all the luxuries the world had to offer. Some of my experiences were great like the beach on Koh Samui, and some of them were crazy stories such as my tuk tuk ride in Bangkok. But I came to the realization that the bad moments are just as important as the good ones and sometimes tell the better stories.

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One day on this trip while in Bangkok, my companions and I went to visit the Wat Pho, and the Grand Palace, two of the bigger tourist sites the city has to offer. We started at the Wat Pho where we wandered the expansive grounds, and got to look at the Reclining Buddha. It was fun to do the touristy thing for awhile, but rain clouds started to roll in and we wanted to figure out a way to get to our next stop, the Grand Palace. We innocently asked a man dressed in tour guide garb if he could point us in the right direction, and he proceeded to tell us all about the other wonderful sights the city had to offer. He asked a lot of personal questions which is common for people in southeast Asia with their belief in Confucianism so we gave up that both couples had been married for at least a couple years. It seemed like the polite thing to do while he secured two dry tuk tuks for us to take on our citywide excursion.

Basically a tuk tuk is a three wheeled motorcycle that can be used to transport passengers through Bangkok. The rule of thumb when using this form of transportation is to determine a destination and a price before you leave, all of which we did with the help of our new friend. We went to our first destination spot which was the Smiling Buddha, our friend telling us that it was only open one day every month which happened to be the day we were in the town. How could we not go on this journey? We only had one day to enjoy Buddha’s smile. Also, if we took a picture of us smiling along with him, we would receive good luck for the year. The place was neat when we got there, but it didn’t take us long to observe the Smiling Buddha before we wanted to move on to our next destination. The group was out by the tuk tuks again within ten minutes. One of the drivers had to run to the bathroom while we waited for his return at a bus stop.

This is when we met our next “friend.” He told us about how he was going to visit the coast the next week to give his new wife a honeymoon that they weren’t able to go on yet even though had been married for a couple of years. This wasn’t his first wife either. He had lost her to the devastating tsunami that hit the coast of Thailand ten years earlier. The pain was immense, and he regretted the fact that he never showered his first wife with expensive gifts to show her how much he loved her. One such gift he wished he could give her was his new wedding ring that he kept showing us. It had a blue sapphire which he told us could only be found in Thailand.

After talking to this guy for awhile, our driver finally returned from the bathroom. It took him awhile so I suspected he had some serious business to attend to while we talked to our new “friend.” We loaded up into the tuk tuks thinking we were going to be taken to a market where we could get some good Thai food. They did take us to a market but not one where we could buy food. It was a jewelry store with an upstairs room that had a tailor. It suddenly became clear what this trip was really about. We were not being looked after from friendly Thai people, but instead we had been given a long commercial in the hopes that we would buy a product from somebody who had a difficult time getting people to his store. I get it. This is what capitalism is all about. I definitely went on a journey and the destination was not what I had envisioned it to be. Luckily, we left the shop after spending only a couple of minutes there, and the tuk tuks took us to our original destination, the Grand Palace.

The part of my experience left a bad taste in my mouth, but as that bitterness faded, I could look back at the tuk tuk trip with fresh eyes. Even though it just happened to me recently, I can laugh at the moment. It has now become a joke among my friends I shared the experience. It made life meaningful. This will be just another story I will add to my repertoire as I sit around a table with friends. I have many of these stories to tell, but why am I the lucky one to have all these stories while other people do not have the same experiences?

This was one of the things I pondered while standing just off the shore in Koh Samui. Not everyone I have met in my life have lived such a mundane existence. I have listened to wonderful tales from many people about their experiences. Some people have had more of these stories than others. The people who I have recently met with my new position at an international school for the most part are some who have more experiences to share than others. What do these people have in common with me that give them such great experiences? The answer was pretty obvious. They were world travelers. They go and see all this world has to offer, and now see different perspectives because of this. They were always on the journey. The path was always in front of them.

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The best part about these world travelers is they are no longer on a journey because wherever they are, they have already arrived. They have made the world their destination. They can quit worrying about where the journey is going to take them, and just live in the moment. They can begin to soak up all the world has to offer.

You would think that this would make people jealous of world travelers because they have not been given the same opportunities. They can’t wake up some morning and find themselves a mere feet from a beach on a tropical island. But I think they can. It take just an adjustment of perspective. Make the world your destination. This way you can quit worrying about that pesky journey all those  old, wise men have told you about throughout your life, and you can start to enjoy your life for what it has to offer in that moment.

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Partake in the bounty placed on the table in front of you.

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Take the time to enjoy that piece of art you’ve always wanted to examine closer.

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And most importantly, when given the opportunity, dance.

All these thoughts rambled through my head as I pondered the question to life, the universe, and everything, and some of you might want me to share that question with you so you can make sense out of the number 42. But I am not going to. You need to find your own body of warm, salty water to stand in so you can let these thoughts bounce around your head. You will probably come to the same solution that I did on that fateful day, and when you do you will have finally arrived.

Best Horror Movie

The Ring

#1 – The Ring

The concept of this movie is simple, and I have never received a phone call after I have finished watching it, but it still creeps me out. The first time I saw it, it was the night of a full moon. I went to bed with my wife, and woke up in the middle of the night. I rolled over to see my wife in the moonlight with her long black hair covering her face. I instantly thought of the last scene of the movie and nearly jumped out of bed. This movie is filled with creepy imagery that will last with you for the rest of your life. Just thinking about it will give me nightmares tonight. It still doesn’t mean that I don’t want to watch this masterpiece again. In fact, I might do that right now.

 

The Cabin in the Woods

#2 – The Cabin in the Woods

This might not only be one of the best horror movies ever made, but it might be one of the most original movies ever created. I went to this movie not knowing much about it except for the fact that the critics really enjoyed it. If you have not seen this movie yet, I would recommend that you do the same thing. Don’t let anybody tell you the plot of it, and don’t let anybody ruin it for you. You will finish watching it and wonder what it was that you just saw. Can this movie even be classified as a horror movie, or is it a comedy, or is it science fiction, or did it just create a new genre that has never been seen before? It is because this movie can’t be defined that it deserves the position it gets on this countdown. I won’t give anything away about it, but you need to go see it.

Halloween

#3 – Halloween

Now I know I have put a couple of the original versions of some great horror movies on this list, and have talked about how the original is better. But there are a couple of exceptions to the rule, and Rob Zombie’s exploration of Michael Myers would be one such case. The original movie told the story of a psycho killer who had escaped from a mental institution and went on a killing rampage before he was able to be stopped by his own psychiatrist. It has been considered a slasher classic for years, and how could some heavy metal shock rocker come out and dare to remake this movie. But Rob Zombie deserves props because he explores the creation of a psycho killer from an early age until the day he escapes from the mental institution. It adds so much to the story to know about Michael Myers’ past, making this the better version of the story and such a worthy position on the list.

Evil Dead

#4 – The Evil Dead

Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s vision of a demonic world that inhabits ours, and created by a couple of film students who had never made a full-length feature before, the story behind Sam Rami’s The Evil Dead is almost as intriguing as the movie itself. It follows the story of five college students spending the weekend together in a spooky cabin out in the woods, but when they discover a book in the basement of the building, things turn dark. Even though it was filmed on a very small budget, it still has some of the most enduring images out of any horror movie that has ever been filmed. In fact, it spawned the idea of helpless kids being tormented in a place where they won’t be able to find any help. Even though they have tried to remake it recently, the original still remains a classic.

The Serpent and the Rainbow

#5 – The Serpent and the Rainbow

It has been a long time since I have seen this movie, and it might not be as scary as I once thought it to be, but it has always been one of those movies that have stuck with me throughout the years. Especially now, with all of these stories being told about zombies, I always think about the truth behind these stories and where they originated from. The scene where Bill Pullman gets a needle poked into his pupil to see if he will flinch but he can’t because he has been incapacitated by the voodoo drug still haunts me to this day. It is truly a psychological thriller that will screw with your psyche for a very long time. You won’t want to think about it but the more you try to forget it the more you think about it. And the more you think about it, the more it frightens you.

28 Days Later

#6 – 28 Days Later

Before this post-apocalyptic epic came out, zombies were slobbering, dullards that spent a long time shuffling down the road before they ever got close to their victim. Director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland decided to change that image forever. If zombies were scary when they were slow, imagine what they would be like if they were fast. The terror jumped up twelve notches with this zombie epic. Afterwards, the imagery was redone by many other modern zombie classics, but this was the first one that disturbed us in this fashion. And like any other zombie movie, it turns out not to be the zombies that are the most dangerous thing out there.

poltergeist

#7 – Poltergeist

Like all remakes that Hollywood churns out, I was really angry that they would take a classic, and try to improve on it. I have refused to see any of these remakes unless something really convinces me that they have done a better job with the story, and that does not happen very often. Because of this, I present the original Poltergeist on this list. Never has the white fuzz on a television been so creepy, and the scariest part of this movie to this day is the clown doll. It didn’t help that my sister has one in her bedroom that looked exactly like the one in the movie. I had nightmares growing up that it would crawl down the hallway and choke me in my sleep. This is a great movie, and I hope someday Hollywood will realize that originality is better than trying to redo something that has already been done.

 

Psycho

#8 – Psycho

I remember when I was young, my dad sat me down one night and had me watch this movie because he considered it the most terrifying thing he had ever seen. I had just spent a lot of time watching a bunch of slasher flicks such as Halloween and Friday the 13th, and I remember thinking that this movie was tame by comparison. Nothing jumped out at you, and even though the classic shower scene was interesting, I did not think much about the movie. But as I grew older, the psychotic personality of Norman Bates stayed with me, whereas I forgot about Michael and Jason. Alfred Hitchcock had created a masterpiece that would endure all time, and it is more about the ideas behind Norman’s façade rather than the violent actions that he participates in. People are still and always will be fascinated by this story because it is truly one of unique horror that might be in any one of us.

 

Scream

#9 – Scream

Not only does this movie have all of the classic slasher movie moments, it deconstructs these movies at the same time. It analyzes the archetypes from this genre in such a way that you can plug those moments into any horror movie and see how well they fit. From a literary standpoint, this is brilliant. It adds a certain amount of intelligence to a usually disrespected genre. Add to this, one of the most iconic beginnings of any horror movie and you have yourself a classic that will be enjoyed for many generations to come.

 

The Blair Witch Project

#10 – The Blair Witch Project

Many people would look at this movie today as just a bunch of stupid kids getting lost in the woods and doing everything you are not supposed to do when you are lost in the woods. For example, you shouldn’t throw away the map and you should always follow the river because it will more than likely lead you back to civilization. But what these people who critique this movie don’t understand is the brilliance of its marketing. It started out in small theaters, as an independent student film. It slowly allowed its popularity to grow, and because of the way it is filmed, many people started to believe that it was real. At the height of its popularity even after the actors appeared on various late night talk shows, people still wondered if they should wander into the New England forests because they might be the next victim of the Blair Witch. The fact that it got so many people to question its authenticity makes it a masterpiece. And the final image it leaves you with might be one of the creepiest ever seen in a movie.

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As the sun start to dip further to the south, and the leaves start to fall off the trees, our thoughts start to turn to that scary time of year where monsters lurk behind every bush. A full moon hanging in the sky adds to the mood, and it just builds up our appetite for that holiday we celebrate at the end of the month. One of my favorite ways to enjoy Halloween is to sit alone in a dark room and turn on a good horror movie. I have a few that I have enjoyed over the years, but I am always on the lookout for the next best one, so this month, I am asking you to come up with your list of the best horror movies ever made. You can email me your list to jacollings44@gmail.com or just put in your favorite ones under the comment section of this website. I will compile all of the votes and put together a list early next month. If you are having a hard time deciding what your favorite horror movie is, start watching them again, and you might find a new favorite in the mix. Otherwise I look forward to hearing from you.

The Best Television Shows

 

Breaking Bad

#1 – Breaking Bad

Sometimes while watching this show you want to cringe. Sometimes while you watch this show you want to laugh. The one thing that you don’t want to do is to turn away. Even though you don’t want to admit it, there is a little bit of Walter White in each of us, and because of this fact, you have to watch this story all the way to its tragic ending. Some people will get mad at me for giving away the ending of this story, but there wasn’t any other way that it could end. Just the premise alone lets the viewer know that this will not have a happy ending. But it is great that television gave us a true tragedy. This is something that the world has been begging for. We watch it for that tragic flaw so we can see something about our true nature. Or we watch it because a train speeding away to inevitable destruction is something that is engaging and we just can’t turn away from it.

 

Fringe

#2 – Fringe

Even though the science behind some of its episodes is a little hard to swallow, and the fourth season is a bit of a struggle to get through, this is the one show that got right with everything that Lost tried to do. It told an amazing story complete with some of the best actors ever, taking on some of the most complicated roles. It was pure fun. There was the Where Waldo experience of trying to find the walker in every episode. There was the character of Walter Bishop who might have been one of the best characters ever created in all of literature. The story also kept you guessing all the way through as you wondered what was really going on. It also gave us one of the few satisfying endings of a story on television. In the end, we weren’t left wondering about some of the unanswered questions, and it even added a little bit of tragedy with a feel-good vibe. If you have not taken the journey through this story yet, I really suggest that this is placed on your viewing list as the next show you need to binge watch, but make sure you pay extra close attention because even the smallest detail becomes extremely important later on in this show.

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#3 – M.A.S.H.

This was one of the first comedies on television to take on the issues of the day while making us laugh. For eleven years we were entertained by Hawkeye, B.J. Hunnicutt, Radar, “Hot Lips” Houlihan, and Frank Burns. It followed the exploits of a M.A.S.H. unit during the Korean War and even though it made us laugh many times, it also showed us the true horrors of war. It probably could have continued on longer if it wasn’t for the fact that somebody figured out that the amount of time that the show took was actually longer than the U.S.’s involvement in Korea. It is still playing today though and will probably always be able to be viewed on some channel somewhere in the world.

The Daily Show

#4 – The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Yes, there have been three different official hosts of The Daily Show now that Trevor Noah has started his run. The verdict is still out if he will be able to fill the spot left behind by the most iconic host the show has seen, Jon Stewart, but so far things are looking up. It will still be a hard act to follow. Jon Stewart not only took over an original show, but developed it into the intelligent piece of programing it is today. He took on the major issues over the last sixteen years, and instead of bringing on big movie stars as guests, he promoted books and people who have taken an integral part in changing the world. At one time, it was the one show that most people got their news in the United States. He did have a left slant with his commentary, but that did not mean that he shied away from the other side of the issues. If someone disagreed with his position, he would invite him or her onto his show so both sides of the issue could get their fair share. Add to this mix some of the best satirists alive today who acted as the show’s reporters, and you have one of the most intelligent, entertaining shows that anybody has ever seen.

South Park

#5 – South Park

Of course, the guy from Colorado will pick this show as one he believes as one of the best ever created. It tells the story of a group of four boys from a small po-dunk town in the Rocky Mountains. But in reality, it really tells us about us. Just as a tragedy is a reflection of our true nature, a great comedy points out our flaws and makes us laugh at how ridiculous we really are. Trey Parker and Matt Stone don’t hold back any punches in their biting satire. Also, nobody is safe from their commentary. It is because of this that South Park could be considered one of the most intelligent shows on television right now. It is also because of this that South Park earns a prominent spot on this list.

Game of Thrones

#6 – Game of Thrones

Back around the turn of the century, I was talking to a co-worker about the importance of J.R.R. Tolkien and how every fantasy series after his was just a retelling of his story. He told me that there was another series that was worth my time, and I picked up the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire series. I was instantly blown away by the story telling and the fact that what I though was going to happen always turned out to be the complete opposite of what did. It became the perfect example of medieval politics and I couldn’t wait for the next book to come out. I was also amazed about how well it would translate into a television show, and I wondered if it would ever make that leap on to the small screen. Well, six years ago, I saw signs about its development and how it would air on the one station, HBO, that wouldn’t hold back on the gruesome and sexual content that needed to be there to tell the story properly. I wasn’t disappointed by what I saw, and I have continued to watch this show on a regular basis. It is the perfect companion piece to the books, and because it tells the story of an age long gone, it will always maintain its importance as one of the greatest television shows ever created.

 

Orphan Back

#7 – Orphan Black

If you have not experienced Orphan Black yet, you have not yet experienced the greatest actress on television. Tatiana Maslany might not just be the best actress on television, but the best actress ever. She doesn’t just embody a role; she embodies every role that is asked of her in a way that makes each character that she portrays a unique individual even though they may look the same. Add into this mix one of the most profound science fiction stories ever told and you get a show that everybody should be talking about the next morning at the water cooler. I know you asking yourself, then why am I not talking about this show at the water cooler on Monday morning. It is all because it airs on a little known network on Saturday night when its main audience is out having fun, but I guarantee that this will be the next binge-watched extravaganza that people will be talking about for the next ten years. It is that good of an idea, and it is that well done that it transcends generations and will make an impact on what happens next on televisions across the world.

Lost 

#8 – Lost

The iconic image of J.J. Abrams’s short opening sequence changed the face of television forever. The concept was brilliant. It was more about the story and less about the star power and the money making potential. It even survived a terrible season during a writer’s strike. Even with this terrible fate befalling it, the ones who were addicted to the concept had to turn in every week to see what would happen next. With the creation of DVDs and the ability to watch a show at our leisure, it changed what television could do. It was the first show that people binge watched. No longer did characters have to be static. They could develop as the story was being told. Also, a fan favorite wasn’t guaranteed to survive the harshness of the island. At any moment, what we thought what was happening could change into something completely different. It kept us guessing and asking what was really going on, and in doing so it created a literary masterpiece that allowed other television shows that followed to be able to do the same thing. For this reason, besides the fact that it told one of the best stories ever witnessed, it deserves a prominent place on this list.

 

Walking Dead

#9 – The Walking Dead

This is not one of those television shows for your children. It is dark, and it is gruesome. There are many times during the show where I want to turn my head away in disgust but I can’t because I am at the same time so enthralled. Many people would think that a story about the zombie apocalypse would get old and repetitive after a while, but at the heart of this story is a human drama that makes it worth the time to sit down and watch every week. It shows us the darker side of our nature, and makes us wonder if we would still be able to maintain our civilized society when the moral compass that guides us keeps getting taken away from us. This show just keeps on getting better with every season and you wonder how long it can go on before we decide that it is no longer relevant, but with the introduction of some of the best villains ever created, I don’t think it ever will.

Sherlock

#10 – Sherlock

Set in modern-day London, but with the same puzzling cases that have haunted Sherlock Holmes in the pages of the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the BBC has created the best version of the Sherlock Holme’s mysteries ever produced. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is the pompous deranged sociopath that you have always hoped to see, and Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson is the perfect sidekick. Even though each season is short, airing only three episodes, the hour and a half long adventures will have you guessing, laughing, and on the edge of your seat. The longer story arch also creates a lot of fun for the viewer, and even though they have only put out three seasons so far, the anticipation for the next season is high among the fans of the show, including me, who can’t wait to see what happens next.

The Simpsons

#11 – The Simpsons

Being one of the lucky individuals that had a newspaper, Westword, willing to publish the little known comic, Life in Hell, I had always been a fan of Matt Groening. I was really excited when a show based upon characters he created was developed by the man I admired, I became avid viewer soon afterwards. There was a time when I would have thought that this show was the best show ever on television. On many occasions, I made the claim that it was the most intelligent show on television, and with its satirical wit and incredible cast of diverse characters, I would have had a pretty strong argument behind me. But like any show that has been on the air for a long time, The Simpsons have run its course. It was along the tenth season when it started to make satirical remarks about itself that I started to wonder if this show would be better off being cancelled and just letting the episodes that had already been developed just stand on its own as a completed work. Even though I quit watching the show many years ago, it is the strength of those first seasons that make this one of the best television shows ever.

 

Simple by Dena Nicotra

Simple

I would give Simple by Dena Nicotra a 9 out of 10.

Lee finds herself running for her life, not because of anything that she has ever done, but because this is the world she now lives in. She, like the rest of society, used to be a simpler life. Simps had been created to make things easier for us. They were androids designed to take over the tedious, menial tasks that caused us so much pain in the past. Without these chores hanging over our heads anymore, we could now engage ourselves in more worthy pursuits. But things could not remain this way for ever, and a computer virus introduced to the world turned all of the simps against humanity. Instead of being there to serve us, they were now looking to wipe out our existence. Because of this, Lee spends her days scrounging for food and avoiding running into anything that might give away her location. She won’t even try to make contact with potential humans because she believes this will only lead to more heartache. But how can we really live our lives without any other human contact, and is there a greater danger if we never trust anybody ever again?

Dena Nicotra has written a wonderfully entertaining story with many dynamic characters. They blend very nicely together to create a realistic world in this post-apocalyptic vision that she has created. There is also a lot of action throughout the whole story that should appeal to any teenager. It starts right at the beginning with Lee’s first contact with a human that leads to the two of them running away and trying to find a spot where they can be safe. This leads to a series of fights and places where they hide out while more people join their group. It all builds up to a huge finale that the reader will never expect coming.

Even though, Dena has written a very entertaining story, she has also explored some great ideas along the way. This makes this book just not a story but a piece of literature worthy of being read and studied. She asks the reader the importance of trust in one another, and whether we really need other people in order to survive. She also explores our dependence on technology and whether this great thing makes our lives easier, or if it will eventually lead us to a place where we cannot live without it. Lastly, she look at the idea of what is reality. Can we live our lives hooked up to a constant stream of entertainment, or do we need to live out lives in the world that we have created for ourselves? Is there a middle ground that we can find in which we can enjoy both of the advantages that living these lifestyles can give us?

Dena Nicotra’s story is a great piece of literature that looks at our society today while entertaining the reader along the way. It also ends leaving the story open for a sequel, and it is my hope that she continues it further, so I can see her explore the profound ideas she has presented in this novel more.

Fare Thee Well

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This story starts a year and a half ago with my best friend, Bear. He was a great dog, and he went on many adventures with my wife and me. We loved him very much. This was, until like all of our furry friends must eventually do, he passed away. It was a devastating blow to us and even though this happened a year ago last February, there still isn’t a day that goes by when I think about his smiling face, his joy of walks and chasing squirrels, and his love of food. Like all animals, there were some things he did that annoyed me, but now these are the things I miss the most.

Even though this story starts with the passing of Bear, it is not about him. This was just the catalyst that caused Christine and me to make a life-changing decision. As I have mentioned before, Christine and I love to travel the world. It is a lot of fun to see other cultures, but when you visit a place you are not really experiencing everything that the place has to offer. You are not really absorbing yourself in the culture and you come home knowing something new about the world, but you still feel like you are missing something. The only way to truly experience a culture is to go and live in that country. This is something Christine and I always talked about doing some day. We are both in education and we knew that there were many great opportunities overseas. There was only one thing stopping us from doing it, Bear.

There was no way we would have left Bear behind. He meant too much to us. We couldn’t take him with us either. Too often in these overseas excursions, the country won’t allow you to have your dog with your right away. In many countries, they will quarantine your pet for up to six months before you can enjoy their company again. I couldn’t do this to Bear. He would have been miserable living in a cage while Christine and I were free to roam the world around us. We were happy to enjoy Bear in Colorado while keeping the idea of working overseas in the back of our minds. This was until he passed away. Then this dream of ours started to grow again. We could now look for jobs overseas, and this is exactly what we did.

The process for looking for teaching jobs overseas is long and complicated and I won’t bore you with the details. But in February, Christine and I were able to land positions at Korea International School in Seoul. This started the process of saying goodbye to our loved ones.

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It is a scary prospect letting go of everything that you have become familiar with, but in life, you really don’t live unless you do this from time to time. This is exactly what Christine and I did. Just as the wise Transcendentalist stated we simplified, simplified, simplified. I had been preaching this message to my students for years, but I never knew how liberating the process of doing this was. Of course, the process of simplifying is complicated. It takes a lot to get rid of the big things in your life, but at the same time it shows you how much junk you truly own. We had two garage sales and sold both of our cars and our house.

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It was the most liberating experience in my life. You never realize how much your possessions own you instead of the other way around until you get rid of them all. A house needs constant care. Things fall apart, and grass continues to grow. Even though you would love to let it go, society won’t let you do that because it does not conform to the expectations of people they have created. A car is the same thing. We put too much stock into these things believing that we can not live without them. Even though, at times, they make life easier and bring us closer together, they are constantly demanding our attention. They want you to clean them, both on the inside and the outside. They scream for gas at least once a week, and if that wasn’t enough, you do have to take time out of your busy schedule to maintain them. Even though it was hard to give these creature comforts up, each time we did, a weight lifted off our shoulders that we never knew was there. We were happier people without all of these possessions possessing us.

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As the process continued, we found that everything we needed fit into a couple of bags and a few boxes. In fact, before we sold off our last car, we were able to load everything in the back of our Subaru Outback to travel across and do the thing that was more important than the accumulation of things, seeing the ones that we loved so we could say, “Fare thee well.”

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I was raised in Colorado, and this is where Christine and I had lived together for the past thirteen years. It was hard to say goodbye because this is what I’ve always known. Even though I have lived a couple of times in California, I don’t have any memories of that place. All of my experiences have taken place in one of the most beautiful states within the U.S.A.

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It is where my family lives.

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It is where my friends are.

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It is where I have worked my whole life.

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It was not going to be easy to say goodbye. I know I will miss many aspects of living on the Front Range. I will no longer be able to find west by searching for the outline of the mountains. I will no longer be able to go on extended hikes through some of the greatest terrain that this world has to offer. I won’t be able to ski through the powdery slopes of the Rocky Mountains. I won’t be able to order a Mountain Pie at Beau Jo’s. I won’t be able to stuff myself with the cholesterol packed burgers at Crave. I won’t be able to find green chili to smother my burrito with. I won’t be able to cheer on my Broncos with my friends on a Sunday afternoon. There are a lot of things I will miss from my hometown.

Then why would I leave it? Because I find danger in complacency. Yes, all of these things made me comfortable and I was happy within this feeling. But if I didn’t get out of my comfort zone, I would never grow as a person. I would have stopped at that moment in my life where I had a two car garage attached to a house that slowly filled itself up a little more every year. I really do believe that we need to purge every once in a while in our lives and go find some place that makes us struggle a little bit. This is how we grow as people. If we find ourselves in a comfortable position we are no longer living.

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Of course, not everybody feels the same way that I do. Some people have a hard time with change because it requires them to visit the unknown. Not every change goes smoothly. Sometimes it is a big mistake that you wish you never took the risk on, but sometimes it takes you to a place that is better than any you have ever experienced before. But you can’t take the unwilling on the voyage that you go on, and you need to respect their decision to stay where they are at. At the same time, I couldn’t just leave without saying goodbye. This is why Christine and I took the trip across the country to say goodbye. Otherwise, we would have the same problem with the ones we loved that Cooper has now.

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Yes, Cooper is another dog. He is the loyal companion of Christine’s parents who live in Portland. His best friend in the world was Bear. They had a mutual respect for each other, and Bear was one of the few dogs that Cooper would go out and play with. This was probably because they had spent a lot of time together. Christine and I would go out and spend a month with her parents every summer. This is one of the perks of being in the education field, and Bear was able to benefit from it. Cooper loved having another dog in the house with him, and Bear got to believe that he was the alpha dog by being around Cooper. It was a match made in Heaven.

The problem came when we visited Cooper the next summer after Bear had passed. Cooper came running out of the house to greet us after we had arrived. He jumped all over us and then started looking behind us. It was the greatest greeting we had ever received from him, and at first we couldn’t understand why. Then it hit us as he looked in our car and all around our baggage. Cooper was looking for Bear. It was the one friend that he always felt comfortable with.

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But Cooper’s problem is humanity’s problem. We are all looking for that moment that makes us comfortable. It is a nice feeling to be comfortable with the ones we are with, but reality is that we can’t always find ourselves in that position. If we expect ourselves to always be comfortable then in fact we will never be able to achieve that high standard of living. The fact that we can’t achieve this in our lives will make us feel uncomfortable all the time. This is what happens with Cooper. There are very few people, and even fewer dogs he can find companionship with. He always comes across as being a little nervous, and any small change to his environment will set off nervous ticks within him. This constant alert feeling never allows him to unwind and enjoy the world he is in. He needs everything to be perfect before he can let himself go and just enjoy the moment.

We can learn something from this behavior. We need to quit finding that perfect place of true comfort and instead try to find comfort in the uncomfortable situations. I am trying to take it even further by no longer searching for the comfortable situation, but instead the one that makes me uncomfortable. This will allow me to explore the world that we live in, and recognize that my culture is not the only one there is. It is a humbling experience to do this, and I will learn not only a lot about myself, but also the people who I meet along the way. I will learn about their beliefs, passions, and cultures. This new perspective on life has been inspiring over the last couple of months and I am excited to see where it takes me.

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It leaves a lot of questions about my daily routine. The way I used to organize my day in the past has been destroyed, and I have been searching for a new routine. I will admit that sometimes I fall back into my old one, but the way my life is structured now, this is not always possible. The world looks different now because of it. The little things that I would have missed in the past become spectacular and I find myself looking at the world as a whole.

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My Fare Thee Well travels took me to San Francisco where I got to spend a few days taking in the sights. I have been here before so many of the touristy areas I had been to earlier. I needed to find new little corners of the city that I had not seen before. Because my mission was to find these nooks, I was able to discover a beach that I never knew existed. Of course, I have seen the Golden Gate Bridge before. It is impossible to go to San Francisco and not find this landmark, but I always stood at the doorstep of this marvel and tried to find the best way to take a picture of its magnificence. It is impossible to do from the tiny park that most cars stop at before they make the trek across the bridge. But in my wanderings I was able to see the view that you find on all of the postcards. If you want to see this view, you have to go to the North Beach. I wandered there by mistake because I was looking for the Presidio. It was a place I heard about on my last trip to the city by the bay, but I had never seen it. I’m glad that I went in search for it because I would not have experienced this view with the fresh salt water air filling up my lungs if I had not taken that chance.

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Of course some of the places remained the same as the last time I saw them. It might have been a different set of tourists taking pictures of Lumbar Street, but the principle remained the same. The cars lined up to take their turns winding down the street, and the people who watched wondered what it would be like to live on such a spectacle.

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Other places put me in the uncomfortable situation that I had been looking for. I took a short trip over the Bay Bridge to watch a baseball game at the Oakland Coliseum. Some people might wonder why that would be an uncomfortable situation, but the folks from Denver know that this is walking into the lion’s den. It would have been a little more dangerous if I had worn my Bronco’s gear, but I wanted to return to my bed at the hostel that night, so I elected to wear a green and gold t-shirt, and blend in by buying an A’s baseball cap as soon as I got there. I almost wish I had taken that chance because it would have made for a more interesting experience.

I had gotten a ticket in the cheapest seats I could find, the bleachers. I didn’t know that this is where the craziest A’s fans gathered to watch a game. One of my goals in life is to see a baseball game in every stadium, and even though I have only been to five stadiums so far, I would have to say that the Oakland A’s fans are the most passionate about their team. I know I have caused some people to stand up and puff up their chests to prove me wrong, but keep in mind I have 25 stadiums to still go. When I saw the game, the A’s were at the bottom of their division, and still they had a lot of people at the stadium. Where I was sitting, they had brought flags to wave, they had cheers that they performed, and the camaraderie among the people had me believe that they were about to win the World Series. I just sat back and enjoyed the whole experience.

This brings me to the man who took that chance that I didn’t take. The Oakland A’s were playing the Kansas City Royals that night. With the Royals being in the World Series last year, fans started to emerge from every corner of the United States. One such fan decided to attend the game that night, and he was determined to show every person in the bleacher section what a fan he was. In a sea of green and gold stood this lone person wearing white and blue. He was even bold enough to jump up among those in attendance as he cheered for his team loudly. It didn’t help that his team was winning the game. There were many A’s fans who wanted to take this guy behind a shed and beat him until his face matched the color of his hat. The amazing thing was he was able to overcome this adversity and endure himself to those around him. By the end of the game, he had become friends with those around him, and it added a little fun to the game. The fans now had a person that could fuel a rivalry for them and spark their competitive nature. He was able to create a moment, not only for himself, but also for all those who attended the game by willing to feel uncomfortable for a while.

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I learned a lot from that Kansas City fan. We need to take those chances in our lives. Though the path through the woods may be daunting, we don’t know what we will find around the corner, but we need to be up for that challenge. We might run into a crazed group of fans that wish to pummel us, or we could find that moment in nature we weren’t expecting to find.

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The further we walk away from our door, the more we experience. The people that are willing to do this are the interesting people that you meet in life. They are the ones who have adventures all the time and these are the ones whose lifestyle you covet. You wonder why these same kind of adventures do not present themselves to you, but the thing is, you too can have these adventures. It is all a matter of choice.

Are you the type of person who has to have their cell phones with them at all times? Is your greatest desire to make it home so you can continue to participate in the video game you haven’t finished playing yet, or to continue watching the television show you are binge watching on Netflix? Do you need to spend your weekends making sure that your home is clean in case some visitor decides to drop by? If you said yes to any or all of these questions, then you are probably one of those people who find themselves jealous of others who happen to have strange things happen to them. You need to quit worrying about these small things so much and go outside of your house to see what adventures you might find.

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There is a whole world out there to explore, but it takes those first steps out of your door before you can go out and find what the world has to offer. But this is not enough. You need to sometimes take a right when you usually take a left. Try new things and it will make your life more rewarding. At first the large things will present themselves to you.

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Then you’ll find places that you never knew existed.

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If you keep on looking and following this philosophy, you will start to see the small things pop up, and every moment will become one of joy because you will be experiencing something new every time you go out your door.

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Even though this is a story about saying goodbye to the ones we love, it is also a story of saying hello to a new adventure. It is time for a change in my life, and if I am going to make a change, I am going to make sure that it is so big that it will be a remarkable milestone I will always look back upon with great fondness. I will miss Colorado and all of the people and terrain that makes it a wonderful place to live. I will also miss all of the people and places that make Oregon such a wonderful place to visit every summer. But I cannot continue to do the same thing all the time. I will come back again next summer to revisit these people and places, but for now I need to go in search of an adventure.

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I also miss Bear every day, and the smallest things remind me of his smiling face.

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But I am also grateful for the opportunity that his passing has given me. It is time that Christine and I go off to Korea to teach students there and learn about the way they see the world. For those we leave behind, collect those stories so when we meet again we can tell them to each other and laugh and enjoy the moment that we are given. Until then, Fare Thee Well, and have an amazing year. I know that I will.

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The Best Short Stories

harrison bergeron

#1 – “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

In a nation where we fight for equality, knowing that we are not all equal is a bitter pill to swallow. It is the differences in us that make us great. In typical Vonnegut style, the king of post-modern literature explores these differences in a world where society tries to push for equality. It is a quick read that will make you laugh at the absurd notion of what would happen if we tried for this goal, but look at the world around you and wonder if perhaps we have not already moved ourselves into this dystopian nightmare. You will never forget the tragic fate of Harrison Bergeron or the lesson his story has to tell to us. It is for this reason that it achieves the number one spot.

Tell Tale Heart

#2 – “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

This has been one of my favorite stories over the years to teach. It holds a lot of suspense with it, and you can see how that suspense grows with each beat of the heart. But the fun thing about this story is that the eye can also be synonymous with “I” which puts a completely different twist on the intention of the story, and what Edgar Allan Poe actually thinks about himself.

A good man is hard to find

#3 – “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Conner

Flannery O’Conner has a brilliant way of bringing out the darkness in humanity while writing about the southern parts of the United States. Each of her stories have complex characters and intricate plots. This story is probably the best example of what she is able to accomplish with her prose.

This Year's Class Picture

#4 – “This Year’s Class Picture” by Dan Simmons

After looking at the other stories on this list, some of you might wonder what this story is, and why it is not as big as the others that made the cut. You would expect to have at least heard of the story that made it this high on the list. I would tend to agree with you, but you should take the time to seek this story out and read it. Dan Simmons’s “This Year’s Class Picture” is destined to become a classic. Yes, many of you might disregard it as a piece of zombie literature that deserves a place on the pile of pulp fiction rubbish, but if you have ever taught a class, you will understand what is at the heart of this story. I have given this story to many teachers, ranging from high school to elementary, from math to English, from traditional to alternative, and they have all come back and said that this is their favorite story. It was written for them; therefore, they can make the connection to its profound message. Even if you are not a teacher, you should still read this story because you will start to see what motivates America’s educators to do what they do.

The Lottery

#5 – “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

With all of the dystopian literature that is plaguing the bookshelves of American bookstores, it is hard to remember a time when these profound stories were only limited to a few great examples. This short story was one of the best in the short story drama. It told the story of a horror that is a little too close to the world that we live in.

The Pit and the Pendulum

#6 – “The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe

The master of story telling shows up again on this list with a tale of pure terror. To even imagine yourself in the same position as the protagonist in this story will give you nightmares for the rest of your life. It is a perfect example of how gothic literature can mix with pure terror to give one of the most heart-pounding experiences ever printed on the page.

A rose for emily

#7 – “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

On the surface, this story looks like an innocent portrait of an eccentric woman who has spent her life hiding in the shadows of a small town in Mississippi. But there is a reason that the term applied to William Faulkner’s body of work is Southern Gothic. Look below the surface of this story and discover the truth of what is hidden there. It hides in the shadows just as Emily does, and when you find it, you will see that there is no innocence to this tale.

The masque of the red death

#8 – “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe

One of the more political stories by Edgar Allan Poe shows up here. At the heart of this story is a class system that believed that even they could cheat death, but in the end, death will come for all. It is a humbling story that reminds us that in the eyes of some the supernatural beings out there that we are all equal.

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#9 – “To Build a Fire” by Jack London

If the heat of summer is starting to bug you, pick up a copy of this story and start to read. Soon after the opening paragraph you will feel a chill in the room, and by the time you finish its tragic ending, you will be curled up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate warming your hands. The chilly mood that Jack London creates in this classic is not the only genius held within its words. There is a battle of man against nature, and the real lesson to be learned is that nature will always win.

The Open Boat

#10 – “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane

Often credited as the best example of Realism ever written, Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” will leave you just as tired as the group of sailors that attempt to find their way to shore in a tiny boat as the battle the wrath that only nature can throw at man.

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#11 – “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

When this story first appeared in The New England Magazine in January of 1892, the treatment for mental illness was still in its infancy. The diagnosis alone could have been part of the problem. Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses this issue to frame her haunting story, but her true intention about a woman confined to a room with maddening wallpaper comes to light at the end of the tale. It leaves the reader will an impression of the world at that time, and shows how the fight for women’s rights has progressed over the ages. This story is still relevant today, and can be analyzed at many different levels, thereby giving it the number five spot.

The Monkey's Paw

#12 – “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs

Beware of what you wish for because it might actually come true. This sentiment is at the heart of W.W. Jacobs’s macabre tale about a family that is given three wishes. The real question behind the story though is whether these wishes were actually delivered by the monkey’s paw or if it was a matter of chance, and the unfortunate family is just recipient of the coincidences.

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#13 – “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A poor couple barely making ends meet finds a very old man with enormous wings sleeping in their chicken coop one morning. Was the man sent to help them out or is he more of burden? Is he really an angel, or is he some other misshapen mythical figure? Does our salvation come from within or do we need divine intervention? It is these questions that Gabriel Garcia Marquez explores in this bizarre and often humorous story.

The Gift of the Magi

#14 – “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

The classic Christmas story about how love will overcome poverty so a gift from the heart can be given. The ironic twist, written in classic O. Henry style, just adds to the overall theme of the true meaning of giving.

Battle Royal

#15 – “Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison

Before Ralph Ellison published his quintessential novel, Invisible Man, he had published the short story, “Battle Royal” in the magazine, Horizon. This turned into the first chapter of his book, but it can still stand on its own as a short story today. It is hard to read this story, and not think about the brutality that is portrayed of a young black man growing up in the South during the 1930 who wishes nothing more to have his voice heard. Ralph Ellison’s use of imagery not only brings to light one of the pressing issues facing America throughout its history, but also points to the conflict that is in each of us.

The Necklace

#16 – “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant

Why is it the fate of so many to spend their lives trying to keep up with their neighbors? The appearances that we put up in order to look like we live above our means will sometimes lead us to make poor decisions. Instead, we should try to find happiness in what we have. This is the overall idea presented in Guy de Maupassant’s story. The twist at the end will make you laugh at the protagonist with her inability to accept her lot in life.

Desiree's Baby

#17 – “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin

With racial tensions still running high today, the story of Desiree’s baby still carries a lot of significance to it. Are we so blind in our hatred of other people that we can’t even see the love that is right in front of us? The sad thing is that thing that we really hate the most is actually a part of us.

The Thing on the Doorstep

#18 – “The Thing on the Doorstep” by H.P. Lovecraft

Many people would say that the king of horror would be none other than Stephen King, but Stephen King would say that it is H.P. Lovecraft. If you want to know the true meaning of fear, read the man who wrote about it better than anybody else. His stories delve deep into the mythology of Cthulhu and this one is the best out of all he has written. While this master of terror tells a story that will haunt you for many nights, he explores the ideas of control, and how it plays out in our own lives. It is a little bit of a journey to read this story, but you will never forget it.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

#19 – “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

A man stands on the edge of a bridge with a noose around his neck while Union soldiers stand by to watch him hang. What follows is the fantastical story about his escape, and eventually the reality of the situation he must come to terms with. Bierce’s writing style, his attention to key details, and his surprising climax makes this an unforgettable story. Even though it would take a reader only a half an hour to read, it has been adapted into film three times. Most notably, this story was the inspiration for the cult classic, Donnie Darko, and many people puzzled by that movie have come to the words written by Ambrose Bierce to help find meaning with that piece of celluloid.

The Minister's Black Veil

#20 – “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

What secrets is the minister hiding behind that veil that only reveals his mouth and chin? What is the purpose of the veil, and why did the minister decide to start wearing it? Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story reveals so much about us and other people by hiding it behind the one place that everybody wants to look.

The Destructors

#21 – “The Destructors” by Graham Greene

If you were wondering, yes, this story is included because it is the other half of deciphering the movie Donnie Darko, but that doesn’t mean that this story is not worthy of being on this list. A group of boys in post World War II London set out to destroy the house of old man who lives in the neighborhood that they go to play in. They don’t so this out of spite, but rather out of love. It is a beautifully written piece of literature that makes us question our motivations in life, and what beauty can really represent. This masterpiece is excluded for a lot of anthologies, but I hope someday it finds it place there again because it really does belong.

The Last Rung on the Ladder

#22 – “The Last Rung on the Ladder” by Stephen King

Can we always trust that the ones that love us will always be there when we need them? Will there come a time when we must take responsibility for our own selves? Is the death of a sister who decided to commit suicide directly related to her bother because he wasn’t there to save her like he had done when they were children growing up on a farm and the last rung on the ladder broke?

Crushed Gardenias

#23 – “Crushed Gardenias” by Heather Anne Osborne

A great contemporary short from an up and coming voice that follows the investigation of the disappearance of several small girls in a small Colorado town.