Next week’s story Birdsong by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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We were having an excellent conversation when the UK power outage hit and kicked Gerald offline. As a result, not only is this episode late but Anais and I recorded an extra conversation were we really talked about our relationship with reading. I think that conversation had a positive effect on this episode as we went deeper into character than we had on previously. After 15 episodes, I am looking for ways to make the podcast more fun, informative and dynamic. If you have ideas or suggestions, please post below. Also, don’t miss Anais’ article on Jack London, it is a wonderful read.
Yes, we do have a rating scale based on Bradberries! For the history of this goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” If you want to design a Bradberry, we’d love to see it. Anais has the urge to create a Bradberry collage… Imagine, Bradberries on your desktop! You gave last week’s story, The Veldt by Ray Bradbury, 4.25 Bradberries.
On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate To Build a Fire? Tell us in the comments below or via voicemail, and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.
Next week we are reading Birdsong by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
8 comments on To Build a Fire – Jack London – Literary Roadhouse Ep 15
I had an interesting reading experience with this story. I am not a Jack London fan, largely because “Call of the Wild” was assigned in seventh grade and reading it literally gave me nightmares. Not a great introduction to an author.
However, I’m now a middle-aged woman, so I gamely printed out “To Build a Fire” and began reading. I was initially pulled into the story, largely because of the setting. It could be argued, in fact, that the setting is the most well-drawn character in the story. The only proper names in the piece are names of locales — the man and the dog and the “womanish” old dude do not get names, but places do.
After I was initially drawn in, I did have trouble sustaining my level of interest — mostly because of reasons Anais pointed out: the repetition of “cold,” the lack of a view into the interior world of the man, etc. I set aside the printed out story several times during the course of my reading. That’s very unusual for me, especially with a story this short.
I didn’t hate it, but didn’t love it either. At least I didn’t have nightmares this time!!! 🙂
haha, hooray for no nightmares lol. This story is such a classic in the American cannon that I really need to re-read it. I’m noticing that my reading has so much after almost two years of LRH that I want to do a major re-read.
Yes, that’s so true! As we grow and change, our readings of texts definitely do as well. 🙂
I liked this story quite a bit. Sure, the man is cocky at the beginning but ends up frightened and repentant (and dead!) by the end; a classic tragic hero who learns a fatal lesson from his refusal to take advice. I felt really bad for the guy!
I think the constant repetition about the cold is just another example of how he has underestimated the weather. I live in an area that gets very cold in the winter and could easily relate to what he was going through. The cold often doesn’t really sink in until you are out too long. It can feel quite mild for a while and then suddenly you are a mile from home and the clothes you have put on are inadequate and you start to freeze. And invariably you say “holy f%$k it’s REALLY cold today!” Throw in the fact that Mom told you to wear a scarf and hat but you didn’t and you’ve got the equivalent of the warning from the old timer in town.
I’m curious whether the other commenters would have had such negativity towards the man if the dog was absent from the story. (There is in fact an earlier version of this story without the dog). Anais mentions in the podcast that she is barely able to value his life above the dog’s.
By assigning noble thoughts to the dog London creates a divide that seemingly devalues the man’s life completely; if the dog had been given the line: “I can’t wait until this guy dies so I can eat him!” would that have helped? If it’s not the dog, then what is it that makes the man so disposable?
I think he may have survived if the dog had “loved” him enough to run for help (assuming you ladies weren’t at the camp lol), but I find this to be a weird dynamic that probably didn’t even exist when the story came out.
I give this 5 Bradberries
I think what makes me not empathize with the man is I am never convincedof his fear, I didn’t think he was repentant, and I have no idea what his motivations or goals are. I don’t begrudge him thinking of killing the dog. I understand the survival instinct, even if it is grim as depicted in that moment. There wasn’t much insight into the man’s internal world, so he perhaps didn’t feel fully human to me.
If Mr. London’s purpose was for the reader to feel the character’s agony, well done! I was agonizing throughout the whole story. So cold, really cold… I get it! At no point did I empathize with the man. I wanted him to die already! I felt bad for the dog! I did not like this story.
2 bradberries from me.
I wish I could have properly engaged with this story, but I really struggled. Perhaps I was just turned off by the first few paragraphs – we got it, it’s cold. Super cold. The coldest! Unlike Gerald, I didn’t manage to get past the jarring of the word and I think it put me in an uncompromising bad mood for the rest. For me it just destroyed any tension and I didn’t really feel any empathy (nor did I care when he died, whether you’re supposed to feel for him or not). Shame really.
That said, I really enjoyed your discussion. I still don’t think I’m going to be moved on my opinion on this one though.
I think I had a similar distaste at the beginning which soured the final third of the story, which was a better experience for me.