Saturday, January 31, 2015
From The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam, by Edward Fitzgerald
"His Persian carpet was not so magic as to waft him away entirely from his 'suburban grange' to the singing rose gardens of Naishapur."
From the Introduction by Laurence Housman
"His Persian carpet was not so magic as to waft him away entirely from his 'suburban grange' to the singing rose gardens of Naishapur."
From the Introduction by Laurence Housman
"I am prolix, because I am gratifyed in the opportunity of writing to you, and I don't well know when to leave off."
From a letter to William Wordsworth dated PM 30th January 1801
Friday, January 30, 2015
From "It's the Pictures That Got Small" : Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood's Golden Age, edited by Anthony Slide
"... Katherine Anne Porter was put on The Duchess of Suds and I lunched her at Perino's. After lunch she saw Incendiary Blonde..."
Thursday, January 29, 2015
From Mapp and Lucia, by E. F. Benson
"There was the back of somebody with no clothes on lying on an emerald-green sofa; and worst of all, there was a picture called 'Women Wrestlers,' from which Miss Mapp hurriedly averted her eyes."
From Chapter 5
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
|"The dogs did bark, the children screamed,|
|Up flew the windows all;|
|And every soul cried out, ‘Well done!’|
|As loud as he could bawl."|
Okay, so if not swift then true, which is better. There's nothing quite so satisfying frankly as a gift come after the fact; the holidays done, the mailbox empty but for circulars, bills and trash. I had fair warning, but still. I did not know what to expect when I opened the box. Surprises, at least of the best kind, are fewer at fifty-something, so I admit to an almost childish glee, ripping away the wrapping to find... a treasure! A genuine surprise and a treasure!
The Diverting History of John Gilpin (1782), by William Cowper is by now as familiar to me as any poem in the language. I knew this poem before I knew Cowper. Then I read and studied William Cowper, his life, poems and letters closely for the reading I did last Fall. I was lucky enough to have my dearest friend, R. be present for that occasion, little knowing he would take it as a hint come Christmas and hunt me out a copy of John Gilpin for a present. Not just any copy, mind, but a copy of the 1878 edition, illustrated by the great Randolph Caldecott! It's a book I'd read about, but never held, an important book, for reasons I'll explain in a bit.
First though, to review why I so desperately needed this book which I did not know I needed until my friend so kindly bought me a copy.
When the poem was published, it was an immediate success with the public and continued so for more than a century, inspiring various illustrators and editions, as well as toymakers, advertisers and all manner of whatnot.
Now I own not one, but at least two editions of Cowper's Poems. Neither's all that lovely. One's a a small book, good for a coat pocket, but far from complete. The other's a serviceable brick: a thick square of close, Victorian printing in double-columns of small type. (This last is rather sparsely illustrated by a handful of sentimental and rather hideous copper-plates.) Both contain the text of John Gilpin, neither is illustrated.
The only other edition of the poem I own is a rather tatty, but wonderful old thing from 1953, illustrated by the late, great Ronald Searle (1920 - 2011.) I love Searle, and bought the book for his pictures, years ago. There's a delightfully hectic quality to his rather busy line that conveys exactly the relentless motion of the poem. I treasure this little book, in cardboard covers and a foxed and chipped wrapper. I hadn't ever really looked to buy another, but then, I'd never seen the Caldecott.
Randolph Caldecott (1846 - 1886) was an English artist and illustrator who, from age 26, earned his living mostly by drawing for the magazines of the day. At 32 he produced two books with color illustrations for, as they say, "the Christmas trade." The first of these, The House That Jack Built, sold well, but the second, Caldecott's version of John Gilpin, became an immediate bestseller and firmly established the artist as among preeminent practitioners of his day. By his untimely death in 1886, Caldecott's pictures were considered classics of their kind. Below is arguably the most famous illustration in the whole of children's literature:
Why? Well, I'm glad you asked. (I will pretend you did.) Below is a photograph of the Randolph Caldecott Medal, established in 1937 by what is now known rather awkwardly as the "Association for Library Service to Children." The prize is still awarded annually in recognition of the preceding year's "most distinguished American picture book for children." Past winners include the likes of Wanda Gág (Nothing At All,) Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings,) Dr Seuss, William Steig and Maurice Sendak. More to the point just here, the front of the Caldecott Medal, as will be seen in the photo below, reproduces the Caldecott illustration above from John Gilpin!
At a guess, I would say that not one American children's librarian or bookseller in one hundred now recognizes the source from which the medal is struck. Nonetheless, we all of us in the business of books will know the name, and the familiar reproduction of same in stickers on the covers of kids' books.
For children's books and picture books in general I do not give a tinker's damn. But to now own a copy of this book, with these illustrations, well... let's just say the gift made me misty.
And it is a wonderful copy! The binding is sound, the colors vivid throughout, the book as a piece of publishing history could not have been better kept. (Blessings then on all the children who would seem never to have touched it.) For me though this is the the version of Cowper's comic poem I specifically referenced in my reading, as I've said, without ever having held the book in my hand. This is the book that in large part may well have kept both the poet and the illustrator somehow, in an indirect way admittedly, alive into the 21st Century. Now I own it.
Since it came I've spent many an evening when I might better have been doing something else instead sitting at my desk, turning the now familiar pages over, reading the poem again, studying the pictures, smiling. This book makes me happy.
That I did not know I needed it until it came, too late for Christmas, and from so dear a friend only adds to it's value for me. I will do my best to see that it is kept as it should be, in a honored place on my shelves.
Thanks, dear friend. You know me better than I know myself it seems. Well done!
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
From Queen Lucia, by E. F. Benson
"These invitations had the mystic word 'Hightum' written at the bottom left-hand corner, which conveyed to the enlightened recipient what sort of party it was to be, and denoted the standard of dress. For one of Lucia's quaint ideas was to divide dresses into three classes: 'Hightum,' 'Tightum,' and 'Scrub.'"
From Book One, Chapter 2
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Saturday, January 24, 2015
Saw the lady I work with step out onto the street yesterday. Sure enough, this being Seattle in January, she unfolded her rain-cap and tied it under her chin, "Just in case." I asked how long she'd had this article in her purse. "This one must be twenty years old, at least!" she said. Still worked admirably, may I say: her coiffure was pristine when I saw her sail back into the bookstore some time after.
This being Seattle, one tends to see more grey braids than actual hairdos on the street. The preferred January headgear of most local ladies of a certain age seems to be a canvas fishing hat. Not that there are actual fishing-flies hooked to the band, you understand, but the look of the thing does suggest at the very least a walk in the woods rather than a stroll out to the shops.
We just got a new cable-box. Practically, this means we can now record up to four television shows at a time, which we may or may never watch. Very exciting. What this means in terms of actual hardware in the house is more than one might think. The cable-box proper is, if anything, smaller and sleeker than it's predecessor. With this however comes not one, but two new router boxes / thingummies, both bigger, blacker and with even more powerful blinky lights on them. We take our cable with "wireless" service for the computers. Thus the additional technology, wires and lights, you see. (I don't pretend to understand any of this.)
Our house is a 1970 split-level. Getting a modern cable-connection when we moved in a decade ago proved complicated. In the end this involved no less than three representatives of the cable company coming out to drill holes in the walls and running cable through unlikely places along the floorboard. We put the TV in our bedroom. We decided two houses ago that this is easiest and best. Don't have to wake one another from a couch in the living room anymore, or spend the night in a chair. In the Seattle house this also turned out to be easier when it came time to route all the cables through the front, rather than the back of the house. Our bedroom faces the street. It's been a popular decision with all but our very occasional house guests, who can be made uncomfortable when encouraged to climb the giant, California-King-sized bed and settle in to watch a movie while wedged between their ample hosts. Put it another way, we like it.
The problem now is those damned blinky lights. All those black boxes in the corner of the bedroom at night blaze like the mice are having a rave. We sleep with the curtains drawn and the door closed. In the best of all possible worlds, bedrooms are quiet as tombs and black as the grave, for me at least. (The beloved husband, left to himself, sleeps with the television on, lights blazing, corn-chips, newspapers and whatnot scattered across the duvet.) Maddening.
Various solutions were that night proposed: everything from books to bath-towels to "cable-cozies", that last being either a real thing we remembered or something we made up because it should be. But, electronics must breath, it seems, as they generate considerable heat, thus the side-panels looking like designer cabbage-graters. No towels then. Finally, I hit on an idea, got up and went in search of construction-paper. I haven't cut a silhouettes in years, nonetheless black paper I have. The solution turned out to be single sheets, folded roughly in half and tucked over or standing in front of the annoying lights. Works a dream, or near enough. There's still light, but less, and no blinking!
We've also acquired a new waffle-iron, by the way, our first waffle-iron in years. My beloved husband, A. having in retirement become an expert, online shopper, a need I did not know we had was met last Sunday when I awoke to the heavenly smell of waffles and butter, walnut-infused maple syrup and deep and abiding love. The new waffle-iron, unlike out last is not some modernist, multi-purpose grilling device, but instead a curved chrome beauty not unlike the one that proved so comically hard for Katherine Hepburn to operate in Woman of the Year. Seems the beloved husband is still a dab hand at using the kitchen appliances of yesteryear, just as I can, when called on, crease paper. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", as ol' Louis Blanc used to say when his beloved made him waffles.
Whenever I hear, yet again the now tedious debate between the partisans of the new technology and the defenders of the book, I will be reminded of that single fold of black paper, of ladies' rain-hats and of waffles. Appearances to the contrary, I do not read by whale-oil, or mill myself the wheat for my waffles. True, my copy of The Poems of Walter Scott is from 1904, and I am reading Marmion, but the light is electric and when I look up it is to watch o'er my waffles Teraji P. Henson fight for a Hip Hop Empire on an HD TV.
It's all good, or near enough so that we can fix it with construction-paper, at least for now.
From Books and Portraits, by Virginia Woolf
A STUDENT OF LETTERS
"A student of letters is so much in the habit of striding through the centuries from one pinnacle of accomplishment to the next that he forgets all the hubbub that once surged round the base; how Keats lived in a street and had a neighbour and his neighbour had a family -- the rings widen infinitely; Oxford-street ran turbulent with men and women while de Quincey talked with Ann."
From Thomas Hood
Friday, January 23, 2015
The Achilles' of Shields
We could talk about books
Or dine at Chinook's,
Or drink 'til we both have to pee,
Compare Laurel to Hardy
Or just have a party,
But do let's talk about ME!
Well now, at a guess,
We could chat about chess
Or have a quick go at tai chi,
Watch My Dinner With Andre,
Or just do the laundry,
But do let's talk about ME!
If you like we might waltz
While we do some bath-salts,
Have a listen to Bey & Jay-Z,
Critique modern art
Or just read Donna Tartt,
But do let's talk about ME!
As I'm sure you'll agree,
Oh, de tout mon ame,
I believe it is all about ME!
About Me! About Me!
Once again, it is ALL about ME!!!
From A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
"The good news, it appears, is that it takes an awful lot to extinguish a species. The bad news is that the good news can never be counted on."
From Chapter 13, Bang!
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
From The Essays of William Hazlitt, selected and edited by Frank Carr
"A spider, my dear, the meanest creature that crawls or lives, has its mate or fellow: but a scholar has no mate or fellow."
From On the Conduct of Life
Monday, January 19, 2015
"The energy we exert, or the high state of enjoyment we feel, puts us out of conceit with ourselves at other times; compared to what we are in the act of composition, we seem dull, commonplace people, generally speaking; and what we have been able to perform is rather matter of wonder than of self-congratulation to us."
From Whether Genius Is Conscious of Its Powers?
Sunday, January 18, 2015
From On the Black Hill, by Bruce Chatwin
"He tried his hand at writing a novel about his wartime experiences. The strain of composition tired him: after twenty minutes of left-handed scribbling, he would be staring out of the window -- at the lawn, the rain and the hill. He longed to live in a tropical country and he longed for a tumbler of whisky."
From Chapter XXVI
Saturday, January 17, 2015
From Fully Empowered, by Pablo Neruda, translated by Alastair Reid
"We have to discard the past
and as one builds
floor by floor, window by window,
and the building rises,
so do we keep shedding --"
From Past (Pasado)
Friday, January 16, 2015
From The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power, by Victor S. Navasky
"Even though he dismissed the very idea of satiric art, William Hogarth (1697 - 1764) is called 'the father of caricature.' He, however, thought he was better than that."
From William Hogarth
Thursday, January 15, 2015
From The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
"'We kept the fire going up there.'
'Up there it was small. But this has got to be a big one.'
Ralph carried a fragment to the fire and watched the smoke that drifted into the dusk.
'We've got to keep it going.'"
From Chapter Ten, The Shell and the Glasses
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
"I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity." -- Salman Rushdie
I am Charlie.
I am Charlie because on January 7th, 2015 two masked gunmen forced their way into the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and murdered twelve people, including three police officers, and injured eleven others. I am Charlie because the targets of this attack included the editor of the magazine, Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier and his fellow cartoonists Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Verlhac, and Philippe Honore. Also murdered that day were columnists Bernard Maris and Elsa Cayat, copy-editor Mustapha Ourrad, caretaker Frederic Boisseau, and Michel Renaud, who was there visiting a friend. The police officers murdered that day were Brigadier Franck Brinsolaro, policewoman Clarissa Jean-Philippe, and Ahmed Merabet, whose murder inspired Je Suis Ahmed. So, yes, I am Ahmed.
Ahmed Merabet died on January 7th not because he was a Muslim but because he and his fellow officers were there to protect their fellow citizens, the editor and employees of Charlie Hebdo, from the violent, religious fanaticism, as it turned out, of a two, three, four or more of their fellow citizens of the French Republic. I am not French, but an American. I am not Muslim. I am an atheist. I am not, nor do I know personally any serving police officers. Yet, I am Ahmed.
And I am Charlie. I am Charlie because, again as the novelist Salman Rushdie once said, “From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable.” I am Charlie because I sincerely believe that there is no justification for the unjustifiable: no God, no Prophet, no policy, foreign or domestic, no text that can justify murdering people for drawing cartoons. I do not accept that anyone has the right to kill another human being for "blasphemy." I do not believe in blasphemy. I reject both the premise and the presupposition of God. You may believe whatever you like, and I will defend your right to do so, but your faith can not and will not change my disbelief. More importantly in a larger sense, your faith may not dictate the limits of my expression of that disbelief.
Because I draw, I am Charlie. Because I think, I am Charlie. Because I have every right to be, I am Charlie.
I have friends who have in the past few days questioned the both utility and the motivations of the Je Suis Charlie signs and marches, friends who have, quite rightly pointed out the bitter irony of despots and dictators marching at the recent rally in Paris. Some have also drawn attention to the deaths of innocent civilians in the American campaign using drones to assassinate our enemies in Yemen. I have read more than one person I respect suggesting that the work of the murdered cartoonists was both racist and hateful. Then there is the overwhelming horror of the massacre by Boko Haram of hundreds, if not thousands this week, and the question of why we are not marching in the streets to protest those murders as well.
It is not in spite of but because of these outrages and their resulting moral and ethical complications that I say, I am Charlie. It is because France -- the cradle of the Enlightenment -- much like my own country, has had to struggle, and will continue to struggle with her own history, her own culpability in the perpetuation of racism, intolerance and violence, that I say, I am Charlie. Those struggles are inherent to not only our system of government, but to the founding missions of both our revolutions. It is for Voltaire and Honoré Daumier, for Clarence Darrow, for H. L. Mencken and the American cartoonists Paul Conrad, and Herblock, that I am Charlie. It is because we not only may, but must challenge long-held assumptions and the smug assurance of our own superiority that I am Charlie. It is because I may be uncomfortable with some of the content of Charlie Hebro that I am Charlie. It is because I am revolted by the slaughter of innocents that I am Charlie.
I do not say any of this because I see myself as in anyway representative. I add my own voice to the chorus, that is all. I am just a bookseller. I am Charlie because we must all be, one way or another, heard, if we are not all, by either violence, indifference or timidity, to be silenced. I speak for no one but myself. I speak because I still can. I speak, as I write, and draw and do the little that I can, because to not do so is to concede to the fanatics my silence in the face of this latest outrage. I will not be silent, even if I can do nothing else, even if I address only my friends.
Humbly then, defiantly and if to no other purpose than to remember and honor those who were murdered on January 7th by the enemies of secularism, freedom of speech and the right to laugh at and in the face of religious fanaticism and hatred, I will say it again,
"JE SUIS CHARLIE!"
"The process of life had ceased to be intolerable, he had no longer any impulse to make faces at the telescreen or shout curses at the top of his voice."
From Chapter V
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
"He made no doubt that the ugly word 'fatalism' would be applied to what he said. Well, he would not boggle at the word, provided he was allowed to qualify it with the adjective 'active.'"
From Part Four
Monday, January 12, 2015
From Chance Acquaintances, by Colette, translated by Patrick Leigh Fermor
"It is only since I first encountered human barnacles that molluscs equipped with contractile nerve-cords have filled me with horror. We are far too slow in realising that they, though innocent of personal ill-will, are, in fact, envoys from the nether world, deputised to act as liaison between ourselves and beings with no other means of approach."
From page one
Sunday, January 11, 2015
"He rocked a little to and fro, and chewed his finger. It seemed all very natural in such extreme states. He would do better later on."
From Chapter 37, The Spirit Awakens: New Search for the Gate
Saturday, January 10, 2015
First time I ever saw a Monet, I'm betting it was on a calendar. When I was growing up, our calendar came from a car-dealership or a gas-station. Later, I'm pretty sure, it was from the "Insurance Man." Anyway, these were free. They came in the mail, once a year to thank us for our "patronage." The ones I remember best had just the one picture, maybe six inches by eight, of either a covered bridge or a farm scene. The actual calendar was stapled underneath the picture. You tore off each month as it passed. In our house, the calendar was tacked up by the telephone which back then lived on a an uncomfortably small table with an attached chair in the hall between the kitchen and the dining room. (At one grandmother's house the phone was by the front door, at the other's in the kitchen, but always then on some furniture specific to the purpose. What's happened, I wonder to all those telephone tables?) Everybody I knew had at least one of these free calendars by the phone, sometimes with a second, more for decoration, usually above the sink. Some time around Junior High School, when I started mixing more with middle class kids "from town", I probably saw my first calendars someone had actually purchased. They were bigger than the free ones I knew, prettier in their way, and each month had it's own picture as well as page. I don't remember exactly, but I believe that may be where, as I say, I saw my first Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, etc.
A little later, when we had the money and these bigger wall calendars had become more the norm, I remember we bought one for my Grandma Craft, and then bought her a new one each year. She liked New England scenes best, as I recall; white, salt-box churches and brilliant Fall leaves, that sort of thing. Still, she kept the little free calendars, from the drugstore and so on by the phone, to write on. The bigger ones she kept, from year to year in a box we found when she went into the nursing home. "Too nice to write in" the note on top of the box said.
Someone better educated and more curious than myself has doubtlessly done the history and written the whole story of how pictorial, paper calendars came to be a feature in most American homes. I can attest from my own experience as a child come to sense even so late as the nineteen sixties to having been in rural houses wherein the calendar was the only art on the wall, often as not the only picture not of either dead relatives or Jesus.
January first every year at the bookstore where I work, our calendars go on sale at 50% off. Tables are set up in the lobby and black, collapsible bins are filled with the wall calendars. The boxed calendars, "page-a-day" mostly, and the desk-calendars are piled in the middle. People look forward to this sale every year. There are always folks lined up at the door, the day the calendars are discounted.
The proliferation of subjects, the variety of formats and fonts, the staggering variety of available calendars would seem to have slackened as yet not one whit for all the talk of our having moved into a "post-paper world." (The options for cat-fanciers alone could paper Versailles.) I do not doubt some other, younger scholar of the subject, less concerned with art and history than the one suggested above, has already undertaken to examine and enumerate all the ways in which the rising generation has learned to tell time and mark the passage of the seasons on their computers and phones. I would be mildly interested to know if the ubiquity of day, date and time of day on devices seemingly never not on may not eventually effect something like that Buddhist notion of the enlightened individual living constantly in the moment. (I recently read a piece online about the falling away of wristwatches as a graduation gift, as younger people now tell time on their phones, much as they do everything else.) Meanwhile though, I would note that there are still as many college students buying calendars in the bookstore's lobby as there are elderly persons hunting up an unsold Mary Engelbreit. More women than men at the calendar tables, but then it has always been so.
My own, uneducated guess as to the ongoing popularity of this seemingly archaic way of marking the days has less to do with the utility of the traditional calendar than with the very human need to decorate our caves with something only a little less changeable than a screensaver but somehow more substantially present for being printed on paper and hung on the wall or open on a desk. The art that stays a month before us, to be caught in a glance or studied at leisure, the joke refreshed each day in a new New Yorker cartoon, even something so basic as a proper, big, black numeral on a uniform white square, these things pace out our time in reliable and satisfying ways that no LED-lit corner of our screens has yet satisfied. We are the time-telling animal, our mortality ever present to us to an extent unknown -- so far as we know -- to any other creature in the universe. We remind ourselves in aphorisms and photographs, in conversation, in art, and yes, in even humble, discounted calendars not so much that we will die as we do that we are not yet dead. There are still Monets to look at. No bad thing then, and something we may well miss if and when paper calendars go. I suspect we'd print them out ourselves and put them on the walls even if they served no other purpose whatsoever.
(I say all this without a thought to the fact that I myself make a calendar to sell every year. Honest. This year's are sold out anyway, I'm proud to say.)
“I am in a chaos of principles—groping in the dark—acting by instinct and not after example. Eight or nine years ago when I came here first, I had a neat stock of fixed opinions, but they dropped away one by one; and the further I get the less sure I am. I doubt if I have anything more for my present rule of life than following inclinations which do me and nobody else any harm, and actually give pleasure to those I love best. There, gentlemen, since you wanted to know how I was getting on, I have told you. Much good may it do you! I cannot explain further here. I perceive there is something wrong somewhere in our social formulas: what it is can only be discovered by men or women with greater insight than mine—if, indeed, they ever discover it—at least in our time."
From Part VI, At Christminster Again, Chapter One