Tuesday, March 31, 2015

If We Treated High as We Treat Low

Daily Dose

From The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays, by Isaiah Berlin


"No doubt Gibbon and Michelet, Macaulay and Carlyle, Taine and Trotsky (to mention only the eminent dead) do try the patience of those who do not accept their opinions."

From Historical Inevitability

Monday, March 30, 2015

More From Notes on the Art of Painting

From Notes on the Art of Painting

Daily Dose

From The Complete Works of Horace, edited by Casper J. Kraemer, Jr.


"Happy, happy, happy they
Whose living love, untroubled by strife,
Binds them till the last sad day,
Nor parts asunder but with parting life!"

From Love Unreasoning, translated by John Conington

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Daily Dose

From Nobody Knows My Name, by James Baldwin


"Or perhaps I ought to put it another way: the things that most white people imagine they can salvage from the storm of life is really, in sum, their innocence."

From The Black Boy and the White Boy

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #26

Daily Dose

From Diary, by Witold Gombrowicz, translated by Lillian Vallee


"As things are now, the author, though he is alive, has to pretend he's dead.  I was once present at a fierce discussion between Kott -- and Brieter? -- on what X 'wanted to say' in his last work.  They pelted each other with quotes.  I proposed that they put the question to the author over the telephone and even gave them his number.  They stopped dead in their tracks and in a minute began to talk about something else.  When the problem was reduced to a question over the telephone, it ceased to interest them."

From XIII Monday

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Match by Algernon Charles Swinburne

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems, by William Stafford


We would climb the highest dune,
from there to gaze and come down:
the ocean was performing;
we contributed our climb.

Waves leapfrogged and came
straight out of the storm.
What should our gaze mean?
Kit waited for me to decide.

Standing on such a hill,
what would you tell your child?
That was an absolute vista.
Those waves raced far, and cold.

'How far could you swim, Daddy,
in such a storm?'
'As far as was needed,' I said,
and as I talked, I swam. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

At the Grave of My Brother

Father's Voice

Daily Dose

From Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems, by William Stafford


Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.

Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island.
So far, I haven't let that happen, but after
I'm gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Adults Only by William Stafford

Remember by William Stafford

Daily Dose

From Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems, by William Stafford


In line at lunch I cross my fork and spoon
to ward off complicity--the ordered life
our leaders have offered us. Thin as a knife,
our chance to live depends on such a sign
while others talk and The Pentagon from the moon
is bouncing exact commands: "Forget your faith;
be ready for whatever it takes to win: we face
annihilation unless all citizens get in line."

I bow and cross my fork and spoon: somewhere
other citizens more fearfully bow
in a place terrorized by their kind of oppressive state.
Our signs both mean, "You hostages over there
will never be slaughtered by my act." Our vows
cross: never to kill and call it fate. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Memorial Day

A Story by William Stafford

Daily Dose

From Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems, by William Stafford


Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky


"On the chessboard, meanwhile, confusion was setting in."

From Chapter 22, By Candlelight

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Caricarure

Daily Dose

From Critical & Historical essays, Volume Two, by Thomas Babington Macaulay


"We cannot wish that any work or class of works which has exercised a great influence on the human mind, and which illustrates the character of an important epoch in letters, politics, and morals, should disappear from the world."

From Leigh Hunt

Friday, March 20, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore #25

Daily Dose

From The Essays, by Thomas Babington Macaulay


"Assuredly nothing can be more absurd or mischievous than to waste the public money in bounties, for the purpose of inducing people who ought to be weighing out grocery or measuring out drapery to write bad or middling books."

From William Pitt

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Today in Unlikely Audio-Books

Daily Dose

From Angels on Toast, by Dawn Powell


"Perhaps it was a surgeon she should consult.  Surgeon, she would say, how long would I have to be in the hospital for a minor mental operation?  How serious is it to cut out that little section behind the brow that separates what a Nice Girl Sees and Hears from what Really Happens?"

From Chapter XI

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From A Time to Be Born, by Dawn Powell


"There were moments when he wished for some heart ailment which would oblige people to take care of crossing him.  As it was, he managed, by clutching at his heart and wiping his brow, to convey the effect of a strong man about to crack up."

From Chapter VII

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Siege of Krishnapur, by J. G. Farrell


"'Almost everybody appears to be dead,' shouted Fleury in a discouraged tone."

From Chapter 10

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Fraud, by David Rakoff


"It's crowded in that Athenian forest.  You can't take two steps without bumping into some confused lover or rude mechanical sporting the head of an ass."

From Hidden People

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Chasing Lost Time: The Life of C. K. Scott Moncrieff: Soldier, Spy, and Translator, by Jean Findlay


"Prentice first wanted to know if he would consider translating Proust's early works but Charles was not keen, calling Proust's Pastiches et Melanges 'a series of parodies of French stylists which it would be utterly impossible to render even into Belgian.'"

From Chapter 13, Writer ans Spy in Fascist Italy

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Back in the Alley Again -- Or, Methinks the Fat Guy...

Last year, before Christmas, the Advertising and Promotions people sent over a request for various staff members to pose for the new Holidays campaign.  I'd done this the year before.  Lovely experience.  They made a charming video of us all, bookmarks, posters and window displays, etc.  It was all rather beautiful.  I even liked the pictures of me that they ended up using.  Quite sensibly, a whole different crew was requested for the new pictures this year.  It's a big store and an even bigger company so there are plenty of "new" faces from which to choose.

Well, come the day of the photo-shoot, someone -- I won't say who -- asked if I wasn't going with the rest of the models?  I said that I didn't think I'd been asked.  In fact, I was pretty sure that that was the point of making the new campaign.  New faces, remember?  Anyway, she was insistent that my name had in fact appeared on the 'call-sheet" and that I was expected next door, where the Promotions people were shooting the new campaign.  Okay.  So I went.  I hadn't worn anything special, hadn't selected any books to promote, was in no way prepared in other words, but I went with the rest.  There were three or four of us and more to come later.  Down the alley and up the stairs and there we were, standing on the black paper backdrop without our shoes, wondering what we were meant to do next.

"Brad," the photographer asked sweetly, "are you supposed to be here today?"

And I wasn't.  Some confusion it seems with email, or something of the kind.  I was embarrassed.  Looked like I was horning in.  I found my shoes and tried to flee. There was a flurry of embarrassed apologies all 'round and various voices raised encouraging me to stay anyway.  It was all rather mortifying.

Anyway, I stayed and pictures were taken.  Some of me alone with some books, others with two of my coworkers and books.  I tried to make everyone laugh.  Made the photographer giggle.  It was not a terrible experience.  As soon as I decently might, I excused myself and went blushing back to the sales floor.

The holiday campaign launched and I was pleased, frankly to not see myself in it.  It was, like it's predecessor rather beautiful.  If anything, it was better than the year before.  (My favorites were the pictures taken of employees reading to their kids.  These were marvelous!  All the babies looked beautiful, as did their doting parents.)  The theme was, "Books Are Our Passion" and I thought it all worked extremely well.

In my capacity as one of the people responsible for the bookstore's social media, I sent an email asking for electronic versions of the photographs to put up on the bookstore's blog and Tumblr accounts.  The Promotions people sent me a file with the pictures they'd taken of me.  Yet another embarrassing misunderstanding. ("What an ego on that guy!  You know, he invited himself to the photo-hoot this year.  Now he's pestering me for his pictures.")  No! Not what I thought I'd asked for.  "No, no," I insisted, I wanted the pictures used in the campaign!  Not me, honest!  You know, the good pictures.  Not me.  Honest.

("Now he says he didn't want the pictures and that they're not very good.  We could've told him that.")

Eventually I got the good ones -- the ones of other people -- I wanted and posted them on various platforms.  Meanwhile I had that file of photographs of me.  They were not good.  I was glad they hadn't used them.  Absolutely right, on so many levels.  In all but one or two I looked a rather sweaty mess.  Now, I often look a sweaty mess, so it wasn't as if I found this shocking.  It was just that I looked a particularly ill-prepared sweaty mess.  I'd worn an acid-green, short-sleeved shirt, untucked, baggy black jeans and white socks.  This is something like my uniform, but that particular shirt had not photographed well against my rather florid complexion. Worse, I'd left the bottom shirt-button undone, so in a number of the more... athletic shots: Usedbuyer2.0 draped on a ladder, or Usedbuyer2.0 stretched out, full-length on his side like an elderly odalisque, Usedbuyer2.0 squatting on a stack of hardcovers, my shirt had came open to reveal the vast white expanse of my undershirt.  I looked pupal, like my chrysalis had burst prematurely.  Not flattering.  I saved the two not entirely appalling shots from the file for use one way or another here and deleted the rest.  Bullet dogged.

And there, I thought, was an end to it. 

Then a few weeks ago, someone came in the bookstore from the parking lot and said, "Hey, I just saw you in the alley!"  Not unheard of, certainly.  I've led a fairly quiet, not to say contemplative life, but I've hardly been a monk.  I've seen, and been seen in my share of alleys. 

"No," the stranger insisted, "your picture's in the window."

I blanched.  Surely not?

I rushed outside-- meaning I shuffled with purpose -- and there I was, in that damned green shirt, grinning out over the alley from the display window on the second floor of the bookstore.  The sun was on the glass, and that window's pretty high off the ground, but I could see that yes, I was in fact back in the window again.

What I'd forgotten when I forced the whole fiasco from my bald little mind was that mine were not the only photographs taken that day.  I'd also posed, at the photographer's request with two of my fellow booksellers.  Hadn't seen these among the pictures in the first file they'd sent me.  These, as it turns out, or this one at any rate wasn't so bad.  In fact, now I looked at it, I rather liked it.

As you can see, I'm the base of the totem pole.  Above me are two attractive young women.  We're all smiling cheerfully, and all holding books.  I've got the Library of America Mencken.  It's not a bad picture, is it?

I'd forgotten why the photo-shoot had turned out to be rather fun.  I had playmates.  I adore these women.  We'd all been a bit awkward to start, but then we'd tried various poses together, some more obviously unusable than others, and the photographer had posed us in some others.  We all giggled.  It was fun.

And now here we three were, happily displaying our Passion for Books from a second story window on the alley, grinning at the patrons of the bookstore's parking lot.  Well, believe me, worse things have happened.

I took a couple of snapshots with my phone and was glad the whole business had worked out after all.  I don't use the boostore's parking lot very often or walk down that alley, so I could finally, honestly and at last, not give the thing another thought.

Then I came in a couple of days ago and found this at my desk:

I can just hear the person from the Promotions Department telling the  woman who does the window displays, "Make sure you give that one to him when you take it down.  You know how he is."

Price of beauty, I suppose.  Sigh.

Daily Dose

From In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote


"Then the mood, like the evening ocean fog now clouding the street lamps, closed round her."

From III Answer

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Caricature

Clerihew of the Communist Manqué


First, Antonio Gramsci
Had decided to damn the
Culinary Hegemony
Of his mama's minestrone.

Daily Dose

From Southern Mail, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, translated by Curtis Cate


"Those objects, she thought, lasted longer than I.  They welcomed me, escorted me through life, and would one day keep vigil over my remains."

From Chapter VII

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #24

Daily Dose

From Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, by Mary McCarthy


"The very grammar was beatified for me by the objective temperament that ordered it, so much so that today I cannot see an ablative absolute or a passage of indirect discourse without happy tears springing to my eyes."

From The Figures in the Clock

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why "Soldier, Rest"

Maybe it's as simple as this: I've been reading Sir Walter Scott.  I read The Lady of the Lake straight through a few weeks back.  Then I read this poem -- from that longer work -- again three days ago, in an anthology.  It is a song, really, the poem I read aloud and posted here last night.  Scott wrote many such, and collected many more in his three volumes of border ballads.  He loved nothing better.  He did nothing better.  I've only just heard it sung, Soldier, Rest! in a lovely recording I found online.

However then it's come to mind, I have it now and it's made me think, not of Scott, or his ballads, or of war and soldiers, but of rest, and of a good man only just gone, too soon, to his.

It may not suit the occasion, or better say, there may be other, better poems that might.  He wasn't a soldier, the man who's died.  His was a gentle soul.  The violence he knew was, so far as I know, all or nearly all interior, his struggles with and within his mind and illness.  Maybe that's why the poem reminds me of him nonetheless.  He fought.  Reading his obituary, I am touched and proud to see how much he won.

Mental illness was not what killed him, at only sixty.  Cancer killed him.  Cigarettes killed him, it may be argued I suppose.  His pleasures were few enough and simple, I should think that it would be hard now to argue even against this one.  I wasn't privy to his last struggle.  I hadn't seen him for a decade, or thereabouts.

I knew him because I loved his brother, Peter, as he did.  Because I knew Peter, I knew Mike.  One couldn't know my friend Peter and not know his family.  Hell, one could not sit by Peter on a long bus ride and not in the end know something of his family!  I like to think I knew Peter as well as anyone not related by blood, certainly better sometimes than the man knew himself.  He knew me the same way.  I doubt, however that Peter remembered my brother's name from one telling to the next.  Family with Peter however was often nearly all he had and if one wanted to know him, well, he brought them with him.  More, they welcomed me, all of 'em, as was and is their nature, as it was his.  I loved them, and do.  Peter's gone, as are his parents, his brother Tom, and now Mike.

Mike was a special case.  When his older brother's illness came, Peter was still a boy, with all of a boy's understanding and a little brother's natural resentment of the attention it drew away from him.  Boys can be selfish, parents distracted with worry, families complicated even before they are tested.  Mental illness is unlike if it is anything at all.  My family has had some similar experience of it.  I've seen the devastation it can bring in it's wake, to both the sufferer and those who suffer with and 'round him or her.  I don't equate my experience with theirs.  Tolstoy's famous line, "... each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" is true.  By the time I knew Peter, his brother's illness was managed, the family survived more or less intact.  By the time I knew them they were not, I should emphasize, unhappy, at least no more nor less than any other.

And when I was with them, more often than not they were more joyful than not.  A loud, dramatic, big and boisterous family, by any standard, a fact only emphasized when first encountered at the dinner table, and at the Holidays!  They were, I admit, a shock to someone more used as I was to shy affection and quietly smoldering resentments.  The noise of them!  I loved it.

Mike was very much of them, always, though his illness put him, as only such an illness can, somewhat apart, always.  Schizophrenia separates those who have it from not only other people but in many ways separates the ill from themselves; from their lives before the illness, and from the trust we all have, most of the time, in ourselves.  I saw Mike struggle, even when he was well, to trust himself, to read the reactions of others right, to trust that he was in fact well.  I saw my friend Peter, his brother, struggle to trust his own reactions, testing his patience, struggle sometimes to trust his love for his brother and let that be enough.

People who have been forced to doubt themselves as profoundly as only such an illness can, will, I suspect always thereafter be at some disadvantage in company.  I saw members of my own family, including a smart, even witty woman, well educated and professionally accomplished before her illness,  withdraw further and further into an agonizing uncertainty that eventually exhausted her.  I watched her with embarrassment as she faltered in commonplace situations, heard her lose the thread of simple things, and give up.  As with many people so circumstanced, we none of us knew how to help her.  I was a boy when all that happened, what could I do?  I still blush to think how little I might have done and didn't.  Eventually, my aunt lost the struggle to regain herself.

Mike did not.  Even the last time I saw him, years ago now, he was as he had almost always been when I was in his company, valiant.  It is a martial word, and now I think, apt.  It is no accident after-all perhaps that Scott's poem should so remind me of Mike.  If his first resort was to his faith and to those familiar and familial expressions that can sound to the better armed conversationalist regimented and rehearsed, the affection expressed was no less sincere for that.  It took a remarkable discipline I realize now to make that effort, to maintain, express and to emphasize love above any doubt and despite the very real disappointments even a more expansive life than Mike's might find, day to day.

I never knew him, in all the years I knew him, once I knew him, not to say he loved me, and mean it.  He loved me because I loved his brother.  That was enough.  That was brave, even noble.

It is no reflection on the character of those who can not do as he did that sometimes even love fails them.  I loved Peter, and I failed him, as in the end he sometimes disappointed me.  Peter was sick for a long time.  We were often separated and for a long time.  His illness changed him in ways neither of us could have anticipated.  It changed me too.  Illness only takes from us, and from some it simply takes too much.  I see no gifts in suffering.  It is human to want sometimes more than we can have or keep, but all we lose is lost.

Peter's family never failed him.  Sometimes he was disappointed in them, and they in him, but they never failed him.  Nothing good came of Peter's death.  Nothing.  Even in his dying though there were chances to see his better nature and the better natures of those around him.  His family loved him and I loved him.  People loved him who hardly knew him, believe me!  (He was a wonder that way.)  His brother Mike loved him as in the end I must admit I did too, without the luxury of conditions.  For Mike, with all his struggles, this one thing seemed easy.  Took me a long and intimate friendship to learn that lesson with Peter.  Peter I think, I hope, learned it sooner and from better examples, like his brother, Mike.

Scott's poem is an inducement, almost a lullaby, sung to a soldier to convince him he deserves to stop where he is and find peace.  I learn only now, reading Mike's obituary just how much, in the last ten years he earned his peace.  I knew he worked, and worked hard at being a man who contributed to the family and community that cared for him.  I had no idea how hard he had worked, and how much he had achieved in making that community a better place for people who had struggled as he did with mental illness.  When he died, he was a respected and recognized contributor to that most important fight for access to care, to dignity and self-suficiency for a population too often ignored and neglected by the rest of us.  His family must be proud, and well they should be.

Was he not a soldier, then, in his way?  And was not his way valiant, then, for all it was of peace?  Has he not earned his own at last?

Oh, how I wish him, and his family, peace.  I send my love, in memory of my good friend, Peter, and his good brother


(Donations may be made in Mike's memory to People's Oakland, 3433 Bates Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213)

Daily Dose

From The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott


Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife!
To all the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Soldier, Rest!

Daily Dose

From The Complete Works, by Michel de Montaigne, translated by Donald Frame


"It might rather be said, it seems to me, that nothing presents itself to us in which there is not some difference, however slight; and that either to the sight or to the touch, there is always something extra that attracts us, though it be imperceptibly."

From Essays, Book II, 14, How our mind hinders itself

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Learning a Trade: A Craftsman's Notebooks, 1957 - 1997, by Reynolds Price


"The facility is a little daunting, as a matter of fact.  I realize very quickly that I could go on talking to this woman, as this woman, more or less endlessly."

From 28 June 1983

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Marcel Proust on Art and Literature: 1896 - 1919, translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner


"But at least there is no vulgarity in Flaubert himself, for he understood that the writer's life is centered in his work, and that the remainder only exists 'to provide an illusion to describe.'"

From Sainte-Beuve and Balzac

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Daily Dose

From Twelfth Night or, What You Will, by William Shakespeare


"The clock upbraids me with the waste of time."

From Act III, Scene One, Olivia