Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Man by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Daily Dose

From Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford


"As I got to know Lady Montdore more intimately, I began to realize that her selfishness was monumental.  She had no thoughts except in relation to herself, could discuss no subject without cleverly edging it round to something directly pertaining to her.  The only thing she ever wanted to know about people was what impression did she make on them, and she would do anything to find this out, sometimes digging traps for the unwary, into which, in my innocence, I was very apt to tumble."

From Part II, Chapter 2

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Order and Surprise, by Martin Gardner


"'A sad spectacle!' exclaimed Thomas Carlyle, contemplating the possibility that millions of planets circle other suns.  'If they be inhabited, what a scope for pain and folly; if they be not inhabited, what a waste of space!'"

From Chapter 32, Hello and Goodbye

Monday, September 28, 2015

Next Doodle

Tree At My Window

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Complete Works of Primo Levi, Volume Two, Uncollected Stories and Essays: 1949 - 1980, edited by Ann Goldstein, translated by Alessandra Bastagli and Francesco Bastagli


"It is not necessarily true that once you feel affection for a book or a person you no longer see its defects."

From Foreword to The Night of the Girondists, by Jacques Presser

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Time You Old Gypsy Man

Daily Dose

From The Complete Works of Primo Levi, Volume Two, Uncollected Stories and Essays: 1949 - 1980, edited by Ann Goldstein, translated by Alessandra Bastagli and Francesco Bastagli


"Ours is a strange time, with an abundance of people who will explain everything to you; it's the age of explainers, of people who will clarify everything, get to the bottom of everything, its causes and its consequences.  And no doubt this is a praiseworthy endeavor.  Bu to believe that one has truly explained everything, in the original sense of the word -- that is, made clear the necessary trigger of historical events, the causes that necessarily lead to a result, the nexus between cause and effect that is the foundation of science -- is a bit easy."

From Racial Intolerance

Saturday, September 26, 2015

All That's Past

Daily Dose

From Poetical Works, by Jonathan Swift


"You for the news are ne'er to seek,
While we perhaps may wait a week;
You happy folks are sure to meet
A hundred whores in every street,
While we may trace all Dublin o'er
Before we find out half a score."

From Copy of the Birthday Verses On Mrs. Ford

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Caricature

A Post-Communist Clerihew


Monsieur Merleau-Ponty,
Being rather an auntie,
Surprised the literati
When he left the Party.

Daily Dose

From Poetical Works, by Jonathan Swift


"Careful observers may foretell the hour
(By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower.
While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o'er
Her frolics and pursues her tail no more."

From A Description of a City Shower

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #48

Daily Dose

From Poetical Works, by Jonathan Swift


"I have been long of opinion that there is not a more general and greater mistake, or of worse consequences through the commerce of mankind, than the wrong judgments they are apt to entertain of their own talents."

From the Preface to The Beast's Confession to the Priest

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Distinguished Visitor Doodle

Contractual Clerihew


Xi Jinping
Had a fling
And left glowing
Though Boeing owing.

Daily Dose

From Poetical Works, by Jonathan Swift


"His vein, ironically grave,
Expos'd the fool and lash'd the knave."

From On the Death of Dean Swift

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Place of the Damned

Daily Dose

From Poetical Works, by Jonathan Swift


"His wit contracted to a narrow span,
A yard of idiot to an inch of man."

From The Swan Tripe Club in Dublin: A Satire

Monday, September 21, 2015

On Recieving Presents by Jonathan Swift

Daily Dose

From Poetical Works, by Jonathan Swift


"M: Lord! How this frothy coxcomb frets! [aside]"

From A Dialogue Between Mad Mullinix and Timothy

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Epigrams by Jonathan Swift

Daily Dose

From Poetical Works, by Jonathan Swift


"Great folks are of a finer mould:
Lord! how politely they can scold!
While a course English tongue will itch,
For whore and rogue, and dog and bitch."

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Elephant by Jonathan Swift

Daily Dose

From Poetical Works, by Jonathan Swift


"For as he view'd his person round,
Mere mortal flesh was all he found:
His hand, his neck, his mouth, and feet,
Were duly wash'd to keep them sweet;
With other parts that shall be nameless,
The ladies else might think me shameless."

From Strephon and Chloe

Friday, September 18, 2015

Epitaph on General Gorges and Lady Meath

Daily Dose

From The Second Life of Art: Selected Essays of Eugenio Montale, edited and translated by Jonathan Galassi


"In William Butler Yeats -- probably the last great lyric poet that the United Kingdom has had -- his neo-Gaelic paraphernalia and all the weaknesses inherent in the thought of a drawing-room spiritualist were overcome and outweighed by a wave of melody."

From W. H. Auden

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore #47

Brad and Nick are joined by the delightful Lillian Dabney!

Daily Dose

From On Elizabeth Bishop, by Colm Toibin


"Bishop expressed her admiration for George Herbert's 'absolute naturalness of tone,' saying that he had been 'the most important and lasting influence on me.'  In interviews she mentioned what Coleridge had said of Herbert, 'that he wrote about the most fantastic things imaginable in perfectly simple everyday language.  That is what I have tried to do.'"

From Chapter 8, Grief and Reason

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

An Answer to a Friend's Question

Daily Dose

From The Old Life, by Donald Hall


"In the bliss of routine
-- coffee, love, pond afternoons, poems --
we feel we will live
forever, intil we know we feel it."

From page 88, first edition.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Profession by Primo Levi

Daily Dose

From On Elizabeth Bishop, by Colm Toibin


"She writes like someone in flight from something, in search of nourishment from seascapes and landscapes that were oddly provisional and might not last in the same way as people might not, indeed would not, last."

From Chapter 6, Order and Disorder in Key West

Monday, September 14, 2015

To the Muse by Primo Levi

Daily Dose

From On Elizabeth Bishop, by Colm Toibin


“The smallest word, or the holding of breath, could have a fierce, stony power.”

From Chapter One, No Detail Too Small

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Decathlete by Primo Levi

Daily Dose

From The Craft of Fiction, by Percy Lubbock


"Not to walk straight up to the fact and put it in phrases, but to surround the fact, and so detach it inviolate -- such is Henry James's manner of dramatizing it."

From Chapter XII

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Erratic Facts, by Kay Ryan


Death has a life
of its own.  See
how its album
has grown in
a year and how
the sharp blot of it
has softened
till those could
almost be shadows
behind the
cherry blossoms
in this shot.
In fact you
couldn't prove
they're not.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Golden Bowl, by Henry James


"The high pitch of her cheer accordingly, the tentative adventurous expressions, of the would-be smiling order, that preceded her approach even like a squad of skirmishers, or whatever they were called, moving ahead of the baggage-train -- these things had at the end of a fortnight brought a dozen times to our young woman's lips a challenge that had the cunning to await its right occasion, but the relief of which, as a demonstration, she meanwhile felt no little need."

From Chapter 6.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #46

Daily Dose

From Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope


"It is needless to say that the signora was not very sincere in her offer.  She was never sincere on such subjects.  She never expected others to be so, nor did she expect others to think her so.  Such matters were her playthings, her billiard table, her hounds and hunters, her waltzes and polkas, her picnics and summer-day excursions.  She had little else to amuse her, and therefore played at love-making in all its forms.  She was now playing at it with Mr. Arabin, and did not at all expect the earnestness and truth of his answer."

From Chapter XXXVIII, The Bishop Sits Down to Breakfast, and the Dean Dies

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Pope Doodle Two

Daily Dose

From Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson


"I always felt guilty, but it was a hot thrill of guilt not the dreadful weight of sin."

From page 58, first edition.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Pope Doodle

Daily Dose

From A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, by Stephen Hawking


"It was at the conference in the Vatican mentioned earlier that I first put forward the suggestion that maybe time and space together formed a surface that was finite in size but didn't have any boundary or edge.  My paper was rather mathematical, however, so its implications for the role of God in the creation of the universe were not generally recognized at the time (just as well for me.)"

From Chapter 8, The Origin and Fate of the Universe

Monday, September 7, 2015

Existentialist Doodles

Daily Dose

From Boy: Tales of Childhood, by Roald Dahl


"I promise you that if somebody had caught me by the shoulder at that moment and said to me, 'What is your greatest wish in life, little boy?  What is your absolute ambition?  To be a doctor?  A fine musician?  A painter?  A writer?  Or the Lord Chancellor?'  I would have answered without hesitation that my only ambition, my hope, my longing was to have a bike like that and to go whizzing down the hill with no hands on the handlebars.  I would be fabulous.  It made me tremble just to think about it."

From The Bicycle and the Sweet-Shop

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Caricature

Cixousienne Clerihew


What not to do,
With Hélène Cixous?
Describe "Écriture féminine"
As a function of L'œstrogène.

Daily Dose

From The Book Shop, by Penelope Fitzgerald


"British Railways delivered copies of Lolita from Flintmarket station, twenty-five miles away.  When the carrier van arrived it drew, as usual, a ragged cheer from the bystanders.  Something new was coming to Hardborough."

From Chapter Seven

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Good Crowd

I read a lot of dead people.  I do.  Someone asked me the other day, "Who do you read that isn't dead?"  Seems it's a fair question.

First a word in defense of the dead, and then I'll get to it.  Sinclair Lewis once said a classic was any book you heard of before you were thirty, or words to that effect.  Having heard of more than I have had the chance to read, at fifty-two I still feel like I have a great deal yet to do in that line.  The difference now being that I am less concerned with being left behind.  If I never finish The Brother Karamazov, or Moby Dick, so be it.  I know where they are.  I haven't embarrassed myself.  I've read Proust.  I know my way around the literary canon.  Now I find I would rather read writers rather than working away at the famous books.  I've read more Carlyle than perhaps was good for me, but that was as much curiosity about the man as anything.  I wanted to know him, not to work my way through the Collected Works.  The list of what I've read that might be justly neglected is now nearly as long as any other I might make.  The point for me is that I know Lamb.  I know Dickens, and Thackeray.  I know Johnson better than I ever should have thought I would want or need to.

I don't read anyone now because he or she is in Westminster Abbey.  I am not collecting postcards of the great graves of English literature.  I read, at my leisure, the writers I want to know.  Huff puff.

When I was asked that question, what living authors I read, I decided the question was too broad.  What living writers do I read without exception, whatever they write, as they write?  Now that's a more interesting question, I think. Without thinking too hard about it, here's what I came up with tonight-- incomplete as it doubtlessly is -- my list:

Diana Athill, Paul Bailey, Sarah Bakewell, Aimee Bender, Alan Bennett, Brian Bouldrey, Frederick Crews, Michael Dirda, Joseph Epstein, Jonathan Evison, Michael Faber, Eric Foner, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jim Grimsley, Scott Heim, Alan Hollinghurst, Michael Holroyd, Gary Indiana, Clive James, Wendy Kaminer, Hari Kunzru, Hanif Kureishi, David Leavitt,  Penelope Lively, Javier Marias, John McPhee, Mark Merlis, Ethan Mordden, Les Murray, James Julius Norwich, James O'Neill, David Plante, Marilynne Robinson, Salman Rushdie, David Sedaris, Antony Sher, Matthew Simmons, Colm Toibin, Jenny Uglow, Mario Vargas Llosa, Sarah Vowell, Edmund White.

I know I'm forgetting people.  Apologies.

Now, the first thing I notice is how few living poets I can name off the top of my head which is embarrassing.  Surely there must be more?

Still, the preponderance of novelists is not so high as it might be, as there are essayists, playwrights, historians and biographers mixed in, I'm glad to see.  Roughly as many Americans as English?  Seems to be anyway.  I won't count.  Fewer women than I should have thought.  Gayer than I expected.  The average age would seem to be roughly my age or older, but not everyone here is, and that's good.

Some didn't make the list because I simply haven't kept up in recent years.  I've read a full shelf of Edna O'Brien, but when was the last, and what was it?  What was Cynthia Ozick's last book and did I read it?  Joyce Carol Oates isn't on here because no reader could keep up with the woman, but anything in the way of scary stories and I'm there.

There are at least two contemporary novelists I've been reading since their first books, I think, but whose latest have made me wonder why: Jonathan Franzen and David Mitchell.  Hated Mitchell's last and was indifferent to the book before that.  Franzen's new book I don't doubt I'll read, but he begins to annoy me nearly as much as he pleases.  And neither has ever made me laugh, or even smile much and I'd rather than not, reading novels.

There are science writers from whom I've learned a lot, but I can't say I will ever read everything they write because I may never make it the whole way through even the things I've already read -- mostly: Roger Penrose, Matt Ridley, Jonathan Weiner, Edward O. Wilson (ants!).

It's clear I don't read my politics in books anymore.  Long gone the day.  I'm set very much in my ways.  I know how I'll vote, thank you, and for whom usually.

Philosophy, economics, art?  Alas.

The living writers I read with devotion are the writers I hope to keep reading, just as I don't know that I'll ever be done reading Dickens, or James.  I don't say that my taste tells the future.  I'm sure I could make just as long a list of living writers who I might once have seen as essential to me but no longer seem to be.  Why they should have been but aren't now I can't say.  I thank them here for what we once had.  I'm sure it's not you, it's me.  To list them here would seem caddish.

If anything, I think my list of the living will inevitably grow shorter with time.  (Diana Athill's ninety seven now, bless her!)  I'm just as sure there are new names to be added, I should live so long.  Whether it does or doesn't, my list today is not so bad as all that.  Frankly, I didn't think it would be so long as it is!

So, it seems I don't just read dead people after all, to answer the question.

Who knew?  I was worried I couldn't make a dinner party.  Turns out, I wouldn't have room for everybody on New Year's Eve.

Daily Dose

From The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language, by Steven Pinker


"Natural selection is not just a scientifically respectable alternative to divine creation.  It is the only alternative that can explain a complex organ like the eye.  The reason that the choice is so stark -- God or natural selection -- is that structures that can do what the eye does are extremely low-probability arrangements of matter."

From Chapter Eleven, The Big Bang

Friday, September 4, 2015

Foxy Doodles

Daily Dose

From Irish Journal, by Heinrich Boll, translated by Leila Vennewitz


"That a church service can only begin when the priest arrives is obvious; but that a movie can only begin when all the priests, the local ones as well as those on vacation, are assembled in full strength is somewhat surprising to the foreigner used to Continental customs."

From Chapter 8., When God Made Time...

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #45

Daily Dose

From Growing Up Absurd, by Paul Goodman


"The interesting groups, the Problems, are those who can neither operate in the organized system nor essentially disregard it."

From Chapter VII., Faith