Sunday, January 31, 2010

From Beefcake to the Most Delicate Silhouettes

There was a happy day when, without thinking much about it, I could count on the publishers of photography books to provide me with my husband's birthday and Christmas presents. I needn't worry if I hadn't seen anything appropriate in the department stores or heard him mention a menswear designer he admired. Back then, he was an executive-type, always in need of something from Brooks Brothers. Easiest thing in the world. Whatever I spent on what seemed to me rather anonymous business gear, it was always money well spent, almost a business expense, so far as dear A. was concerned. As an hourly clerk working in a bookstore, I could ill-afford his good, if conservative taste in middle-class habiliment, but I could just manage a new shirt, an alligator wallet or a new silk tie. Hardly the stuff of romance, these pieces of practical finery, but I always felt, as when I saved to buy him a new briefcase he'd admired, that in some small way, I was doing my part to maintain his dignity and our primary income. But I'm not a wife, and back then, the word "husband" still had an irony attached to it for us that usage and experience have subsequently, surprisingly, worn away. (Who would have guessed?) The term one used most often then, perfectly acceptable amongst ourselves, if rather provocative in mixed company, was "lover," and I could hardly be satisfied giving my lover a tie, however happy it made him, now could I? After a few less than successful experiments with flowers, candy, beribboned champagne flutes -- as it turned out, neither of us ever became a wine aficionado, even at New Year's, pop records, comic aprons, and supposedly sexy silk drawers, I finally hit on something that perfectly suited his more salacious side, my budget and my line of work and started getting him nudes.

There was, back then, something of a boom in fag photography. In addition to the more refined offerings of the major art publishers in which establishment fashion and art types felt themselves finally liberated to share the record of their tricks and or print their blue studies of rent-boys-as-fawns, openly gay photographers were finding their more erotically and politically charged work collected and published in book form for the first time. Mapplethorpe having made hard-ons fashionable for the gallery set, there was also an ongoing effort to reclaim the gay cultural past by reprinting in large, handsomely made books, the lost studio-snaps of the likes of "Bruce of Los Angeles," and other quaintly camp pornographers from the Age of the Physique Pictorials, as well as the pioneering smut of the ancients, such as the exiled pedo-aesthete and dilettante photographer, Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, whose pictures of naked Sicilians with dirty feet were rediscovered and, long after all parties involved had probably passed over into forgetfulness, reborn as a indispensable record of lost, well-hung innocence. With the boom in respectable, book-bound porn, finding something for my lover in the way of artful ass to wrap up and slip under the tree come Christmas became as easy as buying the man cuff links. True, often as not, there was quite a bit of gushy, introductory academic prose made to justify the whole enterprise of making coffee-table-books out of "Old Reliable" excons flexing their tattoos and exposing their rather touching tan-lines, but one only read these books as an afterthought. I don't think anyone in the target market had to endorse all that windy historicism to enjoy browsing through a review of Korean War veterans in their bashful black and white all-together, or color Polaroids of drug-addled hippies slipping out of their cut-offs and tube-socks and grinning at the discovery of their tumescence as at an unexpected vision of love, peace and understanding. It was all such fun! True, there was the occasional grim beauty of a Nan Goldin junky, or an interleaved image or two of some sad adolescent girlfriend, but for the most part, the books I bought for A. provided us all -- and here I include all the friends who gathered over the years for various holidays at our house -- with hours of blameless quiet, which gave dear A. time to finish baking the pie.

But all good things come to an end. The day came when, bookshelves groaning under the weight of over-sized art books, and the Internet less expensively and more conveniently providing us with eye-candy, dear A. said, "Enough," and suggested he would rather have the new Josh Groban recording, or a porkpie hat for his birthday, or nothing at all for Christmas, as it would just be the two of us, and we really wanted to buy a flat-screen TV this year, or fix my shower floor, or finally get a back-splash put in behind the stove. (And that, my dears, is when one knows that one is married, for richer, for poorer, etc. and for life.)

So I seldom buy art books of any description anymore. My excuse for acquiring big, expensive books of nude photography has been taken from me, and sadly, not a moment too soon, as the boom has long since bust. Pickin's these days are slim.

But there are still beautiful, big art books that I still covet, books that fill me, for whatever reason, with something like the excitement of those other, earlier visual feasts of flesh, but that could not be more remote from that subject matter. A book published by Rizolli, just last September, Silhouette: The Art of The Shadow, by the art historian, Emma Rutherford, at $65.00, is really well beyond my present means, but that hasn't prevented me from keeping it for a week at my desk, carefully turning the pages in any spare moment and marveling at the treasures the author has collected up.

I've cut some silhouettes myself. I decorated my first college dormitory room with facing images in black and white of Balinese dancers I'd cut just for that purpose. My first roommate, a baseball scholarship freshman, named "Spike," failed to sufficiently appreciate my efforts, I thought. A couple of years ago, I cut profiles of some famous poets for a contest at the bookstore during National Poetry Month. I thought these not bad.

I can only appreciate how little I've mastered of the art now that there is, in Rutherford's book, a real record of just how extraordinarily well this sort of thing was once done, even by such rank amateurs as myself. Such beauties in this book! And such variation! A whole school of silhouette making, in which "bronzing" and gold paint and leaf were used to elaborate the features, or black ink was added in the most delicate flourishes to describe lace and elaborate hairdos, was previously unknown to me. The most amazing scenes of multiple characters and crowded setting, full of activity and motion, were done in silhouettes the like of which I'd never seen, or certainly never seen in such abundant example, before. This book is a remarkable record of a largely lost art, and a priceless bit of good curatorial scholarship. It would be a priceless prize for my library, had I the money to buy it before it is inevitably remained someday.

The story told in it is as interesting, in some ways, as the art itself, tracing what was a fad of an earlier century all the way back to Greek vases and the like. If Rutherford's prose is rather dry and without fuss, she has had the sense now and again to quote more amusing historical criticism of the form, such as in this:

"In his 'Shades: An Essay on English Portrait Silhouettes,' Sir David Piper (1970) describes how the silhouettist, bored with the painted black profile, 'went whoring after the third dimension.'"

And those gilded flourishes I find so fascinating? They are described in a quote from a contemporary craftsman as being "niggling, tortured," and a disservice to the sitter, so there we are. There's no accounting for taste. But the words aside, the book itself is a beautiful thing, and crowded with examples of amazing variety, from the most elaborate and artful aristocratic portraits, to the sweetest little silhouettes made as inexpensive memorials of common people, and, in one particularly charming example, even Queen Victoria's dog, Dash.

Emma Rutherford's is one, had I room on the shelf, and money in my pocket, I would happily add to our somewhat eclectic collection of oversized art books, and should it indeed make its way someday to one of the bargain tables, I will. The author needn't blush at the thought, as I'd put her next to Edward Lear's beautiful birds, maybe, or on the table with the volume of Cecil Beaton portraits and a collection of Phiz drawings I bought used for myself a Christmas or two ago. I'd promise not to put her in the steamroom atmosphere of most of the books I bought dear A. over the years. I fear all those glorious pages of Georgian ladies and gentlemen in profile would curl in such company.

Though some of those gilded old roués, and not a few of the ladies, might feel right at home in our collection.

Daily Dose

From The Professor and Other Writings, by Terry Castle


"Alluding to past struggles, she preserved a Jimmy Stewart-like delicacy."

From The Professor

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Caricature

Let this be a warning.

Daily Dose

From A Jello Horse, by Matthew Simmons


"You will never, ever be in a sadder state in these United States than the state of Nebraska."

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Caricature

Maybe not the way one is meant to treat one's friends, but besides loving the man, and the writer, I love nothing so much in the world perhaps as this fellow's laugh. I could not resist. I am sorry. Forgive me?

Daily Dose

From The Pure and the Impure, by Colette


"How hard it is for respectable people to believe in innocence!"

From Chapter 7, (translated by Herma Briffault)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Lambs

Here it is. Not the first book printed on the new Espresso Book Machine at the bookstore, not even the first printed at my request or suggestion, or even the first of Charles Lamb, but here is the book I most wanted to see, and the book I most wanted to be able hereafter to sell.

So many of my oldest friends obviously need no introduction or reintroduction to the public. I do not any more imagine my interest or enthusiasm to be a critical factor in their survival than I do my liking for Schubert songs or sweet sherry; these things may not be to everyone's taste, but my endorsement of them means little to nothing, even among my friends. The books and authors I mean survive not only because I think them good, obviously, but because generations have known and loved them and will so long as books exist. Their permanence is as secure as mine is improbable. For me to write a little card to draw attention on the bookstore shelf to a book like The Old Wives' Tale, or Amelia, seems to me justified by want of sales at the store, not by any worry that either will not be there, or on some other bookstore's shelf, long after I'm past the point of making a sound. Less recommendations than reminders, my taking note of these books is just a function of my job, more a nudge than a push, a gesture to what might be familiar if not read. There is a whole world of books wherein still the author's name is known, but detached from a title, or where a more famous book has without meaning to left no room on either side for its siblings. And even yet, there are books, great books, that while the audience for them might be small, and may always have been so, their qualities made manifest to but one reader at a time, they make converts of their every reader and evangelists of every convert. All the books of which I am thinking just here, I've never doubted, may pass now and again in and out of print, but they will never disappear.

To think that Charles Lamb has ceased somehow to be in this company would shock even those of his many friends of but a generation ago. There are those still, not in the business of books in America perhaps, for whom the idea that The Essays of Elia is not in print in an English speaking country in 2010 would not be credited. I can hardly believe it myself. And yet, it is so, or so nearly so as to be true. The University of Iowa, only a few years back, reprinted a good volume of Lamb, though it cost too much and was far from pretty. To stock that book now, despite it still being officially "in print" evidently requires going to Iowa and wresting a copy from a box in some sub-basement. I've had no luck getting it again. It is a ridiculous position in which to find one of the greatest prose stylists in our language, and one of the kindest, funniest, dearest souls in our literature.

And yet, here we are, and there, sadly, is Lamb.

But now, just today, our good young technician on the EBM, proudly brought me the book you see here. It, much like its brother that I mentioned in an earlier post, is not a handsome thing. Those dolorous covers -- the only option so far for Google Books -- remind me of nothing so much as bound county budgets or the proceedings of a farm commission from the days of mimeographs and professional typists. Taken from a much abused J. M. Dent Everyman of roughly the turn of the last century, the text does not quite fit the page, as the book has been made to conform to the size requirements of the machine and the machine offers every book in but standard sizes. The headings on the page are threatened throughout with decapitation.

And yet, here is Lamb's Elia, complete, to be had when called for again! I can recommend him. I can sell him. I can put this book again into the hands of other, older, still surviving friends of the author. What's more, for the first time in years, I can introduce Lamb to new readers.
Whatever the state of dress in which we find him now when conjured from that great clumsy device across the sales floor from the desk where I work, however the worse for the journey, Elia is again present! Lamb restored!

I can think of nothing to better justify the expense of that wonderful new rattling contraption. Bless it.

Daily Dose

From My Germany: A Jewish Writer Returns to the World His Parents Escaped, by Lev Raphael


"My one troubling moment was while looking at the German word for "rare" when ordering a steak: blutig."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Doin' It the Hard Way: Remembering Betty Hutton

My old friend Buff didn't have much in her house that hadn't been there since well before I was born. Everything from the furniture to the paper on the walls dated to roughly the time of the Second World War. Buffy was poor. She lived in the house in which she'd grown up. She kept the place clean, but that was about all she could afford to do. Among the old things in that house were treasures she kept, not out of necessity, or even nostalgia, but because these things were good of themselves: books she read and reread, a beautiful velvet skirt she wore only annually, at her Christmas party, the tools she used in her garden and kept in good working order so as to never need others, seeds and pots and dishes and string. Symbols of her self-sufficiency, these things all had a clear and continuing use. That made them good.

Among her most treasured possessions was a small collection of records. She played these rarely, as they were as old and as fragile, most of them, as the machine on which she played them. To be offered the chance to listen to Miss Lena Horne "live!" was a treat reserved for special occasions. I first heard Mabel Mercer on one of these old records. Buff played me but one song, "Ballad of the Sad Young Men," knowing it was something I needed to hear; because it was exquisite, and perhaps as a warning. And one late night, to cheer the company, and to explain the small sign, made by another young friend years before and posted on the corkboard in her kitchen, proclaiming her house as an official meeting-place of "The Where the Hell is Betty Hutton Society & Unofficial Fan Club," Buff played me a record of Betty Hutton, singing "I Wake Up in the Morning Feeling Fine."

"I never rub the goose-grease on my skin/I open up the window and let the SMOG roll in..." Delight.

Off today for the holiday just past a week or so ago, -- adaptable bookstore scheduling -- I sat in bed this morning, watching a not very good Paramount picture from 1949, recorded from a recent broadcast on Turner Classic Movies. TCM host, Robert Osborne made no claims for "Red, Hot and Blue" being either great cinematic art, or even one of Betty Hutton's better musical/comedy vehicles. But he didn't apologize for showing the movie though, and why should he? "The always entertaining Betty" was how he introduced her here, and as he was her friend, he knew how right that was.


I had to fast forward through some of of tedious bits of poor Victor Mature talking about "theatre" as Betty's miscast boyfriend,
a little-theater director trying to make the star-struck and publicity hungry Betty, as Eleanor "Yum-Yum" Collier, be serious. (The presence of dear, droll June Havoc as one of Betty's roommates was however an unexpected, camp pleasure.) But really, I watched the movie, just as audiences in the forties did, just to see Betty singing novelties, and one lovely ballad, not by Cole Porter, from an earlier and infinitely better musical of the same name, but by the great Frank Loesser, Betty's favorite songwriter, and the one who understood her style best.

As I first heard on that old 78 in Buff's living room all those years ago, nearly every song Betty sang was cocked with the first verse: Betty's voice as warm and smooth as Alice Faye's, almost maternal in it's sweetness, and then, at the first chorus, the trigger's pulled, the hammer drops and... BANG! The lyrics move into a nutty kind of near nonsense, the pace sometimes jerking up into the realms of W. S. Gilbert, but the beat invariably boogie. In "That's Loyalty," for example, Betty all but threatens to fly off the screen in a whirling pantomime of a date with a romantic brute who won't let anybody say what he can about his gal. Betty whoops, hollers, and giggles throughout the number, even playing both partners in a dance, rolling and pitching madly across an alley, while never losing either the beat or her uniquely hammering charm. It was a comedic formula that served Betty's outrageous clowning, and sweet innocent attractiveness, perfectly, throughout her Paramount career as the studio's greatest musical star and recording artist.

It was an unusual stardom, and all too brief. There were funny chicks in the movies then, with great pipes, like Martha Raye, and cute, like Betty Garrett, but forever either the comic sidekick or, at best, settling for the secondary romance. Betty Hutton blew through a few of these parts on Broadway. She even survived a ruthless Merman, cutting her best number on opening night. Betty had always been more of a speciality number than an ingenue; a band-singer with a good voice, great rhythm, and an explosive energy that was both wildly funny and more than a little surreal.

But Betty, as I saw today, could also be a fine torch, as when she sang "Now That I Need You," to a framed photograph of her exasperated and absent boyfriend. Her tears seemed quite genuine, her voice a lovely, plaintive and pretty thing.

Hutton's life was a disaster, largely of her own making, admittedly, but that she survived even her childhood was remarkable. Raised in abject poverty by a single, drunken mother -- to whom she remained fiercely loyal throughout her life -- Betty sang and clowned and earned a living at an age when she ought not to have had to even think of taking care of such things herself. And she went on taking care of herself, and of various lovers, producers, dependents, hangers-on, husbands, and scoundrels, for a very long time thereafter. When, barely in the middle of what should have been a much longer career, Betty Hutton, already dependent on pills and badly mistreated by the men who'd made millions of dollars from her performances, she lost it, she lost it all. For decades, Betty disappeared.

How I wish my friend Buff had lived to see Betty in revival! How Buff would have enjoyed seeing Betty's movies again on TCM, seeing her incredibly moving interview with Osborne in 2000, and recently rebroadcast. And how Buffy would have thrilled to read Hutton's autobiography, posthumously published just this past year, Backstage You Can Have: My Own Story, finally written at the end of her life with the help of two remarkably good, gay friends and fans, Carl Bruno and Michael Mayer. I can't recommend the book enough to anyone who loved Betty Hutton, or thank her coauthors enough for seeing what must have been an almost impossible project through to publication. Clearly, it was a labor of love.

So now, as I write this, I'm thumbing through the wonderful pictures in the book, and listening to Betty's smiling Columbia recording of "Blue Skies," and remembering dear Betty Hutton, and my old friend Buff, and


Daily Dose

From Creation Stories: Short Prose Things, by Matthew Simmons


"When we are not around, our pets lead very interesting lives."

From Some Assertions Cartoons Make About Animals That Also Hold True in the Real World

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Coming of The Machine

I have seen the future, and it works -- or will, very soon. It's taken a long time, but the Espresso Book Machine, or EBM, has finally arrived at the bookstore. To say that this is an exciting development is like saying sex is a pleasurable experience. Few technological developments in my time as a bookseller have generated this much anticipation, or cost this much, or been potentially this revolutionary.

I remember when the first computerized inventory systems were being introduced into bookstores. (Yes, I am that old.) Having finally "perfected" our inventory card catalogue system in the little store I was managing at the time, and being painfully aware of the marginal profits that kept that store open, I was among the skeptics. What need had we of such technology to keep track of books? What with invoicing and manual counts and careful records... I do realize how absurd that argument sounds now. This was years after libraries and larger stores, and what was then already a major force in the market, so called "super stores," had already adopted computerized inventories. I could not see past the expense. And I wasn't wrong, entirely. That little branch store did close, not all that long after. But computers, as they had to, came in and changed everything.

Gone soon enough, or not soon enough, actually, were the heavy subscription volumes of Books in Print, the weekly microfiche envelopes from distributors, the impossibly long phone-orders to Ingram in Tennessee. (These I actually miss a little, just because of the charming Southern ladies at the other end of every call, repeating the sometimes salacious titles we ordered for a bookstore in San Francisco: "The Boys of Vaseline Alley, one copy, go ahead...") Eventually, regrettably computerized ordering made much of what our publishers' reps did for us redundant. This was the worst loss, ultimately, as publishers' reps do so much more for independent booksellers than just take orders; a whole network of personal and professional relationships, and of personalized and professional service, goes with them when reps go...

I remember too when books began to be sold online and how slow most booksellers were to embrace the Internet. My own first exposure to the Internet came in the basement of a bookstore, when a hideous green screen had to be shaded with a kind of netting to keep from burning out one's retinas, and "the world-wide web" was still primarily a vehicles for academic libraries to rather clumsily exchange information. A small group of local programmers and enthusiasts regularly met in that bookstore basement then, and one of the guys explained to me that some day very soon, that muddle of information would completely change the world. No idea what he was talking about.

Now independent bookstores -- those with enough liquid capital anyway -- have an opportunity to get in on something that I do not doubt will eventually prove to be every bit as important to the future of our business as those first computers, that blazing green screen, and the electronic "readers" and the iphones and ipods and the like that we sell in the Technology Center, upstairs.

In a recent posting by the books editor of the local Seattle weekly, "The Stranger," Paul Constant, on The Slog, wrote, with a brutal honesty born of affection, that if bookstores don't want to become completely irrelevant and or cease to exist in urban centers at least, they must embrace the changes that technology, and the desperate economy, have forced on us: selling used books with new, investing in the means of producing our own books, responding to the needs of new, more impatient customers who are unwilling to wait weeks, or in some cases, days or hours, for the book they want.

Mr. Constant is right. It is no good assuming that bookstores will simply survive because they ought. We have to do what we can to see that they do, as booksellers with not only an economic interest in books, but a sense of mission, for want of a better word, when it comes to selling books.

This then is something we can do. What the Espresso Book Machine is is the means by which, in the bookstore, we can eventually produce real books to sell ourselves. Books that otherwise require a prepaid order and at least a week's wait, so called "lightening print" books not available otherwise, can be printed and bound and sold to the customer, in most cases, in less than an hour, using this machine! These are books visually indistinguishable from their original printings, most reasonably priced, and many that would otherwise have disappeared into the limbo of the out-of-print. Local authors, self-publishing, will now have the option to do so through their local bookstore, where, for a nominal fee, they will be able see their books carried and sold. Most exciting to me, literally thousands of out-of-print titles, many available, if at all, only in rare old editions, or as restricted reading in major libraries, can now be printed and sold in affordable paperback copies and sold directly to the customers requesting them!

Think of it: all the books that Helene Hanff had to write to 84 Charing Cross Road in the sometimes vain hope of her booksellers finding affordable copies for her, can now be reprinted in minutes! I know, because the list of titles from Hanff's memoir was the first list of titles I checked for availability, and yes, they can all be had through the EBM!

One of the first books the machine's operator and our trainee in the bookstore printed was for me: a copy of Lamb's essay, A Dissertation upon Roast Pig. The covers are flatly unattractive. The copy, taken from the Harvard Library, is fouled with notes, and the copyist's thumb is clearly reproduced on every other page. (Surely the good technicians at Google might have found a better, cleaner copy -- or at least kept their fingers out of it?!) It does not matter. For eight dollars, I can provide the reader with an actual book, however imperfectly reproduced, with charming illustrations, that will be his or hers to own, of something I would otherwise have to hunt up in a used copy, if I could, or hope might someday again be reproduced in an affordable edition.

Again I ask you, just think of that!

These are early days yet. The technology, and our ability to adapt and use it, will improve. As more bookstores sign on and more publishers agree to grant access to their backlist, the number and quality of the books that will be available to readers by this means will only increase. And with this wonderful new machine, so will the chance that bookstores will go on.

I was too stupid to see the future in the past. I see it now. It is better than I could have imagined.

Daily Dose

From The Bookman's London, by Frank Swinnerton


"It is a book of which some man -- some partnership of men -- has lost hope."

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Pure Lover: A Memoir of Grief, by David Plante

Luigi Galvani was wrong. Alessandro Volta had the right idea. Being scientists, they argued, politely, like the 18th Century gentlemen they were, not about what it was that made the frog's leg twitch on the dissection table when static electricity was applied to the nerve, but about the origin and meaning of the interaction. Volta, to prove his point, and refute Galvini, invented perhaps the first electric cell or battery, to show that electricity existed and functioned independent of biology, or "life force," as it was then understood, and that the distinction Galvini insisted on, between the vitality inherent in life and an external force, was false. Volta proved his point about "animal electricity" being indistinguishable from "heat electricity:" a biochemical reaction, and nothing more. Volta was so gracious as to name the reaction "galvanism." Nice, that, but in the process, he undermined one of the principle poeticisms of vitalism, In which Galvini stubbornly believed; the idea that animation, life, is not reducible to physical and biochemical processes, but inherent in and superior to physical interactions. I don't know enough about any of this to suggest that Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta killed the soul, but it is tempting. I will say, reading about all of this a month or so ago, my sympathies were all with Galvini. One wants him to be right somehow, at least I did. The idea that we are our biology, and that it is as reducible to impulse and reaction as anything else, is... distressing. No reason it should be of course, other than the habit of thinking otherwise. The mysteries are by no means vacated by a better understanding of life. Indeed, if anything, for the casual reader of science and history like me, the enigma of it all only deepens the further I try to follow such superior, scientific minds into the labyrinth.

Which is why I ought not to even try to summarize such things here, let alone draw conclusions or elaborate metaphors from things I barely understand. The temptation to do so, to use science, most unscientifically, as a vehicle for amateur speculations about such woolly human abstractions as the persistence of memory and love, is obviously strong, but should probably have been resisted. (Everything I read in contemporary popular science tells me this is so, and nothing seems to so consistently madden physicists and chemists, particularly, as this habit among the unqualified of borrowing the bits of scientific history that might lend a note of seriousness to such chatter as mine, that in so doing, I do myself no favors and do a serious disservice to both the science and the history so employed. I grant the distinct possibility that I may already have betrayed my disqualification from so much as mentioning the likes of Galvini and Volta in any context, let alone this. Setting aside the questionable taste in bringing up the work of Enlightenment anatomists in a brief review of a new book by David Plante entitled The Pure Lover: A Memoir of Grief, the last portion of which at least is a sometimes brutally frank examination of the physical decline and ultimate death of Plante's partner of forty years, I can only excuse my introduction of that long ago debate into this entry by admitting that reading the one book frankly made me think of the other, that one, a celebration as much as a commemoration of love, helped me understand, a even perhaps explain, the strange, irrational melancholy I experienced, and in an even stranger way, the sympathy I continue to feel, when I finished reading the story of Galvini's persistence in the face of scientific proof that he was wrong. That life, even by extension human life, that my own, begins and ends not in a spark or hint of divinity, but in facts, is unanswerable for me, except perhaps in the example provided, somewhat ironically, by Plante's memoir.)

It is ironic that such a short book as Plante's seemingly fragmentary memoir, made up as much by succinct, even bald statements of biographical history -- his lover's and then of their lives together -- as it is by Plante's more obviously meditative passages, should so reassure me. There is little or nothing in it to suggest that either Plante or his partner, Nikos Stangos, though they shared a common curiosity about religion, and a respect for each other's religious traditions, would willingly have their lives, or their life together, put to any such use by the reader. Plante's Roman Catholicism, and his lover's Greek Orthodoxy are mentioned in the context of their mutual exploration, as but one of the mysteries each found, and found himself, in Plante's case, in love with in the other. Orthodoxy was, for Plante, but one aspect, and not necessarily even the most interesting or exotic, of his lover's biography and culture. Like the beautiful, and moving biographical vignettes of Stangos' childhood in WWII Greece with which Plante begins his book, every mention of the differences in their backgrounds and personalities, every offered detail of his lover's life independent of their life together, is not a statement of fact intended to so much inform the reader, or even used as the means of just reconstructing or understanding the lovers' relationship as an objective narrative, but rather, each isolated memory, each question arising from these scenes and impressions, is addressed consistently throughout to "you," to Stangos himself. This memoir then is not the traditional recapitulation of the author's life, or even a biography of his lover. Instead, Plante has allowed an audience into his meditations on grief, into his ongoing conversation with his past, and with the lover he lost. This in not a book in which reassuring conclusions are offered as proof against the potential or real losses of the reader. The author's loss is not just recent, but present, his grief persistent, only the past, and that only in pieces, accessible to him now. The power of this book, what made it impossible to the first friend to whom I recommended it, was, I suspect, this immediacy.

"I just can't put myself in a book like this right now," he told me. I understood. He faces an experience not unlike Plante's soon enough, probably, and this is not an easy book. My enthusiasm for the beauty of it I think made me insensitive to to the potential its subject, particularly when near at hand, must have, for many of us, to undo us, rather then help to strengthen our resolve to go on as David Plante has -- few of us have his art to articulate our part in such a conversation with those we lose, or his habit of making art from our loses. In this, the author is enviable. In having such a history with another human being, and with such a good man, he is enviable too.

The intimacy of grief is of a dangerous kind, perhaps more dangerous potentially to us all than we choose to acknowledge, or can be expected to bear in the company of strangers, even artists like Plante. We are used to having such intimacy mediated by platitudes and the ritual elevation of the dead and dying into something abstract and saintly, something superior to their faults, and ours, and therefor somehow more worthy of remembrance and memorialization.

David Plante's memoir, unlike so many similar books about the death of a spouse, does not allow for this comforting fiction of a life ennobled by loss, or a death made into some teachable lesson. What survives death is not love, but memory; not the thing itself, but what we can make of it, what we can shape from it, keep and use. His title then is not an exercise in the more usual hagiography of the dead, but rather perhaps explained best in his own words, again, addressed to his lover:

"To love, you believed you must love purely, which was to love free of all the transitory, free of the relative, free of history, which was to love, oh, absolutely. So you must love me by finding in me the center of love absolute. And this you did -- kept the center fixed in all its purity -- though you suffered my vicissitudes, my infidelities, my crude history, my impurity."

At the end of the book, Plante describes this love as "heroic," and indeed it must have been, must always be. Such love is a matter of faith, in the beloved, but also in the ideal. It must have been an exhilarating experience, to be loved in this way. It is certainly exhilarating to read the story of such lovers. Plante's own love, for all his confessions of inadequacy as the object of such an ideal, is no less real, no less admirable or enviable, for being more frankly imperfect, more human. Stangos was clearly a remarkable and accomplished man; a diplomat, a poet, translator, editor and friend to an impossibly wide acquaintance. Plante clearly wants the reader to know and understand this, and to understand that, in detailing his own grief, he also shows the object of his devotion to have been truly worthy of it. That Stangos, as portrayed so lovingly by his lover could also be imperious, a bit cryptic -- at least in English, admittedly only one of the many languages he knew -- jealous and occasionally pompous, and that at the long end of his life, dying tragically from an invasive cancer that left him too little of himself even as he lived on, all too recognizably, sadly impossible, in no way diminishes Plante's obvious respect and affection, or ours in reading this tribute.

While much of the book is indeed a tribute, and a celebration of love, ultimately this is, indeed, a memoir of grief:

"All feeling and all thought, all are absent in your absence, so why, why is such total absence of thought and feeling so potent a presence -- yours?"

It is in David Plante's unusual choice of the interrogative, in his willingness to question even his own grief, his own memory, and the memory of his great love, that this brief memoir is transformed into not just a powerful work of art, but consolation, at least to me. Again and again, the writer questions not just the dead or the past, but what is vital still, not just the memory of being so loved -- happy memory! -- but love's persistence, in himself, even in the midst of and after grief, if it ends. This is what he has made of their life together, this beautiful book, these beautiful and difficult, perhaps unanswerable questions.

That's a true faith, perhaps, and one from which I can draw strength as a reader, his belief not in immortality, or the perfection of love, or even in the possibility of such things, but in the persistence, the necessity of dialogue. What else is love, if not that?

Daily Dose

From Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives, edited by Elizabeth Benedict


"I thought, only Harold could write a page and a half about his imminent death from AIDS and manage to irritate the reader."

From Harold Brodkey, by Edmund White

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Nancy Pearl

Today is the birthday of the great Nancy Pearl! Herewith, just a few quick snaps from her birthday party, at the fabulous new condo she shares with her beloved, Joe.

Nancy with her pal, University Book Store's Events Coordinator, and today's party caterer, Stesha Brandon.

Miss Nancy shmoozing.

A large happy partygoer, with the Birthday Girl, looking very much like he'd just like to eat her up, which, frankly, he just might.

Happy Birthday, Miss Fancy. Love ya.

An (Inside) Doodle for Miss Fancy

Daily Dose

From Imagination in Place, by Wendell Berry


"Our time's widespread but little acknowledged conviction that importance and even significance increase with violence discourages and obscures the paramount truths of human experience, which come only quietly into a quieted mind."

From Against the Nihil of the Age

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Paper Anniversary in a Paperless Environment

"Books think for me." -- Charles Lamb

And so I started with Charles Lamb, a year ago, and so, it seems, I will go on. It has been a year since I first came to doing this, here, on my own. A year ago, my feelings hurt, my ego bruised, I left off what I had been doing in this way to some purpose, at least so I thought, and in a fit of pique, I came home and set myself the same task, just to see if I might. And now I have done, and can not seem just yet to stop.

I never imagined I would last the year. Yet, begun in a kind of tantrum, this has become among the most regular aspects of my day. There have been days when I was grateful for it, and for, I suppose then, the fit that started it. There have been hours, often of the wee small variety, when I thought I was a fool to do even the little I have done here. I might better have been reading. I might have been better company to my beloved, A. , or to my friends. And still, instead, I noodled, and sweated, and doodled away...

I confess, I hoped, but I had no confidence that anyone was likely to find me here, or finding me, follow. Friends, I thought, might look in on me, as friends do, but I made no assumption that I might, by this means, make more. I thought I might continue, as I'd started elsewhere, with books, as I number among my books some of my best, and might, by means of these justify myself. I don't know that I have. I certainly have not done justice to them here. But friends, I find, I have still, despite my neglect of them, and more than I imagined.

I thank them all. And you, whoever you might be, new friend or old. It is good to know someone is there.

Meanwhile, tonight I look around me again and find the friends I've quoted here: Lamb and Johnson and Dickens, dozens of times, and dozens if not hundreds of others. The evidence of many acquaintances more recently, if no less happily, made is here as well, as is that of friends I'd forgotten until I had occasion to recall them from the shelves, or my old commonplace book, or some work of reference where I had not thought to look until some night when I was stuck for a thought better than any I found in the small stock I keep. I am grateful for every one I found to put in place of my own. As Lamb said, "books think for me." I can only add to that, that without them I wonder I might think at all.

And finally, I must thank those persons most responsible, not for the bits and pieces of memory, thin imagination and threadbare invention with which I've filled this space or the better stuffs I've used to stitch and patch the gaps between -- the work has been mine and no one to blame but me for its quality -- but rather I here finally thank those party to my departure from writing for that other place. They may or may not have meant me to do any such thing, but in their way, they sent me here, and I am, a year later, glad they did. I wish them nothing but well, truly.

Daily Dose

From The Charles Lamb Day Book, edited by E. V. Lucas


"I confess that I do feel the differences of mankind, national or individual, to an unhealthy excess. I can look with no indifferent eye upon things or persons. Whatever is, is to me a matter of taste or distaste; or when once it becomes indifferent, it begins to be disrelishing. I am, in plainer words, a bundle of prejudices -- made up of likings and dislikings -- the veriest thrall to sympathies, apathies, antipathies."

From the entry for January 23rd, taken from the essay, Imperfect Sympathies.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Self Portrait by Means of Little Scissors

And here, a childish bit of construction-paper-deconstruction of the curmudgeon at the Used Buying Desk.

Daily Dose

From Dreamthorp, by Alexander Smith


"Reading Milton is like dining off of gold plate in a company of kings; very splendid, very ceremonious, and not a little appalling."

From A Shelf in My Bookcase

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Second Guest Doodler: Jan

Again with the doodles of me? Yes. My blog, I guess, so again, my mug. This one is by my kind coworker, Jan.

Daily Dose

From The Victorian Age in Literature, by G. K. Chesterton


"No woman later has captured the complete common sense of Jane Austen. She could keep her head, while all the after women went about looking for their brains."

From The Great Victorian Novelists

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Second Generation Bloomsbury Clerihew


When Mrs. Bell in with Mr. Grant moved,
Most of Bloomsbury quite loudly approved --
Little thinking they would someday (somehow) beget
The less than angelic, Angelica Garnett*.

See Garnett's bitter memoir, Deceived With Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood

Daily Dose

From Books & Portraits: Some further selections from the literary and biographical writings of Virginia Woolf, edited by Mary Lyon


"They might have been written by starlight in a cave if the sides of the rock had been lined with books."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Economic Clerihew


John Maynard Keynes
Took great pains
With his General Theory,
Yet, it's still rather dreary.

Daily Dose

From The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, by G. K. Chesterton


"Whenever he said something that nobody but he could understand, I replied with something which I could not even understand myself."

From Chapter 8, The Professor Explains

Monday, January 18, 2010

With force renew'd, (if not) to victory aspired

A favorite BBC/PBS program of roughly thirty years back was James Burke's "Connections." Remember that show? A British academic/broadcaster -- a compound noun unknown in the US, but still quite popular across the pound -- in a leisure suit, introduced each episode by standing in some unlikely corner of the globe, excitedly describing the way in which Phoenicians dressed their beards in olive oil and, popping up in a dozen other equally unlikely places along the way, talking about spoons or the origins of tap-dancing, concluded a dizzying series of gradual or abrupt scientific or technological advances by announcing, "All of which brings us here, to --" as the camera reared wildly back to reveal... a jet airliner, a light bulb or The Empire State Building.

"Well, of course," the viewer said "just so."

It was always a dizzy and dizzying ride, that all made perfectly obvious sense -- until one excitedly tried to recreate Burke's connections conversationally an hour later.

I confess, I retain not one actual memory of any of the scientific history told in this way, but I did love the show. So... stimulating! Burke's delight in the unlikely interaction of cultures, history and ideas, no doubt without meaning to, did however provide me with a kind of personal justification, and a model, for my own undisciplined reading of history and literature. Books, I discovered, lead inevitably to other books, and not always in a direct line, going forward, but if viewed in retrospect...

Since those energetic early days as an omnivorous consumer of print, both my time and my tastes have grown increasingly restricted -- the right word, I think. I lack the elasticity of youth. So while I am no longer either as often led away by the new for the sake of its newness or as eager to trace the whole long course of history, and while the pace of my adventures has slackened to almost a stroll, I can not claim to have been slowed by any real refinement of observation or to have settled into any comfortable, and or profitable specialization. I'm just kinda poky, nowadays. Though, truth be told, I still read no less largely but no more deeply or with an real specificity of intent. The point? I've come to accept the absence of any such. I simply like and need to read and perhaps read more widely than most, if no better. And yet, I find I still seek the justification of my all too temporary enthusiasms in the traces left behind, traces I still can not quite concede as being evidence of only my wandering ways. I still map my all too circular, circuitous and sometimes senseless history as a reader in hopes, I suppose, if of nothing else, of remembering not so much my direction or proposed destination as, frankly, just my mileage. I've covered a lot of ground, it seems, in some forty odd years as a reader, even if I haven't gone very far. (If this suggests a devotee of the stationary bicycle rather than a cyclist, that sounds about right.)

So how then, looking only so far back as a week, did I come to find myself today reading John Dryden's "Preface to Albion and Albanius" in the second volume of the Everyman's Library edition of Dryden's Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Critical Essays?

Well, let's see.

I'd been listening to some songs by Purcell. Finding the music lovely, but the lyrics unintelligible, despite being obviously in English, I'd looked the words up online. (Dryden, but not included in either volume of Dryden's poetry I own.) Soon I was listening online to an archived radio program -- from the BBC again, natch, -- about Dryden's opera with Purcell of "King Arthur." I found this on the website for the American scholar, (and as I delightedly learned, semiprofessional flutist!) James Anderson Winn, to which I had repaired after reading a masterly chapter or two of Winn's John Dryden and His World, because I had been reading, among other poetry of his, Dryden's poem on The Great Fire of London, and wanted to understand the poem, and Dryden, better. I'd turned to Winn's scholarly biographical analysis, because, as good as it was, George Saintsbury's John Dryden, in the old English Men of Letters series, had not helped me as much as I'd hoped with the poetry. I'd taken up Saintsbury's book to fill in some of what I hadn't got from just the poems themselves. (The surfaces of which are slick, I've found, and I tend to just glide through Dryden's pages, if unassisted, without ever quite finding my feet.) And I took up Dryden's poems because of the frequency with which Jenny Uglow quotes the poet in her new biography of Charles II, A Gambling Man, which I'd actually finished... I don't remember when exactly, but not long ago, and which I'd only read because I enjoy Jenny Uglow's books so much, I'll read anything she writes.

So, now, why Dryden's preface to an opera other than the one to which I had been listening? Well, because it was there, I guess, and about opera, and music and poetry and the connections betwixt them.

To summarize just the books then (mostly just consulted and or actually read, in one case, to date):

Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Critical Essays, Volume Two, by John Dryden
The Poetical Works of John Dryden & The Selected Poems of John Dryden
John Dryden and His World, by James Anderson Winn
John Dryden, by George Sainstbury
A Gambling Man, by Jenny Uglow

(Not to repeat the list of an earlier post started by the same book by Ms. Uglow.)

Am I suggesting that any or all of this reading has taught me anything or left me better off than I was a week, a month, or twenty years ago? Well, yes, of course I am.

Just don't ask me how, exactly, as it's been more than a hour since I put down that last book.

Daily Dose

From The Pure Lover: A Memoir of Grief, by David Plante


"Our first night together, we could have been the inspiration of a poem by Cavafy, who would have noted the yellow satin counterpane you pulled from your bed before we got into it together."

From Gamma

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Clerihew of Devoted Prolixity


Though given away to a maiden aunt,
No son better proves a boy simply can't
Have a better friend than la mère,
Than Augustus John Cuthbert Hare*.

*In addition to six huge volumes of autobiography, in which his beloved adoptive parent, "The Mother," features frequently, Hare also wrote her biography, Memorials of a Quiet Life, in three volumes!

Daily Dose

From Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf


"Life itself, every moment of it, every drop of it, here, this instant, now, in the sun, in Regent's Park, was enough. Too much, indeed."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saved Again: Boudu Restored

When I finally bought myself a set of the Nonesuch Dickens reissues from Duckworth, it was, in large part, because I wanted finally to see the books whole, to read clean print on pure paper, and to revisit the illustrations as they were meant to be seen. The versions I had read before and the editions I owned already, were invariably either too small or printed from old plates, so that besides the frustration of gray print, if the illustrations were even present, they were murky, dim things, not worthy of the books, and often added in arbitrarily, far from the pages referenced. Maddening, to see a scene before I'd met it in the story, or come across some amusing illustration pages late! Luxuriating in the fine reproductions of the Nonesuch, I could finally see everything in detail, in the proper place and read to the illustrations rather than around them. While the individual volumes are simply too big to be carried easily, they are perfect companions for reading seriously, in good light, in perfect quite.

It can be hard to appreciate the difference made to the experience of reading by fine craftsmanship and publishing, unless and until one has seen the best possible version, not only the most authentic in intention, but the clearest, cleanest and best presented.

Many of the books I love, I read first in shabby used paperbacks, printed badly on rough, yellow paper. They were not the books as they were meant to be read, certainly, but they were the best I could then afford. Many of the old movies I love, I saw first working the house-lights -- still then a matter of levers and switches -- in a revival movie house, back in my college days. The prints were often tatty old things, spliced and respliced dozens of times, so that whole stretches might be missing, with soundtracks out of sync, or the color washed away, or the film so scratched and dirty as to make the compositions muddy or even meaningless. Still, I was seeing these movies on a true screen, but there was little thought then to restorations and preservation, and any old print of Les enfants du paradiswas thought good enough, I suppose. Foreign language films, many of which I was then seeing for the very first time, suffered specially, from unreadable subtitles that disappeared in the light, or flew by unreadably in fast scenes. Even then, I could see that these movies had suffered, however dazzled I still was. When the video revolution came, I was able to see even more, but again, most transfers to video in those early days were made from the same miserable prints that had circulated for years through the revival houses.

One of the great joys of my leisure hours now is being able to see so many beautiful prints of classic films broadcast on Turner Classic Movies, and seeing these films when I choose, thanks to the recording option on my cable service. And so I have seen again, for the first time in years, a wonderful film from my favorite filmmaker, the glorious Jean Renoir.

Boudu sauvé des eaux or Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932) is a delightful movie, but just how delightful can finally again be appreciated in the handsomely made Criterion edition, and as shown recently on TCM. The story may be familiar to moviegoers of roughly my age, from the Paul Mazursky's 1986 remake, Down & Out in Beverly Hills, an entertaining comedy, and it is no real criticism of that film to suggest that, for all of it's Hollywood stars and superior production values, it is a crude thing when considered in light of Renoir's original. Mazursky is a good comedy writer and director. Renoir was perhaps the greatest artist in cinema.

Boudu is a bum. When his dog disappears in a Paris park, Boudu jumps into the Seine to commit suicide. He is rescued by a good natured, bourgeois bookseller, who brings him home, much like a stray dog, and restores him, in the process, trying to tame Boudu, an effort which ultimately, and hilariously fails miserably.

The American Mazursky uses this simple farce to lampoon the Beverly Hills arriviste, with their vulgar materialism, new age affectations and sexual dysfunction. His Boudu, called "Jerry Baskin" and played brilliantly by Nick Nolte, is transformed into a kind of guru-savant; all zen detachment and rude masculinity, a sexual healer and unwitting savage philosopher. It is all brightly acid, topical and broad -- seeing it again a year or two ago, it already seemed rather hopelessly dated.

Renoir adapted the original stage farce for his friend, the great stage and film comedian, Michel Simon. Renoir wrote, in his memoir, Ma vie et mes films, (My Life and Films), "The role of this incorrigible tramp seemed to have been invented for this genius of an actor." Renoir's & Simon's Boudu is a monstrous, yet lovable animal, himself a great shaggy dog. It is wonderfully weird performance: Simon's incredibly expressive face, even under big dripping whiskers, his barking voice, his dog-like exuberance and masterfully choreographed, clumsy violence, are unlike anything to be seen elsewhere in film. Renoir clearly exalts in Simon's clowning, allowing him long sequences of pure silly destruction, as when, told he must shine his new shoes before he goes out, Boudu petulantly scoops the polish out of the can, smears it on with his hand, then wrecks first the kitchen, and then the master bedroom, trying to wipe the stuff off. Boudu's transformation into a respectable citizen, and even a bridegroom, is shown to be entirely superficial. In the end, like a comedic version of one of Doctor Moreau's beast-men, Boudu reverts, happily, to his true nature. It is an entirely true performance, without explanation or excuse: Boudu is Boudu. True, he is a victim of all manner of indignity and distrust when we meet him forlornly trying to find his dog in the park. He is ignored and isolated and a sad figure, but he is also insolent, ungrateful and strangely, doggedly, independent. Even his suicide would seem to be entirely his own affair, until he is unwillingly rescued. The attempt at domestication, though obviously well intentioned, ultimately has little more affect on him than the neglect he knew before. He is affectionate, but unbroken. Let off the leash, he runs.

But it is not just in the innocent animal pleasure of Simon's Boudu, and Renoir's delight in the letting him loose, that Renoir shows his superiority to the directors that took this story up after him. Renoir is the great humanist of film. For all his artistry as a technician and his affection for landscape and city streets and the eye for light and composition inherited from his great father, Jean Renoir's art is always peopled. It is into the human face he looks most deeply and where he finds the greatest pleasure and mystery. In his Boudu Saved From Drowning, as in every film he made from his first ventures in the silent era to his last experiments in television, Renoir allows for, indeed relishes every opportunity for humanity to complicate his stories, crowd his frame with activity, deepen, and even confuse his narrative. Human beings are fascinating, complex, forgivable creatures in Renoir's art. (Think only of his greatest films, Grand Illusion ((La Grande Illusion)), where war and the world of men is reduced, and elevated into a story not of airplanes and guns and the movement of great armies, but of individual soldiers, from both sides of WWI, or The Rules of the Game ((La Règle du Jeu)), a stinging satire of French Society between the Wars, where even the harshest characterizations are allowed a forgiving grace and vulnerability, a silliness and ineffectuality that remind us of our common inadequacy, arrogance, snobbishness, stupidity. Renoir, when he appears as an actor in this, remember, chooses to play a sweet, impotent fool.)

In Renoir's film, Boudu's rescuer is a stout, middle aged bookseller, a good, kind soul, operating from the best of motives. True, he is sleeping with the pretty little housekeeper, seducing her with the most awful romantic nonsense, dazzling her with ridiculous paeans to her youth and beauty, when she's actually a rather common place little thing. But then, look at the girl. She's not just some silly drudge. She's a spirited girl, and sexy, in her way, and aware of her power, first over her employer, and then even over poor, monstrous Boudu.

Renoir's film has it's satiric edge. This is not just a idle. There are, for instance, the volunteer rescuers of the neighborhood, who wish they had saved Boudu, until he is saved, and someone must see to him. (It is an interesting side-note in the history of film at this period, that among the neighbors, the chubby flutist seen practicing all night at his open window, provides the light score of the film, perhaps, in these early days of sound, to show where that music is coming from.) And the good bookseller, seen early on slipping a poor young poet the copy of Voltaire he wants, and even giving him another book, also without being paid, nervously asks the kid not to let the mistress of the house see him leave with these. That's charming, but this same man is still very much seen as incapable of thinking outside his class: in dressing the rescued and wet Boudu in his own old clothes and slippers, he is shocked when Boudu refuses the offer of a tie. (Boudu doesn't even quite understand what on earth the man's talking about, let alone want such a thing -- his first collar?)

In every beautiful frame of this movie, restored to it's proper shape and pictorial sense, as well as newly captioned, Renoir's genius for the seemingly casual, almost unassuming joy in the frailties of his fellow men now shines all the brighter for being made clear again, and Renoir's equally obvious pleasure in all the technical possibilities of film -- in his appreciation for sound, on the street or coming through an open window, in the slow progress of his camera through the apartment, moving from the family together, down the hall and then up to a window to see into the opposite window where the little maid is washing up, -- can again be properly appreciated in this wonderful print.

How grand a thing, to see Boudu again, and see him clear!

Daily Dose

From Our Times: The Age of Elizabeth II, by A. N. Wilson


"He is an electrically amplified beakful of amoral violence and cynicism."

On Ted Hughes' Crow, from 'This Was a Terrible Battle'

Friday, January 15, 2010

Conspiratorial Clerihew


Dan Brown
Spins 'round
Discredited history
Tangled skeins of mystery.

Daily Dose

From A Tour in the Hebrides with Dr. Johnson, by James Boswell


"This day was little better than a blank."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Clerihew of Adaptability


With no safe place to hide in,
Roundhead poet, John Dryden,
Reconsidered his estimation
Of the Cavalier Restoration.

Daily Dose

From The Strange Necessity: Essays, by Rebecca West


"Her determination not to be confused by emotion, and to examine each phenomenon of the day briskly and on its merits, was never a sign of limitation. It was a sign that she lived in the same world as Hume and Gibbon."

From The Long Chain of Criticism

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Seattle Headgear: Winter Edition (Doodles) #8

Daily Dose

From The Square Egg, by Saki


"He had tremendous sympathy for young men struggling to get on, and in practical ways helped many a lame dog."

Last line of Ethel M. Munro's brief (and terribly proper) biography of her brother, Hector Munro, aka "Saki"