Saturday, April 30, 2011

Magna est Veritas

Daily Dose

From Gray, in the English Men of Letters series, by Edmund Gosse


"Gray here cites fifteen authorized editions of the English text of the Elegy; its pirated editions were countless."

From Chapter V, The Elegy

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From A Subtreasury of American Humor, edited by E. B. & Katherine S. White


"The opus rises to fortissimo
While I, once more, resign myself to fate,
Hemmed in quite hopelessly by row on row
Of music lovers, hushed, insatiate.
I know it is a sacrilege to sigh --

The end is nearing, in all likelihood --
But one affrighted piccolo and I
See no way out of this enchanted wood."

-- Peris Greely Anderson

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Boys Build Forts

The last of three poems by Roger Fanning that I've read aloud, to date. There are others...

Daily Dose

From Critical Observations, by Julian Symons

"Where Balzac and Zola stretch out to comprehend their society, Simenon compresses society into the shape of his obsessions."

From A View of Simenon

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Blue Fish That Requires an Aquarium of Milk

Daily Dose

From Mainly on the Air, by Max Beerbohm


"I am glad that from the windows of my nursery in a Victorian cul-de-sac I knew by sight various other children, and their nurses, and their parents. I had no great desire to know them outside their frames."

From Fenestralia

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


The first of at least three poems by Seattle poet, Roger Fanning, from his book Homesick that I read aloud recently. May do more, as there are many equally good, though some seem a bit intimate for anyone other than the poet to read aloud. He has a new book coming out soon. I can't wait.

Daily Dose

From The Poems of
Walter Savage Landor

How to Read Me

To turn my volumes o’er nor find
(Sweet unsuspicious friend!)
Some vestige of an erring mind
To chide or discommend,

Believe that all were lov’d like you
With love from blame exempt,
Believe that all my griefs were true
And all my joys but dreamt.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Caricature

Optimists are rare nowadays in the book business, believe me. But we have need of them. Here we have the good man who manages to smile, come what may, every time I see him. Can't quite imagine how, but he does. Despite everything, I am convinced, he still believes. It's refreshing, frankly. The smile, I've learned, like the man, is sincere. Most encouraging to the rest of us, may I just say. And yes, it is my hope that this small tribute might make him grin -- though I've not done justice to him, obviously, or even to all those enviable curls. Nevertheless, I hope he knows how glad we are of him.

I've worked for a variety of bosses, good and bad, honest and otherwise, but rarely for someone who actually seems so glad to see me when he happens to. Imagine that. Me. I mean, would you? Well, the feeling now is mutual.

(Perhaps I'll give it another go soon... maybe in his motorcycle leathers. Honest. No flies on the Boss, no Sir.)

Daily Dose

From The Religio Medici and Other Writings, by Sir Thomas Browne


"The pleasures of one age are not pleasures in another, and their Lives fall short of our own."

From Christian Morals, Part the Second

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens

“'Wal'r, my boy,' replied the Captain, in the Proverbs of Solomon you will find the following words, 'May we never want a friend in need, nor a bottle to give him' When found, make a note of.'”

From Volume One, Chapter XV

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A View from the Crowd

How vain the ardour of the Crowd,
How low, how little are the Proud,
How indigent the Great!

-- from Gray's "Ode to Spring"

True story. I was never one for spelling. Never aced a spelling test or lasted beyond the second round in a Bee. Never had a paper in "Composition" come back to me but the page was bloodied with red and the grade pruned "for spelling errors." When I took to keeping a dictionary with me later on, while it addressed the immediate need, it also set my pace well behind the average whenever an "essay" was called in class. "Please finish your thought," was a phrase I came to expect across the top of all such spontaneous efforts, but how could I, when there was "either" to look up, yet again? Had I been born just a little later, or in an community more educationally advanced, this problem might have been addressed clinically, or at least given a comforting diagnosis, but no. Later still and it would hardly have mattered, as technology beyond the paperback dictionary has now largely solved it. "Spellcheck," when it came, came as a liberator.

It was not entirely a forgetfulness of the rules of English that muddled me. One of the frustrations of anyone, native or not, in infancy or after, learning this particular language is the appalling democracy of it. The very little Latin I learned I liked because it was rigid; every verb had its indicative, every noun its declension -- or was it the other way round? English is exceptional, damn it, and even when it isn't, it can be damned hard work.

Two small words that made much mischief for me were "full" and "like." Of themselves, I could spell 'em, even understand their definitions, but when they mated, for me sometime around the fifth grade, I could not get them right. Why was it that a beautiful or a bountiful noun, being admittedly full of bounty or beauty, even to the point of squeezing the "y" to just an "i", had not the little space left for that last, slim "l"? Surely, this was still a matter of measure, like a "spoon full" or a "full heart"? And whenever "like" -- admittedly that most sluttish word in the language -- took up with some new word, Mother Tongue proved to be pretty arbitrary when it came to chaperoning; allowing "like" to lead "wise" by the left hand and then crowd right up against defenseless little "a", or "child", but insisting she keep a respectable distance from much the rest.

That last conundrum -- more of manners than meaning -- has been now largely abandoned in popular usage, as nearly everyone in America now seems to accept "like" wandering into whatever company she will. As a child in Western Pennsylvania coal country, still then populated largely by descendants of the Scots/Irish, I had to break myself of using the word to punctuate thoughts as indefinite, as my grandmothers still did, as in, "Don't be late, like."

My spelling, as I've said, has been seen to by technological oversight. I type even the briefest note, when I can. I check everything. Yet, even as a long-time reader of reference books, I'm nevertheless still a little hazy on all the rules of punctuation, grammar and composition. My clauses proliferate. Commas, my oldest, dearest, friends, stutter along -- while dashes dash --and semicolons are a constant temptation; as evidenced everywhere here. I can not seem to write but in thickets. My sentences tend to end, when they can be seen to end at all, in the wrong place, or begin again when they ought to have stopped, long since. My writing rambles, though not like the rose, and too often I seem to end in the weeds.

And yet, one rule I try always to keep: whatever I write here, I try to make true. Exaggeration is as natural to me as overstatement, and both are my birthright, both by descent and sexual orientation -- peasants and perverts will neither of them ever tell a story straight -- and so I must be careful, watchful, and keep as near to honesty as I can, without being so exacting as to be thought dull. Neither scholar nor reporter, I don't feel the need to offer corroboration, when all I really write about is usually just myself. Yet I check my own memory, when I can, against the record and I am as careful as I can be of dates, and of other people. My memory is a sorry thing, and so, for instance, I am careful of quotes. I have to watch that I do not say what I do not mean, or that I do not make others to say what they never said. In short, to the best of my ability, I do not lie. I think we most of us would agree that that, admittedly as defined in the negative, is as near to telling the truth as we may get.

As a bookseller, I must admit to a certain weariness that this seemingly simple standard is not applied more rigorously in the writing and publishing of contemporary memoirs:

A little boy is repeatedly raped and tortured by his parents, and eventually rescued by a foster mother, who discovers that the child has AIDS. He survives to tell the tale.

... except that the boy, Anthony Godby Johnson, was really a middle-aged woman who called herself Vicki Johnson, though her real name was Joanne Vicki Fraginals. And the boy? An invention, start to finish. When exposed, both disappeared -- though in real life, we now know that "Vicki" married a quack psychologist, who was only recently acquitted of molesting little boys. Happy ending, I suppose, though the psychologist is now sadly dead, and poor "Vicki" now a widow.

A young junkie wakes up on an airplane, not knowing where he's going or how he even got there. He's been jailed multiple times, is still wanted by the police in at least three states, and his girlfriend has killed herself. When the plane lands, his parents put him into rehab. he survives to tell the tale.

... except that he wasn't, he hadn't been, and she didn't, if she ever existed at all. Yet, he and his publisher, Nan Talese, were shocked by the rude questions Oprah asked them, after the smoking gun website, among other sources, exposed tough guy James Frey as just a pimply novelist manqué with a police record that would make Paris Hilton giggle.

A little Jewish girl escapes the Warsaw ghetto and is adopted by wolves who protect her from the Nazis. She kills a German soldier in self-defence. She walks across Europe in search of her deported parents. She survives to tell the tale.

... except that the author, Misha Defonseca, while she "always felt Jewish," wasn't. Instead, she was raised comfortably by her grandparents in Brussels.

An orphan boy is raised by his Cherokee grandparents, who run moonshine, and teach the child respect for nature. Eventually, the boy is forced into a Residential School, where he is subjected to all manner of racism and prejudice, before being rescued by a Native American friend, named Willow John. Willow John and Grandpa die, and Granma willingly follows them. The orphan goes west, and survives to tell the tale.

... except that the author was not named Forrest Carter, let alone "Little Tree," but rather Asa Earl Carter, a member of the KKK, and the racist shill that wrote the infamous "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" inaugural speech in 1963 for Gov'nr George Wallace. In retirement from active race-bating and terrorism, ol' Asa took to writtin', pulp westerns mostly, until he wrote him a bestsellin' memoir, that weren't really anythin' much like.

In the Jewish ghetto of Riga, Latvia, a little boy's first memory is of his father's murder. After hiding in a farmhouse with his brother, the boy is deported to a concentration camp, where he sees his mother for the last time. He survives to tell the tale.

... except that the guy was actually just a Swiss clarinetist, named Binjamin Wilkomirski, who got no nearer a concentration camp than a tour bus.

Yet another victim of the Nazis never forgets the sweet little girl who passes him food through the fence at Buchenwald. He survives to tell the tale. Moreover, years later, on a blind date at Coney Island, they meet again, fall in love and marry.

... except that Herman Rosenblat invented the whole story to get on Oprah, write a book and pay off his IRS debt.

A half-breed Native-American girl grows up as a foster child South-Central Los Angeles, running drugs for the Bloods. She survives to tell the tale.

... except that "Margaret B. Jones" was really Margaret Seltzer; just some spoiled white chick from Sherman Oaks, who went to a snotty Episcopalian private school and who maybe kept a poster of Tupac on her bedroom wall.

The adolescent son of a prostitute working the truck-stops, is himself pimped out as a cross-dressing whore, after being abused and beaten for years. He dreams of a better life. He survives to tell the tale.

... except, and this one is my favorite, again, the whole shebang is a fraud, but this time with the added twist of a girl hired to play the imaginary boy -- most unconvincingly -- in public appearances while the woman who invented the whole story gives phone-interviews as both herself and as her made-up self, J. T. LeRoy.

Sadly, I could go on, and must. There is the Jordanian con who invented a best friend and then invented a forbidden love affair with an invented Christian for her, which got her invented throat slit by an invented Muslim father. Then there is the real mobster's son who exposed the real mobster's fake grandson, the fake Navajo with fake adopted kids with first Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and then fake AIDS, the German wunderkind who invented an autobiography to go with the stories she plagiarized, and the novelist who may or may not have A) been Native American, even a little, and B) adopted those Native American kids so that he might or might not abuse and or exploit them for copy, before he killed himself. And so on and on.

What all these stories have in common, other than a willingness to exploit the genuine tragedies and suffering of others, and a reliance on the most gruesome details thereof, mixed with outlandish invention, is the happy, or at least heroic ending. Hope, if not of redemption and reform, then at least of celebrity and cash, is required to make a success of this sort of thing. Nobody likes the defeated soul, or wants to read in book club about the survivor who despairs of God, and goes over the balcony. It is spiritual uplift that floats these books onto the nonfiction bestsellers lists. (Let's set aside the spiritual awakenings of various craven tourists, for they, like the poor, are always with us. From the tips of Gurdjieff's waxed moustaches to the seclusion of "Don Juan", we've always liked a bit o' showmanship & mystery in our spiritual guides, and can forgive them, it seems, their expansion beyond the verifiable, even when, like the American lady down under who was barely off the bus long enough to have glimpsed, let alone meet her Aboriginal "teacher", they admit their fibs. Religious charlatans are a class unto themselves, bless 'em, and not the subject here.) What's required in the successful fake memoir, beyond the lie, is triumph. We may have a morbid curiosity for violence, exploitation and the suffering of innocents, but it is the personal triumph over outrageous adversity, in the first person, that makes for blind editorial enthusiasm, big advances, book club selection, television talk show and lecture bookings, and yes, as we now know, even private jets billed to charity, but used to fly to sign books at Barnes & Nobles across the country.

I began by describing some of my own difficulties with rules, you may remember, but to this one, if nothing else, I think anyone who writes for even so small a public as this must be held: however near the truth one intends to get, and by whatever means, there's nothing like. A thing is true or it is false in the telling. David Copperfield is true, though fiction, not because the reader would have it so, or because the novelist intended us to accept the events described as having happened, but because the belief in their reality, in the cruelty of the Murdstones, and the kindness of Pegotty, in the long walk to Dover of a poor, ragged boy, etc., is necessary to our understanding of suffering, and hopefully then to the increase of human sympathy. That is the truth in Dickens. The reality of Mr. Dick and his kites, and of the donkeys on the green, may be taken as a condition of our enjoyment, just as David's final happiness may be taken as a condition of our satisfaction with the whole, and it is in the whole that a great novel may be taken as true. The delicacy of Charles Lamb may disguise his sister Mary as his "Cousin Bridget," and his crochets and whimsies be better expressed under the name "Elia," without making Lamb's essays in any way less than true. Such may be the necessary affectations of the individual artist. Such is not the privilege of those who would purport to tell the truth rather than express it. The difference between a fiction and a fraud is, so far as I'm concerned, in the means employed and not in the moral intended. One may tell a fable to illustrate a point, but not to claim credit as a witness to the events described, unless one is telling a story to very small children. The perpetrators of these fake memoirs would have us all back in the nursery, and their acceptance by publishers as nonfiction, and by the public as fact, without so much as an eyebrow being cocked when a boy may be played by a girl in a blond wig, hired by a childless woman old enough to be the mother of either, to play an author no one has ever met, for example, suggests that the publishers and the reading public deserve no more credit for maturity than the creator of "J. T. LeRoy" vouchsafed in the lot of us.

Likewise, the truthfulness of a minor, and all but unacknowledged contributor to two previously published but little read books: one the published papers of an obscure conference, and the other a perky little sop to middle class guilt about our lack of charity, published as a helpful calendar of things to be done each day, "none requiring a cash donation,"ironically enough as things have turned out, need never have been questioned. That is, until he claimed to have stumbled down lost in a tiny mountain village and there saved by the honest, illiterate peasants, fed back to health on Yak butter, and promising a little girl to return one day to build her a school. That he built just such a school, and many others, though never so many as he has claimed, nor all the ones built ever funded, nor some of them now used as anything but storage sheds, would seem to all be facts subject to some verification, surely. Likewise his harrowing tale of being held hostage by the Taliban. Likewise the bookkeeping of the charity he founded.

Again, as a bookseller, I despair not so much of the admittedly minor part independent bookstores may have played in the making of these frauds upon the public, but of the sickening sentimentality with which I find so many of us, yet again, defending these mountebank memoirists, even as their lies are exposed and their credibility vanishes from under them. How many times have I been told, by perfectly honest, respectable, well-intentioned business people in the book trade, that "the message" of The Education of Little Tree matters more than fact that the book was a perfectly cynical fraud executed for money, by an unrepentant racist? What, exactly, is the message of that? How well I remember a dear friend in the business who defended James Frey, for the good he may have inadvertently done addicts, by lying to them about his own, pathetically exaggerated experience of addiction and the all too common criminality that so often is a consequence of such a disease. How, exactly, does that aid the addict to be honest?

We are not alone. I've read critics and reviewers, at some risk to their reputations, not as arbiters of literature, but as possessors of plain common sense and any capacity for embarrassment, having been caught out by the facts as no less gullible than the rest of us, who are not so well paid to consider carefully what we would recommend to others, defend the artist value of the most duplicitous nonsense, rather than admit their mistake. Whose reputation, exactly, should suffer more by the evidence of such a malleable standard of value? Publishers and editors of national reputation, caught dining out on a swindler's bill, rather than push back from the table, complain of the bad manners of anyone so presumptuous as to suggest that they might be more careful of the company they keep and the character and competence of the people they employ, and bellow like babies if, in consequence of their carelessness with the check, anyone should denying them their desserts. How many invitations, how many meals has Nan Talese missed for never checking one "fact" in the whole of A Million Little Pieces?

Reading the responses of my fellow booksellers to this latest expose of the verifiable lies, alleged thievery, and at minimum the bloated self-aggrandizement of the author of the much admired and highly profitable Three Cups of Tea, I was at first touched by willingness of so many to give the beleaguered Greg Mortenson the benefit of the doubt, even now. It speaks well of a business that attracts such loyal partners in the promotion not only of books but of worthy causes, like literacy, the building of schools in remote places, and the education of underprivileged children half a world away. It also might be said, less flatteringly, to suggest a fundamental timidity, even among the independents, to challenge the public's taste for tripe. What good are we to those good souls still loyal to us for our superior service and selection, if we never challenge them when they express an unknowing or uneducated preference for the ersatz? How many of us who might know better, will now suggest a customer curious to understand the realities of life under the Taliban read Ahmed Rashid rather than the mix of real tragedy and personal myth that would seem to constitute the collected works of Mr. Mortenson?

If my experience to date is any guide, the truthfulness of the bookseller, myself included, will be no more reliable, when it comes to making a sale, than that of the publishers, editors, reviewers, and critics, likewise caught selling the public a bill of goods rather than the truth. All of us in the business of books are alike in this, that the business, not just the book, is too often what we give the customer, with nothing but the receipt and our thanks. At least when we know better, might we not try to give them something better? Otherwise, what real service have we done them?

But I may be wrong about this. Should anyone tell me that it is not my job to tell a customer that a particular book is, shall we say, mis-shelved as "nonfiction," I would be hard pressed to justify arguing anyone out of the sale. If I can sell David Ickes or Bill O'Reilly-- though never quite with a straight face -- I can still sell any of this sorry lot of liars, cheats and fakes without injury to my oh, so delicate conscience, can't I?

If nothing else, I do think we booksellers might be a little more skeptical by now, so that when the rep next comes in crowing about the latest memoir in which an abused and neglected child survives _____ at the hands of ______, at the very least when she does so after being adopted by a pack of wolves, we might request some little proof.

I don't know now but that I wasn't on to something, back there in the Fifth Grade, when I insisted that to be truthful, for instance, out to be the same thing as full of truth, like.

Daily Dose

From The Poetical Works of William Cowper


"Where shall a teacher look, in days like these,
For ears and hearts that he can hope to please?"

From Expostulations

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Res Judicatae, by Augustine Birrell


"Can any man turned fifty truthfully declare that he wishes De Quincey had left thirty volumes behind him instead of fifteen?"

From Sainte-Beuve

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Vertigo, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, screenplay by Alec Coppel & Samuel A. Taylor, based on the novel D'Entre Les Morts, by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

"Scottie: What about my acrophobia? What about... Now, suppose, suppose I'm sitting in this chair behind a desk, here's the desk, and a pencil falls from the desk down to the floor, and I reach down to pick up the pencil - BINGO - my acrophobia's back.

Midge: (Laughing.) Oh, Johnny-O."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Please Stand By

Daily Dose

From Unfamiliar Fishes, by Sarah Vowell


"Typical -- the only thing more European than spreading VD is documenting it."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More of Gravity than of Gaiety

When I got up Sunday morning, I put my glasses on and went to the loo, making it just so far as the door when the world "turneth it upside down" and I found myself "scattered abroad" on the bathroom floor. I did not fall so much as sink. The floor came up from under me, as the mirror and the lights whirled down. The room rolled, back and forth, even when I'd settled to the floor with my head resting on the bathroom rug. When I closed my eyes, the room reeled. When I opened my eyes, the world rolled. The nausea that followed resolved itself, repeatedly, in the usual way. The sweat ran off me like rain. It went on and on.

The EMTs collected me from the floor of the front hall and put me on a collapsible chair, to get me up the front steps, then onto a gurney. We had to pause, now and again, for me to be sick. I understand they were quite good about this. At least one of them, by all reports, was actually quite handsome. I wouldn't know. It was a long ride to the hospital. The young doctor in the Emergency Room was very kind, though he did ask me to do a "maneuver" that involved leaning back on the examining table, with my head hanging over the edge, then turning my head to the left and then sitting up quickly. This felt very much like the end of the world, to me. I didn't care for that at all. I understand the young doctor was cute. Again, I wouldn't know. Had nice hands, I thought, when I could see them. Eventually, they gave me some drugs. Some hours later, I left the ER and was given a proper bed in a proper hospital room. Stayed overnight. I left the hospital some time the next day, with a prescription, a variety of sticky pads still stuck to me, less chest hair than I'd had going in, and with Charles Dickens under my arm.

After scans of my brain and all manner of other tests, the doctors told me I was suffering from vertigo, like the Hitchcock title. Turns out, there's nothing obviously wrong with my brain, or my heart, or the rest of me. Nothing, at any rate that isn't my own fault or that wasn't wrong before I fell. I hadn't had a stroke, about which there had been some initial concern, or a heart attack, or anything like that. Just vertigo. No reason to think I wouldn't recover, though it might take time to right me altogether, even with the pills, or that I might not have this same unhappy experience again some day.

"It happens," the doctor told me, not unkindly, "sometimes when people get a little older, it just happens."

When the husband was packing me an overnight bag to bring to the hospital, he thought to bring me my clothes, including a clean nightshirt that I did not have occasion to wear as I spent my time in hospital gowns, the shoes I eventually walked out in, on his arm, and a book. "I just grabbed one off your nightstand," he told me, "so I hope it's the one you wanted."

Bless him. Of all the books he might have packed, of all the books he might have grabbed from my nightstand, he chose a book of my Nonesuch edition of Dickens, the volume that includes both Hard Times, which I'd only recently reread for the first time, and Great Expectations. Like all the Nonesuch, this was a fine, big book, with big, bright type and all the original illustrations. When I found myself awakened, repeatedly throughout the night and into the morning hours, though I couldn't find my glasses on the table by my bed, I tried to read a little, or at least look at the pictures. I tried to focus. Maybe I could not quite focus enough to actually read for more than a minute or two without the print spilling off the pages and into my lap, but I tried. Probably not the right thing to do. I did it anyway. When I couldn't, I held the book closed by my head, like a spare in a shipwreck, just to keep me afloat.

Some time around dawn, when a lovely nurse with a lilting island accent came to check my "vitals," she found me with my glasses on, the book on my chest. When she set the book aside in the bed to listen to my heart, I saw her look to see what it was.

"Looks like a Bible," she said, not all together inaccurately. Not though. Just a novel or two.

"It's Charles Dickens," I said, "he wrote great novels. Do you know him?"

She didn't know as she'd ever heard of him. I mentioned A Christmas Carol, which she had heard of, and David Copperfield, who she thought she thought she might have heard mentioned before.

"And so what's in this one, then?" she asked, in a friendly, conversational way while she took my blood pressure.

I closed my eyes and told her:

"My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip."

Or something as like to that as I could manage without reading, and with so many drugs in me. This did not, as it turned out, hold much meaning for my new acquaintance, the good nurse from the islands. So I told her that it was the story of a boy, an orphan, raised by his sister, by the sea, how he came to love a girl who would break his heart, and how he came into his fortune unexpectedly by way of a small act of kindness, a kindness he could only repay in turn by giving up all that he had been given.

"The girl was bad, egh?"

I had to admit that she was, though it was not really her fault, and that in the end, suffering, and love, may have made them both better than they might have been.

"That's alright then," the nurse concluded, seemingly satisfied, or at any rate, finished with her patient, though I don't think I'd justified so big a book having just that bare story in it.

Only just today, for slightly longer spells, have I been able to read a little more, whenever I've been awake long enough to try again. My success continues limited. Nothing in the whole experience, may I tell you, at least from the moment I was put to bed in the hospital with a proper diagnosis, has terrified and depressed me so much as not being able to read. Nothing that might happen to me -- save only separation from those I love best -- terrifies me more, frankly, than the thought of such a disability being permanent.

I did not mean to exaggerate the gravity of my illness, from which I am already much recovered obviously, or to color these few remarks on it with anything like such morbid speculations. I am already, if not altogether well, then much improved.

"'I am ashamed to say it,' I returned, 'and yet it's no worse to say it than to think it. You call me a lucky fellow. Of course, I am.'"

When I get up from my chair tonight, I'll still be as wobbly as a colt, a "fall risk," as one of my hospital bracelets says, so I'm still inclined to go a bit easy. And so I must apologize not only for whatever I might have put down here, on my first night back at my desk, but also for the more general thinness of things here for the past few days. As I improve, I hope things here will as well. No promises, just yet.

But at least I can read a little again tonight, before I put the light out, and that is enough for me, and so it must be for now. That I find, just now, seems to me nearly everything.

Daily Dose

From Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph, by Edgar Johnson


"Rather than our being entirely right and Dickens' contemporaries entirely wrong, the fact is that we live in a different emotional climate from theirs."

From Chapter Four, The Neglected and Misused

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity, by Robert Lane Greene


"and as we shall see in a future chapter, the re-creators of modern Hebrew took the limited stock of words in the Bible and the Talmud and created a modern language with words for everything from 'telephone' to 'clitoris.'"

From Chapter 4, More Equal than Others, How All Languages Can Express Almost Everything

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress, by Chris Hedges


"Once unleashed from the restrictions and confines of American journalism, I began to write what are, in essence, sermons."

From The Introduction

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, by Adina Hoffman & Peter Cole


"He also adored The Vicar of Wakefield and boys books like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe."

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Bossypants, by Tina Fey


"'Blorft' is an adjective I made up that means 'Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.'"

From 30 Rock: An Experiment to Confuse Your Grandparents

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writings on Politics, Ice Cream, Churchill and My Mother, by Simon Schama


"While I was working on A History of Britain, moved by the possibility of passing on some insight to students about the ways in which scholarly history might be popularised for much broader audiences without compromising its integrity, I was rash enough to propose an optional graduate seminar called 'History beyond the Academy.'"

From A History of Britain: A Response

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rock On

Just the very briefest of explanations for tonight's doodles. I'm coming quickly to believe that the less I like the music, the better I like the fans. We had yet another rock star come to do a book signing. I did not stay for the event. I did however field phone calls for the past few weeks, as did all my coworkers, from people genuinely excited about coming to the bookstore. That was happy news. They came from far and wide. No lie. Some of them drove for hours, others flew into to town just for this. Two girls camped on the grand staircase from just about the time we opened the doors this morning. By the time I left, the line was already snaking through the store. Everybody in line was happy enough, polite, and having a surprisingly good time. Couldn't imagine how, but believe me, they were. No idea how many hundreds of books were sold tonight, but I do know that the Cafe sold out of Diet Coke. (Also, Earl's, across the street, seemed to be doing a brisk business with folks who had stepped away for just a minute or two, for something more relaxing, and maybe a smoke.)

Last night I actually listened online to a little of the music that inspired this kind of devotion. Not something, clearly, I will ever understand. Matters not one whit. Based on my experience at the store today, and the last signing we hosted for a real rock star, let me just say, bring on the rock stars, and bless 'em. I love these people.

True, I drew some of 'em standing in line, which I hope no one will mind, as I do that all the time anyway. But then I only draw interesting people generally, so remember that, please. If any of these good people had been boring, I would have been doodling someone else.

True, I don't remember the last time, if ever, I saw a grown woman wearing a teeshirt that read "fucktard", and I can't say that every style choice made otherwise inspired admiration, but these people; young and old, large and small, dyed or shaved, were uniformly quiet, excited, nice to each other, nice to me, and queued without a murmur like Soviets in line for the last loaf of sawdust. When I think of some of the behavior I've witnessed in large crowds at more traditional literary events, let alone from collectors on line -- to say nothing of the bitching on the phones from persons in remote places who can not be made to understand that the author may not wish to sing happy birthday to one's elderly mother -- don't laugh, that happened once -- well, then all I can say is --


Motley Crew

Daily Dose

From On Something, by Hilaire Belloc


"An elephant escapes from the circus and puts his head in at your window while you are writing and thinking of a word. You look up. You may be alarmed, you may be astonished, you may be moved to sudden processes of thought; but one thing you will find about it, and you will find out quite quickly, and it will dominate all your other emotions of the time: the elephant's head will be surprising. You are caught. Your soul says loudly to its Creator: 'Oh, this is something new!'"

From Perigeux of the Perigord

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Verses


"The man was independent, dull,
Offensive, poor and Masterful."

From Maria, Who made Faces and a Deplorable Marriage

Monday, April 11, 2011

James McMichael's She

Daily Dose

From This That and the Other, by Hilaire Belloc


"The use of analogy, which is so wise and necessary a thing in historical judgment, has a knack of slipping into the falsest forms."

From The Barbarians

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Philip Schultz's For My Father

Daily Dose

From St. Francis of Assisi, by G. K. Chesterton


"The whole point about St. Francis of Assisi is that he certainly was ascetical and he certainly was not gloomy."

From Chapter V, Le Jongleur de Dieu

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Walter de la Mare's All That's Past

Daily Dose

From Tremendous Trifles, by G. K. Chesterton


"He did not talk about the books he'd written; he was far too much alive for that. He talked about the books he had not written."

From A Great Man

Friday, April 8, 2011

Walter de la Mare's The Scribe

Daily Dose

From What's Wrong with the World, by G. K. Chesterton


"Water (applied externally) is a splendid thing, like wine."

From The School for Hypocrites

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Yvor Winters' Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight

Daily Dose

From The Uses of Diversity, by G. K. Chesterton


"It is often said nowadays that in great crises and moral revolutions we need one strong man to decide; but it seems to me that that is exactly when we do not need him. We do not need a great man for a revolution, for a true revolution is a time when all men are great."

From The Duty of the Historian

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Clerihew of the Conatus


If the bright idea you think you've got is
Truly sub specie aeternitatis,
First you must suppose a
Benedict Spinoza.