Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Complete Poems, by William Blake


"To cut off the bread from the city,
That the remnant may learn to obey..."

From Plate 7, The Song of Los

Saturday, July 30, 2011

One Last Go At It

One last go at it. One last doodle, at the author's request. Seems my little caricature did not please, and "drew the focus away" from what the novel is about, namely: books, booksellers, bookstores, and the loss thereof. So... fine.

I don't mean to be grudging about this. Whatever the dear man wants. So, a tumbling stack of dystopian classics, kicked from a V-cart, by rioting booksellers. (You'll have to read the book to appreciate this.) Meanwhile, done.

If We Shadows Have Offended

Now keep in mind, he's the one put "Hell" in the title of the damned book! This was meant to be a surprise for my friend, the novelist, the one who'd asked me to give him some illustrations for each chapter of his forthcoming novel about the fall of a great bookstore. (It's fiction, please note.) I'd avoiding drawing anybody in it, other than anonymous hands, and one pair of feet. The idea was just to add little visual jokes at the head of each, brief chapter. Some were pictures taken from the scenes described. Some where book jackets of the classics mentioned. Some were simply objects commonly found about a bookstore, though some of these were meant to suggest, slyly I hope, the individual narrator of the chapter, or the locale, etc. (Doubt anyone will see those jokes but me.)

Anyway, the point of this last was to surprise the author with a wee caricature of the gentleman himself, as Pan, or Puck if you will, grinning as these revels ended. Sent it in with the rest to the dear woman producing the book on the EBM, but not to the novelist who was not meant to see it until the book was printed. Didn't quite come off, my plan.

He saw it, and in his wonderfully gentle, Jesuitical way, he suggested in an email that he would like some simple drawing, perhaps of books scattered on the floor, just at the end of the book, as a last comment on the action. Sort of a coda...

Finally had to admit, as I'd immediately suspected on receiving his email, that in all honesty, he didn't much like the horns I'd given him.

Here it is then, anyway. I've done just as he asked, I hope, for what will now be the last picture in the book. Meanwhile, I still rather like my wicked Nick, Ol' Mr. Scratch,my little God Pan.

Waste not, want not, I always say.

Daily Dose

From Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott


"The theft was bad, but the lying about it, and allowing another to suffer so much from an unjust suspicion, was worse; and most discouraging of all was the attempt to restore the money in an underhand way, for it showed not only want of courage, but a power of deceit that boded ill for the future."

From Chapter XIV, Damon & Pythias

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From A Dog of Flanders and Other Stories, by Louise de la Ramee


"'My dear friend,' said the pig, turning to the turkey, 'you see that every living thing is devoured by man. Why should you suppose you were to be the exception?'"

From Meleagris Gallopavo

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Finishing the Cat: An Open Letter to Puss

Dear Feles,

Here's the problem, pussycat. Finding dogs of great literary pedigree is no problem at all. Open a book, any book, of dog stories and out they tumble: big dogs and brave dogs, loyal dogs and little ones, funny dogs and friendly dogs, every breed and station, in third or first "person". It seems that nearly everyone who ever picked up a pen, from Herodotus and the dog of Marathon down to Twain and Garth Stein, has written something admirable about some admirable dog. You needn't agree with the premise to concede the point, I think. Dogs simply have a better press, particularly in fiction.

Not that cats are under-represented in literature. Plenty of cats to be found in books. The problem is neither in the quantity of the cats nor the quality of the writing. Many great writers have written most excellent cats, and true. But the cat, you won't mind me saying, tends to complicate rather than simplify the stories of even the greatest writers. Dogs, as you know, are nothing if not easy to read. Cats, right or wrong, tend to the inscrutable, or at the very least suggest a complexity, on the page as in life, to which most dogs would not even think to aspire.

And it doesn't seem much to matter the mood of the story or the period in which it was written, does it? Tragedy to comedy and all the stories in-between, the dog, while a versatile performer, and just as capable of terrifying the reader as any other dangerous or misunderstood beast, tends to be forthright, even in scenes of great violence or dark menace. No one suspects even The Hound of the Baskervilles of cunning, as such, or imagines that the bloodhounds chased Eliza our of malice.

But then, when a dog is admirable, and particularly when a dog is brave, as in fiction they so often are, it isn't often that there's anything deliberative in that, either. People who write professionally about dogs may have more to say on the subject, but the writers with a story that requires a dog, in even the best stories, if you can appreciate the distinction, tend to invest dogs, good or bad, with unsurprisingly pure motives.

Funny stories about dogs, I won't even go into here. The advantage is obvious. Almost any dog can play the clown. Think of Wodehouse. There's nothing to adding a dog to the joke. Almost any dog will do, but as Wodehouse proves, there's nothing funnier than Pekes. Even a cat would have to admit, I think that Pekes are inherently funny.

I can't explain all this in any rational way. It would seem to be a feature of human evolution that while we took cats and dogs into our caves and company at roughly the same time and with something like the same regularity since, we've never been fully comfortable with the assumption, made so easily in the case of the dog, that domestication made an end of anxiety. Cats can still make us nervous, some of us, and more than cats might think.

To return to literature, even our first stories confirm or establish this unease. Everyone who was ever a child remembers some great dog story from the nursery library: there's Dorothy's brave little Toto to start, and Tock with the clock in his belly from The Phantom Tollbooth, there's Lassie, and Old Yeller, My Dog Skip, and Sounder. Not to say that there are not admirable cats met in the same period, but, you must admit, even the most famous of these, -- the one in the hat, wouldn't you say? -- is a less reassuring or reliable character than a dog.

For whatever reason, the interaction between the feline and the human, at least in literature, is as likely to be complicated by some suspicion, even of the most obvious and benign affection. That not everyone loves cats, it seems, is a fact that must be acknowledged in a way that would never be suggested as necessary when describing a man and his dog. The historical record, despite all the evidence of mutual love between a particular cat and particular companion, seems frequently to made by or with persons prejudiced against the cat very much in mind. Typically, there is this charming story from Boswell, spoiled, at least for our purposes however, as you shall see, by this prejudice:

"I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson's breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, 'Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;' and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, 'but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.'"

How often does a writer admit so easily to a dislike of dogs?! I can think only of that great student of birds, and ironically a great lover of cats, Edward Lear, who did not make any secret of his abiding aversion to dogs.

When it was agreed that we would have a reading series at the bookstore this August, and that we should call it "Dog Days," there was of course someone who was quick to insist that some time must be set aside for stories about cats. I will admit, the idea for the series being mine, that I argued, unsuccessfully, against this deviation from our theme. I was not so much persuaded, as gently over-ruled. Don't misunderstand me, no one said we must have an evening of cat stories, but there were those who were so eager to read about cats rather than or in addition to dogs that even I could see the shame of letting such enthusiasm go to waste.

Let me say again, here and now, I have no antipathy to cats, and neither have I any special affinity for dogs. I dislike neither and live with none. My objection then to the inclusion of cats on the program has nothing to do with cats as such, but rather it has everything to do, as I've suggested above, with the difficulty of finding something to read come the day.

As I challenged my coworkers, so I would challenge you to find a story in all of literature, a really worthy, well written, thoughtful and valuable story, of just the right length and tone for a public reading, and written for an adult audience, a story about a cat, in which the cat does not figure as either a malevolent or at best a character indifferent to the fate of the human beings described. No easy thing, let me tell you.

This may well be unjust, but the fact remains that most cats to be found in most famous short stories, hell, in most of English literature, even in the anthologies compiled to celebrate all things feline, are not necessarily very... well, nice. When not the actual agent of supernatural destruction, or the inadvertent cause of, say, a murderer's discovery, the cats I've come across in books tend to step more often over corpses than daisies. Even in stories without actual physical violence, the cat most often is called on as a mute witness to something more unpleasant than not, is made to symbolize some detachment, or indifference to human suffering, and very seldom, in my experience, rescues a baby, or fends off a burglar, or pines away for love.

So, you see the problem don't you? The story I plan myself to read on August twentieth, while a charming and very funny piece, and quite typical of the supreme economy and wit of the great English short story writer, Hector Hugh Munro, known as Saki,does not, from Tobermory's perspective, end well. Yet this story, so far as I can tell, is in every single collection of cat stories. Well it should be, though it hardly speaks much for either the affection we humans feel for cats or the abundance of sweet-tempered, loyal and happy cats in literature, that this should be the one story all such anthologies of the last one hundred years should have in common. So, on we go, to find anything else so good, and funny, and perhaps not quite so mean.

(Then there is, just as aside, the to me mystifying prejudices of even those who love cats. Having found what I thought a charming story by Colette, I presented it as a strong possibility to the very woman who had won the point in the first place of having an evening of cat stories in addition to the evenings devoted to dogs. She read the first paragraph, which I thought perfect, and promptly closed the book. "I don't really like Persians," she said, "or Colette, much." Je vous demande, qui est équitable?)

So, my dear, come the night of, should any actual cats come to the reading, they will of course be welcome. Be warned though, it may be no easy thing getting this thing right. As Wodehouse, himself a genuine lover of cats as well as dogs, most famously said, "Cats are not dogs!"

I think I can be forgiven, just this once, for adding only, "amen." Though I remain,

Most sincerely yours, etc.

Daily Dose

From A Wonder Book, by Nathaniel Hawthorne


"No doubt -- no doubt -- the Troubles are still flying about the world, and have increased in multitude, rather than lessened, and are a very ugly set of imps, and carry most venomous stings in their tails.""

From The Paradise of Children

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Beastly Man

Birds might not have been a bad ideas. From Flaubert's parrot to W. H. Hudson, to say nothing of Poe's raven, there are birds to be had by the dozens in books. The skies of fiction are black with them. The trees sing. (And, AND, many are delicious. However, sensitive to the tender emotions of some of our listeners, best avoid Babette's Feast, and the usual roast goose, and or the prize turkey, "big as a boy," hanging in the poulterer's window, in Dickens, for instance.) We might even have got away with a hunting story, as I can think of at least one American, and another English, in which the bird outsmarts the dogs and or the sportsmen. Aesop has some awfully clever birds. Even limiting ourselves to just domesticated fowl, there's still plenty of variety. For heaven's sake, Dumas, père, had a vulture, among other feathered pets in his ménagerie!

But there was no one piped up for the birds. We started with dogs. Dogs were the point. Cats could not be ignored, though I had reservations I'll try to address later. I thought someone might speak up for Flika or Black Beauty, but as the bookstore does not actually employ ten year old girls, that proved not to be an issue, and no one mentioned so much as the Houyhnhnms in defense of the equine. Reading Wodehouse, I naturally thought of pigs as well.

But, no. As it now stands, we will have three days of dogs, and one of cats, and that will be that.

I speak of course of the upcoming reading series, Dog Days, at the bookstore where I work. Every Saturday in August, from six until the store closes at seven, we will be reading classic short animal stories, all to do with our best four-footed friends. (Please come if you can.)

The initial inspiration for these readings came in the latest volume in the wonderful Everyman's Library series of new short story anthologies, each organized by theme, the latest being, forthrightly enough, Dog Stories. See? Perfect idea. Like all the best books in this series to date, this little book of treasures, old and new, was selected and edited by Diana Secker Tesdell, about whom otherwise I have been unable to learn a damned thing. What I do know is that every book she has edited for this series has been wonderful -- and that any she didn't, hasn't been. (I still use and sell her first collection, Christmas Stories, every year for my Capote Christmas reading. Still the prettiest and best such book, at a perfectly affordable price, that I know.) At least two of the dog stories included in this latest, if not more, I hope to hear at our readings: I may yet read the Kipling story aloud, though it's a bit long for our purposes, and I very much hope to get a coworker I still have in mind to read the Penelope Lively, which would be better aloud, I think, in a woman's voice.

As it turns out, Tesdell has a book of Cat Stories coming, but not until October, too late for our purpose this summer, but something for readers to keep in mind, come October 18th, when it will be released.

I mention some of the other possibilities above because, having hit on the idea of Dog Days, the very first person I ran the idea past was my beloved friend and supervisor, P., a woman very much devoted to her two beautiful young cats. "What about cats?" asked P., predictably enough. Sigh.

It isn't as if dear P. doesn't like dogs. She is in fact one of the cadre of animal enthusiasts in the bookstore who seem to share the uncanny ability to scent fur at any distance, and she descends with the rest en masse onto the sales floor whenever anything remotely lovable pads unsuspecting through the front door. P. is almost sure to be in the pack. It is a sight. They come from the four corners, these women, and quickly surround and admire nearly to the point of insensibility every canine lucky enough to be caught.

Her strong suggestion that we not neglect the feline then, expresses an admirable loyalty and fairness, rather than a strict preference or any sense of grievance. Thus the 20th of August, of necessity, has been set aside for cat stories. Having no wish to be difficult, I will contribute one of Saki's most famous stories," Tobermory."

The point being that we might just as easily be reading stories about ferrets, or birds, or Betsy Barker's Alderney Cow, from Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford, come to that. Animals other than Homo sapiens sapiens figure throughout fiction, and much as dogs numerically, I should think, are far and away the most popular subject, they are far from being of exclusive interest, or alone in our affection. Never the less, given the confines of space and time in the series as planned, cats have proved to be the only concession of necessity made. This is not, after all, so an ark that we are launching so much as a skiff, designed to pass a pleasant summer's hour together, once a week for a month.

All of this I mention because in the week after the signs for the reading series went up, before we had so much as decided on what is to be read when and by whom, I have already heard from any number of unhelpful people that we really ought to read something about _____, particularly the famous story by ______, even though it's nothing to do with dogs.


Should we do another series some day, on say the theme of "Love" in February, or Irish short stories in March, I can not frankly imagine that there would be nearly so many opinions proffered on what we might read as there have been on this occasion. As broad as the word love, and as specific as one might think the Irish might be, I do not doubt that folks not directly involved might find plenty to suggest. But on the subject of animals, people are, quite simply, mad.

What we can not read about dogs is of itself a list too long to include here. Suffice it to say that dogs must never die, ought not to suffer, or even be unduly discomforted, whatever may tragically happen to the human beings around them. Dogs must not fight, or bite, or be in any way villainous or even bad tempered, unless most cruelly provoked, in which case the story sounds too unpleasant anyway, etc. And all that, mind, is just to do with dogs.

Among the suggestions I've had to date are that we ought to read something about chimps or gorillas, as these are, even I would agree, fascinating animals. Yet other than The Murders in the Rue Morgue, is there an ape in fiction not in the company of a nearly naked man, and in bad prose? Lions I've had thrown at my head likewise, and tigers and bears... oh my.

Fundamentally what seems to be the source of the confusion here is that the proposed readings are not intended to celebrate the assumed superiority of the four-footed, or just to tell stories, but to read aloud great short fiction in which the animals traditionally nearest our hearts are central to the tale. Now what the animal-mad readers I've encountered seem not to have noticed in our promotional materials is that this, as with every reading we've organized likewise, is meant to be about reading good writing aloud, whatever the organizing theme. Yes, we come hopefully to please and praise the lovers of dogs, but also the lovers of great books. I don't see that we need choose between good writing and good dogs, do you?

What will be excluded, if I can help it, is the fulsome, often cloying animism of most popular, contemporary animal writing, specially the kind of thing that seems most common in the pet-memoir and other, non-instructional, animal-oriented nonfiction. It's all well and good that someone's Persian Blue saved her life or marriage, or that a Golden Retriever taught a family how to love. It's lovely that a cub raised in a Manhattan apartment and released into the wild should recognize his foster-fathers years later. What's cuter than a gorilla asking for hugs in sign language -- except maybe a gorilla that loves kittens? Admirable animals all, human and otherwise. That there are devoted readers of this sort of story, in hardcover no less, as a bookseller, I must applaud. But with one thin hour to fill each Saturday evening in August, I think we would do better to concentrate first on the quality of the writing to be read though, don't you? We can hardly do justice to to the whole of sentient evolution in that time, now can we? Whereas, we might be able to make someone laugh with something silly from Wodehouse, or typically smart from Twain. We might move not just someone's heart with the story of the great dog Rab of Edinburgh, but move that same listener to read the great author of that story, Dr. John Brown, who wrote not only of that dog and others, but many charming and wonderful essays and stories and letters besides.

That, to my mind at least, is the real point of these readings. As much fun as these things can be, both for readers and audience, there is also always the chance that we might, in this way, find new readers for great writers, old and new, and lead someone present to a book they may have forgotten or might never otherwise have known.

So, fair warning, even though I admit to being specially careful in our selections to not offend or in any way willingly put off the very people happiest in the company of dogs, cats, canaries and any or everything else that fetches, or flies, purrs, barks, sings or slithers, I hope whoever comes to hear us read will come in the hope of great stories and good company rather than in expectation of worship. It's not the Blessing of the Animals, people, it's a bookstore reading.

That in mind though, if I haven't already offended you too much, or your pets, please, do bring your dogs. We love dogs.

Daily Dose

From Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling


"And the Elephant's Child's nose kept on stretching; and the Elephant's Child spread all his little four legs and pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and his nose kept on stretching; and the Crocodile threshed his tail like an oar, and he pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and at each pull the Elephant's Child's nose grew longer and longer--and it hurt him hijjus!"

From The Elephant's Child

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Caricature

Really, really hope he doesn't mind this. Don't actually know the boy. Just thought he was completely adorable, with a face that cried out to be drawn. Friend Vlad evidently drew him before, but then they're friends, and Vlad's drawing was nicer. Evidently, Mr. Garcia is now back in Texas, so I think I'm safe.

Daily Dose

From The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Sketches, by Bret Harte


"The camp was jealous of its privileges and looked suspiciously on strangers."

From The Luck of Roaring Camp

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Caricature

Daily Dose

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson


"'Do you call that a head on your shoulders, or a blessed dead-eye?' cried Long John."

From Chapter VIII, At the Sigh of the 'Spy Glass'

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dog Days Ahead

Here's the poster for the upcoming reading series at the bookstore. Quite attractive, I think. Now, of course, comes the hard work for the rest of us.

Daily Dose

From A Dream Play and Four Chamber Plays, by August Strindberg, translated by Walter Johnson


"His knowing what he was like excused much that he did. 'Poor fool that I am,' he used to say, and then he'd take off his cap and scratch his head."

From The House That Burned

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Word Has Spread!

A most kind coworker took this snapshot to share with me, bless her. Seems some good soul at Winchell's Donut House shares my enthusiasm for Thack. Huzzah!

Incidents in the Life of my Uncle Arly, by Edward Lear

Daily Dose

From On the Contrary:
Articles of Belief, 1946 - 1961
, by Mary McCarthy


"How a man can become a monster or a mechanical marvel is the question that preoccupies Dickens throughout the whole of his work. And these mechanical marvels he shows us are not travesties of men invented by a satirical author; they are appallingly true to life. Mr. Dorrit, Pecksniff, Uriah Heep -- these are the travesties man has made of himself."

From Recalled to Life, or, Charles Dickens at the Bar

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Two Old Bachelors

Daily Dose

From Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph, a Biography, Volume Two, by Edgar Johnson


"... The Wisdom of Our Ancestors, of which the successive volumes were labeled: 'I. Ignorance. II. Superstition. III. The Block. IV. The Stake. V. The Rack. VI. Dirt. VII. Disease.' Along side this bulky work was The Virtues of our Ancestors, a single volume so narrow the title had to be printed sideways."

From Part Eight: The Darkening Scene, 1851 - 1858, Chapter One: Fog Over England

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ford Madox Ford on Dickens

Daily Dose

From A Simple Story, by Elizabeth Inchbald


"One author he complained was too light, another too depressing, and put them on the shelf again..."

From Chapter XIV

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Robert Browning's Memorabilia

Daily Dose

From Dramatic Romances, by Robert Browning


"Some Garrick, say, out shall not he
The heart of Hamlet's mystery pluck?"

From Waring

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thomas Hood's Silence

Daily Dose

From The Poems of William Morris


"Love is enough: the the World be a-waning
And the woods have no voice but the voice of complaining..."

From Love Is Enough

Monday, July 18, 2011

Clap hands! Here comes Charley!

Get ready, people. Come February, 2012, it will be the Charles Dickens Bicentennial. Mark your calendars. Start planning now!

Daily Dose

From The Diaries of Dawn Powell, 1931 - 1965, edited by Tim Page

OCT 4, 1947

"Some people drink to make the people they're with turn into the people they wish they were with."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Augustine Birrell

Daily Dose

From The Letters of Nancy Mitford & Evelyn Waugh, edited by Charlotte Mosley


"Of children as of procreation -- the pleasure is momentary, the posture ridiculous, the expense damnable."

From a letter of Evelyn Waugh to Nancy Mitford, dated 3 May, 1954, Piers Court, Stinchcombe

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From The Complete Poems of William Wordsworth


"It is a beauteous evening, calm and free;
The holy time is quiet as a nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity... "

From It Is a Beauteous Evening

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pulled from a Drawer

"What's your favorite poem?"

A friend, himself a poet, asked me that not long ago. No one's ever asked me the question before. To be honest, I'd never thought. Still couldn't say, which is odd, now I come to thinking about it.

I don't even know how many poems I know, you know?

Think about it, how much poetry do you "have by heart", as used to be said, and how much of that because you loved it? Portia's "The quality of mercy is not strain'd", is in me somewhere, and two sonnets besides, with how many other scraps and quotes of the Bard, but none of it there for love, but for school. When I remember so much as a line, even of Shakespeare, I wonder from where and when it came. Couldn't tell you now.

Other bits of poetry from childhood and youth surface now and then, most often unbidden. In addition to the nursery rhymes of my earliest recollection, I am surprised now to find all sorts of barely remembered children's verse come up, and not just Seuss. Most of it, I should think, is otherwise forgotten or unknown now to children under forty. Why, for example, Eugene Field?

"In an ocean, 'way out yonder,
(As all sapient people know)
Is the land of Wonder-Wander,
Whither children love to go..."

Anybody? No? I can't be the only one who still remembers "Where the Dinkey-Bird is singing / In the amfalula tree!" Just as well perhaps if I am. Still, all those years of selling Maxfield Parrish calendars, every year there would be the naked boy on the swing... and the painting titled? That's right, so maybe that explains that.

Eugene Field is very much to the point. Nobody much reads him now, kids or otherwise, but he was a very popular fellow once, "the children's poet." Couldn't sell a set of his books for the money I'd waste in cleaning and shelving them. But I grew up with old people all around me; grandmothers and the friends of my grandmothers, old neighbors, old ladies who lived in old houses in which, now and again, I found old books. (I first traveled to OZ via books in a neighbor's house.) Outside the elementary school library, I read what I found. In my grandma's house, I read my uncle's copy of Treasure Island, left behind when he went off to fight and die in the Second World War. Somewhere, off some dusty and neglected shelf, I know I read Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verse, because when I did again, not all so long ago, I knew it, backwards and forwards. Eugene Field, while already largely forgotten by the nineteen sixties, when I would have encountered him, was still a feature of Sunday School libraries, grandmothers' parlors and the like.

We most of us don't know where the poetry in us came from anymore, I should think. School mostly, but not exclusively.

I grew up in a fairly rural setting, where the poetry tended to the declamatory: a Psalm in church, a patriotic ode for the 4th of July. The bits I remember best, other than Shakespeare, and things learned for school, are all of them from recitations: John Greenleaf Whittier, Kipling, Whitman and Wordsworth and Longfellow. The verses of the King James Bible, I heard from the pulpit, the rest recited on the stage of a Grange hall, or in a civic auditorium. Not a bad tradition, looking back, nor entirely out of keeping with how most poetry was meant to be heard. But, from those drafty halls and dull, solemn places, I never thought to keep a favorite poem, or poet. Nonetheless, long after I last set foot in any like meeting, I cannot now see the Gilbert Stuart portrait that dear Dolly Madison saved from burning -- Washington at full length, in black -- without thinking of Lowell's "Soldier and statesman, rarest unison," or see Lincoln dead without starting "O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done..." That's something to be said for those poems, and poets then, isn't it?

Poetry, at least as it was taught to me after elementary school, was more a matter of cryptography than pleasure. (Do they still ruin the music in poetry this way, I wonder? Or has the popularity of rap corrected that particular educational misdirection?) Poems -- long and short -- were just so much prose done up in a jumble, to be sorted by symbols, metaphors and the like: William Carlos Williams' plums not plums, but pleasures forbidden but tasted, all the way up to the Saturday New York Times crossword of modern poetry for high-schoolers, Eliot's endless Wasteland. Is it any wonder that there's less of that stuff in me than what may not have been nearly so good, the stuff I probably heard read, however badly at a picnic or at the PTA?

I read poetry now. I read more of it than I might ever have been expected to do, considering my background and education. What's more, I read more kinds of poetry, meaning form, length, period and poet, what have you, than I ever thought I might. If anything, I am likelier now to read a new poet than I am a new novelist, and to read poetry because it is new. Imagine that. This is almost all to do with my dearest friend, R. Twenty some years ago, when we met, I was nearly as proud of my ignorance of contemporary poetry as I was of my contempt for contemporary music. Proper little snob I was, and not a clue where to start, besides. As R. is himself a poet, he could not help but see poetry as a natural part of conversation. I liked him very much, so I tried my best to catch up. I worked in bookstores even then, so I had an advantage. I studied his bookshelves as well. To him I owe, just off the top of my head, Louise Glück, and Merwin, and Frank O'Hara. Not everything he taught me took, of course. He still thinks more of John Ashbery than I am ever likely to, and Louis Zukofsky remains for me a dead letter, despite my friend's enthusiasm and The American Poets Project. Others we found together, back in the day, like Mark Doty, read together on vacation at the River, sitting on the floor of a little bookstore that probably isn't there anymore. He's kind enough, my friend, to even suggest that I've introduced him to more poets now than he introduced to me. What he may not appreciate is how unlikely it would have been had I not wanted to please him by taking up poetry again. I would not have so many favorites otherwise, books I mean.

(My favorite book of poetry at the moment? The Best of It: New & Selected Poems, by Kay Ryan. Yet another poet I have in common now with my friend R.)

All that said, I do not yet know that I have a favorite poem, as the other poet asked me. The explanation I think may be that unlike either of those poetical gentlemen, I still think and write and read primarily in prose, not to say that they and we all don't anyway, except for the few who needn't always. What I mean is that poetry tends to illustrate some point I might feel the need to make, or express better some emotion, but, like most prosaic persons, poetry tends to come to my mind in lines, quotations pulled from a drawer, all tangled up and twisted around other bits of verse and whatnot. With all that I read of the stuff, I seldom think to write about it here, or at all, because I still feel unqualified to comment. I've never studied poetry properly, and I'll never write it. Doggerel I make to entertain myself and fill this space, now and then, but a poet I will never be. Prose is anybody's business, but poetry needs talents I do not have.

So I don't know that I'll ever have an easy answer to that question. I certainly can't think of a list. Chrisstina Rossetti's Goblin Market? I've loved that since I first read it. Mark Doty's Lament, since I've mentioned his My Alexandria? Something of Thom Gunn's that I've read and posted here? The Whitman I used to shout at people when I was in college? No. Won't do.

I might say Charles Lamb's The Old Familiar Faces, and mean it.

It's better though to just admit my failure to find an answer. Let the poets tell me theirs. I'll read them. Add them to the shelf. Who knows but years from now, I'll find a line when I need it. Not the worst thing, is it? Taking stock, there's more there than I might have imagined, and much of it quite useful. No point trying to organize it now. It is what it is. That will have to do.

Daily Dose

From The Complete Poems of William Wordsworth


"Serene will be our days and bright
And happy will our nature be,
When love is an unerring light,
And joy its own security."

from Ode to Duty

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Only Record of Tonight's Event

Well now. As tonight's reading drew nigh, pretty much everything that could go wrong -- short of a tornado or death -- did. Our third reader, intended to be Mr. Timmins to dear P.'s Mrs., came down with a violent stomach flu and has not been to work all week. He was unable to participate. This was a damned shame, first because he's a perfectly nice fellow, but also because he was already advertised as our only actual Englishman. I felt the loss particularly, as this not only meant I had another voice to read, but also because I had edited the piece in such a way as give Mr. & Mrs. Timmins of "A Little Dinner at the Timmins's" as much focus as I could, so that they might break up at least a little of the monotony of just me reading. With Mr. Timmins absent, that balance was lost. (Feel better soon, poor M.)

And then there is the unfortunate business of my own unhappy head. I too have been absent from work for some days. What is probably a very simple little head-cold has triggered a far less pleasant, and considerably more inconvenient recurrence of vertigo, a truly awful condition I would not wish on anyone not registered Republican and or currently kicking a dog. As a result of my own infirmity, I was forced to carry a cane, not as I might once happily have done, as an affectation appropriate to the period of the story if not altogether to a reading in a bookstore in the present day, but carry a cane I did just to keep from tumbling over between the door and my seat for the reading. Between having a cold with all the usual symptoms, including the likelihood of losing my voice at some point soon, I had also then to worry about possibly reading from what to the world might look like a stationary text but to me what at any moment might be a moving target. Not fun.

I will just here only add to these complaints, the absence of a number of our usual loyalists for this sort of thing, including, alas, my dear A. who is off in Pennsylvania with family. True, a number of good and very dear friends and coworkers came and rallied 'round us, and we did have at least a couple unfamiliar faces as well, but I did miss some of our regulars nonetheless.

Oh yeah, then there's this: in my muzzy state I brought and carefully set up my little video camera to record the proceedings, and then failed to turn it on properly, although I thought I had. These photographs then will have to constitute the entire record of the evening.

This however, while a personal loss to me as I should very much like to have had some record of Pam Cady's wonderful performance, may in the end be no great loss to literature and history. Everyone was quite kind and complimentary, but I must admit I haven't the slightest idea what kind of muddle I made of things tonight. I do remember having to save some perfectly easy lines with some clumsy improvisation, never a good thing, and I'm sure the various voices I had intended to employ for the various characters I read must all have had an unintended nasal drone in common. (I'm quite sure my accents wandered rather widely tonight.) Perhaps the failure of the video camera was a kindness to me.

Afterwards, I was treated to a birthday dinner out by my dear P. and her beloved, S. and that did me a world of good. Nothing like fried cheese, naan and lamb in a rich, almond sauce to make the world right. A good Indian dinner then, in honor of William Makepeace Thackeray, born July 18th, 1811 in Calcutta! (Wish you could have been there, at least for the pakoras. Delicious.)

Daily Dose

From Letters of Max Beerbohm, 1892 - 1956, edited by Rupert Hart-Davis


"But I believe I could say a word in favor of freaks in general. After all, there is Tristam Shandy, Gryll Grange, Zuleika Dobson: all my favorite works: and none of them quite in the Tom, Dick, and Chaucer, Thackeray, Harry, Homer tradition, are they?"

From a letter from Virginia Woolf, dated 29, January, 1926, in response to the one from Max Beerbohm, quoted below

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Irresistible Charm of Research

Tomorrow comes the event. I am, in some ways, well prepared, in others not. I have rehearsed, many times here in my office at home, but only once with my fellow readers. Our schedules at the bookstore being such as they are these days, and being short-staffed all last week at the buying counter, etc., there simply wasn't time. (I can only hope the other participants found some time on their own.) I have now done a third and a fourth edit of our text to be read, "A Little Dinner at the Timmins's", and I think I have now reduced the whole to a manageable size, and without I also hope, losing the flavor of the piece. Honestly, that is always the hardest work when preparing a reading for the bookstore. I've picked a poem, should there be time, as an encore.

I have certainly read and or reread enough by and about William Makepeace Thackeray by now to be confident that I know my subject better than I might ever have otherwise. When the idea of a reading for Thackeray's birthday first came to me, I went browsing through Vanity Fair, looking for a scene with Becky that we might read for the event. While this proved impossible, I can't say that I was made at all unhappy by the effort. It is a thoroughly great book. Next, I went through essays and journalism, though I was sure we would want an actual story, and I read my way through all the verse, some of which ended up as short readings here. Likewise, entirely satisfying. I reread Barry Lyndon -- and I happened on the brilliant Kubrick film, right there to be rented under the heading "Historical", as an "On Demand" selection from the cable tv company. Imagine that. The film is an astonishing visual achievement; capturing better than any I've ever seen what it may very well have looked like to wander an English meadow in the days of the Georges, or to play cards by candle-light, or face a duel on a cold morning. The movie, quite simply, is beautiful, though very different from the book of course. I read nearly all of Henry Esmond too, and will finish it yet. It is my favorite of Thackeray's novels after VF.

As for books about, I did consult D. J. Taylor's again, as it still seems to me the best of the modern biographies, and I read long patches of Trollope's little book on Thackeray as well. Still seems to a most remarkable thing, that Morley should have got one of the greatest Victorian novelist to write a brief life of another. I had them reprint for me on the bookstore's EBM machine, our beloved Homer, Dr. John Brown's little book, Thackeray: the Literary Career. Brown was a friend, after a fashion, to the novelist, as well as an enthusiast, and his short book is full of true and interesting things. I also had printed at least two short anthologies of quotations and selections, including the book we would eventually reprint for the bookstore's event. As I've already discussed here, doing that subsidiary project has been one of the best experiences of the whole business. I think the book admirable.

Knowing what we were to eventually read, and not planning on any lengthy introduction the night of, both for reasons of time and because I am wary of getting too preachy before reading a funny little story, and so ruining the mood, I really did not need to read another word about Thackeray just now. But honestly? I undertake these events not only from a sincere desire to do the great man some small good, but to give myself some excuse to get lost in the preparations, frankly. I hardly need an excuse to reread Henry Esmond or to explore The Yellowplush Papers, but having one does seem to excuse whatever I might do by way of research and in so doing, I can allow myself the kind of wallow I do not much do anymore. There was a time, in my youth, when I read individual writers in just this way; starting pretty much at one end and reading, back and forth and side to side, my way all through. That isn't the sort of thing one can recreate very often after forty. Reading a great novelist for the first time is wonderful both for the sense of personal discovery, but also because there is usually so much more, particularly with the Victorians, and all of the rest new as well. Rereading such writers, curiously enough, I have found, is actually an even richer experience. True, neither the books nor the life is any longer new, but in some ways, I am. A great part of my life has gone by since I first read Vanity Fair and Henry Esmond. The way I now read is slower, naturally, and what I now read for; humanity, humor, style, I like to think is nearer to what the novelist might have hoped for in a mature reader. The books then couldn't be bettered, but clearly I could.

As for reading around an author, I don't generally do nearly so much of that as I once did, but my patience with the supplemental reading I now dow has considerably increased. What I wanted most from a biography when I was young was, I should think, exactly what I wanted from the novels: I wanted to know. Now I do, at least as much as I am ever likely to, and what I want know is more a matter of emotion and contemplation, if that last doesn't sound too grand for comic novels and the books about the writers of such. I don't personally believe much in the kind of writing usually designed to that purpose. I enjoy a good sermon, honestly, but I prefer the opportunity now to meditate with the weary, the funny, the storyteller, rather than the mystic or the monk. I like the company better. As for biographers and critics, I've developed an impatience with most contemporary literary analysis and that, matched with a healthy horror of most modern psychology, has led me back to the generation of the writers themselves and their immediate heirs. Turns out, what I like best about reading Fielding, for just one example, I also like in Johnson. The thing I like best about the Thackeranians that survived into the Twentieth Century was not only the similarity in language and style to their subject, but also their feverish, admittedly sometimes maddening habit of collecting. It may look like the scholarly complete-ism that came to dominate and nearly wreck literary biography from about the middle of the last century forward; resulting in those thick, unreadable, official biographies of writers as different as Sinclair Lewis and Graham Greene, but the Victorian and Edwardian, even Georgian mania for collecting, rather than resulting in big books detailing every breakfast a novelist ever ate, turn out to be big, wonderful grab-bags instead; full of otherwise lost letters, sketches, contemporary reviews,selections from the memoirs of otherwise forgotten friends, anything and everything that could be gathered in, pell mell, in those far off days before American research libraries and collections, before the Internet, or even newspaper archives. The resulting volumes tend to be badly organized and not always logically arranged, it's true, but they also tend to be full of the most delightful surprises, even with the most familiar subjects.

I couldn't resist then having just one more title reprinted for me. The book in the picture above is monstrous thing, of some five or six hundred closely printed pages, and the EBM reprint proved to be so fat as to almost not make it through the binding. While it's true that I didn't need such a book, where else would I have learned that dear Arthur Hugh Clough, then a very young man, came over on the boat when Thackeray first came to lecture in America, and that the two of them should meet again and again during Thackeray's stay here? Where else might I have read the full text of the article reviewing Thackeray's first American effort, as written anonymously by Thackeray about himself? Great, good fun. (As are all the wonderful sketches, by Thackeray and by various American observers.:

If nothing else, I am glad to now have this book to browse in. What does it matter that I hardly needed it or the reading we are to do? I might never have known of the book's existence, but for having so good an excuse to search Google Books for whatever the name Thackeray might suggest. I am also pleased to note that nothing I've had to read or do to actually prepare seems to have discouraged either my affection for or my interest in William Makepeace Thackeray. That says more for the novelist than it does for me, obviously.

I plan to retire tonight, not with my script which I should be reviewing again, but instead with this latest unnecessary purchase. Why not? It's all Thackeray and all therefore to the good, no? That's what I think, anyway.

Daily Dose

From Letters of Max Beerbohm, 1892 -- 1956, edited by Rupert Hart-Davis


"There seems to me to be only one good method of narrative -- Homer's and Thackeray's method, and Tolstoi's, and Tom's, Dick's, Chaucer's, Maupassant's, and Harry's; all of them very different men spiritually, and employing the method in very different ways, but not imagining that a new method is needful, or couldn't be unhelpful, and wouldn't certainly play the deuce and all, in its own time, and might by dint of various alterations and improvements become a sure and shining instrument in the hands of the Hereafter."

From a letter to Virginia Woolf, dated Villino Chiaro, 30. December, 1927

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Subsidiary Enterprise of the Thackeray Project

Come Thursday night, we will be having a little reading at the bookstore, in celebration of the 200th birthday of William Makepeace Thackeray. This all started, you know, when I could find nothing online to mark the occasion, anywhere, save one display mounted in a Midwestern, American, Mormon university library! Imagine that! I searched for something, not just in the US, but the UK, and even in India, the place of the novelist's birth. Nothing else did I find. Since then, I found a Kensington gallery and frame shop, prepared to offer a toast on the occasion, to the novelist in his old neighborhood, in fact, on Thackeray Street, and right around the corner from Thackeray's house in London (now the Israeli Embassy, of all things, and hence described as now being "among the most secure locations in the city." How that might have made the man smile.) One American library. One English frame shop. One Seattle bookstore.

Not to say I wouldn't have wanted to mark the occasion anyway, but seeing little evidence that anyone else much was going to, I became all the more determined that something ought to be done. Securing the available date nearest, July 14th, to the great man's actual anniversary, July 18th, I set about finding something appropriate, and light to read, finally settling on a short story, "A Little Dinner at the Timmins's", and recruited two coworkers to read it with me. I requested a small poster from the good people of the bookstore's Promotions Department, and set up a facebook "event" for the reading, by means of which I might invite friends, far and wide, to attend or at least show their support for the enterprise. Here, and on the bookstore's blog, as well as on and on the facebook page, I've now posted a series of fourteen videos, all brief readings from Thackeray's novels and poems. The last recorded among these consisted of some unintentionally amusing bits of our only rehearsal for the actual reading in the bookstore. All of these preparations and attempts to promote the celebration were undertaken with the one thought in mind that I might draw some attention not just to our small, in-store event, but to the great writer. Anything in service of that seemed, and seems to me worth doing.

Another idea did occur to me, something new. I'd made a pencil sketch to post here, a caricature actually taken, rather ghoulishly, from a study of Thackeray's death-mask. Why not recycle my sketch and put it to further use? And so the subsidiary enterprise of reprinting something of Thackeray's on our own dear Homer, the bookstore's Espresso Book Machine, came to be. We had, a year ago, reprinted a number of books from Helene Hanff's library -- all out-of-print, all now available for reprinting thanks to Google Books -- and made these available the night of our reading for the 40th Anniversary of the publication of 84 Charing Cross Road. That proved one of the great satisfactions of that evening. We subsequently sold all, or nearly all the books we had reprinted, some we have now reprinted more than once! (A few are even now on the shelves at the bookstore.) Rather than just do the same for Thack, we thought we might this time design a new cover, using my sketch, and make proper note of the occasion on the cover. Thanks to the tireless enthusiasm, skill and good taste of the bookstore's own Anna, the present publisher and operator of the EBM, you may see the result above. (This being my copy, a gift from the dear woman.) Copies will be on display and available at the bookstore the night of, and hopefully thereafter.

My original idea had been to reprint two or three of Thackeray's now sadly neglected other novels. Vanity Fair, his first and most lasting masterpiece, requires no help from us to find readers. Sadly, it would seem to be the only one of Thackeray's books to survive in popularity down to our day. This is a terrible injustice to a great writer and one of the supreme novelists, not only of the great Victorian age of the English novel, but in our language. The problem with reprinting even Henry Esmond, or Barry Lyndon though, was that the available formats of each, as scanned by Google Books, were part of larger sets of Thackeray's collected works, and as such it was not always clear what we would actually be getting as reprinted books. Didn't want to confuse anyone new to Thackeray by having the second part of something else crowded in with the whole of something else. That sort of thing. One book I did find, and had reprinted for myself, ended up the title we chose to make over for sale in the bookstore. A collection of quotations and short excerpts from all or nearly all of Thackeray's work, the little book called The Sense and Sentiment of Thackeray, serves our purpose perfectly, I think, as it may introduce readers unfamiliar with the writer, or who may only know Vanity Fair, to more, with some taste of Thackeray's rich and remarkably large production. The emphasis in this collection is not so much on Thackeray's great wit, though that is certainly represented, but more on his philosophy of life and literature; a subject sorely neglected by academia and not much considered even by fairly recent biographers. (No new biography published to mark his bicentennial either, please note. Disgraceful.)

That Thackeray isn't better read nowadays may be blamed, I think, on a fundamental misunderstanding of just this aspect of his writing, his style, and the man himself. For the moderns at the beginning of the last century, Thackeray, much more so than Dickens, or Trollope, or even George Eliot, who was at least a woman, came to represent everything they disliked about the Victorian novelist and the traditional English novel. Dickens at least was angry, and his genius was of such a strange and wonderful kind; full of endless invention, wildly funny and sometimes brutal language, bizarre and brilliant characters, that he was, quite simply, impossible to ignore or dismiss entirely. Trollope talked honestly about money and power. That had a certain realism that continued to appeal to Twentieth Century readers and writers. Despite the fact that Eliot was easily the most pious of that great generation, she was also the most intellectually complex, and the writer of the greatest philosophic sophistication. Thackeray was worshiped by his contemporaries, including Charlotte Bronte, and the critics of his day and just after, for the clean, and elegant style of his prose, widely accepted as a perfect model of how English might best be written. That would not hold with the revolutionaries who came in the century next after his. Moreover, Thackeray came to represent everything that was conventional in English morality, and in English prose, the very things the moderns set out to smash and remake. I need hardly point out that in the hundred years since, much of what the moderns had to say about literature, in turn, has became received opinion, going largely unchallenged by subsequent critics and academics, and so some, though by no means all of the great writers and books that the moderns liked least, continue to be neglected or ignored simply because it is assumed that they must be irrelevant still.

I would argue, however, that among the great Victorian novelists, there is none so near to our present way of seeing the world as William Makepeace Thackeray. If Dickens insistence on love as the necessary force to change the world now seems, as indeed it still is, a radical proposal, and somewhat quaint for that, Thackeray's less bombastic hope for simple kindness, and his sadness at finding so little of it in humanity, strikes me as being very much nearer the familiar liberal sentiment of our own day. Thackeray was accused, even in his own time of being a cynic. Not true. He did not despair of humanity so much as find in it every day evidence of not only endless folly, cruelty and stupidity, but also of kindness, forgiveness and humor. If Dickens was indeed a great man, Thackeray was a good one, and much closer to even the best of most of us for that. Yes, he believed in very Victorian ideas such as honor and the English Gentleman, but he was also wise enough, and so good a writer, as to never just put such things on the page without close scrutiny, and he never wrote a thing he didn't think true, or as near to being so as he might make it.

As for elegance, that is a value now much derided in writing, as in nearly everything. Elegance requires an appreciation of the correctness of a thing, and judging things exclusively in their kind, and these are both phrases suggestive of a fundamentally undemocratic and elitist aesthetic that would have the value of a hat, or a novel, decided by considering hats, and or novels, seriously, worthy of themselves of study, but not ultimately much interested in what a hat, or a novel might mean, or how a hat or a novel might speak to the production of grain in the Ukraine, or the sexuality of the adolescent, or the semiotics of anything. Thackeray may well be now so critically neglected because he would, it's true, have found such modern and postmodern discussions of hats and novels both incomprehensible and hilarious, as well as completely beside the point.

It is, I'm sure, the finding of life both funny and sad that should, in justice, bring more readers to Thackeray. At the bookstore, we're doing everything we can to see that happen. Wish us luck.

Daily Dose

From Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell Perkins, edited by John Hall Wheelock


"I am sending you a life of Thackeray*, and you will find that in the literary world of that day there was plenty of envy, malice and hatred."

From a letter to Taylor Caldwell, dated Dec. 31, 1946

*The Showman of Vanity Fair, by Lionel Stevenson

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pendennis in the Temple Gardens

Daily Dose

From The Correspondence of Andre Gide and Edmund Gosse, 1904 -- 1928, edited by Linette F. Brugmans


"What you say is true, and it will stay true; and that in spite of a lot of things being written these days that are true only as matching a transient mood*."

From a letter from Gide to Gosse, dated July 27, 1916, acknowledging the gift of Gosse's book, Inter Arma.

*"d'esprit de ciconstance"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Something of Pendennis

Daily Dose

From The Letters of Henry Adams, edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford


"Aridity grows on me. I always felt myself like Casaubon in Middlemarch, and now I see the tendency steadily creeping over me."

From a letter to Henry Cabot Lodge, dated 22, Queen Anne's Gate, S.W., 13, May, 1880

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I've chosen to illustrate this post with one of the many rejected illustrations I did for my friend's forthcoming novel. The novelist has actually only rejected the one. I rejected the rest, though mostly before I'd bothered to ink the pencil sketches, as I did this one. I've submitted 35 illustrations for the book, 34 chapter headings, and one end-note sort of a thing, about which the novelist knows nothing as it's a small caricature of himself and meant to be a surprise. (Luckily, he never looks at this little business of mine unless I show it to him at our weekly breakfast, so no worries there.) Remains to be seen if any or all of the ones sent in will work, as they are to be reproduced, as it were, in miniature, in roughly a one inch square. I am worried many of the submitted pictures may prove insufficiently robust to survive the reduction. It's not the detail lost that troubles me, as that was to be expected, but rather that my rather spidery efforts at reproducing even perfectly recognizable, every day items like books and pencils and things, will fade to meaninglessness when shrunk but so big. This will be my first effort at having drawings fit into a preordained space, and one so small, so I really have no idea what will or won't work.

Some of my efforts, like the above, I decided simply weren't very good, at whatever size. The problem with a number of them, including this one, had everything to do with me rather than the subject or the eventual reproduction. Surprisingly, some of my most faithful efforts, drawn straight from life, ended up looking entirely too abstract and vague. Books, for instance. One would think that drawing simple rectangles, in relation to one another and to the nice, squared space occupied, in this case, a simple shelf, would have made my task immeasurably easier. Not so, it seems.

Resorting to an old cartoonist's trick, I even added taped-on labels to this, but to no avail. Even if here, or later in the book, these particular rectangles were clearly meant to be books, the drawing itself would seem to me now to be empty of any interest or meaning. What does such a scribble have to say? Well, nothing, really.

The idea of illustration for the kind of book my friend wrote has less to do with reproducing the characters or scenes than with adding little visual references and jokes that might comment on the text. Some of the drawings I sent in are pretty direct comments on the action, others, not. The novel is told in short chapters, each in the voice of a different employee of a bookstore, for the most part. Sometimes, specific books, real and imagined, are mentioned. I drew some real books, obviously
the easiest thing to do, and some invented ones, which was great fun. I also drew some objects common to the bookstore or to any bookstore or office: things like a stapler, of a cup of pencils and pens, and then placed these at the head of chapters told in the voice of the more practical, sensible sort of employees who might not only use such, but in a subtle way, I hope, be represented by these reliable tools. That may not be a clear concept to anyone but me, but there we are. At least, I hope the stapler will look like a stapler.

Some of the other little sketches that never made it to the point of submission were simply too densely detailed to not go all gray and unrecognizable when reproduced at a smaller size. Not the problem here. There was just nothing funny, or even good, about this one.

I am glad to be done, or as much done as I can be until better minds and hands take over the project again and try making something of the things I've sent. We'll see. For the time being at least, it feels right to tot up something of my own efforts to date. I would estimate that to get just the ones I've sent off required the making of half again as many finished drawings -- meaning more than just the innumerable quick doodles from which I then had to select workable ideas -- and that of the rejects, nearly all of them have been abandoned not because I couldn't manage a likeness, but because whatever I drew ended up looking flat and uninteresting to me. Setting aside the sheaf of paper wasted (and recycled) trying to draw keyboards and telephones -- neither of which I ever managed -- I'd have to say most of my failures on this project did not seem to me to be so bad until I'd finished, or nearly finished most of them. The technical problem of drawing things, when I normally draw faces, was perhaps the most satisfying part of this task, so much so that often, as here, I did not realize that I hadn't actually done much of anything worth bothering about until I'd already bothered. No loss.

I've enjoyed doing all these little drawings, mostly. I don't know that I liked having even so flexible a deadline as the one I gave myself for doing this. I'm not one for such pressures, even of my own creation, and I so don't won't to disappoint my friend, you see, or delay the publication of his book. The task did turn out to be bigger than I'd imagined, taking up far more of my time than I'd allotted when I agreed to do this at my friend's request. Still, did make me work, didn't it? Can't regret my failures along the way. Learned something from every one of those too, even if it was never again to try to draw a modern telephone, or that unidentified books on a shelf are not inherently interesting as a subject. I don't know, even now, that I'm satisfied with the results at all, but I do have a certain sense of accomplishment in being -- for now anyway -- done.

Daily Dose

From Offspring of Thought in Solitude, by William Carew Hazlitt

"The life of Lamb is a subject which man have attempted, and in which no one, as it seems to us, has been very happy."

From Charles Lamb

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Caricature

A Caricature

A Caricature

A Beginning

These things take work, you know.

Daily Dose

From Mrs. Brookfield and Her Circle, edited by Charles and Frances Brookfield


"... it is one of the most painful and absurd ways of the world to assume that one is in affliction for anyone who happens to have been related to us, while intimacies which must have a deeper root from having been sought out for ourselves and made where real sympathy exists, -- these are so soon forgotten, 'only a friend, no relation,' you hear said many times when the words should be reversed into 'only a relation!' Not but that I am very fond of my relations, but there must be exceptions."

From a letter of condolence from Mrs. Brookfield to William Makepeace Thackeray, on the loss of a mutual friend, no relation to either.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Official Notice

A thing is not real at the bookstore until it is printed.

Daily Dose

From The History of Pendennis, Volume Two, by William Makepeace Thackeray


"Gentlemen, there can be but little doubt that your ancestors were the Great Unwashed..."

From Chapter IV, The Knights of the Temple

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Another Set o' Hands

My assignment with this one was, "wedding rings, maybe broken." Ever try to draw a simple wedding band? Not so easy as it sounds. My efforts before this looked like... well, circles, or the start of the Olympic Rings. Not good. So? Back to hands. What I actually like about this one, despite my obviously shaky command of human anatomy, is that from different directions, it may mean different things: taking off a wedding ring (that was the idea) or putting one on, vertically, whether pointing up or down, it rather crudely suggests the perspective of a participant, viewed horizontally and the viewer is just that.

Nothing intentionally clever about this, just something amusing I noticed after the drawing was inked.

Daily Dose

From The History of Pendennis, Volume One, by William Makepeace Thackeray


"Nor was she in the least moved while performing this act. What hours the boy had passed over those papers! What love and longing: what generous faith and manly devotion--what watchful nights and lonely fevers might they tell of! She tied them up like so much grocery, and sate down and made tea afterwards with a perfectly placid and contented heart: while Pen was yearning after her ten miles off: and hugging her image to his soul."

From Chapter 12, In Which a Shooting Match is Proposed