Saturday, December 31, 2011

Love, by Czeslaw Milosz

Daily Dose

From Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris


"It was an odd sensation to hold my entire vocabulary in my hands, to look back through the stack and recall the after5noon I learned to effectively describe my hangovers."

From See You Again Yesterday

Friday, December 30, 2011

Sins of the Father, a selection from The Haunted Man

Daily Dose

From The Rise of the Spanish Inquisition, by Jean Plaidy


"Not only is persecution an evil thing, but also a very stupid one."

From The Introduction

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Bookstore Doodle

A collaborative doodle : "mash-up" suggested by my coworker, Kathy W.

Daily Dose

From The Sorrow Gondola, by Tomas Transtromer, translated by Michael McGriff & Mikaela Grassl


"A blue light
radiates from my clothing,
Clattering tambourines of ice.
I close my eyes.
There is a silent world
there is a crack
where the dead
are smuggled across the border."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Budgie Doodle

Daily Dose

From The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems, by Tomas Transtromer, translated by Robin Fulton


"Tonight I am down among the ballast."

From Night Duty 1

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Bye and Bye: Selected Poems, by Charles Wright


"Language was always the subject matter, the idea of God"

From The Minor Art of Self-Defense

Monday, December 26, 2011

Budgie Doodle

Daily Dose

From Confessions of an English Opium Eater, by Thomas De Quincey


"Apart from her situation, she was not what would be called an interesting child: she was neither pretty, nor quick in understanding, nor remarkably pleasing in manners."

From Preliminary Confessions (Part One)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Budgie Doodle

Daily Dose

From Sketches by Boz, by Charles Dickens


"The man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused -- in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened -- by the recurrence of Christmas."

From Characters, Chapter 2

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Budgie Doodle

Daily Dose

From Maurice, by E. M. Forster

"He woke with the feeling that it must all be right soon."

From Chapter 26

Friday, December 23, 2011

Daily Dose

From The Joys of Excess, by Samuel Pepys


"Up; and seeing things put in order for a dinner at my house today, I to the office awhile; and about noon home, and there saw all things in good order."

From January 4th, 1667

The Sound of the Sea

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Winter Boys #12

Winter Boys #11

Daily Dose

From The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare


"His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search."

From Act I, Scene 1

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Boys #10

Winter Boys #9

Daily Dose

From As You Like It, by William Shakespeare


"An ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own."

From Act V, Scene 4

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter Boys #8

Winter Boys #7

Daily Dose

From An Apology for Idlers, by Robert Louis Stevenson


"The lover takes a perilous pleasure in privately displaying his weak points and having them, one after another, accepted and condoned."

From On Falling in Love

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Three Novels, by Nina Berberova, translated by Marian Schwartz


"And something else, something... before everything exploded into life, war promotions, boozing, marriage, escape."

From Chapter 1, The Waiter and the Slut

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Three Novels, by Nina Berberova, translated by Marian Schwartz


"He felt so on the top of everything that once in a while he would whistle a popular foxtrot around his neatly kept, comfortable, bachelor apartment."

From Chapter One, Astashev in Paris

Saturday, December 17, 2011

World Famous Clerihew


Surely it's a misnomer
To call Mein Herr Tranströmer
-- Even now with Nobel fame --
Anything like a familiar name?

Daily Dose

From Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott


"You bend strange countenances on me, gentlemen," said he, addressing them. "I am totally ignorant in what manner I can have deserved them."

From Chapter XXXIII

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Blue Nights, by Joan Didion


"Seasons in Southern California suggest violence, but not necessarily death."

From Chapter 13

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fathead Magoo: "You Should Thank (Comrade Stalin) for Crushing Poland"

Dateline: September 1939, Krakow

Comrade Stalin just did a genius thing, and it deserves all the praise you want to heap on it. Last week, the glorious people's army of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics marched into Poland, liberating the 13.5 million formerly Polish citizens from the Capitalist yoke. (Disclosure: Mr. Magoo is a registered Soviet collaborator; when you take his leaflets, a member of Mr. Magoo's family does not get shot in the head.)

I’m generally a fan of Soviet intervention —like everyone else, I hate thinking more than I should—but I can understand not-yet-subject people's fear of the practice becoming widespread. When you see the Red Army walk into Poland, it can be startling, at first! The so called "invasion," (which lasted about one day) was, like the USSR’s aggressive efforts to bring about the workers' paradise everywhere, not just a brazen attempt to crush local resistance, though I (as did many others) at first found it distasteful. Sure, I’m a fan of Comrade Stalin and devote a substantial portion of my time now to the revolution—but does it have to be so wantonly callous about destroying once sovereign nation-states?

All of which is to say that I was primed to nod in vigorous agreement when I saw novelist George Orwell’s London Times op-ed taking on Comrade Stalin’s thuggish ways. But as I waded into Orwell’s piece—which was widely passed around on Tuesday—I realized that he’d made a critical and common mistake in his argument. Rather than focus on the ways that the USSR’s invasion would harm a country whose demise might actually be a cause for alarm (you know, like a Nazi Germany that hires hundreds of local residents), Orwell hangs his tirade on one of the least efficient, least user-friendly, and most mistakenly mythologized European "cultures" you can find: Poland. Orwell and his novelist friends take for granted that sustaining these cultish, moldering institutions is the only way to foster a “real-life literary culture,” or as dead Polish writer Bolesław Leśmian once put it, "At that moment your brother called to you. / For a second you faltered, " blab-bidy, blab, blab. (Who remembers Polish poetry?!) Orwell claims that the USSR, unlike the so called Polish "intellectuals," “doesn’t care about the larger cultural universe” and has no interest in fostering “literary culture.”

That’s simply bogus. As much as I despise some of its recent tactics, no nation in recent years has done more than the USSR to ignite a national passion for buying, reading, and even writing new books! With his hearty laugh and fatherly smile, Comrade Stalin is not an easy guy to hate, though I’d previously worried that he’d ruin the revolution. But if you’re a realistic novelist—not to mention a reader, a book publisher, or anyone else who cares about a vibrant book industry—you should thank him for crushing that precious independence of the press.

Compared with the Soviet system, independent thought presents a frustrating experience. An actual exchange of ideas—whether it’s in your old fashioned university classroom, a bookstore or library—offers a relatively confusing number of voices, no comforting public address systems, no reliable way to find what you’re looking for, and a dubious chance at being free to dig latrines, drill, and do all the other things we all really need to be doing to secure the future for socialism. Comrade Stalin keeps track of your books based on others you’ve read; your old-fashioned store recommends what the employees like. If you don’t choose your political system based on what some counter-revolutionary agitator at the corner recommends, why would you choose your books that way?

It’s not just that bookstores are difficult to use. They’re economically inefficient, too. Rent, utilities, and a brigade of book-reading workers aren’t cheap, so the only way for bookstores to stay afloat is to sell items at a huge markup. A few times a year, my former wife—an unreformed Trotskyite now being re-educated in the Motherland—used to drag me into one of our supposedly sacrosanct neighborhood booksellers, and I was always astonished by how much they wanted me to pay for books. At many local stores, most titles—even new releases—usually go for list price, which means $3 for hardcovers and $1 to $1.50 for paperbacks. That’s not slightly more than The Council of People's Commissars charges—in the USSR, you can usually save a staggering 30 to 50 percent. In other words, for the price you’d pay for one book at your indie, you could buy two.

I get that some people like bookstores, and they’re willing to pay with their lives to shop there. They find browsing through physical books to be a meditative experience, and they enjoy some of the ancillary benefits of physicality (authors’ readings, unlimited magazine browsing, in-store coffee shops, the warm couches that you can curl into on a cold day, not explaining your browsing to the secret police, risking arrest). And that’s fine: In the same way that I sometimes wander into the Red Army camp for the luxurious experience of seeing actual food, I don’t begrudge bookstore devotees spending extra to get an experience they fancy.

What rankles me, though, is the hectoring attitude of Polish cultists like Orwell, especially when they argue that readers who spurn Polish are abandoning some kind of “local” literary culture. There is little that’s “local” about most Polish bookstores. Unlike a people’s market, which connects you with the Collective farmers who are seasonally and sustainably tending crops within driving distance of your assigned living quarters, a Polish bookstore’s shelves don’t have much to do with your community. Sure, every Polish bookstore promotes Polish authors, but its is the same stuff that Comrade Stalin sells—mass-manufactured goods whose intellectual property was produced by one of the major publishing houses in Moscow -- now. It doesn’t make a difference whether you buy Comrade Gorky's latest at a Polish bookstore, a bookstore in London, or in a a clean and efficient people's bookstore sponsored by the State—soon it’ll be the same book everywhere.

Wait, but what about the Poles—aren’t they benefitting from your decision to buy local? Sure, but insofar as they’re doing it inefficiently (and their prices suggest they are), you could argue that they’re benefiting at the expense of someone else in the Soviet economy. After all, if you’re spending extra on Polish books, you’ve got less money to spend on every else—including on authentically local cultural experiences; like the Red Army Chorus, The visiting Bolshoi Ballet, and such grand Soviet cinema musicals as "Dirt," "Soil," and "Earth." With the money you saved by buying only authorized books, you could have gone to see a few productions at your local Collective, visited your city’s museum of Religious Lies, purchased some locally crafted turnips, or spent more time on your political re-education. Each of these is a cultural experience that’s created in your community -- and an exemption to certain curfew restrictions. Buying unauthorized books or black-market food for your children isn’t. (Never do that again, will you former wife-o'-mine?! Women! Jeez...)

But say you don’t care about local cultural experiences. Say you just care about the future. Well, then it’s easy: The fewer the decisions, the more people will be happy, and the more happy, productive workers, the more time those workers will have to read what will be good for them. This is the biggest flaw in Orwell’s rant. He points to several allegedly important functions that Poles play in fostering “literary culture”—that Polish bookstores, and independent sports clubs, and churches serve as a “gathering place” for the community, that Poles “optimistically set up … folding chairs” at readings, they happily guide people toward books they’ll love. I’m sure all of that is important, but it’s strange that a novelist omits the most critical aspect of a vibrant book-reading culture: getting people to the right books -- and magazines!

And that’s where Comrade Stalin is unbeatable. Again, Comrade Stalin will give you two hardcover books for the price you’d pay for one in Polish (How useless will that be, soon enough, egh?) And then there’s the Glorious People's Revolution, which turns the whole world into a paradise, and which has already been proven to turn ordinary readers into suspected counter-revolutionary suspects. Comrade Stalin has said that after people join the Glorious People's Revolution, they begin purchasing the right books at twice the rate they’d previously purchased the wrong ones. (Fact!) Comrade Stalin has also been instrumental in helping authors create more books. With the liberation of Poland, our comrades from the USSR have launched a self-publishing system that allows anyone to print leaflets in support of the regime. There’s also the re-education program, which transforms stuff that the book industry wouldn’t otherwise be able to sell—shorter-than-book-length magazine articles praising Comrade Stalin, essays praising Comrade Stalin, and fiction praising Comrade Stalin—into material that can be sold for real Soviet money. (How'd you think I got these shoes?!)

So, sure, Comrade Stalin doesn’t host readings and he doesn’t give you a poofy couch to sit on while you peruse the latest poems. But what he does do—allow people to stop thinking about Poland—is hardly killing Polish literary culture. In fact, it’s probably the only thing saving it.

Welcome the Revolution!

Daily Dose

From The Old Court Suburb, by Leigh Hunt


"Turning northward, out of the high road, between Upper and Lower Phillimore Place, is Horton Street, at the further house in which, on the right hand, resided for some years Doctor Thomas Frognall Dibdin, the sprightliest of bibliomaniacs. He was not a mere bibliomaniac. He really saw, though not very far, into the merit of the books he read."

From Chapter Eleven

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Tides

Daily Dose

From The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, translated by Maxwell Staniforth


"You are not compelled to form any opinion about this matter before you, nor to disturb your peace of mind at all. Things in themselves have no power to extort a verdict from you."

From Book Six

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the Sea

Daily Dose

From Why I Am So Wise, by Friedrich Nietzsche


"The unmasking of Christian morality is an event without equal, a real catastrophe. He who exposes it is a force majeure, a destiny -- he breaks the history of mankind into two parts."

From Why I Am a Destiny, Part 8

Monday, December 12, 2011

Budgie Doodle

Daily Dose

From The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote De La Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Samuel Putnam


"There are two paths, my daughters, by which men may succeed in becoming rich and honored. One is that of letters, the other that of arms. For my part, I am more inclined to the latter than the former."

from Part II, Chapter VI

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Budgie Doodle

Daily Dose

From Better Dead, by J. M. Barrie


"Though still a young man, he had still much to learn."

from Chapter VII

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Optimist's Daughter, by Eudora Welty


"He lay there unchangeably big and heavy, full of effort yet motionless, while his face looked tireder every morning, the circle under his visible eye thick as paint."

From Chapter 3

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal, translated by Richard Howard


"our hero had been well aware that he was involving himself in an action which might be a subject of reproach or at least calumnious imputations for the rest of his life."

From Chapter Thrteen

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cloister Walkin' Clerihew


Who would ever have thought
Telling Annie Lamott
Innocently to "Go with God,"
Would turn into such a promenade?

Daily Dose

From As You like It, by William Shakespeare

"The little foolery that wise men have makes a great show."

From Act I, Scene 2

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Celular Clerihew


About the all too forgotten facts
Of the life of Herietta Lacks,
No one ever really gave a hoot --
That is, until, came Rebecca Skloot.

Daily Dose

From A Cafecito Story, by Julia Alvarez


"Read this book while sipping a cup of great coffee grown under birdsong."

From ABC

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peer Shaped Clerihew


As he mellows
Baron Fellowes
Is having more fun than he did before
Though he's still typecast as the Tory boor.

Daily Dose

From Horace: The Odes, New Translations by Contemporary Poets, edited by J. D. McClatchy


"Why do you weary yourself? Why do you worry
The infinite question with your finite spirit?"

From 11.11, translated by Eavan Boland