Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Word on Tonight's Reruns

So, today's three cartoons have actually already appeared as a "Doodles" column at NW Book Lovers, so why rerun them here? Well, firstly in case anyone who might appreciate them might have missed them there. Secondly, to encourage anyone who hasn't to check out that site. And...

I hate reading that sort of list, don't you? Usually no good can come of facts arranged that way, to say nothing of what a ridiculously boring rhetorical device it is, ticking off the obvious one point at a time. So sorry.

I'll let it stand though. The truth is I do like these, probably more than they deserve, just because they aren't the sort of thing I've ever really done much of, even when I was a wee one and occasionally dreamed of being some sort of cartoonist someday. Don't know that I ever considered it seriously, or studied at all to do any such thing, but the thought occurred. Having now met a few cartoonists, of various stripes, I can say with confidence I was never meant to be. That said, I'm glad of the chance, now and again, to give it a bit of a go, and -- a shocking reality -- even get paid for doing it!

I like these. I do. I like the look of 'em; the fact that I'm drawing things I wouldn't otherwise like a vehicle, and a building, and yeah, a wizard. Okay, I used to draw a lot o' wizards, it's true. But architecture? Technology? Not a strength for me, not at all. And I like these cartoons because the joke is gentler than what I set out to make, and better for that I think. Terry Brooks, by all reports, and I do mean all, is indeed a lovely man. I remember my time as a boy in Shannara with real fondness and genuine gratitude. So, why be mean? Turns out, I wasn't awfully. I don't think so, anyway. Not to say the joke wasn't worth making or the stick worth sharpening, as it were. We just got an advance of Mr. Brooks' latest contribution to the death of the Amazon rain forest, The Dark Legacy of Shannara: Wards of the Faerie, (release date 08/21/12) and just can not help but read that title every time I see it as The Darks Laundry of Shannara: Montgomery Wards of the Faerie. See? How hard was that? How tempting, or is it just me?

Finally (yes, I'm back to that lazy business,) I wanted to just mention that it's also been an interesting discipline for me, writing for a site not my own again. Why? I made a decision before I sent off my first column that I would try very hard, whatever jokes I might make, and despite even my more usual tone, that the point of everything I sent off should, fundamentally, say something encouraging about books, readers, booksellers and the place where we live. No one, no editor or contributor or acquaintance, told me to do this, to put that sort of bumpers up on the lane. I decided. I have a place, right here, if I feel the need to rant or moan or howl. If I don't like a book, I can review it elsewhere and post that review here as well. If I object to a headline or want to speculate about the fate of the planet, the business, or my own round self, I can do that all, at whatever length I like, right - bang - here. One of the reasons I took up this hobby three years ago (!) was to do just that without fear of censure or external sarcasm. Who's listening? Who reads this? Anyone doesn't like what I say here or what they see here, needn't look. The purpose of that new venue is, after all, to promote, much as anything, and I am all for promotion in that context, so there we are.

That clearly does not mean that I intend to submit nothing but rainbow farting unicorns and to draw nothing but happy, fuzzy bunnies (bunnies!) because, well, that would hardly be me, now would it? or much to the point, for that matter. Besides, having now had the chance to read a few of the contributions of the other regulars, seems safe to say that none of us is entirely without snark, even as all of us would seem to be making a similar effort to make the reboot a pretty happy place, at least for the likes of us, our regular readers, customers and other like-minded, literate bibliohounds.

It may still seem a little odd, me patting myself on my hunch for not being just awful, but the effort is good for me, I should think, and if I feel the need to be genuinely unpleasant, well... stay tuned.

A Cartoon

A Cartoon

A Cartoon

Daily Dose

From The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: Poems for Men, edited by Robert Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade


I will not toy with it nor bend an inch.
Deep in the secret chambers of my heart
I muse my life-long hate, and without flinch
I bear it nobly as I live my part.
My being would be a skeleton, a shell,
If this dark Passion that fills my every mood,
And makes my heaven in the white world's hell,
Did not forever feed me vital blood.
I see the mighty city through a mist--
The strident trains that speed the goaded mass,
The poles and spires and towers vapor-kissed,
The fortressed port through which the great ships pass,
The tides, the wharves, the dens I contemplate,
Are sweet like wanton loves because I hate.

By Claude McKay

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Cartoon

Daily Dose

From One Hundred and One Classic Love Poems


"M y beloved is mine and I am his"

From Song of Solomon, Chapter Two, attributed to King Solomon, tenth century BC

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Cartoon

Daily Dose

From One Hundred and One Classic Love Poems


"Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!"

From Doctor Faustus

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Cartoon

Daily Dose

From A Legend of Montrose, by Walter Scott

Piobracht au Donuil-dhu,
Piobrachet au Donuil,
Piobrachet agus s'breittach
Feacht an Innerlochy.

The War-tune of Donald the Black,
The war-tune of of Black Donald,
The pipes and the banner
Are up in the rendezvous of Inverlochy.

From Chapter XVIII

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Cartoon

Daily Dose

From The Black Dwarf, by Walter Scott


"The turns o' this day hae dung my head clean hirdie-girdie."

From Chapter Ten

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Keeping My Day Job

Now see, if I was really a native rather than yet another Eastern transplant (by way of California, natch,) I would probably have tried to do something with a blue tarp, as pictured here, aka the unofficial flag of the Great Northwest. Just thought of it tonight, and maybe just as well, considering the rather limited visual appeal of the thing, to be honest. Wet camping enthusiasts aside, there's not much there there, is there? Nonetheless, it is a handy symbol.

That's what I was trying to think in terms of, symbols, when I signed on to do the occasional whatsit for the relaunch of NW Book Lovers. I was invited, don't you know, to contribute. They even expressed an ungrudging willingness to pay. Imagine that. The idea was I might do a doodle, or a caricature, or cartoon, or what have you, once or twice a month. Me among many, mind, with my little squibs no doubt the least of these. Lovely. I'd done a few sketches before, at the PNBA breakfast, at the generous request of our hosts, and a couple of those had been used on the previous incarnation of the website. A few of the things I'd done here had likewise found their way via links to the site as well. I'm known, in a very small way, in such places. Huff puff. Anyway, it was all extremely flattering and one doesn't mind an extra paycheck here and there, do one? So... off we go.

I sent in the most recent self portrait in pencil in place of a contributors photo, wrote up a short, somewhat silly bio. to go along with it, and then had to think of something to send. Somewhere along the way, either I or our beloved and lovely editor at the website, dear J., named my column "Doodles," and what else, frankly, could we have called the thing? The obvious first go then should be some kind of scribbly bit, yes? A bookstore doodle or two, or a caricature of some NW author, something anyway that I knew how to do, was already doing, hadn't yet used here, but might. You get the picture. Dear J. wanted "books." Really, she was more helpful than that, though it took me an embarrassingly long time to finally trip to what she was asking me for and draw her a simple picture of books between bookends. I gave them all rather moist titles. That was the joke. The picture was used, I got a handsome reward, and off we went.

The first thing I thought of however, was not the picture that was eventually used. Somewhere along the way, well before the actual relaunch of the site, the word "mascot" came up, and not in reference to my own adorable harmlessness and profoundly cuddly aspect. The idea -- and I really can't claim it as my own because I honestly don't think I suggested it first -- was for the site to have a "look" to which I was somehow to contribute, and maybe the best way for that to happen was I should maybe create... a mascot? See? I didn't of course. I can be a bit thick. Eventually I realized what was being proposed was not some San Diego Chicken suit, but our very own Eustace Tilly, the iconic gent from many great New Yorker magazine covers, including, I believe, their first.

Eustace in mind, and things both north and west being fished from my rather shallow understanding of regional signifiers, I fired off a few proposals, sensibly assuming their eventual rejection, right in the title of each, as a joke and to preclude any need to run any of them at all.

(I will share these separately, hereafter.)

None of these quite suited, though I don't find the drawings unfunny. I still rather like them. They simply proved not to be much to the purpose. No loss, as instead I will now post them here. Waste not, etc. In fact, I still had the one more silly Idea, so I'll add that one last.

I did try a spot of color on the first three, most unusually for me, as I haven't much eye for it. (Even my socks are usually just white. Says too much about me, that does.) I also inked my lines, which is another thing I don't much do unless I haven't access to a pencil when I set to drawing. One of the wonders of the sophistication of personal technology nowadays is that all but my wispiest pencil lines can now be read by even my own humble scanner/printer and reproduced here and elsewhere without any great loss of definition. I think of drawing as an activity best done with a stubby #2, (I have, relatedly, rather stubby mitts,) so I can't tell what a pleasure it has been not having to ink anything after. These mascot sketches though, I did ink, for fear they might require a slightly stronger line, depending on how they were to be reproduced. (Unnecessary worry, as that's turned out.)

Since all this, I've written up two other columns, with pictures, and those have proved to be successful enough. I'm glad to say I'll keep at it. The relationship, particularly with the charming J., has proved a happy thing. Meanwhile, I don't think I would have actually been able to make much, even with colored pencils, out of that blue tarp. I also think I'd better keep my day job, if I can.

Daily Dose

From The Oxford Book of Regency Verse, 1798 - 1837, chosen by H. S. Milford


"With them I take delight in weal,
And seek relief in woe..."

From My days among the Dead are past, by Robert Southey

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Poems from the Tibor de Nagy Editions, 1952 - 1966, by Frank O'Hara


The rose, the lily and the dove got withered
in your sunlight or in the soot, maybe, of New York
and ceased to be lovable as odd sounds are lovable
say blowing on a little airplane's slot
which is the color of the back of your knee
a particular sound, fine, light and slightly hoarse

From Love Poems (Tentative Title)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash


"At another year
I would not boggle,
Except that when I jog
I joggle."

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Poetical Works of Robert Herrick


"Ile write, because Ile give
You Criticks means to live:
For sho'd I not supply
The Cause, th'effect wo'd die."

From Hesperides

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Here's where I started. The young woman who sees to our bargain books, or rather the young woman who did before she took a promotion out of the books department, bless 'er, asked me for a sign. Not the first time either. Some years back now, during a busy season, I was asked to make more than one sign for the sales floor. I enjoy that sort of thing, always have. I made quite a few signs, that last go. People seemed to like them. Then I went back to doing what I more normally do and the people who more normally make our signs for the bookstore where I work went back to do just that, among many other things. As I say, I was glad of the opportunity to do a bit of signage and display work again. It had been years, I should think. Now here I was, about a month ago or so, doing a bit of sign-making again, if just for a couple of very temporary bargain book tables. Fine by me. Fun.

My "skill-set" is however very much out of date. I've not kept up. I still draw with a pencil. I still cut paper with scissors and poster-board with a razor. I still use glue. I don't know how to use graphic-programs on the computer, (is that redundant by now?) I don't have anything against using such things, I've just never had the opportunity or seen the necessity, considering what I actually do most days to earn my living, which is buy and sell books, rather than promote them, etc. I have the greatest respect for the people who do produce those more professional promotional materials: signs, sale banners, window dressing and the like. I am, I confess, even a bit envious of not only their "skill-set" but their training and the polish of nearly everything they produce. Which isn't to say, however, that I don't like the look of a handmade sign in a bookstore, because I do, I still very much do.

There is something to be said, particularly in an independent bookstore setting, for a touch, here and there, of the improvised, the hand-lettered, a bit of construction paper, a whiff of glue-stick, the less-than-perfect, the made-for-the-moment. Besides the aesthetics of the thing, there is just the obvious opposite of everything manufactured, pat and corporately uniform; all the values that made all those much lamented Borders bookstores so pretty and so indistinguishable, one from another. (It never quite seemed like anyone had ever made anything in a Borders, not a decision about where to put the remainders, or even the coffee. ) That may be a good thing in a national chain. The customer certainly always knew pretty much what to expect, walking into Borders Books and Music, in New Mexico or New Hampshire. But does the loyal customer of an Independent bookstore want or expect that absence of surprise?

Anyway, not my job to worry about such things. Better heads than mine. But, now and then, I may get asked to whip something up, of the moment. Glad of the challenge, and the chance.

This time what was needed was something for the display of Egyptology remainders the buyers had specially ordered and or collected in anticipation of the farewell tour of King Tut coming to town. (Seems that boy king has said more goodbyes down the decades than Cher, doesn't it?) Pretty big deal, that show, and not here long. Lovely big books on the subject at lovely low prices. How about a quick sign? Done.

I wasn't much interested in ol' Tut himself as a subject. in the first place, his gilded mug was all over the bookcovers, in living, vivid color. Nothing I could draw could compete with all that lush photography and dense black backgrounds. That would seem to be a rule with Tut books: rich, shiny gold and a background black as India ink. I thought I might try something like, but unlike. What came to mind was the poster of a movie I'd seen, "The Devil's Double," about another Pharaoh's brat, the murderous Uday Hussein. The movie poster was a spectacular thing, all in gold, the actor, Dominic Cooper, gilded on a gilded throne with golden guns. You get the idea. I looked up the poster online. Tut could work in that pose, I thought, so I sketched it out briefly, as seen above. Why not?

So off to the basement for some supplies: black foamboard for the background, gold poster-board, a new can of spray-glue, as my old one had dried up, and then making the sketch the right size on the back of the gold cardboard.

Next comes my favorite part frankly, using the Exacto. I admit it, I love the things. I find the process of curving that razor-edge 'round corners and cutting out a silhouette just as exciting as the first time someone let me play with sharp things. I don't know, but somehow it still feels a little... dangerous. Whatever. The result, particularly on a larger scale as here, in poster, can be dramatic. And in gold, yet!

For a bit of detail, I found a gift paper we sell at the bookstore, a black and gold stripe, that worked rather well for my Tut's headgear. What I hoped would be the thing to make this little arts and crafts effort a bit wittier than it may so far sound, was to make my Tut specific not just to the 21st Century, but to his latest stop in the tour, Seattle. I gave him a Starbucks cup to replace one of Uday's guns, and an Ipod to replace the other.


Get it? Okay, so it's not Madison Ave. I thought it was just clever enough to make someone else smile too. (It did.)

Here's our boy finished. Not bad. I need to confess one thing more though, and explain his "bling" TUT. When I drew and cut out his Ipod, I thought I might be awfully clever and make the cord from the device to his earbuds by using one of those white-out tape dispensers, you know, the ones shaped to fit the hand, where the white comes out on a spool. That, my friends was a bad idea, as can be seen here. Not only was the line too thick, but my dispenser was running almost on empty, a fact I had not noticed before I'd started. In for a penny, in for a pound. Somewhere near the point where my ugly, thick white lines had to converge, the spool twisted to it's end and made.. . well, an ugly mess. What to do? I tried scraping the gnarled bits off, but that scratched the gold off as well. Crisis! All that effort, and then spoil it at the end. Well, I improvised. Gave our boy a bit of the ol' heavy gold, just to cover the mess, but without mucking up the theme of the thing. Worked okay, I think, just.

I ended up wishing the "bling" TUT was actually a little more visible, but still, happy enough accident. And a poster for the bargain books in an afternoon, between buying used books, answering phones and the rest.

I'm not making any claims for this as either art or graphic. It was fun to do and I think added a bit of something to an otherwise rather predictable display of very nice, topical, shiny bargain books. All it was meant to do, really.

I know there will be people who don't see much in this kind of thing, who think it rather lowers the tone. I don't disagree. I just think fun is a value, as is improvisation, surprise and, yes, ephemerality. I say embrace the temporary, now and again, and the homemade.

Though only, of course, when asked.

Daily Dose

From The Lives of the English Poets, Volume I, by Samuel Johnson


"Contempt is a kind of gangrene, which if it seizes one part of a character corrupts all the rest by degrees."

From Blackmore

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Marriage by Yvor Winters

Daily Dose

From Merry Gentlemen (and One Lady), by J. Bryan


"In order to wish you a Merry Christmas I am interrupting work on my screen epic, Lassie Get Down."

From Dorothy Parker Bittersweet

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Poetical Works of Robert Herrick


"Break off Delay, since we but read of one
That ever prosper'd by Cunctation."

from Hesperides

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Wish for a Young Wife by Theodore Roethke

Quick Review

FontamaraFontamara by Ignazio Silone

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Generally speaking, I hate fables. There's something both lazy and a little pompous, frankly, at least when addressing adults, in intending to be universally understood. Nothing is likelier to guarantee tedium in any novel after Kafka than a setting in an unidentified "City." Seldom, at least since Beckett, has an unnamed narrator boded much but ill. If anything awfully difficult to do well, would be the kind of good Communist allegory, nowhere better done perhaps than here, in Fontamara by Ignazio Silone. When is a peasant not a peasant? When he is more tediously the whole of oppressed humanity. (See so-called Soviet realism.) To do this kind of thing so superbly well, requires a certain genius, and more humor than is usual in the earnest Left -- there being absolutely none in the earnest Right, sarcasm aside, by the way, ever. (Try the utterly unfunny and now quite unreadable D'Annunzio of the same period for proof.) When Silone pits his peasants, the cafoni, and his pitiful little hero against the landlords, the Fascists, the new capitalist in the neighborhood, God, it's as if Cervantes sent them against the foe, not a committee. Every crushing encounter ultimately ends not just then in despair but absurdity. That must be true. It certainly feels true. And very Italian And yes, very funny.

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Daily Dose

From Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash


"He drinks because she scolds, he thinks;
She thinks she scolds because he drinks;
And neither will admit what's true,
That he's a sot and she's a shrew."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

And Forgive Us Our Trespases by Aphra Behn

Daily Dose

From Wise Words & Quaint Counsels of Thomas Fuller, edited by Augustus Jessopp


"He is no fox whose den has but one hole."

From Holy State, B. iv. C. iii.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Thomas Hardy Selected Letters, edited by Michael Millgate


"One wonders why they quiz the author rather than review the book."

From a letter to Edmund Gosse, dated Max Gate, Dorchester, Feb. 18, 1918

Monday, July 16, 2012

Quick Review

The Kings' Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess MazarinThe Kings' Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin by Elizabeth C. Goldsmith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know when the sun's blazing away and we all of us, supposedly have gone off to sit on white sand, rub coco-butter on one another and read trash. I am not altogether immune. Occasionally, I too find I want something not quite so dense or dark or demanding as a serious novel, or some magisterial history. When the mood's on me, whatever the weather, I might read or reread a romance -- in the older meaning of a great love story and adventure, ala Dumas, not Danielle Steel. If that's my mood though, I might as likely pick a new book of history, or historical biography, preferably at least a little familiar as to period and place, but of person or people if not altogether unknown to me, then largely so. There should be, as in any good romance, intrigue, sex, money and danger. And I'd rather the subject not be a fool or a bore -- which, for instance, leaves Marie Antoinette and nearly all the royal Stuarts out. The dazzling nieces of a great and powerful Cardinal/chancellor of the King of France? Now that, is some fun.

And it was, great fun. These women are bold, bright, accomplished and funny. Their lives are fraught with all manner of peril and excitement almost from the day they are brought from their native Italy to the French court. One by one, Mazarin's nieces are made to marry, and one by one these marriages prove to be at best, most interesting and at worst oppressive and actually dangerous. Indeed, this might all be from a novel by Dumas père, but for the present author's interest not so much in the tragedy of these ladies, but in their flight, and the brave fight each put up for her own independence in a day when even the notion of such a thing was scandalous if not impossible. That very modern aspect of this history elevates it from just another tale of court, courtesans and kings. These are a couple of very interesting women, and here at last they get their due.

It's all perfectly fascinating, handsomely documented, and well told. Here then a pair of pretty and poignant beauties, too smart for the traps laid for them, their flight and their respective ends. Just the thing for a long, romantic summer evening, I think, anyway.

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Daily Dose

From The Pelican Chorus and Other NonsenseVerses, by Edward Lear


"Twikky wikky wikky we,
Wikky bikky twikky tee,
Spikky bikky bee!"

From Mr. and Mrs. Spikky Sparrow

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mr and Mrs Discobbolos by Edward Lear

Daily Dose

From The Pelican Chorus and Other Nonsense Verse, by Edward Lear


"Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee,
We think no Birds so happy as we!"

From The Pelican Chorus (obviously)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

Quick Review

My PoetsMy Poets by Maureen N. McLane

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is a mark of just what an interesting writer poet Maureen McLane is that when I agree with her, I want to quote her, in and out of context, as here, in her essay "My Marianne Moore": "... Moore stands alongside (albeit more decorously) D. H. Lawrence..." which made me laugh aloud, or here, from the dazzling entry titled "My Impasses: On Not Being Able to Read Poetry," just the very last word on the subject, and something I want printed on a T-shirt:

"Q: How to read?

Now, that same essay that provides me with the above, and that also made me smile nearly throughout at the portrait of the poet's younger self, earnestly parsing Olsen & O'Hara, etc., also came to not a few conclusions as to the value of what she calls her "impasses" at which I simply shake my head and envy her her optimism, and her faith, for want of a more strictly reasoned, or persuasive argument.

Throughout this book there are discernments -- many of them tossed off as easily, as conversationally as the poet might make among friends -- that have changed and already enhanced my reading of even quite familiar poems, and poets, (Moore and Bishop, specially,) and made me want to read more of others less familiar (H. D.) or new to me entirely (Fanny Howe.) What better could one want from a poet writing about poetry?

McLane's book can also be a bit maddening, again because of the conversational, almost gabby structure and sometimes tryingly, relentlessly subjective tone. As with even the most accomplished monologist, there are arguments not so much made as begun, and free-floating opinions, and the occasional assumption made about the reader's level of familiarity with composition and form that for me proved not to be true. Mostly though, it is McLane's sudden drops into poetry, or at least out of prose into things other than, that can make the head spin, and not always in a good way, even acknowledging the fun of to be had, and the excitement generated by watching her pull most of these improvisations off. What's exciting can also, on more sober consideration, just be sound silly; "For a Gothic ecstasy is not to be gainsaid" or, just two lines on, both banal and, well, wrong: "For Romeo and Juliet are paradigms" -- of what? youth? murder/suicide? the Renaissance? Romantic clichés? Oh, please.

Still, poets writing about poetry and other poets is so rarely, in my experience an exciting experience rather than a duty or a job, that a poet bringing this kind of intelligence and enthusiasm to the task is a welcome event. Any regular reader of poetry who's picked up the criticism of even great poets will appreciate how rarely those efforts rise to even the level of their least poems. (Yeats, for one example, in most of his books other than poetry is unreadable, as he pursues his own preoccupations, crochets and crankiness far up his own fundament, arrogantly expecting the reader, presumably, to just follow behind, gathering wisdom.) I still can't speak to McLane as a poet, but here at least as an enthusiast and knowledgeable practitioner, she has provided a very entertaining and even thrilling lot of often very smart talk.

Glad to hear it.

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Daily Dose

From The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist, by Richard Feynman


"That something is unscientific is not bad; there is nothing the matter with it. It is just unscientific."

From 3, The Unscientific Age

Friday, July 13, 2012

Quick Review

How to Do Things with Books in Victorian BritainHow to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain by Leah Price

Ah, what fun this might have been... The hypothesis is clever, the author, it seems, eminently qualified, even the first couple chapters are charmingly titled, as for instance, "David Copperfield and the Absorbent Book." Such larks! That, to my mind, is exactly the sort of cheeky thing I hope for from popular modern scholarship when taking on the all too familiar Victorians. The much milled grist of the golden age of print, of Mayhew's London, Punch cartoons, and the most domestic Trollope needs a little goosing, frankly. And there is fun to be had here; what with books being used as weapons, the means of correction, disguises, dodges, etc. There's some very real scholarship, too, and not just in the hunting up of some interesting things from the very back of some dusty shelves; there are good ideas, close observations, and an obvious and genuine affections not just for her materials but for the period and for books as objects of inherent interest. In fact, I can't help but respect Leah Price not only for the work, but also for her good humor and intentions.

If only the book had been written to some standard other than contemporary academic English, which in its eagerness here to be serious, becomes ridiculous. Thus, from only the second page of that third chapter mentioned above:

"Yet for the omnisciently narrated symmetry that pits the husband's unread newspaper against the wife's unread novel, first-person narrative (or more rarely, free indirect discourse) substitutes a less evenly matched battle between young and old -- the former corresponding to the character through whose consciousness the narrative is focalized (nose in a book), the latter to characters viewed from outside (book in hand)."

Parse that out. Take as long as you need. Now, tell me if that says anything much at all. Even in the larger context, such as it is, of the paragraph and chapter, that is just not much of a sentence. More importantly for a book about books, and the Victorians at that, this barely qualifies as English prose, let alone critical literature. Why "free indirect discourse" as anything like an alternative to the recognizable and straight-forward "first person narrative"? And why "narrative" here, rather than narrator? And from what language "focalized"? Besides being a hideous thing, how is it more precise, or wittier, or prettier, or in any way better than any of the actual English words that might have been the verb there? The whole structure of that sentence tells a sad story of how little might be learns from even the longest study of literature, great or small.

I wasn't looking for Edmund Gosse dressed up, or dragged, up in modern dress, but neither was I expecting to wade through that kind of tasteless, glutenous academese either. How to describe not just my disappointment, but the actual, squirming discomfort of reading this kind of ponderous, meaningless, scholarly gab, specially when the mood is meant to be, what? Bright, I suppose? Irreverent? Fun? It's like dancing in diving boots.

The temptation to root around for days yet in this baggy business, looking for the good idea of a book I followed so hopefully in, I now give up. I was warned, going in. I should probably have stopped when right on the outside, from one of the three completely unfamiliar academics blurbing the thing, were the words "witty" and "book-objects" in the same sentence.

Oh, dear, no.

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Quick Review

Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their BooksUnpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books by Leah Price

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is some lovely book porn: interesting little interviews with writers, ending in an illustrated list of favorites, followed by a few gorgeous pages of pictures of the writers' bookshelves. What for the bibliophile is there not to like about that?

The book is a well made object with bright pretty covers and bright pretty content, in a compact and clean design and at a reasonable price. Really, very well done.

The writers selected by the editor are an interesting crew, including more than one couple, which is specially interesting when studying what may be their individual or combined bookshelves. Some of the represented writers I might know or like better than others, but, as this book proves, everyone is at least as interesting as their bookshelves, and these are packed with lovely and sometimes surprising things:Claire Messud & James Wood (one of the couples) have a set of Hazlitt in 11 volumes, which I would probably knock them both to the ground just to get at, but also just that wonderful, weird business of unlikely alphabetical accidents; like the shelf of Lev Grossman & Sophie Gee that runs C. S. Lewis to Wyndham Lewis to Lermontov -- there's an unlikely imaginary dinner party conversation, no?

This is just then the sort of book about books that as soon as it's inevitably remaindered, I am going to own.

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Daily Dose

From Curious Men, by Frank Buckland


"A flea cannot be taken up from its wild state and made to work at once; like a colt or puppy, it must undergo a course of training and discipline."

From Fleas to Meet You

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Daddy Long Legs and the Fly by Edward Lear

Daily Dose

From In Suspect Terrain, by John McPhee


"A structural geologist with a foot on each continent looks up and aside from this contentious scene. 'While geologists argue, the rocks just sit there,' he remarks. 'And sometimes they seem to smile.'"

From Page 149, hardcover edition

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

Quick Review

A Selection of Poems by John Milton, 1608-1674, Exploring His Pilgrimage of FaithA Selection of Poems by John Milton, 1608-1674, Exploring His Pilgrimage of Faith by Ruth Etchells

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Here's a funny idea: a slim volume of verse from... John Milton. Really? Paradise Lost in 50 pages? But this little book isn't meant to be anything like a representative selection of Milton's poetry. This is more a tract, tracing the trajectory of Milton's life and faith in as small a space -- including Dore illustrations and notes -- as possible. You know what? It actually works remarkably well. Etchells' selection seems apt, her brief introduction, and the introductions to each of the poems she uses, actually form a clear and very simple narrative through what is, after all, and despite Milton's piety, not the least complicated spiritual journey in English literature.

It can be hard for the modern reader to get much purchase on Milton's poetry outside a classroom. (Certainly has been for me.) Though I am not a sympathetic reader for a book of spiritual instruction, even one as short as this, what this little book is then for me at least is a way into Milton's mind and faith, and thus into his poetry, which is what matters to me as a reader of English literature. The selections from Paradise Lost alone, with the brief supporting matter, make this purchase worth the price.

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Daily Dose

From The Autobiography of My Mother, by Jamaica Kincaid


"And when our eyes met and we laughed at the same time. I said, 'I love you, I love you,' and he said, 'I know.' He did not say it out of conceit, he only said it because it was true."

From Page 167, paperback edition

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

Quick Review

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading BrainProust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What we now know about the brain is roughly what Ferdinand Magellan knew about geography. What this means for the average reader of science nonfiction on the subject is usually a great deal of what could kindly be called educated guessing but might just as easily be classified as science fiction. So when a writer like Maryanne Wolf admits what she doesn't know, and more importantly what nobody knows yet, if we ever will, that is a very good start indeed. That she then handles the whole history of reading as elegantly as this, in the process taking up subjects as disparate as dyslexia and Socrates without once sounding either stuffy or ridiculous marks this as a surprisingly good and entertaining read, and not bad science, which matters just as much.

What keeps this book, and every other book like it from being anything more than it is, frankly, is just the science. We live in a truly golden age of technology and research, for which we might all be appropriately grateful. If, however, my personal impatience tends to be exacerbated rather than assuaged by books like Wolf's, that is no fault of the author. What's she's done here is quite clever and even convincing, largely because of the limits of what she is willing to claim as fact. The history she writes here appeals to me as a reader, and frankly flatters me as someone who's life has been lived with books. How much of this is really science? I may not live to know, though I'm convinced enough.

Still, I long for the horizon...

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Daily Dose

From The Loony-Bin Trip, by Kate Millett


"The summer is with me now like a reproach: its endless possibilities and expectations, that perfect world."

From Part Three: New York City, 3