Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

Dail Dose

From The Dangerous Animal Club, by Stephen Tobolowsky


"It should be mentioned that I believe in love at first sight.  It is not a good thing or a nice thing, but it is a real thing."

From Chapter 12, Miss Hard To Get

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

Dail Dose

From George Orwell Diaries, edited by Peter Davison


"This need to know things at the level of basic experience, and the reluctance to be fobbed off by the official story or the popular rumor, was a part of the 'infinite capacity for taking pains' that somebody once described as the constituent of genius."

From The Introduction, by Christopher Hitchens

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From George Orwell Diaries, edited by Peter Davison


""Its atmosphere is something halfway between a girls' school and a lunatic asylum, and all we are doing at present is useless, or slightly worse than useless."

From 3. 14. 42

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mrs Trollope in America

Daily Dose

From English Literature: The Seventeenth Century, edited by Evert Mordecai Clark


"The darksome statesman, hung with weights and woe"

From The World

Saturday, October 27, 2012

An Immorality by Ezra Pound

Daily Dose

From English Literature: The Seventeenth Century, edited by Evert Mordecai Clark


"I saw Eternity, the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light"

From The World

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

Song Tournament: New Style

Daily Dose

From The Collected essays, journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 2, My Country Right or Left, 1940 - 1934, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus


"What he is saying is simply that modern men aren't fully alive, whether they fail through having too narrow standards or through not having any."

From 31.  The Rediscovery of Europe

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Quick Review

The Life and Remains of Douglas JerroldThe Life and Remains of Douglas Jerrold by Blanchard Jerrold

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Yet another reprint for me on the Espresso Book Machine.  This one because Jerrold's name comes up still, now and then, in histories of the early 19th, and or in anthologies of wit.  Douglas Jerrold was a very clever, rather black-humoured little man; quite famous in his day as a playwright, and author particularly of the once hugely successful "Black-Eyed Susan," a nautical comedy later parodied in Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore.  If he is now remembered at all, it would be as a man of Punch, to which he contributed much in poetry, prose and journalism.  It was in this last that I had most recently encountered him, in an anthology of essays, wherein I found a scathing indictment of a French colonial campaign against a native Arab population, ending in the putting to death by fire of over 500 men, women and children in the Caves at Dahra, in 1845. A brilliant piece of invective!  I'd first met with Jerrold in a collection of his anecdotes and witty sayings, along with those of Charles Lamb for some reason as the gentlemen did not really know one another.  That curious little collection was edited by Douglas Jerrold's son, Blanchard, the author of this biography.

And a pretty good job of it he made, the son.  Jerrold senior's life was not atypical of the period; with a poor, but clever boy finding enough patronage just to live until talent and hard work at last provided him with some small measure of a living, eventually crowned by a triumph or two.  The son, like his father, exhibits here both a real wit and a ready charm, both likewise tinged with a dark fatalism.  Unlike his illustrious father though, Blanchard Jerrold is much more the Victorian Gentleman than the Enlightenment cynic.  The unfortunate result?  About the middle of the book, when Douglas Jerrold begins the happiest part of his career, moving from success to success, the son can not resist retelling each, in detail.  Oh dear.  The resulting professional hagiography might yet hold some interest, had any of the work described survived down to our day.  Sadly, neither Jerrold's plays nor much else will now be familiar to any but specialists in the period, if then.  In an otherwise entertaining and thoughtful biography, this then makes for a long and deadly stretch of unfamiliar names, forgotten players, lost occasions and little interest.  (For a man who died relatively young, even for the time, and what's more a man always of delicate health, Douglas Jerrold was a busy, busy little man.  Sad, really, to think how little of all that survives him.)

When at last his father's health began to fail and his last, most rhetorically interesting editorializing was undertaken, the son's biography, ironically picks back up and in the end, proves a good and moving tribute to a fascinating and complicated figure.

I only wish some collection of Jerrold's plays and or his journalism and occasional writing had been available as a proper course of parallel reading, but alas, this was not to be.  still, I don't regret the time spent with both father and son, and I will look out hereafter for more of the Jerrolds.

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A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From The Poems of Robert Herrick


"Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;
And take the harmless follie of the time."

From A Nuptiall Song

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Poetry of Alexander Pope


"In Wit, as Nature, what affects our hearts
Is not the exactness of peculiar parts;
Tis not a lip, or eye, we beauty call,
But the joint force and full result of all."

From An Essay on Criticism

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Daily Dose

From Major Barbara, by George Bernard Shaw


Undershaft: "When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need."

From Act III

Monday, October 22, 2012

Quick Review

Nemesis (Miss Marple, #12)Nemesis by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another Christie for another day in the airport, bless her.  The reason I so love Miss Marple for this sort of dreary inactivity, the reason in fact that I generally prefer her to the more active Poirot or Tommy and Tuppence for that matter, is her own rather leisurely way with a murder.  Poirot, for all his buzzing about, never seems to prevent that inevitable next horror.  Neither does Jane Marple, but who can blame the lady?  Poor old thing.  She's doing the very best she can, isn't she? She's quite old, you know.  Not to be rushed.  She should hate to have hurried to quite the wrong conclusion.   Meanwhile, people will insist on murdering one another, won't they?  what's a body to do?  Makes the best of bad situations, does our Jane, which is, after all, very much like sitting in an airport, isn't it?  Most sympathetic.

Here Miss Marple stirs herself a bit more than usual, but then for most of the action, she's actually, as it were, on the job.  She's accepted a challenge, just at the start, and is even looking forward to a payday should she succeed and survive to collect.  What she's agreed to investigate we would now call a "cold case," though this being Christie, the investigation heats up for one or two other poor souls quickly enough.  (Not right to call this novel a sequel, but it does lead off from A Caribbean Mystery, or rather it's a character from that one who commissions  Marple in this one.  Not necessary to have read the former though, I shouldn't think, to read this one.)  The best of the puzzle here is that the old girl doesn't know to start what she's to look for, or who's dead, if anyone is, or why, etc.  Here's a mystery from scratch.  Great fun, that.

There's always a moment or two, just near the end in the best sort of whodunit when  the reader is allowed to feel awfully clever for seeing what's to come.  There's never been anybody better than Christie at providing this most satisfying glimpse without entirely giving the game away.  There's always a bit more to it, some detail to be played out, some twist and usually some peril to be survived before the whole business is unraveled.  my favorite bit, every time, that crack in the case.  Doesn't matter that I know by now that it's a trick, that I'm not actually all that clever, not really any good at puzzles even.  When I see the killer clear, just before the killer's caught, I'm left feeling quite insufferably smug for a minute or two.  How is that still possible, at my age?

Well, it's possible, even perfectly predictable because Christie made it so.  Everything she did, everything of hers that I've read anyway, works and works in a way that only a true master can make. Yes, the familiar tick tock is both soothing and occasionally annoying, and yes the inevitably unforeseen collateral damage might have been prevented in a better world, and yes there is an implausibility to the whole contraption, but whatever there may be in this business that may seem dated, dim or plain daft, once it's wound, it runs.  The craftsmanship, do admit, is still exquisite and the whole thing simply hums with the pleasure of ingenuity and a knowing, almost prudish naughtiness.  (Everyone in these things is always disapproving of sex and violence and the disgraceful moral laxity of the times, even as the secret lovers are discovered, the poor girls are undressed and the corpses pile up like cordwood.  Having one's cake, right there.)

And finally, there is something to be said for "a silly old woman," in preference nearly anyone else, trapping the bad'uns.  Miss Marple allows for frailty, and even a nap or two, but as she herself might put it, she is never the less "inexorable."  One wants that in a retributive incarnation, don't you find?  Indeed.

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Daily Dose

From Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944 - 1956, by Anne Applebaum


"Stalin is known to have favored promoting people who had some deep character flaw or secret, supposedly because he liked to have extra means of controlling his subordinates.  Since Stalin had little faith in Polish communists in general, he might well have preferred a possible collaborator like Bierut to a true believer like Ulbricht.  Anyone can lose their faith in communism, but blackmail is forever."

From Chapter 3, Communists

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Quick review

A London LifeA London Life by Henry James

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For a trip home to the dreary wilds of Pennsylvania coal country in October, what was wanted was something brief, bright, tart.  The solution?  Wonderfully middling James. While I am a committed congregant in the church of Late James, I confess that I now and then long for a simpler communion.  Not much of a story, let it be said, even in so slight an effort, but then Henry couldn't tell a story anymore than he could ever have told a joke.  It wasn't in him to care much about such things.  Here's a bad marriage, with neither party innocent of anything, and while that's as near as we'll come to event, who we're here for is Laura Wing, the innocent American and younger sister of the bad wife.  What's on offer then is as an examination of the pinching dependence of the unmarried female, her hectic puritanism, and the very real insecurity of both her position and her person in such an increasingly scandalous household.

Like many another imperilled, Victorian virgin in many another novel of the period, much if not most of the thunderous flutter of the very moral Miss Wing comes to nothing.  What makes even middle James unique is that neither the ignominy nor the flutter is all.  (Think how Trollope, for instance, would have measured the field and arrayed the forces of respectability, religion and the rest across a broad front, and sent his poor virgins, male and female, on many a fruitless foray before they engaged so much as an indirection, let alone a proper skirmish.)  A woman, even a girl in a novel by Henry James will think.  Do what they may to discourage her.  (They in this instance being not only poor little Laura's wicked sister and her creepily attentive brother-in-law, but yet another of HJ's wonderful cadre of elderly Amazons, here, Lady Davenant.  They'd all dearly love to just shut the girl up, even if the latter finds her most companionable and decorative.)  Laura Wing doesn't just fly from danger, she actively tries to avert the coming disaster, but more than this, she thinks things through to conclusions she admittedly does not like.  This is why, despite her flurry, she interests the reader as an actual person, rather than simply as a narrative convenience.  She interest us as she interests the novelist, because she does, obviously interest him far more than the impending divorce, or an affair getting into the papers, or a secret flight to France with a lover, etc.

Witness what James does with her that almost might be in some other novel of the time.  In her desperation to find some purchase before it is too late, she flies right at the head of our rather thick juvenile lead.  Being American, and rather dear if also rather dull, he gives her rather the go-by.  (Give him a minute though.)  James only real interest in this scene, other than his obvious technical pleasure in working out the movements through the opera boxes and halls by the various parties to the finale -- and that worthy of Balzac or Flaubert in it's perfect, light choreography -- James' special magic, is in complicating the girls emotion with logic and consequences.  There's nobody else then, not even George Eliot, to do that as James does here, or rather, if, say Eliot did, there would be some magisterial judgement from the narrator, some moral pointed, or pity played out.  Not James.  James just lets her think, and speak, and then he lets her, rather cruelly, sink.  It is all quite melodramatic, more than a little confusing and silly, and it seems absolutely right for what this particular girl has proved herself to be.  It mayn't be much, but it's true and interesting, even exciting for that.

After that, the novelist admittedly hasn't much use for what he's made.  The plot, after his fashion, is, after a fashion, resolved.  At any rate, the book ends. 

I can't help but hope to find another at just this length for another plane ride.

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Daily Dose

From Vlad, by Carlos Fuentes


"Standing next to a naked Central European count who liked to discuss the philosophy of life and death, I tried to lighten things up."

From Chapter 7

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Caricature

Here's the last -- so far as I know -- of the portraits of this bald, bearded person, as seen by coworkers.  Turns out, one of the earlier examples, the one that looked rather like a video-game character or a piece of candy-corn, was actually just a preliminary sketch for this one by Anna Micklin, bless 'er!

Daily Dose

From Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis


"The one indispensable answer to an environment bristling with people and things one thought were bad was to go on finding out new ways in ehich one could think they were bad."

From Chapter Thirteen

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ballade of a Great Weariness

Daily Dose

From The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, by David McCullough


"... Crowds thronged the Champs-Elysees.  Tout Paris paraded by in their elegant equipages, providing the first glimpse of the new Spring fashions.

Yet Tom Thumb stole the show, sporting a top hat, riding in a no-less-fancy miniature carriage with four grey ponies and four tiny liveried coachmen.  The crowd along the avenue broke into cheers for 'General Tom Pouce.'"

From Page 163

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Quick Review

AgincourtAgincourt by Christopher Hibbert

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not my sort of history, generally speaking.  Not much for warrior kings, chivalry, and the movement of troops.  Maybe in a Scott novel, but even then.  But, this was less than 150 pages without the back-matter, perhaps the most famous battle in the history of the English speaking world, and Christopher Hibbert, one of the most reliably informative and entertaining popular historians of the last Century.  Why ever not then?

One evening's read.  Some pretty exciting stuff; what with the odds against the English, the technological innovation of the long-bow, lovely patches of Shakespeare and the rest.  Hibbert is specially good at negotiating efficiently from point to point, up to, across and away from the fight, without making even this brief book a traditional military history of ranked tin soldiers, chess metaphors and competing blocks of shaded grey, wheeling on a white field.  Hibbert writes a narrative history; personalities, politics and the implications for competing dynasties rather than states, are the stuff of his story.

And just as well, for me at least, as Henry V, if not the hero of Shakespeare or the genocidal conqueror of the French chroniclers, was clearly -- even at this short length -- roughly as interesting as a character as he was a nice fellow, which is not much at all.  I can't remember the last time a central historical figure felt quite so remote from anything for which I might feel the slightest sympathy or admiration.  A man of his time then, and a bloody awful time it was, too.

Still, the significance of the battle, the story and the stakes are made clear enough, and the battle itself was remarkable enough, so I can hardly regret the hour or two it took to read this.

Christopher Hibbert was a master of his craft, in long or short form.

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Daily Dose

From Agincourt, by Christopher Hibbert


"The tremor of distaste is inevitable."

From Chapter 10, Homecoming

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Veteran by Dorothy Parker

Daily Dose

From Citizen of the World, by Oliver Goldsmith


"As I am not possessed of much learning, at least I would not suppress what little I had; nor would I appear more stupid than nature made me."

From Letter LI, A Bookseller's Visit to the Chinese

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Song of Perfect Propriety

Daily Dose

From A London Life, by Henry James


"There was a certain chance in life that sat there beside her, but it would go for ever if it should not move nearer that night; and she listened, she watched for it to move."

From Chapter XI

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Little Old Lady in Lavender Silk

Daily Dose

From A London Life, by Henry James


"... English people could never call people as other people did, for fear of resembling the servants."

From Chapter VII

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Caricature

Pretty confident saying this one's from Michael Wallenfels.  And a serious sort of fellow I am.

Daily Dose

From A London Life, by Henry James


"Of course frivolity that was never ashamed of itself was like a neglected cold -- you could die of it morally as well as of anything else."

From Chapter IV

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Caricature

And here's another of me, from the same batch, from the bookstore.  Again, the artist is unknown to me, but I do have my suspicions.  Grateful anyway, for the laugh.

Daily Dose

From A London Life, by Henry James


"'You mustn't be too sympathetic -- it's mostly wasted,' the old lady went on."

From Chapter One

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Caricature

A portrait of me from work, by an unknown hand, in which, charmingly I think, I have been reduced to my most architectural points.

Daily Dose

From American Notes, by Charles Dickens


"Breakfast at seven, dinner at half past twelve, supper about six."

From Chapter XI, From Pittsburgh to Cincinnati in a Western Steamboat

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Oxford Book of American Light Verse, chosen and edited by William Harmon


"The Bureau of Labor Statistics
Has been taken over by mystics
Whose way is to say
That your pay for the day
Has no actual characteristics."

By William Harmon

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Letter from James Howell

Daily Dose

From I'm a Stranger Here Myself, by Ogden Nash


The ant has made himself illustrious
Through constant industry industrious.
So what?
Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?

Daily Dose

From The Oxford Book of American Light Verse, chosen and edited by William Harmon


"Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit the teeth."

By Charles Simic

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Garden by Andrew Marvell

Daily Dose

From The Poems of Andrew Marvell 


"Pardon me, mighty poet, nor despise
My causeless yet impious surmise."

From On Milton's 'Paradise Lost'

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Mower to the Glowworms

Daily Dose

From The Face Is Familiar: The Best Verse of Ogden Nash


"I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

This is actually about the level of wit actually produced during any given hour spent working at the Information Desk in the New & Used Books Department of a Saturday.   Don't want anyone thinking we are nothing but sparkling.  Still, if we giggle, that's not a bad thing, is it?  Who knows where this one started, but here we are.

Daily Dose

From Mayakovsky's Revolver, by Matthew Dickman


"I can't do this much longer!
And because I don't have to, I cut an orange..."

From On Earth

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Poetry and Short Stories of Dorothy Parker


"By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying --
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying."

Friday, October 5, 2012

Of Losses

Daily Dose

From The Face Is Familiar: The Best Verse of Ogden Nash


"Let the anxious wooer cure insomnia
By murmuring AMOR VINCIT AMNIA."

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From The Poetry & Short Stories of Dorothy Parker


"Oh, is it, then, Utopian
To hope that I may meet a man
Who'll not relate, in accents suave,
The tales of girls he used to have?"

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Of Age and Ignorance

Daily Dose

From Citizen of the World, by Oliver Goldsmith


"I was proceeding in my discourse, when, looking round, I perceived the company no way attentive to what I attempted, with so much earnestness to enforce."

From Letter XXXIII, The Manner of Writing Among the Chinese -- The Eastern Tales of Magazines, &c., Ridiculed

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Citizen of the World Letter LXXV

Daily Dose

From Montaigne's Essays, In Three Volumes, Volume One, translated by John Florio


"Were vertue herselfe corporeall and incarnate, I think her pulse would beat and worke stronger, marching to the assault, than going to dinner..."

From Chapter XLIV, Of Sleeping

Monday, October 1, 2012


Well now.  Here she is.  I don't know that anyone but me has been anticipating her arrival, but now she's here we can all agree, at the least that she looks remarkable good, considering.  A month ago, she was no more than a glimmer in me eye, as they used to say, whoever they were.  There was a fair amount of rather manic scribbling, no little rhyming, and more than a few notes, as it turned out, in the making of her, to say nothing of emails, meetings and giggles.

Meet my first wee book.  Isn't she lovely?

A Is for Auden: an Alphabet of Poets, I should say, by way of introduction, isn't all that and a can of beans.  I drew the first eight pictures in the same day.  That's not bragging, as art goes, because it may explain the hurried quality of the results as much as it might suggest the inspiration of the Muse.  Took me a week or two to decide on and do the rest.  The Muse was not so much fickle then as otherwise engaged a night or two along the way.  I didn't kick.  Nice of her to think of me, frankly.  Still, it all went remarkably fast.  (That's meant to be her, by the way, on the cover there, with the alphabet blocks.  That's my girl, Caliope, the muse of epic poetry, daughter of Zeus, Homer's friend, etc.  That's a joke, you see.  I make a little book of rhymed caricatures, just 49 pages, and call on Homer's girl, daughter of Zeus and so on.  I nicknamed our Espresso Book Machine, Homer, when we first got him.  It was after Homer Price, actually, and his donut machine, but see?  There's another layer to the joke then.  That's okay, nobody's likely to find any of this amusing but me.)

It was all sooooo easy, the actually making, editing and printing of the book, for me I mean.  The woman who runs the EBM, the brilliant and kind Anna, accepted the pages I sent her via email, had a few brief conversations with me as to format and the like, sold me an ISBN, and then made me a copy.  The price was remarkably reasonable per unit as well as for the project as a whole.  (We're selling copies at the bookstore for $5.99.  It is just a little thing, after all, and the delicacy of it really ought not to cost more than that.  It's just a funny little thing, not an epic, despite poor misused Caliope on the cover.)

I will say, none of the content appeared anywhere before now.  I'm thinking I'll post pages here, as a sample, but it will be for the first time.  Everything in the book I made just for it.

Anyway, forgive me for burbling.  I'm just so excited to welcome this new arrival into the world.  It's been a joy.