Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Fish Feast at Blackwall

Daily Dose

From The Kingdom by the Sea: a Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain, by Paul Theroux


"The Dundee Swimming and Leisure Centre had the look of a Russian interrogation headquarters, a vast drab Lubyanka in rain-streaked concrete."

From Chapter 21, The 9:51 to Leuchars Junction

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Little Boy, Goethe

Daily Dose

From The Second Tree from the Corner, by E. B. White


"The world likes humor, but it treats it patronizingly.  It decorates its serious artists with laurel, and its wags with Brussels sprouts."

From Some Remarks on Humor

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Another Letter from William Cowper

Daily Dose

From Still Life with Pipe, by Jose Donoso, translated by Gregory Rabassa


"I suppose that it must be frequent for things to turn out that way when, after being so eager for it, a person finally finds himself alone with his love: everything is less than what was expected then, more lackluster, less exciting than the illusion."

From Chapter V

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Letter of William Cowper

Daily Dose

From William Cowper's Letters: A Selection, edited by E. V. Lucas


"It is my labour, and my principal one, to be as clear as possible."

From a letter to the Rev. William Unwin, dated Oct. 20, 1784

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Bookstore Beast

Daily Dose

From For Love of Books: The Adventures of an Impecunious Collector, by Paul Jordan-Smith


"The mere discovery of a book, thrilling as it is, by no means exhausts the hoarded pleasures awaiting those who browse in the stalls."

From Chapter VIII, Collector's Trifles

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Bookstore Bird

Daily Dose

From The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton


"He thought of a story he had read, of some peasant children in Tuscany lighting a bunch of straw in a wayside cavern, and revealing old silent images in their painted tomb..."

From Chapter 21

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Goethe Break

I sing again the hymn of the broken sets!  The bookseller in me cringes, but the reader in me has some cause to rejoice when, now and then, I find an unlikely bargain in stray volumes.  A bourgeois convention of the late 19th and earl 20th centuries were these impressive and largely unread sets of the complete works of this or that immortal.  Meant as much or more for display as use, even the less expensive "cabinet editions" published with cloth covers rather than fine, leather bindings -- call 'em petit bourgeois, or poor relations -- were nonetheless remarkably well made furniture indeed.  That's meant that some, if not all have survived their original owners remarkably well, if not often intact as complete sets.

It does not always break my way, may I say.  On my most recent visit to the remains of a local used books chain, I had the heartbreaking experience of finding a broken set -- gorgeous volumes all -- of the great and neglected American historian, John Lothrop Motley (1814 – 1877.)  Seventeen volumes the set originally ran to, of which the bookstore had ten.  I would have bought any part of the set had even one title been complete, but alas, it was not to be: three volumes of four of his History of the United Netherlands (1860 - 1867), two volumes of The Rise of the Dutch Republic (1856), one volume of three of his letters, etc.  Each lovely book was priced at twenty bucks -- an outrageous price for incomplete titles, however pretty the binding!  Still, I almost bought the stray letters.  Maddening.  Awful.  Discouraging indeed.

It is often, but always so.

Today's example being Goethe's Works, published in an unspecified number of volumes, on some unspecified date, in this "Library Edition" by "The Publisher's Plate Renting Company, New York."  (Great name.)  This edition, translated into English by one John Oxenford, ESQ.  (1812 – 1877), and illustrated charmingly by some unacknowledged artist, I know to be incomplete because the seller was kind enough to tell me so, and because of what I did not find in the ten volumes I bought, namely "the Works." (Missing Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, for instance.)

Now as a set to sell, these books have no real value.  A complete set might -- just might -- find a buyer online, but a broken set, missing at least one masterpiece?  Not so much.

Still, for the reader like me, broken sets can be a boon; here for example I have The Autobiography of Goethe: Truth and Fiction: Relating to My Life, (Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit, 1811 - 1833), complete in two volumes, and had for a song.  A true set, a complete set of Goethe in English I could probably never afford, but this?  Well, this one I own, and have for some years now.

And what have I read of it, this broken set I picked up as a bargain?  Not much, frankly.  I've read in it.  But just tonight I needed a break from both the last of my vacation pulp, and from reading William Cowper for my October event.  I happened to be in the room in the house where a few stray sets live, and there was Johann Wolfgang von G., and there were the two volumes of his autobiography, and so to bed with a good German.

If I hadn't, (bought the broken set, taken up volume one of the his autobiography some years later,) I might never have read the delightful story of "the boy" tossing his toy dinner service, and then the family's good china ,piece by piece out a high window for the pleasure of hearing them smash on the street below.  Better, I learn that "the boy" was encouraged in this mischief by the entirely respectable old gentlemen -- stout, Frankfurt Burghers all -- who lived across the street and who cheered loudly each fresh explosion.  Not expected.

Had I not bought this broken set, what then would be the odds against finding Goethe, let alone Goethe "the boy" and finding him charming?

Daily Dose

From The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson


THE SOUL should always stand ajar.
  That if the heaven inquire,
He will not be obliged to wait,
  Or shy of troubling her.
Depart, before the host has slid       
  The bolt upon the door,
To seek for the accomplished guest—
  Her visitor no more.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, by Anatole France, translated by Lafcadio Hearn


"There are things hanging on the wall or scattered over the tables and shelves which usually please my fancy and amuse me.  But today it would seem as if all those objects had suddenly conceived some kind of ill-will against me."

From Chapter IV, The Little Saint-George

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, by Anatole France, translated by Lafcadio Hearn


"My acquaintances were confined to the ancients."

From Chapter IV, The Little Saint-George

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Preview, As It Were

Daily Dose

From Nabokov's Dozen: Thirteen Stories, by Vladimir Nabokov


"A mature bedbug is awful, but there is a certain grace in the motions of silky silverfish."

From Cloud, Castle, Lake

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Mausoleum of Lovers: Journals 1976 - 1991, by Herve Guibert, translated by Nathanael

"I am trying for the third time to read Conrad (Heart of Darkness), but I have the impression, mysteriously, of reading Chinese, my eyes glide over the text without grasping anything."

From page 279, this edition

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Animal Family, by Randall Jarrell


"They couldn't help making fun of their bear.  It felt good somehow."

From Chapter IV, The Bear

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Usedbuyer on Book Lust with Nancy Pearl.

Here's my television spot with the beloved Nancy Pearl, jawing about used books.  (Please note my choice of a lovely buttercup blouse for the occasion.)

Daily Dose

From The Poems of Sir Walter Scott


Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd,
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Girls

When I was a little kid, I had but the one sister.  She was the girl I knew best.  My best friend before I started school was a little tomboy down the road, and I road on the handlebars of her bike, but somehow she didn't count so much as a girl as just my friend.  Then, my sister got to be old enough that she brought friends home, went to dances, went out.  My sister's two years older than me.  That matters when you're little, so her friends weren't really my friends, though I liked them and they liked me well enough.  It wasn't until I was older, with friends of my own, that I began to see the girls as something other than just my sister's friends.

We don't always get to keep our friends.  There's nothing unusual in this.  We grow up, grow apart, move.  Our circumstances and our interests change.  Friends fall out with one another.  We remember some, and forget others, and some we keep.  Some we lose.  Live long enough, and the ones we still have, even at second hand, become family.

I remember the girls when they were going out.  I remember the anticipation of a good time, the getting ready, the phone-calls, the boys unseen and talked about endlessly.  There were "hot-curlers" that burned the girls' scalps, and boots that didn't fit, but looked good.  Somebody would do somebody else's hair, wear somebody else's belt, borrow a coat, or a necklace, or ten dollars.  Eye-liner would slip under a lid and somebody would curse.  Somebody would be late.  Somebody always was.  (Somebody still is.)  Everybody laughed.  They all rushed around getting ready, they rushed around everywhere, as I remember, and I watched.  We watched, me and my folks.  My mother might help them get ready, or feed them, or tell them what not to wear.  My father might warn them not to be damned fools, then give them twenty dollars, or rescue them at two in the morning when the car broke down or went into a snow-drift or a ditch.  He might, he did, sometimes line them up on a sofa and give them all a lecture.  I don't know that they listened very hard, but he could make you cry. They all remember those long rides home and the stern talking to they got, but not much of what he said.

When they were ready, or as near to it as they were going to get, why, they'd just tumble out the door and pile into whatever the latest old junker was they were going out to wreck that night.  In their wake would be a hamper of wet towels and work-clothes, a hedge of hairy brushes on the sink and a Vidal Sassoon blow dryer still swinging on the bathroom doorknob, a fragrant cloud of Jean Nate and Charlie, of hairspray and romance and all the optimism of youth still lingering in the air.

They were beautiful then as only young girls can be; fresh and funny and foolish, and to my mind at the time, rather glamorous.  They were young and they were pretty and they were looking for a good time.  I wasn't with them when they found it, but I heard the stories.  As the years have gone on, I've heard them all, or most of them anyway, well after the fact.  The one my dad still tells every time we're back home at the same time is the one about my sister sneaking in late and in a state of imperfect sobriety and deciding to come in through the basement-way, so as not to wake the rest of us.  Might have worked too, had she not opened the deep-freezer for light and left the lid up all night, with her boots, her coat and her purse on the floor before it to be discovered in the morning.

They went to bars, some of them low, some of them only a little less so, and to concerts when they could.  They listened to loud music, some of it good, most of it less than, and they liked it as loud as they could get it.  Some of them smoked, sometimes they smoked a little weed, and they all of them drank.  They had boyfriends, some of them, and the boys they liked better.  Men bought them drinks and asked them to dance, or asked them other things, but for the most part the girls traveled together, whoever they might be seeing or chasing or avoiding.  More often than not, when they woke up it was next to each other -- once, in a field -- or back home in their own beds.  Still, they cut a swath, the girls.  Indeed they did.

Later they would all find other, better jobs, or they wouldn't,  had families or didn't, fell in and out of love or kept to the ones they'd found when they were young.  Some of them stayed pretty much in the place where they'd been born, or near it, and others moved away but came home.  My sister went to Texas and she stayed.  Like the rest of them, she made other friends and lived other lives.  She's known some heartbreak and experienced some ugly things.  They've all of them been touched one way or another by tragedy and death; lost a dear sister, or a both parents, or had to fight to save a child.  It's never so simple as it seemed when, out was the only place we wanted to go, and all we needed for a good time was to get there.

Now we're all grown-ups, some of us with children of our own grown up in turn.  Hell, my sisters's a grandmother, if you can believe it!  The girls don't get together anymore but maybe once a year, when my sister gets up from Texas to see the old people, my brother and the woman who's finally made him happy.  Maybe once a year, if they're lucky, most of the old gang can manage a night out together, or at least a visit at my parents' house, sitting on the "good" furniture in the other living room and laughing about old times.

It's been two years this trip since I saw my sister last, two years at least.  I see the girls when when I'm home, most of them, even when my sister isn't there.  I might go out with one or the other, to dinner with the folks, or just she and I for drinks.  This time home, one came on a long ride to Ohio and back with me, my sister and my parents.  My sister and I went out one night with another of the girls and started at the bar where another of them was tending bar.  We had a charming young lady, the daughter of one of the girls, as our designated driver.  We went to some of the old, low places.  We had a lot of laughs, told a lot of stories, tried to shock the poor girl who was kind enough to drive us all around all night.  I don't know that we actually shocked her, as she used to be a cop, but we did make her laugh.  We did do that.

I can't help but to think of the girls as my friends now as well as my sister's.  It's not the same, you understand as the way they are and will always be friends, but it is special in it's own way, our friendship, to me at least.  It seems, without intending any such thing all those years ago when we were all of us just kids, my sister found sisters of her own, and now they're mine as well.  It's funny, isn't it?  The family you find you have that you never knew you were getting.

To my mind, the girls are more beautiful now than they ever were all those years ago when they spent all those hours getting ready to go out.  They've been now, out and back.  Yes, in their faces now I can see the years, though they all look good for all that.  But I can see more than that, now I'm old enough to.  I see the care they've taken of one another, of their families, and of mine.  I can see the girl in them still, and something of the women they are now and it makes me proud to call them my friends.  My parents are getting older now and they count on my brother and the good woman he loves and who calls them Mum and Dad, and I'm grateful for that, as are they.  One of the girls who stayed home calls my mother every day, or nearly.   They count on her too.  I'm grateful to know she's there for them as well.  They love her, too.  So do I.

Now, I'll always love my sister.  Though we don't see each other nearly enough, I know her and she knows me as well as either is likely to ever know anyone.   She's one of the best women I know, and she's funny as Hell, and about as tough as a feather pillow, but she bygawd tries to be, and she's as brave as lion.  When she loves you, she just does and that is that.  You can't help but love her back.  I'd like to see you try.  She's taken in worse, believe me.  She's befriended more strays than I can count.  She's made bail, and beds, and fought battles she couldn't win.   She's mothered more mutts than the ASPCA, four footed and two.  She's worn herself out with worries, and she has laughed driving right on sharp edge of many a long fall.  I admire her more than I can say.

And even now, for all that, she's still one of the girls, bless her. I love that about her too.

I can't tell you how glad I am that I get to know them too, the girls.  I love the memory of them and the company of them and the way they all still laugh together, every time, Hell or high water.  They are some good women.  Good sisters.  Good friends.

Here's to the girls, then.  Raise a glass.  They've earned it.

Daily Dose

From Selected Poems, by T. S. Eliot


"Dust in the sunlight and memory in the corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land."

From A Song for Simeon

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Walk in the Woods with Dad

Daily Dose

From The Memoirs of Victor Hugo, translated by John W. Harding


"My childhood began, as everybody's childhood begins, with prejudices.  Man finds prejudices beside his cradle, puts them from him a little in the course of his career, and often, alas! takes to them again in his old age."

From At Rheims, 1825 - 1838

Monday, September 15, 2014

If Once You Have Slept on an Island

Daily Dose


Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered,-'Snow.'

Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned,-'Frost.'

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry. 

-- Rachel Field

Sunday, September 14, 2014

2 by Walter de la Mare

Daily Dose


Now, through the dusk
With muffled bell
The Dustman comes
The World to tell,
Night's elfin lanterns
Burn and gleam
in the twilight, wonderful
World of Dream.

Hollow and dim
Sleep's boat doth ride,
Heavily still
At the waterside.
Patter, patter,
The children come,
Yawning and sleepy,
Out of the gloom.

Like droning bees
in a garden green.
Over the thwarts
They clamber in.
And lovely Sleep
With long-drawn oar
Turns away
From the whispering shore.

Over the water
Like roses glide
Her hundreds of passengers
Packed inside,
To where in her garden
Tremble and gleam
The harps and lamps
Of the World of Dream. 

-- Walter de la Mare

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Daily Dose


WEEP no more for what is past,
For time in motion makes such haste
He hath no leisure to descry
Those errors which he passeth by.
If we consider accident,
And how repugnant unto sense
It pays desert with bad event,
We shall disparage Providence. 

-- Sir William Davenant

Friday, September 12, 2014

Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker

Daily Dose


The animal I really dig,
Above all others is the pig.
Pigs are noble. Pigs are clever,
Pigs are courteous. However,
Now and then, to break this rule,
One meets a pig who is a fool.
What, for example, would you say,
If strolling through the woods one day,
Right there in front of you you saw
A pig who'd built his house of STRAW?
The Wolf who saw it licked his lips,
And said, 'That pig has had his chips.'
'Little pig, little pig, let me come in!'
'No, no, by the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin!'
'Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in!'

The little pig began to pray,
But Wolfie blew his house away.
He shouted, 'Bacon, pork and ham!
Oh, what a lucky Wolf I am!'
And though he ate the pig quite fast,
He carefully kept the tail till last.
Wolf wandered on, a trifle bloated.
Surprise, surprise, for soon he noted
Another little house for pigs,
And this one had been built of TWIGS!

'Little pig, little pig, let me come in!'
'No, no, by the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin!'
'Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in!'

The Wolf said, 'Okay, here we go!'
He then began to blow and blow.
The little pig began to squeal.
He cried, 'Oh Wolf, you've had one meal!
Why can't we talk and make a deal?
The Wolf replied, 'Not on your nelly!'
And soon the pig was in his belly.

'Two juicy little pigs!' Wolf cried,
'But still I'm not quite satisfied!
I know how full my tummy's bulging,
But oh, how I adore indulging.'
So creeping quietly as a mouse,
The Wolf approached another house,
A house which also had inside
A little piggy trying to hide.
'You'll not get me!' the Piggy cried.
'I'll blow you down!' the Wolf replied.
'You'll need,' Pig said, 'a lot of puff,
And I don't think you've got enough.'
Wolf huffed and puffed and blew and blew.
The house stayed up as good as new.
'If I can't blow it down,' Wolf said,
I'll have to blow it up instead.
I'll come back in the dead of night
And blow it up with dynamite!'
Pig cried, 'You brute! I might have known!'
Then, picking up the telephone,
He dialed as quickly as he could
The number of red Riding Hood.

'Hello,' she said. 'Who's speaking? Who?
Oh, hello, Piggy, how d'you do?'
Pig cried, 'I need your help, Miss Hood!
Oh help me, please! D'you think you could?'
'I'll try of course,' Miss Hood replied.
'What's on your mind...?' 'A Wolf!' Pig cried.
'I know you've dealt with wolves before,
And now I've got one at my door!'

'My darling Pig,' she said, 'my sweet,
That's something really up my street.
I've just begun to wash my hair.
But when it's dry, I'll be right there.'

A short while later, through the wood,
Came striding brave Miss Riding Hood.
The Wolf stood there, his eyes ablaze,
And yellowish, like mayonnaise.
His teeth were sharp, his gums were raw,
And spit was dripping from his jaw.
Once more the maiden's eyelid flickers.
She draws the pistol from her knickers.
Once more she hits the vital spot,
And kills him with a single shot.
Pig, peeping through the window, stood
And yelled, 'Well done, Miss Riding Hood!'

Ah, Piglet, you must never trust
Young ladies from the upper crust.
For now, Miss Riding Hood, one notes,
Not only has two wolfskin coats,
But when she goes from place to place,

-- Roald Dahl

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tired Tim

Daily Dose


As I was walking,
Thyme sweet to my nose,
Green grasshoppers talking,
Rose rivalling rose:
And wing, like amber,
Dispread in light,
As from bush to bush
Linnet took flight:
Master Rabbit I saw
In the shadow-rimmed mouth
Of his sandy cavern,
Looking out to the South.
'Twas dew-tide coming;
The turf was sweet
To nostril, curved tooth,
And wool-soft feet.
Sun was in West;
Crystal in beam
Of its golden shower
Did his round eye gleam.
Lank human was I,
And a foe, poor soul—
Snowy flit of a scut,
He was into his hole,
And—stamp, stamp, stamp!
Through dim labyrinths clear,
The whole world darkened,
A murderer near. 

-- Walter de la Mare

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Sugar Lady

Daily Dose

If sunlight fell like snowflakes,
gleaming yellow and so bright,
we could build a sunman,
we could have a sunball fight,
we could watch the sunflakes
drifting in the sky.
We could go sleighing
in the middle of July
through sundrifts and sunbanks,
we could ride a sunmobile,
and we could touch sunflakes—
I wonder how they'd feel.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Hen

Daily Dose


Here in this isle
The summer still lingers,
And Autumn's brown fingers
So busy the while
With the leaves in the north;
Are scarcely put forth
In this land where the sun still glows like an ember,.
In mid-November.

In England it's cold,
And the yellow and red
Of October have fled ;
And the sun is wet gold
Like an emperor weeping,
When Death goes a-reaping
All through his empire, merciless comer
The dead things of summer.

The sky has cried so
That the earth is all sodden,
With dead leaves in-trodden,
And the trees to and fro
Wave their arms in the air
In despair, in despair :
They are thinking of all the hot days that are over,
And the cows in the clover.

Here the roses are out,
And the sun at high noon
Makes the birds faint and swoon.
But the cricket's about
With his song, and the hum
Of the bees as they come
To feast at the honey-board laden and groaning,
Makes musical droning.

But vainly, alas !
Do I hide in the south,
Kiss close with my mouth
Red flowers, green grass,
For Autumn has found me
And thrown her arms around me.
She has breathed on my lips and I wander apart,
Dead leaves in my heart. 

-- Alfred Douglas

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Shark

Daily Dose


To see the moment holds a madrigal,
To find some cloistered place, some hermitage
For free devices, some deliberate cage
Wherein to keep wild thoughts like birds in thrall;
To eat sweet honey and to taste black gall,
To fight with form, to wrestle and to rage,
Till at the last upon the conquered page
The shadows of created Beauty fall.

This is the sonnet, this is all delight
Of every flower that blows in every Spring,
And all desire of every desert place;
This is the joy that fills a cloudy night
When bursting from her misty following,
A perfect moon wins to an empty space. 

-- Alfred Douglas