Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Death of the Old Year

Daily Dose

From The Bostonians, by Henry James


"He heard the popping of corks, he felt the pressure of elbows, a thickening of the crowd, percieved that he was glowered at, squeezed against the table, by contending gentlemen, who observed that he usurped space, was neither feeding himself nor helping others to feed."

From Chapter 28

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Daily Dose

From Hippolytus, by Euripides, translated by David Grene


"We should not in the conduct of our lives
be too exacting.  Look, see this roof here --
these overarching beams that span your house --
could builders with all their skill lay them dead straight?
You've fallen into the great sea of love
and with your puny swimming would escape!"

From Scene One, Nurse

Monday, December 29, 2014

Midnight Mass for the Dying Year

Daily Dose

From Miss Julie and Other Plays, by August Strindberg, translated by Michael Robinson


"Well, well, well, you talk a load of rubbish and forget things you don't want to remember."

From page 128, this edition, from The Dance of Death

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Bookstore Doodle

New Year's Eve, 1850

Daily Dose

From Guy Mannering, by Walter Scott


"But it often happens, such is our natural love of the marvellous, that we willingly contribute our own efforts to beguile our better judgement."

From Chapter IV

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Quick Review: The Andy Cohen Diaries

The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year, by Andy Cohen

And argument can be made that some of the greatest diaries are about nothing much.  The Andy Warhol Diaries come first to mind, as that book turns out to be both Andy Cohen's favorite and the inspiration for his latest publication.  Unlike many famous  diarists, from Boswell to contemporary playwright Alan Bennett, Warhol had little or nothing to say about art or politics.  Instead, the artist recorded what Bianca Jagger was wearing at Studio 54 and where he met Halston for drinks. Nothing wrong with that.  Other classic diaries might as easily have inspired Cohen's "Deep Look at a Shallow Year."  Saint-Simon hadn't much to say about philosophy, literature or politics beyond court-gossip and the struggle for precedent when going in to dinner at Versailles. Pepys' Diaries end just as his own political rise began, and while he does include his impressions of events like The Great Fire of London, and his encounters with Majesty, Pepys is still read as much for his picnics and his pursuit of chambermaids as for his opinions on the news of the day.

Andy Cohen's autobiography, Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture, came out just a couple of years ago.  I read that one too, and enjoyed it.  He's a charming fellow, is our Andy; merry as grig, still boyishly handsome at 46, self-deprecating, clever.  The autobiography detailed his somewhat unlikely rise in broadcasting from CBS intern to corporate VP at Bravo and on-air personality.  His career being unlikely only in the sense that very few ambitious little boys from St. Louis, Missouri, with little or no discernible talent, by his own admission, end up hosting an exceptionally popular talk-show, even on basic cable.  After all, he can't sing, can't dance, can't quite tell a joke, and as his latest book shows, despite intense training and a respectable performance in a charity game, he will never be asked to play professional ball for his beloved Cardinals.  What he does do and has always done is talk.  Nowadays, it's mostly what he does for a living.

Watch What Happens Live! is unique half-hour hybrid of post-modern Merv Griffin, drinking-games and hyperactivity.  It's all played out in a rather ramshackle "club house" wherein celebrities of varying degrees of fame and infamy alternately field softballs and answer -- or don't -- the kind of awkwardly personal questions a fan might more usually ask at an airport bar.  It can be hilarious, hair-raisingly unscripted, unaffected and even sweet.  It can also, depending on the sobriety and self-importance of his celebrity-guests, and by Cohen's own admission, be uncomfortably close to a party where only the host is making any effort to have a good time.

Cohen made his fortune producing some of the least edifying, scripted "reality" on television; namely, the Housewives of various locations.  Hugely successful, I confess, I find them uniformly unwatchable hag-fests; reprehensible arriviste goaded into behaving like alley-cats.  While this formula has by now worn so thin that even the participants may occasionally blush under their Kabuki make-up, (how would we know?) there's no question but that Cohen loves this shit.  It hasn't just made him rich, he actually watches it, he cares, he still thinks it's "great television."  Oh, dear.  Among other things and better things, the Diaries show that even rising fifty, Andy Cohen is still that suburban gay kid fascinated by beauty-shop gossip and fan magazines.  He still thinks money makes people interesting and that fame is an accomplishment.  In many ways, he is then a representative voice of the times, no?  No more shallow than the next successful television producer, nor less than the last talk-show host to drink on-air.

As a diarist, he is what my grandmother might have called "a caution" and meant more than she knew.  He is funny, even dear.  He's clearly a loyal friend.  He's good to his parents and he loves his dog.  He's a New Yorker now, down to his designer shoes:

"Coming home from the dog run, I saw two separate girls who were either out for the night or legit prostitutes.  You never see real whores on the street anymore.  I also ran into Joe Montello, then Matt Bomer."

That would be a typical entry: funny, fanboy, and packed with unexamined privilege.  He and his friends like the new Mayor, Bill de Blasio, but hope he won't be "too liberal."  He preserves Patti LaBelle's "half-eaten Life Saver" as a relic, and worries that the high ratings for the "NeNe one on one" will result in her wanting to "raise her fee. Oy."

I enjoyed this book, as I did his last, at least in part because he is so blithely, unselfconsciously uncouth.  For a man who's already published an autobiography and a diary at 46, he leads a remarkably unexamined life.  He'd much rather be on-air than off.  I don't think he's much interested in the interior of anything beyond his soon to be renovated condo. That would seem to be both his charm and his Achilles' heal. He's busy. He goes.  He does.  He talks.  It's interesting, in it's way, even when one hasn't much interest in what he's doing or any idea who half the people in his book are. He's fun.  He's funny. It's all... telling.

That no one's likely to remember most of this in a few years, or care, doesn't make any of it less entertaining.  When future historians of our popular culture need to understand what it meant to be famous, fatuous and rich at the start of the 21st Century, they could do worse than to study this book. 

Andy Cohen is a caution indeed.

Daily Dose

From The Misanthrope, by Moliere, translated by Richard Wilbur


"Till I am ordered by my lord the King
To praise that poem, I shall say the thing
Is scandalous, by God, and that the poet
Ought to be hanged for having the nerve to show it"

From Act Two, Scene Seven, Alceste

Friday, December 26, 2014

Home at the Holiday

It was an old lady's house.  When we bought it from her, the husband who had built it was dead and she'd been left alone in it for years.  It was by then "too much for her," or so her son said at the time.  It's a big house, meant for more than one certainly, and more than two, come to that, but in it we've been happy.  The original owner moved to an apartment over the grocery store.  We used to see her thereabouts, now and again, but it's been years since now.  We would wave and she'd wave back.

The house was built in 1970 and it looks it, still.  We'd assumed we would change it more than we have, but at some point we ran out of spare money, and steam. The kitchen for instance has settled somewhere between then and now, with at least a new stove and refrigerator, but no backsplash and the counters are still avocado-green. At least the vinyl wallpaper's gone (sunflowers) and the hanging lamps.  Recently, we had the living-room carpeting stretched.  It was wrinkled as a camel's hide.  Looks better, but that's all.  Seems we're okay with that.

We love the house.  It's been good to us: the roof's held up, the space is grand, the structure's sound, and we get the afternoon sun through the big picture-windows.  That last is good, now it's winter.  The house is big, as I've said, so in the winter the house is cold.  Not our big bedroom where the ceiling is low and we run a portable heater, but otherwise it can be nippy and you'll need to wear slippers to cross the kitchen-floor (patterned vinyl -- vinyl was big in 1970.)

Christmas Day was quiet, as it is with us.  My folks sent sweaters and sweatpants and candy.  My sister sent a basket of sweet things, my brother a history book.  I gave the husband a nice watch, as he particularly likes watches, and the headphones he wanted.  He gave me good slippers, some nice vests and a new case for my phone.  it was all good.  As the housekeepers were coming the next day, I did some laundry and straightened up a bit.  He cooked a roast and made gravy, which did not agree with him.  We watched a movie.  I read some poetry, mostly Wordsworth, and read some more of the novel by Scott I'd started finally the day before. We were up late for no very good reason.  By the time we went to bed we were both glad of it.  Christmas was done.

It was as we want it, almost as it's always been with us.  He retired from the Post Office after 35 years.  I still work in retail.  The Holidays, as such have always been hectic then, work.  Come Christmas and I'm tired, frankly.  His mother was Jehovah's Witness so he was raised without.  Most years I decorate a bit still, but not this time.  Instead he lined the entryway with the Christmas cards we got.  It was nice, just that.  Coming home after work and up the stairs there was just enough of Christmas to cheer when I stopped to hang up my coat, or went down with a basket of laundry -- linens and blankets mostly, as the cleaners make up the beds when they come.

The house is quiet as I write.  He is at home, gathering up the rugs to wash, waiting for the maids to come at nine.  They always send two, as it's a big house and we have them in just once a month.  There's always one who's been before and knows where the light-switches are and how we like the pillows on the bed.  It's a luxury, having help in, even as infrequently as this and a reminder to me of my luck in having this house, of having him and he able to afford it even on his pension.

I'm glad of the house, and more of him, my love and his and the home we've made here.  I'm glad of my books, of the quiet, of the grey morning.  I work today, and so better leave soon.  Meanwhile, I'll sit a minute in the quiet, let Christmas go out as it finally came.

I'll just sit a minute in the house.

Daily Dose

From A Critic's Notebook, by Irving Howe


"For a moment, with Pickwick and his bumbling troupe, the clock of history stands still: that is the pleasure of it."

From Dickens: Three Notes

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick Special Holiday Edition

Daily Dose

From The Night Before Christmas, by Nikolai Gogol, translated by Anna Summers


"The frost was increasing.  Up in the sky it had become so cold that the devil couldn't keep still and hopped from hoof to hoof, blowing on his numb fingers -- understandable behavior in someone who spends his days in front of an enormous fire roasting sinners, just as our housewives roast sausages for Christmas."

From page 14, this edition

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Sermon

Daily Dose

From Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls: Essays, Etc., by David Sedaris


"Well, monkeys like me, I'd find myself thinking during the next few months, whenever I felt lonely or unappreciated."

From Loggerheads

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Music

Daily Dose

From Billy Budd, Sailor, by Herman Melville


"And yet he was not without natural curiosity to see how such a visitor in the dark would look in broad day."

From Chapter 15

Monday, December 22, 2014

Under the Holly Bough

Daily Dose

From Newspaper Days, by H. L. Mencken


"This bill-of-fare, with all the drinks save the cocktails included, cost $10 a plate in any good Baltimore hotel.  In that age of low living costs it was a high price, and the persons who paid it tried to get their money's worth by guzzling all the champagne they could hold.  As a young reporter I covered many such dinners, and saw some drinking bouts of very huge amperage."

From Chapter XII, The Judicial Arm

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Changing Spirit of Christmastide

Daily Dose

From Studies of a Biographer, by Leslie Stephen


"Greater revolutions have taken place in the popular taste. One literary dynasty succeeds another with strange rapidity; and the number of writers who enjoy what we are pleased to call immortality is singularly small."

From Some Words About Walter Scott

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Elizabeth's Christmas Sermon

Daily Dose

From Medea and Other Plays, by Euripides, translated by James Morwood


"Come, Zeus' bolt of lightening and pierce my head!
What do I gain by living?
Alas, alas! May I rest in death,
leaving this hateful life."

Medea from Medea

Friday, December 19, 2014

Awaiting the King

Daily Dose

From The Rules of Engagement, by Anita Brookner


"But gradually the old taboos were being discounted, seen for what they were: prohibitions imposed on instinct, and therefore against nature.  Everything else was a learned response and could therefore be unlearned.  Some managed this more easily than others."

From Chapter 11

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Breakfast at the Bookstore #15

Daily Dose

From The Book of Christmas, edited by Hamilton Wright Mabie


"And with true brotherhood
Each other now embrace"

From the traditional English carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

St Distaff's Day and Plough Monday

Daily Dose

From Q's Legacy, by Helene Hanff


"She walked in and headed straight for the bookshelves, which won my heart."

From Three: Drowning on Television

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

To Toussaint L'ouverture

Daily Dose

From Where Angels Fear to Tread, by E. M. Forster


"Sometimes when he had been bullied or hustled about at school he would retire to his cubicle and examine his features in a looking-glass, and he would sigh and say, 'It is a weak face.  I shall never carve a place for myself in the worls.'"

From Chapter 5

Monday, December 15, 2014

To Sleep

Daily Dose

From Beauty and the Book: Fine Editions and Cultural Distinction in America, by Megan L. Benton


"Even bibliophiles sometimes scorned bookmaking that seemed to have lost all connection to its ostensible purpose.  In 1927 Frederic Warde forswore the superficialities he saw in American fine printing that diverted typographic talents toward gimmickry: 'No pastries, jacks-in-the-box, no whimsical tricks, no paper flowers, no graveyard decorations: I am sick of them.  I want to see examples of typography in which the types have been used almost as effectively for their purpose as are the little wheels in a Swiss watch.'"

From Chapter 4, Gilded Goblets, Strategies of Fine Design

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The World is too much with us

Daily Dose

From The Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy


"The monotony of his occupation soothed him, and was in itself a pleasure."

From Book Four, The Closed Door, Chapter One, The Rencounter by the Pool

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free

Daily Dose

From The War Prayer, by Mark Twain


"When you have prayed for victory
you have prayed for
many unmentioned results
which follow victory -- must follow it."

Friday, December 12, 2014

Characteristics of a Child Three Years Old

Daily Dose

From The Huron, by Voltaire


"'My son,' said the good old man, 'everything is physical about us; all secretions are useful to the body, and all that comforts it, comforts the soul.  We are the machines of Providence.'"

From Chapter X, The Huron is Shut Up in the Bastile with a Jansenist

Thursday, December 11, 2014

If thou indeed derive thy light from Heaven

Daily Dose

From A Choice of Wordsworth's Verse, selected by R. S. Thomas


"My dear, dear friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes."

From Lines. Tintern Abbey

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Yes! Thou Art Fair

Daily Dose

From Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf


"Human nature, in short, was on him -- the repulsive brute, with blood-red nostrils."

From page 92

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

One Minute of Me

The Serial Doodler from Mathilde Gilling on Vimeo.

A girl bought one of my little books and I signed it for her.  She's a beautiful, tall creature with a charming accent and eyes one could fall into.  Later, she came back and interviewed and filmed me.  Here's the delightful result, if I do say so.  Thanks, Mathilde.

Daily Dose

From As They Were, by M. F. K. Fisher


"Coming back toward the hotel I stopped at the one little pastry shop I saw open, and bought a heavy-looking sausage roll and talked with the comparatively friendly woman there, about the weather of course, and then the gastronomical hazards of being a stranger in a town closed for the winter season."

From About Looking Alone At a Place

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Horse's Mouth, by Joyce Cary


"Now the truth was I was so sick of those feet that I could have knocked my head on the walls.  It wasn't that they were hopeless.  Thet still had some sense in them.  I could still feel that there was something there.  Something real.  But it kept on fleeing away from me."

From Chapter 31

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ayelet Waldman's Diary, 1982: "Not Elected Prom Queen!"

Selections from April 20, 1982, 12AM:

"Dear Diary: I am really not dealing well with having failed to make it onto the Prom stage.  I am a great fucking girl."

"Dear Diary: I never complain about this shit, but there are MANY kids on that court who's outfits were NOWHERE near as good as mine."

"Dear Diary: What did they mean by 'Notable'? How does a chick in a mediocre dress count as 'notable' when one in an almost new Norma Kamali doesn't?"

"Dear Diary: Sometimes just being voted 'most likely to marry Jackson Browne' totally sucks. If it weren't for my actual interest in singer/songwriters, I think I'd go back to concentrating on my AP classes."

"Dear Diary: It's just so fucking demoralizing.  You pour your heart into learning to dance to Rock Lobster the correct way, just like the video, everybody says you 'ROCK' and then the Prom Committee says you're not 'Notable.'  (Bitches.)"

"Dear Diary: I'm sorry I'm being such a pussy.  There are real problems in the world. (Free Mandela!) I'm just going to suck it up and do something good for someone else."

"Dear Diary: For every one who voted for me -- thanks, Mikey -- I will donate one dollar to The Falklands Relief Fund. Fuck the Prom Committee."

"Dear Diary: You know the difference between me and those other girls at my table?  I express the hurt and then channel it into something useful, like Falklands Relief."

Selections from April 20, 1982, 7AM:

"Dear Diary: I've spent the morning on my couch, sobbing about not being included in Prom Court. I mean, what the FUCK? I know I looked good. And, forgive me, but I know I'm better than some of the hosers on this list. But I need to stop raging and turn my fury and despair into something productive. Mom, Dad, Mikey, -- Jackson! -- could you PLEASE, if you love me (or like me a little) just support me? If you do, I'll donate a buck for every AP class I pass to the Falklands.  Bake-Sale to follow."

"Dear Diary: Sure, I should have just eaten some chocolate and been bitter and sad in private like everyone else. But that, alas, is not who I've ever been. Prom and impulse control issues are not the finest of bedfellows. For better or worse (and certainly worse tonight), I made the foolish mistake of venting in public about my disappointment. It's tempting, given the response, just to shut down The Official Jackson Browne Fan Club. But then I'd lose a public forum to share recommendations for songs I love or organizations I feel do critically important work. I wouldn't hear about other people's new work or great efforts. (This means you, Miss Becker -- Best Faculty Adviser Ever!)
Ridgeway High School is full of outlets and individuals waiting for someone to make a mistake so they can leap on in a frantic game of gotcha! And I sure do seem to make it easy for them with my big mouth. Last night wasn't the first time I've run afoul of them, nor will it be the last. Nor was this a particularly brutal whirlwind. Nasty and unpleasant, sure, but there have been countless girls subjected to infinitely more vicious Ladies' Room outpourings.
I'm just going to hunker down and try to remember next time to think before I vent."

Selection from April 21, 1982, 2PM:

"Dear Diary: Has the list of Most Notable Hissy Fits of 1982 been published in the New York Times yet?!  I SO regret leaving Prom early.  Mikey called."

Daily Dose

From Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs


"Like a sheep or a dog that can predict an earthquake, I had always been able to sense when my mother was about to go crazy.  Her speech quickened, she stopped sleeping and she developed a craving for peculiar foods, like candle wax."

From Life in the Great Outdoors

Saturday, December 6, 2014

O Spotted Prawn, O Spotted Prawn

Saw this remarkable... display on what my mother calls, "Space Book", and thought, "I can do a little something with this."  Not much, you understand, and not really keeping to the tune but in parts, but here's a Kosher carol (sung to the tune of O Tannenbaum, sorta) for the Holidays, from your "luscious pink 'fruit'":

O spotted prawn, o spotted prawn,
Of all the tref most tempting.

Not only great when cocktail sauced,
But also good when salad tossed,

O spotted prawn, o spotted prawn,
Of all the tref most tempting.

For ham and eggs, I wouldn't care.
A cheeseburger? We've all been there.

But spotted prawn, o spotted prawn,
Of all the tref most tempting.

A son-in-law, of Hindu caste,
May win your heart, just not so fast.

O spotted prawn, o spotted prawn,
Of all the tref most tempting.

Of blended wools, and cloven hooves,
The righteous man will n'er approve.

But spotted prawn, o spotted prawn,
Of all the tref most tempting.

Why God hates shrimp, I couldn't say.
He makes the rules, and we obey.

But spotted prawn, o spotted prawn,
Of all the tref most tempting.

On Christmas day, it's Chinese food,
Must my fried rice be always nude?

O spotted prawn, o spotted prawn,
Of all the tref most tempting.

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Harrington, by Maria Edgeworth


"She could not bear that any one should differ from her in matters of taste; and though she regularly disclaimed being a reading lady, she was most assured of what she was most ignorant."

From Chapter 6

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Bookstore Doodle

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick Lucky #13

Daily Dose

From Harrington, by Maria Edgeworth


"When the mind is full of any one subject, that subject seems to recur with extraordinary frequency -- it appears to pursue or to meet us at every turn: in every conversation that we hear, in every book we open, in every newspaper we take up, the reigning idea recurs; and then we are surprised, and exclaim at these wonderful coincidences."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

More Books! Are Better Than A Sweater!

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Collected Poems, by Heinrich Heine, translated by Louis Untermeyer

"A new song, a better song,
O friends, I speak to thee!
Here upon Earth we shall full soon
A heavenly realm decree.
Joyful we on earth shall be
And we shall starve no more;
The rotten belly shall not feed
On the fruits of industry."
From Germany: A Winter's Tale

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Just In time!

Well, bless me if they didn't just deliver the goods!  Last night was my annual reading of A Christmas Memory at the bookstore where I work and just in time my latest effort by way of self-publishing showed up that morning.  Here 'tis.

There was a bit of a scramble at the last minute.  Panic!  A dear coworker rushed twenty copies onto the inventory system so as to have them available for sale at the event.  She then, quite sensibly, put them on a display in the event-space -- where I then could not locate them for roughly twenty minutes and sent yet another coworker hustling all over the joint trying to find them in time.  We both looked everywhere, except of course in the most obvious place.  Someone eventually spotted them and order was restored.

This new one is called, Z Is for Zola: An Alphabet Book of Novelists.  In a way, it's something like a sequel to my first, A Is for Auden: An Alphabet Book of Poets.  It's the same format and premise, obviously, with a new set of prose writers this time.  You get the idea, I'm sure.

As is usually the case with these things, I already don't like some of the drawings much, and think others better than I remembered, but the thing is done now.  It is a serviceable effort.

Sold a couple of copies at the event, and a few more today, so that's encouraging.  Anyway, I'm happy.  (My last royalty cheque helps: a whopping $8.90!  So important at this expensive time of year.)  This means I can finally start the annual Great Christmas Mailing, as nearly everyone I know and love seems to live elsewhere, at least at Christmas time.  By the time I am in fact done mailing off copies of the new book and the latest calendar to far-flung Pennsylvania, London, San Francisco, Chicago, etc., I will be done and... done.  (Already bought something nice for the beloved husband, A.)

Until I'm through with the USPS, I can't quite relax, but Capote's done, the new book's done, Thanksgiving is over, and soon I can recline and listen to Christmas music to my hearts content.  (I'm eyeing a new record at the bookstore, 'cause, you know, never can have too much Christmas music.  Now, who are "Pentatonix, and do I need their "That's Christmas To Me"?  Stay tuned.)

Daily Dose

From All the Odes, by Pablo Neruda, edited (and translated) by Ilan Stavans


"I will be able to reach
your tallest space of whiteness
without you biting me,
I will pass by while greeting
your unchained monarchy.
I will tip my hat
under the same rain
of my childhood
because I will be sure
of your waters..."

From 220 / Ode to Winter

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Christmas Memory: An Audio Recording

Daily Dose

From A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote


“Quite deliberately my friend drops a kettle on the floor. I tap-dance in front of closed doors. One by one the household emerges, looking as though they'd like to kill us both; but it's Christmas, so they can't.” 

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Caricature

To Julia Birthday 1961

Daily Dose

From The World of Raymond Chandler, edited by Barry Day


"All tough guys are monotonous.  Like playing cards with a deck that's all aces.  You've got everything and you've got nothing."

From Cops ... and Crime