Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Life of Charles Lamb, Volume One, by E. V. Lucas


"On December 10th Lamb writes again, mentioning how he lacks one or two understanding friends, especially at the office.  He adds: 'I can only coverse with you by letter and with the dead in their books."

From Chapter X (1796)

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, by Will Cuppy


"Phillip II of Spain has been called the first modern king because he suffered from arteriosclerosis.  He was famous for never having any fun.  He thought having fun was a waste of valuable time, so he spent twelve hours a day in his office, making memoranda on little pieces of paper.*

*Many years later these memoranda were carefully collected, classified, tied into packets with ribbon, and thrown out."

From Philip the Sap

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #52

Daily Dose

From The Giveness of Things: Essays, by Marilynne Robinson


"All great Christians have said we must be humble.  This should be easier for us moderns, knowing what we know."

From Experience

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Be Warned, Toledo!

Just saw this little lady for the first time on Gawker today, thanks to the fair and balanced coverage of NBC24, Toledo, Ohio.  Bless 'er.

Daily Dose

From The Givenness of Things: Essays, by Marilynne Robinson


"Leisure bores me to death."

From Decline

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Branding Doodle

Daily Dose

From Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding


"The lady, no more than her lover, was remarkable for beauty.  I would attempt to draw her picture, but that is done already by a more able master, Mr. Hogarth."

From Chapter XI

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From May Week Was in June, by Clive James


"For the first hour I was the life and soul of the party, in my opinion.  My conjectures as to which bits of the wild boar were concealed by the thick gravy were widely received as brilliantly original after Francoise had translated them.  Then I got sick.  Bee venom and wild boar had done something to each other that a gallon of chianti couldn't fix."

From Chapter 10, Attack of the Killer Bee

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I've Been Lifted

“For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”-- Thomas More, Utopia

Watched two crows fighting over a coffee-cup-lid in the alley yesterday.  Fascinating contest consisting mostly of feint, parry, retreat, repeat.  No noise, which surprised me not a little.  One crow would collect the inverted lid from the ground, drop it to answer a challenge and then the other would rush forward to grab the thing where it fell.  Went on for some time.  At one point, the smaller of the two birds even managed to fly roughly three feet from the ground with the prize in his beak before dropping it.  All this over what appeared to be an empty coffee-cup-lid.  Car came down the alley at last and ended the duel.  The lid was abandoned.  Perhaps it was all just sport, that duel over nothing much.

I rather love living in a city with more birds than most, and I've become specially fond of our crows.  We have a large population, and supposedly ravens as well, though I don't know that I've ever actually seen one of those.  From my own observation I would say the crows are the kings of the city streets.  I've seen them chase off everything from the usual finches and pigeons to seagulls easily twice their size, though I did once watch a seagull kick a crow's ass in the parking lot I use for work.  Tough little customers nonetheless, crows.  They've a bad reputation traditionally; as thieves and harbingers of death and bad luck.  Nonsense of course, except for the thievery.  Once saw a crow snatch a half-eaten sandwich from the lap of a dozing old rummy. "Opportunity makes a thief." as Francis Bacon said.

Watching the crows always put me in mind of that Ted Hughes poem about the begats, "Who begat Never / Never, Never, Never / Who begat Crow", etc., and of Arthur Rackham's crows, from his illustrations of Peter Pan, I think it was, among other things.  Both those boys liked crows too, each in his way.

I am reliably informed by a member of our Security crew at the bookstore where I work that a shoplifter was apprehended stuffing a copy on my calendar, among other things, into her backpack.  That doesn't happen every day.  Pray, don't misunderstand me, the shoplifters are quite regular in their work, but then so is the Security crew.  But why would someone risking jail-time just to steal one of my calendars?!  Hardly hardened criminals, the girls Security caught that day -- there were two, though only the one felt the need of my 2016 Calendar of Literary Caricatures.  Between them, as I understand it, they'd taken all sorts of art supplies, two hardcover novels, my calendar and various odds and ends.  Wouldn't seem likely then that they came in looking to boost my calendar specifically.  Still, it caught somebody's eye.

On reflection I suppose I'm... flattered?

Copies of Serial Doodler and my other little efforts have gone missing from the bookstore before.  Presumably those were lifted as well, if not simply lost one way or another.  Humble as my efforts have been, at least they were books.  This though would be the first time a thief was actually busted with one of my calendars in her bag.

Why steal such a thing?  Most of our regular shoplifters are rather hapless young fools, often with money enough in their pockets to pay for the things they've stolen.  These junior Arsène Lupins tend to take small items, pens and candy-bars and the like, anything that can be slipped unobtrusively into a backpack or coat-pocket. When caught, they cry.  The rest, if not quite professionals, are certainly harder types; homeless junkies and sneak-thieves rather than kleptos or delinquent thrill-seekers.  Such a crew tends to take more expensive items: sports jerseys and art books, fountain-pens, and pricey chotskies from the Gift Shop; things that might be sold, in other words.  What anyone might realize from such trade must be negligible, but if one were hungry enough, for either food or a fix, there is an obvious if inadequate logic to the crime.  Based on what I was told of what my shoplifter took, I'd guess she was nearer to being one of the former type than the latter.  Calendars, even more commercially produced ones, have no more resale value than the colored pencils she also stole, in fact, less.

I don't flatter myself that there's much traffic in blackmarket caricatures.

The motives of my admirer and her companion in crime don't actually matter as they were duly arrested and presumably charged with petty larceny.  The bookstore does not take these things lightly.  Rightly so.

That said, I rather like the idea of these particular crows being true, if impecunious aesthetes.  I don't know the titles of the books they took, but one rather hopes these might have been nice editions of Huysmans' Le Bas and maybe a leatherbound copy of The Portrait of Dorian Gray.  The art-pencils and the rest were meant to aid the creation of some startling new work of genius, and my little black and white calendar was meant to find pride of place on their garret-wall, to inspire them.

I suspect however that it was just the coffee-cup-lid one of them found inexplicably attractive all of a sudden.

Birdbrains anyway, poor things.

Daily Dose

From South to a Very Old Place, by Albert Murray


"You also find time to sit and listen to what some of the very oldest among old heads from the old days want to tell you about the condition of contemporary man in general and about the state of the nation's political well-being in particular.  Because missing that part, which is always like coming back to the oldness of the old chimney corner even in summer, would be perhaps even worse than missing another chance to sit down to a full-course spread of old-time home cooking once more."

From Chapter 5, Mobile

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Urban Development Doodles

Daily Dose

From South to a Very Old Place, by Albert Murray


"Not that home is not a place, for even in its most abstract implications it is precisely the very oldest place in the world."

From Prologue, New York

Friday, October 23, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #51

Daily Dose

From A History of English Literature, by Peter Quennell


"He loved his friends, who returned his deep affection, and was devoted to the patient and gentle Stella, though their odd relationship was almost certainly platonic."

From Chapter 6, The Eighteenth Century

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From A Saintsbury Miscellany: Selections from His Essays and Scrap Books, by George Saintsbury


"Afflicted wirth curious patches of mental blindness as to some things in books and life; but not seriously damaged as to his vision and creation in others.  Not likely to be a happy man and only too likely to make others unhappy, without the slightest intention of doing so, or indeed clear perception of having done it..."

From Personal Sketches

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From An Autobiography, by Anthony Trollope


"most of those among my friends who talk to me now about my novels, and are competent to form an opinion on the subject, say that this is the best I have written."

From Chapter 9

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Paying the Freight

And so the last ungainly bale of Mark Twain's autobiography has at last been none-too-gently offloaded by the University of California Press and the Mark Twain Project.  Unlike the first, back in 2010, there's been blessed little notice of this, the final shipment.  Hard now to remember the fanfare that greeted the project's inaugural volume, which quickly became one of that holiday season's most unlikely bestsellers.  To date, at the bookstore where I work we've sold one copy and that to me.  Don't know that we will move the other four copies ordered any time soon, and that's a real shame.

Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 3, edited by Benjamin Griffin, Harriet Elinor Smith and Co. is every inch as intimidating as either of the earlier two, which is of course the blessing and the curse of the whole enterprise.  Unlike earlier editors like Charlers Neider and Bernard DeVoto, the present Project crew determined to take the elderly Twain at his word.  Early on in the dictation of these pages, Twain announced that he intended a new kind of autobiography; one not restrained by either chronology or narrative convention.  Whatever he may or may not have intended to do, these three volumes have made painfully clear that what the old boy did was talk, and talk, and talk.  Sometimes he talks most entertainingly, as one might expect from one of the supreme talkers in our literature.  Often as not though, not -- at least when the dull stuff is  measured by weight.  Still, now, thanks to this "authoritative" edition, no one can say he hasn't had it all out.

Bernard DeVoto spent years among Twain's unpublished papers and produced various worthy and still readable volumes, none of which laid claim to the title of Twain's "Autobiography." Neider, confronted with the same hay-mow of material, attempted to shape the autobiographical stuff into some kind of recognizable story.  His book remains a thoroughly readable abridgement, if by no means what Twain seems to have had in mind. Neider's is a book to which I have returned many times, always with pleasure and great respect for his herculean effort.  Twain's editors then, down the decades, may be not only the only people to have read all of Twain's Autobiography, but the only people ever likely to.  At least now, those of us inclined to browse about may do so just as we please.  Here at last we have the whole of Twain's original, tidied, but hardly "edited" in any sense that those earlier gents might recognize. (Even as to the bare minimum of useful footnotes, there would seem to have been no room left in this new version for anything but Twain's original text, various supplemental additions ((!)) and an index, in other words, more of more.)

Just by way of contrast, Oxford University Press last year released an authoritative text of Anthony Trollope's autobiography, at 328 pages, including a new introduction, selections from some biographical essays and his biography of Thackeray, an appendix of "Passages Omitted from An Autobiography," and a section of explanatory notes.  The comparison is not entirely fair.  Trollope's book is a notoriously tight and workmanlike effort and Trollope a much less expansive character than Twain.  I mention Trollope's book both as a model of what Twain evidently did not choose to write, and as an example of what an academic press can do to enhance such a book for the common reader.  But then, I've already read An Autobiography by Anthony Trollope and already own at least two editions.  And now it seems I also own all three giant volumes of Twain's.

I can't say I regret the opportunity.  In the 700+ pages of this third and concluding volume there are stories already familiar to me from earlier biographies and from more finished versions of some of this material in previously published essays and journalism.  Even within the text of this edition there are repetitions, sometimes within pages of one another, sometimes from volume to volume -- though all of these, it must be said, are the fault of the author and not his editors, as so I suppose we must call them.  There's much that is boring, a considerable part that is devoted to subjects and personal relationships of no great interest, I should think, to even the man's biographers.  That said, there is still much to delight the more casual reader willing to browse around.  This last volume being particularly rich in Twain's reading of the newspapers and his ongoing amusement at the sometimes ridiculous exploits of then President Theodore Roosevelt.  There's a brief and very funny three day stretch describing  the "overgrown boy" from the White House rather haplessly hunting bear in Louisiana.  Twain side very much with the bear.  Finally he suggests that the President's trophy was just as likely a cow, considering the unreliability of the witnesses and the newspapers reporting the event.

A perfectly good book might have been made -- and might still be made --from just Twain's reading of the newspapers.  DeVoto did something very like in his books on Twain, after all: Mark Twain's America, Mark Twain in Eruption, etc.

Now that the last volume of this new edition is out, it seems safe to conclude that no matter what the old man intended when he took the project up of dictating his autobiography, what he ended up with was little more that a barn full of talk, baled and stacked and left, at last, to moulder.  It seems clear now that what he was doing was neither writing nor even dictating a book, but passing the time until Halley's Comet came back.  (He famously said that having been born when it first appeared in 1835, he expected to go out with it when it returned in 1910, and he did.)  It does no good to pretend that all of this  talking amounted to an autobiography at all, but that doesn't mean that the common reader has any reason to regret the Mark Twain Project's effort to see it all in print and available.  Scholars will no doubt benefit from the effort, but so will anyone willing to treat the result less like a book -- which it simply isn't -- and more like an opportunity to access material otherwise unavailable for generations heretofore.  If then the autobiography is a failure, so be it.  Twain failed to shape the material into anything much, and his latest editors can't imagine that they have produced anything more than a definitive text from which, presumably books might yet be made, or remade.  Whatever these three huge volumes actually are, and however few the readers they are likely to find, at least they exist.

If the whole thing has proved hardly worth the wait, at least the freight's been paid, and I for one am grateful to have the result, even if I can't imagine we'll be selling any of the damned things come Christmas this year.

Daily Dose

From Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 3, edited by Benjamin Griffin, et al.


"I reserved the privilege of reading and talking gratis, for charities, when I should wish to do it, but I was resolved never to talk for pay again.  I have read and talked many times since, in these eleven years, but never for pay.  It is a delight to read and talk when one is not charging anything for it, for that condition sets you free from all sense of responsibility, and you are quite sure to have a good time."

From Dictated October 11, 1907

Monday, October 19, 2015

Doodles Against the Trend

Daily Dose

From Maxims, by La Rochefoucauld, translated Stuart D. Warner and Stephanie Douard


"We would hardly desire anything with ardor if we knew perfectly what we desire."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From English Prose from Mandeville to Ruskin, chosen and arranged by W. Peacock


"The hours of a wise man are lengthened by his ideas as those of a fool are by his passions.  The time of the one is long, because he does not know what to do with it; so is that of the other, because he distinguishes every moment of it with useful or amusing thoughts; or in other words, because the one is always wishing it away and the other enjoying it."

From Joseph Addison's essay, On the Idea of Time

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Caricature



Kenzaburo Oe,
to write it 'round the wrong way,
Ignored his neighbors' shaming chatter
And wrote about A Personal Matter.

Daily Dose

From Critical History and Miscellaneous Essays and Poems, Volume Two, by Thomas Babbington Macaulay


"We are confident that the world will never go back to the solar system of Ptolemy; nor is our confidence in the least shaken by the circumstance, that even so great a man as Bacon rejected the theory of Galileo with scorn; for Bacon had not all the means of arriving ay a sound conclusion which are within our reach, and which secure people who would not have been worthy to mend his pens from falling into his mistakes."

From Von Ranke

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Doodle

Daily Dose

From The Lost Domain (Le Grand Meaulnes), by Alain-Fournier, translated by Frank Davison


"At midnight, alone in the empty street, I ask myself the meaning of this new and somewhat capricious episode.  I walk past rows of houses like so many cardboard boxes piled one on top of the other in which a whole population is asleep.  And I suddenly remember a decision I had taken months ago: I had resolved to go there some night, around one in the morning, find my way to the back of the house, get into the garden, enter like a thief, and search the place for some clue that would lead me to the lost domain, to see her once more, only to see her..."

From Chapter 14, The Secret

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Tonight, at the bookstore where I work, we are hosting a "book signing" by a cat.  That's right, a cat.  That one, from the Internet.  It is in fact her third book.  Friends, via social media are already asking me if I plan to attend and or have my picture taken with the famous feline.  As she would say herself to such a question, "No."

This does not mean that I begrudge her her fame, or the bookstore it's event.  Neither do I mean to suggest anything untoward about her owner, her publishers, her fans, or the Internet that made her famous.  It's a funny cat.  I laughed.  Further, tonight's event has not displaced some more serious writer from the use of the hall.  We are in fact hosting no fewer than four other book signings tonight in other venues.

We've done this sort of thing before.  Last year, we had the dog who sits on various things and has her picture taken.  That went very well for us, despite said dog roaming the bookstore unaccompanied for an hour or more before, during and after.  We've certainly had our fair share of events featuring other  Internet celebrities, four-footed and two, at least as blissfully unaware of the occasion as that dog.  (To say nothing here of the infamous Courtney Love signing of a few years back.)

Finally, the crowd this sort of thing draws is invariably happy, polite, and cooperative with staff, something that can not be said, for example, of everyone afforded the opportunity of meeting a former President of the United States.

It is however my anticipation of tonight's crowd, and specifically what they will say, that makes me peevish.  (Happily, my shift will end before the event gets properly going.  By the luck of regular scheduling, I will be spared much and am grateful.)  Now, however happy these people will be to be at the bookstore for this event, however well-behaved and orderly, the vast majority of them, I'm sure, will be people we have never seen before and are unlikely to see again -- at least and until the next time we manage to book, say, "Pizza Rat" or Cary Elwes, or some other nominally famous "personality."  In other words, the fact that they are coming to a bookstore will likely mean very little to their enjoyment of the occasion.  Might as well be a "signing" in a Costco or a circus-tent.  Doubtlessly, they will appreciate that the bathrooms are clean and that we offer validation for their parking, but what of books and bookstores proper?

Well, I can tell you what they will say.  I've heard it too often not to anticipate the conversation:

Cat Fan #1: "Look at all the books!"

Cat Fan #2: "I love books!"

Cat Fan #1: "I wish I had the time to read!"

Cat Fan #2: "Tell me about it!"

And that will be the moment I will try not to throw an actual book -- a nice thick one, like Jaume Cabre's Confessions -- straight at their harmless little heads.  Most people, it seems, are not so impatient at their own ignorance as to actually do anything about it.  Instead, even when surrounded by the evidence of all they might do, learn, read, -- while standing in a long line to have their picture taken with a cat, for example -- that abstract yet popular villain, time, will be blamed for not putting out a hand to touch salvation.

It drives me mad.

In a bookstore, any bookstore, but specially a great bookstore like the one in which I work, to not see the possibilities from the minute the door opens is both mystifying to me and deeply discouraging.  To be in a bookstore, for whatever reason, and to not open a single book, glance at a display, read so much as a dust-jacket...

What the Hell is wrong with people?!

So, here's the thing, if you get in line at a bookstore to have your photograph taken with a famous cat, or football player, or a dog that sits on things, or an actor whose last memorable film role was in 1987, or a rock star whose last hit came long before his latest grandchild, welcome.  We're glad you could make it.  It's a pleasure to have you at the bookstore, honest.  If the only book you buy is the one that cat is "signing," that's just fine by us.  Thanks for coming out.  Hope you had a great time. If, however that is the only book you will actually be buying for the foreseeable future, and if you cannot actually remember the last time you "had the time" to read a book, all I would ask is that you keep that sort of thing to yourself while you're actually standing in a fucking bookstore for two hours and not looking at books.  Once you've got your selfie with the cat, I'll be happy to validate your two hours of parking.  We look forward to seeing you again -- you know, if we book a fainting goat or something.

(heart-emoji, heart-emoji, heart-emoji)

Daily Dose

From The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm, edited by Phillip Lopate


"A deep sense of personal property is common to all these creatures.  Thousands of years hence they may have acquired some willingness to share things with their friends.  Or rather, dogs may; cats, I think, not."

From Hosts and Guests

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #50

For our 50th podcast, we're joined by Paul Constant of the Seattle Review of Books.

Daily Dose

From The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm, edited by Phillip Lopate


"I had never heard a man telling so obviously the truth.  And the truth about anyone, however commonplace, must always be interesting.  Indeed, it is the commonplace truth -- the truth of widest application -- that is the most interesting of all truths."

From A Memory of a Midnight Express

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Caricature

Perhaps the most delightful of Beerbohm's caricatures were the meetings of the "older and younger selves."  Here a small tribute to that supreme example of his genius.

Clerihew of the Dandy


Max Beerbohm,
With complete aplomb,
Considered writing rather a chore,
And published "The Works" at twenty-Four.

Daily Dose

From The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm, edited by Phillip Lopate


"Of course, the dandy, like any other artist, has moments when his own period, palling, inclines him to antique modes."

From Dandies and Dandies

Monday, October 12, 2015

First Jamaican Clerihew


Booker names
Marlon James,
The first such elevation
Of a novelist Jamaican.

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From On the Move: A Life, by Oliver Sacks


"'Funny how once you get in contact with someone you wanted to meet for years, you begin to see things you want to discuss with him everywhere.'"

From Voyages, - a quote from a letter to Sacks from Stephen J. Gould.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

2016 Calendars

And here we are again!  Yes, it is that time of year; the leaves are being blown from the trees, the temperature is dropping, I'm already worried about Christmas, and, yes, the Usedbuyer2.0 2016 Calendar of Literary Caricatures has arrived at the bookstore where I work.

The signs were not auspicious this time around.  The place I'd taken my sketches every year to have the calendars printed went out of business.  Panic. At the old place they knew me already.  They were used to me.  I was used to them.  What then to do?  Luckily, a new copy store recently opened just two doors up the street from the bookstore.  Going in I was nervous to explain why I wanted a calendar made of pencil sketches of (sometimes) obscure literary personalities -- and with me as a very naked li' Puto for the cover yet. I would need ato print a bunch, quickly, and hopefully at a sufficiently low price per unit as to be able to sell the things at an unembarrassing price.

I was lucky.  Amer at EZ Copy N Print saved me.  Very nice fellow.  I handed him the thumb-drive with the pictures, he said "No problem," and we were off to the races.  In fact, Amer was a sweetheart; suggesting better paper-stock, checking the results with me all along the way, charging me the same price as the old place, and he was fast.  Couldn't have asked for a a better experience.

Took a few days to get the calendars into the bookstore's inventory and tagged, etc., but finally I am again for sale.

This year's number is, if anything, perhaps even less likely to fly off the counter than it's predecessors.  There are more unlikely subjects than before (Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, anybody?  Maria Edgeworth?  Anybody?  Anybody?) There is also at least one picture that will be a bit of a puzzler for most as my Elizabeth Taylor is not the Elizabeth Taylor but rather the delightful English lady novelist (1912 - 1975).  She's a particular favorite of mine, and too little known in the US, despite having one of her books, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont made into quite a good movie in 1999, and another, The Real Life of Angel Deverell adapted by French director Francois Ozon in 2007 as Angel.  I love her.  I have no illusions of influence, so it's not like her inclusion in the calendar will bring her surging back into print, but there are at least a couple of her titles still available, A View of the Harbour, and You'll Enjoy It When You Get There: The Stories of Elizabeth Taylor, both recently reissued by NYRB, bless 'em.

Not every sketch in the thing is of some long dead author.  Here, for example, the last American writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature:

Anyroad, the calendars are out on the counter now and available for purchase.  The price is $19.99.  Aany who wants 'em, now's the time.