Saturday, February 29, 2020

Pug Pretty

Daily Dose

From The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens

W & W

"The Worshipful and the Worshipper then passed on together until they parted, with many ceremonies, at the Worshipful's door; even then, the Worshipper carried his hat under his arm, and gave his streaming white hair to the breeze."

From Chapter 18, A Settler in Cloisterham

Friday, February 28, 2020

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen


"His reception however was of the most flattering kind. Miss Lucas perceived him from an upper window as he walked toward the house, and instantly set out to meet him accidentally in the lane. But little had she dared to hope that so much love and eloquence awaited her there."

From Chapter XXII

Thursday, February 27, 2020

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens


"She was pretty, and conscious, and rather flaunting, and the condescension with which she put aside the superiority of her charms, and her worldly experience, and addressed her sister on almost equal terms, had a vast deal of the family in it."

From Chapter XX, Moving in Society

Wednesday, February 26, 2020


I recently accepted a commission, for a drawing. Not something I do. The gentleman saw me sketching at the cash register, between customers, and admired my work. He made a point of coming back to ask me if I would draw his picture as a present for his wife. I explained that what I do is caricature. Now it's true, there is much less of this in my drawing now, fewer exaggerations: disproportionately enormous noses, bug-eyes, etc. I'm more interested in likeness than I used to be, and I'm more interested in technical matters like shading than I used to be. The results, frankly, tend not to be as funny or as loose, but what I'm doing pleases me -- mostly -- so there we are. I still call what I do caricature though because I am still disinterested in flattery. I like every wrinkle, dimple, wart and asymmetry I can see. Thus my warning to the interested party. People may think they want me to draw them, but most people don't really. Nonetheless he persisted and I agreed -- to try.

Some years ago I caricatured the then CEO of the bookstore where I worked. I gave him the drawing. He liked it. He was a good sport, as they say. I liked that. Later he came to me and suggested I might draw all my coworkers who were then contributing to the store's website. He thought that could provide some "unique content." I declined. I also explained. Not everyone is a good sport. Moreover, not everyone need be. Even the best sport does not necessarily want to be immortalized as it were by a caricaturist let alone in an official way at work.

Friends I've known for years have been offended when I drew them. Strangers, when they've caught me drawing them, have not been uniformly pleased. Women have tended to focus on some flaw, or perceived flaw that I may or may not have emphasized or even noticed. "I hate my ears," I've heard. "I wish you hadn't drawn my teeth," I've been told. A lot of that. Famous and not so famous authors I've drawn have commented likewise. Amy Tan asked me if her eyes were really so small? I didn't draw them so. Anna Quindlen said I made her nose enormous. I hadn't. (Julia Child was one of the only famous woman who ever asked if she could have the drawing I'd done. I gave it to her of course. It was in the style of Guiseppe Arcimboldo; the portrait composed from fruits, grains, and vegetables. "Look at my fingers!" Julia cried, "they're leeks! How perfect." Nicest thing anyone ever said to me.) Gay men have been likewise pretty uniform in their dislike of what I do. One writer, an old friend, told me bluntly that he was insulted by my drawing, that he did not consider caricature an art, and asked me to destroy the drawing I'd done. I did not, but I didn't re-post it on social media, though I really thought it rather good. Straight men have tended to respond more stoically, most with just a "huh", and maybe a somewhat forced smile. One notoriously thin-skinned winner of the National Book Award, etc., actually made some suggestions to improve the likeness. He wasn't wrong and I did. More than one straight, male writer told me I'd made him look drunk or hungover. I hadn't. More men than women have laughed. Genre writers, journalists, historians, and critics have had the most positive responses. Novelists and poets the worst. Very old writers have told me they were flattered, as have very young ones. The middle-aged seem the least pleased. I get that. Still a shock every morning in the bathroom mirror. Glad I wear glasses -- to be put on only after my undershirt.

After all this I nevertheless drew the gent as best I could, from a photograph I found on Facebook. (He'd emailed me a couple of photos, but like most photos people seem to like best of themselves, they were taken too far away and without the kind of -- what shall we call it? -- characteristic detail required.) I drew the picture. I put it in an envelope and put it on hold for him at the bookstore. He picked it up on a day when I wasn't working. Perfect timing, as far as I was concerned. I received an email a day or so after. His wife liked the drawing. All that mattered, so far as I was concerned. Success. My subject offered, again, to take me to dinner, as I wanted no payment. Nice. Don't know that I will, but it was well meant.

The gentleman I drew is a retired sportsman and instructor. I resisted the cliche of including a golf club, first, because it would be a cliche, and second, because I don't know that I could draw a golf club even if I wanted to. Sports. Not my sort of thing, sports. Golf in fact is my primary reason for resisting his dinner invitation. Can't imagine.

I wish I was the kind of caricaturist who could set up an easel on the pier and in ten minutes draw a fisherman, or a golfer, or a child. It's an enviable skill, a way to make a buck, maybe even a (very) modest living. Like any skill, doubtlessly it can be learned, but I never did. Draw a fishing-pole. Draw a hundred fishing-poles. Likewise a golf-club, a baseball-cap, cotton-candy. Draw a thousand children. Repetition. Practice, practice, practice, but I never did, and now it feels a little late in the day. I imagine that the style of such caricature is closer to cartooning and animation than Daumier or David Levine. Draw Mickey Mouse a thousand times. I'm fascinated by cartoonists and animation, but it's never occurred to me that I might aspire, road not taken.

In my youth I worshiped Al Hirschfeld, the masterful caricaturist who spent decades at the New York Times capturing not just the faces but the performances of the actors, dancers, singers, and stars of Broadway and film. His line not only delineates character -- definition of caricature -- but also conveys an unparalleled kinetic life; singers sing, dancers dance. I spent many a long hour copying those drawings. Never came near. Likewise David Levine's exquisite cross-hatching and perfect exaggeration.  At some point, one draws as one does. One can improve, and I like to think I have, but those old boys had genius.

So, I'll never be Hirschfeld. And I'll never draw a proper golf-club. Only one of those things bothers me now at all. Besides, golf always makes me think of George Carlin and his conviction that the solution to homelessness in America would best be found in nationalizing the golf courses. "Arrogant, elitist... boring game, for boring people." I could not agree more.

And now I come to think of it, golf figured in another potential commission, one I did reject. Different gentleman of a certain age saw my books and approached me with the idea that I would draw a comic strip he'd written about the high-jinks at a country club, with golfing, naturally. The man had hundreds of scenarios; whole runs of this strip, in binders. All he needed was an artist to draw them -- on spec. Later, presumably once the strip was picked up by newspaper across the country, I'd get a cut of the profits. Nice man. Need I say this did not happen?

I'm a bookseller and a bookish man. Authors are what I do, author's faces, faces and hands lately. I like the challenge of hands more and more. I find them telling: of age most obviously, but also of experience, character, class, and of attitude. Hands, even at rest, suggest activity in a way faces need not. Hands I'm still happy to exaggerate both in size and detail as the first draws the subject closer to the viewer and the later has the challenge of less familiar bone, skin, the arrangement and potential interaction of fingers. Knuckles. Knuckles are fun.

An internet acquaintance of mine, a published poet whose work I've read and admired for many years, has taken to asking questions on social media about the evolution of poetic form. May be something he's done socially or presumably in the classroom for years, but it can be a bit startling in the context of vacation snapshots and political memes and photographs of memorable meals. I like it. I don't often have anything much to contribute to the resulting conversations -- or "threads" -- as they're called, but I enjoy the questions and the responses from better qualified readers. I've learned some things from reading these exchanges. I've also had to look up quite a few words and or ideas of which I would otherwise have no notion. There's pleasure in this, when there's no social pressure to be as smart as the people contributing. The point for me is in not being a poet, but just a reader of poetry. No one assumes I know what poets know. I like the chance to learn, but what I learn won't make me a poet, just a better reader.

What I do for a living is buy and sell books. I like what I do. For pleasure, among other things, I read. I also write a little and draw a lot. One hears constantly about the lucky few who do what they love for a living. So I hear. I count myself lucky enough. As for once in a very long while drawing a nice man who asked me to --

it was my pleasure.

Daily Dose

From 1774: The Long Year of Revolution, by Mary Beth Norton


"In the course of their discussions, they considered myriad familiar topics, along with some unfamiliar ones."

From Chapter 5, Expecting Great Things

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Man in the Red Coat, by Julian Barnes


"It was hard to pierce Robert de Montesquiou's carapace -- and he wouldn't have wanted you to."

From page 194

Monday, February 24, 2020

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #187

Daily Dose

From Figuring, by Maria Popova


"Having long ago competed in body-building myself, I am not oblivious to how this particular sport can become a sandbox for working out confused sexuality, separating spirit and sinew to turn the body into a means of both subverting and submitting to the ideals of femininity and masculinity."

From Bound by Neither Mind Nor Matter

Sunday, February 23, 2020

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion, by Jia Tolentino


"To use Amazon -- which I did regularly for years, with full knowledge of its labor practices -- is to accept and embrace a world in which everything is worth as little as possible, even, and maybe particularly, people."

From The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams, The Disruptors

Saturday, February 22, 2020

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Edith Wharton Abroad: Selected Travel Writings, 1888 - 1920, edited by Sarah Bird Wright


"Spring again, and the long white road unrolling itself southward from Paris. How could one resist the call?"

From A Motor-Flight Through France, Paris to Poitiers

Friday, February 21, 2020

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Ginger Bread, by Helen Oyeyemi


"Two girls fast asleep and as naked as the day they were born, sharing a map book as a pillow while a blaring TV screen tracked the progress of a woman beating her way through an identity parade armed with nothing but a pair of scarlet stilettoes..."

From Chapter 9

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Blue Duck

Daily Dose

From Outside Looking In, by T. C. Boyle


"One couple (the man turned out to be a psychologist friend of Tim's who was dosing himself with LSD in the hope of recovering from an addiction to amphetamines and alcohol) seemed to have moved into one of the vacant rooms on the second floor with a steamer trunk and a dozen cardboard boxes of belongings, which they promptly scattered all over the house. they appeared only at meals, sitting passively at the end of the table among the children, waiting to be fed, and the thing was, both of them had long beaky noses and feathery hair so that they looked like nothing so much as baby birds in a nest -- nestlings, that was what they were, and that was how she wound up referring to them for the first week or so, as in, Anybody seen the Nestlings yet?"

From Chapter 6

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Self Portrait

Daily Dose

From The Little Girls, by Elizabeth Bowen


"Pink Roses narrowed her eyes, to continue to look at the brooch, gluttonously."

From Chapter 3

Monday, February 17, 2020

School Boy

Daily Dose

From Letters of Mr. Alexander Pope and Several of his Friends


"But these are only the pleasing imaginations of a disappointed lover, who must suffer in melancholy absence yet these two months. In the mean time, I take up with the Muses for want of your better company."

From Letter XXXVII. Nov. 12, 1711

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Rejected Suggestion

Seems nobody much liked my idea for naming the new NHL team.

Daily Dose

From The Little Girls, by Elizabeth Bowen


"'All I hope is, you may not suffer from mildew on your exhibits.'"

From Chapter One

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Egg Drop

Daily Dose

From Boswell's London Journal, 1762-1763, by James Boswell, edited by Frederick A. Pottle


"I told him all was now over. I certainly won by this. For to have broke with them just now would have given them opportunity to make me ridiculous; and if I find it convenient, it is easy to get out of acquaintance (or rather familiarity) with them. For they are very agreeable acquaintances. But when a man is familiar with many people he must expect many disagreeable familiarities."

From Thursday, 17 February, 1763

Friday, February 14, 2020

Diaphanous Duck

Daily Dose

From The Collected Poems, by Ogden Nash


More than a catbird hates a cat,
Or a criminal hates a clue,
Or the Axis hates the United States,
That's how much I love you.

I love you more than a duck can swim,
And more than a grapefruit squirts,
I love you more than a gin rummy is a bore,
And more than a toothache hurts.

As a shipwrecked sailor hates the sea,
Or a juggler hates a shove,
As a hostess detests unexpected guests,
That's how much you I love.

I love you more than a wasp can sting,
And more than the subway jerks,
I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,
And more than a hangnail irks.

I swear to you by the stars above,
And below, if such there be,
As the High Court loathes perjurious oathes,
That's how you're loved by me.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Birds on Bird

Daily Dose

From The Ladies' Paradise, by Emile Zola, translated by Anonymous (Ernest Alfred Vizetelly (?))


"The rises were always given the day after stock-taking; it was the epoch at which, the amount of business done during the year being known, the managers of the departments drew their commission on the increase of this figure, compared with that of the preceding year. Thus, notwithstanding the bustle and uproar of the work, the impassioned gossip went everywhere, Between two articles called out, they talked of nothing but money."

From Chapter X

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Tweedy Bird

Daily Dose

From Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader, by Vivian Gornick


"If Lawrence were alive today, this metaphor would not be available to him because today all have had long experience of the sexual freedom once denied, and have discovered firsthand that the making of a self from the inside out is not to be achieved through the senses alone. Not only does sexual ecstasy not deliver us to ourselves, one must have a self already in place to know what to do with it, should it come."

From Chapter One.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #185

Daily Dose

From Old Love Letters, edited by Abby Sage Richardson


"(This letter is endorsed:)

'To this letter I received no answer, not a line. The rolling years of eternity will never fill up the blank.'"

From A letter from William Hazlitt to Sarah L., March, 1822.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Cross Duck

Daily Dose

From The Bertrams, by Anthony Trollope


"But we will not now follow either her thoughts or her carriage-wheels."

From Chapter XXX, Marriage-Bells

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Smokin' Crow

Daily Dose

From The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope


"'If he has played her false,' said she, as soon as she was alone with her old husband, 'he shall suffer for it, though I have to tear his face with my own fingers.'
'Nonsense, my dear; nonsense.'"

From Chapter XXXII, Florence Burton Packs Up a Packet

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Chicken & Pasta

Daily Dose

From The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka, translated by Willa and Edwin Muir


"He stayed there all night, spending the time partly in a light slumber, from which his hunger kept waking him up with a start, and partly in worrying and sketching vague hopes, which all led to the same conclusion, that he must lie low for the present and, by exercising patience and the utmost consideration, help the family to bear the inconvenience he was bound to cause them in his present condition."

From page 90, this edition

Friday, February 7, 2020

All About the Fanny-Pack

Daily Dose

From Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel


"'He says your antecedents are obscure, your youth reckless and wild, that you are a heretic of long standing, a disgrace to the office of councillor; but personally, he finds you a man of good cheer, liberal, openhanded, gracious...'
'I knew he liked me. I should ask him for a job.'"

From Part 4, Chapter II

Thursday, February 6, 2020

B&N Celebrates (?)

Daily Dose

From Autumn, by Ali Smith


"What's wrong? she said. Are you scared? He told her no. He told her a blatant lie. He told her he had been thinking about Mozart and how young and broken he'd been when he died, and how light the music, and that had moved him to tears. I see, she said in the doorway."

From 3

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Folded & Pleated Chicken

Daily Dose

From Autobiography, by Harriet Martineau


"Nobody has witnessed 'flashes of wit' from me. The giving me credit for wit shows that the writer is wholly unacquainted with me..."

From Appendix B: Selections from the Memorials (1877), from a letter to her mother.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #184

Daily Dose

From Mostly Dead Things, by Kristen Arnett


"The last time I'd seen him was before he'd hit puberty and still sounded like a chew toy someone had stepped on."

From Procyon Lotor -- Common Raccoon

Monday, February 3, 2020

Hawkish Vogue

Daily Dose

From Stuart Little, by E. B. White


"'Well,' said Stuart, 'a misspelled word is an abomination in the sight of everyone. I consider it a very fine thing to spell words correctly and I strongly urge every one of you to buy a Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and consult it whenever you are in the slightest doubt. So much for spelling. What's next?'"

From Chapter XII, The Schoolroom