The Bibliothecary
May 2 - 13, 2005
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Friday, May 13, 2005
Some fun unliterary stuff today:

  From my friend Evelyn, here's a
link to the top ten worst
  album covers of all time (with scathing commentary at no
  extra charge).



                                                                                     Or how about the Bible done in Legos (that's Legos, not Logos)
The Brick Testament.  If you click on the pictures, there are
                                                                                     hundreds of "illustrated" stories.  There's even a rating scheme:
                                                                                     N = nudity, S = sexual content, V = violence, C = cursing.

We'll return next week with more serious literary endeavours.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, May 12, 2005
Special guest blogger for The Bibliothecary today, my good friend, Daniel Wolkow, on bridges and poetry:

I was thinking about bridges the other day, especially the Walt Whitman bridge that connects Philadelphia to New Jersey. As
I ride over that bridge to teach my American literature class I often wonder what other bridges are named after literary
figures? Well, I couldn’t find any. There is a bridge called the Andy Warhol, but that’s about it. You can get to any bridge
you want at

Speaking of literary bridges, how about the Brooklyn Bridge? It’s big and widely written about. You can find
poems by
Moore and Kerouac about that famed bridge, but my favorite has to be Hart Crane’s “
To Brooklyn Bridge” which begins:

 How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
 The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
 Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
 Over the chained bay waters Liberty—

Of course bridges have other purposes: people have been jumping off them for years. Just recently a man unsuccessfully tried
to end his life by jumping off one, failed, tried again and was eventually spared the trouble when the police shot him.  

Then again…sometimes you jump off the bridge and sometimes the bridge jumps off you! Here is a list of
bridge disasters
including “The Tay Bridge Disaster” in Scotland where all the people died (75) and the only thing that survived, the engine of
the train that would be used for another three years, was ironically named “the diver”. The stuff great stories are made of.

And a comment on Tuesday's Heaney and the bagpipes:
When I first read the Heaney blurb, I thought the same thing you did.  Bagpipes and poetry? Maybe Heaney was trying to
send a subtle message to the Emperor about rekindling their friendship? Maybe in Tokyo they made him sit through a reading
The Tale of the Genji accompanied by a Kyoto? Anyway, it started making me think about background music and
poetry. I wonder if in ancient times you could hear a drunkard tell a musician to stop that infernal lyre nonsense while he was
trying to listen to Homer. I would love to know what poem Heaney read. I know there are lots of ways to play the bagpipes
(insert joke here). Maybe it added to the tone or enhanced or enabled the form. Who knows? I have never had the
experience, but I did get to read a poem of mine whilst a didgeridoo played. It had a comical effect that I can only compare
to someone blowing in a half empty Coke bottle behind me.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Musical scores to accompany some of John Donne's poems have been discovered "among piles of unidentified manuscripts
in the British Library in London and the Bodleian in Oxford."  I just love how people suddenly stumble across significant
documents "among piles."  And if you have a "pile" of 17th century manuscripts, you should probably glance through it.  
Although the Donne scholar here says, "This now alters how we think of Donne. His reputation is as a poet of metaphysical,
intricate poetry that you have to spend hours to get to know — but, when performed, the music is an immediate aid to
understanding it," I'm not so sure I'd go that far.  I suppose the discovery adds a new way of "reading" the poem/songs that
have been found, but how this provides some kind of shortcut to understanding is an overstatement.  But does this mean
Donne had groupies?  Or more importantly, did
Anne More break up the band?   

I thought this item from Kyodo News yesterday made for hilarious copy:

DUBLIN — Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, on their eight-day trip to Europe, visited the home of Nobel
Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney on Sunday afternoon in the suburbs of Dublin to renew their friendship.
The couple have kept in touch with the Irish poet since they first met with him in Tokyo when they were crown
prince and princess in 1987. At his home, Heaney recited one of his poems while a friend of his played the bagpipe,
according to Imperial Household Agency officials traveling with the emperor.

While a friend played the bagpipe?!  That's funny.  "Read a poem, your highness?  Oh, wait.  Let me call in my bagpiper."  
And how does one read anything with a bagpipe playing?

And today marks the anniversary of the Astor Place Riot in New York City in 1849
when a riot broke out between rival Shakespearean factions.  Yes,
gangs.  And I don't mean Jets and Sharks dancing to a Bernstein score.  31 people
died and more than 100 were injured as the militia had to be called in to restore order.
The battle was a result of a feud between two great actors, the Englishman William
Charles Macready and the American (Philadelphian) Edwin Forrest.  
Forrest had
hissed Macready's Hamlet in Edinburgh.  There followed many accusations and insults
in the press.  The showdown finally occurred as both actors were giving performances
on the same night in New York: Macready as Macbeth at the Astor Place Opera
House and Forrest as Spartacus at the Broadway Theatre.  A crowd of Forrest
supporters, whipped to a jingoistic fury at the British actor, Macready, descended
upon the Astor.  Shakespearean mayhem ensued.   Here's a link to some
primary documents about the riot.  Included is a contemporary review of Macready's
Hamlet in which the reviewer states, "With the modesty of youth, I mentally ejaculated,
'What an antiquated guy!'"  With insults such as these being ejaculated in the press,
no wonder a riot ensued.  
Antiquated guy, indeed!

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, May 6, 2005
Yesterday was the birthday of Christopher Morley, one of my favorite writers, born in 1890 in Haverford PA, schooled at
Haverford College, and resided for a time in Philadelphia where he was a columnist for the
Evening Ledger.  His first two
Parnassus on Wheels and its sequel, The Haunted Bookshop, ahould be on every bibliophile's shelf.  In the first,
Roger Mifflin is an itinerant bookseller, travelling the countryside, peddling books from a horse drawn cart, a missionary for
Haunted situates Mifflin in Brooklyn where he has opened a bookshop.  The sequel is not only a paean to lovers
second hand bookshops, but is also the manifesto of all pipe-smoking readers of literature.  A sign in the shop reads:

THIS SHOP IS HAUNTED by the ghosts
Of all great literature, in hosts;
   We sell no fakes or trashes.
Lovers of books are welcome here.
No clerks will babble in your ear,
   Please smoke – but don't drop ashes!
… If you want to ask questions, you'll find
the proprietor where the tobacco smoke is thickest.

This last line is also a good way to locate me in my
own home.  

Morley's prose is deft and whimsical, and has the power
to delight me no matter my mood, but especially when I
need a lift.  Of his own style, Morley wrote, "there is,
maybe, a kind of satiric saltarello that is natural to [my]
temper."  It is to his essays I turn the most.  They are very
like Charles Lamb's
Essays of Elia, only less flamboyant
(let me note that Lamb was a great smoker himself).  
Morley's first collection,
Shandygaff, has a couple pieces on pipe-smoking and  his collection, Pipefuls, is so entitled
because of the selections "none of them are so long that they may not be mitigated by an accompanying pipe of tobacco."  
Will the non-pipe smoking reader enjoy his works?  As I have never read Morley (nor a
Sherlock Holmes story) without a
pipe, I would not recommend another to do so:

As the smoke drifts and shreds about your neb, your mind is surcharged with that imponderable energy of thought,
which cannot be seen or measured, yet is the most potent force in existence. All the hot sunlight of Virginia that stirred
the growing leaf in its odorous plantation now crackles in that glowing dottel in your briar bowl. The venomous juices
of the stalk seep down the stem. The most precious things in the world are also vivid with poison . . . Tobacco is the
handmaid of science, philosophy, and literature. (from "The Last Pipe,"
Shandygaff, 1918)

Prosit in fumus,

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Wednesday, May 4, 2005
I missed a Dead Writer Anniversary yesterday:  George Psalmanazar died on 3 May 1763 at Ironmonger Row, St Luke's
parish, London.  Psalmanazar spent several years of his early life perpetuating a fraud that he was a native of the island of
Formosa (Taiwan), going so far as to invent a Formosan language, geography, history and customs:

Among his entertaining but suspicious claims were that Formosa was Japanese rather than Chinese; that the state
religion, founded by an avatar named Psalmanaazaar, required the annual sacrifice of 18,000 boys under the age of
nine; and that the production of children was facilitated by the encouragement of polygamy, although adultery was
absolutely forbidden. (
Oxford DNB)

He defended his claims in front of the Royal Society, but eventually confessed
his deceptions and became a prolific writer.  Psalmanazar was the first of the
imposters (Chatterton, Macpherson, Ireland) of the 18th century and
was greatly admired by Samuel Johnson.  

Timing is everything, and much of the interest of Psalmanazar's story is owing to
when it was set. He arrived in England just a few years after the publication of the
most influential work of philosophy of the long eighteenth century, Locke's
concerning Humane Understanding
, which in a section called "Identity and
Diversity" takes up the question "Wherein Identity consists." He arrived, in other
words, at a time when notions of identity were in flux, receiving a basis in the new
empiricist epistemology. This is not to justify him; his charade would have been
offensive under both the old dispensation and the new. But to consider his
adventures in the context of these new Lockean conceptions of identity may help
us to understand how his contemporaries regarded him. (
Jack Lynch)


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Tuesday, May 3, 2005
I love this story from the Financial Times about a bookseller hosting a book-burning.  He figures it's the most environmentally
sound way of getting rid of unwanted (meaning, NOBODY wants this stuff) books.  But what is great is that he has created
an incident challenging one of the great cultural taboos.  Why are we so threatened/insulted by  book-burnings?

The books destined for the fire are mass-produced artefacts - their contents will not disappear when they burn.
If the objectors’ point is that books symbolise free speech, why are they not then sentimental about using
newspapers as firelighters or fish and chip wrappings?
There is also a practical problem: what do you do with unwanted books? They can be sent to the developing world -
but how many Kenyan schoolchildren will really benefit from the works of Galsworthy? Does it justify the aviation

When I worked for a used bookdealer, we threw away thousands of books, filling an enormous dumpster twice a week.  
Sometimes customers would get a little upset seeing so many books consigned to the trash.  But there is nothing else to do.  
For all of the inspiring, necessary books out there, there are a hundred times as many books that you couldn't even give away.

Harold Bloom on Hans Christian Andersen in an interesting, strange, meandering essay full of aphorisms, Michael Jackson,
Kierkegaard, and Walt Whitman.  Despite all the controversy over Bloom's insistence on a Canon, I have to agree with him
that there is so much to read, an established canon does help me to use my reading time wisely:

I myself see no distinction between children's literature and good or great writing for extremely intelligent children
of all ages. J.K. Rowling and Stephen King are equally bad writers, appropriate titans of our new Dark Age of the
Screens: computer, motion pictures, TV. One goes on urging children of all ages to read and reread Andersen and
Dickens, Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, rather than Ms. Rowling and Mr. King. Sometimes when I say that in
public I am asked: Is it not better to read Ms. Rowling and Mr. King, and then go on to Andersen, Dickens, Carroll
and Lear? The answer is pragmatic: Our time here is limited. You necessarily read and reread at the expense of other

Kind of like the Bibliothecary.  I'm sorting the literary essays and reviews because your time is limited.  Of course, your time
would probably be better spent reading a book.

Dead Writer accomplishment today:  on this day in 1810, Lord Byron swam the Hellespont, emulating the legendary Leander
crossing the waters to be with his lover, Hero.  Of his feat,
Byron wrote, "I plume myself on this achievement more than I
could possibly do on any kind of glory, political, poetical, or rhetorical."


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Monday, May 2, 2005
A joyous, even wacky, encomium on the ubiquitous Penguin paperback:

A traditional Englishman's library, snugly embedded with leather-bound copies of Aeschylus and crepuscular
with three-decker Victorian novels, would never have allowed such shockingly prosaic works to besmirch its
shelves; it would never have given room to paperbacks at all. But Penguin Books did something spectacular to
the post-war reader: it gave him or her an instant library by virtue of its coloured livery and the dependability of
its titles.
A Penguin copy of Dickens's
Little Dorrit could sit beside the Penguin copy of Lionel Davidson's The Night of
without the owner feeling ashamed to be caught owning the latter. Something about the cool, orange
spines, the take-no-prisoners blackness of the Penguin Classics covers, the louche aubergine tint on the "Essays
and Belles Lettres" jackets, reassured you that you were in safe hands. Individually, the books carried an invisible
stamp of quality, a literary seal of approval, a secular nihil obstat. Together, they formed a rainbow coalition on the
brick-and-plank shelves of your bedsit or student hovel. They told the world that you were, if not necessarily an
educated person, at least a well-integrated one.

For a time, I had a real passion for Penguin Classics.  They occupied a large bookcase of their own in my library.  I have
since dispersed them among their larger, sturdier brethren.  But I still love the marriage of visual art on the paper covers with
the evocative titles of literature.  And it always seemed as if they published odd titles that the ordinary person would not have
read.  Just a quick look around my room now reveals Charles Brockden Brown's
Edgar Huntly, Herman Melville's
Redburn, Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, African, Njal's Saga, The Exeter Book of
.  These titles aren't unusual to the academic, but to the budding reader I was, they spoke of  of secret gardens.  I
think I'll read one tonight.

I just rewatched Billy Wilder's "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" the other night.  Not my favorite Holmes film, but very
enjoyable, especially because the story is not taken from the Holmes' Canon and the film is about the failures (personal and
professional) of the detective.  Coincidentally,  this
piece on the film by Jonathan Coe was published in The Guardian on
Saturday.  Coe was obsessed with the film his entire life, tracking down the musical score and missing pieces of Wilder's
original film. (In a story reminiscent of Orson Welles,  Wilder was forced to cut one hour from his film and the footage has
never been found)  In the end, Coe has some interesting things to say about why he was obsessed:

After all, I have not really been searching for the complete film all these years. I have been searching for
something even more unreachable: trying to recapture, somehow, the sense of wonder, of security, of happiness
I felt when I first saw the film on that Sunday evening, when it made me forget, for two blissful hours, my fear
of returning to school the next day. It is that young self I have been trying to bring back to life. And perhaps my
grandfather, too, who loved Sherlock Holmes almost as much as I did, and died 14 years ago but has revisited
my thoughts every day since.

The Guardian also provides a link to a 2002 article on the failed film career of Robert Stephens, who played Holmes in
"Private Life."

Peter Parker writes in about the Superhero blogs I mentioned last Thursday:
I would like to state just for the record that I disapprove of the comic book heroes and villians blog. These people should
have better things to do with their time. Getting on line and telling their readers about their exciting lives, give me a break.
Yeah, the Hulk likes Baloney. So freaking what. These people should get a life. Besides, I'm pretty sure they are all phoneys
anyway. I mean, I'm the real Spider-Man and I didn't write that blog. It must have been that doppleganger, cloned, alien
symbiote I'm always chasing around the city. Oh well.
Thank you for providing me with an opportunity to vent. Now if you'll excuse me, my spidey-sense is tingling,
Peter Parker
p.s. I'm using this made up name and not my real one to keep my identity a secret. I am not really Peter Parker. Peter Parker
is not Spider-Man. I don't even know a Peter Parker.

Peter, Get a grip.  Your secret is safe with me.

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.
Edwin Forrest as King Lear