The Bibliothecary
July 1 - 15, 2005
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Friday, July 15, 2005
A double piece in the Guardian on the 2006 RSC season.  The first section is by the new artistic director of the Globe,
Dominic Dromgoole, whose gloriously Dickensian name fits his flamboyant writing style.  But he needs to take it town a
notch.  Any piece that starts with the line, "Next year will be Shakespearetastic," you probably shouldn't continue to read.  
The next piece by Gary Taylor should be better.  His Guardian pieces on Shakes are usually quite good, but this one is as
terrible as Dromgoole's, beginning,

God save the Bard. He's less expensive than nuclear submarines, sexier than Prince Charles, more profitable than the Olympics, and
a better diplomat than George Bush.

Yeah, so's a can of Budweiser.  I never like the "Shakespeare, Our Contemporary" sell.  I might find some points of similarity
with our culture, but I always think it’s a lame way to sell a great writer.  But what's worse is when theatre companies try to
market Shakespeare as "Cool.  So come on out and check out the Bard, all you jaded teenagers.  You'll find that he's really
cool."  But it doesn't work.  You have to make Shakespeare crap to appeal to most people, like Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo +
Juliet."  I hate that addition symbol: "Look at this plus sign.  See, Shakespeare's cool like you."  The marketing I hated the
most was this
rendering of Shakespeare on a skateboard.  Shall I be flouted thus by dunghill grooms?

Dana Gioia interviewed about Walt Whitman:

Much of what is great and glorious about American poetry comes from Whitman. So does much of what is pretentious and self-
indulgent. Whitman's range, energy, and originality set a standard of ambition and invention that has inspired American literature ever
since. But his influence has also been troublesome. Whitman made himself the central subject of his poetry. Who else would create
an epic poem titled "Song of Myself"? Whitman brought it off with humor, tenderness, and joyful exuberance, but his example gave
permission to lesser poets to talk endlessly about themselves. Not everyone's life deserves an epic poem. That is the trouble with
genius–it's so hard to imitate.

I think this makes Whitman sound too self-centered, or only self-centered.  The Whitman I is an invitation to all who read his
poems to be the
I.  "I celebrate myself" is a clarion call of the reader as well as the author, especially when read aloud.  I
think Gioia's right about the pretentiousness of lesser poets who attempt Whitmanesque verse.  But also,
Leaves of Grass is
democratic.  Most modern confessional poetry is solitary, lonely.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, July 14, 2005
The McLememe spawns a sheep DNA project.  In his response to the meme begat by Scott McLemee, Michael Drout
wrote of his "insane 'Manuscripts and Sheep DNA Project,'" which would take DNA samples from medieval manuscripts to
find the links between scriptoria and monastic centers.  Drout received so many positive responses to this proposal that he's
pursuing the project.  Hey, this meme thing really has dividends.

Now we know to which Hogwarts' House the current Pope belonged.  It was Slytherin (as if there was any doubt).  In a
letter to the author of
Harry Potter - gut oder böse— Harry Potter- good or evil?— (and I don't think I need to tell you
that in this book Harry is of the latter moral absolute) the Pope

It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply
distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly.

In other news, Draco Malfoy has been named new Vatican spokesperson.  
(thanks to Sean Scottwell for this story)

Sorry to be posting so little the last few days.  Things have been so busy at the Bibliothecary home that I've had precious little
time for internet reading (or any other reading).  


The Biliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Monday, July 11, 2005
The ever provocative Christopher Hitchens on "the most overrated poem in the Anglo-American canon," T.S. Eliot's "The
Waste Land."

An interview with Donald Westlake on John Boorman's movie, "Point Blank," adapted from Westlake's 1962 novel.  I like
how Westlake acknowledges his pleasure in someone else's take on his work, even though Boorman makes changes to the

"What John Boorman made was very different from what I made. What I wrote was blunt, literal, just-the-facts-ma'am; what he did
was poetic and suggestive.
"He and I shared a fierce determination to tell it, and to tell it our way. You can see it on the screen, and I think you can see it in the
book, too. It was very early in both my career and his: we were putting down a marker, saying, 'Here I am, and this is what I do.' "

This is refreshing when most writers disparage films of their novels.  I wonder if that NY Times writer (see Friday's post) is
aware . . . oh, never mind.

I couldn't resist this piece on a football fan going out in style.

Dan takes time out from his busy schedule of drinking and salsa dancing to comment on my Friday rant:
Ed, I must admit, I have been thinking about reading some, what did you call them, "books". Ever since I saw "Troy" I have
been intrigued by these odd printed word movies. I "read" the "Iliad" just the other day, and I have to admit that except for a
few parts that the author got wrong, it was enjoyable. I'm thinking of reading some more and I would love to start some kind
of campaign or petition that would eventually lead to more movies made into this genre. Imagine picking up a book and
reading something like "Moby Dick"! I am pretty sure I would be able to place the character's voice with the original actor's
so it would seem, you know, legitimate. I don't know, it's just a thought. I am interested in what you and the readers think.

Dan, I'm with ya, buddy.  I keep seeing these movies where everyone talks all funny  like "Pacino in Venice,"  and "Romeo +
Juliet" (despite the addition symbol, there are no mathematics in this movie).  Wouldn't it be "amazing" if we could read this
stuff?  Maybe then I wouldn't be so confused.  

And Duane Swierczynski at the
Secret Dead Blog answers the McLememe.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, July 8, 2005
I was happy taking my day off from the blog, just relaxing, reading the newspapers when I came across this piece in the NY
Times about how some movies were actually based on some weird artifact called
book or books.  Who ever heard of such a
thing?  And some people actually read them, but apparently not the author of this article:

It's precisely because the films are so remarkable that, after the initial attention
they can bring to a novel (movie-tie-in editions never hurt), the books often seem
displaced. But many of the novels have been reissued lately, ready for rediscovery.

Wow!  You mean I can acutally buy one these book things.

Reading "The War of the Worlds" today, it's amazing to see how chilling that
original story still is, and how much of it survives in Mr. Spielberg's updated

Imagine, a NY Times writer amazed at what a book can do.  How did you get this job!?

An adaptation so satisfying can make a novel seem superfluous. Who hasn't
thought, "I've seen the movie why read the book?"

Yes, who hasn't thought that.  Ha, Ha, Ha, chuckle . . . ME, FOR ONE!  

But where the film of "Empire of the Sun" has more high drama, the novel offers
a more nuanced, multifaceted view of Jim's growth and confusion.

Whuh?  Books are more nuanced?  Whuh's a nuanced?

"Fahrenheit 451," from Ray Bradbury's well-known work about a society in
which some characters burn books and members of the underground memorize
them to preserve them. Memorizing seems a little extreme, but there's plenty of
room to reclaim these novels that were eaten by the movies.

Memorizing seems a little extreme?  How about the whole BOOK BURNING THING!?  This writer (and I can't believe I'm
calling her that) sees a movie in which books are outlawed and burned if found and she thinks memorizing is a little extreme.  
This has got to be the stupidest article I've ever read in the NY Times.  Think I'll go watch a movie about reading.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, July 7, 2005
Just a grab bag today (an omnigatherum, if you will):

Jack Lynch on the greatness of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary.  It's not every day there's a NY Times
op-ed on the Great Cham.

Review of new Bruce Springsteen books.

I love these
photographs from the 1908 Dover Pageant.  

Short, but good
interview with Umberto Eco.

Review of the new Julian Barnes, Arthur and George, about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Edjali and the Wyrley

piece on Cain's Postman Always Rings Twice

Michael Drout answers the McLememe.
So does
Amardeep Singh.

And a big Dead Writer for today:  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died on July 7, 1930.  That makes today the Septuagesiquintennial
of his death. Here's his NY Times


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005
I like this extract from Roger Scruton's autobiography, Gentle Regrets, on the inherent cultural power of names.

For those addicted to words, the surnames of writers take on the sense of their writings. Wittgenstein, for me, has the sound of a
frozen mountaineer, poised on the apex of an argument and remaining there, aloof, uncomforted and alone. Dickens - whose name
is proverbial in English - has the sound of an old-fashioned haberdashery: an accumulation of oddments, some still useful, others left
behind by fashion or piled in, a heap of unvisited history, like the objects in Mrs Jellaby's cupboard. Lawrence roars like a lion, and
yawns like one too; while Melville is not the noise of Captain Ahab stomping his wooden peg on the deck above, but the melancholy
sound of a quiet harbour, where the sheets smack in the breeze and a clerk sucks his pen at a counting desk above the quay.

A review of Dana Gioia's Barrier of a Common Language:  An American Looks at Contemporary British Poetry.  I'm
not sure where I picked up this link.  I can't can't access this review on the CPR site, so I don't know how old it is (Gioia's
book is dated 2003).  The review is not very well written.  Drexel's style is pedestrian, so nothing he writes seems of any
importance, but I wonder if this is a result of the Gioia book which appears to be not so much criticism, but rather short
introductions to Brit poets of the 1980s.  I am surprised that Drexel lumps Heaney in with "British" poets.  Also, Tony
Connor and Charles Causley sound interesting to me.  Anyone know anything about them?  I don't read enough
contemporary poetry (although this is a misnomer considering Gioia wrote most of these essays in the 1980s) to comment on
Gioia's proposal:

The assumptions a British poet now makes about his or her self, language, work, and audience are subtly different from those of an
American writer.  He or she is not merely writing in a foreign accent.  The poem that is being created is now in some ways a
foreign text.  An American remains a privileged translator, but a translator nonetheless.

I know I have a hard time reading someone like Geoffrey Hill, but doesn't everyone?  Perhaps poetry is like crossword
puzzles.  Brit crosswords are nearly unintelligble to Americans—not just in everyday trivia, but in expectations of word play

Dead Writers
Lots of dead writers to celebrate today.  Ludovico Ariosto, author of Orlando Furioso, died on this day in 1533.  Sir
Thomas More, author of
Utopia and instigator of the evil of King Richard III image, was beheaded by that dastardly Henry
VIII in 1535.  Guy de Maupassant
died in 1893.  Kenneth Grahame died in 1932.  And Joseph Keating, collier, autodidact
and writer died on July 6, 1934.  I've quoted Keating in a previous post (June 21) from an
essay by Jonathan Rose.  I've
since been looking around the web to find out more about Keating, but haven't come up with anything.  Little did I know he
was listed in a reference book on the shelves of my own humble library.  But his entry in
The Oxford Companion to the
Literature of Wales
is a bit of a slam.  Keating's first six novels "have little literary merit" and his last two "have none at all."  
The entry concludes, "As an author, Joseph Keating may be seen as an obscure pioneer, a precursor of those more gifted
writers form the valleys of south Wales."  Man, that's tough.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005
My answers to the Scott McLe-meme:

1) Imagine it’s 2015. You are visiting the library at a major research university. You go over to a computer
terminal (or whatever it is they use in 2015) that gives you immediate access to any book or journal article on any
topic you want. What do you look up? In other words, what do you hope somebody will have written in the

I'm so stuck reading what has already been written, I rarely give a thought to what should be written.  Haven't all the good
books been written?  I guess there are some lit crit subjects I would like to see done, but I also would like to be the one to
do them: a biography of
George Lippard, a new historicist reading of Poe's works written while living in Philadelphia, a study
pipe smoking in literature.  Perhaps I would enjoy reading a book about how deconstruction failed as a method of textual
enlightenment.  Perhaps I would look to see if there have been any new literary discoveries: an unkown Shakespeare
manuscript, a different version of
Beowulf, J.D. Salinger's secret cache of writings released after his death.

(2) What is the strangest thing you’ve ever heard or seen at a conference?

Alas, my academic career is only just underway.  I've been to a couple of conferences.  At an Arthurian lit one at Penn State
some years ago  I met some nice people, but nothing untoward happened.  And I attended a conference on Augustine's
Confessions while taking grad courses at Villanova.  Lots of "tolle lege, tolle lege," but there were no cries of "'Grant me
chastity and continence, but not yet."

(3) Name a writer, scholar, or otherwise worthy person you admire so much that meeting him or her would
probably reduce you to awestruck silence.

This is a very hard one for me, as I am not shy in conversation.  Favorite scholars that I would like to meet include Seth
Lerer, Michael Drout and David Reynolds.  I can't imagine I would be struck silent, but I would be more interested in
listening to them than blathering on about my own ideas.

(4) What are two or three blogs or other Web sites you often read that don’t seem to be on many people’s radar?

I check Rare Book News on a daily basis, as well as the wonderful 1869 edition of Chambers' Book of Days.  Michael-
Patrick Harrington's blog is lots of fun.  He recounts the outrages of the current political administration, as well as his own
music articles and short stories.  Another favorite webpage is
Daniel Traister's, the Special Collections Librarian at UPenn, an
eclectic mix of literary links.  His
Resources for the History of Books and Printing is also a joy.

To continue this meme, I'll tag a couple friends, the aforementioned
Harrington and Dan Wolkow, my Omnigatherum co-
editor and Compostition and Lit professor soon to be teaching at Eastern New Mexico U in Roswell.  I'll also try to tag a
couple people whom I don't know, but whose blogs I read regularly, Medieval Prof
Michael Drout and Philly noir writer
Duane Swierczynski.

Here are links to the original bloggers tagged by
Scott McLemee who have already answered this meme: Anthony Paul
Smith, Miriam Elizabeth Burstein, Amardeep Singh.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Monday, July 4, 2005
If you're reading this today, then stop.  You should be at a barbecue or a parade.  I'll post my meme answers tomorrow.  
You are in sore need of a burger and a beer.


Sunday, July 3, 2005
A couple of readers' comments to recent posts:

Michael-Patrick Harrington writes about my recent book buys:
I saw you picked up Chuck's
Fight Club. Good book.  My fave Chuck book is Invisible Monsters.  All of his books are
sort of the same in an odd way, but when he's on, he's very compelling. Kind of a modern choice for you! If you dig
, check out The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides or Observatory Mansion by Edward Carey.  Then cleanse the
palette with
Atonement by Ian McEwan.  Really great writer.  Than have dessert with Monster by Joyce Carol Oates.
Hannibal who?

Michael, I figured someone would comment on my acquisition of a very contemporary book, namely
Fight Club.  Not my
usual cup of tea.  I can't claim any burning desire to read cool writers.   I was content with the movie, but I'll be teaching it in
my Comp class this Fall, so I figured I should read it.  Thanks for the suggestions.  
Monster sounds very interesting.  And
Invisible Monsters?  Isn't that the plot of Fight Club?

Ryan Karp comments on the
NPR story featuring Hemingway's grave:
Hemingway had a bottle of Jack Daniels in his headstone?  I'd love to know how the label stayed on.  Didn't think they had
those engraved bottles back then.  I'd like to think it is replaced from time to time by devoted (i.e., drunken) fans.  Who's
idea was it anyway?  This requires research.  

Ryan, I'll join you for a little "devoted" research.  

Prosit (hiccup),

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Saturday, July 2, 2005
Ed's Reading Table
This week I continued to enjoy Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane tales— until I got to the long story, "The Moon of
Skulls," in which our savage Puritan swordsman ventures into the dark jungles of Africa to rescue an Englishwoman,
kidnapped as a child, captured by pirates, and since sold into slavery to Nakari, the wicked queen of Negari who live in a
secret city, originally part of the empire of Atlantis.  Sounds like fun fun fun.  In June 22's blog entry I mentioned the racist
undertones in these stories.  I quote myself: "Kane pursues one evildoer to the very jungles of Africa and despite
baldly racist descriptions of lurid, bestial savages, Kane finds himself identifying with their savagery."  Well, there's no
empathy in "Moon of the Skulls."  On the contrary, I would highly recommend this story to lovers of Thomas Dixon's
, the masterpiece of racial harmony that inspired D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation."  The story drips with
eugenically inspired contempt for "non-white" races.  I think from now on I'll avoid Kane's African adventures.  

Post note: Perhaps I should have been equally appalled at the sexism in Howard's stories, but I've long been a reader of his
Conan tales and my inner twelve-year-old enjoys heroic men saving damsels in distress (not to mention my protective
instincts as a father of five daughters).  

Let me know what's on your reading table.

Dead writer for today is Ernest Hemingway who shot himself in the entrance porch of his home in Ketchum, Idaho at seven
o'clock in the morning.  I heard a NPR
piece this morning about the fate of this last home.

Come back on Monday for my answers to Scott McLemee's proposed

(1) Imagine it’s 2015. You are visiting the library at a major research university. You go over to a computer terminal (or
whatever it is they use in 2015) that gives you immediate access to any book or journal article on any topic you want. What
do you look up? In other words, what do you hope somebody will have written in the meantime?
(2) What is the strangest thing you’ve ever heard or seen at a conference? No names, please. Refer to “Professor X” or
“Ms. Y” if you must. Double credit if you were directly affected. Triple if you then said or did something equally weird.
(3) Name a writer, scholar, or otherwise worthy person you admire so much that meeting him or her would probably reduce
you to awestruck silence.
(4) What are two or three blogs or other Web sites you often read that don’t seem to be on many people’s radar?


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, July 1, 2005
On Tuesday, Scott McLemee's Intellectual Affairs column answered this book meme that has been circulating the blogs:
How many books have you owned?
What is the last book you bought?
Name five books that mean a lot to you.
What are you reading now?

I took the liberty of answering them myself below.  

However, in Thursday's IA
column, McLemee has come up with his own meme (which is a chain letter for intellectuals) and
has called upon Edward "Bibliothecary" Pettit (you can all call me that from now on) and five others to participate in his own
meme (you can read about it in his column).  I promise my answers will not be as parenthetically digressive as that last
sentence.  So tune in next week (and see who I tag to continue the chain).  

In the meantime here are my answers to the book meme:

Books owned?
Thousands.  Somewhere between five and eight thousand.  I'm sure I have over 5K now.  In my lifetime, I've probably
gotten rid of a couple thousand.  But the real answer is: never enough.  Each book acquired results in an increased desire for
another.  Bibliomania is insatiable.  

Last books bought?
Lately I have been embarrassed by riches.  Not only did I purchase two new books the other night (see June 22 entry), but I
made a trip to two used bookstores yesterday:
Harvest Books in Fort Washington, PA and Bookhaven in the Fairmount
Section of Philadelphia, just across the street from the
Eastern State Penitentiary (a neighborhood about to be overrun by
Live8 concert goers).  

My haul at Harvest (for only ten bucks, I gloatingly add) was:
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
The Mutual Friend by Frederick Busch
The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor
The Book of Lost Tales Part 2
by JRR Tolkien
Martha Peake by Patrick McGrath

And the treasures plucked from Bookhaven:
Falstaff by Robert Nye
The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake
Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
The Complete Works and Letters of Charles Lamb (Modern Library Giant)
First City: Philadelphia and the Forging of Historical Memory by Gary Nash

All of which I am hoping to read soon, but will probably take years to finish.

Five books?
No grand theoretical tomes here.  Just great works that resonate deeply every time I reread them:
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
Le Morte D'Arthur by Thomas Malory
Shandygaff by Christopher Morley
The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell

Currently reading?
My Reading Table used to be a regular feature of the old Omnigatherum newsletter and I had thought of continuing it here at
the Bibliothecary Blog, but have only done it a couple times.  I think I'm going to make it a regular Saturday feature.  I figured
most people were only reading this blog Mondays through Fridays, but my statistics have shown there is high readership on
the weekends as well, so look for My Reading Table every Saturday.  
Currently I am reading:
Several translations of
Beowulf (just finished Alexander, Wright, Donaldson, and about to start Heaney)
Edgar Huntly by Charles Brockden Brown
The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard (see June 22 entry below)

So what are your answers?  I hope you'll write to me with your answers to this book meme.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.