The Bibliothecary
July 18 - 29, 2005
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Friday, July 29, 2005
Some Sherlockiana for today:

David Pirie, scriptwriter of a new BBC movie (just aired a couple nights ago) about a decade in Arthur Conan Doyle's life,
tries to
answer why Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes.  

And here's another
piece on the same movie.

And Conan Doyle, the

A friend recently asked me to list my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories and I realized that I've never figured this out for
myself.  Whenever I return to the stories, I tend to reread everything.  But I've now taken a good look at the Canon and I
think these are my favorites:

The Man with the Twisted Lip.  Hands down my favorite tale.  It's a
very simple affair, but the details get me every time: opium dens,
beggars, and of course, Holmes' "Eureka" moment after sitting like
some Rajah on a pile of pillows smoking shag all night long.

The Sign of Four is my favorite of the four novels with its wildly
bizarre cast of characters: the Sholto brothers, the wooden legged
Jonathan Small and his pygmy sidekick, Tonga.

But I also love
The Hound of the Baskervilles for its characters as
well, not to mention the gloomy gothic moors.

To round out a baker's dozen, I think I would include:
The Red-headed League
A Scandal in Bohemia
The Blue Carbuncle
The Speckled Band
Silver Blaze
The Musgrave Ritual
The Devil's Foot
The Second Stain
The Copper Beeches
The Final Problem (for sentimental reasons, of course)

Lastly, I would kill someone dressed like this.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, July 28, 2005
I very much liked this Walter Kirn review of the new Cormac McCarthy novel:

Like classic French cooking, the best American crime fiction relies on a limited number of simple ingredients (which may be why
it's so popular in France). Too much temptation. Too little wisdom. Too many weak, bad men. Too few strong, good ones. And
spread over everything, freedom. Freedom and space. The freedom (perhaps illusory) to make poor choices and the space (as real
as the highways) to flee their consequences -- temporarily, at least. Corny and crude in the way of all great folk art, the intrinsically
pessimistic crime novel -- as opposed to the basically optimistic detective novel -- is not about the workings of human justice but the
dominion of inhuman time. As devised and refined by James M. Cain, Jim Thompson and their gloomy paperback peers, the crime
novel aimed its cheap handgun at the heart of America's most prized beliefs about its destiny: that the loot we've scooped up will
belong to us forever and that history allows clean getaways.

That's a pretty good description of American noir.  I especially like the "dominion of inhuman time."  I tried to read
Blood Meridian a couple years back, but had to give it up, no matter that I liked it so much.  There was so
much joy in my life then.  My wife was pregnant.  We had only just moved into our new home (hopefully, my last home).   
The violence in the novel was too grim, too relentless for me to stomach at the time.  I was surprised.  It was the only time in
my life when I felt so happy that I couldn't stand the gloom.  I've meant to return to it when I could get my head around it (or
my heart, not sure which).  Perhaps I won't.  

Dan writes in to comment on my library panegyric (July 27):
I know this sounds horrible, but I absolutely hate going to the library. I always have. I would rather spend all my money
buying the books then spending more than ten minutes in the library. When I was doing my Thesis, I spent about 23 weeks in
the library and I noticed something. As soon as I enter that building, I start to sweat and feel uncomfortable. I can not explain
it, but I get antsy and just want to leave. I can take the books out and read them elsewhere. No problem. But any more than
a few minutes and I go bonkers. I think that's why I always take out a lot of books at once and then pay boku late fees!

Dan, I don't actually spend much time reading in a library.  I can spend hours looking at  books, reading snatches of them.  
But I, too, have to take them home to do any deep reading (this is a compulsion I will have to remedy this Fall).  Of course, I
am most comfortable in my study, but the real reason I can't read in the library is because I can't smoke there.  I have grown
so accustomed to my pipe while reading that I have a hard time concentrating without it.  And why should I?

Mortals say their heart is light
When the clouds around disperse;
Clouds to gather, thick as night,
Is the smoker's

Dan also comments on "celeberty" novels (July 26):
I'm not really up on the celeberty novels, but what gets me is the celeberty poets. There are too many to name here, but some
are just so bad. The worst might be Jewel. Her book is horrible. And Suzanne Vega, who I am a big fan of, pretty much just
wrote her lyrics out and published them. Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins' fame) has a lousy book too!  Did Jim Morrison
publish his stuff or was it published after his death?  I know there are a few books out there. BTW... I'm probably opening a
can of worms here, but I think he's horrible. The fact that people call him and Kurt Cobain great poets sticks in my craw!  
One last thing on Jewel...on, listed under her book of poetry is a list of other things people who bought this
book bought. And wouldn't you know it...everything listed there are books about...Jewel. Those Jewel fans are really
opening their minds!

Dan, do you really want the minds of Jewel fans to
open?  I'll admit I liked Morrison's poetry when I was in college, but I
couldn't bear to hear it now without
Manzarek et al. backing him up.  But you fail to mention the worst celeberty poet of all,
Rosie O'Donnell!  Her latest:


do not use carmex
things are worse
in pimpleville
the sunscreen -
i think maybe that it’s that

i am getting up the guts
to go to a dermo
but fear her wrath
i am not good 2 my skin

windex tonight
just a dab

it’s odd to me
that this blog
makes the “news”
ever - but it does
as if

so in iraq
a new constitution
secular seems to be the choice
and our children died for democracy
there in oil heaven

the rbk kids
2 day in unison
straight lines
projection and smiles
friday is r show
parents friends family
some homeless
will watch the wonder of wonder
miracle of miracles
a cast opening night

come on along and listen to
the lullabye of broadway…
there’s no place like home
there’s no place like home
there’s no place like home

The scarier part is this poem has 54 comments, some of them including advice/treatment for getting rid of acne.  I think I can
now read
Blood Meridian.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Thomas H. Benton (a pseudonym, not the dead painter) has a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about the charms of
roaming the library stacks:

I have had moments in reading a text -- an ordinary one that might now be found online -- when I noticed a minor reference in the
margins that sent me a few shelves down to find a much more obscure book that was packed with unexpected clues that changed
my project entirely.

Much to my dismay, the library at the school I will be attending this Fall is closed for renovations.  I can only search their
database, request books I would like and they will be delivered the next day.  I will have to wait a year or two before I can
browse through the actual stacks.  Perhaps more troubling is that the library was beautiful and, for me, in no need of
"renovations."  Many libraries are now renovating to create more socially friendly environments for their "readers."  If you
need a café and space to talk, you're not really there to read, are you?  And isn’t that why we have these gargantuan
bookstores? (Personally, I'd rather talk about books over booze and a smoke).  But most of all, I will miss roaming the
stacks.  I cannot count the times I've come across books, authors, subjects that I never would have found searching a
computer database, when unknown books have nearly jumped from the shelves, the resounding "Tolle, lege. Tolle, lege"
ringing in my ears.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Ben Macintyre on celebrities who write novels, "It is easy to make fun of celebrity novelists. So we should."  He rhapsodizes
on Pamela Anderson's novel (I didn't know there was one) and another one soon to be published:

I have before me Fan-Tan; a novel by none other than the late Marlon Brando, published next month, “a rollicking, swashbuckling,
delectable romp of a novel — the last surprise from an ever-surprising legend”. I have read nine pages, but cannot get beyond the
description of a man in prison having his fingers eaten by cockroaches (“oh, how delicately they chomped away at the husks of his
fingertips”. Sadly, Brando did not live long enough to see the publication of his book. Sadly, I shall not live long enough to finish it.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Monday, July 25, 2005
An essay in the Wilson Quarterly (Unfortunately there are some glitches on this site.  No one appears to have proofed the
text after it was uploaded.) focuses on W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington and their political dance for a decade
before their political/ideological/sociological differences finally broke out into public criticism:

If Du Bois could have maintained his scholarly integrity and offered clear but measured criticisms of the Tuskegee agenda while still
supporting Tuskegee measures, and if Washington could have backed Du Bois without offending his donors and moderates, their
limited partnership might have lasted until Washington’s death in 1915. When Du Bois published
The Souls of Black Folk in April
1903, with its critical chapter on Washington, many thought it a declaration of war. But though the criticism rankled Washington, he’
d heard worse before, and he shrugged it off. Besides, Du Bois intended no threat to Tuskegee; three months later he was teaching
summer school there, and in July he dined at the headmaster’s home. Washington even paid his traveling expenses, telling an
underling, “If he chooses to be little we must teach him a lesson by being greater and broader than he is.” As long as Du Bois
remained principled and independent of organized resistance to the Tuskegee Machine, their wary cooperation would continue.

I finally read these two authors last year (I know, I'm almost 40.  I should have read them before then.  My only excuse is
that I went to Philadelphia Catholic schools, including college, not exactly hotbeds of African-American studies).  Of course,
I couldn't help but love Du Bois' demands for civil rights and deplore Washington's acquiescence to an American caste
system.  However, my opinions of the authors may have more to do with the brilliance in style and idea of
The Souls of
Black Folk and the turgid nonsense of Up from Slavery.  But how else are we to judge a man, if not for the prose in his

And then I read a piece like this by A.N. Wilson and I want to read the Harry Potter books (to understand my surprise, see
my July 18 entry and the susequent comments of July 20).


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Sunday, July 24, 2005
As last week seemed to be alternate book week here at the Bibliothecary, what with a wordless novel, a gender specific
language, and
odd second hand books (not to mention Plates of Fungi), I thought I'd add one more to the stew, perhaps the
oddest one of all:
The Life Story of Nikola Tesla in International Morse Code.  
You can even listen to an
excerpt from the introduction.
Of course it's an album, but I wonder if I can get more audio
books in morse code for my long drives out to school this Fall.
And this is volume 2 of the a series.  I wonder what's on
volume one.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Saturday, July 23, 2005
I stumbled across a wonderful website called Oddbooks about bizarre finds at second hand bookshops.  Included are
descriptions of
Does the Earth Rotate? NO! (1919) by William Westfield, Moles and Their Meaning (1909) by Harry De
Windt, and
The Gospel by Signal (1904) by Webster and Dryburg.  I am especially fascinated with Faces of World's
Captains (1971) by Kenji Miyakoshi, a collection of six hundred sketches of ship's captains the author made while working
as a harbour pilot.  Most wonderful are the examples of "
awful poetry," including the homage to breastfeeding, making the
claim that it can end war, and another on
constipation, containing this magnificent stanza:

In the intestinal canal
Waste matter lay and sad to tell,
Was left from day to day;
And while it was neglected there
It undermined that structure fair,
And caused it to decay.

Sorry, hope you weren't eating.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, July 22, 2005
Nazis today:
Here's a good
piece from Carlin Romano on the readablity of Hitler's Mein Kampf.  Do we, should we read it?

And here's a
review I link not so much for the content, but for the title of the book: SS General Karl Wolff, the Man
Between Hitler and Himmler.  
The man between Hitler and Himmler?  What's next, the Nazi who worked near Hitler?  Or
the bad guy a few feet from the Fuhrer?  I'm not saying a book on Wolff isn't a worthy study, but in our current age of
grandiloquent subtitles, Enigma publishers needs a little help.

More on Nushu (from Michael-Patrick Harrington).


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, July 21, 2005
An omnigatherum today:

piece on Les Liaisons Dangereuses and its many adaptations.

An eclectic and interesting
top ten supernatural books by Jeremy Sheldon.

Julian Barnes on
writing fiction:
It's creating people who are fundamentally different in their beliefs... You take things that people believe in as seriously as they
believe in them.

Or how about writing a novel without words.

And what omnigatherum is complete without
Plates of Fungi.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005
A.S. Byatt's review of a new J.M. Barrie biography.  I recently tried to watch "Finding Neverland," but it left me a little cold.  
I thought its melodrama was a little too glamorized.  Perhaps this was because of the beauty of the actors.  Depp is far too
beautiful for Barrie. The underlying dark tragedy of
Peter Pan is enough biography for me.

A piece on a newly discovered Rudyard Kipling manuscript featuring the original form of a fairy tale he wrote in 1893, "The
Princess in the Pickle-Bottle."  I love the resolution of
the tale.  I think I'll read this one to my girls.

A comment from Michael-Patrick Harrington on Monday's link to the Nushu museum:
Ed, I spent a couple of months earlier this year researching Nushu for my book
The Innkeeper at the End of the World.  In
October of last year, Yang Huanyi died. She was believed to be the last person to actively use Nashu.  Since my characters
are former child genuises, I thought it would be intersting if Zooey’s “hobby” as a kid was Nushu.  Truly fascinating language.
I’m not sure how much of what I learned I’m
going to use in the book, but it was a great side-trip.  "By writing, so much suffering disappears," Yang Huanyi said in an
interview with Northeast Asian Weekly in 1996.

Michael, I had never heard of Nushu and am not only fascinated by a gender based language, but also that it seems to have
arisen to provide a voice for a dispossessed segment of a society.  I wonder if there are any other dialects like this.

Of course, my disparaging statements on the Harry Potter books brought in a few  comments:
Ryan Karp writes:
"The problem with the HP books is you can find bad writing on nearly every page."
And you're calling Bloom cranky?  Even he didn't go so far.

Ryan, When I wrote that line, I did think, "Now that's cranky!"   
I agree with Bloom that Rowling's prose isn't very good.  But I don't think she's so bad that a serious editing wouldn't have
greatly improved
Goblet (the only long one I've attempted).  While Bloom deplores her lazy cliches, I think they are fine for
children.  He doesn't think HP is even worthwhile for children to read.  I think they are great books for kids, but don't hold
up for mature readers.  

Sean Scotwell writes (succintly):

Sean, It's not that I'm a Muggle, it's that I belong to the Slytherin House.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005
A fascinating little piece on Osip Mandelstam's essay, "Conversation on Dante," dictated to the author's wife who, in turn,
"did what the circumstances required during the Stalinist persecution: she learnt the essay by heart, in order to ensure its
survival. It wasn't printed until three decades later."  Here are some interesting comments on authority, but also, I love this
description of Dante's work by Mandelstam:

If the halls of the Hermitage should suddenly go mad, if the paintings of all schools and masters should suddenly break loose from
the nails, should fuse, intermingle, and fill the air of the rooms with futuristic howling and colours in violent agitation, the result then
would be something like Dante's

Any review that concludes with Auden quoting an Icelandic proverb, "Every man enjoys the smell of his own farts," needs to
be read.  I very much enjoyed Alberto Manguel's
A History of Reading and his Dictionary of Imaginary Places is
wonderful, so his
Reading Diary sounds like a must read for me.

Dead Writer for today:  Francesco Petrarch died on this day in 1374, a day before his 70th birthday.  His Canzoniere are so
good I can't pick a favorite.  And today is also the day
Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring was published in 1954.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Monday, July 18, 2005
Another critic gets it wrong on Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.  Natasha Walter, in  the Guardian:

Although we can measure the size of the phenomenon by crunching numbers, that doesn't help us to understand why Harry Potter
stands quite so large in our culture. And Harry is not alone - in a way his success only serves to echo and reinforce the equally
unexpected breakthrough of
The Lord of the Rings 50 years ago.

The Lord of the Rings was not "conceived for children."  The Hobbit was.  LotR is a mature work that just happens to be
fantasy.  It's popularity did defy critical opinion, but most crit opinion of the Rowling books has been
positive, except for the
few academics and canon guardians who have gotten a little cranky (i.e. Harold Bloom).  The real difference between the
books is literary merit.  
LotR suffered critically only because it was set in a fantastical realm.  Had Tolkien's work been cast
in a pseudo-20th century-WWII setting, it would have been considered the great modern epic.  This is because he is such a
good writer.  Are there slow spots in his work?  Sure.  It's 1200 pages.  You can find spots of bad writing in [fill in your
favorite writer].  The problem with the HP books is you can find bad writing on nearly every page.  Don't get me wrong, I
think these are great books for kids—  Lots of adventure, complicated storyline, escapist— but so are a lot of other books.  
The Lord of the Rings is a great book for ANYONE, but especially adults, or at least, literate and intelligent adults who
want to read great literature.

I was totally fascinated by this news: in China a museum will showcase cultural artifacts and manuscripts of the world's only
female language, Nushu:

The gracefully-written rhombic Nushu characters are structured by just four kinds of strokes, including dot, horizontal, virgule and
arc, and can be spoken in a dialect to describe women's misfortunes and inner feelings.

Dead Writer for today:  Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817, aged only 41.  That's three years from now for me.  I'd better
get started on my novels.
Today is also the death day of
Horatio Alger, Jr.

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.