The Bibliothecary
January 2006
The Omnigatherum

The Bibliothecary

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Monday, January 30, 2006
An interesting piece in the Village Voice on the reissue of a
Henry Stephen Keeler mystery:

The Riddle of the Traveling Skull, first published
in 1934, begins when our hero, Clay Calthorpe,
inadvertently gains possession of a satchel
containing a human skull. The skull has several
unusual features: a metal disc bearing numbers and
a name, paper stuffing scrawled with sentence
fragments, a bullet hole, and a bullet. In seeking the
skull's provenance, Calthorpe ranges over the
burgeoning expanse and social strata of Chicago
("that strange London of the West," he calls it),
meanwhile detailing characters like Philodexter
Maxellus, Ichabod Chang, and Sophie

I saw this in a bookstore the other day and didn't know what to
make of it.  Now, I wish I had bought it.  I also found this
description of Traveling Skulls' plot:

A poem leads the protagonist to a cemetery specializing in circus freaks and the grave of "Legga, the Human Spider," a woman with
four legs and six arms. Legga was born in Canton, China, and died in Canton, Ohio.

                                                      I gotta read this.  The Harry Keeler Society website includes not to be missed video
                                                      footage of
Keeler's gravesite and pictures of his beautiful pulp dustjackets.

                                                      Yesterday, I had the pleasure of  meeting  Duane Swierczynski who was signing
                                                      copies of his latest novel at a bookstore near my home.  Duane's a Philly writer and
                                                      I read his
blog often.  Last year, I passed along a meme to him (the Scott McLe-meme)
                                                      and he was good enough to answer it.  Last week I read his first novel,
Secret Dead Men and I can't recommend it enough.  It's a good crime thriller with a
                                                      strange twist: the narrator is a disembodied soul who has re-embodied in a corpse and
                                                      spends his time collecting other souls (and storing them in a hotel in his mind) who can
                                                      help him investigate and bring down a crime syndicate.  Despite the bizarre premise, the
                                                      novel is a crackling-good, well-paced crime thriller.  Last night, I read through the first
                                                      half of Swierczinski's new one,
The Wheelman.  Great so far.  I'll post on it when I
                                                      finish.  Duane, thanks for signing my copies.

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Sunday, January 29, 2006
Here's a news item about a bookhound's fondest dream: finding a pissed on 1771 edition of Don Quixote in a dumpster.

It always feels good to be mentioned or linked at another book blog, but when you are linked at a blog that you also enjoy
reading every day . . . well, it feels like you've made a friend.  Check out
Book World.  It's well-written with lots of great
insight into reading and literature.  The author reminds me of Helene Hanff (of
84 Charring Cross Road fame).  

Every Sunday, I comb the coming week's schedule at BBC Radio 4.  Here are some upcoming programs that look good:

In Our Time this week features a discussion of 17th Century Print Culture, a pivotal time in the history of books--
Shakespeare, Milton, English Civil War.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story, "
The Yellow Wallpaper," is dramatized on Tuesday.
Robert Louis Stevenson's great story, "
Markheim," is given the dramatic treatment on Wednesday.
And Thomas Hardy's ghostly tale, "
The Withered Arm," is dramatized on Friday.

And this one sounds interesting: on Sunday a reading of  "
The Lepidoctor" by Mick Jackson. "A little boy discovers the
secrets for bringing butterflies back to life."

But I can't miss this program on
Great Lives this Friday, a half hour biography of Marty Feldman:

Annie Nightingale argues for the 'greatness' of manic-eyed comic Marty Feldman, best known for the role of Igor in the film Young
Frankenstein, but who began his career as a scriptwriter until John Cleese convinced him to step in front of the cameras.

"What hump?"

Readers' Comments
Dan wrote in to clarify the TS Eliot cheese quote from Friday:
Ed, I thought that quote must have come from one of his "Cat" poems for some reason, but then I remembered that I might
have seen it on a brochure for a wine and cheese tour out in California. Ugghh!!
Anyway...I did some research today and found the quote attributed to him in Hugh Kenner's book, "The Invisible Poet: T.S.
Eliot", Publisher: McDowell, Obolensk. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1959. Page Number: vi.
It has the quote listed there with the date 1956, but no reference to where it actually appeared.

Dan, I did find it as well.  The quotation is also in Kenner's
The Pound Era, p 440, 1971 (love that Google Book search).  
Part of this book may have been previously published in 1959.  It seems to have been a remark that Eliot made to Kenner
over dinner.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments (especially when they are from good friends like

Saturday, January 28, 2006
I just finished watching a movie of Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White from 1997 that originally ran (in America) on
Masterpiece Theatre.  I'm a sucker for Brit historical costume dramas.  The novel is over 600 pages and the film does try to
pack in a little too much, but I found it enjoyable and the plight of the heroines was quite affecting.  Simon Callow plays
Count Fosco.  Collins describes Fosco as "immensely fat."  His corpulence, cunning, intelligence and great charm make him
an irresistible character.  Callow does an okay job with the little screen time he gets, but I can't give up the obesity of the
character.  Callow's Fosco is not fat and just as he is not given enough room to develop one of the most intriguing villains of
literature, the movie, like its thinning of Fosco, at two hours is too lean to be completely satisfying.  

A side note, I was thinking today that one of my favorite character actors,
Sydney Greenstreet, would have made a perfect
Fosco.  Think of Greenstreet in "The Maltese Falcon," so oily, loquacious and politely dangerous.  Little did I know that
Greenstreet did play Fosco in a 1948 adaptation of the novel.  I'll have to look that one up.

And another side note, I remember being so shocked when I read Collins' initial description of Marian Halcombe.  The
tutor/artist Hartright (and his heart is in the right place) narrates:

I looked from the table to the window farthest from me, and saw a lady standing at it, with her back turned towards me.  The
instant my eyes rested on her, I was struck by the rare beauty of her form, and by the unaffected grace of her attitude.  Her figure
was tall, yet not too tall; comely and well-developed, yet not fat; her head set on her shoulders with an easy, pliant firmness; her
waist, perfection in the eyes of a man, for it occupied its natural place, it filled out its natural circle, it was visibly and delightfully
undeformed by stays.  She had not heard my entrance into the room; and I allowed myself the luxury of admiring her for a few
moments, before I moved one of the chairs near me, as the least embarrassing means of attracting her attention.  She turned
towards me immediately. The easy elegance of every movement of her limbs and body as soon as she began to advance from the
far end of the room, set me in a flutter of expectation to see her face clearly.  She left the window--and I said to myself, The lady is
dark.  She moved forward a few steps--and I said to myself, The lady is young.  She approached nearer--and I said to myself (with
a sense of surprise which words fail me to express), The lady is ugly!

That last line still gets to me, so shockingly unconventional.  And needless to say, in the movies, Marian is never ugly.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, January 27, 2006
Spent the evening watching movies, so no links to post today.  But Dan did write in about yesterday's post:
Ed,  T.S. Eliot, I believe was quoted for saying:

"Never commit yourself to a cheese without having first examined it."

And with that in mind I have not committed myself to McIntyre's work, though I did go in search of more of it after reading
today's post. I read the "Oxford Cheese Ode" in its entirety and must admit I found it just as odious.  

Just another quick response. I remembered what Ambrose Bierce had listed in the "Devil's Dictionary" under "Dictionary":

"A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary,
however, is a most useful work."

Dan, I'll quote McIntyre in response to Eliot:

Then let the farmers justly prize
The cows for land they fertilize,
And let us all with songs and glees
Invoke success into the cheese.

It's a great poet who can glorify cowshit and cheese in the same stanza.  Eliot could never do that!  And incidentally, do you
know from whence that Eliot quotation comes?  I did a little googling and while lots of "cheese sites" use it, no one notes its
source.  Any readers out there know if this is a legit attribution?  Just wondering.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, January 26, 2006
Thank God this guy wasn't around when Sam Johnson was making dictionaries:
Dictionary sued for errors.

And Scott McLemee responded to yesterday's post about McGonagall:
Let me point you to the work of
James McIntyre, the great-bad Canadian poet best known for his obsession with dairy

Ode on the Mammoth Cheese
Weight over seven thousand pounds.

We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

McGonagall, move over! (And check out Cogito for more on McIntyre)

And I'll leave you today with a photo just because I thought it was so spectacular:

                                                               Jellyfishing, anyone?                             

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006
A wonderful piece by James Campbell in the Guardian on the virtues of being the "world's worst poet:"

There are a few standard remarks that pursue the name of William McGonagall. He is "the world's worst poet", a writer so bad he is
good. During his lifetime (1825-1902), he was celebrated, with abundant irony, as "
the Great McGonagall". The faint air of risibility
that comes off the name itself, which resembles the noise made when you gargle salt water, was made richer by some students
who, in 1894, sent a letter bestowing on him the elaborate title, "Sir William Topaz McGonagall, Poet and Knight of the White
Elephant, Burmah", a handle he used, without the least knowing wink, until his death at 77, one year after his beloved Queen

One McGonagall fan has even animated some of his poems.  Check out "The Moon."  It's very funny and how could it not
be with such great lines as

Beautiful Moon, with thy silvery light,
Thou cheerest the Esquimau in the night;
For thou lettest him see to harpoon the fish,
And with them he makes a dainty dish.

                                                                      McGonagall ready to beat the
                                                                                                       tar out of prosody
Readers' Comments:
Dan responds to yesterday's post concerning Poetry Please's Romantic readings and Caroline Norton:
Ed, It's like a virtuoso of who's who: Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge and Norton. Wait a second. Norton? Who in
Sam-H-E-double hockey sticks is Caroline Norton? I'm just kidding. I know who she is. She's Richard Sheridan's
granddaughter, right? I love "School for Scandal". Norton wrote "The Sorrows of Rosalie", didn't she? That's okay, I guess,
though I'd rather read about young Wurther's sorrows personally.  
You mentioned you never would have missed her poem. I am assuming you meant from this grouping of readings. How
about never missing it overall? Kick the dang horse in the bullocks and be done with it already. I wondered where else you
could locate this
poem online and I found that more then not, the links led to horse loving pages and not poetry pages. Big
surprise there, huh?
Now don't get me wrong, I know there are many a decent poem out there on horses. Consider:

The strong-neck'd steed, being tied unto a tree,
Breaketh his rein, and to her straight goes he.
Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds,
And now his woven girths he breaks asunder;
The bearing earth with his hard hoof he wounds,
Whose hollow womb resounds like heaven's thunder;
The iron bit he crushes 'tween his teeth,
Controlling what he was controlled with.
William Shakespeare "Venus and Adonis" (274-81)

But maybe "thou'rt sold" is much better. What do I know?

Dan, What I meant by "never would have missed Norton" was that her poem was so bad, I never would have missed it had I
not read it.  Sometimes you find some extraordinary work of lit and you wonder how you ever existed without it.  Your life
was bereft of precisely the one thing it needed: this exquisite configuration of words.  I think this happened to me when I first
read Keats.  It was something like his own experience with "
Chapman's Homer":

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene  
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:  
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies  
When a new planet swims into his ken

Needless to say, reading Norton's pathetic Arab lamenting over the profit of his horse sale did not make a stout Cortez of


The Bibliothacary always welcomes readers' comments.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Some audio literature today:
This week's edition of
Poetry Please on BBC Radio 4 features readings from the 19th century romantics.  There are poems
from Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge.  Also included is Caroline Norton's poem "An Arab's Farewell to His Steed,"
although I never would have missed this silly poem of equine love.  I'd much rather hear Keats' melodic lists of archaisms.  
And the reading of Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight" is great.

You can also listen to a dramatization of Keats' "Eve of St Agnes" (but do it soon, as the "listen again" option usually lasts
only a week after the original broadcast on BBC Radio 4 programs).  As a teenager, I carefully inscribed a stanza of this
magnificent poem onto my bedroom wall, much to my mother's chagrin, considering the particular stanza I chose.  I'm sure
you can guess which one it was.  It seemed every girl I met was another Madeline/Fanny Brawne and, like Keats, I could
only wish myself to be a Porphyro.  Listening to the poem last night, I was taken once again with its dream-like eroticism.  A
nice touch to this dramatization: in the text while Madeline sleeps, Porphyro plays on his lute "an ancient ditty, long since
mute, /   In Provence call’d, “La belle dame sans mercy,” but this production, at that moment also has Porphyro sing, with
accompanying lute, Keats' own ballad, "
La Belle Dame Sans Merci."   This is quite affecting in theis production, although the
relentless tragedy of the merciless one does seem out of place in light of St Agnes' all-too willing lovers.

And keeping this post wholly Romantic, a friend (Philly/Jersey poet David Livewell) just tipped me off to a Ken Russell
movie for Brit television, "
Clouds of Glory," about Wordsworth and Coleridge, starring David Warner and David Hemmings
as the poets.  Wow.  I'd love to see this one.  And Melvyn Bragg helped write it.  I want my BBC!

Readers' Comments:
Scott McLemee wrote to welcome us back and reader Scott J chimed in:

Great to see you back in business.  A real service.  Where else can I find the latest Jane Austen/Conan the Barbarian news?

Actually, I'm not sure I've ever posted on Jane Austen.  I'll have to rectify that soon.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Monday, January 23, 2006
Here's a great piece to start off my return, a Michael Dirda review of the new Conan reissues.  I own a couple of them along
with the Solomon Kane collection, which I mentioned last summer in this blog.  Dirda gives a good intro to
Robert E
Howard, one of my own guilty pleasures.  And guilty is the right word.  Howard's work is at times racist, sexist, and
disturbingly violent. Yet, he's also thrilling and appeals to my repressed Mr Hyde (aren't we all Dr Jekylls?).  See
June 22 in
my archives for why I like Howard and
July 2 for why I don't.

And here's Nicholas Lezard on the new Geoffrey Hill collection, Without Title:

Hill is not the poet to bring up, then, if you wish to succeed in genteel society. His work is the antithesis of almost every
contemporary notion of what a poet should be producing: incalculably learned, forbiddingly allusive, dauntingly complex, fiercely
passionate about English landscape and history, and with what looks like a suspiciously un-left-wing set of political and religious

And please read yesterday's post below to find out where I've been and the call for submissions for The Omnigatherum.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Sunday, January 22, 2006
Well, the Bibliothecary's return in a "few weeks" turned into a few months.  It also turns out that going to graduate school full-
time, while your wife is trying to run a small business, and you have children at home, doesn't work very well.  Actually, it
doesn't work
at all unless you're willing to send your kids to day-care and we decided that we would rather raise them.  So,
school will have to be postponed for a little while (perhaps for only two or three years).  In the meantime, I'll have another go
at maintaining the Bibliothecary Blog.  If you're a new reader, check out the archives.

The Omnigatherum web journal is another project that stalled last year and Dan and I hope to get it off the ground some time
this year.  We'll be happy to take submissions for the inaugural issue.  What are we looking for?  Well-written prose,
unencumbered by critical jargon or obtrusive ideology.  Basically, we enjoy reading essays that reflect the perceptions of
intelligent readers.  Our goal is to create an omnigatherum, so choice of subject matter is wide-open: essays about literature,
about the reading experience, about literary history, about rare editions, about book culture.  For further information, feel
free to
contact us.  And tune in to the Bibliothecary Blog for updates on our progress.    


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.