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February 1 - 11 2006
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Saturday, February 11, 2006
A cornucopia, dare I say, omnigatherum (not just plenty, but variety), of links today:

The Little Professor
has lots of links to "spirit photography" from the 19th and early 20th centuries.  There are some
really great photos of
ghosts concocted by photographers.
I can imagine  
how scary this must
have seemed to many people.  But
I've always drawn the line at
ghost boogers.  And why is it that
I don't believe in ghosts (there are
far too many more believable
explanations than the "dead return
to haunt"), but ghost stories still
scare the bejaysus out of me.  I
can barely leave my study after
reading MR James late at night.  
Comments     





A great site featuring miniature editions of Shakespeare (via News on the Rialto).  Especially beautiful are Polonius' P's and Q's
(in spite of – grrrr – there insistence to use apostrophes for plurals) which opens to become a "three-dimensional carousel
(ca. 13 cm. diameter) of six pop-up/peepshow scenes" and a six-inch scroll of Ariel's Song with the names of the seas
surrounding the British Isles written as waves around the song.  I own one of these collections, the Knickerbocker edition of
Shakespeare's Works in 24 volumes, though the lid of my box has been lost.  The volumes are "bound in various colors and
textures of leather."  I've even read a couple.    
Comments            
















Here are some Highlights of Six Centuries of Master Bookbinding at the Bridwell Library.
Comments

And some leftovers, essays and reviews which have been queued up in my favorites for the last few weeks:

James Fenton
continues his series on biographies with An Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber.  You know what
they say, if you gotta apologize . . .
Comments

A piece on the revival of Howard Brenton's play, The Romans in Britain, a thinly veiled attack on Thatcherite Britain, now
it takes on greater resonance with the current Iraq War.  I remember loving Brenton's
Bloody Poetry about the Shelley-
Byron circle, but that was in my younger, wilder days when I wanted my poets to be rock stars.  I'll have to revisit that one.
Comments

Best of all, a piece by Richard Flanagan on the American writer Nelson Algren features these tidbits:

"Thinking of Melville," wrote Algren at the height of his success, "thinking of Poe, thinking of Mark Twain and Vachel Lindsay,
thinking of Jack London and Tom Wolfe, one begins to feel there is almost no way of becoming a creative writer in America
without being a loser."

and

Algren's characters fail even at failure. They manage to mismanage crime, vice, sin. Nothing is so worthless that it cannot be lost,
and Algren's mean streets are revealed by the passing of time to be both as real and as allegorical as Kafka's courtrooms and castles.
It is a hell, and it is the ultimate test of our humanity.

I haven't read Algren yet (Check out his Paris Review interview).  He keeps slipping under my to-read pile, but every time I
come across a piece onhim I want to drop everything and pick him up.  
Comments

Prosit,
Ed

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, February 10, 2006
"Walt Whitman is, as unacquainted with art, as a hog is with mathematics."
Critic [London] 15 (1 April 1856), 170-1.

Been an unusually busy week for me: book exhibits and symphonies.  On Tuesday, I was at Lehigh University for the
opening of a book exhibition,
Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass.  Turns out Lehigh owns at least one copy of every major first
edition of
Leaves of Grass.  The exhibit is small, but well chosen, featuring the editions of 1855, 1856, 1860 and 1889, and
1930.  Also featured is a
manuscript copy of the poem Whitman wrote for James Greenleaf Whittier, “As the Greek’s Signal
Flame,”

As the Greek's signal flame by antique records told,
(Tally of many a hard strain'd battle, struggle, year-triumphant only at the last)
Rose from the hill-top like applause and glory,
Welcoming in fame some special veteran, patriot, hero
With rosy tinge reddening the land he'd served.
So I aloft from Mannahatta's ship-fringed shore,
Lift high a kindled brand for thee Old Poet.

Little did Whitman know that after first reading Leaves of Grass, so appalled was Whittier that he threw the book into the
fire.  Did Whitman know this?  Could there be irony in his paean to Whittier, Whitman's "kindled brand" being his own book,
set aflame by Whittier, but now become the successor signal flame of poetry?  Of course, that is how the works have played
out in history so far.  

Critical response to
Leaves of Grass has always been harsh and at the exhibition, Ed Whitley (who wrote the exhibition
text) quoted several of them.  
This British one, quoted at the top of today's blog post, from 1856 was particularly interesting:

We had ceased, we imagined, to be surprised at anything that America could produce. We had become stoically indifferent to her
Woolly Horses, her Mermaids, her Sea Serpents, her Barnums, and her Fanny Ferns; but the last monstrous importation from
Brooklyn, New York, has scattered our indifference to the winds.

Strange how times have changed.  Reading this review, I think to myself, "Hey, I want to read about Woolly Horses and
Mermaids.  Sounds exciting."  Don't think I would have made a proper Victorian gentleman.  The critique goes on,

We should have passed over this book, Leaves of Grass, with indignant contempt, had not some few Transatlantic critics attempted
to 'fix' this Walt Whitman as the poet who shall give a new and independent literature to America - who shall form a race of poets
as Banquo's issue formed a line of kings. Is it possible that the most prudish nation in the world will adopt a poet whose indecencies
stink in the nostrils? We hope not . . .

Not too often these days is prudery, by name, elevated to such lofty status.  Even if someone is a prude, you don't hear them
declare, "Yes, I am a prude, thank God" or worse, "Yes, we are a nation of prudes, built upon a foundation of sound
prudery, and we'll none of your loose ways."  

But the most interesting part of this review is here:

His poems - we must call them so for convenience - twelve in number, are innocent of rhythm, and resemble nothing so much as
the war-cry of the Red Indians. Indeed, Walt Whitman has had near and ample opportunities of studying the vociferations of a few
amiable savages. Or rather perhaps, this Walt Whitman reminds us of Caliban flinging down his logs, and setting himself to write a
poem. In fact Caliban, and not Walt Whitman, might have written this:
I too am not a bit tamed - I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Now here's the major difference of the ages.  Today, this passage would make a great blurb for a book of poetry.  There's
many a poet would love to be crowned a Caliban, "flinging down his logs."  And I want to read a poet like that.
Comments

And Wednesday night, I went to the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia (everyone repeat after me, "The Athens of America) to
see the Berlin Staatskapelle play an all-Mozart program, Symphony 39, Piano Concerto 23, and Symphony 41 (the
Jupiter).  The real treat of the evening
was that  Daniel Barenboim
was conducting and
performing (while conducting)
the Piano Concerto.  
Barenboim doesn't disappoint.  
He's an exciting performer
with baton and while the
orchestra may have rushed
through some of the music,
it was always thrilling.  The
second movement of the
Piano Concerto was
especially lovely, languid and
longingly played.  I have a                                               
Photograph by Evelyn Taylor
couple friends who work at the
Kimmel and one of them was backstage taking photos (the other was seated beside me).  Backstage, Simon Rattle (in town,
as well) paid a visit to chat with Barenboim and my friend snapped a great photo of the two.  Check out the
Kimmel blog for
other reactions to the show.

And here's an
essay from the TLS a couple weeks ago, What Mozart and Sid Vicious have in common.  If only Wolfgang
(an appropriately punk name) had Steve Jones on guitar.  One can dream.
Comments

Prosit,
Ed

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006
"Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination"
is at Tate Britain.  
A
review in the Guardian:

There is one piece in this show that sinks
its teeth into my brain every time I see it:
The Ghost of a Flea, by Blake. This is a
report by Alan Cunningham of how John
Varley saw Blake make the initial drawing:

"I'll tell you all about it, sir. I called on
him one evening, and found Blake more
than usually excited. He told me he had
seen a wonderful thing - the ghost of a
flea! 'And did you make a drawing of him?'
I inquired. 'No, indeed,' said he, 'I wish I
had, but I shall, if he appears again!' He
looked earnestly into a corner of the
room, and said, 'There he is - reach me
my things - I shall keep my eye on him.
There he comes! His eager tongue
whisking out of his mouth, a cup in his
hand to hold blood and covered with a
scaly skin of gold and green,' - as he
described him so he drew him."                                                                       
More Blake illustrations

As if the painting isn't horrifying enough, I am now beset with the vision that Blake actually experienced this creature, like
some MR James creature come to life.  If any readers out there go to see this show (I know there are a couple of you across
the Atlantic Ocean), please write to me and give me your impressions.
Comments

And a related piece by Christopher Frayling on the link between gothic fiction and Hammer horror films.  

While I'm on the gothic theme, I'll mention the
Zittaw Gothic Press.  They publish both scholarly editions and hand-sewn
facsimile chapbooks of obscure gothic tales of the early 19th century.  I haven't bought anything from them yet (they aren't
very expensive), but I am very tempted by their reprints of the great Shakespearean forger, William Henry Ireland.  I haven't
read any of his
gothic tales.  Some day, I'll find the magic lamp and I'll wish for books to rain down upon me.
Comments

Readers' Comments
Dan writes in on the Shakes-inspired fury in Germany:
Ed, Thanks for linking that Shakespeare story.
Titus has long been my favorite of Shakespeare's work and it is nice to see
theater getting reactions somewhere on the globe. It can be an uncomfortable play, but it is surprising that a 21st century
audience, conditioned to violence through everything form video games to CNN can still "get off on it", to misquote the
article.  
Dan

Dan, Wouldn't call it my favorite, but I have always enjoyed
Titus.  What surprised me about the audience reaction was their
assumption that the performers were enjoying themselves too much, that the audience could not differentiate between actor
and character.  Perhaps this confusion is to expected in a Brechtian theatrescape in which artifice is always illuminated.  But I
can't help but wonder how I would react seeing an all-too-real production of
Titus.  

Prosit,
Ed

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.


Monday, February 6, 2006
German theatregoers storm the stage over violence in
an adaptation of Shakespeare's
Titus Andronicus.  
Somehow I don't think American theatregoers would
get this stirred up.  Then again, in America, this
production wouldn't be able to find financing to begin
with
(via News on the Rialto).
Comments

A piece in the London Times Magazine on
authenticating
Shakesportraits for the coming soon
National Portrait Gallery show, Searching for
Shakespeare
(via BookWorld).                                                    The Sanders Portrait
Comments

Prosit,
Ed

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Sunday, February 5, 2006
Just found this Clive James website.  There was article about it in the NY Sun.  James has included lots of interesting articles
and audio lectures on literature and video interviews in which James has conversations with his subjects in his library,
featuring among others, Martin Amis, Simon Callow, Julian Barnes, Terry Gilliam and Jonathan Miller.  I watched the Gilliam
interview and they spend some time discussing the great "
Brazil."
Comments

Some leftover links from last week that I wanted to mention:

Sometimes I wish I lived in New York: a Boris Karloff
film retrospective.

Western Union's
last telegram has been sent.

A
short piece by James Fenton on Wordsworth and his French mistress, Annette Vallon.


And best of all, Germaine Greer
writes about the John Donne
portrait that graced my Penguin Classics edition of his poems
back when I first read the poet in college.  I remember being
immediately taken by the image.  Here was a poet, sensuous
(his full, red lips), melancholic (the blackness surrounding him),
cavalier (the frill of his collar), petulant (the lips again, but also
the folded arms) and, perhaps above all rakish (the tilt of his
hat).  I wanted to read this poet.  And, of course,
the words
do not disappoint.
Comments


On BBC Radio 4 this week:

A comic dramatization in five parts (Mon – Fri) of Hogarth and his Harlot's Progress.

On Thursday a
dramatization of Wordsworth's poem, "Michael."

On Friday a
program on why we crime stories are so popular (perfect for me with my new Bruen obsession).

And an hour-long
program on Saturday, hosted by Colm Toibin, on Irish storytellers.
Comments

Prosit,
Ed

Saturday, February 4, 2006
I've been caught up in reading Ken Bruen's crime novels this week.  At his book (Wheelman) signing, Duane Swierczynski
recommended I buy Bruen's
The Guards (see Secret Dead Blog).  And I haven't been able to read anything else this week.  
The Guards was like prose heroin.  I had to have more.  I had to have more immediately.  No waiting around for a dealer to
show.  Worst of all, I was broke (thanks, Keeler, see yesterday's post).  So I hit the local library for a fix.  Picked up the
next two books in the Jack Taylor series (
Guards was the first), read the second, The Killing of the Tinkers, and am
halfway through the
The Magdalen Martyrs (I'd have finished it if not for these meddlin' kids!).  Bruen is not just addictive
because he writes compelling crime story plots.  I think I love him more for his style.  And
The Guards (the best of the
bunch so far) is less concerned with the plot than with developing the characters, especially the lead, Jack Taylor.  Crime
fiction usually focuses on the crime (as does most genre fiction focus on the point or plot of its genre).  With Bruen, the crime
is in the background.  There are times when it is so offstage that I forget about it completely.  And Bruen even designs it this
way:  the crime has already happened.  Taylor never meets the victim.  Encounters with the bad guys are very brief (but very
violent, beatings rain down on Taylor).  What we get is a character study of a washed-out, drunk ex-cop in the city of
Galway.  And poetry.

The poetry surprised me the most in
The Guards.  Characters celebrate it, write it, read it, find solace in it.  Previous Bruen
novels are littered with poets in their titles:
Rilke on Black, Her Last Call to Louis Macneice, Dispathing Baudelaire.  
And like the best sparse, noir writing, Bruen's prose falls into rhythms of its own.  He has a trick of making little lists (usually
three words, sometimes more) that finish his short paragraphs.  On the first page:

I'd been to the wire.  Numerous
  Cautions
  Warnings
  Last chances
  Reprieves
And I still didn't shape up.

And later he writes:

The he was gone.  My clothes were
Washed
 Ironed
 Folded
at the end of the bed.

Bruen could just add commas, fold these lists into his lines, but by stretching them down the page, I am forced into another
rhythm.  I read them like a cadence amidst the flow of his prose.  Like a chant.

I'd recommend Bruen's books to you, but they'll probably take over your reading table.  So I'll just provide you with a
Reader's General Warning:

This is highly addictive stuff.  You can take with alcohol, but don't operate any heavy machinery.

Some Bruen Links:

His website, providing an overview of his novels.

A
good bio from the Irish Echo.

A
great interview at Noir Originals.

A
great interview with Swierczynski at Hard Luck Stories.

And two radio interviews (
one, two) at Rattlebag.

I can't get enough of this guy.
Comments

Readers' Comments
A reader  responds to yesterday's comments on Philadelphia Eagles fans. Wow, we sure got sidetracked: I mentioned The
Wheelman
is set in Philly and we end up writing about Santa Claus and a 1968 Eagles game.  I love Philadelphia:

Ed,  While you're right that Eagles fans had as much right to boo a fraudulent Santa Clause as they did a fraudulent football
team, I can see no reason why we can't boo the real Santa Clause.  
Read the rest here.

Prosit,
Ed

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, February 3, 2006
Well, I broke down and bought The Riddle of the Traveling Skull (see Monday's post).  When you have five kids and
your wife is struggling to make a go of her own business, any money
not spent on food, electricity, gas and tobacco is
always hard to part with.  But when I saw Keeler's book on that bookstore shelf, I couldn't resist (Okay, okay, what was I
doing in the bookstore to begin with?).  But the presentation by the publisher (
Collins Library, division of McSweeney's) is
really a standout, especially shelved next to the hideously mundane bindings that currently pass as books (Caxton would
weep).  
Riddle has a taut, sewn binding with three-quarter cloth over boards.  The cloth is a kelly green and the spine and
corners are a reddish brown.  Sorry, I'm no whiz with color varieties, but the brown is almost chocolate.  Looks very tasty.  
The title is embossed into the front board and below it is a cut-out, oval sticker featuring just the skull from the original
dustjacket artwork (see Monday's post for the skull).  The endpapers are a slightly redder chocolate and the text is printed
on beautiful thick, white paper.  I wish there was a colophon to tell me what kind of script is used.  Whatever it is, I like it.  
Let's just hope the text is as satisfying as the paper it is printed on.  

And some serendipitous connections with this blog and
Riddle:
The editor of the new edition is Paul Collins, whose blog,
Weekend Stubble, I very much like and read every weekend.
And, I just discovered that he is the author of the
The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Tom Paine,
which I provided links to in yesterday's post.  Strange.  Three posts this week have a Paul Collins connection.  Completely
coincidental. Now that's
serendipity!
Comments

Some more tasty book bindings.  Another article on anthropodermic bibliopegy, that is, books bound in human skin.
Comments

Readers' Comments
Scott J writes in concerning Dan's comments yesterday on the Philadelphia post:

Ed, I, too, am upset that Philly is known for booing Santa Clause.  The fact is we threw snowballs at him.  What's more, he
deserved it.

Scott, Ah yes, throwing snowballs at Santa.  Philly haters always trot out that one.  Actually, that incident occurred way back
in 1968.  The Eagles organization had greatly insulted their loyal fans by fielding a terrible team that went 2-12 that year.  To
top it all off, they corralled some 19 year-old, skinny kid, in a bad Santa suit and beard to partake in a halftime Christmas
celebration.  As if trying to pass off that collection of players as a football were not bad enough, they couldn't even hire a
decent Santa.  That's why he was booed (and pelted).  Really, the fans were disgusted with the gall of the Eagles' owners.  If
you took your kids to see Santa and the store had some scraggly, sad-sack teenager in a  bad suit and beard, and there
happened to be a pile of snow nearby, you'd be sorely tempted to pelt him, too.  Eagles fans just had the guts to do what
was necessary.  And in Philadelphia, Santa always receives a warm welcome when he arrives in the Thanksgiving Day
Parade.  So yes, Scott, there is a Santa Claus, but if anyone tries to pass off a lame imitation, you may boo him, heartily.  

Prosit,
Ed

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, February 2, 2006
A great Scott McLemee column on "Oprah studies."
Comments

And two reviews, from the Telegraph and London Times on the new book about Thomas Paine and the long strange trip of
his remains, both corporeal and intellectual, after his death.
Comments

Readers' Comments
In my mini-review of Swierczynski's The Wheelman in yesterday's post, I mentioned my favorite appellation of the city of
Philadelphia, the "
Athens of America."  'Course I'm biased.  I was born and raised there and am now just a short ten minute
trip outside the city limits.  Dan, banished to a teaching post in the wilderness of Roswell, New Mexico, also likes the
"Athens" nickname:

Ed, Say it again please, "the Athens of America". Please say it again. I keep arguing with New Mexicans about this very
thing. There is this inaccurate depiction of Philly as this horrible place that is just for thugs: a place that boos Santa Claus.
How do we get past that?
If more people read the great novels that come out of our town and took the time to get to know us, they'd see exactly what
you said. I am going to pick up Swierczynski's book (when I say pick up, I mean order it since this New Mexican town has
no real bookstores!). Of course by your description, it sounds like the kind of thing I could get into, but at the same time the
kind of book these people would use as evidence for their argument. Hmmnnn...
Dan

Dan, Yes I love the city too, but
The Wheelman
might just help prove the "thugs" argument.  But
we have such lovable thugs!  And before some
Bostonian writes in to protest that Beantown is
called the Athens of America (and if you google
that nickname, almost all of your hits will refer to
Boston), I am fairly certain that the Boston use
of Athens came much later than Philadelphia's  
claim.  Philadelphia was dubbed the new Athens
in the 18th century by those who visited the fair
city.  Boston, I think, only used this appellation
much later (perhaps as late as the 20th century)
and of course, it was a self-given nickname.  A
nickname doesn't count if you come up with it
yourself. And here's a
piece from Carlin Romano
on how Philly might once again be the literary
Athens.                                                                                
More Photos of the Athens of America
Comments

And MPH is back on the blog scene again.  Check out his cultural tirades or turntable picks or his fiction.  Welcome back,
Michael.

Prosit,
Ed

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Michael Winterbottom's new Tristram Shandy movie has just started its release (New York City right now, the rest of the
artistically impoverished country a few weeks later).  Martin Rowson writes a very
Shandean review in the Telegraph.  This
was a lot of fun to read.  I would love for a reviewer to take this approach on a regular basis: digressive ramblings that may
or may not be relevant to the movie, but are, in some small way, tenuously connected.  For the less adventurous readers (like
you'd admit it) or just the completists, there are also a reviews in
Salon and the NYTimes.

All of the reviews make hay of the fact that this "classic" novel is also unread (but isn't this the case for all "classics"?).  
Apparently, the movie makes a point of this, as well.  Well, I have to plead guilty to this one.  
Shandy is on my list of books
that I have always wanted to read, but just never seem to get around to them.  Also on this list is
Don Quixote, Goethe's
Faust, The Decameron, Lolita, Ulysses.  I can't go on because this is the kind of list that always embarrasses a book snob
like myself.  Never enough time.  Never enough time.  Never enough time.
Comments

But you can take Swierczynski's The Wheelman off my Classics to Read (see Monday's post).  I stayed up to the wee
hours of the morning on Sunday night to finish it.  Well, maybe 2:30 AM isn't that late to some people, but when you've got
five kids, it's late.  Believe me.  Took me most of yesterday to recover.  
Wheelman is a crime novel set in Philadelphia (the
Athens of America).  Bank heist gone awry.  Lots of bad guys (actually, I don't think there is a good guy in sight).  Lots of
killing.  The title character is mute (shades of Willeford's
Cockfighter).  Very well-paced with a good plot (but can you
dance to it?).  Buy a copy.  You won't be disappointed.  
Comments

Prosit,
Ed

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.