The Bibliothecary
July 2006

Monday, July 31, 2006
Dominic Dromgoole's review in the London Times of Stanley
Shakespeare and Co. reveals my own deathbed fantasy:

It was a time and a place teeming with excitement, anecdote and
incident, and Wells, in this richly enjoyable work, brings it to life
with a novelist’s sense of the telling detail. My favourite one was a
description of the perfunctory death of John Fletcher’s father; “His
life came to a peaceful if abrupt end. Smoking a pipe of tobacco in
his house in Chelsea on the evening of June 15, 1596 he said to his
servant, ‘Boy, I die’, and expired on the spot.”

Enjoying a pipe to the very end.  I should be so lucky.  Mr.
Fletcher, I'm smoking this pipe for you.

And quite by chance, a new edition to Project Gutenberg posted
yesterday is one of the great pipe-smoking novels (perhaps the
greatest), J.M. Barrie's
My Lady Nicotine, a Study in Smoke.
This edition is so chock full of illustrations by M.R. Prendergast
that it may take a couple minutes to download, but it is worth the
time.  You can puff away while you wait.  The pipe smoking men
to the right are from the book.  The novel is ostensibly about a
new husband's attempt to give up smoking, but it is also a paean,
an ode, a celebration of the joys of smoking camaraderie and the
solemn benediction of smoking solitude.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes addictive comments.

Sunday, July 30, 2006
Some good reading today:

A piece on James Joyce and the turbulence in his personal life that led him to write his only play, Exiles:

His efforts to have it produced were Herculean and sometimes ludicrous. He enlisted the services of a chancer, Jules Martin, whose
theatrical taste was for music hall and between them they conceived the rash idea of asking Mrs Edith Rockefeller McCormick, a
capricious heiress who lived in the Hotel Baur au Lac, to play the part of Bertha, her accomplishments being nothing more than her
furs, her clothes and her diamonds. The play was rejected by managements in England, Ireland and America. George Bernard
Shaw, a decisive voice for the English Stage Company, found it obscene, but then Joyce had regarded Shaw as "a born preacher".
Rejecting it on behalf of the Abbey Theatre, W B Yeats wrote a polite but tepid letter, adding how very great Portrait of the Artist

Maud Newton links to an a piece from May 2000 in The Atlantic about the great hard-boiled writer, Charles Willeford:

As a very young man, Willeford considered himself a poet, and he continued to write poetry throughout his life. His real writing
career, though, began with a series of eight novels published as pulp paperbacks in the 1950s and early 1960s. In them Willeford
fashioned his own brand of hard-boiled prose. But he was not writing for the pulp market; that was simply where he was able to
sell his work. In his first book, High Priest of California (1953), a used-car salesman goes to great lengths to seduce an innocent
woman for sport, gravely disrupting her life. But the writing is hardly lurid, and the protagonist is anything but what you might
expect. He listens to Bartók while reading T. S. Eliot aloud, and as a hobby he rewrites Ulysses in contemporary American

And from Project Gutenberg, a vintage Tom Corbett Space Cadet Adventure from 1953, this one entitled, The Space
.  How can it be anything but a joy to read a book with the first line:

"Go on, Astro," shouted the young Space Cadet. "Boot that screwy ball with everything you've got!"


Bush pulled a paralo-ray gun from his belt and said, "All right, march!"

No, that's not a political joke.  That's the actual caption for the illustration.  Besides, Cheney won't let Bush use the paralo-
ray gun.

Booting this screwy Sunday with everything I've got,

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Saturday, July 29, 2006
I really like this series of articles in the City Paper on wandering walks in Philadelphia, especially the intro by Duane (I used
to work on the stretch of Castor Ave that he writes about) and the
piece by Patrick Rapa (damn fine prose, great style).  

                                                           And speaking of Duane, the other day
he linked to this great set of Men's Action
                                                           Paperback covers  posted by Bill Crider.
                                                           There are at least a dozen here that I love,
                                                           but I think
Ryker #2: The Hammer of
is my favorite because of the cover
Sgt. Ryker swore to nail the homicidal monk
                                                           on a cross of bullets.

                                                           And not for the faint of heart, here's a great
video of an episode of Deadwood, edited
                                                           down to include just the cursing.  Yes, just
                                                           the swear words.  Two minutes and thirty-
                                                           two seconds of pure cussin'.  Glorious.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes the comments of axe-wielding, homicidal monks who can swear up a
fuckin' storm in the Old West.

Friday, July 28, 2006
A roundup of articles I didn't get to yet this week, but they sound interesting:

William Empson's
Selected Letters is reviewed in the LRB:

Accused in the Partisan Review of quoting inaccurately (from memory) in Seven Types of Ambiguity, Empson writes: ‘I do not see
that the mistakes he quotes make much difference. Indeed, this idea of checking your quotations as an absolute duty is fairly recent,
and not always relevant; for instance Hazlitt habitually quoted from memory, and commonly a bit wrong, but he was writing very
good criticism.’ This is breezy, but the ways in which Empson won’t let anyone be God, not even himself, are always instructive
and often amusing. Hazlitt, another critic whose only method was to be very intelligent – i.e. not bullied – is mentioned several times
in these letters as an ally for whom writing very good criticism was incompatible with the need never to be wrong.

Yevgeny Zamyatin's overlooked dystopian novel, We, profiled in the Boston Globe:

Written a decade before Aldous Huxley's ``Brave New World," its influence can be seen in George Orwell's ``1984," and it has been
hailed as a warning of the totalitarian dangers inherent in every utopian scheme. (Orwell, who believed Huxley had read ``We,"
wrote in 1946, three years before ``1984" was published, that Zamyatin's ``intuitive grasp of the irrational side of totalitarianism-
human sacrifice, cruelty as an end in itself" made the novel ``superior to Huxley's.")

Both 1984 and Brave New World are on my "Classics that I Haven't Yet Read" list.  I know, I know, for shame.  I should
have read these books many years ago, but I was too busy reading obscure Arthurian Lit.  They have both been creeping up
to the top of the list lately and now I'll have to add
We.  The list never ends.

WW I spy Mata Hari profiled in The Age:

In the pantheon of female spies, Mata Hari reigns supreme. She is the flesh-and-blood prototype of all those James Bond women -
femme fatales with semi-automatic rifles in their pea-sized French knickers. Just like them, Mata Hari was a seductress in a league
of her own - the kind that only a saint or a fool could resist. However, unlike them and Dame Stella, there has never been any
conclusive proof that Mata Hari was actually a spy.

A review of Stanley Wells' Shakespeare and Co. reveals these interesting trivial bits:

3 There are some 228 copies of the First Folio in existence. Their total value is around three times the GDP of Gambia.

4 Other famous William Shakespeares include a University of Notre Dame American football player from the 1930s.

5 Macbeth is famous for being Shakespeare's unlucky play. When John Gielgud directed it in 1942, one of the witches died of a
heart attack, another collapsed and died onstage while dancing around the cauldron and the actor playing Duncan died too. For good
measure, the set designer committed suicide.

7 Stalin banned Hamlet because his 'indecisiveness' was 'incompatible with Soviet optimism, fortitude, and clarity'.

9 Pirates are a recurrent theme in Shakespeare.
Pericles features pirates onstage; Measure for Measure
uses a dead pirate's head; Hamlet is captured off-stage
by a gang of pirates. Meanwhile, Shakespeare in Love
shows Shakespeare contemplating writing a play called
'Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter'.

Ah, if only Shakes had written a full-length Pirate
play?  That would be heaven.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' piratical comments.

Thursday, July, 27, 2006
A link to Lew Jaffe's Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie has been circulating the litblogs lately.  Some very cool stuff there.  
I've seen it mentioned at a couple places including
BibliOdyssey, which also has some great bookplates and more links.  For
years I've wanted to design my own bookplate and I've come up with a couple of sketches, but haven't taken the time to
have it executed.  Some day.  A long time favorite bookplate of mine is Philadelphia writer and book-collector, A. Edward
Newton's, featuring Samuel Johnson at Old Temple Bar in London (you can
see it here, but the picture is small).  In The
Amenities of Book-Collecting
, Newton describes it:

The book-plate illustrates an incident described in Boswell.  Johnson and Goldsmith were walking one day n the Poet's Corner of
Westminster Abbey.  Looking at the graves, Johnson solemnly repeated a line from a Latin poet, which might be freely translated,
"Perchance some day our
names will mingle with these." [Foristan et nostrum nomen miscebitur istis. Ovid, Art. Am. iii. 339]  As
they strolled home through the Strand, Goldsmith's eye lighted upon the heads of two traitors rotting on the spikes over Temple Bar
. . . pointing to the heads and giving Johnson quotation a twist, Goldsmith remarked, "Perhaps some day our
heads will mingle with

On the bookplate, you can just make out the heads on the spikes.  The motto Newton chose is also from Boswell, "Sir, the
biographical part of literature is what I love the most."  It's all very high-brow literary stuff, but the macabre humor of the
severed heads and the lack of explanation to the scene on the bookplate itself gives it such charm.   

And don't miss this post at BibliOdyssey, images from Speculum Humanae Salvationis (Mirror of Human Salvation).  
My favorite:



The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006
There's a piece in the NY Times about City Hall, my favorite building in Philadelphia (repeat after me, everyone, "The Athens
of America"):

City Hall has always been an impressive sight. It remains the loftiest masonry load-bearing building in the world, supported not by a
steel skeleton but by stone and brick stacked upon more stone and brick. Its 548-foot tower — surpassing all the cathedrals of
Europe — is topped by the largest statue on any building, anywhere: a 37-foot-high William Penn, the city’s founder, standing as tall
as a town house. It is said to have the largest clocks on any building; it would loom over Big Ben.

City Hall is a garish, beautiful monster.  I've always been fascinated by it.  Its sculptural details overwhelm you.  You can see
lots of ornamental details on this
virtual tour site.  

My father worked in City Hall for most of his adult life, so I spent many years of my childhood there (I even worked there a
couple summers while in college).  If you ever visit City Hall, go to the
Prothonotary's office on the second floor.  You'll find
a portrait of my father inside.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments (especially about the Athens-icity of Philadelphia).

Monday, July 24, 2006
Umberto Eco on madman geniuses (genii?) in his review of Paul Collins' wonderful Banvard's Folly:

On various occasions I have written about "literary madmen," but they are not merely a fixation of mine. I find that reflecting upon
outlandish theories that were taken seriously for a long time teaches one to distrust many ideas that are accorded full credence in the
media, and even in some scientific circles

James Fenton writes about the Reverend Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley's  "Reminiscences of Wordsworth among the
Peasantry of Westmoreland":

Wordsworth's hobby, says one witness, was poetry. "It was a queer thing, but it would like eneuf cause him to be desolate; and I'se
often thowt that his brain was that fu' of sic stuff, that he was forced to be always at it whether or no, wet or fair, mumbling to
hissel' along t'roads."

Queer, desolate, sick, mumbling.  That pretty much sums it up for a poet.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Sunday, July 23, 2006
For your reading enjoyment on this fine Sunday:

A new biography of John Donne yields two reviews, one from Andrew Motion and one from Peter Ackroyd, both of course
with punning titles on the great poet's surname:
Donne Undone and Superbly Well Done.  Of course, Donne himself was
known to make quips, too:

He relates how Donne, on the brink of a glorious career, risked all by marrying secretly, and without proper consent, the daughter
of a wealthy and influential family. It is said that after the clandestine wedding he chalked on the back of a door, “John Donne.
Anne Donne. Undone”

A piece on an Irish poet who is not Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon:

"Heaney is a Wordsworth man and I'm a Coleridge man. I love the poetry, and the trajectory of his life has always fascinated me.
His Biographia is a complete mess, but is still full of the most wonderful stuff."

A TLS review of  Simon Callow's second volume in his Orson Welles' biography:

Failed promise and squandered talent are treacherous themes. It is not just that they prod readers to tell biographers, “You try”, but
that they focus unduly on might-have-beens. Too much written about Welles treats him as the counterpart of Charles Foster Kane,
his megalomaniac press baron who rockets up and plummets down, without our finding out why. This idle approach maps the
enigmatic fall of Kane onto the puzzling failures of Welles and then asks, fruitlessly, was Hollywood or Welles to blame?

And an interview with the creators of the great British horror film, The Wicker Man, about its influence on contemporary Brit
folk musicians.  
A remake of The Wicker Man by Neil LaBute is due later this year:

You can't avoid it, really. It's a fairly obvious reference point for a lot of the new music being made. Somehow it has become
electronica plus folk equals The Wicker Man, and all kinds of disparate things have been joined together by this film. By mentioning
The Wicker Man you evoke a traditional influence from a modern perspective. We look with modern eyes at these old traditions; we
are observing from the outside. That's what the film does.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Saturday, July 22, 2006
One of my favorite sites to visit is Lost Films (or Found Cameras or Found Film, the name of the site is unclear), consisting
of photographs developed from film found in old cameras.  Sometimes the roll of film relates a story,
like this one: a soldier's
stay in Italy (circa WWII?), his trip home on the ship for the wounded (even shots of the Statue of Liberty as the ship nears
America), then home, family, wife, children, return to duty after convalescence, then home again.  Or sometimes the cameras
yield stunning portraits of
persons or families.  Check out this bleak Christmas series from the 1950s.  The first shot is so
creepy.  And check out
this roll of a family vacation.  Some beautiful portraits, including this stunner:


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, July 21, 2006
I had to share this link to the Library Journal I found over at Bookninja:

Taking aim at the English-only movement in this country, including ballot measures to establish English as an official language and
the attempt by the Gwinnett County Public Library, GA, to stop purchasing Spanish-language materials, San Francisco Supervisor
Gerardo Sandoval has offered a solution. His resolution states that the Board of Supervisors should make Shakespearean English the
city's official language. Moreover, the local newspapers, should "submit all queries, both written and verbal, in the Bard's tongue."
And the San Francisco Public Library should "cease immediately the acquisition of all books that are not written in proper
Shakespearean English and to dispose immediately of any existing books in the library's collection that do not meet this criteria." To
which we quote Hamlet: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't."

The actual resolution can be read here in pdf.  I love the part about San Francisco's "cultural heritage" being "under attack
from immigrant groups like Latinos and speakers of other foreign languages like Sanskrit."  

Here's a piece on Ken Bruen from a segment that ran on CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood.  I was so mad that I
missed it because for years I've watched that show religiously (I guess it replaced Sunday morning church, or perhaps it was
my way of alleviating
Sunday Morning Coming Down) until just a couple months ago.  The show was getting so dumbed
down.  I mean, a profile of Kenny Rogers?!  Are they kidding me?  I figured it was only a matter of time before I saw a
piece on the cultural significance of NASCAR or redneck comedians or Barry Manilow.  Oh, wait a minute, they did a
segment on Manilow.  So my jaw dropped when I found out they featured Bruen, the bleakest (and best) noir writer now
out there.  Now I'll have to tune in again on Sunday mornings.  Where have you gone
Charles Kuralt?  Our nation turns its
lonely eyes to you.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006
More summer crime reading:

A Ticket to Hell by Harry Whittington.  Whittington (not the guy Cheney shot in the face, although that would make a good
scene in this novel) is a classic noir writer and
Ticket was reissued by Black Lizard in the 80s.  A little too much hope in
Ticket for the noir banner, but the story is gripping and effective.  Whittington described it as "the battered knight tilting
against terrible odds and for no promise of reward."  And any book that starts with a guy being pushed out of a speeding
Porsche in the middle of the desert has gotta be worth reading.

Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips.  1950s Hollywood.  Pornography.  Drugs.  Serious beatings.  And a great description of
what blood smells like: "half new copper penny, half raw beef."  And I love this bit of literary criticism from a noir narrator:

I only buy books by people I wish I wrote like.  I had some Hawthorne, some Irwin Shaw, and some John Dos Passos.  I had
some Hemingway, but he tires me, and if we knew each other we'd have to fight.  I had some Flannery O'Connor, but she makes
me want to put my head in the oven.  I had some Chekhov.  I don't care about who's a Russky.  If Chekhov's a Commie, then I
wish I was one, too.  But let me tell you, when it comes to writing about war, give me Stephen Crane.  You can have Tolstoy.  You
can keep him.  The son of a bitch never crossed out a sentence in his life.

That's pretty good book advice.

361 by Donald E. Westlake.  This was the
best of the week and my first
Westlake novel.
A real gem of hardboiled noir writing.  The
narrator is ruthless and violent and when
people die, there is no melodrama.  Bullets
strike matter-of-factly but with jarring impact.
You can read the
first chapter here.   Like
Max Phillips above, Westlake delves into a
little lit crit, but his narrator sets the bar high
for his own creator:

It was simpler for lead characters in the
books.  They suffered, they involved
themselves with tense and driven people, they
handled sudden death like a commodity in a
secondary market.  But when it was all
finished, they were unchanged.  What they had
walked through had left no mark at all on them.
It would be nice to believe that.  But the
writers were blandly lying.  They weren't using
up their lead character, because they needed
him in the next book in the series.

Westlake proves himself no liar.  What could be just an action hero cliche is much, much more.  I can't wait to read
Parker novels.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.  

Monday, July 17, 2006
On my summer vacation, I read about gangsters, drunken sailors, ex-cons, and murderers being shot, strangled, beaten,
thrown from speeding cars, driven over cliffs, and imprisoned.  And I didn't need to buy one issue of the
Inquirer.  Thanks to Hard Case Crime and Black Lizard.  The reading:

The Confession by Domenic Stansberry.  Finely and tautly written, Stansberry kept me guessing about the killer just long
enough.  Also features one of my favorite themes: the connection between memory and identity.  More I cannot say without
giving away too much of the plot.

Home Is the Sailor by Day Keene.  A classic femme fatale noir from the 1950s.  Great, starkly written opening:  "It was
night.  It was hot.  The sea wasn't far away."
And how can you not love the line, "My love was a high class tramp."  Keene writes the real stuff.

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King.  Easily the worst of the bunch this week.  I can't even claim to having read it because I
gave up after the first chapter.  I'm sure he gave Hard Case lots of publicity and sales, but, man, this book doesn't belong
anywhere near the others.  It starts off like a cozy, not a hard-boiled noir.  Hello!  McFly!  This is HARD CASE crime.  Not
two old reporters from a Maine newspaper mentoring their plucky, young female sidekick with pearls of wisdom in their
Gorton's Fishermen's accent (King gives us the phonological significance of
ayuh).  I couldn't decide whether Colorado Kid
was a rejected episode of
Matlock or Diagnosis Murder.  Could have been Murder She Wrote, but Angela Lansbury has
better taste (although Tom Bosley would have been good casting).  Even the writing was dreadful.  How can someone who
has written so any best-selling books, still write like shit?  

More summer reading tomorrow.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Sunday, July 16, 2006
Well, not only did I turn my computer off for the week, I was not even near it.  We took the kids to the shore.  A solid week
of the beach, the boardwalk and amusement rides.  Unfortunately for me in that I do not like the beach (sand), the
boardwalk (non-smoking, not that I always complied), nor rides (veritgo).  But all was not lost.  I had a good time with our
baby chasing seagulls on the beach and with our three-year old on the toddler rides.  Best of all, my wife gave me lots of time
to read and smoke my pipe on the porch of our rental house.  I brought a stack of
Hard Case Crime novels and my goal was
to read a book a day.  This all worked out fine until day six, when I learned the engine of my beloved mini-van had breathed
its last and would not be carrying us home.  A few hours on the phone and lots of attempted plans to secure passage for a
family of seven and more stuff than a family of seven should rightfully take on vacation pretty much ate up the final day and a
half of my reading time.  But we all made it home (and so did our stuff) and I am happy to be in my reading chair once again.  
Tune in tomorrow to find out what I read on my summer vacation  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, July 7, 2006
Just finished David Goodis' Of Tender Sin, a
whirling trip of guilt, madness and drug addiction
set in an icy Philadelphia winter.  First line:

It began with a shattered dream.

Then we get 180 pages of the dream shattering.
(and that wanton, come-hither girl on the right).  
Great stuff.

But now I must bid you all goodbye for a week
or so.  I'm taking a computer-vacation.  I'll be
turning off my laptop today and won't turn it on
again until next week.  Last summer I did this
and it was a refreshing change to spend some
time reading only paper.  Fear not, I will return
to the glowing screen.  Until then, here are some
pieces to read.  You can ration them throughout
the week:

From The Weekly Standard, a piece on those little green and red books that fit so comfortably in the palm of your hand, The
Loeb Classic Library.

From Penguin Most Wanted, a piece by Sarah Weinman on crime blogs.

From the New Yorker, a short piece on Bazooka Joe comics.  I used to save these as a kid and somewhere I still have a
large stash of them.  

From The New Atlantis, an essay on Jules Verne.

From an 1828 issue of Table Talk, an essay by William Hazlitt on Indian jugglers.

From Bookmarks magazine, a list of 101 Crackerjack Sea Books.

And there's a
new issue of Common-Place, a great online journal of early American history.

Happy reading.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.  Always?  Well, maybe next week.

Thursday, July 6, 2006
Finished Matthew Pearl's The Poe Shadow the other night and very much enjoyed it.  The pace at the start of the novel was
way too slow, but the action and impetus for the narrator gradually picks up steam as the story progresses.  Halfway through
I was completely engrossed.  At first it seemed that
Poe Shadow was nothing like Pearl's first book, The Dante Club.  
There are no rash of murders; the danger to the main character is not overwhelming (although he thinks it is).  However, both
novels do have a lot to say about literary reputation.  In Pearl's first novel, not only is the reputation of Dante discussed by
the characters, but the reader is also reminded of the literary fortunes of the writers investigating the murders-- Longfellow,
Lowell, Holmes-- and the fate of their place in the American Canon.  In
Poe Shadow, Pearl maps out the beginning of Poe's
place in American culture, shows it change, but most of all, makes a case for how the solitary reader fits into the equation,
how the reader almost takes the place of the writer and, sometimes, the characters.  But be careful which books you choose
to inhabit.   

And a short note, if you're reading
Poe Shadow, be sure to read Pearl's "Secret Chapters" found online here.  I especially
liked the meeting between James Russell Lowell and the narrator and what Lowell says about Poe:

What ailed Poe? Had he been neglected, like Dryden? Persecuted, like Dante? Had he been blind, like Milton? The character of those
men transcended their circumstances, while Poe thought too intently on his circumstances to ever escape them. The mind squeezed
out the heart. Poe, you see, wished to kick down the ladder by which he rose – or rather, was rising. If he were alive, and knew
you were set on helping, you would be next to land flat, depend upon that.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006
I finally read my first David Goodis novel, Black Friday (I guess that's some sort of loss of virginity).  Goodis long been on
my to-read list.  He's a noir writer, mainly crime, prolific during the 1940s and 50s.  And he's from Philadelphia.  As a matter
of fact, most of his novels are also set in Philly, which is an even greater treat, picturing the streets the characters roam.  
Black Friday didn't disappoint.  Goodis is as good a stylist as Jim Thompson:

In the middle of an endless plain of soft snow there was a pool of black water.  A man's head emerged from the pool and the man
opened his mouth and began to shriek.

And if nothing else, I picked up a few tips on body dismemberment and disposal:

"Get out of the way," Charley said.  "I'm going to take his head off."  
Hart stepped away, then went walking away as he heard the swish, the crunch, the grinding, the resistance, more grinding, the
heavy breathing of Charley.  Then the rustle of paper, the sound of paper getting wrapped around something.  Then the furnace
door opening.  The sound of paper around something going into the fire.  Then the furnace door closing.
"All right," Charley said.  "I'll need you now."  

This scene goes on for another couple of pages.  You can read a good essay, "David Goodis' Hardboiled Philadelphia," at
Al Guthrie's Noir Originals. I have another Goodis, Of Tender Sin, ready to read right now.  Duane Swierczinski has a post
about the Goodis home in Philly,
now up for sale.  And there are plans for weekend long PhilaNoir convention next January:
GoodisCon 2007.  Can't wait.

And I couldn't let
yesterday's piece by Charles McGrath in the NY Times on the new Beowulf adaptations go without a
couple of comments.  McGrath seems a little dismayed at how current artists adapt the poem, that in creating a "politically
correct" version they seem to be stripping the epic of its "horror."  He goes on to make the claim of
Beowulf's first listeners:

What the original audience for "Beowulf" had on its mind was terror.

As if Beowulf is only a horror story.  I won't give a lecture here on how thematically rich the poem is.  Suffice me to say that
McGrath conflates our very modern desires of a horror story with the aesthetic needs of a people over a thousand years
ago.  The first tellers of
Beowulf were not just creating a story to scare the pants off their audience (and I wouldn't presume
to say definitively what their "purposes" were).  His call for a horror version would actually be a very contemporary take on
the epic.  As a culture we do tend to use Horror as mere cathartic experience.  
Beowulf is more than that.  The version we
have now, preserved in only one manuscript is itself a product of competing cultures, which I will simplistically call, Pagan
and Christian.  One could argue that the very Christianity of the poem is itself a kind of 10th century (or earlier)adaptation.  
But I shouldn't really quibble over McGrath's conclusions.  I'm just happy to see
Beowulf getting more attention in our
culture.  And I can't wait to see the new movies, no matter how they interpret the text.

From McSweeney's, here are some Earlier Epic Battles of Grendel's Mother:

Grendel's Mother vs. the Manager at ShopRite
When Grendel's mother tries to buy 24 cans of tuna using her "Buy five, get the sixth free" coupon, the cashier informs her that the
coupons are limited to one per visit. Grendel's mother rips the cashier's throat out and asks to see the manager. After weeks of
grappling and much bloodshed, the manager concedes that Grendel's mother can use three coupons in this visit. Grendel's mother
hands the manager his severed leg and apologizes for the confusion.

Go get 'em, Mama G.


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Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Just finished a great novel the other day, Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg.  A classic piece of noir horror.  I had seen
(more than once) the movie based on the book,
Angel Heart, so I knew the big hook at the end, but I was still riveted.  And
Hjortsberg is a fantastic stylist.  The novel didn't feel like neo-noir, like some pastiche of a Chandler novel, the tough guy
detective drinking and fighting his way through the mean streets, cracking wise at every turn.  No,
Hjortsberg writes the real
stuff.  The opening line of
Falling Angel:

It was Friday the thirteenth and yesterday's snowstorm lingered on the streets like a leftover curse.

A little later, there's this gem:

Outside, dawn smudged the night sky like rouge on a chorus girl's cheek.

The cover art is great as well:

I have another Hjortsberg on my shelf,
Nevermore, a historical mystery featuring Arthur Conan Doyle, Houdini and the
ghost of Edgar Allan Poe.  I can't wait.


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Monday, July 3, 2006
For the book collector, or just for someone who
enjoys the minutiae of publishing details, especially
cover artwork, there is a well done site by Ed
Werner on Ian Fleming's James Bond novels,
The Bond Market.  He features only the first
British and American editions (no lurid pulps), but
some of the jackets are very cool.  I especially like
the American
Casino Royale and the Brit Dr. No.
This website,
MI6, features some of the great
paperback covers.

And here's a fun site that is compiling poems for
each element of the Periodic Table.  Here's the one
for Francium:

Francium is not an ordinary liquid.
Radioactive it may be, but it still has beauty.
Sending me into a trance, Francium.
Stand next to it and feel its touch of death.
Blinding, burning, killing.
Francium, the fire liquid.
Francium, the treasure of the earth.

I think clerihews would serve better.  And they still have some elements available.

And I forgot to pass along Dan's comment to last Wednesday's post on Professor Barnhardt's 20 word novels:
The twenty word works were snazzy. Swierczynski's was the one with the most ummph though. I have written my own.
(see previous 20 words).


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Sunday, July 2, 2006
The BBC has put together a fine collection of readings of Romantic poems.  The actors reading the poems are terrific.  I
especially liked the Blake
readings.  I forget how much I like Blake until I stumble across his poems now and again.  "London" still gives me a chill:

I wander thro' each charter'd street.
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe,

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear.
In every voice; in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls.
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

It's all part of a Peter Ackroyd series for BBC TV.  I wish they'd send it over the pond.

Boldtype has an issue dedicated to Drinking, featuring reviews of several books, including Bukowski's Ham on Rye,
The Power and the Glory and this one I'd never heard of, The Drinker by Hans Fallada:

Hans Fallada wrote The Drinker over two weeks in 1944, while residing in a a criminal asylum near AltStrelitz, Germany. He was
confined there for the attempted murder of his wife. Given these inauspicious beginnings, the book has been especially troublesome
for critics. It's disingenous, however, to look at The Drinker as anything but the personal reflection of an author torn asunder by a
turbulent society in collapse.

(Hey Boldtype, what's with the typos?!) If you're looking for lighthearted martini-comedy stuff, there is also a review of
Jonathan Ames'  
Wake Up, Sir!

And for fun today, here's a guy who scrapes art out of dirty car windshield: Dirt Art Gallery.


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Saturday, July 1, 2006
My Project Gutenberg finds have been piling up as of late, so here's a couple interesting ones for your reading pleasure:

Mary Huestis Pengilly's
Diary Written in the Provincial Lunatic Asylum (1885) is as chilling as it's opening sentences:

December.—They will not allow me to go home, and I must write these things down for fear I forget. It will help to pass the time
away. It is very hard to endure this prison life, and know that my sons think me insane when I am not.

I'm not sure of it's authenticity, but it's a very short read and worth the time.

Or you could try Mary Godolphin's Robinson Crusoe in words of one syllable, an 18th century retelling of Defoe's tale for
"the youngest readers."  

I was born at York on the first of March in the sixth year of the reign of King Charles the First. From the time when I was quite a
young child, I had felt a great wish to spend my life at sea, and as I grew, so did this taste grow more and more strong; till at
last I broke loose from my school and home, and found my way on foot to Hull, where I soon got a place on board a ship.
When we had set sail but a few days, a squall of wind came on, and on the fifth night we sprang a leak. All hands were sent to the
pumps, but we felt the ship groan in all her planks, and her beams quake from stem to stern; so that it was soon quite clear
there was no hope for her, and that all we could do was to save our lives.

I haven't read all of this.  I'm afraid if I read the entire book I might go insane.


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