Saturday, November 11, 2006
Lots of news about new publishing ventures from Penguin in Joel Rickett's Bookseller column. I especially love this one:
Another twist on classics publishing comes with "My Penguins". Their covers are blank white art paper; the point is to let readers
draw, paint or collage their own design, expressing how they feel about the book. The first £5 "My Penguins" are Meditations by
Marcus Aurelius, Austen's Emma, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, the Grimms' Magic Tales, Woolf's The Waves and -
fittingly - Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. An online gallery of various covers will soon go live at
You know I'm getting a blank Dorian Gray. Perhaps I'll put a picture of myself on the cover. Even better, how about a
of Wilde lying dead in his casket.
And you can watch the Monty Python
"Oscar Wilde" sketch that I mentioned
in yesterday's post at YouTube. It's
even funnier than I remembered.
The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' post-mortem photographs.
Friday, November 10, 2006
Wow, that was a quick week. Sorry for the silence. I know the note above says I'm working on the new blog site, but
actually, I haven't done a damn thing with it this week. And I haven't really been crazy busy, either. I've just been off kilter
this week. My wife often jokes that if not for her and the kids, I'd become a monk and lock myself up with my books. The
monk analogy isn't far from the mark, considering how enslaved I am to a schedule. Of course all of the praying time in my
horarium would be replaced with reading and watching movies. This is all a roundabout way of saying my schedule was
thrown out of whack this week. Nothing major happened. I just didn't get my usual time to do things during the course of
the days. Doesn't take much to throw me off balance.
Next week I'll be going to New Mexico to see a production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. My
friend, Dan, is directing. So to get into the spirit, I'll drop a Wilde link or two into the blog for the next week. And just in
time comes this from Kathryn Hughes on the origins of Wilde's witty one-liners:
All of which suggests that Wilde was no more naturally witty than the rest of us. Indeed, there often seems something painfully
laboured about his quips, and one can only imagine that he spent an inordinate amount of time buffing them up at home until they
were ready to be let loose in polite society. Indeed, new scholarly research suggests that, far from plucking his bubbly one-liners
out of his champagne brain, Wilde was a slightly swotty magpie who picked up bits and pieces from other people, and then went to
work until they sounded like something he had come up with all by himself. More than likely he practised delivering them in the
mirror before he went out.
This reminds me of one of my favorite Monty Python sketches, in which Wilde, Whistler and Shaw attempt to embarrass one
another in front of the Prince of Wales by attributing nasty one-liners to one another. A snippet:
JAMES McNEILL WHISTLER:
Yes, thank you. Right, Your Majesty is like a stream of bat's piss.
THE PRINCE OF WALES:
JAMES McNEILL WHISTLER:
It was one of Wilde's.
It sodding was not! It was Shaw!
THE PRINCE OF WALES:
Well, Mr. Shaw?
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW:
I, um, I, ah, I merely meant, Your Majesty, that, ah, you shine out like a shaft of gold when all around is dark.
THE PRINCE OF WALES:
Oh, ho-ho, very good.
Read the entire skit. It's hilarious.
The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' witty bon mots.
Friday, November 3, 2006
My favorite writers of horror are Poe and M.R. James. Poe is practically a cliché at this time of year, so I don't read him
around Halloween. Read Poe in June after a particularly sunny day, when the night is warm and serene. His garish corpses,
clinging desperately (usually by tattered fingernails) to the living world, will unsettle you. Even though our lives are
bombarded with the horrific these days, his stories still pack some punch. If you read him alongside other fine writers of his
day, it intensifies the experience. There's an exhibition at Cornell right now featuring the Poe collection of Susan Jaffe Tane.
Some good images here. Here's my list of favorite tales of Poe:
The Fall of the House of Usher
The Man in the Crowd
The Cask of Amontillado
But for me these days, M.R.
James is the creepiest. In James'
stories, monsters lurk in the
shadows, ineffable, but
unmistakably evil. In Poe's
supernatural world, the dead refuse
to stay dead. They pursue life with
a vengeance born of their rage at dying (of course, there are exceptions), but the creatures of James' tales are rarely so
motivated. They are the beasts of a peripheral world, just out of our line of sight, and they wish to harm us. Because that is
what they do. You can find some info and criticism of James at Ghosts & Scholars and plenty of links to his stories at The
Literary Gothic. My favorite story of James is slightly atypical of the rest, Lost Hearts, but some off the passages are just so
harrowing and grotesque:
That night he had a curious dream. At the end of the passage at the top of the house, in which his bedroom was situated, there was
an old disused bathroom. It was kept locked, but the upper half of the door was glazed, and, since the muslin curtains which used
to hang there had long been gone, you could look in and see the lead-lined bath affixed to the wall on the right hand, with its head
towards the window. On the night of which I am speaking, Stephen Elliot found himself, as he thought, looking through the glazed
door. The moon was shining through the window, and he was gazing at a figure which lay in the bath.
His description of what he saw reminds me of what I once beheld myself in the famous vaults of St Michan's Church in Dublin,
which possess the horrid property of preserving corpses from decay for centuries. A figure inexpressibly thin and pathetic, of a
dusty leaden colour, enveloped in a shroud-like garment, the thin lips crooked into a faint and dreadful smile, the hands pressed
tightly over the region of the heart.
As he looked upon it, a distant, almost inaudible moan seemed to issue from its lips, and the arms began to stir.
These are the kind of tales I love to read late at night when everyone is in bed and I am alone on the top floor of our house.
Then, when it's time to finally go to bed, I regret having read them. The creaking stairs that lead to the bedroom seem miles
The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' fears.
Thursday, November 2, 2006
For a really scary read, Jesse Kornbluth recommends Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me. I couldn't agree more. The
narrator is Lou Ford, a deputy sheriff in a sleepy Texas town. To his neighbors, Lou is an innocuous fool, a little slow on the
uptake, always ready with a silly cliche, and friendly to a fault. But it's all an act. Lou is a brutal, sadistic serial killer who has
hidden his crimes for years. Thompson's novel slowly builds to a spectacular crescendo and contains one of the greatest final
pages I've ever read in a novel. Grim and breathtaking. This is one creepy book.
Here's a book catalogue, "A Grave Affair," dedicated to "materials about gravestones, graveyards, epitaphs, mourning &
funeral customs of other times, and related topics." Some of these books sound so fascinating:
142. Wickes, Stephen. Sepulture: Its History, Methods and Sanitary Requisites. Philadelphia; P. Blakiston, Son & Co.:
1884. A survey of burial and its history, written by an eminent New Jersey physician. Wickes begins with a history of ancient burial
to show, as he says, that “in this our day of light and of the knowledge of nature’s laws, we are still cherishing in our methods of
internment customs born and fostered in the dark ages”. Dr Wickes covers burial among the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Persians,
moves to Native American burials, and early Christian burial, and then gets to the heart of the matter, with chapters devoted to
animal putrescence; malignant disease from one corpse; saturated soil of a graveyard disturbed; intra-mural internment in the United
States; yellow fever; Asiatic cholera; pestilence (you knew he was going to get to that, eh?); rural cemeteries; coffins for the dead;
and country graveyards. Dr. Wickes was the President of the Medical Society of New Jersey and rescued and preserved the
Society’s early papers, as well as authoring several books on the history of medicine. Hardcover. 6.25”x9.5”, 156 pages plus a 48-
page catalog of Blakiston books. Publisher’s original black cloth covers with gilt spine title; covers with light wear, but overall a
very nice copy.
I love the "heart of the matter" stuff, animal putrescence, malignant diseases, etc. And this one is just killing me, I want to
read it so badly:
138. Weever, John. Ancient Funerall Monuments within the United Monarchie of Great Britain, Ireland, and the
Islands adjacent, with the dissolved Monastaries therein contained; their Founders, and what eminent Persons
have beene in the same interred... London; Thomas Harper: 1631. "As also the death and burial of certaine of the Bloud
Royale; the Nobilitie and Gentrie of these Kingdomes entombed in forraine Nations... whereunto is prefixed a Discourse of Funerall
Monuments...". Despite its over-reaching title, Weever's study covers the Diocese of London, Canterbury, Rochester and Norwich -
other volumes may have been planned, but this one took the author 30 years to research, and he died just a few months after it was
published. Although Weever's transcription skills have been criticized, he also offers the only extant record of many stones and
monuments now obliterated, so this remains as an important (and heavy) record.
As a history of Medieval monuments and eminent personages, Weever has been used as a reference source by many historians and
writers, amongst them the famous boy forger of Bristol, Thomas Chatterton. Weever himself was a graduate of Queen's College
and a most interesting fellow- Ian Wright describes him in an essay on the Queen's College website as "an extraordinarily interesting
and eccentric character - connoisseur of graveyards, tobacco-enthusiast, sycophant, satirist, dwarf, penner of dirty ditties, egotist,
pugnacious Lancashire man and proud of it... (the book) testifies to the breadth of his literary interests- it is packed with literary
allusions and quotations".
Weever was in fact also a poet and traveled in literary circles; he was an ardent admirer of Shakespeare, and wrote the earliest
known poem addressed to Shakespeare. In his essay Wright delves into the Weever-Shakespeare connection at some length, making
a good case not only that the two were acquainted, but that Weever's own life and works may throw new light on Shakespeare's
"lost years", through a connection with the prominent Houghton family, that ends up with Shakespeare having been a tutor at
Houghton Tower. He also points out that Weever's "Faunus and Melliflora", written in 1600, "has a section with close verbal echoes
of the nunnery scene in Hamlet". Now the date Hamlet was written remains controversial, but most scholars have fixed it at 1601.
That, however, is a year after Weever's "Faunus". Wright continues- "Either - as I believe myself - the experts are wrong about the
date of Hamlet or it was Shakespeare who borrowed from Weever, not vice versa!" But all of this has strayed quite far from the
book at hand- "Ancient Funerall Monuments" remains a fitting monument to the memory of this incredibly interesting antiquary. The
book was handsomely printed with a variety of typefaces, ruled margins, woodcuts and decorated initial letters.
Of course, " tobacco-enthusiast" jumps out at me, but the Shakesconnection is also fascinating. I'll just have to track down a
copy of this one (Meaning, one that won't cost me $1500, 'cause I'd have a really hard time explaining that purchase to my
wife: "Groceries?! But, honey, look at this great book about funerall monuments. That's funerall with two ls!"). This book is
crying out for a reprint. There are more cool links on the Grave Affair homepage. I'm trying to track down the Ian Wright
essay quoted in the book description. I'll post a link when I find it. (Here it is. I had trouble locating it because the
catalogue misspelled Wright's first name as Ian when it should have been Iain. Grrr...typos.)
The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
How I spent my Halloween:
Back to the promised creepy stuff tomorrow (tomorrow, I'll love ya, tomorrow . . . sorry, it's kinda stuck in my head).
The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.
|Still from Jean Epstein's
La Chute de le Maison Usher (1928)