Friday, September 28, 2012

First Line Friday: Dialogue

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
Wait, what? Who is  Mrs. Dalloway? Who’s she talking  to? And what is it she buying flowers for ? All great questions, and all great reasons for the reader to read further. By starting Mrs. Dalloway  in the middle of things, Virginia Woolf forces the reader to snap to attention. We feel like we’re one step behind and we’d better pull ourselves together if we’re going to make heads or tails of the story. 

It’s kind of counterintuitive, but when we're forced to cut to the chase we become highly attuned to the character descriptions, background details and other exposition that she’ll dole out as the story unfolds- probably even moreso than if we picked up the same story to read “Mrs. Dalloway was self-conscious about her role in London high society, blah, blah, blah…”

Here are some other examples of novels whose characters come out of the gates blabbering:
“—Money . . . in a voice that rustled.”   (William Gaddis, J R )
You better not never tell nobody but God.  (Alice Walker, The Color Purple )
"To be born again," sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, "first you have to die."  (Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses )
"Take my camel, dear," said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.  (Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond )
"When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets," Papa would say, "she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing."  (Katherine Dunn, Geek Love )
I’m actually surprised this isn’t used more than it is. My guess is that people think it’s a gimmick, but I think it’s pretty darned effective. You?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Author Look-Alikes Vol. 7

Last time we did this, some of you might have felt that my comparison of David Foster Wallace to the Karate Kid was a little forced. Well, just try to tell me I’m stretching with this one. Young DFW and a young Ben Affleck:

Dark hair, slim face, deep-set eyes, how about Joyce Carol Oates and "The Shining"-era Shelly Duvall?

Or Hermann Hesse and the Nazi from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? (Insert your own Arian race joke here):

And for an interesting twist, how about a writer that looks like another writer? I give you Dashiell Hammett and William Faulkner (cross reference with William Faulkner and Dashiell Hammett). The only discernible difference between them is that one uses mustache wax, and the other uses a Flowbee:

Finally, this will be seen as unkind, but I can only call them like I see them. I think an aging Isak Dinesen, AKA Karen Blixen, is a dead ringer for Margaret Hamilton, AKA the Wicked Witch of the West:
I’ll get you, my pretty... at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What Bugs Me Wednesday: Fogg's Non-existent Airship

It has occurred to me that I’m missing out on one of the major perks of having a forum for my own personal ramblings: the opportunity to complain about stuff that bugs me.

So here is the first of what will be a sporadic feature- after all, not a lot of stuff really bugs me- that we’ll call “What Bugs Me Wednesday.”

We begin the series with one of literature’s greatest and longest-lasting lies: the mythical airship in Jules Verne’s Around the World In 80 Days.  Just about every film adaptation, comic book version and dumbed-down retelling has invented some sort of hot-air balloon out of whole cloth (pardon the pun). Even the cover art for reprintings of Verne’s classic is guilty from time to time. Sometimes it’s a zeppelin, sometimes it’s a steampunk airship, but whatever form it takes, it has no relation whatsoever to the story as Verne wrote it.

The incomparable Phileas Fogg and his valet Passpartout do indeed set out on a memorable adventure. They have run-ins with the law, with outlaws, with vigilantes and religious sects. There’s a princess in distress, an opium-den trap and an acrobatic circus. Modes of transportation are rented, bought, hijacked and destroyed, but at no point in the journey do the characters take to the air.

Do they take a turn on the back of an elephant? Sure. Do they cross the Great Plains in a fortuitous windsled? They do. But do they ever set foot in the basket of a hot-air balloon? No, no, a thousand times no. And it’s time for this nonsense to stop.

Pictured above are the thumbnails from the first page of Google Image results for “Around the World in 80 Days.” Take a quick look and you can see how widespread this pernicious falsehood has become. An entire generation is being led to believe that Fogg was some sort of Victorian Steve Fossett. And yeah, it kind of bugs me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Some Autumn Reading

I rarely read anything twice, much less three or four times. There are just too many good books waiting in the hopper.

But when fall temperatures begin to dip, and the leaves start to signal that they’ve felt it, too, I sometimes find myself pulling a tiny, almost forgotten book down off my shelf.

Thinner than my wallet, and not much taller or wider, it contains just two stories: Rip Van Winkle   and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,   by Washington Irving. It’s a ‘Penguin 60’- part of a collection Penguin released to celebrate their 60th anniversary in 1995.

I don’t do this every year, but I’ve dusted it off a handful of times in the decade and a half I’ve owned it– at least as often as some people pick up A Christmas Carol   in the run up to the holidays. I find it’s the perfect lead-in to fall, and a nice way to set the stage for Halloween. As you can see below, it would be hard to ‘out-autumn’ Irving when he’s really going for it. First, from Rip Van Winkle :
“It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day, the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet. Streaming files of wild ducks began to make their appearance high in the air; the bark of the squirrel might be heard from the groves of beech and hickory nuts, and the pensive whistle of the quail at intervals from the neighboring stubble-field…
And then this, from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow :
“As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye, ever open to every symptom of culinary abundance, ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn. On all sides he beheld vast stores of apples; some hanging in oppressive opulence on the trees; some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market; others heaped up in rich piles for the cider-press. Farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn, with its golden ears peeping from their leafy coverts, and holding out the promise of cakes and hasty pudding; and the yellow pumpkins lying beneath them, turning up their fair round bellies to the sun, and giving ample prospects of the most luxurious of pies; and anon he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields, breathing the odor of the beehive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty slapjacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.
Taken together, both stories are just shy of 20,000 words. If you’re looking for a light, autumnal diversion, I highly recommend checking them out.

What other books or stories help you set the stage for fall?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

Alright, so, Moby Dick!

I mentioned here how ecstatic I was to finally harpoon the great white whale that has taunted me ever since 7th grade English. And now it’s time to actually review the son-of-a-gun.

The last thing I was expecting from this bad boy was that it would be laugh out loud funny in parts, yet there I was, just a few pages in, and our narrator Ishmael finds himself apoplectic that he has to share a bed with a heathenistic, cannibal harpooneer, who against all odds becomes his best friend and shipmate. And Stub, good grief! I could listen to the Pequod’s second mate talk to his crew all day long. The man’s hilarious.

But the book is more than just colorful. Melville builds mystery and bad omens into the story from the beginning. The reader goes to sea with the same reservations about the ship and its captain as Ishmael. It’s a well-spun yarn.

Now, the most frequent criticism I’ve heard of Moby Dick is that it’s cumbersome. Not just that it’s long, but that it’s full of meaningless tangential information that doesn’t move the story forward. But after reading it, I’m convinced that people who say this suffer from a general lack of curiosity.

Does he dedicate entire sections of the book to whale taxonomy? Sure he does. Does he mention every piece of art, and list every literary reference that touches on whales, sea monsters and “leviathans” of all orders? You bet. Does he painstakingly document the notorious generosity  of English and Dutch ships to other ships in the whaling trade, and uncover the origin of the “crow’s nest” that adorned the ships of his day? Absolutely. But my  question is, why don’t  you want to know about all of that? It interesting stuff.

If you’re like me, you’re helplessly drawn to Wikipedia by any book you read- fiction or non-fiction- because they open up new ideas, teach you new things and fill in your paltry knowledge of the world around you. But hey, guess what, I didn’t have to do that with Moby Dick  because Melville already did it for me. His tangents were my tangents, his obscure whaling trivia, my obscure whaling trivia. If that’s not your thing, bless your bored little heart.

Now, I do have plenty of my own criticisms. How Ishmael forges a bond, and goes to sea with Queequeg, and then fails to mention him for nearly the remainder of the book. How he jumps from head to head like an omniscient narrator, even though he’s just one of the shiphands. How the Pequod was able to track down and encounter a single, solitary whale in the vast natural range of his species. 

(Just take a look at that map- the blue isn’t just ocean, it’s the almost limitless habitat of the sperm whale. Talk about a finding needle in a haystack!) 

So yes, there were plenty of problems. And yet…  I enjoyed the hell out of it. It was a very pleasant surprise.

Friday, September 21, 2012

First Line Friday: Axioms

Last week we covered first lines that set settings. This week, we pay tribute to the axiomatic opening. Here’s a well-known example that many will recognize:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” — from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
Want another? How about this one- equally as famous as the first:
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” —from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina
These adages can be sarcastic, like Austen’s, or introduce a kind of a farcical situation, like Tolstoy’s. Or they can be whistful observations::
“Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board.” (Zora Neals Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God )
And even wisecracking laments:
“The moment one learns English, complications set in.” (Felipe Alfau’s  Chromos)
You could almost say that The Great Gatsby   begins with an aphorism, too: “…my father gave me some advice…” (Though the adage is only teed up in the first line, and it’s the second line that delivers the punch of wisdom.) Still, it gives the reader a filter through which they are to understand the entire book.

Anyway, I think axiomatic openings are pretty effective. They push you to start asking questions immediately. Do I agree with that axiom? Is it bunk? Why does the narrator lead off with it? What kind of story is going to prove that statement out? And on and on.

Do you agree? Disagree? (As the old adage says, you cannot do both.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Speed Reviewing

I’m more than a little behind in penning reviews of my recent literary conquests. Hopefully I can get through the backlog before I forget the books completely. Until then, however, I thought it might be fun to play around with a more forgiving form of criticism: the one line review. Here are a handful of so-called classics, summed up in a single sentence:
  • Middlesex: My Big Fat Greek Wedding meets 5-alpha reductase deficiency
  • Silas Marner, because anti-social cataleptic weavers make good fathers, too.
  • Jane Eyre: Finally, a romance for the homely.
  • Wuthering Heights: reality TV before TV ever existed.
  • Crime and Punishment: it’s Lizzy Borden meets Colombo- in St. Petersburg!
  • As I Lay Dying: when your mom dies you should probably cut your dad some slack- unless he’s a complete sumbitch
  • The Turn of the Screw: It’s what the Sixth Sense would have been if Bruce Willis were a Victorian era governess.
  • Grapes of Wrath, because even though your life might swing between bad and awful, at least you’re not suckling emaciated homeless strangers yet.
Got any others to add?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

First Ads for Famous Books

Life’s been so busy since my July vacation that I’ve basically stopped checking in on most of the literary blogs I follow- so my apologies if you’ve seen this elsewhere- but I saw this post over at BrainPickings and thought it was worth sharing: The first ads for famous books.

For example, you've got Toni Morrison rocking a Roberta Flack afro:

Truman Capote looking like he’s pushing barbiturates, instead of books: (I’m pretty sure that pic was snapped in an opium den)

And Kurt Vonnegut pulling off the ‘Get-off-my-lawn-you-damn-kids’ face better than most men 40 years his senior.

Many more here. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Author Look-Alikes: Round 6

The almond-shaped eyes with the little crease underneath, the rounded eyebrows and flawless complexion… they might hail from geographical antipodes, but I think it’s safe to say there’s a little Ashley Judd in Jhumpa Lahiri:

And how about a very young Margaret Mitchell? With those cheekbones and that ultra-serious gaze, she reminds me more than a little of Olivia Wilde:

Another certified looker in her youth, Pearl Buck matured into an amiable Aunt Bee type in her later years:

Now, this kind of match is rare. Look at the hairline, the eyebrows, the ears, the nose, the heavy eyelids- heck, look at everything but that beard and tell me Herman Melville and Hugh Grant aren’t one and the same:

Finally, we have to deal with David Foster Wallace and his persistent bandana at some point. Take away the scruff, the half-smirk, the glasses and about thirty years, and DFW could be reborn as Danny Laruso, AKA the Karate Kid:
Sweep the leg? I don't think so.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Haiku-ption Contest #10

It’s about that time again, don’t you think? Throw your haiku captions in the comments:

Deep-sea diver, posed,
With Simon's roly poly
Little bat-faced girl

Friday, September 14, 2012

First Line Friday: Setting

For the next few First Line Fridays, I thought we’d try something a little different. Rather than giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to a particular opening line, it might be interesting to analyze the various types  of first lines that are possible.

One of the most basic things a first line can do is establish setting, so let’s kick this off with a few openings that quite literally “set the stage” for their stories. I find that a lot of authors carry this dramatist’s compulsion, so the examples are pretty plentiful.

Though I’ve never met anyone who’s read it, Edward George Bullward-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford  gives us one of the most commonly quoted (and parodied) opening phrases ever:
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
A little hackneyed? Yes. But the “setting setter” isn’t limited to 3rd rate scribblers. We’ve covered similar lines from Orwell and Hemingway, as well:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four
“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.” — from Hemingway’s, A Farewell to Arms
Very simple, but very effective. I love how Orwell absolutely pantses his reader with the clock “striking thirteen,” and I love how Hemingway’s phrase “of that year” makes us feel like we’re in the middle of a fireside chat and he’s about to launch into a story we’ve already asked for.

Here are some others:
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.” —from Sylvia Plath’s, The Bell Jar
“The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods.” — from Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” —from William Gibson’s Neuromancer
So? What say you? Do you like the “setting setter?” Or is it too hokey, too obviously reminding you that you’re being told a story?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Borges Calls Out Kafka

INTERVIEWER:   Readers very often call your stories parables. Do you like that description?

BORGES:   No, no. They're not meant to be parables. I mean if they are parables . . . [long pause] . . . that is, if they are parables, they have happened to be parables, but my intention has never been to write parables.

INTERVIEWER:   Not like Kafka's parables, then?

BORGES:   In the case of Kafka, we know very little. We only know that he was very dissatisfied with his own work. Of course, when he told his friend Max Brod that he wanted his manuscripts to be burned, as Virgil did, I suppose he knew that his friend wouldn't do that. If a man wants to destroy his own work, he throws it into a fire, and there it goes. When he tells a close friend of his, “I want all the manuscripts to be destroyed,” he knows that the friend will never do that, and the friend knows that he knows and that he knows that the other knows that he knows and so on and so forth.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Poet's Corner: "Electrocuting an Elephant" by George Bradley

Today’s poem is a little longer than we normally like to feature, but it comes to you with the grainy, century-old footage that inspired it, so I thought it would be worth sharing.

Now, because I’m posting the Youtube video, someone’s going to say that I am condoning the very filming the author calls Edison on the carpet for- but it’s only meant to bring home the bleakness of the poem’s main message.

Electrocuting an Elephant

Her handlers, dressed in vests and flannel pants,
   Step forward in the weak winter light  
Leading a behemoth among elephants,  
Topsy, to another exhibition site;
   Caparisoned with leather bridle,  
Six impassive tons of carnival delight  
Shambles on among spectators who sidle
   Nervously off, for the brute has killed  
At least three men, most recently an idle  
Hanger-on at shows, who, given to distilled
   Diversions, fed her a live cigar.
Since become a beast of burden, Topsy thrilled
The crowds in her palmy days, and soon will star  
   Once more, in an electrocution,  
Which incident, though it someday seem bizarre,
Is now a new idea in execution.

Topsy has been fed an unaccustomed treat,  
   A few carrots laced with cyanide,
And copper plates have been fastened to her feet,  
Wired to cables running off on either side;
   She stamps two times in irritation,
Then waits, for elephants, having a thick hide,  
Know how to be patient. The situation
   Seems dreamlike, till someone throws a switch,  
And the huge body shakes for the duration  
Of five or six unending seconds, in which
   Smoke rises and Topsy’s trunk contracts
And twelve thousand mammoth pounds finally pitch  
To earth, as the current breaks and all relax.
   It is a scene shot with shades of grey—
The smoke, the animal, the reported facts—
On a seasonably grey and gloomy day.

Would you care to see any of that again?
   See it as many times as you please,  
For an electrician, Thomas Edison,
Has had a bright idea we call the movies,
   And called on for monitory spark,
Has preserved it all in framed transparencies  
That are clear as day, for all the day is dark.
   You might be amused on second glance
To note the background—it’s an amusement park!—
A site on Coney Island where elephants
   Are being used in the construction,
And where Topsy, through a keeper’s negligence,  
Got loose, causing some property destruction,
   And so is shown to posterity,
A study in images and conduction,  
Sunday, January 4th, 1903.

And here is Edison’s “moving picture” of Topsy's final moments:

Quite sad. Shades of Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant-” or even of Dumbo’s mother, no? 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Another Month in the Can

Well, we’ve knocked off another month, and covered veritable pantloads of authors in the last 30 days (see above.) Here are the five most popular posts from that time period:

And, as always, some of the most interesting search terms you people used to get here (along with the links to the relevant pages) :

Thanks for coming around; we hope you keep coming back for more!

Monday, September 10, 2012

How many books do you have left?

I ran across this sobering formula on the blog of horror writer Dan Wells:
The number of books you’ll read before you die = (Y-A) x B x 12, where:
B = the number of books you read in a month 
A = your current age 
Y = your life expectancy
Based on my age, my reading habits, and my life expectancy as a resident of Georgia, the math for me looks like this: (77.1-34.9) x 2.86 X 12 = 1,448

That’s less than 1,500 books! Maybe, maybe  if I really blow it out in my retirement- or if I live into my nineties like three of my grandparents- I can push that number north of 2,000. But still! What a paltry pile of prose I have left! If there’s ever been a better argument for why you shouldn’t fill your time reading crap, I haven’t heard it. Thoreau said it best:
“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”
Improve yourselves, people! Improve your shelves!  J

How many books do you have left? And will you let it affect your next book choice?

Friday, September 7, 2012

First Line Friday! 2012 election edition Vol. II

Last week we looked at the first lines of Mitt Romney’s books. Today we examine the first lines of President Obama’s. First, from  Dreams From My Father:
A few months after my twenty-first birthday, a stranger called to give me the news. I was living in New York at the time, on Ninety-fourth between Second and First, part of that unnamed, shifting border between East Harlem and the rest of Manhattan.
And then this one, from The Audacity of Hope:
On most days I enter the Capitol through the basement. A small subway train carries me from the Hart Building, where my office is located, through and underground tunnel lined with the flags and seals of the fifty states.
Okay, so what do we think about these bad boys? I think it’s apparent that the president writes with a little more flare than Governor Romney- then again, we would probably expect that from the man whose mug adorns the iconic HOPE poster. But while the first example above carries a pretty great hook (what was the news?!), the second one is a relatively pedestrian opening to a book we already know is going to be political. I would definitely read on after the first  first line above- and I’d be pretty ambivalent about reading on after the second one. (Unless I were the owner of an iconic HOPE poster, that is.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It's all been done before... even the experimental stuff

Having spent some time in art museums lately, the subject of originality has been on my mind.

In literature, as in the visual arts, one can probably make a good case that no matter what an author sets out to do, it’s all been done before. Plots, themes, devices, styles, character types- they all get recycled and repackaged- all the time. Now, this doesn’t mean that a work of literature can’t still reach us on some level if it happens to repurpose the age-old hero’s journey, or retell an old Greek myth, or follow every trope in a given genre. After all, we still listen to music and go see movies even though there are no new chord progressions and no new ideas in Hollywood.

But what if a writer wants to be an innovator and a visionary and a literary trailblazer? What is that author to do? Well, a few authors I’ve read this year spring to mind as examples.

I was bowled over, for instance, after plowing through 75 straight pages of powerpoint slides in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad  and realizing at the end of it that she had managed to form a pretty cohesive narrative that both moved the plot forward and revealed the innermost thoughts of one of the characters. Then in May of this year Egan serialized a short story on Twitter and it was… just okay. More than anything it struck me as a “gimmicky” publicity ploy.

Dana Spiotta’s novel Stone Arabia  is another book I read this year that aspires to innovate and break new ground. She employs a “collage” style that incorporates interviews, transcripts of YouTube videos, emails and other things into her regular narrative. I’ll admit that it worked for me, and it’s not something you see every day. But for all the praise these techniques inspire as 'experimental next steps in storytelling,' the problem with efforts like these is that- you guessed it, it’s all been done before.

Jump back 80 years and John Dos Passos was basically doing the same thing in the early ‘30s. His U.S.A  trilogy is peppered with newspaper clippings, song lyrics and biographies, intermingled with passages of his own stream of consciousness writings.

Jump back another 80 years and you’ve got Herman Melville spicing up his first-person narrative in Moby Dick  with historical treatises, zoology primers and all sorts of Shakespearean literary devices: soliloquies, asides and even stage directions.

I imagine that if you jump back another 80 years or more, you’ll find someone else doing something “new and innovative” in their day, as well. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Wild-ocean born, and wild-ocean nurtured..."

One more Chicago-inspired post. 

On Saturday we made the hike out along the Lakefront Trail to the Adler Planetarium (and the best views of the Chicago skyline, by the way.) The weather was turning, there was plenty of spray coming off the seawall, and lots of whitecaps out on the Lake. Having finished Moby Dick  so recently, the scene brought to mind the following passage, where Ishmael tells a group of Peruvian sailors about that special breed of sailor known as a ‘Lakeman.’ (The paragraph breaks are mine- I just put them in where Melville should have:)
“Now, gentlemen, in square-sail brigs and three-masted ships, well nigh as large and stout as any that ever sailed out of your old Callao to far Manilla, this Lakeman, in the land-locked heart of our America, had yet been nurtured by all those agrarian freebooting impressions popularly connected with the open ocean. 
"For in their interflowing aggregate, those grand fresh-water seas of ours,-Erie, and Ontario, and Huron, and Superior, and Michigan,- possess an ocean-like expansiveness, with many of the ocean’s noblest traits; with many of its rimmed varieties of races and of climes.   
"They contain round archipelagoes of romantic isles, even as the Polynesian waters do; in large part, are shored by two great contrasting nations, as the Atlantic is; they furnish long maritime approaches to our numerous territorial colonies in the East, dotted all round their banks; here and there are frowned upon by batteries, and by the goat-like craggy guns of lofty Mackinaw; they have yet heard the fleet thundering of naval victories; at intervals, they yield their beaches to wild barbarians, whose red painted faces flash from out their peltry wigwams; for leagues and leagues are flanked by ancient and unentered forests, where the gaunt pines stand like serried lines of kings in gothic genealogies; those same woods harboring wild Afric beasts of prey, and silken creatures whose exported furs give robes to Tartar Emperors; they mirror the paved capital of Buffalo and Cleveland, as well as Winnebago villages; they float alike the full-rigged merchant ship, and the beech canoe; they are swept by Borean and dismasting blasts as direful as any that lash the salted wave; they know what shipwrecks are, for out of sight of land, however inland, they have drowned full many a midnight ship with all its shrieking crew. 
"Thus gentlemen, though an inlander, Steelkilt was wild-ocean born, and wild-ocean nurtured; as much of an audacious mariner as any.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Oak Park Pilgrimage that wasn't

Well, the good folks at the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park threw me a curveball by taking the day off on Labor Day- so despite my promise from lastweek, I have no report from the Hemingway birthplace and museum to give you. But that small hiccup, in an otherwise fantastic trip to Chicago, just gives me one more reason to return to the Windy City. What a great town.

Now, by way of consolation, here are a few libraries I snapped at the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. The pictures are crappy because  a) they’re taken with my phone, and  b) these intricately hand-crafted “rooms” are not much bigger than a shoebox diorama. But they are amazing. (The fibers you see in the rug below are single threads.)

English library of the Queen Anne period, 1702-1714:

English rotunda and library of the Regerncy period, 1810-20:

French library of the Modern period, 1930s:

And here's one I pulled off the interwebs for scale:

If you're ever at the Art Institute, go see the Seurat and American Gothic and all the other highlights, but by all means, make sure you hit the Thorne Miniatures on the Lower Level. They'll blow your mind.