Friday, November 30, 2012

The Bookworm, by ATELIER 010

I don’t know that I’d curl up inside this thing, but it certainly wouldn’t be out of place in my house, where you’ll find walls of lime green, two-tone yellow, various blues and even home-depot orange.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What they were reading: Isak Dinesen

“My own books I packed up in cases and sat on them, or dined on them. Books in a colony play a different part in your existence from what they do in Europe; there is  a whole side of your life which there they alone take charge of; and on this account, according to their quality, you feel more grateful to them, or more indignant with them, than you will ever do in civilized countries. 
“The fictitious characters in the books run beside your horse on the farm, and walk about in the maizefields. On their own, like intelligent soldiers, they find at once the quarters that suit them. On the morning after I had been reading “Crome Yellow” at night,-and I had never heard of the author’s name, but had picked up the book in a Nairobi bookshop, and was as pleased as if I had discovered a new green island in the sea,- as I was riding through a valley of the Game Reserve, a little duiker jumped up, and at once turned himself into a stag for Sir Hercules with his wife and his pack of thirty black and fawn-coloured pugs. All Walter Scott’s characters were at home in the country and might be met anywhere; so were Odysseus and his men, and strangley enough many figures from Racine. Peter Schlemihl had walked over the hills in seven-league boots, Clown Agheb the honey-bee lived in my garden by the river.”
-Isak Denisen, from  Out of Africa
I was able to piece together most of the books she mentions, but I’m drawing a complete blank on Clown Agheb the honey-bee. No clue what great work of literature that one is supposed to call up. Any ideas?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Poet's Corner: Parody Edition

Can a poem be so bad that it crosses over into “awesome.” Today I’m operating on the assumption that it can. I happened upon some old scraps of paper yesterday, scraps I’d scribbled on in high school- when my only relationship to poetry was to make fun of it with my friends. I thought I’d share one of these creations here. I figure that if the internet can appreciate the brilliance of Shitty Watercolors, it must also have a place for intentionally crappy poems:

Day of McDermot’s Silence
By Farkus

Incogitant winds make me sway,
Disregarding indemnifications,
Geminating my agony.
Time is a braying beast of burden.
Helen of Troy, make no vain promises!
They penetrate my fervid core.
                I am enervate.

Your turn.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Good Earth: Found!

Our post from the other day about Cojimar got me thinking about the setting of another book I just finished: Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth . Spend five minutes with your favorite search engine and you can learn all sorts of things about that book- that it led the bestsellers lists for 21 months, that it nabbed a Pulitzer Prize, and that it was the basis of Buck’s Nobel Prize just a few years later. But if you want to know where the book actually takes place, well, that’s a little tougher to come by.

For one thing, Latin spellings of Chinese place names have changed over time, so pulling clues from Buck’s novel can be a little tricky. For another, those Latin spellings are at best just approximations of the actual Chinese pronunciation, so if you find in a biographical sketch that Buck and her husband lived in Nanhsuchou in the farming country of northern Anhwei, you might find that Google Maps suggests instead the town of nan suzhou , in Anhui  province. As it turns out, that is the correct answer, as you’ll see in a minute. And kudos to Oprah’s Book Club for putting together what appears to be the only map on the internet that tries to answer the question:

Now, as maps go, this one’s pretty crappy. Everything to the right of that right-most squiggle is actually ocean, so you’ll have to use your mind’s eye to paint it blue. And the coastline won't match what you see on any decent globe. There’s also no sense of scale except for the relative scale between cities- cities that are, again, somewhat difficult to find on a modern map with modern place names. But Shanghai is still Shanghai, so we can start our search pretty confidently from there. The Oprah Book Club (OBC) city of Chinkiang is most likely the Google Maps (GM) city of Zhenjiang. And the OBC city of Nanking is almost certainly the GM city of Nanjing. It would appear, then, that the OBC map’s ordinal directions are also pretty skewed, since in the real world Nanking/Nanjing is northwest from Shanghai, and not due west as shown in the OBC map. But okay, they tried.

Now, Nanking is about equidistant from Shanghai and Wang Lung’s farm on the OBC map, so we know that the OBC city of Nanhsuchou cannot be the GM city of Chuzhou- it’s too close to Nanking. If we keep searching to the north and west we come upon the GM city of Suzhou (different from the famous canal city near Shanghai). And here, I am fairly confident that we have pinpointed the setting of The Good Earth :

Why? Well, here’s what we know from the book itself:
  • Wang Lung’s farm is frequently flooded by a “river to the North.” A farm on the northern outskirts of Suzhou, with the Xinbian River flowing just to the north, would fit that description (The Xinbian River is not shown on the OBC map but can be seen at the top of the map below.)
  • During the first great famine Wang Lung travels southward 100 miles by train to the great cities of the South. What cities would fit this description and distance any better than the great cities on the banks of the Yangtze River: Nanjing, Zhenjiang and Shanghai?
  • Last of all, the clincher: We know that the town closest to Wang Lung’s farm is surrounded by a mote- he crosses it, he buys land next to it, etc. It can hardly be a coincidence that the old town of Suzhou just happens to be surrounded by a moat. (See the roughly rectangular outline to the left of the Suzhou railway station in the map below. Somewhere outside of that moat was Wang Lung's farming village, and somewhere inside it was the great house of Hwang and the Tea House where he meets Lotus.)
Pretty cool, no?

View Larger Map

Monday, November 26, 2012

I flew with him over Africa

"To Denys Finch-Hatton I owe what was, I think, the greatest, the most transporting pleasure of my life on the farm: I flew with him over Africa. There, where there are few or no roads and where you can land on the plains, flying becomes a thing of real and vital importance in your life, it opens up a world. Denys had brought out his Moth machine; it could land on my plain on the farm only a few minutes from the house, and we were up nearly every day.

"You have tremendous views as you get up above the African highlands, surprising combinations and changes of light and colouring, the rainbow on the green sunlit land, the gigantic upright clouds and big wild black storms, all swing round you in a race and a dance. The lashing hard showers of rain whiten the air askance. The language is short of words for the experience of flying, and will have to invent new words with time. When you have flown over the Rift Valley and the volcanoes of Suswa and Longonot, you have travelled far and have been to the lands on the other side of the moon. You may at other times fly low enough to see the animals on the plains and to feel towards them as God did when he had just created them, and before he commissioned Adam to give them names.

"But it is not the visions but the activity which makes you happy, and the joy and glory of the flyer is the flight itself. It is a sad hardship and slavery to people who live in towns, that in all their movements they know of one dimension only; they walk along the line as if they were led on a string. The transition from the line to the plane into the two dimensions, when you wander across a field or through a wood, is a splendid liberation to the slaves, like the French Revolution. But in the air you are taken into the full freedom of the three dimensions; after long ages of exile and dreams the homesick heart throws itself into the arms of space...

Every time I have gone up in an aeroplane and looking down have realized that I was free of the ground, I have had the consciousness of a great new discovery. "I see:" I have thought, "This was the idea. And now I understand everything."

-From Out of Africa , by Isak Dinesen  (Karen Blixen) 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Literary Lucre

The idea of money, both the unlikely accumulation of it and the nerve racking experience of watching it run out, can be a pretty powerful thread to pull the reader through a book. It’s as universal a theme as there is. But you don’t have to read Og Mandino or Horatio Alger to see it done. Just consider these lasting images from some of our literary greats:

  • The coffee can piggy bank nailed to the floor of the tenement closet in Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – always dutifully fed, and all-too-frequently raided in times of need.
  • The bags of gold buried under the brick floor in George Eliot’s Silas Marner  - which are dug up for continual counting, but disappear at the hands of a thief.
  • The small stash of silver hidden away in the earthen walls of Wang Lung’s farm house in Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth – a stash that is multiplied and invested in land until it becomes the makings of a “great house”.
  • The forty dollar kitty of the westward-bound Joad family in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath - a precarious sum that keeps us on pins and needles to see whether it can get their run-down jalopy across the desert and into California.

Money can be the driving force of the story, as are the boons bestowed by Pip’s mysterious benefactor in Dickens’ Great Expectations.  It can raise the stakes of the plot, as do Bingley’s and Darcy’s fortunes in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It can provide a mysterious back-story for a character as does Jay Gatsby’s ill-gotten wealth in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  Or it can be the measure of the rise or fall of a protagonist, like those experienced by Scarlett in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind

Money is something we’ve all got experience with (some more than others, to be sure) and it’s something that most of us keep a keen interest in throughout our lives. So while a good “up from nothing” story can appeal to all of us, it can be equally gripping to follow a monied protagonist- whether that’s Hank Reardon fighting to protect his wealth and his property in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged , or whether it’s Ebenezer Scrooge finding inspiration to share his wealth in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol .

I’m looking for more great books in this vein. Do any of you have any reading recommendations to share?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Feast on this!

As you sit down to gorge yourself today, and give thanks for our many modern conveniences like stretchy pants, we invite you to gorge your mind on a literary feast, as well.
  • Take last year’s Thanksgiving post, which features an O Henry short story that’s a strange mix of “The Gift of the Magi” and the pie eating contest from “Stand by Me.”
  • Or there’s the Cheever Story we posted for Christmas which provides a more humorous take on the theme of abundant feasting.
  • You could smack your lips as you watch an ad for this innovative literary treat.
  • Or take in a couple paragraphs from this Ray Bradbury post, which speak to the gifts of a good cook.
  • You could dream of the food of San Francisco, like Kerouac
  • Or enjoy a Proustian bite with Anton Ego.
  • Or take a seat next to William Least Heat Moon as he feasts in one place or another.
  • And when you’re ready to belch out your approval of the massive meal you’ve consumed, we invite you to examine the belching prowess of one of the great southern belles of the literary world.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Where Santiago and Manolin fished

Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea  was originally published in LIFE Magazine. They sent a photographer to Cuba to capture images of the author and the Caribbean island that inspired the novella’s setting. Above is his shot of Cojimar, the small fishing village northeast of Havana, that served as Santiago’s home harbor- the one that also inspired this famous first edition cover art:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Faulkner in Hollywood


Would you comment on that legendary Hollywood experience you were involved in?


I had just completed a contract at MGM and was about to return home. The director I had worked with said, “If you would like another job here, just let me know and I will speak to the studio about a new contract.” I thanked him and came home. About six months later I wired my director friend that I would like another job. Shortly after that I received a letter from my Hollywood agent enclosing my first week's paycheck. I was surprised because I had expected first to get an official notice or recall and a contract from the studio. I thought to myself, the contract is delayed and will arrive in the next mail. Instead, a week later I got another letter from the agent, enclosing my second week's paycheck. That began in November 1932 and continued until May 1933. Then I received a telegram from the studio. It said: “William Faulkner, Oxford, Miss. Where are you? MGM Studio.”

I wrote out a telegram: “MGM Studio, Culver City, California. William Faulkner.”

The young lady operator said, “Where is the message, Mr. Faulkner?” I said, “That's it.” She said, “The rule book says that I can't send it without a message, you have to say something.” So we went through her samples and selected I forget which one—one of the canned anniversary-greeting messages. I sent that. Next was a long-distance telephone call from the studio directing me to get on the first airplane, go to New Orleans, and report to Director Browning. I could have got on a train in Oxford and been in New Orleans eight hours later. But I obeyed the studio and went to Memphis, where an airplane did occasionally go to New Orleans. Three days later, one did.

I arrived at Mr. Browning's hotel about six p.m. and reported to him. A party was going on. He told me to get a good night's sleep and be ready for an early start in the morning. I asked him about the story. He said, “Oh, yes. Go to room so-and-so. That's the continuity writer. He'll tell you what the story is.”

I went to the room as directed. The continuity writer was sitting in there alone. I told him who I was and asked him about the story. He said, “When you have written the dialogue I'll let you see the story.” I went back to Browning's room and told him what had happened. “Go back,” he said, “and tell that so-and-so—. Never mind, you get a good night's sleep so we can get an early start in the morning.”

So the next morning in a very smart rented launch all of us except the continuity writer sailed down to Grand Isle, about a hundred miles away, where the picture was to be shot, reaching there just in time to eat lunch and have time to run the hundred miles back to New Orleans before dark.

That went on for three weeks. Now and then I would worry a little about the story, but Browning always said, “Stop worrying. Get a good night's sleep so we can get an early start tomorrow morning.”

One evening on our return I had barely entered my room when the telephone rang. It was Browning. He told me to come to his room at once. I did so. He had a telegram. It said: “Faulkner is fired. MGM Studio.” “Don't worry,” Browning said. “I'll call that so-and-so up this minute and not only make him put you back on the payroll but send you a written apology.” There was a knock on the door. It was a page with another telegram. This one said: “Browning is fired. MGM Studio.” So I came back home. I presume Browning went somewhere too. I imagine that continuity writer is still sitting in a room somewhere with his weekly salary check clutched tightly in his hand. They never did finish the film. But they did build a shrimp village—a long platform on piles in the water with sheds built on it—something like a wharf. The studio could have bought dozens of them for forty or fifty dollars apiece. Instead, they built one of their own, a false one. That is, a platform with a single wall on it, so that when you opened the door and stepped through it, you stepped right off onto the ocean itself. As they built it, on the first day, the Cajun fisherman paddled up in his narrow, tricky pirogue made out of a hollow log. He would sit in it all day long in the broiling sun watching the strange white folks building this strange imitation platform. The next day he was back in the pirogue with his whole family, his wife nursing the baby, the other children, and the mother-in-law, all to sit all that day in the broiling sun to watch this foolish and incomprehensible activity. I was in New Orleans two or three years later and heard that the Cajun people were still coming in for miles to look at that imitation shrimp platform which a lot of white people had rushed in and built and then abandoned.

-from "The Art of Fiction #12" at the Paris Review

Monday, November 19, 2012

A few considerations before you name your son Edward

Now, we know one of the reasons you come here is because we do the important research no one else is willing to do. Well, today is no exception, so if you’re an expectant parent with hopes of producing a literary genius, listen up.

You need to think about how your child’s name is going to appear on the cover of his or her first book. Will they be able to splash it boldly across that fancy dust jacket? Or will they demure behind a pair of initials? The answer might not be as obvious as you’d think. Just ask the parents of Thomas Stearns Eliot, Thomas Edward Lawrence, Edward Morgan Forster or Edward Estlin Cummings. All gave their verbal wunderkinds very solid, respectable names, but perhaps they were too  solid and respectable. After all, each one opted to use their initials when their galleys finally went to press.

They’re not alone, of course: J.D. Salinger, H.G. Wells, D.H. Lawrence- all preferred a two-letter trade name to the Jerome Davids, Herbert Georges, and David Herberts they were given as children. Others only went half way: Francis Fitzgerald became F. Scott, and little Henry Haggard rose to fame as H. Rider. And still others took it to the extreme- I’m looking at you, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien- three initials indeed!

Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with going by one’s initials, just ask G.K Chesterton, T.C. Boyle, H.L. Mencken, C.S. Lewis, J.P. Donleavy and E.L. Doctorow. But parents should go into this naming exercise with eyes wide open. So, let’s get down to brass tacks, or as some might refer to them, “B.T.” What are the names most likely to be initialized? We’ve created two word clouds to illustrate exactly that. The one pictured above is based on the authors already named in this post, and the second one below is based on Wikipedia’s “List ofLiterary Initials”, which catalogues roughly 200 or so authors who have preferred letters to full names. The larger the name, the more frequently it has been shortened to an initial.

We’ll leave the rest to you and your favorite book of baby names.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Elsinore Vacillation

What if Robert Ludlum wrote the title for Hamlet?- and other title what-ifs, with Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Writer's Gene

Yesterday’s post got us thinking about literary lineage. Not influence, mind you, but writers who actually beget other writers. In my five minutes of looking around, it appears to be more common than you’d think. Perhaps there’s a “writer’s gene” waiting to be isolated in the human genome project.

Take William Falkner. No, that’s not a typo. I’m talking about the author of The White Rose of Memphis , great-grandfather of the William Faulkner we all know- the one born before the family added a “u” to their name.

Or, there’s John Steinbeck… the Fourth- son of the John Steinbeck we all read in high school, journalist and posthumous memoirist. Or his brother Thomas, author of a few novels of his own, not to mention an upcoming memoir.

Hemingway’s first son, Jack, helped prepare A Moveable Feast  for posthumous publication, and himself published a memoir. Jack’s daughter Mariel has written three books of her own. Ernest's second son Patrick edited his father’s 800 manuscript pages from a trip to Africa into True at First Light , and has been good for an introduction or forward in many a Hemingway book ever since. Youngest son Greg (AKA Gloria) also authored a memoir, as have a couple of his children.

Then there's Thomas Mann, whose brother was also a writer, as were three of his children. Or the Bronte sisters for that matter. I’m sure there are tons of other examples I don’t have time to research, but it’s shockingly common. So maybe there’s something to this writing gene after all.

(That, or maybe there's a universal desire to capitalize on one’s family name when it happens to be a juicy one. I could be convinced of either.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

William Faulkner, Geneologist


Can you say how you started as a writer?


I was living in New Orleans, doing whatever kind of work was necessary to earn a little money now and then. I met Sherwood Anderson. We would walk about the city in the afternoon and talk to people. In the evenings we would meet again and sit over a bottle or two while he talked and I listened. In the forenoon I would never see him. He was secluded, working. The next day we would repeat. I decided that if that was the life of a writer, then becoming a writer was the thing for me. So I began to write my first book. At once I found that writing was fun. I even forgot that I hadn't seen Mr. Anderson for three weeks until he walked in my door, the first time he ever came to see me, and said, “What's wrong? Are you mad at me?” I told him I was writing a book. He said, “My God,” and walked out. When I finished the book—it was Soldier's Pay—I met Mrs. Anderson on the street. She asked how the book was going, and I said I'd finished it. She said, “Sherwood says that he will make a trade with you. If he doesn't have to read your manuscript he will tell his publisher to accept it.” I said, “Done,” and that's how I became a writer.


You must feel indebted to Sherwood Anderson, but how do you regard him as a writer?


He was the father of my generation of American writers and the tradition of American writing which our successors will carry on. He has never received his proper evaluation. Dreiser is his older brother and Mark Twain the father of them both.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Proustian Memory

Sometimes I’ll discover a half-written essay or unfinished book review months after I initially sat down to write it. The other day I turned up some incomplete thoughts on Swann’s Way  by Marcel Proust- a book I read clear back in April. 

To get me in the mood to finish it (and to prove to you that the world of kids movies and classic literature are not as far apart as you might think), I’m posting this brief scene from Ratatouille. It’s the perfect example of involuntary, Proustian Memory:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Another Month in the Can!

Well,  yesterday we threw another month in the archives- our twelfth month to be exact. Hard to believe we’ve been at this for a year already. We may do a  Year One Retrospective at some point this week, but for now, here are the five most popular posts from this last month:

And of course, ten choice search terms that led people here:

  • How to get an art sudonym  >>> We have the answer here.
  • Hiring personnel for amundsen scott station >>> We cover one of the perks here.
  • Dweam within a dweam >>> My parents inspire a James Joyce quote
  • Daniel Faraday D.H. Lawrence >>> We’re not the only ones to see the resemblance
  • Pet peeves poem >>> Or, a pet peeve about poems, anyway
  • Sartre und bescemi >>> Another author look-alike
  • It’s all been done before in art >>> We agree, in literature anyway
  • Little blue books >>> Find out what they are, here.
  • Great white whale metaphor >>> Mixed with The Three Amigos here.
  • Obama’s writings >>> We analyzed his first lines here

Thanks for reading- And keep coming back!

Friday, November 9, 2012

First Line Friday: Character

Back to our first line series. We’ve examined opening lines that establish setting, lines that present an axiom, lines that kick things off with dialogue, and lines where narrators break the fourth wall. Today we look at some first lines that introduce a character- like this one from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea :

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”

So we’ve got a character, his habits and occupation, as well as the dilemma he faces, all in one line. Classic. Not surprisingly, some of these character openings focus on physical attributes:

“Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” —from George Eliot’s Middlemarch  
“He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.”  —from Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim

Others go straight for behavioral or, pardon the pun, character attributes:

“Elmer Gantry was drunk.” —from Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry
“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” —from C. S. Lewis’s  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

And then, there are some that try to cram everything in at once:
“In the last years of the Seventeenth Century there was to be found among the fops and fools of the London coffee-houses one rangy, gangling flitch called Ebenezer Cooke, more ambitious than talented, and yet more talented than prudent, who, like his friends-in-folly, all of whom were supposed to be educating at Oxford or Cambridge, had found the sound of Mother English more fun to game with than her sense to labor over, and so rather than applying himself to the pains of scholarship, had learned the knack of versifying, and ground out quires of couplets after the fashion of the day, afroth with Joves and Jupiters, aclang with jarring rhymes, and string-taut with similes stretched to the snapping-point.” —from John Barth’s  The Sot-Weed Factor

I like this kind of opener, if deftly done, but I tend to get annoyed when an author pretends he is a video camera, capturing every last detail for the reader. Hemingway would get a thumbs up, and Barth, a thumbs down. What do you think?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

An Ode to the Adventure Novel

For all my bluster about high-literature and the worth of classics, I find I have a strong pulp-fiction streak lying just under the surface. I love a good adventure story. Sometimes I can find a book that fits the Venn diagram of both categories, other times you just have to go with TinTin, Dirk Pitt, Turk Madden and Indiana Jones.

Critic Don D’Ammassa defines an adventure as " event or series of events that happens outside the course of the protagonist's ordinary life, usually accompanied by danger, often by physical action. Adventure stories almost always move quickly, and the pace of the plot is at least as important as characterization, setting and other elements of a creative work."

I think he’s generally right that adventure novels place danger at the core of their stories, but there’s more to it than that, I think. The more I read, the more I realize that the adventure novels I’m drawn to are the ones that share a few other common elements, as well.

Mystery, for one. Whether it’s a long-forgotten secret, an ancient artifact, or a sinister riddle emerging from the shadows, the protagonist is drawn into his adventure by an incurable curiosity or a desperate need to stitch together some context for his existence.

Adding to that mystery are a whole host of exotic locations. Zanzibar, Morrocco, New Delhi, Venice… remote Bhuddist temples, and abandoned mines. The stranger the better, so long as the plot rips the character out of his quotidian beginnings and into a kaleidoscope of bazaars, mountain peaks and ocean storms.

But for me, the last piece of the puzzle is the getting to and from these far-flung settings. If the author raids the museum of obscure modes of transportation in constructing their tale, then  we’re really cooking. Does our main character take passage on an old tramp steamer (preferably as a stowaway)? Do he and his sidekick grab the handlebars of a motorcycle with sidecar (all the better if commandeered mid-chase)? Do they take to the backs of desert-going camels or jungle-blazing elephants? Are there interludes on crampons and skis through impenetrable mountain passes? Transport planes? Zeppelins? Ramshackle tiki rafts? If so, then you’ve got me. I’m sold. My inner twelve-year-old takes the reins and I’m a happy reader.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Bugs Me Wednesday: "Blogging"

I had a very late night, and a very early morning, so I’ll make this one short and sweet, albeit a little bit late.

If the word “blog” is a portmanteau for “web log” -and it is, by the way- then shouldn’t it follow the same rules of usage?

For example, if someone says “I wrote a blog about that just yesterday,” uh… no you didn’t. The ‘blog’ would be your full body of work, the recurring record of whatever it is you’re writing about. Just like a ship’s log- with multiple entries over time.

What this person probably means to say is that they wrote a blog entry , a blog post , or that they blogged  a particular subject on their web log. Right? Right?  Come on, I can’t be the only one this bugs…

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Another County heard from!"

“Election Day seemed the greatest holliday of all to Francie. It, more than any other time, belonged to the whole neighborhood. Maybe people voted in other parts of the country, too, but it couldn’t be the way it was in Brooklyn, thought Francie.
“The week before the election she went around with Neeley and the boys gathering “lection” which was what they called the lumber for the big bonfires which would be lighted Election night. She helped store the lection in the cellar…
“Francie helped Neeley drag their wood out on Election night. They contributed it to the biggest bonfire on the block. Francie got in line with the other children and danced around the fire Indian fashion, singing “Tammany.” When the fire had burned down to embers, the boys raided the pushcarts of the Jewish merchants and stole potatoes which they roasted in the ashes. So cooked, they were called “mickies.” There weren’t enough to go around and Francie didn’t get any."

“Francie, along with the other neighborhood children, went through some of the Election night rites without knowing their meaning or reason. On Election night, she got in line, her hands on the shoulders of the child in front, and snake-danced through the streets singing,
“Tammany, Tammany,Big Chief sits in his teepee,Cheering braves to victory,Tamma-nee, Tamma-nee.”

“She stood on the street watching the returns come in on a bed sheet stretched from window to window of a house on the corner. A magic lantern across the street threw the figures on the sheet. Each time new returns came in, Francie shouted with the other kids, “Another county heard from!”

-from Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Monday, November 5, 2012

Poet's Corner: Walt Whitman's "Election Day"

I’m not a huge poetry guy. But when I do force myself to dip an occasional toe in that literary form, the poems I gravitate towards are usually contemporary and very simple in language. Because of the timely subject matter, I’ll make an exception for this poem by Walt Whitman. (Also because he uses the word “powerfulest,” the band-name-worthy phrase “spasmic geyserloops,” and the awesome visual imagery of “The final ballot-shower from East to West.” See for yourself- and go vote tomorrow!:

Election Day, November 1884
By Walt Whitman

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
’Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyserloops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—nor Mississippi’s stream:
—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadrennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d-sea-board and inland-Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:) the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mealtime with William Least Heat Moon, Vol 2: Swamp Guinea's

"The road through the orange earth of north Georgia passed an old, three-story house with a thin black child hanging out of every window like an illustration for “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe”; on into the hills and finally to Swamp Guinea’s, a conglomerate of plywood and two-by-fours laid over with the smell of damp pine woods.Inside, wherever an oddity of natural phenomenon could hang, one hung: stuffed rump of a deer, snowshoe, flintlock, hornet’s nest. The place looked as if a Boy Scout troop had decorated it. Thirty or so people, black and white, sat around tables almost foundering under piled platters of food. I took a seat by the reproduction of a seventeenth-century woodcut depicting some Rabelaisian banquet at the groaning board.
"The diners were mostly Oglethorpe County red-dirt farmers. In Georgia tones they talked about their husbandry in terms of rain and nitrogen and hope. An immense woman with a glossy picture of a hooked bass leaping the front of her shirt said, “I’m gonna be sick from how much I’ve ate.”
"...I was watching everyone else and didn't see the waitress standing quietly by.  Her voice was deep and soft like water moving in a cavern.  I ordered the $4.50 special.  In a few minutes she wheeled up a cart and began off-loading dinner: ham and eggs, fried catfish, fried perch fingerlings, fried shrimp, chunks of barbecued beef, fried chicken, French fries, hush puppies, a broad bowl of cole slaw, another of lemon, a quart of ice tea, a quart of ice, and an entire loaf of factory-wrapped white bread.  The table was covered."
-from Blue Highways , by William Least Heat Moon

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mealtime with William Least Heat Moon, Vol 1: Brenda

"…and inside hung an insurance agency calendar and another for an auto parts store. Also on the walls were the Gettysburg Address, Declaration of Independence, Pledge of Allegiance, a picture of a winged Jesus ushering two kids who belonged in a Little Rascals film, and the obligatory waterfall lithograph. The clincher: small, white, hexagonal floor tiles. Two old men, carrying their arms folded behind, stopped to greet each other with a light, feminine touching of fingertips, a gesture showing the duration of their friendship. I went in happy.
"I expected a grandmother, wiping her hands on a gingham apron, to come from the kitchen. Instead I got Brenda. Young , sullen, pink uniform, bottlecaps for eyes, handling her pad the way a cop does his citation book. The menu said all breakfasts came with grits, toast, and preserves. I ordered a breakfast of two eggs over easy. “Is that all you want?”
“Doesn’t it come with grits and so forth?”
“Does if you ast fort.”
"I want the complete, whole thing. Top to bottom.”
"She snapped the pad closed. I waited. I read the rest of the menu, the Gettysburg Address, made a quick run over the Pledge of Allegiance, read about famous American women on four sugar packets, read a matchbox and the imprints on the flatware. I was counting grains of rice in the saltshaker (this was  the South), when Brenda pushed a breakfast at me, the check slick with margarine and propped between slices of toast. The food was good and the sense of the place fine, but Brenda was destined for an interstate run-em-thru. Early in life she had developed the ability to make a customer wish he’d thrown up on himself rather than disturb her."

-from Blue Highways , by William Least Heat Moon