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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

William Faulkner Resigns From His Post Office Job

William Faulkner became postmaster at the University of Mississippi in 1922 but he was not a stellar employee. He opened the post office on days when it suited him, and closed it when it didn’t, usually when he wanted to go hunting or over to the golf course. He would throw away the advertising circulars, university bulletins and other mail he deemed junk. Eventually he decided he'd had enough or he figured he'd quit before being fired.
As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp. 
 This, sir, is my resignation.
More: Open Culture

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The (Urban) Legend of Ernest Hemingway’s Six-Word Story

For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn. 
This sentence, attributed to Hemingway, is a favorite example of writing teachers, a display of the power of literary compression in which “the reader must cooperate in the construction of the larger narrative that is obliquely limned by these words.”

In fact, versions of the six-word story appeared long before Hemingway even began to write, at least as early as 1906.

More: Open Culture

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Class Trip

This novella by Emmanuel Carriere was a bestseller in France. Nicolas is a young boy whose overprotective father drives over five hours to take him to his class skiing trip because he feared Nicolas would be at risk on the school bus. He drops Nicolas at the chalet but neglects to deposit Nicolas' luggage.

Nicolas waits for his father, a surgical instrument salesman, to return with his suitcase and in the meantime has to borrow items from his classmates who have ostracized him. But his father doesn't come back and can't be reached by phone (this novel is 20 years old). Nicolas, a neurotic child, starts fretting about his father's disappearance but enjoys the special attention he receives when he becomes ill. A boy disappears from the village and Nicolas fantasizes about what might have happened to him. It doesn't turn out well. I anticipated the ending but it was disquieting nonetheless.

James Joyce, Ezra Pound, John Quinn and Ford Madox Ford. Paris 1923

Via amqr

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Anne Sexton "For My Lover Returning to his Wife"

Via Cathy Gildiner

Haiku On Demand

 The Haiku Guys attend fundraising galas, wine shop openings, indie film nights, weddings, festivals and countless other events. Their corporate client list includes Bloomberg, Google, Barnes & Noble, Steve Madden, and J. P. Morgan. They sit behind a typewriter in front of a sign that says "Free Haiku," and entertain guests by writing them 5-7-5 syllable poems carefully tailored to their mood or interests.

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Grammar Grumble Mugs Set

Grammar Grumble Mugs Set: An original design by The Literary Gift Company, this series is inspired by the 2013 publication A Mug's Guide to Grammar.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The remarkable rabbits of Sigmund Freud’s niece

"These remarkable dreamlike images come from a 1924 book that came out in Germany called Buch der Hasengeschichten (“Book of Rabbit Stories”). The author published under the name Tom Seidmann-Freud, but her given name was Martha Gertrud Freud—her mother, Maria Freud, who went by “Mitzi,” was one of Sigmund Freud’s five sisters. Martha was born in Vienna in 1892 but her family moved to Berlin in 1898. As a teenager she adopted the name “Tom.” In 1920 she met a writer named Jakob Seidmann, whom she married two years later."

More:Dangerous Minds

Baileys women’s prize for fiction longlist

Baileys women’s prize for fiction longlist 2015

  • Outline by Rachel Cusk (Faber and Faber) – British – 8th novel
  • Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans (Doubleday) – British – 4th novel
  • Aren’t We Sisters? by Patricia Ferguson (Penguin) – British – 8th novel
  • I Am China by Xiaolu Guo (Chatto & Windus) – Chinese/ British – 6th novel
  • Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape) – British - 3rd novel
  • Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (Viking) – British – 1st novel
  • Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (Picado) – Canadian – 4th novel
  • The Offering by Grace McCleen (Sceptre) – British – 3rd novel 
  • The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman (Chatto & Windus) – British/American – 3rd novel 
  • The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill (Quercus) – Canadian – 2nd novel 
  • The Bees by Laline Paull (Fourth Estate) – British - 1st novel 
  • The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips (Jonathan Cape) – British – 2nd Novel 
  • The Walk Home by Rachel Seiffert (Virago) – British – 3rd novel 
  • A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury) – Pakistani/British – 6th novel 
  • How to be Both by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton) - British – 6th novel 
  • The Shore by Sara Taylor (William Heinemann) – American – 1st novel 
  • A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (Chatto & Windus) – American – 20th novel 
  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (Virago) – British – 6th novel 
  • After Before by Jemma Wayne (Legend Press) – British – 1st novel 
  • The Life of a Banana by PP Wong (Legend Press) – British – 1st novel

The Guardian

Sunday, March 08, 2015


I've been on a bit of a Helen Humphreys kick lately. This is the third Humphreys novel I've read in as many weeks and the second about WWII. In 1940 the city of Coventry, England is being relentlessly bombed by the Germans. The story follows three characters during the 12 hour conflagration.
Harriet lost her husband in WW1. She met Maeve briefly 25 years ago on the day she said goodbye to her husband when he left for the Belgian battlefields. This interaction was fleeting but the women enjoyed each others' company. On the night of the bombing Harriet is a fire-watcher at the Coventry Cathedral. She meets another fire-watcher, a young man named Jeremy, who has only recently moved to Coventry and is lost. She feels protective of Jeremy, in part because he reminds her of her husband, and she offers to guide him home to find his mother. Along they way they encounter unspeakable horror.
Unbeknownst to Harriet, Maeve is Jeremy's mother. Maeve has been sheltering in a basement beneath a pub but has decided she would be safer if she joined others who were exiting the city on foot. She leaves a letter to Jeremy on the kitchen table telling him of her whereabouts.
We learn more about Harriet and Maeve through flashbacks. I was struck by the author's stripped down, spare and elegant style that created fully fleshed-out characters in such a short volume. Humphreys is a wonderful writer and, having read four of her novels, I aim to eat the rest up just as soon as I can.

The First Bad Man

This is performance artist/filmmaker Miranda July's debut novel. I'm familiar with July's work so I was prepared for oddness and I got plenty of it. Cheryl Glickman is a 40-something neurotic who lives a very regimented life on her own. She is afraid of losing control, believing that a momentary lapse of discipline will place her on a slippery slide into ruin.  She keeps just one place setting of dishes which forces her to wash them before she eats again thus preventing a pileup of dirty dishes in the sink which can only lead to homelessness and peeing in cups. She works for a firm that sells women's self defence/fitness videos and loves Philip, a lecherous older board member with the company. This love is unrequited. In fact Philip seeks Cheryl's permission to have sex with a teenager. Cheryl longs for a baby she once met and to whom she formed an inexplicable emotional connection. She has named him Kubelko Bondy. Poor lonely Cheryl.

Then Cheryl's bosses coerce her into taking in Clee, their 20 year old daughter, on a temporary basis. Clee turns out to be the houseguest from hell; she is surly, smelly and cruel. A strange and unlikely relationship evolves over time between the two women.

My reaction after reading The First Bad Man is as strange as the novel itself. I can't decide if it was too damn weird or just weird enough and I find myself unable to say whether I loved or hated it.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

5 Criminal Mugshots of Characters From Banned Books

To celebrate Banned Books Week, Tumblr user Jubliant Antics! created some thought-provoking mugshots of beloved literary characters:

Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye

Banned for: Strong language, sexual references, and for encouraging rebellion.

Hester Prynne, The Scarlet Letter

Banned for: The book has been called “pornographic and obscene,” yet there is no sex in the book. Really it’s banned because of the plot: Hester’s adulterous affair with Arthur Dimmesdale and the resulting pregnancy.

More: Buzzfeed

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Handling William Faulkner's Drinking During Foreign Trips

Novelist William Faulkner was notorious for his hard drinking. Keeping an eye on his drinking became a mandate of State Department officers at the U.S. Information Agency during Faulkner’s official trips abroad.

A document called “Guidelines for Handling Mr. William Faulkner on His Trips Abroad” composed and discreetly circulated.Included in the document were the following:
  • “Keep several pretty young girls in the front two rows of any public appearance to keep his attention up”
  • “Put someone in charge of his liquor at all times so that he doesn’t drink too quickly”
  • “Do not allow him to venture out on his own without an escort”

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Complicated Kindness

Nomi Nickel is the 16-year-old narrator of Miriam Toews' third novel. She lives in East Village, a Mennonite community in Manitoba with her schoolteacher dad, a reserved, gentle man who is devastated after his wife, Trudie and his older daughter, Tash left separately for parts unknown. Nomi also pines for them. With half their quirky little family gone Ray and Nomi try to keep going but are seriously struggling with their loss. Trudie's brother Hans, aka "The Mouth", is a joyless religious leader who instills the fear of God into the community. We learn that he excommunicated Trudie and Tash and this is likely why they have left town. They did not want Ray to have to choose between his church and his love for them. Ray has been selling their furniture piece by piece and disappears at night to tidy the dump. Nomi stops going to school, rides around town with her boyfriend Travis, smokes a bit of weed, drinks a little booze and starts taking birth control pills. It seems inevitable that she will end up working at the only industry in this lifeless town, a chicken slaughterhouse. Understandably this probability depresses her.

I've made the book sound dark and bleak but it's not at all. Nomi has a wry way of looking at the world that made me laugh despite all the sadness. It took me a few years to get around to this book because a Mennonite coming of age story was the last thing I wanted to read. Then I heard Toews read from All My Puny Sorrows at the Eden Mills Writers' Festival, read it, loved it and moved on to this earlier novel and am so glad I did. The ending left me fretting about what would happen to Nomi and I would love to see a sequel.

Strangers on a Beach: The Origins of Tom Ripley

Patricia Highsmith's most memorable supervillain was inspired by a chance encounter. But how fictional was he really?

More: Neatorama