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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.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Year In Great Sentences

 Brooklyn Magazine polled some editors, writers, and readers about their favorite sentences of the year. Like this one from Andrew Martin, Brooklyn contributor and freelance writer:

Sentence: “About a week after Danny’d put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger and a couple days after his lame orthodox funeral at our childhood church, I went for a walk along a street of patched potholes that runs along Lake Union (near where, a year or so in the future, a future I was sure had ended tragically the night Danny shot himself, my other brother Mike would pull a similar stunt, jumping off the Aurora Bridge and living to tell about it, thus revealing to me the comic, the vaudevillian underside of suicide) and saw a scavenging crow jabbing its beak into the underside of an injured robin.” 
Where it’s from: The essay “Salinger and Sobs” in Charles D’Ambrosio’s collection of new and collected essays, Loitering. 
Why it’s great: D’Ambrosio is a master short story writer, and his essays, long out of print and/or scattered to the winds, are, it turns out, very good as well, in no small part thanks to off-kilter, mind-jarring sentences like the one above, which summarizes many of the concerns (family, suicide, um, glibness) that haunt this troubling, excellent collection.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Blind Mice Diary | theNewerYork

The Blind Mice Diary is a wonderful story by my friend, the dashing, handsome and talented Steve Vermillion. It appears in theNewerYork. Support their Kickstarter project and help publish an inspiring collection of experimental literature and art. No short stories, no poetry, just weird things with words.

Toronto cafe hosts dinner series celebrating authors and their works

"Rarely does an author event involve the writer making dinner. Reading? Yes. Spinning witty repartee? Sure. Even showing up with a band and throwing a real party.
But at the Windup Bird Cafe, writer Susan Swan is getting ready to whip up some dessert.
But before that, we’re going to eat turkey."

Read More

Nackles: A Christmas story by Donald Westlake

"I don’t know if Nackles exists, or will exist. All I know for sure is that there’s suddenly a new meaning in the lyric of that popular Christmas song. You know the one I mean:

You’d better watch out."

 Read it here

Readers' 10 best books of 2014

Guardian readers have picked their favourite books of 2014. I have been making my way through the audio version The Goldfinch. As I only listen to it while I do housework I am making limited headway. If I ever finish I look forward to making my way through the rest of this list.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

How I Defeated the Tolkien Estate

No one who gets a postgraduate degree in Hobbit Studies ever imagines they’ll be sued by the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. I certainly didn’t expect to wind up in court against Christopher Tolkien and his lawyers, like Frodo Baggins facing down the Nazgul on Weathertop. Little did I know I was heading into a legal and scholarly Midgewater when I wrote and published The Lord of the Rings: A New English Translation.

More Here

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Jack Kerouac's Hand-Drawn Cover for On the Road

Jack Kerouac was not impressed by the book cover slapped on his first novel by his publisher, Harcourt Brace. So when he began shopping his second novel, On the Road, Kerouac designed his own cover. He sent it to a potential publisher A.A. Wyn, with this note typed on it:

Dear Mr. Wyn: I submit this as my idea of an appealing commercial cover expressive of the book. The cover for “The Town and the City” was as dull as the title and the photo backflap. Wilbur Pippin’s photo of me is the perfect On the Road one … it will look like the face of the figure below.

More: Open Culture

Kerouac's drawing was never used but you can see all the front covers of various editions of On the Road here. I still have the Signet 1968 paperback.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Detective novelist Raymond Chandler's wife of 30 years, Cissy, died on December 12th, 1954. As can be seen in the following touching and affectionate letter, written to friend Leonard Russell shortly after Cissy's passing, Raymond was deeply affected by the loss of his wife, and it seems he never really recovered.

December 29, 1954
Dear Leonard:
Your letter of December 15th has just reached me, the mails being what they are around Christmas time. I have received much sympathy and kindness and many letters, but yours is somehow unique in that it speaks of the beauty that is lost rather than condoling with the comparatively useless life that continues on. She was everything you say, and more. She was the beat of my heart for thirty years. She was the music heard faintly at the edge of sound. It was my great and now useless regret that I never wrote anything really worth her attention, no book that I could dedicate to her. I planned it. I thought of it, but I never wrote it. Perhaps I couldn't have written it.

She died hard. Her body fought a hundred lost battles, any one of which would have been enough to finish most of us. Twice I brought her home from the hospital because she hated hospitals, and had her in her own room with nurses around the clock. But she had to go back. And I suppose she never quite forgave me for that. But when at the end I closed her eyes she looked very young. Perhaps by now she realizes that I tried, and that I regarded the sacrifice of several years of a rather insignificant literary career as a small price to pay, if I could make her smile a few times more.
No doubt you realize that this was no sudden thing, that it had been going on for a long time, and that I have said goodbye to my Cissy in the middle of the night in the dark cold hours many, many times. She admired and liked you very much. I'm not sure that she liked Dilys as much as I did, because possibly she suspected that I liked her too much. And it is just possible that I thought she liked you a little too much.

I hope that you are both well and prosperous and that I may have the privilege of seeing you again in the not too distant future, with or without the butler from the Ritz. And I hope I am not being too sentimental if I sign myself,

Yours affectionately,

More: Letters of Note

An Interview With Raymond Carver

Mona Simpson interviewed Carver in 1983 for The Art Of Fiction No. 76

Portions of the interview were conducted through the mail, during 1981–1982. When we met Carver, the No Visitors sign was not up and several Syracuse students dropped by to visit during the course of the interview, including Carver's son, a senior. For lunch, Carver made us sandwiches with salmon he had caught off the coast of Washington. Both he and Gallagher are from Washington state and at the time of the interview, they were having a house built in Port Angeles, where they plan to live part of each year. We asked Carver if that house would feel more like a home to him. He replied, “No, wherever I am is fine. This is fine.”
More: Paris Review

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I miss my biggest heart

Emily Dickinson was a prolific letter writer. Her most frequent correspondent, and a person now thought to have been the inspiration for much of her passionate material, was close friend (and, from 1856 onwards, sister-in-law) Susan Huntington Gilbert, a lady who provoked some undeniably intimate and romantic letters from the poet, the intensity of which to this day generate speculation about their relationship. Here's an example:

11 June 1852
I have but one thought, Susie, this afternoon of June, and that of you, and I have one prayer, only; dear Susie, that is for you. That you and I in hand as we e'en do in heart, might ramble away as children, among the woods and fields, and forget these many years, and these sorrowing cares, and each become a child again — I would it were so, Susie, and when I look around me and find myself alone, I sigh for you again; little sigh, and vain sigh, which will not bring you home.
I need you more and more, and the great world grows wider, and dear ones fewer and fewer, every day that you stay away — I miss my biggest heart; my own goes wandering round, and calls for Susie — Friends are too dear to sunder, Oh they are far too few, and how soon they will go away where you and I cannot find them, dont let us forget these things, for their remembrance now will save us many an anguish when it is too late to love them! Susie, forgive me Darling, for every word I say — my heart is full of you, none other than you in my thoughts, yet when I seek to say to you something not for the world, words fail me. If you were here — and Oh that you were, my Susie, we need not talk at all, our eyes would whisper for us, and your hand fast in mine, we would not ask for language — I try to bring you nearer, I chase the weeks away till they are quite departed, and fancy you have come, and I am on my way through the green lane to meet you, and my heart goes scampering so, that I have much ado to bring it back again, and learn it to be patient, till that dear Susie comes. Three weeks — they cant last always, for surely they must go with their little brothers and sisters to their long home in the west!
I shall grow more and more impatient until that dear day comes, for till now, I have only mourned for you; now I begin to hope for you.

Dear Susie, I have tried hard to think what you would love, of something I might send you — I at last saw my little Violets, they begged me to let them go, so here they are — and with them as Instructor, a bit of knightly grass, who also begged the favor to accompany them — they are but small, Susie, and I fear not fragrant now, but they will speak to you of warm hearts at home, and of the something faithful which “never slumbers nor sleeps” — Keep them 'neath your pillow, Susie, they will make you dream of blue-skies, and home, and the “blessed contrie”! You and I will have an hour with “Edward” and “Ellen Middleton”, sometime when you get home — we must find out if some things contained therein are true, and if they are, what you and me are coming to!
Now, farewell, Susie, and Vinnie sends her love, and mother her's, and I add a kiss, shyly, lest there is somebody there! Dont let them see, will you Susie?

Emilie —
Why cant I be the delegate to the great Whig Convention? — dont I know all about Daniel Webster, and the Tariff, and the Law? Then, Susie I could see you, during a pause in the session — but I dont like this country at all, and I shant stay here any longer! “Delenda est” America, Massachusetts and all!

open me carefully
More:Letters of Note

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Cozy Reading Nooks

The holiday season can be stressful. When things get crazy you can always escape into a good book.




More: BookBub Blog

Monday, December 08, 2014

Let Me Be Frank With You

In his most recent book Richard Ford catches us up on the progress of Frank Bascombe, now 68, failed novelist, former sportswriter, retired New Jersey real estate agent and the protagonist of three of Ford's previous novels. In four overlapping stories Frank interacts with people he'd prefer not to be engaged with.
In the first story, "I'm Here" Hurricane Sandy has recently wrought destruction along the Jersey shore and Frank's current wife, Sally, is off providing counselling to the affected; she is suffering as well but we don't see much of her. Frank drives out to meet with a client to whom he'd sold his house on the shore. The house is now a pile of rubble and Frank, awkward and cold in his light jacket, tries to figure out what the man wants from him.
In "Everything Could Be Worse" Frank finds a strange woman at his front door who informs him that she had lived there as a girl. He assumes she is here because of nostalgia but is thrown when she reveals what actually happened to her in Frank's home when she was 16 years old.
In “The New Normal,” Frank visits his first wife, Ann who has Parkinson’s disease and lives in a high-end care home uncomfortably close to Frank's own home. He brings her an orthopaedic pillow and the visit reminds him of the failings of the marriage.
In “Deaths of Others” Eddie, an old friend who is on his deathbed, asks Frank to come visit. Again, Frank feels uncomfortable but obligated to attend. Eddie makes a confession about a transgression that occurred many years ago. Frank is remarkably unmoved by the information.
Frank Bascombe is a man moving into old age with all the accompanying aches and pains (I have them myself). He is a staunch Democrat who shuns the Republicans who surround him. He greets veterans returning from overseas combat and reads for the blind at a community radio station. He tries to comfort those around him with platitudes or an orthopaedic pillow but he doesn't really care about their wellbeing, he just wants to smooth things over. This sounds grim but Ford's wry irony had me laughing out loud. It lacks the weight of the other Bascombe books but it's still a damn good read. 

How to Tell If You Are in an Alice Munro Story

  • Your sister met a man once. He loved her despite — or perhaps because of — her chronic illness. 
  • He is your husband now. You have no children. 
  • Nothing has ever happened to you except one thing, decades ago.

    You are having an affair with a married man. His sister knows, and hates you. She has volunteered to drive you back to town. 
  • You see the man you once thought you’d marry. 
  • He is married to someone less attractive than you. But aren’t you both less attractive now, after all this time? 
  • You are thoughtful, well-read, and ruthlessly practical. You never marry. 
  • You went to a place once. Decades later, you return under very different circumstances. 
  • You see truths about people that no one in your small Canadian town wants to admit. A married man can sense this about you, and he offers to take you for a drive.


Friday, December 05, 2014

Happy 80th Birthday, Joan Didion: Vanessa Redgrave Reads Didion’s Harrowing ‘Blue Nights’

"Redgrave and Didion have more than their decades-long friendship in common. Four years after Quintana’s death, the great English actor lost her own daughter Natasha, a childhood friend of Quintana’s, to brain injury after a skiing accident. Two years earlier, Redgrave had played Didion in a Broadway adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking. But the grimly uncanny parallel of maternal loss brought a far deeper dimension of mutuality to Redgrave’s performance of Blue Nights. As her graceful, coolly expressive voice spills from the altar into the nave and echoes, godlike, across the cathedral, one can’t help feeling — at least I couldn’t help feeling — a brush at once chilling and beautiful with the unanswerable questions that line the vaulted ceiling between life and death."

More:  Brain Pickings

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

List: Words That I Need for My Dissertation That Don’t Exist.

  • Contrapunctual – adjective – 1. Intentional belatedness with respect to poetic form; 2. My dissertation schedule with respect to my dissertation. 
  • Hegemonkey – noun – 1. Apish answer to ideology; 2. Tree-dwelling mammal in a suit. 
  • Insistenance – noun – 1. Food in the fridge that calls me away from my computer multiple times per day; 2. Large portions of cold, leftover pasta. 
  • Inebriaffinated – adjective – 1. The condition in which writing may feel enjoyable; 2. Descriptive term for three o’clock in the morning on Sundays. 
  • Notmal – adjective – 1. Not normal but also, not strange; 2. Dorothy Wordsworth’s relationship with her brother, William Wordsworth.

More: McSweeney’s Internet Tendency