"False smiles turning uglier. Dry kisses stiffening like dried fish..."
Inspiring story here, of Greenlandic author Niviaq Korneliussen (I love that combination of Inuit and Danish names), and the remarkable success of her debut novel Homo Sapienne, which has sold almost two thousand copies to date. That figure might sound middling, but bear in mind that Greenland has only 56,000 inhabitants, and that Greenlandic is rarely spoken outside of Greenland - so, if you're writing in Greenlandic, your potential audience is probably a maximum of only around 60,000 readers. And get this:
To be considered a “best-seller” today, a Greenlandic-language book must sell around a thousand copies.
That means a Greenlandic best-seller, relative to the population of the country, is equivalent to selling more than FIVE MILLION copies in the United States. And Korneliussen's novel has done twice as well as that - impressive! Unfortunately, the book is not yet translated into English.
"...one man in his time plays many parts..."
I've been fishing around for a title to my novel in progress, part of which involves a small-town dinner theater. I've toyed with some variation on "all the world's a stage", which I knew was Shakespeare, though not which play it was from nor the entire soliloquy. So I looked it up - it's from As You Like It:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
I like it. I'm not sure I can borrow anything from this for a title without being brutally obvious, but maybe I'll just take away some inspiration. The Wikipedia entry (which includes this photo of Richard Kindersley's sculpture The Seven Ages of Man, in London) has some interesting context on Shakespeare's sources for the world as a stage and seven ages concepts.
"I'm a liar. Born to lying, bred to it, trained to it by an industry that lies for a living, practised it as a novelist. As a maker of fictions, I invent versions of myself, never the real thing, if it exists." - John le Carré
(Le Carré's father was a con man, and the writer was a British spy before turning to writing.)
Fantastic: Lois Bielefeld's photographic series, Weeknight Dinners. So many stories there, just lightly hinted at. Gorgeous photography aside, I'm impressed by her ability to talk her way into so many peoples' homes. That's something I could never do.
"One is reminded once again to be wary of moments when racism 'ends' in a sudden thunderclap of progress." - Leonard Pitts, Jr.
The Charisma Theory
I wish with all my heart that this theory had failed during the most recent election, but unfortunately it held true. A year or two ago it occurred to me that the more charismatic presidential candidate often wins. But once I started thinking about it further, I realized that the theory was true for every election (with the possible exception of 1988, which was a tossup in terms of the candidates' charisma) since 1976:
1976: Carter over Ford
1980: Reagan over Carter
1984: Reagan over Mondale
1988: Bush over Dukakis
1992: Clinton over Bush
1996: Clinton over Dole
2000: Bush over Gore
2004: Bush over Kerry
2008: Obama over McCain
2012: Obama over Romney
2016: Trump over Clinton
Being ignorant of politics prior to 1976, I can't really weigh in on earlier elections. But this trend (though it may just be a fluke) over the past forty years makes me wonder how much charisma, personality, likability etc. (even more so than a candidate's experience and policy positions) influences voters - especially moderate/independent voters who usually end up being the group that decides elections. Something to ponder, at least.
Farewell, Barack Obama
With this being the last day in office for Barack Obama - the greatest president of my lifetime - I will honor the man by reprising a clerihew I wrote about him back in 2006, when he was still a U.S. Senator:
With Barack Obama,
Each word and each comma
Is perfectly placed. But what sets him apart?
The depth of his mind and the depth of his heart.
During the next four years I will fight every day to withstand the mindlessness and heartlessness of our national leadership. Yes, we can.
Fading Ad: Graham Bros. Soap Co.
Graham Bros. Soap Co., makers of toilet soaps, shampoo, talcum powder and laundry soaps. 1423 W. Lake Street, Chicago. The name is mostly gone, but I was able to find it by searching on the street address. Below is a fine example of one of the company's talcum tins.
“Reckless audacity came to be understood as the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice. In this contest the blunter wits were most successful."
"The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." - H.L. Mencken
As I've mentioned here previously, I share a birthday and many attitudes (the better ones, of course) with Mencken. (I would have loved to hear his thoughts on our incoming president. I imagine he would have been particularly horrified by Trump's diction.) I've thoroughly enjoyed most of the Mencken I've read - the strength of his prose and boldness of his personality more than offsets the dated and now-obscure subject matter - and hope to read his "Days Trilogy" next.
"...not good and not bad, but both at once..."
After World War II, Knut Hamsun was put on trial for treason, due to his strong connections to the Nazis and Hitler. During his lengthy examination by the state for mental competence (it was surely hoped that, as a beloved but elderly national hero, his dealings with Nazis were nothing more than senility), Hamsun expounded on literature and its parallel to his own personality.
The so-called 'Naturalists', Zola and his period, wrote about people with dominant characteristics. They had no use for the more subtle psychology, people all had this 'dominant characteristic' which ordained their actions.
Dostoevsky and others taught us all something different about human beings.
From the time I began I do not think that in my entire output you will find a character with a single dominant characteristic. They are all without so-called 'character'. They are split and fragmented, not good and not bad, but both at once, subtle, and changeable in their attitudes and in their deeds.
No doubt I am also like this myself.
It is very possible that I am aggressive, that I have in me something of all of the characteristics which the professor mentions. I am sensitive, suspicious, selfish, generous, jealous, righteous, logical, emotional, controlled. But I don't know that I could say that any one of them was more pronounced than the others in me. In addition I am filled by a grace which has permitted me to write my books. But I cannot 'analyse' that.
Brandes has called it the 'divine madness'.
The contradictory polarity that Hamsun described is the only possible way to reconcile the warm humanity of Hamsun the writer with the cold inhumanity of Hamsun the Nazi. (He was undeniably a Nazi. The medical examiners found him mentally competent, a conclusion that was supported by the fact that the old man wrote one final, rational book, On Overgrown Paths, about his post-war experience.) Hamsun had his demons, and a stubborn resolve that made him refuse to ever reconsider any of his strongly-held beliefs. He was yet another example of a great artist who was an often deplorable human being.
(Quotation from Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun, by Robert Ferguson, 1987.)
"Hamsun isn’t the father of the modern novel, but rather its difficult, lonely uncle."
In The Guardian, Jonathan McAloon pays his respects to Knut Hamsun's groundbreaking novel, Mysteries. It's been years since I read the novel, which is overdue for a rereading.
Incidentally, I just finished the Hamsun biography Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun, by Robert Ferguson (who considers Mysteries to be Hamsun's greatest book). The bio was fascinating: what a perplexing, contradictory individual Hamsun was. If you're wondering: yes, Hamsun was undoubtedly a Nazi - not quite a genocidist, but one who truly believed in racial purity (he thought the Jews should be segregated, not exterminated) and the greatness of the German people.
Joliet police blotter
Joliet police: Handyman attacked with skillet
Felix Sarver, Joliet Herald-News
January 6, 2017
JOLIET – Joliet police say a handyman was hit in the head with a cast-iron skillet by a Joliet man apparently upset about the victim’s past work.
Charles E. Allen, 50, of the 1300 block of Arthur Avenue in Joliet, has been charged with aggravated battery in the incident, which occurred about 2:48 p.m. Thursday.
Joliet Police Department Capt. Jeff Allbert said the victim, a man in his 50s, went over to the residence – where Allen’s parents also live – to do repair work on a furnace for them. Allbert said the victim is not a regular repairman.
Allen came to the residence and argued with the victim over past electrical work and the argument became heated enough that Allen hit the victim over the head with a cast-iron skillet – once in the front and once in the back.
After police were called, both men were sent to Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox for treatment, as Allen also sustained an injury on his hand. The victim did not have life-threatening injuries, Allbert said.
Once Allen was released from the hospital, he was taken into police custody, Allbert said.
"Don‘t deliberate too long before you begin to write a sketch. All kinds of nice ideas can disappear, never to be seen again. On the other hand, I advise you not to tremble in the face of months, years even, of procrastination, since there’s something quite formative and educational in waiting." - Robert Walser
Writerly words to live by - don't delay, but don't rush!
“Why is it that knowing how to remain alone in Paris for a year in a miserable room teaches a man more than a hundred literary salons and forty years’ experience of ‘Parisian life’?” - Albert Camus
Because, Albert, struggle always creates greater art than does comfort. One of my reading goals for this year is to finally read The Stranger. (Yes, yes, I know. One of the many glaring gaps in my literary experience.)