Booth and Boynton

What a lovely confluence: Sandra Boynton's latest children's board book, Here, George!, is based on the image of one of George Booth's irascible dogs. Booth is one of my favorite cartoonists, and Maddie loved Boynton's books as a child. (And I did, too: I still say "moo, bah, la la la" now and then.) And the new book isn't some ripoff: Boynton is a huge admirer of Booth, who gave her his blessing and support. This Paris Review article includes some delightful repartee between the two, during a visit by Boynton to Booth at his New York apartment. 

October 9, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Opening Lines

"I’m not here by choice."
- Giano Cromley, The Last Good Halloween

”Even standing still, finally, Ray Welter's body remained in motion and subject to inner tidal forces beyond his control."
- Andrew Ervin, Burning Down George Orwell's House

"No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water."
- H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

"We slept in what had once been the gymnasium."
- Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

"Marley was dead, to begin with."
- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

"The first sound in the mornings was the clumping of the mill-girls' clogs down the cobbled street. Earlier than that, I suppose, there were factory whistles which I was never awake to hear."
- George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream."
- John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

"A nurse held the door open for them."
- Eudora Welty, The Optimist's Daughter

"The two grubby small boys with tow-colored hair who were digging among the ragweed in the front yard sat back on their heels and said, 'Hello,' when the tall bony man with straw-colored hair turned in at their gate."
- Katherine Anne Porter, Noon Wine

"Heraldic and unflagging it chugged up the mountain road, the sound, a new sound jarring in on the profoundly pensive landscape. A new sound and a new machine, its squat front the colour of baked brick, the ridges of the big wheels scummed in muck, wet muck and dry muck, leaving their maggoty trails."
- Edna O'Brien, Wild Decembers

"One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away."
- Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

"I am in Aranmor, sitting over a turf fire, listening to a murmur of Gaelic that is rising from a little public-house under my room."
- J.M. Synge, The Aran Islands

"On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide - it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese - the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope."
- Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

"A wise man once said that next to losing its mother, there is nothing more healthy for a child than to lose its father."
- Halldór Laxness, The Fish Can Sing

"Studs Lonigan, on the verge of fifteen, and wearing his first suit of long trousers, stood in the bathroom with a Sweet Caporal pasted in his mug."
- James T. Farrell, Young Lonigan

"Dennis awoke to the sound of the old man upstairs beating his wife."
- Tim Hall, Half Empty

"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board."
- Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

"We always fall asleep smoking one more cigarette in bed."
- Joseph G. Peterson, Beautiful Piece

"Tonight, a steady drizzle, streetlights smoldering in fog like funnels of light collecting rain."
- Stuart Dybek, The Coast of Chicago

"Beware thoughts that come in the night."
- William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways: A Journey Into America

"'There they are again,' the doctor said suddenly, and he stood up. Unexpectedly, like his words, the noise of the approaching airplane motors slipped into the silence of the death chamber."
- Hans Keilson, Comedy in a Minor Key

"Now that I'm dead I know everything."
- Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

"In the end Jack Burdette came back to Holt after all."
- Kent Haruf, Where You Once Belonged

"It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days."
- Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."
- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

"I'd caught a slight cold when I changed trains at Chicago; and three days in New York - three days of babes and booze while I waited to see The Man - hadn't helped it any."
- Jim Thompson, Savage Night

"Since the end of the war, I have been on this line, as they say: a long, twisted line stretching from Naples to the cold north, a line of locals, trams, taxis and carriages."
- Aharon Appelfeld, The Iron Tracks

"The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry."
- Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure

"Early November. It's nine o'clock. The titmice are banging against the window. Sometimes they fly dizzily off after the impact, other times they fall and lie struggling in the new snow until they can take off again. I don't know what they want that I have."
- Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses

"Picture the room where you will be held captive."
- Stona Fitch, Senseless

"Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk."
- Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry

"Bright, clear sky over a plain so wide that the rim of the heavens cut down on it around the entire horizon...Bright, clear sky, to-day, to-morrow, and for all time to come."
- O.E. Rölvaag, Giants in the Earth

"Click! ... Here it was again. He was walking along the cliff at Hunstanton and it had come again ... Click! ..."
- Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square

"It is 1983. In Dorset the great house at Woodcombe Park bustles with life. In Ireland the more modest Kilneagh is as quiet as a grave."
- William Trevor, Fools of Fortune

"The cell door slammed behind Rubashov."
- Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon

(A compendium of memorable opening lines of novels, updated occasionally as I come across new discoveries.)

October 6, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)


"It comes at a time when the world is uncertain about its values, its leadership and its safety. I just hope that my receiving this huge honor will, even in a small way, encourage the forces for good will and peace at this time." - Kazuo Ishiguro, on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature

October 5, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...we heard once more the steam whistles of vessels that have long ceased to be..."

 In "A River Reverie" (1882), Lafcadio Hearn muses elegiacally on life along the Mississippi and other western rivers.

Wonder whether the old captain still sits there of bright afternoons, to watch the returning steamers panting with their mighty run from the Far South—or whether he has sailed away upon that other river, silent and colorless as winter's fog, to that vast and shadowy port where much ghostly freight is discharged from vessels that never return? He haunts us sometimes—even as he must have been haunted by the ghosts of dead years.

He goes on to invoke another former captain, now a literary sensation (presumably, Mark Twain), and ponders if the famous man wouldn't trade all of his success for the simple, long-ago days of his younger life. Lovely piece. 

October 1, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Summer of H.G. Wells very belated thoughts on my Summer of H.G. Wells. To recap, I read War of the Worlds, The Island of Dr. Moreau, In the Days of the Comet, The Time Machine, The First Men in the Moon, The Food of the Gods, and The Invisible Man.

After reading these seven novels, a few things struck me about Wells. First, these books - universally regarded as science fiction - weren't heavily scientific. In fact, he mostly glossed over the technological breakthroughs (time machine, anti-gravity matter, hypergrowth-generating food, invisibility potion) to focus heavily on their aftermath. And even when the turning point is natural instead of manmade, in In the Days of the Comet, in which a comet strikes Earth but, instead of obliterating humankind, instead makes the world a peaceful and equitable place, he barely mentions the collision and doesn't even bother to explain how the resulting gas cloud magically transforms society. He never seemed to worry about the actual science, just the impact that science could cause.

Second, he had a great (and almost comically implausible) belief in human speech, and the ability of homo sapiens to communicate with others: the animal-human hybrids of The Island of Doctor Moreau, the moon-dwelling Selenites of The First Men in the Moon, the simple-minded descendants of humans in The Time Machine. No matter how distant from humans these others are, Wells' protagonists still manage to develop a common language with the others, and can fully comprehend everything they say. And those others often have a remarkable tendency to speak like 19th Century English gentlemen.

Lastly, Wells' scientist protagonists were almost entirely incapable of foreseeing the ramifications for their inventions, whether personal (Griffin, in The Invisible Man, bafflingly decides to take his potion in the dead of winter, which means he can only evade arrest by remaining stark naked, outdoors) or societal (widespread death and destruction), and later did almost nothing to fix the havoc that their creations ultimately inflict. You can tell that Wells must have admired scientists in their singular quests, but also disdained their blind ambition and ethical deficiency.

In short, it was another good summer of reading. One or two clunkers, of course, but several books that I will gladly read again, particularly The Time Machine (I'll never forget the image of The Time Traveler on that desolate beach, at nearly the end of Earth's existence) and The Island of Dr. Moreau. I think, as a general rule of thumb, that I'd recommend Wells' shorter novels, when he focused more on action and plot, and gave himself less time for expository lecturing.

(Incidentally, after reading these books and enduring Wells' frequent bloviations about capitalism, socialism, social justice, religion, etc., I'm now less tempted to read The Wheels of Chance, which I've seen cited a few times as one of the greatest cycling novels. I'm not sure whether that means it's a great novel, period, or that there aren't very many cycling novels - I suspect the latter. I'm a cyclist myself, so I know that long rides give you plenty of time alone with your thoughts - and so, unless Wells came up with a really compelling plot, the book might not consist of much more than his protagonist being alone with his thoughts, and bloviating about capitalism, socialism, social justice, religion, etc.)

September 28, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)


"Most of the hotels in that neighborhood look as if they had come down in the world, and they probably have. Not the Minnetonka. That hostelry was originally conceived as a horror and has so maintained itself through the years." - Alexander King

September 24, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

"...this small cluster of aversions..."

From William Trevor's short story, "A Friendship" (from the collection After Rain):

He hadn't liked the whiff of cigarettes that greeted him when he opened the hall door, nor the sound of voices that had come from the sitting-room. He didn't like the crumpled-up Mignons Morceuax packet, the gin bottle and the vermouth bottle on his bureau, Margy's lipstained cigarette-ends, the way Margy was lolling on the floor with her shoes off. Margy didn't have to look to see if this small cluster of aversions registered in Philip's tight features. She knew it didn't; he didn't let things show.

Margy is the best friend of Philip's wife Francesca, and a regular guest (though not terribly welcomed by him) in Philip and Francesca's home. Trevor is masterful at showing Philip's distaste for Margy's careless, almost libertine lifestyle from this list of objects, and then her final affrontery: the fact that she's on the floor with her shoes off. Yes, Philip is pretty uptight.

September 14, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"You can’t actually make character without putting something of yourself in to each one, even the most larcenous and wicked, the most lecherous, the most pure. Each of them has, in his or her own way, something that you can relate to." - John Le Carré

September 8, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"An optimist thinks everything will be fine no matter what, and that justifies doing nothing," - Rebecca Solnit

August 27, 2017 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


I think I need to read Barbara Pym.

Are the lovers “imparadised in one another’s arms, as Milton put it,” as one guest suggests? No, he corrects himself: “Encasseroled, perhaps.”

August 25, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Knausgaard on Vesaas

 Karl Ove Knausgaard, in the NYTBR:

Who are your favorite Norwegian writers? Tarjei Vesaas has written the best Norwegian novel ever, “The Birds” — it is absolutely wonderful, the prose is so simple and so subtle, and the story is so moving that it would have been counted amongst the great classics from the last century if it had been written in one of the major languages. Knut Hamsun’s writing is magical, his sentences are glowing, he could write about anything and make it alive. Of contemporary writers, Thure Erik Lund is my definite favorite. I like Ingvild Burkey a lot too, her new book is a masterpiece, and also Steinar Opstad, Cathrine Knudsen, Kristine Naess and Jon Fosse, amongst others.

The Birds is every bit as wonderful as Knausgaard says: it's lyrical, quietly emotional and ultimately heartbreaking. One of my five favorite novels. It's a shame that the book, and Vesaas as a writer, aren't better known.

August 18, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"But where would I be without it."

Kafka, on coffee. Though I'm not quite a coffee achiever, I know exactly where I would be without it: right here, tired and cranky.

(Ha! Though I remember that commercial from long ago, I didn't recognize Kurt Vonnegut until just now.)

August 11, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...a mere squeak for the stating of formulae..."

H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon is a strange book. Strange, but I like it. Most of the book is about scientific discovery (two humans reach the moon, by very unique means) and fast-paced adventure (the humans desperately trying to escape the moon's inhabitants, or "Selenites"), but then Wells adds on a lengthy, anti-climatic epilogue in which the scientist Cavor describes Selenite society. Here is part of Cavor's description of the highly specialized training each inhabitant undergoes.

If, for example, a Selenite is destined to be a mathematician, his teachers and trainers set out at once to that end. They check any incipient disposition to other pursuits, they encourage his mathematical bias with a perfect psychological skill. His brain grows, or at least the mathematical faculties of his brain grow, and the rest of him only so much as is necessary to sustain this essential part of him. At last, save for rest and food, his one delight lies in the exercise and display of his faculty, his one interest in its application, his sole society with other specialists in his own line. His brain grows continually larger, at least so far as the portions engaging in mathematics are concerned; they bulge ever larger and seem to suck all life and vigour from the rest of his frame. His limbs shrivel, his heart and digestive organs diminish, his insect face is hidden under its bulging contours. His voice becomes a mere squeak for the stating of formulae; he seems deaf to all but properly enunciated problems. The faculty of laughter, save for the sudden discovery of some paradox, is lost to him; his deepest emotion is the evolution of a novel computation. And so he attains his end.

There is no mention, by the way, of how one's "destiny" is determined. Presumably, it's not at all the individual's own choice how they turn out, but some higher authority deciding what role that individual will serve. This ostensibly ideal society sounds very autocratic and joyless. Sobering.

August 8, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"I was stealing time, operating a simple maxim: make the best hours your own rather than those you sell to an employer." - James Kelman

August 5, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Farewell, Selected Works

At South Side Weekly, Malvika Jolly writes a tribute to Selected Works, the used bookstore in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue, which closed in June. The store was a bit too far from my office for me to visit on a regular basis, but I really enjoyed the times I did get over there. (And I petted the store cat, Hodge. I've always thought that one of the nicest things about owning a bookstore would be having a store cat.) I tried to visit the store during my city day at the end of my sabbatical earlier this summer, only to learn that it had closed the prior week. I'm very sorry I missed out.

On that city day I also learned that the Books-A-Million store on Clark Street had closed. For the moment (until The Dial opens in October, in the Selected Works space), the Loop doesn't have a single book store, with the closest stores now being Sandmeyer's on Dearborn in the South Loop, Open Books on Lake Street in the West Loop and After-Words on Illinois in River North. (No, I'm not counting the Barnes & Noble in DePaul's downtown campus, which is mostly geared to textbooks, or the Barbara's outlet in the basement of Macy's.)

August 3, 2017 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)


"The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning." - Sam Shepard

August 1, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"You write from what you know, and one of the things you know is that you are not telling your own story, but bits of it are your own story. It’s like tessellation of a mosaic. You take a bit that happened to you and you put it beside a bit that you make up." – Bernard MacLaverty

July 31, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...airports aren’t just places for departures, but places for arrivals..."

I quite like this poem, "Sing at Unnatural Hours in the Presence of Artificial Light", by Clint Margrave.

July 29, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"No orange flashes in the sky."

East Chicago: a blue-collar suburb, thirty miles or so south of the big city. It is—was—the archetype of Steel Town, U.S.A. Most of its breadwinners worked in the mills: Youngstown, Inland, U.S. Steel.
    On this rainy afternoon, the journey on the IC train offers a bleak landscape, as other industrial suburbs are whizzed by. Smokeless chimneys. No orange flashes in the sky. Empty parking lots. Not a Ford nor a Chevy to be seen near the deserted plants. An occasional abandoned jalopy, evoking an image of the thirties. A stray dog, no humans. A fleeting glimpse of the business end of the towns; enough to see boarded-up stores and empty Main Streets.
    A mind-flash of Willard Van Dyke's 1938 documentary, Valley Town. It was Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a steel city of the Great Depression, stone-cold dead. It is a moment of deja vu in reverse.
    The front lawn of every other bungalow in East Chicago, it seems, has the sign: FOR SALE.

- Studs Terkel, from The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream (1988).

July 22, 2017 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

" thin old wine-skins overfilled..."

H.G. Wells, on religious converts:

Disgust of the narrow life, of all baseness, took shape in narrowness and baseness. The quickened soul ended the night a hypocrite; prophets disputed for precedence; seductions, it is altogether indisputable, were frequent among penitents! and Ananias went home converted and returned with a falsified gift. And it was almost universal that the converted should be impatient and immoderate, scornful of reason and a choice of expedients, opposed to balance, skill, and knowledge. Incontinently full of grace, like thin old wine-skins overfilled, they felt they must burst if once they came into contact with hard fact and sane direction.

True, this is from a novel (In the Days of the Comet), but this isn’t simply a narrator talking, independent of the author. This book is full of so many rants and diatribes that this passage can’t be construed as anything but Wells using his narrator as a megaphone.

July 18, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Damage Control

I love this concept: a satirical comic book series about a corporation that rebuilds New York City every time a superhero battle destroys it.

Superheroes are — or at least try hard to be — good for ordinary human beings. But they can be bad for infrastructure: their fights can level, undermine, or otherwise bust up buildings, roads and tunnels, and most heroes don’t have the wherewithal to make repairs.

I've never been a comic book guy (a certainly not a Comic Book Guy) but I think I would really enjoy this.

July 13, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)


"As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real. Touches of prosaic detail are imperative and a rigorous adherence to the hypothesis. Any extra fantasy outside the cardinal assumption immediately gives a touch of irresponsible silliness to the invention." - H.G. Wells

July 4, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...signs and portents..."

Joseph Mitchell recalls his friend Ralph Ellison.

I remember a conversation I had with Ralph the last time I saw him, which was at a party celebrating his eightieth birthday. It was held in a restaurant on the Upper East Side. I arrived early and so did Ralph and we went to the bar and ordered martinis. Ralph asked, "How’ve you been?" And I said that reading the New York Times was beginning to get me down, and that I was seeing all kinds of signs and portents in it. I said that invisible man fought his way out of invisibility but that I was afraid he was in danger of becoming invisible again. Ralph laughed and it was his old-time deep, hearty laugh, which pleased me. "You never got over the depression, did you Joe?" he said. "No I did not," I said. "Nor did I," Ralph said, "But this is an excellent martini—almost as good as the ones Fanny makes. So let’s drink these good martinis and talk about those signs and portents some other time."

June 29, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)


"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed." - Christopher Isherwood

June 25, 2017 in Books, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)


"There is no American capital; there never has been. We have a network instead. A French poet may plausibly know all other French poets by living in Paris. The smallest of American towns contains major poets, and all other kinds of artists. In no other country does such a distribution of mind appear." - Guy Davenport

June 16, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Philip Levine

Lovely reflections here at the NYRB on the life of the great poet Philip Levine, including this wonderful comment from his mother:

“Philip set out to prove there is social mobility in America, so he got born smack-dab in the middle of the middle class, grew up in the lower middle class, and then as an adult joined the working class.”

I will definitely seek out The Final Shift, his newly-published final collection. 

June 11, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Summer of Classics: H.G. Wells

For this year's Summer of Classics, I'm reading nothing but H.G. Wells. Since I was eight years old, I've owned a boxed paperback set of seven Wells science fiction novels: The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, In the Days of the Comet, The Food of the Gods and The First Men in the Moon. (He certainly liked "The..." titles, didn't he?) After all of these years, I've only read the first three, and since I'm woefully under-read in sci-fi in general, I decided to tackle these this year. The books are reasonably short (the longest is 250 pages) so I should be able to finish them all by the end of August.

First up is The War of the Worlds, which I'm enjoying so far. The narration is strange, though - most of it is in first person, though the narrator is physically distant from the Martians, so we mostly see only their destructive aftermath. And the remainder is the narrator relating the experiences of his brother during the Martian attack, in far greater detail than seems plausible. I just finished the first section, and I believe the focus of the second section moves from the invasion and attack, to English life under Martian rule. I'm interested to see the conclusion - having first read the book so long ago, I don't remember the ending, but I do remember the ending of Orson Welles' infamous radio play adaptation. Considering that Welles moved the action ahead fifty years, and from England to New Jersey, I'm wondering how much he tinkered with the conclusion.

June 11, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...a freedom to simply be..."

Elizabeth Strout, on small-town Maine versus New York City.

The sense of disappearing immediately when I step out into the streets of New York City has been a continual comfort to me. This gives me a freedom to simply be, to absorb all that goes on around me. But when I am in Maine, where there are very few people on the streets, I am encumbered by that sense of self – who is watching me?

I admire her fiction's focus on small towns, despite her obvious love of city life. Because, let's face it - we probably need a ten-year embargo on NYC stories to allow the fiction world to de-saturate itself.

June 10, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


Colm Toibin, on a common narrative device.

"We are living in the most terrible age. I know people are worried about Brexit and I know people worry about Donald Trump. But I worry about the flashback. You can’t read any book now – any book – without suddenly, on chapter 2, [the writer] taking you back to where everybody was 20 years ago. How their parents met, how their grandparents met.”

Without having ever read Toibin, I'll just have to guess that he's used flashback in the past. Which would make his current adamancy completely invalid. As is his bemoaning that every book written by kids nowadays - get off my lawn! - abuses flashback.

May 30, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)


"Culture does not consist in acquiring opinions, but in getting rid of them." - William Butler Yeats

May 30, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying." - Studs Terkel

Yesterday was the 105th anniversary of Studs' birth. I've long been a great admirer of his, and wish he was still with us - I can only imagine what his take would be on the current political situation. Maybe we should honor him by commemorating May 16 as Studsday - we could each take aside one person (someone we don't know well, or even a complete stranger) and simply ask them to talk about their life. 

May 17, 2017 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...everyone eventually gets buried..."

"Not a living creature in this place would choose to be without pastor Jon for a single day. The whole community would be grief-stricken if a hair of his noble head were harmed. To be sure it is sometimes suggested that our pastor is not overhasty regarding his parish duties, but I venture to assert upon my conscience as parish clerk that everyone eventually gets buried with all due propriety and honor, just as in other places in the country." - Halldor Laxness, Under the Glacier

Thanks, Paul, for passing this book along. The narrative does seem a bit odd so far, but I hope I'll enjoy it more than you did.

May 17, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"With laws shall our land be built up, but with lawlessness laid waste." - from an Icelandic saga, quoted by Nancy Marie Brown in Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

May 4, 2017 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Warm, pleasant, misty weather, which the great mountain amphitheatre seemed to drink in with gladness. A crow’s voice filled all the miles of air with sound. A bird’s voice, even a piping frog, enlivens a solitude and makes world enough for us. At night I went out into the dark and saw a glimmering star and heard a frog, and Nature seemed to say, Well do not these suffice? Here is a new scene, a new experience. Ponder it, Emerson, and not like the foolish world, hanker after thunders and multitudes and vast landscapes, the sea or Niagara." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I like Emerson's idea about appreciating the small, non-monumental aspects of nature. To me, an Illinois marsh is as fascinating as a western canyon. 

April 27, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"One ruins the mind with too much writing. — One rusts it by not writing at all." - Joseph Joubert

April 21, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"...a crystal candle-stick of a girl..."

"If she was an angel, the girl at whom Sam was pointing, she was an angel of ice; slim, shining, ash-blonde, her self-possessed voice very cool as she parried the complimentary teasing of half a dozen admirers; a crystal candle-stick of a girl among black-and-white lumps of males." - Sinclair Lewis, Dodsworth

Which I've read, but remember absolutely nothing about. Still, I love this quote. 

April 19, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Unexpected Welty


Lovely surprise from my local public library: a sharp two-in-one edition of Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding and The Ponder Heart, which I bought for a dollar from the Friends of the Library sale shelves. Over the past few months I've been working through What We Have To Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell. The two were great friends for fifty years, and Maxwell was Welty's editor at The New Yorker, where The Ponder Heart first appeared, in an issue devoted entirely to that story. 

I've only read one Welty novel so far, and thus most of the references to her works in their letters have flown right past me. They talked a lot about The Ponder Heart in their letters, so I'm looking forward to not only reading the novella, but also re-reading the passages from their letters when they discussed the book, both as it was being written and prepared for publication. On the other hand, Delta Wedding seems to have mostly predated their correspondence, so I won't have a similar experience reading that one. 

At the moment I saw the Welty volume at the library, my arms were literally filled with books (Maddie is on spring break this week, and stocked up on manga) that we had checked out, but I somehow managed to take the book off the shelf without dropping the others, and even though our old house is already groaning under the weight of our personal library, once I saw what a nice edition it was, I just knew I had to buy it. My vices are relatively harmless, I keep telling myself, so it seemed safe to indulge. 

April 16, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...inflated language and other windy humbuggeries..."

Mark Twain, on the chivalric novels of Sir Walter Scott:

The South has not yet recovered from the debilitating influence of his books. Admiration of his fantastic heroes and their grotesque “chivalry” doings and romantic juvenilities still survives here, in an atmosphere in which is already perceptible the wholesome and practical nineteenth-century smell of cotton-factories and locomotives; and traces of its inflated language and other windy humbuggeries survive along with it.

Of Twain's works, I am sorely under-read. I should do something about that. This passage reminds me a lot of Mencken, of whom I'm a big fan. 

April 15, 2017 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (2)

Forgotten bookmark


Heavily faded receipt from a long-defunct B. Dalton Bookseller in Chicago. It's the actual receipt from the original purchase (by the unknown previous owner) - the price and ISBN match the book and price sticker. Found inside 44 Irish Short Stories, edited by Devin A. Garrity (Konecky & Konecky, 1995; originally published in 1955).


April 7, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Failed novelist? No.

This anonymous writer considers herself [1] a failed novelist because...her first two books failed to get published. Her first effort at getting published lasted only "several months." And now she's so devastated that she not only has given up writing, she also no longer reads contemporary fiction. Boo freaking hoo. I'd say more, but the writer David Barnett has responded much more eloquently (and diplomatically) than I ever could.

[1] I assume it's a woman, based on the "infertile woman at a baby shower" analogy. Very few men would ever make that reference.

April 6, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"That I ever published a page of prose was due primarily to the dread prospect of spending the rest of my days in a bank." - James Stern

April 3, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Irish March

My thoughts on the book, over at Goodreads:

44 Irish Short Stories was published in 1955 and draws from throughout the first half of the 20th Century - a favorable period for my tastes, as it falls neatly between the long-winded tomes of the 19th Century and Joyce/Beckett modernism. (It does include two Joyce stories, but both are from Dubliners, which is more traditional than the rest of his work.) I hadn't heard of most of the writers, and I have to admit that, even afterward, most of the Mc's and O's (almost all of the men) tend to blur together. Overall, though, the book was very satisfying - stories drawn mostly from Ireland's working classes, with considerable amounts of religious friction and nature lyricism, and a smattering of the supernatural. There are at least half a dozen writers here that I want to explore further although, if this afternoon's browsing of my local used bookstore is any indication, I'll probably have to scour the Internet to find any of their books.

Not much more to add here except that, from searching for author bios for my daily postings, I'm somewhat astounded how many of these fiction writers were also playwrights. The theater must have been a much more integral part of everyday life in Ireland then than it is in America now. 

March 31, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)


"Laughter is wine for the soul - laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness - the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living." - Seán O'Casey

A fitting quote, I think, to cap off this year's Irish March, which ends today. More thoughts on that, soon. 

March 31, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Maurice Walsh

They were a young couple, and six months married, and they should have been as happy as the day was long; and the day was long, for it was in the very heart of June - a slumberous Sunday in June, early in the afternoon, with a gentle warmth in the sun, and a tenuous haze over the orange glory of the furze on all the hillsides.
Maurice Walsh, "Come Back, My Love"

March 31, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lord Dunsany

And now it would come through a hamlet glowing and comfortable in the night; and now to the dark, wet, open fields again; and many an owl it overtook as they drifted through the night, a people friendly to the Elf-folk. Sometimes it crossed wide rivers, leaping from star to star; and, choosing its way as it went, to avoid the hard rough roads, came before midnight to the East Anglian lands.
Lord Dunsany, "The Kith of the Elf-folk"

March 30, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Edward Sheehy

At one moment he felt like a rapparee riding the black mare out on to the hillcrest. The next he was troubled and nervous; troubled when he thought of what old Pats would say; nervous when the mare shuddered in her muscles and curved away, head up and ears cocked, from a white stone that appeared dimly out of the bogland. He was afraid of her, of the proud spirit he was beginning to sense in her. Would she work? Would she go under a cart and haul home their turf from the bog? The fellow with the wart on his eye said she would; but then he was in a hell-sight too great a hurry to get shut of her. She might be doped; it wouldn't be the first time tinkers doped a horse.
Edward Sheehy, "The Black Mare"

March 29, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Michael MacGrian

To stand alone, I thought; to stand alone and unarmed, unarmed but watchful; that was my wish - unarmed, fearful, watchful; haunted perhaps by untold fears lodged in every imagined shadow; mute as the rabbit was mute, and stalked as it was stalked by one vast foolish braggart threat...
Michael MacGrian, "Myself and a Rabbit"

March 28, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Brian O'Nolan

Mr. Toole had a peculiarity. He had the habit, when accompanied by another person, of saluting total strangers; but only if these strangers were of important air and costly raiment. He meant thus to make it known that he had friends in high places, and that he himself, though poor, was a person of quality fallen on evil days through some undisclosed sacrifice made in the interest of immutable principle early in life. Most of the strangers, startled out of their private thoughts, stammered a salutation in return.
Brian O'Nolan, "The Martyr's Crown"

March 27, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

St. John Ervine

Townsmen and neighbours mingled with men from the country and the hills, and fishermen from the bay where the girl was drowned; and each man, as he came up to a group of acquaintances, spoke of the terribleness of the disaster, and then the talk circled round the affairs of the small town.
St. John Ervine, "The Burial"

March 26, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Oscar Wilde

"Far away," continued the statue in a low musical voice, "far away in a little street there is a poor house. One of the windows is open, and through it I can see a woman seated at a table. Her face is thin and worn, and she has coarse, red hands, all pricked by the needle, for she is a seamstress. She is embroidering passion-flowers on a satin gown for the loveliest of the Queen's maids-of-honour to wear at the next Court-ball. In a bed in the corner of the room her little boy is lying ill. He has a fever, and is asking for oranges. His mother has nothing to give him but river water, so he is crying. Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, will you not bring her the ruby out of my sword-hilt? My feet are fastened to this pedestal and I cannot move."
Oscar Wilde, "The Happy Prince"

March 25, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)