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  • feedwordpress 08:01:12 on 2018/03/17 Permalink
    Tags: book shops, book towns, , books stores, , , , , literature,   

    “A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking”*… 


    A market doubles as a bookstore in Obidos, Portugal

    What makes a book town?

    It can’t be too big—not a city, but a genuine town, usually in a rural setting. It has to have bookshops—not one or two, but a real concentration, where a bibliophile might spend hours, even days, browsing. Usually a book town begins with a couple of secondhand bookstores and later grows to offer new books, too.

    But mostly, they have a lot of books for sale…

    Tour some of the world’s best at “Book Towns Are Made for Book Lovers.”

    * Jerry Seinfeld


    As we browse in bliss, we might send a combo birthday and St Patrick’s Day greeting to Catherine “Kate” Greenaway; she was born on this date in 1846.  Creator of books for children such as Mother Goose (1881), Little Ann (1883), & The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1889), she was one of the most the most accomplished illustrators of her time– and the inspiration for The Kate Greenaway Medal, awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the U.K. to an illustrator of children’s books.

    Greenaway’s illustration of the Pied Piper leading the children out of Hamelin; for Robert Browning’s version of the tale.




  • feedwordpress 09:01:59 on 2018/03/11 Permalink
    Tags: Citizens United, corporate personhood, , , , , literature, , , The Kingfish,   

    “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one”*… 


    Louisiana Senator Huey Long announcing his presidential candidacy to members of the press in 1935

    Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the reality that corporations in the U.S. are afforded the same rights as individuals (even if they do not have the same responsibilities) has been on the minds of many.  But corporate personhood has a much longer history.  It began to take shape in that late 19th century when one of the drafters of the 14th Amendment convinced that courts that the Amendment is not limited to natural persons.

    Then, as Adam Winkler explains, the “endowment” of corporations caught fire in the 1930s– perhaps ironically, when newspaper publishers had to sue a politician to protect freedom of the press…

    When the Supreme Court first began to breathe life into the First Amendment in the early twentieth century, the speakers who inspired the newfound protections were politically persecuted minorities: socialists, anarchists, radicals, and labor agitators. Today, however, in the aftermath of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations have the same right as individuals to influence elections, the First Amendment is used by wealthy and powerful business interests seeking to overturn food-labeling laws, securities disclosure laws, and campaign finance regulations. Yet the seeds of this transformation were planted decades ago in a different Supreme Court case—though one eerily evocative of the Trump era—involving a blustery, dough-faced politician who railed against “fake news.”

    Huey Long was Trump before Trump. The fiery populist governor elected on the eve of the Great Depression had an aggressive agenda to make Louisiana great again—and little tolerance for dissent. Long set up a state board to censor newsreels and another to decide which newspapers would be allowed to print profitable government notices. When the student paper at Louisiana State University published an unflattering editorial about him, an outraged Long—referring to himself, as autocrats often do, in the third person—sent in the state police to seize copies, saying he wasn’t “going to stand for any students criticizing Huey Long.”

    After Louisiana’s larger daily newspapers came out against him, “the Kingfish” declared war. “The daily newspapers have been against every progressive step in the state,” Long said, “and the only way for the people of Louisiana to get ahead is to stomp them flat.” To do so, in 1934 Long’s allies enacted a 2 percent tax on the advertising revenue of the state’s largest-circulation newspapers. Long said the tax “should be called a tax on lying, two cents per lie.”

    Led by the Capital City Press, the publisher of the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, the newspaper companies challenged the advertising tax in court. They claimed the tax was an effort to silence those who questioned Long’s policies. Long had said as much, promising he was “going to help these newspapers by hitting them in their pocketbooks. Maybe then they’ll try to clean up.” As an editorial in the Morning Advocate warned, if the government can impose special taxes on newspapers that oppose the party in power then “the guarantee of a free press, written in the Constitution of the United States, is at an end.”

    One problem for the newspaper companies, however, was that they were newspaper companies. They were corporations, and it was not at all clear that for-profit business corporations had free speech rights. Indeed, the prevailing law was on Long’s side…

    The fascinating story in full at: “How ‘the Kingfish’ Turned Corporations into People” (excerpted from Winkler’s new book).

    See also: “How Corporate America Won Its Civil Rights” and “‘Corporations Are People’ Is Built on an Incredible 19th-Century Lie.”

    * Robert Reich


    As we contemplate unintended consequences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1818 that Mary Shelley’s epoch-making tale of a man-made monster, Frankenstein, was published.  Shelley had begun writing the story two years earlier, when she was 18 and on vacation near Geneva with her husband (the poet Percy) and their friend Lord Byron.  The house party set itself the task of each writing a gothic story; only Mary finished hers.  The first edition was published anonymously; Shelley was first publicly identified as the author on the title page of the 1823 second edition.

    The work has, as Brian Aldiss argues, a strong claim to being the first true science fiction novel.  As the sub-title– “The Modern Prometheus”– suggests (and like all great sci fi), it treats the philosophical, cultural, and psychological ramifications of scientific and technological progress.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:50 on 2018/03/02 Permalink
    Tags: Chateaubriand, , , , , literature, memoir, Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, , ,   

    “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”*… 


    Chateaubriand’s tomb, Saint-Malo, France

    Because history “belongs to the victors”– is shaped, both consciously and preter-consciously by writers looking back through the lens of their often very different presents– memoir can be an especially valuable as a vehicle for understanding a time in its own terms.  François-René (Auguste), vicomte de Chateaubriand’s Memoirs from Beyond the Grave are especially precious.  His autobiography helps us as readers locate ourselves in a time of tumultuous transition– from the ancien régime to the modern era: the Revolution of 1789, the downfall of the monarchy and the execution of the king, the advent of Napoleon Bonaparte and the empire, the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty after the definite defeat of Napoleon by the powers that joined in the Holy Alliance, its overthrow by the Revolution of July 1830, the inauguration of Louis-Philippe and the establishment of the July monarchy, and finally the birth of the short-lived Second Republic.

    But more, Memoirs helps us understand the psychological reality of living through– and in Chateaubriand’s case, playing a series of engaged roles in– that social and political sea change.

    Chateaubriand was attached to the past and its centuries-old traditions, but he was also a liberal, open to modernity: this is one thing that sets him apart in the history of ideas. He had been repulsed by the discourse and the violence of the French revolutionaries and was deeply impressed by the powerful composure of George Washington, “the representative of the needs, ideas, intelligence, and opinions of his epoch.” He had a vision of social transformation that did not entail the obliteration of the past, and was proud to declare himself “Bourboniste by honor, royalist by reason, and republican by inclination.”…

    Anka Muhlstein on the significance of the Memoirs: “A Passionate Witness“; get the book here.

    (Literature can play a similar role: consider the Prince in Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.)

    * newspaper reporter Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young), in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence


    As we struggle to understand, we might send tasty birthday greetings to the culinary genius behind green eggs and ham, Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA “Dr. Seuss”; he was born on this date in 1904.  After a fascinating series of early-career explorations, Geisel settled on a style that created what turned out to be the perfect “gateway drug” to book addiction for generations of young readers.

    The more that you read,

    The more things you will know.

    The more that you learn,

    The more places you’ll go.

    I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)



  • feedwordpress 09:01:10 on 2018/02/18 Permalink
    Tags: A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, disctionary, Francis Grose, , , , literature, MarkTwain, , , vernacular   

    “I’ve been accused of vulgarity. I say that’s bullshit.”*… 


    The author of A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

    Thirty years after Dr Johnson published his great Dictionary of the English Language (1755), Francis Grose put out A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785), a compendium of slang Johnson had deemed unfit for his learned tome. Grose was not one for library work. He preferred to do his lexicography in the sordid heart of after-hours London. Supported by his trusty assistant Tom Cocking, he cruised the watering holes of Covent Garden and the East End, eating, boozing, and listening. He took pleasure in hearing his name punningly connected to his rotund frame. And he produced a book brimming with Falstaffian life.

    In Vulgar Tongues (2016), Max Décharné called Grose’s dictionary, “A declaration in favour of free speech, and a gauntlet thrown down against official censorship, moralists and the easily offended.” While a good deal of the slang has survived into the present day — to screwis to copulate; to kick the bucket is to die — much would likely have been lost had Grose not recorded it. Some of the more obscure metaphors include a butcher’s dog, meaning someone who “lies by the beef without touching it; a simile often applicable to married men”; to box the Jesuit, meaning “to masturbate; a crime, it is said, much practised by the reverend fathers of that society”; and to polish meaning to be in jail, in the sense of “polishing the king’s iron with one’s eyebrows, by looking through the iron grated windows”. Given this was the era of William Hogarth’s famous painting Gin Lane (1751), it’s not surprising to find the dictionary soaked through with colourful epithets for the juniper-based liquor: blue ruincobblers punchfrog’s wineheart’s easemoonshinestrip me naked. The Grose dictionary also contains hundreds of great insults, like bottle-headed, meaning void of wit, something you can’t say about its author.

    Via Public Domain Review; read the Dictionary at the Internet Archive.

    * Mel Brooks


    As we choose our words carefully, we might recall that it was on this date in 1865 that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (or, in more recent editions, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) was published in the U.S.  Routinely listed among the greatest American novels, it was one of the first to be written in vernacular English.

    Upon issue of the American edition in 1885 several libraries banned it from their shelves.  The early criticism focused on what was perceived as the book’s crudeness. One incident was recounted in the newspaper the Boston Transcript:

    The Concord (Mass.) Public Library committee has decided to exclude Mark Twain’s latest book from the library. One member of the committee says that, while he does not wish to call it immoral, he thinks it contains but little humor, and that of a very coarse type. He regards it as the veriest trash. The library and the other members of the committee entertain similar views, characterizing it as rough, coarse, and inelegant, dealing with a series of experiences not elevating, the whole book being more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people.

    Writer Louisa May Alcott criticized the book’s publication as well, saying that if Twain “[could not] think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses he had best stop writing for them.”

    Twain later remarked to his editor, “Apparently, the Concord library has condemned Huck as ‘trash and only suitable for the slums.’ This will sell us another twenty-five thousand copies for sure!”  [source]

    Cover of the first U.S.edition



  • feedwordpress 09:01:13 on 2018/02/08 Permalink
    Tags: , Eli Rezkallah, , , , Kate Chopin, literature, , ,   

    “Women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid”*… 


    Last Thanksgiving, I overheard my uncles talk about how women are better off cooking, taking care of the kitchen, and fulfilling “their womanly duties.” Although I know that not all men like my uncles think that way I was surprised to learn that some still do, so I went on to imagine a parallel universe, where roles are inverted and men are given a taste of their own sexist poison…

    From Eli Rezkallah, a series of fictional images, recreated from real ads in the Mad Men era, that question modern day sexism: “In a parallel universe.

    * George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops?


    As we check our privilege, we might send path-setting birthday greetings to Kate Chopin; she was born on this date in 1850.  A writer of both short stories and novels, she was highly-regarded in her time and in the decades following her death (in 1904).  Probably best remembered today for her novel The Awakening, she is considered an important forerunner of American 20th-century feminist authors.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:09 on 2018/02/05 Permalink
    Tags: Carlyle Circle, Great Man theory, , , literature, , , simile, the simile museum, Thomas Carlyle,   

    “A metaphor is like a simile”*… 


    “Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”

    -Virginia Woolf

    Just one of the “exhibits” in “an ongoing collection of the world’s most likable literary device”:  The Simile Museum.

    [source of the image above]

    * Steven Wright


    As we remember that “liking” has a very long history, we might spare a thought for Thomas Carlyle; he died on this date in 1881.  A Victorian polymath, he was an accomplished philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, translator, historian, mathematician, and teacher.  While he was an enormously popular lecturer in his time, and his contributions to mathematics earned him eponymous fame (the Carlyle circle), he may be best remembered as a historian (and champion of the “Great Man” theory of history)… and as the coiner of phrases like “the dismal science” (to describe economics)

    “A well-written Life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.”   – Thomas Carlyle



  • feedwordpress 09:01:00 on 2018/01/25 Permalink
    Tags: Anatomy of Melancholy, , , Keynes, literature, Milton Friedman, , , Skidelsky,   

    “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist”*… 


    The tenth anniversary of the start of the Great Recession was the occasion for an elegant essay by the Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman, who noted how little the debate about the causes and consequences of the crisis have changed over the last decade. Whereas the Great Depression of the 1930s produced Keynesian economics, and the stagflation of the 1970s produced Milton Friedman’s monetarism, the Great Recession has produced no similar intellectual shift…

    Robert Skidelsky explains why at: “How Economics Survived the Economic Crisis.”

    * John Maynard Keynes


    As we delve into the dismal, we might spare a thought for Robert Burton; he died on this date in 1640.  An Oxford scholar, he is best known for his classic The Anatomy of Melancholy, an odd mix of wide-ranging scholarship, humor, linguistic skill, and creative (if highly approximate) insights– a favorite of scholars and authors from Samuel Johnson to Anthony Burgess.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:52 on 2018/01/18 Permalink
    Tags: bookselling, bookstore, Bulwer-Lytton, Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, , , James Lackington, literature, Temple of the Muses,   

    “Words cannot do justice to the pleasures of a good bookshop. Ironically.”*… 


    Today, few people are likely to remember James Lackington (1746-1815) and his once-famous London bookshop, The Temple of the Muses, but if, as a customer, you’ve ever bought a remaindered book at deep discount, or wandered thoughtfully through the over-stocked shelves of a cavernous bookstore, or spent an afternoon lounging in the reading area of a bookshop (without buying anything!) then you’ve already experienced some of the ways that Lackington revolutionized bookselling in the late 18th century. And if you’re a bookseller, then the chances are that you’ve encountered marketing strategies and competitive pressures that trace their origins to Lackington’s shop. In the 21st-century marketplace, there is sometimes a longing for an earlier, simpler age, but the uneasy tension between giant and small retailers seems to have been a constant since the beginning. The Temple of the Muses, which was one of the first modern bookstores, was a mammoth enterprise, by far the largest bookstore in England, boasting an inventory of over 500,000 volumes, annual sales of 100,000 books, and yearly revenues of £5,000 (roughly $700,000 today). All of this made Lackington a very wealthy man—admired by some and despised by others—but London’s greatest bookseller began his career inauspiciously as an illiterate shoemaker…

    The remarkable story of “The Cheapest Bookstore in the World”– and the birth of the modern bookshop: “The Man Who Invented Bookselling As We Know It.”

    * Waterstones, Trafalgar Square (a descendent of The Temple of the Muses)


    As we inhale the blissful scent of ink and paper, we might spare a thought for Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton; he died on this date in 1873.  A novelist, poet, playwright, and politician, he was immensely popular with the reading public in his day and wrote a stream of bestselling novels, which earned him a considerable fortune.  He coined the phrases “the great unwashed”, “pursuit of the almighty dollar”, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, and “dweller on the threshold.”

    But he may be best remembered as the inspiration for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, held annually by the English Department of San Jose State University.  Inspired by Bulwer-Lytton’s immortal “It was a dark and stormy night…”** (the opening line of his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford), entrants are invited “to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels” – that is, deliberately bad.

    ** The full opening sentence: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”



  • feedwordpress 09:01:36 on 2018/01/08 Permalink
    Tags: , forecasts, , , Kenneth Patchen, literature, , ,   

    “The future ain’t what it used to be”*… 


    People in the early 20th century were hopeful about the future innovation might bring. The technology that came out of World War I, and the growing potential brought by electricity (half of all U.S. homes had electric power by 1925) had many looking ahead to the coming century. Futurists of the early 1900s predicted an incredible boom in technology that would transform human lives for the better.

    In fact, many of those predictions for the future in which we live weren’t far off, from the proliferation of automobiles and airplanes to the widespread transmission of information. Of course, the specifics of how those devices would work sometimes fell broad of the mark. Yet these predictions show us just how much our technology has progressed in just a century — and just how much further more innovation could take us…

    Further to yesterday’s collection of charts that might serve as a dashboard for us as we look to 2018, a consideration of how 2018 looked to scientists, inventors/technologists, and forecasters in (and around) 1918: Does Life In 2018 Live up to What We Predicted a Century Ago?

    * Yogi Berra, The Yogi Book, 1998 (though the phrase “the future isn’t what it used to be” was used in 1937 by Laura Riding and Robert Graves in English, and by Paul Valéry in French)


    As we take the long view, we might spare a thought for Kenneth Patchen; he died on this date in 1972.  A poet and novelist who experimented with form (most notably, with incorporating jazz into his readings), Patchen was widely ignored by the cultural establishment in his lifetime; but (with his close friend Kenneth Rexroth) became an inspiration for the young poets–  Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and others– who became known as the Beat Generation.  In 1968, near the end of his life, The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen was published– and Patchen was embraced by the Establishment. The New York TImes called the book “a remarkable volume,” comparing Patchen’s work to that of Blake, Whitman, Crane, Lawrence, and even to the Bible.  In another review, the poet David Meltzer called Patchen “one of America’s great poet-prophets” and called his body of work “visionary art for our time and for Eternity.”

    The lions of fire
    Shall have their hunting in this black land

    Their teeth shall tear at your soft throats
    Their claws kill

    O the lions of fire shall awake
    And the valleys steam with their fury

    Because you have turned your faces from God
    Because you have spread your filth everywhere.

    – from “The Lions of Fire Shall Have Their Hunting”  The Teeth of the Lion (1942)

    Allen Ginsberg (left) and Kenneth Patchen (right) backstage at the Living Theatre where Patchen was performing with Charlie Mingus, New York City 1959. Photo copyright © Harry Redl 1959, 2000.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:01 on 2017/12/13 Permalink
    Tags: book burning, Heinrich Heine, , literary awards, literature, , Sartre Prize, , Ursula Le Guin   

    “It is deeply satisfying to win a prize in front of a lot of people”*… 


    I first learned about the Sartre Prize from “NB,” the reliably enjoyable last page of London’s Times Literary Supplement, signed by J.C. The fame of the award, named for the writer who refused the Nobel in 1964, is or anyhow should be growing fast. As J.C. wrote in the November 23, 2012, issue, “So great is the status of the Jean-Paul Sartre Prize for Prize Refusal that writers all over Europe and America are turning down awards in the hope of being nominated for a Sartre.” He adds with modest pride, “The Sartre Prize itself has never been refused.”

    Newly shortlisted for the Sartre Prize is Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who turned down a fifty-thousand-euro poetry award offered by the Hungarian division of PEN. The award is funded in part by the repressive Hungarian government. Ferlinghetti politely suggested that they use the prize money to set up a fund for “the publication of Hungarian authors whose writings support total freedom of speech.”…

    The unsurpassed Ursula Le Guin explores the rewards of refusal: “The Literary Prize for the Refusal of Literary Prizes.”

    * E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web


    As we just say no, we might send lyrical birthday greetings to Christian Johann Heinrich Heine; he was born on this date in 1797.   A poet, journalist, essayist, and literary critic, he is best known outside of Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of Lieder (art songs) by composers such as Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert.

    In his 1823 Almansor: A Tragedy he wrote, “Wherever books are burned, men in the end will also burn”… an observation that proved prescient in a personal way: his own books were burned by the Nazis during the 1930s.



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