“..the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me.”—Happy Birthday Mark Twain! Context: Some librarians were agitated about Eve’s Diary, Twain’s fictitious first-person diary written by the first woman.
Main Line Broken: Why The Growing Rift Between Quakers and Unitarian Universalists Threatens The Future of Pennsylvania
1,001 Things You Lack the Motivation to Do Before You Die
Jesus was Black, Ronald Reagan was the Devil, and the Government is Lying to you About 9/11: How to Go on the Offensive During the Inevitable Christmas Dinner Argument with your Drunk Uncle (Foreword by Aaron McGruder)
Miracle Man: Charles Chapman, the Emulsifying Machine, and the Invention of Miracle Whip
Me-Wow: Pictures of Everyone’s, Yes, Everyone’s Cat
Doyle’s genius, as Stefan Kanfer wrote in Time on Holmes’s 1987 Centennial, “was in creating a person not so different from ourselves—then splitting him in half. One part is a fallible, well-meaning soul who works at a job, wages the battle of instincts vs. ethics and sometimes goes wrong. The other is the person we would aspire to be: morally correct, financially independent and underweight. One feels; the other knows. One is real; the other ideal. Many labels adhere to this classic combination: ego and superego, desire and conscience, Watson and Holmes.” One might also add: Superman and Clark Kent, Huck and Tom, Tintin and Haddock, Aubrey and Maturin, Frodo and Sam, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Calvin and Hobbes, and, in one of the more recent iterations, House and Wilson.
First Lines from New Books Out Today: November 28, 2011
"For almost as long as there have been rights, there have been misgivings, cavils, critiques, and outright attacks on the idea of rights." Universal Rights Down to Earth by Richard Thompson Ford
"Sprung, the wild-oat seed cocks a grasshopper leg, and another corkscrews into a heavy sock, too thick for summer.” Jam Tree Gully: Poems by John Kinsella
"There are times even now, when I awake at four o’clock in the morning with the terrible fear that I have overslept; when I imagine that my father is waiting for me in the room below the darkened stairs or that the shorebound men are tossing pebbles against my window while blowing their hands and stomping their feet impatiently on the frozen steadfast earth." Island: The Complete Stories by Alistair MacLeod
"As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario. In the splendid autumn sunshine the bounty of the land is almost overwhelming, as if it is the manifestation of a poem by Keats." No Great Mischief: A Novel by Alistair MacLeod
"When they come for me, I will think of the end of the northern ridge, for that’s where I was happiest—with the skies and wind, and the mountains being dark with moss, or dark with the shadow of a cloud moving across them." The Highland Witch: A Novel by Susan Fletcher
The crunch is the thing, a certain joy in crashing through living tissue, a memory of Neanderthal days. —Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, 1929
Teeth at the skin. Anticipation. Then flesh. Grain on the tongue. Eve’s knees ground in the dirt of paradise. Newton watching gravity happen. The history of apples in each starry core, every papery chamber’s bright bitter seed. Woody stem an infant tree. William Tell and his lucky arrow. Orchards of the Fertile Crescent. Bushels. Fire blight. Scab and powdery mildew. Cedar apple rust. The apple endures. Born of the wild rose, of crab ancestors. The first pip raised in Kazakhstan. Snow White with poison on her lips. The buried blades of Halloween. Budding and grafting. John Chapman in his tin pot hat. Oh Westward Expansion. Apple pie. American as. Hard cider. Winter banana. Melt-in-the-mouth made sweet by hives of Britain’s honeybees: white man’s flies. O eat. O eat.
“We shall see where this goes, but in the meantime the Via Meadia advice to investment banks, hedge funds, government officials and others trying to read the tea leaves of world unrest is simple: make sure that among your prognosticators and analysts you include a few strong liberal arts generalists with a strong background in European history from the Renaissance forward. The modernization process got its start in Europe and the nascent Anglosphere, and the history of those societies provides valuable clues to the forces now unleashed on a wider world.”—Walter Russell Mead, Via Meadia
Thwarted on November 25 1864. The New York Times reported:
The diabolical plot to burn the City of New-York, published yesterday morning, proves to be far more extensive than was at first supposed. It has already proved to the entire satisfaction of the authorities, that the affair was planned by the rebels and has been in preparation for a long time past, the men selected to perform the work were sent to this City at various times and under various pretexts, and arriving here they formed themselves into a regularly organized band, had their various officers, including a treasurer, whom they could always find, and who was always ready to supply them with the money necessary to carry out their infernal work, and they proceeded deliberately to mature their plans for one of the most fiendish and inhuman acts known in modern times.
“The bad lover, like the bad poet, perhaps because of a preoccupation with self, is essentially inattentive, doesn’t listen, doesn’t anticipate. Or, just as bad, proceeds by rote, first this thing and then the next, and therefore leaves no opportunity for discovery, or departure. Form to me implies an alertness to the demands of your material and an orchestration of effects. It is some happy combination of the poet’s intent and the poem’s esprit and the necessary compromises between the two. We can’t be too willful, but we must have things in mind. We don’t want to be the wimps of our own poems, but we’d be happy to be led into some lovely places. And we’d like to have some control after we lose control, at least enough to throw light on what has just happened, perhaps even to articulate what it has meant to us. And of course there are moments when we’d be better off being appreciatively silent.”—Stephen Dunn, Walking Light: Essays and Memoirs
“…just as the universe itself moves irresistibly toward equilibrium, forever creating an Apollo for the Dionysus already at the bar, sipping his drink; a McCartney for a Lennon, a Pound for an Eliot; a Figaro for the Don; an Eliot for a Pound; a Rolling Stones (who merely pretended to be fucked up) for a Beatles (who were more fucked up than the world will ever, ever know): the slightly below-lit slightly exalted, the slightly above-lit, gently redeemed.”—Joshua Cody, [sic]
Patrick O'Brian, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down
“‘An ill-looking parcel of bastards,’ he reflected, seeing a bailiff in every full-grown man. ‘But my God, what a life. Doing this everyday, cooped up with a ledger—what a life.’ The cheerless faces went by, hurrying to their dismal work, an endless wet, anxious, cold, grey-yellow stream of people, jostling, pushing past one another like an ugly dream, with here and there a pretty shop-girl or servant to make it more heart-rendingly pathetic.” —Patrick O’Brian, Post Captain
The thing that’s so great about these books isn’t that they’re historically accurate and give a picture of the whole planet at the turn of the nineteenth century. They certainly do that, but if that were all I wouldn’t get homesick for them. It’s not the character portrait of the two very different central men—bluff, good-natured Jack Aubrey with his desire for riches and promotion, and the Irish naturalist doctor Stephen Maturin. They are great portraits, and change splendidly over time, and I’m very fond of both of them, faults notwithstanding. It’s not the way O’Brian contrives to gives you information in an interesting way after you want it and before you need it, though I admire that extremely. Nor is it the way he does such astonishing things between volumes and when you’re not looking, such that you see the consequences and not the events. It certainly isn’t the nautical jargon—I’m sure Jack knows what cross-catharpings are, but Stephen and I couldn’t care less. It’s not the plot—though the books have very good plots and the series as a whole has the most excellent swell of plot that runs through it. It’s not even the fact that Stephen calls Jack “my dear” in the least affected way possible.
The truly great thing about these books is that they suck you into their world and while you are reading you are entirely caught up within it, and it is as alien and fascinating a world as anything you might find around another star. And you don’t question it, it’s absolutely real, and you are head down inside it. I want to compare them to Cherryh and Bujold and Vinge and Brust.
If you haven’t read them then you are very lucky because you can still read them for the first time. Having said that, they are books I find much more comfortable to re-read knowing what’s going to happen than I did the first time through—O’Brian has a tendency to throw things at you hard that can leave you breathless.
"In our bizarre age of masquerade and mammon, of footlights and flashbulbs, of tabloids and television, O’Brian seems extraordinary: he is his own man, he does his work, he values history, the arts and sciences, morality. He lives on good terms with his neighbor and with Homer, with the birds in his garden and with Mozart, with his readers and with Lennaeus. He is surely ‘one of the best storytellers of the age,’ as one eminent admirer put it, and his work accomplishes nobly the three grand purposes of art: to entertain, to edify, and to awe."
First Lines from New Books Out Today: November 21, 2011
"Science has advanced to the point where we can precisely arrange individual atoms on a metal surface or identify people’s continents of ancestry by analyzing the DNA contained in their hair. And yet ironically we lack a scientific understanding of how sentences in a book refer to atoms, DNA, or anything at all. This is a serious problem." Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter by Terrence W. Deacon
"In my high school’s world-history book, which opened with Ancient Greece and the founding of ‘Western Civilization’ and closed with Ronald Reagan’s ‘Morning in America,’ there was a picture I will never forget: Napoleon Bonaparte astride a black horse at the edge of the Giza Plateau—hands on reins, epaulets fluttering in the desert wind—staring at the cracked and crumbling facade of the Sphinx. The Egyptian colussus is shrouded in centuries of sand, so that only its head is visible; the angle of the portrait is such that the newly minted Master of Egypt is eye to eye with the Sphinx. In fact, the mounted Napoleon, whose army had vanquished the Egyptian forces loyal to the Ottoman sultan a few days earlier, is presented as a kind of Sphinxian figure himself—august, inscrutable, constant as the boundless desert that surrounds him.” Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East edited by Reza Aslan
A penknife engraved first your name, then his, then a heart around them with a wedded plus, then an X across it all— the drawn out chronicle of your last uncontested crush still knuckling over twenty years later in the backyard of your parents’ house. For as I learned this evening, it was your crossed heart that broke, not his, and so made romance into something fleshed, impregnable, and almost shameless once those first taboos took a backseat to the round chord your plucked body struck: that overjoy
you’ve rung so many times by now you’ve grown unsure of what it was you wanted then, before the dream had wearied of itself, and sex stood through you like an ampersand. And so, tonight, as you rise from your canopied childhood bed, I watch you watch those leafy shadows worry across the windowsill, and feel for a moment the presence of that lost thing out there in the lull of a late rain dying out, in the moon transfusing through the breathed-on pane. And I relive it again, those thousand kisses you set upon the lips of other men.
“In a political culture of managed spectacles and passive spectators, poetry appears as a rift, a peculiar lapse, in the prevailing mode. The reading of a poem, a poetry reading, is not a spectacle, nor can it be passively received. It’s an exchange of electrical currents through language—that daily, mundane, abused, and ill-prized medium, that instrument of deception and revelation, that material thing, that knife, rag, boat, spoon/reed become pipe/tree trunk become drum/mud become clay flute/conch shell become summons to freedom/old trousers and petticoats become iconography in appliqué/rubber bands stretched around a box become lyre.”—Adrienne Rich, Someone is Writing a Poem
“Fueled by righteous—some would say self-righteous—outrage at the injustices he deemed endemic in sports and society, Cosell provided a voice for the underdog in an age of protest and tumult. Whether it was the evils he saw in baseball’s Reserve Clause, the dearth of African-Americans in coaching and managerial positions, the unconstitutional treatment of Muhammad Ali, or the monopolistic policies of the NFL in its war with the rival USFL—he could be found on his soapbox “telling it like it is.””—From Don Ohlmeyer’s review of Mark Ribowsky’s HOWARD COSELL: The Man, The Myth, and Transformation of American Sports
"Well, that would be the advantage of being a pimp would be that—you know, it may well be that—I’m pretty positive that Caravaggio slept with Fillide. I mean, it seems highly likely that he did. The paintings that he does of her are charged with sexual feeling. He was also sexually attracted to men and almost certainly having sex with men…he is omni-sexual, if you like. But the paintings of Fillide are so charged with that kind of sexual feeling. But the point of having, as it were, a string of prostitutes is that you have a string of free models. You know, Caravaggio perhaps looks after them. He does seem to be doing that. He’s always out at night with his sword, which suggests to me that, you know, he’s protecting them ‘cause he’s always out with them. So, you know, that’s where I get my—I just have an intuition about it. I was ambivalent about saying that he was a pimp, but on balance I believe that he probably was.”
If you could impress one thing on young people today, what would it be?
That adults are not all they’re cracked up to be. And most of them are wrong most of the time. This can be quite revelatory for a kid - often launching them on a personal quest of exploration, rather than of Q&A sessions with their parents.
If you could change one thing about how the sciences are taught to American children, what would it be?
Create a goal state for educational pipeline to see in broad daylight - some ambitious mission - like a voyage to mars - that is so compelling that the quality of your science teacher is irrelevant. Your consequent ambitions trump all other forces.
“And finally, a nod to Lucretius. His ‘On the Nature of Things’ is the quintessential book that lives, the Norton ideal.”—From Norton President W. Drake McFeely’s note to the staff on THE SWERVE winning the National Book Award in non-fiction.
“I find myself fighting back tears… partly because of the acceptance speech I heard before me… my book is about the power of books to cross boundaries, to speak impossibly across space and time and distance… what the magic of the written word is and about the strangeness of a poem written two thousand years ago, a great poem and a difficult poem disappearing for a thousand years, and then coming back.”—from Stephen Greenblatt’s National Book Award acceptance speech