Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fatal attraction?

George Gordon Lord Byron may have been a great poet, but he was a very very very bad man. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, "let me count the ways." "Mad, bad and dangerous to know'' was Lady Caroline Lamb's pithy summary of her erstwhile lover. The highest of Gothic, his excesses are delineated in a most engrossing—albeit horrific—fashion in Byron in Love by another great writer, Edna O'Brien (who calls him "the first and ongoing celebrity" with "a mystery and a magnetism that defy time").
And if you have a few moments to spare for the good, bad & the ugly, peruse our extensive memoirs and biography section, now featuring the acclaimed Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books as well as three romps by the ever-captivating food writer Ruth Reichl.
Here's a question: How do you feel about engaging with the work of a writer or artist whose character you find reprehensible?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Barber's 'Scandal,' hottest out-of-print books, & more

  • Besides loaning tools to people who can't buy them, a library in Surrey, British Columbia, is inaugurating a "human library," with people on loan as "living books." Users can "check out" people and talk to them about their experiences with blindness, immigration, religion, disability, and a host of other things. According to deputy chief librarian Melanie Houlden, the goal is to break down stereotypes and start discussions.
  • "Say Something Nice"—this video is apparently viral, so does the fact that it's just getting to me mean I'm virus resistant? Anyhow, it brought out people's innate sweetness and brought strangers together, so you gotta love that.
  • On today's date in 1933, the Philadelphia Orchestra gave the world premiere of the 23-year-old Samuel Barber's Overture to "The School for Scandal." His first orchestral composition to have a major public hearing, it was inspired by the 18th century English Restoration comedy by Richard Sheridan.
  • "The fact that the Economist's North American circulation has just reached its highest ever level tells us that the audience for quality content isn't going away," says Paul Carr on "It also suggests that those of us who prefer our content unsullied by payola, and who appreciate the beauty of a well-crafted headline are turning our backs on the web. Increasingly the best writing and reporting is to be found in books and Kindle Singles, where readers are happy to pay directly for high-quality information and entertainment. As web content continues to get dumber, and more ethically compromised, the market for high quality content away from the web will continue to grow." Do you agree? Which magazines do you still receive in print form? I would have a hard time giving up The New Yorker.
  • In case your penchant for haunting rummage sales should pay off, here is's annual list of the top 10 most sought after out-of-print books of the past year. I must admit, I have only heard of 5 out of 10 of the books/authors!
        1.    Sex by Madonna
        2.    Promise Me Tomorrow by Nora Roberts
        3.    Rage by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)
        4.    My Pretty Pony by Stephen King
        5.    In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting by Ray Garton
        6.    Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini
        7.    Man in Black by Johnny Cash
        8.    Marilyn: A Biography by Norman Mailer
        9.    Arithmetic Progress Papers by H. Henry Thomas
        10.    Mandingo by Kyle Onstott

Monday, August 29, 2011

"The Merm"

"By the time she is finished with either a song or a part she possesses it completely, and very nearly possesses all the other performers and has, at least, a lien on the scenery."—Brooks Atkinson
40 years of Broadway smashes. Never had a flop. Starring roles in the original Anything Goes, DuBarry Was a Lady, Panama Hattie, and Red, Hot and Blue by Cole Porter (who said she sounded like "a band going by"), Girl Crazy by the Gershwins, Call Me Madam and Annie Get Your Gun by Irving Berlin, and Gypsy by Jule Styne & Stephen Sondheim.
Few people are around to testify how electrifying this musical theater legend was in her heyday. But Brian Kellow's biography of the bold, bawdy, brassy, sassy star gives an inkling, while dishing up a banquet of Broadway and Hollywood lore. Although Merman's element was first and last the stage, her megawatt persona can be sampled in these films of her singing and dancing up a storm in various tv condensations and medleys of her hit shows (except for the first excerpt, which is a high point of a fairly abysmal film version of Anything Goes).

When she took over the lead role in Hello Dolly in 1970, Merman still had the stuff. In the New York Times, Walter Kerr called her voice "exactly as trumpet-clean, exactly as pennywhistle piercing, exactly as Wurlitzer wonderful as it always was."

Sunday, August 28, 2011


My entire life I've loved nothing better than curling up with a new novel. Every so often I meet people who proclaim "Oh, I only read nonfiction," as if the universe of fiction was somehow paltry and/or  intellectually suspect. But as any devotee knows, immense enrichment can be found in both short stories and novels—including broadening one's horizon's beyond one's own culture, class, and gender and the intoxication of language as deployed by masters. So I was psyched to come across an article in The Yorkshire Post about Keith Oatley's book Such Stuff As Dreams–The Psychology of Fiction:
A team led by Keith Oatley, a British psychologist (and latterly also a novelist) based at the University of Toronto in Canada, started out on a research project that they hoped would answer these questions: in what ways might reading fiction be good for you, and if it is good for you why would this be, and what is the psychological function of art generally? Through a series of studies they established that fiction isn’t just enjoyable; it enhances your ability to empathise with others and understand life.
Anyone who’s ever been in a book group or simply enjoys comparing views on Harry Potter or a new bestseller with friends, knows that we all interpret stories in different ways because we bring to the activity our personal life experience, knowledge, moods and feelings. These differences mean we engage individually with a story and can find ourselves in furious arguments with others who condemn or defend Mr Darcy’s rudeness and arrogance at the start of Pride and Prejudice. Some of us can see how he can plausibly become a changed man by the end of the novel, and others don’t believe such men ever change their spots. And as for the proud and self-righteous Lizzie...
That’s the great thing about a good work of fiction: no matter how cleverly the writer might try to lead you into thinking about the characters and plot in a certain way, we all react differently thanks to our own history, imagination and the fact that we use the story as a kind of flight simulator in which we explore how we would react in those circumstances and with those people.
“I’ve been doing research on the psychology of fiction for 20 years,” says Prof Oatley. “It took a long time to devise reliable tests that would pinpoint what the actual psychological effects of reading fiction are. Reading about Darcy and Elizabeth or Hamlet or Harry Potter and the progress of their relationships and dilemmas gets you, the reader, practising how to understand others and how they think and behave. That enhanced understanding feeds into your thoughts, attitudes and behaviour. What we’re saying is that fiction has a great ability to help you to develop empathetic skills. The fiction we’re talking about doesn’t have to be particularly literary work. Even moderately ‘schlocky’ novels help to further our understanding of different kinds of people from ourselves and the things they live through. It’s about identification.”
So for me, it's back to grappling with the utterly alien yet all-too-human world of modern China by delving back into The Interior: A Red Princess Mystery by Lisa See! And now that we're clear it's not a guilty pleasure, what novels might you be reading at present?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The power of images

Fantastic photos and videos of endangered species all over the planet—such as this clouded leopard—can be found at the multimedia database ARKive. You can browse by species group or ecoregion and look at education resources by age group. They also have an impressive daily blog (check out the 'top ten cats'), articles on new species being discovered, and so much more. David Attenborough narrates the introductory video. Along these lines, you will find much to enjoy in our title The Bedside Book of Beasts, an exotic animal lover's dream!

Turning from jungle to barnyard, I came across an E. B. White essay from the January 1948 issue of The Atlantic called Death of a Pig that seems to directly prefigure his 1952 children's classic Charlotte's Web. Here are the first few paragraphs:
I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting. Even now, so close to the event, I cannot recall the hours sharply and am not ready to say whether death came on the third night or the fourth night. This uncertainty afflicts me with a sense of personal deterioration; if I were in decent health I would know how many nights I had sat up with a pig.

The scheme of buying a spring pig in blossom time, feeding it through summer and fall, and butchering it when the solid cold weather arrives, is a familiar scheme to me and follows an antique pattern. It is a tragedy enacted on most farms with perfect fidelity to the original script. The murder, being premeditated, is in the first degree but is quick and skillful, and the smoked bacon and ham provide a ceremonial ending whose fitness is seldom questioned. 
Once in a while something slips - one of the actors goes up in his lines and the whole performance stumbles and halts. My pig simply failed to show up for a meal. The alarm spread rapidly. The classic outline of the tragedy was lost. I found myself cast suddenly in the role of pig's friend and physician - a farcical character with an enema bag for a prop. I had a presentiment, the very first afternoon, that the play would never regain its balance and that my sympathies were now wholly with the pig. This was slapstick - the sort of dramatic treatment which instantly appealed to my old dachshund, Fred, who joined the vigil, held the bag, and, when all was over, presided at the interment. When we slid the body into the grave, we both wore shaken to the core. The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig. He had evidently become precious to me, not that he represented a distant nourishment in a hungry time, but that he had suffered in a suffering world.
Daily G Tip
If certain inconsiderate dog owners are menacing your neighborhood, pick up Dog Signs. Besides depictions of dog signage worldwide, it comes with a handy CD so you can make your own notices to shame the scofflaws!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Extra! Extra! Daedalus employee Amy Dill moonlights on major Hollywood film

Special to The Glean:
On Saturday, August 6, I spent the day at Heinz Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA. No, it wasn’t to watch the Steelers, but to see the Gotham Rogues take on the Rapid City Monuments. Never heard of them? That’s because they exist only in Gotham—that's right, the infamous city where Batman resides. Thanks to a friend who heard about this unique opportunity, we scored tickets to be extras in the next Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. Weeks before filming, we began receiving exciting emails from Be In a Movie (the company that handled all the extras) filling us in on what our day would be like, what we needed to bring with us, and all the prizes they would raffle off. The specific scene they would be filming was kept top secret, but we  knew there would be a football game and that we had to bring fall/winter coats (more on that later). We also had no idea which cast members (if any) would be there. If you aren’t familiar with the films, the cast includes Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman, as well as Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy, who play the villains.

The plot of The Dark Knight Rises has been kept secret, but thanks to the media-driven world we live in, you can easily go online and find video and pictures taken by paparazzi and onlookers (the cast and crew have been in Pittsburgh for several weeks). Although the story itself isn’t revealed, you can see what the latest villains look like as well as the new Batman vehicles (which are very cool). Because of the secrecy surrounding the film, I can’t reveal exactly what I witnessed on the set that day, but what I can share is that we were in the opening scene of the movie, and it will be amazing! Stay tuned next week for my experiences on the set. Although I can’t tell you everything I saw, there is still plenty I can share.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Daily funnies (quip art)

Of all her philanthropic activities, baking pot brownies for glaucoma sufferers was Irene's favorite.
Nothing pleased Lucina more than revisiting her own memoirs.
Would she never rid herself of that wretched childhood nickname, "Spaghettihead"?
There's more than one use for a bare bodkin!
Unfortunate victim of excessive photoshopping?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Eschew surplusage": Twain, JF Cooper & cigar-store Indians

 “He saw nearly all things as through a glass eye, darkly.”
I haven't read much Mark Twain (I blush to say not even Huckleberry Finn), but his skewering of the “Leatherstocking" novels in Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses had me LOLing all over the place. In case you haven't been privy either, I've pulled a few of the choicest excerpts. My familiarity with the stories having been relegated to the Classics Comics versions, I was as dismayed as Twain when I attempted to read the actual prose of Mr. Fenimore Cooper.
Strange: for such a funny guy there are few (if any) images of him smiling
First, the admirers of Fenimore Cooper that Twain quotes:
The Pathfinder and The Deerslayer stand at the head of Cooper’s novels as artistic creations. There are others of his works which contain parts as perfect as are to be found in these, and scenes even more thrilling. Not one can be compared with either of them as a finished whole. The defects in both of these tales are comparatively slight. They were pure works of art. –Prof. Lounsbury
The five tales reveal an extraordinary fullness of invention. . . . One of the very greatest characters in fiction, Natty Bumppo . . . .The craft of the woodsman, the tricks of the trapper, all the delicate art of the forest, were familiar to Cooper from his youth up.–Prof. Brander Matthews
Cooper is the greatest artist in the domain of romantic fiction yet produced by America.–Wilkie Collins
Then Twain lets it rip:
When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the Deerslayer tale.... Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as “the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest,” by either the author or the people in the tale.... The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the Deerslayer tale.... The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate ...  love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the Deerslayer tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.... Use the right word, not its second cousin.... [and] eschew surplusage.
Cooper’s gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it, he was pleased with the effects, and indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of stage properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, artifices for his savages and woodsmen to deceive and circumvent each other with, and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go. A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of the moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick. Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was his broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn’t step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred handier things to step on, but that wouldn’t satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can’t do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leather Stocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.
If Cooper had any real knowledge of Nature’s ways of doing things, he had a most delicate art in concealing the fact. For instance: one of his acute Indian experts, Chingachgook (pronounced Chicago, I think), has lost the trail of a person he is tracking through the forest. Apparently that trail is hopelessly lost. Neither you nor I could ever have guessed out the way to find it. It was very different with Chicago. Chicago was not stumped for long. He turned a running stream out of its course, and there, in the slush in its old bed, were that person’s moccasin-tracks. The current did not wash them away, as it would have done in all other like cases–no, even the eternal laws of Nature have to vacate when Cooper wants to put up a delicate job of woodcraft on the reader.
We must be a little wary when Brander Matthews tells us that Cooper’s books “reveal an extraordinary fulness of invention.” ...  Bless your heart, Cooper hadn’t any more invention than a horse; and I don’t mean a high-class horse, either; I mean a clothes-horse. It would be very difficult to find a really clever “situation” in Cooper’s books, and still more difficult to find one of any kind which he has failed to render absurd by his handling of it.... If Cooper had been an observer his inventive faculty would have worked better; not more interestingly, but more rationally, more plausibly. Cooper’s proudest creations in the way of “situations” suffer noticeably from the absence of the observer’s protecting gift. Cooper’s eye was splendidly inaccurate. Cooper seldom saw anything correctly. He saw nearly all things as through a glass eye, darkly. Of course a man who cannot see the commonest little every-day matters accurately is working at a disadvantage when he is constructing a “situation.”

.... The conversations in the Cooper books have a curious sound in our modern ears. To believe that such talk really ever came out of people’s mouths would be to believe that there was a time when time was of no value to a person who thought he had something to say; when it was the custom to spread a two-minute remark out to ten; when a man’s mouth was a rolling-mill, and busied itself all day long in turning four-foot pigs of thought into thirty-foot bars of conversational railroad iron by attenuation; when subjects were seldom faithfully stuck to, but the talk wandered all around and arrived nowhere; when conversations consisted mainly of irrelevancies, with here and there a relevancy, a relevancy with an embarrassed look, as not being able to explain how it got there.
Cooper was certainly not a master in the construction of dialogue. Inaccurate observation defeated him here as it defeated him in so many other enterprises of his. He even failed to notice that the man who talks corrupt English six days in the week must and will talk it on the seventh, and can’t help himself. In the Deerslayer story he lets Deerslayer talk the showiest kind of book-talk sometimes, and at other times the basest of base dialects. For instance, when some one asks him if he has a sweetheart, and if so, where she abides, this is his majestic answer:
“‘She’s in the forest—hanging from the boughs of the trees, in a soft rain—in the dew on the open grass—the clouds that float about in the blue heavens—the birds that sing in the woods—the sweet springs where I slake my thirst—and in all the other glorious gifts that come from God’s Providence!’”
And he preceded that, a little before, with this:
“‘It consarns me as all things that touches a fri’nd consarns a fri’nd.’”
And this is another of his remarks:
“‘If I was Injin born, now, I might tell of this, or carry in the scalp and boast of the expl’ite afore the whole tribe; or if my inimy had only been a bear’”–and so on.
We cannot imagine such a thing as a veteran Scotch Commander-in-Chief comporting himself in the field like a windy melodramatic actor, but Cooper could. On one occasion Alice and Cora were being chased by the French through a fog in the neighborhood of their father’s fort:
“‘Point de quartier aux coquins!’ cried an eager pursuer, who seemed to direct the operations of the enemy.
“‘Stand firm and be ready, my gallant Goths!’ suddenly exclaimed a voice above them; ‘wait to see the enemy; fire low, and sweep the glacis.’
“‘Father? father!’ exclaimed a piercing cry from out the mist; it is I! Alice! thy own Elsie! spare, O! save your daughters!’
“‘Hold!’ shouted the former speaker, in the awful tones of parental agony, the sound reaching even to the woods, and rolling back in solemn echo. “Tis she! God has restored me my children! Throw open the sally-port; to the field, Goths, to the field! pull not a trigger, lest ye kill my lambs! Drive off these dogs of France with your steel!’”
.....I may be mistaken, but it does seem to me that Deerslayer is not a work of art in any sense; it does seem to me that it is destitute of every detail that goes to the making of a work of art; in truth, it seems to me that Deerslayer is just simply a literary delirium tremens. A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are–oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.
German version of Leatherstocking tales

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Songwriter Jerry Leiber

 Jerry Leiber, who died on Monday, described working with Mike Stoller to NPR as “long, long years of … stepping on each other's toes … and words and sentences and, also, finishing each other's lines on songs.”  When Stoller told Rolling Stone that “in the early days we'd go back and forth note for note, syllable for syllable, word for word in the process of creating,” Leiber added: “We're a unit. The instincts are very closely aligned. I could write, 'Take out the papers and the trash', and he'll come up with 'Or you don't get no spendin' cash.'”

Jerry Leiber (rt) and partner Mike Stoller working together in 1956. (Michael Ochs Archives)
What's your favorite Leiber/Stoller song? Here's a mini roll call: “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand By Me” “Love Potion No. 9,” “Kansas City,” “I’m a Woman,” “Is that All There Is?” and “On Broadway.”

Elvis with Stoller & Leiber at MGM in 1957.

So many great singers have performed his songs—Peggy Lee, Sinatra, even John Lennon. Do you have a favorite?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Remember these?

A bookplate (or ex libris, "from the library of"), is a small print for pasting inside the cover of a book. By the late 19th century, bookplates had developed into a highly imaginative form of miniature art. These samples come from British Museum's extensive collection.

OK; which one would you choose?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Madonna, eat your heart out

I am recently enamored of several visually resplendent tomes from Taschen Publishers. Take Menu Design in America: 1850–1985, which reproduces in glorious color menu art ranging from chi-chi to classy to camp to questionable (taste, that is). As the Village Voice put it, "bills of fare get fair billing as works of art."

Traditionally the nexus of the bizarre, The Circus also has its eye-popping moments.

But then we only have to hark back to that wondrous decade The Fifties for spectacles like the following:
Madonna, eat your heart out!
Voodoo shorts?? Seriously??
If you'd like to peruse some other groovy Taschen titles—at a vastly reduced price—just click here! (Photo from 1000 Dogs, which the Village Voice called "the biggest and best of all the dog photo books out there.")
"Buh bye!"

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What 'type' are you?

Try this intriguing "What is your type?" exercise and see if the typeface you end up with suits your personality. I got "Marina script," which is just about in the middle in terms of frequency. Visually I like it ok, but it wouldn't be one that jumped out at me. I would have preferred to self-identify with Garamond Italic or Perpetua Tilting Light. Maybe it's because I sometimes design publications and chose different typefaces for different effects. My partner ended up with dot matrix (the most occurrences) but didn't like it much. Let me know what you think! If this has piqued your interest, have a look at Fabulous Fonts Knowledge Cards: A Deck of Classic Type Design.

Friday, August 19, 2011

World Photography Day

Via our photo correspondent Judy Rolfe:
Many people that have mentioned that they’ve never heard of World Photography Day. Why is that? World Photography Day wasn’t ‘created’ by a big brand as a marketing tool. Rather, it’s a day where photographers had started to come together to celebrate photography, just because they could. Any excuse to throw a party right?
Slowly, groups around the world have started to get on board with the idea of World Photography Day and you will find traces of World Photography Day being celebrated over the last 20 years or so. Each year, World Photography Day has gained momentum and this year, we’re hoping to bring photographers together once again with an even larger audience.
Why August 19th?
World Photography Day originates from the invention of the Daguerreotype, a photographic processes developed by Louis Daguerre.  On January 9, 1839, The French Academy of Sciences announced the daguerreotype process. A few months later, on August 19, 1839, the French government announced the invention as a gift “Free to the World.”
I have a thing for neon, so in honor of the day here are some shots I took where serendipitous special effects happened all on their own.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Righteous babes and a seductive snake

And here's a very lucky boy....
This is my day for video potpourri, so as a follow-up to a recent mention of The Little Prince, I'm including this segment showing the peerless Bob Fosse dancing as the snake in the film. Can you believe how many moves Michael Jackson (who was a huge fan) absorbed from this routine??? Fosse should have received royalties!