Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fictional endings

1943 edition of Jane Eyre
I kind of can't believe Jane Eyre's "Reader, I married him" wasn't on the Observer's list of 10 best closing lines in fiction; instead they opted for sister Emily's finale to Wuthering Heights. Like most good comedies of manners, Emma by Jane Austen also ends with marriage:
"The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own.—'Very little white Satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business!—Selina would stare when she heard of it.' But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union."
A ring owned by Jane Austen, recently sold by her family for £150,000 (US$234,668)
Do you have any ending lines candidates? I'm going to start making my own list of openers, because I admire excellent ones greatly, and it makes a crucial difference in hooking me on a new author. For discount books by and about the Bronte sisters (including bios and fan fiction), click here.
Another great illustration by Fritz Eichenberg from the 1943 Random House edition.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Grabbing lunch

Renoir still life
Whether you explore it while eating at your desk or want to save it for later, here's a link to a wonderful New York Public Library online exhibition about the history of lunchtime in the city. Did you know that it wasn't until 1976 that a Chinese restaurant (Empire Szechuan Gourmet, at Broadway and 97th Street) began leaving menus at buildings offering free delivery? (By the number of signs prohibiting such activity, I think that's now regarded as more of curse than a blessing!)
Although the last automat closed in 1991, the Smithsonian in Washington DC has a 35-foot section of one on display. In the early 1930s, New York boasted 41 automats.
“The Automat was one of the wonders of New York. When Joe Horn and Frank Hardart opened their magnificent flagship on July 2, 1912—a two-story facade of stained glass, marble floors, and ornate carved ceilings, right in the middle of Times Square—the city was instantly captivated. Hungry? Drop a nickel in a slot, open the door to your chosen compartment, and pull your dish right out — a modern miracle! Sandwiches, hot dishes, and desserts were all freshly made, and the coffee was said to be the best in New York. By the 1940s there were Automat restaurants all over the city. Children and tourists adored them, office workers depended on them, retirees gathered in them, and New Yorkers with nothing to spend on lunch stirred free ketchup into hot water and called it soup.”
At the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company’s main office on Madison Avenue, “men and women ate in separate lunchrooms, and everyone had an assigned seat so that waitresses could quickly deliver the right meal to each person. The clerks were allowed 35 minutes for lunch, and the meal was free.”  Sounds very Silicon Valley!
One of the 45,000 menus in the collection. Quite the rate of inflation!
We all know it's good to plan ahead so you don't get caught perpetually eating pizza for lunch. For help with healthy food choices and recipes to build on them, look no further than this page.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Olympics posters through the years

Did you know that the five Olympic rings are the most recognized symbol in the world? They're pretty great as icons, but the posters used to promote the event are not always as successful. Here are some samples; what's your view of the most and least attractive?


How do you think the opening ceremony stacked up? I was kind of underwhelmed by the Paul McCartney finale (and, honestly, by the Queen's tepid pronouncement). For the inevitable longeurs in Olympic watching (if you're not taping, that is), how about picking up The Best American Sports Writing 2011?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Off-the-beaten-path covers of two pop classics

Here is Amy Winehouse, nailing "Girl from Ipanema"—the second most recorded song in pop history. What a voice! If the bossa nova bug done bit you, try out Stan Getz & Luiz Bonfa: Jazz Samba Encore! Getz played on the original release, which brought the Brazilian craze to the U.S. in the '60s.
Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, the "girl from Ipanema." The song turns 50 this year.
Voted the No. 1 pop song of all time by Time and Rolling Stone in 2000, The Beatles' "Yesterday" is also the one with the most covers. (Actually, Paul McCartney both wrote the tune and performed it solo on Help). Here's jazz great Oscar Peterson with a very bossa nova–esque instrumental version.
Ever wish you could pluck a guitar like James Taylor does on "You've Got a Friend" or "You Can Close Your Eyes" from Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon? Just mosey on over to jamestaylor.com for a free lesson!

Friday, July 27, 2012

All-American posters with a message

In homage to the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the magazine Ready Made asked five artists to "reimagine the populist poster art of the first Great Depression." High-resolution images of the results (by Nick Dewar, Christopher Silas Neal, Christoph Niemann, Open, and Mike Perry) can be downloaded here.

With our abiding interest in all things locavore (e.g., From Container to Kitchen: Growing Fruits and Vegetables in Pots), we really resonate to the first two. You can also go here for a stunning array of original WPA posters promoting reading and libraries. Huzzah for that! Can you imagine your young self without a library card? (Well, it might depend how old you are.)
This calendar was created by the New York City Poster Division to show government officials what the Federal Art Project was doing for the WPA.
For more historic, eye-catching posters, try 100 Posters of Paul Colin or The Art of Classic Rock.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Ephron effect

Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter.... Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.

I couldn't have put it better myself. But then that's usually the case with the zingy prose of Nora Ephron. In addition to several recent collections by the late journalist and screenwriter, I recommend her classic 1972 article for Esquire, “A Few Words About Breasts.”
It was a source of great pride to my mother that she had never even had to wear a brassiere until she had her fourth child, and then only because her gynecologist made her. It was incomprehensible to me that anyone could ever be proud of something like that. It was the 1950s, for God’s sake. Jane Russell. Cashmere sweaters. Couldn’t my mother see that? “I am too old to wear an undershirt.” Screaming. Weeping. Shouting. “Then don’t wear an undershirt,” said my mother. “But I want to buy a bra.” “What for?”
In filmmaking they talk about “the Lubitsch touch.” Ephron's wry way with words should be immortalized as well ... “the Ephron twist”? I'll hoist a martini to that.  (Left: Jane Russell—a daunting role model in the décolletage department!)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Quills, pens, & pencils: the once-flourishing art of handwriting

Freddy the Pig makes a list
In these days of omnipresent keyboards, do you ever try to write something by hand and find it somewhat difficult to form the letters? That probably never happens to Kitty Burns Florey, the author of Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting: "True calligraphy (from the Greek for 'beautiful writing') becomes more endangered with each technological incursion into its traditional territory. But, like literary fiction and heirloom tomatoes, calligraphy survives as a niche market, supported by a small but fiercely enthusiastic band of practitioners and supporters."

Page from Book of Hours (Horæ Beatæ Mariæ Virginis) France; Early XVIth Century.
When printing came along, italic fonts such as this were modeled on particularly beautiful examples of Italian Renaissance cursive writing (above). The use of a quill pen then and in medieval times often gave an aesthetically appealing variation in the width of the stroke.
Florey allots a chapter to two Americans who tried to instill conformity in the penmanship of businesspeople and school children: Platt Rogers Spencer (1800-64), whose style survives in the Coca-Cola logo, and Austin Norman Palmer (1860-1927), creator of the infamous "Palmer method" (below). She believes that children should be taught a modern version of italic, partway between block letters and longhand. That way they'd only have to learn one writing style.
Another chapter delves into graphology, the attempt to elicit traits of character from samples of handwriting. I've often thought it would be fun to show a graphologist samples of manuscripts or letters by various mystery authors and see what they come up with. (One would definitely infer from Elizabeth I's signature that she had no self-esteem problems, even as a princess!)

Example of graphic whimsy from the book: "Official Document" by Saul Steinberg, 1967