Thursday, January 31, 2013

Noel Coward: "A talent to amuse"

If images like Elsie swinging upside down from a chandelier and Freddie doing “half the Big Apple” strike a chord, then you, Sir or Madam, are an initiate into the trippy world of Noel Coward (pictured above with his great pal Gertrude Lawrence).
I went to a marvellous party
With Noonoo, and Nada, and Nell—
It was in the fresh air,
And we went as we were,
And we stayed as we were,
(Which was hell)
Poor Grace started singing at midnight,
And she didn't stop singing 'til four—
We knew the excitement was bound to begin
When Laura got blind on Dubonnet and gin
And scratched her veneer with a Cartier pin!
I couldn't have liked it more!
Coward was quite the polymath—so much so that he was deemed "The Master." He did get around, too—from Piccadilly, New York City, and the Café de Paris to headlining at Las Vegas and entertaining the army in Burma and Assam (using a piano that had traversed the jungle strapped to a jeep).
Success came easily in at least three senses. It came early. (He wrote and starred in a West End play at the age of 20.) It came fluidly. (A number of his biggest hits were composed not over months or years but over portions of a week. He needed only three days for “Hay Fever,” four for “Private Lives,” and if “Blithe Spirit” taxed him for a full five days, he could later boast that in production it required only two lines of revision.) And — most remarkable of all — success came in a dizzying array of disciplines.—New York Times: “Brio and Bons Mots”
A delightfully well-rounded portrait of Coward in his own words can be found in The Noel Coward Reader. Of the four short stories in the collection, the poignant “Mr and Mrs Edgehill” is one of the sweetest and most affecting portraits of a relationship I've ever read. (It reflects “the stoicism of a British couple quietly doing their duty upholding the principles and tradition of British rule in the most remote and unvisited Pacific island location” according to the Noel Coward Society. Apparently there's a BBC film with Judi Dench and Ian Holm, which I absolutely must track down!)
 As is well known, Coward's lyrics are marvels of cascading wordplay and imagery: “There is no time I can remember when I was not fascinated by words ‘going together’: Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Beatrix Potter, all fed my childish passion.... I can still distinctly recall being exasperated when any of these whimsical effusions were slipshod in rhyming or scansion.”
The “complicated rhythms and rhymes” of one of his most iconic songs were actually worked out while “jungles and river and mountain and rice fields were unrolling” past its author on a road trip from Hanoi to Saigon.
It seems such a shame
When the English claim
The earth
That they give rise to such hilarity and mirth.
Mad dogs and Englishmen
Go out in the midday sun.
The toughest Burmese bandit
Can never understand it.
In Rangoon the heat of noon
Is just what the natives shun.
But mad dogs and Englishmen
Go out in the midday sun.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Musical "likes" of 1926

In 1926, Gramophone magazine's Compton Mackenzie asked a number of worthies of the day—including Noël Coward, GK Chesterton, Ivor Novello, George Bernard Shaw, and DH Lawrence—to name their favorite song, composer, and singer. Like Shaw, I said to myself "no way," but the responses are fun and certainly indicative of the times (what a pash for Wagner!). Here are a few "likes," in the social media of the day.
George Bernard Shaw (Playwright, critic, novelist)
Says that only people in a deplorably elementary stage of musical culture have favourite tunes and so forth, and he considers the question a monstrous insult.
Noël Coward (Playwright, composer, singer, actor, director)
My favourite song is 'L'heure exquise' (Reynaldo Hahn). My fayourite composer is George Gershwin. My favourite tune is 'Mountain Greenery',  by Laurenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. My favourite singer is Yvonne Printemps (right; she starred with him in 1934's Conversation Piece, which produced the song "I'll Follow My Secret Heart").

Walter de la Mare (Novelist, poet, children's author)
Yours would be a difficult catechism even for an expert, so you can imagine what it must be for a mere amateur.  In spite of many efforts, I cannot decide on my 'favourite' song. But if, at pain of being jazzed to death, I was compelled to come to a conclusion, I think I should find myself at the last still hesitating between a song of the 'folk' kind and one of Brahms's or Schubert's. Among the records I know, one of the most successful, I think, is Hahn's' L'heure exquise'; but my range is limited. I suppose a list of records of quiet 'parlour' renderings of good songs long since appeared in Gramophone, and by 'quiet' I mean, chiefly, not of operatic technique.
For 'composer,' though 'favourite' sounds both a feeble and arrogant term in relation to such a name, my choice would be Bach, and for 'tune' the aria' 'Have mercy upon me, O Lord,' from the St Matthew Passion. After him, I think, Mozart; but after the apex, difficulty of choice increases like the width of a pyramid.

DH Lawrence (Novelist, poet, playwright, critic, painter)
My favourite song is, I think, 'Kishmul's Galley', from the Hebridean Songs, and my favourite composer, if one must be so selective, Mozart; and singer, a Red Indian singing to the drum, which sounds pretty stupid.

John Galsworthy (Novelist, playwright)
I'm not a good hand at symposiums, but since it's you who asks, here goes:
My favourite song (well sung), 'Che farò', from Gluck's Orfeo.
My favourite composers, Bach and Chopin dead heat, with Gluck beaten half a length, Stravinsky beaten off, and Wagner left at the post.
My favourite tune depends on my mood and varies from 'The Marseillaise' to 'The Bens of Jura.'
My favourite singer? At the moment, I would rather hear Chaliapin sing the 'Volga Boat Song' than anyone else sing any other song.

Ivor Novello (Composer, singer, actor)
My favourite song is 'Morgen', by Richard Strauss; my favourite composer, Wagner; my favourite tune (l presume you mean of the modern variety), 'By the Lake' ; and the singer I most admire is Emmy Bettendorf, who you know records for Parlophone. I choose her not only for the exquisite quality of her voice, but for her astonishing versatility. She seems to be able to sing anything.

Hugh Walpole (Novelist)
As you rightly remark, these questions are a damn bore, but if it gives you any pleasure to know it I would say that certainly Brahms is my favourite composer, and ... for Scandinavian things, a pal of mine, Lauritz Melchior. As to a tune I can think of thousands; two of the best, if you call them tunes, are Desdemona's song in the last act of Otello, and the Orestes music in Elektra.

W Somerset Maugham (Playwright, novelist, short-story writer)
What a devilish fellow you are to ask a harmless and respectable gentleman like myself to answer such questions; but here they are:
Favourite song: 'The Prize Song'.
Favourite composer: Wagner.
Favourite tune: 'The Fire Music'.
Favourite singer: Lotte Lehman.
Curses on your head.

Care for a little Wagner? You've come to the right place!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Witty writing on words, à la Roy Blount, Jr.

Whether your vocabulary cravings tend toward the mot juste or the just plain juicy, you'll enjoy Roy Blount, Jr.'s Alphabet Juice. I have relished his ready wit on NPR's Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me, but it's combined here with erudition and oodles of fascinating etymologies. Here's the beginning of his discourse on the term "ideal reader."
Ezra Pound
In 1911, Ezra Pound, who at this point in his life tended to wear “trousers made of green billiard cloth, a pink coat, a blue shirt, a tie hand-painted by a Japanese friend, an immense sombrero, a flaming beard cut to a point, and a single, large blue earring,” presented himself to the influential novelist and editor Ford Madox Ford—a corpulent Britisher conventionally dressed and heavily mustachioed, whose highly readable memoir is our source for Pound's attire. Pound had poetry for Ford to read.
I love this riff on Cole Porter's lyrical brilliance:
When Cole Porter in I Get a Kick Out of You explains why he doesn't get one out of air travel, he gets an extraordinary amount of juice out of the sound of long i: “Flying too high in the sky / Is my idea of nothing to do.” That i keeps ascending in the mouth, pushing against the roof, and just when you think it's as high as 'twill fly—to the sky—it double-clutches, up, again, to my and then, again, to the initial i-; and tumbles: -dea of nothing to do. “'S Wonderful,” I would say, but that's Gershwin.
Now there's a man attuned to the music of language. 
There are other bones I might pick with my dictionary, Blount declares on another randomly opened page (313). To wit: “It doesn't seem to realize that dickens, as in what the dickens, is a euphemism for devil, and it doesn't mention that a child can be called a little dickens.” On page 328, he's still going strong, declaring that he's "going to show you what is the most balanced word in English.... level. Balanced perfectly on the point of middle v."
I'll conclude this Blount sampler with one of his typically funny stories. The topic is "TV, being on."
I don't want to leave the impression that TV people are necessarily insensitive. Once I did an essay-to-camera about U.S. politics for BBC-TV. For part of it, I strolled past the Washington Monument, explaining America to the mother country. A tiny microphone was concealed on my person. The camera crew was way over on the other side of the street, a good fifty yards away. On the screen eventually back in Britain it would be clear that I was speaking to the viewer, but to passersby there in Washington I appeared to be talking to myself—or else to them, the passersby. “Excuse me?” someone would say, and we would have to start over. Before one take I cleared my throat so loudly that a kind old lady asked me if I was all right. “I'm on television,” I explained. She looked at me sadly. 
I didn't want her to think I was insane, or that I was putting her on. “See,” I confided, “I'm a writer, I don't usually do this kind of—this is the dumbest thing!” I cut my eyes over toward the TV people, decent hardworking folks. Clearly they had heard what I said, through our microphonic connection, and their feelings were hurt.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Downton Dish, Season 3, Episode 4 recap: "The sweetest spirit under this roof is gone"

What can I say? I cried buckets. Telling myself that these were made-up people in a classy soap opera did not help. Everyone loved Sybil (even the maleficent Thomas was crying). And how apropos that her visionary name should be carried on in her daughter. Here's The Guardian:
Frankly, I'm gobsmacked. This incident, unprecedented in its seriousness in Downton history – Mr Pamuk notwithstanding – demanded some incredible acting performances. Everyone rose to the task admirably, but it seemed almost cruel to the actors. One minute they were gossiping about kidney souffles, stopped clocks and poisoned pastry, the next they were witnessing the death of one of the house's most loved characters.
"You are my baby, you always will be. Always my beauty, my baby" says a bereft Cora to Sybil's lifeless body. Along with her wrenching grief comes a cold, bitter anger at her husband, whom she blames for ignoring the advice of a posh doctor over the family physician ("Sybil doesn't have thick ankles"), who knew Sybil from birth. "If we'd listened to him, Sybil might still be alive, but Sir Philip and your father knew better and now she's dead."
Sybil was the first sister to cross the great class divide; obviously by marrying the chauffeur but also in other ways, such as nursing during the war and asking Mrs Patmore to show her how to bake a cake. Edith is showing nascent signs of breaking out of her gilded cage by writing to the newspaper, while obdurately classbound Mary remains hostile to her husband's attempts to bring the estate into the 20th century.
Moving over to the Bates plot line: can anyone help me understand why his Iago-esque wife Vera would want to kill herself? The fact that framing him would put him in the slammer hardly seems sufficient. ("Motiveless malignity"?) And how do Bates' cellmate and his guard friend know enough to forewarn Mrs Bartlet not to spill the beans about the pastry under Vera's nails? Why fret, you ask—we all know he's getting out eventually. Right you are!
If you love Downton Abbey, be sure to check out these three pages of related books and DVDs (the Season 3 DVD set is just around the corner), as well as our Downton Forum!

Friday, January 25, 2013

A shadow on Steinbeck's Nobel; Monroe dines and dances with Dinesen

"When asked if he felt he deserved it, he replied 'Frankly, no.'"
Noticing that we have two 100th anniversary editions of books by John Steinbeck reminded me of an intriguing article in the Folio Society's newsletter about his 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature. Steinbeck used to be a staple in high school English classes (did you read him?) and is certainly as iconic an American author as they come. But it appears that the committee—and even Steinbeck himself—were conflicted about awarding him the prize:
In January the world learnt that in 1962, the year American author John Steinbeck won, Karen Blixen, Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell were also nominated. This has restarted the debate which raged at the time as to whether Steinbeck was worthy of the prize at all. The New York Times were shocked that a writer of ‘limited talent’ prone to ‘tenth-rate philosophizing’ was even nominated.
In 1962 the Nobel committee was split over the prize as there wasn’t ‘any obvious candidate’; they claimed they were in an ‘unenviable situation’ – Graves was considered too much of a poet (a poet had won the year previously), Blixen had died that September (making her ineligible) and it was considered too soon to give Durrell the prize (his only novels of note being The Alexandria Quartet). This left Steinbeck, previously nominated many times and hugely popular (despite the misgivings of the literary establishment), to take the prize. His literary credentials may have been suspect to some, but there is no doubt that his influence as a writer remains supreme – his books are still massively popular, particularly with schools. Steinbeck himself was skeptical of the prize: when asked if he felt he deserved it, he replied 'Frankly, no.'
 I so wish Blixen (Isak Dinesen) had eked out her tenuous existence just a little bit longer! What an utterly distinctive author—and personality. I'll never forget the scenario described in Nancy and Edward Sorel's Brief Encounters when she met up with Marilyn Monroe, due to the kind offices of Carson McCullers.
On the fifth of February, 1959, Carson McCullers gave a luncheon. She seldom entertained anymore, her health was so precarious, but Isak Dinesen was in town--New York, that is—for the first (and only) time, and there were two women she wanted to meet. McCullers was one. The other was Marilyn Monroe. Dinesen mentioned this to McCullers when they were introduced at a literary function, and Carson said nothing could be easier. She knew Marilyn, she said, and there was Arthur Miller at the next table; she would ask a few old friends as well. It was a little disconcerting to learn that "Tanya," as Dinesen preferred being called, lived on oysters and white grapes, washed down with champagne — so perhaps a souffle, too, she told her cook, in case the other guests found that fare meager.
On the day, the Millers called for Dinesen in their car, late — when was it otherwise with Marilyn? Monroe did look luscious in her black sheath with the pronounced decolletage and fur collar. Tanya (Dinesen), who weighed eighty-odd pounds, wore an elegant grey suit, her head swathed in a turban. After lunch she told one of her tales about being young in Kenya and killing her first lion and sending the skin to the King of Denmark. It was a hard act to follow. But Marilyn had a story, too, if a less heroic one: She was giving a dinner party, using her.mother-in-law's recipe for noodles, but it got late, the guests arrived, and she had to finish off the noodles with a hairdryer. Marilyn was always best in comic parts. Then Carson, as she told it later, put a record on the phonograph, and she, Tanya, and Marilyn danced together—on top of the black marble dining table, she said. Blame it on the oysters and champagne.
Speaking of favorite writers,  do do do read this letter from the hospital by Dorothy Parker. Why can't she have been cloned?? ("And, above all, there is the kindhearted if ineffectual gentleman across the hall, where he lies among his gallstones, who sent me in a turtle to play with. Honest. Sent me in a turtle to play with. I am teaching it two-handed bridge. And as soon as I get really big and strong, I am going to race it to the end of the room and back. ")

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The allure of vintage comics

In my popsicle days, my idea of heaven was to hunker down with a comic book in the latest "fort"/"tent" I had constructed out of who knows what. Classics Illustrated, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash, The Phantom …. anything I cold get my hands on, or my allowance would permit.
Action! Mystery! Thrills!: Comic Book Covers of the Golden Age revisits an anything-goes era when comics cost ten cents and the iron fist of the Comics Code Authority had yet to descend. Geared mostly to boys (with clubhouses, secret identities, airplanes, female fantasy objects [Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, anyone?], and many skimpily clad maidens in distress), these prized objects were replete with heroes in colorful, skin-tight costumes displaying outstanding musculature as they battle evil; assorted ghouls and lurid sic fi monsters; preening, fiendish mad scientists; menacing Asians and Nazis being vanquished … well, you get the picture!

Here are Dick Tracy, The Shadow, Superman, The Green Hornet, Wonder Woman, Captains Marvel and America, and the original incarnation of Batman (in Detective Comics)—as well as a parade of also-rans, such as Electro, Shock Gibson the Human Dynamo, Wonder Man, The Shield, The Flame, The Lightning, Power Nelson: the Futureman, Duke O'Dowd, Blue Blaze, The Red Raven, The Blue Beetle, Hydroman, Amazing Man, Captains Battle and Midnight, The Skyman, The Daredevil, Silver Streak (and his sidekick Whiz), Kaanga the Jungle Lord, Bulletman and Bulletgirl, Doll Man, Cat Man, The Fighting Yank, The Green Lama, and Magno the Magnetic Man. Oh, and there are a few Little Lulus and Disney/Warner Brothers cartoon comics thrown in too.
I've assembled a few images from the book for your delectation, but trust me … these covers have to be seen to be believed!! Each spread is annotated in the notes.

I did get a laugh out of a Retronaut feature on "rubbish superpowers." Here are a few samples.
Finally, pulchritude and puissance unite in this collection of covers from "Thrilling" and "Exciting" Comics.
Here are two cool DVDs for DC Comics lovers: DC Comics Super Heroes: The Filmation Adventures, with a gaggle of costumed crusaders presented in animated cartoon form, and the fascinating Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics, virtually a history of comics in general.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

So you thought your job was hard…

Margaret Powell's mother went out "charring" from 8 am to 6 pm, for 2 shillings a day. At age seven, Margaret was running home from school at midday to prep a meal for her ma to pull together on her break. Supper was bread and margarine. The family of nine had one or two rooms in someone else's house. To earn money for the circus, kids collected horse manure for three pence a barrow. Moving pictures could be seen on Saturday afternoons for three half pence, but the atmosphere was anything but restful: "During the whole time that we were in the cinema, there was nothing but pandemonium. Babies were howling and the kids were screeching. But it didn't  matter because they were silent films." 
Margaret, who narrates her own story in Below Stairs ("The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey"), was born in 1907.  Highly intelligent, she won a scholarship at age 13 but her parents were too poor to pay for food and lodging, so into service she went, as a kitchen maid at the age of 15. (Above, Downton Abbey's kitchen maid Daisy Robinson, played by Sophie McShera; right Edwardian maids.)
Margaret's first post was with a vicar and his wife in Hove, near Brighton. Their Regency house had 132 stairs from basement to attic; needless to say, these two areas were frequented by staff only and were less than salubrious. For 25 pounds a year, Margaret had six hours off once a week and six hours off on alternate Sundays. "I thought they had made a mistake," she says of the list of duties she was shown. "I thought it was for six people to do." Rising at 5:30, she had to clean the flues, light the fire, blacklead the grate, clean the huge steel fender and fire irons, clean the brass on the front door, scrub the 14 outdoor stone steps, clean the household's boots and shoes, and lay the servants' breakfast—all before 8 a.m. in a workday that often lasted until 8 at night. No wonder she thought she was in the pits of hell! 
Some of her observations on times gone by will make foodies swoon: milk deliveries three times a day, fish brought up in a bucket from the beach, grocers calling on the cook for her orders, lavish six-course meals upstairs, with breakfasts of bacon and eggs, sausages, kidneys, and kedgeree or finnan haddock ("I couldn't help thinking of my poor father and mother at home. All they had was toast.")
The employer's repasts were denied to the staff (who ate Welsh rarebit and macaroni cheese), and the maids lived in Dickensian conditions. This turned our heroine, understandably, into a proto-socialist: "The two pounds a month that I have in money is supposed to be supplemented by the board and lodging. If the lodging is of the kind that Mary and I have in this attic and the food is meagre, how are we getting an equitable wage?"
On the maids' afternoons off they sometimes went to tea dances. That was one of the few places they were likely to meet potential husbands (although they had to lie about their work as "skivvies"). Margaret eventually did get married, despite the fact that her work left her so worn out that she usually ended up collapsing at a film on her afternoon off.
"The most exciting part about dinner parties was the chauffeurs…. You never saw such a fluttering in the dovecote…. There were six or seven of us women who hardly ever spoke to a man and whose femininity was so suppressed that we got to be like female eunuchs…. Even the sewing-maid and the nursemaid would find some excuse to come down. And all because of these chauffeurs in their uniforms." Right: British chauffeur Frederick William Nibbs, born 1882 in Lambeth.
Margaret soaked up all she could to land a position as a cook, and her further adventures show her in a number of situations in London, both agreeable and not—but always recounted with  humor and a gimlet eye. After marrying the milkman, she had three children, passed her "O" levels at age 58, and lived to have a bus line named after her in Hove.
While there are some vague congruences between the world of Downton Abbey's servants and that described by Powell, her narrative come down mainly on the side of the BBC Program Servants—The True Story of Life Below Stairs, which portrays their existence as "miserable, degrading and exhausting." Thankfully, her prose is anything but.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Jane Austen's Netherfield Ball comes to life

Country dance? Cotillion? Minuet? Boulanger? Why yes, thank you!
I almost fainted with excitement—quick, the smelling salts!—when I found out via our very own Daedalus Books Facebook page that the BBC aims to recreate and film the Netherfield Ball from Pride and Prejudice for the 200th anniversary of its publication (January 27). Be still my beating heart! Filmed on location at Chawton House, Hampshire, the 90-minute program will explore the dancing, the music, the food, and the fashion of the Regency period as the preparations are made for the ball, which will then be shown in its entirety. Left: Bingley, the giver of the ball. Below: it will take Darcy an entire novel to undo the bad impression he makes on Elizabeth by the supercilious comments she overhears at the Netherfield Ball.
Care to engage with other avid Janeites? We invite you to peruse A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen and/or Dancing with Mr. Darcy: Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House: The Best of the Jane Austen Short Story Competition.
"So, he enquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then, the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger."—Mrs Bennet about Mr. Bingley at The Netherfield Ball
The illustrated blog Jane Austen's World is a nexus of information about the etiquette and importance of balls in this period—especially as regards the all-important theme of matrimonial prospects.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Downton Abbey recap, Season 3, Episode 3: "No Lady writes to a newspaper"

"It was the best of times; it was the worst of  times." Well the balance fell somewhat on the latter in this episode. Edith's stab at suffragism ("Earl's Daughter Speaks Out for Women's Rights") and the beatific smile on her face when she discovers her letter was published was a definite bright spot, as was the resumption of communication between Bates and Anna. But Mary was decidedly on the crabby side throughout, and poor Daisy seemed to have her budding romantic hopes crushed upon the advent of a comelier scullery maid. (You may wonder why Daisy complains so vociferously about the lack of help in this and other episodes. Tune in later this week and I'll walk you through some of the tasks assigned to an actual kitchen maid of the period.) Lord Dumbledore seems to care not a fig that the estate is bleeding money now that he has it back, and he's all het up about harboring a revolutionary in the person of his son-in-law, as well as the possible incursion of creepy Catholics into a very C of E sphere of existence, in which he has the Archbishop of York to dinner. And Mary is cheesed that Tom/Branson watched approvingly while the house of an Irish aristocrat she "came out" with burned to the ground. "When I see these houses, I don’t see charm and grace. I see something horrible" he counters.
Mrs Patmore and the unlucky-in-love Daisy. Photo: ITV
In other wrenching developments, "fallen woman" and former Downton housemaid Ethel gave up her illegitimate son Charlie—and still his grandpa was beastly to her. Mrs Crawley is up in everyone's face, using the actual word "prostitute." She's not about to back off, employ euphemisms, or blame the victim. Bully for her! Methinks her cook Mrs Bird, who feels above handing Edith her coat, is about to get her comeuppance.
"No family is ever what it seems to the outside."
Both Edith and Matthew go to the Dowager Countess for advice. To the smart and capable Edith's plaint that "There's nothing to do at the house except when we entertain" Vi has little to offer, except to eschew gardening: "you're not as desperate as that!" The post-war, post-jilted, purposeless Edith must feel condemned to a future of despair and ennui. (Although the Dowager Countess does say "There must be something you can put your mind to!" I suggest books—or helping Mrs Crawley with her social work. What do you think?)
Matthew wants to know how he can address Robert's "mismanagement" without "putting anyone's nose out of joint." Violet tells him to tally ho, but warns that however he proceeds, "a great many noses will be out of joint."
We fade out with Mrs Hughes playing with her new electric toaster, a pincher model with a nickel-plated toast rack on top. "I’ve given it to myself as a treat," she tells Carson. "If it’s any good, I’m going to suggest getting one for the upstairs breakfasts."
Lingering questions: Where did Shirley McLaine go? I know some Downtonites (Mary and her Granny) were keen to have Cora's blunt American mother back across the pond, but as of the previous episode she seems to have unceremoniously disappeared.
Favorite exchange: "I think Granny's right." Violet: "Will somebody write that down?"
Favorite characters to befriend. "These are the current Downton characters I would most like to hang out with, in roughly descending order: The dowager countess, Sybil, Matthew, Mary, Branson, the smoking hot new kitchen maid, Isis the dog, and Mrs. Hughes" writes Seth Stevenson of Slate. How about you?
SPECIAL LIMITED OFFER: Go here for10% off all Downton Abbey–related items (books, CDs, DVDs); & there are lots!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Color and beauty in small Japanese graphics

Four days of cold, clammy, relentless rain left me in the mood for some color and beauty. For today I had planned to share some of my favorite images from the Then lo, the sun burst forth from the heavens this morning! I'm sure the birds will be as thrilled as I am. At left is an ex libris woodblock print by Kihachiro Shimozawa from 1965.

Yoshitoshi Taiso (1839-1892). Woodblock ukiyo-e print from a 1890's copy of Bijutsu Sekai edited by Seitei.
Shotei Takahashi (1871-1945). 1930s.

Shotei Hiroaki (1871-1944). Creped woodblock print.
Above left: unidentified artist. Woodblock printed postcard. Late Meiji era. Right: Sonan Noda (active mid-20th century). Woodblock printed postcard.

Above left: Shinsui Tanaka: Dressing up for the November Festival of Children's Shrine Visiting. Woodblock printed postcard, likely 1930s. Right: From a book of Japanese designs (Shin-Bijutsukai), 1902
More Japanese artistry.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Books to look for in 2013

The Millions have done a round up of books to watch for this year so let the listmaking begin! Here's betting many of these titles will show up on our website sooner or later. Included are an unpublished book by Maurice Sendak, a collection by the always gripping George Saunders, the complete stories of Truman Capote, a new novel by Olive Kitteridge's Elizabeth Strout, and Jamaica Kincaid's first novel in a decade. 
The book titles below will not be showing up in 2013, but maybe they'll elicit a laugh or two. They're from the ongoing efforts of readers to outdo themselves at the website Better Book Titles.
Covers pictured: Howard's End, Inherit the Wind, Antigone, Carrie, The Great Gatsby, The Tale of Genji, The Long Goodbye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Equus, The Red Badge of Courage, Sense & Sensibility, Swann's Way, The Thin Man, This Side of Paradise