Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Varieties of Trench Life": WWI British Captain A. A. Dickson ("Dickie") tells it like it was

That moment he got me: a terrific "Bung-g-g" on the jaw, and down in the ditch by the track I spun, face and neck streaming blood. Field dressing was pulled out in a moment, but it was no place to stay: back to that trench I must creep, dragging flat along the ditch. Too slow, though; bleeding at that rate I'd never cover 200 yards: up on all fours and crawl. But then "Smack-k!" came the vicious spit again: was I to crawl and be potted at? One hundred and fifty yards to go: "Smack-k-k!" again before half-way, and a spurt of earth just behind. How long—how long, to get into that trench? And how long does it take to reload and fire? I know that perfectly well, and I see time for one more shot before I can reach it. Slacken speed, to make a final effort, and "Smack-k-k!" into the ditch a yard ahead…. And when the ambulance pulled in to a chateau marked "C.C.S.," I heard the voice of an English nurse; and at the sound there came a most wonderful feeling that now everything would be perfectly all right: there was no need to worry any more.
Captain A. A Dickson of the Sherwood Foresters' "Varieties of Trench Life"  is just one of the 60 gripping, first-hand accounts of battle in On the Front Line: True World War I Stories. Besides first-hand experiences of battles in France and Flanders, the book includes reports from Gallipoli, Palestine, Macedonia, Africa, in the air and at sea. Reminiscences from women and prisoners are also featured. Dickson's war begins after training and a detour to deal with some trouble in Ireland:

We did get to France at last, though; and into the trenches, too.  The memory of that is mainly-mud.  There was the ominous donning of "gum-boots, thigh"; the shell holes and slithery duckboards (dear old Johnson and his "following each other about in the dark"); the front line, where, by constant baling, liquid slime could just be kept from lipping over the dug-out door-sills.
And there in that nightmare of mud and wire, by the deathly light of occasional star-shells from over the way, we learned the landmarks to guide us : "Left by the coil of wire, right by French legs."
"French legs?" "Yes, we took over from the French; the legs of one they buried in the side of the trench stick out a bit, you can't miss it."  It was rather startling, but didn't seem to merit a second thought.
Sniping, shelling, and the Sisyphean labour of trench maintenance were endured until relief, and even that was nightmare, too.
British officers undergoing marksmanship training at the front. Illustrated London News and Sketch, 1916. Below right: British officer making night rounds in the trenches, New York Times, 02/17/1918
Climbing out of the river of sludge called "C.T." we trudged along the top, caring for nothing but those wicked ankle-high strands of wire across the track—oh! the concentrated loathing in that warning growl of "Woy-er" from each man to his follower.  And so we bundled on until the guide — poor lad, he'd only been up once before — confessed he'd lost his way, for the duckboard track we'd struck led up to the line again, to the sector on our right.
Despair?  There was pale grey dawn behind us by the time compass bearings, verified by a periodic "ploomp ah" from one of our own kindly howitzers, led to the double line of shattered tree stumps along the great straight Amiens road; and we held off utter exhaustion until dug-outs, black, boiling tea, and sleeping like logs, ended the first turn in the line.
Roll call in the British trenches at the Battle of the Somme, afternoon, July 1, 1916. The War Illustrated Album DeLuxe, Vol. 1; Amalgamated Press, London, 1915
Then suddenly, those trenches were abandoned: on we pushed for the Hindenburg Line.  But though company after company was flung on a mass of wire with machine guns sweeping its face, the Hindenburg Line was proof against little local attacks like these: mortifying thought after hell let loose with rifle and machine gun, artillery and trench mortar, that the pandemonium whose only visible result was those corpses on the wire—men we had never known till a year ago and since then had known as brothers—was nothing but a demonstration to pin the enemy down, unworthy even of mention in the report of activity on the Western Front.
British troops resting in support trench. New York Times, 30 Aug 1914 (Gertrude Robinson)

Still, we saw a real big push later on.  How many trucks from those mazes of sidings at St. Pol and Hazebrouck are needed to move a battalion?  How many trains to move a division?  And how many divisions poured into that never-ending assault—a division a day, we heard—beyond the Menin Gate, a one-way road for thousands in the British Army?
Down among the tunnels and brick-stacks of La Bassee, trench mortars on both sides rained down their 12lb., 50 lb., 112 lb. of high explosive: and such lumps of death as that can't be thrown about without the casualty returns growing sadly.  It was all in the day's work, but none the less it meant the loss of pals, when one after another went west through a direct hit, or a premature burst, or an unlucky shell clean into the ammunition store.
So all the spring of 1918, ever feebler reinforcements came, slim boys and weary crippled men; and ever rumours grew of the great push coming.
It was a certain satisfaction to the wiring parties of those nights—every available man—that this sector was one of the few points invulnerable to the German rush of March 21st: So that Collishan, the little cook's mate who had been a Manchester coster and showed a magic skill in coaxing barbed wire around those terrible screw-pickets, had accomplished something before the machine gun got him down south.
Weary British troops in a trenche near Ovilliers during the Battle of the Somme.
The Battle of the Somme: The First Phase, Thomas Nelson & Sons, London, 1917
Down south again—oh, the pitiful irony of it—on that same old battlefield where the Somme advance had started nearly two years before; and after all that measureless slaughter men were to fight again over that same blood-soaked ground.
And the weary, wearing hopelessness of it joined with the fearful intensity of the shelling to make this such a culmination as even previous experience had never made us dream of.
Shelled continuously through the night; dashing out to tie up and replace the sentry hit by shrapnel; floundering with the dead weight of a wounded man along the collapsing makeshift trench, and then back again, lurking in a flimsy brick cellar that shook with every blast.  And in the morning the rims of five great shell holes around the dome of our tiny shelter.
Blazing away with the dawn at massed attacks in full view.  One gun blown up; dragging back the other to reserve positions, while every pair of men who could walk, or stagger, loaded up with boxes of ammunition, and tramped up the open road with that frightful barrage spouting up cascades of earth on right and left.  What was in everybody's mind?
What was in the mind of old Private Jim Black, a road labourer by trade, when the man carrying with him got a splinter in the leg, and Black tied him up and then humped the 2-cwt. box on his own rheumaticky shoulder and trudged on?
British machine gun company on the march in France.
So it went on for days, with "wounded" and "killed" appearing against name after name. It never crossed my mind to wonder whether I'd ever get hit—too busy to think of such a thing, and that is a literal fact.
That was why it was such a surprise. Up the long valley north of Gommecourt, where bits of line changed hands every few hours, I tramped choosing gun positions: passed a rough trench cutting across the track, and reconnoitered the shoulder of the hill.  "Smack!"  "Smack!" at intervals went the sound of bullets at medium range.  But one had grown to disregard them: till it struck me, "They're sniping from across the valley: they've pushed us off that nearest ridge; and I'm in No Man's Land."
Belgian troops entrenched along a railway line. That moment he got me: a terrific "Bung-g-g" on the jaw, and down in the ditch by the track I spun, face and neck streaming blood.  Field dressing was pulled out in a moment, but it was no place to stay: back to that trench I must creep, dragging flat along the ditch.  Too slow, though; bleeding at that rate I'd never cover 200 yards: up on all fours and crawl.  But then "Smack-k!" came the vicious spit again: was I to crawl and be potted at?
Up and run for it; and "Smack-k-k!" came again as I tottered forward, half the field dressing in its waterproof cover still clenched in each hand.  One hundred and fifty yards to go: "Smack-k-k!" again before half-way, and a spurt of earth just behind.  How long—how long, to get into that trench?  And how long does it take to reload and fire?  I know that perfectly well, and I see time for one more shot before I can reach it.  Slacken speed, to make a final effort, and "Smack-k-k!" into the ditch a yard ahead.
"Ah!  Safe!" and I tumble into that trench on top of a knot of mud-caked Fusiliers.
"My Gawd!  Field dressin', sir?" and the two bits are ripped open and clapped on, and the word goes along for stretcher bearers.
Memories after that?  A kindly efficient American M.O. bandaging cases by the dozen.  Then another figure emerged out of the mist: the dearest old silver-haired padre, who didn't waste any silly words, but brought a luscious sponge and hot water, and tenderly bathed face and forehead clear of mud and blood.
Then they took my boots off: that meant rest for a while, anyway.  And when the ambulance pulled in to a chateau marked "C.C.S.," I heard the voice of an English nurse; and at the sound there came a most wonderful feeling that now everything would be perfectly all right: there was no need to worry any more.
Hospital in Rouen, where at length the M.O. took down the card from my bed, and at that mystic sign the next man—oldest inhabitant of the ward, he had seen dozens pass through while his leg refused to mend, but still he enjoyed their good luck—turned to me and whispered, "Blighty, Dickie."
Captain A. A. Dickson, Inns of Court O.T.C., September to December 1915.  Commissioned to Sherwood Foresters.  Dublin Rebellion.  France, January 1917: Somme, Ypres, Nieuport.  Commanding trench mortar battery.  Wounded, November 1917; again in April 1918, during German attack.  Hospital until September 1918.  Demobilized unfit, January 1919.
Note: All photographs are from the outstanding World War I image archive at
You can explore myriad other facets of The Great War in our special commemorative Forum. ~Test your knowledge in one of our quizzes and get discounts on an array of award-winning titles!~

Friday, June 27, 2014

Preston Sturges’s “11 rules for box-office appeal”

Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert in The Palm Beach Story. "Sturges's 1942 classic is like drinking a chilled glass of champagne, down in one. ....The zip and zap and zing are things of wonder."—The Guardian
Preston Sturges, the brilliant Hollywood writer/director (now we call them "auteurs") unleashed a string of hilarious films from 1939 to 1943. We have two of his screwball masterpieces at present: Hail the Conquering Hero (a hoot) and The Palm Beach Story (a corker). Here are his “11 rules for box-office appeal”:
A pretty girl is better than an ugly one.

A leg is better than an arm.

A bedroom is better than a living room.

An arrival is better than a departure.

A birth is better than a death.

A chase is better than a chat.

A dog is better than a landscape.

A kitten is better than a dog.

A baby is better than a kitten.

A kiss is better than a baby.

A pratfall is better than anything.
 Here's a writeup on Sturges from the PBS series American Masters.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Poetry slam: laureates—Charles Wright, Rita Dove, Billy Collins, et al.

New U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Wright (Michelle Cuevas, UVA Magazine)
I was intrigued to see that the new poet laureate, Charles Wright, hails from my alma mater The University of Virginia (as does former laureate Rita Dove, whose Sonata Mulattica I wrote about in a recent post). I've always liked Wright; if I see a poem of his in the New Yorker I'll be sure to read it, whereas a high percentage of the other poets they publish leave me mystified (Linda Pastan is another exception).
Thinking about things poetical sent me looking through our current stock of poetry titles to see what goodies I could turn up, and there are scads. Here you'll find titles by Billy Collins (another former laureate), Cafavy, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Auden, Ursula LeGuin, Marge Piercy, Katha Pollitt, Molly Peacock, Rita Dove, and Frank Bidart. Collections include one edited by Bill Moyers, the letters of Robert Lowell, anthologies of Greek verse, The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry, and The Penguin Book of 20th Century Poetry.
Here's an NPR feature on Wright with an interview and recordings of him reading several poems. His verse is steeped in nature, as in the following two poems reprinted by NPR:

There's no way to describe how the light splays
                                                    after the storm, under the clouds
Still piled like Armageddon
Back to the west, the northwest,
                                                 intent on incursion.
There's no way to picture it,
                                          though others have often tried to.
Here in the mountains it's like a ricochet from a sea surge,
Meadow grass moving like sea stalks
                                             in the depths of its brilliance.
from SESTETS. Copyright 2009 by Charles Wright. Reprinted/Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

This World is Not My Home, I'm Only Passing Through
The more you say, the more mistakes you'll make,
                                                  so keep it simple.
No one arrives without leaving soon.
This blue-eyed, green footed world—
                                               hello, Goldie, goodbye.
We won't meet again. So what?
The rust will remain in the trees,
                                            and pine needles stretch their necks,
Their tiny necks, and sunlight will snore in the limp grass.
from BYE-AND-BYE: SELECTED LATE POEMS by Charles Wright. Copyright 2011 by Charles Wright. Reprinted/Used by permissions of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
Returning to Rita Dove and her Sonata Mulattica, here's a gloss to add to my original discussion on Beethoven, George Polgreen Bridgetower, and the Kreutzer Sonata from John Zech of Composer's Datebook:
At the first rehearsal, Bridgetower had to read from Beethoven's manuscript score—no easy task considering Beethoven's poor penmanship—and at one point felt compelled to improvise a passage, which so enchanted Beethoven that he added Bridgetower's improvisation to his score. In fact, the two young men became fast friends, and were inseparable for a time. Bridgetower was an English violin virtuoso born in Poland of a European mother and an African father. He ended up in England, and joined the famous Salomon orchestra which premiered many of Haydn's “London” Symphonies. They caught the eye and ear of the Prince of Wales, who became his patron and sponsored a European tour which brought him to Vienna. His Viennese friendship with Beethoven came to a sudden end, Bridgetower later claimed, when the two men became interested in the same young lady. And so, even though it should be known as the “Bridgetower Sonata,” when this music was published as Beethoven's Op. 47, Beethoven dedicated the music to another contemporary virtuoso, a French violinist named Kreutzer, who apparently never performed it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Chrissie Hynde & "Stockholm": a "female veteran"

Did y'all see Sasha Frere-Jones' perspicacious profile of Chrissie Hynde and her new album Stockholm in the latest New Yorker? The driving force behind The Pretenders, the ever-edgy singer-songwriter still pulls no punches as she segues into a solo career.
"The situation for a sixty-two-year-old songwriting woman is not sanguine. Pop music deifies the teen-age experience—especially physical beauty that needs no maintenance and can withstand the high life. The farther a rocker gets from this adolescent ideal, the less pertinent she becomes.
When Hynde appeared in the small venue at the back of the Rough Trade record store, in Williamsburg, in early June, fewer than a hundred people were assembled. Seated, playing acoustic guitar and singing, Hynde performed some songs from “Stockholm.” Hynde’s career arc has not been exactly the same as that of her friend Neil Young, who plays guitar on her new song “Down the Wrong Way.” Young is able to look as if he were squatting in a yurt in a community garden and still be considered on the basis of his work. Hynde, like many female artists over the age of thirty, is most often discussed as a vocalist and a personality. In 2014, what would it take for a female veteran to be accorded the same reverence as Young?"—Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker, June 23, 2014

Friday, June 20, 2014

Midsummer Night / Summer solstice / Juneteenth

Tonight is Midsummer Eve, when all the fairy folk flit about and play pranks. It's also the summer solstice weekend. In what fashion will you mark it, mayhap with bonfire or feast? The longest day of the year, it's a big deal annually at Stonehenge, where people descend en masse to watch the sunrise, many of them in emulation of the ancient Druids.
This weekend is also set aside in many communities for activities relating to "Juneteenth"—the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day, it marks the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas in 1865, and more generally that of African-Americans throughout the country. Celebrated on or about June 19, the term is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth. It is honored where I live with African drumming, food, readings from African American writers (a tribute to Maya Angelou is definitely on the agenda this year), re-enactments, exhibits, dance, music, and more.
History buffs: click here for our "Spotlight" collection on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Christopher Clark charts the convoluted path to WWI

This July 5, 1914 illustration from La Domenica Del Corriere depicts the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. It's the well-known event that triggered a chain reaction that enveloped the world in a hideous war. In his widely acclaimed book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark examines the "backstory," so to speak, that led up to the quickly ignited conflagration, calling the participants "sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world."
"The historiography of World War I is immense," wrote Harold Evans in the New York Times Book Review, "more than 25,000 volumes and articles even before next year’s centenary. Still, Clark … offer[s] new perspectives. The distinctive achievement of The Sleepwalkers is Clark’s single-volume survey of European history leading up to the war. That may sound dull. Quite the contrary. It is as if a light had been turned on a half-darkened stage of shadowy characters cursing among themselves without reason."
1914 illustration of the balance of power “chain reaction” that turned a regional crisis into a global war
The French head to the front (Mary Evans Picture Library). "Clark lends authority by citing Russian-French falsifications of documents. The Russians backdated and reworded papers in the records. The French were even more inventive, fabricating a telegram reporting six days of war preparations by Germany that weren’t happening. In Clark’s phrase, both Russia and France were at pains, then and later, to make Berlin appear 'the moral fulcrum of the crisis.' …. 'The outbreak of war in 1914,' he writes, 'is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse in the conservatory with a smoking pistol.'"—Harold Evans, NYTBR
"In sketching the characters of the key players, Clark makes a fascinating point I’ve not seen before: not simply were all the political players in the drama male, but they were men caught in a 'crisis of masculinity.' He cites historians of gender who argue that at this particular time 'competition from subordinate and marginalized masculinities — proletarian and nonwhite for example' accentuated assertiveness. You’d expect the military men to exude testosterone, and they do, but Clark is struck by how ubiquitous in memoir and memorandums are pointedly masculine modes of comportment, and how closely they are interwoven with their understanding of policy. 'Uprightness,' 'backs very stiff,' 'firmness of will,' 'self-castration' are typical modes of expression."—Harold Evans, NYTBR
Below, an excerpt from the book. You can also read an NPR interview with the author here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Atticus Finch Is Father's Day champ; Joyce's Bloomsday

Gregory Peck in the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Harper Lee's principled and compassionate hero Atticus Finch topped both Mental Floss's "Best Parents in Literature" list and the Christian Science Monitor's "15 books with memorable dads for Father's Day" list last weekend. Don't miss our 50th-anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, which is selling out fast. Read more Daily Glean coverage here on why Lee's only novel is so enduringly popular.
James Joyce by Berenice Abbott. Paris, 1926
Most modern lit mavens will be aware of the significance of June 16: often called "Bloomsday" after the book's hero Leopold Bloom, it marks the date on which Ulysses by James Joyce is set. In addition, it commemorates the date on which Joyce first walked out with his future wife, Nora Barnacle. Some hardy folks get together to read the entire opus; others make pilgrimages around Dublin to spots visited in the novel by Bloom, his wife Molly, and Stephen Daedalus. According to The Guardian, "Every year hundreds of Dubliners dress as characters from the book ... as if to assert their willingness to become one with the text. It is quite impossible to imagine any other masterpiece of modernism having quite such an effect on the life of a city." Read more Daily Glean background on Bloomsday here, and hear a recording of Molly Bloom's famous final soliloquy. Also, have you read the Memoirs of writer Italo Svevo, a friend of Joyce and some say a model for Leopold Bloom?
Above left: illustration from a 1998 edition of Ulysses by Mimmo Paladino.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fun with music: horsing around with Vivaldi, wigging out with Bach, and grooving with jazz greats

All the while bowing passages from the "Summer" concerto of The Four Seasons by Vivaldi, this quartet of classical musicians pull off one of the funniest and most exhilarating stunts I've ever seen.
Every week, the Netherlands Bach Society posts a new free video performance of one of Johann Sebastian Bach's works on All of Bach. What a way to wig out! Extras include discussions about the music and texts of the vocal pieces.
Did you ever wonder how Tin Pan Alley got its name? Judy Rosen explains that and more in an engrossing Slate article called Oh! You Kid! How a sexed-up viral hit from the summer of ’09—1909—changed American pop music forever:
Copyright law had not yet caught up with the pop song business in 1909. Plagiarism was a thriving Tin Pan Alley institution; a pilfered song was, in the language of the trade, “a steal”—a fact of life in a cutthroat industry that thrived on trendiness and topicality, and held as an article of faith the belief that every hit could and should serve as a launching pad for dozens of light rewrites. The situation was exacerbated by the proximity of rival song publishing companies, which were clustered, in box-like offices, in the buildings that lined West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. In this cheek-by-jowl setting, new melodies could filter through walls and windows and be co-opted by competitors; songwriters threaded folded newspapers between piano strings to mute the instruments. The result was a tinkling, tinny piano sound, ringing out of the windows of song publishing firms, a din that earned the West 28th Street strip, and the song business at large, the moniker Tin Pan Alley. The nickname was bestowed by journalist Monroe Rosenfeld, who, according to legend, coined the term while interviewing Harry Von Tilzer at the songwriter’s office in 1900.
The Duke and The First Lady of Song
The songs that Gershwin, Berlin, et al. cranked out in Tin Pan Alley still entrance today—thanks in no small part to the ultra-talented jazz musicians and singers of American Popular Song who embraced them in their repertoires. You can explore the music of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Peggy Lee, Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughan, Art Tatum and many more greats in this specially curated Spotlight section of our website. Happy listening!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Peculiar, private, and taboo subjects": spoken word interview with Sylvia Plath

We're all so saturated with photos of authors, which have become virtually ubiquitous since the advent of Google images. But what about recordings of their voices? I was mesmerized by this substantial 1962 interview with Sylvia Plath, who comes across as mature, intelligent, and well-spoken. In her dialogue with Peter Orr, she champions the "peculiar, private, and taboo subjects" that American poets such as Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton addressed, praising their ability to deal with mental health issues and commending the emotional and psychological depth of Sexton's poetry in particular.
 "I'm about fifty years behind as far as my preferences go" she tells Orr, "and I must say that the poets who excite me most are the Americans. There are very few contemporary English poets that I admire.
ORR: Does this mean that you think contemporary English poetry is behind the times compared with American?
PLATH: No, I think it is in a bit of a strait-jacket, if I may say so. There was an essay by Alvarez, the British critic: his arguments about the dangers of gentility in England are very pertinent, very true. I must say that I am not very genteel and I feel that gentility has a stranglehold: the neatness, the wonderful tidiness, which is so evident everywhere in England is perhaps more dangerous than it would appear on the surface.
She also tell hims that her poems come "immediately out of the sensual and emotional experiences I have" but that personal poetry "shouldn't be a mirror-looking narcissistic experience but must be relevant to the larger things ... such as Hiroshima and Dachau." When asked which poets meant a lot to her in her youth, she recalls being "stunned and astounded by the moderns" such as Yeats, Dylan Thomas, and Auden. 
Looking back on her own collection Colossus, Plath found herself bored and said it was not written to be said aloud, as contrasted to the more recent work that ultimately appeared in Ariel. "I feel that this development of recording poems, of speaking poems at readings … is a wonderful thing. I'm very excited by it. In a sense, there's a return, isn't there, to the old role of the poet."
To a question about whether she prefers her friends to be writers, Plath replies in the negative: "As a  poet one lives on air.… I always like someone who can teach me something practical" (e.g. her midwife taught her how to keep bees). "I find myself absolutely fulfilled having written a poem" she ultimately exults. "The actual experience is a magnificent one."
You can read a complete transcription of the interview here. Plath reads "Tulips" from Ariel here.
More from The Daily Glean on Plath: "She burned with determination": Sylvia Plath's early magazine writing

Monday, June 9, 2014

Summer reading: mysteries

Summer reading lists are proliferating in various media, reminding us that it's the season to carve out time for alluring new titles as well as classics you've been waiting to get around to. Here are some recommendations from my recent delvings in the ever-updated offerings of detective fiction from Daedalus.
The Diviner's Tale by Bradford Morrow. I feel so enriched by having read this novel about a single mother coming to grips with her psychic gifts. Morrow is a poet, and his metaphors are exquisite, as well as his ability to create compelling characters and a fictional landscape in which you feel wholly immersed. I have some of his earlier novels in my library, and now can't wait to make time to have a crack at them.
"Very much in the chilling, deeply-felt vein of Hawthorne. But its style and intelligence makes it a cut above genre fiction....Mesmerising."
—The Independent 
"Morrow...elicits frissons with gossamer descriptions of still moments that will have some readers drawing a sharp breath, as if they've heard a strange noise in the house....Subtle, distinctive and well-wrought."—Washington Post
Summer is the ideal interlude in which to embark on mystery series, and if you haven't made the acquaintance of Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti, now's the time! Brunetti does his sleuthing in the magical city of Venice, where the Silver Dagger winner is a longtime resident, so there's oodles of local color. German television has produced 18 Commissario Brunetti scripts (would that we were so lucky). Sylvia Poggioli did a lovely profile of Leon on NPR; there's an audio version and a transcript with photos here, as well as two excerpts to give you the flavor of Leon's writing. We try to keep several of her titles in stock whenever possible.
Leon herself recommends the popular series by Andrea Camilleri, whose police inspector Salvo Montalbano dwells in a sun-baked town in Sicily. He's a favorite at Daedalus too, and we have a specially chosen quintet of titles to get you started (and keep you satisfied): The Shape of Water; The Terracotta Dog; The Snack Thief; The Voice of the Violin; and Excursion to Tindari.
Saying that ''Camilleri's style suits his hero … a Sicilian with a great sense of humour,'' Britain's Daily Telegraph named him as one of the 50 crime writers ''to read before you die.'' Placing him alongside Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith, Georges Simenon, et al., they said that ''the real subject of Camilleri's books is the state of Sicily but his characters are vivid ones and their dilemmas eternal ones.''
One final note: if you're looking for samples from the golden age of British mystery writing, have a go at two Gervaise Fen bagatelles by Edmund Crispin (a.k.a. Oxford don Bruce Montgomery): The Case of the Gilded Fly and The Moving Toyshop. They come in handsome editions and are intelligent, literary, and amusing. Here's a little snippet from Gilded Fly:
Donald Fellowes, when he appeared, proved to be only partially recovered from the evening's carouse. The process of being sick had relieved the anaesthesia of his nerves, but the alcohol still crawled and sang and buzzed in his veins, and as a consequence he was feeling not only depressed but actively ill. "Now, you sheepshead," said Fen, who had completely taken charge of the situation,  "what have you got to say for yourself?" This unorthodox question had the effect of rattling Donald. He mumbled to himself.
"Are you sorry Yseut is dead?" Fen continued, and added in a painfully audible aside to Nigel: "This is the psychological method of detection."
Donald was roused. "Psychological nonsense," he said. "If you want to know, I feel only relieved, not sorry. You needn't suppose I killed her because of that. I have an alibi," he concluded, with something of the pride of a small child showing a favourite picture-book to a recalcitrant adult visitor.
See many new, discounted arrivals here! The Summer Specials catalog includes books, music, DVDs, & more.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Remembering D-Day: Pathé & Daily Telegraph newsreels

We invite you to explore our "Spotlight" feature of curated books, DVDs, and music relating to this  monumental event in U.S. and world history.
Below you can view vintage British Pathé newsreel coverage of the landings (from their series "A Day that Shook the World").
The Daily Telegraph's coverage below features a report from the newspaper's special correspondent Cornelius Ryan, who flew from a U.S. Air Force base close by to catch a glimpse of the action.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dogs + kids = happiness

If you're a dog lover, do treat yourself to this gallery of canines prepared by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. It's excerpted from 1,000 Dog Portraits From the People Who Love Them, and the story behind their creation is a heartwarming doozy. Above,  "Bowie" by Robynne Raye and "Untitled" by Jen Roos; below, "Komondor" by Nina Naeher.
The cuteness quotient is also sky-high in this endearing interview by a son quizzing his dad about his career as an artist. Besides being adorable, he's a darn good interviewer!

More about dogs here (including The Ralph Steadman Book of Dogs)!
More groovy kid stuff here!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day..."

Bobbie Gentry was born Roberta Lee Streeter on July 27, 1944 in Chickasaw County, Mississippi.
It's been almost 50 years since Bobbie Gentry's debut single “Ode to Billie Joe” toppled the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” from the top spot on the Billboard chart of hit singles. Recorded in 40 minutes on July 10, 1967 for Capitol, it was released as the flip side of “Mississippi Delta” (also a fantastic song), but DJs and listeners alike were mesmerized by its compelling words and haunting music. The song won Gentry three Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist (she was the first Country artist to ever win in this category).
Gentry described the enigmatic ballad as “a study in unconscious cruelty…. Everybody has a different guess about what was thrown off the bridge—flowers, a ring, even a baby. Anyone who hears the song can think what they want, but the real message of the song, if there must be a message, revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. They sit there eating their peas and apple pie and talking, without even realizing that Billie Joe’s girlfriend is sitting at the table, a member of the family.”
Gentry was a smart and talented artist whose producing savvy went uncredited, and she backed off from performing due in part to the rampant sexism of the '60s. Still she left an enduring legacy.
If you love roots music, we've got a lot of great stuff on hand right now, including new albums by Carlene Carter, Rosanne Cash, Johnny Cash, Hooray for the Riff Raff, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Nanci Griffith, Dolly Parton, and Nickel Creek. Do stop in and browse!
Ode to Billie Joe
It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day.
I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay.
And at dinner time we stopped, and walked back to the house to eat.
And mama hollered at the back door "y'all remember to wipe your feet."
And then she said she got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge
Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

Papa said to mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas,
"Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense, pass the biscuits, please."
"There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow."
Mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow.
Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge,
And now Billy Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billy Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show.
And wasn't I talkin' to him after church last Sunday night?
"I'll have another piece of apple pie, you know it don't seem right.
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge,
And now you tell me Billy Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge."

Mama said to me "Child, what's happened to your appetite?
I've been cookin' all morning and you haven't touched a single bite.
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today,
Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday. Oh, by the way,
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge."

A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news 'bout Billy Joe.
Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo.
There was a virus going 'round, papa caught it and he died last spring,
And now mama doesn't seem to wanna do much of anything.
And me, I spend a lot of time pickin' flowers up on Choctaw Ridge,
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.