Posts Tagged ‘literature’

Tolkien’s Letter to German publisher, 1938

March 7, 2012

From Letters of Note: J.R.R. Tolkien’s response to a German publishing company’s request for proof of his Aryan descent. This was written in 1938, during talks of translating his new book, The Hobbit.

I’ll just post a blip of it, go to Letters of Note for the rest (it’s a great site).

Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. 

I’m currently reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and have had a hard time handling the racism that passed not just as Nazi policy, but as a cultural philosophy preceding Hitler’s rabid nationalism. It’s an important book to get through. I’ll do it… others had to actually live it. Tolkien, at least to a small extent, registered his dissent. 


Two losses

October 18, 2010

Wow, two big losses while I was away from the blogging. Both made their marks as outsiders, and both excelled at making complexity simple. Many would be upset with my mentioning Eyedea in the same sentence as Benoit Mandelbrot, but he was a mindblowing MC and a Twin Cities native. That said, Mandelbrot was perhaps the most important mathematician of the last half-century.

Benoit Mandelbrot has been a major influence on the way I view the world. For the record, he’s a lot more than fractals. He used his unique ability to visualize and conceptualize mathematical concepts to create connections throughout fields from biology to finance. Along with behavioral finance, Hindu philosophy and existentialism, his ideas spoke to me at basic levels: With everything I believed and disbelieved as I grew up, the ideas made much more sense than some of the “all-encompassing” answers I was being taught in finance classes. In my opinion, a finance-heavy MBA program is a waste of money without serious study of the objections posed by Mandelbrot. The (Mis)behavior of Markets is required reading–the first half, knocking down established theories of finance, is much more important than the second half. Anyway, read that, and go from there. If you want to stay away from numbers, James Gleick’s book Chaos is an incredibly well-written second read.

“In a different era, I would have called myself a natural philosopher. All my life, I have enjoyed the reputation of being someone who disrupted prevailing ideas. Now that I’m in my 80th year, I can play on my age and provoke people even more.” – Benoit Mandelbrot

Mandelbrot’s now officially retired from the business of disrupting others, and has departed onward through the fractal.

Real good moments in journalism

October 14, 2010

The Savannah Morning Herald gives up on headline:

A defferent kind of book tour

Musicians, storytellers launch tour of Georgia to call attention to importance of independent bookstores

It’s about the creator of The Moth, but I don’t think the headline writer knows that.

Book and journalism news

October 2, 2010

News and links

September 29, 2010

France’s bookseller protectionism and eBooks (WSJ)

September 25, 2010
From the WSJ:
In France a 1981 law prohibits the sale of books for less than 5% below the cover price, a move to protect independent booksellers from the narrow profit margins that big chains could absorb if they discounted books heavily. But e-books, not covered by the 1981 law because it refers to “printed volumes,” typically sell for 25% less than printed works.
I doubt a law comes out of this.

Yossarian would be proud

September 22, 2010

Some unnecessary government censorship of a book could confound those not familiar with Wikipedia. The NY Times bought one of the few uncensored advance copies of Anthony Shaffer’s Operation Dark Heart, and compared it to the new, redacted version. The Pentagon apparently saw the book late in the process, after the Army had already approved it. Those uncesored copies are likely to be legendary collector’s items someday, so long as you don’t mind the government banging on your door offering to buy and burn your book every once in a while.

Yossarian blacked out many things, but he would never have thought to redact a testimonial back cover quote calling it “one terrific book.” That is twisted genius. And it is apparently among the 250 or so items the Pentagon decided held classified information. I don’t know, I’m not saying they really could have thought “terrific” is classified… but the NY Times appears to think so.

I know I’m late on this one, but I’ve been spending my time applying for jobs to afford the cat food and pretty things one must have. Totally randomly, I had Catch-22 on in the background today.

Guillermo del Toro on Colbert Report

September 22, 2010

The video’s not up yet, but tonight’s Guillermo del Toro interview on Colbert was one of my favorites in a long time. They talked about del Toro’s new anti-sparkling vampire book, The Fall (“Is there any sex?” “Not in the book.”) and about the uncensored gore of Latin American Catholic art. Del Toro, apparently, was a really weird kid… who knew?

Perhaps Colbert’s congressional testimony tomorrow will be fun too. Whatever happens, he had better stick to the Truthiness. You and I and Roger all know how Congress hates lies.


September 1, 2010

Links, replete with American Psycho belt buckle

August 28, 2010

News links

August 26, 2010

Passage of the Day

August 24, 2010

The Passage of the Day is actually a full short story from the Arabian Nights called The Hunchback. This is a twisted tale of murder and guilt that presages Poe, Hugo and Weekend at Bernie’s. Here’s the quick version: A tailor and his wife like to party. They are coming home… wait, I have to quote the first paragraph as it’s weirder than I could ever paraphrase:

There was, in ancient times, in the city of El-Basrah, a tailor who enjoyed an ample income, and was fond of sport and merriment. He was in the habit of going out occasionally with his wife, and they might amuse themselves with strange and diverting scenes; and one day they went forth in the afternoon, and, returning home in the evening, met a humpbacked man, whose aspect was such that as to excite laughter in the angry, and to dispel anxiety and grief: so they approached him to enjoy the pleasure of gazing at him, and invited him to return with them to their house, and to join with them in a carousal that night.

So, that’s a really odd entry point. But they have dinner, and the wife thinks it’d be hilarious to stuff an entire fish in the hunchback’s mouth and force him to swallow it. He chokes. He dies. That will not do, so they cover him up and carry him through the dark to the Jewish doctor’s house, knock and run. He trips on the body, thinks he killed the guy in the process, and carries him out to an ally. A drunk Christian broker walks by, sees a slumped hunchback appearing  a bit menacing, and punches him senseless. Being a Christian, when he’s caught beating a Muslim, it’s a serious offense.* The trial begins, and the doctor confesses out of guilt, then the tailor confesses when the doctor is about to be sentenced. It goes on from there, but put that in your lit exam and you’ll get a C- and a dirty look. I recommend reading it.

Why Disney chose Alladin (actually Ala-ed-Din) over this one, I’ll never know. Coincidentally, there’s actually another version of the story in some translations called The Little Hunchback. In that one, the tailor’s hard at work and he sees a little hunchback who just wants to entertain him with a tambourine. The hunchback tragically dies, choking on the fish the tailor’s wife had cooked for him with love. Why? Whether it’s Disney or parents two hundred years ago, the story’s the same. No moral of treating the poor  (and any guest) with respect, instead these kids grow up thinking the ugly welfare leech got what was coming to him, and it’s alright to ditch the dead body if you were just trying to help in the first place.

*Given that Americans have recently shown they know zilch about Muslim history, I’ll add this. He could drink because the rules on alcohol generally didn’t apply to non-Muslims (and in some areas of the world Muslims can drink certain alcoholic beverages, anyway). I won’t get into it too much, but the reasoning generally centers around the necessity of prayer multiple times a day, and not being allowed to pray if one is drunk or has imbibed forbidden things–that is one of the bases for the alcohol prohibition, and it doesn’t apply to non-Muslims. Christians and Jews were usually allowed to live relatively peacefully in Muslim countries, but once a Christian does something like assault someone or–gasp–marry a Muslim, the gloves were off.

Cleveland’s voice, Harvey Pekar

July 13, 2010

I’d be hard-pressed to find two American personas more different than Harvey Pekar and George Steinbrenner. To be sure, a large portion of the audience who mourns the passing of one icon has no idea who the other guy is. Steinbrenner revolutionized baseball, both as a competitive sport and as a  love affair with money, and Pekar documented a side of life everyone lives but no one sees. If the two lived in the same city for a century, it’s a near-certainty they would not once cross paths on the street. But Pekar was from Cleveland, and from what it seems he was one of the only things going for that town.

Pekar’s weird in the most mundane way possible, but he spoke and lived the truth. The Pekar episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations was one of the best:

 The top-rated comment on that youtube clip, more than a year old and by some sage named bitzeepapa, gets it right:

An unapologetically American haiku in honor of Harvey…
Harvey Pekar’s great
He’s amazing and super
I like him bunches

Missing Chapter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be published

July 1, 2010

I just found out Penguin is releasing The Missing Golden Ticket and other Splendiferous Secrets on Sept. 2.  A small book, it is supposed to be the “top-secret chapter that was taken out of the original book,” in addition to other jibber-jabber about one of Dahl’s best books.

Personally, I’m BFG all the way and I want — nay, needs — a movie made with the grandpa from the newest Chocolate Factory playing the giant.

(image from IMDB/

Christopher Hitchens announces he has cancer

July 1, 2010


Vanity Fair’s intellectual gadabout Christopher Hitchens announced he has esophageal cancer. Hitchens has written about his heavy smoking, though he is said to have recently quit. Yesterday he wrote:

I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus. This advice seems persuasive to me. I regret having had to cancel so many engagements at such short notice.

That’s it. A quiet statement for a man whose mouth has gotten him into trouble throughout the world. Very sad… don’t smoke, kids.

An Exiled “pre-approval” of Mark Twain’s upcoming autobiography

June 23, 2010

It’s already been a century since Samuel Clemens moved on. He left us a foul-mouthed present that is just now ready to be released. Mark H. Twain told the U. of California to wait 100 years after his passing before publishing his 5000-page autobiography. Rather than focus on what’s in it (hint, in his later days he was not so charmed by our faulty nature), The Exiled’s Eileen Jones unleashes a diatribe on our generation’s common lack of greatness. It’s pretty entertaining.

It seems like only yesterday when we were an embiggened nation and had some great people among us. They weren’t the majority, of course, but the ones we had were prime. Especially that fierce Civil War era crop. Besides Twain there was, lessee, off the top of my head, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass, and Ulysses S. Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman, and John Brown, and Harriet Tubman, and Ambrose Bierce and…That’s not so many, you say. Oh yeah? Try naming eight great Americans living right now. G’head. Try it. Okay, try naming three. I remind you that Johnny Cash already kicked the bucket and Hunter S. Thompson shot himself. But Muhammad Ali’s still alive, so that’s one. Oh, and Cesar Milan became an American citizen, didn’t he? So that’s two. In the unlikely event that you can think of a third candidate, please forward your bright idea to

Jones also scornes us for being surprised that Twain’s last words would be vitriol, given the ample evidence left in even his most light-hearted work.

When the publication of the Twain autobiography was announced, the press tended to focus on certain eye-popping details the tome reveals about the author’s old age. The electric sex toy bought for him by his secretary/mistress, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, for starters, and the colorfully insulting language he used to describe her after the affair ended. Apparently it isn’t generally known that Mark Twain was an old rip.

Which means people aren’t reading Twain anymore, or anyway, they aren’t reading him with any real attention to detail. Even the milder stuff assigned in high school English classes is ripe, blasphemous, hilarious, and heartening. Sure, they don’t assign you Twain’s “Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism”. But The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is plenty lively, with exhilarating stuff on every page. Here, for instance, is Huck’s first-person description of his father, the malevolent town drunk:

He was most fifty, and he looked it. His hair was long and tangled and greasy, and hung down, and you could see his eyes shining through like he was behind vines. It was all black, no grey; so was his long mixed-up whiskers. There warn’t no color in his face, where his face showed; it was white; not like another man’s white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body’s flesh crawl—a tree-toad white, a fishbelly white. As for his clothes—just rags, that was all.

This is why kids should study literature. It does a child good to read a frank, straightforward assessment of a parental figure like that. It means you don’t have to lie to yourself, see; you can acknowledge, in your own mind, what you’re experiencing, even if you have to disavow it aloud in order to get along in society.

She also advocates giving the Coen Bros a crack at a Huck Finn adaptation. That sounds like a great idea.

Elsewhere, I’ve read talk about Twain’s “ego” in assuming we’d care about him 100 years later. First, it’s not ego to know you are famous. Second, and more importantly, this autobiography apparently trashes people he knew, and will probably paint a different picture of the older Twain in much the same way later-day Tolstoy was completely different from the gambling, carousing younger Leo. To think Twain was not aware of that is to underestimate one of the sharpest minds our country has seen. He let the dust settle on his legacy before he let loose with one last bilious rant. And how fun would it be to know you were going to communicate directly with your country (it is his country) years into the future, and, hell, maybe even improve it a bit with your words. His generation’s loss is our gain.

Guillermo del Toro quits as the Hobbit director!

May 31, 2010

An awesome director said enuffzenuff after years of delays. Del Toro directed Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy movies, giving all of them an outlandish fantasy feel that would have been perfect for a Hobbit adaptation. His intent was to go with Tolkien’s style over his own, but I had no doubt he could do the job better than any other director out there. Instead we’ll probably get Peter Jackson stepping in (do you see him handing it over to someone else?). That’s alright, I guess, but it’s disappointing.

A first?: Twitter-wide book club

May 4, 2010

Is this a Twitter first? Perhaps it’ll be the first time it goes widespread. Anyway, the first book is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, on Twitter at @1B1T2010. It sounds like Gaiman’s on board, and unlike a normal book club, he’ll be able (and willing) to weigh in from time to time. From the Guardian UK:

“The aim with One Book, One Twitter is – like the one city, one book programme which inspired it – to get a zillion people all reading and talking about a single book. It is not, for instance, an attempt to gather a more selective crew of book lovers to read a series of books and meet at established times to discuss,” explained Howe at “Usually such ‘Big Read’ programs are organised around geography. Seattle started the trend for collective reading in 1998 when zillions of Seattlites all read Russell Banks’s book, Sweet Hereafter. Chicago followed suit with To Kill a Mockingbird a few years later. This Big Read is organised around Twitter, and says to hell with physical limitations.”

Gaiman, whose novel follows the story of ex-convict Shadow, released from prison and embarking on a bizarre journey across America with the mysterious Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a former god, said he thought One Book, One Twitter was “a great idea – a sort of worldwide book club”.

He was, however, slightly concerned about the choice of American Gods, describing himself as “half-pleased and half-not”, because it’s “such a divisive book”.

Thanks KnitMITTON

Passage of the day

April 29, 2010

I haven’t done one of these for a while. Here’s one from Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy) and Mark Carwardine’s (zoologist) Last Chance to See, a book on world travels to see some of the most endangered species in the world:

The view across the immensity of Tiananmen Square from here is extraordinary. It is like looking across a plain from the side of a mountain. In political terms, the view is more astounding yet, encompassing as it does a nation that comprises almost one quarter of the population of this planet. All of the history of China is symbolically focused here, at this very point, and it is hard, as you stand there, not to be transfixed by the power of it. It is hard, also, not to be profoundly moved by the vision of the peasant from Shao-Shan who seized that power in the name of the people and whom the people still revere, in spite of the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution, as the father of their nation.

And while we were standing on this spot, the spot where Mao stood when he proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the music we were having played at us by the public address system was first “Viva España” and then the “Theme from Hawaii Five-O.”

It was hard to avoid the feeling that somebody, somewhere, was missing the point. I couldn’t even be sure that it wasn’t me.

Dog lovers getting their own book club

April 27, 2010

I wasn’t surprised to see it’s in Portland. They’re weird there… in a good way. But I was surprised to see that dogs are not allowed. The first reading will be Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, by Temple Grandin.

Also, do you know how many pictures of dogs ‘reading’ there are out there? I know we love the anthropomorphization, and I’m guilty, but I was struck by the vastness of it all. It made the New Yorker cover once. If someone wanted to, they could make a blog out of pictures of dogs “reading,” and it appears it would go extremely well for them. Here’s a picture of a baby eating dog food for balance.

By the way, the blog Babies Eating Dogfood… don’t touch it, it’s MINE. Wonderful world we live in.

And just because this is my blog, I am never going to let this slide: Please do not use the “no, not that kind” ‘joke’ unless you are making fun of it. It hurts me in the brainular area.