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Archive for June, 2008

June 30th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

Wicked Quotes: Maugham on how oratory threatens democracy


"I wonder that people who are concerned for the survival of democracy are not anxious at the inordinate power it gives oratory. A man may be possessed of a disinterested desire to serve his country, he may have wisdom and prudence, courage and a knowledge of affairs, he will never achieve a political position in which he can exercise his powers unless he has also the gift of the gab. I was listening to some people the other day discussing the chances L. had of becoming prime minister and their opinion was unanimous that he had none because he was a poor speaker. I suppose they were right, but is it not frightening that the indispensible qualification a politician needs to conduct the complicated business of a modern nation is a voice that sounds well over the air or the knack of inventing striking phrases? It is only a happy accident if he combines these gifts with common-sense, integrity and foresight…"

                                                                                         from A writer’s Notebook.

I wonder if Somerset has it right here. I have never witnessed a greater thrashing in debate than the one Al Gore put on George Bush in the 2000 election campaign. I recall the huge disappointment I felt when the American people voted Bush in, despite his very obvious oratorical, and I thought, intellectual inferiority.

Rhetorical skills may pose one threat to democracy, appearance — vis Nixon’s five o’clock shadow — clearly poses another: assuming of course that democracy has as its goal the choosing of candidates who will provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people.

Perhaps the thing that motivates voters most powerfully is none of this, but instead the simple desire for change, regardless of what politicians may say, or how they say it; what they look like, or the image they may project.

June 30th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

Warmongering Headline Writer at the Ottawa Sun should be Fired.

The Ottawa Sun carried an Associated Press story today reporting that if Israel or the United States attacked, Iran would retaliate. The headline writer should be fired. Here’s what the stupid warmongering idiot put atop the piece: Iran Threatens Israel. This sub-head came about half way through: Can’t be Trusted.

Here are some relevant quotes from the story, and a more relevant explanation as to why such comments were made: 

"Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari is quoted in the conservative Jam-e-Jam newspaper as saying Iran would respond to such an attack with a barrage of missiles against Israel.

Jafari also threatened to choke off the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a narrow outlet for tankers leaving the Persian Gulf through which 60% of the world’s oil for export moves.

His remarks yesterday follow the recent disclosure of a large Israeli military exercise over the Mediterranean Sea that was seen as sending a message to Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions."

The correct headline to this story should read: Israel Threatens Iran.  

June 29th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

Sunday Salon: Audio Interview with Harlan Coben: Best Selling Crime Fiction Writer: Hold Tight:


This from his official website:


Harlan Coben’s latest novel HOLD TIGHT debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list — and simultaneously debuted at #1 in the London Times.


Winner of the Edgar Award, Shamus Award and Anthony Award – the first author to win all three – international bestselling author Harlan Coben’s critically-acclaimed novels have been called "ingenious" (New York Times), "poignant and insightful" (Los Angeles Times), "consistently entertaining" (Houston Chronicle), "superb" (Chicago Tribune) and "must reading" (Philadelphia Inquirer). His most recent novels, THE WOODS, PROMISE ME, THE INNOCENT, JUST ONE LOOK, NO SECOND CHANCE, TELL NO ONE and GONE FOR GOOD have appeared on the top of all the major bestseller lists including the New York Times, London Times, Le Monde, Publishers Weekly, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and USA TODAY — and many others throughout the world. His books are published in thirty-seven languages around the globe and have been number one bestsellers in in nearly a dozen countries.


Harlan was born in Newark, New Jersey. After graduating from Amherst College a political science major, Harlan worked in the travel industry. He now lives in New Jersey with his wife, Anne Armstrong-Coben MD, a pediatrician, and their four children.


I try to mix it up by warning that popularity should not be confused with greatness. Harlan brushes me off by following the good Dr.’s line of argument: "The purpose of a writer is to be read, and the criticism which would destroy the power of pleasing must be blown aside. [Samuel Johnson: Pope (Lives of the Poets)].

We look at the author as brand, the feigned disinterest many authors hold for the business side of publishing books, Harlan’s New York Times Op-Ed pieces, his preference for the missing over the dead, suburban desperation, and 2.5 million books sold worldwide each year.  

Please listen here:  

June 28th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

Dostoevsky at Wimbledon

Now that my favourite Novak Djokovic is out, I’m cheering for his fellow countryman Janko Tipsarevic for his love of classic literature and his tattoos. One on his left arm from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot: ‘Beauty will save the world,’ and another, according to US Open announcers Ted Robinson and John McEnroe, from Schopenhauer.

Here’s Janko in the International Herald Tribune:

"The main character believes in the idea that the inner beauty will save the world, and because of that idea he dies at the end," Tipsarevic said. "This book means a lot to me in my personal ways because I have a lot of ideas about life because of this quote."

And here’s Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from his Nobel lecture:

Dostoyevsky once let drop the enigmatic phrase: "Beauty will save the world." What does this mean? For a long time it used to seem to me that this was a mere phrase. Just how could such a thing be possible? When had it ever happened in the bloodthirsty course of history that beauty had saved anyone from anything? Beauty had provided embellishment certainly, given uplift-but whom had it ever saved?

However, there is a special quality in the essence of beauty, a special quality in the status of art: the conviction carried by a genuine work of art is absolutely indisputable and tames even the strongly opposed heart. One can construct a political speech, an assertive journalistic polemic, a program for organizing society, a philosophical system, so that in appearance it is smooth, well structured, and yet it is built upon a mistake, a lie; and the hidden element, the distortion, will not immediately become visible. And a speech, or a journalistic essay, or a program in rebuttal, or a different philosophical structure can be counterposed to the first-and it will seem just as well constructed and as smooth, and everything will seem to fit. And therefore one has faith in them-yet one has no faith.

It is vain to affirm that which the heart does not confirm. In contrast, a work of art bears within itself its own confirmation: concepts which are manufactured out of whole cloth or overstrained will not stand up to being tested in images, will somehow fall apart and turn out to be sickly and pallid and convincing to no one. Works steeped in truth and presenting it to us vividly alive will take hold of us, will attract us to themselves with great power- and no one, ever, even in a later age, will presume to negate them. And so perhaps that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula it used to seem to us during our heady, materialistic youth. If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light-yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.

And in that case it was not a slip of the tongue for Dostoyevsky to say that "Beauty will save the world," but a prophecy. After all, he was given the gift of seeing much, he was extraordinarily illumined.

And consequently perhaps art, literature, can in actual fact help the world of today.

June 28th, 2008 • Posted in Literary Criticism

Wicked Quotes: Samuel Johnson on Literary Criticism


Wisdom from the immortal Dr. Johnson:

The purpose of a writer is to be read, and the criticism which would destroy the power of pleasing must be blown aside. Johnson: Pope (Lives of the Poets)

Every art is best taught by example. Nothing contributes more to the cultivation of propriety than remarks on the works of those who have most excelled. Johnson: Pope (Lives of the Poets)

It is … the task of criticism to establish principles; to improve opinion into knowledge; and to distinguish those means of pleasing which depend upon known causes and rational deduction, from the nameless and inexplicable elegances which appeal wholly to the fancy, from which we feel delight, but know not how they produce it, and which may well be termed the enchantress of the soul. Criticism reduces those regions of literature under the dominion of science, which have hitherto known only the anarchy of ignorance, the caprices of fancy, and the tyranny of prescription." Johnson: Rambler #92 (February 2, 1751)

A man who tells me my play is very bad, is less my enemy than he who lets it die in silence. A man, whose business it is to be talked of, is much helped by being attacked." Boswell: Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides

Much mischief is done in the world with very little interest or design. He that assumes the character of a critic, and justifies his claim by perpetual censure, imagines that he is hurting none but the author, and him he considers a pestilent animal, whom every other being has a right to persecute: little does he think how many harmless men he involves in his own guilt, by teaching them to be noxious without malignity, and to repeat objections which they do not understand; or how many honest minds he debars from pleasure, by exciting an artificial fastidiousness, and making them too wise to concur with their own sensations. He who is taught by a critick to dislike that which pleased him in his natural state, has the same reason to complain of his instructor as the madman to rail at his doctor; who, when he thought himself master of Peru, physicked him to poverty. Johnson: Idler #3 (April 29, 1758)

To judge rightly of an author, we must transport ourselves to his time, and examine what were the wants of his contemporaries, and what were his means of supplying them. That which is easy at one time was difficult at another. Johnson: Dryden (Lives of the Poets)

June 27th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

Stephenie Meyer, Ann Pratchett, clever marketing people and bananas

Two interesting extra-book observations: Last night at Chapters bookstore I saw a sticker on Bel Cantos’s cover that said Pratchett’s subsequent book Run would be released on September 22, 2007. This reminded me of one I once saw for a brand of peanut butter on a banana at my local produce store. Clever to use an existing product to promote a new or complementary one.

Also, Stephenie Meyer’s Eclipse had an iron on tee shirt decal stuck, in a plastic envelop, to its paste-down end paper. And that’s not all, the inside of the dust jacket serves as beautiful shiny poster.

This is impressive marketing.


June 26th, 2008 • Posted in Uncategorized

Once you’ve had Vietnamese, you’ll never go Back

For those who like their coffee concentrated but haven’t tried one, head directly to the Vietnamese restaurant closest you, do not pass go, and order up a glass of iced coffee with condensed milk. It costs about the same as a Tall/Medium latte, but man does it ever deliver a richer, longer, sharper, livelier buzz for the donero.

June 26th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

Montaigne on Blogging



Flavoured with a light shake of false modesty, he starts with:

To the Reader

"This [blog] was written in good faith, reader. It warns you from the outset that in it I have set myself no goal but a domestic and private one. I have had no thought of serving either you or my own glory. My powers are inadequate for such a purpose. I have dedicated it to the private convenience of my relatives and friends, so that when they have lost me (as soon they must), they may recover here some features of my habits and temperament, and by this means keep the knowledge they have had of me more complete and alive."

His final message?

"We are great fools. ‘He spent his life in idleness,’ we say; ‘I have done nothing today.’ What, have you not lived? That is not only the fundamental but the most illustrious of your occupations…To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately."

Donald Frame translation.

June 25th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

Design by Billy Collins


by Billy Collins

(Via 3quarksdaily)

I pour a coating of salt on the table
and make a circle in it with my finger.
This is the cycle of life
I say to no one.
This is the wheel of fortune,
the arctic circle.
This is the ring of Kerry
and the white rose of Tralee
I say to the ghosts of my family,
the dead fathers,
the aunt who drowned,
my unborn brothers and sisters,
my unborn children.
This is the sun with its glittering spokes
and the bitter moon.
This is the absolute circle of geometry
I say to the crack in the wall,
to the birds who cross the window.
This is the wheel I just invented
to roll through the rest of my life
I say
touching my finger to my tongue.

June 25th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

In Case You Hadn’t Heard…

Best line: "we can’t even think of a word that rhymes"
Another great school year from my amazing daughters. Congratulations to you both. You make me very proud!!