Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts

Archive for July, 2009

July 30th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Enter The Walrus’s writing contest: Deadline July 31, 2009

Hurry, Hurry: To celebrate The Walruss annual summer reading issue—featuring stories by Lee Henderson, Rivka Galchen (listen to our conversation here), Stephen Marche & 2008 Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden (ditto here) — the mag is pleased to announce The Walrus Guilty Pleasures Writing Contest!

To enter, write the first paragraph of a novel in one of the following genres: Science Fiction, Romance, Western, Ghost Story/Gothic.

"Make it the most gripping, titilating, and action-packed read of the summer!" Send submissions to by July 31, and you could win a prize package from Fairmont Hotels & Resorts or a Walrus prize package, and have your work published at!

July 30th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

A.E. Housman – The Chestnut Casts His Flambeaux

The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers
Stream from the hawthorn on the wind away,
The doors clap to, the pane is blind with showers.
Pass me the can, lad; there’s an end of May.

There’s one spoilt spring to scant our mortal lot,
One season ruined of your little store.
May will be fine next year as like as not:
But ay, but then we shall be twenty-four.

We for a certainty are not the first
Have sat in taverns while the tempest hurled
Their hopeful plans to emptiness, and cursed
Whatever brute and blackguard made the world.

It is in truth iniquity on high
To cheat our sentenced souls of aught they crave,
And mar the merriment as you and I
Fare on our long fool’s-errand to the grave.

Iniquity it is; but pass the can.
My lad, no pair of kings our mothers bore;
Our only portion is the estate of man:
We want the moon, but we shall get no more.

If here to-day the cloud of thunder lours
To-morrow it will hie on far behests;
The flesh will grieve on other bones than ours
Soon, and the soul will mourn in other breasts.

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.

from Last Poems, 1922

July 30th, 2009 • Posted in On Book Collecting

Housman, Barth and Harvard Square

I was admiring my copy of Housman’s Last Poems this morning. It took me back to the rickety old stairs I once climbed to reach a dusty garret, home to a wise, white-haired bookseller who sold it to me. Dickensian it was. Floor boards cluttered with piles of valuable books. Difficult to navigate around them all. The place was located just off Harvard Square. I’ll be  there next week, for a short time. Nowhere near the number of used bookstores there were when I first visited 16 years ago…still, thankfully, there’s Lame Duck Books.

I’m able to date the visit because my wife at the time was, at the time, pregnant with our first daughter. And now that my mind is there…I was in another shop, nearby, located on a second floor…much brighter, and more expensive. I remember drooling over a lovely first edition of John Barth’s The Sot Weed Factor. What frolicking fun that book is!

Peter Keisogloff


July 29th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Audio Interview with Professor Rohan Maitzen on George Eliot’s Middlemarch

Originally from Vancouver, Professor Rohan Maitzen has an Honours B.A. in English and History from the University of British Columbia and an M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Cornell University.  Since 1995, she has been a member of Dalhousie University’s English Department.

Her main teaching area is the Victorian novel; she has a particular admiration for George Eliot and assigns her greatest novel, Middlemarch, whenever possible.

I had the pleasure of ‘meeting’ Rohan online, in the comments section of her blog Novel Readings. I admire her smooth flowing, erudite prose and her reaching out to an audience wider than just those sitting in her classroom,  as well as her grappling with issues about who the academic should address, and how literature should be taught.

Rohan was in Ottawa recently for a ‘Learneds’ conference. I got to meet her in person, and interview her, off the cuff , one on one, about the life and lessons found in Middlemarch. Please listen here:

July 29th, 2009 • Posted in On Book Collecting

Nonesuch Press Dickens: Guess which volume is hollow?

Peter Harrington

The Works of Charles Dickens (24 Volumes, 1937-8) is one of the most famous productions of the Nonesuch Press. Valued by Eric Quayle in his Collector’s Book of Books (published in 1971) at £750 ($1800) it today goes for considerably more. According to Quayle, "One of the volumes is hollow, and concealed in the space is an original metal printing plate used for the illustration of the earliest editions of his works "

July 29th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Mitchelmore’s Fear of reading

Steve Mitchelmore delivers a post worthy of Beckett, about epiphany, and impossibility, during recovery from a serious bicycling accident. From which:

"Akhenaten had ordered that the capital city be moved from Thebes into the desert 200 miles away. The documentary featured new archeological discoveries that revealed the disastrous consequences for his subjects. What stirred me was not these human facts but the glorious and terrifying absurdity of Akhenaten’s project. It demonstrates the same impressive or horrendous folly as those in fictional works: William Golding’s The Spire for example, and Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and, more familiar to me, those of the many characters created by Bernhard: Roithamer who builds a cone-shaped house in the middle of a forest, Reger who studies every masterpiece in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna until he finds a flaw, even Bernhard himself aged eight deciding to cycle to his aunt’s house in Salzburg, twenty-two miles away. A creative writer may respond by sketching a novel idea based on the crazy plans of an individual – perhaps Naguib Mahfouz’s Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth is it as far as the pharaoh is concerned – but, in my sedated condition, I imagined a writing project that would itself be the absurdity, something itself animated by impossibility."

Read and relish the rest here.

July 28th, 2009 • Posted in Literary Criticism

More ‘life’ required in Literary Criticism

"It is not merely an upsurge in “productivity”, he says "nor a shift to criticism-as-performance. The problem is with a kind of literary criticism more intensive than a language has ever known, a kind of criticism that has only grown more intensive since [John Crowe] Ransom’s day. Its microscopic focus, the stretching of its subject to excessive lengths, its fervid humorlessness, its exclusive concern with a text’s inner tensions to the utter neglect of literature’s extensions—the references and even the applications to a world outside the text—have narrowed the appeal of literary criticism and quite naturally cost it readers."

"to return from interpretation (which includes both criticism-as-explication and criticism-as-performance) to a more traditional scholarly conception of literary study. Scholars do not seek merely, in Bauerlein’s phrase, “to write something new and different”; they seek to contribute something new and different to knowledge. They are not satisfied with new “approaches.” They demand new facts, new sources, new intelligence.

Literary criticism has been narrowed, not merely in its “approach,” but in its subject matter. When I took up the question of Richard Russo’s Catholicism in Empire Falls yesterday, I consulted the MLA Bibliography to find the previous criticism on the novel. Eight years after its publication, only three articles on it have been published—and one of those, by Joseph Epstein in Commentary, was a review-essay on it and Jonathan Franzen’s Corrections. In the same period of time, sixty-four publications have appeared just on The Sound and the Fury."

Both men speak of a concept of literary study which involves ‘life:’ Bauerleinin calling for more direct interaction between student and teacher; Meyer advocating study that relates to the real world. Both calls are laudable. They tend to bolster arguments made by Mark Edmunsdon in his book Why Read?, arguments I plan to write supportively about when I engage with Adrian Michael Kelly over his unfair, I think, pegging of Edmunsdon as a ‘secular profit who uses literature ‘as a program for moral and political improvement.’
July 28th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

What we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression

Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish quotes one Tyler Cowen who thinks we should put down bad books:

[Cowen] finishes one book for every five to 10 he starts. "People have this innate view — it comes from friendship and marriage — that commitment is good. Which I agree with," he says. That view shouldn’t, he says, carry over to inanimate objects. It’s not that he’s not a voracious reader — he finishes more than a book a day, not including the "partials." He just wants to make the most of his time. "We should treat books a little more like we treat TV channels," he argues. No one has trouble flipping away from a boring series.

and then, plugging e-books,  suggests that economics may be reason enough not to finish a book: sunk costs:

"If a reader paid $25 for a book, it’s a lot harder for them to put it down after ten pages than if a publishing house sent you a free review copy. That’s why e-books make more sense. They cost less and so the investment is lower. By the way, I think the same principle should apply to meals. If Americans simply left half their food on the plate, most of our obesity issues would disappear."

I’d say it’s more about time and boredom.

Dr. Johnson used to enjoy starting ‘pedestrian and solemn’ scholars, as biographer W. Jackson Bate once put it, by flaunting his inability to ‘read books through.’ As he said to Mrs. Thrale: ‘how few books are there of which one ever can possibly arrive at the last page!’ Or to one William Bowles: ‘I have read few books through; they are generally so repulsive that I cannot."

Apropos of which, one of my favourite Johnson remarks, via Boswell, via here: ’ "what we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read."

July 28th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

John Ashbery on Francis Bacon: Ugly, Obscene, Terrifying, Human World

I plan to catch the Francis Bacon Centenary Retrospective at the Met next week. Here, from Reported Sighting, Art Chronicles 1957-87, by John Ashbery (yes, he wrote/writes about art) is what Bacon has to say about things:

That is why real painting is a mysterious and continuous struggle with chance – mysterious because the very substance of the paint, when used in this way, can make such a direct assault upon the nervous system: continuous because the medium is so fluid and subtle that every change that is made loses what is already there in the hope of making a fresh gain. I think painting today is pure intuition and luck and taking advantage of what happens when you splash the stuff down…"

Here’s Ashbery (writing in the New York Herald Tribune in 1963) on Bacon:

"His subject matter is still man in the horror of his isolation – naked and obscene on a studio couch, or grinning baboon-like from behind a desk. Yet, strangely enough, Bacon’s work is neither horrible nor depressing. HIs tremendous gifts crowd out all feelings but admiration, and after the initial shock, one begins to feel on almost friendly terms with the creatures in his zoo. It may be an ugly, obscene and terrifying world, but it is also a deeply human one."

July 28th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Hail, Haul or Hale? Common Errors in English

"One old meaning of the word “hale” is “to drag,” especially by force. In modern usage it has been replaced with “haul” except in the standard phrase “hale into court.” People who can’t make sense of this form often misspell the phrase as “hail into court.” To be hailed is to be greeted enthusiastically, with praise. People haled into court normally go reluctantly, not expecting any such warm reception."

Check out this fun site for more corrections to common errors in English. More? Go here. And/or here.