Tag Archives: Literature

HUFFINGTON POST: Bushenschadenfreude.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal’s Anthony Paletta, in his article “George W. Bush Is Out of the Picture,” made note of the fact that very few critics had latched onto the newly released film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for any references to the policies of the previous presidential administration.

“For eight [very, very long] years,” wrote Mr. Paletta (with just a smattering of my own words added), “reviewers could be relied upon to construe almost any mildly dark artistic output as a sure comment on the Bush-era cruelty, greed, or amorality.”

To a large extent, my esteemed colleague is right. For the better part of eight years, blue-staters did make it their job to litter conversations at hoity-toity cocktail parties (and then, fancy-shmancy unemployment lines) with jokes, references, and, yes, peculiarly extended film metaphors at the expense of our former president. Read more at The Huffington Post.

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Filed under A Few Things I have Written Elsewhere//, The Huffington Post.

Intro-spectography in Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.


The use of color in landscape and setting is a curious, dangerous, oftentimes inaccurate tool. When used incorrectly, these passages read like one of those kiddy menus they hand out at restaurants — sloppily crayoned in by a four-year-old, gummed at the edges, and smattered with marinara sauce. Let me be clear that by no means do I excuse myself from these sins. I am as guilty as any four-year-old out there, and am in frequent need of re-tooling my inner spectrometer. Whenever I do, I look at the following passage, the opening paragraph of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. Continue reading

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A Good Lack in a Landscape.

From Eudora Welty’s “Worn Path“:

It was December — a bright frozen day in the early morning.


This morning, I’m looking at the beginning sentence of “A Worn Path” because of its lack of specificity (in O’Connor-speak, its mysteries and manners). Note how the only specific elements mentioned are that it’s December, and it’s morning. Elements that aren’t given:

  • The specific time or day,
  • The specific December,
  • The specific setting,
  • How early is “early”,
  • How bright is “bright”,
  • How frozen it was.

And yet, from these lack of elements, we are able to draw our own picture. Also note the curious backtracking of order: Continue reading

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Draft Pages from Madame Bovary.


There’s not much more to say about Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary that hasn’t already been said, or that wouldn’t make me sound like the protagonist in John Cheever’s “An Educated American Woman”. But it’s always interesting to see how thoughts (and pain, and headaches, and heartaches) evolve on the handwritten page. Most of Flaubert’s draft pages may be found here, though I’ve yet to figure out how to download the file.

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Prose to Poetry in Miss Lonelyhearts.

MissLonelyheartsCoverI once asked a poet how she writes poems. Her answer: very, very carefully. For some reason, this response always brings me back to Nathanael West‘s Miss Lonelyhearts. I first heard about this book when Flannery O’Connor mentioned it in her collection of essays, Mysteries and Manners. For a short story writer of her supreme ability and persnickety tastes to say that she admired the quality of someone else’s work, and someone so outside the cannon, certainly did pique my interest.

Nathanael West only wrote three novels, and none of them were all that commercially successful. As many writers did back then, he moved out to Hollywood in the 1930s – this backdrop serving as inspiration for West’s Day of the Locusts, which, in turn, is where Matt Groening got the name for Homer Simpson. West became very good friends with F. Scott Fitzgerald. In fact, West, a notoriously bad driver, died the day after Fitzgerald succumbed to a heart attack, having run a stop sign on the way to attend the funeral. Continue reading

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Wörterbuch der Aegyptischen Sprache (of Doom!)


On Thursdays from 8 AM-12 PM, the five undergraduates studying Egyptology at Johns Hopkins would gather in the Near Eastern Studies room—nicknamed “the Fish Bowl”—of Gilman Library’s basement for four rollicking hours of uninterrupted Middle Egyptian text reading. Presented here, in a fairly regular manner, will be some of my favorites from that class.


When people discover that I was an Egyptology major in college, they ask me why I didn’t continue my formal studies of ancient Egypt. After explaining my solid conviction that I have no desire to spend the rest of my days alternating between the basement of a library and the 115 degree heat of the Giza Plateau, I then add, “Besides which, I never learned German.” Most think this is a joke. It isn’t.

It was largely assumed, when one entered the graduate text reading classes, that the student was fluent in German. Discussions usually drifted – oftentimes mid-sentence – into unser Verstandis der Koenigslexicon, und sein Verhaltnis zur der grosser Priesten. This is because those who enter the (insanely rigorous) German academic system not only have to earn a Doctorate, they also have to earn a Professorship – a process that can often take many, many years, most of this time being spent on insanely specific and/or thorough investigations of pretty much any aspect of ancient life one could imagine (I once came across a dictionary of Egyptian nautical terms). Thus, most of the good scholarship in Egyptology comes from Germany. Continue reading

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Humming, iTechnology, &. Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations.

And so, I’ve become whole-heartedly obsessed with Glenn Gould through my act of reading books and essays — both primary and secondary — about the pianist, and listening to his very fine music, which has begun to quasi-crypto-change my thoughts on iPods, iTunes, and all things iRelated-to-Technology.

Stephen Dixon‘s Gould and 30 Pieces of a Novel (Buy them. Now.) are somewhat based on the great Canadian musician. Gould‘s protagonist is serendipitously and eponymously named Gould — after the pianist — while 30 Pieces of a Novel‘s structure is meant to mirror the 30 parts to the Goldberg Variations — Glenn Gould’s most famous recorded performance. I’ve also been reading Thomas Bernard‘s The Loser, a novel told in one long paragraph about two piano students (one eventually kills himself, the other suffers the rest of his days in a dilapidated [physically, mentally, the novel is his rambling narrative as he enters an Austrian Inn] state of artistic inadequacy) who studied with Glenn Gould.

To this day, Stephen Dixon touch-types his novels on an old typewriter. He writes every day after he had taken care of his wife — stricken with MS and bound to a wheelchair, who succumbed to the disease over the summer. Both Thomas Bernard and Glenn Gould are now dead. They died very young, 58 and 50 years old, respectively. Continue reading

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A Few Bars of Ragtime.

A few passages from the beginning of EL Doctorow‘s 1975 novel Ragtime, transcribed for landscape and setting purposes, with all materials pertaining to matters outside the realm of landscape/setting segregated by double brackets. I feel like a troglodyte for even saying this, but if you haven’t done so yet, you must read and own this book; and then, you must go out and read Heinrich von Kleist‘s 1811 novella Michael Kohlhaas, which you should own as well. Trust me.


68 words:

In 1902 Father built a house at the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle, New York. It was a three-story brown shingle with dormers, bay windows, and a screened porch. Striped awnings shaded the windows. The family took possession of this stout manse on a sunny day in June and it seemed for some years thereafter that all their days would be warm and fair.

55 words:

Sea birds started and flew up. This was the time in our history when Winslow Homer was doing his painting. A certain light was still available along the Eastern seaboard. Homer painted the light. It gave the sea a heavy dull menace and shone coldly on the rocks and shoals of the New England Coast.

108 words:

The afternoon was a blue haze. Tidewater seeped into [[his]] footprints. [[He bent down and found]] a perfect shell specimen, a variety not common to western Long Island Sound. It was a volute pink and amber shell the shape of a thimble, and what [[he]] did in the hazy sun with the salt drying [[on his ankles was to throw his head back and drink]] the minute amount of sea water in the shell. Gulls wheeled overhead, crying like oboes, and behind [[him]] at the land end of the marsh, out of sight behind the tall grass, the distant bell of the North Avenue streetcar tolled its warning.

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Apologia Electronica.


Dear Great Book Half Readers,

We apologize for the shortage of posts, though not without a brief albeit somewhat unsatisfactory explanation. For the past several weeks, we’ve been in the process of packing up the Fictionarium on Union Square West, in anticipation of an extended stay down in sunny South Florida, and, alas, the usually tranquil months of July and August have brought with them boxes, boxes, and more boxes. And so, we exercise our right to engage in the cheapest blogging trick of all, namely, to recycle content that has already been written. Some funny &. good stuff, but recycled stuff nonetheless. While packing, we did notice – quite serendipitously – that this week appears to be the third anniversary of a road trip I took across a large part of this nation. Thus, the second full week in August officially becomes GBHR’s Road Trip to Aspen Anniversary Week. So, click, comment, and enjoy as we pack, re-pack, and unpack our way through these next few days. As always, we remain humbly,



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A Lovely Postcard regarding Orchids.


Several months ago, I wrote Susan Orleans (author of The Orchid Thief, whom Meryl Streep portrayed in the book’s film adaptation Adaptation) a brief note, asking her if she had ever encountered the man who bred the Brassocattleya “Mt. Hood Mary”, a very rare orchid (picture above) that I mentioned in a holiday essay about gift-giving, and that my family is fairly obsessed with. Turns out that she hadn’t, but she did Continue reading

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Due to Writing Commitments Beyond Our Control.


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Egyptologists from the Planet Vulcan.

Egypt0061On Thursdays from 8 AM-12 PM, the five undergraduates studying Egyptology at Johns Hopkins would gather in the Near Eastern Studies room—nicknamed “the Fish Bowl”—of Gilman Library’s basement for four rollicking hours of uninterrupted Middle Egyptian text reading. Presented here, in a fairly regular manner, will be some of my favorites from that class.

One of my favorite things about the field of Egyptology has always been Egyptologists who never studied anything Egyptian. These are the guys who show up at conferences at the Oriental Institute in Chicago dressed as Vulcans, who storm the stage in order to read from their manifestos about how Akhenaten‘s lost city was a secret portal for the Stargate and how we should all be preparing for his imminent return. What’s even more dangerous/fun is when one of these Egyptologists (and/or Representative of the United Federation of Planets) has a PhD. You hear Dr. So-and-so of Oxford University, and automatically assume he’s some sort of authority on the subject he’s talking about. Continue reading

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86 Reasons, in the first Two Paragraphs, as to why I couldn’t read The DWP (_evil _ears _rada).

DWP 5Over the years, more than a few friends have asked me what I thought of The DWP (Ed Note: I’ve decided to use the first initials of any books whose authors earned enough advance money, 1. to hire very large people who could inflict bodily harm upon my person, and, 2. to not suffer any repercussions for the aforementioned.) Continue reading

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Footnote 51 of Aristotle’s Poetics. Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.

John Belushi

Ever wonder why Aristotle’s Poetics spends 25 sections detailing all that is dramatic, but only two small paragraphs on comedy? It just so happens that I found the very reason, in Footnote 51 of the 1982 Gerald F. Else translation I picked up at the Strand: Continue reading

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