Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Joe Gould’s Teeth

Jill Lepore. Joe Gould’s Teeth . New York: Knopf, 2016. 235 pages. $24.95 hardcover.

From a 1945 Harvard Crimson article, quoted in Joe Gould’s Teeth :

One of these days, someone is going to write an article on Joseph Ferdinand Gould ’11 for the Reader’s Digest. It will be entitled “The Most Unforgettable Character I Have Met” and it will present Joe Gould as an unusual but lovable old man. Joe Gould is not a lovable old man.
Joe Gould (1889–1957) is best known as the subject of two New Yorker pieces by Joseph Mitchell, “Professor Seagull” (1942) and “Joe Gould’s Secret” (1964). Flea-ridden, often homeless, possibly autistic, forever losing eyeglasses and false teeth, Gould was a bohemian New York personality who claimed to be writing the longest book in the world, an assembling of words he had heard spoken, entitled The Oral History of Our Time . The secret that Mitchell revealed in 1964: as he had long suspected, The Oral History did not exist. But letters that Mitchell received after the publication of “Joe Gould’s Secret” suggested that The Oral History did indeed exist. Readers claimed to have seen and read the composition books in which Gould wrote it. Jill Lepore decided to look into the question.

The result is a scrupulously documented journey down a rabbit hole, or rather, a journey through whole warrens of archival material. Lepore places Gould as a fellow traveler in the world of modernist writing and little magazines, where his associates and patrons included E. E. Cummings, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams. (As late as 1946, Pound was asking Cummings if together they could get Gould’s work into print.) More disturbing elements in the Gould story include his grim sojourns in mental hospitals (in one, his teeth were removed) and his obsession with the African-American sculptor Augusta Savage. The Harvard students had it right: Gould was not a lovable old man. And it makes a certain sense that Lepore should give up her hunt. Could The Oral History be in the possession in one of the hospitals in which Gould did time? “Shouldn’t someone check?” Lepore asks. Her answer: “Not me.”

Joe Gould’s Teeth is best borrowed from a library. It should prompt any reader to read or reread “Professor Seagull” and “Joe Gould’s Secret,” both of which appear in Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel (1992).

Related reading
All OCA Joseph Mitchell posts (Pinboard)

[The book’s title comes from an untitled E. E. Cummings poem: “little joe gould has lost his teeth and doesn’t know where / to find them.”]

Monday, July 25, 2016

Awkward metaphor of the day

David Gregory on CNN earlier today, speaking of the need for Hillary Clinton to appeal to both progressives and possible Trump voters: “She’s straddling both ends of this.”

Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)


Verlyn Klinkenborg:

“July,” The Rural Life (Boston: Back Bay Books, 2002).

We live in town, emphatically in town. But we’ve had a fox sun itself in our driveway, looking like it was waiting for us to serve the iced tea. Deer in the backyard. A possum knocking at a ground-level window. A mouse in the kitchen. A bird in the downstairs. A dead rat in the toilet bowl. And a family of raccoons once chased Elaine across the driveway. It’s their driveway too.

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)
Bear in/on tree

Cut, paste, tint

[Mark Trail , April 13, 2015.]

[Mark Trail , July 25, 2016.]

It’s Abbey Powell. Abbey Powell. Cut and pasted and tinted. And tinted. And blow-dried. A close look at Ms. Powell’s eyebrows and glasses will make clear that James Allen, like Jack Elrod before him, is recycling. Is recycling. As am I. I posted the first panel last year, after discovering that Abbey Powell is a real person. A real person. And blow-dried.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Stand down, Debbie

Stand down, Debbie, stand down, please. Stand down, Debbie.


3:06 p.m.: CNN is reporting that Democratic National Commitee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will step down after this week’s Democratic convention.

[Context here. Inspiration from The English Beat.]

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A strip-mall restaurant recommendation

Another bit of evidence to support Tyler Cowen’s recommendation to seek out strip-mall restaurants: Siam Thai Restaurant in Charleston, Illinois (“east-central Illinois”). The NEW OWNER sign, which has been up since, I think, last winter, is important: the previous owner was a dud. The new restaurant is a two-woman operation: one host, one cook. The food comes in generous portions, beautifully prepared and intensely flavorful, without the sweetness that often dominates Thai dishes made for American tastes.

Hot? If you like, yes, from one to five, but all the flavors come through too. (That’s what happens with an expert cook.) Our host seems to understand our tastes well: one two and one three , which we share. They make a nice burn.

I have been eating Thai food with amateur enthusiasm since the early 1980s. Siam Thai is the best I have ever had.

A related post
Three great strip-mall restaurants

Friday, July 22, 2016


I’m a longtime fan of the web service StatCounter, which I use with Orange Crate Art. (See the orange odometer in the sidebar.) But I’m not a fan of the service’s new offering:

The StatCounter Growth Plan goes the next step and uses sophisticated technology to analyze your data and website for you. It then tells you in simple terms how to grow your traffic and improve your visitor experience with easy-to-understand steps.
Or rather: I’m not a fan of the pitch for this new offering, which appears every time I check my stats, in the form of a banner that clicks open to reveal my “Rank Against [My] Competitors,” or my blog’s grades:

[“Overall Industry Ranking: C+.” The ignominy! But for $29.99 a month I can learn how to improve.]

I wrote to StatCounter with some thoughts about this pitch, which I find more than a little insulting, partly because I’m a paying customer, but mainly because I didn’t ask for my work to be graded. (Sheesh.) I’ll quote from my e-mail:
My blog, which has been going for nearly twelve years, gives me great pleasure without making me a dime. It has brought me into contact with wonderful people I would never have met otherwise. Believe me, I don’t feel that I’m getting a C+ (your overall grade for me). And I have no competitors. I don’t regard other websites as competition. The only person I’m competing against is myself — to stay curious and be the best writer I can be.
I added that not everyone who’s online is looking for increased page hits or profit. There are other forms of satisfaction to be had in creating, as they say, “content.” I received a friendly reply from someone at StatCounter, saying that no insult was intended. I knew that, and wrote back to say so. It would be smart though for the company to realize that giving its users grades is probably not a great way to win their favor.

I suspect that StatCounter has been tweaking its metrics: since taking the above screenshot, I’ve dropped to a D- and moved up to a B-. But I’ve also discovered that I can use the nifty uBlock Origin extension to block the Growth Plan page element. I plan to check it on occasion though, to see if the pitch changes.

[“‘Underachiever.’ And proud of it, man!”]

A related post
Why I (still) blog

[Full disclosure: “How to e-mail a professor” has appeared in two textbooks for college students, bringing me a good number of dimes. And I’ve requested and received review copies of books and music over the years. But my blog is not a money-making proposition.]

Strunk and White fashion

From Grant Snider’s Incidental Comics : Strunk and White’s Writers Style Guide.

This guide is a loose and witty translation of bits of advice from The Elements of Style . The active/passive panel doesn’t attempt to illustrate the difference between the active and passive voices. Only one panel quotes directly from The Elements : “Use figures of speech sparingly.” I especially like that panel.

Thanks, Steven, for pointing me to this work.

Related reading
All OCA Strunk and White posts (Pinboard)

[The title really should be Writer’s Style Guide, or Writers’ Style Guide .]

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Domestic comedy

[Fixing our dryer’s venting .]

“Do you think we can work together without both of us yelling at each other?”

“No, but I think we can work together without each of us yelling at the other.”

And we did (work together that is, minus yelling). The connection between our dryer’s hose and duct was, it turns out, the kind of slipshod job known (at least in our house) as a “homeowner’s special.” Now we have a new hose and new duct, solidly attached, one to the other, both shining above a new laundry-room floor.

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[The floor is not a homeowner’s special. We know our limits.]

’Nuff said (2)

Joseph Joubert:

What is clear should not be drawn out too much. These useless explanations, these endless examinations are a kind of long whiteness and lead to boredom. It is the uniformity of a wall, of a long piece of laundry.

The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert: A Selection  , trans. Paul Auster (New York: New York Review Books, 2005).
Also from Joseph Joubert
Another world : Brevity : Form and content : Irrelevancies and solid objects : Lives and writings : New books, old books : ’Nuff said (1) : Politeness : Resignation and courage : Ruins v. reconstructions : Self-love and truth : Thinking and writing : Wine