Monday, December 31, 2007

A poem for New Year's Eve

From John Clare (1793-1864):

               The Old Year

      The Old Year's gone away
      To nothingness and night
      We cannot find him all the day
      Nor hear him in the night
      He left no footstep mark or place
      In either shade or sun
Tho' last year he'd a neighbours face
In this he's known by none

      All nothing every where
      Mists we on mornings see
      They have more of substance when they're here
      And more of form than he
      He was a friend by every fire
      In every cot and hall
A guest to every hearts desire
And now he's nought at all

      Old papers thrown away
      Or garments cast aside
      E'en the talk of yesterday
      Are things identified
      But time once torn away
      No voices can recall
The eve of new years day
Left the old one lost to all
Goodbye, Old Year. May the New Year be a year of greater hope and greater peace for our world.
Related posts
A poem for New Year's Eve (by Ted Berrigan)
Happy New Year (from the film Marty)

Telephone exchange names on screen (no. 3)

[From Born Yesterday, dir. George Cukor, 1950.]

"Hello? CHestnut 7180. I'd like to speak to Thomas Jefferson please."
After visiting the Jefferson Memorial, Billie Dawn (Judy Holliday) dials.

Someone on the set didn't know how to spell DEcatur, which was, according to the Telephone EXchange Name Project, a Washington, D.C. exchange name. But there's no sign that CHestnut was in use in D.C. I like it that both the written number and the spoken number are missing a digit.
Related posts
Telephone exchange names
More telephone exchange name nostalgia
Telephone exchange names in classical music
Telephone exchange names in poetry
Telephone exchange names on screen
Telephone exchange names on screen (no. 2)

All "dowdy world" posts (via Pinboard)

Names in a series

Anyone of a certain age knows the standard sequence for naming the four Beatles: John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Is the sequence of names on this T-shirt a joke on that standard sequence? Or is it evidence of the young designers' distance in time from all things Beatle?

The "John & Paul & Ringo & George" shirt, which makes a brief appearance in the film Helvetica, is the work of the graphic design company Experimental Jetset.

Related posts
I remember Sgt. Pepper

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The most literate American cities

From a study of reading habits in American cities (pop. 250,000 or more):

The release of the 2007 America’s Most Literate Cities survey coincides with renewed widespread interest in reading and literacy. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently published a “disturbing story” indicating that, at all levels, Americans are reading less and reading less well, and that this behavior correlates with declining measures of the health of our society. . . .

One of the most disturbing trends is that while Americans are becoming more and more educated in terms of their time spent in school and their education level accomplished, they are decreasing in terms of literate behaviors. This is particularly obvious in our lack of support of bookstores and the constantly diminishing circulation of newspapers. Forty-three of the 59 cities studied have a higher percentage of high school graduates than they did five years ago, and 46 of the cities have a higher percentage of college graduates, so clearly the trend across the country is for people to stay in school longer and achieve a higher grade level of accomplishment. Nevertheless, every city in the study declined in Sunday newspaper circulation save one — St. Paul, Minnesota — and only four — Cleveland, Indianapolis, Louisville, and St. Paul — had consistent increases in weekday circulation. So while Americans are becoming more and more “educated,” they are reading newspapers less.

We are also supporting local bookstores far less often. Not a single city in our survey has more independent bookstores now than five years ago. Fifty-seven out of 60 cities reported fewer retail booksellers in 2007 than in 2003; in several, the number of booksellers per capita dropped by half of what was reported in 2003. At the macro level, the market does seem to reflect the “alarming” story that the NEA reports.

America's Most Literate Cities 2007 (Central Connecticut State University)

Related reading
NEA Announces New Reading Study (NEA press release)
To Read or Not to Read (NEA report, .pdf download)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Frank Sinatra and Tom Waits

What were movie-musicals thinking in the 1950s? A couple of weeks ago, Funny Face (1957) left me baffled by the Fred Astaire-Audrey Hepburn romance. Last night, it was Young at Heart (1954) with Frank Sinatra and Doris Day. Give me William Holden and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950) any day, over any Day.

In Young at Heart, Sinatra plays ace arranger Barney Sloan. He spends his time gussying up the songs of his friend Alex Burke (Gig Young) and eking out a living as a saloon singer-pianist. Sloan is cadaverous, often hatted, often smoking. He looks like Tom Waits. Why is Tom Waits falling in love with Doris Day? And why is she falling for him?

Watching this movie got me thinking about the Sinatra-Waits connection. I've read somewhere that Waits loves In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. The Waits-Kathleen Brennan play Frank's Wild Years (which I was lucky to see in 1986 during its Chicago run) includes "I'll Take New York" (a "New York, New York" take-off) and "Straight to the Top" ("I can't let sorrow / Pull ol' Frankie down"). And consider the following:

Related posts
Frank Sinatra's popcorn
Tom Waits on parenthood

Friday, December 28, 2007

3 Sisters Café

Anyone within driving distance of Indianapolis might want to seek out the 3 Sisters Café, a wonderful restaurant in Broad Ripple Village, one of Indianapolis' designated cultural districts. The restaurant occupies the first floor of an old wood-shingled house. (How old? I didn't think to ask, but the windows have wavy glass.) We sat in what was once the front parlor. Service was genuinely friendly, and I was impressed that there was no effort to turn my family's table, even with a line of people waiting to be seated, many of them regulars.

The vegan- and vegetarian-friendly menu is simple but dazzling. Every dish at our table was a hit: apple-pumpkin curry soup, split pea soup, barbecued tempeh and sweet potatoes, a hummus sandwich, a mixed-greens salad with tempeh, and a spinach melt with Gorgonzola.

Once in a while one finds a restaurant which is so wonderful that it seems perhaps imaginary. The 3 Sisters Café is one of those restaurants. How could a restaurant with egg offerings named Bill, Bob, Carol, Ed, Mom, and SOB not be wonderful?

Even more wonderful than eating at 3 Sisters was not hitting the five or six deer who stepped out from the darkness as we made our way home on an Illinois rural route. I can't remember even seeing the deer before slamming on the brakes and coming to a full stop. We were lucky that no one was behind us, and also perhaps lucky that I fortified myself with an medium Americano before the drive home.

3 Sisters Café
6360 North Guilford Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana
Monday-Friday, 8-6. Saturday-Sunday, 8-4.
[The three sisters, by the way, are corn, beans, and squash.]

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Music from the Kennedy Center

If you missed The Kennedy Center Honors on television last night, here are three clips from the Brian Wilson segment that have made it to YouTube: most of Art Garfunkel's tribute and biography, a few seconds of Lyle Lovett's attempt at "God Only Knows" followed by most of the Hootie and the Blowfish performance, and a complete version of Libera offering what the world needs now.

Art Garfunkel, On Brian Wilson
Hootie and the Blowfish, "I Get Around" / "California Girls"
Libera, "Love and Mercy"

Related post
Brian Wilson at the Kennedy Center

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


"Y'know that little stamp, the one that says 'New York Public Library'? Well that may not mean anything to you, but that means a lot to me. One whole hell of a lot."

Lieutenant Bookman, in the Seinfeld episode "The Library"
Life imitates Seinfeld, as librarians in Queens, New York, get tough with scofflaws:
Late Library Books Can Take Toll on Credit Scores (New York Times)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

The WPIX Yule Log

[The WPIX Yule Log in action.]

The WPIX Yule Log is a New York tradition. In the world's greatest city, people tune in to watch a tape loop of a fireplace, as Christmas music plays in the background. The Yule Log runs for hours. I speak from experience.

You can learn more via the Wikipedia article (which calls the Log "both a critical and ratings success"). Portable Yule Logs are available from the mothership.

Yule Log (Wikipedia)
Portable Yule Log (WPIX)

Christmas Eve reprise

"You know something, sweetheart? Christmas is — well, it's about the best time of the whole year."
It's the night before Christmas, and once again we join The Honeymooners, already in progress:
Ralph Kramden talks about Christmas (December 24, 1955)

Oscar Peterson (1925-2007)

August 15, 1925 - December 23, 2007
Among the performances available on YouTube, there's a brilliant solo version of Willard Robison and Dedette Lee Hill's "Old Folks."
"Old Folks" (YouTube)

Jazz piano legend Oscar Peterson dead at 82 (Ottawa Citizen)
Oscar Peterson (Official website)
Oscar Peterson: A Jazz Sensation (Library and Archives Canada)

William Wordsworth rap

M.C. Nuts is in the house:

Must have been ten thousand I saw in my retina
No more than a glance then I registered they're beautiful
     et cetera
William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," rap-style. Check it.
M.C. Nuts, William Wordsworth rap (YouTube, via New Music reBlog)
"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" (Wordsworth's poem)

Proust gift tags and note cards

Would a reader of In Search of Lost Time be likely to use Random House's Marcel Proust gift tags and note cards? I doubt it, and not only because the pretension involved — "I know that you know that I know enough to give the gift of Proust" — is at odds with everything a reader of Proust ought to value. Pretension aside, two of the five Proust quotations displayed on these items are wrenched from context in a way that wildly distorts their meaning, and the distortions are likely to be obvious to anyone who's taken the time to do the reading.

One of the five quotations (all are unattributed) is from Pleasures and Regrets (or Pleasures and Days), in Louise Varese's 1948 translation. The other four are drawn from In Search of Lost Time, in the 1992 D.J. Enright revision of Terence Kilmartin's reworking of C. K. Scott Moncrieff's translation. Here are the three quotations that cause no problems out of context:

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ("Regrets, Reveries, Changing Skies," Pleasures and Regrets)

A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves. (The Guermantes Way)

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. (The Captive)
And now the first of the two problem sentences:
Love is time and space measured by the heart. (The Captive)
This sentence seems to thrive out of context, even turning up in a volume called A Collection of Sexy Quotes (between Havelock Ellis and Estée Lauder). In context, this sentence is the culmination of one moment in the narrator's tormented imaginings about Albertine Simonet and other women. Here's the passage (in the Penguin translation), in which time and space become an endlessly painful internalized terrain:
This love between women was something too unknown: nothing could allow me to picture with confidence, with precision, its pleasures, its very nature. How many different people, how many places (even places not involving her directly, vague places of entertainment where she might have tasted some pleasure, places where crowds of people go, where they brush against one) Albertine — like someone who, ushering a whole group of people, all her friends, past the ticket-desk in front of her, gets them all into the theatre — had ushered in from the fringes of my imagination and my memory, where I was taking no notice of them, and installed in my heart! Now my knowledge of them was an internal thing, immediate, spasmodic, painful. Love is space and time made apprehensible to the heart.

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, translated by Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003), 356
The second problem sentence seems even more astonishingly wrenched from context:
Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them. (Time Regained)
Out of context, this sentence seems to defy time's power: Take that, time! Our eternal summers shall not fade! In context though, the sentence offers no such consolation. The passage in which it appears begins as the narrator refers to his recollections of the "young girls in flower" of his youth, girls who are now much older or already dead:
It was painful for me to have to retrieve these for myself, for time, which changes individuals, does not modify the image we have of them. Nothing is sadder that this contrast between the way individuals change and the fixity of memory, when we understand that what we have kept so fresh in our memory no longer has any of that freshness in real life, and that we cannot find a way to come close, on the outside, to what which appears so beautiful within us, which arouses in us a desire, seemingly so personal, to see it again, except by looking for it in a person of the same age, that is to say in another being.

Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again, translated by Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003), 296-97
It's not difficult to see the implication, is it? If it is, one need read only two sentences further: "I was trying to find, not the girls whom I had known, but those who now possessed the youth that the others had had then." Yipes.

Let's hope that those buying these tags and cards are sending them to people who also have very little idea of what goes on in Proust's fiction.

Closing irony: The bookstore in which I saw these items did not have a copy of In Search of Lost Time for sale. And there was no large gap on the Fiction shelf either.
All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fashion plate

Reading someone other than Proust this afternoon, I found this sentence, a description of a wig-maker's shop, sending me to the dictionary:

By way of decoration, it had an ancient fashion-plate stuck on one of the window-panes and a wax bust of a woman, which had yellow hair.

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, translated by Geoffrey Wall (London: Penguin, 2003), 60
I haven't heard the term fashion-plate (or fashion plate) in years. It conjures up for me a lost world of vaguely moral misgivings about those who choose to dress in shiny fabrics and loud, flashy colors. In other words, the only fashion plates I've heard of have been human. So what is this "ancient fashion-plate" in the window?

The Oxford English Dictionary makes everything clear, defining fashion plate as "a pictorial design showing the prevailing style or new style of dress," and noting that the term is "also applied to other kinds of fashionable display." The term's first appearance is from 1851, and by 1891 it's being used of people: "The latest philatelic 'fashion plates' tell us that the new idea of collecting postal cards is to collect them direct from the countries issuing them." My guess (and it's only a guess) is that the French term gravure de modes came first and that English borrowed from its fashion-minded neighbor.

The University of Washington has an online collection of fashion plates for your viewing pleasure:
Fashion Plate Collection

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Songs, most wanted and most unwanted

In 1996, Dave Soldier teamed up with Komar and Melamid (the minds behind the Most Wanted Painting project) to create the world's most wanted and most unwanted songs. The results make for hilarious listening, and if my taste is any guide, "The World's Most Unwanted Song" (all 21:58 of it) will in fact be lighting up hearts all over the world this holiday season: "Do all your shopping . . . at Wal-Mart!"

The songs are available as free downloads from UbuWeb.

The People's Choice Music (UbuWeb, via Design Observer)
The Most Wanted Song (.mp3)
The Most Unwanted Song (.mp3)
Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid
Dave Soldier
The Most Wanted Painting project

Milk bottles

Today's Peanuts ("today" being December 26, 1960):

In 2007, Linus might also ask "And what are milk bottles?"

Some years ago, when my children were younger, I went into elementary-school classes every so often to read poetry. I remember this small poem prompting many questions:

The imperious dawn comes
to the clink of milk bottles
and round-shouldered sparrows twittering.

Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976), from Rhythms II (1919)
My attention was on "clink" and "round-shouldered" and "twittering" and that mysterious word "imperious." But the kids' thoughts were elsewhere: What did the bottles look like? Where did they come from? How did the people know how much milk to bring? And — did you have to pay for it?
A related post
"It is snowing."

All "dowdy world" posts (via Pinboard)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Inn as blog metaphor

Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) describes Holiday Inn:

"A simple little layout where we could do our best at the work we know without any illusions of glory."

Holiday Inn (directed by Mark Sandrich, 1942)
Holiday Inn is a musical that veers from the truly wonderful (Fred Astaire's drunk dance and firecracker dance) to the deeply, unforgivably weird (Bing Crosby in blackface). If you're ever going to see it, now's the time.

The new Blogger

I finally gave in to progress and switched to "the new Blogger" this morning. It'll take a while to get everything back in place (especially as links now need to be added to a page element one at a time). If anyone sees things looking strange in the browser, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know what you see and what browser you're using. (Thanks!)

As soon as I saw what Orange Crate Art first looked like in the new (or by now, semi-new) Blogger, I wanted to switch back. Line spacing was all awry, with any text after a block quotation squashed into ugliness. It's disappointing that this problem still exists so long — a year? longer? — after the introduction of the new Blogger. I found a solution here: Spacing Changes in Blogger Beta -3. All that's involved is a quick template HTML edit, cutting a line from one section and pasting it in another.

As they say on the Internets, Hope this helps.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pineapple and truffle salad

Odette at Reading Proust in Foxborough has been troubled, haunted even, by the pineapple and truffle salad mentioned in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower: "Is it just me or does pineapple salad with truffles sound rather. . . unappetizing?"

I've searched online for pineapple and truffle, ananas and truffe, with no luck. Tonight though something prompted me to try Amazon's "Search Inside!" It was my mind, which said, "Try Amazon's 'Search Inside!'" And there was a recipe, on page 93 of Shirley King's Dining with Marcel Proust: A Practical Guide to French Cuisine of the Belle Epoque (Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 2006), involving pineapple chunks and truffle strips in a vinaigrette, with chicory or endive as a garnish.

"It is pure ostentation," sniffs King, "to mix truffles with pineapple." She pronounces the resulting dish "pleasant though unusual."

Odette, I'll bring the canned pineapple.

Shirley King's Dining with Proust (Amazon)

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

The Gimble

The Gimble is a nifty tool. It's not the most versatile book holder (it won't work with larger books), but it's small, modestly priced, and cleverly designed and named. I like using it to hold books open while I'm typing out passages.

Why gimble? The OED definition of gimbal helps out:

A contrivance by means of which articles for use at sea (esp. the compass and the chronometer) are suspended so as to keep a horizontal position. It usually consists of a pair of rings moving on pivots in such a way as to have a free motion in two directions at right angles, so as to counteract the motion of the vessel.
This reading tool might be understood as a metaphorical gimbal: it keeps the book open in a horizontal position and allow for easy page-turning in two directions.
Gimble Hands Free Book Holder (Barnes and Noble)
Gimble (That company called "if")
(Thanks, Elaine!)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Review of Bit Literacy

Mark Hurst. Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload. New York. Good Experience Press. 2007. $22.99.

I've just gone from reading Finding Time Again — the final volume of In Search of Lost Time — to reading Mark Hurst's Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload, which is, in another way, about finding time again.

Bits are 1s and 0s, binary digits, the stuff of all digital data. Bit Literacy develops the implications of two incontrovertible statements: "Bits are heavy," overloading us with ever-increasing amounts of stuff, and "Your bits are your responsibility" (i.e., no piece of software can save us). The overall strategy to attain bit literacy: "Let the bits go."

Mark Hurst unpacks this strategy in chapters devoted to managing e-mails, to-dos, files, and online reading. What does a bit-literate person do? He or she empties the in-box of its e-mails daily (but not by replying to everything), tracks to-dos online, creates files that avoid proprietary formats, names and organizes those files in a coherent system of folders and sub-folders, and reads online sources with careful discrimination. (The goal here is not to Rule the Web, but to get in and out as efficiently as possible.)

Bit Literacy is a sharply-defined alternative to David Allen's Getting Things Done. Hurst mentions neither Allen nor GTD by name, but references to folders, "next actions," and a "complex paper-based system" make the point. I can't imagine keeping David Allen's 43 folders either, but I also can't imagine agreeing with Hurst's general claim that paper is an ineffective tool for managing to-dos.¹ Hurst's to-do strategy uses his own Gootodo, an elegant web-based tool. But the great advantage of paper-based tools, or at least some paper-based tools, is their portability and immediate availability. I can enter call numbers in my datebook (Moleskine page-a-day) and have them at hand when I'm in the library. And scheduling future tasks can be simple on paper: I can write "pick up dry cleaning" (to use a to-do example from Bit Literacy) on the appropriate page in my Moleskine when I'm at the dry cleaner, instead of having to hold the thought until I'm at a computer.

About paper, Mark Hurst and I will have to disagree. But in all other respects, I found Bit Literacy persuasive and inspiring (so persuasive and inspiring that I ordered a copy within an hour or so of getting the book from the library). I recommend Bit Literacy to anyone interested in bringing clarity and sanity to life among the bits.

And now I shall contemplate the emptiness of my in-box.

Bit Literacy (Book website)
¹ Why 43 folders? 31 + 12 = 43. One folder for each day of the month, and one for each month of the year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Proust was the next president

Two nights ago I dreamed that I met Barack Obama and told him that I was reading Proust. "I respect that," he said. How curious then to find a partial sentence in Proust that seems Obama-like in its optimism:

our worst fears, like our greatest hopes, are not outside our powers, and we can come in the end to triumph over the former and to achieve the latter.

Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again, translated by Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003), 344
In 2004, in waking life, I met Barack Obama, before I began reading Proust.

[The hope-filled title of this post alludes to Jonah Lehrer's Proust Was a Neuroscientist.]
All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

The Internet and literacy

A briefly encouraging passage from a deeply depressing piece by Caleb Crain on the future of reading. And if what follows is encouraging news — well, just read:

The Internet, happily, does not so far seem to be antagonistic to literacy. Researchers recently gave Michigan children and teen-agers home computers in exchange for permission to monitor their Internet use. The study found that grades and reading scores rose with the amount of time spent online. Even visits to pornography Web sites improved academic performance. Of course, such synergies may disappear if the Internet continues its YouTube-fuelled evolution away from print and toward television.

Twilight of the Books (New Yorker)

A few related posts
American reading habits
Freshmen surveyed
George Steiner on reading
To Read or Not to Read
Words, mere words
Zadie Smith on reading

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ten best "dowdy world" gifts

In time for holiday shopping, forty or fifty years or so too late:

For herFor him
1. Mink stoleNew set of golf clubs
2. Fountain penFountain pen
3. BlenderElectric shaver
4. Monogrammed hankiesMonogrammed hankies
5. Charm for charm braceletTie
6. Monogrammed stockingsMonogrammed socks
6. StockingsSocks
7. Dusting powderOld Spice
8. RobeRobe
9. Box from Emperor of Japan's houseBowling-ball bag
10. Carton of cigarettesCarton of cigarettes

1. The ultimate gifts, no? And why a new set of golf clubs? Because the recipient is of course already a golfer. A mink stole though would of course be a first.

2. The pen must be practical, a workhorse: a Parker 51 or 61, for instance, not a Mont Blanc. See Norman Rockwell's illustration, which I dare not reproduce here: "They gave each other a Parker 61."

6. Just kidding.

7. All I know about dusting powder: Women used it, and I brought it in as a teacher's present in elementary school.

9. Hommage à The Honeymooners. In the episode "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" (broadcast December 24, 1955), Ralph gets Alice "a box to keep hairpins in," made of "2,000 matches glued together," from "the house of the Emperor of Japan." Or so he was led to believe. Alice gets Ralph a bag for his bowling ball.

10. Cigarettes? Sure. Cartons were familiar holiday presents in the dowdy world. We gave our mailman Lucky Strikes; my grandfather got Camels. Lots of people got Chesterfields.

[Chesterfield Christmas ad, 1938, from Tikigirl at Flickr.]

[No minks were harmed in the making of this post. I have never golfed. Orange Crate Art is a smoke-free zone. Your "dowdy world" gift suggestions are welcome in the comments.]
Related reading
All "dowdy world" posts (via Pinboard)

Related viewing, from YouTube
Kent satisfies best at Christmas (Dick Van Dyke and Rose Marie)
This Christmas, make it "Camel time"

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Proust on aging

The last part of In Search of Lost Time is, among other things, an extended discourse on aging and on the ways in which we do and do not notice it, in others and in ourselves. Here the narrator is talking with Gilberte, the beautiful girl of his childhood, now a woman whom he will later mistake for her mother:

Gilberte de Saint-Loup said to me: 'Shall we go and dine, just the two of us, at a restaurant?' As I replied: 'So long as you don't think it compromising to dine alone with a young man,' I heard everybody round me laughing, and hastily added: 'or rather, with an old man.' I felt that the phrase which had caused the laughter was one that my mother might have used when speaking of me, my mother for whom I was always a child. Now I noticed that in matters of self-examination, I looked at things from the same point of view as she did. If I had finally taken in, like her, certain changes which had occurred since my early childhood, these were nevertheless now very old changes. I had stopped at the one which once made someone say, almost before it was true: 'He's almost a grown-up young man now.' I still thought this, but these days it was vastly out of date. I was not fully aware how much I had changed. But what, in fact, had those people who had just burst out laughing really noticed? I had not a single grey hair, my moustache was black. I would like to have been able to ask them what it was that revealed the evidence of this terrible thing.

Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again, translated by Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003), 239-40

A related post
Introducing Mlle. Swann (from Swann's Way)

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Pikakirjoitusvihko" and pikakirjoitusvihko

Ron Padgett's How to Be Perfect has a poem whose title sent me in search of help: "Pikakirjoitusvihko." "Pikakirjoitusvihko" is a long poem written in the spirit of what I like to call dailiness — a series of aphorisms, notations, quotations. For instance:

Courtesy is more efficient than the lack of it.


If I get a fatal disease, I am going to be very mad at it. I will blame it for my death.


"The worth of that is that which it contains, / And that is this, and this . . ." (Shakespeare, almost Gertrude Stein, Sonnet 74)
The last entry of "Pikakirjoitusvihko" notes that the word pikakirjoitusvihko is Finnish and appears on the cover of "this notebook," presumably the one in which the poet has been writing. So I suspected that the word means, simply, notebook. Google could not confirm my hunch, returning only eight results, four of which are references to Padgett's poem. I tried a Google image search, hoping to find perhaps an illustration from a Finnish stationer, with no luck. Next, Babel Fish, which, I found, doesn't do Finnish. I then e-mailed my friend Norman, linguist and translator, who worked out a possible explanation:
pika=express (like express train)
kirjoitusvihko=exercise book
vihko=notebook, booklet

express exercise book

Does that make sense?
Norman, who has some knowledge of Finnish, used an online Finnish-English dictionary (I didn't imagine that there was such a thing). As he explained though, it wouldn't have helped me:
You would have found kirjoitusvihko, but it is not easy to know where you are supposed to split a Finnish word. Knowing that kirjasto is "library," I guessed that pika must be the first element.
But Norman wanted to check with another translator, Sheryl, who pointed out that the word divides after pikakirjoitus, which means "shorthand" or "stenography" (express writing!). So pikakirjoitusvihko means "stenography notebook" or "steno pad."

Norman adds:
Icelandic, like Finnish, has a calque or loan translation . . . hraðritun, which also means "express writing" (hraðbraut means "expressway").
Kiitos, Norman and Sheryl! And kiitos, Ron Padgett, for sending me on this journey.

Now I'm going to look up stenography.

More, in an e-mail from Ron Padgett:
I had the same trouble. Thinking that I had bought the notebook in Kiev, I went to the Ukrainian Museum here in NY to ask for a translation, but of course they were puzzled by the word and said they didn't think it was Ukrainian. Some time later something made me think of asking Anselm Hollo, and of course Bingo! "Stenographer's notebook," he said. Which, in light of the poem, turned out accidentally to be the right title. Then he tried to teach me how to say it in Finnish. He's still trying.

Related reading
Calque (Wikipedia)
Anselm Hollo (
Ron Padgett (
Red-headed woman with reporter's notebook (Jean Harlow, taking dictation)
TElephone EXchange NAmes in poetry (from a poem by Ron Padgett)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Forever, a film by Heddy Honigmann

From the distributor's website:

Through a leisurely tour of the world-famous Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, the final resting place for legendary writers, composers, painters and other artists from around the world, Forever provides an unusually poignant, emotionally powerful meditation on relations between the living and the dead, and the immortal power of art.
A film I look forward to seeing, most likely on DVD. Proust is buried in the Père-Lachaise, of course, as are Guillaume Apollinaire, Maria Callas, Jim Morrison, Francis Poulenc, and a cast of thousands.

See the trailer and read more via the links:
Forever (YouTube)
Forever (First Run Icarus Films)
Père-Lachaise Cemetery (Wikipedia)
Père-Lachaise virtual tour (in French and English)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Olive sizes

Mark Hurst at Good Experience wonders today about the words used to classify olive oil — pure, virgin, and extra virgin: "I mean, what's the difference between 'virgin' and 'extra virgin' in any other context?" Mark's conclusion: "Olive oil suffers from name inflation."

Which reminded me of the strange array of words used to size olives, something I first learned about (and still vaguely recall) from a Marshall Efron skit on The Great American Dream Machine.

You can find the Colossal — what am I saying? — the Super Colossal word-hoard of olive sizing via the link below. Colossal? Super Colossal? Brilliant? Superior? Fine? Only your extra-fancy olive-industry insider knows for sure.

Olive Sizes (Practically Edible)

Watching GUIDE

GUIDE, as the remote-control button calls it, is sometimes more thought-provoking than the shows themselves:

Dec 1210:00 PM
36 WE Hair Trauma
37 DHLTHTrauma: Life in the ER

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Van Dyke Parks and the present tense

A Twin Peaks fan has posted a short interview with Van Dyke Parks about his participation in the television series. I like this choice sentence, which follows VDP's acknowledgment that he'd seen none of David Lynch's work before getting his part:

"Generally, I stay out of the present tense."

Van Dyke Parks interview (Twin Peaks Archive)

Related posts
A new Van Dyke Parks interview
Van Dyke Parks speaks
Van Dyke Parks interviewed
Arts and science

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Proust summarizes Proust

Another Proust passage of summing up. Two words: Une vocation.

Then, less dazzling no doubt than the one which had shown me that the work of art was the only means of finding Lost Time again, a new light dawned on me. And I understood that all these raw materials for a literary work were actually my past life; I understood that they had come to me, in frivolous pleasures, in idleness, in tenderness, in sorrow, that they had been stored up by me without my divining their ultimate purpose, even their survival, any more than a seed does as it lays up a reserve of all the nutrients which will feed the plant. Like the seed, I would be able to die when the plant had developed, and I began to see that I had lived for its sake without knowing it, without ever having realized that there should be some contact between my life and the books I had wanted to write and for which, when I used to sit down at my table, I could not find a subject. So all my life up to that day could, and at the same time could not, have been summed up under the title: A vocation.

Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again, translated by Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003), 207-8

Related posts
Monty Python and Proust
Proust summarizes Proust

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Monday, December 10, 2007

How to improve writing (no. 17 in a series)

From a newspaper review of a concert:

an anchor of the famous "Hallelujah" chorus
That would be an encore. The moral of the story: when handling an unfamiliar word, don't trust intuition or a spellchecker. Use a dictionary and make sure that what you're writing is what you mean.

This post is no. 17 in a very occasional series, "How to improve writing," dedicated to improving stray bits of published prose.
Related posts
On "pneumonic" devices

All "How to improve writing" posts (via Pinboard)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Frank Sinatra's popcorn

Driving, listening to a station devoting its December air-time to "holiday music," I was delighted to hear Frank Sinatra singing "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" (words by Sammy Cahn, music by Jule Styne). I'd never heard a Sinatra version of this song.

But delight turned into doubt, for it's difficult to imagine Frank Sinatra doing what the I of the lyric claims to have done. Recall the song's start:

Oh! The weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we've no place to go,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

It doesn't show signs of stopping
And I brought some corn for popping,
The lights are turned 'way down low,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
Would Sinatra show up on a lady's doorstep with popcorn? It's difficult to imagine:
"Frank! I thought you'd never get here."

"I had to look at a swinging new arrangement with Nelson Riddle. And the roads are very bad tonight. But I brought you something I think you will like."

[Presents gift. It makes a shaking sound.]

As I have previously stated, it's difficult to imagine.

With Dean Martin, who also recorded this song, popcorn is more plausible. A fella gets a little tipsy, he reaches for the box with the new earrings for his girl, picks up the popcorn instead, doesn't realize his mistake, gets in his car: these things happen. But Frank Sinatra and popcorn? As I have previously stated, it's difficult to imagine.

You may be wondering about the song's lyric: is it bought or brought ? Sammy Cahn's Rhyming Dictionary (2002) gives brought (and all the exclamation points!).

And now (as I have not previously stated) it's back to my double-shift at the Continental Paper Grading Co.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

December 8, 1980

Yoko Ono has written a letter to John Lennon:

I miss you, John. 27 years later, I still wish I could turn back the clock to the Summer of 1980. . . .

Letter from Yoko to John (Imagine Peace)

The Sound of Jazz, fifty years ago today

[Billie Holiday listens to Lester Young, December 8, 1957.]

Fifty years ago today, CBS broadcast The Sound of Jazz as part of its series The Seven Lively Arts. Gunther Schuller: "Unquestionably the finest hour jazz has ever had on television." Here are four highlights, courtesy of YouTube:

Henry "Red" Allen, Wild Man Blues
Jimmy Giuffre, The Train and the River
Billie Holiday, Fine and Mellow (mislabeled as 1944)
Thelonious Monk, Blue Monk
Watching these clips this morning, I began to think about the number of posters that could be made from the often iconic images therein.
The Sound of Jazz (Wikipedia)
The Sound of Jazz (Amazon)

Related post
On December 8

Friday, December 7, 2007

Proust on objects and their associations

[Welcome, readers.]

A post at by Adam Lisagor, Remembrance of Phones Past, has developed into a wonderful and sometimes Proustian discussion of telephones and other objects and their associations. Here's a relevant Proust passage, perhaps the relevant passage. It concerns the narrator's rediscovery of a favorite book from childhood:

Some mystery-loving minds maintain that objects retain something of the eyes that have looked at them, that we can see monuments and pictures only through an almost intangible veil woven over them through the centuries by the love and admiration of so many admirers. This fantasy would become truth if they transposed it into the realm of the only reality each person knows, into the domain of their own sensitivity. Yes, in that sense and that sense only (but it is much the more important one), a thing which we have looked at long ago, if we see it again, brings back to us, along with our original gaze, all the images which that gaze contained. This is because things — a book in its red binding, like the rest — at the moment we notice them, turn within us into something immaterial, akin to all the preoccupations or sensations we have at that particular time, and mingle indissolubly with them.

Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again, translated by Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003), 193

A related post
Out of the past (On two books from childhood)

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, December 6, 2007


From a conversation about evolution:

". . . Pope Ron Paul the Second . . ."

All "Overheard" posts (via Pinboard)
(Thanks, Elaine!)

Plot keyword: Proust

The International Movie Database lists 141 plot keywords for Little Miss Sunshine, including eating, eyeglasses, and fried chicken. What's missing? Proust. "French writer. Total loser," according to Frank Ginsberg (Steve Carell), the movie's number-one Proust scholar in the United States.

In real life, screenwriter Michael Arndt's twin brother is a Proust scholar. Co-director Jonathan Dayton: "He's in Ankara, so he's the number-one Proust scholar in Turkey."

I added Proust to the IMDb's word-hoard this morning. Will it stick? I'll know in a few weeks.

[Update, 3.16.08: Marcel Proust is now a keyword for Little Miss Sunshine.]

Walking on Sunshine (Interview with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris)

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Gods in color

Archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann makes color reconstructions of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. His work is on display at Harvard University's Sackler Museum. From the Wall Street Journal:

The fashion for white antiquities dates back to the early 16th century, when the Renaissance began excavating works that had lain buried in the earth for centuries. Color traces still visible to the naked eye, deep in the folds of draped clothing, for instance, went unnoticed. Following what they believed to be the Greek and Roman example, Italian sculptors — notably Michelangelo — conceived their creations as uncolored. By the 18th century, practitioners of the then-new science of archaeology were aware that the ancients had used color. But Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the German prefect of antiquities at the Vatican, preferred white. His personal taste was enshrined by fiat as the "classical" standard. And so it remained, unchallenged except by the occasional eccentric until the late 20th century.
[Photograph: Trojan archer, original c. 490–480 BCE, color reconstruction by Vinzenz Brinkmann and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann.]
Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity (Harvard University Art Museums)
Setting the Record Straight About Classical Statues' Hues (Wall Street Journal)
Gods in Color slideshow (WSJ)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Kleinert's dress shields

I found this advertisement in a manila folder while decluttering a bit in my office today. If an accompanying magazine cover is to be believed, this ad appeared the April 29, 1940 issue of Life.

If Arthur Murray were still living, he'd be 112 years old, and he would no doubt still, in a whisper, insist on Kleinert dress shields, even if "the positions of the dance" nowadays are likely to reveal much more than underarms.

And lo — Kleinert's is still making dress shields in Elba, Alabama, though notion counters, like the Americonga and the company's Toronto, New York, and London offices, are long gone.

Related reading
Arthur Murray (Wikipedia)
All "dowdy world" posts (via Pinboard)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Saucy tomatoes

Making Cuban black beans and rice for dinner, following a recipe in Robin Robertson's Vegan Planet (2003), I stopped and thought about this sentence:

Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and the tomatoes are saucy, about 10 minutes.
Nine minutes or so later, I started hearing cracks about my sweater-vest, and I knew the dish was done.

My favorite saucy is in John Donne's "The Sunne Rising," a poem that characterizes the sunne himself as a "Sawcy pendantique wretch." I'd welcome the sunne and share my Cuban black beans and rice with him if he was to visit. (It's been a gray, grey day.)

University of Wisconsin sues over W

Not from The Onion:

For the first time, UW-Madison is taking another school to court over its prized Motion W logo.

On Friday, the university filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit against Washburn University, a small liberal arts and professional education school in Topeka, Kan. The move is unprecedented, even as the university has aggressively defended the logo used by UW-Madison athletic teams since 1990.

"It's unfortunate and certainly regrettable from our perspective," said Casey Nagy, an assistant to UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley. "We really haven't had this kind of situation develop with a college or university."

The lawsuit accuses Washburn of "willfully, intentionally and maliciously" using the Motion W logo "to cause and enhance confusion. . . ."

UW-Madison's logo, the lawsuit states, is used on dozens of licensed products, such as clothing, glassware and souvenirs. Washburn's W is used the same way. That's a problem, the lawsuit states, in that purchasers seeing Washburn's unlicensed products and "perceiving a defect, lack of quality or any impropriety are likely to mistakenly attribute them to Wisconsin," causing irreparable harm "to Wisconsin's goodwill."
You can see the logos here and here. One is red and pixelated, with a curved baseline and a shadow. The other is blue, with a straight baseline and a white outline. Both tilt optimistically upward. And yes, they're both Ws. Are you confused yet?
U-W Madison sues over logo (Wisconsin State Journal)

Monday, December 3, 2007

How to do horribly on a final exam

Ten simple steps:

"Her finals are supposed to be really easy. There's no point in studying a lot."

"Besides, I'm pretty much assured a B no matter what."

"Plus, it's been proved that overstudying leads to lower grades."

"I can study later, after Family Guy."

"I don't need to review that much anyway. After all, I have a photographic memory."

"Besides, there's so much material — if I don't know it by now, studying won't help."

"Grey's Anatomy!"


"I can just do an all-nighter. I'll be fine in the morning."

"Yeah, I should set my alarm just in case. I'll do it later."
One professor's thoughts, for any student who's reading:

It always makes sense to take a final examination seriously. If the exam turns out to be easy, wonderful. And if it's difficult, you're prepared. A strong exam performance can have significant redeeming value: if you're on the cusp between grades, it might be enough to decide things in your favor. And turning in a mediocre exam with the expectation that it won't affect your semester grade can backfire, even if your grade remains undamaged. It's the student assured of an A or B who still turns in a strong final exam whom a professor will remember with respect and affection when it's time to write a letter of recommendation.

I wrote a post some time ago for students looking to do the opposite of horribly:
How to do well on a final examination
[As several readers have suggested, these ten simple steps are a pretty tame version of how to do horribly on a final exam. A tame version is the only version I choose to imagine.]

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Brian Wilson at the Kennedy Center

From the Kennedy Center website:

Since their inception in 1978, the Kennedy Center Honors have redefined America's perception of its artistic legacy and reinvented the way this nation rewards its artists. The Honors have been compared to a knighthood in Britain, or the French Legion of Honor — the quintessential reward for a lifetime's endeavor.
Brian Wilson gets one tonight.

The website notes that the names of guest performers remain secret until the "show" (event?) is in progress. Who'll perform in Brian's honor? Barenaked Ladies (who wrote "Brian Wilson")? Sufjan Stevens (whose music suggests a deep Wilson influence)? In my most speculative heart of hearts, I can imagine Paul McCartney singing "God Only Knows." What I suspect we'll get though is an everything-but-the-kitchen sink — no, wait, put-the-sink-in-too — performance of "Good Vibrations" along the lines of the one in 2001's All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson, with Heart, Jubilant Sykes, and the Boys Choir of Harlem.

The Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast on December 26 on CBS.

[Update, 12.03.07: Lyle Lovett sang "God Only Knows"; Hootie and the Blowfish did "I Get Around": Kennedy Center honors for 5 (San Jose Mercury News).]

[Update, 12.26.07: The show aired tonight on CBS. Three, not two, performances followed Art Garfunkel's brief tribute and biographical narrative. Lyle Lovett: ghastly. Hootie and the Blowfish: much better than I had expected. "I Get Around" segued into "California Girls." What the article I linked to left unreported was a performance by the boys' choir Libera of "Love and Mercy," beautifully sung and tear-inducing. Love and mercy to you, Brian Wilson.]

[Reflected in Brian's mirror: Mike Love, Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Dennis Wilson]
The Kennedy Center Honors

Related post
Music from the Kennedy Center (Links to YouTube clips)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Cutting the past tense

Faced with ongoing budget crises, underfunded schools nationwide are increasingly left with no option but to cut the past tense — a grammatical construction traditionally used to relate all actions, and states that have transpired at an earlier point in time—from their standard English and language arts programs. . . .

"This was by no means an easy decision, but teaching our students how to conjugate verbs in a way that would allow them to describe events that have already occurred is a luxury that we can no longer afford," Phoenix-area high-school principal Sam Pennock said. "With our current budget, the past tense must unfortunately become a thing of the past."

Underfunded Schools Forced to Cut Past Tense (The Onion)

Related post
William Faulkner on peace

Friday, November 30, 2007

The ten best books of 2007?

Somene at the New York Times made a list. I've read none of the books. Elaine read one and was unimpressed, unimpressed. My 2007 ten best list:

1–10. In Search of Lost Time
(I bet you didn't see that coming.)
All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Roger Shattuck on reading Proust

Roger Shattuck (1923-2005) on how to read Proust:

I believe it is best to approach the reading of Proust as if it were a kind of long-term cure, or an initiation to unfamiliar mental and physical movements evolved by another culture. A steady, leisurely pace, without the tension of fixed deadlines, serves best. Certain habits of thought can thus be laid aside as others are slowly acquired. It may take months, even years. The Search creates a season of the mind outside temporal limits.

Proust's Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time (NY: W.W. Norton, 2000), 24
For me, reading Proust the second time through, the season began on May 17, 2007, and should end before the end of the year. (Then what?)
All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Buckley's Cough Mixture

I read about Buckley's Cough Mixture at Boing Boing earlier this month and worked up the courage to look for and try some last night. It's ghastly and effective, and as I just realized, I'm paraphrasing the company slogan: "It tastes awful. And it works." Among the ingredients: menthol, camphor, Canadian balsam, and pine needle oil.

What is it like to swallow a teaspoon of Buckley's Cough Mixture? Imagine swallowing a toothbrush coated with Vicks VapoRub, sprinkled with retsina, and rolled in sawdust. The second time is worse than the first, as one knows what's coming.

I now have an idea of what it must have been like for my dad when his mother made him swallow a spoonful of Vicks for a cold. Dad, I have felt your pain!

Buckley's is a Canadian product (and, I gather, a Canadian tradition). I found some in an Illinois Walgreens. That's Frank Buckley, son of pharmacist and founder W.K. Buckley, in the photograph.

Buckley's (The company website)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Every letter counts

This item from the BBC gives new meaning to the Harold Dorman song "Mountain of Love." And perhaps it will inspire the writers of spam subject lines to rise above the fruited plain to new heights of creativity:

Croatia rose to the occasion in their crucial Euro 2008 defeat of England — after an apparent X-rated gaffe by an English opera singer at Wembley.

Tony Henry belted out a version of the Croat anthem before the 80,000 crowd, but made a blunder at the end. He should have sung 'Mila kuda si planina' (which roughly means 'You know my dear how we love your mountains'). But he instead sang 'Mila kura si planina' which can be interpreted as 'My dear, my penis is a mountain'.

Now Henry could be one of the few Englishmen at the Euro 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland as Croatian fans adopt him as a lucky omen. They believe his mistake relaxed their chuckling players, who scored an early goal in the 3-2 win that put Croatia top of the group and knocked out England.

Anthem gaffe 'lifted Croatia' (BBC Sport)
(Thanks, Elaine!)

This is not my beautiful house

That man lives elsewhere, believe me. But that is my beautiful oven, or was.

I found this image at while searching (unsuccessfully) for a picture of a professor from the dowdy world. The oven in question was made by General Electric. One such oven came with our house (I'm guessing that it was original equipment, circa 1959). That oven disappeared last week when we replaced it with a new one (also by GE) that heats evenly and doesn't have a non-working clock/timer emitting a constant slight buzz, reminding those of us sitting at the kitchen table that we really need to do something about that oven.

[Readers of a certain age are expected to recognize an allusion to Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime."]

All "dowdy world" posts (Pinboard)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Anecdotal Iowa

I spent three hours tonight calling Iowa on behalf of the Barack Obama campaign, leaving many, many messages and talking to a few voters, who voiced support for only three candidates: Obama, John Edwards, and Mitt Romney, with Obama getting the most support. Edwards was mentioned only by those who are also considering Obama. I don't think anyone in our ten- or twelve-person volunteer group talked to a Hillary Clinton supporter. Merely anecdotal evidence, but interesting nonetheless.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Better Packages, Inc.

The November 26 New Yorker has a wonderful two-page collaboration by Aline and Robert Crumb, "Our Beloved Tape Dispenser." The tape dispenser in question, a Better Pack 333 Plus, is made by Better Packages, Inc., a small company in Shelton, Connecticut.

The Crumbs' comic is available only in print, but Better Packages, Inc. has a website. The company was founded in 1917, which makes it roughly the same age as Ernest Borgnine.

All "dowdy world" posts (Pinboard)

Ernest Borgnine

I don't care if it is on the Hallmark Channel. It stars Ernest Borgnine, so I'm watching it. A Grandpa for Christmas is on tonight, 9:00 Eastern, 8:00 Central.

Ernest Borgnine turns 91 next January.

[12.21.07: Borgnine has been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in this movie. He's the oldest person ever nominated for a Golden Globe.]

A Grandpa for Christmas (The Hallmark Channel)

Related posts
Happy New Year (A scene from Marty)
Happy birthday, Mr. Piletti (Marty after Marty)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Advice for travelers

Stop for a good night's rest: good advice for anyone doing a long-distance drive this Thanksgiving weekend. Close cover before striking: good advice for us all.

Wikipedia: Williams, Arizona was "the last town to have its section of Route 66 bypassed."

My son Ben found this matchbook on the street. Who could've dropped it? Someone who just stepped from a time-travel machine?

Other posts on ephemera
Invitation to a dance

Uncle Mark 2008 Gift Guide & Almanac

Today is Buy Nothing Day, but even those who aren't shopping might want to think about the shopping of the future. The Uncle Mark 2008 Gift Guide & Almanac can help.

Uncle Mark is Mark Hurst, customer-experience consultant and creator of Good Experience. His yearly guide to consumer technology is, in his words, "simply the very best guide for anyone vexed about technology, in search of good purchases, or who simply wants to know the answers to life's incessant questions."

I like the simplicity of Uncle Mark's approach: just one recommendation per category. The computer recommendation in last year's guide — "Without question, buy a Mac, unless you must be compatible with a Windows network at work or school" — helped me make up my mind to buy a MacBook. (That recommendation is unchanged for 2008.) The guide also offers useful tips: how to write dates in e-mail, how to leave a telephone message, and how to use one's index finger as a magnifying glass. I don't think that last how-to is for people who wear progressive lenses.

Uncle Mark 2008 Gift Guide & Almanac (.pdf)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving at Sing Sing

One hundred years ago:

"Sing Sing Prisoners Merry, Convicts Give a Minstrel and Vaudeville Entertainment," New York Times, November 29, 1907
Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

TElephone EXchange NAmes in poetry

Ron Padgett understands the dowdy world:

It was an act of kindness
on the part of the person who placed both numbers
    and letters
on the dial of the phone so we could call WAverly,
ATwater, CAnareggio, BLenheim, and MAdison,
DUnbar, and OCean, little worlds in themselves
we drift into as we dial, and an act of cruelty
to change everything into numbers only, not just
    phone numbers
that get longer and longer, but statistical analysis,
cost averaging, collateral damage, death by peanut,
inflation rates, personal identification numbers,
    access codes,
and the whole raving Raft of the Medusa
that drives out any thought of pleasantness
until you dial 1-800-MATTRES

From "The Absolutely Huge and Incredible Injustice in the World," in How to Be Perfect (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2007)

Related reading
The Raft of the Medusa (Wikipedia)

Related posts
Telephone exchange names
More telephone exchange name nostalgia
Telephone exchange names in classical music
Telephone exchange names on screen
Telephone exchange names on screen (no. 2)

All "dowdy world" posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gmail à la Microsoft

"Please imagine the ads blinking at this point":

What If Gmail Had Been Designed by Microsoft? (Google Blogoscoped)

To Read or Not to Read

The National Endowment for the Arts has released a report on American reading habits,To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence. An excerpt:

The story the data tell is simple, consistent, and alarming. Although there has been measurable progress in recent years in reading ability at the elementary school level, all progress appears to halt as children enter their teenage years. There is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans. Most alarming, both reading ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined among college graduates. These negative trends have more than literary importance. As this report makes clear, the declines have demonstrable social, economic, cultural, and civic implications.

How does one summarize this disturbing story? As Americans, especially younger Americans, read less, they read less well. Because they read less well, they have lower levels of academic achievement. (The shameful fact that nearly one-third of American teenagers drop out of school is deeply connected to declining literacy and reading comprehension.) With lower levels of reading and writing ability, people do less well in the job market. Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement. Significantly worse reading skills are found among prisoners than in the general adult population. And deficient readers are less likely to become active in civic and cultural life, most notably in volunteerism and voting.

NEA Announces New Reading Study (NEA press release)
To Read or Not to Read (.pdf download)

Monday, November 19, 2007

A visit to the Kolb-Proust Archive

I had the great privilege to see some items from the Kolb-Proust Archive at the University of Illinois today. Philip Kolb (1907-1992), professor of French at the university, edited Proust's correspondence and in so doing assembled an extraordinary archive for the university library. Caroline Szylowicz, the Kolb-Proust librarian, put together a sampling of materials for my visit — a tremendously generous gesture, as I'm just a dedicated reader, not a Proust scholar. Arrayed on a massive library table were letters to and from Proust, early editions of Du côté de chez Swann, an unbound limited edition of À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, and manuscript excerpts revealing Proust's capacity for endless revision by accretion, with galley passages and handwritten scraps pasted onto poster-sized sheets.

One highlight: a letter from Marcel, aged eight, to his grandfather, signed "Marcel Proust." Another: a lithograph of Jacques-Émile Blanche's portrait of Proust, accompanying the unbound pages of À l'ombre. Another: a letter from Proust to his former chauffeur Alfred Agostinelli. Parts of this letter surface in the narrator's letter to Albertine in The Fugitive. Another: a letter from Proust biographer George Painter to Philip Kolb, which I found by chance when I opened a copy of Du côté de chez Swann to read the last paragraph.

And one more: a letter from Jacques Rivière, editor of La Nouvelle Revue Française, dated October 12, 1922. Suffering from pneumonia, coughing constantly, Proust was communicating with his housekeeper Céleste Albaret at this time by writing notes on stray pieces of paper. He wrote several such notes on this letter, in a labored script that makes a poignant contrast to Rivière's elegant letterhead and confidently slanting signature. I copied one of Proust's notes:

faut-il être à jeun pour
prendre l'aspirine
William C. Carter's biography Marcel Proust gives a good translation: "Should aspirin be taken on an empty stomach?" Proust died on November 18, 1922.
Related post
Philip Kolb on Proust

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Two great bookstores

The Seminary Co-op Bookstore and 57th Street Books in Hyde Park, Chicago, are two great bookstores. They do not offer coffee. They do not offer tea. Nor do they offer Burt's Bees lip balm, or Lindt chocolate, or the other notions and sundries that have infiltrated both chain and independent bookstores. The Sem Co-op is the best scholarly bookstore in the country, a spacious, well-lit basement labyrinth of bookshelves. 57th Street Books is its trade-oriented sibling. Both stores (along with a third store at the Newberry Library) are member-owned; buying three shares of stock ($30) makes you a member and gets you a 10% discount on all purchases. Another benefit: the Sem Co-op will order (and ship) virtually any book in print.

It's always inspiring and humbling to visit the Co-op. It can also be expensive: I spent $125 on Proust-related reading — and could have spent twice as much.

The Seminary Co-op Bookstores


On the 57th Street side of 57th Street Books, Hyde Park, Chicago:

(Can someone explain the joke?)


In Hyde Park, Chicago, yesterday:

"I've dealt with cadavers before."

All "overheard" posts (Pinboard)
(Thanks, Elaine!)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Proust and the Muse of history

Here she is:

the Muse, whom we should fail to recognize for as long as possible if we want to preserve the freshness of our impressions and some creative power, but whom precisely those of us who have avoided her shall meet in the evening of our lives in the nave of some old village church, at a moment when all of a sudden they feel less touched by the eternal beauty expressed in the carvings on the altar than by the diverse fates which they have suffered, as they moved into a distinguished private collection or a chapel, then into a museum, or by the feeling that we are treading on an almost sentient flagstone, composed of the last remains of Arnauld or Pascal, or quite simply by deciphering the names of the daughters of the nobleman or the commoner inscribed on the copper plate of a wooden prie-dieu, imagining perchance the fresh young faces of these village maidens, the Muse who has assumed everything rejected by the higher Muses of philosophy and art, everything unfounded in truth, everything which is merely contingent but which also reveals other laws: the Muse of history!

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, translated by Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003), 640

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Proust on the human ostrich

Reader, do you know such ostriches?

Gilberte belonged, or at least had belonged during those years, to the most frequently encountered species of human ostrich, those who bury their heads in the hope, not of not being seen, which they believe to be implausible, but of not seeing themselves being seen, which seems important enough to them and allows them to leave the rest to chance.

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, translated by Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003), 551

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Joshua Foer on memory

Joshua Foer has a piece in National Geographic on people with unusual memory deficits and surpluses:

AJ remembers when she first realized that her memory was not the same as everyone else's. She was in the seventh grade, studying for finals. "I was not happy because I hated school," she says. Her mother was helping her with her homework, but her mind had wandered elsewhere. "I started thinking about the year before, when I was in sixth grade and how I loved sixth grade. But then I started realizing that I was remembering the exact date, exactly what I was doing a year ago that day." At first she didn't think much of it. But a few weeks later, playing with a friend, she remembered that they had also spent the day together exactly one year earlier.

"Each year has a certain feeling, and then each time of year has a certain feeling. The spring of 1981 feels completely different from the winter of 1981," she says. Dates for AJ are like the petite madeleine cake that sent Marcel Proust's mind hurtling back in time in Remembrance of Things Past. Their mere mention starts her reminiscing involuntarily. "You know when you smell something, it brings you back? I'm like ten levels deeper and more intense than that."
When I first glanced at this piece, I thought, Oh, Proust Was a Neuroscientist. But that book, on my to-read list, is by Jonah Lehrer.
Remember This (National Geographic, via Boing Boing)

Related reading
Proust: involuntary memory, foolish things

Talk to the face

An editorial in a college newspaper recently suggested that college faculty join Facebook as a way to show their desire "to connect with" students. The editors gamely suggest academic benefits: chances to create assignments that focus on what students are "already interested in" and chances to find "examples" (of what?) that students will recognize.

I'm always interested in showing the relevance of the works I teach, but it's a professor's responsibility to enlarge a student's understanding of reality, not to appeal to and thereby affirm the present limits of that understanding. And the idea of a grown-ass man or woman wandering about in the teenaged and young-adult voyeurdrome of Facebook is at best slightly absurd; at worst, deeply creepy. Anecdotal evidence suggests to me that many students agree. A much better way for faculty and students to "connect" is to talk, face to face, not as pseudo-friends but as members of a community devoted to teaching and learning.

Related reading
How to talk to a professor

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Quicksilver plug-ins

For Mac users: Lifehacker has a very helpful post today on ten useful Quicksilver plug-ins. I've been using Quicksilver for most of 2007, and six of these plug-ins were new to me. (I wish I'd known about Shelf months ago: it's already made my Mac life better.)

For non-Mac users: Quicksilver is a free program that launches programs, opens files and folders, and simplifies countless elements of working on a computer. To my mind, Quicksilver alone might be reason enough to switch to a Mac.

Top 10 Quicksilver Plug-ins (Lifehacker)
What is Quicksilver? (Blacktree, Inc.)