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.)

Billy Strayhorn on humility and individuality

Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967), composer, arranger, pianist, and for almost thirty years, Duke Ellington's collaborator:

Why shouldn't you play a simple melody? It's a matter of being humble. All artists are humble. All great artists are humble. The ones who're not are not great artists. When a little kid comes up and says "Play O, Say, Can You See?," you play it. That does not mean that you have to play it the way thousands of other people have played it. You can give it your own individuality. But don't look down on those things, because if you look down, that's the end of you, your integrity and everything.

Stanley Dance, The World of Duke Ellington (NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970), 31

Related reading

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

To-Do List

Sasha Cagen's anthology To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us has just been published. My daughter Rachel has a contribution: a list of supplies for an imaginary camping trip that she drafted when she was six or seven. (She's now in college.)

I'm not sure what I think of the book yet. Some of the lists are touching; some funny; some mysterious. Some, for me, are a matter of Too Much Information, with too great an "ick" factor. Browse the book; see what you think.

Aside from Rachel's list, my favorite list in To-Do List is from Arlene Mandrell, New Year's resolutions from 1956, when she was sixteen. No. 9: "I will not fall into bed without brushing my hair & teeth, no matter what time it is."

Related post
Whose list?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Obama e-mail improvement

I'm happy to see that Barack Obama's campaign is rethinking its e-mail strategies. From my inbox, two messages from campaign supporters:

The message from Earnest Primous (October 17) is easily mistaken for spam. (Who's Earnest Primous? And what prior conversation does "RE: Hillary's money" reference?) While the subject line of the more recent message (November 11) is more cryptic than I'd like, the association of the sender with is clear, even with a fixed narrow column for senders' names. (That's Hotmail for ya, but I use this account only for mailing lists.)

The false familiarity of candidate e-mails has elicited both constructive criticism and mockery. I suspect that Obama's people are listening, reading, and learning from it all.

Related posts
Campaign e-mail etiquette
Campaign e-mails (again)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Feeding times

After watching a local newscast on Thursday night, I made the mistake of leaving the television on for "warmth" (i.e., for light and noise while working in an otherwise empty house). I virtually never watch prime-time network television, so I found myself at first surprised and then appalled by the barrage of commercials exhorting the viewer to eat out or buy pre-packaged food to eat at home. Convenience and taste were the advantages touted again and again and again — as if driving to a fast-food outlet to eat is in fact convenient, as if a plastic bag of frozen meat and vegetables is in fact superior to what a modestly skilled cook could put together from scratch. I assume that these commercials were running in prime-time to capitalize upon whatever dissatisfactions and frustrations viewers might be feeling about their evening meals. I hit the remote-control after hearing "Better than what Mom makes!"

My prime-time experience is what prompted me to look closely at a four-page insert for Sara Lee brands in today's Parade magazine. Page one: Norman Rockwell's 1943 Freedom from Want, with some ingratiating text added:

Ah, the good ol' days. When there was all the time in the world to create picture-perfect holidays. And when families could enjoy every meal together, not just the big holiday feasts.

Sure isn't how things look today!
No siree, Bob. Today's world is what we see on the next two pages. Sara Lee's website gives a condensed version:

[Click for larger image.]

What I find most telling in this Photoshopped nightmare is the absence of relationships. Contrast Rockwell: people are looking at one another, acknowledging their shared joy in a ritual. In Sara Lee's world, everyone does his or her own thing. Grandma and Grandpa, the only people who can possibly be construed as looking at someone else (at Mom, perhaps, and frazzled Dad), find their smiles unreturned. It seems that they've even had to let themselves in, which (comically and unintentionally) compounds the scene's awfulness. And notice: the kitchen table, minus chairs, functions not as a gathering place but as a surface on which to display food. Sara Lee gives us not a scene of feasting but of feeding. The only hunger here, as the T-shirt at the center of this scene suggests, is in one's stomach.

Did people really have "all the time in the world" to prepare holiday meals back in the "good ol' days"? I think that they made the time, to do things that were important to them. As Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, points out, we've figured out how to make the time to spend two or three hours a day on line. I remember that my grandmother used to start the Thanksgiving cooking at six or seven in the morning.

If you're wondering who the self-satisfied young man in the T-shirt is: according to the Parade version of this scene, his name is Jake, and his hockey team is at the door, hungry for hot dogs. Note to hockey team: Go away; we have company. Note to Jake: Take off your headphones, put down your wiener, and go say hello to your grandparents. They're not going to be around forever, and they've come a long way to see you.
Related reading
No time for cooking (Michael Pollan on cooking, via Fire and Knowledge)
Total Meals On Line (Sara Lee)

November 11, 1918

From the New York Times, November 12, 1918:

Read the rest:

Nation Rejoices at War's End; City Is Jubilant (New York Times)

Friday, November 9, 2007

The National Dean's List is dead

A reader has informed me that the National Dean's List, the subject of two oft-visited posts on Orange Crate Art, is dead, defunct, gone. I wrote about the NDL earlier this year after receiving letters of nomination addressed to me (almost 30 years out of college) and a non-existent person at my address. Both names were taken from a magazine-subscription service for college faculty and students.

From the company website:

Educational Communications, Inc. has ceased all operations, including discontinuation of its publications for Who's Who Among American High School Students, Who's Who Among America's Teachers, and The National Dean's List, as well as the Educational Communications Scholarship Foundation.
The Internet Archive shows that Educational Communications, Inc. — or at least its website — was still functioning as of August 2007. Some quick Google searching turns up no details on the company's demise.

I feel sorry for the clerical workers, printers, and bindery workers whose lives will be altered by the demise of Educational Communications, Inc. But I'll still say good riddance to this company. It's mail from outfits such as EC, Inc. that can lead a student to mistake, say, a letter of invitation from Phi Beta Kappa for yet another sham honor. And it's the Internet that allows anyone with an online connection to look around and ask questions. (Type "national dean's list" into Google and see what happens.)

Update, November 12, 2007: The Austin Business Journal published a brief story today. An excerpt:
Austin's Educational Communications Inc. has ceased operations.

According to a Securities and Exchange filing on Nov. 1, the company, a subsidiary of American Achievement Group Holding Corp., is shutting down by the end of the month. Its Web site today confirms that, but company executives could not immediately be reached for comment. . . .

Sales of the parent company's achievement publications decreased to $300,000 for the three months ending May 2007, compared with sales of $1.1 million during the three months ending May 2006.

Related posts
Is this honor society legitimate?
The National Dean's List
The National Dean's List again

Related reading
Phi Beta What? (Wall Street Journal)


If you're not subscribed to Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day, you're missing delights such as this word:

octothorpe   \AHK-tuh-thorp\   noun
: the symbol #

Example sentence: Barry noticed the pound sign on the telephone and remarked about how much the octothorpe resembled a tic-tac-toe grid.

Did you know? Stories abound about who first called the # sign an "octothorpe" (which can also be spelled “octothorp”). Most of those tales link the name to various telephone workers in the 1960s, and all claim the "octo-" part refers to the eight points on the symbol, but the "thorpe" remains a mystery. One story links it to a telephone company employee who happened to burp while talking about the symbol with co-workers. Another relates it to the athlete Jim Thorpe, and a third claims it derives from an Old English word for “village.” If the plethora of theories leaves your head spinning, you might want to take the advice of the wag who asked (poetically), "Can we simply just say, / Ere it spoils your day, / It's the thorp between seven and nine?"
When my local Walgreens switched to an automated telephone prescription-refill service, some older users (i.e., older than me, much older) were baffled by the instruction to "Press pound" when finished. Walgreens could've baffled users of all ages with the instruction to "Press the octothorpe."

A Jim Doyle story

I knew James P. Doyle, Jim Doyle, as my professor at Fordham College in the Bronx, New York. This story comes from an arts advocate named Elizabeth Brouha, and it concerns Jim's post-Fordham life, when he lived in Sutton, Vermont, and taught at Lyndon State College. Jim was involved in an arts group that was funding a poet-printer's residencies in local schools, including the school that Jim and Ellen's son Joshua attended. One day Joshua came home, shouting "My poem is in the book. My poem is in the book." The book was a compilation of poems by children in the schools the poet-printer had visited. Ms. Brouha writes that Jim

was so tickled with the whole thing that he wrote a letter to Ellen Levell at the Vermont Council on the Arts about the whole experience. Ellen was going down to Washington, D.C. to plead that more money be given to National Endowment for the Arts so that the state councils could have more money for programs like these. She went before a committee and read them Joshua's poem and his father's letter. It was the greatest thing on the program. It carried the day and the Endowment did get more money.

And that's the story of Joshua's howling success.

From an untitled essay by Elizabeth Brouha in Vermonters: Oral Histories from Down Country to the Northeast Kingdom ed. Ron Strickland (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998), 21
One of the mysteries of Jim's life is that he never — to the best of my knowledge, and I've checked, carefully — "published," as people in academia say. When Jim was getting ready to leave Fordham, he told me that he thought he was getting close to having something to say in print. But he left no critical writing aside from his dissertation (on the artist and type designer Eric Gill). So I was happy to find Jim's name in a book.

[From the book quoted above. Elizabeth Brouha sits in the center. That's Jim Doyle in the dark striped sweater.]

Other Jim Doyle posts
Department-store Shakespeare
Doyle and French
From the Doyle edition
Jim Doyle (1944–2005)
Teaching, sitting, standing

Thursday, November 8, 2007

TElephone EXchange NAmes in classical music

Sylvan Shulman (violin) and Alan Shulman (cello) founded the Stuyvesant String Quartet in 1938. How did the quartet get its name? Mura Kievman, daughter of Louis Kievman (viola) explains:

Dad told me (as I recollect, I may be wrong) that he created the name "Stuyvesant Quartet" when he was in a NYC phone booth and had to come up with a name NOW. The phone exchange was "STuyvesant" in that phone book [booth?], and hence the name. I also recall (perhaps equally incorrectly) that within the group there was some debate as to who actually came up with the name. This version was my father's recollection.
Telephone exchange names, offering inspiration in moments of need, perhaps apocryphally!
The Stuyvesant String Quartet on CD
The Stuyvesant String Quartet with Benny Goodman, clarinet
The New Friends of Rhythm (Jazzing the classics!)

Related posts
Telephone exchange names
More telephone exchange name nostalgia
Telephone exchange names on screen
Telephone exchange names on screen (no. 2)
Update: Alan Shulman's son Jay Shulman pointed me to two more CDs:
Rey de la Torre: Works for Guitar, with the Stuyvesant String Quartet
The Stuyvesant String Quartet: Hindemith, Villa-Lobos, Porter
(Thanks, Elaine! And thanks, Jay!)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"[T]races of ourselves"

Everything, everywhere; there, there:

After a certain age our memories are so interwoven with each other that the object of our thoughts or the book which we are reading has practically no importance. We have left traces of ourselves everywhere, everything is fertile, everything is dangerous, and we can make discoveries every bit as precious in an advertisement for soap as in Pascal's Pensées.

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, translated by Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003), 508


I rode home through the city streets. There wasn't a street — there wasn't a building — that wasn't connected to some memory in my mind. There, I was buying a suit with my father. There, I was having an ice cream soda after school.

Wallace Shawn and André Gregory, screenplay for My Dinner with André (1981) (words spoken by Shawn)

Related post
Powders, pencils, mountains, cigars

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The nostalgia of the very young

A nice gloss on Faulkner's idea of peace as "was." Spoken by a second-grader:

"Oh, I wish I was in kindergarten again."
Why? Naps, and no homework.
Related post
William Faulkner on peace

The sounds of sirens

Three fine examples of the ability to Keep Calm and Carry On, letters to the editor in the November 1940 Musical Times ("Founded in 1844, published on the fifteenth of every month"). The German Blitz had begun on September 7, 1940. "Feste," mentioned in the second letter, was the pen-name of a Musical Times columnist.

(Thanks, Elaine!)

Monday, November 5, 2007

William Faulkner on peace

Reading page after page in Proust's The Fugitive on remembering and forgetting made me recall this passage from William Faulkner, which has lurked in my mind since I first read it in college. It's from a conversation with students at the University of Virginia, March 13, 1957:

[M]aybe peace is only a condition in retrospect, when the subconscious has got rid of the gnats and the tacks and the broken glass of experience and has left only the peaceful pleasant things — that was peace. Maybe peace is not is, but was.

William Faulkner, Faulkner in the University, ed. Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1995), 67

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Imaginary failed restaurants (no. 4)

The Seven Cs, serving chili, cornbread, carrot cake, coffee, cocoa, and chai.

The menu sounds charming. I have no idea why this restaurant went under. Perhaps the owners argued over whether carrot cake counted as one c or two.

More imaginary failed restaurants
Poi Vey

Imaginary failed fusion restaurants (no. 3)

Poi Vey: Traditional Hawaiian and Jewish cuisine.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Imaginary failed fusion restaurants (no. 2)

'FroZen!: Soul food and macrobiotic cooking.

Imaginary failed fusion restaurants (no.1)

O'Saka's, featuring traditional Irish cuisine and sushi.

And now I'm waiting for imaginary failed fusion restaurant no. 2 to show up.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Proust on self-plagiarism

Is being oneself (or one's self) merely copying? Ah, habit:

[W]hat we call experience is only the revelation to our own eyes of one of our own character traits, which recurs naturally, and recurs all the more powerfully if we have already on some previous occasion brought it up into the clear light of consciousness, so that the spontaneous reaction which had guided us the first time becomes reinforced by all the suggestions of memory. The kind of plagiarism which is most difficult for any human individual to avoid (and even for whole nations, who persist in reproducing their faults and aggravating them in so doing) is self-plagiarism.

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, translated by Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003), 403

Related post
Proust on habit and selfhood

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 1, 2007


There are many ways for students to annoy their professors: "Did I miss anything important?" (No, nothing like that happens in our class.) "Will this test affect my grade?" (No, not at all.) "What are your office hours?" (They're the first thing on the syllabus.) Most professors understand that such questions are harmless; few, if any, would give the responses I've imagined here.

An annoyance that's less understandable is the absence of a staple to hold together pages of written work. No matter how good an essay or report might be, a missing staple says a lot. Unstapled work says that the writer either doesn't know what finished work looks like or isn't willing to take the care necessary to produce it. Unstapled work says that the writer couldn't be bothered to use a stapler in a library or residence hall or ask a friend. (My son tells me of a table in his undergraduate library with ten staplers available for students' use). Unstapled work might also indicate a failure to follow directions, as many course assignments carry a reminder to staple. Worse perhaps than the absence of a staple are turned-down upper-left corners, which seem to acknowledge that there's something wrong, but that the writer can't be bothered to fix the problem properly. And worse still is the question that comes up in class when written work is due: "Do you have a stapler?"

In such circumstances, some professors become codependent, so to speak, bringing a stapler to class when writing is due. To my mind, such professors are giving their students a false picture of the workings of the larger (so-called real) world. Can you imagine submitting a report or proposal as a sheaf of loose pages? Or asking your boss for a stapler before handing over that work? If not, start now, and staple! Unless of course your professors prefer paper clips.

[I've used the Swingline Tot 50 seen above since the 20th century, when I was in college. Yes, the smaller Tot staples are still around.]

Proust on jealousy

One parenthetical insight:

(It is astonishing how jealousy, which spends its time inventing so many petty but false suppositions, lacks imagination when it comes to discovering the truth.)

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, translated by Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003), 402

All Proust posts (Pinboard)