Saturday, November 19, 2016

November 19, 2016


1. Happy birthday to poet Sharon Olds, who spent a day with us at Western Reserve Academy on Wed., April 19, 2006. Got her to sign some books!

from Writer's Almanac: It's the birthday of poet Sharon Olds (books by this author), born in San Francisco (1942). She loved writing, and for a while she wrote fiction. She said: "But then when I moved to New York, I realized that I wasn't comfortable making stuff up. I had had it with angels and demons who (if your faith was strong enough) you believed were in the room with you. I'd had enough of fiction."
     She got a Ph.D. at Columbia University, writing a dissertation about Emerson. The day she finished, she stood on the steps of the Columbia library and told herself that she was going to pursue her own poetry, no matter how bad it was. She said, "Poems started pouring out of me and Satan was in a lot of them. Also toilets." She had a tough time getting them published. After she submitted her first poem, about her family, she said: "They told me: 'This is a literary magazine. If you wish to write about this sort of subject, may we suggest The Ladies' Home Journal.'"She finally published her first book, Satan Says(1980), when she was 37 years old. Since then she has published more than 10 books of poetry, including The Sign of Saturn (1991), Blood, Tin, Straw (1999), Strike Sparks (2004) and, most recently, Stag's Leap (2012), about the end of her 30-year marriage. Stag's Leap won the Pulitzer Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize.
     She said: "Whenever we give our pen some free will, we may surprise ourselves. All that wanting to seem normal in regular life, all that fitting in falls away in the face of one's own strange self on the page. [...] Writing or making anything - a poem, a bird feeder, a chocolate cake - has self-respect in it. You're working. You're trying. You're not lying down on the ground, having given up."

2. It's also the birthday of the Gettysburg Address--an address I've been memorizing this week (an odd coincidence).

From Writer's Almanac: On this date in 1863Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was four and a half months after the devastating battle, and it was a foggy, cold morning. Lincoln arrived about 10 a.m. Around noon, the sun came out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator, Edward Everett, spoke for more than two hours. Everett described the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, and he brought the audience to tears more than once. When Everett finished, Lincoln spoke.
     Now considered one of the greatest speeches in American history, the Gettysburg Address ran for just over two minutes, fewer than 300 words, and only 10 sentences. It was so brief, in fact, that many of the 15,000 people that attended the ceremony didn't even realize that the president had spoken, because a photographer setting up his camera had momentarily distracted them. The next day, Everett told Lincoln, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes."
There are several versions of the speech, and five different manuscript copies; they're all slightly different, so there's some argument about which is the "authentic" version. Lincoln gave copies to both of his private secretaries, and the other three versions were re-written by the president some time after he made the speech. The Bliss Copy, named for Colonel Alexander Bliss, is the only copy that was signed and dated by Lincoln, and it's generally accepted as the official version for that reason. 

3. Today's Rhymes with Orange comic.

Friday, November 18, 2016

November 18, 2016

1. A word Shakespeare often used--e.g., in The Winter's Tale, Leontes says:
Come, sir page,
Look on me with your welkin eye (1.2).

2. The New York Times has a story today about a new production of Othello. Link to story. And--in a separate story: a hip-hop version of Othello! Link to story.

3. Happy birthday to writer Margaret Atwood, whom Joyce and I got to see and meet a couple of years ago up at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. I recently read her novelized version of Shakespeare's The Tempest (her novel is called Hag-Seed), which I enjoyed a lot.

From today's Writer's Almanac: It's the birthday of novelist and poet Margaret Atwood (books by this author), born in Ottawa, Ontario (1939). During her childhood, her family spent every April through November in the Quebec wilderness, where her father, an entomologist, did research for the government. She was 11 years old before she completed a full year of school. When she was about six, she began to write morality plays, comic books, poems, and a novel about an ant that she never finished. While in high school, she wrote poetry and thought about a career in home economics. But, influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, at 16, she committed herself to a writing career. She said, "It was suddenly the only thing I wanted to do."

Atwood studied English at the University of Toronto. She reviewed books and wrote articles for the college literary magazine. Her first volume of poetry, Double Persephone, was published in 1961, the year she graduated. She went to Radcliffe and then Harvard, where she studied Victorian literature and worked as a waitress and market researcher and wrote in her free time.

While at Harvard, Atwood realized that no one had ever published a critical study of Canadian literature. She later read all she could and wrote Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972). She claimed that Canadian literature reflects a tendency of Canadians to be both victims and survivalists. The book sparked a debate and the book sold 85,000 copies within 10 years, an impressive sales record for a critical study.

With the book's success, Atwood craved privacy and moved to a 100-acre farm in Ontario to write. She published several collections of poems, including You Are Happy (1974), along with the novel The Handmaid's Tale (1985), which was a bestseller.

Margaret Atwood said, "I read for pleasure and that is the moment I learn the most."

And: "In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."

4. One of my favorite words today was the word-of-the-day on


PRONUNCIATION: (dee-fen-uh-STRAY-shuhn)

MEANING: noun: Throwing someone or something out of a window.

ETYMOLOGY: From Latin de- (out of) + fenestra (window). Earliest documented use: 1620.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

November 17, 2016

Desultory Doggerel

A clank! of rinse--a clunk! of spin.
I realize: Dyer straits we're in!

The laundry room just bows its head:
It knows the washer now is dead.

  • Writer's Almanac today features the "All the world's a stage" speech from Shakespeare's As You Like It, a speech delivered by dark Jaques, who is the only one who does not join in the multiple marriage celebrations at the end of the play. Off he goes into the lonely darkness; he can't stand happiness. (Link to Writer's Almanac.)
  • This morning, the New York Times announced that Colson Whitehead has won this year's National Book Award for Fiction for his novel The Underground Railroad, which I recently read and enjoyed. Link to NYT story.
  • The NYT also announced that Bob Dylan will not go to Sweden to accept his Nobel Prize. Link to NYT story. He's left them blowin' in the wind.
  • This afternoon I finished Whitehead's Zone One, his 2011 novel about a zombie apocalypse. Will blog about it on DawnReader on Sunday.
  • A couple of newspaper cartoons I liked today ...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

November 16, 2016

  • Last evening, my wife (Joyce) and I were talking about family sayings--and one she recalled from her mother was the expression smart cookie. We agreed that that seemed odd, a cookie's having no gray matter (unless it has food coloring--no fair!). So I checked it out. The Oxford English Dictionary has the earliest listing from 1939.
    • b. Usu. with modifying adjective expressing some positive personal quality: a person. Esp. in smart cookie, tough cookie.
      1928   Chicago Tribune 7 Oct. (Comics) 2   What a swell bunch of cookies you turned out to be.
      1939   Oakland (Calif.) Tribune 4 June a9/1   We're a couple of smart cookies, hey?
      1942   Amer. Mercury Oct. 436/1   Just about the toughest cookie ever born.
      1953   W. R. Burnett Vanity Row xvi. 110   He's a real tough cookie and you know it.
      1981   W. Gleason Perils of Lulu ii. 40   You're one smart cookie. That deserves a kiss.
      2009   Mirror (Nexis) 24 Mar. 3   [She] is a smart cookie and..won't rush into making any rash decisions.
  • I've been reading the novels of Carl Hiaasen since I first stumbled across them, oh, a decade or more. Reading, though, is a bit too mild of a term. Swallowing whole? But this most recent one, Razor Girl (2016), I have been reading more slowly, enjoying immensely. Hiaasen, as many know, writes about the wackiness of south Florida, and this is another wacky example of the wackiness. Last night I laughed aloud at this opening of Chapter Twenty. (Nineteen ends as sex is commencing between one couple; Twenty begins with the conclusion of sex between another couple, and these two people we do not like,)
    • "The sex had lasted a long time. / Forty-three minutes, according to Deb's Fitbit. Forty-three minutes and 167 calories" (229).
  • The New York Times reports today that post-truth is the word-of-the-year from the Oxford dictionaries. (Link to story.)
  • Overheard in the coffee shop this morning; climate change is a hoax; the Electoral College is the greatest invention since the wheel--or, maybe, the stone axe.
  • Finally--I memorized poem/literary passage #190 last week, an Emily Dickinson poem that has some family history. Mom used the line route of evanescence in a booklet about poetry that she wrote for her high school students at James A. Garfield High School; Garrettsville, Ohio. So ... in Mom's honor ... a poem about a hummingbird ...
A Route of Evanescence

A Route of Evanescence,
With a revolving Wheel –
A Resonance of Emerald
A Rush of Cochineal –
And every Blossom on the Bush
Adjusts it’s tumbled Head –
The Mail from Tunis – probably,
An easy Morning’s Ride –

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November 15, 2016

  • This quotation, as you can see, appeared on my book-nerd calendar recently, but web-searching has revealed that Orwell never wrote this. You can Google it yourself: Lots of sites reproduce it; people who have looked for it have not found it in his writings. Doesn't really sound like him, does it?
  • This morning, the New York Times reviewed Michael Chabon's recent novel, Moonglow. (Link to review.) I've read lots of Chabon, first becoming aware of him, I think, when I saw the film Wonder Boys (2000) based on his 1995 novel with the same title. Great film with Michael Douglas as a burnt-out teacher of writing and Tobey Maguire as a talented student. Lots of other good performances, too. (Link to IMDB info.; link to trailer.)  Anyway, I'm looking forward to Moonglow (I've ordered it--not yet arrived)--though I did not particularly like his previous novel, Telegraph Avenue (2012). I've not read all of his novels--but most ...

  • Love this word ... gotta use it soon!