Paradoxes Are Serious Fun

If you search on the library’s website for author Mardy Grothe, you’ll find several books on various wordplay topics, including metaphors, aphorisms, and -ifisms.  Oxymoronica (428GRO) is one of the most rewarding.  A dictionary definition: “Ox-y-mor-on-i-ca (OK-se-mor-ON-uh-ca) noun, plural: Any variety of tantalizing, self-contradictory statements or observations that on the surface appear false or illogical, but at a deeper level are true, often profoundly true.”  Examples?  “Common sense is not so common.” – [Voltaire].  “The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.” – Ursula K. Le Guin. “I’m as pure as the driven slush.” – [Tallulah Bankhead}. P.G. Wodehouse wrote the following oxymoronic dedication to his 1926 book, Heart of a Goof:  “To my daughter Leonora without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.”

One of the very best places to lose yourself on-line is Futilitycloset.com.  The owner/operator of this information trove is Gregg Ross, who describes it as a database of more than 10,000 items. . .“entertaining curiosities in history, literature, language, art, philosophy, and mathematics, designed to help you waste time as enjoyably as possible.”  Here following are two example anecdotes—-paraphrased so I don’t get into trouble over copyright!

  1. During his Oxford University days, Oscar Wilde was assigned a bit of the New Testament to orally translate from Greek to English. Midway, the examiner, satisfied, called a halt.  Wilde is purported to have said, “Oh, do let me go on.  I want to see how it ends.”  
  2. Poet Robert Lowell spent a few days in jail for refusing to register for the draft during World War II.  He shared a cell, or one within talking distance, with Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, a member of the Mob.  Lepke introduced himself as being in for killing somebody. He wanted to know what Lowell’s crime was.  “I’m in for refusing to kill.”  (The more you think about it, the more it makes you think.)

And from our old friend Anonymous comes this exhortation:  “TV. If kids are entertained by two letters, imagine the fun they’ll have with twenty-six.  Open your child’s imagination.  Open a book.”

*Written by Carol Cail. Read more from Carol at carolcail.com

Word Play or Work?

First, a rather scary reminder from Henry David Thoreau.  “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

The Paris Metro inspires poetry

Here’s a game you probably haven’t played, since a city rail transit service is the main requirement. It’s “Metro Poems,” invented by Jacques Jouet, who frequented the Paris Metro in the mid-1990s. The rules are easy but sound difficult to follow. You board the train, and as soon as it leaves the station, you mentally compose the first line of a poem.  When the train stops at the second station, you write the line down.  You think of a second line to the poem while the train travels to the third station. When the train stops, you write the second line down. And so on from stop to stop. You aren’t allowed to write anything while the train is moving.  You aren’t allowed to think of another line while the train is stopped.  When you reach your destination station and disembark, you write the last line on the platform. If you take the Paris Metro, you’ll have to think fast, because the average run between two stations is a minute and a half.

If you aren’t a versifier, here’s another way to entertain yourself when there’s nothing better to do. Some readers viewing Jack Dann’s 1984 science fiction novel, The Man Who Melted, noticed the wording of the cover seemed to run together thus: The Man Who Melted Jack Dunn.  This led folks to look for other amusing amalgamations of titles and authors.  For example: The Joy of Cooking Irma S. Rombauer,  Contact Carl Sagan, and Flush Virginia Wolf. I found one on my bookshelf which rather perturbs me—Death Kindly Stopped Carol Cail.
Mark Twain could always be relied on to render a wise and succinct quote.  Here’s one:  “The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail.  The trouble with most fictions is that you want them all to land in hell together, as quickly as possible.”

May all the books you borrow or buy turn out to be heavenly.

*Written by Carol Cail. Read more from Carol at carolcail.com

Dangerous Books, Delightful Books

The next time you’re browsing between bookshelves in the library, consider this.  In 1968, at Northwestern University, an empty section of wood shelving fell against other shelves that were full of books in a domino effect that dumped 264,000 books, ruining more than 8,000 of them. The avalanche shattered solid oak chairs and flattened metal footstools.  No one was injured.  However, deaths have been reported in similar catastrophes.  Earthquakes can be especially destructive to libraries. The information for this account came from a Longmont Library book appropriately called The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders (027.009KEL).  The author is Stuart Kells, a book historian. When looking for this and other reading material, you may wish to leave your bike helmet on.

You may not recognize the name, Todd H. Bol (1956—2018), but you’ve no doubt heard about what he did.  This was the remarkable man who, to honor his late mother, erected a wooden doll house stocked with books in his yard for his neighbors and strangers to use as a library—the Little Free Library.  The idea was simple—take books, donate books—and it caught on fast.  Currently there are more than 75,000 Little Free Libraries around the world, and probably more that the organization he founded doesn’t know about. Longmont has at least one—you can locate it on the map at littlefreelibrary.org. Also on that website is information about how to set up your own book-sharing station.  P.S. The Longmont Library has three of our own Little Free Libraries in our community — located at Affolter Park, Rothrock Dell Park and Kanemoto Park. Check ’em out!

How time gallops by. Award-winning writer for children and teens Beverly Cleary is now 102, going on 103. Her advice to readers is, “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it yourself.”  If you do aspire to write, keep in mind what Gilbert K. Chesterton said: “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”  And Mark Twain observed, “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”  Obviously that didn’t apply to War and Peace.   

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com

Treasure in Your Attic?

“I had an old typewriter and a big idea.”  J.K. Rowling

When Norm and I operated Daily Office Supply on Main Street (1978 to 2002), customers would frequently gift us with manual typewriters, some of which still worked.  We would express thanks and carry them to the basement to gather dust. A few years ago, novelist Cormac McCarthy’s manual Olivetti was purchased at a Christie’s auction for $245,500. I’m guessing (hoping) we didn’t leave anything that valuable moldering at Daily. But lately, people are developing a nostalgia for the sound, sight, smell, and touch of a good, old Smith Corona, Remington Rand, or Olympia.  “The steady resurgence of typewriter love among writers,” an article in The Authors Guild Bulletin observes, “may be a reaction to how tech-mad the world has become.  Like yoga, meditation or contemplative chewing, typewriters slow you down and help you focus.”  When you’re using a computer, it’s all too easy to jump from a writing project to an Internet browser. And consider the security and privacy of a typewriter compared to a computer. If you are interested in regressing to years B.C. (Before Computers), check out The Typewriter Revolution: a Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century by Richard Polt (681.62POL).

“All fiction is largely autobiographical and much of autobiography is, of course, fiction.”  P.D. James

If you’re a Gorey fan, you should take a look at Mark Dery’s new biography of him, Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey (700.92GoreyDER). Being such a private man, Gorey would have hated this thorough and thoroughly entertaining tome. It follows him from babyhood to his death, with footnotes and an impressive bibliography. You’ll no doubt need to renew the book at least once to take it all in. I was afraid to skip, afraid I’d miss something. If you aren’t familiar with Gorey’s wonderful art and weird words, search for Amphigorey in the library catalog. Maybe don’t, if you’re averse to subjects macabre. 

“Books. Cats. Life is Good.”  Edward Gorey

Thanks for reading!  Be safe and well in 2019.

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com

A Goofy Invention, Some Stupid Rules and a Popular Library Book

You remember Get Smart’s joke gadget, the Cone of Silence? Have you heard of a real privacy invention called the Isolator Helmet, meant to give a writer peace and quiet for working? You can buy it on-line for about $35,000. An amusing essay in the August 20th Publishers Weekly sent me in search of information about Hugo Gernsback, inventor, writer, editor, publisher, and the fellow for whom the science fiction award Hugo is named. He founded the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926, and was known for questionable business practices; his writers received extremely low fees and sometimes none at all. He owned 80 patented inventions at his death in 1967, including the aforementioned helmet. It resembles a diver’s helmet, with a box at the mouth for smoking, and an oxygen tank which costs extra.  Somehow those two features don’t seem compatible. 
 
Speaking of ridiculous. . . . Can you fathom why prisons in North Carolina won’t allow inmates to read The American Heritage Dictionary or The Dog Encyclopedia?  Book censorship is common in U.S. prisons, and the outlawed titles are sometimes hard to explain. The Authors Guild reports that Books Through Bars, an organization which provides books to prison inmates, had trouble in 2017 with the New York State Department of Corrections denying delivery of books. Since the same policy barred care packages from loved ones, much public outrage led to Governor Andrew Cuomo rescinding the ruling. In Texas, 10,000 titles banned from prisons include a collection of Dave Barry’s humor, and the pop-up version of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 
 
So aren’t we fortunate to be able to walk into our lovely library and check out armloads of uncensored books?  If you don’t mind waiting in line for one with more than a hundred readers ahead of you, consider putting a hold on The Library Book by Susan Orlean. (The line is shorter for the audio, e-book, or large print version.) Ms. Orlean has written a tribute to public libraries in general, and, in particular, an account of the 1986 Los Angeles Central Library fire, the worst American library fire ever; about 400,000 books were destroyed and 700,000 more damaged. 
 
A big thank-you to book publishers everywhere!
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*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com