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Dreams and Nightmares

“The covers of this book are too far apart.”  Ambrose Bierce
 
Prolific author Isaac Asimov once described a dream he’d had.  He’d died and gone to Heaven, where he confessed to the recording angel that he didn’t belong there: “I’m an atheist.”  The angel said, “We decide who qualifies. Not you.”  Asimov pondered this for a moment and then asked, “Is there a typewriter here that I can use?”  Waking, he saw significance in the dream. Heaven was the act of writing, and he had been in Heaven for more than half a century.
 
“I conceive that the right way to write a story for boys is to write so that it will not only interest boys but strongly interest any man who has ever been a boy. That immensely enlarges the audience.”  Mark Twain
 
New York pharmaceutical manufacturer Eugene Scheifflin (1827-1906) was a big fan of Shakespeare. He also loved birds. He hit upon an epic plan to introduce to the United States every type of bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Starlings made a brief appearance in Henry IV. The king ordered a soldier never to mention his brother-in-law’s name again, causing the soldier to dream of buying a starling that would repeat the name over and over. “Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak; Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him.”  Over a two-year period, at great expense, Scheifflin imported 100 starlings to New York.  Today there are almost as many European starlings in North America as there are people.  Starlings are estimated to cause at least $800 million in crop damage in the United States every year, bring havoc to air traffic, and carry dozens of diseases deadly to livestock and humans. Ironically, four hundred years ago Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth warned,“What’s done cannot be undone.”
 
“The older I get, the more acutely I am aware that the vast majority of what is written remains unread.”  Jhumpa Lahiri
 
Have a happy June filled with quiet moments for reading whatever you want. 
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*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in June 2018

 

Words and Numbers

Now here’s something you don’t see every day: Dictionary Stories. That’s the title of an intriguing little collection of “short fictions and other findings.” The author, Jez Burrows, was looking up “study” in a  New Oxford American Dictionary when he noticed a curiously melodramatic example sentence following the definition: “He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery.” Those few words sparked a unique idea. Dictionary example sentences (demonstrating usage of the word in a sentence) could be culled and combined into minuscule stories. The New York Times describes it as “sentences stolen from dictionaries and pasted together into tiny, delightful narratives.” Longmont Library doesn’t have this unusual book but will bring it over from Boulder if you ask nicely.

Here’s something else about dictionaries. They add new words every year. In 2018, Merriam Webster is adding 850 words and definitions, including “wordie,” which is believed to have been first used in 1982, and means what you think it means — a lover of words. Some of the new words have been coined by Neil deGrasse Tyson. You know, the man from Cosmos. He doesn’t like the word “nonfiction.” He advocates redefining “faction” to mean the opposite of “fiction,” because “nonfiction” is a negation of “fiction,” and “a word shouldn’t be referenced for what it is not.” Search his name at the Library’s web site; you’ll be amazed at how many faction books he’s written. His goal is “perfect sentence[s]” which result in “science page-turners.”

According to a recent government survey (if you can believe anything that comes from the nation’s capitol anymore), 9.4% of us between the ages of 15 and 24 read for pleasure or self-fulfillment on a typical day. The percentage increases gradually for ages 25 through 64, and then makes a big hop to 38.3% for folks 65 and older. That makes sense — we of the senior generation have more leisure hours for reading. Aging isn’t all bad!

May your May bring good books and time to read them.

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in May 2018

Several Writers and a Turtle

Sue Grafton, author of the alphabet series which began with A is for Alibi and concluded with Y is for Yesterday died in December. Adding poignancy to her passing was her missing by one letter the publication of all twenty-six mystery novels. Z is for Zero will not be finished by anyone else, says her daughter Jamie Clark. Sue was adamant that her detective , Kinsey Millhone, never be sold to movies or TV, and no ghost writer would write novels about her. Good for Sue. Think of all the authors who are no longer with us, but who are still “writing” bestsellers. For instance, Margaret Truman has a new book out, Allied in Danger.

Meanwhile, Janet Evanovich, who is alive and counting, published novel number twenty-two in her series in October (Tricky Twenty-Two). Considering the number of numbers there are, we can predict she has her work cut out for her.

And meanwhile again, prolific mystery author Lawrence Block, who edited the new fiction anthology In Sunlight or in Shadow, seems on the verge of retirement. In the book’s introduction, he says, “I’ve been [writing fiction] for 60 years. And I’ve been getting the message lately that it may be something I can’t do anymore.” In addition to novels about burglars, private eyes, and hit men, Block wrote several books about writing, many short stories, and TV and movie scripts. So although we’re sorry he needs to retire, he’s entitled.

Books by all of the aforementioned authors (even Margaret Truman) are in good supply at your friendly Longmont Library.

Okay, here’s where the turtle comes in. The first American cookbook was published in Connecticut in 1796. The author was Amelia Simmons. It contained some strange recipes, such as pan-cooked eel, and a turtle dish that instructed, “About 9 o’clock hang up your turtle by the hind fins, cut [off] the head and save the blood.” No pictures were included. Thank goodness. No, this classic is not in the Longmont Library collection, but a book about this book is United Tastes.

T.S. Eliot was right. April is the cruelest month. Especially the 15th.

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in April 2018

Library of Congress, The President is Missing and Robert Benchley

“The Library of Congress is the greatest library in the world. If you ever get down about American culture, [remember that] there are more public libraries in this country than there are Starbucks.” David McCullough

Here’s a fun anthology if you like fantasy: Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries and Lore. Available at the inimitable Longmont Library, this book includes such authors as Kage Baker, Elizabeth Bear, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and other Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy award winners. Be thankful our library is nothing like the ones depicted herein.

“My resolution was to read more so I put the subtitles on my TV.” Unknown

You’ve noticed that James Patterson likes to co-author novels with other suspense writers. In June, Knopf/Doubleday will publish The President is Missing, and Patterson’s co-author is none other than Bill Clinton. Also, as if he weren’t busy enough, Patterson wants to teach you how to write a mystery. For $90, you can take an online class involving videos, reading material, exercises, and critiques. If you visit masterclass.com I’m pretty sure no salesman will call.

“[Creative writing] really isn’t like any other kind of work, for it must come from a great emotional upheaval of the soul of the writer himself; and if that emotional upheaval is not present, it must come from the works of any other writers which happen to be handy and easily imitated.” So said humorist Robert Benchley. For a good time, search for him in the library catalog. He also claimed he needed to actually live the lives of his characters, which took considerable time in Cannes, Nice, gambling, drinking. “It was not until I decided to tell stories about old men who just sit in their rooms and shell walnuts that I ever got around to doing any work.”

“Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?” Henry Ward Beecher.

“How about the public library?” CC

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in March 2018

An International Tour: The South Seas, Korea, Arabia and Tennessee

Did you hear about the discovery of Blackbeard the Pirate’s sunken flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, off the North Carolina Coast? Incredibly, fragments of paper with still legible words were found wedged inside a breech-loading cannon in the warm waters. After much research, the fragments were determined to be from a 1712 first edition of A Voyage to the South Seas and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711, by Captain Edward Cooke. Sorry — you won’t find a copy of it in the Longmont Library.

You know the saying that something is “lost in translation”? The January 15th issue of the New Yorker ponders how close to the original a literary translator should hold. “Nabokov, who was fluent in three languages and wrote in two of them, believed that ‘the clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase.'” The Korean media has criticized Deborah Smith, who translated author Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian, for embellishing Kang’s spare style with adverbs and other words not in the original. Nevertheless, the novel won the Man Booker International Prize for both Kang and Smith. Our fine library *does* have two copies of this book.

Ever wonder why a periodical is called a magazine? It’s because numerous articles are “stored” therein. The Arabic word for storehouse is “makhzan,” and was originally applied to a place used by the army for storing arms. In 1731, the Gentleman’s Magazine appeared, the first to use the term.

“If you don’t read books you only live one life…. If you read books you live a thousand lives.” So say Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos, creators of the comic strip Baldo. And writers, especially fiction writers, experience similar benefits as they work on stories. Tennessee Williams once remarked, “I always have a roomful of company.” David Samuels puts it this way: “Reading [and writing] requires a loner’s temperament, a high tolerance for silence, and an unhealthy preference for the company of people who are imaginary or dead.”

Doesn’t reading about reading make you want to read?

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in February 2018