“...really really bad words...”

Nick Hornby, writing (in 2006) about English footballer Wayne Rooney:

In a game against Arsenal last season, Rooney was estimated to have told the referee to fuck off more than twenty times in sixty seconds. As “foul and abusive language” is supposed to be a yellow-card offense, one can only presume that there are some really really bad words, words worse than the f-word and the c-word, that footballers know and we don’t.

January 15, 2018 in Books, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)


“Honesty is the best policy. I know. I’ve tried it both ways.” - Richard W. Sears, founder of Sears, Roebuck and Company (quoted in City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, by Donald L. Miller)

January 14, 2018 in Books, Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

”...carrying their fate over their shoulder like a sling bag...”

Jean-Paul Sartre, on France during the Nazi occupation:

Everybody was going about their day like sleepwalkers, carrying their fate over their shoulder like a sling bag, toothbrush and soap in one’s pocket, just in case of an arrest. We all lived in transit, between two round-­ups, two hostage-­takings, and two misunderstandings.

Good to see that the French publisher Gallimard is reconsidering its earlier decision to publish Celine’s pre-WWII anti-Semitic rants. There’s already too much racism in our “modern” world. Despite the publisher’s claims of the tracts’ literary merit, I’ve read elsewhere that the writing, beyond being morally abhorrent, isn’t even particularly good. 

January 12, 2018 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)


“A fluent stream of words awakens suspicion within me. I prefer stuttering for in stuttering I hear the friction and the disquiet, the effort to purge impurities from the words, the desire to offer something from inside you. Smooth, fluent sentences leave me with a feeling of uncleanness, of order that hides emptiness.” - Aharon Appelfeld

January 9, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...the soberest and the most clear-headed..."

Frederick Law Olmsted, writing about the aftermath of the Chicago Fire, in the November 9, 1871 edition of The Nation:

For a time men were unreasonably cheerful and hopeful; now, this stage appears to have passed. In its place there is sternness; but so narrow is the division between this and another mood, that in the midst of a sentence a change of quality in the voice occurs, and you see that eyes have moistened. I had partly expected to find a feverish, reckless spirit, and among the less disciplined classes an unusual current toward turbulence, lawlessness and artificial jollity, such as held in San Francisco for a long time after there - such as often seizes seamen after a wreck. On the contrary, Chicago is the soberest and the most clear-headed city I ever saw. I have observed but two men the worse for liquor; I have not once been asked for an alms, nor have I heard a hand-organ. The clearing of the wreck goes ahead in a driving but steady, well-ordered way.

Quite the contrast to Chicago's reputation, both then and now, as a den of ruthless, lawless incorrigibles. I'm puzzled, though, over the implication that the playing of a hand-organ is as immoral as drunkenness or begging. It must be some dated reference I'm just not catching.

January 7, 2018 in Books, Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Headmasters, like bishops, suffer from an occupational disability: it is very seldom that people venture to criticize their literary style. The headmaster style is usually an uneasy mixture of semi-ecclesiastical oratory, Government Department English, and colloquialisms intended to disarm the natural hostility of schoolboys." - Robert Graves

January 4, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...an enchanted home of Caleb's furnishing..."

In Charles Dickens' The Cricket on the Hearth, the toymaker and widow Caleb Plummer lives with his blind daughter in a hovel owned by his boss, the cold and imperious toy merchant Tackleton.

I have said that Caleb and his poor Blind Daughter lived here. I should have said that Caleb lived here, and his poor Blind Daughter somewhere else — in an enchanted home of Caleb’s furnishing, where scarcity and shabbiness were not, and trouble never entered. Caleb was no sorcerer, but in the only magic art that still remains to us, the magic of devoted, deathless love, Nature had been the mistress of his study; and from her teaching, all the wonder came.

The Blind Girl never knew that ceilings were discoloured, walls blotched and bare of plaster here and there, high crevices unstopped and widening every day, beams mouldering and tending downward. The Blind Girl never knew that iron was rusting, wood rotting, paper peeling off; the size, and shape, and true proportion of the dwelling, withering away. The Blind Girl never knew that ugly shapes of delft and earthenware were on the board; that sorrow and faintheartedness were in the house; that Caleb’s scanty hairs were turning greyer and more grey, before her sightless face. The Blind Girl never knew they had a master, cold, exacting, and uninterested — never knew that Tackleton was Tackleton in short; but lived in the belief of an eccentric humourist who loved to have his jest with them, and who, while he was the Guardian Angel of their lives, disdained to hear one word of thankfulness.

And all was Caleb’s doing; all the doing of her simple father!

I was really moved by this passage, knowing as a father how much you want to shield your kids from all of the bad things in the world - although, ultimately, they will have to face that world on their own, and have to know it as it really is. Caleb finally learns this lesson.

The novella is a sweet, heartwarming story, which is widely characterized as a Christmas tale. This publisher packaged it with A Christmas Carol and The Chimes, although the latter is set at New Years and The Cricket on the Hearth is set during the end of January, and I don't believe either of the lesser-known stories even mentioned Christmas. And it's not just this publisher's marketing angle - I've seen several references elsewhere to these being Christmas stories. Maybe that's how the books have been pitched all along.

January 1, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Books given, books received

As always, I give almost nothing but books as Christmas gifts to my family (other than Julie and Maddie, for whom I use a bit more imagination). And I receive a few in return. This year, the given are my usual mix of old and new, read and unread-but-looked-interesting. The received are both intriguing - I’m especially curious to see whether Hanks can really write, or if the book is a vanity project that his publisher thought they could make a quick buck from.

C.D. Rose: The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure
Kate Chopin: The Awakening
The U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality
Tarjei Vesaas: The Birds
Debra A. Shattuck: Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers
Giano Cromley: The Last Good Halloween
Knut Hamsun: Pan
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
Neal Bascomb: The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb
Stephen Greenblatt: The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve
Elena Passarello: Animals Strike Curious Poses
Alexander Solzhenitsyn: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Muriel Spark: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Tom Hanks: Uncommon Type: Some Stories
Joshua Hammer: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts

December 30, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“...the quintessence of humanism is to have conversations. There is a deep connection between communication and ‘communio,’ community. Sitting together, eating together, drinking together, talking together. When people stop talking to each other, then you get into war.” - Rob Riemen

December 29, 2017 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

This is just so wrong.

I earned more money from the five tossed-off microfictions that I sold to Le Meridien Hotels in 2006 than Poe earned (even after adjusting for inflation) for “The Tell-Tale Heart”, one of the greatest short stories ever written.

December 27, 2017 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)