Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Tempus fugit, darn it

The last day of the month. Now that it's almost over, I can't believe I thought I had to "get through" January. It occurred to me yesterday that I have rarely in my life wanted time to pass quickly, or wanted to do anything to speed the passing of the days. In fact the days usually seem so rich and full that I want time to move more slowly. But here I seem to have willed away an entire month. And I am in a hurry for what? I know not.

The choice from The Reader's Encyclopedia, today, is necessarily short. Only half of one page for the Xs. I will note just one, here:

Xantippe. Wife of the philosopher Socrates. Her bad temper shown toward her husband has rendered her name proverbial for a conjugal scold.

Be she as foul as was Florentius' love,
As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewd
As Socrates' Xanthippe, or a worse,
She moves me not.

- Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew, i.2. (p.1230)

The entries for Xanthus (one of Achilles' horses) and Xerxes are good, too. As the end draws near I find I don't want to finish the book. I do see at the very end there's a nice errata section - that could add another day to my reading. Hm.

Speaking of reading (as if I ever do anything else), one more note from Gauguin's Journals:

"I regard the historians as very honest fellows, but how embarrassed they must be when they have to pick and choose out of all that heap. For my part, it seems to me if I consulted history I should do one stupid thing after another." (p.179)

Van Wyck Brooks must have loved that, when he came across it, while translating. Another book note: my friend Vicky brought me the third Anne Truitt book yesterday, after reading that I needed (wanted) a copy - she had just priced one to put out on her shelves. And my car is in the shop. And she was coming to Bangor anyway so she dropped it off. I read over half of it last night. John La Farge will have to wait a litte longer for my attention. Thanks, Vicky!

In other news, good news, BIG NEWS, my lovely and talented sister Kate just started a blog. If anyone wants to shimmy on over there and keep her company, please do so. She could use a few friendly and welcoming comments - her very first blog post is up right now. Hint hint...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Artists' memoirs

After finishing Van Gogh's Letters, I cast around for another art book to read and lit upon a little volume called The Intimate Journals of Paul Gauguin - translated by Van Wyck Brooks - a volume in the lovely little Traveller's Library series (Heinemann 1931) - and tore through it last night in two hours. Gauguin's refrain throughout is "This is not a book." It's a collection of memories, thoughts about life, and odd shocking stories. Early on Gauguin recounts his own version of living with Van Gogh in Arles, including the now-infamous ear incident and its aftermath. Later in the book, he tells a story called "The Pink Shrimps" about Van Gogh selling a small painting of a plate of pink shrimps to what is essentially an art pawn shop for one coin, then immediately giving his coin away to a streetwalker outside who asks for his help. Gauguin then speculates that he himself will live to see the day when he walks into an auction room and sees "The Pink Shrimps" sell for hundreds of francs. Well. Little did he know. I'm sick of artists having to struggle for money to make their art, whatever it is. When the great things remembered about a society are always its arts (painterly, literary, musically, otherwise). Made by individual artists. But, off the soapbox.

Gauguin didn't know what the answer was to the plight of the starving artist. He wrote,

"If I believed that speeches were of any use in these matters, I should give a lecture addressed to those who are not artists, telling them to 'Support the artists.'

But by what right can you say to your neighbour, 'Support me?' You must resign yourself to the fact that some will be rich and some poor. For more than thirty years I have been watching the efforts of all sorts of groups and societies and I have never seen anything that counted but individual effort." (p.204)

He also said, "Do not attempt to read Edgar Poe except in some very reassuring spot." (p.105) Which made me laugh out loud. Overall the book is quite shocking for its time and I almost can't believe that it was even published in a trade edition at all. Van Wyck Brooks must have had quite a time translating it. The ethos of the book can be summed up thusly: "Without being a buffoon, one ought to be able to make a few observations." (p.86)

I didn't think much of Gauguin when I studied art history way back when, but then several years ago I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when a huge Gauguin show was there. I almost didn't buy the extra ticket to the show, thinking Oh, he's ok, but maybe I'll go out to lunch instead... but I bought the ticket and saw the show, and afterward, thought GAUGUIN! Genius, GENIUS! And I still think that. I remember being disgusted with the postcards in the gift shop afterwards, because not one matched his colors, which were extraordinary. More art memoirs: this morning I picked up John La Farge's memoir again, which I started last year and never finished, An American Artist in the South Seas. Book report to follow, sometime soon. Meanwhile, The Reader's Encyclopedia, a few items from the Ws:

Walking Stewart. The nickname of John Stewart (d. 1822), an English traveler, who traveled on foot through Hindustan, Persia, Nubia, Abyssinia, the Arabian Desert, Europe, and the United States. He is described as

"a most interesting man, ... eloquent in conversation, comtemplative ... and crazy beyond all reach of helebore, ... yet sublime and divinely benignant in his visionariness. This man, as a pedestrian traveler, had seen more of the earth's surface ... than any man before or since." - De Quincey, (p.1183) (But did he write any memoirs...??)

Wardour Street English. A phrase coined in 1888 in disapprobation of a translation of the Odyssey by William Morris, with particular reference to the affected use of archaic words and phrases. Wardour Street was known for its pseudo-antique furniture. (pp.1187-1188)

Water-Babies, The, A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby. A fantasy (1863) by Charles Kingsley, concerning a small chimney-sweep named Tom who falls into the river. (p.1192) (Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid and two characters in this long, very odd, and deeply wonderful Victorian children's tale.)

Widener, Harry Elkins (1885-1912). American book collector, lost on Titanic. Widener Memorial Library, opened June 1915 at Harvard, was given by his mother. (p.1208)

Widsith. One of the oldest English poems (seventh century?) in the Exeter Book. It concerns a wandering minstrel and his travels. (p.1209) (Another medieval poem to track down. Perhaps I should have pursued a life in academia... medieval studies... PhD... No.)

Winterich, John Tracy (1891-). American bibliophile who, during World War I, was on the staff of Stars and Stripes and received the Purple Heart Medal. After the war he was for fifteen years managing editor of the American Legion Monthly, joined PM in 1940, worked for the Bureau of Public Relations, and became managing editor of The Saturday Review of Literature. He is an authority on first editions and book collecting. Twenty-Three Books (1939); Another Day, Another Dollar (autobiographical; 1947), etc. (pp.1217-1218) (His book A Primer of Book Collecting is a classic. I've never read his memoir - now I want to.)

Wise, Thomas James (1859-1937). English bibliographer who also indulged himself in literary forgery. Cf. Wilfred Partington, Forging Ahead: The True Story of the Upward Progress of Thomas James Wise (1939). (p.1219) (And a must-read, about Wise, the sublimely restrained book An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets (1934) by John Carter and Graham Pollard, who first broke open this literary scandal. More on Wise and his forgeries, which quickly became collectible themselves, here.)

Worde, Wynkyn de. Real name Jan van Wynkyn (d. 1534?). English printer and stationer, born in Alsace and early in his career an apprentice to William Caxton, He published a number of well-known books of the time, including the fourth edition (1498) of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. (p.1225) (I've always loved Wynkyn de Worde's printer's device.)

Longer entries to seek out on some quiet afternoon: The Waste Land, Noah Webster, Orson Welles, white, the many many many fascinating Williamses, wonder, the Nine Worthies (there were two sets of them - who were they, what did they do?), and the Woolfs. Only a few pages left. Whatever shall I attempt next? Learning Latin, perhaps? My eyes aren't up to the compact OED behind me, even with the magnifying glass. Back to the regular day-to-day? We've got February looming and I need a vacation. From myself. Is that possible?

Monday, January 29, 2007


Rock star crushes continued

Bowie, Bowie, Bowie. The last post prompted several Bowie-related emails; one friend-in-books tells me about David Bowie coming into the Legendary Bookshop he worked at. Bodyguards with him. He bought a lot of books. The staff followed him around discreetly. Thanks for sharing. Thanks a lot. Really.

Re aging rock stars - we're all getting older together, aren't we? It actually makes me very happy to see people continuing to do their thing, whatever it is, at whatever age they happen to be. That pbs special last winter - I thought, Can I stand to watch it, will it make me feel old(er), seeing him old(er)? I gave in and was so glad, the show was incredible, and he still had every little thing he ever had way back when, but amplified, MORE, better. The look in his eye.

Enough, enough. I wish I had sixty-five extra bucks so I could join Bowienet and read his online journal, but I don't, so I can't. Rent day looms. Onward through The Reader's Encyclopedia:

vae victis! A Latin phrase meaning "woe to the vanquished!" It is ascribed to the Gaul Brennus, who conquered Rome in 390 B.C. (p.1161)

variorum. An edition with notes by different persons. A good example is the Variorum Shakespeare (1871-1930) edited originally by Horace Howard Furness. (p.1166)

Vedder, Elihu (1836-1923). American painter and illustrator. His best murals are in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. His best illustrations were done for an edition of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. (p.1168) (I mention this because I love a few paintings of his - often romantic symbolist works - one in particular in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts - but also because when I was in college I looked at a limited edition copy of his Rubáiyát, a large folio of original prints, and it was the first time I realized what the term rare book physically meant. The edition was stunning, and I sat there leafing through it, thinking, This is a book? What a splendid book! while a special collections librarian hovered over my shoulder. I still think about that fine edition, though I now own the regular trade edition.)

Vox Clamantis. A long poem in Latin, partly in allegory, by John Gower, written about 1382, dealing mainly with the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. The rebellious peasants are presented in terms of animals and monsters, including asses, oxen, dogs, and swine, who rise against the nobles, capture London, and are finally put down. This is all told vividly as a dream experienced by the poet; the remainder of the poem is concerned with a discussion of the evils and corruptions of society at the time, in which the faults and duties of the knights, the peasants, the craftsmen and merchants, the lawyers, and finally the King himself, are considered in turn. (p.1180) (Sounds like Animal Farm, in a way. Also sounds like times haven't changed much. Another interesting book to read from the Middle Ages!)

A few long entries of note, also: Venus, Paul Verlaine, and Voltaire. I am reaching the end of this book. I realize I know nothing, NOTHING.

In honor of the V entries, I must mention that I spent much of the weekend reading The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh (Penguin 1997). In a word, devastating. Devastating to finish, knowing what is coming when the writer of the letters of course does not. Near the end of his life: "I cannot help it that my pictures do not sell." (p.419) Jesus. I'm trying to get hold of a copy of Delacroix's Journal next - one of Van Gogh's favorite books. And Anne Truitt's third and last book. And pay the rent. Did I mention that already? Anyway, I've got to go. The mailman just came, bringing another package of booksellers' tickets from Don in California. This means the rest of my day is shot. This, however, is not a complaint! Far from it!

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Dribs and drabs

Overheard this week at Best Buy, as I was leaving with my tiny technological purchase: two young clerks were chatting by the exit and one said to the other, with world-weary cynicism, "I used to read books, back in the day... can you believe it?" She looked about twenty years old. Back in the day. Holy mackerel. Would back in the day be when the first Harry Potter book came out?

Unrelated but interesting, I think: I bought a fine hardcover first edition of John Banville's The Sea at the library sale last week, and when I dusted it and put a mylar cover on the jacket, a piece of paper fell out. The paper has a short list of words and phrases on it, which include "ulnar styloid" and "flocculent" - both of which irked me immensely when I read this book several months back. I also made a list of suspect words as I read, many of which I noted on this blog. Blob. I went on to finish the book, however, while the previous owner of this copy seems to have thrown the book aside in petulant disgust after reading "flocculent" (that's around where the paper marker was, quite early on in the text) and then even went so far as to give the book away to the friends of the library sale. A hardcover first edition. Last year's Booker winner.

Speaking of back in the day, I heard a bit on public radio this week about David Bowie, and the announcer mentioned that he turned sixty this month. My heart flopped around in my chest for a minute - Bowie was my very first rock star crush when I was in high school, and my admiration for him only grew after I read in an old tour booklet of his that he never goes anywhere without a steamer trunk full of his favorite books (which drives his roadies crazy, but he will not go on tour without his necessary and essential books!). A small library here in Maine sends out letters to Known People every year asking what they've been reading, and Bowie's written back. Good book selection. David Bowie. Sixty years old. I saw his public television special last year, and he looked and sounded as amazing as ever. I find I can still swoon. Rock on, David.

One more miscellaneous note: an index card fell out of another book from last weekend, with handwriting on it reading "Brooks / "Mortality may be that against which all discourse defines itself, as protest or as attempted recovery and preservation of the human spirit, but it puts a stark biological limit to human constructions." I read this statement very slowly several times before I began to discern its meaning. I'm still not sure I entirely do. These items I find in books often end up seeming like little messages from some benevolent fate or muse.

Yes, I'm still reading William Rose Benét's compendium The Reader's Encyclopedia, one letter a day, 1948 edition, and here are a few entries of note from the Us:

uncial. A style of writing used in old manuscripts from the third century B.C. to the tenth A.D. Uncials are rounded capitals. (p.1154) (Good Scrabble word.)

University Wits. Term applied to a group of brilliant young English writers of the later years of the 16th century, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who had received their training at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Among these, chiefly playwrights and pamphleteers, the latter known for their polemics and their contributions to the "rogue literature" of the day, were Robert Greene, Gabriel Harvey, Thomas Lodge, John Lyly, Christopher Marlowe, and Thomas Nash. (p.1157)

Updike, Daniel Berkeley (1860-1941). American printer who established the Merrymount Press in Boston (1893). He helped to improve typography in the United States and wrote the authoritative Printing Types (1922). (p.1158)

Interesting long entries worth seeking out for further study: Ulster, Ulysses (Joyce, who takes up an inordinate number of entries throughout this book), unicorn, and Utopia. I am in the home stretch; the end of the book is in sight. As is the end of January.

Lastly, today, a repeat customer came in and bought a stack of books. One of which was the only copy of The Reader's Encyclopedia I have out for sale. Eight bucks, slightly battered but essentially sound. He said it was just what he was looking for. I was grinning like a fool. I couldn't even tell him why, other than to say, "That's a great book. I have my own copy right here." I am a happy bookseller.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Freezing Friday

Ten below and sharp bitter sunshine this morning. Spring seems aeons away and I want to sleep until then. The chi is at a low ebb. Still, I woke myself up and got to the shop and read through the Ts this morning in The Reader's Encyclopedia, and for the first time couldn't find many entries to transcribe here. Usually they jump off the page at me, and I have to winnow them down. Today, most entries seem to be names of authors, characters, or places, and not so many are the mythic or odd general terms I enjoy so much. More likely they are there and my sluggish brain can't discern them... Still, here are a few, to amuse:

Tempest, Lady Betty. In Goldsmith's Citizen of the World, a lady with beauty, fortune, and family, whose head is turned by plays and romances. Having rejected many offers because the suitors do not come up to her ideal, she is gradually left in the cold until she becomes company only for aunts and cousins, a wallflower in ballrooms, and in society generally "a piece of fashionable lumber." (p.1105)

Thoughtless, Miss Betty. The heroine of a novel of that name by Mrs. Heywood (1697-1758), a virtuous, sensible, and amiable young lady, utterly regardless of the conventionalities of society, and wholly ignorant of etiquette. She is consequently forever involved in petty scrapes most mortifying to her sensitive mind. Even her lover is alarmed at her gaucherie, and deliberates whether such a partner for life is desirable. Mrs. Heywood's novel is said to have suggested the more important Evelina of Fanny Burney. (p.1117)

Some long entries I thoroughly enjoyed were thunder, Tottel's Miscellany and typographical signs. Agenda for the afternoon: clean off my desk, eat lunch, nap?

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Feet up, reading

My pal Ben visited the shop yesterday and caught me, hard at work. I had already shelved some books, sold some books, done some paperwork (yet a pile mysteriously remains on my desk - perhaps it's self-regenerating?), blogged, and answered emails. What's left except the TLS, I ask you. About my attire: old jeans and clunky boots are for January, when I have five customers a day, if I'm lucky. The floaty linen lawn party dresses come out in summer. From The Reader's Encyclopedia, for today:

Salmagundi. A mixture of minced veal, chicken, or turkey, anchovies or pickled herrings, and onions, all chopped together, and served with lemon-juice and oil. The word appeared in the 17th century; its origin is unknown, but fable has it that it was the name of one of the ladies attached to the suite of Marie de Medici, wife of Henry IV of France, who either invented or popularized the dish.
In 1807-1808 Washington Irving published a humorous periodical consisting of a series of satires on New York life, known as the Salmagundi Papers. J.K. Paulding contributed a few of the papers. Their avowed purpose was to "simply instruct the young, reform the old, correct the town, and castigate the age." (p.983) (The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology notes origin unknown, though it also mentions that a variation of the word appears in Rabelais. There was also a Salmagundi Club in New York City, to which authors and artists belonged. I have one of their old membership books, published around 1910 or so.)

Schilda. The German Gotham, a city which acquired such a reputation for wisdom that the inhabitants (Schildburger) were forced to pretend to be fools in order to be left in peace. The legends concerning their folly were collected in The History of the Schildburgers (16th century). One of their characteristic acts was to build a house without windows and try to carry sunlight in. (p.998)

Seafarer, The. An Anglo-Saxon poem of the early 8th century, expressing the conflicting feelings of weariness of and longing for the sea apparently experienced by a veteran voyager. It vividly describes both the hardships and the fascinations of life at sea. (p.1005 - that's page one thousand and five!) (This poem sounds wonderful. Why have I never heard of it?)

Shay, Frank (1888- ). American book dealer, proprietor of Frank Shay's Book Shop in New York and Provincetown on Cape Cod. He has compiled and edited many books on the theater and collections of popular songs, as Iron Men and Wooden Ships (1923) ; My Pious Friends and Drunken Companions (1927); etc. (p.1021) (I have a few of Frank Shay's books - the woodcuts are primitive and rather glorious, and the reader feels as if Shay was constantly winking an eye at Prohibition laws.)

snark. The imaginary animal invented by Lewis Carroll as the subject of his mock heroic poem, The Hunting of the Snark (1876). It is most elusive and gives endless trouble, and when eventually the hunters think they have tracked it down their quarry proves to be but a Boojum. The name (a portmanteau word of snake and shark) has hence sometimes been given to the quests of dreamers and visionaries.
It was one of D.G. Rossetti's beliefs that in The Hunting of the Snark Lewis Carroll was caricaturing him and "pulling his leg."
Jack London wrote a travel book called The Cruise of the Snark (1911) (p.1044)

Stealthy School of Criticism. A term coined by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in allusion to critcism published under a pseudonym. It was first used in a letter to the Athenaeum, December 16, 1871, with reference to a psuedonymous attack on the Fleshly School of Poetry published in the Contemporary Review of that year. (p.1066 and all that)

stornello verses. Verses in which certain words are harped on and turned about and about. They are common among the Tuscan peasants. The word is from Italian tornare, "to return."

I'll tell him the white, and the green, and the red,
Mean our country has flung the vile yoke from her head;
I'll tell him the green, and the red, and the white,
Would look well by his side as a sword-knot so bright;
I'll tell him the red, and the white, and the green,
Is the prize that we play for, a prize we will win.
- Notes and Queries (p.1074) (I love repetitive phrases and words in poetry, and use them often in my own writing, and again, never knew there was a poetic term for this.)

sweetness and light. A favorite phrase with Matthew Arnold. "Culture," he says, "is the passion for sweetness and light, and (what is more) the passion for making them prevail." (Preface to Literature and Dogma). The phrase was used by Swift (Battle of the Books, 1697) in an imaginary fable by Aesop as to the merits of the bee (the Ancients) and the spider (the Moderns). It concludes:

The difference is that instead of dirt and poison, we have rather chose to fill our hives with honey and wax, thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light. (p.1089)

sympathetic powder. In alchemy it was believed that if this powder were merely applied to blood taken from a wound, it would cure the wound. The title The Powder of Sympathy has been used for a book by Christopher Morley. (p.1092)

One of the longest letters in this book, I think, with the entry for saints alone stretching for about fifteen pages, and other long entries of interest about sibyls and the Sibylline books, The Slough of Despond, the many interesting Smiths, the sun, and sword (more named swords of legend and myth). Phew. My brain is full.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Midweek deep freeze

Boy howdy it's cold. I scamper from home to shop to post office to bank to shop to home, bundled up in coats and boots and mittens and hats. And yet so little seems to get done. January is surely a month for relinquishing expectations that much of anything can get done. I may not even make it through the The Rrrrrrrreader's Encyclopedia by the 31st. I've always wanted to be able to rrroll my rrrrs. I cannot. My painter frrrriend Brrrita can (her husband's name is Rrrrrroberto). I am jealous, but in a sweet way, because I do love that Brrrita so. I have reached the Rs, this morning:

ranz des vaches. A melody played on a Swiss alpenhorn to call cattle. (p.907) (I like the mental image generated by this. A melody, cattle lifting their heads from sweet alpine wildflowers and clover.)

Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, or Turf and Towers. A difficult and rather tedious poem (1873) by Robert Browning, the title of which suggested itself to the poet when his friend, Miss Annie Thackeray, called St. Aubin White Cotton Night-Cap Country, because the women there wore white caps. (p.913)

reduplicated or richochet words. There are probably some hundreds of these words, which usually have an intensifying force, in use in English. The following, from ancient and modern sources, will give some idea of their variety: chit-chat, click-clack, clitter-clatter, dilly-dally, ding-dong, drip-drop, fal-lal, flim-flam, fiddle-faddle, flip-flap, flip-flop, handy-pandy, harum-scarum, helter-skelter, heyve-keyve, higgledy-piggledy, hob-nob, hodge-podge, hoity-toity, hubble-bubble, hugger-mugger, hurly-burly, mingle-mangle, mish-mash, mixy-maxy, namby-pamby, niddy-noddy, niminy-piminy, nosy-posy, pell-mell, ping-pong, pit-pat, pitter-patter, pribbles and prabbles, randem-tandem, randy-dandy, razzle-dazzle, riff-raff, roly-poly, shilly-shally, slip-slop, slish-slosh, tick-tack, tip-top, tittle-tattle, wibble-wobble, wig-wag, wiggle-waggle, wish-wash, wishy-washy. (p.914) (This may be my favorite entry so far in this book. I never knew there was a term for these kinds of compound words, and I was absurdly pleased to discover there was. They have an odd cumulative effect, do they not? The only other ones I could think of were tumble-bumble - from The Poky Little Puppy - and dribs and drabs. By the way, these are niddy-noddies, used for winding yarn.)

Remember the Maine. A slogan used in the Spanish American War after the destruction of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor. (p.917) (The gilt metal fancywork and shield from the bow of the Maine was recovered from Havana Harbor and is affixed to the granite base of a memorial, here in Bangor.)

rogue literature. A type of literature, written in prose, which was popular in the Elizabethan period in England. It dealt realistically and exuberantly with the lives and adventures of thieves, vagabonds, and tricksters in the "underworld" of London or the highways of rural districts, often expanding from fact into fiction, and is regarded as one of the forerunners of the English novel. Robert Greene and Thomas Dekker were the outstanding authors of rogue literature. (p.939) (I now want to start a rogue literature section in the bookshop.)

Russell's Bookstore. A bookstore in Charlestown, S. C., where, in the 1850's, a number of Southern writers such as Timrod, Simms, and Hayne used to meet. Their meetings resulted in Russell's Magazine (1857-1860), which was edited by Hayne and modeled on Blackwood's in Edinburgh. (p.960) (I knew absolutely none of this.)

This section was rife with wonderful long entries, and after I listed all the ricochet words I couldn't add much more. But worth seeking out are: red, the reply churlish, reproof valiant, and retort courteous, then Robin Hood, rulers, and that trio of typophiles, Bruce Rogers, Carl Purington Rollins, and William Edwin Rudge. The end of this book approaches, and a few library sales have come and gone, so I've of course begun forays into the other books that are constantly gathering around me in windrows. I am feeling like pensive thoughtful intelligent memoir-y things right now, so I read Alix Kates Shulman's Drinking the Rain and Anne Lamott's Plan B over the weekend, and am reading Anne Truitt's Daybook: The Journal of an Artist right now, with Anne Truitt's next book Turn waiting on the top of the stack. Truitt says some of the most honest and useful things I've ever read about the process of working, making art. Then, the Odyssey sits on the bedside table. I'm a few books in but haven't picked it up in two weeks (danger zone time). And Pepys remains reproachful, whenever I pass by his stack in the book room: Read, read, rrrread.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Busier today

And feeling more sanguine. Even happy. Not least because of the first of today's entries from The Reader's Encyclopedia, which finely demonstrates the rule that it is always worth reading the fine print (though I feel as if I've broken several rules of grammar in this sentence, but I can't seem to identify them correctly so I can patch them up):

Quercus, P.E.G. A nom de plume used by Christopher Morley in his column The Bowling Green in The Saturday Review of Literature. It was taken from the Latin for "Tall Oaks from Little Acorns Grow" displayed in back of a quick-lunch-counter in Grand Central Station, New York City, which goes back to David Everett's Lines Written for a School Declamation. (p.899) (Have I mentioned that I admire Christopher Morley? I can't recall. Well, I can picture him and Benét having lunch at Grand Central and Morley jotting down the above.)

Quietism. A form of religious mysticism based on the doctrine that the essence of religion consists in the withdrawal of the soul from external objects and in fixing it upon the contemplation of God; especially that professed by the Spanish mystic Miguel Molinos (1640-1696), who taught the direct relationship between the soul and God. His followers were termed Molinists, or Quietists. (p.899)

Quivira. A mythical city of fabulous treasures, supposed to be located in the present state of Kansas. It was sought by Coronado and later explorers. Arthur Guiterman wrote a poem of that title, which describes Coronado's expedition. (p.901) (Another Norumbega! Per aspera ad astra!)

And here I was thinking there might not be much of interest in the Qs, with only five pages of them. Silly me.

Monday, January 22, 2007


The Rule of the Five Ps

Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Another life motto of mine. Ryan picked it up at work years ago and we have since adopted it into our language at home. We say it usually while slapping our foreheads in front of a closed bookshop while realizing we could have saved the trip by calling ahead to find out the shop hours. Its origins may be military; it seems like something that would be printed in a manual for field training. I bring it up because today I plowed through the Ps in The Reader's Encyclopedia. Highlights are:

pancake turner. In radio "shop talk," the sound technician controlling the playing of double-faced records. (p.816)

pandemonium (Gr., "all the demons"). A wild, unrestrained uproar, a tumultuous assembly, a regular row. The word was first used by Milton as the name of the principal city in Hell, "the high capital of Satan and his peers." (p.817)

Parnassus. A mountain near Delphi, Greece, with two summits, one of which was consecrated to Apollo and the Muses, the other to Bacchus. Owing to its connection with the Muses, Parnassus came to be regarded as the seat of poetry and music, and we still use such phrases as to climb Parnassus, meaning "to write poetry." Christopher Morley called his narrative on migratory book-selling Parnassus on Wheels (1917). (p.823)

penny dreadful. A morbidly sensational story of the kind at one time printed and sold for a penny. There is also a shilling shocker. (p.838)

per ardua ad astra (Lat.). Through hardship to the stars. Motto of the British Royal Air Force (R.A.F.). (p.839)

per aspera ad astra (Lat.). Through difficulties to the stars. The motto of Kansas. (p.839)

Pooh-Bah. Lord High Everything Else, an official in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera The Mikado. (p.868)

portmanteau word. An artificial word made up of parts of others, and expressive of a combination denoted by those parts - such as squarson, a "cross" between a squire and a parson. Lewis Carroll invented the term in Through the Looking Glass, ch. vi; slithy, he says, meaning lithe and slimy, mimsy is flimsy and miserable, etc. It is so called because there are two meanings "packed up" in the one word. In Finnegan's Wake James Joyce makes frequent use of portmanteau words. (pp. 870-871)

Professorenroman (Ger.). Literally, "professor's novel." In German literary history a very convenient term applied to novels which are crammed full of reliably correct historical detail but which remain absolutely devoid of literary inspiration. (p.882)

There was much good stuff in this long section, including long entries under paradise, parliaments, prince, and proof (as in "printer's proof"). In other news, there is none. I've had a very quiet day at the shop. This morning I finally took down the Christmas lights. I made some new book displays, and priced and shelved the rest of the books from Saturday's library sale. I did this for whom? No customers, so... myself? Every year around this time I begin to know that my shop is a self-indulgent anachronism. Instead of just usually suspecting it. That sounds pessimistic, which I am not, however. It's ok, I tell myself, this is the off season, remember? I make money during the busy times of year, so the rest of the time I can relax. Chill out. PPPPP.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Books won out...

...over sleep. Was there ever any doubt? Besides, I couldn't sleep because a parking lot next to our apartment building was loudly snowplowed this morning at five. So at six I got up, got ready, and Ryan and I sallied forth in search of books. We arrived at the library sale an hour early, as we usually do, after seeing part of the sunrise over the ocean. What a life I lead. I say Thanks every day for it. The library sale was so-so, six cartons of books for $88, a good haul but nothing out of the ordinary. After the sale a friend of mine showed me a book he'd found (that I missed finding, obviously) - a signed Lynd Ward book, illustrated with some of his lovely woodcuts. Oh well! I did find one book with a terrific bookplate in it, designed by Rockwell Kent, and one tiny little Maine bookseller's ticket (1873) which I didn't own already. Ryan's two stellar finds were a huge book about antique wooden planes and an oversized Rackham-illustrated tales of Poe, speaking of Poe. One thing I was very happy to find, just to read: a softcover reprint of Slavomir Rawicz's The Long Walk. The author recounts his escape from a labor camp in Siberia and subsequent trek across the Himalayas and Gobi Desert. I've always heard it's incredible, now I can find out for myself. We stopped on the way home at two other libraries, each with little ongoing booksale shelving areas, but the only thing I came up with was a Letters of Proust. Made it back to the shop a little after eleven. I spent the afternoon sorting and cleaning and shelving books, after a brief touch-up to yesterday's painting (funny, after being away from it overnight I walked in and saw exactly what I needed to do - then quickly did it, and now it's truly done). And here I am squeaking in my blog post today, with some favorite Os from The Reader's Encyclopedia:

O.K. From Choctaw Indian okeh, "it is so"; from the initials of Obadiah Kelly, the railroad clerk, who initialed the packages he accepted; from orl korrect, a faulty spelling for "all correct"; from Middle English hoacky, "the last load of a harvest"; etc., etc. (p.792)

Old Contemptibles. The German Kaiser jeered at the small Expeditionary Force England sent to France in 1914 as a "contemptible little army." In typically British fashion the name was immediately adopted. (p.793)

olla-podrida (Span.). A hodgepodge or miscellaneous collection. In the Latin countries an olla is a water jar or cooking pot of baked clay and podrida means "rotten." (p.796) (Another possible blog name.)

O tempora! O mores! (Lat., from Cicero's Pro Rege Deiotaro, xi, 31). Alas! how times have changed for the worse! Alas! how the morals of the people have degenerated! (p.807) (There are editorial comments I could make here. I shall refrain.)

Over the Hill to the Poorhouse. Title of the best-known poem of Will Carleton. (p.808) (There are still more editorial comments I could make here. Again, I choose to remain silent.)

Ozymandias. A famous poem by Shelley, first published by Leigh Hunt in his Examiner (January, 1818). It is an ironic poem on the vanity and futility of a tyrant's power. (p.810) (But this I will proclaim loudly: more people need to read Leigh Hunt!)

Several more long entries of note, today: the Odyssey (which I skipped most of - the entry, that is - because I've started reading the epic and I don't want any more information than the hazy outline of events I already possess in my head), olive, oracle, ordeal (ordeals by fire, hot water, cold water, etc., most interesting stuff), and oriflamme (a beautiful word, the banner of the kings of France during the Middle Ages, Fr., "flame of gold"). That's it for today - thanks for sticking around, those of you who are still reading, as I work my way through this wonderfully pointless project. It's working, January is passing by, and besides, I'm having fun.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Poe's birthday

I heard on The Writer's Almanac this morning that today is Poe's birthday. Incidentally, Garrison Keillor noted that Poe despised Longfellow. I guess I can still love poetry by both of them. Keillor read Poe's "The Haunted Palace," and standing alone in the kitchen listening, I got chills. I'm blogging later than usual today because I've been working on a large painting and I think I'm finally done. Only a few customers in today because of the snowstorm, and I'm getting ready to bundle up and head out into the night, homeward. But first, from The Reader's Encyclopedia:

Nasby, Petroleum V. The pseudonym under which David Ross Locke published his humorous sketches. First created in 1861, the character of Nasby became immensely popular:

A type of the backwoods preacher, reformer, workingman, postmaster, and chronic office seeker, remarkable for his unswerving fidelity to the simple principles of personal and political selfishness. To him the luxuries of life are a place under the government, a glass of whiskey, a clean shirt and a dollar bill. No writer ever achieved popularity more quickly. The letters were published in all the Northern papers. ...and universally read by the Federal soldiers.
- Cambridge History of American Literature, Ch. xix

Newbery, John (1713-1767). English publisher of newspapers and children's books. Among the contributors to his newspapers were Goldsmith and Dr. Johnson. Goldsmith described him in The Vicar of Wakefield. The "Newbery Medal," established by Frederic Melcher, is awarded annually (since 1921) for the best children's book written by an American. (p.766)

Norumbega. Early map-makers' name for a region and its chief city vaguely situated on the east coast of North America. On the map of Hieronimus da Verrazano (1592) it reads Aranbega, and coincides more or less with Nova Scotia. It was sought in vain in the region of the Penobscot River by Champlain in 1604. Whittier wrote a poem Norumbega dealing with the search for this fabulous city. The word Norumbega is possibly of Indian origin. (p.781) (From my shop I can see both the Norumbega parkway and Norumbega Hall. A few blocks away, the wide Penobscot River flows by. Draw what conclusions you will about the city of Bangor, Maine.)

Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent's Narrow Room. A sonnet by William Wordsworth (1806), celebrating the strict limits and the discipline of the sonnet form in developing the style of a poet, (p.784)

A few longer entries worth chasing after, if one had the inclination, and a copy of this fine book: national anthem (very interesting stuff about who sings what and why) and The New Yorker. If the snow isn't bad tonight, I'm headed to a small library sale in the morning. If it is, I sleep in and open up the shop late. It's tough choosing between two of my favorite things, this time of year. (Books and sleep.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Mmm mm

I've had a slow day here at the shop but am consoling myself by painting and blogging. Those things, along with attempting to sell used books: I seem to specialize in pastimes that do not produce much income. Well, that's never stopped me before this! The sun is shining today. Onward in The Reader's Encyclopedia:

Maëlstrom. A whirlpool in the Arctic Ocean near the Lofoten Islands off the west coast of Norway. According to an old tradition, it sucked in all ships within a wide radius. A Descent into the Maëlstrom is the title of a famous short story by Edgar Allan Poe. (p.671)

magliabecchi. A book-worm; from Antonio Magliabecchi (1633-1714), librarian to Cosmo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany. He never forgot what he had once read, and could turn at once to the exact page of any reference. (p.673)

Magnetic Mountain. A mountain of medieval legend which drew out all the nails of any ship that approached within its influence. It is referred to in Mandeville's Travels and in many other stories, such as the tale of the Third Calendar and one of the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor in the Arabian Nights. Also the title of a book of poems by Cecil Day Lewis (1933). (p.673) (Poor ships. And it's that rascally Mandeville again, to wit:)

Mandeville, Sir John (ca. 1300-1372). An explorer whose Travels (ca. 1357), despite their lack of veracity, or perhaps because of it, are one of the classics of travel literature. Hence, anyone who tells an exaggerated story is a Sir John Mandeville. (p.682)

Martin Eden. A novel by Jack London (1909), largely autobiographical. (p.696) (I mention it here because I love this book, and Jack London. No other reason. A great book about striving.)

Mauthe dog. A ghostly black spaniel that for many years haunted Peel Castle, in the Isle of Man. It used to enter the guard-room as soon as candles were lighted, and leave it at daybreak. While this specter dog was present the soldiers forbore all oaths and profane talk. One day a drunken trooper entered the guard-house alone out of bravado, but lost his speech and died in three days. Scott refers to it in his Lay of the Last Minstrel, vi stanza, 26, and again in a long note to ch. xv of Peveril of the Peak. (p.704) (I am part Manx, hence am interested in all things Isle of Man - I hadn't heard this ghost-dog tale before. Then again, I haven't read much Scott.)

Mowis. The bridegroom of snow, who, in American Indian tradition, wooed and won a beautiful bride. When morning dawned, Mowis left the wigwam, and melted into the sunshine. The bride hunted for him night and day in the forests, but never saw him again. (p.746)

Mutual Admiration Society. Any club or informal group of friends who laud each other to the skies; sometimes used cynically of writers who sing each other's praises in print. The phrase comes from Oliver Wendell Holmes' Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1857-1858). (p.752)

My Lost Youth. Title of a famous poem by Longfellow. (p.752) (Again, I mention it here because I love it so. My favorite late nineteenth-century poem, along with Poe's Annabel Lee, probably because I never had to memorize either one in grammar school. My Lost Youth is set in Longfellow's hometown of Portland, Maine, which I know well. Deering is now a wooded park, and the Maine Antiquarian Bookfair was held in an auditorium next to it for many years. Whenever I see the park I think of Longfellow. By the way, Cunningham's used bookshop faces the statue of Longfellow, in Longfellow Square, a few blocks up the hill - one terrific bookshop.)

Longer entries of note today: macaroni, mermaid (and the Mermaid Tavern), moon, and the muses (who they are, what they are responsible for). As I progress like a slow-moving barge through this mammoth book, I realize how little else I'm reading. I've read a few other books this month, but nothing of note, and certainly nothing new. Conclusion: I think I'll be binging on many single-evening reads in February, when I'm finished with Benét.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Lazy lions lounging in the local library

An alphabet book that I loved from my old bookstore job a decade back had that phrase on the L pages and since then I've always loved saying it. I think it was made into a poster, too, showing the lions with lots of shelves of books behind them in the background. The book was Animalia, by Graeme Base.

I'm back today and feeling much better, despite the seven below zero temperature when I walked to work this morning. Bright sun and I squinted at it through watering eyes and wrapped my scarf around my head and ran. More snow due this weekend, and a warm-up, so perhaps I'll be able to snowshoe soon. Meantime, I'm working on a few small paintings and wallowing in the odd side effects of despair brought on by The Reader's Encyclopedia. The longer I read it, the more I realize how much I have yet to read, throughout the history of books. Will I ever read the Aeneid? How about something of Congreve's (other than the few poems I've read)? How about the Kalevala? Yes, yes, and probably not? What gets me most about some entries in this reference book, though, are the ones in which I understand not a single reference point. Not a one. And I've been reading steadily for several decades now. It's humbling. And heartening, I suppose - think of all I have to look forward to!

From the Ls:

Lady Bountiful. The benevolent lady of a village is so called, from Lady Bountiful in The Beaux' Stratagem, by Farquhar. (p.600)

lagniappe. In Louisiana, a gratuity given to customers by tradesmen. Mark Twain uses the form "lanny-yap." The word is a Creole assimilation of Spanish ñapa or yapa, "tip." (p.603) (This is interesting to used booksellers because of the old antiquarian tradition of saying "lagniappe" to someone who is buying a big stack of expensive books, as you - the dealer - write up their bill and throw in a few of their less expensive books for free.)

Languish, Lydia. In Sheridan's comedy, The Rivals, the heroine, a romantic young lady who is for ever reading sensational novels and molding her behavior on the characters. (pp.608-609)

leap year. A year of 366 days, i.e., in the Julian and Gregorian calendars any year whose date is exactly divisible by four except those which are divisible by 100 but not by 400. Thus 1900 (though exactly divisible by 4) was not a leap year, but 2000 will be. It is an old saying that during leap year the ladies may propose, and, if not accepted, claim a silk gown. Fable has it that the custom was originated by St. Patrick. (p.619) (Italics the editor's, not mine. I'd like a silk gown, though.)

left, right, center. In the ampitheater, where the French National Assembly of 1789 convened, the nobles still commanded sufficient respect to be given places of honor to the right of the president. The radicals moved naturally as far away from them to the left as they could. The moderates found themselves squeezed in between in the center. Hence the policital connotations of these terms. Carlyle, in The French Revolution (1847), was one of the first to speak in English of "the extreme Left." Derivatives like leftist, leftism, etc., did not come into general use until after the Russian Revolution (ca. 1920). (p.622) (This is the kind of entry I love best - I really had no idea where these now-common terms originated. Did everyone else already know this? Am I the only one?)

lobsters. English soldiers used to be called lobsters because they were "turned red" when enlisted into the service. But the term was originally applied to a troop of horse soldiers in the Great Rebellion, clad in armor which covered them as a shell. (This I knew, but the next part I did not...)
died for want of lobster sauce. Sometimes said of one who dies or suffers severely because of some trifling disappointment, pique, or wounded vanity. At the grand feast given by the great Condé to Louis XIV, at Chantilly, Vatel, the chef, was told that the lobsters intended for sauce had not arrived, whereupon he retired to his private room, and, leaning on his sword, ran it through his body, unable to survive such a dire disappointment. A great number of hotels and restaurants in France are named "Le Grand Vatel." (p.643)

Lying Traveler, The. So Sir John Mandeville, an explorer of the 14th century, as been called. (p.661) (I've always wanted to read him. I have yet to. I wish I knew who called him this. Pope? Walpole? His friends? History?)

Long entries of note today include lion and little magazine. I wonder what I'll do when I finish this project. Perhaps lounge in the library.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Princess on my blog

Toad in person - I have some sort of fever/malaise/cold thing and am calling it a day very shortly. I came in to go to the post office and mail books out, check on the shop and water my plants, and make a brief appearance here. I'm continuing on with my reading project of the month, the 1948 edition of The Reader's Encyclopedia, one letter a day, for anyone just hopping onto the lily pad. My editorial comments appear in parentheses. Up to the letter K, already:

ka. In Egyptian mythology, a sort of double which survived after a man's death if a statue of him were made into which it might enter, and sundry other rites were performed; hence, such a statue, placed usually near the mummy in the tomb. (p.575) (After visiting and revisiting the Egyptian rooms of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and always feeling my skin prickle, I do not doubt the existence of the ka. Also, it's a very handy two-letter Scrabble word.)

Kennaquhair (Scot., "Don't know where"). Any imaginary locality. See also Weissnichtwo. (p.582) (This would be a good name for a blog. Will read about the other term when I get to the Ws - no skipping ahead...)

kenning. In Anglo-Saxon poetry, a figure of speech by which a descriptive circumlocution is used in place of the common noun; as in "whale-road" or "gannet's bath" for "sea," "wave-traveler" for ship, and "ash-wood" for "spear." Beowulf contains a number of excellent examples of kennings. (p.582)

kriegspiel. A game with blocks, pins, flags, etc., representing contending forces, guns, etc., moved about according to rules representing conditions in actual warfare. H.G. Wells adapted it as a floor game. (p.595)

Kristin Lavransdatter. A trilogy of novels by Sigrid Undset, published as a whole in English in 1929 and dealing with the devout Catholic Norway of the 13th and 14th centuries. (p.596) (Has anyone read this series? I sell every set I can find, in hardcover or paperback. I bet I've sold five or six sets since I opened my shop - which may not sound like a lot, but in my little shop it sure is. I haven't read it, but I remember that my parents had it in one of the bookcases at home, long ago, and I know it has something of a following.)

A few long entries worth looking up: king, and the Kit-cat Club. I am now heading home to nap. I may be back tomorrow, I may languish at home instead and save any stray customers from possible infection.

Oh, and the snowstorm yesterday was very very lovely, particularly because I could watch it from indoors, with a book in my lap and a cup of tea nearby.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Keeping it short today...

...because I'm busy with this and that at the shop, but I didn't want to completely skip a day. Particularly since I'll be skipping the next two days (Much snow in the forecast! and a holiday on Monday!). From the Js:

Jack and Jill. The well-known nursery rhyme is said to be a relic of a Norse myth, accounting for the dark patches in the moon: the two children are supposed to have been kidnapped by the moon while drawing water, and they are still to be seen with the bucket hanging from a pole resting on their shoulders. (The entry then goes on to quote the rhyme.) (p.549) (I have a copy of the Opie Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, and let me tell you, it is fascinating reading. Truly. There's some terrific bloodthirsty stuff in there, not to mention the mythic, such as this.)

jitterbug. A devotee of swing music, that is, a bug (not the insect but a slightly crazy enthusiast) who behaves as though he had the jitters (a mixture of gin and bitters). (p.561)

jive. Swing music or selections in this style. Also, the lingo of swing musicians. Jitterbugs are "hep to jive." (p.561)

Joyeuse. A name given to more than one sword famous in romance, but especially to Charlemagne's, which bore the inscription Decem praeceptorum custos Carolus and was buried with him. (p.570)

Others of note, as usual, too long to quote here: other various Jacks, John o'Groat's, Samuel Johnson (in part: ...known for his eccentricity of behavior, slovenliness of dress and manner, indolence, peevishness, arrogance, and predilection for learning), various Johns and Joneses, Juggernaut, oh, I could go on. Or I could call it a day. Thanks for reading, those who are. I am envisioning several napping (hep) cats.

Friday, January 12, 2007


State of the art, and the ego

I cleaned out my painting studio yesterday because someone was coming to look at a few paintings and, let's just say, things had piled up a wee bit (it was all starting to look rather baroque back there). All in all, the visit went very well and now I'm slated to have two small canvases in a large group show of Maine painters this summer. Next I need to frame them and detach myself from the tug of ownership, should someone decide to purchase them at the show. It's difficult, making one-of-a-kind objects, then letting them go. At least for me it is. I'm working on it. I try to compensate by producing a lot of objects and telling myself it's not right to keep them all for myself. I could sell or give away at least half. Right? Does that sound reasonable? Reasonable, ha - this from the person who has the colossal book problem.

The Reader's Encyclopedia letter-of-the-day is I. How fitting for a blog: me, me, me:

ignis fatuus. The "will o' the wisp" or "friar's lanthorn," a flame-like phosphorescence flitting over marshy ground caused by the spontaneous combustion of gases from decaying vegetable matter, and deluding people who attempt to follow it; hence, any delusive aim or object, or some Utopian scheme that is utterly impracticable. The name means "a foolish fire"; it is also called "Jack o' Lantern," "spunkie," "walking fire," and "Fair Maid of Ireland." (p.535)

Il Penseroso. A poem by John Milton, written in 1632. It celebrates the goddess of melancholy, contemplation, solitude, and study - the opposite of its companion poem, L'Allegro. The title was thought by the author to mean "The Meditative One," but is has been pointed out that the Italian is incorrect. (p.536) (Melancholy, contemplation, solitude, and study - she is my new muse, a goddess worth lighting candles to, surely!)

Inspired Idiot. Oliver Goldsmith was so called by Walpole. (p.541)

izzard. An old name of the letter "z." Still used in the phrase, from A to izzard, "from alpha to omega, from A to Z." The word has no satisfactory explanation. Possibly from "s hard" (which makes little sense) or from French "et z" - pronounced "ay zed" (which is not much better either). (p.548) (The previous comments in parenthesis are the esteemed editor's, not mine!)

Other entries of note, too long to reproduce here: Iliad, and iron (part of which reads if you have too many irons in the fire, some will burn. Words to heed...). For the sake of curiosity and comparison, I took a look in the third edition of The Reader's Encyclopedia (1987), and found out that besides the Iliad, none of the examples I list today appear in its pages. So, get both editions. Just sayin'.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


One customer today, and he didn't even buy a book

Twelve degrees out this morning as I walked to work. Brrr. Still no snow. Nothing happening at the shop (other than my obsessive and gleeful sorting of a large batch of newly-arrived booksellers' tickets - to the senders of which I say thankyouthankyouthankyou) so I am reduced to speaking of the weather. And the Hs in The Reader's Encyclopedia:

hack. Originally, short for "hackney." A horse let out for hire; hence, one who hires himself out for literary work. Lowell wrote: "Dryden, like Lessing, was a hack writer..." (p.471)

halcyon days. A time of happiness and prosperity. Halcyon is the Greek for a kingfisher, compounded of hals, "the sea," and kuo, "to brood on." The ancient Sicilians believed that the kingfisher laid its eggs and incubated for fourteen days, before the winter solstice, on the surface of the sea, during which time the waves of the sea were always unruffled. (p.473)

Harvard, John. (1607-1638). English clergyman, son of a butcher. He settled at Charlestown, Mass., and became the first benefactor of the college at "New Towne," bequeathing to it his library of 300 volumes and half his estate, valued at £800. The college was renamed Harvard College in his honor in the year of his death, the third year of its existence. (p.483)

hay. A rustic dance. The word, of uncertain origin, has nothing to do with cut and dried grass. Cf. Antic Hay (1923), title of a novel by Aldous Huxley. (p.487) (See below.)

honorificabilitudinitatibus. A made up word on the Lat. honorificabilitudo, honorableness, which frequently occurs in Elizabethan plays as an instance of sesquipedalian pomposity, etc. (p.514)

Huggins and Muggins. Two characters of popular legend who personify vulgarity and false pretensions. They were frequently introduced in comic literature of the 19th century. The phrase may be a corruption of the Dutch Hooge en Mogende (high and mighty) or may possibly be derived from Hugin and Munin, Odin's two ravens of Scandinavian myth. (p.523)

Hugin and Munin. In Scandinavian mythology, the two ravens that sit on the shoulders of Odin. They typify thought and memory. (p.524) (This reminds me of the New York Library 42nd Street branch literary lions, Patience and Fortitude.)

humble pie, to eat. To come down from a position you have assumed; to be obliged to take "a lower room." Here "humble" is a pun on umble, the umbels being the heart, liver, and entrails of the deer, the hunstman's perquisites. When the lord and his household dined, the venison pasty was served on the dais, but the umbles were made into a pie for the huntsman and his fellows, who took the lower seats. (p.526)

Other entries of note, today, too long to do more than mention here: heaven, heraldry, and horse. The trouble with many of these entries is that they lead to looking even more words and phrases up, elsewhere. This project is causing many forays into the etymological dictionaries in the reference bookcase behind me. Hay, for instance. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology gives this, about hay: "grass cut and dried (OE)," "hedge," and "winding country dance." I wonder if I should read this dictionary next. Best finish the project at hand before hatching any other grandiose schemes (of sesquipedalian pomposity), I suppose. I'm a third done - only seven hundred more pages to go. Goodness me.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


One more G

I forgot one entry I particularly wanted to note (reflecting my love of all things Royal Navy):

grog. A strong drink, originally a mixture of spirit and water (two-water grog, three-water grog, etc.) served to British sailors in compliance with an order issued in 1740 by Admiral Edward Vernon. The word is taken from the admiral's nickname. He was called Old Grog because he wore "a grogram cloak in foul weather." Grogram (French gros grain) is a coarse fabric. (p.462)

General note: this project can only serve to improve my Scrabble scores. All comers, look out.


G whiz

It's clear, cold, and bone dry here today. I miss snow. We've had none this winter, except a dusting, twice, and it's both disconcerting and sad. I miss snow days from school. I want to go sledding. I remember sledding as a kid - one of the most perfect activities ever invented. My sisters and friends and I would sled down a big hill up the road from our house, for hours. The hill was, in summer, a long clear blueberry barren overlooking the Pleasant River and some woods far off at the bottom. Sled down feet-first, climb back up, sled down head-first, climb back up. Use the plastic sled, use the toboggan. Repeat. All day, sometimes on an blissfully unexpected day home from hateful grammar school because of the snow itself. Wearing snow pants, coats, boots, mittens, and roasting hot because of all the long trips back up the hill. Coming home at dark to put our boots under the woodstove and eat supper, exhausted and happy. A long time ago, now.

Today, from The Reader's Encyclopedia:

galloglass or gallowglass. A cateran (A what?) or kern (A who?), that is, an armed Irish foot-soldier (Oh...). (p.417)

Gasconade. Talk like that of a Gascon - absurd boasting, vainglorious braggadocio. The Dictionary of the French Academy gives us the following specimen: "A Gascon, in proof of his ancient nobility, asserted that they used in his father's house no other fuel than the bâtons of the family marshals." (p.423)

Geber or Jabir (Arab., Jābir ibn-Hayyān) (fl. 721-776). An Arabian alchemist, born at Thous, in Persia. He wrote several treatises on the "art of making gold," in the usual mystical jargon of the period; hence, by imitation of his name, our word gibberish (senseless jargon).
The art of the Arabian Geber taught...
The Elixir of Perpetual Youth
Longfellow, The Golden Legend (p.426)

Glass Houses: Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Those who are open to criticism should be very careful how they criticize others. This is an old proverb found in varying forms from the time of Chaucer at least. Cf. Troilus and Criseyde, Bk. ii; also Matt. vii. 1-4. (p.437)

Goody Two-shoes. This nursery tale first appeared in 1765. It was written for Newbery, as it is said, by Oliver Goldsmith. Goody Two-shoes is a very poor child, whose delight at having a pair of shoes is so unbounded that she cannot forbear telling everyone she meets that she has "two shoes"; whence her name. She acquires knowledge and becomes wealthy. The title-page states that the tale is for the benefit of those -
Who from a state of rags and care,
And having shoes but half a pair,
Their fortune and their fame should fix,
And gallop in a coach and six. (p.446)

gorblimey. From God blind me. A British vulgarism expressing surprise. (p.447)

gruel, to give him his. To give him severe punishment; properly, to kill him. The allusion is to the practice in 16th-century France of giving poisoned possets - an art brought to perfection by Catherine de Medici and her Italian advisors. (p.463)

guillotine. A machine for beheading persons, much used in the French Revolution. Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814), a French physician, first proposed its use in 1789, recommending it reputedly because of the "voluptuously pleasant sensation" produced by the contact of its blade with the neck. (p.466) (Good lord... not what I would call voluptuously pleasant, myself...)

Runners-up today, most worthy of tracking down: garden, giants, gods, Goncourt (always wanted to read the brothers' Journals), and grail. This section also seems unusually bookish, with great entries on Frederic Goudy, Robert Granjon, Grub Street, Grolier (both man and Club), and the like. But I felt more bloodthirsty this morning, hence gruel and guillotine instead. Re snow: I guess if I had a snow day now, I'd keep the shop closed, and stay home and read. Though there are a few good sledding hills nearby...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Droll Tuesday

I'm running out of ideas for naming my posts. Especially since nothing of note is happening at the shop. Fs today:

Fafner. In Wagner' Ring, one of the giants that built Valhalla for Wotan. He and his brother Fasolt accept Alberich's golden hoard as payment in place of Freya, the price originally agreed upon. Fafner kills Fasolt and transforms himself into a dragon to guard the hoard which is now his. He is killed by Siegfried. In the Norse sources, Fafnir (not Fafner) has no brother and is guarding Andvari's gold as a venom-breathing dragon from the start. (p.361)

(My grandfather's dachshund is named Fafner. Or Fafnir. I'll have to check with him to find out which it is.)

fifteener. In collectors' parlance, a book printed in the fifteenth century, i.e., an incunabulum. (p.379)

fly-by-night. One who defrauds his creditors by decamping at night-time; also the early name of a sedan-chair, and later a horsed vehicle (hence fly, a cab) designed in 1809 for speed. (p.391)

forlorn hope. Not "a lost hope" but "a lost heap," that is a body of soldiers selected for some desperate or very dangerous enterprise. An adaptation of Dutch verloren hoop, rendered in French as enfants perdus, "lost children," in German as verlorene Posten, "lost post or assignment." (p.395)

Fors Clavigera. Literally, Fortune the club-bearer. A phrase coined by John Ruskin as the title of a serial work, published at irregular intervals, consisting of 96 open letters to British workmen on remedies for poverty and destitution (1871-1884). (p.396)

fustian. A coarse twilled cotton cloth with a velvety pile, probably so called from Fustat, a suburb of Cairo. It is chiefly used now in its figurative sense meaning inflated or pompous talk, clap-trap, bombast, pretentious words. (p.413)

Close runners-up today included factotum, father, the Five Classics, Flying Dutchman, folio, and fool. Fascinating stuff. Truly. To me, at least - I apologize if anyone is dropping off.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Back after a busy weekend

I didn't spend much time at the shop over the weekend - Saturday morning was taken up with a library sale (I bought six cartons of books for around $140, a few treasures but nothing out of this world), Saturday afternoon with cleaning and sorting the new arrivals, and helping a stray customer here and there, and yesterday puttering at home, where I am computerless (by choice). Back this morning to more stacks of books, and an interesting email re our friend Edmund Curll: Pat, one of the authors of a new biography of Curll, wrote of its imminent publication (Oxford University Press, January in the UK and March in the US). Thanks, it's on my list - I look forward to reading it!

Too much to do today, luckily The Reader's Encyclopedia letter-of-the-day is fairly short. For anyone just joining the program, I am working my way through the 1948 edition of this fine reference book, one letter per day, and posting a few entries here. I am hoping to make January fly by. And learn something in the process. Editorial comments appear in parentheses from time to time (when I cannot restrain myself).

Eckhardt. Eckhardt, in German legends, appears on the evening of Maundy Thursday (in the week before Easter) to warn all persons to go home, that they may not be injured by the headless bodies and two-legged horses which traverse the streets on that night, or by Frau Holle or Hulda leading the dead.
Hence the phrase, a faithful Eckhardt, who warneth everyone. (p.331)

Edenhall, Luck of. A goblet which is the property of the Musgrave family of Edenhall in England. It is said to have been left by the little folk at St. Cuthbert's Well. The luck of the family depends on its possession.
If this cup either break or fall
Farewell the luck of Eden Hall.
One of the best known ballads by Uhland (Ger., 1787-1862) is called Das Glűck von Edenhall. (p.332)

Elephant in the Moon, The. A satire by the 17-century Samuel Butler, directed against the Royal Society. In it, what is apparently an elephant is discovered on the face of the moon as seen through the telescopes of the time, but it is revealed to be only a mouse which was somehow imprisoned in the instrument. (p.337)

Elzevir. Family of Dutch publishers and printers flourishing in the 17th century. A style of type was named Elzevir after this family. Books of their printing are of special value. The best are editions of classical and French authors. The Elzevir imprint is found in 1213 books: 968 Latin, 44 Greek, 126 French, 32 Flemish, 22 Oriental, 11 German, 10 Italian. (p.341) (I own one Elzevir imprint. Only 1212 left to go.)

Epipsychidion. (Gr., literally, "a little poem on the soul"). A poem by Shelley (1821). (p.346)

Erythynus, have no doings with the, i.e., "don't trust a braggart." This is the thirty-third symbol of the Protreptics of Iamblichus. (the What of Who??) The Erythynus is mentioned by Pliny (ix.77) as a red fish with a white belly, and Pythagoras used it as a symbol of braggadocio, who fable says is white-livered. (p.349)

Everyman. An old morality play of about the time of Edward IV, depicting man's progress through life. Everyman is symbolic of humanity, and the characters he meets with are personified vices and virtues. The subtitle reads A Treatise how the hye Fader of Heven sendeth Dethe to somon every creature to come and gyve a counte of theyr lyves in this Worlde. (p.356)

Enough for today.

Friday, January 05, 2007


More about Edmund Curll

Yesterday's entry from The Reader's Encyclopedia mentioned Curle, but my biography of this scurrilous bookseller has his name spelled Curll (and a few title pages from books he was responsible for also have his name as Curll). I know I mentioned this biography here a few months ago, but I do so again - it makes wonderful reading - The Unspeakable Curll: Being Some Account of Edmund Curll, Bookseller; To Which is Added a Full List of His Books by Ralph Straus (Chapman and Hall, London 1927). A sample:

"There never was a man who was called by so many names. There never was a man who succeeded in irritating almost beyond endurance so many of his betters. And nothing could make his see the 'error' of his ways: he just continued to irritate. If, for instance, objection was raised to some book of his of the bawdier kind, it would as likely as not be followed by another even more scandalously improper. If a furious author declared that a book of his, published by Curll, was wholly unauthorized, he would probably find that a 'Second Volume' of his work was being advertised as 'Corrected by the Author Himself.'" (p.4)

A bit more:

"As for his title-pages, they were marvels of optimistic inaccuracy." (p.6)

The book does not merely explain the scandal attached to this particular bookseller and his wares, it also describes the entire literary world of the time: who was writing what, how work found its way into print, how authors were paid or not paid, the fate of manuscripts, pre-copyright-law printing practices, in short how books were made and sold for several decades in the early eighteenth century. It's really terrific, not to mince superlatives.

To continue in The Reader's Encyclopedia, I've made it through the Ds this morning. And I find myself unable to stop from adding a few of my own comments (which appear below in parentheses, like this).

Day or Daye, Stephen (1594?-1688). Printer of the Bay Psalm Book (1640), the first book in English printed in America. The town of Cambridge, Mass., granted him 300 acres of land for "being the first that sett upon printing." (p.279)

Delafield, E.M. (1890-1943). Pen-name of Elizabeth Monica Dashwood, English novelist, née de la Pasture, of which the name Delafield is an English adaptation. ... Her childhood French governesses were models for the Mademoiselle of her delightful Diary of a Provincial Lady (1931). ... (p.286)

diamond. (This entry is far too long to add all of here, but I must mention one small bit of it) Diamond. The little dog belonging to Sir Isaac Newton. One winter's morning he upset a candle on his master's desk, by which papers containing minutes of many years' experiments were destroyed. On perceiving this terrible catastrophe, Newton exclaimed, "Oh, Diamond, Diamond, thou little knowest the mischeif thou has done!" and at once set to work to repair the loss. (p.295) (Bad dog!)

disjecta membra. Scattered limbs, referring to the Maenads dismembering Pentheus. Hence in literature the literary remains of a poet or writer. (pp.299-300)

Dove Dulcet. Literally, the "sweet-sounding dove." A pseudonym used by Christopher Morley for some of his columnar contributions. (p.313) (The editor of this book was a long-time friend of Morley's. Morley wrote weekly columns for years, two of which were entitled The Bowling Green and Trade Winds, but many of which were written - early in his career - as anonymous filler, and remain unidentified, I'm sure.)

Dunmow flitch, the. The flitch of bacon mentioned below.
eat Dunmow bacon. To live in conjugal amity, without even wishing the marriage knot to be less firmly tied. The allusion is to a custom said to have been instituted by Juga, a noble lady, in 1111, and restored by Robert de Fitzwalter in 1244, which was that
"any person from any part of England going to Dunmow, in Essex, and humbly kneeling on two stones at the church door, may claim a gammon of bacon, if he can swear that for twelve months and a day he has never had a household brawl or wished himself unmarried."
Between 1244 and 1772 eight claimants were admitted to eat the flitch. Allusions to the custom are very frequent in 17th and 18th century literature; and in the last years of the 19th century it was revived. Later it was removed to Ilford. The oath administered is in doggerel... (a longish poem follows, which I refuse to type out, but which is well worth seeking out.) (p.323)

There are many entries I'd love to add here, but they are simply enormous. From yesterday in the Cs, courtly love, for example. Vicky, in yesterday's comments, mentions the huge entry on the saints and my edition also has it. Others that I find fascinating are the long entries about various colors, black and blue two days ago; today, the entry for the devil and all things devilish; and both yesterday and today, cat and dog. These, alongside entries for authors, works of literature, mythological figures, and all - well, it's a lot of fun and quite overwhelming. How long did it take Benét to compile this?! I am beginning to wonder.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Nothing to report today but this

I am here at the shop after all, for reasons too dull to go into. Onward:

cardigan. A warm jacket of knit worsted, named after the 7th Earl of Cardigan. (p.178)

Cardigan, 7th Earl of. James Thomas Brudenell (1797-1868). Commander of cavalry, led the "Six Hundred" in the famous charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava in Crimean War (1854). Cf. Tennyson's poem. (ibid)

chapbook. Originally one of the books carried about for sale by chapmen ("tradesmen," chap meaning purchase or bargain). Hence, any book of a similar nature, a tract, small collection of ballads, of the like. (p.196)

credence. A kind of sideboard, or buffet, generally associated with the Renaissance. Originally, the table on which the food was placed before serving to be tasted by a servant to guard against poisoning. The tasting itself was also called credence because it proved that credence could be given to the wholesome nature of the food. (pp.253-254)

Curlicism. Literary indecency. From Edmund Curle (1675-1747), English bookseller notorious for publication of A Nun in her Frock and similar books for which he was convicted and fined in 1728. Satirized by Alexander Pope in the Dunciad. (p.264)

Other entries I nearly mentioned: carte blanche, Castle of Indolence, classics, and cornucopia. Again I repeat Go to the nearest used bookshop and find your own copy.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Mid-week already?

I've spent the morning shuffling piles of books around, customer-less (so far) for the first day in a long time. So I took a break from the stacks to read through the B section of The Reader's Encyclopedia. I think I can do this all month; it should take me an hour to read through each letter. Should. This book is over 1200 pages long. I may skim some of the entries, and I may take a break here and there. Tomorrow for instance, I'm out of the shop to go buy some books. We'll see how it goes. For today:

Badroulboudour. In the Arabian Nights, the daughter of the sultan of China, a beautiful brunette. She becomes the wife of Aladdin, but twice nearly causes his death; once by exchanging "the wonderful lamp" for a new copper one, and once by giving hospitality to the false Fatima. (p.66)

baloney, boloney. Something pretentious but worthless; bunk; hooey. American slang. Cf. the German expression das ist mir Wurst, literally "that is sausage to me," meaning "it has no significance for me." (p.71)

Battle, Sarah. A celebrated character in one of Lamb's Essays of Elia, who considers whist the business of life and literature one of the relaxations. (pp.81-82)

bibliomancy. Practice of prophesy by interpreting the first passage one happens on in a random opening of some book, especially the Bible. (p.107)

bookworm. One always poring over books; so called in allusion to the maggot that eats holes in books, and lives both in and on its leaves. Modern book cloth protects books against the latter kind of worm. (p.128)

Brie cheese. A soft French cheese, from the district of Brie in France, ripened by mold. Connoisseurs claim that there is something poetic about it. (p.143)

There are others I could list (Battle of the Books, box the compass, Buncombe/bunkum), but that's it for today. Go read your own copy. On an unrelated note, I came across this article about the founders of Daedalus. Most interesting tales of book-buying on a monster scale (I'll take six thousand copies!). Sure sounds like a lot of fun, and makes me want to buy more books from them than I already do, now that I know how truly bookish they are.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


If nothing else, let's learn something this month

Now that the holidays are over and it's January, my thoughts have turned to big winter reading projects. I'm sneaking up on the Odyssey, but I've also been browsing a lot in one of my favorite reference books, The Reader's Encyclopedia, edited by William Rose Benét (my edition is Crowell 1948; there are of course more recent editions). I use this book almost daily (and god knows I used it while reading the Iliad), but I've never sat down and read it cover to cover. What? Read a reference book? Yes, read a reference book. When I first got into the book business I used to read rare book price guides and auction records from cover to cover. And I've always liked dictionaries. Anyway, this month I'm going to work my way through the alphabet in The Reader's Encyclopedia. One letter a day. I'll be posting a few of my favorite entries here (keeping them short of course to appease the righteous and vengeful copyright infringement deities). Let's start right now:

Aldiborontephoscophornio. A courtier in Henry Carey's burlesque, Chrononhotonthologos (1734). Sir Walter Scott called his printer and personal friend James Ballantyne by this name. (p.20)

almighty dollar. Washington Irving seems to have been the first to use this expression which has become a byword for American materialism. (p.25)

Angurvadel. Frithiof's sword, inscribed with runic letters, which blazed in time of war, but gleamed with a dim light in time of peace. (p.36)

autonym. One's own name, as opposed to pseudonym. Hence a work published under the author's real name. (p.60)

At this rate, January will be over in no time.


Local boy makes good

The year's best books and music list from the writer who lives up the street. I haven't read a single book he mentions, but now I'll consider them, should they come my way (though I don't read much horror - but bleak, however, bleak I will read). But the music list! Looks like this notoriously hard-rockin' guy has crossed over into alt-country - Johnny Cash, Hank III, Josh Ritter. Great picks which have me smiling this morning. The man's got soul.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?