(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘humor

“Words cannot do justice to the pleasures of a good bookshop. Ironically.”*…

 

Today, few people are likely to remember James Lackington (1746-1815) and his once-famous London bookshop, The Temple of the Muses, but if, as a customer, you’ve ever bought a remaindered book at deep discount, or wandered thoughtfully through the over-stocked shelves of a cavernous bookstore, or spent an afternoon lounging in the reading area of a bookshop (without buying anything!) then you’ve already experienced some of the ways that Lackington revolutionized bookselling in the late 18th century. And if you’re a bookseller, then the chances are that you’ve encountered marketing strategies and competitive pressures that trace their origins to Lackington’s shop. In the 21st-century marketplace, there is sometimes a longing for an earlier, simpler age, but the uneasy tension between giant and small retailers seems to have been a constant since the beginning. The Temple of the Muses, which was one of the first modern bookstores, was a mammoth enterprise, by far the largest bookstore in England, boasting an inventory of over 500,000 volumes, annual sales of 100,000 books, and yearly revenues of £5,000 (roughly $700,000 today). All of this made Lackington a very wealthy man—admired by some and despised by others—but London’s greatest bookseller began his career inauspiciously as an illiterate shoemaker…

The remarkable story of “The Cheapest Bookstore in the World”– and the birth of the modern bookshop: “The Man Who Invented Bookselling As We Know It.”

* Waterstones, Trafalgar Square (a descendent of The Temple of the Muses)

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As we inhale the blissful scent of ink and paper, we might spare a thought for Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton; he died on this date in 1873.  A novelist, poet, playwright, and politician, he was immensely popular with the reading public in his day and wrote a stream of bestselling novels, which earned him a considerable fortune.  He coined the phrases “the great unwashed”, “pursuit of the almighty dollar”, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, and “dweller on the threshold.”

But he may be best remembered as the inspiration for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, held annually by the English Department of San Jose State University.  Inspired by Bulwer-Lytton’s immortal “It was a dark and stormy night…”** (the opening line of his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford), entrants are invited “to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels” – that is, deliberately bad.

** The full opening sentence: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

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“All fantasy should have a solid base in reality”*…

 

One of the most notorious examples of Waldeck’s penchant for fantasy: an elephant head in this rendition of an Ancient Mayan temple

Not a lot concerning the artist, erotic publisher, explorer, and general enigma Count de Waldeck can be taken at face value, and this certainly includes his fanciful representations of ancient Mesoamerican culture which — despite being brilliantly executed on-site at Mayan monuments like Palenque — run wild with anatopistic lions, elephants, and suspicious architecture.  Rhys Griffiths looks at the life and work of one of the 19th century’s most mysterious and eccentric figures: “Brief Encounters with Jean-Frédéric Maximilien de Waldeck.”

* Sir Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson

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As we ponder a predecessor of Photoshop, we might send delightfully-drawn birthday greetings to Paul Gustave Doré; he was born on this date in 1832.  An engraver, sculptor, and illustrator– indeed, the defining illustrator of works by Rabelais, Balzac, Milton, Cervantes, and many others– Doré is probably best-remembered as the man who showed us Heaven and Hell: the canonical illustrator of Dante.

Don Quixote, his horse Rocinante, and his squire Sancho Panza after an unsuccessful attack on a windmill.

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The Tempest of Hell in THE DIVINE COMEDY

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Written by LW

January 6, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I like physics, but I love cartoons”*…

 

 

On December 15, 2016, internet cartoonist Branson Reese made a pact to release a new comic every day at midnight, no matter what. One year later, he has done that, which is pretty cool. The only catch is his art is really freaking strange and I mean that in the best way possible…

Joey Cosco on why you should follow Branson Reese.

* Stephen Hawking

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As we look forward to our daily dose, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that Jack Mercer and his wife Margie voiced Popeye and Olive Oyl in the new Popeye cartoon, “Kickin” the Conga.

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Written by LW

January 4, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Only when the clock stops does time come to life”*…

 

Swiss Reformation scholar Max Engammare claims that the Calvinists fundamentally changed how we think about time. They replaced the Medieval Catholic conception of time, which was cyclical and based on recurring seasons and holidays, with a linear view of time, as something which was always essentially running out – and this, apparently, led to the requirement that we start arriving to things on time, which he claims did not exist previously…

“As Calvin constantly reminded his followers, God watches his faithful every minute. Come Judgment Day, the faithful in turn will have to account for each minute,” reads this summary. And John Balserak put it this way: “European Calvinists — who dispensed with the liturgical calendar and still today do not celebrate Christmas and Easter as religious holidays…introduced during the 16th and 17th centuries a view of time that was linear and finite. With this came an appreciation of time as precious [emphasis mine]. People learned to be on time for appointments, which had previously not been a concern.”

So then, if we cannot blame Calvinists for the rise of capitalism specifically, we may attempt to blame them for a much larger malady: That religious philosophy is responsible for that feeling that we are constantly losing time, as we hurtle ever-closer to death…

As we all mark the passage of 2017 and the advent of 2018, we might contemplate Vincent Bevin‘s amusing– and insightful– reminder of the origin of the self-improving impulse that one typically feels around now: “Productivity is dangerous.”

Happy New Year!

* William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

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As we rethink our resolutions, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908, at one second after midnight, that the Times Square Ball first descended.

In 1903, The New York Times newspaper was about to open their new headquarters, the city’s second tallest building, in what was then known as Longacre Square. The paper’s owner, Adolph Ochs, decided to commemorate their opening with a midnight fireworks show on the roof of the building on December 31, 1903. After four years of New Year’s Eve fireworks celebrations, Ochs wanted a bigger spectacle at the building to draw more attention to the newly-renamed Times Square. An electrician was hired to construct a lighted Ball to be lowered from the flagpole on the roof of One Times Square. The iron Ball was only 5 feet in diameter! The very first drop [celebrated] New Year’s Eve 1907, one second after midnight [so, on this date]. Though the Times would later move its headquarters, the New Year’s Eve celebration at One Times Square remains a focal celebration for the world.

For the evolution of the ball-drop over the years, see here.

The 1908 ball

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Written by LW

January 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information”*…

 

Instructions for carrying heavy equipment at the Columbia University Computer Music Center

  1. In Silicon Valley, startups that result in a successful exit have an average founding age of 47 years. [Joshua Gans]
  2. Traders in Shenzhen electronics markets now rely on smartphone translation apps to communicate — not just with foreigners, but with people speaking other Chinese dialects. [Mark Pesce]
  3. “Artificial intelligence systems pretending to be female are often subjected to the same sorts of online harassment as women.” [Jacqueline Feldman]
  4. Laser Snake is a writhing robotic arm with a 5kw laser mounted on one end. It’s first job: cutting up old nuclear power stations. [James Condliffe]…

The beginning of a fascinating list from Tom Whitwell at Fluxx— a collection of “varied” (if not random) gleanings from science and tech through commerce to society and culture.  They’re immediately fascinating… and ultimately– that’s to say, with some thought, and in the fullness of time– useful [the very effect for which (Roughly) Daily strives :]  Enjoy it in its entirety: “52 things I learned in 2017.”

* Oscar Wilde

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As we read it and reap, we might recall that on this date in 1732 Benjamin Franklin published the first edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanack,”  a similarly not-so-randomly-fact-filled pamphlet series that he continued, to great success, annually through 1757.  (Indeed, with print runs typically numbering 10,000, the series made Franklin’s fortune, allowing him to spend the bulk of his time on scientific experiments, diplomacy…  and in his own consciousness-altering experiments in The Hellfire Club.)

The first edition (published in 1732 for 1733)

 

Written by LW

December 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I cannot choose one hundred best books because I have only written five”*…

 

Fernando Sdrigotti, The Situationist Guide to Parenting

Since the arrival of twins, Spirulina and Ocelot, I have been indebted to my great friend and editor Fernando Sdrigotti for his invaluable parenting guide, inspired by the philosopher and alcoholic Guy Debord. No more awkward silences during the hours it seems to take the au pair to dry her hair — Sdrigotti’s guide provides no end of suitable conversation topics for bright 2 year olds, from Peppa Pig’s role in mediating social interactions between toddlers in the nursery to detourning the playground. Can’t afford another holiday abroad this year? Just remember, as Sdrigotti tells us, beneath each playpen lies the beach! The Situationist Guide to Parenting shifts the paradigm of the self-help genre, reinventing Sdrigotti as a Dr Spock for the modern dad.

It’s that time again– time for a cascade of “year’s best” lists.  Here, from 3:am Magazine, a particularly satisfying one: from the tantalizing title above to such interest-piquers as Sima Nitram’s I Fucking Hate Don XL, George Glaciate-Furbisher’s Flenge’s Dictum, and Diana Smith-Higglebury, Reclaimed Territory: A post-Brexit Britain Household Companion, a list of books that one needn’t feel bad for not reading…  as they don’t exist.  Hilariously ridiculous authors, titles, and critical precis– wonder at what might have been at “3:am books of the year.”

* Oscar Wilde

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As we turn to books that we should perhaps actually read, we might send closely-observed birthday greetings to Gustave Flaubert; he was born on this date in 1821.  Best remembered now for his 1856 novel Madame Bovary, (and his meticulous devotion to his style and aesthetics), Flaubert reportedly woke at 10am every day and promptly hammered on his ceiling, to get his mother to come down and talk to him.

Flaubert helped to introduce a new form of realism into fiction; as a consequence he and his work had considerable influence on later writers, from his protege Guy de Maupassant to Joseph Conrad and James Joyce.

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Written by LW

December 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by”*…

 

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Most people don’t believe me when I tell them I write 100,000 words every day of my life. If I’m being totally honest, 100,000 is probably just a baseline number. Some days I exceed a half million words. It’s just what I do. I’m a professional writer. So, if you want to know how you might achieve a similar output as me, here you go…

Pick up the pace at “How To Write 100,000 Words Per Day, Every Day.”

* Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

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As we show our contempt for contemplation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 that Jack Kerouac appeared on the Steve Allen Show; the kinescope recording that survives is the only known interview footage of him.  Kerouac and Allen had collaborated on a recording, Poetry for the Beat Generation, released that same year.

After the show, Kerouac dined with actress Mamie Van Doren, who starred in the film The Beat Generation, which had been released earlier that year.

 

Written by LW

November 16, 2017 at 1:01 am

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