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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“The world encyclopedia, the universal library, exists, and it is the world itself”*…

 

Inlaid metal basin depicting scenes from the Mamluk court, later known as the Baptismal Bowl of Saint Louis, by Muhammad Ibn al-Zayn, Egypt, circa 1320-1340

Long-time readers will know that your correspondent has a fascination with the impulse to collect the world’s knowledge, from Diderot and his Encyclopédie to Wikipedia (c.f., “Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality” and “Rest in Pieces“).  But the encyclopedic impulse has much older roots…

Sometime around the year 1314, a retired Egyptian bureaucrat named Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri began writing a compendium of all knowledge, under the appealingly reckless title The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition. It would eventually total more than 9,000 pages in thirty volumes, covering all of human history from Adam onward, all known plants and animals, geography, law, the arts of government and war, poetry, recipes, jokes, and of course, the revelations of Islam…

Browse away at “In the Attic of Early Islam.”

* Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night

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As we collect our thoughts, we might spare a thought for Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz; he died on this date in 2006.  A prolific creator– he published 34 novels, over 350 short stories, dozens of movie scripts, and five plays over a 70-year career– he was one of the first writers in Arabic to explore Existentialist themes (e.g., the Cairo Trilogy, Adrift on the Nile).  He was awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Written by LW

August 30, 2016 at 1:01 am

“What’s the point of having great knowledge and keeping them all to yourself?”*…

 

One of the most attractive books in history, a colossal best seller, everybody knows this, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Really successful book, believe me. Why F.? I put my initial in the middle, I think it’s more normal that way, but everybody has his own style…

From the glorious Sherman Oaks Review of Books, an imagination of Donald Trump’s review of The Great Gatsby: “Celebrity Book Reviews: Donald on Scott.”

[image above: source]

* Donald J. Trump, Why We Want You To Be Rich: Two Men, One Message

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As we rethink the classics, we might send send elegiac birthday greetings to James Arthur Baldwin; he was born on this date in 1924.  A novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, he charted the unspoken but palpable intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-20th-century America, and their inevitable tensions.  His essays (e.g., Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time) and his novels (perhaps especially Giovanni’s Room) shaped a generation of writers.  Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison eulogized Baldwin in The New York Times:

You knew, didn’t you, how I needed your language and the mind that formed it? How I relied on your fierce courage to tame wildernesses for me? How strengthened I was by the certainty that came from knowing you would never hurt me? You knew, didn’t you, how I loved your love? You knew. This then is no calamity. No. This is jubilee. “Our crown,” you said, “has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do,” you said, “is wear it.”

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Written by LW

August 2, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Some days I feel like playing it smooth. Some days I feel like playing it like a waffle iron.”*…

 

If you’ve been paying attention to breakfast in the past 15 years or so, you might have noticed something: waffles have gotten thicker and thicker. Stockier waffles with deep syrup pockets, often topped with fruit or Nutella or mountains of whipped cream, are the new norm. They’re what men with beards are handing you out of food truck windows, and what servers are plopping down in front of you at brunch. Today, in most diners and restaurants and those omnipresent hipster comfort-food places, if you order a waffle, it’s gonna be Belgian…

Waffles, like pancakes, have been in America for centuries. Thomas Jefferson allegedly brought the waffle iron to America from France. In the early 20th century, waffles were thin and flat, a wartime breakfast that spared frills. Skinny waffles were successfully mass-marketed to the public when three California brothers debuted frozen Eggo waffles in the ’50s. (Kellogg’s purchased the company in 1968.)

But even during the peak of Eggo popularity, a taste for a thicker waffle was percolating in America. Belgium natives Maurice and Rose Vermersch first served up thick, chewy waffles, known originally as Brussels waffles, at the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens. The waffles were such a hit at the fair that the Vermerschs simplified the name, deciding that the majority of Americans wouldn’t know where Brussels was. And from there, a craze was born…

The whole enchilada at: “The Tyranny of Belgian Waffles.”

* Raymond Chandler, Trouble Is My Business

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As we reach for the syrup, we might spare a thought for Curnonsky (Maurice Edmond Sailland); he died on this date in 1956.  (The name “Curnonsky” comes from the Latin cur + non “why not?” plus the Russian suffix -sky, as all things Russian were in vogue in 1895, when he coined it.)

An author who got his start as a ghostwriter for ‘Willy‘, Colette‘s husband, Curnonsky became France’s “Prince of Gastronomy,” the country’s most celebrated food and wine writer in the 20th century.  He wrote or ghost-wrote over 65 books and enormous numbers of newspaper columns. He is often considered the inventor of gastronomic motor-tourism as popularized by Michelin– he named the company’s mascot Bibendum and wrote Michelin’s weekly column “Les Lundis de Michelin” in Le Journal— though he himself could not drive. His “title,” “Prince-elu de la Gastronomie,” was awarded in a 1927 Paris-Soir poll of 3,000 French chefs, and has never been given since.  Curnonsky died by falling out of the window of his apartment. He was dieting at the time, and it is speculated that he had fainted.

Curnonsky (left) with his friend, Dr. Robine

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Written by LW

July 22, 2016 at 1:01 am

“As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it”*…

 

menu

From Open Table, a handy illustrated glossary of restaurant terms: Decode your menu.

* Buddy Hackett

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As we order with conviction, we might send tasty birthday greetings to Lafcadio Hearn; he was born on this date in 1850.  Also known also by the Japanese name Koizumi Yakumo, he was an international writer, known best for his books about Japan, especially his collections of Japanese legends and ghost stories (e.g., Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things).  But Hearn should surely also be celebrated for La Cuisine Créole (1885), his collection of recipes from leading chefs and noted Creole housewives who helped make New Orleans famous for its cuisine– widely-agreed to have been the first Creole cookbook.

440px-Lafcadio_Hearn_portrait source

 

 

Written by LW

June 27, 2016 at 1:01 am

“An aphorism ought to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world like a little work of art and complete in itself like a hedgehog”*…

 

Twitter

Digital media are often (fairly) derided for playing to short attention spans. But brevity need not be synonymous with simplicity. New technologies also offer a canvas for creativity—even if the palette is confined to 140 characters. Many an artist or author is adept at using online channels to promote their work, and projects like the Los Angeles Review of Books have embraced an internet-first ethos. But there are also writers producing work with a distinctively online mindset. Though the medium is not quite the message, the limitations imposed by Twitter make for particularly fertile ground, giving rise to what has been called “Twitterature”…

More on aphorisms in the internet age at “The charms of Twitterature

* Friedrich von Schlegel

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As we concentrate on concision, we might send bawdy birthday greetings to Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade; he was born on this date in 1740. The French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, author, and libertine spent much of his adult life in prison.  In 1778, de Sade was imprisoned by order of the king; ostensibly his offense was licentious behavior, but historians note that his mother-in-law, at whose urging the king acted, believed that the young Marquis was spending her daughter’s money too quickly. (There were also accusations of an affair with his wife’s sister… and it may have further motivated the mother-in-law that her daughter was rumored to be complicit in de Sade’s sexual escapades.)  While in the Bastille, he battled boredom by writing– among other things, The 120 Days of Sodom.  He was freed from prison in 1790, and ingratiated himself with the new Republic (calling himself “Citizen Sade”).  de Sade began writing again, anonymously publishing works including Justine and Juliette… until, in 1801, Napoleon ordered his arrest (again for indecency and blasphemy).  de Sade spent two years in prison, until his family had him declared insane, and moved him to the asylum at Charenton (the scene of Peter Weiss’s remarkable play Marat/Sade), where he died in 1814.

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Written by LW

June 2, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Anyone who can only think of one way to spell a word obviously lacks imagination”*…

 

“share-en-shnit-uh,” from the German, meaning “the art of cutting paper into decorative designs”

Last Wednesday,285 participants 15 years old and younger took the stage in National Harbor, Maryland to recite words they’ve probably never used in conversation; the finals were held the following evening.  For the third year in a row, the result was a tie; the title was shared by  Nihar Janga, 11, of Austin, Texas, and Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y., who were declared co-champions after fighting to a draw during 39 rounds of competition.  Jairam’s final word in the competition was “Feldenkrais” (a trademark that refers to a system of aided body movements); Nihar’s, “gesellschaft,” (a type of social relationship).

 “A lot of it is luck, to be totally honest,” says 2006 winner Kerry Close, now a 23-year-old reporter at Money Magazine. “There’s maybe a dozen, maybe more, kids who have a realistic shot of winning,” says Close. “Who actually wins comes down to pretty much who’s asked the right word.”

Ten of the final words from previous Scripps bees, and the reason why spelling them is such a feat: “Why these winning words from US National Spelling bees are so hard to spell.”

* Mark Twain

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As we ask that it be used in a sentence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1593 that poet and playwright (Shakespeare’s nearest rival) Christopher Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl.  Marlowe reputedly supplemented his income as a spy; in any case, he ran afoul of Queen Elizabeth’s government when, earlier in the month, his roommate, fellow playwright Thomas Kyd, was grilled by authorities.  Kyd insisted that the “heretical” papers found in his room belonged to Marlowe, who was subsequently arrested, but was able to use his connections to arrange bail.  While out Marlowe became involved in a fight– ostensibly over a tavern bill, but believed by many to have been a set-up– and was stabbed to death.

The 1585 portrait discovered at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1953, believed to be of the 21-year-old Christopher Marlowe.  The inscribed motto is “QVOD ME NVTRIT ME DESTRVIT,” “that which nourishes me destroys me.”  Indeed.

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Written by LW

May 30, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Rest and be thankful”*…

 

Flower Mound, Texas

A new photography book, The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside ($45, powerHouse Books), captures the functionality and design of aging U.S. highway rest areas, with a heavy dose of nostalgia.

Over nearly 15 road-trips since 2009—several taken with her mother in tow—the California-based photographer Ryann Ford traveled the American West, Midwest, and parts of the South in search of the unique character that defines these highway fixtures. At one since-disappeared location in Flower Mound, Texas, a picnic table is covered by a roof in the shape of longhorns…

Bonneville, Utah

The rest stops in Ford’s book all seem to speak to the character of their respective locations in some way, and certainly to the moment in the late 1950s and ‘60s when most were constructed. America was in love with the automobile, and the new Interstate Highway System opened up easier, speedier access to the continental U.S. than before. But interstates also eliminated interaction with the towns and landscapes they passed through. Using vernacular architecture, rest stops became a way for states and localities to connect travelers to the surrounding environment, as the introduction to Ford’s book explains. They communicated a sense of place in a rapidly homogenizing countryside

More at “The Fading Glory of America’s Highway Rest Stops.”

* William Wordsworth

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As we pull over, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Walker Percy; he was born on this date in 1916.  Trained as a physician, Percy turned to literature, writing a series of novels largely set in and around his native Louisiana, the first of which, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award.  Heavily influenced by his reading of  Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky, and by the Catholic faith to which he converted, his work was an exploration of “the dislocation of man in the modern age.”  He also published a number of non-fiction works exploring his interests in semiotics and Existentialism, the most popular work being Lost in the Cosmos.

Percy taught at Loyola University of New Orleans and mentored younger writers; he was instrumental in getting John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces published in 1980.  He was a life-long friend of his childhood neighbor Shelby Foote, historian and novelist of The Civil War: A Narrative (the basis of Ken Burn’s series The Civil War.)

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Written by LW

May 28, 2016 at 1:01 am

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