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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“A man’s grammar, like Caesar’s wife, should not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity”*…


If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.
― Dorothy Parker

29 more at “31 Jokes Every Grammar Nerd Can’t Help But Love.”

* (an admittedly sexist) Edgar Allan Poe


As we ruminate on the rules, we might send shocking birthday greetings to a man who broke most of them: the enfant terrible of French letters, Arthur Rimbaud; he was born on this date in 1854. With his buddy, Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud was a leader of the Decadent Movement; fueled by absinthe and hashish, he succeeded in shocking a literary establishment that was nonetheless awed by his visionary verse, which influenced modern literature and arts, inspired a number of important musicians, and prefigured Surrealism.

All known literature is written in the language of common sense—except Rimbaud’s

– Paul Valéry


Written by LW

October 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

“All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry”*…


Jonathon Green’s unique edition of The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose, first published in 1785

“Slang dictionaries have always been done by mad people who sit in rooms and make books out of them,” explains Jonathon Green. For 35 years he’s been doing just that: collecting slang words and compiling them into dictionaries.

The biggest of these—Green’s Dictionary of Slang, published in 2010—launched online this week. The online version is made up of 132,000 terms (the original print edition had around 110,000). Users can search for a word and its etymology for free, and subscribers can pay to access a bigger range of citations and a timeline of their evolution…

More of the backstory at “This man has spent 35 years compiling entries for a 132,000-word online slang dictionary that you can search for free.”  Browse the dictionary here.

* G.K. Chesterton


As we carefully choose our words, we might doff our hats to Elizabethan poet, courtier, and soldier Sir Philip Sidney, who died on this date in 1586 of an infected thigh wound received in combat with the Spanish at the Battle of Zutphen, after having given his leg armor to a soldier who had forgotten his own.  As he lay dying, he gave his water-bottle to another wounded soldier, saying, “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.”  Sidney’s Arcadia (or more fully, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia)– the inspiration for the Gloucester sub-plot in Shakespeare’s King Lear-– was published posthumously.

Sir Philip Sidney

“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants”*…


From Lapham Quarterly‘s issue on The Future, an excerpt from Meta Stern Lilienthal’s 1916 book Women of the Future

The young maidens of the future, healthy in body and mind, will go forth from educational institutions to perform their life’s work in their chosen trades and professions. Be they cooks or laundresses, weavers or dressmakers, typewriters or telephone operators, teachers or physicians, they will be assured of a decent livelihood and of the wholesome enjoyments of life in return for their services to society. They will be young as few are young today, even among the favored classes. They will work and enjoy themselves and live with an amount of youthful energy and enthusiasm that is rarely met with in our present enfeebled, overworked, poverty-stricken world. The haggard faces, anemic complexions, and drooping shoulders which are so prevalent among the working girls of today that the average city dweller fails to notice them, will disappear like the white plague and other preventable curses of humanity. Bright eyes, ruddy complexions, and straight, strong bodies will be the inalienable rights of youth. We know that health and strength and vigor are not only possible but natural to youth. Young savage women, untouched by the evils of civilization, show it, and the athletic daughters of the propertied classes, spared from the evils of civilization, show it also. The maidens of the future, strong, healthy, active, and educated, will be physically and mentally fit for wifehood and motherhood as not one in a hundred is today. Eventually every Jill will find her Jack, according to individual needs and circumstances, but economic causes will not retard marriages or prevent those who love one another from joining their lives. Jill will not ask, “Can Jack support me?” because she will be fully able to support herself, and Jack will not inquire whether Jill can make good pies—unless pie making be her trade—because he will be able to get all the pies he wants, even better than “mother used to make.” Instead, they will ask themselves seriously, intelligently, questions such as these: “Do we love deeply and truly?”

Springtime for Women

* Coco Chanel


As we agree with Niels Bohr that “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future,” we might send birthday greetings in the Agrarian tradition to Caroline Ferguson Gordon; she was born on this date in 1895 (so was likely one of those “young maidens” of whom Lilienthal wrote).  A novelist and critic of distinction– while still in her thirties, she won two prestigious literary awards, a 1932 Guggenheim Fellowship and a 1934 O. Henry Award– she was also (with her long-time partner, the poet and critic Allen Tate) the convener of a salon in her Tennessee home that hosted some of the best-known writers of their time, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, T. S. Eliot, Robert Penn Warren, and Ford Madox Ford, the author whom Gordon considered her mentor.  She was herself a mentor to younger writers, perhaps most notably, Walker Percy.



Written by LW

October 6, 2016 at 1:01 am

“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


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.


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


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.”



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


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



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”*…



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

* Buddy Hackett


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

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