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Results 1 - 25 of 69
1. The two Harriet Daimlers (includes mild, cartoon nudity)

All day, the blogger at Bella's Bookshelves has been tweeting about her pleasure in reading After Claude by Iris Owens. Which got us thinking that the book's heroine, Harriet Daimler, with her take-no-prisoners strategy and her viper-tongue, might make a good role model this winter. Let's not take this miserable season lying down, let's rally our wits and bitch at it until it relents. We're all Harriet Daimlers now.

[read Gerald Howard on Owens's "sublime snarkfest" at Bookforum]

Here Maxine, an friend tries to offer Harriet some advice:

“Well,” she demanded, “what’s happening between you and Claude? Isn’t he planning to marry you and take you back to Paris with him?”
    If there’s one thing on this earth that irritates me, it’s when a dumpy, frigid, former nymphomaniac assumes that my tongue is hanging out, thirsting for marital bliss. It goes without saying that though ideally suited and ecstatically happy, Jerry and Maxine had flown directly from their wedding ceremony to group therapy, paying top prices for the privilege of insulting each other in front of an audience.
    “I’ll make you a promise, Maxine, and then let’s adjourn this summit conference. I promise you that the day I decide to marry anyone I hate as much as you hate Jerry, one: you’ll be the first to know, and two: I’ll seek professional help.”
    Did Maxine get the message and leave me in peace? Not a chance. She sat there radiant with superior knowledge. “My dear, that is precisely your sickness. You think everybody hates their life. You’re wrong. I don’t hate Jerry. I love him. My heart may not palpitate when he walks into the room, but I’m happy with him. I appreciate his devotion and goodness. I love our child, our home.”
    “Excuse me very much, but if it’s love, sweet love, that makes you parade the streets like a crazed drag queen, if it’s happiness that drives you to come sniffing around here like a starved alley cat, give me hate and misery.”

Of course, Harriet Daimler was also the name under which Iris Owens wrote pornographic novels for the legendary Olympia Press. So maybe we should be looking to this young lady, who graced the cover of a reprint of Owens's notorious rape-fantasy novel, Darling (if not to the contents of the book). She radiates joy of the kind hard to find in bleak midwinter.


2. Jules Renard's Bestiary

If you follow us on Twitter, you might notice that we couldn't help posting bits from Jules Renard's charming and inventive collection of observations of the natural world, Histoires Naturelles or Nature Stories. They were just too delightful not to share. Where writers often seek to make the world strange in order to enable us to experience it afresh, Renard's gift is to domesticate the by-definition inhuman. His patently false imaginings of animals' inner lives paradoxically grant them their own realities—realities that Renard's writings help us to understand that we can never understand. And beyond that, they will make you gasp with the wonder of this gifted and too-little-known writer's wholely fresh way of putting into words everything he observes.

To celebrate the book's official on-sale date, we can finally let you in on some longer excerpts, accompanied by the illustrations that Pierre Bonnard drew for the 1904 edition of the book.

And if, like us, you aren't satisfied with just one book by Jules Renard, then you must run out and buy the selection of his Journals translated by Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Roget and published by Tin House Books.


From "Frogs"


    They’re suddenly relaxing their springs. That’s how they take exercise.
    They’re leaping out of the grass like heavy drops of frying oil.
    They pose, like bronze paperweights, on large water lilies.
    One of them is soaking in air. Through his mouth, you could drop a coin into the money box of his stomach.
    They rise like sighs, out of the mud.
    Motionless, with their large eyes level with the water, they seem like growths on the flat pond.
    Squatting like tailors, they’re yawning, stupefied at the setting sun.
    Then, like street vendors deafening people as they yell, they croak the latest news items of the day.
    They’re giving a party this evening, at home. Can’t you hear them polishing the glasses?
    Sometimes, they snap up an insect.
    Others are only interested in love.

"The Stag"

      50buck I went into the wood at one end of the avenue as he was coming in at the other.
    At first I thought a stranger had just come in, wearing a plant on top of his head.
    Then I could see the little dwarf tree spreading out its leafless branches.
    Finally the stag came plainly into sight, and we both came to a halt.
    “Don’t be afraid, come closer,” I said. “I’m carrying a gun, but it

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3. Today's pro-book message, in the form of a poem

Tunhuang Here is a charming bit of verse, found in the beginning of Yasushi Inoue's Tun-huang. The poem helps give us a feel for the ethos of the Song dynasty (the setting of this historical novel), in which erudition was highly valued. Of course, the hero of Tun-huang sleeps through the test he is meant to take, diverting his life-plan along a path of adventure, heroism, and literary stewardship. What's more, the bibliomania of the poem's author, Emperor Chen Tsung, apparently caused the downfall of his dynasty. According to one source: "By 1020 the emperor was insane and his power had passed to eunuchs." 

No need to acquire rich lands to increase the family's wealth,
For in books are a thousand measures of millet.
No need to build mansions in which to dwell in peace,
For in books are abodes of gold.
Complain not that you have no attendants when you leave         your home,
For in books are horses in numbers beyond reckoning.
No need to lament the dearth of fair maidens when you marry,
For in books are maidens with countenances of jade.
You who would realize your aspirations,
Use the light from your window to recite the     Six Classics.

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4. Commonplace: Nicolas Bouvier on insects

The Marshal Insect Album via Bibliodyssey

"For a long time I lived without hating anything much. Today, I positively hate flies. Even thinking about them brings tears to my eyes. A life entirely devoted to wiping them out seems to me a great destiny. I mean the flies of Asia; those who have never been out of Europe are no judges of the matter. In Europe flies keep to windows, to sticky liquids, to the shade of corridors. Sometimes they even wander on to a flower. They are no more than shadows of themselves, exorcised – that is to say, innocent. In Asia they are spoilt by the abundance of the dead and the abandon of the living, and they have a sinister insouciance. Tough and relentless, smuts from some horrible material, they are up with the sun and the world is theirs. Once it is daylight, sleep is impossible. At the slightest hint of repose, they take you for a dead horse and attack their favourite morsels: the corners of the lips, around the eyes, the eardrums. You find yourself asleep? They venture forth, get in a panic, and in their inimitable manner buzz up channels of the most sensitive mucus membranes in the nose, at which point you leap to your feet, retching. But if there is a cut, an ulcer or a spot that hasn’t yet healed over, you could perhaps doze off for a bit because they will make a beeline for that, and their tipsy immobility then – replacing their odious agitation – has to be seen to be believed. You can then observe one at leisure: it has no obvious appeal, is not exactly streamlined, and its broken, erratic, absurd flight, designed to get on one’s nerves, is beneath contempt. The mosquito, which one would happily do without, is an artist by comparison."

From The Way of the WorldProduct-thumbnail
by Nicolas Bouvier

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5. Checking in on Thoreau: The first entry

Oct. 22 [1837].
“What are you doing now?” he* asked. “Do you keep a journal?” So I make my first entry to-day.


So begins Henry David Thoreau's Journal, one of the major projects of the naturalist's career, and one that would eventually comprise nearly one million words.

The abridged Journal of Henry David Thoreau will be available through www.nyrb.com in early November.

More excerpts from the Journal:
June 10th, 1857

June 15th, 1852
August 11th, 1858

*In his introduction to The Journal, editor Damion Searls remarks, "The 'he' in this first entry is undoubtedly Emerson."

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6. Checking in on Thoreau: arguing about John Brown and finding friends in windfall acorns

Today's excerpts from Henry David Thoreau's Journal are in posthumous dialogue with The New York Times. The first dates from exactly 149 years ago and itself was written around the one-year anniversary of John Brown's execution. As these editorials from earlier in the week show, we haven't finished arguing about the raid on Harper's Ferry. The second excerpt came to mind after reading the Urban Forager's recipe for acorn-flour bread. In these two passages, we see the diversity of subject in Thoreau's daily log, but also how, in each case, he draws from the particular moment (a debate, a discovery) a lesson for about life and its proper conduct.

Dec. 3 [1860]. Talking with Walcott and Staples to-day, they declared that John Brown did wrong. When I said that I thought he was right, they agreed in asserting that he did wrong because he threw his life away, and that no man had a right to undertake anything which he knew would cost him his life. I inquired if Christ did not foresee that he would be crucified if he preached such doctrines as he did, but they both, though as if it was their only escape, asserted that they did not believe that he did. Upon which a third party threw in, "You do not think that he had so much foresight as Brown." Of course, they as good as said that, if Christ had foreseen that he would be crucified, he would have "backed out." Such are the principles and the logic of the mass of men. It is to be remembered that by good deeds or words you encourage yourself, who always have need to witness or hear them.

Oct.8 [1851]. By the side of J.P. Brown’s grain-field I picked up some white oak acorns in the path by the wood-side, which I found to be unexpectedly sweet and palatable, the bitterness being scarcely perceptible. To my taste they are quite as good as chestnuts. No wonder the first men lived on acorns. Such as these are no mean food, such as they are represented to be. Their sweetness is like the sweetness of bread, and to have discovered this palatableness in this neglected nut, the whole world is to me the sweeter for it. To find that acorns are edible,—it is a greater addition to one’s stock of life than would be imagined. I should be at least equally pleased if I were to find that the grass tasted sweet and nutritious. It increases the number of my friends; it diminishes the number of my foes. How easily at this season I could feed myself in the woods!


More excerpts from the Journal:
June 10th, 1857

June 15th, 1852
August 11th, 1858
Oct. 22, 1837

7. "One could love her for the only sufficient reason that one chose to."

Rachel Felix
Rachel Felix (said to be an inspiration for the character of Minna) as Phèdre.
Image from the NYPL Digital Collection.

The other day, a kindly reader wrote in to make sure we were doing ok, mentally:

Dear Friends at NYRB,
Thank you for your update on novels about madness, isolation, troubled minds, dark companions, the dead of winter, and brutal Soviet camps.

You folks need to cheer up.

Well, reader, we hear you. And just to show you that we've got other modes besides doom and gloom, we're going to hit you with some lovey-dovey stuff, in honor of Valentine's day (and Valentine Ackland). This excerpt, from Sylvia Townsend Warner's thrilling Summer Will Show, has to be one of the more romantic and even life-affirming things we've published. And STW manages to get a little critique of capital in there as well. Enjoy!

Her happiness, blossoming in her so late and so defiantly, seemed of an immortal kind. One day, looking over a second-hand bookstall with Minna, she opened a snuffy volume that had English poems in it. Her eye fell on the verse:

My love is of a birth as rare
As ’tis of object strange and high,
It was begotten by despair
Upon impossibility.

“Look,” she said, pointing on the withered page.

Minna began to glance about for the vendor.

“No. Let me look at the other poems. It is silly to buy a book just for the sake of a verse which one can learn by heart.” It seemed to her that the other poems were wilfully annoying, and she would have put down the book, but Minna clung to it, absorbed, her lips fumbling at the English syllables.

Un objet bizarre et élevé. Sophia, I must buy this book. I feel an obligation towards it. Besides, it will improve my English.”

To please her Sophia spent some time beating down the bookstall man.

Whatever it did for Minna’s English, Sophia did not open the book again; but that one verse, rapidly memorised, stayed in her head, and seemed in some way to sum up the quality of her improbable happiness, just as Minna’s absurd bizarre et élevé hit off the odd mixture of nobility and extravagance which was the core of the Minna she loved.

Minna was not beautiful, nor young. Her principles were so inconsistent that to all intents and purposes she had no principles at all. Her character was a character of extremes: magnanimous and unscrupulous, fickle, ardent, and interfering. Her speaking voice was exquisite and her talent of words exquisitely cultivated, but she frequently talked great nonsense. Similarly, her wits were sharp and her artfulness consummate, and for all that she was maddeningly gullible. She offered nothing that Sophia had been brought up to consider as love-worthy or estimable, for what good qualities she had must be accepted with their opposites, in an inconsequential pell-mell of wheat and tares.

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8. World Cup fever, NYRB style (with Yuri Olesha)


Yuri Olesha's Envy, the funniest novel you'll ever read about the quest for the perfect means of mass producing sausage, has as its dramatic center a soccer match between the USSR and Germany. In the passage below, Volodya is the shlub of a narrator's rival, and Goetske is the flamboyant star of the opposing team. The playing styles of the two men are contrasted, each, perhaps, reflecting the spirit of his home country.

Volodya would catch the ball in midflight, when it seemed mathematically impossible. The entire audience, the entire living slope of the stands seemed to get steeper; each spectator was halfway to his feet, impelled by a terrible, impatient desire to see, at last, the most interesting thing—the scoring of a goal. The referees were sticking whistles into their lips as they walked, ready to whistle for a goal...Volodya wasn’t catching the ball, he was ripping it from its line of flight, like someone who has violated the laws of physics and was hit by the stunning action of thwarted forces. He would fly up with the ball, spinning around, literally screwing himself up on it. He would grab the ball with his entire body—knees, belly, and chin—throwing his weight at the speed of the ball, the way someone throws a rag down to put out a flame. The usurped speed of the ball would throw Volodya two meters to the side, and he would fall like a firecracker. The opposing forwards would run at him, but ultimately the ball would end up high above the fray.
    Volodya stayed inside the goal. He couldn’t just stand there, though. He walked the line of the goal from post to post, trying to tamp down the surge of energy from his battle with the ball. Everything was roaring inside him. He swung his arms, shook himself, kicked up a clump of earth with his toe. Elegant before the start of the game, he now consisted of rags, a black body, and the leather of his huge, fingerless gloves. The breaks didn’t last long. Once again the Germans’ attack would roll toward Moscow’s goal. Volodya passionately desired victory for his team and worried about each of his players. He thought that only he knew how you should play against Goetske, what his weak points were, how to defend against his attacks. He was also interested in what opinion the famous German was forming about the Soviet game. When he himself clapped and shouted “hurray” to each of his backs, he felt like shouting to Goetske then: “Look how we’re playing! Do you think we’re playing well?”
    As a soccer player, Volodya was Goetske’s exact opposite. Volodya was a professional athlete; the other was a professional player. What was important to Volodya was the overall progress of the game, the overall victory, the outcome; Goetske was anxious merely to demonstrate his art. He was an old hand who was not there to support the team’s honor; he treasured only his own success; he was not a permanent member of any sports organization because he had compromised himself by moving from club to club for money. He was barred from participating in play-off matches. He was invited only for friendly games, exhibition games, and trips to other countries. He combined art and luck. His presence made a team dangerous. He despised the other players—both his side and his opponents. He knew he could kick a goal against any team. The rest didn’t matter to him. He was a hack.

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9. "An insect from the moon"—Ernst Jünger's Glass Bees

In honor of the 4th annual celebration of Pollinator Week, we bring you an excerpt from Ernst Jünger's prescient novel, The Glass Bees. In this section, the book's narrator, called to a job interview at the house of industrialist/entertainer Zapparoni (imagine Walt Disney with a sideline in weapons of mass destruction), notices an odd buzz in the air.

(Jünger, by the way, fought during World War I, and died only in 1998—he saw some action during the Second World War as well, and a little later, in hanging out with Albert Hofmann, the inventor of LSD.)

The bees seemed to have finished their siesta; the air was filled with their humming. They were searching for food in the meadow, sweeping in clouds over the foaming flood of whiteness which stood high over the grass, or dipping into its colorful depth. They hung in clusters on the white jasmine which bordered the path; and out of the blossoming maple beside the pavilion their swarming sounded as if it came from the interior of some huge bell which reverberates for a long time after its midday peal. There was no lack of blossoms; it was one of those years when beekeepers say that “the fenceposts give honey.”

And yet there was something strange in these peaceful activities.... As I sat there, watching the swarms, I sometimes saw creatures flying past which seemed to differ in an odd way from the usual types. I can rely on my eyesight: I have tested it—and not only when hunting game birds. Now, it wasn’t difficult for me to follow one of these creatures until it descended upon a flower. Then I saw, with the help of my field glasses, that I had not been deceived.

Although, as I said before, I know only a few insects, I at once had the impression of something undreamed-of, something extremely bizarre—the impression, let us say, of an insect from the moon. A demiurge from a distant realm, who had once heard of bees, might have created it.

I had plenty of time to examine this creature, and similar ones were now arriving from all directions like workmen at the gate of a factory when a siren blows. At first I was struck by the large size of these bees. Although they were not as big as those which Gulliver met in Brobdingnag—he defended himself against them with his little sword—they were considerably larger than a normal bee or even a hornet. They were about the size of a walnut still encased in its green shell. The wings were not movable like the wings of birds or insects, but were arranged around their bodies in a rigid band, and acted as stabilizing and supporting surfaces.

Their large size was less striking than one might think, since they were completely transparent. Indeed, my idea of them was derived mainly from the glitter of their movements as seen in the sunlight. When the creature I now watched hovered before the blossom of a convolvulus whose calyx it tapped with a tongue shaped like a glass probe, it was almost invisible.

This sight fascinated me to such a degree that I forgot time and place. We are gripped by a similar astonishment when we see a machine which reveals a ne

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10. Commonplace: Unforgiving Years, pt. 2

“Our unpardonable error was to believe that what they call soul—I prefer to call it conscience—was no more than a projection of the old superseded egoism. If I’m still alive, it’s because I realized that we misrepresented the grandeur of conscience. You don’t have to tell me about the deformed or rotten or spineless consciences, the blind consciences, the half-blind consciences, the intermittent, flickering, comatose consciences! And spare me the conditioned reflexes, glandular secretions, and assorted complexes of psychoanalysis: I’m all too aware of the monsters swarming in the primeval slime, deep inside me, deep inside you. There’s a stubborn little glimmer all the same, an incorruptible light that can, at times, shine through the granite that prison walls and tombstones are made of; an impersonal little light that flares up inside to illuminate, judge, refute, or wholly condemn. It is no one’s property and no machine can take the measure of it; it often wavers uncertainly because it feels alone—what brutes we’ve been, to let it die in its solitude!”

Serge_unforgiving_2 Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge

Read a note from the editor about Victor Serge

Read another excerpt from  Unforgiving Years

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11. Afloat vs. Afloat

A guide to telling apart two books with the same title.

Maupassant_afloat 9780241143445l

Guy de Maupassant on Afloat:

This diary has no interesting story to tell, no tales of derringdo.Last spring I went on a short cruise along the Mediterranean coast and every day, in my spare time, I jotted down things I’d seen and thought. In fact what I saw was water, sun, cloud, and rocks and that’s all. I had only simple thoughts, the kind you have when you’re being carried drowsily along on the cradle of the waves.

Jennifer McCartney in coversation about Afloat:

Q: Does it aggravate you when people ask you how someone as young as you are can create a novel with so much emotional depth and complexity, or do you look upon it as a compliment?

A: I think some people are confused not so much by the emotional depth, but with the concept of how someone so young can have anything to write about in terms of life experience, and that’s fine. I’ve been lucky enough to have lived in six American states, in Scotland and England, and held over twenty-five jobs. That emotional depth comes from having a lot of different experiences, but that’s not a necessity for writing, really. A lot of Canadian and U.K. writers publish in their twenties . . . I’d like to think Afloat stands alone as a novel, regardless of my age. Most readers won’t know it was written when I was twenty-four.

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12. Will T.S. Eliot ever forgive us for this post?


Read as penance—or listen.

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13. Fairly used

Alasdair Gray is perhaps not as well known in the US as he should be, though not for lack of Gavin Grant's trying, nor, for that matter his own enlightened beliefs about disseminating excerpts of his work:

About authors' property rights I am a Socialist who thinks nobody should pay for quoting less than 200 words. Nearly everyone who wants to use my illustrations and words — sometimes whole stories — is allowed to have them free if they are not a financially successful publishing firm. I think it a pity that the law has extended dead authors' copyrights from 50 to 70 years. I thought of adding a clause to my will making the copyrights of my books free for all, but my wife is much younger than me and depends on my income, so I did not do it. [link to the post from which this is taken]

We frequently receive requests for permission to quote from books we publish—often in non-commercial publications or scholarly works. Since we do not control such reproduction rights, we cannot deny or grant permission. Instead I sometimes try to sketch out a brief description of the doctrine of fair use: a doctrine that seems to be in danger of dying out from disuse.   It's not something made up by Lawrence Lessig and his pals at Stanford, you can read about it at the US Copyright Office. The University of Texas site also includes a helpful discussion.

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14. A provincial lady on A High Wind in Jamaica

"(Mem.: Would it not be possible to write more domesticated and less foreign version of High Wind in Jamaica, featuring extraordinary callousness of infancy?) Can distinctly recollect heated correspondence in Time and Tide regarding vraisemblance or otherwise of Jamaica children, and now range myself, decidedly and forever, on the side of the author. Can quite believe that dear Vicky would murder any number of sailors, if necessary."

from The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield; thanks to rbhardy3rd for posting this to the NYRB LibraryThing forum.

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15. Commonplace: The Wonderful O at The New Yorker

"[Thurber's] anger increased when The New Yorker ultimately refused to publish The Wonderful O because Thurber wouldn't approve the magazine's condensation of the story and he couldn't cut it enough himself to suit the editors. In a letter...Thurber mocked the note often placed at the end of New Yorker book reviews, ' The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, was first printed in this magazine in a shorter version under the title The Aorta of Darknes.' "

—from Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber, by Neil A. Grauer

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16. Commonplace: The Wonderful O at The New Yorker

"[Thurber's] anger increased when The New Yorker ultimately refused to publish The Wonderful O because Thurber wouldn't approve the magazine's condensation of the story and he couldn't cut it enough himself to suit the editors. In a letter...Thurber mocked the note often placed at the end of New Yorker book reviews, ' The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, was first printed in this magazine in a shorter version under the title The Aorta of Darknes.' "

???from Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber, by Neil A. Grauer

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17. Commonplace: Henry de Montherlant as maverick

Montherlant "As Robert B. Johnson puts it in Henry de Montherlant (1968), 'Montherlant is French literature's twentieth century maverick,' and mavericks do not, on the whole, endear themselves to political bigots."

—John Fletcher, "Henry de Montherlant," French Novelists, 1930-1960

Chaos and Night by Henry de Montherlant (with an introduction by Gary Indiana) is forthcoming from NYRB in March 2009.

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18. Commonplace: From the bathroom wall

Mistress Masham Professor  "The Professor was silly enough to think that if doctors had to pass examinations before they could cut out his appendix, then members of parliament ought to pass examinations before they could rule his life."

—T.H. White, Mistress Masham's Repose, p. 155

Mistress Masham

Photographed in the bathroom of Community Bookstore in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where L.J. Davis read to a standing-room-only crowd last night. If you missed it, swing by Book Court on April 14th. Davis will read from A Meaningful Life and then discuss the book with Jonathan Lethem.

L.J. Davis and Jonathan Lethem at Bookcourt in Brooklyn 4/14

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19. Checking in on Thoreau

[the first of what may become an ongoing series in which a publishing drudge, working on a new abridgment of the Journals of H.D. Thoreau daydreams about life far away from florescent light glare and ever-whirring air-conditioning fans]

June 10 05_Dogwood_2

In 2005, the Thoreau Institute kept a chronologic photographic record of some areas of the grounds around their offices. This is the dogwood tree as it appeared on June 10 of that year.

June 10, 1857

In Julius Smith's yard, a striped snake (so called) was running about this forenoon, and in the afternoon it was found to have shed its slough, leaving it halfway out a hole, which probably it used to confine it in. It was about in its new skin. Many creatures—devil's-needles, etc., etc.—cast their sloughs now. Can't I?


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20. Checking in on Thoreau (ii)

Photograph by Paul-W via Flickr

June 15 1852. Very warm. Now for a thin coat. This melting weather makes a stage in the year. The drouth begins. The dry z-ing of the locust is heard. Bathing cannot be omitted. The conversation of all boys in the streets is whether they will or not or who will go in a-swimming, and how they will not tell their parents. You lie with open windows and hear the sounds in the streets.

How rapidly new flowers unfold! as if Nature would get through her work too soon. One has as much as he can do to observe how flowers successively unfold. It is a flowery revolution, to which but few attend. Hardly too much attention can be bestowed on flowers. We follow, we march after, the highest color; that is our flag, our standard, our “color.” Flowers were made to be seen, not overlooked. Their bright colors imply eyes, spectators.

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21. Commonplace: How am I to lose myself once again among the stones of Aran?

"Finding the entrance to the labyrinth is not the simplest of steps, for I find myself separated from it by another labyrinth. I no longer live in Aran; I cannot jump on my bicycle and go and have another look at that harsh grey hillside. My sight-lines and thought-lines to it are interrupted by the thick boggy hills and dazzling waters of Connemara. I am too far for touch, too near for Proustian telescopy. There is also a dense forest of signposts in the way, the huge amount of material I have assembled to help me. Here to my hand are a shelf of books, thirteen piled volumes of diary, boxes bursting with record cards, a filing-cabinet of notes, letters, off prints from specialist journals, maps and newspaper cuttings. Also, three ring-binders of writing accumulated over a dozen years towards this work, some of it outdated, misinformed, unintelligibly sketchy, some so highly polished it will have to be cracked open again in order to fuse with what is still to be written. What tense must I use to comprehend memories, memories of memories of what is forgotten, words that once held memories but are now just words? What period am I to set myself in, acknowledging the changes in the island noted in my brief revisitings over the years, the births and deaths I hear of in telephone calls? In what voice am I to embody the person who wrote that first volume with little thought of publisher or readership during a cryptic, enisled time, I who live nearer the main and have had public definitions attached to me, including some I would like to shake off—environmentalist, cartographer—and whose readers will open this volume looking for more of the same and will be disappointed if they get it? How am I to lose myself once again among the stones of Aran"

from The Stones of Aran: Labyrinth by Tim Robinson

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22. An Etymologist Looks at Puck and is Not Afraid


By Anatoly Liberman

I have once written about ragamuffin and its kin, including Italian ragazzo “boy,” which I think is a member of that extended family. Dealing with rag-devils had inured me to the dangers of demonology. (Pay attention to the alliteration. I am so used to writing notes on literary texts that I could not pass by my own sentence without a comment.) Those who know who Puck is remember him from Shakespeare. He is a mischievous sprite in Elizabethan comedy, and the modern adjective puckish also refers to mischief. Folklorists have studied this character extensively; among others, there is a book titled The Anatomy of Puck. Now that Puck has been dismembered, a historical linguist can fearlessly approach his body and draw a few tentative conclusions. (more…)

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23. Commonplace: Unforgiving Years, pt. 1

In honor of New York City's first real snowstorm of the season.

"A blizzard of thickly falling snowflakes, more opaque than white, held nightfall back over the airfield and gave Daria her first deep thrill. Snow, I salute you, dear whirling snow, you that soften the cold and fill the darkest of nights with intimations of lightness, blotting the pathways, making space huge, and setting the wolves to howling! You deliver me from the sands, no more desert, yesterday is simply the past. You deliver me from the rot of inaction."

Serge_unforgiving_2 Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge

Read a note from the editor about Victor Serge

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24. Monthly Gleanings


By Anatoly Liberman

I keep receiving letters and comments on the spelling reform. When I broached this subject more than a month ago, I was aware of the fact that some groups on both sides of the Atlantic still believe in the possibility of the reform. Thanks to several responses, I now know more about their activities. They organize conferences and publish books on simplified spelling. I am full of sympathy for their work, even though their voices are weak and the wilderness is vast. There is no need to repeat the arguments of the opponents, for they, like the arguments of the advocates, have not changed since the middle of the 19th century. I will only dwell on two. (more…)

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25. Hubba-Hubba


By Anatoly Liberman

Hubba-hubba is dated slang, a word remembered even less then groovy and bobby-soxer. To my surprise, even my computer does not know it. And yet it was all over the place sixty and fifty years ago. Its origin attracted a good deal of attention soon after World War II and then again in the eighties. (more…)

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