Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Some words have been swept up by the force of a historical moment. Like gay, diversity is one of those words.

However, last evening, in the small reading room that contains the central portion of Crawford Doyle Booksellers (since 1991), the shop keeper, who can converse about books at length, and did with me as she pulled book after book to help me find one I'd want to take home, spoke of Martin Amis's friendship with the late Christopher Hitchens, saying something about how Mr Amis said in an interview (on Charlie Rose, I think)

they shared 


they had 

a diversity of conversation.

To hear diversity in one of its former contexts was happy-making (Beth Bosworth word).

After looking around the shop and being introduced to several books, from poetry to biography to essays, I decided upon a book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who herself was an aviator. This was the diversity-speaker's first recommendation. I'd never heard of the book.

Its cover is one of the homeliest I've ever seen. It reminds me of a tissue box. I almost ripped it off, the way my middle school teacher ripped off the cover of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (because it showed a still from the film), but figure I'll paste a great big sticker when serendipity tosses up a suitable sticker gift.

The woman at the checkout table told me it was her mother's favorite book. Of course my mother's favorite book came to mind: Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird.

At the desk, leafing through some of the pages,

I thought of Carolyn Heilbrun's Writing a Woman's Life and also some of Vivian Gornick's prose, though clearly this wasn't those.

My concern was that it was going to be sentimental or pocked with tea-bag wisdom (the cover, the cover, the cover). One bedtime chapter in, it's not.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Patricia Marx has the dubious honor of being the first writer quoted in this blog to have two y words included lo these four years (officially). It's possible Nicholson Baker also has two but I don't think so and am not lifting my fingers to check. Possibly Anthony Lane as well.

Ms. Marx, whose cleavagey of 2010 has stayed with me even more than all the semi-finalists of that year, recently wrote a Talk of the Town piece about fossil seekers led on a hunt by the American Museum of Natural History's collections manager for "paleo herps and chirps." This for The New Yorker's September 17 issue.

Avinash Schwarzkopf, a six-year-old in blue board shorts, cupped an oodgy-colored something and held it up to Mehling for examination.

The reader has to wonder: what does a fact-checker do with a word like oodgy? No such word exists either in the OED or Merriam-Webster's Tenth. It's not in the RH Dictionary of American Slang. Is it like a Code Red, known only to people who can handle the truth?

Maybe somebody from the magazine's fact-checking department will run into me accidentally on purpose at the Brooklyn Book Fair on Sunday and tell me.

There's an alternative spelling: oogy. Oodgy is much better, raising, as it does, fudgy and ooze from the depths.

A fossil of an ammonite, an extinct cephalopod
[ Herve Conge, ISM/Science Photo Library ]

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


From "The quest for Ithaca," a June 8 blog post by one Matt Pickles on Arts at Oxford, one of the many blogs to be found at Oxford University's website (I'd been rummaging around in Bruges but somehow ended up in England):

His poetry [Cavafy's] only gained widespread recognition after his death but his work has since become an inspiration for many – his poem Ithaca was even read aloud at the funeral of Jacky Kennedy.

Hmm. It would be nice to read into this typo, but it's doubtful that was the author's intention.

And personally, I stick to Ithaka, though it's not mandatory. 

I went on to learn from a NYRB podcast with Daniel Mendelsohn, Cavafy often wrote notes ("not for publication but should remain here") in English because "he was fluent in English -- he grew up in England, actually -- which is why we're told he spoke Greek with an English accent."

As trivia goes -- as cocktail party chit-chat (the kind Slate used to serve up and may still) -- the influences of England and Englishness on Cavafy are more interesting than Jacqueline Onassis' request for "Ithaka" to be read at her funeral. (Unless there is something really earth-shaking about the request--perhaps there is. Meanwhile, I'm looking ahead to February when Elfriede Jelinek's play about the editor and former first lady arrives -- we can't all make that trip to Toronto in 2006.)

"Undated working manuscript of “Ithaka” in
Cavafy’s hand, Cavafy Archive, S.N.H."

"Last photograph of Cavafy, taken just
before his death in 1933 S.N.H."
[ artwork from Cavafy's World ]

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Y words galore in the New Yorker's September 10th issue.

First and last, from Peter Canby's "Mushroom Noises" in the Talk of the Town section:

A pedestrian pushed a squeaky-wheeled baby stroller, creating a wobbly tremolo [no italics for tremolo].

Mr Canby's next sentence includes "a thumpy percussion," and given that this weekend I learned of thump's relation to tump in Old-Scots lingo (eligible for inclusion in The Scone Charter? probably no), thumpy was almost tonight's post.

Too, I considered drapey, from Bruce Eric Kaplan's caption for his cartoon showing the grim reaper  trying on a black cloak at a clothing shop. (My guess is that every time the grim reaper appears in the New Yorker's pages, half its readers recall Charlie Rose's interview with the great man.) Drapey was a candidate because isn't drapes a word that the advertising industry pushed, displacing curtains? Vaguely interesting if it's true.

Wobbly comes to the top, however, because of Mr Canby's pairing with tremolo [italics mine]. A wobbly vibrato, for example, wouldn't be half as good, and I can't quite really say why. There it is. Wobbly tremolo is much more pleasing to the eye, to me.

On a related note, the idea, as mentioned in the article, of using "the fruiting of mushrooms as [a] randomizing conceit" when recording ambient sounds for a soundscape event (this weekend at Cooper Union), reminds me of the kind of thing writhing society people do over at Proteus Gowanus: define a constraint; compose accordingly.

It would be fortuitous if somewhere in the vicinity of a mushroom patch somebody's ear caught the sound of a poppy unfolding its petals. This is a delicate crinkling (or un-crinkling). It's on tonight's short list with horseshoe crabs, butterscotch pudding, and Edith Wharton.

Monday, September 3, 2012


I miss the independent book shops of Manhattan. 

Don't you? You should.

I realize: they're mainly in Brooklyn now. Also in New Paltz. 

From (Robert) Osborn's 1960 book The Vulgarians: A Satire in Words and Pictures on the Decline of Greatness and Rise of Mediocrity in America:

the seduction of America had begun . . . . . 

and a culture of foaming nonsense now engulfs us all with its banal, vitiated, cute, odorless, dainty, syrupy-voiced, breathy, bloodless



[courtesy Attic Books and Treasures, Mathias, W. Va.]

I read this and thought But he hasn't even been in New York City lately.