Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Monday, February 29, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 212

More about Washington Irving ...

Still later, when I taught college-prep juniors at Western Reserve Academy, I gave them a little “reading guide” to the stories, a guide on which I defined for them words like inveterate, cognomen, supernumerary, ferule, chopfallen, and numerous others. And, of course, I showed them the Disney film that had terrified me. They loved it.
Joyce and I were also visiting Irving sites here and there. Including Tarrytown. And Sleepy Hollow. The local high school is called Sleepy Hollow High—and their mascot? A Headless Horseman. It seemed a bit bizarre to me, having as a symbol of your educational institution a guy with no head—and, obviously, no brain.
Irving’s gravesite is in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, located in, well, Sleepy Hollow. His is a modest stone that mentions only his name, his dates of birth and death (1783–1859).
Not so the nearby site where lie the remains of Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919), who selected that cemetery because he was an admirer of Irving’s work. (Hard to imagine that their lives overlapped by some twenty-four years; the year Irving died, Carnegie was promoted to superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Pittsburgh Division.) I’d gotten interested in Carnegie about a decade ago when I began writing a memoir about my life as a reader (and, in adolescence, a non-reader). I’d planned to begin the work with a visit to my boyhood library, the Carnegie Public Library in Enid, Oklahoma—but then I discovered (via my mom) that the city had razed that gorgeous building in 1972 and erected some big and “modern” and ugly structure. Oh well. Still, my research sent me off on an adventure of discovery about Carnegie and his library program.[1] I published the book myself on Kindle Direct. I’d recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer—a disease that has appeared for a number of repeat engagements—and did not have the energy (or, surely, the time) to commence a long search for an agent and/or a publisher.[2]
Anyway, Carnegie’s gravesite had once featured armed security guards—no longer necessary. It still features a stone, a small grove, an obelisk—not so modest. But I wonder: Today, in 2016, if you were to ask The Person on the Street, Tell me about Andrew Carnegie—and then, Tell me about Washington Irving— about whom would you hear more? Might be a toss-up. Carnegie’s name is still on many libraries, on concert halls. Everyone’s heard of (if not read) “Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip.”
By far our favorite Irving site, though, is his former home—now open to the public—“Sunnyside,” in Tarrytown, New York, alongside the Hudson River. We’ve visited quite a few times.

[1] Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss (Kindle Direct, 2012).
[2] And I’ve now published nearly two dozen titles on Kindle Direct as I gallop into my dotage.

Sleep Hollow Cemetery
Irving's grave in center--white--flage

Sleepy Hollow HS (enlarge the sign!)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 91

1. AOTW: It happened twice this week on two different roads: The AOTWs, approaching me, turned left right in front of me (brakes! curses!)--even though no one was behind me for. WTF?!?!?!

2. I finished another book by John A. Williams (1925-2015) this week--Sissie (1963), his third novel. As I've said in earlier posts, I'm reading my way through the works of this writer I'd never heard of until his obituary appeared last summer in the New York Times (link to obit). I thought Id try one book; I liked it--a lot. Next thing I knew--I knew I was going to read them all. And I'm on the way!

Sissie is one of three principal characters in the story. She's the mother of Ralph and Iris. The former is a playwright beginning his career in NYC; the latter, a jazz singer now working in Europe, where she faces far less racism. Sissie, out in California, is dying, so Iris flies to NYC to meet with her brother, and they will fly together out to see their mother.

Williams very skillfully interweaves the three stories--shifting the point of view throughout. We get Ralph's story, Iris', but not until the very end do we see events from Sissie's perspective.

Ralph is definitely struggling--a black man in a white world. At one point, he says his confidence is gone--"Because I'm a Negro. ... I want everything that living means. ... I am a human being" (111).

What struck me, over and over in this 1963 novel is how so little has changed in so many fundamental ways. I was 19 the year the novel appeared, a college sophomore. And Sissie echoes the cries that still resonate in our streets.

4. Joyce and I watched this week a fine 2011 documentary (via Netflix DVD)--Page One: Inside the New York Times. (Link to trailer on YouTube.) We go right in the newsroom, out on the road with reporters, and we witness the decline of print journalism firsthand. We see Times employees weeping when they're being "downsized"; we see the efforts of everyone to keep the Times what it has always been. But ... advertising revenue has plummeted; fewer and fewer people subscribe to daily newspapers; social media now perform many of the functions the newspaper once did. It was particularly sad for me because of the declines I experienced at the Plain Dealer. The paper has shrunk, become a far more quiet voice in northeastern Ohio, and all of this makes me surpassingly sad.

5. Our grandson Logan (5th grade) plays on a traveling Kiwanis-sponsored basketball league in Green, Ohio (where they live), and this weekend he's had a tournament in the Hudson High School gyms. Amazing to see so many kids playing, so many folks in the stands. I didn't play on a team until seventh grade in the Hiram (Ohio) Schools ... is it too obvious to say that things have changed? Logan loves it, and I remember the thrill of running around on the court, trying to figure things out, realizing there were kids who were just a lot better than I, enjoying the friendships with my teammates. Ah, youth!

6. Last night, Joyce and I had another Hot Saturday Night, Office Depot, TJ Maxx, Books-a-Million, McD's for a Diet Coke. Party on!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Oh, Them Books!

When Joyce and I first started buying books back in late 1969 (when we were married), we didn't really know what we were doing. All we knew? We wanted to read, read read. (And we still do.)

And so we went the Cheap Route. Book-of-the-Month Club (BOMC), Literary Guild (LG), the Fireside Theater (FT), all three of which actually re-published the publishers' editions in smaller, cheaper versions--great for us (we thought) back in our deeply impecunious years (both in grad school, living on her grad assistantship and my wee salary as a public school teacher). Sometimes we chose books over food (kidding--but not by much!).

Later, of course, we learned that those BOMC, LG, and FT editions were, in the resale/collectors' market, just about worthless. Oops. (Oddly, some of the FT plays do bring in a bit.)

A couple of years ago when we decided to begin selling our collection (well, some of it), we learned the Sad Truth about those cheap editions. So it goes. Fortunately, by the early 1970s we were buying publishers' editions--and first editions, first printings only (pretty much).

(BTW: You can see our list for sale--now over 1000 titles, thanks to Joyce--on Advanced Book Exchange. Here's the link.) Only about 5000 more to list!

All of this popped into prominence the other day when I got one of the catalogs I regularly receive from another book dealer, Between the Covers Rare Books (link to their website). On the front page (full color, slick paper) were a copy of Flannery O'Connor's novel Wise Blood (inscribed--$12,000) and Thomas Berger's early novel, Reinhart in Love (inscribed to his parents: $4500).  Yikes!

And there was more:

  • a signed Little Big Man (one of my favorite novels of ALL: $7500)
  • Hart Crane's The Bridge (inscribed: $50,000).
  • Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night (not signed! $37,500)
  • Hemingway's in our time ($55,000)
Enough. I'm getting depressed. We really have nothing in this elevated price range (well, actually we do--a few--but we don't want to sell them ... yet).

And so we beat on, boats against the current ...

Friday, February 26, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 211

Maybe it’s time to pause a moment to talk about Washington Irving and me.[1] I cannot really remember when I’d not heard of him. One of my earliest memories—going to see the thirty-four-minute Disney cartoon of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” at the Trail Drive-In, Enid, Oklahoma. The film was released in 1949; I would turn five in November that year.
The cartoon scared the hell out of me.
Although a lot of it was funny, there was a terrifying scene when Ichabod rides home from the party and meets the Horseman, alone in the woods, a Horseman armed with a huge sword, a Horseman mounted on a bulky black steed that looked as if it had ridden out of Hell to scare little boys sitting in Oklahoma cars. Mission accomplished.
Later on in my boyhood (when was it? can’t remember) I learned about Rip Van Winkle, which wasn’t all that frightening—even the notion of going to sleep and waking up twenty years later was actually kind of exciting to a boy (I’d be done with school!). Not so exciting now, when, twenty years hence, it’s very likely I’d wake up dead.
Early in my public school teaching career (which, recall, commenced in the fall of 1966), I discovered in a little reader I had to use (Doorways to Discovery) a radio-play version of “Legend.” I had my seventh graders read it aloud—and, in some years, we actually performed it over the school’s PA system. A couple of times the faculty did it for the kids around Halloween. The students seemed to like it (hey, beats homework!), and I learned a vocabulary word—salubrious—which Ichabod utters when he enters the party near the end: Ah, Mynheer Van Tassel, (Nasally) this is indeed a salubrious occasion![2] (For those of you too cowardly to admit that you don’t know salubrious, it means “promoting health; healthful.”)
Still later, I taught the full story to my eighth graders (as well as “Rip Van Winkle”)—though it took a bit of help. Those stories, originally published in 1820 in Irving’s collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., are full of words my students didn’t know—and allusions to unfamiliar things, as well.
Still later, when I taught college-prep juniors at Western Reserve Academy, I gave them a little “reading guide” to the stories, a guide on which I defined for them words like inveterate, cognomen, supernumerary, ferule, chopfallen, and numerous others. And, of course, I showed them the Disney film that had terrified me. 

[1] I’ve written about some of this—in much more detail—in my memoir Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss (Kindle Direct, 2012).
[2] (New York: Ginn & Co., 1960), 120.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

These Are a Few of My (Not So) Favorite Things

This time of year--particularly--I find myself, now and again, reminded of the title of Andrew Solomon's 2001 book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. (Solomon traveled all over the place, reporting on how various cultures deal with depression, a demon that felled him from time to time.)

Here are a few of the heavy hands on my shoulders these days, hands that are attempting to shove me in the ground.

  • Weather. Yes, I know, this has been a very mild winter--perhaps the mildest since I've been in Ohio (August 1956). Still ... right now, out my window, I see swirling winds, accumulating snow (which will no doubt require me to shovel and clear the car). The very thought of it adds a third heavy hand on my shoulders.
  • Politics. Do we really have to have two-year (or more) presidential races? I'm sick of the bellowing, the accusations, the lies, the misrepresentations, the holier-than-thou, the persistent divisions in Congress that have--paraphrasing the immortal Al Gore--put the entire legislative process in a "lock box." Not to mention that vast waste of money that could be spent on so many more productive and humanitarian things.
  • Technology. Things work--until they don't. And then I want a sledgehammer.
  • Weight and Exercise. I've had a problem with weight since my (chronological) adulthood commenced. Up, down, up, down. Teeter-totter. Now, it's especially difficult since I'm on Lupron, a drug that has controlled my eager prostate cancer, but one side effect is a much more difficult time with weight. I'm pretty good right now (down more than 20 lbs since the summer), but it's just wearying, knowing that I must be careful about this for the rest of my life. Any fall off the wagon results not just in bruises but in weeks of ensuing self-denial.
  • Health. I've been dealing with prostate cancer since late in 2004. Tests, surgery, radiation, tests, medications, worry, worry, worry. Yes, I'm able to do many things I love to do--but I can feel the circle tightening, the options disappearing. There are other health issues in my family that I'll not write about (it's not my place to do so), but they are a daily issue, as well--and not just for my loved ones who are struggling with them.
  • Taxes. The past week I've been dealing with this--getting things ready for our accountant, answering his questions, finding documents, etc. It's a nightmare--an annual one that seems to grow ever more complicated. 
  • Our Ever-More Self-Indulgent Culture: Every older generation had been grumpy about the present one. I'm sad about the disappearance of reading. About the evanescence of public knowledge about significant writers. But I am not condemning the young. They didn't do this. We did. And I am certain that the days of a more-bookish culture are not returning. If I'd grown up in these times, I know I wouldn't be any different. The allure of the electronic media is just too powerful to resist for most people--including the younger Me.
  • Public Schools. Are we really going to let them go? Really? Do we really think that for-profit is a better way to go (charters, etc.)? Public schools have, among other things, been the great engine of social progress--of hope for many. Sure, some are miserable; some kids have a tough time; some teachers suck; etc. We (under)fund our schools in the most disastrous way possible. We blame them for everything. We reduce their effect by all the emphasis on standardized testing. We often grant the greatest administrative power to people who know the least about teaching and learning. We do as little as possible to attract into the profession our best and brightest. Yes, there are some wonderful teachers in just about every school building in America--but we are not doing much to attract more of them, to keep those who are already there, laboring in a deepening darkness. Given the current situation, there is no way that I would consider entering the profession if I were again 21 years old.
  • Disappearance of Newspapers and Magazines. This is not going to change--return--either. Fewer and fewer people read them, causing the disappearance of advertising revenue. On our street I see few driveways in the morning with a daily paper lying there, waiting to be taken inside. We still take three (Akron Beacon-Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, New York Times), but they seem to shrink every day. I miss the fat papers.
  • Polarization. I've mentioned here before that my dad was a Republican; his best friend was a Democrat. They talked about their differences, laughed. Neither one  considered the other evil, a fool, a traitor, etc.  Sigh.
  • Race. Writer Russell Banks called race/slavery "the great sin at our inception." In some (mostly superficial) ways, things are better than when I was a boy living in a segregated community (Enid, Okla.). But I'm afraid things are not really substantively better for many people. Too many of us whites are convinced we earned everything we have--are convinced that even if we lived in a ghetto with few job opportunities, attended an awful school, etc., we would never behave in ways we see on the news. We would still be who we are. Fat chance. We need to be more humble, to realize that many of us started the 100-yard Dash of Life on the 70-yard-line (or 80 or 90 or 95). We need to quit judging entire groups by the behavior of the most depraved members of that group. Don't we know that there are vile politicians, priests, teachers, lawyers, cops, physicians, etc?. But are we really ready to say that these folks are representative?
That's enough. I'm getting more depressed just writing these lines--and that manifestly was not the intent.

I think I'll go eat a box of cookies and read the newspaper.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 210

The plot thickens. Mary let John Howard Payne know—in a way not all that dissimilar to the way Emily Foster had let Washington Irving know—that this “relationship” (Shelley & Payne) was just not going to happen.
But first, a little update. Early in my research, stumbling across this story about Irving and Mary Shelley—as well as the story of Irving and Emily Foster—I acquired a book, published in 1938: The Journals of Emily Foster. Here are a few entries from early in 1823:
Mr. Irving is very interesting with his stories about his handsome Indians painting and pluming themselves [tales from his The Sketch Book] … he is neither tall nor slight, but most interesting, dark, hair of a man of genius waving, silky, & black, grey eyes full of varying feeling & an amiable smile—[1]
Mr. Irving is always with us entertaining & interesting—walks in the great garden ….[2]
• May 19 (?), 1823: Our last evening with Irving—before his journey—Mama suspects he means not to return, he said he had thought of it but that he would he could not help it—We stood on the balcony by moonlight & talked of heaven.[3]
I find myself incredibly touched by those last three words—talked of heaven. I’m fairly certain that what was in Irving’s mind at that moment was something quite different from what was in young Emily’s. She was thinking, I would guess, of the hereafter; Irving, of paradise lost.
Many years later—married to Henry Fuller, mother of five children—Emily, now 52, wrote to Irving at his home, Sunnyside, in Tarrytown, New York, a home along the eastern bank of the Hudson River (and now open to the public). She wondered if Irving would see her son, who was in America. Irving was thrilled.
You can scarcely imagine my surprise and delight on opening your letter and finding by the first lines that it came from Emily Foster! he wrote on July 2, 1856. He told her that he was leading a quiet life in a little rural retreat I had previously established on the banks of the Hudson ….  And he ended with my dear “Emily Foster.”[4]

[1] (New York: Oxford UP), 110–11.
[2] Ibid., 116.
[3] Ibid., 138–39.
[4] Letters, Vol IV, 1946–1859, eds. Ralph M. Aderman, Herbert L. Kleinfield, and Jenifer S. Banks in The Complete Works of Washington Irving (Boston: Twayne, 1982), 589–90.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Couple of Ugly Days

Two days. Two varieties of "ugly."

Day One (yesterday--Monday): spent hours getting receipts, etc. ready for a visit to our accountant for You-Know-What. Ugly. (We see him tomorrow.)

Day Two (today--Tuesday): semi-annual visit to my dermatologist, who greeted me with freeze-gun blazing. I now look as if I've been shot four times in the face by a Dick Cheney with a b-b gun. When I go to the coffee shop this afternoon, people will pretend there's nothing wrong--and that's sweet. And I'll set there, with four spots glowing red on my face, like warning lights on a dashboard.

Oh well.

The only good news: Maybe I'll give our accountant such a shock that he'll try to get us out of there in a hurry.

Meanwhile, I'll avoid mirrors for a few days and feel, for the nonce, how Victor Frankenstein's creature felt with he woke up and checked out a reflective surface.

And BTW: I love the name of this weapon--a cryogun. A gun to make me cry. (Yes, yes, I know: cryo- (from the Greek) means damn cold.)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 209

The story of Mary Shelley and Washington Irving continues ...

Out of debtors’ prison by 1823, Payne was in Paris, where he met again with Washington Irving on August 9. (Recall: they’d originally met back in New York in 1809). And within a few days they were meeting often, and a friendship was flowering.[1] Irving had left America in 1815 and spent years traveling and writing in Europe. He did not return until 1832.
Payne, meanwhile, had commenced a correspondence with Mary Shelley, much of it dealing with theater tickets (Payne could acquire them; Mary loved them). But Payne grew ever more amorous. “You are perpetually in my presence,” he wrote once, “and If I close my eyes you are still there ….”[2] Payne dined with Mary, gave her books to read—including one by Irving. So Payne must have been alarmed and disappointed when he (soon) discovered that Mary was more interested in talking about Irving than talking with Payne.
Irving, at the time, was reeling from an embarrassment. Just a few years before, in Germany, he had befriended the Fosters, an English family. Their daughter Emily, 18, greatly attracted the 40-something Irving, who mistook her interest in his celebrity for interest in … something else. And so the deluded Irving proposed to her—“popped the question.”
She quickly declined. Irving was humiliated—but did not want anyone else to know. So he hung around the Fosters a bit longer before he headed back to England. Where Mary Shelley was waiting to pounce. Sort of.

[1] Washington Irving, Journals and Notebooks, Vol. III (1819–1827), ed. Walter A Reichart in The Complete Works of Washington Irving, 28 vols. (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1970), 209 et seq.
[2] The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Vol. 1, 482n.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 90

1. AOTW--How about the men/women who carry on full-voice phone conversations in public places? Smart phone/Dumb guys.

2. This week I finished Suzanne Berne's recent novel The Dogs of Littlefield. I've enjoyed her work for quite a while now, all the way back to 2001, when I reviewed her novel A Perfect Arrangement in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on September 30. To prepare for that review, I'd read her earlier novel (A Crime in the Neighborhood, 1997); I also reviewed her A Ghost at the Table on October 29, 2006).

She's a sharp social critic and satirist--and her novels are in the same league with some of the best of Tom Perrotta.

This new one takes place in a Boston suburb populated by the usual suspects. Some dogs have mysteriously died, and residents are advancing all sorts of theories about who the killer might be--and why. There are some crumbling marriages, some odd recluses, an angry/confused teen, a social researcher, many shrinks (the town is full of them--some 679!), a teacher, a randy novelist, a randy father of a teen (who's a bit too interested in one of his daughter's friends), and on and on. One character pauses to ask a question that many have asked: "What happened to me, she thought. How could my life have ended up this way?" (133).

The final sentence seems written by E. E. Cummings: "Trees, leaves, light, bird" (273). At the end of Cummings' "anyone lived in pretty how town" we get this: "sun moon stars rain."

I laughed, groaned, ached--just what you ought to be doing in such a work.

On October 20, 2010, Joyce and I met Berne (who teaches creative writing at Boston College) at a reading and book-signing up at Joseph-Beth (RIP) in Beachwood. She was promoting a memoir about her grandmother (Missing Lucille). And did a nice job with the small "crowd" that appeared.

Link to Times review of Dogs.

3. We've been streaming episodes on Hulu of Elementary, the contemporary riff on Sherlock Holmes with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu (as a far more competent Watson than the original). On CBS. Love the show. We're nearing the end of Season 3 (all that's on Hulu) and are wondering when/how we can access Season 4. I love Miller, by the way, who recently did a stage production of Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch, the two alternating the roles of the creature and Victor Frankenstein.

4. An exciting Friday night: To Kohl's and Bed, Bath to look at models of food-processors. (Didn't pull the plastic trigger yet.)

5. Some words this week that popped up on my various word-a-day providers.

  • rannygazoo--from the late 19th century, uncertain origin: Nonsense, deception; foolishness, fuss, exaggeration; (also) an instance of this; a prank, a trick (from the OED).
  • macicious--from the late 18th century: sparkling, shining (from the OED).
  • megrim--(1) low spirits (in plural) (2) whim (3) migraine--back to 15th century (from wordsmith.org)
  • alpenglow--from the mid-19th cent.: a reddish glow often seen on the summits of mountains just before sunrise or just after sunset. This one made me think of that sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay ... look at the last two lines ...

Only until this cigarette is ended,
A little moment at the end of all,
While on the floor the quiet ashes fall,
And in the firelight to a lance extended,
Bizarrely with the jazzing music blended,
The broken shadow dances on the wall,
I will permit my memory to recall
The vision of you, by all my dreams attended.
And then adieu,–farewell!–the dream is done.
Yours is a face of which I can forget
The color and the features, every one,
The words not ever, and the smiles not yet;
But in your day this moment is the sun
Upon a hill, after the sun has set.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Big Bad Wolf

Last night (Friday) the Big Bad Wolf visited our place. He woke me, after midnight, huffing and puffing and blowing our house down. (He failed.) Very high winds here in Hudson, and I could hear things flying around in the yard, out in the street, and all I could do was hope that none of the stuff (pieces of the house?) belonged to us. Or that--once again--a high wind would not flatten a section of our cedar border fence, an event that always occasions a visit from our wryly smiling lawn-and-garden guy, who patiently rebuilds our little Troy here.

I did not have a lot of childhood fears. My older brother did convince me that there was a Man in the Closet who had homicidal intents--not on my brother, of course, but on me. And, naturally, I feared Big Kids on the playground (for good reason!). And, I suppose, homework--not that we had much of it back in elementary school in the 1950s. Schools seemed to have reserved that for secondary school, where (I'll confess) I took a few years (that's right--years) to get around to doing it regularly.

But I was truly afraid of one thing: high winds. You see, I grew up in the Southwest. Ten of my first twelve years were in Oklahoma, two in the Texas panhandle, and high winds could change into something a little more dramatic--and quickly.

Like dust storms. Yes, the days of drought and The Grapes of Wrath were over, but every now and then the sky in the west would boil red (the Okla- part of the name means red), and here would come a fierce, gritty wind that blew rough particles of red soil everywhere. I remember this: One day the teachers saw a storm a-bubbling in the west and sent us home early (everyone walked: neighborhood schools in Enid). And when we came back the next day, grit lay all over the inside of Adams School: desktops, floors, etc. The storms could be punishing and dangerous, but I confess some ambivalence: How bad can something be if it cancels school?

(BTW: Back in my home town, Enid, Oklahoma, about a decade ago, doing some family research, reading through old issues of the Enid Morning News and the Enid Daily Eagle, I was surprised to see, once again, the word drouth, a word we always spell drought nowadays. I'd forgotten ....)

So ... I was ambivalent about dust storms. But not about tornadoes, a worrisome threat each spring. One never actually came twisting down our street--or through our neighborhood--but the newspapers were always full of warnings and stories. And I saw some fearsome skies--actually green clouds--massive thunderheads--that seemed certainly the parents of twisters. I do have one memory of having to go downstairs late one night--but nothing hit.

In school we had no tornado drills. Our drills were restricted to fire--and atomic bombs. (Dive under your desk, arms over your heads--the pose you would have when the atomic fire melted you, I guess.) The picture below shows exactly what we did for A-bomb protection.

Anyway, I have some (a lot of!) residual fear of high winds. So last night, I lay in bed, my heart rate accelerating, and tried to pretend nothing would happen--that Nature would not single us out--that the Man in the Closet would stay in the closet (for safety)--that the Big Bad Wolf might huff, maybe even puff, but he would not--no, not!--blow our house down.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 208

I forget exactly when I stumbled upon this relationship between the widow Mary Shelley (1797–1851) and Washington Irving (1783–1859), whose fiancĂ©e, Matilda Hoffman (b. 1791), had died in 1809 before they married. He remained unwed his entire life—though there was at least one another relationship, years later, when he misread a friendship with a much younger woman.
Checking back, I see it was quite early in my research. As I’ve said before, the first biography of Mary that I read was in January 1997 (the month I retired from public school teaching)—Emily W. Sunstein’s Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality (1989). Sunstein deals briefly with the Shelly–Irving story—and I, just checking, see that I underlined it heavily when I read it.[1] Unfortunately, I did not commence my detailed journal until February that year, so I can’t add much more.
I’ve told the story (fairly fully) of Mary and Irving in my biography of Mary (The Mother of the Monster: The Life and Times of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Kindle Direct, 2012--link), but here’s an abridgment.
In April 1904 an auction house in Philadelphia was offering various literary items. Among them is this: Lot No. 539. A love correspondence between Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley … and John Howard Payne; in which Washington Irving is somewhat involved.
Well, let’s get Payne’s story out first. As I mentioned above, he saw Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale with Mary in December 1823, and it seems that the young American fell for her—and hard. (To be honest, who wouldn’t?) Payne, born on Long Island in 1791 (so … six years younger than Mary), fell in love with the theater and began performing in New York. A co-manager of one of the theaters was Thomas Cooper, who, as a boy, had been a student of … William Godwin. (Networking!)
Payne was a good actor—and, in fact, he was the first American to play Hamlet in a major production. And his co-star in that? Elizabeth Poe. Edgar’s mother. So—bizarrely—we have a connection here among Poe, Shelley, and Irving, three of literary history’s most celebrated writers of tales of the macabre, of horror (though Irving spent the vast majority of his time writing other things—as did Mary Shelley).
At 22, Payne, having recently performed at the White House for President Madison, headed to London, where, in those days, the “real” theaters were. He was a confident young man, but he could not have arrived at a worse time. A hot new star was illuminating the London stage: Edmund Kean. No one wanted to see anyone else (including Mary, who adored Kean’s work).
So Payne turned to playwriting. And one of his efforts starred … Edmund Kean.
But Payne was continually in debt—and even spent some time in the Fleet (a debtors’ prison), where one of his frequent visitors was William Godwin, Jr., Mary’s half brother. At the time (1820–21) Mary was still in Italy, but her Frankenstein (1818), as we’ve seen, was already a sensation. So surely Payne was already curious about the author—especially since he was friends with her brother.

[1] 267–68.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sun, Sun, Sun--Here It Comes!

The sun was in my face today--right in my face. And that's a good thing.

My "morning spot" each day at Open Door Coffee Co. here in Hudson is on a stool at a little table. From where I perch I look northeastward up Aurora-Hudson Road, a road I love for several reasons. We had a house on this road--120--from 1980-1990, the house where we were living while our son was growing up (second grade through high school graduation).

And if you keep going on that road (no surprise, given the name!), you end up in Aurora, where I taught at the middle school for about thirty years. From 1990-1997 we lived in Aurora in a wonderful house across from the library--60 E. Pioneer Trail. I loved my years teaching there.

But then we moved back to our current place, close to the center of Hudson, allowing us to walk to many of the places we need (or like) to go. Like Open Door Coffee Co.

Another reason I like my view in the morning: Just a couple of blocks up Aurora-Hudson is Western Reserve Academy, where Joyce taught from 1979-1990, where our son graduated, where I taught (1979-81, 2001-2011), where we made some of the best friends we ever had and taught some wonderful young men and women (just as I had in Aurora, just as Joyce would at Hiram College, 1990-present).

We also lived for a year (1979-80) at 306 North Main in Hudson, a street that runs north-south and bisects Aurora-Hudson Road.

Also--right next door to Open Door is the site of the former Saywell's Drug Store, where I went virtually every day for coffee from 1979 to its closing about ten years ago. Open Door retains some of the features of the beloved Saywell's--including the marble counter top on the bar where the old soda fountain was, some of the other furniture and items on the wall.

So ... lots of history ... Saywell's had operated for 90-some years.

But about the sun in my face?

Twice a year the earth's rotation positions me so that the rising sun hits me right in the face. It's happening now, and the reason I'm happy about it (even though I must shade my face for about a half-hour)? It means that spring is edging toward me ... us. And with the arrival of spring, of course, come those cliches about rebirth and renewal and hope and light and ...

... and every single word is true.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 207

In August 1823, when Mary and her son had arrived back in England, they initially stayed with her father and her stepmother—William and Mary Jane Godwin, who were living in a place on 195 The Strand, where they’d recently moved their bookshop. But Mary and the older couple had never really gotten along well—not since her elopement with Bysshe—so it wasn’t long before she knew that separate quarters would help keep everyone sane.
The Strand, 1824
In 1999 I walked along The Strand, which is very near the Thames at the Godwins’ old address. It was not a pleasant experience. I was returning to my hotel after seeing a performance of Oklahoma! at The Lyceum (the theater where Mary had seen the play based on her Frankenstein—though now rebuilt). My journal for May 5 records the Dark Side:
… on the Strand, people sleeping in doorways; a subway car filled—I mean filled—w/ trash (as if someone had dumped a couple of large green bags in the car; streets full of ugly, angry, dangerous-looking people. (A. Burgess had it right about the nights in A Clockwork Orange.) I was glad to be going home before [all of this]; now, I’m ecstatic! Only people with lots of money [cabs, personal vehicles]are even reasonably safe; the rest of us are prey.
The Godwins’ place is long gone, but (in any case) in less than a month Mary had found a place for her and young Percy: 13 Speldhurst Street in Brunswick Square, about a mile north of the Godwins’—another place that’s gone. But her social life accelerated a bit. She visited with John Hunt (whose brother, Leigh, had not returned yet from Italy), with the Novellos, a family of musicians whom the Hunts knew, with Thomas Jefferson Hogg, Bysshe’s old schoolboy friend (the friend expelled with Bysshe from Oxford because of On the Necessity of Atheism), with Jane Williams (whose husband, Edward, had drowned with Bysshe), and others.
Mary was also going to the theater—a life-long love—and with the Godwins saw Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale in December, a play that must have had enormous personal relevance for her—a play about profound family estrangement. And reconciliation.
Also with them that night at the theater was playwright John Howard Payne (who wrote the song “Home Sweet Home”), a young American whose presence would ignite one of the most fiery episodes in Mary’s life, an episode involving Washington Irving.

Frankenstein Meets the Headless Horseman

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The New 88

I learned yesterday that I'm 88 years old.

And here I'd been enjoying these latest formulations--like 40 is the new 20, 60 is the new 40, and the like. And now this 88 stuff!

The calendar says I'm 71. But one of those "quizzes" on Facebook has other ideas. Yesterday this quiz popped up on my page: Can We Guess Your Age Based on the Books That You've Read? (Link to the quiz.) I confess that I sometimes take Facebook quizzes--which is probably a very bad idea (who knows what those quiz sites are doing while you're trying to remember the capital of Vermont?). And I usually post the results, too, unless I haven't done well. (Silence Is Golden.)

Anyway,  I couldn't resist a book quiz--and was actually truthful in my answers. And that was how I learned that I'm 88. (I wonder if there's an older number--and why didn't I get it!?)

I'm pretty sure how the quiz works. Every time I answered (confessed) that I'd read Shakespeare or some other classic work, I added a decade or so to my age. (Only Old Guys Have Read Old Books!) I actually do read many recent books--but the questions were generally set up to see whether I preferred Hamlet, to, say, The Hunger Games (I exaggerate--but not all that much). So although I have read the first book in that Hunger Games series (just to see what is going on), I'm not really the audience for those books, and I prefer the melancholy Dane to Katniss. So sue me.

As I've gotten older, I've found I have been reading a lot of the old "classics" that I'd never gotten around to--from Thackeray to Smollett to Trollope to Eliot and on and on. And confessing that sort of thing on a Facebook quiz is near-fatal.

I was somewhat comforted later in the day to see that a couple of my Facebook friends were also 88. (Both are chronologically younger than I.) So that was sort of comforting, though I have to confess that I was a little annoyed by seeing all those other test-takers bellow that they are 25.

Oh well ... I learned yesterday that 71 is the new 88. That's excitin'.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 206

Sir Timothy Shelley is not happy to learn that Mary has published his son's poems.

And Sir Timothy Shelley was not happy to see his son’s name in print once again--although Bysshe’s writing as a schoolboy had pleased him. Bysshe had self-published a couple of Gothic novels—Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne (very clearly influenced by his early hero, William Godwin, whose St Leon he had read)—and some poetry as well (some of which was “borrowed”), Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. All of this in 1810. (Busy boy!). He was eighteen years old.
Zastrozzi, which I read in July 1998, early in my Shelley mania, deals with a deadly competition between the titular Zastrozzi and the wretched Verezzi. The novel ends with this delightful sentence (while Zastrozzi is on the rack): Even whilst writhing under the agony of almost insupportable torture his nerves were stretched, Zastrozzi’s firmness failed him not; but, upon his soul-illumined countenance, played a smile of most disdainful scorn—and, with a wild, convulsive laugh of exulting revenge, he died.[1]
St. Irvyne (which I also read in July 1998) begins in a storm in the Alps—an odd coincidence because it would not be until about five years later that he would encounter some actual storms in and near the Alps, some of which would inspire Mary’s Frankenstein. Anyway, this novel involves a guy named Wolfstein (subtle) who endeavors to poison a rival for the young woman, Megalena, whom he … craves. The whole thing ends with a host of revelations in the final pages.[2]
But then he’d gone to Oxford where, in 1811, he was promptly expelled for his co-written publication On the Necessity of Atheism, a work and an episode that humiliated and deeply angered Sir Timothy. Making it worse: He knew that William Godwin’s writings—novels, essays, atheism—had influenced (no, corrupted) his son, and he could not forgive Godwin for that.
And then, only a couple of years later, Bysshe—a married man!—had ditched his wife, Harriet (who, as we know, later killed herself), and run off with Mary Godwin—that evil man’s daughter! Who was still sixteen at the time! (She would turn seventeen while they were away that summer of 1814.)
And now Sir Timothy had to share a grandson with the Evil Godwin himself! But as long as he was Sir Timothy Shelley, he would not allow his disgraced son’s name to appear on any publications—publications that could once again humiliate him.
And so when Posthumous Poems appeared, he communicated to Mary (through an intermediary, of course) that he would cut off all financial support if she did not withdraw the volumes from circulation. As one of her biographers has written, Such bullying behaviour only increased her determination but she took care, after this threat, to move behind the scenes.[3]

[1] (New York: Arno Press, 1977), 3, 111.
[2] (New York: Arno Press, 1977), 218–20.
[3] Seymour, Mary Shelley, 342.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 89

1. AOTW: All those drivers I saw (from my coffee shop window) on February 10, drivers whose windshields were partially--even mostly--covered with ice and snow, reducing visibility to zilch, endangering not just themselves but everyone else on the roads.

2. This week I finished John A. Williams' 1960 novel--his first book--The Angry Ones. Last week I mentioned I had started it (and I also mentioned this lurid cover, which is about as misrepresentative of the text as it could possibly be). Williams' (1925-2015) obituary in the New York Times last summer both alerted me about his writing career, a career about which I'd known nothing, ignited yet another reading frenzy of all his works. The Angry Ones, the fourth of his books I've read, was his very first book, a paperback original (never published in cloth cover).

It's the story of Steve Hill, a young black writer in NYC after WW II (in which Williams himself served) who is trying to survive--and to help some friends survive, as well.

The only job he can find is with some sort of self-publishing outfit called Rocket, where he does promotional work for a pittance.(Williams himself had just such a job.) Over and over again in this novel we see black characters looking for jobs--being treated like street litter. If they even get an interview, they are treated with a pitiful lack of concern--or, sometimes, the interviewer thinks a black man is a porter, a delivery man of some sort. Williams writes these scenes quietly--no firestorms here (well, quiet ones). But readers cannot help but see how egregiously the white "establishment" treats these non-white characters. One of Steve's friends can't take it any longer, and ...

About halfway through the book, Steve anguishes about this "inexcusable, senseless, horrible waste of lives and talent" (103).

Steve has (sort of) a love life. The young woman he's loved since boyhood now lives in Albany, where she married ... Steve's brother (when it wasn't working out with Steve). But she's a widow now with two children, and Steve finds himself drawn toward her again.

And there's a white woman (see cover), Lois, who's profoundly attracted to Steve, but, in the end, she just can't do it--can't find the strength to be with him in a world that makes it profoundly difficult for mixed-race couples (there's a grim scene outside a bar one night).

Oh, and Steve's boss at Rocket (a gay man) tries to exert sexual pressure on Steve: no sex, no raise. The Rocket scenes, by the way, give us a good hard look at the NY publishing industry.

I was a little disappointed at the end (I thought Williams allowed Steve an easy way out), but, overall, a powerful book, published in 1960 when I was in high school. Before the March on Washington, the Kennedy and King assassinations, Vietnam, and on and on and on.

Anyway, I'm going to read on. The next book on my Williams pile is a novel--Sissie; I'll be starting it this week, just as soon as I finish Suzanne Berne's latest--The Dogs of Littlefield, a novel I'm loving.

3. This week, Joyce and I finished watching (Netflix streaming) what appears to be the final season of Foyle's War, a series we have adored from the get-go. The early seasons were about a small town English detective during WW II; the later ones, post-War, show Foyle now working as a government agent in London, but still applying the skills and insights and integrity he employed as a cop.

Michael Kitchen, who plays Foyle, is absolutely perfect for this part--about as fine a match (actor to character) as I've ever seen. Pictured in the background here is actress Honeysuckle Weeks (a fabulous name!), who plays his driver and whose husband is an ambitious young politician in London. She's absolutely credible and great in her part, too. I hope the rumors of "no-more-Foyle" are just that--rumors.

Oona Chaplin
4. We're also enjoying the British series The Hour (about a post-WW II BBC TV program) with Romola Garai, the wonderful Ben Whishaw (who plays Q in the recent James Bond Films), and Dominic West (The Wire). Watching it slowly, though: There are only six episodes--though I just checked trusty Wikipedia and see there's a 2nd season, as well! In a smaller part--so far--Oona Chaplin, Charlie's granddaughter who looks astonishingly like young Charlie (no, she does not wear the Tramp's clothing).

5. Finally--Joyce and I went to one of our favorite restaurants last night for a Valentine's Eve dinner--the Bistro on Main (on Kent's west side). Loved the food ... a few aftershocks today ...

Saturday, February 13, 2016


I wasn't always a word-nerd, believe me. In fact, I'm absolutely certain. In boyhood, I used a very simple technique when I came across a word I didn't know in my reading: I skipped it.

But as my Facebook friends know now, I'm continually posting words on my page--words from my tear-off calendar (see image above), words from the several online word-a-day sites I subscribe to, words I've come across in my reading. But--as I said--it warn't always so.

When I was a young adolescent, in fact, my parents--worried (no, alarmed) about my, uh, insufficient vocabulary, bought me a copy of 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary (it looked like the image), which is still in print. I think I got through Day One (maybe Two?) before I cast it aside and picked up a Superman comic--or the Plain Dealer sports pages. Words? I got all I need.

Well, not really. When I (word-poor) got to college, I discovered very quickly that I needed to learn more. In high school study hall I'd read Jack London's autobiographical novel, Martin Eden, and recalled that Martin--passionate about becoming a writer--would write on little slips of paper those unfamiliar words he'd come across. Stick them on his mirror. Carry them around in his pocket and study them at odd moments. Reading the book, I thought this was madness.

Later, I learned that London himself had done this.

Later, I was doing it myself (and still do--well, not on the mirror: At my age I try to avoid that evil invention).

When I became an English teacher (fall 1966), I soon found myself teaching vocabulary words to my eager (?) seventh and eighth graders. (I would continue the practice my final decade of teaching, 2001-2011, at Western Reserve Academy (juniors mostly), and I still enjoy posting on Facebook those words that used to be on my old vocab lists, those words that occasionally pop up on one of my word-a-day sites.

I still love finding words I don't know--and I sometimes post them on this site on Sundays (when I do my eclectic "Sunday Sundries" posts).

Oh, when I was in the early days of my VocabMadness, I used to learn new words all the time from William F. Buckley, Jr. Although I didn't exactly agree with his politics, I enjoyed his prose (and his spy novels with Blackford Oakes). I even remember a few words I learned from him--like anfractuous and maieutic (my spellchecker just tried to change this to magnetic). I actually used the former in an essay I published in Buckley's National Review back in the fall of 1979. He must have smiled, thinking: I know where this presumptuous young man [yes, I was in my 30s] learned this word! 

Sometimes it got/gets out of hand. When I was in grad school, I once used the word spatchcock (a game bird, split open and grilled) in a paper for an Education class. My prof told me to lay off; he said he didn't like pulling Webster's Third off his shelf (no dictionary.com in those days!).

My editors for my various book reviews have sometimes supplied synonyms for the words I used. One, I remember, got by, though---because the editor really liked it (callipygian--having well-shaped buttocks).

I remember watching Buckley on TV once when the interviewer asked him about his vocabulary, implying that WFB should "dial it back" a notch.

And Buckley said, basically: "Hey, everyone knows words other people don't know. I use the words I know and am comfortable with."

Right on, Bill. And RIP.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 205

Back in England, 1823, Mary begins earning her living with her pen ...

Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, June 1824

After Bysshe drowned in the summer of 1822, Mary devoted herself to working on a full, authoritative edition of his poems. No one was better suited for the task. For nearly a decade she’d been in his life, and theirs was a literary partnership of the best kind. He read her work in draft; she read his. (You can see his suggestions for Frankenstein on the extant manuscript—and he, recall, was the one who encouraged her to expand that story into a novel.)
And, of course, she also was intimately familiar with his handwriting, with the various drafts of his poems (she knew which was the most current), with the layout on the page he would have liked.
And so she threw herself into the task, writing the preface, arranging for publication—dealing with it all.
It was a highly emotional preface that Mary wrote, despite her referring to him throughout as “Mr. Shelley.” On the second page of it came this: He is to them [his intimates, including, of course, Mary herself] as a bright vision, whose radiant track, left behind in the memory, is worth all the realities that society can afford.[1] She wrote, as well, about his drowning, about the day the news arrived. The truth was at last known,—a truth that made our loved and lovely Italy appear a tomb, its sky a pall. Every heart echoed the deep lament ….[2]
Her name—Mary W. Shelley—appears below the preface, along with the date, June 1, 1824.
Some 309 copies sold in the first couple of months. And then … Sir Timothy Shelley caught wind of the publication, and things very quickly changed.

[1] Posthumous Poems, iv, accessed online, Feb. 12, 2016. (link)
[2] Ibid., vii.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Judge Not ...

When I was a younger, pretty much everyone knew about Judge Roy Bean (1825-1903, link to bio). There was a TV show (with Edgar Buchanan as the judge--see image above), 1955-56 (I was in sixth grade) (link to full episode on YouTube) and--later--a movie directed by John Huston and starring Paul Newman, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, 1972 (the year our son was born). (Link to trailer.) And this fabled judge  (a very corrupt one in "real life") was a character in numerous Western films and TV shows.

He still has something of a following in Langtry, Texas (his resting place), and elsewhere (link to museum website), in the southwestern part of the state, right near the Mexican border, about 200 mi west of San Antonio.

So what got me thinking about Judge Roy Bean--"the only law west of the Pecos"--yesterday evening? It was watching some of the analytical fallout from the recent political debates--and the voting in New Hampshire.

I found it very odd that many got on Marco Rubio for always being scripted--just as they get on Trump and others for being unpredictable in what they say. (By the way, this is a nonpartisan post!)

Which are you? Scripted? Unpredictable?

And which would you be in their places?

In the "old days"--pre-TV, pre-social media--politicians could pretty much say one thing in Alabama, another in Massachusetts. They could stumble in Stanley, North Dakota, and no one would know--or care.

Not no more, they can't.

Any stumble becomes an Internet/social-media sensation. The 24-hour news channels go over it and over it and over it. The news-comedy programs (Daily Show, Nightly Show) and the late-night comedians and SNL keep it alive and kicking until the next flub flounders onto the stage.

And so--a few days ago--we had Gloria Steinem (now in her 80s) speaking extemporaneously about the reasons young women are flocking to Bernie rather than to Hillary, and her frivolous comment--as they say--"went viral" and probably did more damage to this feminist hero (and hero to me, by the way) than anything else ever has. All those decades she's fought for women's rights erased (at least in some minds) by one comment on a Friday night comedy show (Bill Maher's).

And Rubio's repetitive comment in the debate that Obama knows exactly what he's doing earned sneers from Gov. Christie (who's just dropped out) and from the media and comedians.

So, what's a public figure--a politician--to do? Stay on script and be accused of being a robot? Go off script and risk a fatal stumble? (Only Trump seems immune from this: The more outrageous he gets, the more followers he attracts. Go figure.) Try to find some "balance"?

Would you like to have all the good/kind/generous/whatever things you've ever done absolutely canceled by some quick, careless thing you said on the Internet? This is what public figures, especially, have to deal with, every waking moment.

On Facebook, I routinely see posts by people who have found a quotation (or a video clip) from some political figure they don't like; they share it; it (potentially) goes viral. What bothers me? Sometimes the quotations are bogus, sometimes wildly out of context and entirely misrepresentative of that political figure's overall views. But there it is, whirling around permanently in the Internet vortex of animosity.

There's a recent book I read about Internet character assassination--Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed (2015)--a book that made me shudder. It showed that all of us are vulnerable to cyber-assault--especially if we have any Internet presence. He tells story after story about people who tweeted (or posted) something they hadn't thought all that much about (or thought would be funny) and found their lives shattered--loss of job, of friends, of reputation--and their names popping up early in Google searches. (By the way, Google "Internet Character Assassination"--you'll be surprised by the number of sites--almost a million when I just did it.)

And for me, this is the worst thing about all of this: We're doing this to one another. Commentators have noted numerous times that it's the Internet's anonymity that allows us to be so savage. No identity, no consequences. Our justly treasured free speech has become a license to kill.

When I was a kid, it seemed that the preachers in the churches I attended (preachers including my father, grandfather, and uncle) were constantly alluding to those notable lines from Matthew 7:

Matthew 7:1-3 King James Version (KJV)

Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Like so many other things in our religious texts--whatever text we use, whatever religion to which we adhere--we adore those passages that confirm our own attitudes, ignore those that don't. It seems that more and more and more and more of us are either forgetting--or ignoring--Matthew 7:1-3.

Consequently, many of us are becoming Judge Roy Bean--corrupt, cruel, declaring others guilty first, asking questions later (if at all).