Dawn Reader

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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 113

1. AOTW: This annoys me--drivers who stop at an intersection stoplight but ignore the broad white line across their lane, the white line that says "STOP HERE, DOOFUS!" Their failure to do so causes (a) problems for people turning left in front of them, (b) problems for large trucks trying to turn. There's a REASON for that broad white line, you AOTWs, you!

2. We finished the six-part PBS series (2015) called The Brain and very much enjoyed it, learning a lot (thank you, Netflix DVDs). The last episode got fanciful and wild: Although narrator (and writer), David Eagleman (Stanford Univ.), did not mention The Matrix, he did speculate about a "reality" that might be far more complicated than we think. Well worth watching.

3. We are big fans of Doc Martin (also PBS) and its star, Martin Clunes, who plays the Doc. So I ordered from Netflix (DVD) an earlier series with him in a starring role--William and Mary (2003-2005)--about a couple who meet online, fall for each other, and then begin to learn more about each other. We've seen only the first episode, but I think we're hooked. (Link to a portion of an episode.) It seems to be available as well on YouTube and Amazon.

4. Last night (Saturday) we drove to Montrose, where--after some binge-shopping at Mustard Seed Market--we saw Woody Allen's latest,  Café  Society, a film about the 1930s (Hollywood and NYC), a 1930s that was totally unlike the 1930s my parents experienced (Depression, very little money). Still, it was fun to watch (I loved the ending), though, of course, the story bore eerie resemblances to Allen's own life (something that can be said, of course, about artists of all stripes--Jack London did go on the Klondike Gold Rush!). It was about the dimensions of the human heart--about how it can encompass more than convention allows. I'm still amused to see Kristen Stewart in anything but a hot-vampire movie! (Link to trailer for the film.) Big crowd in a small theater.

5. This week I finished Straight Man (1997), Richard Russo's fourth novel. (Some of you know I'm working my way, pretty much chronologically, through his complete works.) It takes place at a fictitious state university, West Central Pennsylvania University, and is narrated by William Henry (Hank) Deveraux Barnes, Jr. (who often refers to himself in the 3rd person), who is serving as the temporary chair of the English Department. (His father, a celebrated academic, is nearing the end of his days.)

Hank has got a smart mouth on him (Russo-ian!) and alienates lots of folks with his cynical, ironic (and funny) reactions to what they say and do. His wife (whom he loves--a public school teacher) is out of town for much of the novel, though she returns at a key moment. He has two daughters, one of whom has a troubled marriage. And there are--as there are in all Russo novels (at least the ones I've read so far)--a collection of eccentrics, most of whom are academics. (Can you imagine?!!?)

In ways, the novel is eerily prescient about issues in higher education that have gotten only worse since 1997: budgets, legislatures using public education--lower and higher--as a soccer ball, the move toward more "practical" forms of higher education (rising near the English building in the novel is a huge new place devoted to technical studies).

There are, as well, the usual things you find in an academic novel: alcohol, sex, arrogant professors, kind hearts, cruel hearts, broken dreams, wacky students--there's a sad one here: a young man who wants desperately to be a writer but has no talent), et al.

There's a very funny scene when our hero, unable to urinate very much throughout the novel, goes to sleep in his office only moments before a department meeting to discuss his removal from his position, and he wakes to discover his full bladder has emptied itself while he slept. He's wearing khaki pants. So ... what to do? Because the university is doing asbestos removal (the English building is last on the list), he has, from his office, access to the ceiling (a tile has fallen), so he crawls up there and waits until the meeting is over and everyone is gone, though he also manages to vote at the department meeting by crawling over there and letting his ballot drift down from the ceiling, to the amazement of everyone.

Throughout are some of Hank's observations that make us pause to think--e.g., "... I came to understand that one of the deepest purposes of intellectual sophistication is to provide distance between us and our most disturbing personal truths and gnawing fears" (382).

Loved the book. I grew up in an academic family--spent most of my life in academic communities of various sorts--and much of Russo's novel has the look-smell-taste-touch-sound of truth.

6. Final word--a word I liked this week. I came across the word dicker in something I was reading this week, that word meaning "trade, barter, exchange." But what's the source? Here's what the OED says ... I put the source information in red ...

dicker, v.
Frequency (in current use): 
Etymology: ? < dicker n.1
Quotation 1848 refers to the barter traffic on the Indian frontier in N. America. As skins have always formed a chief item in that trade, it has been suggested with much probability that the verb arose, in the sense ‘to deal by the dicker, to deal in skins’, among the traders with the Indians, and has thence extended in U.S. to trade by barter generally. If this be the fact, it is interesting that a word which passed from Latin into Germanic in special connection with dealing in skins, and which has ever since in Europe been associated with this trade (see dicker n.1), should, in America, through similar dealings between a civilized and uncivilized race, have received another development of use.

 1. intr. To trade by barter or exchange; to truck; to bargain in a petty way, to haggle. Also in extended use (intr.): to dither, vacillate, hesitate.

1824   Woodstock (Vermont) Observer 15 June 4/5 (advt.)    The subscriber has for sale the following property which he wishes to dicker for.
1848   J. F. Cooper Oak Openings   The white men who penetrated to the semi-wilds [of the West] were always ready to dicker and to swap.
1947   D. M. Davin Gorse blooms Pale 78   Phyllis dickers a bit but of course she finishes by getting up and saying she's going to play.
1960   Sunday Express 6 Nov. 17/5   He withdrew it [sc. a play] angrily when A.-R. dickered over the production date.
1961   John o' London's 25 May 589/2   Dickering on the edge of adulthood.
1962   Sunday Express 30 Sept. 4/5   The large stores who dicker and dither before they take a cheque.
1963   B. Pearson Coal Flat ix. 159   Henderson, though he dickered, usually came round to the majority opinion.
(Hide quotations)

2. trans. To barter, exchange.

1834   C. A. Davis Lett. J. Downing, Major 47   ‘Here,’ say I, ‘Squire Biddle, I have a small trifle I should like to dicker with you.’
1864   G. A. Sala in Daily Tel. 7 July   The required needle was dickered for the egg, and the Yankee was going away.

1891   G. Smith Canada & Canadian Question viii. 185   Government, in the persons of the Parliamentary heads of departments, is on the stump, or dickering for votes.


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