1. AOTW: Okay, this is a gender thing (I think?). Twice this week, in conversations between and among men, I noticed how little listening and question-asking goes on. The first I overheard in the men's locker room out at the health club. Two men were talking about the recent rough winter driving. Neither man listened to the other (or asked a single question). Both told their own stories, paused for breath while the other guy told his story. The storytelling, not listening or interacting, was #1 on the agenda of both. The second conversation I was involved in. A man came into the coffee shop and recognized furniture and things that had once been in the old Saywell's Drug Store here in Hudson, a place he'd not visited in decades. He wanted to talk and take pictures. He ended up talking with--no, at--me for a bit. I did ask him a few things (what a guy!), but for the most part he had no interest in my memories, just his own. So ... a male thing/ Or are women like this, too? (And, of course, not all men are like this ... but lots are.)
2. I finished three books this week ...
- Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886) is a story I've known about for years. It's hard in our culture to avoid allusions to it. But as we were preparing some books in our library to sell online (we have several copies of J&H), I flipped through the one you see pictured and had this daunting realization: I've never read this! And so I did--at last.
It didn't take long--it's a novella, really. But I was really surprised by it, especially by its various narrative devices. This is no straight-forward tale with a single narrator but a multi-genre story with points-of-view shifting and with various documents presented as part of the narrative. Very cool.
Another surprise: There are really no explicit descriptions of the evil Mr. Hyde's deeds--we hear about them rather than see them. (Shakespeare was good at that: think of the death of Ophelia in Hamlet.) But by the time we get to the end, we've heard from a variety of characters, principally Dr. Jekyll himself who, in a terminal document, tells us about the experiments that led to the "arrival" of Mr. Hyde--the dark part of himself. Unlike Luke Skywalker, Dr. Jekyll did go over to the Dark Side. And it tore him apart.
An additional note: The copy I read is one that Joyce used to teach--and it is full of her underlinings and notations. Can I tell you how inexpressibly touching that was for me? In her pen marks I saw the workings of her mind ...
- I also finished Richard Ford's 1987 short story collection, Rock Springs. As I've written here before, I am now working my way through all of Ford's work, in the order of publication. So this is the fourth. These stories all take place in the West (Montana, Wyoming) and involve characters who are dancing on the edge of American society--they are, as we say today, somewhat "off the grid." But they struggle for love, for understanding, for respect. They know their own weaknesses (all the stories but one are in the first person) but cannot seem to do much about them. They are gripped fiercely by their pasts--by their failures and disappointments.
Ford is one of the best I've ever read at ending a story. Some of the sentences/paragraphs are just dazzlers, and I want to give an example here from the second story in the volume, "Great Falls." The narrator, some years later, is telling us about his failed father, about an incident involving a gun that had stunned the young boy.
In the final paragraph he is talking about questions he asked, questions for which he never received answers.
But I have never known the answer to these questions, have never asked anyone their answers. Though possibly it--the answer--is simple: it is just low-life, some coldness in us all, some helplessness that causes us to misunderstand life when it is pure and plain, makes our existence seem like a border between two nothings, and makes us no more or less than animals who meet on the road--watchful, unforgiving, without patience or desire. (49)
- Finally--I finished a work of nonfiction by Michael Shelden: Melville in Love: The Secret Life of Herman Melville and the Muse of Moby-Dick (2016). I'd read (and admired) an earlier Shelden biography--Mark Twain: Man in White, The Grand Adventure of His Final Years (2010). As you can tell, Shelden is interested (lately) not in full biographies but in a key period in his subject's life.
In this case, it's 1850. Moby-Dick is in the works. Melville's masterpiece, a book that invariably appears at or near the top of lists of the greatest novels in American history. Shelden believes that Melville's passion during 1850-51 (and beyond) was not necessarily his neighbor Nathaniel Hawthorne (to whom Moby-Dick is dedicated) but to a young, vibrant, bright, convention-busting woman named Sarah Morewood, whose husband had a summer place in the Berkshires, not far from the Melvilles' farm, Arrowhead, near Pittsfield (it's now open to the public).
There have been some recent works built on the notion that there was some homoerotic bond between Melville and Hawthorne (very explicitly in the recent novel, The Whale: A Love Story by Mark Beauregard), and there is no question--to judge from the surviving letters--that there was ... passion between them, at least for a time. But more than that? Speculation.
In Melville in Love Shelden has sifted Melville's letters, news accounts, the journals and letters of others In the Know and has fleshed out (!) this story of a love affair between Herman and Sarah--an affair that possibly, suggests the author, produced two of her children! There's no question that there was a relationship between them--but how far did it go? Much inference required. And Shelden supplies it--finding sentences and references in letters--and there's an extensive exegesis of Melville's post-Moby-Dick novel Pierre, a novel in which Shelden finds fictional parallels--close ones--between Herman and Sarah.
So it's fun to read. A bit naughty. Heavily inferential. But plausible, too, though he has stretched the rubber band of coincidence just about as far as is possible.
3. The final season of Wallander was only three episodes. We somehow missed the first one, so now that they're all available for streaming on Netflix, Joyce and I watched all three this week. What a performance by Kenneth Branagh in the title role as the Swedish detective (who thrived in so many fine novels by the late Henning Mankell), a policeman who, in the final episodes, begins the fall into the bottomless pit of Alzheimer's. Having seen that disease up close and personal, I was so impressed with what Branagh did. The rage. The bewilderment. The depression. The determination. All qualities I saw in my late mother-in-law as she raged against the disease for nearly a decade.
I already miss the novels, and I will greatly miss this wonderful series from the BBC.
4. Last Words--Some words-of-the-day from my various online providers ...
- from dictionary.com
sociolect \SOH-see-uh-lekt, SOH-shee-\ noun
1. a variety of a language used by a particular social group; a social dialect.
Embodied in his writing are the accents of workers' sociolects as well as echoes from past utterances and the legacy of popular culture.
-- Douglas Wixon, introduction to The Disinherited: A Novel of the 1930s, by Jack Conroy, 1991
Origin of sociolect
Sociolect, a technical term in sociolinguistics, deals with the speech of a specific social group or social class, such as teenagers or college students or bikers. Sociolect occupies the middle ground between dialect, the speech of a particular geographical area, especially as that variety of speech differs from a standard; and idiolect, which studies the speech and speech habits of a particular person. The word was coined and defined by the sociolinguist Mervyn Alleyne in 1963.
- from the Oxford English Dictionary
The art or science of rainmaking; the production and implementation of schemes for inducing rain.
Origin:A borrowing from Latin, combined with an English element. Etymons: Latin pluvia, -culture comb. form.
Etymology: < classical Latin pluvia rain (see pluvial adj. and n.2) + -culture comb. form.
1925 D. S. Jordan in Science 24 July 81/2 The modern diversions of pluviculture, chiropractics and hormonism are everywhere treated with respect. Of these none can be more scientific than is pluviculture.
1966 Frederick (Maryland) Post 9 Aug. 10/1 Edmond Charles Jeffery, self styled practitioner of pluviculture, studied the clear, sunny sky.., then declared, ‘Yes, sir, it's going to rain.’
1981 Nature 23 Apr. 654/3 Interest in pluviculture is revived whenever a drought occurs.
2001 Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)(Nexis) 17 Dec. 8b, The science of pluviculture is known as rainmaking.
ˈpluviˌculturist n.[compare earlier culturist n.] a person who can (supposedly) induce rain by scientific means.
1925 Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald 9 May 4/3 A pluviculturist..in California is reported to have received $8,000 for producing and delivering a shower of rain.
1925 Science 24 July 82/1 The pluviculturist has next to build a modest shack or to set up a tent for his chemical operations.
2001 S. Silverman Einstein's Refrigerator 49 Charlie [sc. Charles Mallory Hatfield], who has long since passed on, was technically known as a pluviculturist.
- from the Oxford English Dictionary
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈhɪərəʊɡram/, U.S. /ˈhɪroʊˌɡræm/, /ˈhiroʊˌɡræm/
A congratulatory message from an editor praising a journalist's work. In later use also more generally: a message expressing praise, encouragement, or congratulations.
Forms: also with capital initial.
Origin:Formed within English, by compounding. Etymons: hero n., -gram comb. form.
Etymology: < hero n. + -gram comb. form, after telegram n. Compare nastygram n.
Compare earlier apparently unrelated use of the form hero-gram in Frank V. Martinek's newspaper comic strip Don Winslow of the Navy (first published in 1934), where the final panel regularly celebrated a particular heroic figure, as e.g. in the following:
1943 F. V. Martinek Don Winslow of Navy(comic strip) in Arizona Republic 31 Jan. 2 A Winslow Hero-gram... Lieutenant Noel Gayler, U.S.N., was the first man in history to receive three Navy Cross awards.
Orig. and chiefly Journalism.
1972 Spectator 1 July 10/1 ‘Your splendid An Loc story makes distinguished page one lead..congratulations on really fine work Editor’ is called a Herogram.
1984 Washington Post(Nexis) 21 July d1, The typical, brief Hero-gram..should cost less than $2, and..will be hand-delivered to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which will ensure that it reaches the appropriate athlete or team.
1991 L. Trotta Fighting for Air(1994) xv. 344 One of those ‘Nice work, guys’ messages addressed to ‘all hands’, what they call a ‘herogram’ in TV news.
2002 Times 19 June 21/1 Tony Blair is a devotee of the handwritten ‘herogram’, knowing how cherished such correspondence can be.