Dawn Reader

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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 133

1. AOTW: Well, I nearly had a second straight week without an AOTW. Then, on Saturday afternoon, one appeared! She was a person, driving, who did not seem to know that when you are in the right lane (as she was), and a sign says RIGHT LANE ENDS, you do not have the right-of-way; you yield to the traffic in the left lane. She didn't. Nearly sideswiped me. I honked, conferring upon her the AOTW! (I could't tell if she was subsequently waving at me--or ... you know?)

2. Joyce and I have been streaming, via Acorn (as I wrote last time, I think), the Brit cop series Suspects. I noted earlier that we didn't really know much about the personal lives of the three principals, but as the shows have gone on, we have gradually been learning--especially in the first episode of season 2, which I'll not spoil for those of you thinking about watching it. So well filmed. So well edited. (I do wish, though, that I understood more of the dialogue: It's taking me a while to catch on to the accents.)

3. Finished two good books this week.

     - The Archivist (1998) is a novel rich in history, in literature (especially T. S. Eliot), in human dynamics. And surprise. I had read about a third of it and was feeling confident I knew what was going on, what was going to happen ...

I didn't.

For when Part II arrives, everything which I had thought was stable and predictable suddenly was not--like the ingredients in a blender before you turn it on. The predictable plot reached a tangled wood, plunged in, dragging me along behind in wonder.

It's the story of an older archivist in the library of a renowned university (not named). Among his duties--overseeing some personal letters from T. S. Eliot to "another woman"--letters that are not open to the public until ... I forget the year--and am too lazy to look! Anyway, one day, an attractive young woman shows up asking to look at the letters. He says no. Their relationship goes on.

And then, the lights go out. And we are dealing with madness, with the Holocaust, with personal anguish of all sorts.

Ain't gonna say no more ... well, maybe one more thing. Read it.

I learned about Cooley only recently--and can't remember how it happened. But I ordered her novel, read it, admired/liked it ...

     - Novelist Jerome Charyn has been writing lately about his literary siblings. He has two recent books about Emily Dickinson (one fiction, one non-), and now, just this past month, a new novel, Jerzy, about novelist Jerzy Kosinski (1933-91--a suicide). Kosinksi shot to prominence with the publication of his first novel, The Painted Bird (1965), a horror of a story about a little boy wandering around in Poland during the Holocaust and experiencing, in each village, a new kind of depravity.

Jerzy Kosinski
I latched onto his work early on (in the late 60s) and bought and read his other novels as they appeared, including Steps (1968), which won the National Book Award. He was on talk shows (radio and TV), earned numerous other honors. His novel Being There (1971), about a young man named Chance, raised in a rich man's garden. An innocent. No ... an Innocent. The rich man dies; Chance wanders out of the garden; his simple sayings about life in the garden are taken to be profound metaphors by the rest of us; he becomes a celebrity.

The 1979 film starred Peter Sellers as Chance and was a hit. (Link to film trailer.) It was nominated for eleven Oscars (won only one--and not Sellers, who had been nominated). Sellers did win a Best Actor in the Golden Globes.

And then in 1982 the floor fell out from under Kosinski. A major piece in the Village Voice accused him of plagiarism (of using little-known works in Polish), of having ghost-writers. He staggered on for a while, then took his own life. Here's what the New York Times reported on May 4, 1991:
... his wife, Katherina von Fraunhofer-Kosinski, discovered him lying naked in a bathtub half-filled with water, with a plastic shopping bag twisted around his head, the police said. (Link to the entire NYT piece.)

Charyn's novel employs multiple narrators, beginning with an aide to Peter Sellers, who was desperate, it seems, to get the part of Chance in the film. Audiences had tired of him (and his Pink Panther films); his career was slowing; he saw in Chance a chance (!) for a resurrection.

Other narrators include Stalin's daughter (!), a third-person narrator who tells about one of Kosinski's loves, another lover, and another third-person narrator who tells about Kosinski's boyhood in Poland during World War II--and about his father's cleverness and intelligence.

Kosinski emerges here as a fabulist--a storyteller--a man who performs all the time, spins lies and fabrications, who creates a false biography, continually changing details, etc. Reality and Story bear little resemblance to Truth. (Hmmmm ... alternative facts?)

But there is also a profound sadness about it all, as well. Kosinski appears as a man who cannot live without his fabrications. And so ... when people cease to believe ... he ends up with a plastic bag around his head in the bathtub.

Charyn has always been a talented storyteller himself (I've been reading him for years), able to weave bright baskets containing such rich surprises inside. Jerzy is no exception.

After finishing the novel, I ordered a standard bio of Kosinski. Gotta learn more!

4. Last Words--Some words of interest (to me!) from my several online word-of-the-day providers.

     - from dictionary.com

crocodilian adjective [krok-uh-DIL-ee-uh n]
1. hypocritical; insincere.
2. of, like, or pertaining to a crocodile.
The crocodilian concern with the lower classes and their subsidy of middle-class students (who are fighting to extend such subsidies to lower-class children) is authentic "old-time" common sense at the zenith of coherence.
-- Marvin Harris, "Campus Confusion: To the Editor," New York Times, January 5, 1969

Crocodilian can mean "hypocritical, insincere." The insincerity of crocodiles has been noted since ancient times and is also reflected in the term "crocodile tears" (crocodiles supposedly weep for the victims they are eating). Crocodile tears are mentioned in a collection of ancient Greek proverbs attributed to Plutarch (a.d. c46–c120). The proverbs compare the crocodiles’ behavior to that of people who desire or cause the misfortune or death of others but afterward publicly mourn them. Crocodilian entered English in the 17th century.

     - from wordsmith.org
jury-rig (JOOR-ee rig)
verb tr.: To assemble or fix temporarily using whatever is at hand.
On a sailing ship, a jury-mast is a temporary mast, rigged when the original is damaged or lost. From jury (makeshift or temporary), perhaps from Old French ajurie (help). Earliest documented use: 1840.
“The city does not run power to Bushkoppies, so most residents jury-rig their homes with illegal connections from power lines. But the Segelbergs refuse to wire an illegal connection to their creche, both out of a concern for safety and to teach the children a respect for the law.”
Cecilia Johnson; Raising South Africa; Times Live (Johannesburg, South Africa); Jan 13, 2017. 

     - from Oxford English Dictionary
boffola, n. and adj.  With form buffola compare buffo n. and adj. and its etymon Italian buffo comical, burlesque.
U.S. slang.
 A. n. Originally and chiefly in the entertainment industry: an uproariously funny joke. Cf. earlier boff n.2   and boffo n.1
1946   F. Wakeman Hucksters vi. 97   It'll sound all right. Good jokes, laughs, I'll pack the script with boffolas.
1949   Sat. Evening Post 28 May 35/2   This ability [to think of gags] brought out the old boffolas from coast to coast.
1979   Washington Post (Nexis) 4 Jan. b1   Writing jokes..for businessmen who pay $1,500 for five minutes of boffolas.
1998   Hartford (Connecticut) Courant (Nexis) 6 Nov. f5   When treating a biology prof who looks like Colonel Sanders like a tackling dummy is a big boffola, then something profoundly imbecilic has overtaken Hollywood comedy.
(Hide quotations)
 B. adj.  Of a laugh: uproarious, unrestrained, hearty. Of a joke: uproariously or boisterously funny, hilarious. Cf. boffo adj.2
1976   National Observer (U.S.) 16 Oct. 10/3   There is a lot of shouting, posturing, and attempts at boffola humor.
1989   T. Tryon Night of Moonbow ii. vi. 121   He knew you couldn't help getting a boffola laugh when the front end, feet crossed, sat down on the rear end.
1999   Washington Times (Nexis) 7 July a15   The punch was in the very last sentence... If the boffola line means anything at all, it implies the Dalai Lama and Jiang Zemin, if they could only meet and liked each other, might make substantial progress on the Tibet question.


  1. I truly enjoyed your assessment of Jerome Charyn's JERZY: A Novel. Thank you for being a thoughtful reader and for sharing your insight and humor on this fine blog. -- Lenore

    1. Thank you so much for this kind comment.