Dawn Reader

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 143

1. AOTW--How about a person who believes that freedom of the press means that the press is free to print/broadcast only that "news" that agrees with the positions the AOTW already accepts (or is predisposed to accept) as true?

2. I finished three books this week ...

     - The past year I read my way through all the books by Richard Russo (what a wonderful adventure!), and this week I finished his recent collection of short stories, Trajectories (2017). A couple of the stories had appeared in earlier books (grrr), and since I already had notes on them, I skipped them this time and read only the new ones.

(By the way: I read nine pages of the first story, "Horseman," before I realized I'd read it before! Dotage!)  I think I enjoy best the final story, "Milton and Marcus" (a long tale--nearly 70 pages). It's a Hollywood story about a screenwriter (once moderately successful) whose brief treatment of a new film, Milton and Marcus, a treatment he'd written years earlier, is now on Hollywood's front burner again. The Movers and Shakers fly him out for a conference in the Tetons, and he realizes that they're only covering their bases: Others have done full revisions already. Our narrator (the screenwriter) ends with a couple of bitter notes:

  •      "... this brutal world simply will not spare you--even when you're young--knowledge of the worm in the apple" (242).
  •      ".. I'd wanted more happiness than I had coming" (243).
Russo, of course, has had much experience in Hollywood. It was the Paul Newman film of Russo's novel Nobody's Fool (novel, 1993; film, 1994) that first propelled Russo into prominence, and since then he has had other experiences--perhaps, most notably, the HBO miniseries, Empire Falls, based on his Pulitzer-winning novel of the same name (2001). Russo wrote the screenplay for that. Russo has a number of other screen credits (check IMDB), including one of my favorites, The Ice Harvest, 2005).

     - I also finished one of my "nightstand books" (titles I read a little bit of each night): Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History (2017), by Bill Schutt, a bio prof at Long Island University. Schutt--in very accessible prose--writes about cannibalism throughout the animal kingdom (yes, virtually all critters partake--under certain circumstances); he spends the final 200 pages or so of his 296-pp book talking about human cannibalism, including quite a lengthy account of the Donner Party (much of what I thought I knew was wrong, by the way).

Along the way, he has some goodies:

  • Some newborn spiders eat their mothers (22).
  • The preying mantis stuff is greatly exaggerated (37-8).
  • And here's a sentence no male wants to read: "An even more cringeworthy behavior is exhibited by Banana slugs (genus Ariolimax), which become so entwined during sex that they sometimes chew off their partner's corkscrew-shaped penis in an effort to disengage" (48). They eat it "spaghetti-style"--slurped down.

Among humans it's often due to stress or starvation, and the 19th-century stories of cannibals in Africa and in other remote places were greatly exaggerated if not downright fabricated.

     - Finally, I finished Falstaff: Give Me Life (2017) by Harold Bloom, the astonishingly prolific academic writer. It's part of Scribner's series "Shakespeare's Personalities," and Bloom lets us know right away that he places Falstaff right up there with Hamlet, Cleopatra, Lear, and others of Shakespeare's greatest creations.

But Bloom also makes clear that he's thinking only of the Falstaff who appears in Henry IV, Part One and Henry IV, Part Two, and whose offstage death we hear about via Mistress Quickly in Henry V. He is not writing about the Falstaff who dominates the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor, a play I like, a play I directed at Aurora High School in March 1989 (one of the great experiences of my life, by the way). Bloom haughtily dismisses Merry Wives: "Unfortunately, he [Shakespeare] also composed The Merry Wives of Windsor, a ghastly comedy that is an unacceptable travesty of Falstaff" (53). In other words, because that Falstaff does not entirely conform to Bloom's thesis about the other Falstaff, well, let's just forget about Merry Wives.


Bloom should have dealt with it. If something doesn't quite fit, well, you modify your thesis. Duh.

I also didn't care for Bloom's endless use of block quotations--some going on for pages. And although he did have a couple of great points to make (about, say, Falstaff's eruptive language), his own voice was often lost in the tangle of quotation.

Glad I read it (how could I not?)--wouldn't recommend it.

3. Last night we finally got around to watching the final episode of last season's Sherlock, the one that revealed Sherlock and Mycroft have a Smarter Sister (a way-smarter sister), a psycho (majorly) who's been locked up in a maximum-security facility out on a rocky island--for years. Mycroft has known all along; Sherlock has forgotten her entirely. Guess what happens?  I hated the episode, thought it was absolutely ludicrous. Made me wonder if the writers were baked or something. It was like a James Bond during the bad years. The very bad years. (Here's a link to that episode--"The Final Problem"--in case I've piqued your interest!)

4. Last word--a goody from one of my various online word-of-the-day services ...

     - from dictionary.com

backronym  noun [bak-ruh-nim]
1. an existing word turned into an acronym by creating an apt phrase whose initial letters match the word, as to help remember it or offer a theory of its origin. For example, rap has been said to be a backronym of “rhythm and poetry.”
2. the phrase itself. For example, “port out, starboard home” is a misleading backronym for posh.
Butterfield, who liked the cheekiness and loved the sound of the word, coined a "backronym" to justify it: searchable log of all communication and knowledge. He got his way.
-- Jeff Bercovici, "Slack Is Our Company of the Year. Here's Why Everybody's Talking About It," Inc., December 2015

One backronym familiar to every parent of a newborn is that of the Apgar score. The expansion for Apgar is “Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Respiration.” Actually the Apgar score is named after Virginia Apgar (1909-74), a US anesthesiologist who developed the test in 1952 to evaluate the effects of obstetric anesthesia on neonates. Backronym entered English in the late 20th century.

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