Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Blog drifting in a different direction

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I find myself less interested in political/news posts, though there are exceptions, so the blog — which basically reflects my own interests — is, I’ve noticed, changing directions somewhat. You may have noticed, but I wanted to say that I’m also aware of it.

I think there will probably be more food-related posts and videos, occasional music/jazz videos, and of course science and history as topics arise. But politics is now such a downer I’m de-emphasizing that in my own reading, and thus in the blog.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2022 at 10:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

“May I Quote?” — The New Yale Book of Quotations

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Bryan A. Garner, an American lawyer, lexicographer, and teacher, reviews The New Yale Book of Quotations in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

AS A COLLECTOR of reference books — an out-of-control number, I’m afraid — I had a full floor-to-ceiling bookcase of quotation books when, a couple of years ago, I was offered 200 more. A professional speechwriter had retired and wanted to know what to do with his large collection of these books. Even though we’d never met or even corresponded, he somehow concluded that he might bestow them on me — if I’d take them. I suspected I already owned them all. But after he sent me a list of 150 he wagered I didn’t own, and his wager was right, I gratefully accepted the gift.

There were compilations specifically about art, business, literature, politics, religion, science, and sports. There were compilations of single writers such as William F. Buckley Jr., Louis L’Amour, La Rochefoucauld, Will Rogers, William Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. There were even compilations by people not thought of as writers — Charles Barkley (“Anytime I’m on a team, we’ve got a chance to win.”), Bill Clinton, Hubert Humphrey, Adlai Stevenson, Donald Trump, and Jack Welch. The array of available material was stunning.

On reflection, it’s not surprising that a professional speechwriter would collect these things. Think of all the speeches, good and bad, that are peppered with statements attributed to revered predecessors. Listeners are supposed to infer that the speaker has drawn upon a vast reservoir of material gathered from a lifetime of reading. But no: it was probably a quote pulled from such a compilation after two or three minutes of looking.

Two big questions arise for users and compilers of these books: should they be arranged topically or by source? If you want quotations about the subject of research, would you rather have them all in one place under R, or spread throughout the book under the names of the people who uttered the statements? My own preference has always been for the former: show me all the research quotations together. Or honesty. Or marriage. Or wit.

But the most authoritative quotation books have always  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Books, Writing

Shirley Jackson’s response to a reader’s letter of complaint

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Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2022 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Books, Writing

Facing facts; or, I was wrong

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I’ve been on an internal pedantic rant about the use of “canister” instead of “cannister,” since I was sure I had learned the latter. For example, “bannister” is used, not “banister.” Or so I said to myself. But I was wrong. 

Change is hard, but now I’m a canister/banister guy. 

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2022 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Writing

What Makes a Great First Sentence?

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In Lit Hub Allegra Hyde takes a look at how a book begins for the reader:

Maybe it has happened to you: a stranger catches your eye while you peruse the plant identification section of the library, or wander a mossy hillock speckled with Amanita bisporigera, or shuffle along in the funeral procession for your wealthy Aunt Tabitha. The look squeezes a secret place inside you, sets your heart racing—in fear or excitement, you can’t quite tell. Call this kismet. Call it chemistry. Despite all that remains unknown (and that could go wrong), you feel compelled to see where the connection might lead. You know it could change the course of your life.

I say this as a romantic—and as a human who reads and writes fiction. Because the spark of connection can happen on the page in the same way it can in the real world. A great first line can spur intense readerly attraction—provoke a compulsion to know more. Let’s call this: love at first sentence.

Such a reading experience is also a rare one, however. Just as it is easy to encounter most strangers and remain unmoved—so is it easy to not read most works of literature. The world is full of people we will never know and fiction we will never read. It takes something special for a first line to capture the heart of a reader—to propel a text out of a slush pile or off a bookshop shelf—for a work of literature to transform from stranger to intimate.

What is that something, exactly? I started pondering this question in earnest last summer, after signing on to teach a class about fiction’s first lines. To “research” in preparation for the class, I decided to ask around—to ask strangers, specifically, in the spirit of love at first sentence. And so, to the people of Twitter, I posed: “What are your favorite first lines in literature?”

The people of Twitter had plenty to say. From my initial post, a long thread of first lines unfurled, as readers and writers of fiction shared first sentences that had lodged in their brains and stuck. The openers came from a breadth of genres and in all syntactical varieties. There were first lines from odd realist novels, such as:

I was looking at the map when Stephen swerved, hit the rock, and occasioned the miscarriage.
The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink

And there were openings from speculative short stories:

Seven corporations control the afterlife now, and many people spend their lives amassing the money to upload into the best.
–Louise Erdrich, “Domain”

There were long opening sentences, such as:

Back when my parents and I lived in Bushwick in a building sandwiched between a drug house and another drug house, the only difference being that the dealers in the one drug house were also the users and so more unpredictable, and in the other the dealers were never the users and so more shrewd—back in those days, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment so subpar that we woke up with flattened cockroaches in our bedsheets, sometimes three or four stuck on our elbows, and once I found fourteen of them pressed to my calves, and there was no beauty in shaking them off, though we strove for grace, swinging our arms in the air as if we were ballerinas.
–Jenny Zhang, “We Love You Crispina”

There were short, punchy openers like:

Mother died today.
–Albert Camus, The Stranger

 As well as:

They shoot the white girl first.
–Toni Morrison, Paradise

Several of Morrison’s opening lines were highlighted again and again. Other frequent repeats included:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
–Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

 And:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.
–Shirley Jackson, Haunting of Hill House

Then there was fan favorite: . . .

Continue reading.

Of course, there is perhaps the most famous first sentence of all: Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s opening to his 1890 novel Paul Clifford, though most remember only the first clause:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2022 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Books, Writing

Excellent commentary on Biden’s SOTU speech by James Fallows, who was chief White House speechwriter for President Carter

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The Atlantic doesn’t have gift links, but they will allow non-subscribers to read in full a few articles a month, and this one by James Fallows is worth using that option. Fallows begins with a preface about speeches in general, and then begins his commentary on Biden’s speech. He writes:

Listening to Joe Biden give his first official State of the Union address on Tuesday night, I thought: This is strong. It is clear; it’s the right message in the right language. It reflects the speaker in an honest way. And it also brings something new to this tired form.

But each of those judgments rests on assumptions about speeches in general and State of the Union addresses in particular. So let me lay out my reasoning and then get to the details of the speech.


.
What makes a speech “good”? Or “effective”? Or viewed as “eloquent”? Or perhaps eventually as “memorable” or “historic”?

These are trickier assessments than they might seem, and can take time to settle in. The value and effect of a speech depend on some circumstances that a speaker can control, or at least be aware of: the message, the audience, the expected length of the speech, the expected tone, from jokey to statesmanlike. But they also depend on aspects of timing and fortune beyond anyone’s control. Winston Churchill’s “we shall fight on the beaches” pledge to Parliament in 1940 is remembered in a particular way because of how the next five years of combat turned out. As are Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “date which will live in infamy,” John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner,” and Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

By contrast, George W. Bush’s “mission accomplished” declaration one month into the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is remembered in a different way, because of what happened afterward.

(I know how it feels to be involved in a statement that history has made look foolish. While working for Jimmy Carter in the White House, I was the writer on the trip where he gave a New Year’s Eve toast, in Tehran, to the shah of Iran as an “island of stability” in the turbulent sea of the Middle East. That was the official U.S. outlook at the time, which I did my best to express. Within little more than a year, the shah was out, and the Iranian revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini was under way.)

Why many different kinds of speeches can be “good,” and what makes them that way

Some speeches are meant to excite or inspire. Political-rally speeches are in this category, the more so the closer they come to Election Day. Speeches to inspire the whole nation should obviously not be partisan. For instance, JFK in 1962: “We choose to go to the moon … not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skill.” Speeches to energize the base can be partisan as hell, because voters are about to choose one side or the other. For instance, FDR just before Election Day in 1936: “[My opponents] are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”

Some speeches are meant to console or commemorate. Robert F . Kennedy’s most moving speech may have been his unscripted statement of grief and resolve, at a street corner rally before a largely Black crowd in Indianapolis, when sharing the news that Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated, in April 1968. This was two months before Kennedy himself was shot dead. Ronald Reagan gave his State of the Union address in 1986 a few days after the space shuttle Challenger exploded, and he began with a tribute to the seven dead astronauts. I believe that Barack Obama’s most powerful address was his eulogy in 2015 for the slain parishioners at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Some speeches are meant to explain. The example all aspire to is  . . .

Continue reading.

After his introduction, Fallows begins his commentary on Biden’s speech:

What follows is an abbreviated version of an approach I’ve tried before, of annotating the SOTU transcript. You can read the whole official speech from the White House if you prefer. I’ve used the version that was on Biden’s TelePrompter, and I’m leaving out more than half of it, indicated by an ellipsis (…) in interests of space. Comments are in bold, with the words or lines they’re referring to in italics. Here we go.

Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President, our First Lady and Second Gentleman. Members of Congress and the Cabinet. Justices of the Supreme Court. My fellow Americans. Of course, this is the first time that a president has begun with this salutation. As was true throughout the speech, Biden under- rather than oversold the moment.

… Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world, thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated.

He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead he met a wall of strength he never imagined. An attempted “line,” which Biden sensibly moved right past rather than waiting for a response.

He met the Ukrainian people. What I am referring to as plain-style eloquence.

From President Zelenskyy to every Ukrainian, their fearlessness, their courage, their determination, inspires the world.

Groups of citizens blocking tanks with their bodies. Everyone from students to retirees, teachers turned soldiers, defending their homeland. This will not be studied for rhyme, or emphasis in delivery. But it is very powerful.

In this struggle, as President Zelenskyy said in his speech to the European Parliament, “Light will win over darkness.” The Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States is here tonight.

Let each of us here tonight in this Chamber send an unmistakable signal to Ukraine and to the world.

Please rise if you are able and show that, Yes, we the United States of America stand with the Ukrainian people. One of the performance-art aspects of SOTUs is which part of the chamber will cheer which lines. This was a graceful and appropriate way for Biden to induce a standing ovation from all.

Throughout our history we’ve learned this lesson: When dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaosAs a matter of sentence rhythm, this is not the way Churchill, Kennedy, et al. would have phrased it. But, once more, powerful in its intent. They keep moving.

… American diplomacy matters. American resolve matters. This could not be plainer. Nor truer, at the moment.

… [Putin] thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. And he thought he could divide us at home. Putin was wrong. We were ready. Here is what we didSee above.

We prepared extensively and carefully… I spent countless hours unifying our European allies. We shared with the world in advance what we knew Putin was planning and precisely how he would try to falsely justify his aggression. “I am going to tell you about the actual work of being president.”

We countered Russia’s lies with truth.

And now that he has acted, the free world is holding him accountable.

Along with twenty-seven members of the European Union including France, Germany, Italy, as well as countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and many others, even SwitzerlandEven Switzerland!!!!

We are inflicting pain on Russia and supporting the people of Ukraine. Putin is now isolated from the world more than ever. I do not think we have heard these words before in a SOTU …

Tonight I say to the Russian oligarchs and corrupt leaders who have bilked billions of dollars off this violent regime: No more. Nor this word.

The U.S. Department of Justice is assembling a dedicated task force to go after the crimes of Russian oligarchs. I believe the camera panned to Merrick Garland at this point. Many people thinking, with me, Get busy with these task forces!

We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gainsNor these words. Nice emphasis on your.

Continue reading.

I find the Atlantic is well worth the price of the digital-only subscription — and right now there’s an even better bargain. Every issue has articles worth noting, and they also publish much along the way.

Written by Leisureguy

5 March 2022 at 10:11 am

How to read ‘Ulysses’? With gratitude.

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With gratitude and with others, it would seem. Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite writes in The Harvard Gazette:

Four years ago, Sorcha Ashe ’22 enrolled in the seminar “Complexity in Works of Art: Ulysses and Hamlet” with a lofty goal: read one of the most challenging novels in the modern English canon.

“‘Ulysses’ has kind of a lore around it as being an impossibly complicated book, and I definitely thought that it was going to be beyond me when I started,” said Ashe, an integrative biology concentrator from St. Paul, Minnesota. “But I had always wanted to read it because my father is Irish and it’s his favorite book.”

Guided by instructor Philip Fisher, Felice Cowl Reid Professor of English, Ashe and her classmates journeyed together through James Joyce’s Irish modernist classic, which was first published in book form in February 1922. The rewards were equal to the task.

“I found it to be one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I’ve ever had,” Ashe said. “To get to talk about those challenging parts and the enjoyable parts with other people made the experience so much more valuable than it would have been if I had read it on my own. It was such a joy to hear different people’s takes on the same set of words.”

Ashe’s struggle and delight with the novel echo century-old refrains from Joyce’s contemporaries. Fellow modernists including Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot reacted with confusion and envy to the author’s combination of rich prose, shifting perspectives, and Homeric allusions in a meandering interior story that spans but a single day.

“Virginia Woolf was quite defensive about ‘Ulysses’ when it came out, because she said it was boring and overrated,” said Beth Blum, an assistant professor of English and Joyce scholar. “But after sitting with it more, she saw what he was trying to do and appreciated it. She began to see that Joyce was, as she put it, trying to get thinking into literature.”

Eliot lamented: “It is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape.”

The book’s hold on literary culture is matched by few others, Blum noted. Internet searches yield multiple “how-to” guides for reading the novel, numerous essays debating whether one should even try, and arguments about which version should be read — with or without typos. All of these elements have coalesced into mythology, said Blum.

“Reading a book like ‘Ulysses’ represents a form of cultural capital and education, but the novel is also associated with a more democratic experience of humanity through the common man, Leopold Bloom,” she said, referencing Joyce’s protagonist. “Approaching the novel as a personal challenge allows you to reckon with difficulty and learn to persevere in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. I think that is part of the reason why it continues to appeal to people and endures.”

Reflecting on her College experience with “Ulysses,” Ashe said the novel altered . . .

Continue reading.

Note this post on which edition/printing to read. The inexpensive Kindle editions, for example, are generally from the first printing and riddled with typos.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2022 at 9:02 pm

“Po” punctuation proposed

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Edward De Bono (whose books appear in the booklist) wrote a book well worth buying and reading: Po: Beyond Yes and NoThe idea is that a great variety of creative ideas can be generated if one (or a group) suspends judging the ideas during the creative period. Rather than greeting each idea with “Yes” or “No,” De Bono proposes saying “Po,” which might be read as “Suppose” or “Consider as a possibility” or “Let’s look at where this might lead.”

It occurred to me, in reading this post, that a good punctuation mark to set off a word or sentence or paragraph that is proposed as a possibility for consideration might be made from the two diagonals. For example, /\ this new punctuation can be useful \/.  Note that the “\/” functions as a “close quote,” to mark the end of the possibility suggested.

It’s also nice that neither / nor \ require the use of the shift key.

/\ = “blue sky” (a flight of imagination)

\/ = “getting back down to earth”

Written by Leisureguy

23 February 2022 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Writing

Brief scene from “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” by Sir Tom Stoppard

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Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2022 at 7:04 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video, Writing

The reality of sight-translating an ancient language

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Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2022 at 11:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

A word for an obsession familiar to me — and Giri/Haji

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What I suffered most when my computer was away was not have a convenient way to write, and today I learned the useful word graphomania: “An obsessive inclination to write.”

While the computer was absent, I would repeatedly think of things I wanted to write about, for which the iPhone was completely inadequate. I’m now a keyboard guy, and I wanted to be able to write about things to figure out what I thought about them as well as to tell others about them.

Take, for example, the eight-part limited series Giri/Haji (Duty/Shame) on Netflix. I had seen it before, but I watched it again and in this viewing noticed much more. It is set in Tokyo and London, with bilingual dialogue (some in English, some in Japanese with subtitles). It is about family and friendship, and conflicts of duty and odd pairings of people and destinies.

One thing I noticed this time is how much some sequences resemble a graphic novel — not just in the composition of the scene onscreen (though indeed some scenes are presented onscreen in multiple panels), but also in the content of some some sequences.

It was so much like a screen treatment of a graphic novel that I checked IMDB.com to see whether there was a graphic novel as the underlying property (as the movie industry calls the book or play from which a movie has been made).

No, it’s an original screenplay, but some reviewers did note that the plot summaries at the beginning of episodes 2 through 8 were done in graphic-novel style. I had not noticed that because I skip summaries when I’m watching a series straight through, as I was doing, but that made me start watching them — and they are definitely worth watching.

It’s quite an interesting series and toward the end there are stylized (i.e., non-realistic) sequences that reflect on the story.

BTW, Korean limited series seem to have a standard length of 16 episodes, and for those I generally watch plot summaries because the series have so many episodes. Plot elements from several episodes back can re-emerge, and the plot summary at the beginning of an episode is written to remind you of the plot elements relevant to the current episode.

Movies vs. Graphic Novels

When I read the graphic novel Watchmen, it seemed clear that movies were a big influence on graphic novels — some sequences seem taken from movies. But graphic novels do not have the kind of sequence control a movie offers: when you watch a movie, the director decides the exact sequence in which you will see the story unfold, whereas the graphic novelist cannot so closely control the sequence in which you view the page.

To gain that control, the graphic novelist exploits the space on the page, a resource not available to the movie director. Some of the page layouts in Watchmen are stunning, and in effect show that control of the spatial presentation of the story can be effective in a way that temporal presentation finds difficult to mimic. It was this spatial presentation — multiple panels, side by side — that were brought into Giri/Haji. As you read (a graphic novel) and watch (a movie), you can see the tradeoffs between spatial and temporal control.

In this connection, it’s useful (and interesting) to read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.

Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2022 at 2:19 am

Walden Pond Books

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Written by Leisureguy

10 February 2022 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life, Video, Writing

Hunter S. Thompson and the Four Secrets to Gonzo Journalism’s Success

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This article will appeal principally to readers of a certain age. Peter Richardson writes in the New Republic:

Fifty years after the publication of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson’s celebrity remains a durable fact. Yet there was nothing inevitable about his notoriety or the style that gave rise to it. Gonzo journalism—Thompson’s unique blend of hyperbolic commentary, satire, invective, hallucination, and media critique—developed unevenly, haphazardly, almost by accident. That body of work, and the rock-star celebrity it created, almost didn’t happen.

In 1965, Thompson was a freelancer begging for assignments when The Nation commissioned an article on the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. Thompson parlayed his first-person account into a bestselling book, and Random House quickly signed him for three more titles on short schedules. The second book stalled, however, and Thompson struggled with his magazine work. Playboy spiked his lengthy profile of Jean-Claude Killy, the Olympic skier who became a pitch man for Chevrolet. Fortunately for Thompson, Warren Hinckle ran the Killy piece in the premiere issue of Scanlan’s Monthly.

Hinckle also published “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” Thompson’s 1970 account of the famed sporting event—or rather, the drunken revelry surrounding it. Illustrated by Ralph Steadman, that piece is usually considered the first work of gonzo journalism. Thompson set the debauchery at Churchill Downs against a backdrop of political violence—including President Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia and the slaughter at Kent State University, which occurred the same week as the Derby. Finishing the story was an ordeal, and Thompson considered it an abject failure. When it was heralded as a breakthrough, he compared the experience to “falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.”

Thompson’s next articles skipped the gonzo pyrotechnics, but “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” which Rolling Stone ran in November 1971, etched gonzo journalism in the public imagination. Based on a pair of wild weekends in the desert, the two-part article was a freewheeling epitaph for the 1960s counterculture. It made a bigger splash than the Kentucky Derby piece, but in a letter to James Silberman, his editor at Random House, Thompson worried that it would diminish his credibility as a serious journalist. Once again, he had underestimated gonzo’s career-altering appeal.

Gonzo journalism thrived at Rolling Stone, especially during the Nixon era. As the decade wore on, Thompson’s outsize persona—which featured his drug consumption, gun fetish, and “fortified compound” near Aspen—began to eclipse his work. Yet Thompson understood his literary gift quite apart from his celebrity. In 1975, he correctly described himself as “one of the best writers currently using the English language as both a musical instrument and a political weapon.”

p>But how, exactly, did Thompson achieve that status in a single decade? With the benefit of hindsight, we can identify four separate developments that pushed Thompson toward his unique niche in the media ecosystem.

Chicago

Early in his career, Thompson admired the Kennedys, detested Nixon, and attended the 1964 GOP convention in San Francisco. Even so, he considered American politics a dead end. He wanted to follow the example set by Tom Wolfe in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965). An early version of the New Journalism, that book featured Southern California’s hot-rod scene as well as the spectacular growth of Las Vegas. Later, Wolfe profiled the psychedelic scene around novelist Ken Kesey, whom Thompson had introduced to the Hell’s Angels. In short order, Thompson also carved out a niche as a student of exotic West Coast subcultures.

His outlook changed dramatically in 1968. By that time, Thompson had befriended Hinckle, who presided over Ramparts magazine. Through his connection with the legendary San Francisco muckraker, Thompson learned that all hell would break loose at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He asked Silberman to obtain press credentials for him and booked a trip to Chicago. His sources were correct: Thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets and public parks, and police officers flayed provocateurs, peaceful protesters, and observers alike. The clashes provided a dramatic backdrop for the debates inside the convention, especially over the party’s position on the Vietnam War. Senator Edmund Muskie maintained that the anti-war contingent wanted peace at any price, the peace plank was defeated, and Hubert Humphrey received the party’s nomination. By the end of the convention, both Humphrey and Muskie earned Thompson’s lasting contempt.

The real story was in the streets, however, where Thompson recoiled from the police violence he witnessed. Scampering from agitated cops on Michigan Avenue, he encountered two officers blocking his retreat to his hotel.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 11:47 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Media, Writing

Evolution of Our Alphabet

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Other alphabets (Arabic, Korean, Cherokee, et al.) had different evolutions, of course. The image above is from an interesting article in Visual Capitalist, which begins:

Over the course of 2021, the Greek alphabet was a major part of the news cycle.

COVID-19 variants, which are labeled with Greek letters when becoming a variant of concern, normalized their usage. From the Alpha variant in the UK, to the Delta variant that spread from India to become the dominant global strain, the Greek alphabet was everywhere. Seemingly overnight, the Omicron variant discovered in South Africa has now taken the mantle as the most discussed variant.

But the Greek alphabet is used in other parts of our lives as well. For example, Greek letters are commonly used in mathematics and science, like Sigma (Σ) denoting a sum or Lambda (λ) used to represent the half-life of radioactive material.

And the study of linguistics shows us why using Greek letters in English isn’t completely farfetched. This visualization from Matt Baker at UsefulCharts.com demonstrates how the modern Latin script used in English evolved from Greek, and other, alphabets.

It’s All Proto-Sinaitic to Me

Before there was English, or Latin, or even Greek, there was Proto-Sinaitic.

Considered the first alphabet ever used, the Proto-Sinaitic script was derived in Canaan, around the biblical Land of Israel. It was repurposed from . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2022 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, History, Writing

A poem on Twitter: “There’s a ghost on the corner of 3rd and Broadway”

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Read it all. It begins:

There’s a ghost on the corner of 3rd and Broadway

I noticed him the other day, as I made a left turn at the light.

He wasn’t there a week ago.

He must be new.

Nobody I recognize, but then again, his face is blurry and indistinct.

I look at him now, and I drive past. 1/  . . .

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2022 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Writing

How To Write A Personal Letter, According To A Hallmark Card Writer

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Sending handwritten letters through the mail is not practiced enough, IMO. For a while I carried on a voluminous correspondence through the Letter Exchange. Finding a personal letter in the mailbox is always a pleasure, and nowadays a rare pleasure.

Andee Tagle and Janet W. Lee pass along at NPR some good tips from a senior writer at Hallmark Cards. (I just flashed on a memory of the protagonist in the movie Her, a professional letter writer played by Joaquin Phoenix.) They write:

Dearest Reader,

Good tidings to you! I write this letter today to tell you: personal writing is tough.

Sure, elementary school might have taught us about structure and form — the textbooks say a well-composed letter consists of a greeting, an intro paragraph, a body and a conclusion. But writing for impact? Steering clear of blunders like platitudes, generalities, opacity and the like? That’s a whole different ball game.

Be it snail mail, a text message, a work email or a birthday card to grandma: good personal writing can foster authentic connection, boost your creativity and “brighten someone’s day,” says Courtney Taylor, a senior writer at Hallmark Cards.

“It’s an invitation to a conversation” and an opening for vulnerable communication without assumption or mandate, she says. When done right, “It feels like someone’s really seeing you.”

And all it takes to get there is a little time and intention.

So if you’ve been dying to send that perfect letter but haven’t found the words, read on for some tips from the interview to get you started, or listen to the podcast at the top of the page.

Lead with vulnerability and curiosity

In any form of letter writing, we’re looking to be affirmed, says Taylor.

That affirmation starts with “committing to telling your story,” and being open and vulnerable with the person on the other end of your message — meaning not just sharing the cold hard facts of our lives, but the feelings behind them.

Say, for example, you’d like to share that you received a promotion at work. “I don’t want to just talk about the event itself,” Taylor says. “I want to talk about how it has changed my mental health or my sense of confidence or how it’s altered the free time that I have.”

(And if that feels like too personal an ask for you, that’s OK! Taylor advises being selective about when and to whom we send personal messages. You don’t have to use your best writing energy on everyone!)

From there, she says, ask open-ended questions and let your own personal experience inform your curiosity. Instead of just asking about the weather, you might ask the receiver if they’ve had a similar experience, or if they could offer you advice.

By offering your audience a window into your personal experience, you’re also giving them space to do the same.

Aim for “universal specifics”

Finding “the universal in the specific” is a common tool in the writing world — but it’s much easier understood than accomplished.

“The idea is that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

2 January 2022 at 7:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

“What I Learned About My Writing By Seeing Only The Punctuation”

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Clive Thompson has an interesting post with a cool tool that strips a text passage of words, leaving only the punctuation (and other special characters such as $).  I used it on the text of my post on finding pleasure in the discomfort of using new skills:

That was interesting, and it looks quite different than the two examples in Thompson’s article (one from Cormac McCarthy and one from Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner). I see that I use an em dash frequently. 

I wanted a longer bit of text. This example is my post on budget planning and tracking:

Lots of dollar signs, for obvious reasons. Also, a fair number of parentheses — and those em dashes again. From my post on my whole-food plant-based diet:

And now for something completely different: the first five chapters of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.

And, finally, a selection from the beginning of The Enchanted Castle, by E. Nesbit.

Written by Leisureguy

10 October 2021 at 7:08 am

Posted in Software, Writing

Two letters from Louise Bogan to Theodore Roethke

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Shaun Usher has a newsletter and website, Letters of Note, in which he provides some context and then presents notable letters. In a recent newsletter, he writes:

Born in Maine in 1897, Louise Bogan was 48 when she became the fist woman to be appointed Poet Laureate in the U.S. These letters of advice were written ten years earlier to Theodore Roethke, a friend and fellow poet who had lost his way and turned to drink, and who, in 1954, would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Should you love these letters even half as much as I do, I strongly recommend getting hold of the criminally under-appreciated book, What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters of Louise Bogan. It’s up there with the best.

Following that, the newsletter has two letters from Louise Bogan: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2021 at 4:30 am

Coments on, and examples of, translation

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Translation is betrayal. That sentence came to mind when I thought of this post, and I naturally wondered, “Is that my own sentence? or am I remembering?”

Google provides an easy way to check. With the sentence as search term, the first hit is an article “To Translate Is To Betray?“, by Robert Bethune, which begins:

There is an old Italian saying: “Traduttore, traditore.” It’s a cynical remark; it assumes that the task of translation is hopeless, that you can’t ever properly transmit a work from one culture to another. It may, in the end, be true; but if there must be treason, it does not have to be committed in the first degree, with malice aforethought.

I first became aware of these issues when I studied French and heard Jacques Brel’s own recordings of the songs used in “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well And Living In Paris.” That’s when I learned that the people who produced that musical revue took several of his great songs and substituted their own lyrics that had absolutely nothing to do with what Brel wrote.

Recently, I’ve been working my way through five translations of a classic Italian comedy by Carlo Goldoni, “La Locandiera” — better known in English as “The Mistress of the Inn” or “Mirandolina.” One translator, Ranjit Bolt, commits out-and-out murder. There is hardly a single phrase in his English text that can be directly related to what Goldoni wrote. Another, Lady Gregory, bless her sainted soul, was one of the guiding spirits behind the founding of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, one of the world’s great theatrical treasures. But when it came time to translate Goldoni, for some reason she turned butcher. The whole thought pattern of every scene is hers, not Goldoni’s. She cheerfully removed all the asides, consigns two important characters to oblivion, and runs the lines through a blender. Trying to trace the relationship of her text to Goldoni’s is like trying to follow the noodles in a plate of spaghetti.

What’s worse, these crimes against the work are committed silently. The reader who doesn’t or can’t compare the text to the Italian has no clue to the butchered nature of the text they’re reading.

I won’t bore you further with a litany of translator’s sins. The real question is, does this matter? And can it be avoided?

Yes, it most certainly does matter. We tend to forget . . .

And read more — it’s good.

The sentence came to mind when I read an emailed Atlantic newsletter by Kate Cray, who writes:

Haruki Murakami’s English translators may have skyrocketed the Japanese author to global success, but they took enormous liberties in the translation process, the writer David Karashima reveals in his book Who We’re Reading When We’re Reading Murakami. The English version of An Adventure Surrounding Sheep—titled instead A Wild Sheep Chase—dropped all references to its 1970s setting, because the editors believed readers would prefer something contemporary. Translators shaved some of the more explicit scenes from Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. A whopping 25,000 words were cut from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Translators constantly wrestle with remaining faithful to an original work and ensuring success in a foreign language; these changes to Murakami’s books represent one extreme. At the other end of the spectrum, one finds writers such as David Bentley Hart, who published a “pitilessly literal” translation of the New Testament in 2018. “Where an author has written bad Greek … I have written bad English,” Hart notes. His fidelity to his source material is so great that in at least one instance he chose to forgo his most fundamental duty—to translate—and simply kept the original Greek word, Logos.

Regardless of the degree of intervention, many works of translation read as collaborations between the translator and the original text. A version of a work in a new language invariably bears the marks of the interpreter, no matter how subtle. In this sense, Elena Ferrante’s work is ripe for translation: Her novels reject any notion that storytelling is solitary and instead acknowledge that narratives are shaped by all of the people they pass through, including Ferrante’s own English translator, the retired New Yorker editor Ann Goldstein. The author Jonathan Franzen reflects on the value of this mode of collaboration, which he experienced while translating the Austrian writer Karl Kraus’s work into English for his own book The Kraus Project. As Franzen considers how a single word might change the implication of the text, he seems to enter Kraus’s mind—and emerges with a deeper understanding of how humanity and technology intersect.

Gerard Reve’s 1947 novel, The Evenings, was long considered untranslatable—too Dutch to ever appeal to a mainstream audience. The tale of how it came to exist in English shows the payoff for undertaking this messy enterprise. When an English version was finally published, it both stood on its own and captured the humor and stylistic brilliance of the original. It embodied the best of translation, transforming national specificity into universal relatability.

Written by Leisureguy

6 August 2021 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life, Memes, Writing

H.L. Mencken Kindle collection for 80¢

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H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), famous Baltimore writer, had a glistening career, arousing both ire and admiration, generally not in the same person You can buy for 80¢ a Kindle collection of seven of his books:

The American Credo
The American Language
The Philosophy Of Friedrich Nietzsche
A Book Of Burlesques
A Book Of Prefaces
Damn! A Book Of Calumny
In Defense Of Women

Written by Leisureguy

2 August 2021 at 11:13 am

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