Category Archives: books

October mixture

I hope that you and your loved ones emerged from Sandy unscathed, and that you’re not reading this while plugged in to the first working street lamp or dangling set of twinkly lights you encountered in midtown. (I’ve heard those are popular sources of power for my fellow New Yorkers as of late). I’ve been high and dry in Lunar Camel Co. Towers the whole time, baking bread and watching nature documentaries and whatnot. Friends from Evacuation Zone A have been coming and going and will continue to be welcomed, even my friend Jim, who graciously informed me in advance that he “only sleep[s] in the nude.” Anyone who can’t squeeze in on the sofa with Jim and has to stay downtown will soon be on the receiving end of as many warm chocolate chip cookies as can fit in the storage compartments of a Vespa.

I hope you’re having a happy Halloween too, or will have a happy one whenever you get around to celebrating it. My neighborhood, as you can see below, has been getting ready for some time now, but the storm complicated things. If you’re in need of an extremely last-minute costume for a postponed or fashionably late-night party, I posted a few ideas last year, and if you’re in need of some candy-eating music, I posted some good stuff on my food blog a few years back, along with a vegetarian, pumpkin-centric dinner recipe.

Harlem's bikers are ready for Halloween.

Madison Ave. near 120th St., Oct. 5th.

I’ve been a delinquent blogger lately and I’ve scarcely had time to feel bad about how shabby my rattletrap urls were looking — I’ve been alternating between working sixty-hour weeks and getting out of town. I’ve also been preoccupied with a few little projects, one of which I’ll tell you about very soon.

Deep River-20121006-02100

Applemania is coming soon on my food blog, though it’s not the little project I meant.

sweater scan

I’ve also taken up knitting html sweaters for my blogs,
but that’s not the little project I meant either.

I’ve been reading a lot too, though far more fitfully than is usual for me. I’m generally a one- or two-books-at-a-time woman but there are five or six I’m dipping into at the moment. Among them:

Love is a Pie cover

Love is a Pie by Maude Hutchins has been on my shelf for many years and I’m just getting around to it now. I’m not deeply engaged with it at the moment such that I have a lot to say about it yet, but I wanted to show you the cover, which I love. It’s the New Directions 1952 edition designed by Andy Warhol. (There’s a tiny bit more about his work for them here). I think I paid about $7 for it, partly because hardly anyone knows who Hutchins is, and partly because Warhol isn’t credited for the illustration anywhere in it. The NYRB blog describes Hutchins as the author of “peculiar psycho-sexual novels,” among other things, but Love is a Pie is a collection of short stories and plays, eminently suitable for reading a few pages at a time. My experience with it so far is that it is also peculiar and psycho-sexual. Five of the stories (“The Missing Papers of an Extra Man”) are narrated from the point of view of a bachelor, who wonders, at one point, whether “there [are] gastric juices in the brain?” There’s an interesting essay about Hutchins over at the LRB here, by Terry Castle, whose essay collection Boss Ladies, Watch Out! is also on my bed-side table. I was moved to buy it after reading her review of Lisa Cohen’s All We Know: Three Lives — a biography of three obscure and under-rated lesbians — and I’m really digging it.

I’ve also been haphazardly delving into vintage sci-fi. Doubtlessly this is influenced by an ex-boyfriend who often reads at random. Or what appears to be at random, but in actuality reflects a practiced and discerning eye for strangeness. He used to teach critical reading, actually, but (or “and”?) many of his books are ones he found on the street or in the cardboard box at his gym. After close observation I decided this is a worthwhile manner of reading, but I’m not sure I’ve gotten the hang of it yet. I’m still a bit too purposeful. I picked up the two below because both feature R. A. Lafferty and he was recommended to me years ago. I’ve never been a sci-fi person in the slightest but I sort of like the idea of becoming one. I could definitely get into the illustrations, at least, whether they’re good, terrible, or merely really weird. Plus it seems like a good time, with Singularity & Co., for example, pointing the way towards some of the more interesting bits of the genre, and the rest of the internet readily coughing up oddities.

Alpha 3 cover   Alpha 3 table of contents

Alpha Three (ed. Robert Silverberg, Ballantine Books 1972).
Click on either image to enlarge.
I don’t always buy books with no idea whether I’ll like them or not, but when they’re cheap and have interesting covers, sometimes I do.

if sci fi cover 1961   if table of contents

if Science Fiction (ed. H. L. Gold, Digest Productions, Jan. 1961),
with its table of contents apparently signed by Phyllis Gotlieb. And apparently she ranked all the other stories in order of . . . quality? Or suggested reading order?

Semi-relatedly, a selection of some of the titles I’ve seen on that ex-boyfriend’s shelves / floor / desk:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia. I idly flipped through this one morning but there wasn’t much that held my attention. A few weeks later I happened to read a fascinating article in the Independent about a supposedly-elusive mafia tradition whereby two men in the same crime family will promise not to snitch on each other by sharing a passionate kiss. I asked D. whether this was covered in the Guide and he said yes of course, there is an entire chapter on it. So there you have it: Some of those idiotic-looking idiot guides are well-researched and worthwhile reads.

mafia kiss

a mafia-style kiss from the Independent, June 10, 2011

How to Draw Dynamic Hands. Actually I borrowed this one and now it’s sitting on my floor. I keep meaning to scan a few pages from it for a draft blog post that doesn’t really have anything to do with hands but needs some imagery. I’m hoping to learn something from it too because my drawing skills are not what anyone would call “dynamic.”

The Stain Bible. I remember we were both disappointed that this does not explain how to remove stains from that green kombucha that looks like pond scum. It’s one of the best flavors but also one of the most explosive, and its stains are not the same as grass stains.

Hide Your Assets and Disappear: A Step-by-Step Guide to Vanishing Without a Trace. I realize that for some people, seeing this in a man’s bookcase might be a red flag. But aren’t you curious to read it too now that you know it exists? I should maybe point out that it was surrounded by some really good stuff, like Flaubert’s Sentimental Education and The Lyrics of Leonard Cohen.

• Menander’s Dyskolos. Wikipedia tells me that this title is translated from Ancient Greek “as The Grouch, The Misanthrope, The Curmudgeon, The Bad-tempered Man or Old Cantankerous.” It’s a comedy, though.

Anyhow. Now that the storm has left us it’s a fine time for music from a wonky magic carpet, don’t you think? Here’s Manolo Sanlucar, “Diálogos.”

Michele Redolfi is perhaps more grounded: he’s been performing underwater concerts for years. Specifically, he composes, manipulates, and records experimental music and sounds under water, in pools and natural settings. The immersed participants listen through their bones, as explained by a knowledgable commenter over at Lunar Atrium. I was reminded of him recently when Connie Hockaday posted her underwater wrestling video. Here’s his “Grand Nocturne de Musique Subaquatique” at Grenoble in 2008.

In terms of everyday listening, I’m still pretty into wan and melancholic French synth pop / electro-yéyé. Long-time readers will remember that I was enthusing about Elli et Jacno in my very first post at Lunar Camel Co., and I still love them. (These days I only love them for about twenty minutes every three weeks or so, but still, it’s serious).

Main dans la main

Elli et Jacno “Main dans la main” single

Not related, but seasonally appropriate: the Mo-dettes cover of “Paint it Black”:

While we are on the subject of music, you should try to get to the Metropolitan Opera to see Thomas Adès’s adaptation of “The Tempest.” I’m basically poor people, but I know someone who knows someone and I managed to get in to a dress rehearsal. It was pretty spectacular! I used to go to the opera more often than I do now and it was lovely just to go again, but I came away thinking this was one of the more effective productions I’ve ever seen. I say that as someone who made sure to get herself to that Peter Greenaway one about Vermeer with actual rain and live cows in it. I do love a spectacle, but “The Tempest” was compelling in a character-driven way as well, and the music possessed more subtleties than I could ever hope to intelligently discuss after a single performance. It’s gotten very mixed reviews (WQXR said “eh”, while the Times gave it at least two very positive write-ups), but I say you should go if you can.


Another recommendation, this one straight out of my superstorm playlists: The birds of Papua New Guinea are sublime. The mating dances they do are too bonkers for words, and there’s one that can make a sort of satellite dish with the feathers on his head and neck to pick up chicks, a satellite of bird love. Here, this short film from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some terrific-looking birds in it.

If you’ve got more time to devote to bird-viewing, seek out “Nature: Birds of the Gods.” It’s about the same birds but it’s with David Attenborough and it’s about an hour long.

coarseness of thought and feeling; want of grace and taste; numerous allusions to matters of merely local interest

Via Dangerous Minds, here is Fran Lebowitz talking about NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, who she has a bracingly compelling, funny, and well-reasoned dislike of:

It’s from a book launch party for While We Were Sleeping: NYU and The Destruction of New York. As soon as I finished watching it I sent the link to my most scornful Bloomberg-scorning friend, who recently had me reaching for a notepad when he said that “living in a city where this little cunt is in charge of things is like living in 18th-century Paris.” Is it? It kind of is. Someone really ought to make a list about that. And why am I not trying my hand at writing libelles? Those topical, subversive, witty little pamphlets or one-sheets that flourished in France between the 16th and 18th centuries, often anonymously written because of nastiness or seditiousness or both, were quite obviously the blogs of their day. But not all blogs are libelles.

Am I qualified? I’m somewhat mordant by nature, not short on opinions, and I enjoy hitting the “publish” button but my very full-time day job gets in the way. Working in shorter, sharper forms holds considerable appeal. In my mid-twenties I was pretty thoroughly knocked out by Balzac’s Lost Illusions, the first thing of his I’d ever read, and, although a work of fiction, my first meaningful glimpse of libelles. I didn’t mind the notoriously detailed and lengthy description of printing press technology that occurs very early in the book, and the further I read the more I thought it was utterly brilliant. The main character is an aspiring poet from the provinces who later finds himself mucking about with Parisian journalists and libellistes, and Balzac’s determination to capture the pragmatic aspects of how technological progress changes things alongside the social aspects was exciting to me; it tickled the same vaguely Marxist parts of my brain that my college professors did when they talked about Dziga Vertov’s socialization of the movie camera. Prior to the libelle era, people simply could not vitiate public figures or distribute their most profane little thoughts in print affordably or with any great efficiency because printing presses hadn’t caught up with their urgent need to comment on the culture around them. I was delighted to read more Balzac and see that this was a theme with him — to see, for example, that in Cousin Bette someone seems to be setting up a trust for someone else every other page or so. My understanding — somewhat spotty, but reasonably well informed from having read about this some years ago — is that the trust was fairly new legal technology at the time, a creation of the Napoleonic code; before then, people could not arrange to distribute their money or property outside of the traditional family lines in any sort of reliable way. To provide for a lover outside of marriage or a gay lover, for example, was suddenly a possibility. (To this day the law of succession and probate in the state of Louisiana is quite different from that of other U.S. states because, being a former French territory, it is the only state whose law is based on the Napoleonic code rather than English common law). Anyhow, where was I? I think I was getting around to suggesting that someone ought to study Bloombergian culture in a Balzacian manner, with special attention to the nefarious money-grubbing Ms. Lebowitz so capably describes.

underground journalist

A libelliste’s mechanisms at work, scanned from The Forbidden Best Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France by Robert Darnton. Specifically, he’s “from the frontspiece to Le Gazetier cuirasse, ou anecdotes scandaleuses de la cour de France by Charles Theveneau de Morande, 1771.” I haven’t read the book yet but I’ve got the same author’s The Literary Underground of the Old Regime in my going-out-of-town bag this weekend.


That same friend I sent the video to has a recurring fantasy about running into Bloomberg someplace — our mayor does take the subway every once in a while, and gets into and out of shiny black SUVs all over town — and loudly exclaiming, as if unaware of himself “I can’t believe he’s so tiny in person!”


Did you know that in Marie Antoinette’s time women wore dioramas in their hair? The trend apparently started with the use of wire forms padded out with wool and horse hair, which gave them impressive volume, and before long they were perching entire allegories up there. Appraiser and interior architect Soodie Beasley writes that

[w]omen placed in their hair little figurines made from fabric and small objects made from papier maché. Their hairdresser arranged them as sceneries or landscapes. Sometimes, they used their hair as a stage to replicate historical scenes or sometimes to communicate an emotion — sentimental pouf — this type of do was called.

. . . . Marie Antoinette wore her pouf a’ la inoculation in support of the small pox vaccination which showed Aesculapius’s serpent wrapped around an olive tree.

She wore these hairstyles at court and in town, and this had a swift and contagious effect . . .

‘Everybody was talking of the poufs created by the firm of Bertin . . . one famous pouf was that of the Duchesse de Lauzun. She appeared at a reception wearing a most delicious pouf. It contained a stormy sea, ducks swimming near the shore, someone on the point of shooting one of them; on the top of the head there was a mill, the miller’s wife being made love to by an abbe, whilst near the ear the miller could be seen leading a donkey.’

The last paragraph there quotes Émile Langlade’s Rose Bertin, the creator of fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette. I think the contemporary equivalent (in Manhattan, at least) is people doing unspeakably overwrought things to cocktails, which have become so burdened by displays of creativity that even bartenders are starting to wonder whether their preening is turning people off, and whether we haven’t turned some sort of corner yet. Delightful, innovative, gaudy, pompous, and inane — people have always been this way and always will be, and at any given moment the counterweights may be in need of rebalancing.

Miss Juniper Fox

Miss Juniper Fox, 1777, from the Lewis Walpole Library
via Soodie Beasley.


The title of my post comes from a scrap of commentary on the ancient Greek poet Hipponax I found floating around on the internet. It used to appear on his Wikipedia page but I don’t see it there now. These qualities are supposedly reasons why his “witty, abusive” verse was not more popular. (He is nonetheless sometimes credited with having invented parody, and his deft dealings with the sordid side of life in Ephesus seem to have made quite an impression on people). The first time I saw it I was struck by the idea that this particular scrap would make a very good manifesto of sorts for a blog, not unlike the mumbo-jumbo in the header on my food blog. Sometimes it’s incredibly helpful to limit and sharpen one’s focus, however perplexing the operational rules may appear to others.


some Sylvia for your pocket

I’ve been meaning to write about Sylvia Townsend Warner here for literally years now, but to really do her any justice I need to go back and re-read many things of hers I read fairly recently. Which is hard to make myself do when I’ve got such a large pile of other, new-to-me things I’d like to get to first. (Same problem with various films, which I’d never write about after having seen only once). I will indeed do it anyhow at some point because I think it’s important, but in the meantime I see no reason not to send you off about your business without a few enticing little scraps of Sylvia to tuck in your pocket.

This first one in the series is from the short story “Furnivall’s Hoopoe,” which appears in the collection The Music at Long Verney. If you’re a New Yorker subscriber you can read it in their archives here, as it was published in their Jan. 3, 1970 issue. They published a great many Sylvia Townsend Warner stories over the years — she became very good friends with her editor there, William Maxwell, and you can and should read some of their correspondence in The Element of Lavishness — and in my opinion being able to plunder their archives at one’s leisure for her alone is well worth the cost of a subscription.

Jan. 3, 1970 New Yorker cover

the Jan. 3, 1970 cover

There are plenty of other passages I might have opted to start off with, and loads of them where she’s doing something more dazzling in a writerly way, but this one captures some very true things about love and that’s been on my mind lately. Particularly the other day, when I found myself thinking about The Great Gatsby in connection with a food blog post (spoiler alert: it’s somehow just as depressing miniaturized and briefly outlined with clams as it is as a novel), and again just a couple of hours after I’d written it, when I found myself having a long talk with an unhappy friend about her married girlfriend. Maxwell wrote the foreword to The Music at Long Verney well after Townsend-Warner’s death in 1978 and briefly but rather heart-breakingly describes her own love troubles with her very long-term girlfriend Valentine Ackland:

Sylvia was not distressed by Valentine’s casual infidelities, but when she fell in love with a spoiled American woman who thought she might (and then again thought she might not) want to live permanently with Valentine, Sylvia suffered deeply and even made herself homeless until the crisis had passed. As she wrote a friend, ‘I was gray as a badger and never at any time a beauty but I was better at loving and being loved.”

Having read much of her work, I find her believable on this point. Fortunately the crisis did pass and they went on living together until Ackland’s death from breast cancer in 1969. Ackland opened an antiques shop in their home in 1952, which is an interesting background tidbit about The Music at Long Verney; five of its stories are set in the same (fictional) antiques shop. According to Wendy Mulford’s This Narrow Place: Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland Life, Letters and Politics, 1930-1951, Valentine and Sylvia had a routine worked out for dealing with annoying customers whereby Valentine would ring a little bell to summon Sylvia, who would then call her away for some important reason or other. Anyhow, on to the little scrap of Sylvia, which fortunately is far more economical and humorous than my introduction to it. I regret having to give it to you in two pieces but those are the breaks.



the periodicals room

You know the feeling of being ill and just wanting to sleep but slightly too ill to actually fall asleep? Then somehow things get worse and you feel as if you’ve been put in a washing machine with that feeling? Maybe the washing machine part is just me. In any event, I can tell you with certainty that it really helps to have a pile of magazines in there for when you get tired of your books.

Pittsburg 1947

girl at magazine stand (Pittsburgh, 1947) via ThePulp.Net

Here are some of the magazines piled up by my bedside this week. It’s more of an electronic pile rather than an actual pile because there aren’t many interesting ones in print right now, are there?

Night and Day anthology cover

Night and Day. A very short-lived English magazine published weekly between July and December of 1937, thankfully available in anthology form. (Also thankfully far more suitable for dragging to bed than my beautiful but slab-like Flair anthology). I suspect most who come to Night and Day do so out of affection for its editor Graham Greene, but my reading habits are sadly under-Greened and I learned of it while poking around Corvo biographer A.J. Symons, who also happened to be their restaurant reviewer. Their contributors! Graham Greene did the film reviews and Evelyn Waugh the book reviews; John Betjeman had a regular feature; Alistair Cooke and Anthony Powell reported on what was happening in America; and there were theater reviews from Elizabeth Bowen, short stories from V.S. Pritchett, and memoirs from Christopher Isherwood. Also William Empson on his efforts to learn Chinese, and, most thrilling for me, Herbert Read regularly reviewing detective novels. I admire The Green Child enough to be delighted with his reviews just for their curiosity value, but he’s actually quite funny.

Night and Day was staggeringly New Yorker-ish, deliberately and admittedly so. Christopher Hawtree’s introduction to the 1985 Chatto & Windus anthology notes that two years prior to the launch of the magazine, Greene wrote, “The world may be divided into those who enjoy Punch and those who enjoy the New Yorker,” while future Night and Day contributor Hugh Kingsmill lamented “[t]here is no critically humorous paper in England today. Nor is there any serious paper which has much, or any individuality.” In Greene’s own preface to the anthology he wrote that “the influence of the New Yorker was very evident during the first months,” though by the time the magazine folded “we were becoming ourselves.” It would be foolish to describe Night and Day as a knock-off; it reflected its own time and place and spoke with its own voice, but the visual resemblance is striking. Not just in the cartoons, which Greene thought superior (“I don’t believe that any paper — even the New Yorker at its best — has obtained the level reached by Night and Day in its comic drawings”) but in familiar little features like the unintentionally funny news clippings that still appear in the New Yorker‘s pages.

Night and Day stomach

A. J. Symons Round the Restaurants

Night and Day manxmen

But, darling

Those angels above are not an original cartoon commissioned for the magazine but one of John Flaxman’s illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The magazine began running them in the July 29, 1937 issue, “[f]eeling that rather less than justice has been done to the distinguished artist who gave his name to a London telephone exchange . . . . As this, after all, is Coronation Year, we have substituted good plain captions in the mother tongue for the unpatriotic quotations from Dante which accompanied the original designs . . .”

One of the things that sunk Night and Day was a libel suit in connection with Greene’s review of the Shirley Temple movie Wee Willie Winkie in the Oct. 28, 1937 issue:

[W]atch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood skin-deep. It is clever, but it cannot last. Her admirers — middle-aged men and clergymen — respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.

The publishers were fined £3,500 for this “gross outrage,” but the magazine had trouble raising capital well before then, and folded three months before the case went to trial.

I didn’t realize until I started composing this blog post that Night and Day has recently been “reinvigorated and reconceived for a new century” by Vintage Books. I haven’t yet read any of the four issues they’ve put out so far but it looks very promising. I’m particularly happy to see that their contributors include illustrators as talented and stylish as the ones who worked on its previous incarnation. Read and download here.

WoI Dec 2011 cover

World of Interiors. The only mag kept in stacks at Lunar Camel Co. Towers. I can’t afford anything in its advertisements, especially the boiseries, I have a feeling, but there’s nothing pretentious about it. It’s a proper magazine with a proper and likable editorial voice. I cannot understand why so many other magazines lack one of those and instead choose to read like an inscrutable catalog of favors to friends and publicists. I suspect it has something to do with people being people, but still.

WoI is full of transporting photos — sometimes rooms, sometimes places like tea processing plants or horticultural supply shops or unglamorized Moroccan farmhouses where cows reside on the ground floor — and unlike other design mags the writing holds up its end of things. I hate flipping through magazines like this and seeing that the book reviews, profiles or arty bits aren’t worth reading.

Eileen Gray's study May 2011 WoI

Designer Eileen Gray’s study, WoI May 2011. For sure my desk needs a lamp with a stomach and a hat. These are by Garouste and Bonetti.

bricks 3 Dec 2011 WoI bricks Dec 2011 WoI

Bricks from a Dec. 2011 WoI feature on historical paints. Sometimes while trying to sleep I mentally paint my bedroom the 1960s blue at the bottom, Capri SC345 from Paper and Paints.

cosmic Oct 2010 WoI

16th-century Wunderzeichenbuch depicting cosmic events from WoI Oct. 2010. The kooky rainbow at left was observed in Vienna in 1520.

mantle Jan 2012 WoI

Detail above mantle at an auberge in Barbizon favored by 19th-century painters from WoI Jan. 2012.

de Plagny Oct 2010 WoI

Textile design by Atelier Zina de Plagny (late 40s / early 50s) from WoI Oct. 2010. de Plagny’s designs have been revived by Surface View.

purple room Oct 2010 WoI

Purple room from WoI Oct. 2010. It’s a reader’s room submitted for a contest, and the checkered doors hide a kitchen.

Viva magazine, August 1974 cover

Viva, the international magazine for women. Verrrry 70s. I have a small collection of these that sadly will probably not be added to at this point because they’re getting too expensive. I wrote a little something about it on my food blog a few years ago. Definitely due for a follow-up post or two here; stay tuned.

Synapse Summer 1978

Knob-twiddlers will be pleased to know that 70s issues of Synapse can be read in their entirety. Via Dangerous Minds.

Bright Lights film journal

Bright Lights Film Journal. Reliably terrific writing about cinema.


TONMO, The Octopus News Magazine Online (“Your Octopus, Squid and Cephalopod Information Center”). Some animals are better company than others. Frankly I don’t care about squid much, but octopuses are brilliant and mysterious and make for good reading. Related material for aficionados: Poulpe Pulps, “hard-to-locate images of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure pulp and comic covers featuring the wily octopus.”

Arthur magazine archive

ARTHUR magazine was so cool. It’s been linked to on my links page forever but maybe you haven’t seen it.


The Modernist Journals Project. This has probably made the rounds of the in-boxes and blogs of everyone who is interested, but: Brown University and the University of Tulsa have a joint project cataloging modernist journals. You can peek at the contents of some of them here.

writing assignment

As in, I am soliciting one. Or many. It depends. This morning I was reading Der Spiegel’s interview with art forger and “hippie-like desperado” Wolfgang Beltracchi and I think his idea — somewhat problematic in execution, though strictly speaking it’s his €34 million in ill-gotten gains that are problematic — was a good one:

Beltracchi’s principle was not to copy the paintings of the Expressionists, but, as he says, to fill the gaps in their bodies of work. Either he invented new paintings and motifs, tying in to specific creative phases in the artists’ lives, or he created paintings whose titles appear in lists of the respective painters’ works but which were believed to have been lost — and of which no images existed.

I am going to spend the rest of the day browsing this list of lost works. An immediately tempting assignment-to-self: “Several pages of the original screenplay for Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes were reportedly thrown out of the window of a bus after one of his football team-mates threw up on them.” There are also some Mayan codices no one has seen since 1562, an Elizabethan-era play called “Hot Anger Soon Cold,” and the journal of an ambassador’s wife “burnt by her daughter on the grounds that it contained much scandal and satire.” If any of you keep a mental list of writers’ works believed to have been lost, you are very welcome to suggest something.

The Wondrous Mushroom

a mysterious book looking back at you:
it’s The Wondrous Mushroom: Mycolatry in Mesoamerica via BeatBooks

definition of wit

I’ve been dipping into William Hazlitt lately, The Fight and Other Writings, and liking the little I’ve read so far.

William Hazlitt self-portrait

William Hazlitt self-portrait, 1802.

Here he is re: The Definition of Wit:

It is the polypus power of the mind, by which a distinct life and meaning is imparted to the different parts of a sentence or object after they are severed from each other; or it is the prism dividing the simplicity and candour of our ideas into a parcel of motley and variegated hues; or it is the mirror broken into pieces, each fragment of which reflects a new light from surrounding objects; or it is the untwisting of the chain of our ideas, whereby each link is made to hook more readily to others than when they were all bound up together by habit, and with a view to a set purpose. Ideas exist as a sort of fixtures in the understanding; they are like moveables (that will also unscrew and take to pieces) in the wit or fancy.

Lunar Camel Co. field guide to trees, chapter 3

It’s been warm enough for me to continue making observational field trips. I’ve decided to Do Something with my tree photos this spring, health permitting — details will be announced here, naturally, at some point — and I need to keep collecting them in the meantime. This latest batch is from Connecticut.



I’ve been reading Forest Forensics with great interest and I’ve learned that some of these holes that my camera is so drawn to are basal scars, “scars at the base of tree trunks created by the removal of bark from fire or some form of impact, such as from logging equipment.” That big, stretched out-looking hole above very closely matches the basal scar examples shown in the book, which are somehow presented in a less suggestive manner. I’ve still got a long way to go in learning about trees, though, so many of the things I’m seeing are still just mystery holes and nubbins to me.







Recommended related reading: “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” by Algernon Blackwood. You can read it in pdf here.

The Man Whom the Trees Loved

It’s not about the painter of trees one meets there on page one, actually; he’s a relatively minor character. It’s about a couple who live in Hampshire, on the edge of the New Forest. The husband is a retired forestry worker and his wife is troubled by the intensity and mysterious nature of his relationship with trees. The painter comes to stay with them for a couple weeks and then he’s gone.

I have some issues with it as a story, but the weird atmosphere and the vivid writing about trees and about being among trees make it worth reading. The character of the wife is a religious nutter who becomes old and pinched and mothering, and the story gets a bit melodramatic, particularly near the end, and its fluttery Victorian punctuation and tense emotional pitch get to be nearly too much. But there is something fascinating going on in it.

Supernatural Tales dust jacket

Supernatural Tales spine

The husband spends more and more time in the woods, at first coming home for lunch, then taking a lunch with him and spending all day with trees.

From morning to night he wandered in the Forest; often he went out after dinner; his mind was charged with trees—their foliage; growth, development; their wonder, beauty, strength; their loneliness in isolation, their power in a herded mass.

The trees eventually become an intrusive force, a sort of psychic presence, in the couple’s home.


Blackwood sounds like an interesting guy. According to his wiki page, he “had a varied career, working as a milk farmer in Canada, operating a hotel, as a newspaper reporter in New York City, bartender, model, journalist for the New York Times, private secretary, businessman, and violin teacher.” He eventually settled in Switzerland and then his native England. From the introduction to my copy of The Best Supernatural Tales of Algernon Blackwood (Causeway Books 1973), which “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” appears in, here is AB when he was seventy, writing about his time in Canada and the U.S.:

During these years my one and only passion was—Nature. I read, of course (from free libraries), with a starving hunger to learn and know. Imaginative literature in French, German, English crammed me; scientific reading came much later. But no desire to write lay in me; in my years of newspaper reporting I betrayed no talent; I had one yearning only; intense and passionate; to get away into the woods or forest by myself. Nature apparently, gave me something that human nature could not give. . . . Meanwhile, fed by my few possible excursions into wild nature, and by tasting something of the bitter dregs of life in the raw as well, I was—presumably—developing. My intense interest in the so-called ‘psychic’ region rushed uppermost. Most of my books deal with imaginative speculation in this debatable region. I have been called the ‘Ghost Man,’ so that when I broadcast it must preferably be a ‘ghost story’ of sorts. My real interest here, however, lay always and still lies in the question of a possible extension of human faculty and the suggestion that the Man in the Street possesses strange powers which never manifest normally.

Ehh. Anyhow, many of the stories in the book focus on nature, either as vividly-described atmosphere — the New Forest (“The Man Whom The Trees Loved”), a storm-lashed bungalow sitting in isolation amidst sand dunes (“The Sea Fit”), lonely moors (“Accessory Before the Fact”) — or as a character itself, like the menacing copse of woods in “Ancient Lights” or the alpine forest surrounding the ski resort in “The Glamour of the Snow.” I’m really enjoying them. A Guardian profile from 2007 reports that while in NYC, Blackwood lived in a boarding house on East 19th St., where he “found his separation from nature in the city intolerable, and the ‘indifference to beauty’ of those about him inexplicable.”


Chapter 2 of my field guide to trees is here.

Lunar Camel Co. field guide to trees, chapter 2

I’ve blogged about trees kind of a lot. Some of my favorite specimens are here, here and here. My friend Jim asked if I’d seen any good ones lately and I said yes of course, the woods are full of them, and it is easier than ever to spot vague obscenities in the off-season, when there isn’t so much distracting greenery about.

treehole with stuff in it

We don’t have nearly enough trees in Manhattan so I’m thinking about doing something more public with my collection of them.

trees of Harriman State Park, figure B

I don’t mind showing them to you like this but they’d be much better big, 2′ by 3′ prints or somesuch.

trees of Harriman State Park, figure A

I’m recovering from surgery at the moment but looking forward to adding to my tree collection soon. It’s been a mild winter in my part of the world, so I haven’t really had to take a break from my observational field trips. I keep thinking every hike will be my last for the year, but there’s always another. I thought a November hike in CT would surely be my last until spring. The air smelled like snow, and with the dressing rooms closed for the season the little beach on the lake by the park’s entrance looked lonelier than ever.


The trees looked lonely too, or maybe just self-conscious about their nudity.

the trees have eyes


It was the time of year when allegedly pumpkin-flavored donuts come out. They seemed like an ideal post-hike snack but the actual flavor was closer to orange-colored holiday.


This famous beardo ice-scraping system I admired at a local discount store probably would’ve made a better souvenir. As Mr. Lunar Camel Co. noted, “it looks like he has the ice under control.”

famous beardo heated ice scraping system

There were strangely compelling breakfast systems on offer too. Plastic crap, yes, but if bears could take crap like this back to their caves and have it there when they awaken from hibernation, they probably would. I think that is the idea, to settle in for a very long nap, a nap so long your hands will tingle with pins and needles for days afterward, leaving you unable to prepare breakfast without these contraptions.

outlet shopping breakfast section

Later in the season, when I went for a hike at Harriman State Park, I found an ideal hibernation spot, a small cave protected by icicles.

icicles of Harriman State Park, figure D

There’s all sorts of exciting, twinkly bits like this in the woods in the winter. You just have to wear more layers to go look at it. Here is something I’d never seen before, because — I am guessing — it only happens at very particular temperatures, when the ground is a certain temperature in relation to the air: spindly strands of ice poking out of the dirt. They’re strong enough that I could easily pluck a few out and set them on a nearby rock for looking-at with minimal breakage.

weird ice

mystery ice specimen

I’m going to read up on weird things like this until I can get out into the woods again. In my cart right now:

Winter Tree Finder

Winter Tree Finder: A Manual for Identifying Deciduous Trees in Winter by May T. Watts and Tom Watts. I like leafsnap but one needs a book for leafless moments.

Forest Forensics

Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels. I always want to know what I’m looking at so I’m excited about this.

Gathering Moss

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Not winter-specific; I just really like mosses.

Do you go hiking in the winter or do you prefer to look at trees on the internet until it’s warmer outside? Recommend any books or unusually cozy socks for me?

green and yellow books

Sometimes the easiest way to pluck things out of a ramshackle pile is this way.

The Woodlanders front cover

A 1961 Macmillan paperback copy of Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders. I bought this from the guy who sometimes sells books on 2nd Ave. in front of St Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. I haven’t started it yet; the only Hardy I’ve read is Jude The Obscure. The pheasants & etc. are meant to evoke a rustic English village but I like how the woman’s face is perfectly of its time, as fictional faces so often are. She could be in a girl group called the Woodlanders. All with bits of brush in their hair, preceded by a series of 7″ singles woodcut like so. I think there could be a way to prevent them being twee but then I’m idealistic.

The Times Deceas'd cover

The Times Deceas’d: The Rare Book Department of the Times Bookshop in the 1960s by Timothy d’Arch Smith. A stoned impulse buy. (Now you know what I do when I am not having my mellow harshed by the fire department or watching France Gall DVDs in Lunar Camel Co. Towers). Do you know the bookshop I linked to there, Weiser Antiquarian Books? Their catalogues are good for browsing. I’ve always managed to look without buying but the subject matter of this book — “the place to go for unusual, eccentric, and censured books in 1960s London” and its associated “literary luminaries and lowlifes” — is apparently not something I could resist. I’ve only skimmed it yet but I doubt I’ll be disappointed; there are interesting tidbits of gossip about “ardent Corvinists,” and I’ve learned that young Henry Green and his brother “used to play a dangerous game of hide-and-seek, each one armed with a loaded shotgun.”

Doting front cover

Which brings us to. A sense of relief that frère Green (Yorke, actually) was apparently not an expert marksman. This 1952 Viking edition of Doting has been removed my pile and shelved in a bookcase because I read it a couple months ago, and what now? It was my last Henry Green. He didn’t write a ton of books and I’ve run out. Doting was not my favorite — I think Loving is his best work and it’s also the one I, hmm, you know, the most — but I wouldn’t tell you to avoid Doting. It is almost entirely dialogue and it’s about the confusing and sometimes miserable differences between doting on someone and loving someone. If you are new to Green please don’t let the unfashionable titles put you off; he’s relentlessly stylish on the page in the best possible way. It isn’t about literary calisthenics though. He was as observant as can be and he got people and the things they do and say vividly correct. Yet he does not sound like anyone else at all.

Witch Dungeon front cover

Witch Dungeon! I was drawn to this book at Housing Works because I was taken to the Salem Witch Museum when I was very small, maybe 6 or 7 years old. I had a great time and somehow or other it made a huge impression on me. I suppose it put a sinister edge on the annual making-of-the-hand-turkeys. It’s very dark in there. Or was. I hope it still is. At that time visitors to the museum gathered in the entrance at certain appointed times, in a pitch-black room with a red pentagram on the floor, and a guide / narrator explained the exhibits, which were (are?) dioramas depicting the horribly nasty things the Puritans and Pilgrims did to one another. Sort of like the Natural History Museum, but instead of mountain goats perched on a cliff here were loutish-looking people tormenting each another with the full panoply of American colonial torture devices: people being stoned to death, dunked in water, burnt alive, and otherwise prosecuted by religious nutters. I’m about half-way through this slim little book and I haven’t come across anything to change my impression that my New England forebearers were extraordinarily cruel people who delighted in mangling one another for the most trivial offenses. The book was published in 1986, just a few years after my visit to the Witch Museum. Author Robert Cahill explains in the brief introduction that in 1973 he “was elected High Sheriff of Essex County, Massachusetts, with added duties as Master and Keeper of the Salem Jail & House of Correction,” a “decrepid bastile” built in 1813 to replace a wooden structure known as “the Witch Jail,” and his position prompted him to dig into the records. He wrote many other little gift shoppe books about New England history (please let me know if you spot New England’s Naughty Navy or New England’s Mountain Madness) but having been Sheriff seems to have inspired in him a commendable passion for researching and exposing the idiocies of his predecessors.

early New Yorkers in stocks

Print depicting early New Yorkers in stocks via the NYPL digital gallery.

Of which there are many, obviously. The one that impressed me the most is small but so telling: “In Boston, the first person to sit in the stocks as a punishment, was the carpenter who built them. When the magistrates saw Edward Palmer’s bill for material and labor of one pound 13 shillings, they fined him five pounds ‘and censured him to be set an hour in the stocks.'” They just couldn’t wait to use it. Apparently the populace was as excited about this stuff as the judges were; Cahill also reports that people standing in one of Boston’s first pillories — stocks are the feet-holders and pillories are the head and arm-holders — were “exposed to gross and cruel jeers from the multitude, who pelted them constantly with rotten eggs and every repulsive kind of garbage that could be collected.”

this and that No. 2

squat squat squat

how to dance, figure B

Squat squat squat from Harry Mathews’s My Life in CIA. How to dance instructions from my computer. The origin of the “Watergate Squat” dance is that the protagonist must prove himself to be a poet by making up a rhyming poem on the spot, a poem which must include words selected by the host and other guests of the party: swastika, haddock, jonquil, plectrum, gardenia and farthing. He chooses to perform a squatting dance at the same time because he wants to impress a woman at the party. I am telling you this because a rainy weekend is a good time to devise new party tricks.

This and that No. 1 is here.