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On opening a bookshop

Opening a bookshop is akin, in some minds (my own, for instance), to opening a show—a sheerly theatrical event. There is no chance in hell that you will make much in the way of profit. There is a very slim chance of it succeeding longer than the requisite three year term limit for most new businesses. It is done out of hubris. Because you can. And you must. read more…

Observations

Children crave order in their lives. Given the seeming chaos aswirl about them, fixing on the specific edges of a particular blanket or a sequence of events that repeats regularly, like a nap time or snack time, offers them a sense of what and when. There is comfort to place and as they learn the words for the objects they encounter daily they are pleased to discover an identity to things. You can witness the joy of their recognition.

This is all very simplistic, of course. More is going on in those new minds that we can readily understand, but there is much that can be seen and heard that is common to any child, no matter the culture or circumstance. They enjoy the order of shapes and colors. And if they are given the chance, they enjoy changing the order when they are able, exerting some control over the objects about them. The more they discover they can manipulate their world, the greater joy they find in it, and the faster they learn. read more…

It’s a calendared thing

It is a calendared thing
To mark the beginning,
And once again to start
As if there’s an end to it,
And the year is complete
And something new commenced;
As if you might do over,
Or bid farewell and goodbye
To what you have done—
Little or all that it is;
For what you did
Is what you’re doing
And what you’ve done
Is what you’re pursuing.

Sing Auld Lang Syne, my dear
And bid time return, again,
To find the best you’ve lost,
Or forget the things undone—
But resolution is not enough.
It’s what you’re doing,
And not the seasons you’ve rung.
Auld acquaintance will not forget
The hurt you’ve wrought
Or the love you’ve brought
And the weather will not beget
Or better any or all of that,
Unless you change your course.
So, choose your destination!

The Bookseller’s Dilemma

Booksellers are a lot like actors. It is a cliche that actors will too often assume they are capable of the accomplishments of the characters they portray and come to believe that they know what a character actually felt. Booksellers often see themselves as possessing the wisdom that is in the books they sell, whereas they only possess the books. The playacting of children is in many ways a rehearsal for the actions of adults. The empathy felt by the reader will often extend into everyday life. That is the power of books, just as it is the wonder felt by an audience in suspended disbelief watching a portrayal in a movie or on the stage. read more…

The Arrogance

I suppose it is the arrogance that offends me most. Not the stupidity. An individual can be correct and be arrogant and thus offensive. I am usually willing to forgive stupidity because such foolishness comes to me so easily. But stupidity, at least on a case by case basis, can be cured. Arrogance, not so much. It is the arrogant who kill other people on the road as often as themselves, who ruin other peoples lives with politics without care, and who assume knowledge they do not have to crush the creativity of others. And that’s just for starters. The more I think about it, the more instances of arrogance reveal themselves as the crux of most of the bad situations in life. read more…

Neither frangible nor fungible

That some would have you believe your liberties are fragile and must be protected by government, or that you must trade your liberty in one thing to have it in another, is in the very nature of tyrants, despots, and town clerks. Your freedom is your domain, alone. There is no other ruler than yourself. If you choose to trade off some portion of your liberties to another purpose, for instance working in an office for pay, understand that it still exists, however hidden, and is only misplaced. You can no more rid yourself of the responsibility for your freedom than you can willfully stop your breath. Thus, when others assume your rights and act in your name, you must protest, if you can. And if for convenience you remain silent, you betray yourself. You may obey the town clerk to achieve some other purpose, but the freedom you have sacrificed is not extinct—it is simply held in jail by another who holds a gun and that you must obey for the moment in order to survive. read more…

The Keeper Jones: Weeds in the tall grass

[If you liked the previous posting, here’s another from that novel, now renamed The Keeper Jones ]

 

The fact of the matter was, he did not like people. Simple as that. They were generally mean, smelly, short sighted, lazy, dull, boring and boorish creatures who were always wanting someone else to do something for them and unwilling to take responsibility for whatever they did themselves. Not much different than most other creatures, perhaps, but HE was one of them. That was, in and of itself, the most irritating part of it. There was no cause for him to impose himself on anyone else so long as he could take refuge here. He had stated this fact over and again. How many times. He was always receiving a proposal from one lonely lady or another. Especially since his brother had posted Keeper’s vitals on some bulletin board someplace as a joke and that was now spread from Titan to Venus Prime. One of his friends had even sent him a parody of the thing that appeared on a vid and had its own legs. Now, he was a joke. His quest for quiet and contemplative life was a punchline. All he wanted to do was be left alone and this simple fact had been turned into hash. read more…

The Keeper Jones

[A new tidbit that might amuse from an older story to be readied for publication someday soon.]

 

April flowers: 2317

 

 

He usually wore an Irish tweed cap. This singular fact had become something of a trademark among his friends when sitting in on vid conferences. ‘Mad Hatter,’ was one nickname. ‘Cap’ was another. However, he referred to himself simply as ‘Keeper.’ His birth name, Dalton Jones, was little known and he wanted to keep at least that much to himself. But wearing the cap was a necessity. At six foot four inches he was three inches over regulation for the corps whose martial needs had dictated construction standards for most spacecraft, and every hatch and doorway was a potential bludgeon for his head. He would bear several of those scars to his grave. But his head was also larger than most and he had always been uncomfortable in the thermal topee favored by most outlanders—never mind the tendency toward fashion with such headgear which greatly added to the deterrent as far as he was concerned.

He ducked beneath the transom of his home and, looking out on the farm, stood still in the quiet for a brief moment. It was April. At last. Knowing where he was headed, he breathed deeply of the smells of the soil and the admixture of new leaves and blossoming. He could hear the bees. read more…

A guest at the feast of memory

What we all must learn, I suppose, or else lose ourselves completely, is that very little in the world is really about us. My experience fifty years ago at Mark Hopkins College in Brattleboro Vermont was peripheral to that time and place—not secondary or marginal or incidental—but a tangent. It changed my life and the lives of others who went there, but each in our own way.

A week ago, as I drove home in the September twilight from the first and only class reunion, I was alone at a feast of memories. It was a rich two hour meal. But very little of that could have been shared, even if the other two fellows who had gathered with me that day had been in the car as well. Yes, only the three of us. read more…

Masha and the Bear

I have been a fairly consistent purveyor of doom for most of my adult life. It has been a regular theme in my daily discourse as well as in much of my work (As my children can attest), coupled with a theme that this catastrophe has been impeding for generations, gaining momentum and weight in our cultural descent, and is sweeping us toward the inevitable conclusion of a new dark ages. read more…

That’s great! Against banality in it’s prime

I should be ashamed of myself, but I will probably use the word carelessly again this very day. But still, I am ashamed of myself for it. There is not an easier word to use for both what is in fact the best and what is simply terrific, or momentarily special, or even unexpectedly good. And this unfortunate lexi-con comes to mind again whenever I have been called to account for the best in literature.

What is ‘Great Literature,’ which is to say, ‘What makes literature great?’ Such written stuff is often alluded to, without excuse, or explanation. Austen, Homer, Bronte, Hemingway, Eliot, Frost, Cather, Joyce, Melville, Byron, Shelly, et al. But the question ought to be asked, if for no other reason than to define the premises and allow you to recognize other works for what they are. That is unless you like being told what to read—in which case there is no point going further here. read more…

Looking for the sur-prize

Sunday morning: dawn.

An article in the UK Guardian concerning the tawdry descent of the Nobel Prize ( https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jul/17/the-ugly-scandal-that-cancelled-the-nobel-prize-in-literature ) only makes me think of the corresponding degeneration of American letters. Certainly the Pulitzer is no longer a prize of more than promotional worth—but given the proliferation of subcategories to meet every demand, and the corresponding lack of sales, even that lesser god has failed. The American Book Award has long been a vehicle of political assuagement rather than artistic merit and an economically impotent statement of virtue signaling at that, having little to do with America or American readers beyond the shadow of the academic pale. And the decline of British literary awards, a riot of special interests, is on par now with a Simon Cowell talent show—no longer a presentation of Brit talent but a smorgasbord of international fire-eaters, dog acts, and precocious children. It has been many generations since the French chose to enter into this sort of contest, and thus their literature is read these days only in paperback while sipping bad coffee and sitting on wire chairs, watching the congestion of traffic and breathing the fumes for flavor. And sadly, the Germans have not regained their soul since Thomas Mann stopped climbing mountains. I would love to know what the Polish and Russians are up to since the fall of the Soviets, but they apparently can’t find English translators, unless of course they hate Americans and/or all Western values after spending some time at an American University. read more…

Stories

A friend was recently reading the revised version of John Finn that appears to be making its way into print sooner than later and suggested that a particular chapter might stand on its own. It happens to be one of those I posted first about eight years ago when John Finn was newly minted apart from its origins in the Henry Sullivan Hound novels. Long absent from view, I was happy to oblige. read more…

Rejoice! (if not, read Joyce)

I am told by my betters that I am too negative. Not for the first time, of course. So I have looked again at this ongoing collapse of Western Civilization that surrounds me in the rubble of all that I hold dear—other than family and friends—in the hope of finding some morsel of good cheer, happiness, and prospect for good times ahead.

Lo, I have found it this day with the arrival of another volume I had just ordered through the all-knowing internet (in this instance AbeBooks.com, a subsidiary of the mighty Amazon) for my current project—I am re-writing A Young Man from Mars, and I’d already sold some of my original research materials from that project several years ago). This is a copy of Alexis De Tocqueville’s translated and edited journals, written on his Journey to America during his quest to understand the still new Democracy in America, which was his greater effort. Lovely stuff. read more…

In our lost time

 

[A portion of the novel A Young Man From Mars, currently being re-written and somewhat available elsewhere in this ethereal site]

Recalling any given lecture I am impressed by the fact that Professor Tripp himself was not nearly as kind as his classroom manner allowed. The record of his first talk concerning the Collapse is a good example:

Looking back at the first part of the Twenty-first Century, it is difficult to feel pity. With three thousand years of human history, of ‘blood sweat and tears,’ and more, of creation and joy, tossed away, and the history of countless billions of human lives destroyed, carelessly. All pity must be reserved for those they desecrated. Certainly some compassion must be felt for the children. They alone might deserve that. But for their parents, and the rest, there can only be disgust. And as those children who survived reached maturity and took possession of their own lives, those who followed the same bloody rites as their parents, in retrospect, lost any claim of innocence. Worse. They made of their very births a sacrilege. An especial disdain must be held for those who saw the horror about them, knew it for what it was, and out of cowardice did not rise up against it. Thankfully, revulsion leaves no stomach for hate, else we might consume ourselves in the very heat of hell the people of that time made for themselves. Though mercy, even of thought, is impossible given the ruthless brutality they showed toward the rest of mankind. read more…

The bright side is pretty dim

Trying to see the bright side of the current cultural malaise is difficult in the glare of modernity. Over one hundred years on, that is since the infamous Armory Show, the squandering of Western culture has reached its nadir with a wallowing in wantonness and a rejection of good and bad, along with all such standards and values.

Other than that, what’s not to like? The pervasive music is loud, and the beat distracting, the visuals titillating, and feelings are all the rage—the showers are just ahead, so keep moving please. (The holocaust reference is not made gratuitously.)

So sorry! I shouldn’t be repeating myself. I wrote something like that in the early 1970’s, didn’t I? Where have I been? How can we have reached a nadir in 1974 and still be there? read more…

In Grand Delusia

In the land of Grand Delusia, I roam again. It is true enough that an author of fiction must persuade a reader to come along for the ride, but first the author must cajole himself. It is not a simple thing. The Lesser Existentials crowd at every side. There are shores of things to do. Mountains of bills to pay. People to see about and weather to weather. Never mind the need to rest. There is little time for play. . . . And yet, without it, all the rest and all the weather or not, mean little or nothing.

Come again?

Longtime readers of this ethereal site may recall another project of that near past of some years ago when, soon after one more attempt to write A Republic of Books, I faltered again and in frustration launched myself headlong into another of my grand delusions, A Young Man From Mars. I posted several parts here and spent a year on that before running aground on the aforementioned shoals of the Lesser Existentials. I had then recently completed two mystery novels, Hound and A Slepyng Hound to Wake and that feeling of accomplishment buoyed a belief that I could undertake the larger project. I was wrong. My map was missing parts. My compass wanted other directions. read more…

A Young Man From Mars: the future retold

“Those who cannot remember the future are condemned to repeat it. The past can never be repaired or reclaimed. The future may be reimagined at any moment, possessed at any time, and thus easily known.”   Joe Trees

This is the journal of Griffon Macdonald, his expedition to Earth, and what he found there; being also an accounting of some other matters learnt during that doctoral investigation into mankind’s persistent use of slavery as a means.

Offered here with additional records from the Council Court of Inquiry as well as the emendations and notes of his brother Robert.

It is said that after two-hundred years Joe Trees still lives somewhere amidst the forests of Mars. It is a legend, a myth perhaps, but a tale retold often enough to have its own life. It is believed that men do not live so long, so perhaps he is no longer a man.

# August 19, 2267: the origin and cause of my zetetic

From various sources, but mostly the words of my father, I have fashioned here a short account of an ancient relative, Flora Macdonald—Fionnghal nic Dhòmhnaill in the old Gaelic. She was the daughter of Ranald MacDonald a tenant farmer of Milton, which is on the island of South Uist in the Hebrides, an archipelago close by to the northern reaches of Scotland, on Earth, and of his wife Marion, herself the daughter of Angus MacDonald. It is thus that our clan was from the one root, though the MacDonalds were prolifically spread throughout those lands. Flora was born about 1722. It was her father’s unfortunate death when she was yet two years old that brought on the wooing of a cousin from the Isle of Skye for the affections of her widowed mother.

Now Marion had small property of her own but was a great beauty and even more than that a woman of adamantine will. She was not interested in this cousin. However that be, the cousin, Hugh Macdonald of Armadale on the isle of Skye, would not put off his love and finally kidnapped Flora’s mother by force, as well as Flora who was then the youngest of the children and still unweaned, and carried them off to his home across the near sea to the Isle of Skye. This was often the way of those times. And thus, Flora was raised among this other sect of her clan, amidst greater fortunes, even to be educated in language and math and the truths of the Bible and that stern God and the ways of the Kirk, as was the manner of the Scots of the time. But Flora never lost the sense of where she was from, nor of the sentiments of her true father—these things being kept for her by her mother’s heart. And when Flora was old enough she returned on visits to her older brother who had maintained the family stead and managed to buy some of his own land as well on the Isle of Benbecula.

It was during one such visit and on a particular morning when Flora had been gathering seaweed at the rocky shore for her brother’s furrows and the air was thickened by the vapor of a steel grey ocean, that a pitiful young man and his companion appeared out of the veil of mist seeking refuge from the numbing cold. The fog could not conceal this man’s fear, nor his bearing. The Stuart claim to the throne had failed at bloody Culloden some months before and now the Hanoverian troops were hounding the rightful prince of Britain, Charles Edward Stuart, to those ends of the Earth. Flora had little use for such a ‘Prince without a palace.’ Though a daring horseman, a fine bowman, and the master of five tongues, he must yet have been a sad sight in battered britches and broken shoes.

Flora’s own stepfather, who had taken the winning side, was a captain in the search. But something else was now at work. She knew her own sentiments, and that the faith of her true father were in the Stuart cause. It was being said, ‘any that helped the fugitive Jacobite would suffer punishment,’ and few others could find the courage to risk what little they had, only to trade masters, or just to be hung for the difference.

But the young prince was a symbol to many. And symbols are more important when the facts are hard against. read more…

A Republic of Books, et tu?

The original story idea for A Republic of Books was conceived shortly after I was forced to close my own bookshop, Avenue Victor Hugo Books, on Newbury Street in Boston after 29 years. The tale was imagined as a means of relieving some of the pain while grasping the reasons for what had happened. There were many mundane factors involved—lack of funds, poor planning, bad decisions—all of which fell on my head more than my shoulders, but each of those had a context and history of their own, while each reeled off to more causes and consequences, and my attempts to fathom the whys and wherefores was more than I could handle at once. Yet, it was crucial only to me. My family certainly had to deal with the consequences of my actions, but the actions were mine, and I wanted to understand them, even after the fact. Many decisions had been made in the heat of a moment or as triage when choices were few. In addition, there were actions that preceded those that brought them to the crisis when the mistake was made. And there were so many such moments. read more…

Winkling out the meat of a nut

when the fool is unable to sleep

(Late thoughts from A Republic of Books, the novel in progress, more of which may be scavenged elsewhere on this ethereal site.)

 

Philosophers have turned away from purpose and became obsessed with means, as with math—a mere tool that becomes an end to itself. I have known many a fellow who collected tools, but built very little, making of themselves first kin to those professors of math who fashion whole philosophies from their calculations, as if the value of things and the purposes of the people who care for them might be determined by a hammer. Tool collectors pore over catalogs and lust for more. They could tell me what the best chisel is for any particular purpose but appear to have no project before them worthy of the device.

“Build a bookshelf,” I say.

“Why that?” they ask.

“To fill it with books,” I suggest.

“I have enough shelves for my books now,” they inform me.

“Then buy more books! And read them! You might discover what it is you should be doing with all those tools.”

But their tools are as much a means for them to finding order in the universe as my books are to me. Perhaps more so, in so far as I cannot tell you what every book I own is good for. And the professor of math only wishes a precision to his quest for order that he thinks is unattainable from the pages of a book—and thus he is wrong. Such order is only necessary for machines. read more…