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At The Margin
Vol. 2, Issue 3 (Whole Issue #17)
Monday, March 26, 2001
Details, many bizarre and obscure, from the world of books
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Editor's Note: Readers should be aware that sponsorship of At The Margin does not imply endorsement of (or even agreement with!) anything you read in this issue. The editor, in fact, hardly considers an issue successful if he hasn't offended the sponsor a little bit.
1. Of William Churchill and Ex-Parrots
2. This Just In... (People Prefer Male Reading Voices)
3. Speaking of... (Reading Aloud)
4. Former House Rep Beats Up on Librarians
5. Messages to the Editor
6. Do You Know Me?
7. Blue Underlined Words
1. Of William Churchill and Ex-parrots
In a 1930 memoir, Winston Churchill wrote, "It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. Barlett's Familiar Quotations is an admirable work, and I studied it intently. The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts. They also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more." Churchill, one of the most quotable people of the 20th century, himself took up just shy of six pages in the 14th edition of Familiar Quotations (usually just known as Bartlett's).
Bartlett's is indispensible for writing speeches and presentations, for settling arguments, and for shoveling yourself out of snowjobs. Writers of all kinds make certain it is in their toolkits. It can help in brainstorming and in finding "authorities" to support one's ideas. And, because allusions always seem fraught with meaning, it is the first recourse for many writers in titling books, articles, and poems.
The first edition of Bartlett's was published in 1855. It was 258 pages long and quoted 169 authors. In the current edition (the 16th), the index alone is 600 pages. It quotes 2,550 people, and includes over over 20,000 quotations. Making their first appearance in the current edition were Mel Brooks, Elvis, Stephen Hawking, Dr. Suess, and John Lennon, to name a few.
John Bartlett went to work at Harvard University Bookstore in 1836 at the age of 16. He gained a reputation for his knowledge of books and came to be known all over the Harvard campus. He bought the store when he was 29. He kept a notebook for the benefit of his customers, and it became the core of the first edition of Familiar Quotations, which he published himself in soft cover in 1855. It was a success. Successful it may have been, but it is difficult to imagine a Bartlett's without Abraham Lincoln, Will Rogers, or H. L. Mencken.
Little, Brown became the publisher of Bartlett's with the fourth edition, the same year (1863) John Bartlett joined the firm. He edited Familiar Quotations until he died at 85 in 1905 (he may have died during the tenure of the ninth edition -- I'm not sure). He had become a senior partner at Little, Brown in 1878. In addition to the Familiar Quotations, he edited a catalog of angling books and some books on Shakespeare, including a Complete Concordance of Shakespeare's Dramatic Works and Poems, described by Encyclopedia Britannica as "a standard reference work that surpassed any of its predecessors in the number and fullness of its citations."
There was a new editor, Nathan Haskell Dole, for the 10th edition in 1914. You can find a searchable version online of the 10th edition (1919 printing) at http://www.bartleby.com/100/. There's even a picture of John Bartlett there. For a time after the 10th edition, apparently, few memorable things were said, for there wasn't a new edition until 1937. The 11th edition was edited by Christopher Morley and his associate editor Louella Everett. Morley and Everett for the first time began deleting quotations that had outlived their usefulness. The two of them went on to do the 12th edition in 1948. In 1955, Little, Brown produced the 13th (centennial) edition under the editorship of its anonymous "editorial staff." The 14th edition, which was edited by Emily Morison Beck, was published in 1968.
The 16th edition, published in 1980, was edited by Justin Kaplan. Kaplan won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain. He has several other biographies to his credit, including Walt Whitman, A Life, for which he won another National Book Award. He has tried to make Bartlett's a mirror for popular culture. Here's a web page about the 16th edition: http://www.twbookmark.com/books/52/0316082775/index.html. Kaplan is at work on the 17th edition, which is due to ship in 2002. He has been weeding the work aggressively to remove quotations that are "irrelevant, or self-evident, or platitudinous, or gassy." (See http://www.harvardmagazine.com/archive/01ma/ma01_feat_kaplan.html.)
But Kaplan has also been adding quotations and people. He has added Bill and Hillary Clinton, Princess Diana, and the cookie monster of Sesame Street ("Me want cookie!"). He has also expanded the numbers of quotations from some sources, including Bob Dylan, Stephen Sondheim, Seamus Heaney, Virginia Woolf, and Ronald Reagan. This last is a sort of acknowledgment that he didn't give Reagan enough play in the previous edition (the Great Communicator got three quotes, against FDR's 35, JFK's 28, and Jimmy Carter's six). Kaplan's got Reagan up to four in this edition (there are two new ones; he took out one that just made the man look silly). Bill Clinton has three quotes, including "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
No matter what else the new edition does, it will immortalize the famous dead parrot sketch of Monty Python's Flying Circus: "This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot."
This is a little too long to be an epigram, but it has one of the most important qualities of a good quotation: no matter how many times you see it, it still looks fresh -- at least in comparison to the parrot.
2. This Just In...
"Deep male tones are preferred by both children and adults for reading aloud -- women's voices are often perceived as less likely to aid restful sleep." This is from The Observer (Guardian Unlimited), a U.K. publication, which bases the observation on the results of an online poll. It's not what you would call scientific.
A two-week, online poll by the British entertainment website, bol.com, asked visitors to pick their "favourite" bedtime reading voice from a list compiled by a panel of celebrities. More than 8,000 people participated. The hands-down winner was Alan Rickman, with 1,316 votes. (If you don't remember him, he's a film actor who may be best known for his least important role: that of the terrorist villain in Die Hard. But he also played Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, as well as the ghost in Truly Madly Deeply -- a sweetly comic ghost movie that transcended its genre to be both intelligent and moving.) The highest vote count for a woman went to a broadcaster named Mariella Fros-trup, who scored 884. The exercise proves beyond doubt that 1,316 people like Alan Rickman's voice. The story (which offers no actual evidence about the dormative powers of male and female voices) is at The Observer (Guardian Unlimited) website: http://www.observer.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,446294,00.html.
3. Speaking Of...
In November, At The Margin (http://www.thirdlion.com/ATM13.html) speculated about audiobooks and their future, but your editor had never actually used one when he wrote the story. About six weeks ago, however, he began to check them out of the local public library, and now he finds himself hooked. So far, he has listened to Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler, Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Moby Dick by Herman Melville. He now listens to books while driving, while working out, and while doing housework (especially vacuuming). The experience has been a revelation. Not only is this an effective use of what might otherwise be down-time, but the books are different when you hear them than when you read them. Your editor is convinced, for example, that he appreciated aspects of structure in Tender Is the Night that he may never have detected from reading. (Another unexpected benefit is that he is a more patient and less aggressive driver.)
Listening to a big book, however, turns out to be no less a commitment than reading one. The unabridged recorded version of Moby Dick is 15 tapes, both sides each, and takes 21 and a quarter hours to listen to. When snowstorms ravaged the Boston suburbs and kept him off the road for a few days recently, your editor found he needed more than the two-week lending period to listen to Melville's funny, wrenching, and often tedious masterpiece and had to trudge through the snow to renew it at the library.
When we wrote about audiobooks before, we mentioned sites like Mediabay.com (http://www.mediabay.com/) and Audible.com (http://www.audible.com). This was a mistake. These sites, flogging abridgments of many works and the same old best-sellers that clog up the modern publishing hype machine, may be targeting the nearly 60 percent of adult Americans who claim never to have read a book. It's nice to have some place for the semi-literate to find books on tape, but abridgments and best-sellers are useless to book lovers.
The audiobooks we found in our local public library are all unabridged, so we sought out the website of the vendor that supplies most of those. It is a firm called Recorded Books, LLC (http://www.recordedbooks.com/), which offers 8,623 titles and prides itself on its selection of unabridged books. It does offer best-sellers, but the site doesn't beat you about the head with them, and it's fairly easy to get past them and find the good stuff. Recorded Books offers both tapes and CDs (your editor prefers tape, because it allows him to keep his exact place in the book by simply switching off the car's ignition or ejecting the tape from the player). The narrators employed by Recorded Books are extraordinary. We have listened to two different ones (George Guidall and Frank Muller), and these guys actually change their voices for different characters in dialogue, put on accents, alter pitch as appropriate... the tapes are genuine performances.
You can rent books directly from Recorded Books, which may be the way to go, since purchase prices are on the astronomical side (even classics can run $75-$100). The company apparently makes it pretty easy to rent. The book arrives with a pre-addressed, pre-stamped return mailer, so returning it amounts to little more than shoving it in the mailer and sticking in the mailbox. And the rental period doesn't even begin until the day book arrives. And while buying these books is prohibitively expensive, renting them is a little steep, too. Renting Life on the Mississippi for a month costs $18.50; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is $16.50; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is $17.50.
But any firm knows the value of developing addicts, and Recorded Books has a special introductory offer that allows you to rent any four books for $9.95 each. After four books, you pretty much don't care about the cost of the next one.
Then again, luxury (by definition) is never inexpensive. And the luxury of having someone read to you is more precious than most of what passes for the good life in the 21st century. "Later on, when I was nine or ten, I was told by my school principal that being read to was suitable only for small children. I believed him, and gave up the practice -- partly because being read to gave me enormous pleasure, and by then I was quite ready to believe that anything that gave pleasure was somehow unwholesome. It was not until much later, when my lover and I decided to read to each other, over a summer, The Golden Legend, that the long-lost delight of being read to came back to me." (from A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel; Viking, 1996.)
Not to get salacious about it or anything, but the idea of being read to by one's lover sounds like a most delicious sort of foreplay.
4. Former House Rep Beats up on Librarians
At The Margin often portrays large publishing conglomerates as grasping. And so they are, but what corporation isn't? You can feel some sympathy for anybody who is caught up in a techological revolution that threatens to take away their livelihood -- even AOL Time Warner. But what little sympathy well-heeled publishers can count on is likely to dissolve if they bring all their resources to bear in their brewing war with librarians. There is hardly any profession more service-oriented than that of librarian. Nearly every person alive cherishes the memory of once being helped immeasurably by a librarian. And while they might be hounding their city councils and boards of selectmen for budget increases or inducing their volunteer auxiliaries to hold bake sales, they never ask for a dime from their "customers."
But publishers are in business to sell "content," while librarians are in business to give it away, or at least lend it. This year's Association of American Publishers (AAP) meeting took as its theme "Content in a Technical World," and the principal concern of their discussions was how to protect themselves from the threat posed by the easy distribution of information.
"We have a very serious issue with librarians," said former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder (now president of AAP) in a recent interview in the Washington Post. "Libraries have spent all this money on technology. They don't have any money left for content."
The libraries aren't buying it. "In the digital arena," says Nancy Kranich, president of the American Library Association, "fair use has bee narrowed to the point of disappearing... The publishing community does not believe that the public should have [fair use] rights in the electronic world."
But the AAP wants to find a way to charge library users for information. That, of course, means Congressional intervention, since the AAP is never going to talk the libraries into serving as ticket collectors for publishers. Pat Schroeder is doubtless a very effective lobbyist, and she is likely to leave the librarians bloodied in the ring.
Most of the world loves and admires Pat Schroeder. She was elected to the House in 1972 on campaign contributions that averaged $7.50. She was a champion of the Equal Rights Amendment. She was the first woman to serve on the Armed Services Committee. She served 12 terms and left Congress undefeated in 1996.
She doesn't need to be loved and admired to be effective in her job as president of AAP, of course. And that's a good thing, because if she's going to beat up on librarians, she won't be for long. The story (minus my musings about librarians) is in a recent article in The Washington Post: http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36584-2001Feb7.html.
5. Messages to the Editor
Compliments on ATM, Remarks on Snake Handling
Great newsletter this time, as usual, Floydske? but it's always good. Hope things are going well for you.
We just won the Harry Caudill Award for our serpent handling book. Guess what, though? The prize was $2000 in books! Nice gesture, but don't they know writers always need money? I can't complain, it is good for sales. Am I an ungrateful wretch? Or wench? Probably both.
[Note to readers: Jeanne is Jeanne McDonald, who -- with her husband, Fred Brown -- wrote The Serpent Handlers: Three Families and their Faith, which was released in 2000. It gives the stories of three families involved in the Signs Following religion, and it offers these stories in the tellers' own words without editorial judgment. A remarkable book, it treats its subjects as real people rather than nut cases. "Although many serpent handlers are uneducated, they are neither ignorant nor crazy. They handle snakes not to test their faith but to confirm God's Word as set forth in Mark 16," wrote Fred in the foreword.]
What Book Lovers Do when They Aren't Reading
[Every time we send out an issue of At The Margin, we get back an assortment of bounces (those who have abandoned their e-mail addresses or whose mailboxes are filled to capacity) and automated announcements about readers' vacations and trips. After we delete the bounced addresses from the list, we don't pay much attention to the automated stuff. But our last issue caused an automated reply from a reader who was away competing in the Iditasport 130 Human-Powered Ultra Marathon Race. Entrants race 130 miles along the Iditarod Trail in Alaska (in February!) by bicycle, on skis, or on foot (there are winners in each division, as well as an overall winner). The winning time for the 2001 race was two days, two hours, and 45 minutes, by a skier. Temperatures often reach 40 below zero, and low pressure systems from the Pacific tend to dump a lot of snow on the route. We don't know the name of the reader who participated -- the automated message was signed only with initials -- and we wouldn't give it out anyway, out of respect for the person's privacy. But we thought you might like to know that loving books is not incompatible with an active lifestyle! Here's the Iditasport web address, if you're interested: http://www.iditasport.com/]
At The Margin has 914 readers, most of whom are interested in what you have to say about books or items you have read in ATM. Send a message to the editor and get those thoughts out to 913 others. Please limit your comment to 200 words and send it to ATM's editor, Floyd Kemske (firstname.lastname@example.org).
6. Do You Know Me?
For those who like puzzles as well as books, this department brings you the first sentence of a book, currently out of print in the U.S., by a famous writer. The name of the author and title of the book will be in the next issue, so write your guess down. If you want to send me your guess, email it to email@example.com.
Please include your name (so I can congratulate you in this space if you're correct) and let me know if you recognized the writer's style or if you know the book, or both.
This Issue's Sentence
That night, Martin Laing dreamt of Cosima for the first time since leaving New York.
I'm waiting for your guesses.
Last Issue's Sentence
A resident magistracy in Ireland is not an easy thing to come by nowadays; neither is it a very attractive job; yet on the evening when I first propounded the idea to the young lady who had recently consented to become Mrs. Sinclair Yeates, it seemed glittering with possibilities.
There were no incorrect guesses, and I was in fact flooded with correct guesses. Six readers sent me messages correctly identifying the book as The Irish R.M. by Martin Ross and E. OE. Somerville. Those who got it right included Brian Doyle, Erin MacKenzie, and Nick Moscato, as well as Beatrice, bg, and Gavin.
The Irish R.M. has appeared in a several editions: Some Experiences of an Irish R.M., Further Experiences of an Irish R.M., The Irish R.M. Complete, and The Irish R.M. (subtitled "Now a Mobil Masterpiece Theater Television Presentation"). The one I am looking at as I write this is Experiences of an Irish R.M., published simultaneously in London by J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. and in New York by E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc. in 1944.
If you just want to read it (an experience highly recommended by anyone who has done it and laughed unto tears), there are plenty of used copies of different editions available at your local used book store or in your public library. If you're determined to collect it, note that Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. was first published in 1899 and Further Experiences of an Irish R.M. was first published in 1908. The books were written by two Irish women, Edith Oenone Somerville and Violet Florence Martin (writing under the pseudonym Martin Ross), who were second cousins. They were both great-granddaughters to Charles Kendal Bushe, who was Lord Chief Justice of Ireland in the early years of the 19th century. Their families had lived in Ireland for centuries. They met in 1886, when Edith was 28 and Violet was 24, and they were inseparable until 1915. Their first publication, An Irish Cousin, was a success and got them commissions from a number of illustrated papers to take tours in various countries, which they described and Edith illustrated (she had studied art in Paris and London).
Their first full-length novel, a trilogy called The Real Charlotte, was published in May 1894. It was well-received among the high-brow set, but many readers disliked it, the latter group numbering nearly all their close relatives. After that they wrote another short novel and some Irish stories and essays. They began publishing stories about an Irish R.M. (it stands for resident magistrate) in Badminton Magazine. They eventually collected these stories into a single volume, Some Experiences of an Irish R.M., published by Longmans, Green & Co. in 1899. The book was a worldwide success, and it became something of a preoccupation among readers to identify the originals of the book's eccentric characters. The authors insisted that only two of the books characters, Slipper and Maria, could be considered to even have originals.
The authors received many letters from readers, but the ones they claimed to cherish the most were those from people who claimed the book had cured various diseases. Long before Norman Cousins proved to the world's satisfaction that laughter can subdue disease, The Irish R.M. was helping people live longer. "The Irish R. M. appears to have been especially successful in cases of quinsy," wrote Edith. "More than one grateful wife has written to the authors describing how her husband, suffering, suffocating, feeling literally at his last gasp, had panted a request for a farewell chapter to be read to him, and how, therewith, in that moment of extremity, an almost agonizing fit of laughter had overwhelmed him, the quinsy broke, and a generous testimonial was dispatched to the gratified authors." (Quinsy is an abcess that displaces the tonsils and interferes with swallowing, talking, and even breathing.) No person could read The Irish R.M. and doubt its therapeutic power.
Here's a page with a bibliography of the authors' work: http://www.sbu.ac.uk/~stafflag/somervillenross.html. Here's a gay pride page that reveres the authors as lesbians as well as authors: http://www.lavenderandgreen.com/heroes.html.
7. Blue Underlined Words
I follow a lot of links in the course of compiling this letter, and some of the pages I visit look like they may be interesting or useful to you. I have only visited them and know nothing about them beyond what I could gather from the visit. So I'm not endorsing anything, just bringing it to your attention. Click at your own risk.
Hard to Believe They Don't Charge for This
This website offers translations of "Oh, my God. There's an axe in my head!" into 66 different languages, including the ape language of the Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs (with a footnote explaining its use of idiomatic rather than literal ape). http://www.yamara.com/junk/xl970512.html
The Usability of E-Mail Subject Lines
In 1999, over 394 billion e-mail messages were sent. For every one of those messages, the recipient had to make a decision on whether to open it, a decision often based on the subject line. WebWord.com, a usability testing firm, studied users' reactions to different types of subject lines and offers the results of its study for free. http://webword.com/moving/subjectlines.html
Hide in Plain Sight
Making the not-unreasonable assumption that there is a government agency monitoring e-mail, a website called Spam Mimic allows you to use the principle of the Edgar Alan Poe story, "The Purloined Letter." Go to the website and paste an e-mail message into it, and Spam Mimic will turn the message into something that resembles spam. Your recipient then takes the message to Spam Mimic and pastes it in, and the application decodes it into the message you originally sent. The idea is that whoever is monitoring e-mail must employ spam filters or monitoring would not be feasible. And if the monitoring system assumes your message is spam, it won't bother with it. You can use encryption (such as PGP) to keep your e-mail private, but then the monitors know you're sending something you want private! The people who run Spam Mimic suggest that if just a few people use the site, the e-mail monitors will have to undertake the futile task of analyzing the terabytes of spam that daily flood the net. That could wipe out the federal budget surplus in short order. http://www.spammimic.com/index.shtml
The Electronic Society for Social Scientists
This is a follow-up on an item in ATM #13 (November, 2000), in which I described how library budgets were being devastated by the predatory pricing of scholarly journals by publishing conglomerates. An economist at St. Andrews University in Scotland has developed a model for online, refereed journals that will undercut the predators' prices by about half. More than a thousand scholars have signed on with the plan, and now it is gathering venture funding. http://chronicle.com/free/v47/i26/26a03901.htm
The Torture Trade
A competent torturer ought to be able to do a pretty serviceable job with say, some bungie cords, a broomstick, a spool of wire, and a car battery. But it turns out that torture supports a substantial international trade in equipment and training. Since 1997, the U.S. Commerce Department has issued $97 million worth of export licenses for high-voltage electroshock devices, legcuffs, thumbcuffs, shackle boards, restraint chairs, and the like. Take your choice: civilized society or a healthy balance of payments. http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/2001/usa02262001.html
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