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May 24, 2005

The Ambassadors IV: 1

"Do I strike you as improved?" Strether was to recall that Chad had at this point enquired.

He was likewise to recall - and it had to count for some time as his greatest comfort - that it had been "given" to him, as they said at Woollett, to reply with some presence of mind: "I haven't the least idea."

(For a guide to joining this group reading of The Ambassadors, click here.)

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May 12, 2005

The Black Spot


You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451 . Which book do you want to be? Without a doubt, Felicia Lamport Kaplan's Scrap Irony (Houghton Mifflin, 1961). This would oblige me to memorize, in addition to the cleverest verses in English, a host of drawings by Edward Gorey: each poem is illustrated! There are several very dry prose pieces as well, including an essay on telephone number mnemonics that I used to think was the funniest thing not written by Robert Benchley. The page that I've rather illicitly scanned shows Kaplan at her deadliest.

One section of the book, "Vice Verses," consists entirely of slightly naughty poems involving words that have been stripped of agglutinated prefixes. Exempli gratia:

Gregious Error

Many a new little life is begot

By the hibited man with the promptu plot.

or (from the facing page)

Royal Lemma

His ministers urged the young monarch to wed,

But he viewed their proposal askance

When they said that the only girls suitably bred

Were his nieces and cousins and aunts.

He rejected all these with a touch of impatience:

"Not one will I have for my queen;

I think it immoral to wed one's relations;

I much prefer cest - it's so cene."

There are many other treats, but we had better press on.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? I was very taken by Glencora M'Cluskie, future Duchess of Omnium, the first time I went through Trollope's Palliser novels, and I reread Marquand's B.F.'s Daughter just to spend time with Polly Brett. On the whole, though, I find romantic entanglements distracting. I am already very involved with my wife.

The last book you bought was...? Gee, let's see what Amazon says. Ah, here it is. Home Land, by Sam Lipsyte. It's in the mail. This is the third book (at least) that I have bought after reading about it at BookLust.

The last book you read was...?That's very easy, because I just finished it yesterday. Elizabeth McKenzie's Stop That Girl. (The second book, at least.)

What are you currently reading? Incognito, by Petru Dumitriu. Correctly or not, I recall this as the first new, clothbound novel that I ever bought. I don't know when it appeared in the United States; the copy that I fished out of Alibris is the Collins edition of 1964, translated from the French by Norman Denny. Dumitriu was a Rumanian expatriate whose portrayals of his homeland before, during, and after World War II are both beautiful and powerful; I have never encountered a more sickening account of life as a communist apparatchik.

Five books you would take to a desert island... Emma, my Pléiade edition of Racine's plays, The Golden Bowl, The Sun King, by Nancy Mitford, and Vile Bodies, by Evelyn Waugh. (If I got to take a sixth, it would be their correspondence.)

Who are you passing this stick on to and why? This is a tough one, because all my candidates are too busy. So: forgive me, Biscuit (I'm curious), Coquette (ditto), JR (I need some new French writers to follow), and Ms NOLA (can you ask?).

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