Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I read a lot of self-help this past year for the blog and I lost some weight (which I'm pretty sure I've gained back by now) and I learned what my love language is (housekeeping) and how to save money on things I don't need but the only book I really wished I'd had to read, but which just never made it to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list, is the 1845 tract by Edward Everett Hale, "How to Conquer Texas, Before Texas Conquers Us". It holds the answers to all my questions and it only costs three cents. I just learned of this gem's existence last week when it made its way into my cubicle for immediate perusal I mean cataloging.

I didn't have time to read it until today and had my pad and pencil at the ready to copy down all the steps it would require of me to conquer this place. Obviously, having been written in 1845, "How to Conquer Texas" doesn't really apply to this modern gal's situation. After all, back then, Texas was an empty, uncultured wasteland. Ah, how far we've come.

First, Hale sets up the dangers of the annexation of Texas. The big ones come last and are aptly named:

"V.  The introduction into the Union of an unprincipled population of adventurers, with all the privileges of a State of naturalized citizens.
VI. The creation of an enormous State, in time to become the real Empire State of the country. Texas, with three hundred and ten thousand square miles of territory, is admitted as one  State, into the Union. If she remains such, she will prove the Austria of the confederacy, to overrule all opposition." [I might add that I have advised Austria to sue Hale's estate for slander.]

So here I learned where Texans got the idea that having more land equals better. Which is why they have boasted so many times to me that you can fit France into Texas. Yeah, well you can fit the United States into Siberia, but you don't hear the Siberians blowharding about it.

Hale's advice is simple: Are you an abolitionist New Englander thinking about emigrating? Hows about Texas? It's supposed to be nicer than Wisconsin. All right, Hale. Here I am. Can I have my three cents back?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Today's mail

Somewhere in the middle of the long list of things I don't like about living in Texas is the postal service. If I remember correctly from my days growing up in the Northeast, mail would come every day except Sundays and certain holidays. In Texas, the mail only comes once or twice a week. You may argue that this is because Koch and I don't get a lot of mail. Wrong. Usually we have four or five dry days, during which the spider that lives in our mailbox builds a home, then suddenly all bills, coupons, magazines, journals and junk arrive and destroy it. Today happened to be such a day.

On this particular day of plenty, along with the usual bills, were the latest (for a Texan) New Yorker and New York Times Book Review. In the first I found an essay by James Wood called "Shelf Life: Packing up my father-in-law's library," which was illustrated with a photograph, "Agnon's Library," by Yuval Yairi. Underneath the picture was a caption, a quote from the piece, "Our libraries may say less about us than we imagine". Then I turned to the table of contents of the New York Times Book Review. The end-piece essay, "The Subconscious Shelf" by Leah Price, features a quote from the piece itself: "Our bookshelves reveal at once our most private selves and our most public personas [sic]".

Clearly my mail was sending me mixed messages, although when I returned to the pile, I didn't find an envelope telling me that I didn't actually have to pay my bills either. Damn.

I read both pieces back to back. I found Wood's essay appalling, a man airing his resentment towards his late father-in-law in published format, to be read by, well, a lot of people. (We should all be so lucky, right?) I found what he had to say about packing up and getting rid of a man's library of 4,000 volumes unreasonable and unfair, signaling that dying before ridding oneself of one's library is a contemptible act of selfishness.

In some ways, Leah Price's essay says a lot of the same things, about how personal libraries can often be a front or misleading. After all, who has read everything they own? As Wood argues, one's library is usually smarter than oneself.

[Usually. My library, and by library I mean the particle board bookcase I bought at Walmart that houses all the books I've read since moving to Texas, is decidedly NOT smarter than I. For one thing, it holds every volume I read for this blog. When people who don't know me well come by (that one time), I immediately have to explain to them why the hell I have George W. Bush's memoir and the latest Grisham, Koontz, Roberts, and those three damn Pattersons.]

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bad Names, part 1

I'm pretty sure the first Joe Baker was a baker and the first John Smith was a blacksmith and the first Jean le Gros was a fat-ass, but eventually people's names stopped referring to their occupation or their bearing and that's how we got people of average weight named Le Gros and that's how we got bankers named Baker. Occasionally you'll still see someone who fits his name, like Bernie Madoff, who made off with a lot of other people's money. But not often.

There are also people who should consider changing their names, if only for the advancement of their careers. For example, I probably wouldn't take Rat Girl and Claudius to a vet named Philip Catskinner. Actually, I probably would, if he was good and lived nearby, but for argument's sake I won't.

A couple days ago, while cataloging books that, once shelved, will never see the light of day again so obscure and musty are they, I came across a collection of sermons dating from the 1790s and with forbidding headings such as "On the true nature, extent, and perpetual operation of divine grace" and "General proofs that the second advent of the Lord hath taken place" (1792); all or most of which were preached to the New Jerusalem Temple in Birmingham (the English one, not any of the ones in the United States). What struck me is the name of the speaker, Joseph Proud. Obviously, "proud" is the adjectival variant of "pride," one of the seven deadly sins. Flipping to his short sermon "On humility," an antonym or pride I believe, I noticed that, at least in the first paragraph (who's got time to read this stuff anyway? Besides, I'm not actually allowed to read on the job unless necessary, which, in this case, it wasn't), the word "pride" never figures. Is that because Proud didn't think of it? Or is it because he didn't want to draw the comparison? Instead, he employs every other way of evoking pride, without actually using that word: "Self-exaltation is the child of self-love: it is a disposition opposite to the good of mankind...and the happiness of our souls; but such is the depravity of human nature, that every man inherits such a principle--is prone to the indulgence of it..." I'm sorry, Joe, I didn't catch that. Indulgence of what? Come on, say it. I'll give you a hint: It starts with a "p"... I especially enjoyed noticing that half of these sermons were published by a certain "J. Belcher." Belching, the call of the gluttonous, another deadly sin.

Later that day I came across a short biography of Pope Pius IX. The memoir, being French, was titled Pie IX and showed a crude portrait of the subject, whose long jowls betrayed what is almost certainly a love of pie. Here is a portrait of the man, in all his flakey, fruit-filled glory:

 Interestingly in this portrait, he is asking the bishop for just a tiny slice, although we all know he doesn't really mean it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Oscar Wilde

And by Oscar Wilde I mean Dorothy Parker.

Banal anecdote: The first time I heard the pun "You can lead a horticulture but you cannot make her think," this juicy bon mot was attributed to the king (or should I say queen?) of bons mots, Oscar Wilde. Ten years later, I heard the pun again, but this time the speaker was not Wilde but (correctly) Dorothy Parker. Not very interesting, right? Now read this poem, also by Parker:

"Oscar Wilde"

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

There are only two possibilities: Either Dorothy Parker traveled into the future, infiltrated my sophomore English class on the day that Mr. White told us the pun, then traveled back and wrote that poem.

Or: Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker are one and the same person:

Uncanny, no? Same hair. Same sad eyes. Same round chin. Same appreciation for handsome young men.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Old Yeller

It's been over a year since I started this venture and I think it's time to veer in a new direction. And by new direction, I mean that I think I'm going to go back to reading what I enjoy reading full time. But that doesn't mean I'm going to take the blog out back and shoot it in the back of the head. I might just break one of its legs. So I've put Jackie O. on my shelf next to the Geoge W. Bush memoir and I've returned the Nicholas Sparks romance that I was supposed to read next. And I feel relieved, like I've alleviated a wounded animal's suffering. I'm not sure if I or the blog is the wounded animal in that metaphor. Doesn't matter.

I also think I may change the format a bit. Instead of one longish post a week, I'll post (or try to post) every night. Which means I'm off the hook for now.