The White House Drama Club

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

The Washington Post reports* on a new book by Former Army Sgt. Erik Saar:

The U.S. military staged the interrogations of terrorism suspects for members of Congress and other officials visiting the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to make it appear the government was obtaining valuable intelligence, a former Army translator who worked there claims in a new book scheduled for release Monday.

Former Army Sgt. Erik Saar said the military chose detainees for the mock interrogations who previously had been cooperative and instructed them to repeat what they had told interrogators in earlier sessions, according to an interview with the CBS television program “60 Minutes,” which is slated to air Sunday night.

But I guess faked, scripted interrogations for public officials is only a problem if you live in that problematic “reality-based community” that I live in.

Godson’s got a word for this.

*Try using BugMeNot to get past the subscription wall. Or sign up. It’s free.

Do NOT go gentle!

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

National Poetry Month, alas, is nearly through. But it’s never too late to avail yourself. Check out this collection of poetic goodness at Slate. You can read up on the latest. Or you can use poetry to learn about scientific principles.

Over at the Onion, however, they insist that “This month marks the 10th National Poetry Month, a campaign created in 1996 to raise public awareness of the growing problem of poetry.”

In a seeming attempt to prove this, Mr. Sun pays homage with his immortal “Do Not Go Gentle When You Merge From The Right!” Also, to cheese crackers. The BBC’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy site contains some insight into terrible poetry and its application in torture.

If you’re just plain worn out from the human element of poetry, try the poetry machine.

Some firsts are a bit less celebratory than others

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

A single lock of hair, “snipped from Charles Dickens’ corpse,” was sold for 3210 pounds when it went up for auction at Bonham’s in London this week:

…very few of his personal belongings have survived as long as his success because Georgina Hogarth, his housekeeper and sister-in-law, gave away or sold many of his relics.

However, the lock of dark brown-coloured hair went under the hammer accompanied by a note of authentication, signed by Hogarth, which read: “I certify this lock of hair to be that of my brother-in-law Charles Dickens.”

Bonhams spokeswoman Josephine Olley said: “We were very pleased with that. Locks of hair don’t come up for sale that often.”

Continue reading…

The big red fuck

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

We had delightful visit from the godson and his parents last weekend. With the five of us here in the urban shoebox, it’s a bit like camping, but inside. Godson is just at the age where toddlers begin acquiring language, and although this will be old news for you parents, we sure had to be careful with words and phrases like “cocksucker” and “bloody asshole” all weekend. He’s like a goddamned mynah bird.

Recently his mother was driving in a traffic jam and was cut off by another driver. She shouted out the customary and seemingly obligatory expletive. Little boys seem to have some sort of instinctual genetic attraction to trucks, and Godson is no exception. His ears perked right up. The word mom had just used sounded so…familiar, so definitive, so much more exciting than what he normally used.

Unfortunately, the result of the traffic jam incident was that each sighting of a concrete or dump truck is now met with the joyous cry of “Fuck!” from the carseat. This promises to go on for quite some time, as it gets quite a reaction at the Gymboree.

Is this the beginning of storytelling?

Porn is the least of their problems

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

Take a shower before heading to the library in Houston, Texas, y’all. But be careful, the backlash has already begun. Look for a few stink-ins to be held in the near future.

In other disturbing library news, Michael Thomas reports that the New York Public Library will be selling off its art collection to pay for purchases of scholarly and other research materials.

Indie bookstore woes, redux

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

A kind reader points us to the sad news that another of the twin cities’ independent booksellers, Bound to Be Read, will be closing its doors (as well as those of its Albuquerque, NM sister store) this summer.

Bookninja linked the other day to this article from 1999 by David Kornhaber that asserts the now familiar lament that book superstores are changing the way Americans read, to the detriment of literary culure as a whole. It’s not just a sad local commentary on today’s economics. It’s a cultural problem for both readers and writers.

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Closing time remainders

  • Bookninja gets some deserved love from the Canadian press. How, Andrea Curtis wonders, do “bloggers have the time and mental space to create their blog and maintain careers as freelance writers, poets, novelists, editors, etc., while I can barely squeak out 1,000 words before collapsing into bed at 9 p.m.”? (The answer: 1000 words?! Also, sleep? What’s that?)
  • Like me, the Europeans are suspicious of genetically modified food (no fish enzymes in my strawberries, please) and Google. I’m too paranoid to so much as activate a Gmail account. I mean, do you really want an advertising machine handling your email?

Wind, sand and stars

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince and Wind, Sand and Stars, disappeared while on a spy mission for the Allies during World War II. The wreckage of his plane was positively identified only last year. Although the cause of the crash remains unknown, there is some suspicion that he committed suicide.

For the Guardian last weekend, Robert Macfarlane returned to some of Saint-Exupéry’s writings about flight, calling them “the finest in aerology — among the finest in all exploration,” and observing that they “are full of moments … when, aloft, one suddenly ‘passes beyond the borders of the real world‘, and into a realm so elemental that it seems otherworldly.” Macfarlane goes on:

In Night Flight (1931), Southern Mail (1929), and Flight to Arras (1942), he writes of crash-landings in the “mineral country” of the desert, of long journeys in darkness over sea and sand, of crossing high mountain passes while “sprays of lightning” illuminate the peaks. He writes, too, of miracles; of how, on a night-flight south, a pilot will move through seasons in a matter of hours, “leaving behind the rains and snows of the North, repudiating winter, he throttles back his engine and begins his descent through a midsummer sky into the dazzling sunlight of Alicante”.

No one has written about air like Saint-Exupéry. Air was a substance whose beauty so astonished him that he often lapsed into dream-like states while at the controls: the aeroplanes he was flying did not have autopilot. “I live”, he once wrote, “in the realm of flight”.

See also:

  • The fall to earth (including some of Saint-Exupéry’s thoughts on death by water);

Noted without comment

From today’s New York Times:

Mr. Arterburn stood in front of a giant blowup of his book “Lose It for Life,” which has sold 113,000 copies, some through his New Life radio ministry, which is carried by 150 stations.

“The world hears all these stories that shed a negative light on Christians,” he said. “If you want the world to notice Jesus, it helps to look and live like Jesus.”

“We don’t do this,” he said, referring to efforts to lose weight, “so we can look in the mirror and be more attractive. We do it so people can look at us and see Jesus.”….

The books serve a ready constituency. A 1998 Purdue University survey found that religious Americans were more likely to be overweight than their nonreligious peers…. Baptists were the fattest, according to the study; Jews, Muslims and Buddhists were the least overweight, though the researchers attributed this to differences in income, ethnicity and marital status rather than denomination….

The combination of faith and weight-loss evangelism goes back to the 1950’s, when a newly slim Presbyterian minister named Charlie Shedd pronounced excess pounds to be a literal manifestation of sin.

Literary obituaries

  • Augusto Roa Bastos, the Paraguayan author of I, the Supreme, a novel centered on 19th Century dictator Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, has passed on. Roa Bastos won the Cervantes Prize, the most esteemed prize in Spanish letters. He lived in exile for 42 years before returning to Paraguay in the mid-90s. (Thanks to David for the news.)

Prisoner released, poems and essays now indefinitely detained in his stead

U.S. authorities released an Afghan detainee from the camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but refused to return the poems and essays he wrote during his three-year confinement:

At first, deprived of paper and pen, Dost memorised his best lines or scribbled them secretly on paper cups. Later, he was supplied with writing materials and made up for lost time by producing reams of poems and essays — only to have all but a few of the documents confiscated by the US government upon his release. “Why did they give me a pen and paper if they were planning to do that?” Dost asked last week with evident anguish. “Each word was like a child to me — irreplaceable.”

(Via Moorish Girl.)

Bless our hearts

I thought the Yankee or Dixie Dialect quiz had disappeared forever, but some kind soul has resurrected it here. (Thanks, Andrew.)

In February, 2004, I scored 72% Dixie. Today I got 70%. Am I doomed to lose 2% more of my semi-native tongue with every year I stay in the Northeast?

Longtime readers will have picked up on my obsessive fascination with Southern and Texan expressions. (They’re two different things, and I’m far more conversant in lower-class Texas-speak than in the nuances of middle-class Mississippi conversation.)

But at lunch the other day, a friend who hails from D.C. but has a Louisiana mama reminded me of one of the Deep South’s most beloved, multi-purpose, and deadly expressions: “bless her heart.”

In its most innocuous usage, the phrase is intended to express empathy and understanding, as in: “Why, you’ve been traveling all day. You must be exhausted, bless your heart. Why don’t you go lie down until it’s time for dinner?”

But like most things Southern (except sweet tea), the expression has a dark side. Basically, you can say the most slanderous thing you can think of, as long as it’s accompanied with a lingering, mournful “bless her heart.”

Hearts are blessed like crazy at Southern brunches and bridge parties. One woman might turn to another over a slice of pie and say, “Bless her heart, Mary Lou still has no idea her husband is running around with that car wash girl.”

And the other might sigh sympathetically and remark upon Mary Lou’s pregnancy weight, bad haircut, foul breath, and crazy third cousin half-removed on her mother’s side — not to mention her failure to write timely thank-you notes, the fact that she has served her husband dinner on paper plates, and the suspicion that she once murdered a man. It’s all considered perfectly polite, as long as the poor woman’s heart is blessed with each new indictment.

All this heart-blessing is much too catty for my tastes, under normal circumstances. But in emergencies, the expression has its uses.

Which brings me to my point: bless our hearts, maybe we can figure out how to roll a Hungry Man dinner, a six pack, and the latest John Grisham novel into a little pill so that we don’t have to get off our fat asses for any reason at all.

Or, as a New Jersey-born friend once said, “It’s not just us, right? The whole world’s gone crazy, right?”

(I’m no exception. In fact, I may be worse than the Wegmans shoppers. I shop online for everything, including groceries.)

Fitzgerald on Tender is the Night

While gearing up to reread F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night,* I decided to take a look at Fitzgerald’s Contemporary Authors profile. It includes this brief excerpt from a letter Fitzgerald wrote to John Peale Bishop about the differences between Gatsby and Tender is the Night:

The intention in the two books was entirely different…. Gatsby was shooting at something like [William Makepeace Thackeray’s] Henry Esmond while [Tender Is the Night] was shooting at something like [Thackeray’s] Vanity Fair. The dramatic novel has canons quite different from the philosophical, now called psychological, novel. One is a kind of tour de force and the other a confession of faith. It would be like comparing a sonnet sequence with an epic.

Continue reading…

Dressing gowns and headphones

A New York Times matching quiz includes two quotes from writers on writing, one from Jonathan Franzen, and one from Salman Rushdie. Can you tell who said which?

“Quite often I will just be in my, you know, dressing gown or bathrobe or whatever and I will just go straight there and sit at the desk for several hours. I think it’s important, pajamas. I think you should do a little survey of how many writers write in their pajamas.”

“I write with earplugs and Bose noise suppression headphones on all day. I’m failing to give you anything possibly quote worthy. I’m really sorry. I’ve cut down my writing day from 8 hours to 5 hours, but I don’t know how that could possibly interest you. I don’t take drugs to do it.”

Medieval Bible, literary correspondence hereabouts

The Pierpont Morgan Library, closed until early next year for renovation, houses “a world-class collection of old master drawings and prints, medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts, and literary, historical and music manuscripts, in addition to rare books.”

I’ve walked past it a few times, but always thought it was just another pretty branch of the NYPL. Now, between Carol Vogel’s Times article and a quick tour of the website, I’m dying for the place to reopen.

The permanent literary collection includes autographs, manuscripts and letters from Dickens, Austen, Poe, the Brontë sisters, Alexander Pope, Mark Twain, and Lord Byron. Items permanently on display when the library reopens next year will include Mary Shelley’s copy of Frankenstein, with her notes and revisions.

And there’s the Medieval Picture Bible, believed to have been “commissioned by Louis IX of France, the Capetian monarch who built the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris to house the crown of thorns before leaving for the first of his two crusades in 1248.”

Currently at Princeton University, as part of a traveling exhibition called The Book of Kings: Art, War, and the Morgan Library’s Medieval Picture Bible, the Bible includes some stunning images, including an artist’s rendering of The Story of Noah (see above, right).