Words at Play

Nauga

Once upon a time (in 1936 perhaps) the United States Rubber Company (now Uniroyal) trademarked the name Naugahyde.  Naugahyde, a substitute for leather, became very popular in the 1960s.  It was used primarily as a covering for chairs and sofas and came in many colors.  It was manufactured in Naugatuck, Connecticut.

An advertising campaign in the 1960s and 1970s claimed that Naugahyde was the skin of an animal, the nauga,  that lived in the forests around Naugatuck.  A photograph of the nauga is shown above.  The advertising campaign went well until some animal lovers complained that killing naugas so their skins could be used for furniture coverings was absolutely horrible.

“You don’t understand,” said the PR folks at Uniroyal.  “We don’t harm the naugas.  They naturally shed their skins, and we simply collect and use them.”  “Oh,” said the pacified animal lovers.  “That’s fine.”

And the naugas, the Uniroyal employees, and the animal lovers all lived happily ever after.

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You’ve probably read some novels in which the owner of a large home invites a visitor into the drawing room for a little chat.  What, exactly, is a drawing room?  Is it a room where someone paints pictures, or a room where people gather to play games?  Actually, a drawing room is a room into which people withdraw for privacy.  One novel I recently read used drawing room and withdrawing room interchangeable throughout the work.

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“Gaslighting” is a word commonly used to describe the efforts on one person to make another think he/she is going crazy.  Gas Light was the title of a 1938 play by British playwright Patrick Hamilton.  In the play a man tries to make his wife think she is going crazy by turning on the gas lights in a room above their home which causes the gas lights downstairs to dim.  When he reappears and she tells him that the lights dimmed, he tells her that she just imagined it.  The floor above their living quarters is supposed to be vacant, so he walks around while he’s up there to also make his wife think that, in her delusional state, she is hearing footsteps as well.

Gaslight-1944

Gas Light was the basis for the 1944 U. S. movie Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten.  Bergman won an Academy Award for her spectacular performance in the movie.  The movie also included a newcomer named Angela Lansbury who played a saucy maid who plainly had designs on her employer.

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Detectives in novels are often referred to as “sleuths.”  Do you know the origin of the word?  Long ago a bloodhound was referred to as a sleuthhound.  As time went by it came to refer to a detective who follows the trail of a lawbreaker.

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I ran across the following sentence in a Guardian newspaper article about the die-off of insects: “Molecular biology, with its concern for DNA, proteins and chemical processes within individual cells, dominates curriculums and hoovers up grant money.”  “Hoovers up” is, as it turns out, a British term that means “vacuums up.”  Of course the hoover in the sentence refers to the Hoover brand of vacuum cleaner.  I’m sure that many British use it without considering its origin.

Then I thought about a word that we use in the United States without giving any thought to its origin.  The word is “fridge.”  The word may be taken from “refrigerator” or it may be derived from the name of the first commercial electric refrigerator, the Frigidaire (frigid air), which debuted in 1919.  In many areas, including my area of the deep south, any refrigerator was commonly referred to as a Frigidaire. “Put the milk in the Frigidaire,” you might have heard someone say.  From there it’s easy to imagine that after a while the request was shortened to “Put the milk in the fridge.”

The refrigerator was preceded by the icebox, a non-electric cold storage unit that featured a pan at the bottom which held a block of ice – probably a cubic foot or so in volume – that melted in about 24 hours.  Iceboxes were so numerous in my neighborhood that the local iceman riding a horse drawn wagon (and later driving a motorized truck) would replenishing the melted ice daily.  If you missed the iceman, you could always go to the neighborhood ice house to buy more.

During my childhood the people around me would often talk about putting food in the icebox when, in reality, they meant the fridge.  Sometimes it takes a while for our speech patterns to catch up with the current technology.

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Sloe

“Sloe-eyed” and “sloe gin” are two terms that you may have heard,  but did you ever check to see what the word “sloe” means?  Well, there is a bush called a blackthorn or sloe which has berries that look very similar to blueberries.  Remarkably, It is a member of the rose family, and is not related to the blueberry bush at all.  The berries (see the photo above) are dark blue or black, so if you refer to a woman as being sloe-eyed, you’re saying that she has dark or black eyes.  And sloe gin is an alcoholic beverage made from the juice of sloe berries.

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“Chin Music” is a term I ran across while solving a crossword puzzle.  The clue was, “idle chatter.” I was surprised to learn that Stephen Crane used the term in his 1885 novel The Red Badge of Courage.  “There’s too much chin music an’ too little fightin’ in this war,” one of Crane’s characters declares.

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How often have you heard that someone has “cirrhosis of the liver”?  In fact, cirrhosis is a disease that only occurs in the liver, so it is redundant to add “of the liver.”  Cirrhosis is a condition in which normal liver cells  degenerate into scar tissue thus limiting the organ’s functionality.

Knowing what you now know, I’ll bet that if you tell someone that such-and-such has cirrhosis, your listener will ask, “Of the liver?”  Then you can display your intellectual superiority by explaining the above.  Or, better still, simply answer, “Yes,” and avoid being considered a smart ass.

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Talking About Books . . .

According to the folks at Audible their members listened to over one billion hours of “spoken word entertainment” during 2017.  Furthermore, Tuesday is the most popular listening day; the most popular time when people begin listening is between 4:oo p.m. and 5:00 p.m.; and the most popular genre this year is self-improvement.

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On Writing

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one in your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late.”

The above is a quote by Stephen King about the use of adverbs by writers.  It is from his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  You can find more of King’s thoughts on what constitutes good and bad writing here.

Is King correct or incorrect about the use of adverbs (-ly adverbs in particular)?  In their book Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal about the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing, authors Ben Blatt and Vikas Adam delve into the adverb issue and many other issues in an attempt to scientifically explain what makes a book a bestseller.  There are numerous graphs and charts, and it’s a very enlightening read.

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The Long Read is one of the many wonderful features provided by The Guardian.  It also includes podcasts and photo essays.  Check it out.  The subjects are quite diverse, so you’re sure to find numerous pieces that you’ll enjoy.

And don’t miss the list of The Best Long Reads of 2017 from The Guardian.

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While browsing the NPR website recently I ran across a series called In Character which was broadcast many years ago.  Its stated purpose was to explore the great characters of American fiction, folklore, and pop culture.  Some of the many characters spotlighted include Ricky Ricardo, Willie Stark, Auntie Mame, Charlie Brown, Norman Bates, and Nancy Drew.  Click on the title that interests you, and you will be taken to a page that  provides the audio of the segment as well as a written version of it complete with interesting photos and drawings.

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The Story of America

Jill Lepore is a history professor at Harvard, the author of a number of books, and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine.  One of Lepore’s best books is The Story of America: Essays on Origins which is composed of 20 essays on America and notable Americans that she wrote originally for The New Yorker.  The title is a bit too broad since the book only contains 20 essays, but her choice of topics and her writing style make each essay worth reading.  Be sure to read the essays about Benjamin Franklin (“The Way to Wealth”) and Charles Dickens (“Pickwick in America”).

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Robert McCrum is the author of six novels, and the co-author of The Story of English. He was the editor-in-chief of the British publishing house Fabre & Fabre for almost 20 years, and the literary editor of the Observer for 12 years.  He has also been a contributor to the The Guardian since 1990.  Mr. McCrum has recently completed a two year project to create a list of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time – or at least the ones he thinks are the best.  I could argue with some of his choices as well as some of his omissions, but every list of this kind is subjective, so why bother.  It provides a wonderful list of books you might want to read.

In 2015 McCrum completed a list of the 100 best novels written in English.  Again, you have a list that is definitely subjective and definitely worth perusing.

Be sure to check out the associated articles referenced at the top of each list.

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I’ve got a great idea for the new year: Make miniature paper sculptures from the pages of old books.  You can see some examples of what Malana Valcarcel has created at boredbanda.  Caution: If you explore this website you might find yourself there for hours.

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Gulliver’s Travels, which was published in 1726, is sometimes considered a children’s book, but Jonathan Swift definitely didn’t have children in mind when he wrote it.  A Smithsonian magazine article lists some surprising things you probably don’t know about the book.

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Talking About Books . . .

The Sympathizer

The list of the 2017 MacArthur “Genius” Grant winners has been released, and, as usual, the list is quite diverse.  Also, as usual, I am reminded of how unlikely it is that John D. MacArthur would be the person whose billions would make the grants possible.  An NPR article lists the recipients, their areas of interest, and provides interviews that the recipients have done on various NPR programs – where available.  The Eccentric Billionaire by Nancy Kriplen, a biography of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur, tells the fascinating story of these unlikely philanthropists.  You can read a post that I did in 2015 about MacArthur here.

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Historically we in the United States have had little interest in “world literature” – however you define that term.  Walter Cohen, an English professor at the University of Michigan has an article on the Oxford University Press  blog website that explains the meaning of the term “world literature,” and, more importantly, he provides a link to a website, Words without Borders, that features lots of interesting articles about world literature as well as some short stories translated into English.

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Many authors have directed that their unfinished and unpublished works be destroyed, but Terry Pratchett may be the first to designate that a steam roller crush the hard drives containing those works.  And that’s just what happened.

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Why We Sleep

I recently saw a CBS Morning News interview with sleep expert Professor Matthew Walker who was promoting his new book Why We Sleep.  There are also several YouTube videos in which  Walker discusses the subject.  Here is one of them.  He made one comment that startled me: a lack of sleep decreases our immune system’s activity so much that a lack of sleep could be considered carcinogenic.

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Bookish features an article in which 13 Young Adult (YA) authors discuss the books that influenced their decisions to become writers.  The article also lists a book by each of the YA authors.

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Radium Girls

This is the time of year when book clubs choose the books to be discussed during the coming year.  BookBrowse offers a list of 13 books – both fiction and nonfiction – that your book club might want to consider reading in 2018.

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A few years ago Hogarth Press began commissioning authors to write novels that were reimagined some of Shakespeare’s plays as novels.  The locations, the names of the characters, and even the storylines could be altered, but the substance of each play had to be discernible in the end product.  Edward St. Aubyn recently completed Dunbar which tells the story of a Canadian media mogul named Henry Dunbar.  The elderly Dunbar cedes control of his empire to his two oldest daughters who then deliver him to a facility where he is kept heavily sedated.  His youngest daughter, who was his favorite, took no part in the ouster.  She lives quietly on a ranch in Wyoming with her family.  Sound familiar?  It should since it’s the basic plot of Shakespeare’s King LearThe Atlantic has a review of the novel as well as a link to the Hogarth Shakespeare Series.

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Authors often face law suits from people who claim that their ideas were stolen. Usually the cases are dismissed, but the authors sometimes have to go to court to clear their names.  Electric Lit has an article describing five weird lawsuits accusing authors of stealing ideas.  One concerns the word “muggle” which J.K. Rowling used to designate non-wizards.  A woman claimed that she invented the word, and that Rowling stole it from her.  In a post back in February 2013 I mentioned that the word “muggle” was used as early as 1926 to mean “marijuana cigarette.”

Authors name their characters only to have unscrupulous people claim that the authors used their names without permission.  Then come the law suits for damages.  This also happens in advertising.  I’ve read that when Procter & Gamble decided to do a commercial for Charmin bathroom tissue in which a grocer can’t stop himself from “squeezing the Charmin,” the advertising agency went through a list of its employees, chose the name “George Whipple,” and had the employee named George Whipple sign a contract saying that he was giving permission for the use of his name in the Charmin adds.  That protected Procter & Gamble from frivolous lawsuits by every other George Whipple in the world.

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The Home Front

I don’t particularly care to read about the many battles of World War II, but I love to read about what was going on in the lives of those who were at home here in the United States while the fighting was going on just about everywhere else around the world.  Rationing of food, gasoline, and tires; Japanese internment along the Pacific Coast (but not in Hawaii); Rosie the Riveter; auto manufacturers ceasing production of cars in order to mass produce things like tanks, women fighting for equality in all aspects of life, black people fighting battles all over the world, but finding little acceptance back home – all of this and more was happening right here.  Audible has produced an audio masterpiece called The Home Front: Life in America During World War II which looks at many different aspects of what happened here after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It is narrated by Martin Sheen and features comments by many learned history professors, celebrities like Carl Reiner, and (best of all) archival audio comments by the common men and women who were living through the uncertainty and hardships of the time.

The Home Front is eight hours of oral history that should not be missed.  Best of all, you can obtain it from Audible at no charge if you hurry.  I got it free because I have an Audible membership, and the website indicates that it will be free to everyone until mid-November.  However, I can’t promise you that there will be no strings attached – such as a 30 day free trial.  You can check it out for yourself here.  Note: you must have the free Audible app installed on your computer, phone, or tablet in order to download and play the program.

Audible also offers a Daily Deal each day of the week.  The Deal consists of an audio book that can be purchased for $2.95 or so.  You can check the homepage of the Audible website for the Daily Deal as well as for other deals such as The Home Front.

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Women.com challenges you to name each of 22 books with only three clues for each one.  Can you do it?  Take the quiz here.  By the way, I answered all 22 correctly.  Not that I’m bragging.  I wouldn’t do that!

 

 

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Quotes of Note

“Miss Brodie was easily the equal of both sisters together, she was the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle and they were only the squares on the other two sides.” – Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 

“Depression afflicts millions directly, and millions more who are relatives or friends of victims.  It has been estimated that as many as one in ten Americans will suffer from the illness.  As assertively democratic as a Norman Rockwell poster, it strikes indiscriminately at all ages, races, creeds and classes, though women are at considerably higher risk than men.  The occupational list (dressmakers, barge captains, sushi chefs, cabinet members) of its patients is too long and tedious to give here; it is enough to say that very few people escape being a potential victim of the disease, at least in its milder form.  Despite depression’s eclectic reach, it has been demonstrated with fair convincingness that artistic types (especially poets) are particularly vulnerable to the disorder—which, in its graver, clinical manifestation takes upward of twenty percent of its victims by way of suicide.  Just a few of these fallen artists, all modern, make up a sad but scintillant roll call: Hart Crane, Vincent van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Arshile Gorky, Cesare Pavese, Romaine Gary, Vachel Lindsay, Sylvia Plath, Henry de Montherlant, Mark Rothko, John Berryman, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, William Inge, Diane Arbus, Tadeusz Borowski, Paul Celan, Anne Sexton, Sergei Esenin, Vladimir Mayakovsky—the list goes on and on. . . And why were they destroyed, while others—similarly stricken—struggled through?” – William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (1990)

“It helps to remember why we got into this whole fiction-writing ‘business’ to begin with: because we wanted to see what was behind that door, if not to break it down altogether. Because writers are born snoops and eavesdroppers and gossips and sneaky little diary readers just about driven by what we don’t know. We’re not expressing ourselves in our writing so much as we are searching for the otherwise inexpressible.” – Max Winter

“[Henry] James transfigured the novel form, or at least offered it the possibility to be something entirely new. If I were asked to identify the place where he effected this change, I should point to chapter 27 of The Portrait [of a Lady] – ‘obviously the best thing in the book,’ in the author’s opinion – when one night Isabel Archer sits alone by the fireside in the palace in Rome where she lives with her husband, Gilbert Osmond, and contemplates the disaster that she, with the secret connivance of others, has made of her life.

“Here, in this chapter, as it navigates the stream of Isabel’s consciousness, was the ‘psychological novel’ born.” – John Banville, “Novels Were Never the Same after Henry James

 “Mabel [Tolkien’s mother] gave Ronald [J.R.R. Tolkien] more than a lovely world in which to grow up; she gave him an array of fascinating tools to explore and interpret it. We know little of her own education, but she clearly valued learning and vigorously set about transmitting what she knew to Ronald. She instructed him in Latin, French, German, and the rudiments of linguistics, awakening in him a lifelong thirst for languages, alphabets, and etymologies. She taught him to draw and to paint, arts in which he would develop his own unmistakable style, primitive and compelling, Rousseau with a dash of Roerich. She passed on to him her peculiar calligraphy; he would later master traditional forms and invent his own. She tried to teach him piano, although that proved a failure. And she introduced him to children’s literature, including Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThe Princess and the GoblinThe Princess and Curdie, and Andrew Lang’s collections of fairy tales. In George MacDonald he encountered goblins and, although he did not realize it at the time, Christian mythopoesis; in Lang’s retelling of bits of the Old Norse Volsunga saga he met Fáfnir the dragon, a creature that excited his imagination like no other, and the prototype of Smaug of The Hobbit: ‘The dragon had the trade-mark Of Faerie written plain upon him … I desired dragons with a profound desire.’ It was his first baptism into the enchantments of Faerie, an otherworldly realm just touching the fringes of ordinary life and leading, in its farthest reaches, to the outskirts of the supernatural.” – Philip and Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings

“When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” – Ray Bradbury

“I begin with writing the first sentence—and trusting to Almighty God for the second.” – Laurence Sterne

“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.” – Voltaire

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Lagniappe

The Haunting of Hill House

Deadline is reporting that Manning Marable’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Malcolm  X: A Life of Reinvention is set to become a TV series.

Deadline is also reporting that Shirley Jackson’s 1959 ghost story The Haunting of Hill House is being developed in a “modern reimaging” for Netflix.

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Actress Vivien Leigh was quite a book collector.  Her library, which contains many books signed by their authors, will  be auctioned off on September 26th at Sotheby’s and is expected to bring in more than £500,000.

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Two years ago my wife and I spent 10 wonderful days going through the many museums in Washington.  They were wonderful.  One of the most memorable, though you have to pay to get in, is the Newseum which celebrates the history of one of our greatest treasures: a free press.  Now I read that the Newseum is in such dire financial condition that many think it will not survive much longer.  What a shame.  I don’t know that anyone can save it, but I urge you to visit it while you still can.  A Washington Post article tells the story of its plight.

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Behold the Dreamers

I’ve found a website that features interviews with some impressive authors.  It’s at the Creative Live website and is called “Between the Lines.”  Author Kelly Corrigan interviews 16 well-known authors including Margaret Atwood, John Grisham, Imbolo Mbue, and Alan Alda.  You can watch the interviews free, but you have to log in to do so.  Logging in is simply a matter of providing your e-mail address, choosing a password, and providing a few other bits of information.  I watched Corrigan’s interview with John Grisham, and found it very worth my time (about 27 minutes).

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Kookie

I’ll once again host Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH Public Radio this Sunday, September 3rd from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. CT.  The music will feature a quick biography of songwriter Harry Warren – probably the best tunesmith you’ve never heard of – and eight songs that he wrote (including “Chattanooga Cho-Cho” and “That’s Amore”).  I will also play an episode of the Alka-Seltzer radio show featuring Curt Massey and Martha Tilton.  Massey had a voice and laid-back style similar to that of Perry Como, and Tilton was one of the most popular female vocalists of the Big Band era.  I’ll also play “Angel Eyes” featuring Jesse Belvin. Belvin had a beautiful voice, but he never attained the fame he deserved due to his tragic death at the age of 27.  If you watched TV during the late ‘50s and early 60s you probably remember a detective series that starred Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and featured Edd Byrnes as a handsome young hipster named “Kookie” who was forever combing his hair.  We’ll listen to the theme from the series and to “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb),” a very popular song from 1959 performed by Connie Stevens with Kookie himself laying some jive on her (and us) throughout the number.

You can hear Music on the Sunny Side in the Baton Rouge area at 90.3 FM or over the internet at WBRH.org.

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The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, September 3, 2017 from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET.  The featured guest will be author and radio host Eric Metaxas.  His books include Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World and If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty.

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Talking About Books . . .

Rockwell

If you are “of a certain age,” you probably have one or more coffee tables books containing prints of some of Norman Rockwell’s paintings.  Rockwell’s paintings generally picture America as the land of the good and kind.  One painting shows a kindly old doctor listening to the heartbeat of a little girl’s doll.  Another depicts a “typical” family gathered around the table ready to enjoy a Thanksgiving turkey dinner together.  I don’t know if such an America ever existed, but I would like to think that it did – somewhere at some point in time.

Less well-known is the Norman Rockwell who was driven to paint about the darker side of American life.  He was socially conscious, and wanted to express his feelings in his art, but magazines like The Saturday Evening Post didn’t want that sort of thing on their magazine covers.  It clashed with the mood they were trying to create for their readers.  Upsetting people might lead to lower magazine sales.

An article at the Pop History Dig website delves into both sides of Rockwell.  I highly recommend it to you, and I hope you will explore other articles at the site while you’re there.

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Cesar Millan, known as The Dog Whisperer, has been teaching us about how to understand and handle unruly dogs for years.  Nevertheless, I was quite surprised when I saw that he is now advocating the use of audio books to keep dogs calm and happy while their humans are away.  Is he serious?  Absolutely.  You can get a free 53 minute audio book from Audible to find out more about his theory.  He has also chosen lists of audio books that he thinks might be just right for your pooch.  I’ve listened to his sales pitch, but I’m still not convinced that anyone should spend money buying audio books for their pets.  However, a lot of sound information about how a dog’s mind works is mixed in with his spiel, so I recommend that you get the audio file – especially since it’s free and only requires that you have an Audible app, which is also free, in order to hear it.

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Classic Crime

If you love crime novels, you must read Michael Dirda’s Washington Post column about the best crime novels of the first half of the 20th century, and about two books that have to do with them.

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Fodor’s Travel has released a list of the 10 best new museums in the world.  First on the list is the American Writer’s Museum in Chicago.  Another of the top 10 is The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts. There is a brief description of each museum listed along with a link to the homepage for each.

Speaking of Dr. Seuss, you may be interested and surprised by what he did during his early career.  You can find out what he did here.

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Could you write a short story in only six words?  Hemingway did: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”  You don’t get the whole story, but your mind creates a story line that fits those six meager words, doesn’t it?  That’s genius.  And what you imagine probably makes you sad.

According to The New Yorker Hemingway was so pleased with the response to his six-word story that he wrote some sequels to it.  I assumed that something tragic happened to the baby before it could wear the shoes, but Hemingway’s stories make me think that I was totally mistaken.

Quirk Books recently featured 15 six word Hemingway-esque short stories.  Note: these stories were not written by Hemingway.

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A Lesson Before Dying

Looking for Something to read?  Southern Living magazine has a list of recommended novel associated with each state plus what you might call “runner-up” selections for each state.

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You can thank Alfred A. Knopf book editor Judith Jones when you read Ann Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child.  Frank’s book, which had been published in Europe but not the United States, was about to be rejected by Knopf when Jones picked it up and read it.  She knew immediately that it had to be published in the U.S.  The 2009 movie Julie and Julia tells the story of Child’s entry into the world of famous chefs.  The movie starred Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Erin Dilly as Judith Jones.  Jones recently died at the age of 93.  USA Today has an article about Jones’ long, illustrious career.

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William Faulkner’s The Reivers

The Reivers, which was published in 1962, the same year its author, William Faulkner, died is a coming-of-age story that takes place in northern Mississippi and southern Tennessee in 1905.  It concerns a stolen car, a horse race, and some very colorful rural people – both black and white.  The book won a Pulitzer Prize the following year.  This was Faulkner’s second Pulitzer Prize.

Despite the ease of reading and enjoyable story, and despite the fact that it won a Pulitzer, The Reivers is not nearly as well known as some of Faulkner’s other novels such as The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Light in August.  In fact, that’s a bit surprising because it contains three elements that people seem to enjoy in a novel: sex, drugs, and violence.  One thing that some might possibly see as a negative is the leisurely pace at which the story proceeds, but other people may say that Faulkner is simply taking time to develop his very entertaining and sometimes comical characters.

The movie adaptation of The Reivers was released in 1969.  It starred Steve McQueen as the wild and unpredictable Boon Hoganbeck and was narrated by Burgess Meredith, as Lucius, who is telling the story of what happened to him, Boon, and a wise black man named Ned McCaslin (Rupert Crosse) 60 years before.  The music was composed by the great John Williams before he became famous for the music scores of such movies as Jaws, the Star Wars series, the Indiana Jones series, and Schindler’s List.

When movies were first made there was a debate about whether or not music should be used in films.  But even during the age of silent movies, pianists were often hired by theater owners to play music during the showing of a film – though the music might have also been used to mask the sound of the noisy projectors which were routinely placed in the same rooms as the audiences.

Once most people in the movie business accepted the idea that music was an essential part of setting a mood, signaling impending danger, or raising the level of interest in an action scene such as a sword fight, the debate became about how noticeable the music should be.  Some argued that it should be perceived subliminally while others insisted that it should register almost as strongly as the dialogue.

Williams has weighed in on the side of those who think we should be conscious of the music by showing the opening scene of Jaws, where the young woman is swimming in the ocean, with and without the music he wrote for that scene.   Without the music the young woman might simply be enjoying a moonlight swim.  With the music added you know that something horrible is about to happen to her and you’re on the edge of your seat or hiding your eyes.  Once you’ve seen the movie that music will forever be imprinted on your brain.

Music for Stage and Screen

Williams’ CD, Music for Stage and Screen, contains a track that tells the most interesting part of the story from the movie adaptation of The Reivers.  Like the movie, this quick sequence of pivotal events is narrated by the very capable Burgess Meredith.  Remarkably, the 18+ minute track has relatively long segments that are only music.  Meredith could have filled in those segments with dialogue, but he didn’t need to.  Williams did a great job of moving the plot along without Meredith’s help.  You only hear music, but you’re never in doubt about what is taking place.  And in every case your mind is creating the scenes just as surely as if Meredith was describing them.

I found this track from Music for Stage and Screen on YouTube, and I encourage you to listen to it.  Then consider watching the entire movie.  Or better still, take time to read The Reivers.

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