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Posts Tagged ‘lists’

10 JANUARY, 2012

Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses: 18 Rants by Mark Twain

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How to commit 114 out of 115 possible violations of literary art in less than a single page.

On the heels of yesterday’s New Year’s resolution to read more and write better channeled through a reading list of 9 essential books on reading and writing comes Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences — an epic, exquisite rant by Mark Twain, listing eighteen rules of fiction violated in popular writer James Fenimore Cooper’s final tale, The Deerslayer. So peeved was Twain by critics’ acclaim of the story that he unpacked it with meticulous, delightfully spiteful attention to distasteful detail, his fury culminating in one passage where “in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115.”

It was written in 1895, the same year as this amusingly appalling list of don’ts for female cyclists.

Take it away, Mark:

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction — some say twenty-two. In “Deerslayer,” Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:

1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the “Deerslayer” tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in air.

2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the “Deerslayer” tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.

3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the “Deerslayer” tale.

4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. But this detail also has been overlooked in the “Deerslayer” tale.

5. They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. But this requirement has been ignored from the beginning of the “Deerslayer” tale to the end of it.

6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description. But this law gets little or no attention in the “Deerslayer” tale, as Natty Bumppo’s case will amply prove.

7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the “Deerslayer” tale.

8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as “the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest,” by either the author or the people in the tale. But this rule is persistently violated in the “Deerslayer” tale.

9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the “Deerslayer” tale.

10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the “Deerslayer” tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.

11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency. But in the “Deerslayer” tale, this rule is vacated.

In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.

14. Eschew surplusage.

15. Not omit necessary details.

16. Avoid slovenliness of form.

17. Use good grammar.

18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

Twain concludes:

A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are — oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.”

The entire essay is very much worth a read, a curious Frankensteining of Twain’s signature wit and his earnest annoyance. It’s available as a free Kindle book (that’s $0.00) from Amazon and downloadable in several formats from Project Gutenberg.

To avoid these offences, and many more, pay heed to Mark Twain’s and other literary icons’ words of wisdom in Advice to Writers.

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04 JANUARY, 2012

19-Year-Old Isaac Newton’s List of Sins

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What mother’s box of plums and sugar has to do with settling the age-old tension between science and religion.

Isaac Newton is one of the most remarkable, prolific, and influential cross-disciplinary scientists in human history. The Newton Project, one of these important digital humanities projects, catalogs the 4.2 million published and unpublished words by Newton, which are made available as interactive diplomatic transcriptions. Among them is this curious list of 48 sins 19-year-old Newton self-admittedly “committed” before Whitsunday:

BEFORE WHITSUNDAY 1662

  1. Using the word (God) openly
  2. Eating an apple at Thy house
  3. Making a feather while on Thy day
  4. Denying that I made it
  5. Making a mousetrap on Thy day
  6. Contriving of the chimes on Thy day
  7. Squirting water on Thy day
  8. Making pies on Sunday night
  9. Swimming in a kimnel on Thy day
  10. Putting a pin in Iohn Keys hat on Thy day to pick him
  11. Carelessly hearing and committing many sermons
  12. Refusing to go to the close at my mothers command
  13. Threatning my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them
  14. Wishing death and hoping it to some
  15. Striking many
  16. Having uncleane thoughts words and actions and dreamese
  17. Stealing cherry cobs from Eduard Storer
  18. Denying that I did so
  19. Denying a crossbow to my mother and grandmother though I knew of it
  20. Setting my heart on money learning pleasure more than Thee
  21. A relapse
  22. A relapse
  23. A breaking again of my covenant renued in the Lords Supper
  24. Punching my sister
  25. Robbing my mothers box of plums and sugar
  26. Calling Dorothy Rose a jade
  27. Glutiny in my sickness
  28. Peevishness with my mother
  29. With my sister
  30. Falling out with the servants
  31. Divers commissions of alle my duties
  32. Idle discourse on Thy day and at other times
  33. Not turning nearer to Thee for my affections
  34. Not living according to my belief
  35. Not loving Thee for Thy self
  36. Not loving Thee for Thy goodness to us
  37. Not desiring Thy ordinances
  38. Not long [longing] for Thee in [illegible]
  39. Fearing man above Thee
  40. Using unlawful means to bring us out of distresses
  41. Caring for worldly things more than God
  42. Not craving a blessing from God on our honest endeavors
  43. Missing chapel
  44. Beating Arthur Storer
  45. Peevishness at Master Clarks for a piece of bread and butter
  46. Striving to cheat with a brass halfe crowne
  47. Twisting a cord on Sunday morning
  48. Reading the history of the Christian champions on Sunday

Besides the list’s endearing earnestness — which brings to mind Woody Guthrie’s 1942 New Year’s resolution list — it also contains intriguing counter-evidence for the age-old tension between science vs. religion, standing in particularly stark contrast with modern scientists’ unabashedly nihilistic attitude towards “God.” And for those of us who prod organized religion with the rational stick of skepticism, it’s an intriguing perspective shift to consider that a groundbreaking scientists could also be a pious man.

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03 JANUARY, 2012

A List of Don’ts for Women on Bicycles Circa 1895

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“Don’t ask, ‘What do you think of my bloomers?'”

We’ve already seen how the bicycle emancipated women, but it wasn’t exactly a smooth ride. The following list of 41 don’ts for female cyclists was published in 1895 in the newspaper New York World by an author of unknown gender. Equal parts amusing and appalling, the list is the best (or worst, depending on you look at it) thing since the Victorian map of woman’s heart.

  • Don’t be a fright.
  • Don’t faint on the road.
  • Don’t wear a man’s cap.
  • Don’t wear tight garters.
  • Don’t forget your toolbag
  • Don’t attempt a “century.”
  • Don’t coast. It is dangerous.
  • Don’t boast of your long rides.
  • Don’t criticize people’s “legs.”
  • Don’t wear loud hued leggings.
  • Don’t cultivate a “bicycle face.”
  • Don’t refuse assistance up a hill.
  • Don’t wear clothes that don’t fit.
  • Don’t neglect a “light’s out” cry.
  • Don’t wear jewelry while on a tour.
  • Don’t race. Leave that to the scorchers.
  • Don’t wear laced boots. They are tiresome.
  • Don’t imagine everybody is looking at you.
  • Don’t go to church in your bicycle costume.
  • Don’t wear a garden party hat with bloomers.
  • Don’t contest the right of way with cable cars.
  • Don’t chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private.
  • Don’t wear white kid gloves. Silk is the thing.
  • Don’t ask, “What do you think of my bloomers?”
  • Don’t use bicycle slang. Leave that to the boys.
  • Don’t go out after dark without a male escort.
  • Don’t go without a needle, thread and thimble.
  • Don’t try to have every article of your attire “match.”
  • Don’t let your golden hair be hanging down your back.
  • Don’t allow dear little Fido to accompany you
  • Don’t scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers.
  • Don’t discuss bloomers with every man you know.
  • Don’t appear in public until you have learned to ride well.
  • Don’t overdo things. Let cycling be a recreation, not a labor.
  • Don’t ignore the laws of the road because you are a woman.
  • Don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes “to see how it feels.”
  • Don’t scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run.
  • Don’t cultivate everything that is up to date because yon ride a wheel.
  • Don’t emulate your brother’s attitude if he rides parallel with the ground.
  • Don’t undertake a long ride if you are not confident of performing it easily.
  • Don’t appear to be up on “records” and “record smashing.” That is sporty.

For more on the history of women and bikes, see the excellent Wheels of Change, among both the best photography books and the best history books of 2011.

m-bike MetaFilter

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30 DECEMBER, 2011

Forgotten Bookmarks: The Secret Life of Second-Hand Books

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From Paul Rand to Hitler, or what Jane Austen has to do with shopping lists and Valentines.

If you, like me, love marginalia and the secret histories of second-hand books, you’ll find yourself enamored with Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages — the latest addition to the web’s blog-turned-book success stories based on the wonderful site of the same name by used bookstore owner Michael Popek.

It’s happened to all of us: we’re reading a book, something interrupts us, and we grab the closest thing at hand to mark our spot. It could be a train ticket, a letter, an advertisement, a photograph, or a four-leaf clover. Eventually the book finds its way into the world-a library, a flea market, other people’s bookshelves, or to a used bookstore. But what becomes of those forgotten bookmarks? What stories could they tell?”

From actual bookmarks to photographs, ticket stubs, lists, scribbled recipes, children’s drawings, birth certificates, four-leaf-clovers, unsent love letters, and countless other funny, heartbreaking, and odd ephemera, this scrapbook of Popek’s most intriguing finds opens a rare window into the private lives of anonymous strangers through snippets of their life stories.

Captivating, charming, and irresistibly voyeuristic, Forgotten Bookmarks surfaces the intimate relationship we have with books in an entirely new, entirely delightful way.

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