Halloween Night... set the mood with the appropriate music:
10. Danse Macabre - Camille Saint-Saens
9. Monster Mash - Bobby Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers
8. Night on Bald Mountain - Modest Mussorgsky
7. In the Hall of the Mountain King - Edvard Grieg
6. Symphonie Fantastique - Victor Berlioz
5. The Sorcerer's Apprentice - Paul Dukas
4. Totentanz - Franz Lizst
3. Theme from Halloween (movie soundtrack) -- John Carpenter
2. Walpurgisnacht - Johannes Brahms
1. I Put a Spell on You - Screamin' Jay Hawkins
I was reviewing the old Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century roster that was put out way back at the turn of the century by the Modern Library board. (Some people waste time searching for videos on Youtube... I surf for book lists.) Anyhow, to review: Modern Library, a publishing subsidiary of Random House which reprints "classics," came up with this list back in 1998 which created quite a stir among the masses of unwashed readers, who were then allowed to vote on their own favorites. The differences between the two lists are significant. In fact, in the top 10, there is no overlap. While the Board selected fairly predictably, with such titles as Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, Lolita, Brave New World, and The Grapes of Wrath; the readers' put four books by Ayn Rand and three by L. Ron Hubbard in their top ten ranks. Should I be proud that I have read eight out of the top 10 of the board's picks, or ashamed (as a librarian) that I have only read three of the "readers" selections? (The Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird and 1984)
Ayn Rand, mighty popular author and her popular book
I confess to the world that I have not read Ayn Rand. Nope, not Atlas Shrugged (#1), The Fountainhead (#2), Anthem (#7), nor We the Living (#8). Where have I been all these years? Too busy off in a corner, re-reading Gatsby for the tenth time, I guess.
A young L. Ron
Nor have I cracked open a book by L. Ron Hubbard, although I remember seeing a paperback copy of his Dianetics book floating around the house when I was a wee child in the 70s. I am not a big fan of science fiction, so something tells me I probably won't be thumbing through one of his any time soon.
The readers' list also contained three books by an author I had never even heard of: Nevil Shute. After some investigation, I found that he was a very popular author of commercial fiction in the 1950s and 60s and the author of On the Beach (yes, the one that was made into a 1959 film starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner). I am guessing that many of the readers who cast votes for the Modern Library list must be "of a certain age." Meaning, quite a bit older than me. But with post-apocolyptic novels in vogue today, it might be u
'Curiouser and curiouser!' cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English);
Forgive me for feeling like Alice in Wonderland, but I was just perusing the strangest catalog from a company called MacKenzie-Childs. I have absolutely no idea how this gem found its way into my mailbox since I am not in the habit of purchasing $4,000 fireplace screens and $6,000 love seats. Is my zip code upscale???
Anyhow, it was definitely a trip through the looking-glass into the life of the 1% that the Occupy Wall Street movement is railing against. And I have come to the conclusion that the 1% must love checks and checkerboards. (Or at least, they must be "in" this season. But first, that $4,000 fireplace screen:
What? No turtledoves????
From the "Espalier" collection, it includes 13 hand-crafted ceramic pears in the "Courtly Check," "Parchment Check," marble and harlequin patterns, hand-formed cast brass and four "petite Cheltenham vases" (pronounced 'vaaah-se,' I'm sure. To accessorize your fireplace screen and have a place to rest your 'aaaaah-ze,' you can purchase a "Courtly Check" Tuffet and/or a "Preposterous" Bench (their adjective, not mine.)
A tuffet for your tush.
Miss Muffet couldn't ask for something more hideous: those rampant checks, the red velveteen button and strange ball and chain fringe, but the price is right -- a steal at $1,025.
I would agree that this bench is entirely preposterous with its faux marbling, checks, dots, gold leaf, wallpapers and that heinous glass-beaded fringe. But what's really preposterous? The price: $4,200!
But wait, there's more! For only $19.99, oops, make that $99.99, you can get a Courtly Check fluted dinner plate. And for only $625 more, we'll throw in a Pièce de Résistance Tureen!
It's a real piece, all right.
There's more where that came from. Click if you want to check out more of the egregious ridiculosity. As for me, I'm saying ta-ta to the Mad Hatter, climbing back through the looking-glass and running off to join the Occupy movement.
The latest edition of the J. Peterman Company catalog, Owner’s Manual No. 91, came over the transom the other day. For those of you who may not be familiar with The J. Peterman Company, it’s a retail company that sells clothing and fashion accessories primarily through catalogs and the Internet. It was launched with a travel and safari theme, featuring as its first product an original horseman’s duster.
The classic J. Peterman duster
The company expanded through offering unique lifestyle merchandise, which included reproductions of antique clothing and clothing worn in specific films (think The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and Raiders of the Lost Ark). The catalogs use long copy to explain the products, often recounting elaborate stories of how the catalog writer came across the product, with sprinklings of literary embellishments. Also, the products are illustrated with artwork as opposed to photographs.
"John Peterman" and Elaine
Its unique, one might say slightly pretentious air, earned it a place in the Seinfeld TV series pantheon of parodies, when, from 1995 to 1998, the show parodied the owner and the company with a catalog-company businessman named J. Peterman, played by John O’Hurley. The Company went bankrupt in 1999 after it was purchased by the Paul Harris stores. But it was resurrected by the original owner, yes, his name is John Peterman, and is once again sending its hip, literate catalogs out into our increasing illiterate society. It’s just a wonderful example of a company that has used storytelling to set apart its products.
Sure, the descriptions are silly; that’s why it became a running gag on Seinfeld. And that’s a huge part of its singular charm. Like the hand-drawn illustrations instead of actual photos. It rises above our generic, McDonald’s-on-every-strip-mall-intersection mentality. Some examples below:
The New Mrs. Peel (description theirs):
Vienna Leather Jacket
"Emma Peel launches out of a box hedge, cartwheels down the gravel path, and knocks unsuspecting John Steed flat with a karate blow from her shapely foot, then stands astride him, smiling down wryly.
Who says there was no intelligent television programming in the 1960s?
Emma showed that a woman could be powerful, even dangerous, and all the more appealing for it. Her leather jacket summed up the intriguing idea so well, it set us thinking: why not issue something updated for today’s special agent?"
Makes even the most unassuming mouse of a woman want to roar. Well done, Mr. Peterman.
And for the man in the new Mrs. Peel's life (again, description theirs):
"Parliament passes the national 20 mph speed limit, so the Auto Cycle Union (Britain’s premier motorcycle club) goes to the unrestricted Isle of Man and creates the Tourist Trophy races. The Mountain Circuit then was little more than a cart path across farm fields. They ran multiple laps, so the first rider out had to stop and open all the gates; the last one closed them. The lap record in 1922 was 55.62 mph. By 1939, it was 91 mph. Thanks in no small part to nerves of steel and jackets like this:"
1930s British Motorcycle Jacket
Do I have any idea what the above copy refers to?
But this jacket looks smokin' hot.
Okay, so it's that time of year when the catalogs start to pour over the transom in a cascade of glossy paper, reminding me that a thousand trees died to provide me with a good laugh. Trees who are about to die, we salute you. Where to begin... that is the question: the J. Peterman Company? Something called MacKenzie-Childs, a purveyor of outrageously overpriced ceramics and glassware? Isabella, with its "gifts for reawakening the spirit?" Or the ever-amusing American Girls catalog, which used to be sacred in my household, but now that my daughters have way outgrown its charms, is just for snicks-and-grins?
Decisions, decisions. So let's go for the low-hanging fruit... American Girls.
I confess to having a closet stacked with storage boxes of these dolls and their accessories (saving them for the grandkids, you know). My daughters found many hours of amusement playing with these lovely things, even into their adolescence, when they descended into mockery and condescension, which reached its ultimate expression in the creation of a monumental movie, appropriately entitled "The Tragedy," which starred their brace of dolls, a trio of the dolls' dogs, and the nefarious "Betty Loo," who was a doll of a doll (yes, a doll owned and played with by a doll). Don't ask - it's complicated.
Looks too young to be retired Felicity
Now I haven't perused one of these catalogs in years -- I find it hard to believe the company even found us here at our relatively new address, but to my shock, I discovered that my daughter's first American Girl doll, the original, Felicity Merriman from 1774, has been put out to pasture! And her historical compadres, Kirsten Larsen (Prairie Girl from 1854) and Samantha Parkington (Edwardian maiden from 1904) are also "archived," in the words of the American Girl Company, subsidiary of Mattel.
Julie, love-child of the '70s?
Instead we are now offered Julie Albright, a "fun-loving girl growing up in San Francisco during the seventies." Oh please, a hippie child in bell-bottoms replacing the redoubtable, pre-Revolutionary War girl? And what kinds of accessories will they be selling with her? Bongs and acid tabs?
Okay, so this has nothing to do with writing and reading... but doesn't everything really have to do with writing and reading and being an informed citizen? This is outrageous!
Let him pay for his own #$%@#$%$ kidney transplant!
No time to ramble on today -- but the advent of Siri, the voice-activated software on the just-released iPhone 4S, screams for a comment. Okay, so now people don't want talk to other people on their phones, they would rather just send a text. But they do want to talk to... their phone itself?
Someone's comment on the previous post. How could I possibly exclude the works of the master of chilly scenes of autumn: Edgar Allan Poe? Oops, I forgot... or, I was planning on devoting a special post entirely to him. You decide.
Top five stories from Mr. Poe:
The Black Cat: a drunk man kills his cat and it comes back to haunt him. (Hell on earth... this from an owner of three of the little monsters.)
The Fall of the House of Usher: no, not the tale of a wildly successful R&B singer... a creepy dude lives in a haunted house. (Yep, a classic.)
The Imp of the Perverse: a murderer struggles against the urge to confess his crime. Contains a fabulous passage about procrastination:
"We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow, and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with it a more impatient anxiety to do our duty, but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless, a positively fearful, because unfathomable, craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand. We tremble with the violence of the conflict within us, -- of the definite with the indefinite -- of the substance with the shadow. But, if the contest have proceeded thus far, it is the shadow which prevails, -- we struggle in vain. The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer -- note to the ghost that has so long overawed us. It flies -- it disappears -- we are free. The old energy returns. We will labor now. Alas, it is too late!"
The Tell-Tale Heart: another murderer haunted to the point of madness by his crime.
William Wilson: The narrator, who calls himself William Wilson, describes events of his childhood and adolescence and the rivalry between himself and another person named William Wilson. As the tale unwinds, we learn of numerous similarities between the two Wilsons. Are they twin brothers? or something else? Creepy!!
Autumn has truly descended upon our northern climes (this week is starting to feel more like mid-November -- but perhaps we are spoiled by last week's glorious last-gasp of summer). As the chill settles with the dying leaves, one's thoughts may turn to decline and fall of civilization as we know it... or one may find diversion in a good ghost story and other tales that celebrate the macabre. So here is a list, in no particular order, of some of my favorites:
The October Country by Ray Bradbury: a short story collection that fascinates with its exploration of childhood loss ("The Lake"), paranoia ("Skeleton"), the dark side of the carnival ("The Dwarf"), and fear of infants ("The Small Assassin.") You can't go wrong with any book that contains descriptive language such as this:
“That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.”
Dracula by Bram Stoker: The classic vampire story. Just thinking about re-reading the scene in which Jonathan Harker finds himself in a carriage hurtling along the winding passages of Transylvania gives me chills... and that haunting phrase "Denn die Todten reiten schnell" - ("For the dead travel fast").
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving: I have an audio version of this narrated by Glenn Close (from the Rabbit Ears recording series) that is simply mesmerizing. You can hear the crackling leaves, the menacing hoofbeats and smell the fog rising from the fields... all through the power of her incredible voice.
Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice: Their side of the story... told with elegance, wit and, of course, quantities of blood. New Orleans never seemed so luscious as when seen through the eyes of Louis, Lestat and Claudia, that unholy trinity...
Carrie by Stephen King: The Master of Creep... he writes a lot longer now... but he doesn't tell a story any better than he did in this creepy, bloody, soaked in the '70s tale of the tragedies that happen when high school bullying meets telekinetic powers.
The Horla by Guy de Maupassant: for a short story that was published in 1887, this chilling tale has a surprisingly modern theme of vampiric possession by an evil alien intelligence. But we are not talking little green men descending from the skies or Transformers transforming. This malevolent force comes from some unknown dimension to establish its reign of terror. Major shudders from the reader ensue!
The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke: This short science fiction story from 1954 is an engrossing doomsday tale that sucks you in with its run-of-the-mill descriptions of the Tibetan monks going about the business of listing all the possible names, including enlisting a computer and two Western programmers to help expedite the process, with the belief that the Universe will end when the task is achieved. The scientists are skeptics, but go along for the pay. The real kicker, of course, comes at the end, as the Westerners are flying back home... they notice "that overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out." How masterful to end it all with a whisper, rather than a shout...
The Latin saying goes De mortuis nihil nisi bonum, "of the dead, speak no evil." But here's an article that speaks to the truth about the late Steve Jobs and Apple. I don't particularly care that he was a bit of a tyrant and could be downright nasty to his employees. As far as the totalitarian control of his products, I guess he thought of it as quality control, rather than obsessive rigidity. The planned obsolescence factor of Apple does bother me (products that have a shelf-life of nine months or less before the next big "upgrade" comes along). But of particular concern to me is the child labor abuses in China -- when I think of all the American school districts clamoring to buy iPads for their young students. What everyone is too polite to say about Steve.
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