Category Archives: literature


Animal minds are simple, and therefore sharp. Animals never spend time dividing experience into little bits and speculating about all the bits they’ve missed. The whole panoply of the universe has been neatly expressed to them as things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks. This frees the mind from unnecessary thoughts and gives it a cutting edge where it matters. Your normal animal, in fact, never tries to walk and chew gum at the same time.

The average human, on the other hand, thinks about all sorts of things, around the clock, on all sorts of levels, with interruptions from dozens of biological calendars and timepieces. There’s thoughts about to be said, and private thoughts, and real thoughts, and thoughts about thoughts, and a whole gamut of subconscious thoughts. To a telepath the human head is a din. It is a railway terminus with all the Tannoys talking at once. It is a complete FM waveband  – and some of those stations aren’t reputable, they’re outlawed pirates on forbidden seas who play late-night records with limbic lyrics.

Equal Rites, Terry Pratchett

Language Oddity

The letter combination “ough” can be pronounced in nine different ways. The following sentence contains them all:

“A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”

There Must Be A Word For It

“I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly perplexing handwriting nevertheless, extraordinary pharmaceutical intellectuality counterbalancing indecipherability, transcendentalizes intercommunications incomprehensibleness”.

This is a sentence where the Nth word is N letters long. e.g. 3rd word is 3 letters long, 8th word is 8 letters long and so on.

I know about antonyms and synonyms and palindromes and anagrams and ambigrams and memnomics and even Tom Swifties but I have no idea what this one is called.

Burgled from the inexplicable gitwizard.

From the Catalogue of Lost Books

The Letter Q (1759)     by  “Jacques”

The year 1759 was a notable one in French letters. April saw the appearance of Voltaire’s Candide, June the Jesuit-inspired sup­pression of Diderot’s Encyclopedie, and November a scandale lit­teraire surrounding a lexicographical bagatelle called The Letter Q. Ostensibly an unauthorized “addendum” to Diderot’s work, it ex­tended the rebellious tendencies of the philosophes to blatant lengths by providing satirical definitions of “all Acadernie-approved vocabulary between pythonisse and rabtichage

Pythonisse and rabachage were respectively the last P word andthe first R word in the Academic’s official dictionary, but they were also politically loaded code terms. Louis XIV’s mistress Madame de Maintenon had been called “the Pythoness” in her day, and rabachage was Parisian slang for “courtly twaddle.” So the anti­-noble bias was clear from the beginning.

Tad Tuleja notes in his critique (TCoLB, 1989) that the entries did not soften its edge. Quai was not “quay” or “wharf” but the “honest man’s buffet, where he dines without tipping the waiter” -a reference to dockside fishing, which pro­vided sustenance for Paris’s poor. Question was not “question” but the rack-the torture device used in the Bastille and other prisons to “put the question” (mettre la question) to enemies of the Crown. Ouotite, or “quota,” was a specific quota: “the 110 percent of the honest man’s earning which is legally owed to the crown.”

This attack on privilege did not delight the king. Within twenty ­four hours of its appearance, La Lettre Q was condemned as trea­sonous, and reading it made a capital crime. It circulated widely sub rosa, however, and had a disturbing effect; many of the phi­losophes expressed chagrin that the writer had violated the satir­ist’s first law of self-preservation by so baldly removing the velvet glove. Diderot complained to a friend that “this odious screed will get us all killed.”

The editor of the Encydopedie had good cause to be anxious, for many suspected he was the anonymous Jacques; the king was known to have compiled an “enemies list” of other possible cul­prits, including Voltaire. Thanks to computer analysis conducted by Dr. Darius Dadadisque of the Palo Alto Center for Lexical Dis­array, we now know that the author-publisher was one Charles d’Evremont, a count who had lost a coveted sinecure and issued the work in revenge. Recombinant delta lexication showed that only d’Evremont or a nineteenth-century baker named George Swillings-Pond could possibly have created the manuscripts, and since Swillings-Pond had not yet been born, the authorship be­came obvious.

Dadadisque’s ingenuity has even provided us with biographical details. “Internal evidence makes it clear,” he writes in his introduction to the text, “that the author was a bitter and obsessed individual whose life had been ruined by the letter Q. In the year 1757, he had bought the exclusive rights to distribute quenelles­ those delicate fish balls so prized by the aristocracy at court func­tions in Paris and at Versailles. Somehow the royal license was awarded to a rival, and d’Evremont was left, as his coded intro­duction makes clear, with four thousand pounds of rotten cod. Hence his definition of quenelle as ‘a poisonous mush.’ ”

Historian Bebe Rossiter gives Jacques high marks in her critique of the philosophes as closet reactionaries, Face-Lifting the Ancien Regime. Dadadisque’s detective work is described in Weighing the Evidence: Word Density and its Relation to Authorship. That vol­ume also explains the recombinant system in detail, gives the spe­cific gravity of over two thousand Indo-European roots, and contains a free floppy disk.

Book Review; Skeleton Coast, Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul

This is the first chance I have had to review a book for some months. I will be perfectly upfront and admit to wishing I had not read this novel.

It is well written, fast paced, full of action. Yet it left me cold.

If I were a were a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association or a committed Bush/Cheney Republican I would probably accept the premise and the attitudes shown within the story.

I’m not. I have a certain respect for human life. The series of wholesale slaughters which take place within the covers are quite disturbing. Especially as they are carried out by a private group of mercanaries who have “old boy network” links with a number of Official American Agencies.

Can anyone say “Blackwater”? Complete with gaining information with torture. But oh so concerned about the effects such methods have on the torturer. They are the ones who deserve the sympathy, not the tortured.

Their opponents are black African insurgents from a number of countries and of course it doesn’t matter how many of them are killed in the story. None of them are more than just a face in the crowd. The very best way to have an enemy.

Mixed in with all this is another Republican stalking horse. Those stupid environmentalists who must be insane and who therefore must be capable of doing Really Nasty Things!  Things which involve large installations at sea which no surveillance satellite has ever noticed. No wonder those involved in the American Intelligence and Defense Agencies are paranoid. They are incompetent!

I have enjoyed Cussler’s novels up until now. Totally improbable and great escapism. However, there now seems to be a darker side to his imagination coming to the fore.

So read this if you must. You will probably enjoy it should you be a savage young male with a mental age of around 13-14, should you be a member of the NRA or should you be a Bush/Cheney supporter. Come to think of it, perhaps there isn’t much difference between those three groups.

Vile Puns From Bulwer-Lytton, 2008


Vowing revenge on his English teacher for making him memorize Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality,” Warren decided to pour sugar in her gas tank, but he inadvertently grabbed a sugar substitute so it was actually Splenda in the gas.
Becky Mushko
Penhook, VA


The Jones family held their annual family reunion on Easter going through over six dozen spiral-cut, hickory-smoked hams and several bottles of a fine Australian shiraz, before Farmer Jones, the head of the family, took the leavings back to Manor Farm to slop Napoleon and his other champion hogs but the seventy-six ham bones fed the pig’s tirade.

Michael L. VanBlaricum
Santa Barbara, CA

Dishonorable Mentions

Jan Svenson, having changed his fortune in the annual “Scandinavian King of the Beach” in Santa Cruz with a bottle of black hair coloring and thus standing out in a sea of fair-haired rivals to win the coveted title, realized the ironic truth of the old adage “That in the kingdom of the blonde, the one dyed man is king.”
Matthew Chambers
Parsons, WV

Dimwitted and flushed, Sgt. John Head was frustrated by his constipated attempts to arrest the so-called “Bathroom Burglar” until, while wiping his brow, he realized that each victim had been robbed in a men’s room, thereby focusing his attention on the janitor, whose cleaning habits clearly established a commodus operandi.
Jay Dardenne
Baton Rouge, LA

Nell Gwynn, a descendant of the famous English actress and friend of King Charles II, decided she would help French aristocrats, who were being decimated by the guillotine during the French Revolution, cross to safety in England by hiding them under her voluminous skirts and putting off French customs inspectors by confronting them with a face and arms covered with angry red pimples, earning for her the sobriquet of Scarlet Pimple Nell.

A Reading Meme

Petra tagged me for a booky meme a couple of weeks ago and I promised to post a response.

Here it is – but first the rules.

1) List the authors that were new to you this year, regardless of year of publication.
2) Boldface those which were debuts (first novel published in 2008).
3) Tag as few or as many others as you’d like.

Ok. I seem to have slowed my reading this year. Certainly since my return to the desert in August.

Still, there were several authors I read for the first time this year.

The Lying Voices, Elizabeth Ferrars – true – I have never read one of her books before!

Sign of The Cross; Chris Kuzneski – yeah yeah, another DeVinci Code clone

People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks – brilliant, wonderful, thought-provoking and one of the very few “Prize-winning” books I have read. I tend to avoid prizewinners as they are selected by a very small group of self-interested judges. I prefer to listen to the herd  🙂

“Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe”,  James M Ward. Hogwarts goes to sea, as the cover proudly proclaims. I read this at the same time as I was re-reading Dudley Pope’s “Ramage”.  I don’t think I will be breaking down any doors looking for the sequel which was so obviously being set up. I’ll stick to Ramage or the original Hogwarts.

The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde! I finally got around to reading some of the Thursday Next series. It took me a while to get into the first book but suddenly I was reading book 4 and I sat up and thought, “Hey! This is good fun.” Now I am in the desert and I am rationing my reading. I have two more in the series with me which will be read soon.

There are probably other “First timers” which I have left down in the city. So this list is all you will get  😆

Now, to tag a few people.

Truce because she lives and works in a world of books

Cathy because she lives books

Honjii whose  Harangues are so erudite I would love to know from where she gets her inspiration.

Kym whose beautiful writing matches her photography.

Litlove who is by far the nicest Literature teacher from whom I have ever had the chance to learn.

Daddy P, Metro, Bunk and Wandering Coyote may choose to join in as well.

In fact, anyone who wishes may join in. Just remember the rules above and link back so I can be nosy and see what you have been reading.

Camera Critter; Pushmepullyou

I was driving around the verge of our salt lake this afternoon when I spotted a species new to the desert if not to the folklore of literature and film.

The single-humped Pushmepullyou.


My Fiction and Me

Some readers may have noticed that there is a new group amongst my Blog Roll; “Idiosyncratica”. This is a group of blogging writers and readers who have decided to form a group and “do something” together, each month.

This is my contribution to our first effort. “My Fiction and Me”.  Each member should introduce the other group members to the kind of fiction they write or enjoy reading and explain a little about how it relates to them — why it inspires/drives them etc. Perhaps I went a little overboard with the “little” explanation.
I began reading before I was four years of age. I taught myself, with my mother’s bemused help, to read the back of a cereal packet. I ate Weeties for breakfast and was able to talk my mother into explaining just how that big word on the front of the packet told her it was “Weeties”. It seemed I had always known the letters and soon I had deciphered the back of that packet. Or, rather, I read a little more with each new box of cereal.

Living on a farm, distant from schools and in a time little removed from the horse and cart, I spent my first year of school learning at home. I gained several bad habits. The worst and most enduring was that I discovered that the writing I was reading was repetetive. So I only needed to look at a phrase to know what it said. Without concously looking at the individual words, from the age of five I was reading in phrases. I could see and register the minor differences without trouble. This habit meant I rarely looked at a word by itself. Spelling and pronounciation were foreign languages to me. They still are!

Comprehension was just something which happened. Once read, a book was remembered. Not the phrases but the salient points, the plot. I had plots and the children of plots running around in my brain from the age of six or seven. Plots which were all action yet I knew they needed and were about people. Instinctively I pulled back from writing people. That early year without schoolmates had marked me for life. I never did get to know how minds work, how people spoke, the differences in syntax and dialect. I heard it but somehow lacked the confidence to use it in a story. Instead I found a love of the predictable, of mathematics and science. I avoided the complexities of humanity. Yet I continued to read. I was still fascinated by the way words followed each other.

In a schoolworld where Shakespeare and Dickens were royalty, I developed a hatred of Dickens. His stories reminded me so much of the flat one-dimensional plots I had rolling around in my mind that I found nothing in him to hold me. Or to convince me that he was a great writer. Indeed, for my Eng Lit examination just before I wasn’t able to go to University, I wrote an essay on why I considered Dickens to be the greatest fraud in the history of English Literature. Somehow I was accidentally awarded a distinction for that paper.

While I had enjoyed my studies of Shakespeare, upon leaving school I discovered the true form of bookishness for a science-based readaholic. I found the realm of the Science Fiction magazine. AE Van Vogt, EE (Doc) Smith, Clifford Simac, Hal Clement and then the big three. Azimov, Clarke and Heinlein. Forget human interest. Here were Space Travel, BEM’s and Interstellar Conflict. There was also the humour of Clarke and Spider Robinson. I began committing more and more puns. In a twisted way they sometimes let me see a deeper truth. Mixed in with all this science was a good dose of Fantasy Magazine fiction. This developed through Tolkein into an abiding love of Celtic and Norse Fantasies. Lovecraft and Poe also had their influence.

My mother had introduced me to Agatha Christie and the detective novel. Where people act according to a formula and while strong emotions cause the murders, the unravelling of the mystery was always clinical, clean and scientific. This lead, somehow, into the action of Hammond Innes and Alister McLean. It was here I discovered the repeated plot lines. Spy tales and thrillers became a comfortable way to read words.

Shortly after I left school, I was allowing my lack of people-knowledge take a back seat to my more confident hormone-driven instincts and a girlfriend introduced me to Gibran and Khayyam. Suddenly there were words which took me inside my thoughts, which changed my view of the world. Not overnight, but over a decade. The progress was slow and inexorable. I had discovered poetry. At the same time I discovered I was not unique. Other people had deeply held feelings and ideas and urges. And in poetry I had discovered a way of expressing myself. I had long since discarded my childish storylines and plots and had decided I could not write. In my poetry I could express myself, and since I was not sharing it, it was safe to expose myself.

Over time I lost my youthful enthusiasm for God and Religion and while I moved, philosophically, towards atheism, I had developed a love of the druidic verbal currents of Tolkein, Lewis and others who wrote tales based on the Celtic magics. After several decades of Science Fiction I was moving towards the poetic and the mythic. Verbally I was punning and inventing silly rhymes yet writing virtually nothing. I was not in an environment where writing was expected. Everything was verbal, instantaneous and discardable. During the Seventies I had found the modern poets, the minstels, Diamond and Kristofferson and Dylan. Rod McKuen was in there as well.

Like much of society I stagnated during the 1980’s. A time notable only for the work of Meatloaf, and a few movies.  My Horrors were both Rocky and a little Shopped, my Gods became Crazy and rhinos stomped camp fires. These influenced my world view, not always for the best according to some who knew me. I avoided Abba and the rest of the disco insanity at every opportunity!

It was not until the mid 90’s when I discovered the internet and its usenet offspring, the news groups, that I suddenly found an outlet for decades of pent-up writing. I could rant in groups which discussed current affairs, I could be disgusting in groups which told off-colour and politically incorrect jokes, I could be inventively crude in the limerick group I began to inhabit. I began to relearn skills I had neglected. I found that others placed a value on my words. My writing began to develop a rhythm, a style of its own. Based upon the use of emotive words and images, using myth while addressing current themes. I used my poetic experience to shorten my longwinded sentences.  The strict limerick form taught me to condense a thought into as few words as possible and so, while I continued to write mostly free-form verse, the words became fewer and the content denser.

I discovered blogs as a place I could store my thoughts, as a place where I could both practice my own writing and find others writings, and as a place where I could be as self-indulgent as I wanted. At the same time, I discovered digital photography. For years I have used very cheap, always slightly blurred cameras yet I always had a vision of what could be done with photography and its resultant images. About five years ago I was able to indulge myself and purchase some good equipment. As a photographer I am self-taught and, like all philistines, I knows wot I likes.

I began publishing some of the images I had captured with my cameras. As my confidence in this hobby grew, I found I was using those images to fill in huge gaps between the few words I felt necessary to post with the photographs. It is true. A picture is worth a thousand words!

So, am I a reader, a writer, a poet or a photographer?

Sometimes I wish I knew.

Camera Critters #7; Magpie

The words were written a decade ago

The image was taken yesterday.

The deafness continues.

For which man can ever truly understand the thoughts of a woman?

Click on the image for a larger version

The Hunter of the Dark

more cat pictures

Really Bad Poetry

The poetry of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, had the honor of being described by Samuel Pepys as “the most ridiculous thing that ever was wrote.”

It’s right up with William McGonnigal’s verse.
Although it could well be worse

What is Liquid?

All that doth flow we cannot liquid name
Or else would fire and water be the same;
But that is liquid which is moist and wet
Fire that property can never get.
Then ’tis not cold that doth the fire put out
But ’tis the wet that makes it die, no doubt.

Nature’s Cook

Death is the cook of Nature; and we find
Meat dressèd several ways to please her mind.
Some meats she roasts with fevers, burning hot,
And some she boils with dropsies in a pot.
Some for jelly consuming by degrees,
And some with ulcers, gravy out to squeeze.
Some flesh as sage she stuffs with gouts, and pains,
Others for tender meat hangs up in chains.
Some in the sea she pickles up to keep,
Others, as brawn is soused, those in wine steep.
Some with the pox, chops flesh, and bones so small,
Of which she makes a French fricasse withal.
Some on gridirons of calentures is broiled,
And some is trodden on, and so quite spoiled.
But those are baked, when smothered they do die,
By hectic fevers some meat she doth fry.
In sweat sometimes she stews with savoury smell,
A hodge-podge of diseases tasteth well.
Brains dressed with apoplexy to Nature’s wish,
Or swims with sauce of megrims in a dish.
And tongues she dries with smoke from stomachs ill,
Which as the second course she sends up still.
Then Death cuts throats, for blood-puddings to make,
And puts them in the guts, which colics rack.
Some hunted are by Death, for deer that’s red.
Or stall-fed oxen, knockèd on the head.
Some for bacon by Death are singed, or scalt,
Then powdered up with phlegm, and rheum that’s salt.

106 Books

This is a meme I found over at Helen’s blog. One that (Un)relaxeddad and Anthromama have been doing recently. It is about LibraryThing’s list of the top 106 books that lie unread on people’s shelves. You have to bold the ones you’ve read of your own accord, underline the ones you had to read for school or university, and italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish. I’ve added an extra bit and have *starred* the books that are, indeed, sitting on my shelf unread.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick

Ulysses – I keep starting it
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The [A] Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
*The Time Traveler’s Wife*
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales – Most of
The Historian: a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible

Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – DNF
The Prince

The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes: a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
*Eats, Shoots & Leaves* Bit by bit in the bookstore
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

Book Review; Motor Mouth, Janet Evanovich

Another Alex Barnaby tale, this time based around the Stock Car world of on/off lover, Max Hooker. Lightly technical stuff is dispensed as the excuse for a plot which is enlivened by several deceased characters, the threat of deceasement (Why not? I haven’t invented a new word for days!) to the heroes and heroines and many chases in and around Miami.

The baddies are bad, the goodies are good and the goodies win, as they should.

Hooker is totally incorrigible. “Hooker kissed me, and somehow, when I wasn’t paying attention, his hand had wandered to my breast. Turns out race-car drivers also aren’t good with no. No isn’t a word they entirely comprehend.”

Evanovich is still light, trite, full of commas and very fluffy but her books are a fun way to spend an hour or two.

Book Review; Sign of the Cross, Chris Kuzneski

Yet another tale in the Dan Brown “Da Vinci” style. The biggest threat to Christianity in its history, yet another villain with unbelievable motives, particularly gruesome murders and innocents abroad. Oh yes, and two heroes who save the day. No wonder Clive Cussler said nice things about the novel.

Longish at 600 pages this is still readable, if only because the temptation to find out the “Why” is almost irresistible. The writing is competent and the plotting is meticulous yet there is an ultimate dissatisfication with the over all effect. The uninspired work of Dan Brown has a lot to answer for!

Should you be an un-repentant Dan Brown fan or a dedicated follower of Dirk Pitt, this is an excellent read. The testosterone is poured onto every page.