Saturday, March 26, 2016

King George as a kid

This drawing of nine-year-old Prince George, the son of King George II of England, suggests he was an ordinary kid, given his circumstances in the mid-18th century.

Too bad he turned out to be King George III during the American Revolution, that is, a rather ordinary, unenlightened monarch who had the wrong long view.

Wonder what he was reading?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book review: Shakespeare: The World as Stage

Book review: Shakespeare: The World as Stage
Atlas Books, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2007
199 pages

You don’t have to be a great big Shakespeare fan (I’m not) to have a good experience reading this book. If you’re a Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods) fan, you have another reason to pick it up.

This is the kind of book that makes me eager to turn each page and read more. Bryson writes in his usual well-informed style. He marshals entertaining facts and frames of reference. He’s convincing when he debunks some of the notorious myths about The Bard.

F’rinstance, about five thousand books have been written by folks who don’t think Shakespeare wrote all those plays and sonnets, and who suggest the names of about four dozen 17th century contemporaries who might have been the real author(s). Bryson offers this guidance about the risible claims that other authors created Hamlet and such: “…no one has ever produced…the tiniest particle of evidence to suggest that they actually did so.”1

As you may know, mostly we don’t know much of anything about Shakespeare’s private and public life. There are several years during his life that are a complete blank in the historical record. He was a successful poet and playwright. He worked closely with a successful thespian troupe. He was a husband and a parent.

The thing is, Shakespeare was not a colossal celebrity during his lifetime. No one knew he would become the most revered genius of English literature. No one realized that he was adding 600 words like critical, excellent, leapfrog and zany to the English language. No one knew that more or less every English speaker today from time to time uses phrases first conceived by William Shakespeare, like budge an inch and foregone conclusion.

Shakespeare was one of many playwrights in his time—we know him now because he is a creature of buzz and a beneficiary of a couple gents who decided to publish all his works (the First Folio, published 1623) a number of years after he died.

About 80% of the roughly 3,000 plays by many authors that were performed in Shakespeare’s time are completely lost—we know their titles and nothing more. Most plays were performed only for a short time, and never published.

The fact that we can casually talk about anything “Shakespearean” is more or less the result of serendipity.

By the way, despite the fact that you and everyone else can recognize the iconic likeness of Shakespeare, there is no surviving portrait that was painted during his lifetime and no one knows what he really looked like.

1. p. 195

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Take it or leave it?

Actually, there is no “take it” part in this library, and the “leave it” part is fairly obvious….

….and you never have to worry about overdue fines, either….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014 All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Writing: I can tell you this….

Writing—what’s in it for me?

No one has ever seen the picture that’s worth a thousand words.

I think words can be pictures, and lovely songs, and bodacious scents, and private flavors, and early morning caresses that wake each part of you, one at a time.

I know some of those words, and, from time to time, I write a few of them…. 

Devotion: The Two Girlfriends by Toulouse-Lautrec

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Book reviews: how they got started….

A book review is something of value. At least, it tells you something about a book you haven’t read.

Let’s be candid: if you don’t know anything about the book reviewer, the value--not necessarily the quality—of the review is diminished. (I’d love to have an encyclopedia of the multiple reviews of reviewers who do it for a living.)

Book reviews aren’t as old as the hills.

In 1665 the Journal des S├žavans in Paris was a precursor of published book reviews, with non-opinionated summaries focused principally on publications dealing with biology and technology.

What we think of as book reviews can be dated to the 18th century, when magazines (also a new publishing concept at that time) began offering essays about books. An increasing number of books were being published in that era, and this created an audience for the reviews.

The words “book review” made it into print as early as 1861. Harvard professor Jill Lepore notes that “In the 19th century, an age of factories and suffrage, literacy rates increased, the price of books fell, and  magazines were cheaper still. A democracy of readers rose up against an aristocracy of critics.” Book reviewing found its niche.

Fun fact: Edgar Allan Poe was a notoriously caustic reviewer in the middle of the 19th century.
In 1900 an anonymous “Veteran Book Reviewer” wrote a piece for The Independent that was titled “Up-to-Date Book Reviewing.” Book reviewing had become a craft.

Today, with universal access to the internet, anybody can be a book reviewer. Fer gosh sakes, some folks think that worthwhile book reviewing is in decline because there are too many books to review.

I’d like to say there oughta be a law.

Ain’t gonna stop me from reading.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The wisdom of Charlie Munger

"A majority of life's errors are caused by
             forgetting what one is really trying to do."

Charles Thomas "Charlie" Munger (b. 1924)
Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett's right-hand man

In other words,
"Keep your eye on the ball."
"Do what's at the top of your list."
"Do the right thing."

Munger also says: "In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn't read all the time -- none, zero. You'd be amazed at how much Warren [Buffett] reads -- at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I'm a book with a couple of legs sticking out."

Reading isn't the only thing you have to do if you aspire to be wise…I think it's true that if you want to be an interesting person, if you want to be an interested person, if you want to make a difference in your life, and with your life, then reading is one of the preliminaries....

....and you have to keep it up, too….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Don't step in the....

"Run and get a book, honey, but don't let the camel step on you."

Remember hearing those words from your mom when you were growing up? No?

I guess you didn't live in Garissa, Kenya, when you were a kid.

It's an isolated place in Kenya's isolated northeastern province, near the dangerous border with Somalia. 

In 1996 a persistently dedicated gentleman named Mr. Farah sought book donations from around the world, set himself up with three camels, and started hauling books to poor, semi-nomadic people who lived too far away from any library, anywhere.

An unknown sponsor wrote this description when the book-by-dromedary service was in full swing:

"The library now uses 12 camels traveling to four settlements per day, four days per week….The books are spread out on grass mats beneath an acacia tree, and the library patrons, often barefoot, sometimes joined by goats or donkeys, gather with great excitement to choose their books until the next visit."

Here's the only website I could find about the camel bookmobile:

I don't know if this unique service, this feelgood eruption of civilization, is still active—the last online evidence I could find is dated 2008.

Hope the camels and books are still making their rounds with Mr. Farah.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2013 All rights reserved.