Monday Mark Twain: I Have Your Best Interests at Heart

What the mischief do you suppose you want with a post-office at Baldwin’s Ranch? It would not do you any good. If any letters came there, you couldn’t read them, you know; and, besides, such letters as ought to pass through, with money in them, for other localities, would not be likely to get through, you must perceive at once; and that would make trouble for us all. No, don’t bother about a post-office in your camp. I have your best interests at heart, and feel that it would only be an ornamental folly. What you want is a nice jail, you know—a nice, substantial jail.

— “My Late Senatorial Secretaryship”

I would love to see a politician be this frank. But that’s not gonna happen.

Weihnachtskarte 1904

How about this: we’ll do mail on top, jail on bottom?

Weekly Links Roundup 9/13

“Theory and Practice of Editing New Yorker articles” (pdf) by Wolcott Gibbs, sets out his list of 31 rules for editors at the New Yorker. (via Futility Closet)

3. Our writers are full of cliches, just as old barns are full of bats. There is obviously no rule about this, except that anything that you suspect of being a cliche undoubtedly is one, and had better be removed.


20.The more “as a matter of facts,” “howevers,” “for instances,” etc., you can cut out, the nearer you are to the Kingdom of Heaven.

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The Cricket Team That Wrote Everything: Seven Factoids About the Allahakbarries

Mr. Peter Pan himself, J.M. Barrie, started up a cricket team with his buddies A.A. Milne, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Jerome K. Jerome, G.K. Chesterton, P.G. Wodehouse, and a bunch of other folks who were no literary slouches themselves. This sounds like the beginning of a very witty literary joke, but it actually happened.

They were terrible at cricket. They called themselves the Allahakbarries, which they thought meant “God help us” (they were terrible at Arabic, too). Along with Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Sherlock Holmes, and Bertie Wooster, these gentlemen were also responsible for the following delightful stories:

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Twelve Stories About Caesars

A feeling of regret has often come over me that I was not reporting in Rome when Caesar was killed–reporting on an evening paper, and the only one in the city, and getting at least twelve hours ahead of the morning-paper boys with this most magnificent “item” that ever fell to the lot of the craft.

 Mark Twain, “The Killing of Julius Caesar”

I bet Julius Caesar would be pleased to hear that his assassination was the most magnificent news item ever. Makes kicking the bucket seem almost worth it!

Here are my favorite Caesar stories, one about each of the dudes in The Twelve Caesars:

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So Close, And Yet So Argh

Authors, please trust your readers to fill in the uneventful crannies in the story. It’s what keeps their brains busy. If you have an important scene at a school, and then later something plotty happens at the hero’s home …

You could write:

  1. The school scene
  2. The hero gets into the car
  3. The hero drives home
  4. The hero gets out of his car
  5. The hero walks from his car into his home
  6. The hero tootles around his house for a while
  7. Maybe the hero will go for a quick run before dinner!
  8. And take a shower after, of course
  9. The home scene

But I would love you more if you wrote:

  1. The school scene
  2. The home scene

Yes, this is about a particular book. No, I’m not going to rag on it here.

For a book that does a good job of keeping near-real-time narrative interesting, try Wool.

wading birds

Weekly Links Roundup 5/31

Did you know you can go to jail if you don’t return library books? Well, you can if you hoard over 10,000 of them, like Gustav Hasford. (Rodcorp)

This academic article on the self-treatment of writers’ block is surprisingly readable. (Futility Closet)

An angry (and funny) birder reviews all the state birds and recommends better picks. (The Birdist)

9. Florida.  Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird

I am finishing this post the next day because I had to go buy a new computer after I threw my last one out the window when I read that Florida’s state bird was the Northern Mockingbird.  I cannot think of a lamer choice.  What’s their state beverage, A Half Glass of Warm Tapwater?

What it should be: American Flamingo

Bill Watterson’s commencement speech for Kenyon College touches on what it means to be creative and what it means to have a fulfilling life. (Brain Pickings)

Directions for persons learning to write” is an extremely-legible instruction set from the latter half of the 19th century — and it’s about handwriting, not language. (The Vault at Slate)

Finally, this article tracing the evolution of the typewriter in pictures shows us a history that’s both beautiful and surprising. The first commercial model was called the Hansen Writing Ball (for obvious reasons). (io9)

Hansen writing ball, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Can be used for typing or as a dashing chapeau.

book bonfire

Don’t Piss Off Helen Keller: Ten Books That Should Be Anti-Banned

When German university students decided to hold a mass book-burning in 1933, they threw Helen Keller’s books on the pile. That pissed her right off:

History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them.

You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe, but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels and will continue to quicken other minds.

— Helen Keller

Among the authors targeted by the purge were Keller, Jack London, Hemingway, and Erich Maria Lemarque. The book burnings backfired spectacularly as far as American public opinion was concerned. Some commentators, like Keller, thought it was an abomination. Others, like Thomas Mann, thought it was an infantile display of “national drunkenness.” Either way, the bonfires lit a spark that drove 100,000 protestors to the streets of New York City the same day as the burnings. This just goes to show that trying to keep people away from books by force always, always backfires.

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star wars binary sunset

Read, Watch, Listen: Planets Align

This week, Jupiter, Mars, and Venus are all hanging out together in the Western sky just after sunset. Grab a sixpack and join them this evening (no special glasses required), then head inside and celebrate with a Read/Watch/Listen:

Read: Nightfall by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg. On a planet with six suns, darkness is rare and terrifying. This novel is based on Asimov’s short story set in the hours before a civilization-ending night falls on the planet Lagash– which happens just once every 2,049 years.

‘Of the six suns, only Beta is left in the sky. Do you see it?’

The question was rather unnecessary. Beta was almost at zenith, its ruddy light flooding the landscape to an unusual orange as the brilliant rays of setting Gamma died. Beta was at aphelion. It was small; smaller than Theremon had ever seen it before, and for the moment it was undisputed ruler of Lagash’s sky.

Watch: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, for the binary sunset in Tatooine as Luke contemplates getting off his bratty tush and going on a space adventure.

Uncle Owen: [about C-3PO and R5-D4] Luke! Take these two over to the garage, will you? I want them cleaned up before dinner.

Luke: But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!

Uncle Owen: You can waste time with your friends when your chores are done.

Listen: Age of Aquarius. Jupiter is aligning with Mars — and also Venus! This is called a conjunction, but we could also call it a double-plus Aquarius:

When the moon is in the seventh house

And Jupiter aligns with Mars

Then peace will guide the planets

And love will steer the stars

Happy back-from-the-long-weekend day, and may the planets align for you wherever you are!

bar fight

Monday Mark Twain: Searching for Raw Material

Two nonpareil columns had to be filled, and I was getting along. Presently, when things began to look dismal again, a desperado killed a man in a saloon and joy returned once more. I never was so glad over any mere trifle before in my life.

— Roughing It

Ah, the joy of finding inspiration — thank you, murderer!