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May 15 2015


Russia is the funniest country in the world. Some countries, like America and England, are funny mostly on purpose, while others, like Germany and France, can be funny only unintentionally. (But that counts! Being funny is tricky, so any way you do it counts.) Russia, however, is funny both intentionally (Gogol, Zoshchenko, Bulgakov) and unintentionally (Vladimir Putin singing, as he did at a televised event a few years ago, “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill”). Given the disaster Russian history has been more or less continuously for the last five centuries, its humor is of the darkest, most extreme kind. Russian humor is to ordinary humor what backwoods fundamentalist poisonous snake handling is to a petting zoo. Russian humor is slapstick, only you actually die.

Surveys that measure such distinctions often rate Russians among the world’s least happy people. To judge from the Russians I know, this information would hold little interest one way or the other. To Russians, happiness is not the big deal it is to us; the Declaration of Independence they don’t have makes no statement about it. On the street or otherwise encountering strangers Russians don’t paste big grins on their faces, the way we tend to do. They look sternly upon reflex smilers. Their humor is powerful without a lot of jollity, and it’s hard to imagine Bulgakov, say, convulsed and weeping with laughter, as I have been when reading certain scenes in his novel Heart of a Dog.

Daniil Kharms, a Russian writer who came of age in the worst of Soviet times, is categorized as an absurdist, partly (I think) because it’s hard to know what else to call him. To me he makes more sense as a religious writer. He is really funny and completely not ingratiating, simultaneously. I believe he knew he was funny and tried to be funny in his work, but I can’t find a single instance of him using the word “funny” in any of his writings, except at some distance from its straightforward meaning. In his personal notebooks, published for the first time in English in 2013, he never exults in how funny he has been or boasts that a witticism he said or wrote had ’em rolling in the aisles. For an American humorist or comedy writer such diffidence would be out of character, if not unheard of.

Kharms’s life gave him a lot not to be jolly about. He was born Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov in St. Petersburg in 1905. Formerly his father had been one of many young revolutionaries plotting against the life of Tsar Alexander III, a pastime that got him imprisoned for four years and then sent to a labor camp on Sakhalin Island for another eight. Later, Ivan Yuvachov became a Soviet in good standing and head of accounting at a power station. Kharms’s mother, Nadezhda Kolyubakina, was from an aristocratic background and a graduate of St. Petersburg’s Smolny Institute for Noble Girls.

Kharms offered a number of stories about his birth, such as that he was pushed back in after he came out, or that he hatched from caviar. Hunger to the point of starvation recurred in his youth, as he moved among relatives during World War I, and in his twenties and thirties in Leningrad when his notebooks record periods of going without food for days. He often got kicked out of things: from the city’s preparatory-level Peterschule at sixteen, from a college of engineering at twenty, and from the Leningrad Union of Poets at twenty-three.

He took the name Kharms when he was nineteen and he wrote under it for the rest of his life. A connection may have existed between it and the English words “charm” and “harm,” both evoking his interest in magic. It is pronounced with the same hard, throaty h that enlivens the Russian pronunciation of names like Hemingway and Huckleberry Finn. At that point his life was more than halfway over. The next year he met Alexander Vvedensky, Leonid Lipavsky, Yakov Druskin, and Andrei Oleinikov, his future literary collaborators and friends. Kharms wrote hard-to-categorize plays, published two poems (the only works of his for adults to come out in his lifetime), and with Vvedensky, Nikolai Zabolotsky, and others formed a movement called OBERIU, an abbreviation made from letters in the words “Union for Real Art.” Public performances by OBERIU participants angered audiences to near riot and received threateningly negative reviews.  ...

A Strangely Funny Russian Genius by Ian Frazier | The New York Review of Books

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June 20 2014

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June 16 2014


February 28 2014


February 27 2014


January 28 2014


Monroe Leaf: More Than Just Ferdinand

…Leaf himself claimed no ulterior motive for the book, saying that Ferdinand was innocent fun, written simply so that “Robert Lawson and I could have a good time.” But Leaf wrote many other children’s books including the Can Be Fun series of ten titles which address such topics as health, safety, manners, arithmetic, and geography in an instructive, humorous style. The first title in the series, published in 1934, was Grammar Can be Fun, which Leaf was inspired to write when he overheard a mother in the New York subway trying to explain to her son why he shouldn’t say the word “ain’t.” It was apparent to Leaf that the child didn’t understand what the mother was trying to tell him, and he began to think about simple ways to convey to children concepts of manners and speech. All the books in the series use humor to get their points across. Grammar Can be Fun, for example, introduces characters such as Ain’t (who is very lazy) and Yeah (who is an awful creature) along with Gimme and his two little sisters, Gonna and Wanna, who all work towards humoring the reader into doing the right thing rather than shaming him out of doing the wrong one.

Most of his books are directed towards the elementary school age child, but he did write one book, in 1938, for young adults, specifically for teenage girls, entitled, Listen, Little Girl, Before You Come to New York, a rather curious informational book for young women who are thinking about going to New York City to look for a job. It is a book which gives plain facts about the advertising, fashion and publishing industries and about dealing with landlords and boarding houses. One reviewer praised Listen Little Girl for being a book with all the answers, something that could be said of almost all Leaf’s children’s books, which give advice and guidance in a wide range of subjects with both sincerity and humor, and except for The Story of Ferdinand, there’s no bull in them.

January 05 2014


April 07 2013

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We shall see that at which dogs howl in the dark, and that at which cats prick up their ears after midnight.

- H. P. Lovecraft 

Reposted bysiriusminervalovecraftelcommendanterazielinikajajajaSakerosSpinNE555Krebskerio

April 06 2013

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Emir Filipović, an academic at the University of Sarajevo, was researching his PhD in the Dubrovnik State Archives when he stumbled across a medieval Italian manuscript from 11 March 1445, from “the 13th volume of a series of archival registers called ‘Lettere e commissioni di Levante’”.

Doesn’t sound that exciting, does it? But the discovery has placed Filipović at the centre of a social media whirl – because the medieval manuscript was stained with inky cat paw prints. I dropped Filipović a line, and he says he’s still surprised at how popular the photograph has proved to be (“Cats - walking all over your shit since the 15th century”, says a Reddit post).

“I think that one of the main reasons why people seemed to have a positive response to it is down to the fact that it makes you imagine the scene in your head when the cat jumped onto the book. This especially appeals to cat owners, who are, I suppose, familiar with such typical cases, but also to people who do not own pets since they can still identify with the unfortunate scribe,” Filipović says.

“One other important thing is that some people seem to equate the past times with history as a (boring) school subject focused primarily on politics and wars. They forget that the past was full of ‘normal’ everyday events, just like today, and a picture such as the one with the cat pawprints tends to remind everybody that people who lived in the past were not much different than ourselves.”

I think that’s spot-on – those of us with cats know exactly how annoying/endearing it is to have a purring feline trying to climb onto our keyboards while we’re working, and I just love the thought of a medieval scribe being equally irritated. If not more – at least we can just delete.

Could it also be down to the fact that cats and literature, as Filipović puts it in a blogpost about his discovery, make a good combination? I’m now trying to think of my favourite literary cats, and I’m swamped with choice. Obviously there’s the Cheshire Cat, but thinking of children’s literature makes me remember how much I adored Barbara Sleigh’s Carbonel books, and Paul Gallico’s Jennie, as a child – and as a parent how much I am now enjoying Lynley Dodd’s Slinky Malinki books. (“Slinky Malinki was blacker than black, a stalking and lurking adventurous cat.”)

Dodd comes up with some great names for her feline creations – Butterball Brown, Pimpernel Pugh, Greywacke Jones – but obviously, no one beats TS Eliot when it comes to the Naming of Cats. Mr Mistoffelees, old Deuteronomy, Rum Tum Tugger, Skimbleshanks – and my personal favourite, Macavity….

  Via Cats leave their mark on centuries of books | Books |

Reposted bysashthesplashbruxanaichkuroinekochrisMarsmenschen-vertragen-keinen-Alkoholcatsv2pxFreXxXroedel0rAnetzschkazoraxWeksnoirfaerysFiriathantihecpinkspaiderepheedieselmowerncmsapudziesztyfinkreghsicksinspinatlasagne

February 06 2013

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William Seward Burroughs, the literary prophet of everything weird that would happen during the latter half of the 20th century (including the 23 enigma) was born 99 years ago today, in St. Louis, MS.

Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the “greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift” while Norman Mailer described him as “the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius.” J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be “the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War.” Richard C. Kostelanetz wrote that “Naked Lunch is one of the more truly original and exciting pieces of prose to emerge from the fifties.”

Then there was the flip-side of that: English critic Philip Toynbee called both Naked Lunch and Nova Express “bor­ing rubbish, insufficiently redeemed by passages of brilliant invention.” Writer John Wain wrote of Burroughs’ work “From the literary point of view, it is the merest trash, not worth a second glance,” while Burroughs’ arch enemy, Truman Capote, had this to say: “Norman Mailer thinks William Burroughs is a genius, which I think is ludicrous beyond words. I don’t think William Burroughs has an ounce of talent.”

William S. Burroughs traveled to the Western Lands at the age of 83 in Lawrence, KS in 1997. …

Via my hot BF & Dangerous Minds | Happy birthday William S. Burroughs!

January 03 2013

Brunhilde slowly and silently leads her horse down the path to the cave.

Arthur Rackham
Reposted fromrainstormdragon rainstormdragon vialordminx lordminx

December 20 2012


John Silence, Physician Extraordinary - Wikisource, the free online library

John Silence, Physician Extraordinary By Algernon Blackwood To M.L.W. The Original of John Silence and My Companion in Many Adventures

November 20 2012


Charge Amazon, Starbucks and Google unpaid tax to fund libraries, says Winterson | Books |

… She also suggested that libraries be removed from local councils’ leisure budgets and put into the national education budget. “If we want libraries to take their place – I think their proper place in modern society – we can’t make them compete with sports centres for resources,” she said. “Libraries are doing more education work than ever. Libraries and literacy cannot be separated, I don’t see how this can be classed as ‘leisure’ nor do I see how we have a choice between getting our bins emptied and putting cash into libraries.”

Last week, as Newcastle council proposed closing 10 out of 18 of the city’s libraries, its director of libraries Tony Durcan said: “Public spending cuts mean the city council must make savings of £90m over the next three years, a third of our total budget. Faced with agonising decisions about child protection, care for the elderly and emptying bins – where do libraries, leisure centres and culture rank? I think we all know the answer.”

Winterson asked her audience if they believed in “the life of the mind – deep thought, concentration, reflection, real imagination – the expansion of the human spirit? Learning that is more than information? Creativity?”

If they did, she asked, “then for whom? For the middle classes? For the right kids at the right schools? If you do, then when – when we are rich, powerful, wealthy? Or as a priority whatever we are?” …

… Winterson is just one of many authors to have spoken out in defence of the UK’s libraries, 300 of which are currently estimated by the Public Libraries News website to be under threat or to have closed or left council control since April. Last week Philip Pullman, Julia Donaldson and Anne Fine were among the authors to attack plans to close Newcastle’s libraries. …

November 17 2012


October 25 2012


Scary stories for Halloween: The Colour Out of Space by HP Lovecraft | Books |

The horror of this story has as much to do with its setting as its characters

Chris Power
Thursday 25 October 2012

In my favourite works of horror and supernatural fiction, the landscape itself is at least as important as whatever beasts or phantoms may roam across it. From the deserted strands of MR James to the Danube of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows”, there seems to be a deeper resonance to those stories in which location is a junction between the mundane and the weird. HP Lovecraft, the American writer who, in a flurry of activity in the mid-1920s, defined the “Cthulhu Mythos” – a series of interconnected stories that Luc Sante has called “a sort of unified field theory of horror” – is particularly good at this. In his best stories, his descriptions of landscape are so meticulous that their woods and valleys are loaded with menace long before anything shambles or crawls through them.

The vast wastes and visibly ancient geology of Antarctica are fundamental to Lovecraft’s long story “At the Mountains of Madness”. In “The Whisperer in Darkness”, the evocation of rural Vermont’s “unfrequented hills” and lonely farmhouses are the story’s highlight. But supreme within Lovecraft’s work is his own invented corner of New England, Arkham (based on Salem and “full of witch legends”) and the surrounding Miskatonic Valley. It’s here, and to the economically but indelibly drawn landscape of “The Colour Out of Space”, that I most often return, especially at this time of year. Just consider the story’s opening sentences:

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glimpse of sunlight.

At Halloween, what reader could resist turning the page? …

Reposted bylovecraftelcommendanterazielini

September 29 2012

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.
— T. E. Lawrence (via kells-night-flight)
Reposted bysiriusminervaMyBlackWings

September 19 2012

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