A Couple of Quick Ones

My HotEL (History of the English Language) class is getting ready to start a section on Johnson’s Dictionary tomorrow, which is cool, because today would have been the Great Cham’s 308th birthday. Kudos to the folks at Google for making that the focus of today’s doodle.

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Another point we’ve already hit in class is the variety of forms English can take, from regional dialects to creoles. However, I ran across one in an unexpected setting a few minutes ago, so I shared it with the kids, and now I share it with you.

Enjoy your day.

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Some Words from Northrop Frye

I find these particularly valuable in our current age.

It would be easy to compile a long list of […] determinisms in criticism, all of them, whether Marxist, Thomist, liberal-humanist, neo-Classical, Freudian, Jungian, or existentialist, substituting a critical attitude for criticism, all proposing, not to find a conceptual framework for criticism within literature, but to attach criticism to one of a miscellany of frameworks outside it. (6)

From there, Frye goes on to argue that the best these frameworks can provide is a sort of history of taste. (8) These days, the frameworks are overwhelmingly political in nature — and indeed, many scholars seem convinced that their particular political framework is all-encompassing, in the process transforming the metaphor to one of a Procrustean bed.

Those are not frameworks that interest me. Back to Frye:

The first step in developing a genuine poetics is to recognize and get rid of meaningless criticism […] This includes all the sonorous nonsense that we so often find in critical generalities, reflective comments, ideological perorations, and other consequences of taking a large view of an unorganized subject. It includes all lists of the “best” novels or poems or writers, whether their particular virtue is exclusiveness or inclusiveness. It includes all casual, sentimental, and prejudiced value-judgments, and all the literary chit-chat which makes the reputations of poets boom and crash in an imaginary stock exchange. (18)

If your interests lead you to the sort of work that relies on the kinds of frameworks Frye mentioned above, have fun — but we should always remember that what we may be doing is activism, which is not the same thing as scholarship.

Work Cited

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. 1957. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1990.

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Saturday Potpourri: The Long and Windy Week Edition

So the week started with a hurricane and ends with a football game. And there was other stuff too.

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We caught the fringe of Irma’s northeastern quadrant, but that was enough, thanks. All the same, the Dean pulled the plug on classes for Monday, and on Tuesday morning as well. Because I pretty much teach morning classes exclusively, this meant that I had to fit my week’s worth of syllabus into fewer class meetings and change a couple of due dates, but judging from the downed branches and trees in the neighborhood, it was worth it. We’re here to improve our students’ brains — not to have them dashed out by tree limbs.

Of course what we got is negligible compared to other folks who had to deal with the brunt of the storm. Here in Mondoville, we still recall the ugliness of the 2015 flood, so even the prospect of heavy weather can be unnerving. I wish the folks who caught a rougher deal this time a speedy recovery.

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One of the people who ran into trouble is Pam Stack of Authors on the Air radio (who will also be publishing a new anthology that contains a story of mine.) Irma demolished her apartment, and then the wreckage appears to have been scavenged/looted before she got back. Friends have set up a GoFundMe account for Pam, and if you have the resources to spare, you might want to drop by. She’s good people.

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I happen to be a member of Mondoville’s Tenure and Promotion Committee, and that means that I sometimes observe my colleagues in the classroom. While obviously I can’t go into specifics here (or anywhere outside of meetings with the candidates and committee), I can say that I find it rewarding to see how other folks run their classes and get their information across.

My own style is rather dated, I guess. Professors are often categorized as “the sage on the stage” or “the guide on the side.” I’m pretty much in the first group, and am far more likely to rely on the traditional lecture than many of my peers. Typically, I’ll give historical/cultural/personal background on whatever we’re reading, and then we’ll walk through the text together, and I’ll ask questions to make sure everyone gets what we’re discovering. As I said, I think that’s probably passé in an era devoted to the pedagogical idea that students “construct their own knowledge,” but it works for me, and I managed to learn some stuff that way, so what the heck.

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This afternoon marks the home opener for Mondoville’s footballers after a couple of rough outings on the road. This one should be — well, a different sort of challenge. We’re facing Virginia U of Lynchburg, an HBCU that recently lost to the non-scholarship U of Wisconsin at Oshkosh by 60+ points. In fact, a search of the records indicates that for several years, games against VUL may not have been considered as real games under NCAA rules. Unlike other “non-countables” (some of whom I’ve discussed here in the past), however, VUL is a real school with a lengthy history, and they have resumed their position as an NCAA-acceptable team.

All the same, this may be one of those situations where Mondoville can name the score. I just wish the visitors a safe trip, and hope that no one on either side suffers significant injury — a real risk for both sides in mismatches like this.

***

Anyone familiar with my gig reports knows that the Berries had a base of operations at the Art Bar, in a neighborhood of Real City called the Vista, not far from Flagship U. Unfortunately, ugliness can happen anywhere, and shortly after two this morning a drive-by shooting near Art Bar wounded eight people, with injuries ranging from serious to critical. Not the sort of thing one wants to wake up to. Fortunately, none of our friends at Art Bar were injured, but as I’ve learned, that’s cold comfort to the folks who were hurt. I hope the victims make the fullest possible recovery, and to the Columbia police? Good hunting.

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In much happier news, this is the Mad Dog’s birthday, and he’s celebrating it at a horse show with the Mad Doc and one of the Mad Pups, who happens to be competing at same. I’m glad to mark the occasion, not least because it reminds me that both of us are about to complete another trip round the sun. Hope to see y’all soon!

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Meanwhile, it looks like I’ll be getting back on the road again myself in the coming weeks. I’ll be in Toronto at Bouchercon in mid-October, and in December, it appears that I’ll be doing a Noir at the Bar reading in Durham, NC. Details will follow.

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As is my habit, I’ll close with some music. Since it’s the Mad Dog’s birthday, I think I’ll close with a tune from his favorite band. This one is a moderately deep cut from what is likely their definitive album, and it’s one I actually prefer to the better known tracks on the album. It also was my dad’s favorite song of theirs, and it pleases me to recall that today as well. From Queen, here’s “’39”. Feel free to sing along.

Happy birthday, Todd. See you soon.

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A Day with the Spawn

Yesterday was a scheduled Daddy/Daughter day, as we headed for Real City for lunch and a movie. The day’s activities were funded by the Spawn’s earnings; she recently broke the $1K mark in savings from her library work, and decided to celebrate a bit. I acted as chauffeur, driving Mrs. M’s car, which I had taken in for an oil change that morning.

We left home a bit past noon, and made it to Real City about a half-hour later. We went to one of the Spawn’s favorite restaurants, where we benefited from the fact that my birthday is later this month. Turns out that gets me a free burger — SCORE. Afterwards, I found a comfortable seat in the mall while she picked up a couple of items from a store one of her sorority sisters had recommended. From there, it was across the street to the used media emporium, where we browsed for a bit, eventually heading to the movie theater, in plenty of time to get our tickets for the 3:45 screening of the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s It.

Or so we had expected. However, when we got there, we were told the movie was sold out. The next available screening was at 6:15, which meant that we’d be getting home later than we thought, but you get what you get, so we got our tickets and swung by the local Kroger.

It’s funny — life in Mondoville has its perks, and I have simple tastes (e.g., a fondness for Underwood Deviled Ham or Chef Boy-Ar-Dee ravioli or spaghetti), but while I can get the stuff I need and most of the stuff I want at our three local supermarkets, I occasionally miss the somewhat higher-end shopping of Kroger. (Of Publix, to say nothing of places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, we will not speak — life in Mondoville does not allow for such beatific visions.) It also happens to stock canned Cincinnati chili and my favorite ice cream, so I picked up a few cans of Skyline. The Kroger also happens to have a Fourbucks coffee kiosk, so the Spawn and I got beverages (Chai frappe for me, water for her) and talked about writing, life at the college, and how much we were looking forward to the movie.

From there, it was back to the used media store for me, while the Spawn hit a used clothing store a couple of doors down. Finally, though, we headed back to the cineplex, just in time for the line to form for our showing of It. There were screenings of the film going on in at least four of the auditoriums, and apparently it had been (It had been?) doing boffo box office, to dredge a Variety-esque phrase from our collective pop culture history.

We were pretty close to the front, and the line was orderly and well behaved (with the exception of two or three young people who cut a corner and got into the theater sooner than they should have. May their popcorn be stale henceforth.) The Spawn and I got seats in our favorite location, on line with the screen’s center, maybe about 60% of the way up. The house wasn’t quite packed, but it was a near thing.

We made it through the previews. None of those particularly excited me, and one — for a remake of Death Wish starring Bruce Willis and directed by Eli Roth — just reminded me that All Graves Must Be Robbed. (Coincidentally, just the other day I was reading one of Lawrence Block’s books on writing, where he relates the story of how Brian Garfield’s novel was inspired by the vandalism and robbery of Garfield’s car.) I notice that Roth’s movie says it was inspired by the original film — the novel? Perhaps less so. Sic transit gloria literacy, I guess.

At last, it was time for the film to begin. As it happens, I read King’s novel when it first came out in paper — my mom was a big fan of his work, and while I’ve generally preferred King’s short stories to his novels, I was home from school for a weekend, and there you go. So that would have been about 1987, but it was funny how much of the book I remembered as the movie progressed.

The Spawn read the book a year or two ago, and has been stoked for the movie for quite some time. At one point in the movie, she whispered a bit of background info to me. “I know,” I said. “I’ve read the book.”

“You did? When?”

“Before you were born.”

“How did you remember that?”

“English professor.”

But one of the consequences of having read the book, of course, is that the movie was less scary for me than it appeared to have been for much of the audience. (Another factor may be that the movie — which declares itself “Chapter One” over the end credits — only covers the first half of the novel’s story, and personally I found the second part more frightening, even when I was in my early twenties.) Certainly the folks behind me were scared enough.

Having said that, the movie was pretty good. The move of the kids’ story from the 50s to the 80s (in fact, to a time by which I had already read the original novel) works well enough, and the young actors made a good ensemble cast. In particular, Jaeden Lieberher as Billy projects a teen Tom Hanks vibe, and Sophia Lillis plays Beverly very well. Jack Dylan Grazer looks like a Wonder Years-era Fred Savage.

Beyond the time transplant, there were some key departures from the novel. The film omits a couple of the novel’s more controversial elements, and relies on suggestion for another (the one the Spawn tried to fill in for me.) I don’t think the movie suffers for that — indeed, the omitted elements still create divides among some of the King fans I know. And while there are a couple of cringeworthy scenes, the violence is kept on a pretty manageable level — it’s horror, after all, not a cozy.

There are several nods to other films along the way — King’s Stand By Me and Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, most notably — and various suburbs and exurbs of Toronto do a nice job of standing in for Derry, Maine. The use of bits and pieces of 80s music are effective as well — especially a snippet of XTC’s “Dear God” about 2/3 of the way through. As I said, it was a solid enough movie. I enjoyed it, and getting to see it with the Spawn — who loved it — made it that much better.

When we got home at about 9:30 last night, the Spawn modeled her acquisitions for Mrs. M while I settled in to watch a football game I had recorded. It was after midnight when I came upstairs, and the Spawn was getting ready for bed. We agreed it had been a very good day.

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In Which the Prof Becomes Uncomfortably Aware that He Has a Birthday in 20 Days

I’m 51 years old. Barring something unexpected, I will soon be 52. Unlike the Mad Dog, who loathes the thought of aging, I share my mom’s opinion that getting older beats the alternative. Still, events over the past two days may have unnerved me a bit.

Yesterday, I assigned my freshpeeps a simple sort of explication/rhetorical analysis —  a 3- to 5-page look at the lyrics to a song of their choice. I encouraged them to exercise care in choosing a song — they’ll want to choose a song with some depth, but not one with lyrics that would require an overlong analysis. As examples of the latter problem, I mentioned Don McLean’s “American Pie” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

After I dismissed the class, I was chatting with one of the kids, and she said, “You said something about the song ‘American Pie'” — does that have anything to do with some movie? I know there’s a movie called that.” I explained that while the filmmakers probably enjoyed using the song’s title for their movie, the song was considerably older. “When did it come out?” she asked. I told her the song was released in 1971.

“My mom wasn’t even born then!” she said, and (maybe because she saw me wince), said, “It’s OK, Dr. Moore — you’re younger than my grandparents.”

“Good to know,” I said. Which was better, I suppose, than any number of replies I could have made.

But then there was lunch today. As is my custom, I had lunch in the school dining hall, where I go Monday through Friday with my colleagues and the occasional bold student. At one point, I was the only one at my table, and I saw a student walk past. She was wearing a Newberry T-shirt, and I said to myself, “Wow! What a coincidence! A Newberry T-shirt. I work there! How cool!”

And then I realized I was saying this to myself while sitting in the midst of hundreds of Newberry students, many of whom were wearing school gear, because we were in the school dining hall, where I was in fact sitting and eating because I work there.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t always been addled — but I could be wrong.

 

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Elevator Ahoy!

Do you ever have the urge to hang around in a shopping center or office building in the late 50s or early 60s? Don’t be ashamed — it’s a natural part of growing up. However, while I can’t direct you to a time machine, I can at least give you a bit of the ambience.

One of the pop culture accouterments of the era was the background music we now sometimes describe as “Easy Listening,” or more cynically, as “elevator music.” (Another term, “Muzak,” was actually the name of a corporation that produced and delivered the stuff to subscribers. It changed its name some years ago, but like Kleenex, Velcro, or Xerox, the brand is sometimes used as a generic.) One of the competitors in the market, the Seeburg Corporation (which manufactured jukes, orchestrions, and — for a time — Williams pinball machines), developed a special record player — the Seeburg 1000 — that played records made by the company and distributed to users in the pre-satellite era. The tunes included instrumental covers of popular tunes, light jazz, show tunes, and other music you might have heard over cocktails at a restaurant or over popcorn before a movie started at your neighborhood theater. The records were distributed quarterly, with a special batch of Christmas tunes at the appropriate time of year. The records played at 16 2/3 rpm, and the player typically held 25 records, each side of which contained 20 tunes. As the machine was cleverly constructed to play records without flipping them, a 25-record stack would play — you guessed it — 1000 songs at a go, with enough pizzicati and muted trumpets to founder a team of Percherons.

Seeburg went out of business in 1980, but devotees of the company and its products have created a 24-hour stream of this stuff, and fans of Space Age Bachelor Pad music and other aspects of the Mid-Century Modern aesthetic may find that it hits the spot. At the very least, it brings us back to a time when the term supermarket was used with irony-free wonder. I can’t guarantee this music will make your world look like this:

Southdale Center Mall

The Southdale Center Mall, from mallsofamerica.blogspot.com

but if you close your eyes, it may feel that way.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to “Senator Artie Mondello,” guitarist for the Delusionaires, a nifty band.

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Bonus Labor Day Potpourri

I’m letting lunch settle before I go for a walk and come home for some class prep, so I thought I’d share a little bit of this and that while I wait.

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First off, I’d like to put in a plug for a friend of mine’s blog. Will was a classmate of mine at the small college I attended for a couple of years after high school. He was there on the same scholarship I had, but unlike me, he kept his, and went on to become a math prof at a college in Kentucky that bears similarities both to our mutual alma mater and Mondoville. He’s also a restaurant-quality music buff (we initially met through the college radio station), and his blog, The Music of My Life, is a nifty exploration of memoir-with-soundtrack. We were and are friends (although I suspect I was the evil-Spock-with-a-goatee version of him in more than a few ways), but I’d recommend the blog even if I didn’t know him that well — it’s good reading. And listening.

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Speaking of music, I’ve mentioned the odd story of “outsider band” The Shaggs in past installments. As it happens, the two surviving members of the trio — Betty and Dot Wiggin (the drummer, their sister Helen, died in 2006) recently did a rare gig at Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival, and the New Yorker has covered this as well. Check it out.

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I spent some of last night and this morning reviewing line edits for the reissue of Broken Glass Waltzes (with a nifty new pulp-style cover with art by James Ray Tuck) that will come out in October. Some of the edits seem to have been matters of house style, but several others I think were distinct improvements, so I’m grateful to the folks at Down & Out for the chance to make my book better. I hope you’ll get to enjoy it soon as well.

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And with that, I really need to get started on my stroll, but here’s a bit of the music I like to listen to while I alternate feet. I hope the long weekend has treated you well, and that we see one another soon!

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