Category: Literature

The Weekly Eccentric

Should We Love the Encyclopedia Even If It Doesn’t Love Us?

When asked what he wanted to do with his life, a young man supposedly replied, “Nothing, nothing at all. I like to study; I am very happy, very content; I don’t ask for anything else.”

That was me at age 23, except it wasn’t. It was Denis Diderot (1713–1784). Which is bizarre.

Diderot could’ve been the bizarro me. He was an ex-Catholic-turned-rationalist deist. I’m an ex-non-Catholic-turned-realist Catholic.

But we both loved to study as young men.

We also both liked women. Though I’ve limited my interest to just one, Diderot banged many, including a woman who, though not physically attractive, had such a virile tongue and “male mind” that men called her “the hermaphrodite.” He lost interest in her sexually after a while, since he couldn’t get past rumors that she was involved in a lesbian affair with her own sister.

My love interest, though not a hermaphrodite, played softball for four years in high school . . . and was the catcher, at that.

The bizarro parallels continue.

Diderot, like me, also had a lot of children. Four, to be exact, though all but one died young. Although he loved his surviving daughter tenderly, his home life wasn’t good. His wife was a harridan (which is one of the most under-utilized words in the English language (thanks to Joseph Epstein for bringing it back … Read the rest

Recommended: The Water Dipper

I really enjoy the column or website whose focus is to recommend links to online essays and articles. I refer to them as “aggregators” (which is the correct term when it comes to websites . . . I’m not sure it’s used to describe columns . . . no matter).

The biggest aggregator of all time was The Drudge Report. I don’t know why he went off the reservation last year. Some say he simply loathes Trump; others says he simply reverted to his Jewish liberal roots; others say he sold the site and didn’t tell anybody (either because he’s always been secretive or that was part of the deal). Either way, Drudge is dead . . . or severely crippled. Or a dick. Pick your metaphor.

The best aggregator of essays was Arts & Letters Daily. It’s still pretty good, but The Chronicle of Higher Education bought it in 2002 and it started the inexorable drift to the Left. Unlike Drudge, A&L provides a short synopsis.

If you subscribe to Medium, the editors send out a weekly roundup of recommended Medium articles. It’s one of the better e-newsletters I receive, but whereas Arts & Letters Daily drifted to the Left in the early 2000s, Medium plunged in head-first last year. Its front page often reads like an AOC Tribute page without the balance and moderation, though it does seem to have … Read the rest

Garden Writing is About More than Plants

The biographical, philosophical, meditational, and countercultural world of American gardening literature

Riddle: What literary genre has historical roots that predate Socrates; features hundreds of American writers including Thoreau, Washington Irving, and Edith Wharton; and is a genre that you’ve probably never even heard of?

Answer: American gardening literature.

Don’t roll your eyes.

It’s a thing.

American gardening literature is a blend

In fact, American gardening literature is a big thing.

I have three volumes of gardening literature anthologies in my home library alone. Amazon has an entire department dedicated to “Gardening & Horticultural Essays.” Yes, just “essays.” It has two dozen other departments dedicated to gardening and horticulture in general.

The genre of American garden writing runs the gamut from technical to inspirational, from garden bed blueprints to meditations on weeding.

There are, for instance, seed catalogs that merely list seed specifications. They hardly qualify as literary endeavors. And then there are literary seed catalogs . . . those rare (and free!) publications that are informational, occasionally witty, and serious about their prose (one of my favorites is published by Wild Garden Seeds in Oregon).

Among contemporary books, you have The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, which is my standard “go-to” book but hardly qualifies as serious literature. And you have Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening, by theologian-gardener Vigen Guroian, which might be lovely but scarcely talks about gardening techniques.

And then you have The Read the rest

Dostoyevsky’s Possessed in Modern Day America

“Peter Verkhovensky meet John Styn. John, Peter is the descendant of godless liberal enlightenment thinkers who now wants violence and revolution. Peter, John is the descendant of an ex-Baptist minister who likes to hug a lot.”

That’s what went through years ago when I clicked on a Yahoo feature story about a website called “Hug Nation” that promotes actual and cyber hugging. Hugs, hugs, hugs; it’s all about hugs. Young John Styn started it with his elderly grandfather, Caleb Shikles.

Relevant excerpts: “Hug Nation was the brainchild of Caleb’s grandson, John Styn, a Burning Man disciple, artist and Internet pioneer with pierced nipples, washboard abs, shocking pink hair and a dizzying creative energy. . . [Caleb] went to college, got married and became a Baptist preacher. A civil rights and anti-war activist, he worked with Martin Luther King for a week during a trip to Denver.”

A few things stand out about Caleb. He’s an ex Baptist minister, though he apparently didn’t lose his faith entirely (his funeral was held at a United Church of Christ church). He lived in California. He was part of the civil rights movement and an anti-war activist. Based on the foregoing and a few other things I read about the man online, I’m reasonably certain he had a strong leftward bent. I think it’s safe to say his faith was probably the watered-down version that’ is more interested in … Read the rest

Federal Government Admits Catholicism is True

Well, not really, but indirectly, through PBS’ Flannery O’Connor documentary

I greatly enjoyed PBS documentary, American Masters: Flannery O’Connor, on PBS last night.

I thought the producers respected her intense Catholicism. I’m sure they could’ve found critics to say sacrilegious things like, “Her dark humor emanates from a religion based on a Jew who had a bad afternoon,” but they didn’t. Her Catholicism came up frequently but always as a fact, never as a jab.

There were two forays into her correspondence with a bisexual and a lesbian (couldn’t leave those things out), but I didn’t interpret either as an attempt to portray Flannery as a repressed lesbian, and I’m sure they could’ve found critics to say things like, “Her dark humor emanates from her nascent lesbianism birthed from her Catholicism,” but they didn’t.… Read the rest

Hate the River-Rat!

I gotta say, I’m really enjoying Will Percy’s 1941 autobiography, Lanterns of the Levee. I’d heard of it for years but never bothered to buy it, much less read it.

The prose is beautiful, if a bit ornate by today’s standard, and he brings up topics that seem terribly antiquated in today’s world, with opinions and sentiments that are hardly politically correct, but not necessarily “Twitter wrong.” They’re just different, things that probably don’t arouse much animosity or admiration today.

It’s not too often one finds a strong opinion on something that doesn’t arouse emotion in today’s polarized world.

This portrait of the “river-rat” person really cracked me up for some reason:

Where he comes from no one knows or cares. Some find in him the descendant of those pirates who used to infest the river as far up as Memphis. . . Illiterate, suspicious, intensely clannish- blond, and usually ugly, river-rats make ideal bootleggers. The brand of corn or white mule they make has received nation-wide acclaim. They lead a life apart, uncouth, unclean, lawless, vaguely alluring. Their contact with the land world around them consists largely in being haled into court, generally for murder. No Negro is ever a river-rat.

Like I said, strong opinions but on topics that I doubt many people have a strong opinion on.

Another example, this time about the poor whites in the Delta:

The poor whites

Read the rest

How to Write for Surfer Dudes

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Photo by OVAN on

I spent last summer, taking digital essay lessons. They were part of a series that I call, “Learning to Write for Morons,” by

I learned a lot, but I can condense the lessons into one premise: If you’re writing online articles, you have a split second to keep the reader’s attention and you have, maybe, three split seconds to keep his attention. Tell yourself, “You’re writing for surfer dudes, almost literally. They have the attention span of gnats. Engage them.”

In order to do this, you need to follow these two rules:

1. Write great titles for your pieces (many authorities say you shoud spend as much time on your headlines as you do the article itself, which strikes me as ludicrous, unless perhaps you’re cranking out P.o.S. articles).

2. Lots of white space.

The second rule breaks down into a series of sub-rules: break your articles into sections, each section should be no longer than 300 (preferably, 250) words, use sub-headings, paragraphs should only be two or three lines long (it’s that last one, I think, drives traditional writers mad . . . I know it irritates me, but I use it as motivation to do the bulk of my reading from books).

The first rule also breaks down into a series of sub-rules, but the overarching rule is: Grab the reader’s attention so he’ll click on it.… Read the rest

Carting Away Hobbits

I’ve started to re-read The Lord of the Rings. While listening to Brad Birzer’s three-part interview on the National Review “Great Books” podcast, I realized that I had forgotten a lot of things about the books.

More troubling, I had forgotten a lot of the charming things about the book. Or maybe I had never noticed the charming things since I read the books in my teens. Charm, after all, is unexpected grace or enchantment, which is something I suppose most teenagers are incapable of feeling or, if they are, of recognizing.

Two weeks ago, I read the Prologue and Tolkien’s libertarian paean to the Shire. Last week, I finished Chapter One, “The Long-Expected Party.” Now I’m Chapter Two, where Gandalf confirms his suspicions about the Ring and Frodo decides to leave the Shire.

I’m greatly enjoying it.

As of this moment, though, my favorite passage is about the hobbits leaving the huge party:

“About midnight carriages came for the important folk. One by one they rolled away . . . Gardeners came by arrangement, and removed in wheel-barrows those that had inadvertently remained behind.”… Read the rest