Category Archives: Prose Fiction

Follow the yellow brick road

Definitely an oldie but a goodie: in a 1990 paper for Journal of Political Economy, Hugh Rockoff put together a marvelous reading of L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) as an allegory of the pros and cons of bimetallism as a progressive-era monetary policy (caveat lector: there are some scannos in this copy of the paper). (The Free Silver crowd argued for the [inflationary] return to silver coinage as a means to break out of the U.S.’s late-19th-century deflation.) Those of us familiar only with the 1939 film version might scoff, but when Rockoff reminds us that Baum gave Dorothy silver slippers to wear, not ruby, as she skipped along the golden road—well, the parallels begin to line up. My favorite is the explanation of Dorothy’s vanquishing the Wicked Witch of the West (William McKinley) with a bucket of water: in an era when dryland farmers of the Plains west of the 100th meridian claimed that just a little more rain would make their lands bloom, it all makes sense.

(Ah, it turns out that Rockoff was anticipated by Quentin Taylor and others.)

N. Gregory Mankiw, Principles of Economics, 7/e

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Bibbity Dum-dum

A lovely simile linking the cinematic, literary, and pictorial worlds, from Anthony Lane’s review of P. T. Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice:

As a lyricist of California light, Pynchon is rivalled only by Richard Diebenkorn, who spent some twenty years painting his Ocean Park series in Santa Monica, and I doubt whether any director—dead or alive, Altman or Anderson—could really conjure a style to match the long surge of a Pynchon sentence as it rolls inexhaustibly onward.

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Robbe-Grillet decoded

Five words and phrases from Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie that I know I never learned in high school:

le margouillat
any of various species of lizard; on the narrator’s banana plantation, probably the gecko Hemidactylus frenatus
l’igname (f.)
yam, of genus Dioscorea
la crémone
window-latch, perhaps named for the city of the same name
zone blanche
“blank area”, in Richard Howard’s translation; blanc having the senses of “unwritten”, “innocent”

A… n’est plus à la fenêtre. Ni celle-ci ni aucune des deux autres ne révèle sa présence dans la pièce. Et il n’y a plus de raison pour la supposer dans l’une quelconque des trois zones blanches, plutôt que dans une autre.

A… is no longer at the window. Neither this window nor either of the two others reveals her presence in the room. And there is no longer any reason to suppose her in any one of the three blank areas rather than in any other.

dans le sens inverse des aiguilles d’une montre
counterclockwise
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Munro decoded

Flo kept the candy up behind the counter, on a slanted shelf, in open boxes, out of reach but not out of sight of children. Rose had to watch her chance, then climb up on the stool and fill a bag whatever she could grab—gum drops, jelly beans, licorice allsorts, maple buds, chicken bones.

—Alice Munro, “Privilege,” The Beggar Maid

Chicken bones? This old-timey confection turns out to be a hard candy tube, usually butterscotch or molasses, filled with peanut butter and rolled in cocoanut. The actual candy doesn’t sound any more palatable than its metaphorical tenor.

There is another version, cinnamon stuffed with bittersweet chocolate, from Ganong of New Brunswick, that sounds much tastier.

She went into the dining to check the money she had saved from Family Allowance checks. It was in the bottom of the silver muffin dish. Thirteen dollars. She meant to add that to what Patrick gave her to get to Victoria.

—”Mischief,” The Beggar Maid

Canada’s Family Allowance program went into effect in 1945 as its first non-means-tested income redistribution plan. At the time the story takes place (about 1960?), Rose would have received about six dollars a month for her daughter Anna. Reforms of the program in the 1970s began to wear away at its universal subsidy provisions; the program was completely replaced with the Child Tax Benefit program in 1992.

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Zenith

Birthday greetings to Harry Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951), courtesy of the Writer’s Almanac.

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Rainbow Compsons

Faulkner meets Danielewski in multiple shades of awesome: the Folio Society, which heretofore I have associated with expensive, overdone editions of books that are never read, is releasing an edition of The Sound and the Fury that responds to Faulkner’s hope that each timeframe of the Benjy chapater be printed in a distinct color of ink. Expediency forced Faulkner and his publishers to rely on shifts between Roman and Italic type to denote the changes.

The Folio Society … drew on the expertise of two noted Faulkner scholars to work on fulfilling Faulkner’s idea. Stephen M. Ross and Noel Polk undertook the painstaking task of identifying each different time-level to be coloured, while keeping the original italic/roman shifts. We can never know if this is exactly what Faulkner would have envisaged, but the result justifies his belief that coloured inks would allow readers to follow the strands of the novel more easily, without compromising the ‘thought-transference’ for which he argued so passionately.

The Morning News

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June 16

Becky Hogge celebrates a double Bloomsday: not only is it the anniversary of James Joyce’s first, um, date with Nora Barnacle, but also this is the first year in which the text of Ulysses resides in the public domain—at least in the EU.

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Weird public thick-book spine point

Mark Z. Danielewski looks for love on OkCupid.

The Morning News

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Natty

My first writing assignment for my Conservation Philosophy class, a book report on James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers, has been posted.

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Time for a reread

Russell Hoban, ventriloquist extraordinaire/author of Riddley Walker, has passed.

(Link via Bookslut.)

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Showing up

Dwight Garner’s provocative challenge in last week’s Times magazine to novelists who publish infrequently,

If you and your peers wish to regain a prominent place in the culture, one novel a decade isn’t going to cut it.

is more than a little short-sighted. Did James Joyce forfeit his influence on literature, his place as a modernist, for publishing only two books in the 23 years after A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man? (Granted, all three works were serialized first, à la Charles Dickens.) Do we think less of Ralph Ellison for never publishing his follow-up to Invisible Man?

And yet, Garner makes a good point. He finds exemplars in Dickens, John Updike, Woody Allen:

Good times, bad times, you keep making art. Many of your productions will hit; some will miss; some will miss by a lot.

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I’m pulling for you, Aimee

Oddly, I find myself more invested in the outcome of this year’s Tournament of Books than usual. Maybe not so oddly, because I’ve read the two semifinal winners (but the field is still four—go figure) and I’d like to read the Jennifer Egan as well.

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I don’t remember any pirates

Via Leta, Rudbeckia Hirta summarizes Atlas Shrugged. If I’d had this precis to read back when I was in high school, I could have spent that week reading sexy science fiction instead.

People alternate between speechifying at each other with Tea Party rhetoric and then having sex because everyone would stop reading if it was just the Tea Party stuff.

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Potustoronnost?

Via Bookslut, a story from the Onion with steak to go with the sizzle of the headline (and byline, in this case): “Hey, Man, I Totally Get It; I’d Watch A 2-Hour ‘Biggest Loser’ Special, Too,” by A Collection of Nabokov’s Short Stories. Guess who just added something to his book shopping list.

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Some lists: 8

Via Bookslut, Simone de Beavoir, Pearl Buck, Nelson Algren (A Walk on the Wild Side), and Françoise Sagan were on the Times fiction best-seller list the week I was born. Not too shabby. The nonfiction list is not too bad, either: John Kennedy, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Nancy Mitford, H. L. Mencken (posthumously), C. S. Forester (crossing over from the fiction list with The Age of Fighting Sail), and Winston Churchill.

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