Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Blurbosphere and two from Walden

Did William Safire just awaken from some Rip-Van-Winkle-like slumber? That's the only conclusion I can draw from his latest "On Language" piece, which delivered the astounding news that blurbs on book jackets are not reliable. Holy cow! I believe that the invention of the empty-headed, logrolling blurb came directly after the invention of cuneiform script. To report this as breaking news is something of stretch. (What I would like to read, however, is a survey of the blurbosphere's heaviest lifters. Richard Howard, for example, is rumored to have an entire bookshelf in his apartment devoted to Books I Have Blurbed, and I'm sure there are many other contenders for the throne.)

On other fronts: I read Walden last year, to the dismay of my friends, who were eager for me to get through my American Renaissance phase. (Now I'm better, thank you.) Anyway, there were two passages that I wanted to dredge up. The first seemed highly relevant to my life as a reviewer. Thoreau is talking about a French-Canadian woodcutter he often encountered in the forest around Walden Pond:
I asked him if he ever wished to write his thoughts. He said that he had read and written letters for those who could not, but he never tried to write thoughts,--no, he could not, he could not tell what to put first, it would kill him, and then there was spelling to attend to at the same time!
There you have my professional challenges in a nutshell. As for the other passage, it's a famous zinger from the opening pages of the book, where the author concedes that it's all about him, him, him: "We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience." Seldom in the history of literature has anybody tendered so ironic an apology--which is to say, no apology at all. It's funny: the closest Thoreau ever gets to Jerry Seinfeld. It should also be carved on the lintel of every blogger, assuming you can find one. A lintel, I mean.

Wine and spicy food may be clouding my judgment at the moment, but Thoreau sounds absolutely Montaigne-like with that comment. Does this mean Montaigne was like Seinfeld?

Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because MurderIs More Fun Away From Home"
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