Thursday, 29 March 2012

Thurber's Rules

In his 1949 book, Thurber Country, celebrated author, cartoonist and satirist James Thurber offers some amusing rules for comedy writers, "established [...] after receiving dozens of humorous essays and stories from strangers over a period of twenty years."

Those rules are as follows.

(Source: Thurber Country; Image: James Thurber, via Wikipedia.)

1. The reader should be able to find out what the story is about.

2. Some inkling of the general idea should be apparent in the first five hundred words.

3. If the writer has decided to change the name of his protagonist from Ketcham to McTavish, Ketcham should not keep bobbing up in the last five pages. A good way to eliminate this confusion is to read the piece over before sending it out, and remove Ketcham completely. He is a nuisance.

4. The word "I'll" should not be divided so that the "I" is on one line and the " 'll" on the next. The reader's attention, after the breaking up of "I'll," can never be successfully recaptured.

5. It also never recovers from such names as Ann S. Thetic, Maud Lynn, Sally Forth, Bertha Twins, and the like.

6. Avoid comic stories about plumbers who are mistaken for surgeons, sheriffs who are terrified by gunfire, psychiatrists who are driven crazy by women patients, doctors who faint at the sight of blood, adolescent girls who know more about sex than their fathers do, and midgets who turn out to be the parents of a two-hundred-pound wrestler.

Also, I have a special wariness of people who write opening sentences with nothing in mind, and then try to create a story around them. These sentences, usually easy to detect, go like this: "Mrs. Ponsonby had never put the dog in the oven before," "'I have a wine tree, if you would care to see it,' said Mr. Dillingworth," and "Jackson decided suddenly, for no reason, really, to buy his wife a tricycle." I have never traced the fortunes of such characters in the stories I receive beyond the opening sentence, but, like you, I have a fair notion of what happens, or doesn't happen, in "The Barking Oven," "The Burgundy Tree," and "A Tricycle for Mama."

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Advice from Billy Wilder

Today marks a decade since the death of legendary filmmaker, Billy Wilder — a man responsible for writing and/or directing some of Hollywood's most iconic movies (just three examples: The Apartment, Some Like It Hot, and Double Indemnity). It therefore seems like the perfect opportunity to revisit his list of tips for screenwriters, as told to Cameron Crowe in the late-1990s and published in the superb book, Conversations with Wilder.

(Source: Conversations with Wilder; Image: Billy Wilder, via.)

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab 'em by the throat and never let 'em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you're going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They'll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they're seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then — that's it. Don’t hang around.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Rules for Detective Writers

As detective fiction took hold during what is now considered its "Golden Age," a number of authors felt it necessary to introduce some structure to the genre by publishing lists of rules, to be followed by their fellow writers. I've assembled a few below — from S. S. Van Dine, Ronald Knox, and Raymond Chandler — along with a list of "do's and don'ts" for contributors to Spicy Detective magazine in the 1930s.

(Image above via Flickr.)

Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories (1928)
by author S. S. Van Dine
  1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.
  2. No wilful tricks or deceptions may be played on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.
  3. There must be no love interest in the story. To introduce amour is to clutter up a purely intellectual experience with irrelevant sentiment. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.
  4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It's false pretenses.
  5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions--not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.
  6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.
  7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded. Americans are essentially humane, and therefore a tiptop murder arouses their sense of vengeance and horror. They wish to bring the perpetrator to justice; and when "murder most foul, as in the best it is," has been committed, the chase is on with all the righteous enthusiasm of which the thrice gentle reader is capable.
  8. The problem of the crime must be solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic séances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.
  9. There must be but one detective--that is, but one protagonist of deduction--one deus ex machine. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader, who, at the outset, pits his mind against that of the detective and proceeds to do mental battle. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn't know who his co-deductor is. It's like making the reader run a race with a relay team.
  10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story--that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest. For a writer to fasten the crime, in the final chapter, on a stranger or person who has played a wholly unimportant part in the tale, is to confess to his inability to match wits with the reader.
  11. Servants--such as butlers, footmen, valets, game-keepers, cooks, and the like--must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. It is unsatisfactory, and makes the reader feel that his time has been wasted. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person--one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion; for if the crime was the sordid work of a menial, the author would have had no business to embalm it in book-form.
  12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.
  13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. Here the author gets into adventure fiction and secret-service romance. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance, but it is going too far to grant him a secret society (with its ubiquitous havens, mass protection, etc.) to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds in his jousting-bout with the police.
  14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. For instance, the murder of a victim by a newly found element--a super-radium, let us say--is not a legitimate problem. Nor may a rare and unknown drug, which has its existence only in the author's imagination, be administered. A detective-story writer must limit himself, toxicologically speaking, to the pharmacopoeia. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.
  15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent--provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face--that all the clues really pointed to the culprit--and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying. And one of my basic theories of detective fiction is that, if a detective story is fairly and legitimately constructed, it is impossible to keep the solution from all readers. There will inevitably be a certain number of them just as shrewd as the author; and if the author has shown the proper sportsmanship and honesty in his statement and projection of the crime and its clues, these perspicacious readers will be able, by analysis, elimination and logic, to put their finger on the culprit as soon as the detective does. And herein lies the zest of the game. Herein we have an explanation for the fact that readers who would spurn the ordinary "popular" novel will read detective stories unblushingly.
  16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. Such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action, and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude; but when an author of a detective story has reached that literary point where he has created a gripping sense of reality and enlisted the reader's interest and sympathy in the characters and the problem, he has gone as far in the purely "literary" technique as is legitimate and compatible with the needs of a criminal-problem document. A detective story is a grim business, and the reader goes to it, not for literary furbelows and style and beautiful descriptions and the projection of moods, but for mental stimulation and intellectual activity--just as he goes to a ball game or to a cross-word puzzle. Lectures between innings at the Polo Grounds on the beauties of nature would scarcely enhance the interest in the struggle between two contesting baseball nines; and dissertations on etymology and orthography interspersed in the definitions of a cross-word puzzle would tend only to irritate the solver bent on making the words interlock correctly.
  17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by house-breakers and bandits are the province of the police department--not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. Such crimes belong to the routine work of the Homicide Bureaus. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.
  18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to play an unpardonable trick on the reader. If a book-buyer should demand his two dollars back on the ground that the crime was a fake, any court with a sense of justice would decide in his favor and add a stinging reprimand to the author who thus hoodwinked a trusting and kind-hearted reader.
  19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction--in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader's everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.
  20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective-story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author's ineptitude and lack of originality.

    (a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect.
    (b) The bogus spiritualistic séance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away.
    (c) Forged finger-prints.
    (d) The dummy-figure alibi.
    (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar.
    (f) The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person.
    (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops.
    (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in.
    (i) The word-association test for guilt.
    (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth.
(First published in American Magazine, 1928; Reprinted in The Winter Murder Case.)

A Detective Story Decalogue (1929)
by author Ronald Knox
  1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.
  2. All supernaural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
  4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
  5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.
  6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
  7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.
  8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.
  9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
  10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.
(First published in Knox's preface to "Best Detective Stories of 1928-29"; Reprinted in Whodunit: A Guide to Crime, Suspense, and Spy Fiction.)

10 Commandments for the Detective Novel (1949)
by author Raymond Chandler
  1. It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the dénouement.
  2. It must be technically sound as to the methods of murder and detection.
  3. It must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere. It must be about real people in a real world.
  4. It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element: i.e., the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading.
  5. It must have enough essential simplicity to be explained easily when the time comes.
  6. It must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader.
  7. The solution must seem inevitable once revealed.
  8. It must not try to do everything at once. If it is a puzzle story operating in a rather cool, reasonable atmosphere, it cannot also be a violent adventure or a passionate romance.
  9. It must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law. If the detective fails to resolve the consequences of the crime, the story is an unresolved chord and leaves irritation behind it.
  10. It must be honest with the reader.
(Based on Chandler's "Twelve Notes on the Mystery Novel"; Source: The Whodunit: An Informal History of Detective Fiction.)

Sex in Detective Fiction – Do's and Don'ts (1935)
by Frank Armer, publisher of Spicy Detective magazine
  1. In describing breasts of a female character, avoid anatomical descriptions. 
  2. If it is necessary for the story to have the girl give herself to a man, do not go too carefully into the details. You can lead up to the actual consummation, but leave the rest up to the reader’s imagination. This subject should be handled delicately and a great deal can be done by implication and suggestion.
  3. Whenever possible, avoid complete nudity of the female characters. You can have a girl strip to her underwear, or transparent negligee, or nightgown, or the thin torn shred of her garments, but while the girl is alive and in contact with a man, we do not want complete nudity.
  4. A nude female corpse is allowable, of course. 
  5. Also, a girl undressing in the privacy of her own room, but when men are in the action try to keep at least a shred of something on the girls.
  6. Do not have men in underwear in scenes with women, and no nude men at all.
(Editorial guidelines published by Spicy Detective magazine in 1935; Reprinted in Snobbery with Violence - English crime stories and Their Audience.)

Friday, 23 March 2012

The 47 Dwarfs

In the 1930s, as they began work on the big-screen adaptation of Snow White by the Brothers Grimm, the writing team at Disney compiled the following list of potential names for the seven dwarfs — characters who, in the original story, were unnamed. As we now know, Bashful, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, and Sneezy were picked. The name of their leader, Doc, was chosen at a later date.

Note: Some twenty years beforehand, in 1912, the story had been adapted for the Broadway stage by Winthrop Ames. In that production, the dwarfs were named Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick, and Quee.

(Sources: Disney's Art of Animation, & Cartoon Monickers; Image via.)

  1. Awful
  2. Baldy
  3. Bashful
  4. Biggo-Ego
  5. Burpy
  6. Daffy
  7. Deafy
  8. Dippy
  9. Dirty
  10. Dizzy
  11. Doleful
  12. Dopey
  13. Dumpy
  14. Flabby
  15. Gabby
  16. Grumpy
  17. Hickey
  18. Hoppy
  19. Hotsy
  20. Hungry
  21. Jaunty
  22. Jumpy
  23. Lazy
  24. Neurtsy
  25. Nifty
  26. Puffy
  27. Sappy
  28. Scrappy
  29. Shifty
  30. Shorty
  31. Silly
  32. Sleepy
  33. Snappy
  34. Sneezy
  35. Sneezy-Wheezy
  36. Sniffy
  37. Snoopy
  38. Soulful
  39. Strutty
  40. Stuffy
  41. Swift
  42. Tearful
  43. Thrifty
  44. Weepy
  45. Wheezy
  46. Wistful
  47. Woeful

    Tuesday, 20 March 2012

    How the Universe works

    From award-winning science fiction author Larry Niven comes a list that describes, in his own words, "how the Universe works" — also known as "Niven's Laws." Said list has evolved over the years and as a result variations exist. The version below is quoted from the book, Take My Advice, published in 2007.

    (Source: Take My Advice; Image: Larry Niven, via Wikipedia.)

    To the best I've been able to tell in fifty years of observation, this is how the Universe works. I hope I didn't leave anything out.

    1a. Never throw shit at an armed man.

    1b. Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man. You wouldn't think anyone would need to be told this. Does anyone remember the Democratic National Convention of 1968?

    2. Never fire a laser at a mirror.

    3. Mother Nature doesn't care if you're having fun. (Please note: You will not be stopped! There are things you can't do because your metabolism uses oxidation of sugar, or you're made of meat, or you're a mammal, or human. Funny chemicals will kill you slow or quick, or ruin your brain...or prolong your life, if you're careful. You can't fly like an eagle, nor yet like Daedalus, but you can fly with a hang glider, or ride through the sky in something like a cramped living room. There are even answers to jet lag. You can cheat. Nature doesn't care, but don't get caught.)

    4. F × S = k. The product of Freedom and Security is a constant. To gain more freedom of thought and/or action, you must give up some security, and vice versa. These remarks apply to individuals, nations, and civilizations. Notice that the constant k is different for every civilization and different for every individual.

    5. Psi and/or magical powers, if real, are nearly useless. Over the lifetime of the human species we would otherwise have done something with them.

    6. It is easier to destroy than create. If human beings didn't have a strong preference for creation, nothing would get built.

    7. Any damn fool can predict the past. Generals are famous for this, and certain writers too.

    8. History never repeats itself.

    9. Ethics changes with technology.

    10. Anarchy is the least stable of social structures. It falls apart at a touch.

    11. There is a time and a place for tact. (And there are times when tact is entirely misplaced.)

    12. The ways of being human are bound but infinite.

    13. The world's dullest subjects, in order:

    a. Somebody else's diet.
    b. How to make money for a worthy cause.
    c. Special-Interest Liberation.

    14. The only universal message in science fiction: There exist minds that think as well as you do, but differently. Niven's corollary: The gene-tampered turkey you're talking to need not be one of them.

    15. Niven's Law for Musicians: If the applause wasn't louder than the music, something's wrong. Play better or softer.

    16. Fuzzy Pink Niven's Law: Never waste calories. Potato chips, candy, or hot fudge sundae consumption may involve you, your doctor, your wardrobe, and other factors. But Fuzzy Pink's Law implies:

    Don't eat soggy potato chips.
    Or cheap candy.
    Or an inferior hot fudge sundae.
    Or a cold soggy pizza.

    17. There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it. This one's worth noticing. At the first High Frontier Convention, the minds assembled were among the best in the world, and I couldn't find a conversation that didn't teach me something. But the only newspersons I ran across were interviewing the only handicapped person among us. To prove a point, one may seek out a foolish communist, thirteenth-century liberal, Scientologist, High Frontier advocate, Mensa member, science fiction fan, gamer, Christian, or fanatical devotee of Special-Interest Lib--but that doesn't really reflect on the cause itself. Ad hominem arguments save time, but it's still a fallacy.

    18. No technique works if it isn't used. If that sounds simplistic, look at some specifics: Telling friends about your diet won't make you thin. Buying a diet cookbook won't either. Even reading the recipes won't do it. Knowing about Alcoholics Anonymous, looking up the phone number, even jotting it on real paper, won't make you sober. Buying weights doesn't give you muscles. Signing a piece of paper won't make missiles disappear, even if you make lots of copies and tell every anchorperson on earth. Endlessly studying designs for spacecraft won't put anything into orbit. And so forth. But you surely know someone who tried it that way, and maybe you're one yourself.

    19. Not responsible for advice not taken.

    Friday, 16 March 2012

    Very rich Americans: polite letter

    In July of 1952, Nancy Mitford wrote to her friend, the famous novelist Evelyn Waugh, and asked:
    "What do you do with all the people who want interviews, with fan letters & with fans in the flesh? Just a barrage of nos?"
    Waugh's reply contained the following — a list of the stock responses he used in such situations.

    (Source: Evelyn Waugh: A Biography; Image: Evelyn Waugh, via.)

    I am not greatly troubled by fans nowadays. Less than one a day on the average. No sour grapes when I say they were an infernal nuisance. I divide them into...

    (a) Humble expressions of admiration. To these a post-card saying "I am delighted to learn that you enjoyed my book. E. W."
    (b) Impudent criticism. No answer.
    (c) Bores who wish to tell me about themselves. Post-card saying "Thank you for interesting letter. E. W."
    (d) Technical criticism, eg. One has made a character go to Salisbury from Paddington. Post-card: "Many thanks for your valuable suggestion. E. W."
    (e) Humble aspirations of would-be writers. If attractive a letter of discouragement. If unattractive a post-card.
    (f) Requests from University Clubs for a lecture. Printed refusal.
    (g) Requests from Catholic Clubs for lecture. Acceptance.
    (h) American students of "Creative Writing" who are writing theses about one & want one, virtually, to write their theses for them. Printed refusal.
    (i) Tourists who invite themselves to one’s house. Printed refusal.
    (j) Manuscript sent for advice. Return without comment.

    I also have some post-cards with my photograph on them which I send to nuns.

    In case of very impudent letters from married women I write to the husband warning him that his wife is attempting to enter into correspondence with strange men.

    Oh, and of course...

    (k) Autograph collectors: no answer.
    (l) Indians & Germans asking for free copies of one's books: no answer.
    (m) Very rich Americans: polite letter. They are capable of buying 100 copies for Christmas presents.

    I think that more or less covers the field.

    Tuesday, 13 March 2012

    Newton's Sins

    In 1662, at which point he was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, 19-year-old Isaac Newton wrote, in his notebook, the following list of 57 sins he had recently committed — 48 before Whitsunday, and 9 since. It makes for fascinating reading.

    (Source: Newton Project, via Brain Pickings; Image: Isaac Newton, via Wikipedia.)

    Before Whitsunday 1662
    1. Using the word (God) openly
    2. Eating an apple at Thy house
    3. Making a feather while on Thy day
    4. Denying that I made it.
    5. Making a mousetrap on Thy day
    6. Contriving of the chimes on Thy day
    7. Squirting water on Thy day
    8. Making pies on Sunday night
    9. Swimming in a kimnel on Thy day
    10. Putting a pin in Iohn Keys hat on Thy day to pick him
    11. Carelessly hearing and committing many sermons
    12. Refusing to go to the close at my mothers command
    13. Threatning my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them
    14. Wishing death and hoping it to some
    15. Striking many
    16. Having uncleane thoughts words and actions and dreamese
    17. Stealing cherry cobs from Eduard Storer
    18. Denying that I did so
    19. Denying a crossbow to my mother and grandmother though I knew of it
    20. Setting my heart on money learning pleasure more than Thee
    21. A relapse
    22. A relapse
    23. A breaking again of my covenant renued in the Lords Supper
    24. Punching my sister
    25. Robbing my mothers box of plums and sugar
    26. Calling Dorothy Rose a jade
    27. Glutiny in my sickness
    28. Peevishness with my mother
    29. With my sister
    30. Falling out with the servants
    31. Divers commissions of alle my duties
    32. Idle discourse on Thy day and at other times
    33. Not turning nearer to Thee for my affections
    34. Not living according to my belief
    35. Not loving Thee for Thy self
    36. Not loving Thee for Thy goodness to us
    37. Not desiring Thy ordinances
    38. Not long {longing} for Thee in {illeg}
    39. Fearing man above Thee
    40. Using unlawful means to bring us out of distresses
    41. Caring for worldly things more than God
    42. Not craving a blessing from God on our honest endeavors.
    43. Missing chapel.
    44. Beating Arthur Storer.
    45. Peevishness at Master Clarks for a piece of bread and butter.
    46. Striving to cheat with a brass halfe crowne.
    47. Twisting a cord on Sunday morning
    48. Reading the history of the Christian champions on Sunday
    Since Whitsunday 1662
    1. Glutony
    2. Glutony
    3. Using Wilfords towel to spare my own
    4. Negligence at the chapel.
    5. Sermons at Saint Marys (4)
    6. Lying about a louse
    7. Denying my chamberfellow of the knowledge of him that took him for a sot.
    8. Neglecting to pray 3
    9. Helping Pettit to make his water watch at 12 of the clock on Saturday night

    Monday, 12 March 2012

    Franklin's 13 Virtues

    In 1726, at the age of 20, Benjamin Franklin devised a list of 13 virtues to live by for as long as possible, in an attempt to "live without committing any fault at any time." He then focussed on one virtue each week and kept notes on his progress. He began with "Temperance."

    The list read as follows.

    (Source: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin; Image: Benjamin Franklin, via.)

    1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
    2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
    3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
    4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
    5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
    6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
    7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
    8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
    9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
    10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
    11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
    12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
    13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

    Friday, 9 March 2012

    The Bookshop

    Italo Calvino's 1979 book, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, is a novel that sees you, the reader, attempting to buy and read Italo Calvino's novel, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. In one particular passage of the story's first chapter, the following types of books are listed as you navigate a bookshop, eager to locate Calvino's.

    (Source: If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, via Michael Vinson; Image via MorBCN at Flickr.)

    • Books You Haven't Read;
    • Books You Needn't Read;
    • Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading;
    • Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written;
    • Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered;
    • Books You Mean to Read But There Are Others You Must Read First;
    • Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered;
    • Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback;
    • Books You Can Borrow From Somebody;
    • Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too;
    • Books You've Been Planning to Read for Ages;
    • Books You've Been Hunting for Years Without Success;
    • Books Dealing With Something You're Working on at the Moment;
    • Books You Want to Own So They'll Be Handy Just in Case;
    • Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer;
    • Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves;
    • Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified;
    • Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time To Re-read;
    • Books You've Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It's Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them;
    • New Books Whose Author Or Subject Appeals To You;
    • New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Not New (for you or in general);
    • New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Completely Unknown (at least to you)

    Thursday, 8 March 2012

    Hemingway's Favourites

    In the February 1935 issue of Esquire magazine, an article by Ernest Hemingway appeared that was titled 'Remembering Shooting-Flying: A Key West Letter.' In it, Hemingway reeled off 17 books, all of which he "would rather read again for the first time [...] than have an assured income of a million dollars a year."

    That list can be read below.

    (Source: Esquire, Feb. 1935; Image: Ernest Hemingway, via.)

    Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
    Far Away and Long Ago, by W. H. Hudson
    Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann
    Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
    Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
    War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
    A Sportsman's Sketches, by Ivan Turgenev
    The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    Hail and Farewell, by George Moore
    Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
    Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
    La Reine Margot, by Alexandre Dumas
    La Maison Tellier, by Guy de Maupassant
    Le Rouge et le Noir, by Stendhal
    La Chartreuse de Parme, by Stendhal
    Dubliners, by James Joyce
    Autobiographies, by W. B. Yeats

      Wednesday, 7 March 2012

      Orwell's Rules for Writers

      In 1946, George Orwell published 'Politics and the English Language,' an essay in which he criticises the bad habits of many writers and promotes the use of clear, unfussy language wherever possible. Towards the end of the essay, Orwell provides the following list of rules for writers.

      (Source: Politics and the English Language; Image: Orwell at work, via.)

      1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
      2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
      3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
      4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
      5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
      6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

      Tuesday, 6 March 2012

      The Eight Kindes of Drunkennes

      Back in 1592, Elizabethan satirist Thomas Nashe produced and distributed a popular pamphlet named "Pierce Pennilesse," within which was written the following — a list describing the "Eight Kindes of Drunkennes."

      It seems that very little has changed.

      (Source: Pierce Pennilesse.)


      The first is ape drunke; and he leapes, and singes, and hollowes, and danceth for the heavens;

      The second is lion drunke; and he flings the pots about the house, calls his hostesse whore, breakes the glasse windowes with his dagger, and is apt to quarrell with anie man that speaks to him;

      The third is swine drunke; heavie, lumpish, and sleepie, and cries for a little more drinke, and a fewe more cloathes;

      The fourth is sheepe drunk; wise in his conceipt, when he cannot bring foorth a right word;

      The fifth is mawdlen drunke; when a fellowe will weepe for kindnes in the midst of ale, and kisse you, saying, "By God, captaine, I love thee. Goe thy wayes; thou dost not thinke so often of me as I doo thee; I would (if it pleased God) I could not love thee as well as I doo;" and then he puts his finger in his eye, and cryes;

      The sixt is Martin drunke; when a man is drunke, and drinkes himselfe sober ere he stirre;

      The seventh is goate drunke; when, in his drunkennes, he hath no minde but on lecherie;

      The eighth is fox drunke—when he is craftie drunke, as manie of the Dutchmen bee, that will never bargaine but when they are drunke.

      Monday, 5 March 2012

      The Fake Books of Charles Dickens

      When Charles Dickens moved into Tavistock House in 1851, he decided to fill two spaces in his new study with bookcases containing fake books, the witty titles of which he had invented. And so, on October 22nd, he wrote to a bookbinder named Thomas Robert Eeles and supplied him with the following "list of imitation book-backs" to be produced.

      (Source: The Letters of Charles Dickens; Image of Dickens, c.1860, via.)

      History of a Short Chancery Suit
      Catalogue of Statues of the Duke of Wellington
      Five Minutes in China. 3 vols.
      Forty Winks at the Pyramids. 2 vols.
      Abernethy on the Constitution. 2 vols.
      Mr. Green's Overland Mail. 2 vols.
      Captain Cook's Life of Savage. 2 vols.
      A Carpenter's Bench of Bishops. 2 vols.
      Toot's Universal Letter-Writer. 2 vols.
      Orson's Art of Etiquette.
      Downeaster's Complete Calculator.
      History of the Middling Ages. 6 vols.
      Jonah's Account of the Whale.
      Captain Parry's Virtues of Cold Tar.
      Kant's Ancient Humbugs. 10 vols.
      Bowwowdom. A Poem.
      The Quarrelly Review. 4 vols.
      The Gunpowder Magazine. 4 vols.
      Steele. By the Author of "Ion."
      The Art of Cutting the Teeth.
      Matthew's Nursery Songs. 2 vols.
      Paxton's Bloomers. 5 vols.
      On the Use of Mercury by the Ancient Poets.
      Drowsy's Recollections of Nothing. 3 vols.
      Heavyside's Conversations with Nobody. 3 vols.
      Commonplace Book of the Oldest Inhabitant. 2 vols.
      Growler's Gruffiology, with Appendix. 4 vols.
      The Books of Moses and Sons. 2 vols.
      Burke (of Edinburgh) on the Sublime and Beautiful. 2 vols.
      Teazer's Commentaries.
      King Henry the Eighth's Evidences of Christianity. 5 vols.
      Miss Biffin on Deportment.
      Morrison's Pills Progress. 2 vols.
      Lady Godiva on the Horse.
      Munchausen's Modern Miracles. 4 vols.
      Richardson's Show of Dramatic Literature. 12 vols.
      Hansard's Guide to Refreshing Sleep. As many volumes as possible.

      Friday, 2 March 2012

      A little bill of fare

      As he journeyed around Europe in the late 1870s writing his travelogue, A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain grew increasingly tired of an abundance of what he described as "fair-to-middling" food. He explained:
      "The number of dishes is sufficient; but then it is such a monotonous variety of UNSTRIKING dishes [...] Three or four months of this weary sameness will kill the robustest appetite."
      As the end of his trip neared, Twain began to prepare for his return to the U.S. by compiling the following — an enormous list of the foods he'd missed the most, all of which were to be consumed when he arrived home. It's quite a menu.

      (Source: A Tramp Abroad; Image via.)

      It has now been many months, at the present writing, since I have had a nourishing meal, but I shall soon have one—a modest, private affair, all to myself. I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill of fare, which will go home in the steamer that precedes me, and be hot when I arrive—as follows:

      Radishes. Baked apples, with cream
      Fried oysters; stewed oysters. Frogs.
      American coffee, with real cream.
      American butter.
      Fried chicken, Southern style.
      Porter-house steak.
      Saratoga potatoes.
      Broiled chicken, American style.
      Hot biscuits, Southern style.
      Hot wheat-bread, Southern style.
      Hot buckwheat cakes.
      American toast. Clear maple syrup.
      Virginia bacon, broiled.
      Blue points, on the half shell.
      Cherry-stone clams.
      San Francisco mussels, steamed.
      Oyster soup. Clam Soup.
      Philadelphia Terapin soup.
      Oysters roasted in shell-Northern style.
      Soft-shell crabs. Connecticut shad.
      Baltimore perch.
      Brook trout, from Sierra Nevadas.
      Lake trout, from Tahoe.
      Sheep-head and croakers, from New Orleans.
      Black bass from the Mississippi.
      American roast beef.
      Roast turkey, Thanksgiving style.
      Cranberry sauce. Celery.
      Roast wild turkey. Woodcock.
      Canvas-back-duck, from Baltimore.
      Prairie liens, from Illinois.
      Missouri partridges, broiled.
      'Possum. Coon.
      Boston bacon and beans.
      Bacon and greens, Southern style.
      Hominy. Boiled onions. Turnips.
      Pumpkin. Squash. Asparagus.
      Butter beans. Sweet potatoes.
      Lettuce. Succotash. String beans.
      Mashed potatoes. Catsup.
      Boiled potatoes, in their skins.
      New potatoes, minus the skins.
      Early rose potatoes, roasted in the ashes, Southern style, served hot.
      Sliced tomatoes, with sugar or vinegar. Stewed tomatoes.
      Green corn, cut from the ear and served with butter and pepper.
      Green corn, on the ear.
      Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, Southern style.
      Hot hoe-cake, Southern style.
      Hot egg-bread, Southern style.
      Hot light-bread, Southern style.
      Buttermilk. Iced sweet milk.
      Apple dumplings, with real cream.
      Apple pie. Apple fritters.
      Apple puffs, Southern style.
      Peach cobbler, Southern style
      Peach pie. American mince pie.
      Pumpkin pie. Squash pie.
      All sorts of American pastry.
      Fresh American fruits of all sorts, including strawberries which are not to be doled out as if they were jewelry, but in a more liberal way.
      Ice-water—not prepared in the ineffectual goblet, but in the sincere and capable refrigerator.

      Thursday, 1 March 2012

      When I come to be old

      Irish author and cleric Jonathan Swift is best known for Gulliver’s Travels, a biting satricial novel first published in 1726 that went on to sell millions of copies. It was only after Swift’s death, in 1745, that a list of resolutions was found amongst his personal papers, written in 1699 when he was 32 and comprising of advice directed at his future self.

      A much-needed transcript follows. This list can be found in the Lists of Note book, alongside 124 other fascinating lists from throughout the ages. More info over at Books of Note.

      When I come to be old. 1699.

      Not to marry a young Woman.
      Not to keep young Company unless they reely desire it.
      Not to be peevish or morose, or suspicious.
      Not to scorn present Ways, or Wits, or Fashions, or Men, or War, &c.
      Not to be fond of Children, or let them come near me hardly.
      Not to tell the same story over and over to the same People.
      Not to be covetous.
      Not to neglect decency, or cleenlyness, for fear of falling into Nastyness.
      Not to be over severe with young People, but give Allowances for their youthfull follyes and weaknesses.
      Not to be influenced by, or give ear to knavish tatling servants, or others.
      Not to be too free of advise, nor trouble any but those that desire it.
      To desire some good Friends to inform me wch of these Resolutions I break, or neglect, and wherein; and reform accordingly.
      Not to talk much, nor of my self.
      Not to boast of my former beauty, or strength, or favor with Ladyes, &c.
      Not to hearken to Flatteryes, nor conceive I can be beloved by a young woman, et eos qui hereditatem captant, odisse ac vitare.
      Not to be positive or opiniative.
      Not to sett up for observing all these Rules; for fear I should observe none.