Salinger's Jackets

In the 1950s Salinger had a clause put in his publisher’s contracts that insisted only the text of the title of the book and his name were to appear on any future editions of his work, and absolutely no images. This hard line was particularly prompted by an early fatal experience with a publisher who covered a collection of short stories, then titled for Esmé – with Love and Squalour (after one of them) with a dramatic illustrated portrait of a seductive blonde. Salinger’s outrage is understandable: his Esmé is a precocious young girl of seven, and the story depicts a chance encounter and redemptive conversation with a solider on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Nevertheless, it’s instructive to see how various publishers and nationalities have dealt with Salinger’s legal one-liner over the past half-decade of reprints and new editions.

I have a 1961 paperback edition bought long agi=o at a used book store. The copy was bought in December 1961 by Phyllis Kirshenbaum. Phyllis, if you're out there. I'm finished with your book and will gladly return

Andy and Agnes

I bought a bag full of photos this morning at the flea market as is my custom. I was delighted to find this gem among the pictures. Think of it as today's short story waiting to be written. Whose idea was it to come to the house of anti-gravity anyway? Sure, it's just an illusion, but it still makes the head spin. Why did Andy, or was it Agnes, think this was just the excursion to put some zip back into the marriage? Where are they headed when they leave? Lunch? Agnes wonders how she'll keep anything down. Back to the El Ranchero Motel? 

A Civilized Person


Donald Trump has failed at every one of Chekhov’s criteria for civilized people:


1) They respect human beings as individuals and are therefore always tolerant, gentle, courteous and amenable ... They do not create scenes over a hammer or a mislaid eraser; they do not make you feel they are conferring a great benefit on you when they live with you, and they don't make a scandal when they leave. (...)

2) They have compassion for other people besides beggars and cats. Their hearts suffer the pain of what is hidden to the naked eye. (...)

3) They respect other people's property, and therefore pay their debts.

4) They are not devious, and they fear lies as they fear fire. They don't tell lies even in the most trivial matters. To lie to someone is to insult them, and the liar is diminished in the eyes of the person he lies to. Civilized people don't put on airs; they behave in the street as they would at home, they don't show off to impress their juniors. (...)

5) They don't run themselves down in order to provoke the sympathy of others. They don't play on other people's heartstrings to be sighed over and cosseted ... that sort of thing is just cheap striving for effects, it's vulgar, old hat and false. (...)

6) They are not vain. They don't waste time with the fake jewelry of hobnobbing with celebrities, being permitted to shake the hand of a drunken [judicial orator], the exaggerated bonhomie of the first person they meet at the Salon, being the life and soul of the bar ... They regard praises like 'I am a representative of the Press!!' -- the sort of thing one only hears from [very minor journalists] -- as absurd. If they have done a brass farthing's work they don't pass it off as if it were 100 rubles  by swanking about with their portfolios, and they don't boast of being able to gain admission to places other people aren't allowed in (...) True talent always sits in the shade, mingles with the crowd, avoids the limelight ... As Krylov said, the empty barrel makes more noise than the full one. (...)

7) If they do possess talent, they value it ... They take pride in it ... they know they have a responsibility to exert a civilizing influence on [others] rather than aimlessly hanging out with them. And they are fastidious in their habits. (...)

8) They work at developing their aesthetic sensibility ... Civilized people don't simply obey their baser instincts ... they require mens sana in corpore sano.





Some people don’t like semicolons:


Kurt Vonnegut: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.”


Gertrude Stein: “[Semicolons] are more powerful more imposing more pretentious than a comma but they are a comma all the same. They really have within them deeply within them fundamentally within them the comma nature.”



Some do:


Abraham Lincoln: “With educated people, I suppose, punctuation is a matter of rule; with me it is a matter of feeling. But I must say I have a great respect for the semi-colon; it's a useful little chap.”


Lewis Thomas: “I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.”


Why Vonnegut gets so exercised about semicolons is puzzling. First of all he uses them. Here in the last sentence of his story “2 B R 0 2 B”: "Thank you, sir," said the hostess. "Your city thanks you; your country thanks you; your planet thanks you. But the deepest thanks of all is from future generations." And here in the first sentence of his story “Miss Temptation”: “Puritanism had fallen into such disrepair that not even the oldest spinster thought of putting Susanna in a ducking stool; not even the oldest farmer suspected that Susanna’s diabolical beauty had made his cow run dry.” And what’s he got against cross-dressers? And is the hermaphrodite remark meant to convey the mixed characteristics of the male comma and the female period? I’ll leave that to you.


The reputable mark of punctuation has three jobs to do and does them well:

1.   To separate (or join) two independent clauses used without a conjunction, the use of the semicolon rather than a period indicating a close relationship between the clauses: I kissed the girl; I ascended into heaven.

2.   To join two main clauses also separated by a conjunctive adverb, such as however or therefore, followed by a comma.

3.   To separate items in a series or list when the items themselves contain commas or are long and complex. Try making sense of this series without them (I have here replaced the semicolons with Stein’s preferred commas): “Well there's egg and bacon egg, sausage and bacon, egg and spam, egg, bacon and spam, egg, bacon, sausage and spam, spam, bacon, sausage and spam, spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam, spam, spam, spam, egg and spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam, spam and spam, or lobster thermidor aux crevettes, with a mornay sauce garnished with truffle paté, brandy and a fried egg on top and spam.”



Stein claims to admire the “comma nature,” but refuses to use conventional commas in her explanation, making us wonder if all she really wants it to call attention to her “daring” and “risky” prose style.







“We don’t need no stinkin’ semicolons!”

--some bandito from a Cormac McCarthy novel


The purpose of punctuation is to group words by means of conventional marks so that the meaning and the relationship of the words are clear; the absence of those marks would obscure the meaning. The Chicago Manual of Style says the function of punctuation is “to promote ease of reading by clarifying relationships within and between sentences. This function, although it allows for a degree of subjectivity, should in turn be governed by the consistent application of some basic principles lest the subjective element obscure the meaning.”












the serial comma





After winning the Academy Award, Matthew McConaughey thanked his parents, Jennifer Garner, and Jared Leto.




After winning the Academy Award, Matthew McConaughey thanked his parents, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto.


Without the comma we have a false appositive.




Mary was proud of her recipes for cupcakes: marzipan, almond and coconut and chocolate chip.


(Is it almond and coconut or is it coconut and chocolate chip or are all three combined?)

Book dedication: To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.


The writer is a demigod with an inherited tin ear for language?


Since you have to use it in some cases to prevent confusion, be consistent, and use it always.






what I meant to say

A Guardian contributor mistakenly cited Sir Patrick Stewart as being gay, resulting in this correction:

This article was amended on 17 February 2014. The third paragraph originally said ‘Some gay people, such as Sir Patrick Stewart, think Page’s coming out speech is newsworthy’. This should have read ‘Some people, such as Sir Patrick Stewart, think Page’s coming out speech is newsworthy’.


It's 1941. The Fourth of July company picnic out at Wallum Lake. Prospects of adventure and heroism have emboldened our young man, Eugene, who has affected the shades and the rakish tilt to his fedora. His boss, Mr. Randall, has no intention of actually eating the messy watermelon. He's told Eugene that the plant will soon be retooling for the coming war. Eugene has been dating Mr. Randall's daughter, Van. He has something to say to Mr. Randall. Mr. Randall says the war will be a boon for the economy.

pie eaters.jpg

about suffering

The sign in the window in this detail of a photo by I. Russell Sorgi says, "GIVE TILL IT HURTS HITLER." It's 1942, Buffalo. New York, and sandwiches are ten cents. The full terrifying photo follows and illustrates Auden's poem, "Musee de Beaux Arts."

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.