February 20, 2010

Mostly serious Sherlockians

Leslie S. Klinger, editor of The new annotated Sherlock Holmes and member of the Baker Street Irregulars, has contributed this comment on last month's lighthearted Books in the City post on the wide world of Sherlock Holmes fans:

"You've got your facts slightly wrong about the Irregulars. Actually, we're a mostly serious bunch, with a fine journal (the Baker Street Journal). There is no "dress-up" involved in the BSI's activities (other than a dinner in formal, usually contemporary, attire). For more about the BSI publications, check out www.bakerstreetjournal.com. The "Bloodstain" is a gathering of a small group of Sherlockians who are also fans of P. G. Wodehouse and is not affiliated with the BSI."

Books in the City replies:

Dear Mr. Klinger, I am honoured to hear from you.

I apologise if it sounded as though the Baker Street Irregulars dress up outlandishly, rather than formally. Perhaps a little dancing man kicked the comma off the page. "Unlike the Americans comma and the Brits with their propensity for panto-style high jinks..."

I assure you that my delight in the BSI’s whimsy and in their appreciation of a fine Madeira in no way diminishes my respect for their scholarly achievements. Originality and passion are two of the qualities I prize most where literary appreciation is concerned.

During my investigation (if I may use the term) I did look at the BSJ website, and it appeared a fine journal indeed,  “essential reading for anyone interested in Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a world where it is always 1895” as it described itself. Particularly intriguing was the volume “A remarkable mixture”, a collection of the BSJ articles which had won the Morley-Montgomery Memorial Award, ie, the best ones, breathlessly (perhaps a missing comma or two here as well?) described thus:

“From a discussion of Dr. Watson's wives to a reconsideration of William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes to a beatnik version of 'The Blue Carbuncle' to a history of the 1940 BSI Dinner to the location of Baskerville Hall, the collection offers treats for every reader interested in the world of Sherlock Holmes. To quote Dr. Watson in a remark that might be shorthand for Sherlockian scholarship everywhere, this volume is ‘a remarkable mixture of shrewdness and of absurdity.’”

What more can I say, except to quote the first half of the famous exchange between Holmes and Dr. Watson in "The Crooked Man":

“Excellent”, I cried!

Just before I close, I'd like to salute Christopher Morley, one of the founders of the Baker Street Irregulars (commemorated by the above-cited Morley-Montgomery Memorial Award), for writing one of the all-time favourite poems of my childhood, the one which begins

Animal crackers and cocoa to drink
That is the finest of suppers I think…

Christopher Morley was also the author of the wonderful book Parnassus on wheels, which I just recently came across in the fabulous basement stacks of Central Library (it is very old). All my life, since I found it in my Intermediate school library (and it looked old even then) and read  it, I had been remembering it as being a story about a travelling library, so you can imagine my surprise when it turned out to be about a travelling bookshop instead. Well, I’ve lost one good reason for my having ended up a librarian, but it’s still a beautiful story and maybe one day if I get time I will reread it and write about it for our marvelous Treasures from the Basement page.

Does this make Christopher Morley sound like a quaint old "Mr Chips" type figure? I'll just note that this many-faceted man wrote one of the most scandalous bestsellers in American history -- Kitty Foyle, which way back in the 1940s dared to deal with out-of-wedlock pregnancy, as it was then called; and had a Buckminster Fuller-designed Dymaxion bathroom installed in his house, with a “fog gun” shower which used only 1 cup of water per shower, and no soap.

When he died, his final “message to his friends” appeared in The New York Times:

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.

And dress up if you feel like it! (well, I said that).

February 12, 2010

The List of Leonard Cohen nicknames

I’m still waiting for my copy of Umberto Eco’s The Infinity of Lists which I wrote about at the end of last year (someone out there seems to be enjoying The Infinity of Reading an Umberto Eco Book), but in the meantime I want to applaud this List of Nicknames for Leonard Cohen which Graham Beattie posted on his blog this month after coming across it in the newsletter of the International Institute of Modern Letters.

Nicknames for Leonard Cohen

Lord Byron Of Rock’n’Roll
Bard Of The Boudoir
Ladies Man
Grandson Of The Prince Of Grammarians
Master Of Erotic Despair
Master Of Romantic Despair
High Priest Of Pathos
Poet Laureate Of Pessimism
Grocer Of Despair
Prophet of Despair
Poet Laureate Of Commitophobes
Bard Of Bedsits
Dr. Kevorkian Of Song
Beautiful Creep
Godfather Of Gloom
Prince Of Bummers
Troubadour Of Travail
Laughing Len
Laughing Lennie
Captain Mandrax
Poet of Rock and Roll
Master of the Egg Salad Sandwich
Poet of the Holy Sinners
Poet Of Existential Despair
Jikan, Jikan The Useless Monk, Silent One
Poet Of Bedsit Angst
Gloom Merchant
Bourgeois Individualist Poet
Grand Master of Melancholia
Durable Hipster
Legendary Ladies Man
Existential Comedian
Spin Doctor For The Apocalypse
Grizzled Prophet
Damaged Priest
Hippie Icon
Apocalyptic Lounge Lizard
Jeremiah Of Tin Pan Alley
Amiable Gangster
Poetic Playboy
Emotional Imperialist
Restless Pilgrim
Patron Saint Of Angst
Smiling Dada Of Despair
Montreal Mensch
Prince of Pain and Crown Prince of Pain
Joking Troubadour of Gloom and Troubadour of Gloom
Master Of Sexy Melancholy
High Priest Of Solitude
Disappearing Mr. Mysterioso
Master Of Misery
Maestro Of Melancholy
Poet Of Love
Patron Saint Of Disappointment
Prince of Precision
Poet Of Pleasure And Pain
Bard of Our Great Depression
Godfather Of Miserablism
Coolest White Man On The Planet
Poet Of Swinging Suicides
Master Of Duende
Bleak Baritone
Troubadour Of Love
Cat In The Hat
Mel Torme of the Terminally Downbeat

I like this list because it’s funny, but also because of how … dedicated it is, like its compiler, Dr. H. Guy, whose website 1HeckofaGuy (where the list is posted) is not just about Leonard Cohen, but mostly it is. I wonder if Umberto Eco knows about the list, perhaps I’ll find a mention of it in his book, possibly in Chapter 9, “The rhetoric of enumeration”.

He would certainly appreciate Dr. Guy's use of scholarly footnotes. Myself, I had a moment of confusion due to mixing up the footnote numbers with the nickname numbers, which made it seem as though “The Master of the Egg Salad Sandwich” appeared in a Jewish newspaper whereas it actually came from Leonard Cohen’s girlfriend. This did give me a chance to learn about Montreal’s Jewish literary scene and LC’s views on Israel, though, while I was trying to figure out the Jewish connection with Egg Salad.

Photo by Art Siegel
The website contains many other Leonard Cohen gems – quotes and photos old and new, plus things like how to know if you're at a Bruce Springsteen concert or a Leonard Cohen concert, not to mention a commemorative video made by Dr. Guy in celebration of LC’s 2008-2009 World Tour, with the fantastic title:
Dear Leonard Cohen – Thanks For The Tour.
I Hope It Was Good For You, Too.

If, like me, you missed the concert, the one Bookman Beattie says was the best live concert he has ever been to, get the DVD Leonard Cohen Live in London from the library. It won’t be like having been there, but it's definitely memorable all the same.

That's great, but how does this connect to Books?

It's because back in the 1960s, Leonard Cohen wrote two novels, The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers. And...

Last year Auckland City Libraries inaugurated a Reading Challenge, in which people read their way across a tic-tac-toe card where each square was labelled with a different genre – crime, romance, adventure etc. - to go in the draw for a prize. Hundreds of readers proved to be happy to give the road less travelled by a chance, but as readers are creative souls, there were some fun discussions at check-out time when it came to deciding which squares qualified to be stamped.

My favourite was the one Stevie at Central Library told me about, a woman who wanted Beautiful Losers to count for her “Romance” square. This is what happens when they republish books and put artistic new covers on them. Now it's a photo of Leonard Cohen (or a Leonard Cohenish figure in fedora hat and raincoat) in the Underground with a pithy quote from Michael Ondaatje, but the original cover featured the author’s own list – worthy of being included in The infinity of lists' Chapter 16, “Coherent excess”– of what his book was about:

"BEAUTIFUL LOSERS is a love story, a psalm, a Black Mass, a monument, a satire, a prayer, a shriek, a road map through the wilderness, a joke, a tasteless affront, an hallucination, a bore, an irrelevant display of diseased virtuosity, a Jesuitical tract, an Orange sneer, a scatological Lutheran extravagance, in short, a disagreeable religious epic of incomparable beauty."

The "in short" reminds me of the famous Leonard Cohen story where an interviewer asked him to describe himself in five words, and he replied "Oh, the seven deadly sins."

Are you thinking, well at least she didn’t try to say it was “Chick lit”?  Yes, you're right, she didn't. It was John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick that she wanted to claim for that.

if you'd like to try the books:
The favourite game by Leonard Cohen
Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen
The witches of Eastwick by John Updike

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