Saturday, March 31, 2007


Fool's Gold

Over at the Museum of Hoaxes, the Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time, while today's Guardian excerpts from its new Guardian Book of April Fool's Day to describe one early prank from the 1840s:

Printed by the Boston Post... it electrified the city by announcing that a cavern full of gold, jewels and other loot had been found by workmen digging out the roots of a felled tree on Boston Common. Everyone could go and have a peek at the presumed pirate hoard, or cache left by the dastardly British, on April 1. As an eyewitness recorded: "It was rainy, the Legislature was in session, and it was an animated scene that the Common presented, roofed with umbrellas, sheltering pilgrims on their way. A procession of grave legislators marched solemnly down under their green gingham with philosophers, archaeologists, numismatists, antiquarians of all qualities and the public." Nothing awaited them except disappointment, the rain-soaked turf of the common and a small hole.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


The Lunatic at Large

Not yet formally introduced to the public, but shimmying up the drainpipe and crashing through skylight into the McSweeney's Store this weekend.... The first copies of the new Collins Library title -- featuring an introduction by Jonathan Ames -- are now available!

From our write-up --

McSweeney's is pleased to announce the return of a much-loved Victorian comic masterpiece – the anarchic novel that ushered in the age of Wodehouse and Waugh.

Meet Francis Beveridge, the newest resident of Clankwood, home of "the best-bred lunatics in England." At least, Beveridge seems to be his name, as it's the one sewn into all his clothes. But rather than attending his asylum's Saturday dances, Beveridge prefers to go on the lam in London, attendants in red-faced pursuit. So when the travelling German noble Baron Rudolf von Blitzenberg finds himself at the luxurious Hotel Mayonnaise without a guide to this strange land's customs, who better than the amnesiac Englishman who materializes by his side—a splendid tutor in bringing rail stations to a standstill, the best way to fake a rabies attack, and how to crash London's most exclusive clubs -- quite literally.

But... just who is this strange man?

Who indeed? Ah, only a pleasant afternoon of reading will reveal the answer....


An American Methuselah

In the winter issue of Tin House, I have a Lost & Found article on one Lee Meriwether -- not Batwoman, alas, but the young author of a long forgotten and out-of-print 1887 travelogue, A Tramp Trip: How to See Europe on Fifty Cents a Day. The original knapsack college kid -- ok, maybe Bayard Taylor has claim on that title -- Meriwether spurned hotels to sleep on the floors of peasants and craftsmen all the way across Europe, and I found the book to have some wonderfully odd slices of working life from the time:

In Italy he has a glass-eye maker blow white orbs in front of him and then explain why discerning customers demand two sets of glass eyes. ("The pupil is much smaller in daytime than at night, and your fashionable woman would not think of entering a ballroom with the pupils of her eyes of different sizes.")

But the remarkable part for me began after I read Meriwether's book:

What else, I wondered, had this charming young raconteur done? Looking up further titles brought only consternation. There was a newspaper, Meriwether's Weekly, that he ran in the 1880s. A novel, A Lord's Courtship, published in 1900. A jaunty Seeing Europe By Automobile, released in 1911. Okay, that's a good little career for... wait. There's also the sobering Diary of a War Diplomat, released in both the US and France in 1919. A 1930s pamphlet on the New Deal. Fine—a nice long caree... but wait. There's also a presidential campaign biography from 1948. A leaflet of a Kiwanis address from 1965. A...

The guy kept writing, and he kept not dying. When Lee Meriwether was born in 1862, Jefferson Davis dandled him on his knee; he remembered fleeing with his family from Sherman's invading troops. By the time he died in 1966 -- just a year after writing his final memoir -- the Beatles were recording Revolver. Meriwether's grandmother spoke of meeting George Washington, and yet today there are still people alive who remember Lee as an old man.

I had discovered an American Methuselah: quite possibly the only writer whose living memory spans the entire history of the republic.
A roving reporter and diplomat, Meriwether knew Jules Verne and Oscar Wilde; he saw Twain writing Tom Sawyer and witnessed the Nuremberg rally.

This is a man who lived so long that he read one of his own novels with surprised delight, because in the intervening sixty years since publication he'd forgotten the ending.

He lived so long that he had to write and then republish his memoir at least four times; I have found one copy, signed by the old gent himself, dating to just a year before his death. By the point he was personally selling copies from his home. The next year, a Times obituary would put an admiring final touch on a long and extraordinary life.

And as far as I can tell, nobody's written a word about Meriwether since.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Up in the sky! It's... It's... What IS that?

A curious 1944 comic book on eBay...

Update: The inimitable Glen Gold points me to this treasure trove of amazingly weird comic covers.

My own favorite: Superman becomes an A&R guy...

Saturday, March 17, 2007


King Hack

Over at The Stranger I memorialize Leo Guild, king of all hack writers and presumed author of the best worst pulp novel ever:

I first came across this farrago from a 1980s edition of the book buyer's mimeoed newsletter It Goes on the Shelf. The Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman long bore the distinction of being the only book in IGOTS' 1 to 100 rating system to actually score a 1. The plotting follows the classic second-grader's story structure of and then—and then—and then—and then. Not a narrative arc, exactly: more like a narrative crazy straw.

The plot, such as it is, goes like this: Waldo is a werewolf brought back to life when a foolish coroner removes a bullet from his heart. (Check.) He kills a lot of people. (Check.) Suddenly he's in Paris. (Check?) He raids tombs for gold and hits up pawnshops. (Che...) Then he digs up a vampire named Wandessa, tries to kill her, changes his mind, and they go on a joint killing spree by burning down crowded theaters, downing high-voltage power lines, machine-gunning subways and driving stakes through bystanders, and then they go to Hollywood and become movie stars and then work for NBC and then find true love and then get jealous of each other and then die in a double-wedding-slash-homicide.

Or as Waldo puts it: "With the kind of wool jackets they make these days it's getting harder and harder to drive a stake in with a coat on. Well, everyone has his troubles."
A few lines about TWvVW got lost to the word count, and I reproduce them here for the dubious benefit of Stubble readers:
Scattered among these outrages are lines of sublime stupidity. We are told that Waldo likes to strengthen his grip "by squeezing trees." And then there's this:

"Please don't hurt me, Mr. Werewolf," she begged. "I am only 21 and I have at least 10 good years ahead of me yet."

I forgot to mention that werewolves are very strong. Their diet includes such things as animal blood, ailing grandmothers and rancid chicken fat. And they also thrive in the night air.

When a Hollywood shrink is unwise enough to question his lycanthropy, Waldo beats him to death with a desk calendar.
Half of the fun of Guild's books, though, are in the covers. There's...


Oh, and....

King Leo, we bow before your majestic hackiness!

Sunday, March 11, 2007


A Life in the Day

Recently while hunting some old books I came across an 1895 volume on color theory, Elementary Color by Milton Bradley. Hmm, I thought, pretty color plates, and...

Wait... Milton Bradley was a person?

Indeed he was, it turns out, and back in 1861 he used his color lithography skills to create The Checkered Game of Life -- that's right, Life! Sold 45,000 copies in its first year! Why, I bet there's a couple game pieces left scattered on the picnic grounds at Bull Run.

And, do you know? -- it pretty much looks like what a Life game would look like in 1861:

It is, in effect, a moralistic sort of Chutes and Ladders, cleverly printed on an old checkerboard template.

And apparently: "Bradley's game did not include a die, but instead used a teetotum, a six sided top (dice were considered by many to be wicked items fit only for gamblers)."

It would interesting to know when the demon dice were finally considered to be safe enough to place in the hands of impressionable young 'uns.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


The House That Jack Built

Something I hadn't noticed before: Jack Kerouac's former (and final) Florida home has been renovated and is now taking applications for a writer residency. According to their website:
The writers will live rent and utility free in Kerouac’s historic Florida home. In addition, he/she will be awarded gift cards for Publix Supermarkets and Darden Restaurants.
That's right, hipsters: you can eat Froot Loops in Kerouac's dining room. For free.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


The Dead Pool

In an essay over at The Stranger, Brendan Kiley visits the swimming pool that killed Theodore Roethke:

The story went this way: Roethke—who taught poetry at the University of Washington and was large, vivacious, and a heavy drinker—was by the pool with Mrs. Bloedel and her daughter one summer afternoon, fixing mint juleps. Mrs. Bloedel went to the main house for towels or a telephone call or something. The daughter followed. When they returned, the poet was floating face down in the water. Three perfect mint juleps sat on a table by the edge of the pool. The family, grieved by the death of their friend, filled in the pool and turned it into a Zen rock garden.....

I trespass carefully and quietly, afraid of getting caught, occasionally stopping to assess the position of the barking dogs or admire the sinewy clouds illuminated from below by the lights of Seattle.

After some muddy hours, I stumble out of the forest in front of a Japanese-style guesthouse and a rock garden. This is it....

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Personal Daze

Yowza! News from The Dizzies via edrants and Publisher's Lunch:
Cofounder of the Believer Ed Park’s debut PERSONAL DAYS, a comic novel about a group of office workers who suspect there is a mole in their group, to Julia Cheiffetz at Random House, in a pre-empt, for publication in May 2008, by PJ Mark at McCormick & Williams Literary Agency (world).

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?