Archives for posts with tag: classic literature


“Doesn’t it seem to you,” asked Madame Bovary, “that the mind moves more freely in the presence of that boundless expanse, that the sight of it elevates the soul and gives rise to thoughts of the infinite and the ideal?” GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, Madame Bovary (1857)

Painting: “Young Woman at the Window, Sunset” by Henry Matisse (1921)



In the U.S., the month of March is filled with talk of madness – March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournaments. Background on how “March Madness” got its name is in an article at After reading this explanation, I must say, “Hmmm,” and ask, “Did the journalist leave out something — or someone?”

I, for one, believe the inspiration for “March Madness” came from the mad March Hare in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – and author Lewis Carroll has never received proper credit. Yes, his work is in the public domain (find Alice in many forms at Project Gutenberg) – but he should still receive attribution. (As a cautionary tale, look at what happened to Jane Goodall for not attributing passages in her new book, Seeds of Hope, that she lifted from Wikipedia.)

So, at last, Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) – an author among our top-10 favorites – we will honor you on this day in March 2013, by saying that you and your creation the March Hare are the inspiration for the term “March Madness.”

According to Wikipedia (we promise to try to remember to attribute!), “Mad as a March hare” is a common British expression based on popular belief about the behavior of male hares during breeding season when they run around acting crazy – boxing with other hares, jumping straight up in the air, racing around in circles, and other wild, excitable behavior. (In Great Britain, breeding season for hares lasts from February to September).

In Carroll’s book — originally published in 1865 — the March Hare behaves as though it’s always teatime because his friend, the equally Mad Hatter, “murdered the time” while singing for the Queen of Hearts. (During the 1800s, “mad as a hatter” was a common British expression – referring to the disorientation hat makers experienced from the mercury used in their trade.)


So, today, we honor author Lewis Carroll and especially his charming creation the March Hare. Lets revel here in a few passages from one of the greatest works in all of literature – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Have some wine,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. “I don’t see any wine,” she remarked.

“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare.

“The it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,” said Alice angrily.

“It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited,” said the March Hare…

The Hatter opened his eyes very wide…”Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

“…I believe I can guess that,” Alice added.

“Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?” said the March Hare.

“Exactly so,” said Alice.

“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.

“I do,” Alice hastily replied, “at least – at least I mean what I say – that’s the same thing, you know.”

“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter.

“Why, you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”

“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like’!”


And whenever we pick up Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and open it to any page, any passage, we get what we like.

Illustration: John Tenniel (1820-1914)


Today marks the 177th anniversary of Mark Twain’s birth. Born on November 30, 1835, Twain is considered a writer’s writer — in the same league as Shakespeare, Dickens, and Cervantes — an author that both Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut considered the greatest of the greats. (Vonnegut even named his son Mark after the venerable author.) William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature.”

To celebrate Mark Twain’s birthday, let’s hear from the master himself — and read his advice about writing.


(author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), and scores of other novels, memoirs, essays, and additional literary works)


“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

 “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities…”

 “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”

 “…use plain, simple language, short words, and brief sentences…don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in…a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

 “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”

“The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail.”

 “One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.”

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.”

 “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.”

“Write what you know.”

 “To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement …Anybody can have ideas – the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.”


November 29 marks the 114th birthday of C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), author of the beloved seven-volume Narnia Chronicles. Let’s celebrate with a passage from one of Lewis’s books in the series.

“None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning–either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of Summer.”  From The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. LEWIS


Congratulations to author Mo Yan for winning the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature. Born Guan MoyeMo Yan (which means “don’t speak” in Chinese) is the first Chinese citizen to receive the honor. The Nobel Committee lauded the 57-year-old writer for his work that “with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary.”

A few months ago at a used book store, I purchased a pristine copy of Mo Yan‘s novel The Garlic Ballads (1988), which The San Francisco Chronicle has called, “A work of considerable political power and lyrical beauty.” I have been meaning to read the novel, but have decided to borrow it from the library — so that I can celebrate Mo Yan’s Nobel prize by mailing my copy to the first person (U.S. only due to postage rates) who leaves a comment about this post. 

Again, congratulations to Mo Yan! 

ImageDear F:

Thank you for submitting “The Great Gatsby” to our editorial director, Charlotte Pelker. Charlotte is in the South of France and will be checking e-mails, but only to see if she’s been fired. Our associate editorial director, Bob Tarp, left the company last week to head the new literary department at Groupon. So allow me to introduce myself. My name is Andy Borowitz. I am a rising sophomore at SUNY New Paltz and am the company’s unpaid summer intern. In that capacity I am in charge of the slush pile. Which brings me to you, F! LOL.

Let me begin by saying that “The Great Gatsby” is not the worst novel I have ever read. It is also not the best novel I have ever read. It is, however, the first novel I have ever read. And there are, like, many, many things in the book I found confusing. Like W.T.F. was that green light? Is that supposed to give him superpowers, like the Green Lantern? Also, I really did not get this part at the end: “So we beat on, boats against the current.” So, like, everybody turns into boats? Like Transformers? If so, that was the first interesting thing that happened in the entire book, and it was in the last sentence.

For these reasons, F., I am afraid “The Great Gatsby” does not meet our needs at the present time. What would meet our needs at the present time would be a young-adult trilogy with movie potential. Right before she left for Cote d’Azur, Charlotte said to me, “Pandora, find me the next ‘Twilight’ or ‘Hunger Games.’ ” Charlotte has never forgiven herself for passing on both “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” while paying two million dollars for a book of poetry by Todd Palin. LMAO.

Now I’ve got to get back to that slush pile. The next manuscript I have to read is called “Moby-Dick.” Fingers crossed, but based on that title, I think it could be the next “Fifty Shades of Grey”!

Andy Borowitz

Note: This rejection letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald appeared on the New Yorker website in an article dated October 4, 2012. Find the article at this link. Andy Borowitz wrote the piece for the Author’s Guild Centennial Benefit, June 4, 2012.

Painting: Maralyn Wilson, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


Dear Mr. Homer,

Thank you for coming into the office last week and performing your epic poem. Unfortunately, we do not buy books based on pitches. We think your story is very interes—no, actually we don’t. While your saga is not right for us, we do think that if you trimmed it by thirteen hours and sixteen minutes, it might make a wonderful Moth monologue. With a few changes. To begin with, your poem is set in Greece, which, as you know, is kind of a downer right now. Could you move it to Qatar? Oh. Wait. I just remembered that Showtime is doing an adaptation of Angela’s Ashes that takes place in the Mideast. “Angela’s Oil, Oy Vey.” Which reminds me, a number of us in the office felt that your central character, Odysseus, was a deadbeat dad. Did you intend this? Or is that one of those things that happens when you don’t write things down? Some of us also had problems with the similes in the poem, whereas others didn’t care for the metaphors. It might comfort you to know, however, that most of us don’t know the difference. On the other hand, we all agreed the monsters were unlikeable. Another thing you may not have realized: the character is named Odysseus and the book is the Odyssey. See the confusion? Why not call the book “Eat, Slay, Love,” or “How to Travel Around Some of the World on Five Dollars a Day and Still Lose Weight”?

Thank you again for thinking of us. Please send us anything else you may be working on—except that dated war-horse thing.

Sincerely yours,

Patricia Marx

P.S. Someone in the office wants to know if you’re related to Homer Simpson?

P.P.S. Our marketing department loves that you’re blind. You might also want to develop leprosy.

Note: This rejection letter to Homer appeared on the New Yorker website in an article dated October 4, 2012. Find the article at this link. Patricia Marx wrote the piece for the Author’s Guild Centennial Benefit, June 4, 2012.

Painting: “Homer” by Janaka Stagaro.



Poem by Charles Bukowski

throughout the years
I have gotten letters
from men
who say
that reading my
has helped them
get through,
go on.
this is high praise 
and I know what
they mean;
my nerve to go 
on was helped
by reading
Fante, Dostoevsky,
Lawrence Celine, Hamsun
and others…
a good book
can make an almost
for the reader
the writer.


“The Luck of the Word” appears in Betting on the Muse: Poems & Stories by Charles Bukowski, available at

Photo: Masamitony, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Excerpt from a 1958 interview George Plimpton conducted with Ernest Hemingway, published in The Paris Review.

Interviewer: Who would you say are your literary forebears, those you have learned the most from?

Hemingway: Mark Twain, Flaubert, Stendhal, Bach, Turgeniev, Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Andrew Marvell, John Donne, Maupassant, the good Kipling, Thoreau, Captain Marryat, Shakespeare, Mozart, Quevedo, Dante, Virgil, Tintoretto…Goya, Giotto, Cezanne, Van Gogh…I put in painters, because I learn as much from painters about how to write as from writers…I should think what one learns from composers and from the study of harmony and counterpoint would be obvious.

Photo: Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.