Tag Archives: must-read


When an acquaintance remarked that I hadn’t updated this since 2011, I must admit I’d nearly forgotten this blog. I’d started it with the goal of polishing an essayistic, conversational-like writing voice (a shade of the incomparable Max), but abandoned it in a nihilistic funk about the futility of adding my voice to the internet detritus.  However, the reminder comes at a fortuitous time when I’ve been casting about for a new, or renewed, challenge in my life.  A mid-30’s crisis, if such things can be admitted to with a straight face.  So perhaps the way to approach said blog is simply for my own amusement and sanity and with utter disregard for where it lands in the hierarchy of internet specks and motes.

It’s been so long that there’s no way to catalog the many delights since the last post (highlights – kitchen beautiful and functional, great small explorations, an amazing longer trip to Croatia/Slovenia, family & friend blessings, and many good reads – a few great ones).  I could catalogue my last good read – “A High Wind in Jamaica” by Richard Hughes (do go read it), but as it’s on those Top 100 Books of the 20th Century lists, I can rest easy without hawking it.


The book I most need to recommend is one you’ll surely never encounter unless you are a social science professor (and even then, you may not know of the sideline of your esteemed colleague), an esoteric linguist, or a devotee of Michael Dirda’s recommendations.  (Fascinating in-depth post here at Library Without Walls – read them all, don’t be snobbish because its on the Barnes & Nobles website).  It was my best read of 2012, by far.  I can only otsogle the wonderful piece of wit, scholarship, and Shandean digression that constitutes “On the Shoulders of Giants” by Robert K. Merton (“OTSOG” to fans, with all the various word formations thereof).

Merton was a brilliant man who happened to be at the forefront of the social science field as it developed through the 20th century.  Such training gave him the research skills and the meticulous mind to analyze connections in literary thought, but his humour and wit make the book sparkle.  His book, arising from a lengthy epistolary joke, is an homage to Tristram Shandy, one of my favorites, but also ranges through Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (now by my bedside, still mostly uncracked) and a dizzying array of centuries and sources, trying to trace the true origin of Newton’s aphorism, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  It is certainly broadening, as you meet not only those sources involved with the aphorism over the years (whether they conveyed, butchered, or enhanced the notion), but run into delightful asides concerning Aubrey, Ogden Nash, Swift and Pope, and Elia’s savoury “Dissertation on a Roast Pig,” to namecheck just a few.  It is the type of essay or book I’d most like to write – erudite yet laughing, warm yet wise.  I adore the rambling fashion, as this book is truly just about luxuriating in each chapter.  Oh, to be Bud Bailyn and have had such a wonderful pen pal!

I declare myself forever to be an otsogfidian and hope one day to find my own otsogurient.  


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I heart Boswell

I’m about 120 pages into Boswell’s “The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides,” the companion piece to Johnson’s journal of the same trip.  Boswell’s is much more entertaining (and more educational, as I can’t read it far away from the internet due to the need to lookup multiple references to writers of the day and Latin phrases).  However, it’s Boswell’s cheeky yet solicitous attitude that amuses the most.  Almost a month into the trip, after Dr. Johnson has had a quiet evening and goes early to bed, Boswell records:

I was in a cordial humour and promoted a cheerful glass.  The punch was excellent.  Honest Mr. M’Queen observed that I was in high glee, ‘my governour being gone to bed.’ . . . However, nothing but what was good was present, and I pleased myself in thinking that so spirited a man should be well everywhere. [p. 245, Dover Edition,2008]

Sounds like an amusing companion – no wonder Johnson was fond of him.  I’m going to have to try to work in the phrase “promote a cheerful glass” in today’s world – it has such a wonderful ring.

a cheerful glass of Boswell’s excellent punch




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