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Quotes of the day: Saki (H.H. Munro)
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Published Wednesday, December 18, 2013 @ 6:45 AM EST
Dec 18 2013

Hector Hugh Munro (December 18, 1870 - November 13, 1916), better known by the pen name Saki, and also frequently as H.H. Munro, was a British writer whose witty, mischievous and sometimes macabre stories satirized Edwardian society and culture. He is considered a master of the short story and often compared to O. Henry and Dorothy Parker. Influenced by Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, and Kipling, his work influenced A.A. Milne, Noël Coward, and P.G. Wodehouse. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)

Saki was one of the authors presented by my high school English teacher, Ira Handelsman. He had a wonderful method of insuring his students were familiar with the material: he read the stories, aloud, to the class. I vividly recall his presentation of Sredni Vashtar, which, at least in my memory, was as riveting as this performance by Tom Baker:

Ira did not have an English accent, but he had precise diction and a voice perhaps best described in contemporary terms as serious NPR announcer-ish. Even the densest of jocks in the class fell silent as the story continued. At its conclusion, Ira received, if not applause, several grunts of approval.

Thus began my appreciation of H.H. Munro.

And my dislike of ferrets.

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A little inaccuracy sometimes saves a ton of explanation.

A woman who takes her husband about with her everywhere is like a cat that goes on playing with a mouse long after she's killed it.

Addresses are given to us to conceal our whereabouts.

All decent people live beyond their incomes; those who aren't respectable live beyond other people's; a few gifted individuals manage to do both.

Children are given to us to discourage our better emotions.

Confront a child, a puppy, and a kitten with a sudden danger; the child will turn instinctively for assistance, the puppy will grovel in abject submission, the kitten will brace its tiny body for a frantic resistance.

Every reformation must have its victims. You can't expect the fatted calf to share the enthusiasm of the angels over the prodigal's return.

He is one of those persons who would be enormously improved by death.

His socks compelled one's attention without losing one's respect.

I always say beauty is only sin deep.

I hate babies. They're so human.

I hate posterity- it's so fond of having the last word.

I love Americans, but not when they try to talk French. What a blessing it is that they never try to talk English.

I think she must have been very strictly brought up, she's so desperately anxious to do the wrong thing correctly.

I'm living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart.

In baiting a mouse trap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse.

Never be a pioneer. It's the Early Christian that gets the fattest lion.

People talk vaguely about the innocence of a little child, but they take mighty good care not to let it out of their sight for twenty minutes.

People vote their resentment, not their appreciation. The average man does not vote for anything but against something.

Poverty keeps together more homes than it breaks up.

The fashion just now is a Roman Catholic frame of mind with an Agnostic conscience: you get the mediaeval picturesqueness of the one with the modern conveniences of the other.

The young have aspirations that never come to pass, the old have reminiscences of what never happened.

There is no outlet for demonstrating your feelings towards people whom you simply loathe. That is really the crying need of our modern civilization.

Think how many blameless lives are brightened by the blazing indiscretions of other people.

To be among people who are smothered in furs when one hasn't any oneself makes one want to break most of the Commandments.

To have reached thirty is to have failed in life.

Women and elephants never forget an injury.

You can't expect a boy to be vicious till he's been to a good school.


Categories: H.H. Munro, Ira Handelsman, Saki, Tom Baker, Video, YouTube


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An E.B. White extra
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Published Wednesday, July 11, 2012 @ 6:04 AM EDT
Jul 11 2012

Ira Handelsman, my high school English teacher, introduced me to the works of many authors who still influence me. The writer with the greatest impact- even more than James Thurber- was E.B. White, specifically due to this marvelously concise satire. Written in 1938, it's still relevant- and hysterical.

IRTNOG
by E.B. White

Along about 1920 it became apparent that more things were being written than people had time to read. That is to say, even if a man spent his entire time reading stories, articles, and news, as they appeared in books, magazines, and pamphlets, he fell behind. This was no fault of the reading public; on the contrary, readers made a real effort to keep pace with writers, and utilized every spare moment during their walking hours. They read while shaving in the morning and while waiting for trains and while riding on trains. They came to be a kind of tacit agreement among numbers of the reading public that when one person laid down the baton, someone else must pick it up; and so when a customer entered a barbershop, the barber would lay aside the Boston Evening Globe and the customer would pick up Judge; or when a customer appeared in a shoe-shining parlor, the bootblack would put away the racing form and the customer would open his briefcase and pull out The Sheik. So there was always somebody reading something. Motormen of trolley cars read while they waited on the switch. Errand boys read while walking from the corner of Thirty-ninth and Madison to the corner of Twenty-fifth and Broadway. Subway riders read constantly, even when they were in a crushed, upright position in which nobody could read his own paper but everyone could look over the next man s shoulder. People passing newsstands would pause for a second to read headlines. Men in the back seats of limousines, northbound on Lafayette Street in the evening, switched on tiny dome lights and read the Wall Street Journal. Women in semi-detached houses joined circulating libraries and read Vachel Lindsay while the baby was taking his nap.

There was a tremendous volume of staff that had to be read. Writing began to give off all sorts of by-products. Readers not only had to read the original works of a writer, but they also had to scan what the critics said, and they had to read the advertisements reprinting the favorable criticisms, and they had to read the book chat giving some rather odd piece of information about the writer such as that he could write only when he had a gingersnap in his mouth. It all took time. Writers gained steadily, and readers lost.

Then along came the Reader's Digest. That was a wonderful idea. It digested everything that was being written in leading magazine, and put new hope in the hearts of readers. Here, everybody thought, was the answer to the problem. Readers, badly discouraged by the rate they had been losing ground, took courage and set out once more to keep abreast of everything that was being written in the world. For a while they seemed to hold their own. But soon other digests and short cuts appeared, like Time, and The Best Short Stories of 1927, and the new Five-Foot Shelf, and Well's Outline of History, and Newsweek, and Fiction Parade. By 1939 there were one hundred and seventy-three digests, or short cuts, in America, and even if a man read nothing but digests of selected material, and read continuously, he couldn't keep up. It was obvious that something more concentrated than digests would have to come along to take up the slack.

It did. Someone conceived the idea of digesting the digests. He brought out a little publication called Pith, no bigger than your thumb. It was a digest of Reader's Digest, Time, Concise Spicy Tales, and the daily news summary of the New York Herald Tribune. Everything was so extremely condensed that a reader could absorb everything that was being published in the world in about forty-five minutes. It was a tremendous financial success, and of course other publications sprang up, aping it: one called Core, another called Nub, and a third called Nutshell. Nutshell folded up, because, an expert said, the name was too long; but half a dozen others sprang up to take its place, and for another short period readers enjoyed a breathing spell and managed to stay abreast of writers. In fact, at one juncture, soon after the appearance of Nub, some person of unsound business tendencies felt that the digest rage had been carried too far and that there would be room in the magazine field for a counterdigest, a publication devoted to restoring literary bulk. He raised some money and issued a huge thing called Amplifo, undigesting the digests. In the second issue the name had been changed to Regurgitans. The third issue never reached the stands. Pith and Core continued to gain, and became so extraordinarily profitable that hundreds of other digests of digests came into being. Again readers felt themselves slipping. Distillate came along, a superdigest which condensed a Hemingway novel to the single word "Bang!" and reduced a long article about the problem of the unruly child to the words "Hit him."

You would think that with such drastic condensation going on, the situation would have resolved itself and that an adjustment would have been set up between writer and reader. Unfortunately, writers still forged ahead. Digests and superdigests, because of their rich returns, became as numerous as the things digested. It was not until 1960, when a Stevens Tech graduate named Abe Shapiro stepped in with and immense ingenious formula, that a permanent balance was established between writers and readers. Shapiro was a sort of Einstein. He had read prodigiously; and as he thought back over all the things that he had ever read, he became convinced that it would be possible to express them in mathematical quintessence. He was positive that he could take everything that was written and published each day, and reduce it to a six-letter word. He worked out a secret formula and began posting daily bulletins, telling his result. Everything that had been written during the first day of his formula came down to the word IRTNOG. The second day, everything reduced to EFSITZ. People accepted these mathematical distillations; and strangely enough, or perhaps not strangely at all, people were thoroughly satisfied, which would lead one to believe that what readers really craved was not so much the contents of books, magazines, and papers as the assurance that they were not missing anything. Shapiro found that his bulletin board was inadequate, so he made a deal with a printer and issued a handbill at five o clock every afternoon, giving the Word of the Day. It caught hold instantly.

The effect on the populace was salutary. Readers, once they felt confident that they had one-hundred-per-cent coverage, were able to discard the unnatural habit of focusing their eyes on words every instant. Freed of the exhausting consequences of their hopeless race against writers, they found their health returning, along with a certain tranquility and a more poised way of living. There was a marked decrease in stomach ulcers, which, doctors said, had been the result of allowing the eye to jump nervously from one newspaper headline to another after a heavy meal. With the dwindling of reading, writing fell off. Forests which had been plundered for newsprint, grew tall again; droughts were unheard of; and people dwelt in slow comfort, in a green world.


Categories: E.B. White, Ira Handelsman


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