Judging a Book by Its Cover

Because of its cover design, some readers briefly imagined that SF author Jack Dann’s 1984 novel The Man Who Melted was called The Man Who Melted Jack Dann. That inspired some readers to search for other such titles, with some success:

  • The Joy of Cooking Irma S. Rombauer
  • Captain Blood Returns Raphael Sabatini
  • Flush Virginia Woolf
  • Contact Carl Sagan

Any others? You’ll get extra credit for bending parts of speech (Two Sisters Gore Vidal).

The Pied Piper

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Pied_piper.jpg

The pied piper is not just a fairy tale. Something specific and terrible appears to have happened in the German town of Hamelin on June 26, 1284. What it was is uncertain, but it seems to have claimed the town’s children, perhaps in a mass drowning, burial, epidemic or exodus. An inscription from 1603 reads:

Anno 1284 am dage Johannis et Pauli
war der 26. junii
Dorch einen piper mit allerlei farve bekledet
gewesen CXXX kinder verledet binnen Hamelen gebo[re]n
to calvarie bi den koppen verloren

In the year of 1284, on John’s and Paul’s day
was the 26th of June
By a piper, dressed in all kinds of colors,
130 children born in Hamelin were seduced
and lost at the place of execution near the Koppen
.

Rats weren’t added to the story until the late 16th century. The site of the children’s disappearance, on Coppenbrugge mountain, is now a site of pagan worship, and a law forbids singing and music in one street of Hamelin, out of respect for the victims … though we may never know what their fate was.

A Barman’s Field Guide

“Eight Degrees of Drunkenness”:

  1. The Ape-drunk, who leaps and sings and hollers
  2. The Lion-drunk, who is quarrelsome and rude
  3. The Swine-drunk, who is sleepy and lumpish
  4. The Sheep-drunk, wise in his own conceit, but unable to speak
  5. The Maudlin-drunk, who declares he loves all mankind
  6. The Martin-drunk, who drinks himself sober again
  7. The Goat-drunk, who is lascivious
  8. The Fox-drunk, who is crafty, like the Dutch, who bargain when drunk

— Thomas Nash, 1592

New Year Be Damned

Jonathan Swift’s “Resolutions — When I Come to Be Old”:

  • Not to Marry a young Woman.
  • Keep young Company unless they reely desire it.
  • Be peevish or morose, or suspicious.
  • Scorn present Ways, or Wits, or Fashions, or Men, or War, &c.
  • Be fond of Children, or let them come near me hardly.
  • Tell the same Story over and over to the same People.
  • Be covetous.
  • Neglect decency, or cleenlyness, for fear of falling into Nastyness.
  • Be over severe with young People, but give Allowances for their youthfull follyes, and Weeknesses.
  • Be influenced by, or give ear to knavish tatling Servants, or others.
  • Be too free of advise nor trouble any but those that desire it.
  • Desire some good Friends to inform me which of these Resolutions I break, or neglect, & wherein; and reform accordingly.
  • Talk much, nor of my self.
  • Boast of my former beauty, or strength, or favor with Ladyes, &c.
  • Hearken to Flatteryes, nor conceive I can be beloved by a young woman.
  • Be positive or opiniative.
  • Sett up for observing all these Rules, for fear I should observe none.

Thank You for Your Submission

Rejection letters sent to Henry James:

“A duller story I have never read. It wanders through a deep mire of affected writing and gets nowhere, tells no tale, stirs no emotion but weariness. The professional critics who mistake an indirect and roundabout use of words for literary art will call it an excellent piece of work; but people who have any blood in their veins will yawn and throw it down — if, indeed, they ever pick it up.”

“It is surely the n+1st power of Jamesiness. … It gets decidedly on one’s nerves. It is like trying to make out page after page of illegible writing. The sense of effort becomes acutely exasperating. Your spine curls up, your hair-roots prickle & you want to get up and walk around the block. There is no story — oh! but none at all …”

They didn’t seem to bother him. “Do not mind anything that anyone tells you about anyone else,” he said. “Judge everyone and everything for yourself.”

Oops

On March 15, 1980, the Boston Globe ran an editorial about the nation’s economic woes:

Certainly it is in the self-interest of all Americans to impose upon themselves the kind of economic self-discipline that President Carter urged repeatedly yesterday in his sober speech to the nation. As the President said, inflation, now running at record rates, is a cruel tax, one that falls most harshly upon those least able to bear the burden.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it carried the headline “Mush From the Wimp.”

In 1984 Globe editorial writer Kirk Scharfenberg admitted he’d written it. “I meant it as an in-house joke and thought it would be removed before publication,” he wrote. “It appeared in 161,000 copies of the Globe the next day.”

Much Ado About Nothing

You can fool some of the people all of the time.

Perhaps inspired by Thomas Chatterton, the teenage Samuel William Henry Ireland (1777-1835) “found” an old deed with Shakespeare’s signature.

His father, a collector, was overjoyed, so Ireland went on finding more Shakespeareana — a promissory note, a declaration of Protestant faith, letters to Anne Hathaway and to Queen Elizabeth, books with notes in the margins and “original” manuscripts for Hamlet and King Lear.

Amazingly, these were all authenticated by experts of the day. Ireland wasn’t caught until at age 18 he wrote an entire “lost” play, which was mounted at Drury Lane Theatre. As a playwright, he couldn’t match the Bard, and Vortigern and Rowena closed after a single performance on April 2, 1796.

Sadly, his father took the blame, as no one could believe such a young man could pull off such a forgery. His son fled to France and died in obscurity.