Friday, August 19, 2011

FRIDAY FOLLIES: The Worst Writer Ever, Abercrombie's scam, and the Eagle Has Landed

A few weeks ago, when I wrote about the Bulwer-Lytton contest for the worst first sentence of a novel, I had no idea there was actually a worst novel in the world, too.  The consensus, from what little research I've done on the subject, is that Amanda McKittrick Ros is the author who wins, hands down.  (A literary group that included Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would read her works aloud to see who could do it longest with a straight face.  None of that bothered Amanda in the least.  She scoffed at critics, claiming at least one of them was being mean because he was madly in love with her.)

There does seem to be some conflicting views on which of her novels would actually win the title of Worst, but Irene Iddesleigh, published in 1897, clearly ranks right up there in glorious hideousness.  It's out of print, but is available through the Gutenberg Project.   It was really hard to choose the lines most representing how awful that book really is, but here goes nothing:

 I should begin with the beginning.  It goes like this: 
Sympathise with me, indeed!  Ah, no!  Cast your sympathy on the chill waves of troubled waters; fling it on the oases of futurity; dash it against the rock of gossip; or, better still, allow it to remain within the false and faithless bosom of buried scorn.

Such were the few remarks of Irene as she paced the beach of limited freedom, alone and unprotected.  Sympathy can wound the breast of trodden patience, --it hath no rival to insure the feelings we possess, save that of sorrow. 
 Irene, you see, is the protagonist who meets the wealthy Sir John, who courts her and proposes marriage, both of them knowing all along that her heart belongs to Oscar, the poor tutor.  She marries Sir John, of course, but it's doomed from the start.  It'll come as no surprise to you that it ends badly for poor Irene.  But what sets this novel apart from other bad novels (and has made Amanda famous as the worst of the worst) is the author's avid, awful alliteration.

"Leave me now, deceptive demon of deluded mockery; lurk no more around the vale of vanity, like a vindictive viper; strike the lyre of lying deception to the strains of dull deadness, despair and doubt/ and bury on the brink of benevolence every false vow, every unkind thought, every trifle of selfishness and scathing dislike, occasioned by treachery in its mildest form!”

(I think what’s happening here is Irene is thinking she should be sorry for something, but I could be wrong.)

I use this picture as my avatar sometimes, but I’ve come to believe it’s Amanda McKittrick Ros writing her putrid purple prose.


  And speaking of words, these two, Abercrombie and Fitch, have always made me snicker.  They're so damned prissy-sounding.  Like two accountants straight out of Dickens.  But somehow the clothing company, around since the 19th century, has latched onto the young, ages 18-22, causing them to overlook how old-fashioned that name is and take to wearing the name on tees, pants, caps, and underwear.  Product placement is everything, I get it. Really.  Now, stop SHOUTING.

But last week A&F turned the tables on that whole concept.  The company is actually willing to pay someone big bucks to stop wearing their merchandise!   I don't watch "Jersey Shore", so I don't know this guy Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino, but apparently he doesn't fit A&F's image as an approved wearer of their clothing brand.  Also, he's way past 22 years old. (He's 29.)  Also, A&F loves controversy.  I mean loves itReally, really loves it.

So, okay, it's a publicity stunt, but a pretty clever one.  They're now offering the entire cast of "Jersey Shore" a "substantial amount" of money not to wear their clothes.  No word yet on whether any of the cast members have taken them up on it.  (This could start a whole new trend.  Paying people not to wear a clothing line might someday even have an effect on the jobless numbers. And the world would be a better place.)

 In my travels on the WWW, I found this great new website (New to me, I mean) called "The Awl".  I don't know what it is.  It's a whole bunch of fun and interesting things.  (Their motto is, "Be less stupid". Check it out.)  But today I was wandering around there and found a quote by Maud Newton from her NYT Magazine article called "Another thing to sort of pin on David Foster Wallace".

I suppose it made sense, when blogging was new, that there was some confusion about voice. Was a blog more like writing or more like speech? Soon it became a contrived and shambling hybrid of the two. The “sort ofs” and “reallys” and “ums” and “you knows” that we use in conversation were codified as the central connectors in the blogger lexicon. We weren’t just mad, we were sort of enraged; no one was merely confused, but kind of totally mystified. That music blog we liked was really pretty much the only one that, um, you know, got it. Never before had “folks” been used so relentlessly and enthusiastically as a term of general address outside church suppers, chain restaurants and family reunions. It’s fascinating and dreadful in hindsight to realize how quickly these conventions took hold and how widely they spread. And! They have sort of mutated since to liberal and often sarcastic use of question marks? And exclamation points! “Oh, hi,” people say at the start of sentences on blogs, Twitter and Tumblr these days, both acknowledging and jokily feigning surprise at the presence of the readers who have turned up there.
Oh, Jeez!  What can I say? Ya got me...

That moment sublime:   A story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune tells about an amateur photographer, Frank Glick, who happened to spot an eagle sitting on a headstone one misty day at the Fort Snelling Cemetery.  He took the picture and then gave it to the widow of the soldier whose headstone the eagle chose to grace. A friend of his sent it to the paper and Jon Tevlin wrote about it.  The story and the picture went viral.  So viral that it brought out the inevitable doubters, who insisted the eagle was too large on that headstone.  It had to be photo-shopped.  The experts came out and said it most certainly wasn't enhanced. A cemetery spokeswoman said there are eagles around there all the time.

But who really cares?  This particular photo is wonderful on so many levels.  The mist, the bare trees, the sheen on the tops of the asymmetrical rows of headstones, the bit of red in the foreground, the first headstone leading to the focal point, and the eagle posed just right.  It's breathtaking.

Tevlin said it generated more emails than any other story he'd ever done.  There were 11,000 hits on Facebook when the picture appeared.  The military has ordered copies and it has made its way to Afghanistan where it sounds like they may use it as a basis for a monument to the fallen there.  Bravo, Frank Glick.  This is for you.

Cartoon of the Week:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

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