Word of the Day – Pecksniffian

English really is the most delightful language. It uses one word, ‘love’, to describe a whole array of emotional experience. Yet, simultaneously, it holds a word like ‘pecksniffian’ that describes such a very distinct type of person.

I would wager everyone knows at least one person in their life who is rather ‘pecksniffian’.


<a href=”http://dictionary.reference.com/audio.html/lunaWAV/P01/P0199900″ target=”_blank”><img src=”http://sp.dictionary.com/dictstatic/g/d/speaker.gif” border=”0″ /></a> \pek-SNIF-ee-uhn\ , adjective;

1. Hypocritically and smugly affecting benevolence or high moral principles.

With such departing words, did this strong minded female paralyze the Pecksniffian energies; and so she swept out of the room, and out of the house, attended her daughters, who, as with one accord, elevated their three noses in the air, and joined in a contemptuous titter.
— Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, Volume 1

The men who do things in the world, the men worthy of admiration and imitation, are men constitutionally incapable of any such pecksniffian stupidity.
— H. L. Mencken, Damn! A Book of Calumny

Pecksniffian is named after Seth Pecksniff, a character in “Martin Chuzzlewit, a novel” (1843), by Charles Dickens.

(courtesy of Dictionary.com)

Who reads "Boy Fiction" anyway?

When it comes to internet comment pages, I have long been reticent to respond. I have no urge to comment on news stories or YouTube videos, no matter their content. Why waste time scribbling on the bathroom wall of the internet?

I felt that way until April 18, 2011 – a day that lives on in infamy for geeks webwide – the day Ginia Bellafante’s trite, smug and deeply irritating review of Game of Thrones was posted on the New York Times website.

Game of Thrones is the new HBO television series based on the George R.R. Martin fantasy series of the same name. The NYT assigned Ms. Bellafante to review it, though she admits she knows nothing about the fantasy genre. This would be the equivalent of asking John Madden to write a nuanced review of Pride and Prejudice or asking me to write about Babe Ruth calling his shot in Wrigley Field. Sports writing is not really my strong suit (nor presumably is it Mr. Madden’s to write on Jane Austen, though I apologize if it’s a secret passion).

Still from Game of Thrones, new HBO original series

The New York Times actually has removed her original review from the website. The comment section was closed immediately, presumably after a flood of mail from angry geeks like myself. I was driven to write the following:

Dear Ms. Bellafante,
It seems strange to me that the New York Times would assign you as a reviewer to a television fantasy series, when you clearly have a contempt for the entire milieu.
I couldn’t help but wonder about the source of such spite; your entire article is suffused with it. Perhaps you envision female fantasy readers with unkempt hair and coke bottle glasses, planning our days around Dungeons & Dragons tournaments and sewing costumes for World of Warcraft conventions.
While I don’t bother to ask that a television reviewer actually crack the book on which the series is based, please don’t insult us with cliched generalities (“the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic”).
The deepest cut, perhaps, is this paragraph:
“The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.”
The only patronizing turned out here is emanating from you, Ms. Bellafante. There’s really no need to insult the multitudes of men -and- women who happen to enjoy fantasy.
To love fantasy is to love a world other than the one we inhabit. Fantasy invites us down the morlock holes, through the looking glass, into the magic wardrobe, back to the past and into the future. Bad fantasy is laughable, but every genre has its embarrassments. The fantasy and science fiction of yesterday is the technology of today.
Is it escapist? Yes. But who has not submerged themselves willingly in their favorite book, movie or television show without that end in view? What’s so flawless about the world we live in that we can’t leave for awhile?
In closing, I can only return to your own words: “the series…ought to come with a warning like, “If you can’t count cards, please return to reruns of ‘Sex and the City.’ ”
Ms. Bellafante, Carrie and Friends await.


Anna, “Boy Fiction” Lover

You can read her defensive response to the wrath of the geek hordes here: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/19/pull-up-a-throne-and-lets-talk/?smid=tw-nytimes

The Library’s Whispers

Should I ever end my gypsy ways, I might actually have a home of my own. Despite the various perils of the real estate market, it seems to me there is not much more glamour in moving on a yearly basis, existing out of boxes, or continually living in places that cannot be made one’s own. Today, I spent twenty minutes fruitlessly hunting for a book that I finally located, shelved with my DVDs.

For I must have a library one day – I must. Personal libraries are quite different from institutional ones, which are forced to cater to the many not the few. They also close in the middle of the night, which is quite inconvenient for the night readers amongst us. Who reading this has not read by the dim light of a nightlight or flashlight, long after they were supposed to be abed?

Old Library – Trinity College

With no budget limitations in my mind, I have composed a list of rules for my library-to-be:
A. The library must have art.

The art needn’t be particularly expensive. In fact, general shabbiness of the room is permitted, as long as the art is especially beautiful. There should definitely be a marble bust somewhere, a bronze, some portraits of long-dead and smiling, patrician-nosed people in flaking gilt frames.

I’d like a few engravings too, pertaining to reading.

Girls in the Library – Forbidden Fruit

B. The library must not have a television. Or a stereo.

Then it is a rec room or entertainment room. Anyone who reads books voraciously knows that books -are- the entertainment. Books are your friends when you have none. Who can be lonely with Cyrano and Porthos making you laugh? A favorite book will never let you down and you always know how it ends…and how it begins.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it”

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the riverbank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book’, thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?'”

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

The loss of music is a real one. I do love music, but it definitely occupies my mind when reading. It should be as pure a moment as possible, when hours slip by with each page and sleepless nights filled with 1001 tales.

C. The library’s furniture must be more functional than decorative.

It must have deep, squishy chairs, cozy wells for wallowing by the fireplace. One must have the proper rolling ladders along the cases, which must be wood and not particleboard or metal. There should be a reading stand which highlights some particularly excellent first edition or illuminated manuscript, next to a wooden globe. The draperies should be slightly dusty, but the books never. The floors should be wood parquet or faded oriental rugs, but never tile or linoleum. Wood paneling is a nice plus.

A Rather Proper Example of a Library.

The light that filters in the window should slide across the room in syrupy golden pools as the day wanes. Fluorescent light is verboten; I don’t care how much electricity it saves. Light should shine from Tiffany-like lamps and stained glass and a bay window seat, piled with pillows, with a view over a vast lawn.

If there is no music room, the piano may grace the library, but it ought to be only sounded when no one is reading.

And while I’m dreaming, why not have a tree in its midst?

Digital artwork by Brian Miller

There are those who claim that it’s just a matter of years that books will be defunct. That we will be able to read any book in the world, digitized, in moments…off a screen.

The Luddite in me scoffs at this proclamation. There will always be those who love the smell and the feel of books, the crackle of paper and the crisp print on the page. They can make the digital readers user-friendly, they can cover them in fabric and format them like books all they wish…but they will never replace books. Books were once so precious that they were copied and recopied by hand. Books are a uniquely human creation. Books contain all that we know or ever wish to know.

And so in this bright, shiny future where everyone carries their plastic reader…you’ll find me in my library, behind oak-paneled doors, curled up on my bay window seat…with a book in my hand.