Let’s learn about Frank Herbert, author of Dune.
In WWII he was a Seebee:
I think about the Seabees every time I drive up the Pacific Coast Highway and hit their base at Port Hueneme:
The idea for Dune came from dunes.
He later told Willis E. McNelly that the novel originated when he was supposed to do a magazine article on sand dunes in the Oregon Dunes near Florence, Oregon.
He became too involved and ended up with far more raw material than needed for an article. The article was never written, but instead planted the seed that led to Dune.
Dune was first published by Chilton Company, known for its auto repair manuals:
Sterling E. Lanier, an editor of Chilton Book Company (known mainly for its auto-repair manuals) had read the Dune serials and offered a $7,500 advance plus future royalties for the rights to publish them as a hardcover book.
Great take on writing from a man who generated many books:
A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating. You’re there now doing the thing on paper. You’re not killing the goose, you’re just producing an egg. So I don’t worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It’s a matter of just sitting down and working. I have never had the problem of a writing block. I’ve heard about it. I’ve felt reluctant to write on some days, for whole weeks, or sometimes even longer. I’d much rather go fishing, for example, or go sharpen pencils, or go swimming, or what not. But, later, coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, “Well, now it’s writing time and now I’ll write.” There’s no difference on paper between the two.— Frank Herbert
PLOWBOY: So you think our country’s methods of instruction have a lot to do with the destruction of many family values?
HERBERT: Absolutely. By the time you have three or four generations of people who are taught not to trust their families and their families’ knowledge, individuals can really become separated from their roots. The effect is to make people feel like lost wanderers, or to cause them to think of themselves only in the role of their jobs, which is a complete misrepresentation of what it means to be alive.
Another lesson I learned in childhood is that what people do is just as important as—and maybe more so than—what they say. I had a marvelous object lesson in the difference between words and actions when I was in fourth grade. In those days I was bored to death by school, so I tended to cause a lot of trouble.
One day our teacher, a great big woman who wore eye-glasses that looked like the bottoms of pop bottles, caught me in the middle of a particularly heinous prank. She told me to stay after school and added, “I just don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”
Of course, I could imagine all kinds of horrible things she might do to me. Like the bastinado, or worse! But when school was over, she just made me sit and sit while she worked on papers. After what seemed like ages, she motioned me up to her desk, stared at me awhile—I could feel two holes being burned right through me—and then resumed her paperwork.
PLOWBOY: You must have been terrified.
HERBERT: Oh, I was. Finally, she put her pencil down and said, “I just don’t know what I’m going to do with you.” Well, it was all too much for me. I started to cry. She put her face right in front of mine then and said again!—”I just don’t know what I’m going to do with you.” And I said through my sobs, “Why are you mad at me?”
With that, she grabbed me by the shoulders, began shaking me roughly, and cried, “I’m not mad at you, I’m not mad at you!” Well, I now know that teachers get long lectures during their training on the importance of keeping their tempers with their students, so I had said exactly the wrong thing to this woman. I may not have understood that at the time, but I didn’t have a bit of trouble realizing that my teacher—who was repeatedly screaming, “I’m not mad at you!”—was nearly out of her mind with rage.
That incident drove home the lesson that what people say often doesn’t agree with what they actually do. And that discovery played a big part in the shaping my thinking and behavior.
from an interview with Pat Stone in a 1981 issue of Mother Earth news. Another gem:
I intend to add a solar collector over our swimming pool building to heat its water … and—for a time—I even raised chickens to provide manure for my methane experiments.
Herbert on government:
PLOWBOY: You feel that Kennedy was dangerous and Nixon was good for the country?
HERBERT: Yes, Nixon taught us one hell of a lesson, and I thank him for it. He made us distrust government leaders. We didn’t mistrust Kennedy the way we did Nixon, although we probably had just as good reason to do so. But Nixon’s downfall was due to the fact that he wasn’t charismatic. He had to be sold just like Wheaties, and people were disappointed when they opened the box.
I think it’s vital that men and women learn to mistrust all forms of powerful, centralized authority. Big government tends to create an enormous delay between the signals that come from the people and the response of the leaders. Put it this way: Suppose there were a delay time of five minutes between the moment you turned the steering wheel on your car and the time the front tires reacted. What would happen in such a case?
PLOWBOY: I guess I’d have to drive pretty slowly.
HERBERT: V-e-rrrrrrr-y slowly. Governments have the same slow-response effect. And the bigger the government, the more slowly it reacts. So to me, the best government is one that’s very responsive to the needs of its people. That is, the least, loosest, and most local government.
PLOWBOY: But you feel pretty sure humankind will be able to make the necessary changes?
HERBERT: I think they’ll be forced on us. Oh, we’ll make some mistakes. We’ll probably have a number of fanatic leaders and such to deal with in the years to come. I don’t see the future as being all sweetness and light, by any means. Learning from mistakes is a very slow process. It may take us 20,000 or 25,000 years to get to where, I feel, we have to go.
Herbert lived in Port Townsend, Washington for some time, not far from Cape Flattery. I find this picture on PT’s wikipedia page:
Depicted here is one of the wives of Cheech Ma Ham:
Jodowarsky’s Dune is a must watch. Last I checked it was free on Netflix:
This interview with Charles Portis, on his days a young reporter, for an oral history project about the Arkansas Gazette newspaper is so wonderful.
On Tom Wolfe and Malcolm X:
They made movies out of several Portis books:
is one and
What does Charles Portis make of all this I wonder?
Click on this link for an amazing picture of William Woodruff sailing up the Mississippi with his printing presses.
I don’t like to give bad reviews to books on Helytimes. Why call limited attention to bad books? However I must condemn this book.
Let me admit that I didn’t read it.
I oppose it because:
1) I was not consulted on it and didn’t hear about it until it was published
2) I was not included in it
3) many geniuses were not included in it, and the selections don’t represent anything like a best of.
Impossible in an anthology to please everyone. But I suspect anyone familiar with the Lampoon will find the table of contents to be the funniest part.
(That’s the only part I read.)
4) No art?
The Lampoon is full of beautiful art that makes the words tolerable.
A mistake to print an all words anthology.
5) the whole point of the Lampoon is you can write and “publish” dumb bad practice material that no one will ever see.
On the other hand: I was lucky and was given issues of the Lampoon by my cousin when I was a senior in high school. That gift changed my life. So maybe this book will do that for someone.
Here’s a funny review by one Helen Andrews of Sydney, Australia in the Weekly Standard. (Shoutout to Chris McKenna who I guess reads The Weekly Standard?)
I think you’ll get more value for your book dollar in:
One thing leads to another and I’m reading about how there were black people on the Caribbean island of Montserrat who were said to speak Irish Gaelic:
Irish language in Montserrat
The Irish constituted the largest proportion of the white population from the founding of the colony in 1628. Many were indentured labourers; others were merchants or plantation owners. The geographer Thomas Jeffrey claimed in The West India Atlas (1780) that the majority of those on Montserrat were either Irish or of Irish descent, “so that the use of the Irish language is preserved on the island, even among the Negroes”.
African slaves and Irish colonists of all classes were in constant contact, with sexual relationships being common and a population of mixed descent appearing as a consequence. The Irish were also prominent in Caribbean commerce, with their merchants importing Irish goods such as beef, pork, butter and herring, and also importing slaves.
There is indirect evidence that the use of the Irish language continued in Montserrat until at least the middle of the nineteenth century. The Kilkenny diarist and Irish scholar Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin noted in 1831 that he had heard that Irish was still spoken in Montserrat by both black and white inhabitants. A letter by W.F. Butler in The Atheneum (15 July 1905) quotes an account by a Cork civil servant, C. Cremen, of what he had heard from a retired sailor called John O’Donovan, a fluent Irish speaker:
- He frequently told me that in the year 1852, when mate of the brig Kaloolah, he went ashore on the island of Montserrat which was then out of the usual track of shipping. He said he was much surprised to hear the negroes actually talking Irish among themselves, and that he joined in the conversation…
There is no evidence for the survival of the Irish language in Montserrat into the twentieth century.
The wiki page for Amhlaoibh has several interesting quotes:
“February 3, 1828 …There is a lonely path near Uisce Dun and Móinteán na Cisi which is called the MassBoreen. The name comes from the time when the Catholic Church was persecuted in Ireland, and Mass had to be said in woods and on moors, on wattled places in bogs, and in caves. But as the proverb says, It is better to look forward with one eye than to look backwards with two…“
Amhlaoibh lived out in Callan, in Kilkenny:
Nearby was born James Hoban, who designed The White House:
On a trip to DC once I brought along this book, which I recommend to any DC visitor:
Applewhite might’ve been the first to put in my head the idea that the The White House is modeled on Irish country mansions:
The entire southern half of Montserrat got pretty messed up by volcanic eruptions and was abandoned in 1997:
And is now an “exclusion zone”:
Montserrat’s national dish is Goat water, a thick goat meat stew served with crusty bread rolls.
for more interesting oddities of Western Hemisphere geography and history, I recommend:
Just finished reading:
A strange thing to read, maybe. Here is the story of how I came to read it.
Some years ago, filming the finale of The Office on Dwight Schrute’s farm:
I looked around at the inland Malibu landscape and got to wondering if there could be a show about the pioneers: people who arrived on empty* land and built their lives there.
So as research I picked up the first book I thought of:
Didn’t finish it. Got distracted before I got off the third page, probably at first by my phone and then by my life.
A true Save The Cat
On the first page of O Pioneers!, there is a true Save The Cat situation.
We’re in the middle of a blizzard, and Little Emil’s cat has gone up a telegraph pole, and he’s afraid it’ll freeze:
Down in Australia in August, I saw the cool Penguin Classics edition:
and picked it up thinking, eh what the hell I should find out what happened to that cat.
Well, I found out, and I found out what happened to Emil and his sister Alexandra for the next forty years.
I believe an error was made in choosing this quote for the front page:
It isn’t the most interesting one from the book. I might’ve chosen this:
Or even, if we’re going re: ducks, this:
This quote made me think of the news:
Also can’t say that the epigraph is especially sexy:
Perhaps it’s better in the original Polish.
But still I pressed on, and in the end, I gotta give it up to O Pioneers!
The life of Willa Cather
Willa Cather must’ve been quite something. She was born in Gore, Virginia, but as a girl she was brought to Red Cloud, Nebraska:
where she made a real impression:
Was Willa Cather a lesbian?
Willa Cather shot out of Nebraska like a rocket.
The closest relationships in her life were with women, and she lived with one Edith Lewis:
for close to thirty years. Some biographers hesitate to call her a lesbian, though, saying she never identified herself that way.
Willa Cather Memorial Prairie
Willa died in 1947. She has a memorial prairie named after her, it’s the number 2 thing to do in Red Cloud, NE after her house:
Willa on writing
O Pioneers! still holds up. I found myself moved by it, and it’s short. Cather has a way of summing up loneliness, heartache, longing, compassion, in a few short lines.
I went ahead and got Willa’s collected essays on writing.
Here she tells how she came to write O Pioneers!, her second book:
She wrote in some opposition to the detail-filled writing of Balzac:
Interesting point here:
Red Cloud, Nebraska
Here’s a picture of downtown Red Cloud from Google Maps:
About as solid a Trump country as you will find:
As of 2000 the median income for a household in the city was $26,389, and the median income for a family was $34,038. Males had a median income of $26,364 versus $17,232 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,772. About 8.4% of families and 13.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.9% of those under age 18 and 10.1% of those age 65 or over.
David McCullough has something moving to say about Red Cloud and Willa and her other famous book:
I found O Pioneers! very moving and powerful, let me share with you why:
Warning: O Pioneers! spoiler
Skip this if you intend to read the book with suspense in mind.
But I doubt you will. I found this the most moving passage, and worth all the reading. Let me set it up for you:
Emil, he of the lost cat on page 2, grows up under the guidance of his older sister, Alexandra. She’s really the focus of our story. Carl, the local boy who saves the cat, is in love with her, but he can’t really take it out on the plains, so he goes off, and leaves her behind. She’s left to care for her brothers.
Emil, youngest brother, does great. He goes on to college at the University of Nebraska, while Alexandra stays to watch over the farm. All the while Emil’s been in love with a neighbor girl, Marie. She marries another man, though.
Still, Emil and Marie are in love. Eventually Marie’s husband, Frank Shabata, finds his wife and Emil together. In a crazed rage he murders Marie and Emil both.
Alexandra, alone at age forty, is heartbroken, left adrift at the death of her brother. But still, she feels sympathy for Frank Shabata, who’s been sent to prison in Lincoln for his crime.
Alexandra, lost and in pain, decides to go visit Frank in prison. In afternoon/dusk, after arriving in Lincoln, she wanders the campus of the university, thinking of her murdered brother. Desperate for any kind of connection, she runs into a student:
Walt Whitman Reads: America
The Whitman Recording
The title of O Pioneers! comes from a poem by Walt Whitman.
Some years ago, a recording of Walt Whitman’s voice, said to have been recorded onto an Edison wax cylinder around 1889 or 1890, was rediscovered.
In these times when it seems maybe we lost our way, nationally, it made me feel good to hear this. Forty-six seconds long:
Pretty into two articles this week about enormous imaginative projects.
In 1931, a legal scholar named Austin Tappan Wright died in a car accident in Las Vegas, New Mexico, not far from Santa Fe. He was forty-eight. His father had been one of the preëminent academics of the previous century—“A History of All Nations from the Earliest Times,” for which he served as editor, runs to more than twenty volumes—and his mother, Mary Tappan Wright, was a famous novelist, a progenitor of what we now think of as the campus novel. Wright’s own career was more quietly successful. Before his death, he taught at Penn, Stanford, and Michigan, and published articles on maritime law, their scope profoundly, almost rebukingly more modest than that of his father’s work—“Supervening Impossibility of Performing Conditions in Admiralty,” for example, or “Private Carriers and the Harter Act.”
After his unexpected death, Wright’s wife and daughter had the task of going through his papers. They were unprepared for what they discovered there.
In an afterword to the novel, Wright’s daughter recalls that when her father spoke to his wife from a telephone booth, he would remove his hat. This small gesture explains “Islandia,” to me: Wright was part of that great age of anonymous managerial Harvard men who assumed their expected places in society while also maintaining the most intense imaginable internal worlds—Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Charles Ives if you expand the range to include Yale.
(Ugh, must we include Yale?)
Also wild was this New Yorker thing by Esther Yi about German writer Arno Schmidt and the effort to translate his 1300 page book:
“Zettel’s Traum” is both Schmidt’s most famous book and his least read, and for the same reason:
because it’s thirteen hundred pages long?
it is dedicated almost entirely to applying a Freudian theory of language to the works of Poe. (This was familiar ground: Schmidt spent years translating Poe, in collaboration with Hans Wollschläger.) Dan argues that words are composed of units of sound, or “etyms,” that reveal an author or speaker’s unconscious thoughts. To say “whole” is to think “hole,” for instance. With his ear cocked to sexual harmonics, Dan finds in Poe an impotent man who is possessed by the erotic and, unable to express his sexuality in bed, resorts to voyeurism, notably of what people do on the toilet.
“One could not tell if this was amazing, or if this was something for crazy people,” Susanne Fischer, the head of the Arno Schmidt Foundation, which manages the writer’s literary estate, told me.
There was a method to Schmidt’s madness:
Each night, at 2 a.m., he would begin writing in the upstairs room, from which even his cats were barred (not least because the one he called Conte Fosco, after a Wilkie Collins character, had urinated on his prized edition of James Fenimore Cooper). He compiled roughly a hundred and twenty thousand scraps of paper, or Zettel, in shallow wooden boxes, which he spread out on his desk. On each Zettel, there was written a bit of dialogue or sexual wordplay (“Im=pussy=bell’–!”) or a literary quote rerouted through his one-track mind (“the fleshy man=drake’s stem. / That shrieks, when torn at night”). After twenty-five thousand hours of knitting the pieces together, Schmidt handed the manuscript to his publisher in a large cardboard box tied with a curtain sash.
For a less hefty read might I recommend: