Ramblings & ephemera

A mummified body in front of a TV

From Reuters’ “Mummified body found in front of blaring TV” (17 February 2007): Police called to a Long Island man’s house discovered the mummified remains of the resident, dead for more than a year, sitting in front of a blaring television set. The 70-year-old Hampton Bays, New York, resident, identified as Vincenzo Ricardo, appeared to […]

Ghost brides in China

From Reuters’ “China arrests men for murdering “ghost” brides” (26 January 2007): BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese police have arrested three men for killing two young women to sell their corpses as “ghost brides” for dead single men, a Chinese newspaper reported, warning the dark custom might have claimed many other victims. Yang Donghai, a 35-year-old […]

The technical details of executions by hanging

From Daniel Engber’s “How Do Hangings Work?” (Slate: 7 November 2006): The last major innovation in hanging occurred toward the end of the 19th century, when executioners first developed a systematic way to calculate the drop. Once these “drop tables” were published, a hangman knew that he’d need 7 feet for a slight, 120-pound criminal, […]

Umberto Eco on books

From Umberto Eco’s “Vegetal and mineral memory: The future of books” (Al-Ahram Weekly: 20—26 November 2003): Libraries, over the centuries, have been the most important way of keeping our collective wisdom. They were and still are a sort of universal brain where we can retrieve what we have forgotten and what we still do not […]

Some great gross parasites

Parasitoid Wasps From Charles Q. Choi’s “Web-manipulating wasps” (Live Science: 2 March 2011): Although parasites harm their hosts, they don’t usually kill them, if only to keep themselves alive. Not so with parasitoids, which ultimately destroy and often consume their hosts. Parasitoid wasps, which inspired the monster in the movie “Alien,” lay their eggs inside […]

Philip Larkin on achieving happiness

From Robert Phillips’s interview of Philip Larkin in “The Art of Poetry No. 30” (The Paris Review: Summer 1982, No. 84): INTERVIEWER Do you feel happiness is unlikely in this world? LARKIN Well, I think if you’re in good health, and have enough money, and nothing is bothering you in the foreseeable future, that’s as […]

Ray Bradbury on an encounter that changed his life

From Sam Weller’s interview of Ray Bradbury in “The Art of Fiction No. 203” (The Paris Review: Spring 2010, No. 192): Circuses and carnivals were always passing through Illinois during my childhood and I was in love with their mystery. One autumn weekend in 1932, when I was twelve years old, the Dill Brothers Combined […]

Kurt Vonnegut on the conventions found in plots

From David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, & Richard Rhodes’s interview of Kurt Vonnegut in “The Art of Fiction No. 64” (The Paris Review: Spring 1977, No. 69): INTERVIEWER Let’s talk about the women in your books. VONNEGUT There aren’t any. No real women, no love. INTERVIEWER Is this worth expounding upon? VONNEGUT It’s a […]

John Steinbeck on finishing a book

From Nathaniel Benchley’s interview of John Steinbeck in “The Art of Fiction No. 45” (The Paris Review: Fall 1969, No. 48): I truly do not care about a book once it is finished. Any money or fame that results has no connection in my feeling with the book. The book dies a real death for […]

John Steinbeck on Ernest Hemingway

From Nathaniel Benchley’s interview of John Steinbeck in “The Art of Fiction No. 45” (The Paris Review: Fall 1969, No. 48): The first thing we heard of Ernest Hemingway’s death was a call from the London Daily Mail, asking me to comment on it. And quite privately, although something of this sort might be expected, […]

Anthony Burgess on artists dying young

From John Cullinan’s interview of Anthony Burgess in “The Art of Fiction No. 48” (The Paris Review: Spring 1973, No. 56): I think America likes its artists to die young, in atonement for materialist America’s sins. The English leave the dying young to Celts like Dylan Thomas and Behan.

Woody Allen on immortality

From Michiko Kakutani’s interview of Woody Allen in “The Art of Humor No. 1” (The Paris Review: Fall 1995, No. 136): As I’ve said many times, rather than live on in the hearts and minds of my fellow man, I would rather live on in my apartment.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall”

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall” (1880) To a young child Margaret, are you grieving Over Goldengrove unleaving? Leaves, like the things of man, you With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? Ah! as the heart grows older It will come to such sights colder By and by, nor spare a sigh Though worlds […]

How male water striders blackmail females into sex

From Ed Yong’s “Male water striders summon predators to blackmail females into having sex” (Discover: 10 August 2010): Water strider sex begins unceremoniously: the male mounts the female without any courtship rituals or foreplay. She may resist but if she does, he starts to actively strum the water surface with his legs. Each vibration risks […]

There, on the Darkened Deathbed by John Masefield

This is pretty much what I think happens when we die, and unfortunately, what happens eventually after we die. There, on the darkened deathbed, dies the brain That flared three several times in seventy years; It cannot lift the silly hand again, Nor speak, nor sing, it neither sees nor hears. And muffled mourners put […]

Why we laugh

From Gene Weingarten’s “The Peekaboo Paradox: The strange secrets of humor, fear and a guy who makes big money making little people laugh” (The Washington Post: 22 January 2006): Even before they respond to a tickle, most babies will laugh at peekaboo. It’s their first “joke.” They are reacting to a sequence of events that […]

Who would ever think that it was a good idea?

Image via Wikipedia Read this article about Paul Krassner’s experiences with the Manson Family & note the emphasis I’ve added – is this not the greatest sentence out of nowhere you’ve ever seen? How in the world did that ever seem like a good idea? From Paul Krassner’s “My Acid Trip with Squeaky Fromme” (The […]

A beheading in Saudi Arabia

Image via Wikipedia From Adam St. Patrick’s “Chop Chop Square: Inside Saudi Arabia’s brutal justice system” (The Walrus: May 2009): This is Saudi Arabia, one of the last places on earth where capital punishment is a public spectacle. Decapitation awaits murderers, but the death penalty also applies to many other crimes, such as armed robbery, […]

All about freezing to death

photo credit: State Library of New South Wales collection From Peter Stark’s “As Freezing Persons Recollect the Snow–First Chill–Then Stupor–Then the Letting Go” (Outside: January 1997): There is no precise core temperature at which the human body perishes from cold. At Dachau’s cold-water immersion baths, Nazi doctors calculated death to arrive at around 77 degrees […]

David Foster Wallace on TV, loneliness, & death

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): One thing TV does is help us deny that we’re lonely. With televised images, we can have the facsimile of a relationship without the work of a real relationship. It’s an anesthesia of “form.” The interesting thing […]