My latest woodworking project
A musical instrument of any kind is not easy to make, so I got some special satisfaction from the completion of my latest woodworking project: a mountain dulcimer. I completed the one pictured here at the end of the week last week, and it made its world debut at a meeting of my local dulcimer club on Wednesday. It’s all about the sound, of course, and this one sounds pretty good.
The dulcimer is made from pecan (body) and walnut (headstock, fretboard, and tailstock). There is no standard wood for a dulcimer, so that makes each one sound a little different.
Dulcimers are popular all over the world — thanks in great part to the late, great folksinger Jean Ritchie — but they used to be confined to certain parts of southern Appalachia. A well-played dulcimer can be magical.
It takes as much patience as skill to make one of these, and I have to thank my friend Bruce M. for giving me lots of help and direction.
The first American crime novel — actually, a sensation novel — had a female author
Metta Victoria Fuller Victor authored and published The Dead Letter in 1867. It is thought to be America’s first full crime novel. (Edgar Allan Poe’s stuff was short stories.) In its day, it was known as a sensation novel.
But it’s not America’s first detective novel.
The Dead Letter has a crime, of course. There is evidence. There are clues. The novel has a police detective — a clever one — and he had a daughter who is also clever in a different way. The detective has a backstory that explains why he’s there.
The problem, as LeRoy Lad Panek points out in his book, The Origins of the American Detective Story, is that the crime is not “solved” by the detective (or his daughter). It’s solved by an accidental discovery. Panek notes that in the pre-detective novel era of crime fiction or sensation novels, it wasn’t necessarily up to the detective to solve the crime. Something else was going on.
That something has a lot to do with the views of and attitudes toward criminals and justice that lie under these kinds of books. Crime and justice in a sensation novel depend on faith in a universe that is eventually and inevitably just and governed by providence: this goes back to the sure knowledge that “murder will out” that serves as the basis for what happens in century upon century of Western literature from Chaucer’s “Prioriss Tale” to MacBeth and Hamlet. (pp. 13-14)
It is the concept of “inevitable justice,” Paneck points out. Victorians and people before them did not need detectives. Truth, providentially, would always take over.
If you are interested in reading The Dead Letter, you can do so here at Project Gutenberg.
Tom Wolfe, the reporter with the right stuff
Few journalists manage to do what Tom Wolfe did, both with his words and his approach.
Wolfe, who died Monday (May 14, 2018) at age 88, pioneered in the 1960s an approach to journalism that became known as The New Journalism. What that involved was intensive reporting — not a five-question interview with a couple of ready sources, but a commitment of days, even weeks, talking and observing.
Then there were the words.
As the New York Times obituary says of him:
His talent as a writer and caricaturist was evident from the start in his verbal pyrotechnics and perfect mimicry of speech patterns, his meticulous reporting, and his creative use of pop language and explosive punctuation. Source: Tom Wolfe, Pyrotechnic ‘New Journalist’ and Novelist, Dies at 88 – The New York Times
Wolfe never ceased being a reporter, even with the novels he wrote. Like a good reporter his curiosity was never in question and never satisfied.
RIP, Tom Wolfe.
The man who tried to get every book in the world
Hernando Colón (1488-1539), the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus, spent much of his life traveling around Europe — and later America — amassing what was then the largest private library in the world.
His goal was to collect all of the knowledge of the world into one place (Seville, Spain, as it turned out) because he believed Spain would one day rule the world. It needed an extraordinary base of knowledge to do so, and Colón was determined to make that happen. Colón was wrong about that, but the error does not detract from the man’s amazing achievements.
Those, indeed, were numerous.
He created Europe’s first botanical garden, gathering specimens from many of the places where he traveled.
He wrote a dictionary.
He helped created the first modern maps of the world.
He seemed to know everyone who was anyone during his age, including Albrecht Durer, Thomas More, and Erasmus.
He gathered the largest collection of printed images in the world.
He had the largest collection of musical scores in the world.
And with so many books, where do you put them? How do you put them? According to Edward Wilson-Lee, author of a recently published biography of Colón titled The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library:
“In essence, he invents the modern bookshelf: row upon row of books standing upright on their spines, stacked in specially designed wooden cases.”
In its description of Wilson-Lee’s book, University of Cambridge writes:
“Colón had an extraordinary memory and an obsession with lists,” says Wilson-Lee, whose research on Colón was funded by the British Academy. “Each time he bought a book, he would meticulously record where and when he bought it, how much it cost and the rate of currency exchange that day. Sometimes he noted where he was when he read it, what he thought of the book and if he’d met the author. As pieces of material culture, each is a fascinating account of how one man related to, used and was changed by books.”
So why have we not heard more about this extraordinary man? Read the rest of this post on JPROF.com.
Jean T.: The censor who reviewed all Shakespeare’s plays was still operating as the censor of British Theatre until 1968 – the Lord Chamberlain- when the role of the official censor was abolished by the Theatres Act 1968. The Lord Chamberlain’s Office is still working in the Royal Household. They plan State visits, Royal Garden Parties, the State Opening of Parliament, Investitures, Royal Weddings and funerals. Not sure if they are doing much about Harry and Meghan’s wedding though – if what the celebrity mags say is true.
Don M.: Living 50+ miles from the nearest library, makes MY Kindle Tablet my library…….that way I’m not limited to 3 books only and save time and expenses… traveling back and forth…time I spend reading on my Kindle. Many of us live in villages without a public library. … .
Good point. Try openlibrary.org.
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Tags: dulcimer, Ernest Hemingway, Hernando Colon, Jack Whicher, Jean Ritchie, Kate Summerscale, LeRoy Lad Panek, libraries, Mary Wollstonecraft, Metta Victoria Fuller Victor, Rita Mae Brown, Saville Kent, The Dead Letter, The New Journalism, The Origins of the American Detective Story, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Tom Wolfe, watercolor, woodworking