Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Destination: Titivation

I have this longstanding habit of hearing about an author, then pursuing everything they've ever written. There were times, when I had full access to the Library of Congress, that I could request the writer's entire body of work, have the books delivered to me bound in newspaper and string, with no time constraints in their return. I would place the books in chronological order for my reading, and the norm was to have a stack of 50-something next to the bed. I can tell you, writing this in retrospect, that I never took that privilege for granted and knew how rare it was. I remember how shocked I was the day a 16th-century edition of Suetonius accidentally made it past the Rare Book Room into my hands. The Loan Division Director and I both stared at it in awe. And "no," I never set down Coke cans on the books or turned pages with Cheetoes orange fingers. An aside. Since Suetonius had been mistakenly delivered to me, bound with other books, I did take it home that night, but I opened the book wearing white cotton gloves, so the oil from my fingers wouldn't touch the pages, and I returned it promptly the next morning, wrapped in a white cotton sheet. I had the oddest sensation looking at it. It was like falling through centuries.

Often I find that a writer's skills improve over time. Sometimes not, and that is always surprising because you expect growth as part of the process. One habit I've noticed with some young writers (and some older ones that continue to preen) is that they pursue a more filigreed,whatchamacallit word; dropping it into their text, which has me running to the Webster's Unabridged that I keep on a dictionary stand in my bedroom.

Recently, I heard about a mystery writer named Ruth Rendell. Critical raves. Five stars. The best. Agatha who? Well. To quote my late mother, "Not my cup of tea." I am much more of a George Pelecanos-Dennis Lehane-Raymond Chandler-Dorothy Sayers kinda girl. In reading one of Rendell's book published in 1975, I stumbled onto the word "titivating," and headed to the Websters for it's defined meaning and learned she had used it in another sense.

Titivate: (verb) Perhaps from tidy plus vate as in renovate; to dress up (as by making small additions or alterations in attire); spruce up; smarten up.

I had to laugh about titivate because here we are, more than thirty years later, and we've gone from titivation to sprucing up to tweaking our threads. And yes, while I was online at urbandictionary.com I found this:

Molcing: The act of dressing up in a vegetable costume and fornicating with another person dressed in vegetable like attire. Being a furvert wasn't enough? Now it's got to be vegetables? I will never look at the Fruit of the Loom guys in the same way again.

"Was it good for you?"

Chum: To be on terms of intimate friendship; to share quarters: room together; chopped fish, vegetable matter, or small live fish thrown overboard to draw fish to a fishing boat.

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Blogger Velvet said...

It's original Cube, back in full force. I love the shredded carrots.

I feel this way about Hemingway. Love him. Just bought a bunch more and am happy I am not close to running out of material.

There's a bookstore in Georgetown, south side of M street, corner of 29th, and there's a bookstore there that seems to have old books like this.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Velvet? I read your most recent piece. Brilliant. I started writing a comment on your blog last night in response to it, and I found it was turning into a blog piece for me, in response to it. People? Go to Velvet's blog. NOW!!

3:14 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

and P.S. to Velvet. Bartleby's. ;)

3:16 PM  
Blogger Velvet said...

Is that it? I was there this a.m. but Thora decided to take a potty outside so I was busy cleaning it up. But I fogged up their windows for a second there. A business book from the 1800's! I wonder what's in there! Probably nothing about women...grumble...but a bunch of great advice that has probably stood the test of time.

There's more on the whole job interview thing. I'm amassing a small collection. And you can post a blog entry response anytime!

3:20 PM  
Blogger I-66 said...

I'm going to dress up as a cucumber and let the magic happen.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

I-66: You are a wicked child. I just knew it.

8:42 PM  
Blogger WDCD/DRFS/aka Sue said...

I've also read the entire canon of an author...May Sarton held me in sway one summer...and I just read 2 of Ann Tyler's early novels...A SLIPPING DOWN LIFE and MORGAN'S PASSING. I think the best begins with DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTURANT...but I think there are some others I need to take a look at. How lucky to have the Library of Congress at your disposal...

10:04 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Sue: I went down the May Sarton path when I read the food writer MFK Fisher, and I went down the Fisher path as well which lead me to Clementine Paddleforth. I think it also brought in poet Elizabeth Bishop who wrote this wonderful poem about maps.

I am the Queen of the footnote. I read them all. I read bibliography lists and find great books there. I revisit old landscape, as well. When I was sixteen I was totally immersed in Russia. In December, I reread Anna Karenina, because..I used to always read Anna in December. I think with some authors it's good to return at various ages, and see where your perceptions have altered, and whose voice you attend to in the latest reading. The first time I read Anna, I sympathized with the heartbroken young Kitty, smashed over Vronsky. Later readings had me focused on Dolly Oblonsky, a dried fruit at 36, hedonistic Stiva, pure Varenka and knuckle cracking Alexi. As for the LOC, yeah. Dearly missed. They used to fight over my book request lists at the loan division, because they were so eclectic and more interesting to go in search of than the usual chicken soup for the brain books. It was a book lovers wet dream.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Do you have a favorite author? Favorite book? That's such an unfair question, but ... do you?

Love the idea of falling backwards through the centuries as you read the old book. Very wonderful imagery.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Reya: I don't think I have a favorite book at the moment, or I'm not thinking of it, and I would have to walk around my home to see which book I own that I treasure the most for it's personal/sentimental value to me.

For example, I have an old copy of Washington Irving that came down through my mother's family. Tucked inside is a faded rose given to me by a boy who had run into me again, after being apart, and he snapped the flower off the bush in a D.C. garden where we stood, and he penned his telephone number in ink on one of the yellow petals. Now he would say, "Give me your cell," and he would text his number in. Another young man, who knows me very well, once gave me "Reed's Nautical Companion" which they use in the Navy and teaches you everything about identifying boats and ships and ocean navigation, communication at sea, and weather and time tables and distress and rescue. Lots of good stuff.

Another older woman who had been a beekeeper at one time gave me her old books on bees. She told me it's hard labor and bee colonies are fragile and prone to flight and disease; i.e. "don't romanticize it." I treasure her books.

I just found a perfect "Reya" as Gold Puppy book:

Streets for People: A Primer for Americans--Bernard Rudofsky. He dedicates it to "The Unknown Pedestrian." He's written many wonderful books: Architecture Without Architects, Now I Lay Me Down To Eat: Notes and Footnotes On The Lost Art of Living, The Kimono Mind, Are Clothes Modern? One of those polymaths that seems to know a lot about a whole slew of things.

I've been passionate about various authors over time, then shifted, or from a period of writing like Fitzgerald. From F. Scott Fitzgerald I went through the Murphy's and Paris in the '20's and Algonquin Table.

In reading Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, I went to his biography, then on to Brian Howard and Harold Acton and the bright young things crowd of London and Oxford esthetes and Children of the Sun and Florence palazzos and on and on and on.

There is a geologist named Simon Winchester (non-fiction), but you read his books and footnotes and find a lot of new things to explore.

I still have a tender love for all of the New England Transcendentalists and their spawn.

But it all depends on where I'm at in my own life, or some odd quirky thing I hear that sends me scuttling off to do my homework and learn more.

You might have fun reading "Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture" by Bram Dijkstra. That's another book that will lead you to 100 more.

I say, whatever piques your interest, "Suivez la Piste"...follow the trail. In many aspects of our lives, the journey is the best part.

...and there I stop. In true Cube fashion, I just wrote a blog piece in the equivalent of a footnote.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Just think - Thomas Jefferson could have taken that very book into the bathroom with him.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...


Or Martin Luther. Holding something that old in my hands (and it had come out during the period of "Printing press...what a great new idea!) drove home the point to me how poorly our books are created now. The pages were as fresh as a ream of HP Multipurpose...only better. Pick up any paperback in a used bookstore, and you'll know what I mean. Leather binding, of course, and it had engraved maps that folded out. I did go over to the Rare Book room, of course, to read those books that were not released out. All I had to do was tell them what I was seeking (had access to their database, tooz), and they'd pull the book in advance and have it waiting during my lunch hour. Somehow this book had never made it to the Rare Book collection, and given the vast holdings of the Library, it's easy to understand "glitches" like this. I would also stress it probably happens one in a gazillion times, and I knew the rarity of an error like that, so all the more remarkable. I had befriended the Director of the Loan Division. His staff were responsible for getting the books to me, so the morning I brought it back, even he sat in amazement and took the time to look at it, knowing he'd never have the freedom outside of the Rare room, to hold something like this again...unless, of course, you are Donald Trump (HUGE *KAWF*) and spend your money on this treasure.

2:37 PM  
Blogger All Things Bright and Beautiful... said...

Cube - you are and always hysterically funny and intellectual at the same time.

I honestly cant believe that there is a word for people doing vegetable antics!!

There must be a lot of them or why would the word have been invented????

Well there aren't any in my crisper that I can see ;-)

4:47 AM  

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