Tag Archives: Edgar Allan Poe

You Just Know Daisy Buchanan Would Text While Driving

If you’re someone who reads a lot—and I’m guessing you are since you’re reading this blog—the first book of the year you read can really set the tone for the rest of the year.  At least that’s what I came to learn in the early days of 2015; the first book I read this year was Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg.

I spent more time picking out a filter than I did reading that day.

Ortberg reimagines books as text message conversations between the characters and sometimes with authors as well.  An excerpt can be found here. She injects every iteration with humor while still managing to convey the gist of the plots. Her texts from Hamlet make him come across as a petulant teenager instead of a man in his thirties. The Lorax doesn’t only speak for the trees, but also for tampons. Scarlett O’Hara tries unsuccessfully to sext. Hermione Granger tries to explain what science and math are to Ron Weasley while simultaneously warning him that credit cards are not, in fact, magic. Sherlock Holmes ecstatically texts John Watson with his latest discovery—there’s cocaine you can smoke!

From Agatha Christie to Fight Club, from René Descartes to The Outsiders, no book or author is safe from Ortberg, cocreator of The Toast.  Some of her recent posts to the site include The Comments Section For Every Video Where Someone Does A PushupAny Rand’s Sweet Valley High and Haters Of The Sea: A Taxonomy.

Probably one of my favorite parts is the texts of Edgar Allan Poe.  He’s texting that he might not be able to make it out; he can’t leave his house because a bird keeps looking at him.  Then he hears bells that won’t stop ringing. Then because there’s a heart under the floor that won’t stop beating. There’s also a one-eyed cat that’s calling him a murderer. Of course these are the plots of some of Poe’s best-known stories, but the way Ortberg reinterprets it is something akin to near-incomprehensible texts from your drunken friend.

It’s a quick and funny read that made me want to track down some the original stories she spoofed, like “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Daisy Miller and The Sun Also Rises. I want to see for myself just how bizarre these characters and stories are. I’m sure there’s a comment to be made about the brevity of texting and our ever-shortening attention spans, but I’m not about to make it; I’m too distracted looking up videos of people doing pushups.

Have you read Ortberg’s book? If you could text any author or fictional character, who would it be and why?  Sound off in the comments below!



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ePub Format Would Have Suited Poe

I’ve been utilizing my Kobo eReader to check out and read some of the great classics available on CLP’s Overdrive platform.  For folks who haven’t explored it, Overdrive offers books in a number of electronic formats, including the ePub format most commonly utilized by non-Kindle (Amazon) eReaders.

You can do a nifty, targeted search that will limit to just “classics”  in the ePub format on Overdrive.  That’s how I found this lovely little collection of Poe material featuring some of his most famous tales (“Masque of the Red Death, “The Raven”, and “The Cask of Amontialldo”).   Here’s a shot of the eBook “cover”:

The more I think about it, the more I believe Edgar Allen Poe would have loved the ePub format.  As the country’s first real “magaziner,” he was a tireless self-promoter and really tried very hard to make a living at being both a publisher and a writer.  A format like ePub would have allowed him to go right at his core audience, breaking his work into mini-collections for sale and distribution.  And could you imagine some of the crossover marketing deals a modern-day Poe could have negotiated for himself?

Woman to Starbucks Barista: “Yes, I’d like a tall Cask of Amontialldo with extra room.”

Barista: “Do you want whole or skim milk with that?”

Alas, Poe died penniless, a victim of a reading public that did not fully appreciate his genius until he was gone.

His work lives on beyond the printed word, a testament to his talent and tenacity.


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Locked Room Mysteries

A person is found dead, presumably murdered, but all the doors and windows to the room were locked.  How did it happen?  And more importantly, who did it?

This is the premise of the mystery sub-genre known as “locked room mysteries.”  However, this type of mystery doesn’t always happen in a locked room.  Sometimes the people are alone on an island together, alá Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.  Sometimes a person is found dead in the snow or the sand and there are no footprints approaching or leaving the area, such as in The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr or Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Other times the murder mystery is simply an impossible puzzle.

The very first locked room mystery comes to us from that founder of the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe.  You may be familiar with this one from your required high school reading list.  His Murders in the Rue Morgue still serves as the benchmark against which all other stories of this type are judged.  If you haven’t read this since high school, try it again.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much better you think it is now.

John Dickson Carr is generally considered to be the master of the locked room sub-genre.  Other mystery authors who use this device on a regular basis include Andrew Greeley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Herbert Resnicow, and Edward D. Hoch.

The Mystery Book Discussion Group will be starting a series of locked room mysteries this fall.  If puzzles (or mysteries) are your thing, please consider joining us.  We’d love to see you and we promise we won’t lock you out!

September 18th, 2009And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
October 16th, 2009 Bloodhounds by Peter Lovesey
November 20th, 2009 The Bishop at the Lake by Andrew Greeley
December 18th, 2009Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler
January 22nd, 2010The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams



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Obsession with Dead Lovers

One of the most heartbreaking story types in music, film, and literature is when a character is so obsessed with a lost (i.e., dead) love that he (and it is usually a male protagonist in this situation) begins to see her take form in another living being. Three of my favorites follow.

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Ligeia” might be the best known example of this type of tale. The narrator extols the virtues of his wife, Ligeia: her beauty touched with strangeness, her intelligence, and so on. Alas, she dies. He remarries, but spends his days in remembrance and an opium haze. Alas, his second wife, the Lady Rowena, also takes ill and is slowly dying. Without totally spoiling the ending, I’ll just say that Ligeia, possibly by her sheer will and her husband’s desire, makes a dramatic return.

The dead lover’s return story is much more complicated in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. After viewing what we think is Madeleine’s death, to see the obsessive ex-cop Scottie desperately try and transform Judy into Madeleine is painful to watch. When we find out that Judy and Madeleine are indeed the same woman, it’s devastating. (In an earlier post, I wrote about how Bernard Herrmann’s music written for the Judy and Madeleine transformation scene was so effective.)

A young Erich Wolfgang Korngold

My final example is more obscure, but definitely worth some attention. Die Tode Stadt (“The Dead City”), the 1920 opera by the underrated composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was based on Georges Rodenbach’s 19th century novel Bruges la Morte. It’s a harrowing story in which Paul is in such a state of mourning for his dead wife, Marie, that he believes that the coquettish dancer Marietta might be his Marie returned to him. But he is tortured by his physical desire for the free-spirited Marietta while wanting to remain faithful to the innocent Marie. And much of Marietta’s desire for Paul is from a sense of competition with the deceased Marie. To further complicate matters, much of the middle of the story is a dream sequence. But all the different elements of the tale (sadness, tenderness, lust, jealousy, rage, redemption, etc.) gave Korngold the opportunity to write music showcasing his diverse palette. Indeed, the opera contains two of his most gorgeous triumphs: “Glück, das mir verblieb,” the duet sung by Marietta and Paul, and “Mein Sehnen, Mein Wähnen,” the wistful song for baritone about yearning, dreaming, and returning to the past.

Longing for the past is often touching. Trying to revivify it is often tragic.

— Tim

p.s. Sadly, music fans have been all too familiar with death in the last week as folk musician and historian Mike Seeger, guitarist and recording innovator Les Paul, and Coltrane’s drummer Rashied Ali, have all passed away.


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Serendipity for a Friday Afternoon


 One of the things a librarian might tell you, if you managed to ply her with a preferred libation or two while off duty, is that serendipity is one of her favorite forms of searching.  Similarly, for customers, one of the favorite ways of searching is browsing our extensive shelves.  Hardly a day goes by when a person or three doesn’t say to me, “Just get me to the section, I’ll take it from there.”  When you browse in the stacks, you sometimes find the most unlikely things.  Ask any librarian, most of whom have piles of books at home unearthed while looking for something for someone else, and, yes, some of those books are overdue because, well, librarians are regular folk, too.

Regular folk who have to pay fines like everyone else, I hasten to add.

While doing some background research recently, I noticed that today, June 19th, is the anniversary of what is reputed to be the first ever game of modern baseball, played in 1846 in Hoboken, NJ, on the lyrically named Elysian Fields (pictured above).  Hoboken is a popular northern New Jersey city just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, a small but delightful place where I spent a fair amount of time in my younger years.  I was born nearby in Bayonne, which is another small city that took a lot of good-natured ribbing from Jackie Gleason on the TV show The Honeymooners, a 1950’s sitcom that, remarkably, is still airing over 50 years later on WGN, Chicago. 

Hoboken itself has a storied history.  Quite a few punk rock, neo-punk, emo, and independent bands have emerged from the Hoboken scene over the years, a scene that is still thriving today.  Many of those bands got their start in Maxwell’s on Washington Street, Hoboken’s main drag, and still a very active music venue. 

When it comes to music, serendipitously enough, the Dutch musicologist, Anthony van Hoboken, a descendent of one of the families the city may have been named after (there are at least two other possible origins of the name: the Flemish town of Hoboken and a phrase from the Lenni Lanape Unami language), is most famous for his catalogue of the works of Joseph Haydn.

When you shake the Inter-nets, lots of info on Hoboken falls out, including some interesting tidbits from Wikipedia.  Though I’m not sure about the veracity of this little niblet, it’s said that the Hoboken Public Library CD collection of works by favorite son, Frank Sinatra, is so large, they’ve given him his own classification (Classical, Jazz, Rock, Sinatra etc.) and if it isn’t true it should be.  Famous folks hailing from Hoboken are about as varied a bunch as you can get: Bill Frisell, the band Yo La Tengo, Alfred Kinsey, G. Gordon Liddy, Eli Manning, Anna Quindlen, Dorethea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, John Sayles, Willem de Kooning, Daniel Pinkwater, and Arti Lange, to mention the more famous.

Hoboken was supposedly the site of the first brewery in the United States, but I’ve found some conflicting information on that (and even more conflicting information on that).  The zipper, thank you, Lord, was invented there.  One of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” the first mystery story to be based on a real crime and something of a sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was set there.  Like Manhattan, Hoboken was first seen by Europeans when Henry Hudson sailed up the river that took his name and, again like Manhattan, it was purchased from the local Native American tribe for a pittance by Peter Stuyvesant.

A serendipitous search of the library catalog for Hoboken produces some interesting results.  There is last year’s cookbook cum memoir bestseller, the delightfully titled “The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken.”  Novelist Christian Bauman’s “In Hoboken” is about musicians, rock and roll, and the simultaneous charm and despair that is Hoboken.  In fact, there are 7 novels set in Hoboken in the catalog.  Hoboken’s Union Station is featured in “Still Standing: A Century of Urban Train Station Design.”  There are dozens of music CDs either recorded in or referring to Hoboken in our collections.  “Gritty Cities: A Second Look at Allentown, Bethlehem, Bridgeport, Hoboken, Lancaster, Norwich, Paterson, Reading, Trenton, Waterbury, Wilmington” captures the ambiance of an earlier, less auspicious time (pre-1978), something we Pittsburghers can readily relate to.

As the mills were to Western Pennsylvania, the waterfront was to Hoboken and so it would be accurate to say that not only was one of the greatest movies of all time, “On The Waterfront,” filmed there, it was lived there.

Finally, here’s one for the final Jeopardy category of “Musicals” and you don’t even have to be from Hoboken to answer it:

“The Little Sisters of Hoboken.”

And the question is ….

– Don


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Pulp Fiction: H. P. Lovecraft



Back in the day, libraries, like dictionaries, were prescriptive rather than descriptive.   Dictionaries, such as Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language and the Oxford English Dictionary, told you what words to use and how to use them.  Slang, when not excluded entirely, was largely discouraged, grammar just so, and obscenities were verboten.

No longer.   Today’s dictionaries are descriptive of all manner of words and how we use them.  Slang, obscenities, and incorrect grammar are all welcome.  They reflect the language as it is, ever changing, ever evolving, as is the culture from which it grows.

Similarly, libraries, particularly in the first half of the 20th century, recommended the best, and collected that which was considered of historical and cultural significance.  Today libraries, like dictionaries, act as virtual cultural mirrors; they reflect who we are, what we do, and what we like (and dislike).  Libraries and library collections describe the culture, they don’t dictate it.

Which brings us to the pulps.

Pulp fiction was largely ignored by libraries for the above stated reasons, and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh was certainly no exception.   As the culture changed, so did the libraries.  Like many other libraries across the country, the Carnegie has gone back retrospectively and filled in the gaps.  Welcome now, with open arms, are Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Robert E. Howard, Philip K. Dick, Dashiell Hammett, Ray Bradbury, Clark Ashton Smith, Erle Stanley Gardner and many, many more.

And, of course, most welcome is the grandaddy of them all, H. P. Lovecraft.

I’ve been a huge Lovecraft fan since my teen years, which coincided with the first resurgance of interest in HPL in the early 60’s, via mass market paperback editions from Ballantine Books.  What could be better?  They were flat-out horror: lurid, forbidden, suggestive, and, most of all, great fun.  Here is a list of my personal top ten favorite stories by Lovecraft:

At the Mountains of Madness and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward are both novellas, both as close to writing a full-length novel as Lovecraft would ever get.  Prior to reading At the Mountains of Madness, I would suggest reading his literary mentor Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket .  If you do, you’ll be hard put to forget the phrase “Tekeli-li.”   The rest of the above list is comprised of short stories which vary only in degree of shock and explicitness; it goes without saying, that compared to today’s splatter horror, they are mild in execution.  However, the archetypal elements in Lovecraft’s stories provide a deeper strain of psychological horror that can be hard to shake long after the story is finished.

Ironically, after many years of being ignored, a few pulp authors, including Lovecraft, have found themselves accepted into the canon of contemporary literature by way of publication by The Library of America.  Besides Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick have received this cultural imprimatur.

Unlike many a trapped protagonist in their stories, this recognition of the lasting value of pulp fiction is better, much better, late, than never.

 – Don


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