A potpourri that starts with a poem

07/15/2010 12:00 AM |

I’m without a theme, so this will be miscellaneous stuff, too small for a column, too good to throw out. Like this poem from my grammar school’s latest newsletter. It was taped to a store window across from the school back in the 1950s:

I hate the guys

Who criticize

And minimize

The other guys

Whose enterprise

Has made them rise

Above the guys

Who criticize.

Ancient wisdom from the streets of Highbridge, up in the Bronx.


I’m not going to write reviews of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” or its sequels, but my wife and I enjoyed the first two and are anticipating the third. My only suggestion to you is that you keep a list of characters. Not that there are so many, but everything takes place in Sweden and everybody has the same name. Well, not really, but there’s Svenson and Johansson and Wennerstrom and Ekstrom and Blomkvist and Bjurman and Bjorck et al. Weren’t they all in the winter Olympics? Terrific summer books, though, well written and with just enough sex and mayhem to keep you wetting your finger to turn the pages.


W. Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” This is wonderful news for everyone who’s sitting out there staring blankly at computer screens, waiting for the muse to get back from lunch.


Sometimes I’ll read a paragraph that connects strongly with me and sticks in my head forever. (I imagine that’s why we all read.) In Richard Russo’s “That Old Cape Magic” the mid-20s daughter asks her father, “Do you ever feel like you’re not who people think you are? Like you’re pretending to be this person that people like? And the worst part is that they all believe you?” And he replies, “Only every day.”

No doubt all the psychology books would have lengthy words to name and explain that sensation but the young woman surely brought it right to life.


Here’s a good publishing story. Remember when most paperbacks were stained yellow on the edges? And did you know that bookstores needn’t return entire unsold paperbacks to the publisher for credit, but just the torn-off covers. Well, there was a woman working in a publisher’s warehouse whose new job was to stack and count these covers to determine the amount of the bookstore’s credit. And, eyes wide open, she noticed that the edges of the growing stack of covers were not yellow, but white. The customer had already sold the books, was printing front covers, and had been ripping off the publisher for some time. The woman got a promotion and a bonus, the store got sued and fined and the good guys won again.


We end with a strange bunch of words: words that end in mb. Bomb, aplomb, comb, crumb, lamb, jamb, numb, dumb … whose idea was this? Dambed if I know, but as we learned in school, the B is silent, like the Q in pool room.

Mr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press and a former member of Southold Free Library’s board of trustees. He can be reached at [email protected]