Auden: A New Selection.

Just a little over one-hundred years ago, on February 21st, 1907, to be precise, Wystan Hugh Auden was born. To mark the occasion a new edition of his Selected Poems has been published, adding thirty poems to the one-hundred originally included in previous editions of his Selected Poems. This new edition also includes some explanatory notes to help illuminate some of Auden’s references, which is good. He could be very clear and straightforward, but we’re also talking about a guy who sometimes read the Oxford English Dictionary for fun.

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Is April The Cruelest Month?

April is the cruelest month,
Breeding lilacs out of the dead land.

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

April is also National Poetry Month, so Just Write will be celebrating with a series of articles on poets, poetry, and anything else that comes to mind. T.S. Eliot (known as “Old Possum” to some) might not have thought so badly about April if he’d had this poem from Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends (Harper and Row, 1974):


Oh have you heard it’s time for vaccinations?
I think someone put salt in your tea.
They’re giving us eleven month vacations.
And Florida has sunk into the sea.

Oh have you heard the President has measles?
The principal has burned down the school.
Your hair is full of ants and purple weasels–


One Hundred Million (And Counting).

Libraries around the world depend on a shared resource called OCLC, the Online Computer Library Center. Among other things OCLC maintains a giant database of records, accessible through WorldCat, which you can use to search more than 50,000 libraries in one fell swoop, or a swell foop if you’re into that sort of thing.

The records in this database are shared by libraries, so when a library orders a book they don’t necessarily have to create a new record in their own catalog from scratch. They can use one from OCLC, if there’s one already there. And they can contribute records if there aren’t.

Libraries contributing records allowed OCLC to set a major milestone recently: the one hundred millionth record was added. Specifically it was the book It’s A Horse’s Life! by Joanne M. Friedman (iUniverse, Inc., 2003).

Check it out at a library, um, somewhere. If your local library doesn’t have it there is always Interlibrary Loan–just one more reason to love your library.

So You Want To…

A librarian recently told me he was placing an order for the book So You Want To Learn Coptic? (Kirrawee, 2005). He was tickled that there was a book with such a catchy title about a relatively obscure subject. Coptic is a late form of the ancient Egyptian language and was spoken from about the Second Century AD. He added that a simple search for book titles starting with “So you want to…” produced an amazing profusion of results. Here are some of the most surprising ones I found. Continue Reading

Beautiful Reaper.

In Roman mythology Saturn was the leader of the Titans, and son of the sky god Uranus. He also swung a mean scythe. As the story goes, Uranus was a tyrant who wouldn’t allow his wife, the Earth goddess Gaia, to give birth to her children. Only Saturn was brave enough to confront him, and nailed big daddy Uranus right in the family jewels. Like father like son, however, and Saturn became a less than model parent. Afraid his own children would force him into early retirement, he swallowed them whole. Continue Reading

A Fungus Among Us.

When I was nine my mother gave me a book called, The Wonderful Flight To The Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron (Little, Brown, 1954).

It brought together two of my favorite things: science fiction and mushrooms. I was enthralled. Cameron is not as well-known or highly regarded as some other children’s literature authors, but The Wonderful Flight To The Mushroom Planet is a classic adventure story. David Topman (inspired by Cameron’s own son David who asked her to write a science fiction story) and his friend Chuck Masterson respond to a mysterious green advertisement in the paper for two boys “eight to eleven” to build a spaceship. With spare parts supplied by Chuck’s grandfather, Cap’n Tom, the boys build a spaceship and deliver it to the home of Mr. Tyco Bass, who installs the major equipment and puts the finishing touches on it for interplanetary flight. And, as Mr. Bass explains, Dave and Chuck will have to save the entire race of people of the planet Basidium, a tiny planet orbiting the Earth.


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If I say “McJob”, you probably know I’m talking about a low-paying, dead-end job that doesn’t require any special skills or decision-making capability, a cookie-cutter job that many of us got our start doing but that no one wants to stay in for life. And yet the McDonald’s corporation wants the word removed from, of all places, the Oxford English Dictionary.

Four years ago they tried to get it removed from the Merriam Webster Dictionary and failed. Claiming the word is “demeaning” to its workers, company spokesman Walt Riker said, “”Dictionaries are supposed to be paragons of accuracy.” Dictionaries are actually supposed to be repositories and reference works for all words. To quote the venerable Oxford English Dictionary itself, the definition of “dictionary” is, “A book dealing with the individual words of a language (or certain specified classes of them), so as to set forth their orthography, pronunciation, signification, and use, their synonyms, derivation, and history, or at least some of these facts.”

This would explain the Oxford English Dictionary’s inclusion of, among other things, “tighty-whities”, “d’oh!”, and “bootylicious”.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of McJob, “An unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects” does sound pretty harsh, but is it really demeaning, or even inaccurate? It doesn’t say anything about the workers. And if McDonald’s really has a problem with the word’s definition, why aren’t they trying to change it instead of removing the word entirely?

Here’s another thing to chew on: the first recorded use in print of the term McJob is from the August 24, 1986 issue of The Washington Post. In the article “McJobs Are Bad For Kids”, Amitai Etzioni explains, “While it is true that these places provide income, work, and even some training to such youngsters, they also tend to perpetuate their disadvantaged status. They provide no career ladders and few marketable skills, and they undermine school attendance and involvement.”

No wonder McDonald’s wants the definition deleted.

Language is a framework for thought. A concept can’t be shared if there is no language for it. It sounds like McDonald’s is really trying to change the way we think about their corporation built on unstimulating, low-paid jobs with few prospects. And, to borrow a line of the Queen’s English, we are not amused.

Animal Attraction.

What I don’t know about crows could fill a book–literally. The same is true of rats, flies, dogs, snakes, bees, sharks, peacocks, oysters, and all the other animals that are part of the Reaktion Books Animal series. Attractively designed and sized, the books in the series provide an overview of the biology, mythology, history, and other human perspectives on various animals.

It started in 2003 with Crow by Boria Sax, who’s no stranger to writing about animals. Sax’s previous books include The Mythical Zoo: An Encyclopedia Of Animals In World Myth, Legend, And Literature (ABC-CLIO, 2001), Animals in the Third Reich (Continuum, 2000), and The Frog King: On Legends, Fables, Fairy Tales, And Anecdotes Of Animals (Pace University Press, 1990). The series now has 21 titles, including some real oddities. Who would have thought to write a book about the cockroach? Fortunately Marion Copeland, a professor at Holyoke Community College did, and allows us to ponder the cockroach’s history, approximately two-hundred and fifty times longer than the history of homo sapiens, as well as our history with the cockroach.

Of course some old friends, including Dog, by Susan McHugh, Cat, by Katharine M. Rogers, and Tiger by Susie Green, are included in the series. So are some of our favorite pests: Ant, by Charlotte Sleigh, Rat by Jonathan Burt, and Fly by Steven Connor. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Oyster, by Rebecca Stott. How much could anyone say about an oyster? It shouldn’t be surpising that Rebecca Stott, author of Theatres of Glass (Short Books, 2003), a biography of naturalist Anna Thynne who invented the aquarium, could fill 240 pages with fascinating information about the aphrodisiac and pearl-producing mollusk.


The only bad thing about the series is that the promised volume Wolf, listed in Crow as “forthcoming” still hasn’t made it into print. With volumes dedicated to the Bear, the Fox, and even the Shark, the wolf deserves recognition.

Animal is truly an addictive series. I can’t wait to see which animal gets this royal treatment next.

A Bone To Pick.


“The ultimate trip.”–2001: A Space Odyssey advertising poster

The 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey splits people into two camps: those who love it and those who hate it. There’s no middle ground, so, even though I love it I’m not going to try and defend it. I just hope what I have to say about it will make the haters hate it a little less. Continue Reading

Some People Read The Articles.

Believe it or not some libraries subscribe to Sports Illustrated. This year, however, they’ve been seeing an interesting trend: they’re not getting copies of the annual swimsuit issue. Since it’s an issue that’s part of the regular subscription there’s no reason why subscribers–regardless of whether they’re individuals or libraries–shouldn’t get it. Calls to customer service representatives have resulted in several different answers. The answers include: Continue Reading