Friday, August 26, 2011

Tonight's ADWH Soundtrack...

... which is more like a review of a book review.  So... there I was... reading a review of a new Ambrose Bierce anthology, a late 19th/early 20th century author and columnist previously unknown to me, when I came upon this (subscription may be required):
Bierce's definitions are a joy to quote—even if they are more wicked than accurate. An abstainer "abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the affairs of others." A bigot is "obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain." A cannibal is a "gastronome of the old school"; longevity is the "uncommon extension of the fear of death." Once is "enough." Twice is "once too often." He who is alone is "in bad company." And a year is "a period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments."

Bierce is acerbic on the matter of friendship, which is "a ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul." The back is "that part of your friend which it is your privilege to contemplate in your adversity." The faith of his fathers he shreds: A Christian is "one who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin." A saint is "a dead sinner revised and edited." He even rewrites the Decalogue: "Kiss not thy neighbor's wife, unless / Thine own thy neighbor doth caress." 

Bierce's politics amount to an aristocratic libertarianism. "In a republic," he writes, the rabble are "those who exercise a supreme authority tempered by fraudulent elections." The "dominant and controlling" tribe in human affairs is that of the "idiot." A revolution is "an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment." 
Oooh.  How freakin' exquisite are those?  I think I've found my next read; a casual perusal of Amazon's inventory shows the book will be available on September 1, but NOT in a Kindle edition.  Bierce appeals to my inner cynic and that inner cynic will NOT be denied.  Ergo, we shall order the book post-haste, Kindle edition or no.

Speaking of cynicism... more Greg Brown, which is what this post is supposed to be about... by that I mean music... right?

We used to say I don't care if I never grow old
I'm gonna flame, gonna burn, take one quick turn and be gone like James Dean
Now we don't say that. It's too late to die young
So we sit at the table long after supper and a good wine
Here's what we sing, we go, hey hey, hey hey, who woulda thunk it
Hey hey, hey hey, who woulda thunk it
Yeah, really: who'd a thunk it?  So, it turns out that Mr. Brown has been around for quite a long time.  I remain amazed at all the good stuff I missed in the way-back and am kinda-sorta determined to fix that.  Beginning with Mr. Brown's oeuvre.  I really like this guy.


  1. The thing that TOTALLY endears me to our man Ambrose is the fact he fled to Mexico in 1913 (from whence he mysteriously disappeared forever) because the US was on the verge of a) prohibition, and b) women's suffrage.

    The guy couldn't have been ALL bad.. :)

  2. It seems I remember reading some Ambrose Bierce in college because it was assigned. That just about automatically turned me off.
    My curiosity about him was piqued when the movie Old Gringo came out, but I never did anything about it... not even watching the movie.

  3. Virgil: Yeah, that fact (his fleeing) intrigues me, too.

    Skip: I'm gonna buy the anthology on a couple o' recommendations... the first being the quoted "Devil's Dictionary," and the second for his short stories, one of which you may have read in school.

  4. I'm fairly certain it was a commentary from a newspaper. I probably still have the book... somewhere. It was a text for English 1a. There were other essays by, among many others, Thorstein Veblen, James Thurber, and one of my favorites, Jonathan Swift.

    One of my favorite Bierce quotes:
    "Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math."

  5. Among others,

    Cynic, n: a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.

    I'm amazed that you haven't encountered the Devil's Dictionary before, given your, ah....proclivities. A thing of joy forever.

    Also (more or less):

    Whenever A attempts to convince B to do something for the benefit of C, A is a scoundrel.

  6. Skip: I use that lottery quote often but was unaware of its provenance. There's prolly more of Bierce's bon mots that have entered the vernacular that I'm unaware of, as well.

    I'm amazed that you haven't encountered the Devil's Dictionary before, given your, ah....proclivities. A thing of joy forever.

    Yeah, I'm kinda-sorta a functional illiterate when it comes to serious literary figures. But I'm workin' on that in my Old Age.

  7. I have read some Ambrose Bierce back in the college days, but it was his disappearance that stuck in my mind.


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