June 01, 2012
"Good Bad Books" — by George Orwell
Orwell's 1945 essay follows.
Good Bad Books
Not long ago a publisher commissioned me to write an introduction for a reprint of a novel by Leonard Merrick. This publishing house, it appears, is going to reissue a long series of minor and partly-forgotten novels of the twentieth century. It is a valuable service in these bookless days, and I rather envy the person whose job it will be to scout round the threepenny boxes, hunting down copies of his boyhood favourites.
A type of book which we hardly seem to produce in these days, but which flowered with great richness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is what Chesterton called the "good bad book": that is, the kind of book that has no literary pretensions but which remains readable when more serious productions have perished. Obviously outstanding books in this line are RAFFLES and the Sherlock Holmes stories, which have kept their place when innumerable "problem novels", "human documents" and "terrible indictments" of this or that have fallen into deserved oblivion. (Who has worn better, Conan Doyle or Meredith?) Almost in the same class as these I, put R. Austin Freeman's earlier stories — "The Singing Bone" "The Eye of Osiris" and others — Ernest Bramah's MAX CARRADOS, and, dropping the standard a bit, Guy Boothby's Tibetan thriller, DR NIKOLA, a sort of schoolboy version of Hue's TRAVELS IN TARTARY, which would probably make a real visit to Central Asia seem a dismal anticlimax.
But apart from thrillers, there were the minor humorous writers of the period. For example, Pett Ridge — but I admit his full-length books no longer seem readable — E. Nesbit (THE TREASURE SEEKERS), George Birmingham, who was good so long as he kept off politics, the pornographic Binstead ("Pitcher" of the PINK 'UN), and, if American books can be included, Booth Tarkington's Penrod stories. A cut above most of these was Barry Pain. Some of Pain's humorous writings are, I suppose, still in print, but to anyone who comes across it I recommend what must now be a very rare book--THE OCTAVE OF CLAUDIUS, a brilliant exercise in the macabre. Somewhat later in time there was Peter Blundell, who wrote in the W.W. Jacobs vein about Far Eastern seaport towns, and who seems to be rather unaccountably forgotten, in spite of having been praised in print by H.G. Wells.
However, all the books I have been speaking of are frankly "escape" literature. They form pleasant patches in one's memory, quiet corners where the mind can browse at odd moments, but they hardly pretend to have anything to do with real life. There is another kind of good bad book which is more seriously intended, and which tells us, I think, something about the nature of the novel and the reasons for its present decadence. During the last fifty years there has been a whole series of writers — some of them are still writing — whom it is quite impossible to call "good" by any strictly literary standard, but who are natural novelists and who seem to attain sincerity partly because they are not inhibited by good taste. In this class I put Leonard Merrick himself, W.L. George, J.D. Beresford, Ernest Raymond, May Sinclair, and — at a lower level than the others but still essentially similar — A.S.M. Hutchinson.
Most of these have been prolific writers, and their output has naturally varied in quality. I am thinking in each case of one or two outstanding books: for example, Merrick's CYNTHIA, J.D. Beresford's A CANDIDATE FOR TRUTH, W.L. George's CALIBAN, May Sinclair's THE COMBINED MAZE and Ernest Raymond's WE, THE ACCUSED. In each of these books the author has been able to identify himself with his imagined characters, to feel with them and invite sympathy on their behalf. with a kind of abandonment that cleverer people would find it difficult to achieve. They bring out the fact that intellectual refinement can be a disadvantage to a story-teller, as it would be to a music-hall comedian.
Take, for example, Ernest Raymond's WE, THE ACCUSED — a peculiarly sordid and convincing murder story, probably based on the Crippen case. I think it gains a great deal from the fact that the author only partly grasps the pathetic vulgarity of the people he is writing about, and therefore does not despise them. Perhaps it even — like Theodore Dreiser's An AMERICAN TRAGEDY — gains something from the clumsy long-winded manner in which it is written; detail is piled on detail, with almost no attempt at selection, and in the process an effect of terrible, grinding cruelty is slowly built up. So also with A CANDIDATE FOR TRUTH. Here there is not the same clumsiness, but there is the same ability to take seriously the problems of commonplace people. So also with CYNTHIA and at any rate the earlier part of Caliban. The greater part of what W.L. George wrote was shoddy rubbish, but in this particular book, based on the career of Northcliffe, he achieved some memorable and truthful pictures of lower-middle-class London life. Parts of this book are probably autobiographical, and one of the advantages of good bad writers is their lack of shame in writing autobiography. Exhibitionism and self-pity are the bane of the novelist, and yet if he is too frightened of them his creative gift may suffer.
The existence of good bad literature — the fact that one can be amused or excited or even moved by a book that one's intellect simply refuses to take seriously — is a reminder that art is not the same thing as cerebration. I imagine that by any test that could be devised, Carlyle would be found to be a more intelligent man than Trollope. Yet Trollope has remained readable and Carlyle has not: with all his cleverness he had not even the wit to write in plain straightforward English. In novelists, almost as much as in poets, the connection between intelligence and creative power is hard to establish. A good novelist may be a prodigy of self-discipline like Flaubert, or he may be an intellectual sprawl like Dickens. Enough talent to set up dozens of ordinary writers has been poured into Wyndham Lewis's so-called novels, such as TARR or SNOOTY BARONET. Yet it would be a very heavy labour to read one of these books right through. Some indefinable quality, a sort of literary vitamin, which exists even in a book like IF WINTER COMES, is absent from them.
Perhaps the supreme example of the "good bad" book is UNCLE TOM'S CABIN. It is an unintentionally ludicrous book, full of preposterous melodramatic incidents; it is also deeply moving and essentially true; it is hard to say which quality outweighs the other. But UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, after all, is trying to be serious and to deal with the real world. How about the frankly escapist writers, the purveyors of thrills and "light" humour? How about SHERLOCK HOLMES, VICE VERSA, DRACULA, HELEN'S BABIES or KING SOLOMON'S MINES? All of these are definitely absurd books, books which one is more inclined to laugh AT than WITH, and which were hardly taken seriously even by their authors; yet they have survived, and will probably continue to do so. All one can say is that, while civilisation remains such that one needs distraction from time to time, "light" literature has its appointed place; also that there is such a thing as sheer skill, or native grace, which may have more survival value than erudition or intellectual power. There are music-hall songs which are better poems than three-quarters of the stuff that gets into the anthologies:
Come where the booze is cheaper,
Come where the pots hold more,
Come where the boss is a bit of a sport,
Come to the pub next door!
Two lovely black eyes
Oh, what a surprise!
Only for calling another man wrong,
Two lovely black eyes!
I would far rather have written either of those than, say, "The Blessed Damozel" or "Love in the Valley". And by the same token I would back UNCLE TOM'S CABIN to outlive the complete works of Virginia Woolf or George Moore, though I know of no strictly literary test which would show where the superiority lies.
Flatpack Nightstand — Urban Shelf
From the website:
Go-Anywhere Side Table
Whether you're in a dorm room, a first apartment, or a starter home, we know you've experienced life in a small space.
All we need is a tiny shelf next to our bed to hold our e-reader, phone, and glasses.
It would be awesome if this shelf also held our cords up so we could stop fishing them out from behind the bed.
Urban Shelf is a smart foldable shelf specially designed for small spaces.
No assembly is required: just unfold Urban Shelf and slide one end under your mattress or sofa cushion.
Two cord holders keep your charging cables right where you want them, while a lip on the edge keeps items from rolling off.
• 2 cord holders to wrangle your charging cables
• Usable surface dimensions: 6.5" x 9.25"
• Edge lip keeps items from rolling off
• Holds over 4x its own weight
• Durable hinges won't break
• Folds flat to 1/2" thick
• Weight: 1 lb.
$14.99 (pocket litter not included).
Note added at 4:17 p.m. today: Rereading the post just now after publication, it dawned on me that this device would be perfect for my couch, a convenient place for my remotes — I currently require the use of four (4): TV, satellite, cable, Apple TV — that won't result in their disappearance down the back-of-the-couch-cushion-where-I-balance-them black hole.
Bonus: I can also place my iPhone — invaluable during commercials MOS — there.
Done and dusted.
"Raw + Material = Art"
Above and below, snapshots from the book taken by Hamada and featured in a review, excerpts from which follow.
Tristan Manco is known for his books on street art. Raw + Material = Art is his first attempt at surveying contemporary fine art. In his own words, "The idea behind the book is to focus on the natural and found materials and low cost, low-tech methods that artists are being drawn to today. Our aim will be to generally inspire and explore the synergy between the artist’s work and their materials." He certainly succeeds in presenting his theme in the context of contemporary art and the book does even more.
When I learned who would be in the book, I immediately felt that another aspect of this book is the introduction of artists emerging on the internet. For the past decade or so the internet has quietly moved into the traditional contemporary art scene with somewhat varied angles on both artists’ geographical origins and their approaches. Numerous image-based sites have been inspiring countless personal sites. We’ve been exposed to many artists not necessarily affiliated with established galleries, museums, and other major art institutions. For the first time in the history of contemporary art, visual art is experiencing the true possibility of democratic participation. It is no longer a necessity to live close to a large city with major galleries and museums to explore some segment of visual art. The authoritative voices of art critics, major art collectors, and major art institutions often do not reach the common ground offered by the internet.
The new venue is not without its problems. The accuracy of representation through our computer screens will be an issue for some artists. Some art just does not present well that way. The same has been true in music. The proliferation of inexpensive personal devices and compressed music files has been a blessing for some music but not for the others, which I believe has been adding to the sad decline of classical music (Ironically, if you look at the high end audio world, this is the best time to enjoy classical music). Secondly, the emphasis on cheap materials and inexpensive ways of making might not be a coincidence since many of the artists are not supported by the art-as-investment-network of collectors, galleries, auction houses, museums and so on. The generous exposure some artists might enjoy online does not guarantee any form of financial reward. As the world faces the limitations of capitalistic pursuit, the art world and the artists keep searching for practical ways to make their contributions.
In any case, Tristan has nonetheless done a great job of putting together this wonderful book featuring 38 notable artists today in large format, 256 glossy color pages. It's a celebration of the new era with the new artists. Anybody who enjoys looking around online for fascinating new art will find at least some artists to look at.
Here are some snapshots of the pages, although they hardly do justice to the beautiful book itself....
Talking Mug — "Cow are you today?"
Mr. Ed, please call your office.
But I digress.
From the website:
A talking mug?
A mug that looks like a cow?
Put them together and you end up with a hilarious talking cow mug.
Each time you pick up this mug it says one of seven hilarious sayings combined with "Moo" sounds.
What people in the "10 Items or Less" line have
[via GraphJam and Joe Peach]
USB Mini Rechargeable LED Flashlight
It's a lot easier to find a USB port these days than a place that sells batteries.
From the website:
Stop throwing batteries away!
Here's a 25-lumen miniature LED flashlight that includes a rechargeable battery.
When it's time to refresh the battery, just unscrew the tail cap and plug the light into a powered USB port.
When it's all charged up, it will glow green.
• 0.6 oz. (17g)
• Bulb: 0.5 watt LED
• Bulb color: Cool white
• Brightness: 25 lumens
• 2"L x 3/4"Ø (5 x 1.8cm)
• Modes: 2 (flashing or steady)
• Battery: Rechargeable lithium
• Case: rubberized, soft-grip ABS plastic
Google World Wonders Project
"Google's World Wonders Project aims to bring to life the wonders of the modern and ancient worlds."
"The World Wonders Project enables you to discover 132 historic sites from 18 countries, including Stonehenge, the archaeological areas of Pompeii and the ancient Kyoto temples. In addition to man-made sites, you can explore natural places: wander the sandy dunes of Australia's Shark Bay or gaze up at the rock domes of Yosemite National Park in California."
"World Wonders uses Street View technology to take you on a virtual trip to each iconic site. Most could not be filmed by car, so we used camera-carrying trikes to pedal our way close enough. The site also includes 3-D models and YouTube videos of the historical places, so you can dig in and get more information and a broader view of each site. We also partnered with several prestigious organizations, including UNESCO, the World Monuments Fund, Getty Images, and Ourplace, who provided official information and photographs for many of the sites."
Fair warning: There goes the day.
[via Richard Kashdan]
"A piece of string cast inside the transparent candle stand traces the form of a classic candelabra."
"The effect: the candle wick seems to continue down into the stand."
Production limited to 100 pieces.
Black or Red + acrylic.