Friday, June 28, 2013

Picture Day Friday: German Renaissance Round-shaped Book

This round book was bound in 1590 as a gift to the Prince and Bishop Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn (1545–1617).

[Image courtesy of the University Library in Würzburg, Germany.]

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rejection of Austen Books Reveal Modern Publishers' Pride & Prejudice

The Telegraph wrote: "Her work has endured for two centuries, sold in its millions and inspired countless film and television adaptations. But would Jane Austen be able to find a publisher and an agent today?"

In 2007, British author and the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, David Lassman decided to find out.

He made a few minor changes to the opening chapters and plot synopses of three of Austen's works, using the pseudonym Alison Laydee (a hat tip to Austen's nom de plume "A Lady"), and sent them off to 18 of the U.K.'s top publishers. He was astounded to receive decided rejections to his submissions.

Mr. Lassman said, "I was staggered. Here is one of the greatest writers that has lived, with her oeuvre securely fixed in the English canon, and yet only one recipient recognized them as Austen's work."

And this was despite the fact that he left this line intact in his submissions: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Not only did this experiment uncover modern publishers' pride and prejudice towards a different writing style, but it also revealed their shocking lack of education of the classics.

I mean, come on. Jane Austen has been so hot in the last few years, and that seminal opening line from her Pride & Prejudice appears on mouse pads and mugs. How on earth could acquiring editors not know it?!

Lassman then published an article, titled Rejecting Jane in issue 28 of Jane Austen's Regency World magazine, in which he detailed his literary experiment.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What Is Your Most Memorable Summer Reading?

"The rites of summer are, by definition, fleeting: the summer romance, the summer job, or [the summer] vacation. Only the books seem to stick." What I Read That Summer chronicles the summer reading experiences of twelve well-known writers: Louise Erdrich, Alexander McCall Smith, and Junot Díaz, among others.

My most memorable summer of reading was the summer I turned eight. I was taken down to meet an English Literature professor. From the university library, she borrowed a heap of twenty Classics for me by: Jane Austen, Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, and others I have since forgotten. I was given two months and was instructed to not only read all of those unabridged books, but was to discuss each of them at the close of summer.

It was a painful summer. I was too young to understand many of the themes and theses of the stories. This was my first introduction to The Novel, and I found it to be, in Tom Wolfe's words,"big, poetic, strange, disorderly, 'a story of the buried life.'"

But on the flip side of that summer, I gained a love for a well-crafted story with complex characterization with motivations beyond the immediate and beyond the sundry. As Pico Iyer said, "Books seldom so possess you as when you’re a kid, alone and eager for transformation." And so it was with me. I luxuriated in the stories, while I lolled on the sofa with my legs up on the arms, sitting in a fashion deplored by my mother.

It turns out, eight was the right age for me to have read those books. I, as Joy Williams puts it, "was on the verge of maturation, [like the] summer, the season that eternally promises and confounds so much."

Everyday, the door to the living room would stay shut, and, as Jorie Graham put it, "I began to cross that other doorway, that frame filled with lines of black on white, and began to forget. My hands disappeared, my head, the room, the garden, its bursts of sparrows..." I would be immersed in the stories and would barely surface to eat. I have no memory of what I ate that summer or what I did other than read. I do remember my mother scolding me a few times to go down and play. I remember my friends calling my name in the evenings from below (our apartment building had only two floors and we lived on the top one), urging to come down and play. But I have no memory of playing or gossiping with them.

I read and read and read, and the only memories that exist from that summer are from within the pages of those books. The twelve writers in the article, What I Read That Summer, also prove that "perhaps if you’re looking for an enduring summer romance, a good book might be your best bet."

Friday, June 21, 2013

Picture Day Friday: Fountain Pen

Pelikan Toledo Fountain Pen with 18kt gold.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Eternity" and "Auguries of Innocence" by William Blake

I have recently been reading the poems of William Blake as selected by Peter Butter (Barnes & Noble, 1996), and this poem Eternity jumped out at me as unusual:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sun rise.

Very modern and Zen of Blake, isn't it? And given that he lived and wrote in the Georgian period, it's quite an out-of-the-box imaginative expression.

Here's a Zen moment in the poem Auguries of Innocence by Blake:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Boosting Creativity to Recover from Writers' Block

Even for the most prolific of writers, the well does run dry sometimes. Yes, the writer must have the discipline to sit in the chair (BICHOK: butt in chair hands on keyboard) and write, but what if you sit there for fifteen minutes staring at a blank page and blinking cursor? What can you do to jumpstart that creative side of the brain?

Here are a few tricks I try (before giving up to sit in a lounge chair on the beach with a fruity umbrella drink—I'm joking... sort-of... well... a liquid restorative might be part of the plan, but the beach part is not doable where I live).

Music Soundtracks
Over the years, I have collected late 18th C and early 19th C music or music from period movies. I then collected all the tracks into a playlist on Windows Media Player. So I simply start at the top and let the music impart the sense of place and expansiveness of movement in that space.

Hey, who doesn't like scrolling through beautiful pictures? Take a look at my Georgian-Regency board. Those pins are a good jumping off point to other pins or websites with blogs and pictures.

Research Books
I'll pull out a random book from my shelves of research books and leaf through it. Sometimes, I'll get an inkling of an idea that after I dash off a few hundred or a few thousand words dies the horrible death of deletion, but once I start writing, I am writing.

I'm a reproduction furniture catalog junkie. I love reading those catalogs and imagining the pieces in my characters' homes. I also enjoy looking through gardening magazines to imagine terrace and other outdoor scenes. Pictures of British country manors is pure unadulterated pleasure. Oh, to be able to actually go and see some of those houses!

Retail therapy at the writing supply stores. I'll buy a beautiful journal or thick creamy notepaper and a fresh bottle of ink (I love my lovely Mont Blanc fountain pen) or a new fangled smooth-as-butter fine-tip pen, and start writing out the scene that's percolating but not germinating. Something in the physical act of writing longhand—the cramping fingers, the hand moving across smooth paper, the flowing ink, the words appearing in blue (or violet or black or green) on the page in my handwriting—makes the words come easier and with wider latitude.

If all else fails, there's always the restorative, jus' sayin'...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Picture Day Friday: Abibliophobia

We all have known this fear. It's the fear that causes me to take 50-pounds of books when traveling to international destinations. (Due to migraine issues I can't read eBooks.)

[Image courtesy of Smart Bitches.]

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I Saw The Exact Same Reynolds' Paintings Jane Austen Saw

"On 24 May 1813, Jane Austen visited an art exhibit at the British Institution in Pall Mall, London. The popular show was the first-ever retrospective of the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), England's celebrated portrait painter. Two centuries later, this e-gallery offers the modern visitor a historical reconstruction of that long-lost Regency blockbuster. Enter via the Rowlandson print below, the original 1813 catalogue, or the floor plan."

The Infant Academy, The Gypsy Fortune Teller, Portrait of Kitty Fisher as Cleopatra, and the Laughing Girl were some of the paintings by Reynolds that Kenwood House now owns and were shown in the Seattle exhibit that I went to and talked about on Monday.

To think: my eyes rested on the same paintings that Jane Austen's eyes had rested upon. My word!

Monday, June 10, 2013

British Painters of Kenwood House

Kenwood House Library image courtesy of English Heritage site Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath just out of London is the home of the Iveagh Bequest Art Collection. It was acquired by Edward Guinness, the first Earl of Iveagh in the 1880s–1890s. He collected the Old Masters, Dutch and Flemish painters, as well as British ones. His interest was primarily portraits, but he added landscapes to his collection also. Kenwood House itself is worth a visit with architecture by Robert Adam, gorgeous interiors (the library and orangery are of note), and landscape design by Repton.

Rembrandt's Self Portrait with Two Circles ca. 1665 Currently, Kenwood House is under renovation and so its art, including the famous Rembrandt self portrait on the right, is on travel. Nearly fifty works are on a North American tour, of which Seattle is one stop. The touring show is called "Rembrandt, van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London." The tour visited Houston in June 2012, Milwaukee in October 2012, and then arrived in Seattle in February 2013. As of today, the paintings are headed out of the U.S.

I was primarily interested in the British portraiture artists of the 17th and 18th centuries, namely, Van Dyck, Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and George Romney and landscape artists Gainsborough and Joseph Turner since those were the painters most popular during the Regency.

English art of portraiture came into being in the 17th C with Van Dyck's elegant paintings. He was the court painter to King Charles I, and his work was hung in English aristocratic country houses and town homes and inspired generations that British portrait artists.

Lady Louisa Manners by Joshua Reynolds, image copyrighted by English Heritage Prints Reynolds, the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, was a pure portrait artist and was heavily influenced by Van Dyck and Reuben. One of his earliest portraits was of the Angerstein Children wherein he developed his signature style that is best showcased by the portrait of Lady Louisa Manners, thereby giving his style the title "Grand Manner Portraits."

Since the Royal Academy paintings were hung from up above with the bottom edge being 5'6" off the ground, painters tended to paint humans with long elongated bodies to compensate for the viewing angles in those days.

Infant Academy by Joshua Reynolds, image copyrighted by English Heritage Prints The Infant Academy is a departure from Reynolds's usual style, it's whimsical turning away from the Van Dyck classical learning to paint life as simply as he saw it.

Reynolds's chief rival for art commissions and Royal Academy wall space was Gainsborough. They tried to out-do each other in the drama and size of their paintings and garnering commissions from the wealthiest of patrons.Mary Countess of Howe by Thomas Gainsborough, image copyrighted by English Heritage Prints

Gainsborough's Mary, Countess of Howe is considered one of the essential masterpieces of English painting and an icon of English feminine beauty. This is his third life-size full-length portrait. Another of his well-known works is Lady Brisco, also a life-size full-length portrait.

Two Shepherd Boys with Two Dogs Fighting by Thomas Gainsborough, image copyrighted by English Heritage Prints Greyhounds Coursing a Fox by Thomas Gainsborough, image copyrighted by English Heritage Prints Gainsborough drew inspiration for his landscapes in the country motifs and architecture in the region around Bath. He claimed that while portrait painting was his profession, landscape painting was his pleasure. Some of his well-known landscapes are: Greyhounds Coursing a Fox (his third largest work executed in the style of Flemish painter Frans Snyder), and Two Shepherd Boys with Two Dogs Fighting.

Reynolds's and Gainsborough's portraiture fell under the heading Allegorical Paintings or History Paintings. They depict scenes from the Bible or Greek and Roman mythology (extending to even Cleopatra). This was considered the most respected artistic genre of 18th C and early 19th C England. An example is The Honorable Mrs. Tollemache where the lady is presented as Miranda from Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Picture Day Friday: Another Donkey Riding Transportation

In a companion post to this Indian donkey, here's his Irish friend in Dublin hitching a ride.

[Image courtesy of The Daily Edge]

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Explaining The Pomodoro Technique In Short

Life is a Vine of Tomatoes...

Image copyrighted by The Pomodoro Technique The goals of The Pomodoro Technique, a time management system by Francesco Cirillo, are to "eliminate the anxiety of time" and to "enhance focus and concentration."

"The Pomodoro Technique is based on the achievement of incremental objectives, one at a time, and on the development of a pleasant way to systematically observe, track, and evaluate time [spent] to enable self-improvement." In other words, it helps to banish the productivity lag introduced by the myth of multitasking goodness by focusing on one task at a time, finishing it and only then moving on to the next task, and improving your time and quality of work the next time you do the same or similar task.

Before I begin explaining the system, here are some handy-dandy worksheets that you'll need: the Cheat Sheet, a To Do Today list and a Activity Inventory list.

Task Allotment

Choose a time period, such as a week. Write down all the activities that you want to accomplish in that week on the Activity Inventory list. Then every morning, select the tasks you need to complete that day, and write them down on the To Do list. Three-quarters of the way down that list, create a heading called "Unplanned & Urgent" for activities that show up as interruptions.

The Basics

This is how it works. You set a 25-minute timer and start working on the first task on your To Do list. At 25 minutes, when the timer rings, stop working, and take a break for five minutes. This was one Pomodoro. Once your break is over, reset the timer for 25 minutes, and start work on your second Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros, a Pomodoro set, take a longer break of 30 minutes.


Put an "X" next to the task for every Pomodoro it takes to complete it. For weekly self-assessment purposes, create a table where you write down the date, the category of task, the name of the task, and how many Pomodoros it took to achieve the task. This way, you can assess how long it takes you to complete tasks of a certain category, tasks of a certain type, individual tasks, etc. It also allows you to then set new goals for time and quality improvements on recurring tasks.

Some Details

If you finish the first task in the middle of a Pomodoro, either go over the first task or start the second task on the list and continue working till the Pomodoro rings. A Pomodoro is indivisible, so you cannot further break it down. Once you start working on a Pomodoro, the timer has to ring; you cannot stop halfway through. (More on interruptions later.) Make sure the break is a relaxing one, and not something where you start an engrossing task that will spill over into the time for the next Pomodoro. Once you begin your first Pomodoro, you have to steadily continue working throughout the day, barring interruptions.


Internal interruptions occur when you remember a new task that needs to be completed or you get the sudden urge to raid the fridge or you start dreaming of that beach vacation you'd like to have some day, etc. When you realize that you're interrupting your Pomodoro, put an "apostrophe" next to the task on the To Do list. Then continue working on your original task. If new task needs to be done that day, add it to the section called Unplanned & Urgent Tasks of the To Do list, otherwise add it to the Activity Inventory list. After you've completed the first task, you can then choose to pick up this new task to do.

External interruptions occur when you get a phone call, someone stops by with a question, etc. situations that occur in office-type environments. Every time this happens, address them as quickly and efficiently as possible, add a "hyphen" on the To Do list next to the original task, and continue working on it. Add the new tasks if any to the Unplanned & Urgent Tasks list or the Activity Inventory list.

Sometimes, interruptions have to be addressed in the moment with no regard to the original task. In that case, void the current Pomodoro, even if it was set to ring within a few minutes, do the urgent task, and restart your original task with a fresh Pomodoro. Remember, a Pomodoro is indivisible.

Recording cont.

At the end of the day, record how many internal vs. external interruptions occurred during the day. Over the week, reflect on whether the interruptions have a pattern and what can be done to minimize them. Sometimes, it's as simple as letting other people know that when you're working on a Pomodoro, you do not appreciate interruptions. They can come talk to you in the break after your four-Pomodoro set. Sometimes, it's a matter of self-discipline to ignore procrastinations. This acts as a carrot to get you to be more efficient with your time.


Based on your one week's record, you should be able to estimate how many Pomodoros you'll need for the same or similar tasks next week. Based on your knowledge of other tasks and your capabilities, you can also estimate how many Pomodoros you'll need. So when you set up a daily To Do list, you can put the number of boxes of estimated Pomodoros next to each task. Then as you work through Pomodoros, put an "X" in each of the boxes. Interruptions are recorded as previously mentioned.

Recording cont.

So now, on the record sheet, you have estimated and real Pomodoros columns. What the estimation method does is that at the end of the second week, you can assess your ability to appraise a particular task. On which tasks did you overestimate the time required and for which ones did you underestimate the time required. Was it due to interruptions or simply the nature of the work? Do certain tasks at certain times of the day take you longer? Can you move them to a different spot in your day next week? As a result of this self-valuation, you improve your efficiency in task-time allocation for future tasks without sacrificing quality. At the same time, you gain insight into your capabilities and how you work.


The Pomodoro method has been integrated with several productivity applications. For example, Kanban Flow uses the technique to improve your focus, to time track tasks, and to track and measure any interruptions to your focus.

You can participate in mutual online support with other folks who're trying out the technique at Pomodoro World and My Tomatoes, or you can sync up with fellow enthusiasts at meetups and conferences via the Pomodoro Technique site.

If you're into cool gadgets and apps, the Pomodoro Technique site offers Pomodoro timers and the company Gigaom offers free online timers.

One of the downsides of The Pomodoro Technique is that the efficiency and improved quality of work gained as a result of applying the system will only continue if the method is followed as described. Taking shortcuts or license from prescribed rituals will diminish the benefits.

Do read the full book by Francesco Cirillo available as a free PDF download.