Little Black Dress? Yes. Little Black Penguin Classics? Also Yes!

Some things are so classy they just never go out of style. Like little black dresses, and little black classics from Penguin Books. Here’s another gift idea for this holiday season (along with Edward Gorey).

Eighty Penguin Classics, presented in bite-sized form (i.e., novellas, short essays, selections of poems, or excerpted passages from longer books).

Yes, it’s a bit of a commitment ($75 or so), but that’s cheap for what you’re getting, and think of the possibilities here. Close your eyes, grab one, tuck it into your pocket, and head out to face the day. Give yourself a little surprise: a bit of Chekhov, maybe, or a touch of Sappho. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,: Suetonius, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Montaigne.

Will it work? Can I make my year better through this strategy of randomizing my brain expansion? Stay tuned!

Amazon description:

The Little Black Classics feature works by Jane Austen, Anton Chekhov, Samuel Coleridge, Edgar Allan Poe, John Milton, Nikolay Leskov, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Glaubert, Nikolai Gogol, Samuel Pepys, Washington Irving, Henry James, Christina Rossetti, Sophocles, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, Boccaccio, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas de Quincey, Apollonius of Rhodes, Robert Louis Stevenson, Petronius, John Peter Hebel, Hans Christian Andersen, Rudyard Kipling, John Keats, Thomas Hardy, Guy de Maupassant, Aesop, Joseph Conrad, Brothers Grimm, Katherine Mansfield, Ovid, Ivan Turgenev, H. G. Wells, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Michel de Montaigne, Thomas Nashe, Mary Kingsley, Honoré de Balzac, C. P. Cavafy, Wilfred Owen, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Plato, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Giorgio Vasari, Friederich Nietzsche, Suetonius, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Dante, Henry Mayhew, Hafez, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Ruskin, Pu Songling, Jonathan Swift, Walt Whitman, Kenko, Baltasar Gracián, Marco Polo, Matsuo Basho, Emily Bronte, Richard Hakluyt, Omar Khayyam, Charles Darwin, Catullus, Homer, D. H. Lawrence, Sappho, Virgil, Herodotus, Shen Fu, and others.


Paul McCartney Is Number One (Cue Backlash)

Poor Paul. If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you know my affection for the guy. It’s so easy to like John and George and Ringo. Paul? Everyone wants to take a stance on him, and by that I mean to take a stance against him and his music. Too sappy! Too sweet! Too smooth! Too happy!

That’s the criticism of “Wonderful Christmastime.” And you know what: I don’t care. I can take the heat. It was my favorite as a kid. Songs are like pizza: you prefer the ones you grew up with.

All that was easy when the song flew under the radar. It wasn’t played very much. Some years I wouldn’t hear it until late December, and I’d have to seek it out. It was number 18 on the list. A good spot: high enough to be heard, not so high you’d get tired of it.

But now, thanks to the Shins remix, “Wonderful” is the most listened-to Christmas song of the year, replacing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Number one!

And I know what’s going to happen. If it’s played this much, people will rebel. Satires will be made. McCartney will take the blame. And it will be awful. He’s the worst punching bag. First, he never seems to see it coming. Second, the criticism bothers him. He gets a bit defensive in a sad way, he overreacts. Expect him to issue some kind of corrective to answer his critics, an overly serious Christmas song that doesn’t convince anyone.

Why do we do this to him? Why do we hate the things we love?

And how did they miss this superior version? If you’re going to go with a remake, why not the a capella version from Straight No Chaser?

We can’t take too much sugar, can we, America? We like it in so many other ways. We pump it into our drinks and call it “corn syrup” as if that’s healthier. And we clean  up all our ideas .We demand happy endings at the theater. We sanitize the news. We pretend that very bad things in the world are not happening, and if they are, they’re all the fault of foreigners. And then here comes happy Paul, whistling his way down the path of life, sharing a little joy for it…and we mock him and scorn him and roll our eyes and put our finger in our throats. We hate him.

We whisper, Well, John would have never…

So here’s my proposal. Let’s just dial it back. Let’s let the Shins version slowly recede to a nice spot. Maybe number 17. Let it live there with its twin, giving us a little spot of cheer in the middle of those other diva-and-crooner tour de forces. Let’s do that for Paul.

And instead, let’s move up one of the others. One that’s unassailable. One we’ll never grow tired of. I vote for the current number 10. Ella Fitzgerald’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Let’s just make this number 1. We need a champion. This is it.

Oooooooh. Soooooo good.

Go ahead, just try to take down Ella. You’ll get nowhere. All your mockery will only expose you for the grinch you are.

I know, I know, you’re not up for that fight. Because you’re a bully, you go for the easy target. And that’s Paul. Paul, with his irrepressible spirit. Paul, with his irrepressible synths. Paul with his irrepressible mullet.

Merry Christmas, Haters! Enjoy your hatefest!

History of Literature Episode 7 – Greek Comedy – Aristophanes

Author Jacke Wilson examines the life and works of Aristophanes, whose comic plays included The Clouds, which pokes fun at philosophers such as Socrates, and Lysistrata, where the females of Athens and Sparta go on a sex strike in an attempt to end the war.


Sneak Preview: Aristophanes and More

Well hello there! It’s Sunday, and that means sneak preview day here on the Jacke Blog.

On Monday, we’ll take a look at the comic plays of Aristophanes on the History of Literature podcast.  What did that comedic pioneer actually invent? What were his satirical targets and how well does the satire hold up?

And the key question: are 2,500-year-old jokes still funny?

Are they as funny as this?

INTERVIEWER: If you came home and saw that your house was on fire, what’s the one thing you’d run into the house to save?

ERIC IDLE: My penis.

What else, what else… how about another run through the best and worst posts of the year? You can see some highlights (and lowlights) from last year here:

The Best

And the Worst

On Thursday, we’ll be back with another edition of the Restless Mind Show, topic TBD. I’m going to scrap the idea of imagining Friedrich Nietzsche playing the part of the Bandit in a modern-day Smokey and the Bandit because, well, some ideas must die. Instead, we might talk about reading Proust in China.

Ad finally, here’s some holiday cheer for you, and by “cheer” I mean that special bluesy kind of cheer that makes all your synapses fire and brings a lump to the back of your throat. There’s no real video, so just click on the link, play this song in the background, think of Wynton and his hero (“Pops is bad, man. Pops is bad”), and think of fireplaces, baking cookies, and snuggling under warm blankets with loved ones. Happy Holidays!

Quick Links:

We Don’t Need The Onion Anymore…

Image Credit: Katerina Plotnikova courtesy of The New York Times

I read things like this NYT description of Faerie Magazine and just…well… scratch my head in wonder…

‘‘Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,’’ wrote W.B. Yeats, ‘‘for I would ride with you upon the wind.’’ Had Yeats read an issue of Faerie Magazine, he might have found what he was yearning for: a rarefied realm where practical concerns are replaced by bathmats made of moss, wearable gowns constructed from 500 English roses and women who maintain close friendships with ravens and crows.

The Man In the High Castle – Best Title Sequence Ever?

I’m three episodes into Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, a new series based on a book of the same name by Philip K. Dick. I’m enjoying the alternative history aspects of the drama – it takes place in the 60s and imagines that Hitler’s Germany won the war (they got the A bomb first and dropped it on D.C., which is not unimaginable) and Japan and Germany have divided America.  There’s a resistance movement, the possibility of a future war between Japan and Germany once Hitler dies and is succeeded, a nation of Americans who have accepted the new regimes, a lawless neutral zone in between the two new occupied territories, and a bunch of people running around with Macguffin-like contraband, a fake documentary in which Germany loses the war. This mysterious film  this is supposed to change everything, if only the word gets out.

(That’s not spoiling anything – it’s the premise of the show and it’s all in the first episode. I’m sure there are a lot of twists and turns along the way, but I haven’t gotten there yet.)

The pilot was excellent. The second episode fell off a bit but was still good. The third episode made some missteps (in my view) and has made me worry.  (New bad guy who’s too cartoonish, lead characters start to seem boring.) I’ll give a few more episodes a try. Hey, my commute’s an hour each way sometimes. Time must be killed.

In the meantime, I wanted to suggest that the title sequence might be the best one I’ve ever seen. Beautiful and haunting:

What’s better than that? The D.C. of House of Cards?

I remember enjoying that the first few times – D.C. has never looked better or more like an actual city – but my enthusiasm has faded. I no longer watch the show, either.

The music and images of Mad Men?

Excellent. I’d say it’s number two on my list. For comedies, maybe The Simpsons? Cheers? This one is pretty damn good too:

Great show, great title sequence. Simple but effective.

Now go binge watch something this weekend! Treat yourself!

Restless Mind Show Episode 9 – Nietzsche’s Children

Continuing the discussion of Greek tragedy, Jacke takes a look at Nietzsche and the impact he has on eager young philosophers. This episode includes the Jacke Wilson story “My Roommate’s Books” from the History of Jacke in 100 Objects series.