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May 31st, 2007

Happy Birthday, djarums!

For your present, here's today's Forgotten English (© Jeffrey Kacirk)!

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To utter or pour forth recklessly or offensively; to vomit forth [1400s-1800s].
--Sir James Murray's New English Dictionary, 1909


Birthday of Walt Whitman (1819-1892),
American poet. In September 1855, Charles Eliot Norton reviewed Whitman's newly self-published Leaves of Grass for Putnam's Monthly, writing: "Our account of last month's literature would be incomplete without some notice of a curious and lawless collection of poems, called Leaves of Grass and issued ... without the name of publisher or author. The poems are neither in rhyme nor blank verse, but in a sort of excited prose broken into lines without any attempt at measure or regularity and, as many readers will perhaps think, without any idea of sense or reason. The writer's scorn for the wonted usages of good writing extends to the vocabulary he adopts. Words usually banished from polite society are here employed without reserve and with perfect indifference to their effect on the reader's mind. Not only is the book one not to be read aloud to a mixed audience, but the introduction of terms never before heard or seen, and of slang expressions, often renders an otherwise striking passage altogether laughable."

They said the same thing about jazz, actually.

-The Gneech
NOTE: This is the same review I posted on Amazon.com.

From the TV Tropes Wiki:

Idiot Ball
Coined by Hank Azaria on Hermans Head: Azaria would ask the writing staff, "Who's carrying the idiot ball this week?" This is not a compliment. The person carrying the idiot ball is often acting out of character, or misunderstanding something that could be cleared up by a single reasonable question that he isn't asking solely because the writers don't want him to ask. It's almost as if the character is being willfully stupid or obtuse.

That's my problem with Blue Heaven, by Joe Keenan. The narrating character ("Philly") is supposed to be reasonably smart, sane, and sympathetic, yet time and again when the only course of action he should take is very obviously "run, do not walk, away" he makes a bit of a fuss and then stays involved. The author even devotes two pages to excusing this behavior halfway through the book, but that just ends up calling attention to it all the more. Although the prose is polished and glib, the story itself comes off as forced and very set-up -- which is often the kiss of death in farce.

It's worth noting that this book landed the author a job on "Cheers" and this eventually led to him being Executive Producer on "Frasier" and it's easy to see why -- it reads like a novelized version of a TV show. The Christmas party set-piece in the center of the book, complete with a slapstick routine involving a mechanical version of the Three Wise Men being mistaken for Mafia hit-men, is so readily translatable to the movie screen that by the end of it I had my mental cast all picked out, starting with Hugh Grant as Philly.

On the other hand, in the very thin ranks of contemporary comic novels, a book that never once takes itself too seriously is a breath of fresh air. Too many books have at their climactic moment some sympathetic character committing suicide or a traffic accident that leaves the hero's best friend an invalid or some other contrived tragedy -- because obviously just comedy for its own sake isn't to be regarded as worthy of attention or praise in our drama-snob society. What violence or darkness there is comes off more as outrageous and cartoony than anything else, and that's only a good thing in my opinion.

So overall, witty and enjoyable, but contrived and lacking a sense of reality. Despite what all these other reviews say, with this book Keenan is no P.G. Wodehouse -- but neither was P.G. Wodehouse with his first offering. There is enough good here that I will keep reading at least the next book in the hopes that the author improves.

One final thought, however: the reason Bertie Wooster is so likeable is that he's always trying to do right by everybody, even if he screws it up. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the main characters of Blue Heaven.

-The Gneech

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