Apr 12 2017

Some Brief, Random Thoughts on Crafting a Better Book Blog

For the past several months my writing on this blog has been stuck in a rut, lodged between two dikes:

(1) writing posts about current events, outrages, and crises and trying to relate those things to various literary references and book-jewels picked up over the years;

(2) writing posts on things that attempt to ignore the historical, cultural, political, and economic contexts in which I live, things that think not of posterity, things which take very seriously Oscar Wilde’s definition of the art of doing nothing:

Gilbert. Nothing that one can imagine is worth doing…. Let me say to you now that to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual. To Plato, with his passion for wisdom, this was the noblest form of energy. To Aristotle, with his passion for knowledge, this was the noblest form of energy also. It was to this that the passion for holiness led the saint and the mystic of mediaeval days.

Ernest. We exist, then, to do nothing?

Gilbert. It is to do nothing that the elect exist. Action is limited and relative…. Yes, Ernest: the contemplative life, the life that has for its aim not doing but being, and not being merely, but becoming—that is what the critical spirit can give us…. The necessity for a career forces every one to take sides. We live in the age of the overworked, and the under-educated; the age in which people are so industrious that they become absolutely stupid. And, harsh though it may sound, I cannot help saying that such people deserve their doom. The sure way of knowing nothing about life is to try to make oneself useful…. It can do for us what can be done neither by physics nor metaphysics. It can give us the exact science of mind in the process of becoming. It can do for us what History cannot do. It can tell us what man thought before he learned how to write…. [1]

There is such a thing as robbing a story of its reality by trying to make it true…. [which is why] The justification of a character in a novel is not that other persons are what they are, but that the author is what he is. Otherwise the novel is not a work of art….[2]

Or perhaps this whole post is merely one more exercise in my “luxury in self-reproach”:

He covered page after page with wild words of sorrow and wilder words of pain. There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution. When Dorian had finished the letter, he felt that he had been forgiven…. [For] to become the spectator of one’s own life, as Harry says, is to escape the suffering of life. [3]

Nonetheless, lately all attempts at blog criticism––no matter how unorthodox, whether analogical or literal––seem but Biblically lukewarm.[4]

Right now instead of blogging about books, I feel like listening to Heino sing country songs while I work in my father’s vineyard.

Pruning the vines, #vine #wine #vineyard

A post shared by Christopher Landrum (@bookbread2) on


Some random thoughts that run through my head while under the sun, among the vines, amid the Sänger musik:

  • What do we mean when we say something like: “I answered the question without even thinking?” Surely something was thought before, during, and after the answer was made.
  • To be an immigrant is to be a quotation in someone else’s book, to be stuck between someone else’s words.
  • I bet residents of Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s really resented Scott McKenzie’s single “If You’re Going to San Francisco.”


Surely that song spoiled the city’s prior exclusivity. Afterward it allowed everyone who wanted to migrate Out There. This ruined it for the locals, forcing them to become totally lamestream, or as Wilde puts it: “to be popular one must be a mediocrity.”[5]


[1] Wilde, Oscar. “The Critic as Artist – II.” (1891)

[2] Wilde, “The Decay of Lying” in Intentions (Volume 7 of The Complete Writings of Oscar Wilde). New York: The Nottingham Society, 1909. pp. 3–57 at 10–11.

[3] Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. In Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. 1890. NY: Barnes & Noble Classics Edition. 2003. VIII, 100; IX, 114.

[4] See Revelation of Saint John 3:16:

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

And from Richard McKeon (1900-1985):

Literally or analogically conceived, therefore, the philosophic principles which lie behind the discussions of the critic select for him, by defining his terms, a subject matter and principles from the vast diversity which those terms might encompass. [First] If the poet is the source of distinctions or analogies, the discussion may be of character, knowledge, or technique; or of imagination, taste, or genius; or of beauty, truth, or moral goodness. [Second] If the poem is fundamental, all problems may be translated into those of form and content; or of imitation and object; or of thought, imagination, and emotions; or of activity and effects. [Third] The effects finally, if they are fundamental, may be treated in terms of expression and communication; or of context and moral, social, economic, or semantic determination; or of influence and emotion.   (“The Philosophic Bases of Art and Criticism,” Modern Philology, XLI: 2. (Nov. 1943.) pp. 65–87 at 75.)

[5] Picture of Dorian Gray XVII, 201.