China through Chinese literature

Glad to highlight a new audiobook company dedicated to bringing modern Chinese fiction to a wider audience through new and sensitive recordings of English translations.Silk Gauze Audio allows you to get to know key Chinese authors and their works, also...

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Letters unsent (II)

Clemency Burton-Hill describes the sight that greeted friends of the composer and pianist Erik Satie when, following his death in 1925, they were finally able to enter his apartment, to which nobody had been given access for decades. Quite apart from the...

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A poet’s prayer

In fact, a prayer for any writer. Having just read John Drury's marvelous appreciation of George Herbert's life and his vivifying skills of poetry, I am more conscious than usual of the need for such fortifying.  Drury's Music at Midnight is, among other...

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The perfect spot, finally

From the multiple versions described by his wife, it seems it took many years and experiments for John Steinbeck to settle on the perfect writing space.  And in the end, he simply built it himself, with the help of a local carpenter. In homage to the name...

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Writing on wheels

Another in a series of accounts by John Steinbeck's wife, Elaine, of his perpetual search for the perfect writing space. This bright idea came of his frustration at one point of a writing room which had no sound insulation and therefore no privacy. But his...

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A quote to note

Drawing on thousands of sparkling, moving and inspiring quotations amassed during decades of attentive reading. To delight your mind and spirit and improve your presentations beyond belief.

Aim high, 17th century style

George Herbert, one of England's greatest poets, as well as being a priest and the Orator of Cambridge University (something like today's corporate spokesperson or public affairs director).  He also made a collection of a good thousand proverbs. Here is...

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My kind of company

John Donne describes an accomplished woman with a wide-ranging capacity to converse intelligently.  I like the spectrum he chose: predestination to slea-silk and, it seems, everything in between.'She knew well how to discourse of all things, from...

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A big headache

In the age of supermodels, it was fun to read that the 17th century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi complained to her patron of the difficulties of working with 'expensive female models'.I wonder if one of the 'good ones' she mentions is featured in...

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The 17th century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi names her price and sticks to it, in a letter to her patron. Incidentally slipping in some slurs on her Neapolitan counterparts. Elsewhere she mentions having had her ideas stolen and questions whether...

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Metaphorically speaking

More marvelous metaphors on Mondays … Monday, metaphor day.

A protagonist in a lost world

This suggests an expansive speaker with vast ideas; one who embraces the world, makes perorations rather than utterances, and generally waves his arms about as he speaks.Miller is a master of refreshing metaphors and similes. 'He always talked against a...

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A warm Asiatic smile

You can feel the warmth of this beaming smile, lighting up someone's face, feeling like a loving arm wrapped about their shoulder. 'That warm Asiatic smile which always spread over his face like nectar and ambrosia.' See George Eliot for another surprising...

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Scepticism on legs

A delightful accusation of a doubting Thomas, his whole body an agglomeration of questions and disbelief. 'Truly, you are a walking interrogation and disbelief endowed with arms.'   Source: Jose Saramago, The History of the Siege of Lisbon, trans....

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On illusory madness

A fine description of Mervyn Peake's balance between bounding imagination and taut writing, rounded off with a vintage metaphor. 'It remains essentially a work of the closed imagination, in which a world parallel to our own is presented in almost paranoiac...

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Bringing you pithy, evocative imagery in the form of three-legged microcosms of meaning. Updated on Tuesdays … Tuesday, triologism day!  You’ll never see this day of the week in the same way again.

Worm-channered posts

This suggests woodworm tunneled posts and I imagine that 'channered' refers to the tiny channels they carve on the surface of it. This possible channel-like definition is further reinforced by another example in the same book: 'The trickles in the mud...

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Gold-ringed eyes

Jane Eyre's curious aquiline simile to describe the blinded eyes of the man she loves. 'The caged eagle, whose gold-ringed eyes cruelty has extinguished, might look as looked that sightless Samson.'    Source: Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (London:...

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An opiate vista

A curious vista of 'tallow-coloured' images floating before an opium-steeped lord. 'Laudanum' was the name for various opium-based preparations and now refers to an alcoholic tincture of the same drug.  'Chloral', of apparently similar benumbing effects,...

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Scum-skinned tide

Something alarmingly contemporary about this polluted surface in Dante's Inferno, especially when he discerns, through the miasma, dead souls fleeing.   "Now train your gaze across that scum-skinned tide," He said to me as he set my eyes free, "To...

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Sweet-garlanded lady

None other than Artemis, or Diana, Apollo's twin, and goddess of wild animals and hunting. Struck by Ever Angry Hera (or Juno), my least liked goddess, and a handful even for omnipotent Zeus.   'Artemis sweet-garlanded lady of clamours answered him:...

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Outlandish-looking grammar

Although I've managed to master a couple of foreign languages, outlandish-looking grammar has so far stymied my repeated, and repeatedly failed, attempts to learn German beyond anything but the most passive reading capability.Here, a highly dutiful,...

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Sharing words that sparkle, appeal, intrigue or otherwise grab me, including those in other languages.  And adoring alliteration, new words will be added on Wednesdays… Wednesday, word day.   See you back here then.

Joy’s handsell

This rare word refers to 'a new year's present to wish good luck', or a foretaste, as used in George Herbert's poem 'The Holy Scriptures I': 'Thou art joy's handsell: heav'n lies flat in thee / Subject to ev'ry mounter's bended knee.'     Source:...


I came across this curious term in an article about 19th century or related 'industrial' style fonts.As I have barely read science fiction, I had to look it up, and found it a wonderful way to describe a genre centred on steam-powered and other 19th...

A prodigality of marvels

A perfect collective noun for a mass of marvels.  There are good reasons the first of Patrick Leigh Fermor's duo of travel books is entitled A Time of Gifts.One of the most beautifully wrought recollections of a youthful stride across Europe, also...

A piteousness of doves

A poetic collective noun, evoking the soothing cooing of the birds of peace, one of the gentlest sounds in nature (or elsewhere). 

A doctrine of doctors

So now, when you are reporting from a medical conference, you know the correct term to package all those medics together.  They are huddling and expostulating as a 'doctrine'.  Perhaps the collective noun refers, however, as much or more to doctors of the...

Portable, durable bread

This twice-baked Greek bread is known for its durability, keeping for months.  The trick seems to be to know how much to soften it with water when you want to use it. Here is one recipe, and there are others of a sweet version, many of which have a strong...


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