The Babu was moved to contemplation of his favourite words and phrases after he read this piece in The Scotsman. Twittering feet is somewhere at the top–a beautiful phrase, employed to describe the involuntary post-death twitches of a hanged man’s feet; ziggurat, because I love the way it sounds; the heebie-jeebies, which always felt like cute and cuddly shivers down your spine; nippitatum, which means exceptionally good ale; and for some obscure reason, dewlap, because it always felt like a fleshy, flapping word to me.

* Sylvia and Ted, the Mills & Boon version: “He was the ”black marauder,” as Plath called him, a gorgeous hunk from a working-class Yorkshire background, who dressed in raggedy black and wanted to wrench modern British poetry from its fuddy-duddy moorings. She was the genteelly raised girl from New England, a bottle blonde with long legs and a sterling ”bobby-sox” education, as Hughes would later describe it in ”Birthday Letters,” the collection of poems about Plath that he published shortly before his death in 1998.” If you can forgive Daphne Merkin for this piece of purple prose, the rest of her review is quite acceptable.

From the That’s Not Writing, It’s Typing Dept.

The SF Gate: “Writers who publish a lot sometimes attain a dangerous proficiency: They can duplicate at will what they have done before, only on a lesser scale. John Updike spent the late ’90s in this state; Joyce Carol Oates is smack in the middle of it right now. With “Oracle Night,” his slender new novel, Paul Auster sails blithely into his own dangerous proficiency…” I’m begging, no, no, not Auster. Let this not have happened to one of the few writers who’s never disappointed me. But then it turns out that Michael Dirda’s been grappling with the book, too: “This is Auster at his most oracular — and probably least satisfying.”

“…had an unknown writer submitted this manuscript to its publishers, I suspect it would have been rejected. Hegemony and Survival is badly organised, poorly argued and written with all the skill of an undergraduate essay finished on the last night of term with the help of caffeine.” Dennis Altman adds that Gore Vidal did a far better job of criticising the US.

“Easily the most reviewable of Cape’s graphic novels, but it only got one proper review, in the Times. The feature coverage was excellent but somehow it just didn’t translate into sales. (We’ve sold 4,000.) In America the story was very different. It was reviewed everywhere and sold 40,000 copies. In France 150,000 copies have been sold.” The book the publishers are talking about? Persepolis. Go figure why some books just don’t take off.

But don’t try reading it in the bathroom…

“After Dostoyevsky and slightly before Arthur Koestler, but contemporary with Orwell and Kafka and somewhat anticipating Solzhenitsyn, there was Victor Serge. His novels and poems and memoirs, most of them directed at the exposure of Stalinism, were mainly composed in jail or on the run. Some of the manuscripts were confiscated or destroyed by the Soviet secret police; in the matter of poetry Serge was able to outwit them by rewriting from memory the verses he had composed in the Orenburg camp, deep in the Ural Mountain section of the Gulag Archipelago.” Christopher Hitchens on one of Russian literature’s best-kept secrets.

In Bookforum, Matthew Price comments: “But Serge’s obscurity is perhaps not so surprising: An unceasing anti-Stalinist but no Communist apostate like Arthur Koestler or Ignazio Silone, he was of no use to either side in the cold war. There are, however, a few welcome signs of a belated Serge revival.”

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