Oh My God! Winston Churchill Received the First Ever Letter Containing “O.M.G.” (1917)


Win­ston Churchill is one of those pre­pos­ter­ous­ly out­sized his­tor­i­cal fig­ures who seemed to be in the mid­dle of every major event. Even before, as Prime Min­is­ter, he steeled the resolve of his peo­ple and faced down the Third Reich jug­ger­naut; even before he loud­ly warned of the Nazi men­ace before it was polite to do so; even before he was pil­lo­ried in the press for the dis­as­trous Gal­lipoli inva­sion dur­ing WWI, Churchill was a famous and con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure. As a young cav­al­ry offi­cer, he left his post in India to report on the bloody colo­nial cam­paign in the Swat Val­ley in present-day Pak­istan. His huge­ly pop­u­lar arti­cles pushed the mil­i­tary slang word “sniper” into pop­u­lar use. Dur­ing the sec­ond Boer War, Churchill was not only cap­tured at gun­point by future South African prime min­is­ter Louis Botha but he man­aged to suc­cess­ful­ly escape from his POW camp. And after being pushed out of the gov­ern­ment fol­low­ing Gal­lipoli, he returned to the mil­i­tary as a Lieu­tenant Colonel and com­mand­ed a bat­tal­ion of troops in France. He also won a Nobel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture in 1953 and was, as we’ve recent­ly seen, a pret­ty good painter too.

Add to this one more tri­umph: he unwit­ting­ly had a hand in shap­ing the speech pat­terns of teenaged girls some 50–60 years after his death. Churchill was the recip­i­ent of a mis­sive con­tain­ing the first ever usage of the oft-texted acronym “O.M.G.”. Accord­ing to the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary, O.M.G.’s ori­gins can be traced back to a let­ter to Churchill from Admi­ral John Arbuth­not Fish­er, sent on Sep­tem­ber 9, 1917. After com­plain­ing about the state of affairs of the Navy dur­ing the war, Fish­er clos­es with the fol­low­ing lame joke: “I hear that a new order of Knight­hood is on the tapis – O.M.G. (Oh! My God!) – Show­er it on the Admi­ral­ty!!”

Churchill’s rela­tion­ship with Fish­er was com­plex. While he was the First Lord of the Admi­ral­ty, Churchill brought Fish­er out of retire­ment in 1911 to head the roy­al navy. Their rela­tion­ship went south in 1915 fol­low­ing the fail­ure of the Dar­d­anelles cam­paign. Churchill was still round­ly blamed most­ly because of Fisher’s loud, pub­lic protes­ta­tions. (In fact, had the naval offi­cers pushed through the Dar­d­anelles to Con­stan­tino­ple, as Churchill com­mand­ed, the war would have like­ly end­ed years ear­li­er than it did.) Yet, much to his wife’s dis­may, Churchill remained cor­dial enough with Fish­er to exchange friend­ly notes.

The first online usage of O.M.G., by the way, came on a usenet forum about soap operas in 1994. Churchill does not appear to be con­nect­ed to that instance.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Win­ston Churchill Gets a Doctor’s Note to Drink Unlim­it­ed Alco­hol While Vis­it­ing the U.S. Dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion (1932)

What Hap­pens When Mor­tals Try to Drink Win­ston Churchill’s Dai­ly Intake of Alco­hol

Win­ston Churchill Goes Back­ward Down a Water Slide & Los­es His Trunks (1934)

Win­ston Churchill’s List of Tips for Sur­viv­ing a Ger­man Inva­sion: See the Nev­er-Dis­trib­uted Doc­u­ment (1940)

Jonathan Crow: You can fol­low him at @jonccrow

Get Unlimited Access to Courses & Certificates: Coursera Is Offering 40% (or $159) Off of Coursera Plus Until June 23

A heads up on a deal: Between today and June 23, 2024, Cours­era is offer­ing a 40% dis­count on its annu­al sub­scrip­tion plan called “Cours­era Plus.” Nor­mal­ly priced at $399, Cours­era Plus (now avail­able for $239.40) gives you access to 7,000+ cours­es for one all-inclu­sive sub­scrip­tion price. This includes Pro­fes­sion­al Cer­tifi­cates from lead­ing com­pa­nies. Take for exam­ple the Data Ana­lyst Pro­fes­sion­al Cer­tifi­cate from Meta, the UX Design Pro­fes­sion­al Cer­tifi­cate from Google, or the AI Devel­op­er Pro­fes­sion­al Cer­tifi­cate from IBM.

The $239.40 annu­al fee–which trans­lates to 65 cents per day–could be a good invest­ment for any­one inter­est­ed in learn­ing new sub­jects and skills, or earn­ing cer­tifi­cates that can be added to your resume. Just as Net­flix’s stream­ing ser­vice gives you access to unlim­it­ed movies, Cours­era Plus gives you access to unlim­it­ed cours­es and cer­tifi­cates. It’s basi­cal­ly an all-you-can-eat deal. Explore the offer (before June 23, 2024) here.

Note: Open Cul­ture has a part­ner­ship with Cours­era. If read­ers enroll in cer­tain Cours­era cours­es and pro­grams, it helps sup­port Open Cul­ture.

Is Reality Real?: 8 Scientists Explain Whether We Can Ever Know What Objectively Exists

Ask aloud whether real­i­ty is real, and you’re liable to be regard­ed as nev­er tru­ly hav­ing left the fresh­man dorm. But that ques­tion has received, and con­tin­ues to receive, con­sid­er­a­tion from actu­al sci­en­tists. The Big Think video above assem­bles sev­en of them to explain how they think about it, and how they see its rel­e­vance to the enter­prise of human under­stand­ing. For the most part, they seem to agree that, even if we accept that some­thing called “real­i­ty” objec­tive­ly exists, of more imme­di­ate rel­e­vance is the fact that we can’t per­ceive that real­i­ty direct­ly. Any infor­ma­tion we receive about it comes to our brain through our sens­es, and they have their own ways of inter­pret­ing things.

As cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gist Don­ald Hoff­man puts it, our sens­es are “mak­ing up the tastes, odors, and col­ors that we expe­ri­ence. They’re not prop­er­ties of an objec­tive real­i­ty; they’re actu­al­ly prop­er­ties of our sens­es that they’re fab­ri­cat­ing.” What’s phys­i­cal­ly objec­tive “would con­tin­ue to exist even if there were no crea­tures to per­ceive it.”

There­fore, “col­ors, odors, tastes, and so on are not real in that sense,” yet they are “real expe­ri­ences”; the trick of sep­a­rat­ing what exists in objec­tive real­i­ty from what only exists in our minds as a result of that objec­tive real­i­ty — “the begin­ning of the sci­en­tif­ic method,” as evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gist Heather Hey­ing describes it — is an even more com­pli­cat­ed endeav­or than it sounds.

“Real­i­ty, for us, is what we can sense with­out sen­so­ry sur­faces, and what we can make sense of with the sig­nals in our brain,” says Sev­en and a Half Lessons About the Brain author Lisa Feld­man Bar­rett in the video just above. “Trapped in its own dark, silent box called your skull,” your brain “has no knowl­edge of what is going on around it in the world, or in the body.” It does receive sig­nals from the sens­es, “which are the out­come of some changes in the world or in the body, but the brain does­n’t know what the changes are.” With only infor­ma­tion about effects, it uses past expe­ri­ence to con­struct guess­es about their caus­es and con­texts. We might also call that func­tion imag­i­na­tion, and no sci­en­tists worth their salt can do with­out a good deal of it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Is Con­scious­ness an Illu­sion? Five Experts in Sci­ence, Reli­gion & Tech­nol­o­gy Explain

Alan Watts On Why Our Minds And Tech­nol­o­gy Can’t Grasp Real­i­ty

Real­i­ty Is Noth­ing But a Hal­lu­ci­na­tion: A Mind-Bend­ing Crash Course on the Neu­ro­science of Con­scious­ness

Are We Liv­ing in a Com­put­er Sim­u­la­tion?: A 2‑Hour Debate with Neil Degrasse Tyson, David Chalmers, Lisa Ran­dall, Max Tegmark & More

The Sim­u­la­tion The­o­ry Explained In Three Ani­mat­ed Videos

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Roads of Ancient Rome Visualized in the Style of Modern Subway Maps

Sasha Tru­bet­skoy, for­mer­ly an under­grad at U. Chica­go, has cre­at­ed a “sub­way-style dia­gram of the major Roman roads, based on the Empire of ca. 125 AD.” Draw­ing on Stanford’s ORBIS mod­el, The Pela­gios Project, and the Anto­nine Itin­er­ary, Tru­bet­skoy’s map com­bines well-known his­toric roads, like the Via Appia, with less­er-known ones (in somes cas­es giv­en imag­ined names). If you want to get a sense of scale, it would take, Tru­bet­skoy tells us, “two months to walk on foot from Rome to Byzan­tium. If you had a horse, it would only take you a month.”

You can view the map in a larg­er for­mat here. And if you fol­low this link and send Tru­bet­skoy a few bucks, he can email you a crisp PDF for print­ing. Find more focused, relat­ed maps by Tru­bet­skoy right here:

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Roman Roads and Bridges You Can Still Trav­el Today

An Inter­ac­tive Map Shows Just How Many Roads Actu­al­ly Lead to Rome

How to Make Roman Con­crete, One of Human Civilization’s Longest-Last­ing Build­ing Mate­ri­als

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Patti Smith Reads Her Final Letter to Robert Mapplethorpe, Calling Him “the Most Beautiful Work of All”

If you go to hear Pat­ti Smith in con­cert, you expect her to sing “Beneath the South­ern Cross,” “Because the Night,” and almost cer­tain­ly “Peo­ple Have the Pow­er,” the hit sin­gle from Dream of Life. Like her 1975 debut Hors­es, that album had a cov­er pho­to by Robert Map­plethor­pe, whom Smith describes as “the artist of my life” in Just Kids, her mem­oir of their long and com­plex rela­tion­ship. A high­ly per­son­al work, that book also includes the text of the brief but pow­er­ful good­bye let­ter she wrote to Map­plethor­pe, who died of AIDS in 1989. If you go to hear Smith read a let­ter aloud, there’s a decent chance it’ll be that one.

“Often as I lie awake I won­der if you are also lying awake,” Smith wrote to Map­plethor­pe, then in his final hos­pi­tal­iza­tion and already unable to receive any fur­ther com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “Are you in pain, or feel­ing alone? You drew me from the dark­est peri­od of my young life, shar­ing with me the sacred mys­tery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and nev­er com­pose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowl­edge I derived in our pre­cious time togeth­er. Your work, com­ing from a flu­id source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of hold­ing hands with God. Remem­ber, through every­thing, you have always held that hand. Grip it hard, Robert, and don’t let it go.”

Smith speaks these words in the Let­ters Live video at the top of the post, shot just a few weeks ago in The Town Hall in Man­hat­tan. “Of all your work, you are still your most beau­ti­ful,” she reads, “the most beau­ti­ful work of all,” and it’s clear that, 35 years after Map­plethor­pe’s death, she still believes it. That may come across even more clear­ly than in Smith’s ear­li­er read­ing of the let­ter fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture back in 2012. As the years pass, Robert Map­plethor­pe remains frozen in time as a cul­tur­al­ly trans­gres­sive young artist, but Pat­ti Smith lives on, still play­ing the rock songs that made her name in the sev­en­ties while in her sev­en­ties. And unlike many cul­tur­al fig­ures at her lev­el of fame, she’s remained whol­ly her­self all the while — no doubt thanks to inspi­ra­tion from her old friend.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Pat­ti Smith Remem­bers Robert Map­plethor­pe

Vin­tage Footage Shows a Young, Unknown Pat­ti Smith & Robert Map­plethor­pe Liv­ing at the Famed Chelsea Hotel (1970)

Pat­ti Smith’s Award-Win­ning Mem­oir Just Kids Now Avail­able in a New Illus­trat­ed Edi­tion

Pat­ti Smith Reads Oscar Wilde’s 1897 Love Let­ter De Pro­fundis: See the Full Three-Hour Per­for­mance

Pat­ti Smith Doc­u­men­tary Dream of Life Beau­ti­ful­ly Cap­tures the Author’s Life and Long Career (2008)

The Life and Con­tro­ver­sial Work of Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Robert Map­plethor­pe Pro­filed in 1988 Doc­u­men­tary

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Behold the Codex Gigas (aka “Devil’s Bible”), the Largest Medieval Manuscript in the World

Bar­gain with the dev­il and you may wind up with a gold­en fid­dle, super­nat­ur­al gui­tar-play­ing ability, or a room full of gleam­ing alchem­ized straw.

Whoops, we mis­at­trib­uted that last one. It’s actu­al­ly Rumpel­stilt­skin’s doing, but the by-morn­ing-or-else dead­line that dri­ves the Broth­ers Grimm favorite is not dis­sim­i­lar to the ulti­ma­tum posed to dis­graced medieval monk Her­man the Recluse: pro­duce a giant book that glo­ri­fies your monastery and includes all human knowl­edge by sun­rise, or we brick you up Cask of Amon­til­la­do-style.

Why else would a book as high-mind­ed as the Codex Gigas (Latin for Giant Book) con­tain a full-page glam­our por­trait of the dev­il garbed in an ermine loin­cloth and cher­ry red claws?

Per­haps it’s the 13th-cen­tu­ry equiv­a­lent of “sex sells.” What bet­ter way to keep your book out of the remain­der bin of his­to­ry than to include an eye-catch­ing glimpse of the Prince of Dark­ness? Hedge your bets by posi­tion­ing a splen­did vision of the Heav­en­ly City direct­ly oppo­site.

Notable illus­tra­tions aside, the Codex Gigas holds the dis­tinc­tion of being the largest extant medieval illu­mi­nat­ed man­u­script in the world.

Weigh­ing in at 165 lbs, this 3‑foot-tall bound whale required the skins of 160 don­keys, at the rate of two pages per don­key. (Ten pages devot­ed to St. Benedict’s rules for monas­tic life were lit­er­al­ly cut from the man­u­script at an unknown date.)

It’s a lot.

A Nation­al Geo­graph­ic doc­u­men­tary con­clud­ed that the sprawl­ing man­u­script would’ve required a min­i­mum of 5 years of full-time, sin­gle-mind­ed labor. More like­ly, the work was spread out over 25 to 30 years, with var­i­ous authors con­tribut­ing to the dif­fer­ent sec­tions. In addi­tion to a com­plete Bible, the “Devil’s Bible” includes an ency­clo­pe­dia, med­ical infor­ma­tion, a cal­en­dar of saints’ days, Flav­ius Jose­phus’ his­to­ries The Jew­ish War and Jew­ish Antiq­ui­ties and some prac­ti­cal advice on exor­cis­ing evil spir­its.

The actu­al let­ter­ing does seem to come down to a sin­gle scribe with very neat hand­writ­ing. Experts at the Nation­al Library of Swe­den, where the Codex Gigas has come to a rest after cen­turies of adven­tures and mis­ad­ven­tures, iden­ti­fy it as Car­olin­gian minus­cule, a pop­u­lar and high­ly leg­i­ble style of medieval script. Its uni­form size would’ve required the scribe to rule each page before form­ing the let­ters, after which 100 lines a day would have been a rea­son­able goal.

You can have a look for your­self on the Library’s web­site, where the entire work is view­able in dig­i­tized form.

Cer­tain­ly the dev­il is a great place to start, though his appear­ance may strike you as a bit com­i­cal, giv­en all the fuss.

Begin your explo­rations of the Codex Gigas here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Brief His­to­ry of Mak­ing Deals with the Dev­il: Nic­colò Pagani­ni, Robert John­son, Jim­my Page & More

The Medieval Ban Against the “Devil’s Tri­tone”: Debunk­ing a Great Myth in Music The­o­ry

How Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts Were Made: A Step-by-Step Look at this Beau­ti­ful, Cen­turies-Old Craft

See Beau­ti­ful Pages from a Medieval Monk’s Sketch­book: A Win­dow Into How Illu­mi­nat­ed Man­u­scripts Were Made (1494)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

James Joyce Picked Drunken Fights, Then Hid Behind Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hem­ing­way seemed to feud with most of the promi­nent male artists of his time, from Wal­lace Stevens and T.S. Eliot to F. Scott Fitzger­ald. He had a “very strange rela­tion­ship” with Orson Welles—the two came to blows at least once—and he report­ed­ly slapped Max East­man in the face with a book. All his blus­ter and brava­do make his warm friend­ship with James Joyce seem all the more remark­able. They are a lit­er­ary odd cou­ple if ever there was one: Joyce the labyrinthine thinker of Byzan­tine thoughts and cre­ator of sym­bol­ic sys­tems so dense they con­sti­tute an entire field of study; phys­i­cal­ly weak and—despite his infa­mous car­nal appetites—intel­lec­tu­al­ly monk­ish, Joyce exem­pli­fies the artist as a reclu­sive con­tem­pla­tive. Hem­ing­way, on the oth­er hand, well… we know his rep­u­ta­tion.

Hemingway’s 1961 obit­u­ary in The New York Times char­ac­ter­ized Joyce as “a thin, wispy and unmus­cled man with defec­tive eye­sight” (per­haps the result of a syphilis infec­tion), and also notes that the two writ­ers “did a cer­tain amount of drink­ing togeth­er” in Paris. As the nar­ra­tor of the rare film clip of Joyce informs us above, the Ulysses author would pick drunk­en fights, then duck behind his burly friend and say, “Deal with him, Hem­ing­way. Deal with him.” (That scene also gets men­tioned in The Times obit­u­ary.) Hem­ing­way, who con­vinced him­self at one time he had the mak­ings of a real pugilist, was like­ly hap­py to oblige. Joyce, writes Hem­ing­way biog­ra­ph­er James R. Mel­low, “was an admir­er of Hemingway’s adven­tur­ous lifestyle” and wor­ried aloud that his books were too “sub­ur­ban” next to those of his friend, of whom he said in a Dan­ish inter­view, “he’s a good writer, Hem­ing­way. He writes as he is… there is much more behind Hemingway’s form than peo­ple know.”

Joyce, notes Ken­neth Schyler Lynn in Hem­ing­way, real­ized that “nei­ther as a man nor as an artist was [Hem­ing­way] as sim­ple as he seemed,” though he also remarked that Hem­ing­way was “a big pow­er­ful peas­ant, as strong as a buf­fa­lo. A sports­man. And ready to live the life he writes about. He would nev­er have writ­ten it if his body had not allowed him to live it.” One detects more than a hint of Hem­ing­way in Joycean char­ac­ters like Dublin­ers’ Igna­tious Gal­la­her or Ulysses’ Hugh “Blazes” Boylan—strong, adven­tur­ous types who over­awe intro­vert­ed main char­ac­ters. That’s not to say that Joyce explic­it­ly drew on Hem­ing­way in con­struct­ing his fic­tion, but that in the boast­ful, out­go­ing Amer­i­can, he saw what many of his semi-auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal char­ac­ters did in their more bull­ish counterparts—a nat­ur­al foil.

Hem­ing­way returned Joyce’s com­pli­ments, writ­ing to Sher­wood Ander­son in 1923, “Joyce has a most god-damn won­der­ful book” and pro­nounc­ing Joyce “the great­est writer in the world.” He was “unques­tion­ably… stag­gered,” writes Lynn, “by the mul­ti­lay­ered rich­ness” of Ulysses. But its den­si­ty may have proven too much for him, as “his inter­est in the sto­ry gave out well before he fin­ished it.” In Hem­ing­way’s copy of the nov­el, “only the pages of the first half and of Mol­ly Bloom’s con­clud­ing solil­o­quy are cut.” Hem­ing­way tem­pered his praise with some blunt crit­i­cism; unlike Joyce’s praise of his writ­ing, the Amer­i­can did not admire Joyce’s ten­den­cy towards auto­bi­og­ra­phy in the char­ac­ter of Stephen Dedalus.

“The weak­ness of Joyce,” Hem­ing­way opined, was his inabil­i­ty to under­stand that “the only writ­ing that was any good was what you made up, what you imag­ined… Daedalus [sic] in Ulysses was Joyce him­self, so he was ter­ri­ble. Joyce was so damn roman­tic and intel­lec­tu­al.” Of course Stephen Dedalus was Joyce—that much is clear to any­one. How Hem­ing­way, who did his utmost to enact his fic­tion­al adven­tures and fic­tion­al­ize his real life, could fault Joyce for doing the same is hard to reck­on, except per­haps, as Joyce cer­tain­ly felt, Hem­ing­way led the more adven­tur­ous life.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

James Joyce Reads a Pas­sage From Ulysses, 1924

Vir­ginia Woolf Writes About Joyce’s Ulysses, “Nev­er Did Any Book So Bore Me,” and Quits at Page 200

Ernest Hem­ing­way to F. Scott Fitzger­ald: “Kiss My Ass”

James Joyce’s “Dirty Let­ters” to His Wife (1909)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

The Radical Artistic & Philosophical World of William Blake: A Short Introduction

Over the years, we’ve fea­tured the work of William Blake fair­ly often here on Open Cul­ture: his own illu­mi­nat­ed books; his illus­tra­tions for every­thing from the Divine Com­e­dy to Mary Woll­stonecraft’s Orig­i­nal Sto­ries from Real Life to the Book of Job; pairs of Doc Martens made out of his paint­ings Satan Smit­ing Job with Sore Boils and The House of Death. Blake con­tin­ues to cap­ture our imag­i­na­tions, despite hav­ing lived in the very dif­fer­ent world of the mid-eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry to the mid-nine­teenth — but then, he also lived in a world well apart from his con­tem­po­raries.

“Blake belonged to the Roman­tic age, but stands utter­ly alone in that age, both as an artist and as a poet,” says gal­lerist-Youtu­ber James Payne in his new Great Art Explained video above. “He is some­one who invent­ed his very own form of graph­ic art, which organ­i­cal­ly fused beau­ti­ful images with pow­er­ful poet­ry, while he also forged his own dis­tinc­tive philo­soph­i­cal world­view and cre­at­ed an orig­i­nal cos­mol­o­gy of gods and spir­its designed to express his ideas about love, free­dom, nature, and the divine.” It would­n’t be an exag­ger­a­tion to call him a vision­ary, not least since he expe­ri­enced actu­al visions through­out almost his entire life.

Not just a visu­al artist but “one of the great­est poets in the Eng­lish lan­guage,” Blake pro­duced a body of work in which word and image are insep­a­ra­ble. Though it “address­es con­tem­po­rary sub­jects like social inequal­i­ty and pover­ty, child exploita­tion, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, and reli­gious hypocrisy,” its world­li­ness is exceed­ed by its oth­er­world­li­ness. What com­pels us is as much the pow­er of art itself as the “vast and com­pli­cat­ed mythol­o­gy” under­ly­ing the project on which Blake worked until the very end of his life. His ide­al was “lib­er­ty from tyran­ny in all forms,” polit­i­cal, reli­gious, sci­en­tif­ic, and any oth­er kind besides; in pur­su­ing it, he could hard­ly have lim­it­ed him­self to just one plane of exis­tence.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Oth­er­world­ly Art of William Blake: An Intro­duc­tion to the Vision­ary Poet and Painter

William Blake: The Remark­able Print­ing Process of the Eng­lish Poet, Artist & Vision­ary

Enter an Archive of William Blake’s Fan­tas­ti­cal “Illu­mi­nat­ed Books”: The Images Are Sub­lime, and in High Res­o­lu­tion

William Blake’s Hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry Illus­tra­tions of John Milton’s Par­adise Lost

Great Art Explained: Watch 15 Minute Intro­duc­tions to Great Works by Warhol, Rothko, Kahlo, Picas­so & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Stephen King Names His Five Favorite Works by Stephen King

Stephen King has no doubt for­got­ten writ­ing more books than most of us will ever pub­lish. But even now, in his pro­lif­ic “late career,” if you ask him to name his own most favored works, he can do it with­out hes­i­ta­tion. Stephen Col­bert tried that out a few years ago on The Late Show, when the writer made an appear­ance to pro­mote his then-lat­est book Bil­ly Sum­mers. The first of Stephen King’s top five by Stephen King is “Sur­vivor Type,” a 1982 short sto­ry about “a physi­cian who gets strand­ed on a lit­tle island, and he’s smug­gling hero­in, and he’s starv­ing, so he eats him­self piece by piece.”

Sur­vivor Type” may be a deep cut — and one that ini­tial­ly strug­gled for pub­li­ca­tion, being so dis­turb­ing that King remem­bers “even men’s mag­a­zines” turn­ing it down — but it’s nev­er­the­less been adapt­ed into five dif­fer­ent films since the twen­ty-tens alone. King may have enjoyed mas­sive book sales through­out almost the entire­ty of his career, but it cer­tain­ly has­n’t hurt his brand that so many of his works have become movies and tele­vi­sion shows, many of them cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­na in their own right. Take the case of Mis­ery, anoth­er of King’s selec­tions, the 1990 fea­ture-film ver­sion of which gave us Kathy Bates’ Oscar-win­ning per­for­mance as a crazed fan who kid­naps her favorite nov­el­ist.

Mis­ery was direct­ed by Rob Rein­er, who’d worked with King’s mate­r­i­al before: in 1986, he turned the sto­ry “The Body” into Stand by Me, which is now con­sid­ered a high point in the cat­e­gories of eight­ies teen-star vehi­cles and ear­ly-six­ties nos­tal­gia pic­tures. After see­ing its first screen­ing, King declared it “the best film ever made out of any­thing I’ve writ­ten” — before char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly adding, “which isn’t say­ing much.” (That same year, recall, King not just wrote but direct­ed Max­i­mum Over­drive, a spec­ta­cle of malev­o­lent machines tak­ing over a truck stop that he lat­er described as a “moron movie.”)

King also enthus­es about his 2006 nov­el Lisey’s Sto­ry, as well as its Apple TV+ series adap­ta­tion, which had just come out at the time. Also still-new was the sec­ond tele­vi­su­al ren­di­tion of The Stand, King’s 1978 nov­el set in the after­math of an apoc­a­lyp­tic pan­dem­ic. “Any sim­i­lar­i­ties to what’s going on now are just too close for com­fort,” he says to Col­bert in this COVID-era clip, though it’s ambigu­ous whether the book actu­al­ly makes his top five. Col­bert sug­gests fill­ing out the list with Bil­ly Sum­mers, pre­sum­ably on the prin­ci­ple that every writer favors his most recent work. But where would King rank the three nov­els he’s cranked out since?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Stephen King’s 22 Favorite Movies, Packed with Hor­ror & Sus­pense

Stephen King Cre­ates a List of His 10 Favorite Nov­els

Stephen King Rec­om­mends 96 Books for Aspir­ing Writ­ers to Read

How Stan­ley Kubrick Adapt­ed Stephen King’s The Shin­ing into a Cin­e­mat­ic Mas­ter­piece

Pret­ty Much Pop #18 Dis­cuss­es Stephen King’s Media Empire

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

When a Drunken Charles Bukowski Walked Off the Prestigious French Talk Show Apostrophes (1978)

Charles Bukows­ki did­n’t do TV — or at least he did­n’t do Amer­i­can TV. Like a Hol­ly­wood movie star shoot­ing a Japan­ese com­mer­cial, he did make an excep­tion for a gig abroad. It hap­pened in 1978, when the poet received an invi­ta­tion from the pop­u­lar French lit­er­ary talk show Apos­tro­phes. Bukows­ki was­n’t the first for­eign­er to grace its set: a few years ear­li­er, Vladimir Nabokov had come in advance of  the French trans­la­tion of Ada, but only under the con­di­tions that he be allowed to pre-write his answers and read them off note­cards, and to drink whiskey from a teapot dur­ing the inter­view. No such niceties for the author of Ham on Rye, who was set up with ear­piece inter­pre­ta­tion and Sancerre straight from the bot­tle.

Or rather, bot­tles, plur­al: Bukows­ki had pol­ished off one of them by the time Apos­tro­phes host Bernard Piv­ot opened the live broad­cast by ask­ing him how it felt to be cel­e­brat­ed on French tele­vi­sion. Already drunk, Bukows­ki respond­ed in a slurred and dis­mis­sive fash­ion. Things dete­ri­o­rat­ed from there, and Bukows­ki kept ram­bling as the oth­er pan­elists tried to car­ry on their con­ver­sa­tion. At one point François Cavan­na ven­tured a “Bukows­ki ta gueule”; soon there­after, Piv­ot opt­ed for a more direct “Bukows­ki, shut up,” which prompt­ed the guest of hon­or’s unsteadi­ly impromp­tu depar­ture. “Piv­ot bid him au revoir with a Gal­lic shrug,” writes Howard Sounes in Charles Bukows­ki: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life.

“The next day, he didn’t remem­ber any­thing, of course, but the whole of France was run­ning to book shops to buy his books,” says Barfly direc­tor Bar­bet Schroed­er in the doc­u­men­tary The Ordi­nary Mad­ness of Charles Bukows­ki. “In a few hours they were all sold out.” This suc­cès de scan­dale made Bukows­ki even more of a lit­er­ary rock star in France than he’d already become. The episode has also been wide­ly remem­bered in the Fran­coph­o­ne world since the death of Bernard Piv­ot ear­li­er this month, nev­er fail­ing to make the much-cir­cu­lat­ed lists of Apos­tro­phes’ most mem­o­rable broad­casts dur­ing its fif­teen-year run.

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“Six mil­lion peo­ple watched him,” writes Adam Nos­siter in Piv­ot’s New York Times obit­u­ary, “and near­ly every­body want­ed to be on his show. And near­ly every­body was, includ­ing French lit­er­ary giants like Mar­guerite Duras, Patrick Modi­ano, Jean-Marie Gus­tave Le Clézio, Mar­guerite Yource­nar and Georges Simenon.” (One very spe­cial episode even brought on “a hag­gard-look­ing Alek­san­dr Solzhen­it­syn, not long out of the Sovi­et Union.”) Apart from Bukows­ki, Apos­tro­phes’ guest list also includ­ed a very dif­fer­ent Amer­i­can with an equal­ly enthu­si­as­tic French read­er­ship: the late Paul Auster, who — like most of the cul­tur­al fig­ures whose appear­ances on the show you can sam­ple on this Youtube playlist — pre­ced­ed Piv­ot to that great talk show in the sky.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Bukows­ki Reads Bukows­ki: Watch a 1975 Doc­u­men­tary Fea­tur­ing Charles Bukows­ki at the Height of His Pow­ers

“Don’t Try”: The Phi­los­o­phy of the Hard­work­ing Charles Bukows­ki

Hear 130 Min­utes of Charles Bukowski’s First-Ever Record­ed Read­ings (1968)

Charles Bukows­ki Reads His Poem “The Secret of My Endurance”

The Charles Bukows­ki Tapes: 52 Short Inter­views with the Under­ground Poet

Bukows­ki: Born Into This — The Defin­i­tive Doc­u­men­tary on the Hard-Liv­ing Amer­i­can Poet (2003)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Ray Bradbury Wrote the First Draft of Fahrenheit 451 on Coin-Operated Typewriters, for a Total of $9.80

Image by Alan Light, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

It sounds like a third grade math prob­lem: “If Ray Brad­bury wrote the first draft of Fahren­heit 451 (1953) on a coin-oper­at­ed type­writer that charged 10 cents for every 30 min­utes, and he spent a total of $9.80, how many hours did it take Ray to write his sto­ry?” (If you’re doing the math, that’s great, but you might be in the wrong class.)

Bradbury’s com­po­si­tion of Fahren­heit 451 demon­strates two of the pro­lif­ic writer’s most insis­tent demands among his many prac­ti­cal nuggets of writ­ing advice: 1. Always write, all the time; a short sto­ry a week, as he told a writer’s sym­po­sium in 2001. And, as he told the same group, 2. “Live in the library! Live in the library, for Christ’s sake. Don’t live on your god­damn com­put­er and the inter­net and all that crap.”

Grant­ed, the library—and the school, and the office, and all the rest of it—now lives in the “god­damn com­put­er” for many of us. But Bradbury’s elab­o­ra­tion of why he end­ed up in the library in the ear­ly 1950s, specif­i­cal­ly the base­ment of UCLA’s Pow­ell Library, will be relat­able to any work­ing par­ent. As he wrote in 1982, he found him­self “twice dri­ven; by chil­dren to leave at home, and by a type­writer tim­ing device…. Time was indeed mon­ey.”

This was a dif­fer­ent time, so you’ll need to adjust the cur­ren­cy for 21st cen­tu­ry infla­tion. Also, Brad­bury had the 50s’ writer-husband’s pre­rog­a­tive to beg off the child­care. As he explains:

In all the years from 1941 to that time, I had done most of my typ­ing in the fam­i­ly garages… behind the tract house where my wife, Mar­guerite, and I raised our fam­i­ly. I was dri­ven out of the garage by my lov­ing chil­dren, who insist­ed on com­ing around to the win­dow and singing and tap­ping on the panes. 

Devot­ed father Brad­bury “had to choose between fin­ish­ing a sto­ry or play­ing with the girls. I chose to play, of course, which endan­gered the fam­i­ly income. An office had to be found. We couldn’t afford one.” Brad­bury did not write all of Fahren­heit 451 in the library base­ment. “He end­ed up with the novel­la ver­sion,” notes UCLA Mag­a­zine, “orig­i­nal­ly called The Fire­man and did not come back to it until a pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny asked if he could add more to the sto­ry.”

The speed at which Brad­bury wrote, both to save mon­ey and to get home to his chil­dren, did not cause him to get care­less. He looked back on the book 22 years lat­er with pride. “I have changed not one thought or word,” wrote Brad­bury in his intro­duc­tion. He did­n’t notice until lat­er that he had named main char­ac­ters after a paper com­pa­ny, Mon­tag, and pen­cil com­pa­ny, Faber.

Brad­bury told the mag­a­zine in 2002, “It was a pas­sion­ate and excit­ing time for me. Imag­ine what it was like to be writ­ing a book about book burn­ing and doing it in a library where the pas­sions of all those authors, liv­ing and dead, sur­round­ed me.” When it came to find­ing the book’s title, how­ev­er, sup­pos­ed­ly the tem­per­a­ture at which books burn, not only did the library fail him, but so too did the university’s chem­istry depart­ment. To learn the answer, and fin­ish the book, Brad­bury final­ly had to call the fire depart­ment.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

When François Truf­faut Made a Film Adap­ta­tion of Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451 (1966)

Ray Brad­bury Reveals the True Mean­ing of Fahren­heit 451: It’s Not About Cen­sor­ship, But Peo­ple “Being Turned Into Morons by TV”

Ray Brad­bury Gives 12 Pieces of Writ­ing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

Why Should We Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451? A New TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion Explains

Ray Brad­bury Explains Why Lit­er­a­ture is the Safe­ty Valve of Civ­i­liza­tion (in Which Case We Need More Lit­er­a­ture!)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.


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