Welcome to the New Website of the Circumlocution Office

In the popular imagination, the “English professor” is pictured as an individual of middling gender, sporting a certain amount of corduroy and tennis shoes, and having a really bad hair century. We imagine English professors, if they’re over fifty, as being halfheartedly obsessed with symbolic archetypes in the plays of T.S. Eliot and keen on converting the young to the latest version of MLA style. We think of under-50 English…

Thanksgiving Poem

This is Thanksgiving Week — and what better than a poem that inspires the deepest gratitude? This is one of my favorite poems and certainly a poem of thanksgiving, but it describes a very simple, quiet, solitary day — a day very unlike the busy, noisy, bustling one that most of us will be having this Thursday. Yet, in the midst of the feast, between football games or puzzles, during…

In Praise of the American Short Story

Last year, in an article for the New York Times lamenting the lack of appreciation many American readers have for the short story, Stephen Millhauser said, “…here in America, size is power. The novel is the Wal-Mart, the Incredible Hulk, the jumbo jet of literature. The novel is insatiable — it wants to devour the world. What’s left for the poor short story to do? It can cultivate its garden,…

Not the “Neglectedest” Classic

As promised in my last post, I am making my way (very slowly) through the nominations for “neglected classic” made by ten contemporary authors for the radio 4 program Open Book. This past two weeks I read The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico, and Samuel Johnson’s This History of Rasselas Prince of Abissinia. I will only have room here to address The Snow Goose—it’s just that kind of book, and…

Lyric Centenary: Johnny Mercer

The “American songbook,” music written in the half-century 1920-1970 for Broadway, radio, and Hollywood, is dominated by composers: George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael. The lyricists who wrote the words for their songs were brilliant too, but are usually granted a smaller helping of fame. Ira Gerswhin excelled at ringing changes on vernacular phrases; Lorenz Hart was the master of…

Libraries: An Argument

Suzanne E. Thorin, dean of libraries at Syracuse University, made the news last week when she declared “Let’s face it: the library, as a place, is dead … Kaput. Finito. And we need to move on to a new concept of what the academic library is.” Thorin made these startling comments at the 2009 Educause Conference, sparking a lively debate amongst the conference participants that has now been taken up…

Online Voyeurism

Okay, I have a confession. I’m addicted to these new(ish) online confessional culture projects (Postsecret, Six-word Memoirs, Mortified), where people (often anonymously) admit (often embarrassing)  personal information that, not too long ago, would have only been revealed to a best friend after one too many glasses of pinot noir.  I caught the fever about seven years ago when I discovered Found magazine on the shelf at Shaman Drum bookstore in…

Hurrah and All That for Radio Four

Before I begin I should make it clear that this post is not about to turn into one of those “isn’t everything about England great” rants. Lots of things about England aren’t great—like overcrowded roads, telephone boxes that smell of urine, Christmas cake, and the tiny sizes that deodorants come in (ok, those tiny deodorants are really quite cute). But something to be duly celebrated about England is BBC Radio…