Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My "Mad" Scene

That's me on the right, the latest addition to the Sterling Cooper steno pool. It may be a madhouse (pun intended) but at least I have my coffee, my newspaper, and my lovely Sassoon-style haircut to get me through the workday...

Image via the rather addictive MadMenYourself generator. H/t Tim.

Also, you know how Banana Republic is rolling out a big Mad Men promotion right now? Did I not write here, almost a year ago, that I had bought a black BR dress that I thought of as my "Joan Holloway Goes to a Funeral" dress? Maybe I should be working in advertising and coming up with these tie-ins!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Overheard: The "Cyberspace is Taking Over" Edition

(In shuttle van from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. A middle-aged man from San Francisco is telling a young man from Israel what he needs to know about the Southwest.)

SAN FRANCISCAN: Santa Fe is really unique. It doesn't look like any other US city.

ISRAELI: Oh really?

SAN FRANCISCAN: No. Well, I guess these kinds of buildings might look familiar to you--you're probably used to seeing adobe houses, in Israel. But you don't really find them in the rest of the country.

ISRAELI: The material these buildings are made of--that's called adobe?

SAN FRANCISCAN: That's right, adobe.

ISRAELI: Like the software?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On the Way to Santa Fe

Yes, it's another "there will be no new posts for several days" announcement. BUT! that usually means I have something exciting to do (and the promise of exciting posts when I return), doesn't it?

In this case, that's exactly what's happening! Tomorrow through Sunday, I will be in New Mexico to see the Santa Fe Opera! My parents are already there, and together we will see two productions: La Traviata and The Letter.

Don't ask me to pick which of these makes me more excited. Traviata has Natalie Dessay in her role debut as Violetta, and if you've been reading this blog for a while, you know how much I love Natalie Dessay. It will also be my first time at a live performance of a Verdi opera!

Meanwhile, The Letter is a world premiere opera (based on the classic Maugham story and Bette Davis film) with music by Paul Moravec and libretto by Terry Teachout. I guess now's the time to mention that a few years ago, I e-mailed Terry in response to one of his Wall Street Journal reviews, and that led us to strike up a correspondence/ friendship. So I know one of the instigators of this project--and I'll get to applaud my friend as he becomes a creator of theater, not just a critic and commentator. He's been blogging and tweeting up a storm this past week as the premiere approaches--it's really whetted my appetite!

I'm sure I'll write about both these important operatic events next week.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On such a WINTER's day?

My roommate wakes up in the mornings using a cell-phone alarm that plays "California Dreamin'." And I lie in my bed, not wanting to get out from under my coverlet, listening to the Mamas and the Papas' soaring harmonies on the other side of my bedroom wall. I am wearing my flannel pajamas, the same ones I wear in the wintertime. Outside it is foggy, a breeze blowing from the ocean up the long flat boulevards. The thermometer at the bank says that it is 57 degrees outside as I wait for the MUNI train, but it feels even colder. It is July 21 and I am wearing wool pants and--yes--my winter coat.

And I think, "Is it possible to be California dreamin' when you already live in California, and it's the middle of summer? Shouldn't that, according to the rules of logic, be absurd?"

But that is what this time of year in San Francisco does to you.

We all know what Mark Twain said (or is said to have said)...

Update: And I discovered that the Chron just did a "Fog Week" series of special reports. Ha! Love it!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Japan: Fashion

Japan is known for its street fashion, so I was curious what kinds of outfits I would come across as I walked around the cities. I was based in Kobe, which I don't believe is really a "trendsetting" city, though I did see a few ganguro girls at a mall by the harbor--that's the subculture that dresses like a cartoon version of American valley girls, with bleached hair, deep suntans, miniskirts and platform flip-flops. And of course there are the "Engrish" T-shirts I mentioned a few posts back, though those are so common that they don't really belong to any one subculture.

Outré fashions like the "Lolita" trend attract a lot of attention in the media, but I can't say I ran across much of that myself. Actually, instead of seeing lots of Lolita girls, I saw a surprising number of women in traditional yukata, or cotton summer kimonos. This is pretty amazing, considering that yukata can get very constricting and uncomfortable during the hot, humid Japanese summers. I went into a department store and had a saleslady dress me up in a yukata while my friend Lexi took photos, but unfortunately she hasn't sent them to me yet...

As for "ordinary" Japanese fashion, very little of it would attract strange looks if worn in America, but taken in the aggregate, it shows some distinct differences from American fashions. Necklines tend to be higher than they are in America, and layering is very popular: if a Japanese girl is wearing a cute strappy sundress, she'll usually have a white T-shirt underneath it. Lexi told me that the layering trend occurs for several reasons:
  • modesty
  • suntans are not fashionable (except among the ganguro subculture)
  • the Japanese believe that covering up in hot weather will keep you cooler than exposing your skin to the sun
  • the weather is so hot and humid that you want to wear two shirts: the one next to your skin will absorb the sweat, and the one on top will stay clean and pretty
  • the Japanese are self-conscious about being slender and small-boned, and think they should wear baggy clothing to compensate for it
Layering can create some very cute outfits, but at the same time, I thought that most of those outfits would be a lot more practical in San Francisco (where it's windy and foggy and layering is a necessity) than at the height of a sticky Japanese summer! So I definitely drew inspiration from the girls I saw in Japan, but I mostly waited to act on that inspiration till I got back to a place where the climate is more temperate.

In Japan I became completely converted to one trend, though: carrying a parasol.

(Ralph Lauren makes parasols to sell in Japanese department stores, which I found so funny that I had to take a photo.)

Seriously, why did we Westerners ever abandon the use of parasols? They're pretty, they're no more hassle than carrying an umbrella, and in terms of sun protection, I prefer them to gloopy-greasy sunblock. I bought a parasol for 200 yen ($20) on my first day in Japan and didn't get sunburned once, even on the days when I was outdoors for hours. While I can pretty much guarantee that without the parasol, I would have gotten burned.

The only downside to the parasol, I guess, is that if you're a white girl, in an East Asian country, carrying a dainty accessory that was last in style circa 1920, it is very easy to fear that you look like a colonialist or an imperialist. Here I am walking through rice fields with my new parasol:

It made me feel like Naomi Watts in The Painted Veil.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Theater à la Als

On Thursday night, I attended a discussion between Hilton Als, theater critic at The New Yorker, and Michael Paller, dramaturg at ACT. The topic was "Outsider Artists Inside the Theater" – a subject that could seemingly be interpreted in several different ways, but which the two men mainly used to talk about diversity (race, gender, sexuality) and the American theater. These are complicated issues, and the discussion tended to leave me of two minds, rather than making my thoughts clearer. Maybe it was supposed to. That's why it was a conversation instead of a lecture, right? That's why the basis of theater is dialogue and not monologue, yes? So here are some of the questions I'm asking myself, and the things I'm conflicted about.

One subject that got mentioned was the necessity of producing plays written by "outsiders" (that is, members of historically disenfranchised groups). Paller pointed to ACT's production of a play that dealt with Japanese-Americans returning to San Francisco after having been in the internment camps – he said that it got a great response from the Asian community and brought many people to ACT who had never been there before. And that's all well and good, but wouldn't the real measure of success be how many of these new audience members came back to see another play at ACT the next year – a play that did not have a specifically Asian theme? If the effect of producing plays by gays/minorities/women is an increasing polarization of the audience (blacks go to see black plays, women go to see stories about women), is that really progress? Maybe it's naive of me, but I still dare to believe that good art is universal, and that nothing is gained from going to see plays or movies only about people who are "like you."

(Hilton Als saw this from a different perspective. Speaking of plays like The Color Purple and the all-black Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he said, "I'm happy that they're bringing in new audiences, but do they have to be such crap?" He wants to see more plays like for colored girls... that speak genuinely to the black experience, and fewer crassly commercial appeals for black people's money.)

In talking about the difficulties faced by minority actors, Als brought up the story of a talented black actress, Susan Batson. (Als claims that black women and Asian men are the two groups most often misrepresented or underrepresented in the American theater.) Batson grew so dissatisfied with the typecasting and racism that were pervasive in the New York theater of the '60s and '70s that she stopped performing and became a highly regarded acting coach. Her clients now include such movie stars as Nicole Kidman and Brad Pitt. "It's wonderful that she found something that she's really talented at, and can be happy doing," said Als. And part of me wants to agree with this. But another part of me wonders, "Isn't this just another example of a black woman disappearing behind the scenes, devoting her life to helping porcelain-skinned Kidman and blue-eyed Pitt – white people who grab the fame and the glory? Is this progress? Is this the best we can hope for?"

One final thing that has me conflicted is Hilton Als' attitude toward theater and theater criticism. Als says that in his reviews, he tries to treat theater like literature; when he sees a new play, he tries to fit it into the context of the writing that has come before it. Paller read aloud from Als' recent review of the David Adjmi play Stunning, and asked Als to discuss it. Stunning is about some Syrian-American Jews and their black housekeeper, and Als' review compared it to the works of other authors, such as Bernard Malamud, who have written about the relationship between blacks and Jews. On the one hand, Als' approach argues for the inherent dignity of theater and of the playwright – treating theater as an important component in the narrative of American culture. Too often, Als said, we think of the playwright as someone who merely creates a blueprint for the actors and director to fill in, rather than as the instigator and the driving creative force. And he says that anyone who is serious about culture must try to read or see the important plays of the year, the way that they would go see the award-winning movies.

But then, Als followed that up with a comment along the lines of "So playwrights should try to get people to read their work, that's the important thing, and they shouldn't care if it doesn't get produced." Which, excuse me, sounds like a very strange thing for a theater critic to say. It singlehandedly discounts the contributions of the actors, director, and designers in creating the theatrical experience. It insults the playwright by suggesting that she should limit her aspirations and be content to write "closet dramas," rather than works that will be brought to life on the stage. And also, it's counterintuitive: I think that in this country, even fewer people read plays as literature than attend the theater, so if Als got his way, theater would be even further marginalized. Trying to get people to see live theater is hard, but there are ways to promote it and make it sound fun: it's a night out on the town, you might get to see great acting or singing or dancing, it's amazing to laugh or cry along with your fellow audience members. Whereas trying to convince people to read plays because it's the "important" thing to do makes play-reading sound like a boring old slog.

Furthermore, sometimes Als' insistence on treating theater as literature makes it seem like he's just using the play he's reviewing as an excuse to talk about something else that he thinks is more important. That's kind of how I felt about the Bernard Malamud references in the Stunning review (which I also think have the effect of making the reader feel stupid for not having read, or even really heard much about, Malamud). It also seems that Als is somewhat notorious for writing irrelevant intro paragraphs, which further reinforce the impression that he'd rather be discussing something other than the play he's ostensibly reviewing. I don't always love the theater criticism of Als' colleague John Lahr either, but I much prefer his idea of the theatrical experience. "The John Lahr recipe for telling whether a play is good or bad is if you can shut your eyes when you're in the theater and get all the meaning – it's a bad play. You didn't have to be there," he has said. As opposed to suggesting that the best way to experience a play is to read it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"It Was Very Well-Acted"

This anecdote didn't come to mind when I saw Krapp's Last Tape in June, but I remembered it recently.

When I was studying abroad in France, I took a theater course. The professor had a habit of going off on tangents that went over my classmates' heads (and over my head too, sometimes, though I came into the course knowing much more about theater than many of my classmates did). At one point, he told us about how excited he got when he learned that his parents were in the audience at the Paris premiere of Krapp's Last Tape, which took place before he was born. He eagerly asked them if they remembered anything about the production, and what they had thought of it.

"Unfortunately," he said, "it wasn't their kind of theater. I think it confused them, and they didn't like it very much, but I guess they thought they should have liked it. So they told me, 'But it was very well-acted!' Just like that--'It was very well-acted!'"

I had never before thought of "It was very well-acted" as a phrase that people use to damn things with faint praise, but when my professor put it like that, I had to agree with him. He had the French avant-gardist's scorn for well-meaning bourgeois audiences who, not knowing what else to say about a play and wanting to be positive, fall back on "It was very well-acted" as the universal compliment. It reminds me of the kinds of attitudes that Daumier caricatured.

And ever since then, I always smile a bit skeptically whenever anyone tells me, "Oh, I don't think that play was very good--But it was very well acted!"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Japan: "Engrish" and Francophilia

I had been warned, before going to Japan, about Japanese people's fondness for T-shirts printed with random and bizarre English phrases. (I had also been warned not to buy any T-shirts with Japanese writing on them, as it was a good chance that they actually said "I am a stupid American.") And yep, it's for real. I can't remember all the examples that I saw, but I think the funniest one had to be a young woman in a shirt that said "Skinny Boys, Baggy Girls."

Then there are the signs that employ mangled or poorly translated English. Though sometimes this mixture of Japanese grammar and English vocabulary can give the language an odd vitality. (The same way that the mixture of Hindi and English gives vitality to the novels of Salman Rushdie or Arundhati Roy.) I was quite taken with a sign on an auto-repair shop that said "Assist Your Carlife." Maybe no native English speaker would ever say this, but we understand what it means, and it's jaunty and concise.

This sign is just hilarious on multiple levels (I'm juvenile, so sue me):

And I also giggled when I saw the name of this café:

But, to get a little more serious and indulge in some Sociology 101, this Patisserie Tooth Tooth sign points at some key features of Japanese culture. First, it's very cutesy (kawaii). Second, I wasn't expecting this, but the Japanese are extremely Francophilic.

There are tons of pseudo-French cafes and patisseries in Japan--I even discovered the "Kobe School of Patisserie" while on a walk! I became a big fan of a chain called "Vie de France," which I loved because they had an English-language menu and served lemonade (which I needed on those humid Japan afternoons). Their pastries were an odd mix of French and Japanese flavors: brioche dough with mango filling, or pâte feuilletée with red bean paste. I also drank a lot of iced café au lait (said aisu kohi o le) while in Japan. I'm convinced that Japanese coffee is weaker than American or European--it never once gave me caffeine jitters, which I otherwise tend to get frequently.

Furthermore, if a boutique clothing store doesn't have an English name, it will have a French name. (Or maybe an Italian name... but hardly ever a Japanese name.) The French names, as you might guess, are no more likely to be grammatical or logical than the English ones are. I nearly cringed when I saw that one of Kobe's most elegant department stores had an extremely mangled and misspelled French poem painted on the wall of the accessories department.

I said that this Francophilia surprised me, but I guess it makes sense, in terms of the Japanese love for all things cute. Because the Japanese idea of France seems to be similar to the idea of France that I had when I was a little girl watching too many Audrey Hepburn movies: Paris, romance, beauty, refinement, femininity, frills, pastries, pastel colors, etc. In this context, it makes perfect sense that Sofia Coppola filmed Marie Antoinette after making Lost in Translation--because the look and feel of Coppola's Marie Antoinette accords fully with the Japanese idea of what France is all about. I wonder if the movie was a bigger hit in Japan than it was here?

Oh, and also: I know it's a tired joke to make fun of the trouble that Japanese people have distinguishing between "r" and '"l" sounds, and to say that they are speak "Engrish." But I got confirmation of this when I went to the school where my friend Lexi teaches and sat in on a class where they played a game. Lexi divided up her first-year English students into teams and had one child from each team run up to the chalkboard and write the name of their favorite subject in school. Three kids wrote "Engrish." And none of them wrote "English."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lost in Translation: "N.P." by Banana Yoshimoto

Before going to Japan, I polled my Facebook friends to see if they had any recommendations of Japanese literature. I said it might be nice to read books by both men and women, and a few people suggested that Banana Yoshimoto was a talented female author, so I picked up her novel N.P. (My bookstore didn't have a copy of her best-known work, the novel Kitchen.)

The book jacket made N.P. sound like an appealing literary-themed mystery, maybe like a Japanese version of The Shadow of the Wind. And a blurb also called it "essential reading for anyone who has ever felt lost while trying to find their lives through coffee and credit cards"--so I thought it might be good to read a Japanese take on the "Gen-X twentysomething" novel. But all this hype only made for a big letdown when I read N.P. this weekend. Though it's short (mercifully short?) and a very quick read, it's one of the most tedious pieces of literature I have ever encountered.

N.P. is narrated by 22-year-old Kazami Kano. When she was still in high school, Kazami had an affair with an older man named Shoji, who worked as a translator. Then Shoji killed himself while he was in the middle of translating a short story by an author named Sarao Takase. Strangely, everyone who has tried to translate this story--as well as Takase himself--has also committed suicide. Four years after Shoji's death, Kazami befriends Takase's children, and gets drawn into the mystery that surrounds his writing and his family.

So this sounds like the recipe for a good gothic-pulpy novel, with some philosophizing about literature and translation thrown in...and yet it is terribly disappointing. The writing is flat, the dialogue is stilted, and the characters don't behave like recognizable human beings. At one point, Kazami meets the mysterious Sui, who confesses that her boyfriend is also her half-brother--and that she slept with her father (Sarao Takase) before his death. Kazami's response to Sui's rather outrageous news? "Now it all makes sense to me. So do you feel attracted only to men you're related to?" She displays no shock or bewilderment or even any interesting thoughts about encountering a girl whose incest puts Oedipus to shame... she just takes it in stride.

I mean, if you're writing a novel about incest and suicide and a potentially cursed piece of writing, the thing to do is to layer on the Gothic atmosphere and make it a real page-turner. And preferably have a thoughtful, engaging narrator, too. That's what The Shadow of the Wind did (and it treated its revelation of incest like the appalling secret that it is). Maybe Yoshimoto thinks that relating these bizarre events in a flat, affectless tone will make them more believable by avoiding sensationalism. Unfortunately, for me, the tone only makes the events less believable, since they never became real or vivid before my eyes.

I don't know how many of my complaints are related to the difficulties of translating from Japanese to English. (N.P. is the first Japanese novel I have ever read, so I don't have much of a basis for comparison.) Maybe some of the flatness of the writing results from the fact that the Japanese language does not have an exclamation point, and that it seems to employ a smaller vocabulary than English does. Still, I also think that the translation of N.P. I read was really lousy, due to an error of word choice that was so wrong-headed I can't believe it made it into print. The translation uses the word "stepbrother" when it should be "half-brother," which makes a hash out of the whole incest plotline until you realize what's going on, and suggests that there may be other errors that I didn't catch.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Japan: Himeji

Since I was staying in Japan with my friend Lexi, who has been teaching English there for the last 11 months, one of the best parts of the trip was getting a more "insidery" view of Japan than a typical tourist might experience. For instance, Lexi showed me her favorite hidden-away antique shop, and I got to visit the school where she teaches. But I also did some straight-up touristy things, and of those, my favorite was the visit I paid to Himeji Castle.

Himeji Castle is the best-preserved castle in all of Japan; it was built in 1601. Unlike Western castles, Japanese castles are mainly constructed of wood and plaster. That's what makes it so amazing that Himeji Castle has stood for 400 years without being destroyed or burning down. To put things in perspective, Himeji was built at the same time as the Globe Theatre! And the Globe didn't even survive for 50 years--it burned down, was rebuilt, then finally destroyed when the Puritans came to power. People are obviously terrified that Himeji Castle could still catch fire, so there are fire extinguishers in nearly every room.

You have to take off your shoes when touring Himeji Castle and it was wonderful to be able to walk barefoot on those old wooden floors. Not knowing much about Japanese history, I was relatively unmoved by the artifacts assembled in some of the castle's rooms--documents relating to the aristocratic family that used to live in the castle, mainly. But I loved feeling history beneath my very feet.

Here are a few pictures that I took:

From a far distance as you approach the castle. There is a large network of walls, defensive fortifications, etc., surrounding the main castle building... and the city of Himeji at the base of the castle used to be entirely geared toward providing for the building's noble residents. Now, of course, it looks like any modern Japanese city. I tried to frame this image the way I envisioned a ukiyo-e printmaker would. How do you think it turned out?

A closer view of the castle. One Japanese name for it translates to "White Egret Castle" because of its swoopy, wing-like appearance.

The view out the window of the uppermost floor of the castle. I am not sure of the reason for these fish sculptures being placed on the roofline, but I found them very charming--the Japanese version of gargoyles? The roof tiles are also elaborately crafted, decorated with the emblems of several of the noble families who lived in the castle.

I was really amazed that we visitors could go all the way to the top of the castle and look out these uppermost windows. In most historic buildings in Europe and America, there are rooms that are blocked off--but you can see every bit of Himeji Castle. I should note that although this is the most-visited castle in Japan, it is still nowhere near as crowded or touristy as Versailles or the Vatican. You have the freedom to roam around a bit and take things at your own pace, rather than being pushed along by the crowd behind you. Also, very few of the visitors are Westerners, which again makes this feel less touristy than you might imagine.

Monday, July 6, 2009

There Are Faeries In My Neighborhood

No, this is not the set-up for a tired joke revolving around the "there sure are a lot of gay people in San Francisco" thing. It's a reference to a short story by Chris Adrian, called "A Tiny Feast," which is, to crib a line from Shakespeare, "something rich and strange." (And which was published in The New Yorker in April, but I only now got around to reading.)

The quote from The Tempest is especially appropriate because "A Tiny Feast" is a twist on another Shakespearean fantasy, A Midsummer Night's Dream. The premise of the story is that Oberon and Titania and their band of faeries are living beneath Buena Vista Park in San Francisco (about a mile from my house), and have stolen a human child and left a changeling in his place. When the human boy gets leukemia and cannot be cured by faerie magic, they must disguise themselves as a mortal family and get him treated at UCSF Children's Hospital. This information comes out much more gradually in the story than I have written it here, of course. And what follows is brilliantly odd and imaginative and well-written and meaningful, too. As immortal faeries, Oberon and Titania have great difficulty processing their child's illness and the doctors' diagnoses. But how different is this from the disorientation that any parent feels when his or her child gets cancer?

Chris Adrian, aka Mr. Overachiever, is a critically acclaimed fiction writer, the possessor of a divinity degree from Harvard, and a pediatric oncologist at UCSF--so he knows whereof he speaks. And according to this interview, "A Tiny Feast" is not just a standalone story: Adrian is working on a novel that retells the story of A Midsummer Night's Dream in modern San Francisco. Anticipation! Because, just reading "A Tiny Feast" has got me to see my city as a new place--a magical place. When the N-Judah train tunnels through Buena Vista Park I now think to myself "There are faeries here, living right on the other side of these tunnel walls." I can only imagine what effect a whole novel of this will have on me.

Incidentally, what is it with UCSF physicians having amazing second careers as artists? Aside from Chris Adrian, there is a great band called Rupa and the April Fishes whose frontwoman, Rupa, also works as a doctor at UCSF. My god, they put the rest of us San Franciscans to shame.

Image: "A Fairy Flew Off with the Changeling" by Arthur Rackham.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Japan: Books & Music

I've returned safe and sound from Japan... with lots of photos and lots of potential subjects for blog posts! I had some of my stereotypes about Japan confirmed (yes, the Japanese love T-shirts with bizarre English phrases on them) and others completely demolished (no, not all Japanese schoolchildren are preternaturally quiet and studious--they can be much rowdier than Americans!). I was startled to realize how many of my notions about Japan derived from Memoirs of a Geisha and Lost in Translation--two works I encountered when I was an impressionable high-schooler. And both, of course, Westerners' interpretations of Japan.

To try to counteract that, I brought several Japanese novels on this trip--but I didn't end up reading any of them! I was so busy soaking in the atmosphere, and writing so much in my journal, that the only things I read were several back-issues of The New Yorker.

No use letting perfectly good books go unread, though, so I will be reading my Japanese novels, and, hopefully, blogging about them--even though I'm back in America now.

I also planned to listen to Japan-themed musicals and operas on my iPod--Pacific Overtures and Madame Butterfly. (I thought I would try to make a habit of listening to musicals in the country where they take place. Two years ago I listened to The Light in the Piazza in Florence and Sunday in the Park with George on La Grande Jatte.) But this plan also fell by the wayside. Perhaps it's because I am not really familiar with either of those shows and had to download the music right before I went on the trip--whereas, when I listened to Piazza and Sunday in foreign countries, they were already among my favorite musicals.

I did, however, fire up my iPod as my bus pulled out of central Kobe on its way to the airport, and listened to "Just Like Honey" on repeat...

Because some old habits die hard

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Remarkable Rocket

Have you bought your Fourth of July fireworks yet? Whether you have or not, might I suggest reading, in honor of the holiday, Oscar Wilde's short story "The Remarkable Rocket"?

I am thoroughly in love with this story. It features a frog, a duck, and a whole lot of fireworks (including the titular rocket) who all talk with Wildean wit, and I hope I don't have to explain why that's so awesome. It must have the highest number of aphorisms per page of any short story in the English language. It is completely charming, and deserves to be better known.

Tom Stoppard's play The Invention of Love contrasts Wilde with A.E. Housman, who exemplified opposite ways of living as gay men in late-Victorian England. Which is worse: to lead a long life of inhibition and suppressed sexuality (Housman) or to live flamboyantly only to be punished for it (Wilde)? "Better a fallen rocket than never a burst of light," Stoppard has Wilde say.

Could this image be inspired by Wilde's short story? I wonder. And I also think that The Remarkable Rocket: The Life of Oscar Wilde would be a great title. If the world needed another Wilde biography, that is.

But don't just take my word for it. Try it!