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Our recent "Art of the Book” theme presented several words about books as physical objects: decoration, illustration, etc. This week we classify books and other writings by their written content.

roman à clef – [romahn-a-KLAY] a novel in which actual persons and events are disguised as fictional characters [plural romans à clef]

The term is commonly applied to movies as well as novels. What well-known novels and movies can our readers identify as being romans à clef?
    Are fictional characters drawn directly from life? Obviously not, at least on a one-to-one basis – you’d better not, unless you want to get sued or shot on your way to the mailbox some fine morning. In many cases, such as roman à clef novels like Valley of the Dolls, characters are drawn mostly from life, but after readers get done playing the inevitable guessing game about who’s who, these stories tend to be unsatisfying, stuffed with shadowbox celebrities who bonk each other and then fade quickly from the reader’s mind.
    – Stephen King, On Writing
 
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these stories tend to be unsatisfying, stuffed with shadowbox celebrities who bonk each other and then fade quickly from the reader’s mind.

Except for the bonking, I thought Mr King was discussing his own œuvre. (My oops.) A science fiction roman à clef I enjoyed was The Starcrossed by Ben Bova. It was about his adventures in being a technical advisor for a TV show called Star Lost. Little Harlan Ellison was easily identifiable.
 
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Citizen Kane is what I immediately thought of. No explanation should be necessary for this one.

Another example might be the book The Wizard of OZ. Obviously the book is about the silver standard, but I'm not sure if all the characters match up with real persons. I'm sure some of them do, but I don't remember which. Here is a link: http://paws.wcu.edu/mulligan/www/oz.html

It appears that The Cowardly Lion is William Jennings Bryan and The Wizard is President McKinley, so I guess this qualifies.
 
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Yes, Citizen Kane, a film à clef, is pretty transparently about Wm Randolph Hearst and, as Herman Mankiewicz knew Davies and him rather well, it's pretty good once you know who's who. But, both Citizen Kane and Wizard of Oz have a lot more going for them without the key to who's who.
 
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Did anyone see the PBS special "The Fight over the Making of 'Citizen Kane'"? Quite an interesting and in-depth coverage of the whole schmeer.

PLUS they revealed why Orson Wells called the sled "Rosebud." (heh, heh!)
 
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Did anyone see the PBS special "The Fight over the Making of 'Citizen Kane'"?

No, but I read Paulene Kael's Raising Kane back in the mid-'70s which pretty much went over most of the material. A friend of mine who is a cinematographer used to live in the cottage near Echo Park that Marion Davies lived in before she hooked up with Hearst.
 
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Seanahan,
Re: Oz and oz.

I haven't read the Rockoff article but I've heard the allegory explanation before. The parallels are certainly compelling, but do you know if there is any historical corraboration, like letters from Baum, etc.? Did anybody notice these parallels before 1990?
 
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I'm not sure I should admit this, but when I was a child, and could quote entire scenes from The Wizard of Oz verbatim (I liked the film!), I suggested to my mum that Baum had got some inspiration from Australia, since Oz is slang for the country, Emerald is a town(?) in the state of Victoria, and Australia is home to 'bizarre' creatures unknown elsewhere on the planet. I suppose coming from a child at primary school it was quite insightful - but then, at around the same time I did ask my mum why the ancient Romans had named their gods after the planets... Roll Eyes
 
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The author of "The Wizard of OZ" allegedly decided on "OZ" when his wandering gaze settled on the label of a drawer in his filing cabinet. Presumably the other drawer was labelled "AN" and contained titles in the first half of the alphabet.

The "OZ" / "Aus" connectiion is probably apocryphal, based on co-incidence.

A successful public relations campaign by the State of Kansas promotes the wonders of Kansas with the expletive "Ah! Kansas!" (The Land of Ah's).

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wordcrafter

Not unlike the ketchup slogan, I await more varieties. Here of course for written works, rather than tomato purees...


RJA
 
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Reuters reports:
quote:
HOLLYWOOD (Reuters) - They really said it -- notable quotes from the news:
"I love to write. And I thought about an autobiography but everyone was doing that plus I'd rather write fiction. So someone suggested a 'roman a clef' and I was like, who is that?"
--PAMELA ANDERSON, sex symbol and now author of "Star," in the Boston Herald.
It is a revelation to learn of Ms. Anderson's literary talent. Those unfamiliar with her more prominent assets (have you been living in the jungles of Borneo?) can quickly grasp the notion here.
 
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Continuing our theme classifying books and other writings by their written content.

hagiography – a biography of saints; hence, a worshipful or idealizing biography
    But every time I consider the upcoming political conventions, a single word comes to mind: why? It was hard enough four years ago to discern the point of these empty exercises in film-clip hagiography and ideological self-congratulation. The networks had rightly given up full-scale coverage because the conventions had become, as one exec complained, "an endless sea of blah." The nominees already signed, sealed and delivered, the Republican and Democratic conventions seemed to be of interest to no one but placard manufacturers, local caterers and demonstrators.
    – Anna Quindlen, Newsweek, July 26, 2004
 
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If we classify written material by its content, can we classify politicians by their speaking behavior?

Here's Anna again.
 
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quote: Ms. Anderson's ... prominent assets

Perhaps her roman à clef should more properly be called a roman à cleft.
 
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Today's term, though much used, does not appear in any of the many dictionaries that One-Look includes. So I attempt to amalgamate the on-line discussions, which of course vary somewhat

short-short – an extremely brief short-story (Publishers' guidelines vary, some allowing 500 words maximum, some as many as 1,000.)

One source (no longer on the web) says, "A short story, unlike a novel, is expected to be efficient and purposeful; it moves in a straight line. A short-short story compresses the efficiency of a short story. [...I]t's either a shorter straight line or a dotted line that leaves out segments of the line so that the reader has to interpolate."

The term flash fiction often used, either as a synonym for short-short, or as meaning an even more tightly compressed story.
    It was "The Seashell". ... I wrote it first as a short story, and it was turned down. Then I made a novelette out of it, and then a novel. Then a short short. Then a three-line gag. And still it wouldn't sell.
    – Theodore Sturgeon's opening words in Ether Breather
 
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quote:
quote: Ms. Anderson's ... prominent assets

Perhaps her roman à clef should more properly be called a roman à cleft.


[leer]I'd like to see her frontispiece...[/leer]


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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There is a category at the extreme end - the six-word story.

Hemingway was once challenged to write one. His response:

"For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."


RJA
 
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Quote "It is a revelation to learn of Ms. Anderson's literary talent"

I read recently that Elvis Presley, during a TV interview, said, "...If I were as talented an actor as James Dean..."

That insight and the all too rare use of the subjunctive would seem to show that Elvis, too, was more intelligent than one might have assumed from his public portrayal.

I suspect that our easy dismissal of the intelligence of famous personalities whose talents seem to be unimportant or ephemeral might often be unfair.


Richard English
 
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Flash fiction: TV for Super Bowl 2005 will show Ms Anderson in the 2004 role of Michael Jackson's sister. Keeping abreast of the Sports. Tit for tat.
 
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I believe today's word has a broader meaning than the dictionaries state. I give that broad meaning first, and illustrate it by the first quotation. [The final quotation, from Elmer Gantry, does not really illustrate the word but was too humorous to resist.]

chrestomathy – a collection of literary passages selected to show a subject matter in breadth. More specifically:
1. a sample of literary passages, usually by one author illustrating his thought and style (e.g., the H.L. Mencken book titled "A Mencken Chrestomathy")
2. a selection of passages to be used to help learn a language
[from Gk chrestos useful + mathien to learn]

Here is a form that may be far more useful: chrestomathic – pertaining to useful knowledge
    Not only are Oriental literary productions essentially alien to the European; they also do not contain a sustained enough interest ... to merit publication except as extracts ... . Therefore the Orientalist is required to present the Orient by a series of representative fragments, fragments republished, explicated, annotated, and surrounded with still more fragments. For such a presentation a special genre is required: the chrestomathy ...
    – Edward W. Said, Orientalism (1979)

    A social philosopher with the acute insight that thought worthy of the name must heed, Kristol and his chrestomathy will engage fan and foe alike.
    – Booklist, Sept. 1995, reviewing Irving Kristol, Neoconservatism: The Autobiography Of An Idea

    Old Jewkins, humble, gently old farmer, inched up to murmur, "Like to shake your hand, brother Elmer. T'think I remember you as knee-high to a grasshopper! I suppose you study a lot of awful learned books now."
    . . . ."They make us work good and hard, Brother Jewkins. They give us pretty deep stuff: hermeneutics, chrestomathy, pericopes, exegesis, homiletics, liturgies, isagogics, Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic, hymnology, apologetics – oh, a good deal."
    . . . ."Well! I should say so!" worshiped old Jewkins.
    – Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry

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bildungsroman – a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character
[sometimes capitalized; secondary accent is on last syllable, not next-to last. Ger Bildung education, foundation + Roman novel.]

With today's illustrative quotations is a link to an article I found particularly interesting.
    Web logs, [Professor] Fitzpatrick says, may function in some ways like the old bildungsroman - episodic narratives of life and coming of age.
    – Christina McCarroll, New on the endangered species list: the bookworm, The Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 2004

    The 'Rule of Four" is a coming-of-age novel, what the Germans so charmingly call a Bildungsroman.
    – Marta Salij, Detroit Free Press, July 11, 2004

    [re An Unfinished Season by Ward Just:] This bildungsroman maintains a leisurely pace, feeling at times like Catcher in the Rye on horse tranquillizers.
    – Mark Jarman, Canada Globe and Mail, July 17, 2004
Bonus Word: entwicklungsroman – synonomous with bildungsroman
Our Bonus Word can claim an odd distinction. Can you spot it?
 
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The bonus word, 'entwicklungsroman,' has one each, of the non-occasional vowels.


RJA
 
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I've heard Bildungsroman used as an antonym for In Media Res, but I'm not sure if this is correct. They don't appear to be antonyms, is the standard sense, although the terms describe opposite concepts. Opinions?
 
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Entwicklungsroman

Has a 3-, 3-, and 4-consonant run in it.

German Bildung (cf. English to build) means in this context 'cultivation, education'. Entwicklung means 'development, evolution, formation' (< wickeln 'to wrap, swaddle').
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Arvanitis:
The bonus word, 'entwicklungsroman,' has one each, of the non-occasional vowels.
Precisely - with the caveat that there are a fair number of such words.

Entwicklungsroman is the longest word that has each such vowel once and only once.
Sequoia is the shortest.
 
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think piece – a piece of writing meant to be thought-provoking and speculative that consists chiefly of background material and personal opinion and analysis

This definition is from MW. Other sources omit the 'speculative' concept and also confine the term to newspaper or magazine writing. But I think MW has stated the meaning correctly.
    Somewhere in Hollywood there's an assembly line that stamps out these near-future sci-fi action thrillers. ... I, Robot is just the latest model. If you've ever read any of Asimov's think piece robot stories or novels, put them out of your mind -- far out -- before going to see I, Robot.
    – San Diego Union-Tribune, Jul 19, 2004

    "The Grid," a spy saga and perhaps the best new drama of the summer, involves a large cast of characters on a global stage in a style reminiscent of "The West Wing." In other words, it's not a James Bond-type thriller, but more of a think piece.
    – Tom Dorsey, The Courier-Journal (Louisville), July 19, 2004
 
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EntwIcklUngsrOmAn
All five vowel letters (not counting 'y', as Wordcrafter says); each only once; and each in (the written part corresponding to) a separate spoken syllable, unlike "sEqUOIA" or "UnqUEstIOnAblY".


Dr. Whom: Consulting Linguist, Grammarian, Orthoepist, and Philological Busybody
 
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I never really thought of I, Robot as a "think piece". In fact, I've read almost all(all the ones published in collections) of the Robot stories, and think piece doesn't really describe them well. Any other Asimov readers that have an opinion here?
 
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Welcome, Dr. Whom! So pleased to have you! Smile Big Grin Wink Cool
 
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I am pleased to welcome Dr. Whom, whose maiden post is hereinafter to be known as Whom's-on, first.
 
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European newspapers often have an area meant to entertain the general reader, with light fiction, reviews, and articles of general entertainment. One typical item is a novel published in installments

feuilleton – 1. a part of a newspaper to entertain the general reader, as above; also, an item printed there 2. a novel printed in installments (also roman feuilleton)

It has been suggested that the soap opera is a type of roman feuilleton, except that it is unending.

Today's last two quotations present interesting thoughts.
    Readers of Parisian newspapers had an insatiable appetite for tales of adultery and betrayal, power, jealousy, and revenge. No paper was complete without its serialized romance, the feuilleton. – Susan Quinn, Marie Curie

    As the Nazi stamp upon language disappeared, so did the rhetorical excesses [of] ... the Nazi political style. It would be difficult to compile a book called "Parliamentary Eloquence in the German Federal Republic" because, with a few exceptions, Bonn politicians have avoided the high-flown phrase and opted for plain speaking, even at the cost of dullness, and newspapers, even in their Feuilleton pages, have tended to do the same. – Gordon A. Craig, The Germans

    Herman Hesse wrote a book in 1943 called Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game. It was Hesse's last work, and allegedly his greatest. Hesse's book is credited to be the first and only science fiction novel to receive the Nobel Prize. According to the premise of the book, "the Age of Feuilleton" is essentially what we live in now at the end of the 20th century. It was an age of intellectual frivolity. Feuilleton is a French word which refers to the light entertainment articles in daily newspapers.
    – Jonah Goldberg, National Review, Sept. 13, 1999
 
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I'd certainly describe many of Asimov's robot stories as "think pieces". Like many SF authors at the time, his stories ask the question "what if...?" and then postulate what would happen. Plot, use of language and characterisation are secondary to finding the answer to the question posed.


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To me that is the definition of Science Fiction. And the current accepted term for Asimov is "hard science fiction". If this entire genre is considered "think pieces", then I suppose I'd agree.
 
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think pieces ... what if?

Which is why some preferred to call science fiction speculative fiction. (We'll leave out Gernsback's weird scientifiction.)
 
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Pace Seanahan, not all science fiction is thoughtful.

I believe we can make sharp contrast between, for example,"Flash Gordon" and the writings of Stanislaw Lem.

"Flash Gordon" says "What if we had death rays?" and then proceeds to lay out a galatic action story. Lem says "what if we could merge man and machine?" and then proceeds to ponder what exactly "human" means.

The latter is the thinking piece.


RJA
 
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SF has many definitions: here's one site that has a page full; since it was last updated in 1996, I'm sure several more have been coined since then.

"What if...?" is a workable definition for much of the SF from the 40s and 50s (often referred to as "the Golden Age of SF" by those who should know better). It is the sort of tale that Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Pohl, and others wrote. However, plenty of others, such as Ray Bradbury, JG Ballard, Cordwainer Smith, Jack Vance, and Gene Woolfe wrote what was definitely Science Fiction, but it was "soft" by your classification. So no, the entire genre cannot be classed as "think pieces".


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So much of hard SF is device-driven as opposed to character-driven, but the Flash Gordon genre of SF led to the deprecatory label space opera (which George Lucas, perhaps uncritically, has revived as a major strand of SF filmmaking). As for Asimov, in my favorite text of his, i.e., the Foundation Trilogy, there were gadgets a plenty and some attempts at character, too. Rounded out. And S. Lem, of course, is a maître.
 
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