Tag Archives: fiction/literature

The Algonquin Wits: Robert Benchley on the Standardization of American Life

“It takes no great perspicacity to detect and to complain of the standardization in American life. So many foreign and domestic commentators have pointed this feature out in exactly the same terms that the comment has become standardized and could be turned out on little greeting cards, all from the same type-form: ‘American life has become too standardized.’”

Robert Benchley

Excerpted from: Drennan, Robert E., ed. The Algonquin Wits. New York: Kensington, 1985.

Book of Answers: The Death of Jack Kerouac

“How did Jack Kerouac die? The author of On the Road (1957) died at age 47 on October 21, 1969, of a massive gastric hemorrhage associated with alcoholism in St. Petersburg, Florida.”

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.


“Anticlimax: 1. In rhetoric, a descent from the elevated and important to the low and trivial: ‘Here thou, Great Anna! whom three realms obey,/Dost sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea’ (Pope, The Rape of the Lock, (1712). 2. In drama, the lowered state after a climax; in life, an outcome that fails to live up to expectations.”

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Man of Letters

“Man of Letters: A well-educated, well-read, civilized and perhaps learned person—who may also be a writer (e.g. a belle-lettrist). ‘A man of capital letters,’ on the other hand, is one who thinks he is these things but is, in fact, very limited. Pope’s victims in The Dunciad might be called ‘men of capital letters’. See also BELLES LETTRES; LITERATI.”

Excerpted from: Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Book of Answers: The Transcendentalists’ Resting Place

Where are Emerson, Thoreau and Hawthorne buried? In Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Massachusetts.

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.


“Banality (noun): An insipidly dull or obvious remark; dreary commonplace. Adj. banal; adv, banally.

‘At moments, in the bar afterwards, I let the rank maleness of my fellows blow through me, and try to think their wrinkled whiskery jowls, their acrid aromas, their urgent and bad-breathed banalities, into some kind of Stendhalian crystallization.’ John Updike, A Month of Sundays”

Excerpted from: Grambs, David. The Random House Dictionary for Writers and Readers. New York: Random House, 1990.

An Introductory Learning Support on Using the Comma

Here is an introductory learning support on using the comma. This is the first of fifteen of these I will post in the next few weeks, which I expect merits an explanation.

Somewhere, either in Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, or Tropic of Capricorn (I read all three in one compulsive gulp about thirty years ago), i.e. Henry Miller’sObelisk Trilogy,” the author asserts (I paraphrase, but closely, because in spite of hours of research, I cannot find the direct quote online, and I don’t want to spend the money or time to buy the books and find the sentence) that it’s easier to describe the philosophy of Nietzsche than it is to teach adequately the proper use of the comma. Oscar Wilde famously made his own remarks about the use of the comma, which is a little easier (but much more complex in its origin) to track down, which I was able to do thanks to the excellent website Quote Investigator.

Commas tend to bedevil me as well; indeed, I have had a tendency to overuse them. For years, I have meant of create an extensive reference library on the multitudinous uses of the comma in prose. Using what I think is the best punctuation manual in print, I have at last done so. As I post each of them, should you choose to download them, you will notice they vary considerably in length. After thinking about this for several weeks, I decided to use the same major subdivisions that the author uses in her manual.

However, as you may see, there are numerous minor subdivisions within most of these documents. It may be that these need to be broken up further. Because these are Microsoft Word documents, you are able to manipulate these materials to suit your needs. If I’d broken them up myself, this project would have taken much longer than it did, which was plenty long per se.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

James A. Michener on Dark Ages

“An age is called Dark not because light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.”

James A. Michener (1907-1997)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Algonquin Wits: Harold Ross

“On hearing that Time editor Henry Luce objected to a profile of himself published in The New Yorker—on the grounds that not one nice thing was said about him in the whole piece—Ross told him, ‘That’s what you get for trying to be a baby tycoon.’”

Excerpted from: Drennan, Robert E., ed. The Algonquin Wits. New York: Kensington, 1985.

W. Somerset Maugham on Principles

“You can’t learn too soon that the the most useful thing about a principle is that it can always be sacrificed to expediency.”

W. Somerset Maugham

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Portable Curmudgeon. New York: Plume, 1992.