29 March 2012

Spaghetti Harvest Days at Words on Books

Here I was, all ready to do a serious think piece on a new novel starring Achilles and his heel, and Achilles’ boytoy Patroclus, when I looked up at the date and realized this is absolutely the wrong day to attempt any serious thing.

April Fools Day. Why can’t every day be April Fools Day? And does Fools have an apostrophe or does it not?

On the Google there are collections of the best April Fools Day hoaxes of all time. Number One, according to The Museum of Hoaxes, and yes, there is such a thing – or – could it be a hoax? – Number One April Fools Day hoax is the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest.

Spaghetti does not grow on trees, and Swiss maidens on ladders do not harvest it – or do they? The BBC on the first day of April, 1957, not only reported a bumper spaghetti crop in Switzerland due to mild weather and “virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil” but showed television viewers footage of “Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees.”

My favorite in this collection is not the Taco Liberty Bell, the instant color TV set, or the curious case of fastball savant Sidd Finch. No, my favorite is the Guardian’s seven-page special report on the little-known island nation of San Serriffe.

In 1977 the London newspaper reported on “a small republic located in the Indian Ocean consisting of several semi-colon-shaped islands.”

Instantly, readers wanted to go there, despite the cruel dictatorship of General Pica. The Guardian said that “terrorism has been virtually eliminated from the beaches of San Serriffe” so come on down and get your sunburn, English person. 

The newspaper reported ongoing "antagonisms between descendants of the original Spanish and Portuguese colons and those of the later English arrivals, sometimes humorously derided as the semicolons."

The two primary islands of San Serriffe, Upper and Lower Caisse, feature the capital, Bodoni, and the national bird, the Kwote. Readers learned that due to shifting sands, the islands were moving eastward at the rate of 1400 meters a year.

“Due to a constant process of erosion that removed sand from the west coast and deposited it on the east coast... it was anticipated that the islands would collide with Sri Lanka in 2011. To slow down this movement, boats constantly ferried sand from the east coast back to the west.”

The massive one-day success of this hoax led to fan clubs, t-shirts, and one crazy publisher who really exists – or does he?

“Henry Morris, owner of the Bird & Bull Press in Pennsylvania... published a series of books about San Serriffe... His books include Booksellers of San Serriffe (first edition currently available for $300); First Fine Silver Coinage Of The Republic Of San Serriffe; and The World's Worst Marbled Papers: Being a Collection of Ten Contemporary San Serriffean Marbled Papers Showing the Lowest Level of Technique, the Worst Combinations of Colors, and the Most Inferior Execution Known Since the Dawn of the Art of Marbling Collected by the Author During a Five Year Expedition to the Republic of San Serriffe.

So... there I was this past week, reading The Song of Achilles, a first novel by Greek scholar Madeline Miller. It’s a love story, and a war story. It’s more personal and much more emotional than The Iliad but in the end it’s just one more story added to the many that have come down to us from the old Greeks.

There is no definitive history of that time, no single story, so Ms Miller has picked out the parts that make most sense to her and retold them from the point of view of Patroclus, lover of Achilles. The reader hangs on to every gripping paragraph, hoping somehow that the Gods will be deflected from their tragic path – as did the Greeks, no doubt, in their day.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller exists, and I read it, and I’ll review it further one of these days. Really, it does, and I will. You can believe it. Even on April Fools Day.


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. HarperCollins hard cover $24.99. ISBN 9780062060617.

The Trojan war as told in the Iliad

Interesting essays on the Iliad, its meaning, performance, etc.

Bird and Bull Press, a division of Oak Knoll Press

Bird & Bull Press) Bachaus, Theodore The Booksellers of San Serriffe. Port Clarendon San Serriffe Publishing Company 2001 8vo. quarter leather with green leather spine label, slipcase. 89, (10) pages with various leaves with tipped-in plates. First edition, limited to 200 numbered copies. Those of you who were impressed by Dr. Bachaus's earlier book on the Private Presses of San Serriffe will be absolutely shattered by this in-depth survey of the booksellers of San Serriffe. The book has an historical introduction by Dr. Bachaus, which is followed by chapters on Hobart Flock of Hoki-Nol Books (hmm!), Ki-flongian Booksellers, Ltd., Grandiloquent Bookshop, Cloacina Books, St. Luke's Paper Mill and Bookshop, Contre Kook Mail Order Books, and Exterminator Books. Contains tipped-in photographs, a fold-out broadside, and three woodcuts by Wesley Bates (including one showing Robert and Mildred Flederbach in front of Hoki-Nol Press Books). The book is accompanied by a prospectus, and a letter from Dr. Bachaus to the purchaser of the book talking about the book, and enclosing four commemorative stamps from the Republic of San Serriffe inserted in an envelope with a canceled stamp. Price: $ 300.00 other currencies Order nr. 62199

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