Colonel Cathcart, Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Colonel Cathcart was a slick, successful, slipshod, unhappy man of thirty-six who lumbered when he walked and wanted to be a general. He was dashing and dejected, poised and chagrined. He was complacent and insecure, daring in the administrative stratagems he employed to bring himself to the attention of his superiors and craven in his concern that his schemes might all backfire. He was handsome and unattractive, a swashbuckling, beefy, conceited man who was putting on fat and was tormented chronically by prolonged seizures of apprehension…Colonel Cathcart was a very large, pouting, broadshouldered man with close-cropped curly dark hair that was graying at the tips…The colonel wore his khaki shirt collar wide open, exposing a shadow of tough black bristles of beard on his egg-white neck, and had a spongy hanging underlip…The colonel’s ponderous, farinaceous cheeks…His beefy face.
Buy the book at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

Colonel Cathcart, Catch-22, Joseph Heller

Colonel Cathcart was a slick, successful, slipshod, unhappy man of thirty-six who lumbered when he walked and wanted to be a general. He was dashing and dejected, poised and chagrined. He was complacent and insecure, daring in the administrative stratagems he employed to bring himself to the attention of his superiors and craven in his concern that his schemes might all backfire. He was handsome and unattractive, a swashbuckling, beefy, conceited man who was putting on fat and was tormented chronically by prolonged seizures of apprehension…Colonel Cathcart was a very large, pouting, broadshouldered man with close-cropped curly dark hair that was graying at the tips…The colonel wore his khaki shirt collar wide open, exposing a shadow of tough black bristles of beard on his egg-white neck, and had a spongy hanging underlip…The colonel’s ponderous, farinaceous cheeks…His beefy face.

Buy the book at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was first published on this day in 1949. H/T to geek-chickid 

Julia, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
He did not know her name, but he knew that she worked in the Fiction Department…She was a bold-looking girl, of about twenty-seven, with thick hair, a freckled face, and swift, athletic movements…It was the girl from the Fiction Department, the girl with dark hair. The light was failing, but there was no difficulty in recognizing her… ‘Would you believe,’ he said, ‘that till this moment I didn’t know what colour your eyes were?’ They were brown, he noted, a rather light shade of brown, with dark lashes… The youthful body was strained against his own, the mass of dark hair was against his face, and yes! Actually she had turned her face up and he was kissing the wide red mouth… With just a few dabs of colour in the right places she had become not only very much prettier, but, above all, far more feminine. Her short hair and boyish overalls merely added to the effect… ‘They can’t get inside you,’ she had said. But they could get inside you…Her face was sallower, and there was a long scar, partly hidden by the hair, across her forehead and temple.

Julia, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

He did not know her name, but he knew that she worked in the Fiction Department…She was a bold-looking girl, of about twenty-seven, with thick hair, a freckled face, and swift, athletic movements…It was the girl from the Fiction Department, the girl with dark hair. The light was failing, but there was no difficulty in recognizing her… ‘Would you believe,’ he said, ‘that till this moment I didn’t know what colour your eyes were?’ They were brown, he noted, a rather light shade of brown, with dark lashes… The youthful body was strained against his own, the mass of dark hair was against his face, and yes! Actually she had turned her face up and he was kissing the wide red mouth… With just a few dabs of colour in the right places she had become not only very much prettier, but, above all, far more feminine. Her short hair and boyish overalls merely added to the effect… ‘They can’t get inside you,’ she had said. But they could get inside you…Her face was sallower, and there was a long scar, partly hidden by the hair, across her forehead and temple.

Erik, The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux

He is extraordinarily thin and his dress-coat hangs on a skeleton frame. His eyes are so deep that you can hardly see the fixed pupils. You just see two big black holes, as in a dead man’s skull. His skin, which is stretched across his bones like a drumhead, is not white, but a nasty yellow. His nose is so little worth talking about that you can’t see it side-face; and THE ABSENCE of that nose is a horrible thing TO LOOK AT. All the hair he has is three or four long dark locks on his forehead and behind his ears…And, in this connection, I may say, that, when he went out in the streets or ventured to show himself in public, he wore a pasteboard nose, with a mustache attached to it, instead of his own horrible hole of a nose. This did not quite take away his corpse-like air, but it made him almost, I say almost, endurable to look at.

Read at Project Gutenberg. Buy at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

Suggested by Passingdreams

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Emily Schultz, The Composites’ in-house  researcher, released her first novel back in 2006. It shares a title with a new Stephen King novel, which has led to some hilarious—and ontologically challenging—reviews of Emily’s book  from Amazon readers. This weekend, The LA Times looks into the deeper reasons why this case of mistaken literary identity has happened.

Emily’s new novel, The Blondes, will be published by St. Martin’s-Thomas Dunne books in Fall 14. We’ll be hosting excerpts here in the new year.

Daisy Buchanan, blond and brunette version

Does Daisy Buchanan have blond or brown hair? According to Fitzgerald’s text, the answer is both. When the original composite was first posted here last February our researcher, Emily, debated several lines about Daisy’s hair with readers.

A damp streak of hair lay like a dash of blue paint across her cheek…

“She doesn’t look like her father,” explained Daisy. “She looks like me. She’s got my hair [yellowy] and shape of the face.”

Now and then she moved and he changed his arm a little and once he kissed her dark shining hair.

There are authorial “errors” in every novel. After all, Emma Bovary’s eyes change color throughout Flaubert’s book.  But errors don’t detract from a work. Errors are just another part of it and they serve to remind us how much of reading is inference and that the reader is free to construct Daisy however they like.

The Monster, Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large. After having formed this determination and having spent some months in successfully collecting and arranging my materials, I began…How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing… but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.
Read at Project Gutenberg. Purchase at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.
 Suggested by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

The Monster, Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large. After having formed this determination and having spent some months in successfully collecting and arranging my materials, I began…How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing… but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

Read at Project Gutenberg. Purchase at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

 Suggested by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

Jack Torrance, The Shining, Stephen King
Ullman folded his neat little hands on the desk blotter and looked directly at Jack, a small, balding man in a banker’s suit and a quiet gray tie… Danny’s face, so much like his own had been, his eyes had been light blue while Danny’s were cloudy gray, but the lips still made a bow and the complexion was fair…His eyes were far away and cloudy. His hair hanging in his eyes, like some heavy animal. A large dog… or a lion.
The documentary Room 237 opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center and elsewhere.

Jack Torrance, The Shining, Stephen King

Ullman folded his neat little hands on the desk blotter and looked directly at Jack, a small, balding man in a banker’s suit and a quiet gray tie… Danny’s face, so much like his own had been, his eyes had been light blue while Danny’s were cloudy gray, but the lips still made a bow and the complexion was fair…His eyes were far away and cloudy. His hair hanging in his eyes, like some heavy animal. A large dog… or a lion.

The documentary Room 237 opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center and elsewhere.

Dolores “Lolita” Hayes/ Mrs. Richard F. Schiller, Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Pale-gray vacant eyes…asymmetrical freckles on her bobbed nose…Only in the tritest of terms (diary resumed) can I describe Lo’s features: I might say her hair is auburn, and her lips as red as licked red candy, the lower one prettily plump, bobbed nose…Lolita of the strident voice and rich brown hair—of the bangs and the swirls and the sides and the curls at the back upturned russet face.
Couple of inches taller. Pink-rimmed glasses. New, heaped-up hairdo. She was frankly and hugely pregnant. Her head looked smaller and her pale-freckled cheeks were hollowed…with round pommettes…And softly, confidentially, arching her thin eyebrows…This Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another’s child, but still gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond.
 Purchase at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

Dolores “Lolita” Hayes/ Mrs. Richard F. Schiller, Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Pale-gray vacant eyes…asymmetrical freckles on her bobbed nose…Only in the tritest of terms (diary resumed) can I describe Lo’s features: I might say her hair is auburn, and her lips as red as licked red candy, the lower one prettily plump, bobbed nose…Lolita of the strident voice and rich brown hair—of the bangs and the swirls and the sides and the curls at the back upturned russet face.

Couple of inches taller. Pink-rimmed glasses. New, heaped-up hairdo. She was frankly and hugely pregnant. Her head looked smaller and her pale-freckled cheeks were hollowed…with round pommettes…And softly, confidentially, arching her thin eyebrows…This Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another’s child, but still gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond.

Purchase at Amazon or your local independent bookstore.

The Return of The Composites

It’s been a few months but with the bulk of a writing project out of the way I’ll be reviving The Composites. Please note that it won’t be on the same weekly schedule as last year but expect new work at least once a month starting soon.  

For now, I posted a short documentary on what went into the two Dorian Gray composites. Created for The Composites exhibition at the Illuminations Gallery in Dublin, the video reveals what happens when I have no idea how to start and why I’ve done so many Flannery O’Connor characters. 

Thanks for continuing to share and repost from the site. Suggestions are open. 

The Composites and my year in reading for The Millions

I went through a lot of books in the last year doing this project and The Millions asked me to write about what it was like to give my choices over to Tumblr users.

Reading The Hunger Games the same month as William Gaddis? Yes, it was that kind of year for me and I talk a little bit about the tension between popular and unpopular fiction. Read the full article here as well as others in The Millions always-excellent Year in Reading series.

I’ve also reposted several of the referenced composites above.

For followers in the Dublin area, The Composites exhibition will be opening at the Illuminations Gallery at the National University of Ireland-Maynooth, January 28th through February 21st. You can find more information here

This weekend a few of my favorite New Yorkers are taking part in a marathon reading of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. You can find more on times, venues and readers here. For inspiration here is a repost of the Ahab composite. 
Captain Ahab, Moby Dick, Herman Melville
He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them…His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini’s cast Perseus…Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark… branded… What business have I with this pipe? This thing that is meant for sereneness, to send up mild white vapors among mild white hairs, not among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I’ll smoke no more…His eyes like powder-pans… It almost seemed that while he himself was marking out lines and courses on the wrinkled charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead…His firm lips met like the lips of a vice; the delta of his forehead’s veins swelled like overladen brooks…Supper he never touched; nor reaped his beard; which darkly grew all gnarled, as unearthed roots of trees blown over, which still grow idly on at naked base. (Suggested by Jennifer Mills at The L Magazine)

This weekend a few of my favorite New Yorkers are taking part in a marathon reading of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. You can find more on times, venues and readers here. For inspiration here is a repost of the Ahab composite. 

Captain Ahab, Moby Dick, Herman Melville

He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them…His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini’s cast Perseus…Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark… branded… What business have I with this pipe? This thing that is meant for sereneness, to send up mild white vapors among mild white hairs, not among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I’ll smoke no more…His eyes like powder-pans… It almost seemed that while he himself was marking out lines and courses on the wrinkled charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead…His firm lips met like the lips of a vice; the delta of his forehead’s veins swelled like overladen brooks…Supper he never touched; nor reaped his beard; which darkly grew all gnarled, as unearthed roots of trees blown over, which still grow idly on at naked base. (Suggested by Jennifer Mills at The L Magazine)

Count Dracula, Dracula, Bram Stoker
A tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache…His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead…His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking…For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin…The blue eyes transformed with fury. (Multiple suggestions)

Count Dracula, Dracula, Bram Stoker

A tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache…His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead…His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking…For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin…The blue eyes transformed with fury. (Multiple suggestions)

Dorian Gray, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Was it to become a monstrous and loathsome thing, to be hidden away in a locked room, to be shut out from the sunlight that had so often touched to brighter gold the waving wonder of its hair…  Sensual mouth… Chiseled nostrils… Plastic throat.

The cheeks would become hollow or flaccid. Yellow crow’s feet would creep round the fading eyes and make them horrible. The hair would lose its brightness, the mouth would gape or droop, would be foolish or gross, as the mouths of old men are… An exclamation of horror broke from the painter’s lips as he saw in the dim light the hideous face on the canvas grinning at him.  There was something in its expression that filled him with disgust and loathing.  Good heavens!  It was Dorian Gray’s own face that he was looking at… There was still some gold in the thinning hair and some scarlet on the sensual mouth.  The sodden eyes had kept something of the loveliness of their blue, the noble curves had not yet completely passed away from chiseled nostrils and from plastic throat.  Yes, it was Dorian himself… He grew more and more enamoured of his own beauty, more and more interested in the corruption of his own soul. He would examine with minute care, and sometimes with a monstrous and terrible delight, the hideous lines that seared the wrinkling forehead or crawled around the heavy sensual mouth, wondering sometimes which were the more horrible, the signs of sin or the signs of age. (Multiple suggestions)

The Composites exhibition at the National University of Ireland’s Illuminations digital gallery will start on January 28 and feature an original video of Dorian Gray’s complete transformation as well as every image from the site. The Composites book is also available worldwide.

Kurtz, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
I could see the cage of his ribs all astir…The eyes of that apparition shining darkly far in its bony head…It was as though an animated image of death carved out of old ivory… His mouth wide… And the lofty frontal bone of Mr. Kurtz! They say the hair goes on growing sometimes, but this—ah specimen, was impressively bald. The wilderness had patted him on the head, and, behold, it was like a ball—an ivory ball… His colorless lips… He seemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel—stare with that wide and immense stare embracing, condemning, loathing all the universe. (Multiple suggestions)

Kurtz, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

I could see the cage of his ribs all astir…The eyes of that apparition shining darkly far in its bony head…It was as though an animated image of death carved out of old ivory… His mouth wide… And the lofty frontal bone of Mr. Kurtz! They say the hair goes on growing sometimes, but this—ah specimen, was impressively bald. The wilderness had patted him on the head, and, behold, it was like a ball—an ivory ball… His colorless lips… He seemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel—stare with that wide and immense stare embracing, condemning, loathing all the universe. (Multiple suggestions)

Charles Dexter Ward/Joseph Curwen, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, H.P. Lovecraft

One may picture him yet as he was in those days; tall, slim, and blond, with studious eyes and a slight droop, dressed somewhat carelessly, and giving a dominant impression of harmless awkwardness rather than attractiveness… He stopped before leaving to study the picture closely, marveling at its resemblance to Charles and memorizing every minute detail of the cryptical, colorless face, even down to a slight scar or pit in the smooth brow above the right eye… The real Charles with the olive-mark on his hip and without the black witch-mark on his chest or the pit on his forehead. The Charles who never did actual evil, and who will have paid with his life for his “squeamishness”… A thin, calm, undistinguished face which seemed somehow familiar to both Ward and the artist… His older aspect increased to a startling degree his resemblance to the Curwen portrait in his library; and Dr. Willett would often pause by the latter after a call, marveling at the virtual identity, and reflecting that only the small pit above the picture’s right eye now remained to differentiate the long-dead wizard from the living youth.