CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is
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A Turkish Delight of musings on languages, deflations of metaphysics, vauntings of arcana, and great visual humor.
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May 28, 2016 (permalink)

Is it embarrassing to own a copy of our dictionary of one-letter words?  For Irish Times columnist Frank McNally, definitely so (but he bravely came out all the same in an article entitled To the Power of M: An Irishman's Diary on the Strange Appeal of the Alphanet's 13th Letter):
Far from bosoms, in fact, the original M was a pictogram for water. And according to my Dictionary of One-Letter Words (it’s sad, I know, but I really have one), the writer Victor Hugo noted that it could also visually represent mountains “or a camp with tents pitched in pairs”.

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April 29, 2016 (permalink)

Here's our Droste effect of the day — Prof. Oddfellow holding his portrait in Jim Girouard's letter-dice divination book Journey Into Eternity and standing in front of a print of said portrait, itself in front of Oddfellow's photo of Portmeirion's camera obscura which features in the drawing.  

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April 14, 2016 (permalink)

You know how the Dictionary Game turns a serious reference book into a gaming generator; the dictionary is playfully transformed from a tool for decoding puzzling words into a puzzle-making machine, where whimsically fake definitions take the stage.  But could any book, spontaneously pulled off the shelf, be transformed into a playfulness machine?  Could one's entire home library be a gaming center?  That's the lofty goal of Machinarium Verbosus: it offers, among other oddities, cut-out paper spectacles for seeing more than is readily apparent in any book.  
We're honored that Vegas headliner magician Jeff McBride considers our Machinarium Verbosus his favorite.  He talks about the book in the April 2016 episode of McBride Magic TV.
The poet W. B. Keckler describes our book as a "very humorous series of essays, experiments and actual OBJECTS (?!) all addressing metaphysical ideas in literature--but in an EXTREMELY playful way.  I LOVE this book."
The theorist of playfulness, Bernie De Koven, says this: "'Scholarly fun' seems to be a good name for it. Esoteric fun, like that of poets and etymologists and students of the arcane. The fun of playing with the obscure, the esoteric, the knowledge shared by the well-read few. A kind of fun that, in playing with all but forgotten lore, keeps it alive for those of us who some day may care."

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April 9, 2016 (permalink)

Thanks to the lionized wordsmith Gary Barwin, who blogged, "The world always offers curious and wondrous marvels as seen through the lens flare of Craig's eyes."  You may recall one of our secrets for seeing in 3-D:

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March 27, 2016 (permalink)

We have a friend in Tuscany who recenly attended the Baronessa Beatrice Monti della Corte von Rezzori's writers' retreat, and he surreptitiously snapped a photo of her looking something up in our dictionary of one-letter words.  We didn't know very much about the history of the Baronessa's selection and support of writing talent, so we did some digging, and there's one tidbit in a Telegraph article that we found especially charming: "'When people ask me how I know so many people,' she explains, 'I say it's because of Capri.  I was the pretty girl of Capri, and I met all these writers, artists, homosexuals – and they would take me around, much like the pug.'"

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March 11, 2016 (permalink)

We're delighted to have contributed some vintage library shenanigans to Jessy Randall's Library Shenanigans blog.
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February 27, 2016 (permalink)

Here's an unusual appearance of the Aurora Borealis, as obvserved by Captain Parry in his expedition to the Arctic regions, from the Encyclopedia of Natural and Artificial Wonders and Curiosities by John Platts, 1876.  (We previously discovered other precursors to If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow, which we showcased here and also here.)

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February 6, 2016 (permalink)

We were honored to consult on some magic for a thrillarious new novel.  Gary Barwin explains:
At some point in my Yiddish for Pirates novel, I needed our "hero," Moishe, to facilitate an escape from an auto-da-fé where some condemned conversos were about to be burned at the stake. I wanted this to be accomplished with some flair and by fighting fire with fire. I mean, at lot was at stake, as it were. When I want to know about magic, I ask my sagacious and professorially odd friend, Professor Oddfellow AKA Craig Conley author of numerous books and keeper of many arcane fires. He has rabbitted away more hatfuls of knowledge about magic than anyone I know.

He suggested that my scene could use the ol' Egyptian fire trick. From the front, the audience sees only a wall of fire, but what is really happening is that there are two separate walls which allows the magician to appear to walk through a solid wall of fire. This was interesting.

I thought I could adapt this in a number of ways. Firstly, because this is a book engaging with Hebrew, Kabbalah, books, mysticism, and a kind of Yiddish derring-do (I guess that could be translated more plainly as "chutzpah,") I'd make the trick use a Hebrew/Yiddish letter. The letter qoph (kuf) would allow someone to enter the wall of fire and then escape out a secret flaming sally port out the back. This was important not only because my characters needed to escape but also because this scene was taking place in the round, in the Quemadero, the Inquisition's Sevillian execution square.  And the stakes would be in the enclosed part of the letter.
As it turns out, and here I'm giving the scene away, there is a rabbi who has a teffilin box filled with oil and he throws it like a Molotov cocktail onto the kindling below his pyre. So Moishe has to act more quickly than he planned. Still, the whole thing is pulled off like a brilliant magic trick. Or a miracle. At least, that's what Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor thinks, But more on that another time...

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January 24, 2016 (permalink)

"My Great Work is secret, clandestine, and encompasses my life in its entirety, even its most insignificant folds and those that seem the most banal.  Until now I have concealed my purpose under the accommodating guise of literature.  Because I am a writer, this causes no particular concern.  Marginally, this pretense has afforded me certain mundane pleasures, and an acceptable modus vivendi.  But my goal—which in my quest for transparency has become my best kept secret—is typical of the comic-book Mad Scientist: to extend my dominion over the entire world." César Aira (as translated by Katherine Silver), The Literary Conference

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January 23, 2016 (permalink)

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January 22, 2016 (permalink)

Thanks to Malo for the doodle!

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January 9, 2016 (permalink)

We hear a lot about living in the present moment and "be[ing] here now," yet surely the past and the future are where it's all at, so to speak.  Just before he is defeated and explodes, the monster in Juken Sentai Gekiranger (獣拳戦隊ゲキレンジャー) proclaims that "In the past and the future, I will be on top!"  It's difficult to despair in the midst of one's current problems when one stays focused on past and future glories.  Enough with today, already, and three cheers for yesterday and tomorrow!

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December 10, 2015 (permalink)

"Let there be light": a big bang in The Missionary Visitor, 1907.

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December 8, 2015 (permalink)

It isn't every book dedication that envisions the death of its recipient.  But this one goes straight to the very last glimmer of consciousness before oblivion sets in.  From Lives of the Hunted by Ernest Seton-Thompson, 1901.  The text reads:

To "Sir Charles."  Here's hoping that for many years you will enjoy a happy return of this day; that as you pass further along Life's pathway, the road may become more smooth and even; that the trees of Thought and Memory which line that path may hold you ever in their pleasant shade, sheltering you from the glare of Life's setting sun; that as twilight falls and surroundings grow dim, it shall bring naught but peace so that the last shall be but a harmonious blending into the landscape of a life well spent, whose final end is Rest.  Will, October 28, 1901.

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From The History of England by David Hume, 1825.

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December 6, 2015 (permalink)

From Blossoms by the Way, edited by Carrie Adelaide Cooke, 1882.

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December 3, 2015 (permalink)

"My last exploit," from The History of Arthur Penreath by Verney Lovett Cameron, 1888.

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November 23, 2015 (permalink)

We're delighted that two of our books qualified for the "Mayhem" section of Quimby's Bookstore.

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November 17, 2015 (permalink)

"There she stood in the heart of the fire," from The World's Desire by Henry Rider Haggard, 1894.

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November 14, 2015 (permalink)

From Babylon Electrified by Albert Bleunard, and illustrated by Montader, 1890.

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