(HUDSON, N.Y.) – Stephin Merritt, best known as the frontman and visionary behind alternative pop-rock outfit the Magnetic Fields, celebrates the publication of his first book, “101 Two-Letter Words,” illustrated by Roz Chast of the New Yorker, with a reading and booksigning at Spotty Dog Books & Ale on Wednesday, October 15, 2014, at 7 pm. The book and illustrations whimsically highlight 101 two-letter words that are admissible in the game of Scrabble in four-line verses with a twist, blending irreverent poetry and Chast’s color illustrations that surprise, entertain, and elucidate all at once.
With his band the Magnetic Fields, Stephin Merritt has written, recorded, and produced ten albums, including the highly acclaimed “69 Love Songs,” which was named one of the 500 best albums of all time by Rolling Stone. In the introduction to this book, Merritt explains the impetus for “101 Two-Letter Words,” a back story that involves both the reality of his life as a touring musician (who spends a lot of time waiting in airports and hotels) and his passion for Scrabble and Words with Friends.
Motivated by a patchy memory for the two-letter words that count in these games and a love of wordplay, Merritt – who lives in Hudson – embarked on a project to create mnemonic devices — a poem for each of the words. The verse for “em” brings together Merritt’s astute comic insight and his lighthearted affection for language:
Em dashes — this just in! — are used
to interrupt a thought;
the use of them is subtle — ha! — and
it cannot be taught.
The eclectic mix of tiny words includes modern slang like “yo” and “za,” with a few Scottish words thrown in for good measure, archaic terms such as “ye,” and some Egyptian religious words referring to the soul (“ba” and “ka”). Merritt’s collection of minis takes readers on a linguistic joy ride all over the map, as he weaves in references to pop culture, religion, literature, film, and everyday modern life. The smart, quirky poems are populated by many familiar faces: William Shakespeare, William Faulkner, the famous Japanese silent film director Yasujir? Ozu, the infamous Lizzie Borden, skinheads (“Oi”), and hippies (“Om”).
Roz Chast, a widely published illustrator in magazines including Mother Jones and Harvard Business Review, has spent almost forty years as a beloved contributing cartoonist for the New Yorker. Taken together, Merritt’s poems and Chast’s illustrations truly embody the two-letter words they allude to, often giving life to strange realities while also offering refreshing, amusing perspectives on mundane ones. Take, for example, “El,” a New Yorker in-joke that makes reference to the checkered reputation of this subway line. It is illustrated by a line of commuters at Lorimer Street station. One man with a long gray beard says, “Been waitin’ for the L since 1985!”
Chicago’s el train glides, not ’neath
the city, but above it.
(We also have an L train in New York.
We do not love it.)
Sometimes understated in their humor, yet often with a flair for the bizarre and creative, the Merritt/Chast duo also depict offbeat, unsavory characters such as the great-great-great grandson of Frankenstein and the Vampire Dog (a recurring presence on these pages inspired by Merritt’s recently deceased “rock star Chihuahua” named Irving Berlin Merritt), whom Chast has rendered with pointy ears, crazed eyes, and cute fangs. He first appears in “Aw,” where Chast portrays the Vampire Dog in an easy chair reminiscing about good times as he reads through a book entitled My Victims:
“Aw, that puppy sure is cute.
Please, can we take him home?”
The victims of the Vampire Dog
could fill a hefty tome.
The artists complement each other with a blend of wry wit and wicked humor, illuminating words both familiar and unknown. “101 Two-Letter Words” is a charming, unconventional, and funny book that just might help readers win at their next game of Scrabble.
The Spotty Dog is located at 440 Warren St., Hudson NY. Ph: (518) 671 6006.