Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Documents, ink, methods of drying"

I loved this Paris Review interview with Hilary Mantel. I have been reading her for a long time, ever since my college professor and literary inspiration Simon Schama recommended A Place of Greater Safety to me c. 1993 (and then I read all the backlist):
When I began work on the French Revolution, it seemed to me the most interesting thing that had ever happened in the history of the world, and it still does in many ways. I had no idea how little the British public knew or cared or wished to know about the French Revolution. And that’s still the case. They want to know about Henry VIII.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Kevin Young remembers Prince.

(I have been listening to Prince a great deal over the last couple weeks, especially to Lovesexy - the most baroquely sensual and hyperverbal album I have ever loved! - and Sign o' the Times - I had a huge collection of bootleg Prince tapes in the late 80s, many of them made for me by a friendly co-worker at Urban Outfitters in Philadelphia the summer of 1989, but they are long since lost or destroyed. Might need to fill out the collection again.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Closing tabs

Ah, I am long overdue some tab-closing and a light reading update, but life is complicated and Facebook continues to leach the energy out of blogging! I'm in Cayman for a couple more days, but my term isn't really over - flying back to New York Thursday for a couple more Friday tenure meetings and some end-of-semester teaching stuff. Can get through a couple more weeks without disaster I think....

Anyway, links first (I have upgraded to a new Kindle and will need to consult 2 different devices to get the full log):

How many eggs does a chicken lay in its lifetime?

On the subject of recreational zoology, read Jane Yeh's rhino poem in the NYRB!

At the New Yorker, Adelle Waldman on loving and loathing Samuel Richardson.

The new era of drone vandalism.

Should brand protection extend to paper offerings to the dead?

Top ten things junior faculty should know in order to get tenure. (There was a feminist rebuttal to this somewhere, but I have misplaced the link, and besides, it didn't invalidate the original points, just complemented them!)

What do Enid Blyton's school stories teach a reader about ethics?

Who will come with me to try this sour-cherry-pie sundae?

Finally, on a sadder note, Frederic Tuten interviewed Jenny Diski in 1999 and it's well worth a reread. I won't write more about Diski here, as I am attempting to write a proper piece about her for an online publication I admire, but I have been thinking very much of one of my favorite passages of hers, from On Trying to Keep Still (I think of it all the time and have certainly never read such an uncannily accurate description of why I have such a strong aversion to making plans to see even my favorite people!):
Being really alone means being free from anticipation. Even to know that something is going to happen, that I am required to do something is an intrusion on the emptiness I am after. What I love to see is an empty diary, pages and pages of nothing planned. A date, an arrangement, is a point in the future when something is required of me. I begin to worry about it days, sometimes weeks ahead. Just a haircut, a hospital visit, a dinner party. Going out. The weight of the thing-that-is-going-to-happen sits on my heart and crushes the present into non-existence. My ability to live in the here and now depends on not having any plans, on there being no expected interruption. I have no other way to do it. How can you be alone, properly alone, if you know someone is going to knock at the door in five hours, or tomorrow morning, or you have to get ready and go out in three days' time? I can't abide the fracturing of the present by the intrusion of a planned future.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Closing tabs

The Harvard color vault.

A St. Petersburg seed vault.

Shakespeare First Folio confirmed as genuine. (I have to say, this exhibit runs through Oct. 30 and if there is any chance I would be in the UK between now and then, it seems worth the trek north to get to see this - I guess I can visit another time, it doesn't have to be while the exhibit is up. All I would really need is an appointment here....)

Via Sarang, the 'Werewolf of Worcester'?

PEZ collection! (Underlying occasion.)

Jon Ronson interviews Monica Lewinsky (and Mary Beard against internet trolling)

The 28 naughtiest children in literature?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Long silence

I have a lot of catch-up posts to make, but right now I'm just registering humility in the face of an enormous reviewing job that nominally needs to be done by the 20th (it will take more days than that).  Literalizing the dimensions of the job is helpful!  (It's the Studies in English Literature eighteenth-century roundup.)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Pepys' books

Arnold Hunt on three new Pepys books. I am very keen to read Kate Loveman's, though irked to see that because the CU library has digital access I will not be able to request a "real" copy from BorrowDirect! Here is a good bit from the review, describing the letter C. S. Lewis wrote in support of the publication of an unexpurgated edition of the diary: Lewis’s letter is a fascinating period piece: writing in June 1960, a few months before the Lady Chatterley trial, he urged the Fellows of Magdalene not to be deterred by the risk of public scandal or ridicule. “A spiteful or merely jocular journalist could certainly make us for a week or two very malodorous in the public nostril. But a few weeks, or years, are nothing in the life of the College. I think it would be pusillanimous and unscholarly to delete a syllable on that score.”

Friday, March 18, 2016

Light reading log

Oh dear, I have let two months of light reading accumulate without logging it! Been working very frenetically and that will continue through mid-May, but I've had a nice breather this week in Cayman with B. I had initially thought I'd bring a big pile of work and try and get ahead of the load of upcoming weeks, but in fact it was my assessment at the end of last week that I'd been working so hard I really needed days off more than I needed work time. Need to pace myself for two more months of insanity still! Also the SEL review essay that's the next big upcoming thing involves many many books, and it doesn't make sense to cart them back and forth between two places - it's really just going to have to wait till after my conference in Pittsburgh & Kentucky talk at the end of the month.

Got here Saturday late afternoon with a couple work tasks still hanging over me: 2 committee reports and a grant proposal due Monday. But writing the proposal - it's the "Gibbon's Rome" project - has sent me very pleasantly down the Gibbon rabbithole! Just finished the first volume of Patricia Craddock's biography and will read the second over the weekend - I am itching to work on this stuff. Happy at the thought that I should be able to write two books next year, barring unforeseen calamity, one in its entirety (the Austen book) and one mostly (Gibbon), and make good starts on several others (literary history of the footnote, Clarissa)....

The desire not to sit at the computer pasting in links interminably means that I think I'll just give a simple log.


Frances Hardinge, The Lie Tree. This is wonderful! Manages to be both faithful to the notional period and imaginatively open to different possibilities.

Scott Hawkins, The Library at Mount Char. A genuine standout - strange, haunting - I want to read it again now.

Sari Wilson, Girl Through Glass. Not a perfect novel - the present-past structure feels a little formulaic - but incredibly compelling in its depiction of studying ballet in the late 1970s and the fallout from that life into adulthood. It stayed with me strongly enough that when I saw a job ad a few weeks later for a postdoctoral fellow in the history of dance at Harvard I was convinced I knew someone who would be interested but just couldn't think of the name, until I realized it was the protagonist of this novel!

The Little Women books, all the way through. A fantastically satisfying reading experience still. I know 1, 3 and 4 so well I have almost memorized them, but didn't have my own copy of Good Wives (the only one that I think expresses the ideology of its time in ways that make it sporadically quite offputting to modern readers). They are immensely literary and allusive in a way that enchanted me as a child even as it often confused me.

An old friend's very useful book: Farai Chideya, The Episodic Career.

A new friend's first novel: Katherine Hill, The Violet Hour.

Two novels I'd been holding out against as they sounded a bit too much like Philip Pullman's Golden Compass trilogy, but in the end I liked them very much: V. E. Schwab, A Gathering of Shadows and A Darker Shade of Magic

Zeitgest cluster (Lovecraft redux): Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom and Charlie Williams, Land of Hope and Glory and Monsters (have not yet read Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country but probably will soon).

A charming rather old-fashioned Narnia-type fantasy, Pam Brondos, On the Meldon Plain (second installment of the Fourline Trilogy).

Latest Belfast installment from Adrian Mckinty, Rain Dogs: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel. Is it just me or are these books PERFECT? I love everything about them.

Taylor Stevens, The Mask. There are silly elements but I do find the premise and execution fairly gripping.

Arnaldur Indridason, Into Oblivion. Thin - we go back in time to a case early in Erlendur's career, there are very interesting things about the airport and the role of the US in Iceland in the 60s and 70s but less striking in terms of character.

Mark Billingham, Time of Death (Thorne #13). I find these very readable but this one was marred by one plot turn of such absurdity that it almost discredited the whole story for me - however, a cut above the average regardless.

Three quite good though very bleak crime novels by Eva Dolan (the first is overwritten but the prose style levels out productively), Long Way Home, Tell No Tales, After You Die

A New York crime novel: Andrew Case, The Big Fear (a little overwritten, too much straining for the effect of Richard Price at his most literary, but I appreciated the voices - it's a playwright's novel, in a good way - and will certainly read more).

Peter May, Entry Island. I must confess I find May's Lewis trilogy a bit boring and this one similarly so! Not bad, but curiously disengaged.

Greg Hurwitz, Orphan X. Hahahahaha, like what you'd get if you took Lee Child's Jack Reacher and made him a superhero as well! Silly enough that I almost stopped reading it several times, but the writing is energetic and attractive and in the end I stuck with it.

Alafair Burke, The Ex (too complicated in its plotting for my tastes).

Anne Bishop's latest Others installment, Marked In Flesh.

Deborah Blake, Wickedly Powerful (this series is silly but fun).

Joshilyn Jackson, The Opposite of Everyone (I always love her books)

Carolyn Ives Gilman, Dark Orbit, a science fiction novel of alien encounters - I liked it very much though I think if you want very consistent treatment of the science it might frustrate you.

Closing tabs

From the archives of Luc Sante.

Some very good Valley of the Dolls coverage here and elsewhere. I read the novel a few years ago: I don't think it's going to catch on with a modern audience, it's too negatively embedded in the judgments of its day, but it is an interesting phenomenon.

Why you can't trust GPS in China.

Cake maze! (Via Jane.)

Tater Tot hotdish and the pleasures of the humble crab stick.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016


Just reread a book that made a great impression on me when I first read it ten years ago, Alice Flaherty's The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain. Still very struck by these final lines:
The scientist asks how I can call my writing vocation and not addiction. I no longer see why I should have to make that distinction. I am addicted to breathing in the same way. I write because when I don't, it is suffocating. I write because something much larger than myself comes into me that suffuses the page, the world, with meaning. Although I constantly fear that what I am writing teeters at the edge of being false, this force that drives me cannot be anything but real, or nothing will ever be real for me again.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Sunday, February 21, 2016