Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fighting dragons

Oh dear - other than writing my page quota in the morning and going to a swim clinic in the afternoon, the only thing I did all day and night was wrestle with Dragon Naturally Speaking!

I have been indulging in some wishful thinking - I had persuaded myself that last time, when I put this program aside out of a sense that it did not meet my needs, did not count and it might suit me better this time - I thought it was going to semi-magically and with only mild inaccuracy let me translate my handwritten pages into typed manuscript pages!

Alas, it was not to be....

1:00-2:00pm. Wrestle with the Dragon. Conclusion: ARGHHHHH, cannot get this microphone to work, will have to deal with it when I get back from swimming...

5:30pm. Purchase new headset microphone at Columbia University Bookstore in vain hope that it might be hardware error.

5:45-6:30pm. Finally realize that I cannot get the audio levels in a suitable range. Decide to use digital recorder to transfer data to the program. Read page into recording device.

7:30pm. Contemplate the program's stab at a transcription of the trial page of read-out-loud manuscript with utter despair! (Text below.)

8:00pm. Decide it is worth going over to see if I can get better sound functionality on the office computer. Foray to office with Dragon disks (minor miracle that I was able to find 'em!) and the first book of manuscript. Install software, 'train' program by reading several pages of Alice in Wonderland (apt choice!), start reading it some opening sentences - and realize that it is just as bad as the digital recorder's version!

10:30pm. Sushi dinner with 'light reading' - fit for nothing else by this point....

Anyway, for your garbled amusement, a scene that falls about a third of the way through The Snow Queen, in the Dragon's version (NB the novel is not written in the first person!):
Into leave it until. When Michael mentions the notion of adding a-carrying module facilities bicycle, though, I jumped up and let them through the shed, and amazing treasure-and listens to her but Sophie felt sheepishly unable to appreciate in all glories. She let herself as we wander in the other to pick food he showed been cleaned with excitement at various lines. At first she so on-bound to stay and watch, but after making several observations that fell on deaf ears, she wanted to the size of lingo.

Sophie!

It was an altogether pleasant sensation we got to feeling a little tight in her hair seemed to have grown the wound or something one for her and she suspect and prove Peterson, who occasion to express regret never having had a daughter, a plot in the Sophie too quickly wrong and began wearing an elaborate Scandinavian-style claps like the one she sported herself -- she was not the first idea but it seemed to her unlikely to result in the same smooth shiny a way to prove Peterson was able to achieve in a matter of less than a minute).

They had a terrific source of the contest, and go at first it made her feel fairly off-balance as she worried about whether she had enough side clearance to get through the wire baskets that have been edited out for either side of the rear wheel, she agreed with the machines in refers but is admirably lightweight and convenient solution the contraption they have fixed to the front of the basket for person justice purposes or quote that fact half of yours," as Michael insisted on calling him). It had a wood frame and will matter to the sheepskin at the bottom so that the Progress constantly

You have to shut him in, I think, or observed as he showed Sophie have a watch work on-well, you trace were not going to be asked to get in it, so that he might have want to call it a trap, it was so much like what they used to catch lobsters the north Atlantic fisheries, but that man is so tactless Sophie resolved to banish it utterly from her thoughts -- the receptacle, that was a good inside merge.

She wrote several times around the yard with and without cargo, and Michael told her that the best test of whether the arrangement with suitor would be packing panniers with her own your luggage when they run home in a day. It seems sad to think of what Sophie could not help thinking of as a rustic all right all with only a slight tension of community would be so brief. They had time for the instruction swimming in the sea so it was time to be back at the house for tea, and she and Michael made a pact with each other but they would get up at the crack of going to come back down to the beach and so the minute morning before breakfast. In the event, of course, neither of them will in time to do anything but go on their clothes and have a quick breakfast of pancakes and food and ham and cheese and café au lait before getting back on their bikes. From Peterson was skeptical about whether Sophie really wanted to carry such a slow road back to town, but Michael and Sophie both earnestly assured her it was a crucial test of the bicycle evacuation system and an opportunity not to be messed.

In a way the whole season could be thought of as one of festivities, with the poorest hospitality component is right, for that in September and first week of October feature series of parties and celebrations of news's birthday, which fell in October 7 and had been declared a national holiday by the government close parenthesis is slightly mournful face and heavy brows also adored a postage stamp.

It would be a party at the parliament building on the day itself but the birth like to invite a larger and less select group to join them at their Carlsberg mention that it would be on Friday the week after tax, but in fact in the meantime so think a risk that one evening that week in a small escapade that set her thinking again about some of the things you put aside without regret from leaving Scotland's.
It is not sensible, I will just have to type it myself - I am a fast but inaccurate typist, it will be doable....

(NB to give the Dragon credit where credit is due, I am impressed that it got the phrase "café au lait," and the phrase "bicycle evacuation system" is authentically Davidsonian!)

25 random things about me

1. I hate dill.

2. I am neutral to mildly negative about nutmeg (it seems to me clearly inferior to cinnamon and cloves as far as that sort of spice goes), but I become vituperatively against it when it is put into creamed spinach. THAT IS JUST WRONG.

3. I have a bad habit of leaving bits of trash – an apple core, a piece of chewing-gum wrapped in paper, a few used tissues – on the floor by the couch I have been reading on.

4. When I want to, I can read absurdly quickly – my eye moves down the middle of the page in a straight line and takes everything in. This is bad for light reading purposes (because there is actually not enough perfect light reading in the world) but good when it comes to work.

5. When I started graduate school, my raised hand and voice would shake with nervousness when I asked a question after a talk. My friend Emily Steiner and I made a pact that we would overcome nerves by asking a question at every single talk we ever went to, and it is now one of my trademarks.

6. My English grandmother, when any hint of gloominess or self-pity entered into the manner of my grandfather or anyone else, would say, bracingly, “Buck up, old chap!” Sometimes I say these words to myself – I like them because they make me think of her, but they also seem to me very good advice!

7. I understand and appreciate the difference between good food and bad food, but I cannot be bothered to cook anything myself – food is fuel, some of it is tastier and/or more nutritious and some less so, but it does not interest me to experiment with producing lovely foods myself.

8. Ditto for clothes and also for interior decoration – if it were possible to do so without attracting unwanted attention, I would wear a navy-blue boiler suit every day and not have to worry about clothes at all, and I cannot be bothered to pay any attention to my living environment, which is accordingly fairly monastic/spartan.

9. I am fond of miniature things! Pastel-colored petits fours strike me as the height of desirability on the cake front.

10. As an art, oil painting does not mostly speak to me – I much prefer watercolor as a medium.

11. When I’m out for a run with friends, I unconsciously pick up my pace as soon as we begin to talk about plans for training and racing.

12. I used to play a lot of different wind instruments: clarinet, oboe and recorder as the primary ones, but I also enjoyed the spinoffs (English horn, bassoon, saxophones of different sizes, random early instruments like krumhorns).

13. I like cardigans with zippers.

14. I do not like wearing socks, and the weather has to drop into the teens for me to be willing to put on a pair in everyday life. (But socks are necessary in running shoes.)

15. When I hear about something interesting or intriguing, I cannot rest until I have tracked down a satisfactory account of it.

16. I love the library stacks.

17. I am also disproportionately fond of certain Library of Congress call numbers.

18. I do not like talking on the phone.

19. I do not have a driver’s license.

20. My bicycle is a Specialized Roubaix.

21. I am not yet in love with cycling, but I am hoping that I might fall for it sometime later this spring.

22. I believe that as long as the desire is strong enough, it is possible to accomplish almost anything with sustained hard work.

23. My talents as an academic are more striking than my talents as a novelist, but certain gifts cross over. Perhaps the most striking of these are the ability to think clearly and a related talent: the development, over many years, of a flexible and precise writing voice that is so thoroughly and strongly congruent with my thoughts that I rarely find myself at a loss for words.

24. If I had to choose between three days without reading and three days without eating, I would have to give up eating. It would not really be a choice – reading is essential!

25. My first pet was a brown-and-white short-haired guinea pig called Linda.

Extra, extra

Amy Davidson is blogging at the New Yorker!

(Amy and I met the first week of our freshman year of college, when we were seated next to each other at all of the placement tests you have to take in that sort of situation; we soon became known as the Davidson Twins, we have been best friends now for more than half our lives, and it is also the case that certain other friends still introduce us in a sort of string: "Jenny-Davidson-and-Amy-Davidson-no-relation"!)

(I have also made a tiny private joke in the punctuation of the previous sentence which only Amy will appreciate!)

Caballing

Via Levi, the Beinecke Library offers a daily post from Johnson's Dictionary.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A storey and a half a week

The Woolworth Building and other monuments of urban planning.

Putting it to the bishop

This is an irresponsible illustration for a serious news story! (Thanks to my dad for the link.)

The children and the fruit tree

Earliest known work by JMD! Not sure whether I was three or four when I dictated this story to my mother, but certainly I was already in thrall to the absurd notion that the only thing really worth doing with one's time was writing a book....










Lords of the flies

Twelfth Night at the Pearl was very enjoyable. That is a play that is particularly close to my heart (it has been ever since I played Malvolio in sixth grade - in a shortened version adapted by me for the class to put on at school!), and I would have to say that this isn't how I would direct it myself: they were playing very broadly for laughs, and though the audience was still clearly moved at points, the production is mostly just very funny and not quite stylized and patterned and magical enough for my taste.

This comes with some upside, though. There was a fly very conspicuously buzzing round the actors' heads in the first half, and they were able to get some good mileage out of it: enough so, anyway, that I had a sudden distracting realization that when I got home I would have to go upstairs, get my camera and then take the elevator back downstairs to document this rather hilarious thing that caught my eye earlier in the day!

Dinnerwas just as good as the play. G. ordered the Sancerre, and when the waitress came back out, she said very apologetically that they only had the half-bottle. "Then we'll have two of them!" G. said - and we did! He had the trout and I had the bouillabaisse (delicious!) and then tarte tatin for dessert, since I still had room!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Promiscuous questions

Do the math.

Linkage

Excessive business this week leads to lack of internet downtime and concomitant paucity of blog posts! Head about to explode! (But with very clean teeth, thanks to dentist visit this afternoon.)

Closing a few browser tabs:

Stephen Elliott interviews Margaret Cho at the Rumpus. Also courtesy of that excellent new internet time-waster: build your own virtual squid!

Hillary Clinton never got to meet America's Angriest Consul.

Courtesy of Bookforum, Elizabeth Quill at Science News on the science of human attractiveness and a great science-fictional twist:
Caring about specific features is one thing, articulating those preferences is another. Even people who consistently rate symmetrical faces as attractive, for example, have trouble identifying symmetrical faces. People just know an attractive face when they see it.

So does at least one computer. Eytan Ruppin of Tel Aviv University in Israel and colleagues have trained a computer to recognize what humans would rate as an attractive female face. The machine, described in January 2008 in Vision Research, automatically extracted measurements of facial features from raw images rated by study participants for attractiveness. It considered thousands of features and then condensed them. Then it went to work on a fresh set of faces. The computer predicted attractiveness in these new faces in line with human preferences.

Even more intriguing, the computer replicated at least one human bias. Symmetry studies often involve taking the right side of a face and mirror imaging it to create a full face or taking the left side and doing the same. Humans show a surprising bias; in two-thirds of cases, they prefer left-left images (from the point of view of the onlooker). Somehow, this bias must have been embedded in the original rankings the computer received because it also preferred these faces. But no one is sure why or how.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Swift update

What I'm teaching in the eighteenth-century satire class this semester.

Digital musings

At the NYRB, an interesting piece by Robert Darnton on Google and the future of books.

I am pondering my increasingly pressing internal need for a science-fictional near-future device that will be better than a Kindle and different from an iPhone and will make it magically easy to read the digitized books (most readily accessed as PDF files) in the Gale ECCO without printing out huge wads of pages.

I have consulted the hive mind of the semi-secret cabal of which I am a member, and am tipped off to the Lenovo Thinkpad X-series tablet notebook. Any thoughts? Given that I cannot yet have this or this?

[ED. Forgot to paste in the last couple links - Charlie Stross on why he uses Linux, John Klima on the Espresso self-serve book machine and a Crain's story on early adopters of e-books that I could click through to earlier in the day but that is now only available by subscription (courtesy of Sarah).]

Snarge

The Feather Identification Lab.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bat signals

The inner bat signal went off yesterday evening and my trashy-novel homing beacon was set to detect the trashiest novel I could get my hands on in the immediate vicinity....

(I have occasionally offended some poor author who has offered to send me his or her gruesome serial-killer thriller by saying something along the lines of "Yes, please, I love light reading!" - and I am marginally aware that nobody wants to think they have written a trashy novel - I should eschew the phrase....)

Anyway I have a 25% discount at the Columbia Bookstore, because that is where I order my course books (they bribe us that way!), and I went and got an absurd stack of stuff. The one I gulped down last night was this! I loved the Pern books when I was a kid, but they have considerably fallen off - this one was perhaps a bit better than some of the other recent ones?

Earlier in the week I had a better book, courtesy of M.'s killer crime-fiction collection (a secret resource of the Columbia English Department): John Harvey's Cold in Hand. I have occasionally found minor elements of this series annoying (but perhaps it is just because I do not like mustard, which is often an ingredient in the sandwiches the detective too regularly makes for himself as a kind of set piece or arabesque?), but Harvey is an excellent writer.

(Hmmmm - is this book part of a trend, though? I will refrain from saying more to avoid spoilers.)

On another note, I saw a very poor production of Hedda Gabler this afternoon, I am about to go for a short swim and I will then return home, eat a second dinner (the first one was post-matinee and really could be thought of as a late lunch) and find the next trashiest novel in the house!

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Urning men

A very interesting LRB piece by Colm Tóibín on Sheila Rowbotham's new biography of Edward Carpenter. Lots there worth pondering, but because I am a frivolous person I will give only the part that's most like gossip:
Forster compared Carpenter’s personality to that of a religious teacher, a guru perched in Sheffield: ‘It depended on contact and couldn’t be written down on paper, and its effect was to increase one’s vitality, so that one went away better able to do one’s work. One’s own work not his; it was an influence, not a doctrine. It suggested the direct transference of power.’ The charm was not universally received, however. Lytton Strachey always greeted Carpenter’s name ‘with a series of little squeaks’ and, according to Rowbotham, ‘disdained the Carpenterian simple life nearly as much as heterosexual copulation’.

Of all the young men who came to stay, the one who left the most interesting account was a rich and rare young American, Chester Alan Arthur III, who was on a mission to study homoerotic activity among the volunteers of the Irish revolution. This, as we can fully understand, did not take him long and so he returned to see Carpenter when the sage was 80. More than forty years later he gave Allen Ginsberg an account of Carpenter’s sexual skills. ‘At last his hand was moving between my legs and his tongue was in my belly-button. And then when he was tickling my fundament just behind the balls and I could not hold it any longer, his mouth closed just over the head of my penis and I could feel my young vitality flowing into his old age.’ In the morning, the old goat did it again, after which Merrill arrived with two cups of tea and another lodger sponged Carpenter and the young American down with a wet towel.

Chester Alan Arthur III also recounted that Carpenter told him that he had had sex with Whitman in 1877. If this is the case, it is of considerable interest because Arthur went on to have an affair with Neal Cassady, the inspiration for Dean Moriarty in On the Road. This connects the great old poet of the roads with the Beat Generation with only two degrees of separation – Carpenter and Arthur. It is a sign of Rowbothom’s seriousness and scrupulousness as a biographer that she is careful with this material and, with good reason, suspicious of its complete accuracy. For my own part, I believe every word of it.

Twinned

At the Guardian, John Mullan lists 10 of the best identical twins in literature.

(Hmmmm, this would not be my list - I am not a fan of the Comedy of Errors! - and both the Cheerybles and Cor and Corin seem to me more along the lines of some of the few identical twins in literature that one can think of offhand rather than being in any more substantive sense the best! A book that should be on this list and isn't: Angela Carter's Wise Children. And I have a soft spot for Barbara Trapido's twins, too. It is not surprising that Mullan hasn't read Gina Frangello or Marcy Dermansky, but he would find both of those novels well worth his time also!)

Stinkhorns, false blushers, sickeners, devil's boletus, lurid boletus

Ed Park's latest Astral Weeks column tackles the indispensable new volume of Joan Aiken stories called The Serial Garden.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Get out your Richards!"

Now and again someone asks me why it is that I am a teacher rather than a full-time writer. There are all sorts of reasons, of course, but one easy answer is that three out of my four grandparents-by-blood were teachers (the fourth, my beloved English grandmother, did a certificate in social work at the London School of Economics at a time when that was quite unusual).

(My mother is a teacher, too - I grew up in a school, even more than most people do!)

My father's parents met at the teacher training college in Glasgow and both specialized in English (British!) literature, and my grandfather went on to become the headmaster of several different high schools (here, by the way, you can see two of his paintings of the town he retired in, North Berwick!).

My English grandfather never understood how my Scottish grandfather could live within walking distance of one of Britain's best golf courses and yet remain thoroughly immune to the charms of the green! I was less close to him than I was to my Scottish grandfather (or, indeed, than I am to the very dear adopted grandfather who is my regular theatergoing companion in New York!), but we had many points of interest in common.

The English grandparents moved to a smaller (but not much smaller!) house a few years before they both died, which entailed some massive cleaning out of the extraordinary house they had lived in for many years (I cannot find a good picture online, though I know I found one once of it standing in solitary splendor of a gothically Victorian kind before the other houses were built on that road in the later nineteenth century, but if you scroll down to the bottom right-hand picture on this site, you will find 16 Broadlands Road - it is the house that, while I stood on a stepladder next to my mother handing her down countless mysterious and useless and yet non-throw-away-able things from a high shelf in the pantry, caused me to utter the most heartfelt words ever heard from my mouth: "I never want to live in a house, I only want to live in an apartment!")

It pained my grandfather to get rid of anything at all, though he steeled himself and managed to part with a great mass of possessions. One thing he was very happy to give to me was a pair of notebooks from his undergraduate years. They contained (in his characteristically illegible writing) his notes on English political thought during the American and French Revolutions, including many pages on my particular favorite Edmund Burke.


(Here was the Guardian obituary by his dear friend Richard Robbins; here was my Uncle Patrick's for the Independent.)

I have saved the best for last: a very nice back-garden picture, taken probably c. 2000 (actually I have no idea!), of me and Granny and Gramp.

"Caviar, sturgeon, anchovies, pickled oysters"

Courtesy of Ivan, a persuasive contender for the best single bit of textual commentary in the entire English literary tradition, George Steevens' note on the Shakespearean line "How the devil luxury, with his fat rump and potatoe finger, tickles these together" (click on each page for a clearer view):


"It was all those sailors"

A rather lovely piece by Steven L. Isenberg, at the American Scholar, concerning lunches on Olympus (with E. M. Forster, W. H. Auden, Philip Larkin and William Empson). The Empson description is hilariously and wonderfully gruesome:
In honor of “our American guest,” he would make bloody marys. He was a skinny man whose clothes hung on him, and as he walked about he continually hooked his thumbs in the front of his pants, and stretched them forward. Ricks and I had to avoid one another’s eyes.

Empson picked out of the kitchen sink three large glasses that may have been washed within the week. On the counter was a large open can of tomato juice with a rusted top. He poured juice into each glass and, after that, generous amounts of something that could have been either gin or vodka—I couldn’t see. Then he sprinkled on something that might have been Worcestershire sauce and from a bin dredged up browned celery stalks. And then he stood back to admire his work and repeatedly stretched and fanned his pants.

He bade us to keep our seats and served his magic drink, which I knew I was meant to praise as thoroughly authentic, if not hygienic. The real challenge was to drink some of this warm slop—no ice cube ever was evident—without spluttering. We toasted Empson and set to work. It had to be done in slow sips; every chance for him to offer a second one had to be eliminated.
(Link courtesy of Bookforum.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hasty light reading miscellany

Last Monday I read my first Gossip Girl book, You Know You Love Me.

I was standing in the news store at the airport in Tampa and contemplating the utter wretchedness of everything they were fobbing off on the unsuspecting customer in the name of books when I suddenly realized that in fact there was a huge stash of Gossip Girl books as yet unplumbed by me!

I enjoyed it very much - it is paced in a sharp snappy satirical way that makes me think that anyone who reads these books is reading them in a slightly ironic or tongue-in-cheek vein, surely nobody can really be actually wanting the luxury goods whose names are dropped on every page - and I was charmed by the fact that several of the characters were reading Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, which I am teaching this semester!

I always like to know that there will be something I could read and enjoy in random airport bookstores, so I think I will resist the temptation to get and read the others now and instead 'save' them for future situations of this sort...

On the flight before that I'd finished reading a really excellent novel, one that happily crossed the borders between light reading and serious fiction, Heidi Julavits's The Uses of Enchantment. Surely this book is a rewriting of one of Josephine Tey's best novels, The Franchise Affair! Clues: (1) the headmistress is called Miss Pym, the name of the title character in one of Tey's best other novels; (2) Julavits's protagonist's name is Mary Veal, "Veal" being a significant name in eighteenth-century writing and Tey's novel a retelling of an eighteenth-century story.

At any rate, I thought it was very good indeed - I was also reminded of another favorite book of mine from childhood, E. L. Konigsberg's underrated Father's Arcane Daughter.

Two sporting books: the first, John Hanc's highly readable The Coolest Race on Earth: Mud, Madmen, Glaciers, and Grannies at the Antarctica Marathon (about which more here); the second, Graeme Obree's rather wonderful Flying Scotsman: Cycling to Triumph through my Darkest Hours. The book is slightly uneven but quite moving in places, and there is a simply excellent description of a championship race in Bogota where Obree lays out his strategic planning for the different rounds - I really, really loved this.

The book is published by Velo Press, a specialist publisher the quality of whose books has been making an extraordinary impression on me: their list is a very interesting mix of books about cycling that are of genuine literary attraction and import and some of the most indispensable books on triathlon training (NB if you are only going to buy one book about triathlon training, it should certainly be Gale Bernhardt's Training Plans for Multisport Athletes, a book I obtained on Brent's recommendation and have since recommended to several friends - it is second only to Daniels' Running Formula in my affections!).

Good light reading: Michael Connelly's The Brass Verdict, kindly delivered to me by my former student Julia Hoban, whose young-adult novel Willow is about to appear to what I predict will be great acclaim!

And on Saturday, I had a pleasant theatrical interlude and went with my grandfather G. to see what turned out to be an excellent production of Richard Greenberg's The American Plan. Greenberg writes characters amazingly well - the play really is (Henry) Jamesian in a wonderful way. And as a bonus, there are some very lovely bits of conversation about swimming!

(Some interesting reflections from Greenberg here on the difficulties he experienced revising this 1991 play for the new production. It was pure coincidence that we were at this play at all - I had a terrible yen to see Soul of Shaolin and asked G. if there was any chance he could get press tickets - the press agent somehow thought he was asking about this one instead! But it may have been for the best...)

COWs and COLTs

Inauguration traffic.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Terrapin staples

Crest syndrome.

Save the date

Thursday, February 26 at 7pm at Book Culture: I will talk with friend, eighteenth-century colleague and Vassar faculty member Julie Park about Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century.

To be followed by some sort of housewarming party at my new apartment - come one, come all....

Streak!

I have just had a blissful thirteen-day writing streak....

Starting on Jan. 6, which was the first day I could really and properly sit down to write new pages rather than still typing and cleaning up the chunk of draft I wrote in August, I have met my quota every day.

(It has more to do with pages covered than with word count, since I'm writing in a notebook rather than on a computer, but I suppose quota falls in the region of 1500 words a day - I have found that if I do more than that, the quality plummets and it becomes significantly less likely that I will write again the next day.)

The first half of the pages were written here and the rest were written here. (Crepes!)

(It is important for me to go somewhere I can't be distracted by the internet. I prefer doing first drafts in longhand, but I also have an excellent and slightly hilarious anti-procrastination device for typing - the Alphasmart! I last used it extensively before I had a laptop, while transcribing sources for the breeding book in the Rare Books and Manuscripts room at the British Library. It is a very loud and clattery keyboard, and I regret to observe that several gentlemen contemplated its effects with absolute dismay - I do not blame them, I feel certain it was very annoying!)

And now I both superstitiously and pragmatically feel that I will only be able to meet my Feb. 2 deadline for The Snow Queen if I continue to write new pages every single day without exception until I am finished. I was toying with the idea of taking this coming Tuesday off, so that I could redirect my attention to the first day of classes, but I think it would be a fatal error!

So I've written the hours into my appointment book....

I am not at all complaining, things are good with me right now and it will be the best of all possible things if I can acquit myself honorably and make this deadline and actually for the first time in many years not have a book submission deadline hanging over me, but it is not helpful to the novel-writing cause that the next two weeks are pretty much the busiest of the whole school year and that I am running a marathon in seven weeks which will be utterly horrible if I do not get on track with my long runs!

For those with an interest in the eighteenth-century novel, here's the list of books I'm asking my spring seminar students to buy (there are other readings also, including excerpts from Clarissa and Tristram Shandy and quite a bit of criticism).

I need to post a catch-up account of various light reading round here, only it is more pressing right now to get out of the house for my 12-miler before it gets too much later!

I might try and have a second writing session this evening, though usually I do not, because I am excited to report that the European Federation is as we speak invading Denmark, and within twelve hours Sophie and Mikael will be evacuating on their bicycles (Sophie's has been customized with a basket for carrying the cat who appeared at the end of The Explosionist under the name Blackie but whose real name turns out to be Trismegistus) via Elsinore (Hamlet!) and a ferry to Stockholm, where they will stay in Mr. Petersen's dreary rented lodgings for a few days - at least until Mikael vanishes and Sophie has to track him up north into Swedish Lapland and to the Snow Queen's Spitzbergen lair....

I am very, very excited that I am almost at the part where I finally get to write about reindeer!

Speck

Too many books that changed the world.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"If you're so smart, why ain't you rich?"

At the Scotsman, a great bit by Margaret Atwood from her introduction to the latest volume of the Paris Review writer interviews:
Why am I doing such an eccentric thing as writing? Is it just undigested neurosis? Why spend all day in a room, in the company of a bunch of people who don't really exist? What good does it do the world? Isn't it unhealthy? Why waste the paper? Every writer has such thoughts from time to time, and to know that others have had them too is reassuring: I am not the only one who has viewed the page with loathing. Not only that, but there's no obvious positive correlation between good writing and commercial success – good does not equal profitable – but on the other hand, there isn't a negative one – profitable does not equal bad. It's reassuring to know that anyone who's kept at it over time has written a few clunkers. And sometimes – not always, but sometimes – the writer knows quite well which ones those are. But look: the clunkers are survivable, we find in these accounts of writing lives, because after some defeating piece that, despite endless rewriting, never quite came right, there will be a clear masterwork. And that too is very encouraging.

A labour of love

British psychiatrist knits anatomically correct replica of the human brain.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Great expectations

An interesting post at the always worthwhile Electric Alphabet blog about HarperCollins UK's Authonomy site, a networking experiment for authors that seems to be showing some of the tensions between corporate marketing strategies and the dynamics of online communities.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"There were no sunglasses"

Beverly Parayno interviews Yiyun Li for The Rumpus.

Li's story "Gold Boy, Emerald Girl" would be my pick for the best piece of fiction published by the New Yorker in 2008; I do not read all of the stories they publish, many of 'em just strike me as too awful and in general I am not a great lover of the form of the 'literary' short story (I prefer crime and science fiction stories, or tales of the fantastic), but this one is a great story (not utterly unlike the stories of Edward P. Jones, another writer I love): go and read it if you missed it the first time round!

Bleeding into the woodwork

My Columbia colleague and fellow-blogger Andrew Gelman offers some thoughts on Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century. I am very flattered that he mentions one of my utterly favorite books about the eighteenth century in the same breath - A. O. Hirschman's The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism Before Its Triumph....

Categories

Colleen weighs in against genre labels.

Shimmering putty

Cintra Wilson's secret history of Disney and Sephora.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Precious eggs

I am too impatient to save these for an Easter post!

Via Wendy, an insanely sparkly American Egg; via Nico, a truly amazing Scotch Ostrich Egg!

I Want To Cheer Up Ltd

Rent a cat (via Tyler Cowen).

Culture's table

If you are so inclined, you can read the introduction to my new academic book here....

Consistency

Jo Walton reviews The Explosionist at the Tor blog!

This is a huge thrill for me, as Walton's one of my absolutely favorite writers (I have also gotten a kick out of seeing my novel on end-of-year roundups by several other writers whose books I particularly enjoy, namely Ekaterina Sedia and Tamora Pierce - and forgive me if I have mentioned it already here - it might be that I have one too many blogs! - it's also great news that the book's on the short list for the Cybils young-adult fantasy and science fiction award).

Walton mostly likes the book quite a bit, but she has a very interesting objection on one significant count:
[T]he book ought to have made up its mind whether to be fantasy or science fiction.

Spiritualism—and all the apparatus of automatic writing, table tapping, mediums and spirit photography—was indeed an obsession in the 1930s, and earlier, from the mid-Victorian period onwards. (See Angels and Insects for a brilliant modern fictional treatment and Unnatural Death for a contemporary one.) But it didn’t ever actually work, and it couldn’t have ever worked in the real world. Spiritualism was largely a case of people who, as Byatt says, desperately wanted spiritual consolation in a secular age, and were tricked into believing they were getting messages from dead people. It was all fraudulent, as investigator after investigator proved.

This isn’t to say you can’t take it seriously in fiction, and even have it work just as the gullible people in our world believed it did. It’s just that if you do, you’ve moved from science fiction to fantasy. A world in which you can fairly reliably talk to dead people with crystal radios, where licensed spirit photographers can produce evidence admissible in court, and where mediums are not fakes would be a world far more different than one where Napoleon won. Davidson has thought through the consequences of her science fictional changes remarkably well, but of her fantasy ones far less so. It’s unlikely that a world with that kind of relationship with the dead would have been sufficiently like ours through any of its history to ever have got to Waterloo in the first place. Fantasy needs to be as integrated into the world as anything else, and it isn’t. I kept trying to think of the laws of magic in Randall Garrett, but Garrett’s magic is integrated into Lord Darcy’s world in a way that the spiritualism here just isn’t. It’s further unfortunate that the spiritualism is needed to drive the plot at every turn.
I have never read Randall Garrett, clearly I must... Hmmm, my inclinations are much more strongly towards fantasy than science fiction, but that doesn't answer the objection.

I guess that I fudged this in my own head - it wasn't that I was entirely unaware of this issue, but I thought of spiritualism (in fact I remember having a conversation with my editor about this!) as something practiced by and available to a mandarin class alone. In my vision of it, ordinary people who went to ordinary spiritualists were almost as likely to be cheated (like, approaching to 100% likely) as they would be in our world, so that didn't really make much of a difference; and it was only a tiny elite who had access to techniques and knowledge that would let them practice something more genuine, and still contested (like string theory!).

So that the real-world people like Henry Sidgwick or Conan Doyle or the world-of-my-novel people like Great-aunt Tabitha and her cronies are a kind of mandarin class whose doings are in certain respects isolated from the rest of society, though those activities must have a trickle-down effect that I think I have not sufficiently attended to: the nature of the mandarin class is like the class of nuclear physicists rather than the class of, say, Old Ones in Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising books, though Sophie is a figure like Will Stanton in certain respects. Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books have the world of the towers fairly isolated from the ordinary social world (it is a world of sociopolitical elites with power to determine the fate of the planet), Anne McCaffrey's Pern books also have the world of the dragonriders relatively isolated from the daily lives of ordinary people - it may be that I have followed this sort of model too closely....

Hmmm, just thinking out loud here, this is very useful: the sequel in many respects moves more roundly into the world of historical fiction, I've done much less playing-around with alternateness and spiritualism is less of an issue, only there are several striking fantastical components, including talking animals, so clearly this is something worth thinking through more rigorously!

Monday, January 12, 2009

"FOUR FIELD MICE lost from laboratory"

Paul Collins at the Paper Cuts blog. Here he praises the internet and searchable archives:
Computers have created a Golden Age for historians, because searchable archives make no distinction between the mighty and the obscure — if it’s in there, you’ll find it. Let me give you an example: I wrote an article on the Tricho medical scandal, about a 1920s company that used radiation for cosmetic hair-removal. It was run by a physician named Albert Geyser. When I plugged his address — not even his name, just his address — into the New York Times Historical Files, out jumped a “Lost and Found” ad he’d run in 1923, before his company launched: “FOUR FIELD MICE lost from laboratory, 244 W 74th St., each mou[s]e has a round bald spot on right side caused by scientific experimentation; $20 reward …”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The light reading miscellany

Three novels, three samples...

James Blish, A Case of Conscience, which I liked very much indeed; Marie Corelli, Thelma, which I checked out of the library because its first section is set "in the land of the midnight sun" (a surprisingly good read, but I am slightly amazed to see that there is actually a 2008 reissue - there is also a Kindle edition, but the full text is available for free at Project Gutenberg - I have it from the Columbia library in the 1895 New York edition, which I see you can purchase for $4.95 via Alibris - a bargain!); Jennifer Egan's The Keep (stimulating and enjoyable, but perhaps only partly successful as a novel - I was reminded in certain respects of several books by Iain Banks, particularly A Song of Stone and The Bridge, which I think manage to do more with the castle/gaming aspect of things - but it is a quite haunting modern gothic in its way, and the feeling the novel provokes of incompleteness and dissatisfaction seems to me to be a valid literary effect in itself - I really liked it...).
The timid genius of mechanism, who threw cats well but Popes badly, had never met a true automaton, and so never saw that what the animal lacks is not a soul, but a mind. A computer which can fill the parameters of the Haertel equations for all possible values and deliver them in two and a half seconds is an intellectual genius but, compared even to a cat, it is an emotional moron.
My children are there today: Tucson, Gainesville, and Atlanta. They're more American than you are. My sons wear shorts in summertime. You would never see a European man in shorts - never! A man's legs out in the open like that, it's . . . it's miserably low-class.
Drifting away on those delicate imperceptible lines that lie between reality and dreamland, the watcher of the midnight sun gave himself up to the half painful, half delicious sense of being drawn in, absorbed, and lost in infinite imaginings, when the intense stillness around him was broken by the sound of a voice singing, a full, rich contralto, that rang through the air with the clearness of a golden bell. The sweet liquid notes were those of an old Norwegian mountain melody, one of those wildly pathetic _folk-songs_ that seem to hold all the sorrow, wonder, wistfulness, and indescribable yearning of a heart too full for other speech than music. He started to his feet and looked around him for the singer. There was no one visible. The amber streaks in the sky were leaping into crimson flame; the Fjord glowed like the burning lake of Dante's vision; one solitary sea-gull winged its graceful, noiseless flight far above, its white pinions shimmering like jewels as it crossed the radiance of the heavens. Other sign of animal life there was none. Still the hidden voice rippled on in a stream of melody, and the listener stood amazed and enchanted at the roundness and distinctness of every note that fell from the lips of the unseen vocalist.

"A woman's voice," he thought; "but where is the woman?"
Bonus link: George Bernard Shaw's review of Thelma!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

38p a packet

Trial Walkers Crisps flavors include Cajun squirrel and fish-and-chips:
Emma Rushin, a 26-year-old housewife from Belper in Derbyshire, burst into tears when she was told that her "builder's breakfast" flavour had made it to the final six.

Ms Rushin, who will put down a deposit on a house if she wins the competition, said: "First you get a hint of sausage, then egg, bacon, and last the buttery toast."

Casting her mind back to November when she learnt that she was in the last six, she recalled: "I think I was in shock for about three days."

After the entries were narrowed down and the finalists selected, food technologists set about creating the flavours in the laboratory, using a mixture of natural ingredients and unspecified "flavouring", which Walkers' head of flavour development, James Stilman, said were "natural flavour compounds" and not e-numbers.

The little orchestra

Courtesy of NPR and friend/musical impresario/demented band-leader Thomas Lauderdale, listen to Pink Martini's New Year's Eve concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA.

Miniaturized

Tilt-shift photography (via The Dizzies.)

"Inward"

Alex Danchev has a useful TLS piece on some new books about theatre. I need to start reading some of the critical stuff in this field for my notional new book project - really what I love reading is strange and wayward primary sources of all sorts, but my next book will need some sort of responsible methodological background, even if in the end it is scarcely visible in the book itself...

Really I have to finish this other book, though, before I can start thinking about my next one!

I am writing very steadily this week. I have strong thoughts about the enabling conditions for writing. One is that a quota system works for me, where once I'm writing (which is of necessity only a small proportion of my actual life, as it requires there not to be too many other demands on my attention) I just have to write X number of pages every day, from start to finish, and withhold all judgments concerning quality.

For this book I particularly needed a mental boost, and so I am writing just now with a very soft graphite pencil on the pages of a sketch book - it means that I can cover a lot of pages with a feeling of ease and power!

Tingle cream

Daniel Nester decides to get a tan...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The eye and the ear

Some interesting bits in Gary Lutz's Believer piece on the sentence, a unit of language that I am fairly obsessed with myself:
It took me almost another decade after graduate school to figure out what writing really is, or at least what it could be for me; and what prompted this second lesson in language was my discovery of certain remaindered books—mostly of fiction, most notably by Barry Hannah, and all of them, I later learned, edited by Gordon Lish—in which virtually every sentence had the force and feel of a climax, in which almost every sentence was a vivid extremity of language, an abruption, a definitive inquietude. These were books written by writers who recognized the sentence as the one true theater of endeavor, as the place where writing comes to a point and attains its ultimacy. As a reader, I finally knew what I wanted to read, and as someone now yearning to become a writer, I knew exactly what I wanted to try to write: narratives of steep verbal topography, narratives in which the sentence is a complete, portable solitude, a minute immediacy of consummated language—the sort of sentence that, even when liberated from its receiving context, impresses itself upon the eye and the ear as a totality, an omnitude, unto itself. I once later tried to define this kind of sentence as “an outcry combining the acoustical elegance of the aphorism with the force and utility of the load-bearing, tractional sentence of more or less conventional narrative.” The writers of such sentences became the writers I read and reread. I favored books that you could open to any page and find in every paragraph sentences that had been worked and reworked until their forms and contours and their organizations of sound had about them an air of having been foreordained—as if this combination of words could not be improved upon and had finished readying itself for infinity.
(I had a Lutz post churning away at the back of the head a couple years ago, only the book got buried in a pile - it resurfaced during the move, I should dig it out and write something up...)

Wayne Koestenbaum writes sentences that do this thing Lutz is talking about, and so (obviously) does Lydia Davis. But they are just the most glaring examples that come to mind, the most lavish and gratuitous (Koestenbaum towards the gothic side of things, Davis in a sparer mode) - it is certainly a useful way of thinking about less (what is the word?) outlandish sentences also!

Rumbledethumps

Gordon Brown, food writer?

ZEEP

One of the books I've liked most while reading for background for the Explosionist sequel is Otto Frisch's immensely likeable and engaging memoir What Little I Remember. I have gleaned from it some minor details that I may be able to use to fill out some things in the book's Copenhagen scenes, but of course lots of this stuff is not really usable, delightful as it may be.

In the world of my novels, for instance, we never visit England because it is part of a fascist European Federation whose borders the heroine is not allowed to cross; in my alternate England, moreover, there is certainly no longer any such thing as Woolworth's. Frisch on working conditions in the 1930s at Birkbeck College:
Of course I had been spoiled at Stern's institute where two first-rate mechanics and a good glass-blower were at our disposal, as well as a supply of up-to-date instruments and materials. I remember writing home from England that to build equipment was so much patchwork and make-do that after a few weeks of it my imagination boggled at the thought of asking for a piece of rubber tube 18 inches long! What saved me was the existence of Woolworth's. In those days no item cost more than sixpence. Admittedly a pair of socks cost a shilling; but Houtermans once insisted on buying one sock, explaining that it was a present for somebody who had only one leg. One could buy almost anything there. Once I bought a piece of ladies' black underwear; it was the easiest way of getting hold of some smooth black fabric for lining my cloud chamber. I didn't have the courage to charge the laboratory for that particular purchase.
A novel set and published in the late 1940s that includes a good description of what can be bought at Woolworth's: Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar!

Reborn

Hmmm, in chaos of moving, I did not get around to changing the address for my New Yorker subscription, and now I've missed several issues (though should be back on track around now). Belatedly, here's Darryl Pinckney on Susan Sontag's journals:
Sontag the essayist was more confident than Sontag the fiction writer. She had inspirations about how to tell a story that made up for some of the things she couldn’t do in fiction—such as realistic dialogue—but her humility toward the Novel arose from the fear that her prose lacked the amplitude and lyricism that her literary ambitions called for. Her discipline and her capacity for labor were remarkable, almost an accusation, and yet it was touching to hear her say that she read aloud to herself pages of “The Volcano Lover” (1992) and crossed out words and phrases, trying for the right tone, hoping to increase the velocity of her sentences, struggling to make her prose sound effortless—like Elizabeth Hardwick’s “Sleepless Nights,” she’d say. Her need to prove herself as a novelist turned her against the essay form for a while and put her in a rage with her own best achievements. After “In America” (1999) received a National Book Award, she felt vindicated and went back to writing essays; “Regarding the Pain of Others” (2003) is an example of her brilliance at a kind of moral inquiry that was neither academic nor merely belletristic. For Sontag, prose was not a vehicle for expressing what she thought; it was itself a form of thinking, and, perhaps more exactingly, of feeling as well.

“I don’t know what my real feelings are,” she wrote in 1960. “That’s why I’m so interested in moral philosophy, which tells me (or at least turns me toward) what my feelings ought to be. Why worry about analyzing the crude ore, I reason, if you know how to produce the refined metal directly?” She had assumed that only the academic life could give space to her love of books. An underlying story of “Reborn” concerns her disengagement from that creed. When a Harvard professor asked her what she thought of the legal philosopher H. L. A. Hart’s seminar, Sontag recounts, “I was condescendingly, politely negative: the attitude I know he takes.” In “Reborn,” whether she is teaching at the City College of New York or at Sarah Lawrence—and missing, yet again, one of her classes—it is clear that, as fond of her students as she could be, she doesn’t want them in her head. Her way of putting forward an argument did retain an aggressiveness learned in the graduate seminar, when she declined to defer to the guys. But she wanted to be a writer, and would do almost anything to make that happen, which is why it is moving to find in her notebooks a degree of self-doubt and self-criticism not usually associated with Susan Sontag: “The mind is a whore.”

"A pair of human feet with boots on them"

Things found in sharks' stomachs, from the Times Archive blog.

This one might be the best....

This one is an ouroboros!

Monday, January 05, 2009

"A cupboard full of Vaseline"

At the Guardian, Kira Cochrane interviews editor and memoirist Diana Athill:
She says that the author she liked most was Molly Keane, who was "an absolute darling. And I suppose of all the men, the nicest was - is - John Updike." One of the less attractive characters was VS Naipaul; when Athill needed cheering up, "I used to tell myself: 'At least I'm not married to Vidia.'"

One of the authors whose writing style she most admired was Jean Rhys. "Jean used to simply say that she was trying to get it like it had really been. To get it right," she says. This is the hallmark of her own work. She uses metaphor rarely and perfectly, suggesting, for instance, that scarlet lipstick can make older women look "like a vampire bat disturbed in mid-dinner". "Jean used to say, 'Cut, cut, cut, cut,' and she was right," Athill says. "Accurate writing means accurate thinking."

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sweat, n.

I have a minor sinus infection and (it is not really causal) have been lounging around in sweatpants, giving rise to etymological curiosity...

The OED:

IV. 11. attrib. and Comb., as sweat-drop, labour, -scraper, -secretion, -stain; spec. = ‘exciting or relating to the secretion of sweat’, as sweat-absorber, apparatus, canal, centre, coil, fibre, nerve; sweat-dried, -marked, -shining, -soaked, -stained, -wet adjs.; also sweat-band, (a) a band of leather or other substance forming a lining of a hat or cap for protection against the sweat of the head; (b) in Sport, a strip of material worn around the (fore)head or wrist to absorb perspiration; sweat-bath, a steam-bath or hot-air bath, esp. among N. American Indians; cf. SWEAT-HOUSE 1; sweat-bee, a name for the small bees of the family Andrenidæ; sweat-box, (a) a narrow cell in which a prisoner is confined (slang); also U.S., a room in which a prisoner undergoes intensive questioning (see quot. 1931); (b) a box in which hides are sweated; (c) a large box in which figs are placed to undergo a ‘sweat’; (d) transf. and fig., spec. a heated compartment in which perspiration is induced, to encourage weight loss, etc.; sweat-cloth, a cloth or handkerchief used for wiping off sweat; a sudary; see also quot. 1872; sweat cooling Engin., a form of cooling in which the coolant is passed through a porous wall and evenly distributed over the surface, which is cooled by its evaporation; hence sweat-cooled ppl. a.; sweat-cyst Path., a cyst resulting from some disorder of the sweat-glands; sweat-duct Anat., the duct of a sweat-gland, by which the sweat is conveyed to the surface of the skin; sweat equity U.S., an interest in a property earned by a tenant who contributes his labour to its upkeep or renovation; sweat flap, a leather flap in harness, for protecting the rider's leg from the sweat of the horse; sweat-gland Anat., each of the numerous minute coiled tubular glands just beneath the skin which secrete sweat; sweat heat Gardening, the heat at which fermentation takes place; sweat-hog U.S. slang, a difficult student singled out in school or college for special instruction; {dag}sweat-hole, = sweat-pore; sweat-leather, (a) a leather sweat-band in a hat or cap; also sweat lining; (b) = sweat-flap; sweat-lodge, = SWEAT-HOUSE 1; sweat-orifice = sweat-pore; sweat pants chiefly U.S., trousers of thick cotton cloth worn by athletes, esp. before or after strenuous exercise; tracksuit trousers; sweat-pit, {dag}(a) the arm-pit exuding sweat (obs. nonce-use); (b) in Tanning, a pit in which hides are sweated, a sweating-pit; sweat-pore Anat., each of the pores of the skin formed by the openings of the sweat-ducts; sweat-rag (slang), any cloth used for wiping off sweat, or worn round the head to keep sweat out of the eyes; sweat-rash Path., an eruption caused by obstruction of the sweat-pores; sweat-room, a room in which tobacco is sweated; sweat root, Polemonium reptans (Dunglison Med. Lex. 1857); sweat rug a rug put on a horse after exercise; sweat-shirt orig. U.S., a loose shirt; spec. a long-sleeved, high-necked pullover shirt of thick cotton cloth (usu. with a fleecy lining), worn by athletes to avoid taking cold before or after exercise (cf. SWEATER 7b); hence sweat-shirted a.; sweat-shop orig. U.S., a workshop in a dwelling-house, in which work is done under the sweating system (or, by extension, under any system of sub-contract); also fig. and attrib.; sweat-stock Tanning, a collective term for hides which are being or have been sweated (see SWEAT v. 13); sweat-suit orig. U.S., an athlete's suit consisting of a sweat-shirt and sweat-pants; {dag}sweat-sweet a. nonce-wd., having a sweet exudation; sweat vesicle Path., = sweat-cyst; sweat-vessel Anat., = sweat-duct; sweat-weed, marsh mallow, Althæa officinalis (Billings Med. Dict. 1890). See also SWEAT-HOUSE.
1956 S. BECKETT Malone Dies 93 A *sweat-absorber for the armpit. 1883 F. T. ROBERTS Handbk. Med. (ed. 5) 960 Affections of the *sweat-apparatus. 1891 Pall Mall G. 28 Sept. 2/3 An American chemist..threatens us with lead-poisoning from the ‘*sweat-band’. 1956 R. H. APPLEWHAITE Lawn Tennis i. 12 Sweatbands..are worn round the wrist to prevent perspiration running down the arms into the hands. 1977 J. F. FIXX Compl. Bk. Running xii. 134 When I started running, I saw a lot of runners wearing sweatbands, so after sweat had dripped into my eyes a few times I went out and bought one. 1877 S. POWERS Tribes of California xxvi. 244 [The Shasta Indians] have no assembly chamber..; nothing but a kind of oven large enough that one person may stretch himself therein and enjoy a *sweat-bath. 1921 J. HASTINGS Encycl. Relig. & Ethics XII. 128/2 When we turn to the Old World, we find a striking resemblance to the American customs in Herodotus's description of the use of the sweat-bath among the Scythians as a means of purification, after mourning. 1963 E. WAUGH Let. Sept. in C. Sykes Evelyn Waugh (1975) xxvi. 439, I have sat in a ‘sweat-bath’ and been severely massaged. 1965 S. G. LAWRENCE 40 Yrs. on Yukon Telegraph xiv. 75 They [sc. some Indians] stayed over a day and all the old men took sweat baths. 1894 U.S. Dept. Agric., Div. Veg. Physiol. & Path. Bulletin v. 79 (Cent. Dict., Suppl.) The *sweat bees of the genus Halictus and Andrena. 1870 U.S. Navy Gen. Orders & Circulars (1887) 97 He was..gagged and confined in a *sweat-box of such dimensions that it was impossible to sit down. 1888 W. B. CHURCHWARD Blackbirding in S. Pacific 28 This sweat-box is a sort of cell in the lowest part of the ship, pitch dark, and hot as hell. 1890 BARRÈRE & LELAND Slang Dict., Sweat-box, the cell where prisoners are confined on arrest previous to being brought up for examination before the magistrate. 1895 Pop. Sci. Monthly XLVI. 345 When sympathetic visitors crowded around his sweatbox. 1897 Chicago Tribune 10 July 1/4 The upper gallery commonly known as the ‘sweat box’ in regular theaters. 1900 Yearbk. U.S. Dept. Agric. 94 After the figs were dried they were placed in sweat boxes holding about 200 pounds each, where they were allowed to remain for two weeks, to pass through a sweat. 1901 ‘J. FLYNT’ World of Graft 102 He was copped out on suspicion. They put him in the sweat-box, made him cough, an' you know the rest. 1931 Z. CHAFEE et al. in Rep. Nat. Comm. Law Observance & Enforcement (U.S.) ii. 38 The original ‘sweat box’ used during the period following the Civil War..was a cell in close proximity to a stove, in which a scorching fire was built and fed with old bones, pieces of rubber shoes, etc., all to make great heat and offensive smells, until the sickened and perspiring inmate of the cell confessed in order to get released. 1973 ‘H. HOWARD’ Highway to Murder ii. 28, I ought to stick you in the sweat box until you told me the name of your client. 1974 J. ENGELHARD Horsemen vi. 38, I never go in a sweatbox... I lose all the weight I want playing tennis. 1890 BILLINGS Med. Dict., *Sweat canal, excretory duct of a sweat-gland. Ibid., *Sweat centre. 1898 Allbutt's Syst. Med. V. 200 The effect of this [accumulation of carbonic acid in the blood] being to stimulate the sweat centres. 1872 SCHELE DE VERE Americanisms 329 The *sweat-cloth, a cloth marked with figures, and used by gamblers with dice. 1894 Athenæum 24 Feb. 239/3 The appearance of the sweat-cloth is a very characteristic mark. 1899 Allbutt's Syst. Med. VIII. 741 An uninterrupted series of changes in the *sweat-coils was observed from the beginning up to the end of the disease. 1948 Technical Publ. Amer. Inst. Mining & Metall. Engineers No. 2343. Class E. 1 In designing a *sweat cooled part it is imperative to assure a given rate of flow of coolant. Ibid., A less orthodox method consists of making the part to be cooled of a porous material, so that the cooling fluid can be forced through the pores... This method, referred to as ‘*sweat cooling’, was proposed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in September 1944. 1969 E. C. ROBERTSON Now Bks. Rocket Motors iv. 29 Many devices have been tried to keep the walls of the chamber cool and techniques have ranged from sweat cooling..to the one that is most common today. 1898 HUTCHINSON Archives Surgery IX. 160 My patient had been liable to unilateral sweating of the face... The vesicles or little cysts..varied in size from pins' heads to peas... There could be little doubt that these were *sweat-cysts. 1885 B. HARTE Maruja iii, As he groomed the *sweat-dried skin of the mustang. 1776 MICKLE tr. Camoens' Lusiad 304 Fell the hot *sweat-drops as he champt the rein. 1817 BYRON Mazeppa xi, And my cold sweat-drops fell like rain Upon the courser's bristling mane. 1881 HUXLEY Elem. Physiol. v. (new ed.) 114 Cells lining the *sweat duct. 1973 Time 16 July 43 A group of poor, racially mixed tenants took over a nearby city-owned tenement, stripped the shabby interiors and are building modern apartments to replace the narrow, cold-water flats... In return for their ‘*sweat equity’, the builder-residents will make payments as low as $80 per month and ultimately own the building as a cooperative. 1980 B. VILA This Old House v. 83/1 The calculations you make in a sweat equity job are different from those in a project in which you are employing professionals. 1908 Animal Managem. 182 The *sweat flap of the girth. 1845 TODD & BOWMAN Phys. Anat. I. 423 The *sweat-glands exist under almost every part of the cutaneous surface. 1843 Florist's Jrnl. (1846) IV. 225 A ‘*sweat heat’ of from 85° to 95° temperature. 1976 Senior Scholastic 4 May 41 John Travolta..[is] back in the classroom..as the leader of the *sweathogs in ABC's Welcome Back, Kotter. 1979 BROOKS & MARSH Compl. Directory Prime Time Network TV Shows, 1946-Present 673/1 Gabe's ‘sweathogs’ were the outcasts of the academic system, streetwise but unable or unwilling to make it in normal classes.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Sources

Jonathan Coe published an intriguing piece in the Guardian last year about his love affair with the Virago Modern Classics, a series I read very widely around in as a teenager and in my early twenties (I was always plucking the green volumes from the library shelves without even really looking too closely as to what they were - I think one of the ones that most stuck with me was Barbara Comyns' The Skin Chairs - I cannot say that I think that is a very good description of the book, but both the description and the author biography have just made me laugh!).

Anyway, I have been reading Coe with admiration and enjoyment for ten years or so now (here's an old post on Like a Fiery Elephant), and a copy of his latest novel came my way, only I was somehow left with the impression that I had to read Rosamond Lehmann's The Ballad and the Source first! I am not sure that is quite true, but I have just read both the Lehmann novel and Coe's The Rain Before It Falls, and found them both well worth my while.

I think Coe himself could not hold it against me if I say that I found Lehmann's novel astonishingly and strikingly good, and now feel I must read everything else of hers! I have only read one or two others, in distant memory, so I will get them all from the library and just see what strikes my fancy. I would not place this novel with Sybille Bedford's, which seem to me possibly superior in terms of their power to stir the emotions and imagination, but the descriptive writing is utterly lovely. One tiny passage that caught my attention (but really this novel should be read by everyone, especially if you like descriptions of clothes - Abigail Joseph, I am looking at you, you have to read this book!): oh, but I do not have time to find it again now, I did not mark it as I was reading because (a) it is a wartime edition, borrowed by me from the Columbia library, on very poor-quality paper and (b) I was on a plane! To a very beautiful and warm place - the flight was delayed by an hour in New York this morning, I might add, for the unprecedented and comical reason that all the water on the plane had frozen, and the crew rightly refused to take off without the wherewithal for producing tea and coffee!