Thursday, April 30, 2009

Life in the asylum

This article makes me want to write a novel!

(A relief, since I have been feeling in recent months as though I would never want to write another novel again - partly I am steering internally towards non-fiction - but it occurs to me it may be a function of mood rather than judgment? I am definitely Amazoning Dolkart's Morningside Heights book, though...)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What I saw last week

The circus...

(And there was a magical tent - the tastelessly named Tapis Rouge! - with a fellow carving slices of ham to put in little sandwiches, and custard and ladyfingers in martini glasses on a conveyor belt during the intermission, and glasses of champagne pressed into one's hand!)

When I was little, I liked all of Noel Streatfeild's books very much - I was more strongly drawn to theater than to dance or tennis or figure-skating any of the other things she would now and again write about - I could not, in all honesty, fantasize about joining the circus, since gymnastics was second only to baseball as absolute most-hated least favorite gym-class activity - but I certainly read Circus Shoes many a time, checking it out again and again from the library....

(The female character Santa lies about her ability to play the violin, but turns out to have a talent for gymnastics - I thought that probably if I needed to make a living at the circus, while I might not have the background for animal training or the wherewithal for acrobatics, I could almost certainly play the clarinet in the band!)

Thinking about

the vague possibility (which would seem heretical given my non-expertise, but which has been prompted by teaching bits of Wordsworth and Shelley and Byron this week) of possibly, in future, teaching a class on Romantic poetry...

My two favorite lines from Shelley: first, of course, "Hell is a city much like London"; second, the famous stanza from "Adonais":
Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep,
He hath awaken'd from the dream of life;
'Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit's knife
Invulnerable nothings. We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

"?" "!"

At the Guardian, Stuart Jeffries on the use and abuse of the exclamation point in the age of e-mail. (It is an overly clever/snarky piece, to my taste, but there is much of interest also.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On laziness

At the Science Times, Adele Conover profiles Anna Dornhaus:
Dr. Dornhaus is breaking new ground in her studies of whether the efficiency of ant society, based on a division of labor among ant specialists, is important to their success. To do that, she said, “I briefly anesthetized 1,200 ants, one by one, and painted them using a single wire-size brush, with model airplane paint — Rally Green, Racing Red, Daytona Yellow.”

After recording their behavior with two video cameras aiming down on an insect-size stage, she analyzed 300 hours of videotape of the ants in action. She discovered behavior more worthy of Aesop’s grasshopper than the proverbial industrious ants.

“The specialists aren’t necessarily good at their jobs,” she said. “And the other ants don’t seem to recognize their lack of ability.”

Dr. Dornhaus found that fast ants took one to five minutes to perform a task — collecting a piece of food, fetching a sand-grain stone to build a wall, transporting a brood item — while slow ants took more than an hour, and sometimes two. And she discovered that about 50 percent of the other ants do not do any work at all. In fact, small colonies may sometimes rely on a single hyperactive overachiever.

Why do some worker ants lean on their shovels and let the rest of the workers do all the work? “It’s like students living together — you’ll always find one will have a lower threshold for doing the washing up and will end up always doing it all,” she said.


Proust, as quoted by Genette, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method: "Hence the temptation for the writer to write intellectual works, which is, however, a gross mistake. A work in which there are theories is like an object which still has the ticket that shows its price."

Monday, April 27, 2009

The republic of letters

In the latest NYRB, G. W. Bowersock had a nice piece about Anthony Grafton (subscription only - I must get hold of a copy of Worlds Made By Words...). This bit especially caught my eye:
From Momigliano perhaps Grafton learned how to make an attractive essay out of a scholarly debate, although his own curiosity and wit probably provided the basic intellectual resources. In his essay on the Warburg seminars he writes that Momigliano "saw style as central to the history of scholarship." By this he meant "style of collection and argument" as represented among the antiquarians, and he rightly observes that this mattered as much to Momigliano as the subject matter of the scholars he was studying.

But what was not important to Momigliano was literary style, and that is probably why he became so vexed by Hayden White's emphasis on rhetoric in the writing of history. His tin ear when it came to literary style led to a memorable debate at Lausanne in 1976 on the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Momigliano claimed that Gibbon had not made up his mind whether the poems of Ossian were a forgery or not. But Gibbon's ironic style had misled him. Already in March 1776 David Hume had recognized what Gibbon was saying and, in a letter of congratulations, wrote that he was "certainly right" to doubt the authenticity of the poems.

Life after potential

Decca Aitkenhead interviews Kazuo Ishiguro for the Guardian.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


At the Blue and White, Columbia's undergraduate literary magazine, Samuel Kerbel has written a very nice review of Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century.

He makes several thoughtful criticisms of the book.

One concerns what I think of as a certain temperamental unwillingness to argue for or against, or to articulate what may be controversial conclusions; this I am not sure I can do anything about!

The other concerns the level of knowledge I assume among my readers, and this seems to me in many respects the more pressing question, an interesting challenge I will need to tackle in the next non-fiction book I write.

When I first started working on Breeding, I was thinking very seriously about trying to make it a more general history - a narrative-oriented work of scholarship designed to reach the broadest possible audience.

(Historians tend to produce these more easily than literary critics, as the narrative mode is part of what makes this possible and narrative is more central to most history-writing than it is to literary-critical interpretation; but at least in this book, I'm definitely writing something close to cultural and intellectual history, so it's not necessarily a disciplinary sticking point...)

I realized, though, after drafting a couple chapters, that at the level of intellectual development I was then at (this sounds intolerably pretentious, but really it was just realistic self-assessment!), it still was going to be better for me to write a more traditionally scholarly book, with extensive quotations and footnotes, rather than to try slightly prematurely to make the transition to a more generally accessible mode. I thought I would learn more about the eighteenth century writing it this way - that I was still at a stage where I needed to immerse myself in the nitty-gritty rather than making the move to generalize...

That said, I tried to write as engagingly and accessibly as possible - and in my next academic projects (I regretfully observe that it is increasingly clear to me that I have two quite different - and in certain respects complementary - academic books pestering me to write them, one to do with forms of culture that cannot be transmitted through language and one to do with the history of the novel and the development in the European tradition of widely shared conventions of notation for human behavior in prose fiction), I am definitely going to try and take that next step away from quotations and footnotes and the other apparatus of academic style. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn is my aspirational model...


At the Guardian, Robert Macfarlane on islands (the whole piece is well worth reading, but here is the opening paragraph):
Nineteenth-century British admiralty charts included more than 200 islands that are now known not to exist. Think of that - an imaginary archipelago, a scatter of dream isles, that sneaked past the sober men at the Hydrographic Office and on to the world's most definitive sea maps. It's easy to imagine how the mistakes were made. A dark band of sea fog is mistaken for an atoll. A distant alto-cumulus seen through heat is taken for a sea cliff, towering over a bronze sea. A hydrographer jots down the discovery, before the ship gets veered away by weather. The data is returned to Greenwich's cartographers - and so the geological and the chimerical get mingled.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Ed Park interviewed at the L Magazine:
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?

In my twenties I memorized the prices of the cheap meals I regularly ate — the lunch special at Taj Mahal on 4th Street, for example, or the big roast chicken at the now defunct Cuban Chinese place near 100th. I would make sure I had the exact change necessary for the tip, so that I could put the money on the table and leave quickly. I don’t know that this had any value beyond contributing to my ability to tell you this story now, years later.
Reminds me of a line a student of mine wrote a very long time ago now, in a creative writing assignment (for the Daily Themes class as taught by Wayne Koestenbaum, probably spring of 1996): "When I'm hungry, I memorize well." Hmmm, I wish I could remember that student's last name, I would think she's probably still writing...

Getting past the bouncer of Club Normal

Colson Whitehead interviewed at The Rumpus.

I am very eager for a copy of Sag Harbor...

The other future

Lev Grossman on the Star Trek franchise.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Samuel Johnson, from the Life of Pope, on why it took Pope five years to translate Homer:
When we find him translating fifty lines a day, it is natural to suppose that he would have brought his work to a more speedy conclusion. The Iliad, containing less than sixteen thousand verses, might have been despatched in less than three hundred and twenty days by fifty verses in a day. The notes, compiled with the assistance of his mercenaries, could not be supposed to require more time than the text. According to this calculation, the progress of Pope may seem to have been slow; but the distance is commonly very great between actual performance and speculative possibility. It is natural to suppose, that as much as has been done to-day may be done to-morrow – but on the morrow some difficulty emerges, or some external impediment obstructs. Indolence, interruption, business, and pleasure, all take their turns of retardation; and every long work is lengthened by a thousand causes that can, and ten thousand that cannot, be recounted. Perhaps no extensive and multifarious performance was ever effected within the term originally fixed in the undertaker’s mind. He that runs against Time, has an antagonist not subject to casualties.


This is incredibly ingenious! (Via SMCISS.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Beyond psychiatric help

"We must eat the weevils, they contain protein."

Wichita Kids

Even novel-reading can only do SO much to fend off end-of-semester end-of-tetheredness...

The last book I loved. (And Margaret Leroy's website is here.)

Other sustenance: Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton (some of the voices ring truer than others, but it is a wonderfully good book, I very much look forward to reading her next one); Carol O'Connell's Crime School (I don't know how I missed this the first time round, I would have said I'd read all of her books - they are odd, but there is something irresistible about them, though I do not think that any of the Mallory books are as good as the standalone thriller The Judas Child); Harlan Coben's Hold Tight.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"And also, I didn't want the pigs to eat her"

Jane Goodall interviewed at Salon. (Thanks to Shanna for the link.)

Status updates

Sree Sreenivasan's tips for Twitter newbies.

(I am trying to sell myself on it - I finally signed up for an account last week, after deciding that it was foolish for me to dismiss it without having even tried it - I will give it a few months - but I think it is not for me. Not least because I don't text-message, either, or [really!] ever use my cellphone out of the house unless I absolutely have to - and I would think that a great part of the Twitter appeal is that it can be done from a mobile device. I think I do not have a great urge to update the world on my status!)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Gîte to gîte

James Lasdun always feels very much among his kind when he steps into a Dostoevsky novel. (FT site registration required.)

Tapping a vein

This fellow really has hit the jackpot!

(Hmmm, I have been worrying a lot about money recently - like almost everyone else in the world! - I do not know that setting out to write a bestseller really is the way to write one, there is an element of the fortuitous that seems somewhat beyond rational ken, but it certainly would be convenient if I came up with a highly lucrative book project in the near future...)

The story is by Alison Flood, for the Guardian:
"I wouldn't say anyone ever singlehandedly created anything (unless maybe they were in complete isolation for their entire lives and then suddenly invented Velcro or something) but I do think that Seth has tapped a vein here," said acquiring editor Ben Greenberg. "I had been aware of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies when the online buzz started a while back, and so when this idea was pitched, it just immediately made sense to me and I thought it was a great direction for him."

The first book, said Greenberg, will be Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, "a presidential biography in the vein of a Doris Kearns Goodwin or David McCullough, but repositioning the president as the greatest vampire hunter to walk the earth". Unlike Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, there is no source material, so the novel will be all original writing. "But rather than just toss vampires in wherever he feels, Seth is doing a lot of research to see where they could fit in properly to the actual events of Lincoln's life – from childhood on," said Greenberg.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The knowledge

At the WSJ, Jeremy Philips on Andrew Lih's history of Wikipedia. (Via Bookforum.)

And while we are on the topic of information, here's a nice bit from Dorothy Wickenden's piece in this week's New Yorker, on the teacher certification exam that her grandmother and grandmother's friend (both Smith graduates) had to pass in order to teach in Colorado in 1916:
[T]he tests turned out to be more idiosyncratic than they had expected, including questions such as "Describe the changes that take place in 'egg on toast' during the process of digestion," "Explain methods of bidding on and letting road work by contract," and "Give a physiological reason for not boxing children's ears."

Monday, April 13, 2009


A student book review competition at the Rumpus - 600-1500-word reviews, by undergraduates or graduate students, of anything interesting in the literary fiction/memoir/creative non-fiction vein (publication dates irrelevant) - first prize is $200 and publication in the Rumpus - deadline June 1...


It does not take into account the heaps and heaps of student work that will need to be commented upon, the talks that must be attended, the countless meetings, etc. etc., but this actually looks as though I might be able to make it through until the end of the semester...

(It is funny - I have never put together two different syllabi in chronological order in this way, though it is obviously the way one experiences the teaching week.)

4/14 Laclos, Dangerous Liaisons (1782); Tom Keymer, Richardson’s Clarissa and the Eighteenth-Century Reader (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992), 1-15

4/15 Swift, “The Progress of Beauty,” “The Furniture of a Woman’s Mind,” “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” “Strephon and Chloe,” “Cassinus and Peter,” poems on Stella’s birthdays

4/20 Swift, “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift,” “Cadenus and Vanessa”

4/21 Sade, Justine (1797); Maurice Blanchot, “Sade’s Reason,” in Lautréamont and Sade, trans. Stuart Kendall and Michelle Kendall (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2004), 7-41; Gilles Deleuze, “Coldness and Cruelty,” in Masochism (New York: Zone Books, 1999)

4/22 Johnson, “London,” “The Vanity of Human Wishes,” Life of Pope

4/27 Wordsworth, "Preface to Lyrical Ballads" (sel.), “Peter Bell,” “The Thorn”; Shelley, “Peter Bell III”

4/28 Terry Eagleton, from Literary Theory: An Introduction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 91-126; Gérard Genette, from Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, transl. Jane E. Lewin (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1980), 212-262; Mieke Bal, from Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, 2nd ed. (Toronto, Buffalo and London: U of Toronto P, 1997), 16-77

4/29 Byron, Don Juan (selections)

5/4 Austen, early satires

5/5 Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824); Dorrit Cohn, from Transparent Minds: Narratives Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction, as excerpted in Theory of the Novel, ed. McKeon, 493-514; Stephen M. Ross, from Fiction’s Inexhaustible Voice: Speech and Writing in Faulkner (Athens and London: U of Georgia P, 1989), 1-17

Sylphs, gnomes, nymphs, salamanders

Often Wikipedia does right by me - students are not supposed to cite it in academic papers, but on certain topics it is irreplaceable by any other resource barring direct interviewing of an expert - but I must say (I am getting some background stuff together for today's lecture on Pope's "Rape of the Lock") that the entry on the Comte de Gabalis leaves something to be desired...

The happy medium?

From David Hume, "Of Simplicity and Refinement in Writing":
That though excesses of both kinds are to be avoided, and though a proper medium ought to be studied in all productions; yet this medium lies not in a point, but admits of a considerable latitude. Consider the wide distance, in this respect, between Mr. POPE and LUCRETIUS. These seem to lie in the two greatest extremes of refinement and simplicity, in which a poet can indulge himself, without being guilty of any blameable excess. All this interval may be filled with poets, who may differ from each other, but may be equally admirable, each in his peculiar stile and manner. CORNEILLE and CONGREVE, who carry their wit and refinement somewhat farther than Mr. POPE (if poets of so different a kind can be compared together), and SOPHOCLES and TERENCE, who are more simple than LUCRETIUS, seem to have gone out of that medium, in which the most perfect productions are found, and to be guilty of some excess in these opposite characters. Of all the great poets, VIRGIL and RACINE, in my opinion, lie nearest the center, and are the farthest removed from both the extremities.

Powers of Sontag

At TNR, Daniel Mendelsohn has a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay about Susan Sontag. (Link courtesy of The Elegant Variation.)

Mendelsohn makes the case that Sontag misunderstood her own strengths (as critic versus novelist) and affiliations (with the eighteenth century rather than the nineteenth):
This journal reveals a person for whom, however much she saw herself as a sensualist, the cognitive and the analytical invariably dominated the erotic and the affective. ("Emotionally, I wanted to stay," Sontag wrote of her decision to leave home and family in Los Angeles for Berkeley. "Intellectually, I wanted to leave." She left.) The inevitable triumph of the head over the heart in these pages defies, I think, a description of his mother that Rieff gives in his preface. In speaking of Sontag's extraordinary literary ambition, he compares her to Balzac's Lucien de Rubempre, the hero of Lost Illusions, the talented youth who comes from the provinces to find literary fame in Paris: a comparison that concludes with his summary explanation of Sontag as a "nineteenth-century consciousness." It is a judgment, you suspect, with which Sontag, with her insatiable avidity for experience and her penchant for the Continental novel as model of the highest form of literary activity, would have concurred.

And yet when you survey her career with an eye as coolly dispassionate as the one she trained on so many objects, it becomes obvious that, temperamentally, she belonged to another century entirely. Her failure to understand just which century it was accounts for the sense you often get, taking the work as a whole, of aspirations that were at odds with her temperament and her talent; and it explains a great deal about both the strengths and the weaknesses of her work, and also the strange fascination that she exerted.


At the Root, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has a very nice piece on on John Hope Franklin. (Via Bookforum.)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thagomizer, HSK, quark

At the Telegraph, Tim Martin on some matters of terminology left unplumbed by the excellent-sounding Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction (here is the blog post by author Jeff Prucher that seems to have spurred Martin's piece):
The present collective nouns for a group of baboons – by rights, either a troop or congress – are, it seems, under threat from an interloper to their territory that comes straight from an old episode of Not the Nine O’Clock News. The sketch in question, featuring a talking gorilla called Gerald who rips his captor and teacher to intellectual shreds on a television show (“It’s a whoop, professor, a whoop of gorillas. It’s a flange of baboons”), has proved so popular online that its central gag has merged with serious primatology. The lexicologists at the OED’s Ask Oxford website now cheerfully list “flange” in first place as a collective noun for baboons.

Dramatic endings

Deborah Solomon interviews Joyce Carol Oates in the Times Magazine: "The cleaning is something I use as a reward if I get some work done. I go into a very happy state of mind when I’m vacuuming. I think some of my male colleagues, like Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, are completely denied this pleasure."

Friday, April 10, 2009


Ugh, my life has not had nearly enough novel-reading in it recently - once I get really busy with the semester, I do not have the attention to spare to ensure the right pipeline of light reading...

I did pick up a few crime novels the other week, in one of those moods where somehow (implausibly) nothing unread in my apartment seems at all appealing and I feel that the pristine bookshelves of the local chain bookstore must hold something more magical for me. So: Laura Lippman's Life Sentences, which I enjoyed quite a bit but which was rather cast into the shade by Richard Price's truly extraordinary Lush Life (I think the book's only significant flaw is that you could not really say it shows much of a sense of humor).

Well worth reading, though it is also not exactly funny (unless you have a very gruesome sense of humor), is Dave Zeltserman's Small Crimes - I thought it was really excellent - sort of Jim Thompson by way of Charlie Williams - I like these first-person novels, noir on a very modest and sly and insinuating scale - highly recommended.

Tearing my hair out

The literary convention of using facial expressions and bodily gestures as a shorthand for the notation of emotion. (Via Bookforum.)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Jane bites back

"Anything is better with zombies."

Downright vulgarity

From Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel:
It would appear, then, that the function of language is much more largely referential in the novel than in other literary forms; that the genre itself works by exhaustive presentation rather than by elegant concentration. This fact would no doubt explain both why the novel is the most translatable of the genres; why many undoubtedly great novelists, from Richardson and Balzac to Hardy and Dostoevsky, often write gracelessly, and sometimes with downright vulgarity; and why the novel has less need of historical and literary commentary than other genres--its formal convention forces it to supply its own footnotes.

Missing letters

This seems to me funny.

Also: ongoing trials and tribulations of A.L. Kennedy.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Et in Arcadia ego

From Franco Moretti, The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture:
Let us begin with a question: how is it that we have Freudian interpretations of tragedy and myth, of fairy tale and comedy--yet nothing comparable for the novel? For the same reason, I believe, that we have no solid Freudian analysis of youth: because the raison d'être of psychoanalysis lies in breaking up the psyche into its opposing "forces"--whereas youth and the novel have the opposite task of fusing, or at least bringing together, the conflicting features of individual personality. Because, in other words, psychoanalysis always looks beyond the Ego--whereas the Bildungsroman attempts to build the Ego, and make it the indisuptable center of its own structure.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Terry Pratchett's new Discworld novel (Unseen Academicals!) is one of the top two most-desired Light Reading titles right now - the other is Lee Child's new Jack Reacher book! Hmmmm, maybe someone has an extra ARC they will send to me - official release date is May 19 - that is TOO LONG FROM NOW! - though on the other hand, I could pre-order it and have it delivered to me here as part of the strenuous post-triathlon relaxation program, or buy it in the airport on the way home at the end of the week...

[ED. For clarity, I should observe that I was afflicted with a fit of Reachermania - the May pub date is for the Lee Child book; Terry Pratchett's isn't coming out until October!]

Treacle Mine Road

British town 'twinned' with Discworld capital Ankh-Morpork - and a fuller account at the Independent.

(NB photo accompanying second story makes me feel I must adopt a more striking style of authorial dress.)

Saturday, April 04, 2009

"The pages turn themselves"

Gaby Wood has a strangely interesting James Patterson interview at the Observer:
The genius of Patterson's collaborative method is its salesmanship. His co-authors are plainly credited on the covers in a font several point sizes smaller, but the books are always James Patterson books. Patterson used to be chief executive at the ad agency J Walter Thompson, and he knows a thing or two about branding. So savvy is he that he has become the subject of an MBA course at Harvard. (The professor, John Deighton, had heard Patterson give a talk and was stunned by his canniness. "I'd never actually heard a product speak," Deighton said. "It was like listening to a can of Coca-Cola describe how it would like to be marketed.")

The End of the County Cheese Princess' Reign

A lovely poem by Daphne Gottlieb.


On the genetics of dog breeding: "Dog coats come in three forms: smooth (ie, short), long and wiry. Some dogs also have what fanciers refer to as 'furniture', notably moustaches. Dr Ostrander found that 80% of the variation between breeds in coat form and furniture was explained by differences in just three genes."

On Bob Marley: "Marley, as Toynbee writes, was initially skeptical about Perkins's contribution, but came around on hearing the subtle color his work added; he signaled his approval by offering Perkins a draw on his personal marijuana cigar (or 'spliff')."

Friday, April 03, 2009

Survival strategies

At the Guardian, Margaret Drabble on depression:
I learned my strategies. The walking cure, the talking cure, the Samaritans in emergencies, the bouts of inept gardening, the bottle of whisky, the long hours of lonely work, the bold decision to throw a party - and, of late, the comforting jigsaw puzzle, which has been my friend through the last few years.


The most secure vehicles in the world. (Via Maia Gemmill.)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Famous British Librarians

At the TLS, John Shakespeare has a rather wonderful piece about the interview he did with Philip Larkin as a young man. (The moral of the tale is clearly that one should not give the subject of one's profiles the opportunity to review the text of the piece!) Here's a funny bit:
"I hate work. Libraries are a quite pleasant way of earning a living. Dismal prospects though! Jobs connected with books like publishing are not good for creative writing. That’s why libraries, all technical and administration, are so good."

He added wistfully: “It’s too late to change now”, and, only half in jest:

"I’d like to have been a solid, uncomplicated, second-rate novelist producing a novel a year. And not 'Crouch in the fo’c’sle, stubbly with goodness'. My only ambition now is to write more, to write better and to live without working, which is immensely distasteful to me. I’d like to earn enough to retire on from football pools, which I do every autumn."

I asked him if that really was his only ambition. His answer was that, as he had spent most of his life in bedsitting rooms and was still in one (“the only life I have known”), he would also like to achieve his two private symbols of luxury, “my own lavatory and a daily copy of The Times”.