Sunday, January 31, 2010


I like the British genre of the review which, while otherwise favorable, enumerates a paragraph or two of errors in the penultimate paragraph:
Murdoch’s youthful mind is as sharp and polished as a sword, but Conradi’s editing is not. Random footnotes pop up like glove puppets interrupting a soliloquy, to explain that “Je t’aime” means “I love you” and that Baudelaire is a French poet. There is no index, there are typos galore and a footnote that refers to the missing last page of Thompson’s final letter to Murdoch is itself tantalisingly unfinished — “how Frank signed off his last letter we will probably never”.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"On the Subject of Sex"

At the NYTBR, Ben Macintyre reviews Christopher Andrew's history of MI5:
Perhaps inevitably, in an organization relying on imagination and subterfuge, the ranks of MI5 included more than a fair share of eccentrics and fantasists. Among the most notable of these was one Maxwell Knight, whose agents successfully penetrated both Fascist and Communist networks in London. He was also a passionate naturalist who went on to become “Uncle Max,” a much loved children’s broadcaster on the BBC.

Knight could often be seen taking his pet bear, Bessie, for walks around London. He published the definitive book on how to keep a domesticated gorilla. He also wrote a delightful internal MI5 memo, “On the Subject of Sex, in connection with using women as agents.” This declares: “It is difficult to imagine anything more terrifying than for an officer to become landed with a woman agent who suffers from an overdose of Sex.” (Knight consistently capitalizes “Sex,” of which he was plainly ­terrified.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Mellifluous selves

At the Guardian Review, Rachel Cusk considers the apparently well-meaning question, posed to many university lecturers in creative writing, of whether writing can be taught:
[W]riting, more than any other art, is indexed to the worthiness of the self because it is identified in people's minds with emotion. When a child writes a story she experiences her personal world as something socially valuable: her egotism, if you will, is configured as a force for good; by writing she makes herself important, she asserts her equality with – and becomes conterminous with – everything around her.

But as she grows older this situation changes. She is no longer "good" at writing. This is partly because she sees that its representational burden has become more complex. But it is also because the nature of her own importance is no longer quite so clear. The private and the public have become uncoupled; and consequently there now appear to be two kinds of writing where before there was one. There is the private, emotional writing and there is the public, representational writing. The first is too subjective to be anything other than a secret; and the second is too daunting, too objective, to attempt.

Money, freedom, anxiety

A great piece by John Lanchester at the FT on how he came to write a book about money (FT site registration required).

Cockles and mussels

Archeologists sift through remains to determine Elizabethan theatergoers' snack preferences:
The preferred snacks for Tudor theatre-goers appear to have been oysters, crabs, cockles, mussels, periwinkles and whelks, as well as walnuts, hazelnuts, raisins, plums, cherries, dried figs and peaches.

Some clues even suggest that 16th-century fans of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe also ploughed through vast quantities of elderberry and blackberry pie – and some may even have snacked on sturgeon steaks.
Bonus link: a nice WNYC piece about Tino's Guggenheim exhibit - I did a shift this afternoon, it was quite tiring but also very enjoyable...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wednesday miscellany

The second paragraph of this piece was so extraordinarily vicious that I read to the end with a kind of enthralled fascination! I have no reason to disagree with its verdict, and I too am rendered extraordinarily irritable by slack writing, but it has also always seemed to me that it is bad for the soul to write a review of this ilk very often...

At, Fabio Fernandes on translating A Clockwork Orange into Brazilian Portuguese.

A countdown of the hundred best fantasy and science-fiction novels?

The syllabus for Matthew Kirschenbaum's graduate seminar on simulations.

Last but not least: Charlie Williams prefers typecasting to podcasting.

This week's mostly all about catching up on miscellaneous medical appointments (nothing major), rehearsing for Tino's Guggenheim piece and trying to sort out a good exercise routine - not doing so well on the last front, but it is a work in progress. The other major activity is a massive reading binge - at the humane society charity shop in Cayman, one of the volumes I picked up was Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolo Rising. I liked Dunnett's mystery novels very much when I was a teenager, but her historical ones never held much appeal for me, despite my dear friend E.B.T.'s enthusiastic advocacy of them during our grad school years. But long is good when it comes to charity-shop light reading, and though I wouldn't say it's my perfect light reading (also it suffers from the unfortunate juxtaposition with Hilary Mantel's really brilliant Wolf Hall!), I certainly enjoyed the first installment enough to go and check out volumes two through seven from the Barnard Library yesterday.

(Where, by the way, I ran into a colleague of mine who is also doing Tino's piece - and as we discussed it, the young lady behind the library checkout counter exclaimed, "Are you doing Tino's piece? So am I!" It is a cast of thousands!)

There is something truly lovely and addictive about reading through a huge series in a relatively small amount of time. I read Lian Hearn's trilogy like that; Susan Howatch is perhaps my most recent long immersive series-reading experience, at least the one that comes most strongly to mind; but I was reminded as I plucked Dunnetts from the shelf of how I held out for a long time against the Aubrey-Maturin novels and then read the first one and basically couldn't really do anything else until I had read all of them - every day I went to Cross-Campus Library at Yale and checked out another armful or four or five of them and took them home and read them all, four or five days later I was done and wished I had eked them out for longer, but it was well worth it!

(On which note, I will conclude by adding that Vikram Seth is writing a sequel to A Suitable Boy, another long book I read in fits of transport...)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Light reading miscellany

This seems to be the first week of rest and relaxation I have had for an almost inconceivably long time - I am still battling the last bits of a lung ailment, but have hopes I will shake it soon...

Various light reading from the humane society stack:

Frances Fyfield's Seeking Sanctuary (a bit too much in the vein of Ruth Rendell's Barbara Vine novels, which I'm not crazy about, but not at all bad).

Natasha Mostert, Season of the Witch (a bit goofy, but I really enjoyed it - I want to write a novel of the occult sometime!)

Mary Renault, Funeral Games - it was fortuitous to find this at the shop, as I had plucked my old copies of the first two Alexander books from my mother's bookshelf over Xmas and brought them with me to read on the plane. I think the middle book in the trilogy is much the strongest, but I still enjoyed this one quite a bit...

And last and best, a truly enthralling book, Lian Hearn's Heaven's Net is Wide. I remember discovering the first of the Tales of the Otori in the Columbia bookstore some years ago and basically just reading it in a mesmerized fit, then having to traipse all over town to get the next installments RIGHT AWAY, I could not wait - they are very lovely, reading this one (a prequel) makes me feel that I must reread the others...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Polished withholding

Bob Thompson on his life interviewing writers for the Washington Post (thanks to Ian C.-B. for the link):
Her husband, John Gregory Dunne, also a writer, had drilled into her the need for a “billboard” — a short passage, early in your story, that tells readers what it will be about. So when the time came, she typed one in. It mentions marriage, children, illness, memory, and disorienting grief, and it includes the best description I’ve seen of Didion’s pre-Magical Thinking literary persona. “As a writer, even as a child,” she writes, “I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought or believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish.”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Aphorizing public menaces"

From Thomas Bernhard, The Loser (the protagonist is speaking of his dead friend Wertheimer, whose suicide is obliquely prompted by the revelation that besides the perfection of Glenn Gould's performance of the Goldberg Variations it is not worth playing the piano at all - the "I thought" is the tag that keeps the narrative firmly grounded in the speaker's ruminations):
He was an aphorism writer, there are countless aphorisms of his, I thought, one can assume he destroyed them, I write aphorisms, he said over and over, I thought, that is a minor art of the intellectual asthma from which certain people, above all in France, have lived and still live, so-called half philosophers for nurses' night tables, I could also say calendar philosophers for everybody and anybody, whose sayings eventually find their way onto the walls of every dentist's waiting room; the so-called depressing ones are, like the so-called cheerful ones, equally disgusting. But I haven't been able to get rid of my habit of writing aphorisms, in the end I'm afraid I will have written millions of them, he said, I thought, and I'd be well advised to start destroying them since I don't plan to have the walls of every dentist's office and church papered with them one day, as they are now with Goethe, Lichtenberg and comrades, he said, I thought. Since I wasn't born to be a philosopher I turned myself into an aphorist, not entirely unconsciously I must say, turned myself into one of those disgusting tagalongs of philosophy who exist by the thousands, he said, I thought. To produce a huge effect with tiny ideas and deceive mankind, he said, I thought. In reality I'm nothing other than one of those aphorizing public menaces who, in their boundless unscrupulousness and impudence, tag along behind philosophers like horseflies behind a horse, he said, I thought.
(I did not find this one nearly as compelling as Wittgenstein's Nephew, but wonder how much of that might have been due to different translators - but no, the other book is funnier, sharper...)


Bob Cornwell interviews Peter Temple about his new book Truth, which will appear in the US in May (but you can get The Broken Shore right now...):
BC: You talked about your occasional disagreement with your Australian publisher over your paring down of the prose style. Was the occasional compromise required?

PT: If you trust an editor then you must take the person's concerns seriously. There are very few trustable editors, as there are very few good mechanics. I am at the mercy of two excellent practitioners, Michael Heyward and Penny Hueston [at Text Publishing, Temple’s Australian publishers]. They would have made good jockeys: strong in the upper body, in the habit of walking the track before the race to get a feel for the going. When told by one or both of them that the reader would never make sense of something unless I was more explicit, I sometimes gave way.
................................Reluctantly. They turned out to be right most of the time.
(Link courtesy of Sarah.)

January ploys redux

I have a desk in Cayman! (Thanks, Brent!)

On a related note, I'm speaking about the bread and butter of the novel on Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 4:30 to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century colloquium of Princeton's English Department - stop by and say hello if you are in that neck of the woods...

January ploys

Grand Cayman has a truly excellent bookstore called Books & Books, but prices are high and it is simply not an acceptable way to replenish the light reading supply. Yesterday I set foot for the first time in a most amazing alternative, the Cayman Humane Society "Book Loft". It is a collection of books almost perfectly tailored to my light reading needs, as it is overwhelmingly books people have brought here on holiday and not wanted to take away with them again, with a strong British-Canadian-Australian bent rather than centrally USian so that there are lots of things I have not already picked up in US airport bookstores.

This is the first haul, but I am very certain the place will be the source of a good ongoing flow of light reading:

Meanwhile when I get back to New York a week from now I have some massive library-book-returning and office-unpacking to do - I have this awful situation in my office in which I never unpacked when I first moved in last year, it has become in my mind a task of monumental proportions, but I am just going to buy a box of contractor-strength trash bags and go in and ruthlessly purge....

Sunday miscellany

Werner Herzog was once shot by an "insignificant bullet."

Alice's love affair with the chalkboard. (The underlying link to Anne Trubek's article on the history of handwriting is highly worthwhile.)

Amy Davidson interviews Jon Lee Anderson about current conditions in Port-au-Prince.

I just finished reading Per Pettersen's Out Stealing Horses; the ARC has been on my shelves for years now, but for some reason I never got around to reading it. It is a spectacularly good novel! Hmmm, must get and read his other books...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Breeding redux

Clearly there is a one-year lag time for academic book reviews to appear, even in best-case scenario! I was very pleased, though, to see this review of my book on breeding by Patricia Meyer Spacks (link will only work for Columbia affiliates). Here are the first two paragraphs:
The twenty‐six‐page bibliography of works cited in Breeding includes, at the front of the alphabet, James Adams, The Pronunciation of the English Language Vindicated from Imputed Anomaly and Caprice (1799). At the alphabet’s end, we find Slavoj Žižek, “Bring Me My Phillips Mental Jacket” (2003). The historical and conceptual distance between the two hints at the range of the material Jenny Davidson investigates and the imagination with which she deploys evidence in her bold study of intersections between nature and culture, primarily in eighteenth-century British thought.

As the book’s arresting first sentence may suggest, the project here entails a discursive definition of breeding. “The word breeding,” Davidson begins, “sets a place for nature at culture’s table” (1). With both biological and pedagogical import, the noun encourages reflection about relations between natural processes and human interventions as well as about complex and divergent attitudes toward both. The author, a literary scholar, brings to her enterprise the skills of an attentive reader and a sophisticated researcher. She considers an impressive body of literary, scientific, and philosophic texts that shed light on one another, and she points out that our belief in the diversity of the intellectual disciplines involved itself constitutes a relatively recent development. The pressing issues of the past that Davidson contemplates possess twenty-first-century urgency as well, in the form of debates about genetics. Breeding does not purport to resolve such debates, but it argues for the value of understanding their continuity with historically remote and frequently obscure controversies. In a graceful, often informal, style, the book supplies abundant information and provocative analysis. To read it is to become both enlightened and engaged.
It is self-aggrandizing to post these reviews, but one works for such a long time on a book like this, it is gratifying to get a generous review and think about people actually reading it!


At the Times Magazine, a nice profile of Tino Sehgal by Arthur Lubow. I am participating in the Guggenheim piece (I guess I am one of the college instructors alluded to as a group in the article!) - will post more details as they emerge if you are curious to come and see it...


What have I been reading? Hmmm...

Galen Beckett, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent (very enjoyable, but not as good as Ellen Kushner - and the Austen pastiche works better than the Bronte pastiche).

Michael Crichton, Next (verging on satire rather than suspense, but quite readable - not his best, but then again Crichton could write a halfway decent novel in his sleep).

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall. I liked it very much indeed, though I was struggling in the back of my mind as I read to articulate why it is that I do not in the end find Mantel to be in the very top rank of novelists. In a way she's too much of a thinker rather than a writer - it makes her novels attractive to me, but the prose itself does not stand out on the grounds of style, it's more a question of striking ideas.

(I read A Place of Greater Safety in 1993, on the recommendation of Simon Schama, and it certainly prompted me to read all of her other books, though many of them are depressing enough that they can't be called favorites - I do think that I would rate Beyond Black slightly above Wolf Hall, but then Wolf Hall is by far the more enjoyable read due to its subject matter.)

I love historical novels, I grew up reading Robert Graves and Mary Renault and Gore Vidal - and I also read Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time at an impressionable age. In other words, when I was ten or eleven Tudor history was on my short list of particular obsessions - I had a poster of that famous portrait of Richard III on the wall of my bedroom, and pored over biographies of Thomas More and so forth. I really, really like what Mantel's done here - the language is fresh (I was skeptical about the choice to write in the present tense, but it works, and she's got an unorthodox but appealing way of using the pronoun "he" as a way of centering the book almost completely inside Thomas Cromwell's head). The characters and the history are immensely appealingly dealt with, and the sheer scope of Mantel's novelistic imagination is perhaps the most impressive thing of all.

My one criticism is that when one turns to sentences and paragraphs, they are much less striking than the overall picture or the intellectual or psychological insights - the book is studded with paragraphs that have a sort of "meta-" or philosophical status, Cromwell is a person of insights, but they are too banal in their phrasing to be worth quoting on stylistic grounds. Which I think is a shortcoming - but it is certainly one of the best novels I've read for quite some time. She has developed a system of notation that is original and highly effective, but it is very much a creation of artifice - as opposed to Peter Temple, say, whose sentences make me feel as though he has actually discovered an almost completely foreign and yet strangely inevitable system for the transcription of reality that truly rocks me off my foundations...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bloater paste

At the Guardian, Tim Hayward on the perils of nostalgia for childhood foods:
Meat and fish pastes are still around. They exist in a weird little timewarp of forgotten but much-loved Victorian prepared foods along with corned beef, custard powder and tinned meat pies. We should be thinking fondly of them, potted ox-cheek, brown shrimp, rabbit and haddock pepper the menus of every Mod Brit restaurant in the country - achingly fashionable statements of thrift and authenticity. We should even doff our hats at the cooking method. Pastes are actually cooked inside those little pop-top jars - the same way as the foie gras or rillettes we disloyally rush to buy on trips to French supermarkets. Should you doubt me, read Sue Shepard's masterful work on the subject; 'Pickled, Potted and Canned' which isn't subtitled 'How meat paste created the British Empire' but should have been.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The world's first sex robot?

"Sex only goes so far - then you want to be able to talk to the person."


A lovely review of Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century at the website of the British Society for Literature and Science.

On the road

I've been traveling a bit - Florida is freezingly cold, but I was Keeper for a Day at Busch Gardens, threw fish into a pelican's beak, tipped 'chunk meat' into troughs for various birds to feed on, laid out 'flakes' of hay for giraffes and various other exotic hoofstock, saw baby kangaroos and wallabies bottle-fed and held a two-toed sloth in my arms - it was amazing feeling it sort of hook itself onto me and suspend itself in a supremely lazy and incredibly efficient fashion! (Here is a picture, not mine, of the sloth in question.)

Light reading catch-up:

The four novels by Octavia Butler collected in Seed to Harvest are really extraordinary - very unusual, very good, very much what I really enjoy reading. There is something about her writing that reminds me, though on the face of it they are entirely different, of the stories of Edward P. Jones - both have developed quite unusual techniques in order to capture something of the sheer duration of slavery and the way it has affected human lives. I've read three or four of Butler's other books, but it seems to me it would be worth really going back to everything and reading through in order - I wouldn't mind writing a short thing about her one of these days.

Hit the Waldenbooks in the Tampa shopping mall yesterday for some emergency light reading, I had brought a novel by Stendhal with me but found I was not in the mood! Plucked a few crime novels from the bargain shelves - Robert Crais's The Two-Minute Rule (very good, because everything he writes is very good, but perhaps not my absolute favorite of his) and P. D. James's The Lighthouse. There is one scene late in the book (it involves rock-climbing) that I thought was electrifyingly well-written; the rest of the book was a bit blah. I read her more recent one a few weeks ago, too, that is to say The Private Patient: for the first four or five chapters, I was thinking to myself something like "Why am I always speaking so disparagingly of P.D. James and how much I hate her recent novels? This isn't half bad!" But I grew increasingly weary of the way she 'follows' different characters - they all seem to have exactly the same texture of thought, and it is an essentially falsifying way of representing human subjectivity and human life, it irks me! Also, of course, my main source of irk (other than the slight pretentiousness and dominant upper-middle-class certainty of the writing - I can't read Ian McEwan these days either...) is the tiresome Adam Dalgliesh - faced with the conundrum of whether to age him into retirement or arrest his development even as time moved forward, James chose the latter option, but it has left her with a completely implausible creation, a time-traveler from another generation who simply could not exist in the present day in his present incarnation without seeming a much more peculiar and anomalous figure than he was initially meant to be.

(And I saw the Sherlock Holmes movie yesterday - very enjoyable - and Avatar last week - first hour and a half much more transporting than the absurd political developments of the last forty-five minutes, and certainly the texture of the film is much superior to the storytelling itself - but it is good to unwind a bit from the stresses of last semester, though I guess I still have a ways further to go!)

Small worlds

Lovely miniature worlds crafted from ordinary materials and objects and photographed by Matthew Albanese (via The Rumpus).

Caption: "Paprika Mars. Made out of 12 pounds paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili powder and charcoal"

Friday, January 08, 2010

Iced buns

From the Guardian slideshow based on "A Visual History of Cookery":

A coloured engraving of various cakes, from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. The picture shows 1. Eclairs 2. Assorted fancy pastry 3. Sponge Savoy cake 4. Gâteau St. Honoré 5. Simnel Cake 6. Pancakes

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Light reading catch-up

I haven't read much recently, but should be coming into a nice stretch of reading and blogging a bit more prolifically.

I happened to be passing my local public library just after Xmas and saw it was open, popped in to see what I could glean from the shelves - mostly a load of RUBBISH, it turned out.

I enjoyed James Lee Burke's The Tin Roof Blowdown (incredibly depressing to think about Katrina and its aftermath), Mercedes Lackey's Foundation (generic and not particularly well-written, but I like this kind of book - I think Lackey is somewhat inferior to Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley, but I usually find her books worth reading in any case as they are so much the sort of thing I enjoy), Jennifer Weiner's Best Friends Forever (highly readable, but not so much my kind of thing - alas, the jokey mystery is not a favorite of mine - I am not a Susan Isaacs fan, either).

The other books in the pile were so drivelly that I could not finish any of 'em, it made me wonder how people can stand to either read or write such simple-minded things (I just about skimmed my way to the end of this, but I had to put this aside without finishing it - surely the early books in the series were far better?!? - and I found this nigh unreadable.)

On the plane down to Cayman, I read another of Morag Joss's books, Funeral Music; well-written, but somewhat preposterous in the plotting and I am also not crazy about the mildly satirical orientation towards the characters.

I also started rereading (and finished over the next day or so) Mary Renault's pair of novels about Alexander the Great. I really love Renault's novels, I grew up reading them (along with Robert Graves of course) - I picked these two up from my mother's house over Xmas after my friend and former student Julia Hoban mentioned one of them and reminded me how much I liked them when I was younger.

Fire from Heaven seems to me much less good than I remembered - it is written in the third person, unusually for Renault, and it is a voice that works much less well for her than the first. Rosemary Sutcliffe did this sort of thing much better in half-a-dozen of her books. But The Persian Boy is wonderful!

I read an amazingly good novel the other day, I would give it a very strong recommendation indeed and was surprised I had not heard more about it when it came out (but perhaps I just wasn't paying attention, 2009 was a year of having my mind on other things than literary fiction!). It is Michelle Huneven's Blame, and I truly loved it - beautifully written, both the characters and the setting are really wonderfully well-rendered and the book itself (it is the vein of Kate Christensen and Sigrid Nunez) is actually quite spectacularly good in an understated way.

Another good one (on a totally different note - I was combing the piles of unread books in my apartment the night before I left for Cayman and trying to find appealing things to take with me to read!): Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood. A one-joke book, but it is a very good joke, and beautifully well-executed. Also, one of the best cover designs I've seen in ages!

Rogue sociology

Just finished a really wonderful book, Loïc Wacquant's Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. I cannot now remember where I heard about this book (presumably it was cited in something else I must have been reading to do with sport, re: my obsession with swimming and techniques of the body), but it was excellent indeed. How can I never have read Bourdieu's "Program for a Sociology of Sport"? Hmmm, if I weren't so obsessed with language, I would have to be a sociologist instead of a literary critic, this particular kind of sociology is almost the most interesting thing I can think of...

(Swimming and boxing have a good deal in common - and one of the wonders of the modern world is that although I am sitting in a lounge at the Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman I have just pulled up an interesting reference from Wacquant, Daniel F. Chambliss's "The Mundanity of Excellence: An Ethnographic Report on STratification and Olympic Swimmers"...)

Anyway, here is my favorite bit, the meat of the book:
[S]parring is not only a physical exercise; it is also the means and support of a particularly intense form of "emotion work." Because "few lapses of self-control are punished as immediately and severely as loss of temper during a boxing bout" [ED. That is Konrad Lorenz], it is vital that one dominate at all times the impulses of one's affect. In the squared circle, one must be capable of managing one's emotions and know, according to the circumstances, how to contain or repress them or, on the contrary, how to stir and swell them; how to muzzle certain feelings (of anger, restiveness, frustration) so as to resist the blows, provocations, and verbal abuse dished out by one's opponent, as well as the "rough tactics" he may resort to (hitting below the belt or with his elbows, head-butting, rubbing his gloves into your eyes or over a facial cut in order to open it further, etc.); and how to call forth and amplify others (of aggressiveness or "controlled fury," for instance) at will while not letting them get out of hand.


To learn how to box is to imperceptibly modify one's bodily schema, one's relation to one's body and to the uses one usually puts it to, so as to internalize a set of dispositions that are inseparably mental and physical and that, in the long run, turn the body into a virtual punching machine, but an intelligent and creative machine capable of self-regulation while innovating within a fixed and relatively restricted panoply of moves as an instantaneous function of the actions of the opponent in time. The mutual imbrication of corporeal dispositions and mental dispositions reaches such a degree that even willpower, morale, determination, concentration, and the control of one's emotions change into so many reflexes inscribed within the organism. In the accomplished boxer, the mental becomes part of the physical and vice versa; body and mind function in total symbiosis.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

"We're really circumspect"

My favorite thing about the "Lunch with the FT" feature is seeing how each particular interviewer integrates discussion of the food with interviewee profiling, and I would say that William Leith does a very good and funny job interviewing Susie Orbach (FT site registration required):
“Take Rankin. He’s a fantastic photographer. He’s shot women of different sizes, and they look spectacular. They have glamour, they have pizzazz, they have that sense of, ‘Oh, that’s me!’ He’s taken pictures of people who were paraplegic who were very very stylish. So art directors are geniuses. And something happens in the visual cortex. What these art directors do affects us, and goes into us.”

Something is happening in my visual cortex. It is the waiter. We need to order, and quickly. Time is rushing by. Orbach orders a soup of Jerusalem artichokes to start – and another starter, a plate of scallops. No main course. She also orders a green salad. I go for Dorset crab, followed by halibut on a bed of vegetables, and a side order of dauphinoise potatoes.

Bagatelles pour un massacre

At the NYRB, Wyatt Mason considers Céline's anti-Semitism:
The language is, indeed, alive. In French particularly one registers the profound technical gift Céline possessed, his ability to sew vernacular into his syntactically exacting prose, prose Simon de Beauvoir called "a new instrument: writing as alive as speech." But the theme played on that instrument—"The truth is an endless death agony. The truth is death"—one repeated in book after book, is shallow and simpleminded. To read any single novel by Céline is to receive, in a bracing style, a hysterical primer on the abjection of being. To read them all is to register a unique species of racism: a hatred not of particular elements of humanity but of the human race as a whole. Thus Jean Giono said of Céline's writing, "If Céline had truly believed what he wrote, he would have killed himself."

The 2000s

At the Guardian, a celebration of some writers who died in the last decade: lots there of interest, including Geoff Dyer on W. G. Sebald and Ian Rankin on Muriel Spark.

When I find time to look back through the year's archives, I'll probably post a "favorites of 2009" list, though I don't think I read much this past year - 2010 should be a good year for reading, though...