Sunday, October 31, 2010

A bottle imp

An interesting and gruesome story of a lampshade made of human skin.

Herrings galore

Oliver Sacks is working on his backstroke. (Hat tip: Dave Lull.)

My favorite bit of the exchange:
[Pop Matters:] Time travel: where, when, and why?

[OS:] I would go back 300 million years or so, for I have always longed to see the earth in its Carboniferous age, long before mammals evolved, or even flowering plants. The planet was the domain of gymnosperms, non-flowering plants, then. There were ferns and tree ferns, and giant Calamites—segmented relatives of today’s horsetails, ten- or 20-meters high. There were huge Lepidodendron, a meter and a half in diameter, related to today’s tiny club mosses. And there were cycads, very similar to those that survive today.

A poached egg and a double Jack Daniels

How Athol Fugard came to stop drinking.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Avant-garde documentaries

Jonathan Lethem goes to the movies (via The Millions).

Three links

Charlie Stross bemoans the dominance of steampunk; Phil Nugent mourns the passing of the Walkman; Ed Park makes my mouth water.

The black cat club, readers' edition

A catalog of bookstore cats (via L. Lee Lowe).

A dried chameleon and the eardrum of a lion

At the TLS, a rather lovely reminiscence by William Dalrymple of his encounters with Bruce Chatwin (the occasion is the publication of a collection of Chatwin's letters). For me as a reader Chatwin has been eclipsed by Sebald, who seems to me immeasurably the greater writer, but I am attracted to Chatwin's curiosities of course - I think Dalrymple may slightly overstate Chatwin's current lack of fashionability?

Here's a good bit, anyway:
“I’ve never liked big books”, he writes while hard at work on The Viceroy of Ouidah, “so I don’t see why I should try and write them. Unless you’re Tolstoy most of the ‘great books’ of the world should have been cut in half.” One characteristic remark notes how “I have written four bad pages and will reduce them to a single line”. He also advises younger writers to avoid journalism “because ultimately it corrodes”, and while he occasionally writes for the TLS, he believes that “the besetting sin of all English writers is their fatal attraction for periodicals, their fascination for reviews and their passion for bickering in print. Resolution of the month: Never write for newspapers”. Above all he advises writers to avoid listening to reviews, which he says are “paralysing”: “Don’t flap too much about the critics – and never try to please them (it isn’t worth it). The function of an artist is to work for a) himself b) to leave something memorable, for the future, to shore up the ruins. Fuck the rest of them!”.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The third ear

From James Wood, How Fiction Works:
Nietzsche laments, in Beyond Good and Evil: "What a torment books written in German are for him who has a third ear." If prose is to be as well written as poetry--the old modernist hope--novelists and readers must develop their own third ears. We have to read musically, testing the precision and rhythm of a sentence, listening for the almost inaudible rustle of historical association clinging to the hems of modern words, attending to patterns, repetitions, echoes, deciding why one metaphor is successful and another is not, judging how the perfect placement of the right verb or adjective seals a sentence with mathematical finality.

An arabesque on the usual formula

A curious detail at the end of the NYT obituary for Eva Ibbotson, whose father was a physiologist who did pioneering work on artificial insemination:
Survivors include three sons, Piers, Toby and Justin; a daughter, Lalage; two half-siblings, Jonathan and Ruth, from her father’s second marriage; and seven grandchildren.

Because of her father’s dedication to his work — “Thanks to DNA profiling,” Piers Ibbotson said on Tuesday, “it’s been established that he did indeed ‘draw on his own resources’ ” when outside sperm donors could not be procured — Ms. Ibbotson is also survived by an additional raft of half-siblings whose precise number is unknown.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The authorial life

Thanks to Barry Eva of A Book and a Chat for a very enjoyable chat earlier this evening! (The interview's in MP3 format here.)

Plumb lines

Leonard Cassuto interviews Oliver Sacks for the B&N Review (link courtesy of Dave Lull). Lots there to ponder, but I was especially taken with this bit:
[OS] I'm tantalized by the inadequacy of all description. For example, with Parkinsonism, I think that an adequate description of someone with Parkinson's getting up and walking across the room would require 600 pages of dense prose, and it wouldn't have an extra word in it. It would also be enthralling and gripping. I like Clifford Geertz's notion of thick description. Things are never thick enough. I like the way how in a novel, ten seconds of consciousness, or thirty seconds of consciousness, can take fifty pages to describe.

LC: Then if I follow your thinking, the concrete is the plumb line that leads you into any sort of useful description of consciousness.

OS: Yes. By the same token I am somewhat tormented by the linearity of writing in a book. It would be nice if I could present a globe, with plumb lines dropping from every place, which is partly why I like footnotes. Kate [Sacks's assistant and frequent collaborator, Kate Edgar] has to restrain me from writing footnotes to footnotes. I think anything you look at deeply enough will take you to a great many things.

Out of sight, out of mind

I have a shameful confession: when I was in New York, people kept on saying "You have a book coming out soon, don't you?" At that point I would cringe internally and then stumble into an explanation of how I don't yet have a publisher for the little book on style and that it needs another round of revision . . . before suddenly realizing that yes, I do have a book coming out soon!

It is of course Invisible Things, sequel to The Explosionist and due out officially as of November 23.

I'll be devoting quite a bit of time over the coming month to doing various online publicity bits.

I'm excited about the Traveling to Teens blog tour that Steph Su has very generously arranged for me.

And this evening at 6:30pm eastern time, I'll be interviewed by Barry Eva for his Book and a Chat program; the program will be available afterward as a podcast, and I'll link to it then.

I like speaking in public and writing a blog, so this may seem self-contradictory, but I shrink from all forms of authorly self-promotion, and have been very slow to do what I need to vis-a-vis this stuff. I have to take the time here to thank my friend and former student Julia Hoban, author of the excellent Willow, for her help in this regard. She has kindly but firmly reminded me how important it is to do this sort of thing, and in fact she is directly responsible for both of these two publicity opportunities, as she recommended me to Barry for his show and sent me the link to the Traveling to Teens website, which I might not otherwise have seen!

Saturday, October 23, 2010


From Sterne's Sentimental Journey:
The old officer was reading attentively a small pamphlet, it might be the book of the opera, with a large pair of spectacles. As soon as I sat down, he took his spectacles off, and putting them into a shagreen case, return’d them and the book into his pocket together. I half rose up, and made him a bow.

Translate this into any civilized language in the world--the sense is this:

‘Here’s a poor stranger come in to the box--he seems as if he knew no body; and is never likely, was he to be seven years in Paris, if every man he comes near keeps his spectacles upon his nose—’tis shutting the door of conversation absolutely in his face--and using him worse than a German.’

The French officer might as well have said it all aloud; and if he had, I should in course have put the bow I made him into French too, and told him, ‘I was sensible of his attention, and return’d him a thousand thanks for it.’

There is not a secret so aiding to the progress of sociality, as to get master of this short hand, and be quick in rendering the several turns of looks and limbs, with all their inflections and delineations, into plain words. For my own part, by long habitude, I do it so mechanically, that when I walk the streets of London, I go translating all the way; and have more than once stood behind in the circle, where not three words have been said, and have brought off twenty different dialogues with me, which I could have fairly wrote down and sworn to.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The best possible images

Interesting piece by John Gapper at the FT about why Annie Leibovitz's pictures don't sell for as much money as Richard Avedon's (site registration required).

Salamander crossings

Maureen Tucker is fed up! (Via Carl Wilson.)

A queen of light reading

I was sorry to see just now that Eva Ibbotson has died; I really love her books, especially her earlier historical romances. Michelle Pauli had recently interviewed her for the Guardian; their conversation included this exchange, which made me laugh:
A degree and postgraduate study in physiology at Cambridge University, inspired by a mistaken desire to follow in her father's footsteps, proved to be a "complete disaster" – except for a meeting with the man she would spend the next 49 years of her life with, an ecologist called Alan Ibbotson.

"You've no idea what it was like in the labs those days! Blood spurting everywhere! I had these enormous rabbits and I had to take their temperature and they didn't like it. Who would? I spent my whole year at Cambridge with my hair stuck up with blood and scratch marks on my wrists," exclaims Ibbotson. "Then, fortunately, in a very unmodern and unfeminist way, Alan said he thought he'd better marry me and take me away from science. I have to say I was incredibly relieved."

Creeping chervil

James Jolly does a really excellent interview with Nico Muhly for Gramophone. This was a bit I particularly liked; it concerns Nico's score for the film adaptation of The Reader, it is the sort of thing I think about a lot:
At the end of the movie Hanna Schmitz has learned how to write and how to spell her name, and there’s been this cue that’s been in for a few minutes because we’re moving quickly through time, so there needs to be music there. And when she writes her name on a piece of paper to say she’s received a package or whatever you’ve a number of choices about what the music’s going to do. You think, “Well, we can give her something, we can give her a note there”, “We can not notice it” or we can kind of undercut it and make it sinister. It’s a question of a single pitch – it’s a G sharp or a G natural in the harp or the oboe or whatever. And the scary thing is that in the first draft I did, it had this note in it and it really made it seem like it was okay she killed all those people and that adult literacy is really good and good on her!

Shell games

A paragraph that completely blew my mind, when I first read it during my freshman year in a borrowed copy of Genette's Figures II (the aesthetic properties of those Editions du Seuil volumes are very strongly imprinted on my imagination) - I give it here in the translation of Alan Sheridan as published in Figures of Literary Discourse ("The Frontiers of Narrative"):
Direct imitation, as it functions on the stage, consists of gestures and speech. Insofar as it consists of gestures, it can obviously represent actions, but at this point it escapes from the linguistic plane, which is that in which the specific activity of the poet is practised. Insofar as it consists of words, discourse spoken by characters (and it goes without saying that in a narrative work the role of direct imitation is reduced to that), it is not strictly speaking representative, since it is confined to reproducing a real or fictitious discourse as such. It can be said that verses 12 to 16 of the Iliad, quoted above, give us a verbal representation of Chryses' actions, but the same cannot be said of the next five lines; they do not represent Chryses' speech: if this is a speech, actually spoken, they repeat it, literally, and if it is a fictitious speech, they constitute it, just as literally. In both cases, the work of representation is nil; in both cases, Homer's five lines are strictly identical with Chryses' speech: this is obviously not so in the case of the five narrative lines preceding it, which are in no way identical with Chryses' actions: "The word 'dog' does not bite," William James remarked. If we call poetic imitation the fact of representing by verbal means a non-verbal reality and, in exceptional circumstances, a verbal reality (as one calls pictorial imitation the fact of representing in pictorial means non-pictorial reality and, in exceptional circumstances, a pictorial reality), it must be admitted that imitation is to be found in the five narrative lines and not at all in the five dramatic lines, which consist simply in the interpolation, in the middle of a text representing events, of another text directly taken from those events: as if a seventeenth-century Dutch painter, anticipating certain modern methods, had placed in the middle of a still life, not the painting of an oyster shell, but a real oyster shell. I make this simplistic comparison in order to point out the profoundly heterogeneous character of a mode of expression to which we are so used that we do not perceive its most sudden changes of register.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


At the Independent, Michael Bywater on pens old and new and the perils and pleasures of handwriting.

(I saw one of these Livescribe smartpens recently and rather coveted it - it would be particularly useful for doing interviews where you weren't going to quote much, but needed to be able to find the relevant bits out of a longish recorded conversation.)


I did something this evening that made me feel very guilty: namely, I went to my favorite New York bookstore and surreptitiously noted down the names of books that I have now purchased from Amazon for Kindle. I did buy about $50 worth of merchandise at the real bookstore (Lydia Davis's new Madame Bovary translation, a 2011 weekly Moleskin planner - and yes, those two together totaled $47.80 with sales tax!), but I am now hunched over my computer at Starbucks guiltily gloating over my new acquisitions...

(I had eleven things on my list, with a twelfth added as I thought of it while looking at things on Amazon; perhaps it is worth noting that about two-thirds of the list was procurable via Kindle - I am too lazy to put in the links, but that includes Tom McCarthy's new novel, Joseph O'Neill's memoir, new novels by Jennifer Egan and Sigrid Nunez - but that four I particularly coveted were not: Martin Millar's Curse of the Wolf Girl, Thomas Disch's The Businessman, several British thrillers that are not available to U.S. Kindle-owners.)

Yesterday I read a spectacularly good book that is much more my dream Kindle reading experience than anything else I've had so far, not least because it was free: it is Lewis Shiner's Black & White. All of his fiction is downloadable at that link, as PDF files and in several other formats; the PDF worked out really well for me, I like being able to keep the original page formatting, and the transfer to Kindle was easy as pie.

(Here's where Shiner explains why he's making all this good stuff available for free.)

I have been recommending Glimpses enthusiastically for many years now - I picked up a copy from the fellow who sells used paperbacks in front of Milano Market, and read it in absolute shock that I had never heard of it before, it is so much exactly the kind of book I most like. I think about it all the time, it's definitely one of those novels that has really affected my sense of the world as well as of what's out there in terms of fiction (I must say that it was partial inspiration for my Clarkesworld story "The Other Amazon").

Black & White is a quite different novel, more ambitious in certain ways but surely equally gripping (I missed my stop on the subway, I was so immersed!). (Amazon needs to fix the blurb glitch on that page, by the way.) Maybe the most striking thing about it is the analysis of how the father of the present-day story's protagonist could have been at once in the grip of the dreams of the Civil Rights Movement and completely consumed by the notion of building an interstate that decimated Durham, NC's hitherto thriving black neighborhoods (I should have this passage, but have not quite figured out how to mark such things for subsequent retrieval - there is no true equivalent of the post-it in this context); anyway, it was such a good book, I am going to go right now and download the other couple novels of Shiner's I haven't yet read....

I think that The Explosionist and Invisible Things will be difficult as yet for me to make available for free online, but that I must really pursue the situation with Heredity and see if I could get it up as a PDF or in some other format that people can use with the common e-reader apps - not sure about logistics, but it really would be good....

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday grumbling

I rouse myself from illness and lethargy to share a lovely little bit from WWD (!) about a power luncheon at La Grenouille in support of the International AIDS Vaccine Initative, sent to me by Dave Lull because he knows of my interest in Oliver Sacks:
To raise funds to secure more L-dopa, the mild-mannered Sacks said lightly, “I did what I never did before in my life. I went to a luncheon.” Though he’s likely been to several such gatherings since, Sacks’ tie let on that he’s never going to be the conventional party-goer. It was blue with yellow banana slugs on it, a tribute to UC Santa Cruz, where Sacks once taught. “I have a thing for mollusks,” he explained
My enjoyment of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy was not augmented by the shared highlighted comments that the Kindle showed me, which invariably hinged upon the most banal and aphoristic pronouncements, so I have now turned that function off. The books themselves are grippingly readable, in spite of an occasional lack of subtlety in the psychology (individual and political) and flatness in the prose - I ordered books 2 and 3 for instant delivery as soon as I had read the first few chapters of the first one, and really I read them straight through pretty much without putting them down except when absolutely necessary.

I had lunch with my agent today (I felt so sick I almost canceled, but I knew it would be a great disappointment to me if I missed seeing her while I am in New York). She had wise advice, and once I'm back in Cayman I'll buckle down to do a good rewrite on the style book (a number of the editors who passed this time will look at a 'next' version, and it really will depend on where the revisions take me whether it will be better suited to be a university press or a trade book) and also to try something (is this top secret, should I be embargoing it?!?) that seemed to me a very interesting suggestion: to combine the manuscripts of The Explosionist and Invisible Things into one long novel so that she can pursue some possible European interest. That is definitely a long book, but it is truly one continuous story; I was very careful to make the second book self-sufficient, it should work well for readers who didn't read the first one, so some of those explanations may need to be taken out again, but I will be interested to see how it looks.

I would love it if the books could have a single-volume afterlife - really I wish Tor would publish the story as a fat mass-market paperback with a lurid fantasy cover!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Alone enough to read

At the Times Magazine, Virginia Heffernan on the oddity of the Kindle popular highlights feature (which I am going to disable now that I know I can!):
Marked by a dotted underscore that indicates that other Kindle users have found the passages significant, popular highlights constitute crowd-sourced literary criticism. Readers, on the spot and yet collaboratively, make meaning of what they’re reading. The effect is odd — even for those of us who see literature as something readers determine incrementally and collectively.

Click on the popular-highlight passages and you will discover exactly how many Kindle readers have singled them out. “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort,” for example, was evidently highlighted 1,626 times (as of this writing) in “Eat, Pray, Love,” by Elizabeth Gilbert. In Abraham Verghese’s “Cutting for Stone,” 1,547 Kindle users cottoned to “Life, too, is like that. You live it forward, but understand it backward.”

Sounds about right. But many writers don’t write aphoristically, and many readers don’t read for aphorisms. In a popularly highlighted world, we all may begin to. The dotted line, like the distinctive hue or underscore that signals a word is clickable on the Web, may be a new kind of punctuation that affects contemporary style. (Amazon reports that its most heavily highlighted books include Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” and Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” as well as the Verghese novel and the Gilbert memoir.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cold comforts

At this point I am straggling under the weight of too many weeks of travel...

On the Megabus to Philadelphia yesterday, it dawned on me that my painful sinuses and sore throat were an AILMENT, not just general malaise - ugh!

Holed up in my office right now, having made a massive raid on the Butler stacks for books about gesture, online gaming, etc. Have a social engagement this evening uptown, realized when I got off the bus this afternoon near Penn Station that it was going to be fatal if I went downtown - how would I ever get myself out of the house again?...

Really the whole week has been a whirl of activity, for better and for worse. Lots of meetings with students, a dissertation defense and various other school stuff.

On Tuesday I went to the lovely Cintra W.'s very fashionable birthday party at La Pasita and hung out with various folks I usually only 'see' online (basically I imagine that I could live about 80% of my life online, with the major exceptions being teaching and training, both of which need to happen live).

On Wednesday the play I was supposed to see with G. was canceled due to an ongoing tenant-landlord dispute; this was a blessing in disguise, as we instead had dinner with my brother M. at Mezzogiorno (I had vitello tonnato and an entree of grilled shrimp, scallops, squid and salmon that was possibly one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten; we shared a tiramisu that was also very good).

On Thursday I saw the absolutely fantastic A House in Bali, which was so lovely that I am only sorry I am blogging about it so late that nobody who reads this will be able to get organized to see the last performance this evening at BAM unless they already have tickets! It was directed by my friend Tanya's husband Jay, and the whole thing is a great production: it's visually gorgeous, the performances are without exception superb, the opera itself is attractively ambiguous (and the libretto is written with a sense of humor, I think, though it is not always possible to tell - in a few early scenes, I was pondering the fact that the idiom of contemporary opera singing is more or less completely incompatible with the display of humorous self-awareness, as it is a manner that verges on the ludicrous until one is quite accustomed to it!), the Balinese musicians and dancers are beyond belief - most fundamentally, though, it's just great music, really beautifully performed and conducted. I was ravished!

Dinner afterwards with G. at a newly opened restaurant just round the corner from 'home,' Burger & Barrel: we shared the shrimp and proscuitto appetizer, then I had the ricotta and meatballs appetizer instead of an entree and a very good brownie sundae for dessert.

(It will sound perverse, but in fact I am fairly desperate to get back to Cayman and stop eating out like this all the time; for this next week or so, though, I will still have to pray - like Augustine - to be granted a regimen of nutritional stringency, but not yet!)

On the topic of profligacy, I have also been devouring books on my Kindle. I still wish Amazon had gone with a PDF-type page-based format instead of the undifferentiated text thing, but it is certainly a convenient thing (a dangerous thing!) for such a voracious reader as myself, and will probably save me much back- and shoulder-ache especially during travels. I read and loved Richard Kadrey's new Sandman Slim novel, Kill the Dead, which is very good in itself but also exactly the sort of book that is suited to this format (nothing complex in the way of layout or notes or anything like that, at least so far as I know!); then Jo Nesbo's The Redbreast, which is a very good instantiation of one of the categories of book I most like in the whole world.

I finished that one just as the bus pulled into Philadelphia; an hour or so later I was sitting with my sister-in-law and niece (13 months!) in a coffee shop, after what had been a slightly harrowingly long (and for me cold-infested) day of travel that culminated in us realizing that we were locked out of the house and would have to wait almost an hour before we could ditch the cumbersome stroller, bags, etc. that we had lugged up and down a gazillion subway staircases in New York and Philadelphia. Cake and coffee did much to remedy the situation, but even better was the fact that I could use the wireless network in the coffee shop to download Nesbo's follow-up Nemesis with just one click.

(I have to figure out whether and how I can get NYPL books for Kindle for free - I am also very impatiently waiting for Google Books to sort out its arrangements with various university libraries so that I can really get anything I want more or less instantaneously and for free and preferably in the original page format - that day has not yet come...)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Light reading catch-up (travel edition)

Too much time in airports!

It was beautiful in Portland, Maine, though - I was there for a dear old friend's wedding, the weather was perfect and the foliage is brilliantly gorgeous already. There was a girl's night out on the Friday night at Local 188 and the wedding itself was held at the appropriately named Grace.

In the meantime I had had a nice little run along the waterfront and also what was almost certainly the most delicious pizza I have ever had, a slice of mashed-potato-bacon-scallion at Enzo on Congress Street.

I didn't have time to set up my new Kindle and charge it before I left, so on the way up I read Connie Willis's absolutely delightful Blackout (and the sequel/continuation is imminent, I have pre-ordered it, this is good) and a highly mediocre novel purchased at LaGuardia which I think is exactly the sort of thing which the Kindle in future will spare me.

Once I was at my hotel (which had a quite reasonably sized rectangular swimming pool, though I did not have time to swim in it!), I charged up the device and loaded eight or nine books onto it. Preliminary report: it is excellent in many respects, it will save me all sorts of anxiety about light reading supply (especially while traveling). It was a godsend this weekend, and it's awfully nice to have something so light to carry in the bag.

The downside: all three of the books I've read so far suffered slightly from being read on the Kindle as opposed to in the format of bound book. Stephen White's The Siege might partly just be a bit disorganized and/or badly written, but it uses a multiple time scheme (several different groups of characters followed over a few days' events, but the events presented out of order - i.e. "Saturday afternoon, "Friday morning") that I found much more disorienting without the visual orientation of flipping through pages and seeing headers, etc. Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight is as delightful as all his Tiffany Aching novels, and features a good table of contents (with titled chapters) that helped me navigate when needed, but I found it so annoying to click on the footnotes and then have to press another button to go back to the main text (I just don't like anything that slows me down, that's the honest truth!) that I ended up skipping most of them. And Kristin Hersh's Rat Girl is a wonderfully compelling and worthwhile book, only I felt I must be missing all sorts of things to do with the layout of the page (quoted song lyrics, vignettes from childhood that seemed to be marked differently i.e. with central rather than full justification but that just looked muddled in Kindle format). Also, there's a giveaway on her website of all the music alluded to in the book for which one needs a word from a specific page of the book! Will have to go to a real bookstore and consult, I suppose...

More fundamentally, I feel that the Kindle will have a dangerous potential for me to feed a bottomless-maw version of fiction-reading. If input is so undifferentiated by the traditional printer's tools (typeface, margins, layout, choices about headers and format/size of book etc.), something is lost - I will definitely prefer a future device that keeps the old-fashioned structure of the page. The Kindle is in many respects a more powerful and indispensable tool for me than my various iPods (I haven't yet worked with a PDF file, but will look forward to seeing how it plays out in terms of ease of use), but it produces none of the salivatory longing that the Apple devices do - my first iPod was a revelation in a way that this device is not.

(An associative aside - Kristin Hersh's book is a useful corrective to the rather wish-fulfilling elements that have crept into William Gibson's version of the independent artist's life...)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Western tradition

Ah, it is such a luxury to be starting my morning with coffee and wireless internet! I forgot to write yesterday about what was probably the most interesting book I've read recently, William Gibson's Zero History, which I enjoyed very much but found not up to the standard of Pattern Recognition. Also enjoyed Andre Agassi's autobiography - both part of a book splurge at McNally Robinson last week. I finally have my Kindle in my hands, but have not yet opened the box and set it up - must do that before my Maine trip tomorrow...

Last night I had the perfect New York evening - my brother turned up at the loft where I'm staying (he is working as a carpenter on the Men in Black III production in Williamsburg, and the commute from Philadelphia means getting up at 4am and not getting home till 8pm, so he is going to try and ease things up by staying one or two nights a week in New York), we hung out for an hour, then G. and I went to see the very funny and apt Office Hours by A. R. Gurney at what is rapidly becoming my favorite small theater in Manhattan, The Flea. Young company The Bats are superb, and though the play is slight, I thought it was very well done; also, of course, as someone who has taught in Columbia's Literature Humanities program, I must be pretty much the exact/ideal target audience...

(And a delicious dinner afterwards at Petrarca: we shared piatto rustico to start [G.: "I never remember the food we eat, but I remember we had that before and how good it was!"], then I had a pizza with capers, anchovies and black olives and a specialty dessert of vanilla gelato with amarena cherries.)

Tonight I'm speaking on Clarissa and counterfactuals at the Fordham eighteenth-century seminar: should be fun...

Drunk-dialing Agatha Christie

A delightful piece by Elif Batuman at the Guardian about the Kindle's influence on her drinking and reading habits (via Megan McArdle, forwarded to me by Brent).

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Have had only sporadic internet access during this New York trip (my apartment is still sublet through January, so I'm not really at home in any practical sense), which casts an inhibiting pall on the blog. It is not just that one has no chance to write, it is that one does not garner peculiar bits that are worth posting!

But I have accumulated a backlog of light reading, much of it consumed in airports and planes, that should at least be logged. Working with a very slow Starbucks internet connection just now, and will skip links, I think, otherwise the irk factor will run high...

First round: Sara Paretsky's Bleeding Kansas; Laurie King's The Art of Detection; Raymond Feist's Faerie Tale; Greg von Eekhout's Norse Code (a great concept and title, with execution not quite as coherent and effective as I had hoped - it's readable, but it's no Sandman Slim); Barry Eisler's The Last Assassin.

Second round: two advance copies that have been waiting for me in New York and that I seized upon as soon as I could get uptown to pick up mail: Lee Child's new novel (will write a separate post about this one, but of course I loved it), as well as Robin McKinley's Pegasus (picture at that previous link courtesy of Becca), which has both the delights and the shortcomings of much of her other fiction, with a particularly inconclusive ending that will make all fans annoyingly clamor for a sequel!

Went to a lovely wedding over the weekend - Friday night's party was at powerHouse Arena (Brent and I were in agreement that it is an excellent idea to hold a party in a bookstore, it means reading is allowed at least in snippets!), the ceremony on Saturday was at the Socrates Sculpture Park with dogs frolicking wonderfully in the background and an absolutely beautiful reception and dinner afterwards on the gorgeous fourth floor of the Metropolitan Building. The views in that bit of Long Island City are almost vertigo-inducing, they so effectively put you at the base of a panorama of bridges and skyscrapers....

Another highlight of last week, something Brent couldn't believe I hadn't seen before, since it is so much his notion of the ideal theatrical entertainment: the extremely charming Avenue Q!

Got another play tonight, a talk tomorrow at Fordham and another wedding in Maine this weekend, various other stuff packed into the next couple weeks - posting may continue sporadic - but the one other thing I wanted to highlight is that Helen DeWitt is in New York and will hold "elevenses at 3" on Saturday at the McNally Robinson bookstore on Prince St. - stop by and say hello to her if you are interested and find yourself in the neighborhood.