Saturday, December 31, 2011
Friday, December 30, 2011
I privately think to myself of Open City as a response to 8 1/2, which is weird. But it is episodic, it is concerned with structures of consciousness and I think it is immaculately curated. That is what I was going for: the curation of incident that to a careless observer seems like randomness.On a more personal note, I am alarmed by the revelation that Butler Library won't be open again till Wednesday. That's just wrong!
Some links, in no particular order:
Language Log on the twitter hashtag.
Wage slavery in its natural habitat.
George Pringle's new blog.
Greg Zinman on Bravo's Work of Art.
It seems likely that I will post again between now and the official end of 2011, but just in case not, I hope that you all have a very happy and healthy New Year!
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Novel revisions are underway as of yesterday, thank goodness, so I can't really complain otherwise. I need to get as much of this work under my belt as I can: three weeks from today I'm in the classroom again, and I can't afford to let any of this uninterrupted time escape me!
Light reading around the edges: Sara Henry's Learning to Swim (clear why I bought that one! not bad, but not really the kind of crime fiction I like most); Val McDermid, Trick of the Dark (highly readable despite huge huge impossible implausibilities at center of the story); Erin Kelly, The Poison Tree (hmmm, very Barbara Vine in mood, not so much what I like either as I didn't care about the characters and the twists can be seen coming a mile away); Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, The Boy in the Suitcase (I loved this one, it was great: it has all the qualities lacking in the others, despite the fact that they all fall under a crime fiction rubric); and Nicholas Royle's strange and haunting Regicide. I am not so crazy about dream landscapes, I prefer my fiction to have more rational narrative logic, but I do think this was an unusually interesting novel of its kind (and I am interested to see fiction still being written under the sign of Robbe-Grillet!).
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Friday, December 23, 2011
I am on a higher dose of asthma controller medication now, and I think I have a better handle on how to manage that particular aspect of bronchial vulnerability, but I am still overextended in a more general sense and I am not going to attempt an iron-distance triathlon in 2012, as I think I need to do more work on various building-blocks first. If plans go as I hope, though, I'll volunteer for the inaugural NYC Ironman next August and get some kind of preferential status re: registering for a slot for the 2013 race.
On a brighter note, it is also the case that in 2011 I finished drafting the novel formerly known as The Bacchae on Morningside Heights, revised it and found a publisher; I am just now undertaking an extensive further revision/reimagining (this will make no sense to those who have not read it, but I can see now that a whole game is missing!). I also revised the style book, and it is as of a month or so ago out with publishers again, but I have no news yet as to its fate and fortunes: books can take a long time from start to finish, a fact that horrified and appalled me when it first dawned on me many years ago but that I've had to reconcile myself to in the meantime.
I feel that I had a very good year of teaching: I was eager to be back in the classroom after an overly quiet sabbatical year in 2010, and the charms of teaching have been particularly alive to me. The surprise for me this fall was how much I loved teaching the required MA seminar to entering graduate students in our department; I had undertaken it as a 'service' class, but it was truly as much of a pleasure as any class I have ever taught.
I have just finished reading what I think is my favorite novel of the year, Murakami's 1Q84. Haunting, immersive, lovely!
My other single favorite novel in the loose category of 'literary fiction,' a term I hate but that does serve to differentiate it from thrillers and young-adult dystopias and so forth, was probably Teju Cole's amazing Open City. Others I particularly enjoyed in this sort of broad category (all newish though not all from 2011): Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child; Lydia Millet's How the Dead Dream; Vanessa Veselka's Zazen; Cody James's The Dead Beat; Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding; Emma Donogue's Room; Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad; Tayari Jones's The Silver Sparrow; Barbara Trapido's Sex and Stravinsky. Neal Stephenson's Anathem was as immersive as 1Q84 and probably belongs in this group rather than with science fiction and fantasy below (Reamde, on the other hand, was enjoyable but forgettable).
Helen DeWitt's Lightning Rods deserves a category all its own! Another uncategorizable but excellent book: Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti's collaboration The Chairs Are Where the People Go.
Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is definitely in my top ten favorites for the year. I also loved Lauren Beukes's Zoo City, that's another strong recommendation.
Megan Abbott's novels Bury Me Deep and The End of Everything were among the most interesting crime fiction I read all year, but there was a lot of other exceptional stuff too. Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter; Taylor Stevens's The Informationist; Deon Meyer's Thirteen Hours and Trackers; Lawrence Block's A Drop of the Hard Stuff (which also prompted a reread of the amazing When the Sacred Ginmill Closes)
Nonfiction: John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead; Siddhartha Deb's The Beautiful and the Damned; Anna Goldsworthy's Piano Lessons; Priscilla Gilman's The Anti-Romantic Child; Sarah Bakewell's Montaigne biography; Peter Terzian's interesting little anthology Bound to Last; and (I am late to the party) Michael Lewis's Moneyball. It was a reread, but Francis Spufford's The Child That Books Built remains one of the few books I can think of that it pains me not to have written myself.
Most prized addition to book collection, courtesy of my mother: Green's Dictionary of Slang.
Didn't read a ton of YA this year, but can definitely recommend Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking books and Catherine Fisher's Incarceron series. Tow Ubukata's Mardock Scramble was a surprise and a delight; also very delightful was Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
Much enjoyed new installments in ongoing stories by Lev Grossman, Charlie Williams, Kate Atkinson. Also: LEE CHILD!
Most perfect light reading: Doris Egan/Jane Emerson's Ivory omnibus and City of Diamond. But I was lucky in my light reading this year, I'd have to say: I loved Mira Grant's zombie trilogy, and found the first two installments of Patrick Rothfuss's fantasy series utterly addictive. Best zombie book was Max Brooks's World War Z, though: I couldn't get it out of my head after I read it, and kept on telling people about it at parties even when it was not suitable.
A small selection of books I reread that still speak to me very loudly (really I'm always rereading a lot for teaching- and research-related purposes): Roland Barthes's The Neutral; Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow; Bernhard's Wittgenstein's Nephew; Markson's Reader's Block; Conrad's The Secret Agent; Dostoevsky's Demons.
A few performances that especially astonished me: Stravinsky's Nightingale and other fables at BAM (and the ombromanie of Philippe Beau!); Philip Glass's Satyagraha, at the Met; and Krapp's Last Tape, with John Hurt and also at BAM. Music from Nico Muhly and Thomas Bartlett has been an ongoing delight.
The film that most preoccupied me: Helen Hill's The Florestine Collection, completed after her death by Paul Gailiunas.
The TV series that I want to live in, thus recent preoccupation with fictions of alternate realities: Fringe.
I don't listen to enough new music to make good recommendations in a broad sense, but new albums from P. J. Harvey and Gillian Welch are both remarkable.
Books to look out for in 2012: Sarah Manguso's The Guardians: An Elegy; Marco Roth's Transmission; and Heidi Julavits's The Vanishers.
I probably read a better range of books in 2010, but that is because I was on sabbatical. In 2011 my thoughts were much engaged with books I was writing and books I was teaching, most of which are not really prominently represented here. I continue to have a deep-seated obsession, though, with Swift's Tale of a Tub...
Thursday, December 22, 2011
(NB not sure how much marketing had to do with it, but this Rihanna song has been played at something near to 100% of all spin classes I've attended in the last year!)
Let the wild revision begin!
I will now take advantage of the fact that it's 58F and sunny to go and scout a few of the three or four neighborhood locations that I intend to make more use of in the next draft. My plan for the next three weeks is pretty clear. I will go to Philadelphia this weekend for a couple of days, arriving home Monday evening. I then have three full weeks of writing time before school starts: week of Dec. 26, week of Jan. 2, week of Jan. 9 (I'll be in Cayman for a spell, Jan. 7-15). I should be able to eke out a couple more weeks of decent writing time once school starts, but a practice of morning writing during the semester can only be sustained for so long, and I know it will collapse a couple weeks in. So the next 2 weeks are designed to generate as much new material as possible, then the week in Cayman I'll take the whole thing apart and put it back together again with new pieces, doing blow-by-blow start-to-finish revisions over the rest of January. Get a good new version to my editor by Monday, Jan. 30, and let it sit for 1.5 months so that I can do my final tough pass through over spring break in March.
I do think the book needs a new title: The Magic Circle is fine, but a little too bland. (The Bacchae on Morningside Heights was abstruse and unpronounceable, but is still of course how I think of the book in my head.) I will see if some obvious name emerges as I work on the next round.
Also: Adam Thirlwell's bootleg Havel.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Read a lovely book the other night, Anna Goldsworthy's Piano Lessons: A Memoir. It is fantastic, and this copy is now destined for my mother, who will love it at least as much as I did. It makes me think now that sometime I should teach a seminar on pedagogy that would be constructed around this and other books that shed light on great teaching? At any rate I will start trying to collect readings around that theme, and suggestions are welcome in comments or by email.
Main fact of last few days is that I have fallen hard into the amazing stream of words that is Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. It is the perfect novel that I most want to read of all things in the world! I bought a real copy of the book when it came out, as I figured it was the sort of thing I like to keep on the shelf after I've read it, but the physical book seemed so cumbersome (it is beautifully designed but hard to hold) that it went unread. So I bought a second copy for Kindle (and IMO this is what publishers should be trying to do, i.e. sell bundled copies in multiple formats) and am completely and passionately smitten by it. Alternate-universe fiction at its very best: I think it probably gets my vote for favorite novel of the year.
(Oh, yes, I think I read one other novel as well, a good recommendation from Maxine: Jussi Adler-Olson's Mercy a.k.a. - same book - The Keeper of Lost Causes.)
Monday, December 19, 2011
Saturday, December 17, 2011
I have not over the course of my life been a great admirer of Didion's writing, but here is a sequence I found entirely arresting (these should be regular indented sentence/paragraphs, with no space in between):
"What we need here is a montage, music over. How she: talked to her father and xxxx and xxxxx---
"xx," he said.
"xxx," she said.
"How she did this and why she did that and what the music was when they did x and x and xxx---
"How he, and also she---"
The above are notes I made in 1995 for a novel I published in 1996, The Last Thing He Wanted. I offer them as a representation of how comfortable I used to be when I wrote, how easily I did it, how little thought I gave to what I was saying until I had already said it. In fact, in any real sense, what I was doing then was never writing at all: I was doing no more than sketching in a rhythm and letting that rhythm tell me what it was I was saying. Many of the marks I set down on that page were no more than "xxx," or "xxxx," symbols that meant "copy tk," or "copy to come," but do notice: such symbols were arranged in specific groupings. A single "x" different from a double "xx," "xxx" from "xxxx." The number of such symbols had a meaning. The arrangement was the meaning.
(Frank has also recently been involved with an amazing project that originated with his discovery of a remarkably complete set of records concerning library borrowers and the items they read in Muncie, Indiana from 1891 to 1902.)
Friday, December 16, 2011
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Chipping away at huge pile of end-of-semester tasks, but the end is in sight. Will see Krapp's Last Tape on Friday evening at BAM, family lunch on Sunday, but otherwise pretty much just meeting end-of-semester obligations and looking forward to next week and my schedule being very much more clear and full of time for novel revision.
Finished Stephen King (I think Connie Willis's vision of time travel in the Blackout-All Clear volumes is more emotionally resonant for me, but I did enjoy King's book quite a bit, and he remains an exceptional storyteller). Read Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot, which I enjoyed a good deal but didn't quite see the larger point of: it is not dissimilar to The Art of Fielding, but I guess I would say that I thought Harbach's was the more appealing book of the two. (For a different take, see Sharon Marcus's excellent review of The Marriage Plot.) For my last student independent study meeting tomorrow, I need to try and finish Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City, although I'm not sure I'll have time as I have to go to a seminar this evening...
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Saturday, December 10, 2011
(This is the first time I've used my new printer to scan anything, but I am hoping it is possible to click and enlarge for a better view of my utterly illegible notes to self!)
Not much time for light reading this past week, but I have read a few books here and there around the edges of the vast mounds of paper that have demanded my more immediate attention (dissertations, writing samples, job letters, etc.) Finished Moneyball, which I enjoyed a great deal despite knowing virtually nothing about baseball. Read Michael Connelly's latest, The Drop - Connelly's novels are a very consistent pleasure, and he never just seems to be going through the motions even in these installments of long-running series. Read a very unusual mystery novel by Alice LaPlante, called Turn of Mind, after reading about it here: it has some flaws as a crime novel, but as a portrait of a narrator/protagonist with Alzheimer's it is mesmerizing. About halfway through Stephen King's 11/22/63, as I knew I would need something long and narrative and relatively undemanding to get me through the week.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Monday, December 05, 2011
... I was exhausted by, or just done with, certain techniques. I kept using the same shovel, digging up the exact same shit. I wanted to change my shovel. Maybe use my hands. Maybe dig up into the air instead of down into the soil. I wondered if my endless return to the same ideas and concepts could maybe be blamed on my regular reliance on the same techniques — the syntax, the tones, the rhetoric. I felt that if I changed those I might be able to uncover a different part of my imagination, maybe some little untouched place the other tools weren’t reaching. A different kind of surgery on whatever place I look to for fiction.
Sunday, December 04, 2011
(Have uncharacteristically watched some hours of television this weekend - usually I only watch seasons of television on DVD with B. in Cayman, but we were very near the end of the third season of Fringe when we parted ways at the end of the Thanksgiving odyssey, it is a program which is very perfectly suited to my tastes, and my new laptop makes it very easy to watch videos from Amazon anywhere in my apartment - I watched the last three episodes of season 3 and then, regrettably, the first seven of season 4, which is as far as it now goes - am in horrible desiring limbo now of wanting all the rest of the season in one fell swoop, when really it will only be doled out WEEK BY UNREASONABLE WEEK over the rest of this year. Anybody who has secret early access, tell me and get me in on it too! Though I do observe, as always with this series, that they play overly fast and loose with the alternate universes: I feel that though high-quality television does a good job creating investment in characters over a season and its successors, the provision of too many alternates in this sort of a plot erodes general belief in and concern with the characters, to a sometimes problematic degree.)
Friday, December 02, 2011
At a fundamental level, all of Bloom's work constitutes a sustained superlative for the Bard. "As a secularist with Gnostic proclivities," he writes, "and above all as a literary aesthete, I preach Bardolatry as the most benign of all religions." For him, simply, "Shakespeare is God".Also: Diana Nyad, marathon swimmer.
Thursday, December 01, 2011
Caroline Dworin's lovely and poignant piece about growing up inside of a stage set.
An interesting piece by Colleen Mondor about her book The Map of My Dead Pilots.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Yesterday's BU lecture was very enjoyable (special thanks to the Light Reading fan, a BU Core alum, who came up afterwards to say hello!), and I've had the chance to catch up with various friends, but I am now completely behind on my normal end-of-semester school responsibilities and will collapse into my desk chair at home with a sigh of relief late this evening...
(Thursday and Friday this week are very busy, as are the next two weeks more generally, but I should be able to hole up this weekend and read the first of the two dissertations I need to get through this month. I am desperate for (a) some down time and (b) clear mental space to revise my novel!)
Have had virtually no time to read, but I did enjoy Jacqueline Carey's Santa Olivia sequel Saints Astray and Marcus Sakey's At the City's Edge. Halfway through Michael Lewis's Moneyball and enjoying it a good deal (it's free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime): I saw the movie with B. last week, and it struck me then as ideal Hollywood fare, but the book is inevitably considerably better due to its having much greater quantities of information and analysis!
Monday, November 21, 2011
Sunday, November 20, 2011
A trove of unpublished works by Anthony Burgess.
Phil Hogan interviews Gillian Welch and David Rawlings for the Observer.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
I'm about halfway through John Jeremiah Sullivan's essay collection Pulphead, and finding it completely mesmerizing. His essay on Michael Jackson sent me last night to this uncanny clip.
Life vicissitudes of A Very Young Dancer.
The uncanny red landscapes of Kodak Aerochrome.
Bret McKenzie of Conchords fame has written three songs for the new Muppets movie (the piece is by Adam Sternbergh). Writing for Disney has its constraints:
For example: At one point, McKenzie wrote a lyrical joke for Kermit, in which he would sing, “I remember when I was just a little piece of felt.” That didn’t fly. “I was told: ‘You’re not allowed to do that. The Muppets have always existed. You can’t break down their world.’ ” Another rule: Frogs and bears and pigs can talk, but penguins and chickens can’t. They can cluck or squawk musically, but they can’t say words. “So I was like, ‘Can we get the penguins to sing?’ And they’d say: ‘No. Penguins don’t sing.’ ”Last night I saw the slight but charming She Kills Monsters at the Flea; afterwards, the place we usually eat at after a show at the Flea was closed for a private party, so we checked out White & Church. The menu is quite limited and the space and set-up give the feel more of a bar than a restaurant as such, but the food is superb.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
(I often think during a good masters swim workout that the pool exudes an industrious vibe much like a loom - this opera, too, gave me the feeling of structure and variation that is part of what I particularly enjoy about a very good swim workout. Expansive, opening, industrious!)
Monday, November 14, 2011
Light reading from the end of last week: Richard Kadrey's latest Sandman Slim novel, Aloha From Hell (great voice, but feels a bit undermotivated in terms of plot and purpose); and Amy Waldman's The Submission. I could criticize many things about this one, but that would be to ignore the fact that I started reading it as the plane taxied to takeoff (it was my non-Kindle book, and I expected to put it aside once the pilot gave the OK on electronic devices - the trick with these things is to choose something not so gripping that one can't have it for the landing also, i.e. that can be read in 15-minute stints over a couple of flights!) and couldn't put it down. I finished reading pretty much exactly as the plane touched down at JFK (it's about a 3.5hr flight). Highly immersive, despite some shallowness in the portraiture and occasional awkwardness in the writing.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Also, Alan Garner, Alan Turing. (Via Sarang.) It would have to be said that few books I've ever read have stayed with me as strongly as Andrew Hodges's Alan Turing: The Enigma (read when I was 21 or so) and Alan Garner's The Owl Service (read when I was 8 or 9). In short, a slightly uncanny nexus for me.
(NYRB Classics has just reissued Garner's novel Red Shift.)
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
In general it always makes me happy to have positive arrangements sorted out for moving forward, but I'm particularly thrilled to be working with Ed Park, longtime friend and literary co-conspirator: the conversation I had with him a couple weeks ago about what I might do to make the novel even better (book-writing is never done, and I am afraid I am an inveterate draft-writer!) was one of the most inspiring I've ever had. Let the revisions begin - once this semester is through!
Guggenheim recipient and Columbia professor Jenny Davidson's THE MAGIC CIRCLE, revolving around three women friends in their thirties who all share a passion for gaming, with shocking results, to Ed Park at Amazon Publishing, for publication in Winter 2013, by Kathleen Anderson at Anderson Literary Management (World English).
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
(The realization came to me as I corresponded with the curators at the Berg Collection at the NYPL, who are generously doing a session for my undergraduate class at a time they persistently referred to as 'next week' - I almost wrote back to correct them and tell them it is scheduled for the 17th, then had my horrifying revelation!)
(The problem is that on top of normal school stuff, I have overscheduled a bunch of optional but non-opt-outable things of value for next week: Monday heavy teaching load and a set of assignments coming in, then I have opera tickets for Tuesday, seeing a play with G. on Wednesday, NYPL session Thursday evening and also B. is arriving from the airport, another opera on Saturday, then Monday seminars, then the evils of Thanksgiving which is the worst-timed holiday in the academic year; the real problem is that I won't be home till Sunday night on the 27th, then teach both classes Monday and fly to Boston Monday evening to give an as-yet-unwritten lecture on Gulliver's Travels on Tuesday to the students in the core curriculum at BU! I thought I was going to get all of the post-Thanksgiving week's work done before B. got to NYC, only now I realize that I am only home for 4 days before he comes, so that it is not at all a realistic plan! I do have a five-hour train ride on Sunday the 27th from Manassas to NYC, so I will hope to get substantive work done then also, but Amtrak is always very crowded that weekend and it's not always an environment conducive to work.)
(In retrospect there is one other major piece of work - 6-7 novels I need to read for a prize committee - that I should have brought with me to Cayman, only now it is too late to do anything about it...)
The long and the short: the next six weeks are going to be extremely demanding, I'd better pace myself?
Monday, November 07, 2011
On the bright side, though, I'm in an environment full of lizards and chickens; I got to do an Olympic-distance triathlon yesterday; I intend to go to yoga every day this week unless the minor sinus infection that has been teasing me since Friday escalates; and I read two very enjoyable books, quite different from each other, during Friday travels: Jacqueline Carey's Santa Olivia, which was so thoroughly immersive that I gnashed my teeth when I finished it and realized I couldn't get the next installment for my Kindle until November 22; and Siddartha Deb's The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India, which is so fascinating and so well-written that I gnashed my teeth at the thought that I am not capable of writing such a book myself. It was a satisfactory day of reading that took away the pains of a long layover in the Miami airport!
Thursday, November 03, 2011
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
I am very happy to report that it is divinely satisfactory, her best book yet (which is saying quite a lot). It is also curiously and perfectly suited to my own reading tastes: imagine faint shades of Ishiguro's The Unconsoled and Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, a way with steeply pitched verbs that's slightly reminiscent of Gary Lutz or Sam Lipsyte ("magneted," "throttled up," "pay-per-viewing"), a quasi-Parkian reflection on disambiguation and an amazing new definition of override, an eclectic and idiosyncratic mix of occult and spiritualist references, the notions that the "oblique glimpses into the lives of cinema strangers" one gets from seeing foreign films might be the only thing that would partly compensate one for the cessation of "psychic forays" and that parapsychologists would never use social networks due to the fact that they're "'a boon for psychic attackers.'" In short, an unusual and memorable first-person narrator, a fantastic and compelling story - strongly recommended...
Two other things I also liked very much this week: N. K. Jemisin's novel The Kingdom of Gods, the final volume of her excellent Inheritance trilogy; and a gripping Kindle Single by Mishka Shubaly, The Long Run.
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
Sunday, October 30, 2011
The Philadelphia trip today was tiring but worthwhile (fortunately my trains weren't seriously delayed - all sorts of other Amtrak and New Jersey transit trains were canceled or delayed by hours due to yesterday's storm). Bonus: the birthday party featured two different kinds of cake, both very delicious! One was daffodil cake, courtesy of E. and the Spring Mill Cafe (it is a very good light angel's food cake with whipped cream and lemon curd); the other (I think I have its provenance right) was the amazingly good red velvet cake from Golosa. My preferred cake of that ilk is carrot or pumpkin bread, not red velvet, as I am suspicious of the notion of ingesting large amounts of red food coloring (or on the other hand why not just have chocolate cake if you are moving in that direction?); but it is very good, the icing was perfect....
I have a lot to do this week, but on Friday morning I am leaving the country for a week at B.'s place! Will have to take a heap of work with me, it is true, but it will be good nonetheless: I am taking advantage of Columbia's oddly timed election holiday and a week with no actual teaching or office-hour obligations. It is fortuitous that I will be able to participate in the Cayman Islands Triathlon a week from today; also, there is an 800m swim race next Saturday, rescheduled from October due to weather, so there's no reason I shouldn't do that also. Due to a combination of insufficient training on my part and the fact that exclusively quite fast people do triathlons in Cayman, I will certainly be one of the last couple finishers, but it should be enjoyable nonetheless, though I will be cursing my lack of heat acclimation on the run...
Saturday, October 29, 2011
(It was this NYT review of Siegfried that made me think of it. It is a minor point, but Eric Owens was my Philadelphia contemporary and the star student of my oboe teacher Susan Simon: I didn't know him in those days other than in passing, i.e. at Settlement music recitals, but he was one of those incredibly talented multifaceted musicians who you are not at all surprised to hear years later praised in print in the most glowing terms...)
* (Actually I have looked up the text of the FT interview with Thomas Larcher that I had in mind, and it is more vivid than my paraphrase: “If a four-hour Morton Feldman quartet is performed in a concert hall, you start thinking after 90 minutes ‘Well, I really have to go to the loo’. And after two and a half hours it’s martyrdom. But if you’re listening to the recording at home, while lying in bed and smoking some dope, it can be great.")
Friday, October 28, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Finished Colson Whitehead's Zone One. The writing is incredibly sharp, and I loved the first third or so, but I found my enthusiasm slightly cooling due to relative lack of plot. I definitely still recommend it, but not as passionately as I might have on the basis of early passages like this one:
There were your standard-issue skels, and then there were the stragglers. Most skels, they moved. They came to eat you--not all of you, but a nice chomp here or there, enough to pass on the plague. Cut off their feet, chop off their legs, and they'd gnash the air as they heaved themselves forward by their splintered fingernails, looking for some ankle action. The marines had eliminated most of this variety before the sweepers arrived.
The stragglers, on the other hand, did not move, and that's what made them a suitable objective for civilian units. They were a succession of imponderable tableaux, the malfunctioning stragglers and the places they chose to haunt throughout the Zone and beyond. An army of mannequins, limbs adjusted by an inscrutable hand. The former shrink, plague-blind, sat in her requisite lounge chair, feet up on the ottoman, blank attentive face waiting for the patient who was late, ever late, and unpacking the reasons for this would consume a large portion of a session that would never occur. The patient failed to arrive, was quite tardy, was dead, was running through a swamp with a hatchet, pursued by monsters. The pock-faced assistant manager of the shoe store crouched before the foot-measuring instrument, frozen, sans customers, the left shoes of his bountiful stock on display along the walls of the shop on miniature plastic ledges. The vitamin-store clerk stalled out among the aisles, depleted among the plenty, the tiny bottles containing gel-capped ancient remedies and placebos. The owner of the plant store dipped her fingers into the soil of a pot earmarked for a city plant, one hearty in the way the shop's customers were hearty, for wasn't every citizen on the grand island a sort of sturdy indoor variety that didn't need much sunlight. . . .Anyway, it is very lovely writing, in a hybrid satirical-elegiac vein.
Also, and this really was the perfect light reading, the first installment of Denise Mina's new series, Still Midnight, which really is pretty much exactly what I most enjoy in this vein. Unfortunately I purchased that and its sequel in haste without realizing that I had already read The End of the Wasp Season - I had it in the form of a 'real' book, and even the Amazon website is not capable of telling me that I bought a paper version of the book at a Chapters in Ottawa in June! (If memory serves...)
Monday, October 24, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Friday, October 21, 2011
(I was fascinated by the way that in the section titled 'Steady, boys, steady!' the protagonist of Line of Beauty has here been split into two different characters, Peter and Paul; it's something like what Austen does, sequentially, as she rewrites pairs of heroines from Sense and Sensibility to Pride and Prejudice to Mansfield Park.)
Phrases that struck and pleased me:
- of a teacher, doing something at 9.35, "with the recurrent momentary dread and resolve that come with living by a timetable";
- of the same character's playing four-hand piano music with an older female character who is a much better pianist than he is (I love four-hands piano music as it was something my mother played now and again in my childhood, very well, an appealing mini-canon of early twentieth-century stuff):
There was an undeniable intimacy in the four-hand sessions with Corinna. Sharing her piano stool, he had a sense of the complete firmness of her person, her corseted side and hard bust, their hips rolling together as they reached and occasionally crossed on the keyboard. As the secondo player he did all the pedalling, but her legs sometimes jerked against his as if fighting the impulse to pedal herself. The contact was technical, of course, like that in sport, and not to be confused with other kinds of touching. None the less he felt she enjoyed it, she liked the businesslike rigour of its not being sexual as well as the unmentionable fraction by which it was.- the pastiche bit of Dudley Valance's autobiography that describes his mother's "book tests," spiritualist exercises in the library
- of the callow young aspiring biographer, visiting an editor at the offices of the TLS as the "trolley stacked high with tightly bound bales of newsprint" arrives: "In a moment the plastic tape was snipped, and the top copy plucked up and turned and presented to Paul with a casual flourish: 'For you!' - the new TLS - Friday's TLS, ready two days early, 'hot off the press' someone said, enjoying his reactions, though in fact the paper was cool to the touch, even slightly damp" (and then the last sentences of the chapter, a few paragraphs later: "He kept his copy of the day-after-tomorrow's TLS under his arm, which he wanted very much to be seen with. He didn't think the people in the street here were getting the point of it - but back in the North Reading-Room of the British Library he felt it might stir a good deal of envy and conjecture" - the repetition of the letters TLS is almost like the barouche-landau in Emma)
And finally, because I have had a longstanding obsession with the Peek Freans 'fruit creme' biscuit, a childhood favorite that recently somewhat unfortunately reentered my current realm of preoccupation by way of the ruminations and biscuit-eating practices of Walter on Fringe (I almost bought exactly this box of biscuits in Ottawa a couple weeks ago, only it was not the moment - but I was certainly looking at them longingly! - the name itself is so mouth-alluring and peculiar to the eye, it's definitely part of the charm, though I am not underrating the appeal of the 'creme' and also the tug of the surprisingly chewy fruit jelly in the cookie that is the one I particularly like):
Next morning Paul sat in his hotel room, going over his notes, with a coffee tray beside him: the pitted metal pot with the untouchable handle, the lipsticked cup, the bowl of white sugar in soft paper tubes which he emptied serially into the three strong cupfuls he took, getting quickly excited and overheated. On a plate with a doily were five biscuits, and though he'd only just had breakfast he ate them all, the types so familiar - the Bourbon, the sugared Nice, the rebarbative ginger-nut, popped in whole - that he was touched for a moment by a sense of the inseparable poverty and consistency of English life, as crystallized in the Peek Frean assortment box.Light reading around the edges: Nina Kiriki Hoffman's A Red Heart of Memories (a Jo Walton recommendation); Elizabeth Haynes's Into the Darkest Corner (very good, very scary) and Thomas Enger's Burned (also very good, I thought - showing slightly the signs of inexperience in the writing, but I will eagerly read subsequent installments in the series); and another crime novel I found somewhat silly, Colin Cotterill's Killed at the Whim of a Hat.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The Montessori school I went to for kindergarten used composition books for children to keep track of their assignments. Young Jenny Davidson's handwriting improved a good deal over the course of that year...
(This book lets me say with certainty that I first read Charlotte's Web in April 1977 - I remember being very struck by the revelation that county was a different word from country!)
Monday, October 17, 2011
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 performances 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.