Friday, July 15, 2011

Closing tabs (strangulation edition)

I have always had a preference for writing in coffee-shops as opposed to libraries; I like the buzz of background noise, I find it soothing and mildly stimulating and it makes it much easier for me to concentrate than when I'm in an environment that's totally silent. The same thing goes for city living: New York makes me feel comfortable and able to concentrate because there's this constant mid-level surrounding buzz, whereas Cayman presents difficulties for me due to smotherationally high levels of quiet.

Alas, I have spent the whole week on the verge of total meltdown, or really at times in actual meltdown mode (thus relative broadcast silence, as I prefer not to blog when I am mildly hysterical!), but will take advantage of a moment of relative inner calm to close a few tabs and report on some minor light reading.

(Ottawa worries continue to be overwhelming, and I regretfully observe that really I think I will need to go back there again in August to help with various bits and pieces of next-stage planning: I had hoped to have a spell of weeks in one place with no travel, but on the other hand the "no-travel" preference is at odds with the "urban environment" one, so perhaps there is a silver lining....)

(Note to future self: don't sublet New York apartment in future for more than a month, unless absolutely locked in on irresistible year-long out-of-town sabbatical opportunity i.e. residential fellowship! Over the summer, and especially when I'm going to be away quite a bit anyway, the dollars are the great temptation; it is my best way of getting my finances annually back into whack, as my NYC rent is a bit more than half my monthly take-home salary and I can't really afford it. However, two months is clearly too long to be without access to city life!)

Fascinating piece about an exhibit on Wittgenstein and photography that explores the relationship between photographic composites and the philosopher's idea of a 'family resemblance'. (Via Marjorie Perloff.)

Evan Goldstein profiles Wayne Koestenbaum for the Chronicle of Higher Education on the occasion of the publication of Wayne's new book Humiliation (hmmm, very copious and weird collection of Amazon reviews for a book that has not yet been published!). I am much looking forward to this book, I am a huge fan of Wayne's (really he is one of my couple most important literary and intellectual role models!). (Link courtesy of the excellent Dave Lull.)

(Side note: I had dinner earlier this spring, after Stefan Collini's talk at the humanities center, with sociologist Harriet Zuckerman, whose late husband Robert K. Merton was the person who actually coined the term role model!)

At the NYRB, David Bromwich on Obama's distaste for politics. (DB is of course another one of my role models, in this case perhaps a more impossibly aspirational one!)

Sophia Hollander profiles academic and bestselling novelist Mary Bly for the Wall Street Journal. (Via Bookforum.)

Two good links via Marginal Revolution this morning: How much would it cost to attend Hogwarts?; parrots have individual 'names' in the wild.

Sasscer Hill's Full Mortality does indeed call to mind Dick Francis in its rich and full bringing-to-life of appealing racing settings, but the voice isn't as compelling to me, and it is no discredit to Hill's writing abilities (it speaks more to my own state of mind, and to recent excesses in the way of light reading!) that this was the book, last weekend, that induced a fit of absolute self-disgust at the lack of any nutritional value in much recent literary fare, and a resolve to seek more things out to read that do not simply bathe my brain in cheap serotonin.

That did not stop me from then reading one of the worst novels I've read in a long time (a bargain purchase at Chapters in Ottawa). Then I was truly self-disgusted!

I have read two other books (both nonfiction) that deserve posts of their own, about which more anon. But the hours loom long, and light reading remains necessary; I thoroughly enjoyed Karen Marie Moning's Darkfever, which has some of the appurtenances of trashiness and is not perhaps up to the standard of Seanan McGuire's Toby Daye books but is really very good with regard to any reasonable set of expectations (I have downloaded the next one, and I would evaluate the series as being enjoyable and smart on a level with Charlaine Harris's books, which I also like quite a bit).

Somehow I had never read Connie Willis's Lincoln's Dreams, though I think I've read almost all of her other novels, so that was an excellent way of whiling away an hour or two, and we are also watching an episode or two most nights of the extremely appealing Fringe, often with a chaser of Black Books.

BOMH proceeds in fits and starts; I had a very good work day on Wednesday, yesterday not so much, but this morning I got a decent hour and a half in early and will hope to have another session on it this afternoon.

Finally, I am completely mesmerized by Gillian Welch's latest album The Harrow and the Harvest. There are two songs on it that I like as much (by which I mean to say am absolutely fixated on and can't stop listening to) as any songs I have ever heard in my entire life: "The Way That It Goes" and "Tennessee". Buy the album!

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