Monday, June 27, 2011

I wish I had thought of this!

Judith Klausner has made a series of Oreo cameos.
(Via BoingBoing.)

(The cereal sampler is also particularly effective...)

BOMH update

Just finished typing up round one of edits on the novel manuscript. Have made some decisions about what sort of melodrama to introduce and how to contain it; much work remains to be done, but I think I see my way clear now to massaging this draft into a decent beta version.

Not sure how much opportunity I'll have to work on this over the coming week in Ottawa, but I think there is a very good chance I'll have a version I can send out to my agent by my birthday on July 21 (in hopes that mild sense of accomplishment at getting a biggish thing off my desk will fend off the tailspin effects of turning 40!). That's what I'm shooting for, anyway...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday update

I've been making myself crazy the last couple days with self-castigation about my missed race: it was painful but straightforward to decide to pull out at the beginning of the week, as I was still feeling so ill that I couldn't even imagine getting myself and luggage on a plane to Idaho on Thursday let alone actually exerting myself on the racecourse today, but as the antibiotics worked their magic and I started to feel more myself again, it was inevitable that I would second-guess myself.

In short, I know that I made the proper decision, but half of me still very much wishes that I were living in an endurance sport vacuum where I could just do things as irresponsibly and self-absorbedly as I wish and have the ill consequences affect nobody but myself!


I am holed up at my mother's house in Philadelphia, keeping my little cat company and getting some work done on my novel. Have been wrestling with certain plot-related obstacles: I am really overlaying the draft with an entirely new more thriller-type plot - Barbara Vine/Joyce Carol Oates thriller, not Lee Child thriller - but having a hard time getting the right balance of melodrama and emotional plausibility; I am working with a fixed quantity, a death at the end of the book, but I need to have it not just come out of nowhere. We will see what can be done.

The days loom rather long here, especially without exercise (I am going to venture out for a short run later and see how it feels - lungs finally almost entirely better), so I have read an implausibly large number of books...

(I did spend a very pleasant afternoon yesterday with my adorable little niece and her parents, and will have oysters tomorrow evening with my dad, so I am not altogether hermited up, much as I feel like skulking and lying low!)

A couple books that I was finishing the night before I left New York, out of desire not to bring excess physical books with me on complicated travels: Michael Gelb's Body Learning: An Introduction to the Alexander Technique (an odd book, worthwhile but strange; I think that this other one which I did actually pack in my luggage is probably in a more modern vein!); Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds, a nice present from Brent.

A couple more actual physical books I brought with me and will now ditch: Charles de Lint, Promises to Keep (minor but pleasant - I think Colleen might have sent me this years ago, though really it is hard to say, books crop up from who knows where...); Margaret Mahy, The Magician of Hoad (I loved this one - but now see I could have had it for Kindle after all! Plucked it from the shelf at the Bank Street Bookstore a few weeks ago on a day when I felt short of anything good to read).

In the couple days before I left New York, I put the call out for light reading recommendations (will welcome more here, too, in the comments, if you didn't see my Facebook one). I need to stock up with a lot of books for the next couple weeks/months! I got a ton of stuff but am unfortunately already burning through it at a slightly worrying rate...

Kate Christensen, The Astral: A Novel. This one was a bit of a disappointment to me. I really loved her last novel Trouble, but somehow I just couldn't suspend my disbelief in the protagonist of this one: I initially thought that Christensen was ventriloquizing this unattractive late-middleaged male character to some more postmodern end that would soon be revealed, and that it would be a novel of multiple voices, and I was mildly dismayed as I realized I was going to have to keep company with him for the entire book. The writing is very good, but there is something deeply unbelievable about the premise and character (or perhaps it is just that I disliked him more than the novel seemed to want me to), so that I don't know I'd recommend it more generally unless it is, as they say, the sort of book you particularly like...

Cherie Priest's Bloodshot was extremely enjoyable: it is a less abbitious book than many of the others she's written, but that makes it fit more perfectly into the light reading mold! I will look forward to subsequent installments of this series.

A couple very good recommendations from Brent, who heard my call and kept the links coming: Suzy McKee Charnas's Dorothea Dreams, which is to a ridiculously exact degree exactly the kind of book I most love (it is a very good book in its own right, but the fit with my personal tastes is slightly uncanny!); and, also very good but less exactly my kind of book (definitely recommended, though - it's great!), Max Brooks's World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Hmmm, I had better start brushing up my survivalist in preparation for the pending zombie apocalypse...

Next up: a fat little omnibus I got for $6.99 used at Amazon after reading Jo Walton's description of the trilogy as having "a high 'I want to read it' quotient," which is really another way of what I mean when I beg for light reading - it might have serial killers, it might have swashbuckling swordsmen, but it has to have a high want-to-read quotient! Interesting: when I purchased that shortly after reading Walton's post, there were tons of cheap copies, but clearly there was a run on it, now all the copies available via Amazon are significantly more expensive!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I had to cancel my race, ugh - a great disappointment, but I will survive, it is not the end of the world. Glumness-inducing, though! I believe I am now on the mend, but still feeling pretty much under the weather, with a bad cough and low energy levels.

It would be seriously misrepresenting things if I implied that I had not been without New York consolations in the meantime. L. successfully defended her dissertation yesterday, and her parents took us out for duck lunch; I saw friend Jason Grote's Civilization (all you can eat) (it is a good production, but the power of cough drops was strained to the uttermost limit!) and had a drink afterwards at Lucky Strike with some folks I admire.

Kio Stark's Follow Me Down is a beautiful little novel, following in a vein I think of as having been very profitably mined by Sara Gran, with every word absolutely perfectly positioned in the right place; I thoroughly enjoyed it (it is also the first I've read from Richard Nash's new venture Red Lemonade. Hmmm, it might be that this would be a good home down the road for BOMH (initial copy-edit is complete, and I am slightly daunted by the scale of the new writing and plotting required, but will undertake it as soon as I have wriggled through next set of geographical transitions)...

Other light reading: Stuart MacBride's Cold Granite (slightly cartoonish but appealing and readable); Steve Mosby's Cry for Help (implausible but suspenseful); S. J. Bolton's Now You See Me (ditto).

Two good and quite different-from-each-other books about endurance sport (tormenting myself while I can't do anything much myself): Chris McCormack's I'm Here to Win (worthwhile, interesting) and Amy Snyder's Hell on Two Wheels: An Astonishing Story of Suffering, Triumph, and the Most Extreme Endurance Race in the World. It is rare for me to read a book of this sort without having a fairly strong urge to undertake the event myself, but in this case I can truly say I would not harbor even the least little desire to do such a thing!

Monday, June 20, 2011


In Errol Morris's roundabout inquiry into whether his deceased brother was the co-inventor of email, this paragraph caught my eye:
The funeral was in Brookline, Mass., at the Levine Chapel. I knew that my brother had friends, but he worked unendingly, and I was worried that nobody would be there for the funeral. There was my mother, my step-father, and my two step-brothers and step-sister. And, literally, hundreds of people. It was absolutely filled. People were standing in the back. I had the picture of my brother as isolated. Julia asked me, “How did they all find out?” And I said, “They communicate with each other using computers.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday musings

This would make a good premise for an urban fantasy novel!

My Bookforum piece about the risks and rewards of saying that literature has something to tell us about life...

I had a rather good evening at the theater last night: G. and I saw Spider-Man! It was considerably better than I expected; the first half is a bore (why, oh why do they feel the need to include the de rigueur school bullying scene?!?), but the second half really picked up focus, and some of the sets and stage effects are really lovely, particularly the perspectival shifts that see you suddenly looking down from the top of the Chrysler building. It seemed to be warmly received by those in the house - I would think it has the potential to stick. (The music is truly mediocre.)

Chipping away at BOMH revisions, but laboring under a painful lung ailment (I've been sick for almost two weeks now) that is making me very seriously worried about whether I'll be able to race next weekend. Doctor's appointment Monday late afternoon will be an initial stage of decision-making. I was sucking on the cough drops at last night's show, and desperately coughing up junk whenever there was a loud part to cover the sound....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Closing tabs

My eyes are almost completely better (those drops are a miracle cure!), but my lung ailment is lasting forever - it's making me very worried about whether I'll be better in time for my race on the 26th. All I can do, though, is lounge around and try and mend and hope for the best...

(Also I dug the little humidifier out of the closet and plugged it in, and purchased some new high-powered extra-strength Mucinex.)

Sat down with the Bacchae on Morningside Heights manuscript this morning and made a good start on editing; I am excited!

(I decided to switch the planned order and revise this one first and the style book second. This is the more interesting and ambitious revision - i.e. I guess much more work remains to be done - and I decided to give in to the impulse to treat myself with the interesting one first...)

I think it will take me three or four days to go through and do a decent copy-edit on the whole thing; in the meantime I'm making a list of places where new scenes need to be inserted to do more work of plot and character development. I want it to have more of a real thriller structure, so that's the main project; but first I'll clean up the prose that I have, type up corrections and then work with a clean version as I start in on the new writing.

Meanwhile, closing some tabs:

Synesthesia and swimming! (Courtesy of Brent, as is the next link also.)

Ways British usage tends to be misunderstood.

""You wouldn't think to read the pack because it looks so much like cookies"!

Good ones all over, but I especially enjoyed this obituary of Patrick Leigh Fermor by Artemis Cooper for the Independent.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The plagues of Job

Just about survived my trip to Baltimore.

I was still really pretty sick the whole time, and the last straw - it was ill-timed to say the least - was that when I woke up on Saturday, my eyes were very gummy in a way that made me start worrying; and by late afternoon (the wedding was at five) it was horrifyingly evident that I had been struck down by one of those plagues that makes you feel a true pariah (I had it once before, which is how I knew what it was): bacterial conjunctivitis!

I was dabbing my left eye (only one eye was really bad) with a tissue during the service, and slapped the sunglasses back on afterward as the situation was wildly escalating with every passing minute. I had to explain to anyone who asked that it was not an affectation but that my eye was truly so disgusting to look upon (teaspoonsful of yellow-green pus streaming out of it, and so grotesquely swollen that I looked as though I had gone eight rounds with the heavyweight champion of Sao Paolo!) that I had to keep it covered; the glasses stop you from rubbing or touching your eyes, too.

(The reception and dinner were held here, in the remarkably beautiful library of the Peabody Institute. The rehearsal dinner the night before was at Da Mimmo's, famous for its veal chops!)

So during the first part of the wedding reception I stepped outside and put in a call to the practice where I see a doctor, and he called in a prescription to my local NY pharmacy (it did not seem to make sense to try and find a Baltimore pharmacy that would be open on a Saturday night, and my timing really was most unfortunate!).

I took an earlier train home than I had planned and made a beeline to the pharmacy; I know from past experience that the antibiotic eye-drops are basically a miracle cure. But when I got there around 1, they had no record of the prescription having been called in, and I proceeded to spend an extremely frustrating hour and a half calling the medical answering service again and again until I finally got an answer back. By this time I had given up and gone home; the doc said he'd tried many times to get through to the pharmacy, but not been able to until just then (3pm Sunday by this point, almost 24 hours after I had first talked to him). So I went back over there, but they only had one of the two kinds of eyedrops and I had to go to another Rite Aid pharmacy to get the more important of the two! By this time it was almost four o'clock...

It was a huge relief to put in the first set of drops, I must say...

In fact it is much better than it was last night and this morning already; I took some Benadryl before I got on the train, and it brought down some of the swelling. Not so leaky now either. But - talk about disgusting!

I have now been sick for a week, and with no exercise - I would guess it is at least a couple days more before I should even attempt an easy hour on the stationary bike...

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

"It uses us to put them here"

Some very good lines in this altogether amusing John Jeremiah Sullivan essay on what it means 'to Disney'...

Light-reading catchup

My last really long ride before Ironman Coeur d'Alene went well, with two provisos: (1) I sustained a bizarre sports-drink-related chafing injury that is only just healing; and (2) 48 hours afterwards I was coming down with yet another chest cold! Which I am still battling, so that is frustrating. On Sunday I emailed out my long-overdue essay on Restoration theatre and the novel, and by Sunday evening it was clear that I was coming down with the dreaded lung ailment...

In short, I really have done nothing much the last few days other than ticking off a few minor bits and pieces of business (haircut, doctor's appointments, etc.) and lounging around reading novels. I'm going to a wedding in Baltimore this weekend, and will stop off en route in Philadelphia to see family and leave my little cat at my mother's for the summer; my summer subletters are actually arriving this weekend while I'm away (we'll overlap for about 10 days before I leave for real), so my task for the day is basically to clear all of my stuff out of the bedroom and living room and leave everything all nice for them when they arrive. Many library books must be returned in the interim - I have made a dent, but it is never-ending! I will be holed up in my home office trying to stay out of their way.

(Happily for me, they are bringing a cat with them, so there will be feline company during the transition period...)

Bad for my morale not to be exercising, but the combination of this wretched cold and the still-painful chafing made it pretty clear that I had no choice...

Some very good light reading, by the way. Two real actual non-Kindle books that I ordered as the Real Thing because I wanted to be able to hand them on to my mother: Tayari Jones's The Silver Sparrow, which I found beautifully written and beautifully conceived (several other people I know must read this!); and Terry Castle's The Professor: A Sentimental Education, which I loved. I had read quite a few of the essays at the time of their original publication, but have been meaning for some time to get a copy of this and revisit them all as a whole; the book is full of pretty amazing stuff, not least a few pages near the end of the title essay (and of the volume itself) that give a particularly lovely description of why one might gravitate to studying the eighteenth century.

(One other 'real' non-Kindle book that I devoured about half of last night and am looking forward to finishing later today: Wesley Stace's Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer. It is possible that I am the perfect reader of this book! I love it - it includes all sorts of elements that are exactly my favorite sort of thing, and they come together in an incredibly satisfactory way. When I read a book like this, it makes it hard to go back to the regular crime fodder...)

Miscellaneous other light reading (having a Kindle is an expensive luxury, but a very convenient one - I guess it is traditional in my life to get a cold shortly after the end of the semester and basically do little else for a few days but read crime novels?):

Lawrence Block, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (possibly even better than I remember from when I read it the first time)

Mira Grant, Deadline (I had preordered this one as soon as I finished the first installment; I think this one really lives up to the expectations created by volume one - strongly recommended if you are at all inclined to YA science fiction/zombie apocalypse, the writing is extremely good and they are pretty much pure reading pleasure!)

Pete Hamill, Tabloid City: A Novel (I found this one quite annoying, and would probably have put it aside if I hadn't been reading it on my Kindle where it somehow seems easier just to finish things off and file them away than leave them half-read; it is under-plotted, and the descriptive language is slightly irritating to me, as it seems steeped in a nostalgia that just doesn't work for me - I would recommend Richard Price or Colin Harrison in this sort of vein, or on a different but related note Pete Dexter, whose novels are all really sort of incomparably better than this one)

Rosamund Lupton, Sister: A Novel (quite good, but not perhaps up to the standard of the lavish advance billing - will certainly read her subsequent books, though)

I am a little worried about how to find enough reading material to load onto my Kindle for the first stage of my summer travels! Might have to get a bunch of free stuff (Hardy, Trollope) that I feel inclined to reread, or perhaps to reread some long series by Susan Howatch or Dorothy Dunnett or George R. R. Martin - or all of the above...

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Light reading catch-up

I thought Lawrence Block's A Drop of the Hard Stuff was sublimely good, as good as the very best in this long-running series; the books grew a bit unfocused in more recent years, but this one is set in the mid-80s near the end of the first year of Matthew Scudder's sobriety, and it works wonderfully well: good stuff. (Gave me a pang, though, in making me think of my friend M., who introduced me to these books and spoke sometimes of seeing Block at AA meetings in the Village but who has since dropped off the face of the earth; I hope he is doing OK somewhere!) Ed Park reviewed it for Time, and here were Levi Stahl's thoughts; I second Ed's observation that When the Sacred Ginmill Closes is not to be missed; in fact, I might have to give the first ones in this series a reread in the near future...

I read three books by Laura Wilson, they are very good but I think I liked the third one less than the first two, possibly because there was not such a clear protagonist to identify with: A Little Death, Dying Voices, My Best Friend.

Then I read Box 21, which I found reasonably decent but incredibly depressing; it might be that I have read enough Scandinavian crime fiction for just now, this one came perhaps too soon on the heels of the Harry Hole books!

Ruined choirs

On the occasion of the death of Dr. Kevorkian, Andrew Solomon remembers his mother.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Late May lassitude

I forgot how I always can only work at a snail's pace (a back-of-the pack snail!) in May - this essay is taking me forever to finish! A glimpse at what I have been doing this week - click for a bigger (but still probably illegible) view...