Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Requiem for the dragon lady

The other set of tabs I've had open on my computer for many days now: obituaries for Anne McCaffrey.  Oh, how I loved her books at age eleven and twelve - especially the Harper Hall trilogy, but really the Pern books more generally, and I think I must have read everything she published, at least if I could get my hands on a copy.  I still think I should have a clutch of fire lizards as pets!  It is the end of an era for me now, with Anne McCaffrey and Dick Francis representing the two pillars of my early adolescent light reading...


Contrary to the impression that may be created here, I usually enjoy an extremely quiet and solitary life!  Am slightly cracking under the pressure of so much human contact over the last week: each individual piece of Thanksgiving was nice, but cumulatively overwhelming, and having only got home Sunday night from Virginia via Amtrak, I was horrified and appalled to have to leave for the airport again less than 24 hours later!

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!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Secrets of style

D. A. Miller, on the perverse relation of style to the marriage plot in Austen's fiction (today I am teaching Jane Austen, or The Secrets of Style): "Though the heroine’s adoption of style may  induce the courtship plot, what brings this plot to fruition—what gets her desire to quicken, too—is a moment of mortification when, the better to acquire the selfhood she had never before wanted, the heroine forsakesstyle; or rather, what is much more demeaning, she flattens it into a merely decorative reminiscence of itself, like a flower pressed into a wedding album."


A trove of unpublished works by Anthony Burgess.

Phil Hogan interviews Gillian Welch and David Rawlings for the Observer.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Closing tabs

It has been an unproductive day thus far in the sense that I have neither exercised nor done any 'real' work, but it was hugely beneficial in terms of mental health and tidying and organizing just to have a day at home sorting things out.  B. is arriving in an hour or so from the airport, and the apartment is ready for a visitor; the kitchen table (a.k.a. desk: it is actually an old drawing table bestowed on me by a neighbor in Cambridge c. 1993) is covered with neat piles of work and manuscripts; I have my Boston hotel reservation for the week immediately after Thanksgiving and have called in prescription refills and done a host of other minor errands of that sort.

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

Paper moon

Satyagraha was utterly magical.  That's the Times review, click through and watch the video if you have some spare minutes - I don't know that it conveys how lovely the music is, but it does give some approximate sense of the beauty of the mise-en-scene, especially the puppetry and the use of paper and other inexpensive props (I do not know that I have ever seen a better use of paper in a stage production).  It is later in Gandhi's life than his South African career that he would become strongly associated with the handloom, but there is a particularly beautiful scene that involves something like tape being wound back and forth across the stage like the warp on a simple mechanical loom - it is beautiful!

(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

"Tickling, Vociferating, Diving"

Post title from The Dunciad, selected early this morning - only I got too busy to actually write a post!  It is a good sequence of words, though....

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


Beautiful FT piece by Leah Price with interviews of writers and photographs of their libraries (FT site registration required).  It is a small sampler of what sounds like a book I must acquire as soon as possible: Unpacking My Library: Writers and their Books, published by Yale University Press later this month.

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.)

End-of-week update

By dint of a fairly ferocious week-long effort I have now crossed off every single item but one on the list of work I brought with me (the exception is a small piece I said I'd write for Frequencies, and I can definitely write that later this evening or tomorrow before I have to go to the airport mid-afternoon).  Phew - contemplating the next three weeks is no longer inducing a minor nervous breakdown...

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Cult pork

McRib as arbitrage strategy?

(Via Tyler Cowen.)

Blissful news

I've been sitting on this since the end of last week.  Now it is official, I can announce it publicly! 

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).

"Germany becomes Greek!"

At the LRB blog, Tom McCarthy on Kittler's gramophones.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Timetable woes

Had a minor but total freakout late this afternoon when I realized that I had mentally inserted an imaginary week into my schedule between now and Thanksgiving.  When am I going to get all that work done?!?

(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

Holiday edition

The sad truth about Columbia's election holiday is that I mostly use it to catch up on work!  Just finishing a tenure letter for a scholar at another university (these are time-consuming) and will spend Tuesday and Wednesday working on a similar letter for an untenured but prolific colleague at my home institution as well as writing several other letters of recommendation and an overdue reader's report on a journal article. 

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!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


I am not much of a one for Halloween, but I got home on Monday just as large numbers of highly excited children were congregating in the building lobby for the annual Halloween party and maniacal subsequent hallway-and-stairwell trick-or-treating, and was swept up in the hospitality of some neighbors I like very much but don't see too often!  Walked away from their place an hour or so later feeling the soothing effects of cheese, beer and candy but also with a real treat tucked under my arm: an advance copy of Heidi Julavits's The Vanishers, a novel I have been coveting ever since I first heard about it a few months ago. 

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.