Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The progress of beauty

Fielding's narrator, of the character of Mrs. Partridge, in Tom Jones (the reference is II.iii.78):
Whether she sat to my Friend Hogarth, or no, I will not determine; but she exactly resembled the young Woman who is pouring out her Mistress’s Tea in the third Picture of the Harlot’s Progress.
The whole series is here.

"To Generalize is to be an Idiot"

The award for best quote of the day goes to William Blake by way of Cynthia Wall's great book The Prose of Things.  Blake wrote this in the margin of his copy of Reynolds' Discourses:
To Generalize is to be an Idiot.  To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit. . . . Singular & Particular Detail is the Foundation of the Sublime.

Table to table

Colm Tóibín is a person of great virtue!  Here's a bit of the interview I especially liked:
These CDs (pictured) are all different recordings of A German Requiem. But I'm not allowed to listen to any of them until I finish the novel I'm working on – I started it in April 2000. There will be a moment at the end of the novel where the woman will say, 'I'm going to sing in A German Requiem.' I haven't written that scene yet and until I do, I can't listen to my CDs. Everywhere I go I find another recording of A German Requiem and I have them piled up as a warning to myself: get on with your work.

Monday, February 27, 2012


It is a hazard of working on eighteenth-century literature: these are in fact only six books, not nineteen, and in an ideal world I would reread them all over the next couple of days while finishing working on a talk I'm giving on Thursday!  (And where is my 'real' edition of Locke's Essay?  One of these days I am actually going to have to clean up my office in Philosophy Hall....)

Closing tabs

John Jeremiah Sullivan tires of his voice.  (Via Elif Batuman.)

Anthony Sampson's archive: the corridors of power....  (Courtesy of I.H.D.)

I went to the memorial service for my friend Carey yesterday and am still feeling discombobulated, with a very busy week ahead.  Haven't had much time for light reading, but did enjoy Seanan McGuire's latest October Daye book (it is very good, she has really upped her game with each entry into the series) and also devoured, helplessly, Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels (you can get the quartet in a book or a bundle).

If I can make it through the next week and a half, it's spring break and I get a respite and time to work on novel revisions, but this week is looking mighty daunting!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Note to self

It is very strange: I've been thinking at the back of my mind all day about a review I drafted last week that didn't come out quite right and that I didn't have time to sit down with properly during daytime hours today due to other obligations.  But as I finished tomorrow's reading for lecture (the first two books of Tom Jones), not only did the brand-new first paragraph of the reimagined review burst into my mind, I also near-simultaneously thought of a different and better way of handling two representative arguments about the 'minute particular' in a talk I'm giving next week.  I feel more alert and cognitively capable than I have all day; have scrawled down a rough version of the new opening for the review as well as a memorandum about my intended mobilization of notionally opposing arguments about detail and historicity by Hartley and Sheridan, and will shortly stop work to try and wind down for the night....

Better set alarm very early to work on that review properly and get it sent off before my 10:30 appointment at the gym: nighttime is mentally active, for better and for worse, but writing proper generally needs to be done before I get sucked into the vortex of the rest of the day!  This post can be considered a thank-you note to Fielding for prompting intellectual activity, even if I do not love his novels the way I love Richardson's.

Dogs, cones

Tantalizing miniatures.  (Would be even better if edible!)  (Via Things Organized Neatly.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

And yet more tabs

(These should have been incorporated into my previous post, but I jumped the gun due to fatigue and inattention!)

Lauren Cerand's notes on elegance.

Emily Gould on the signature scent.

More tabs

Fiendishly busy through the end of next week, and a little worried about snowballing March commitments also - but it's only two and a half weeks from now until spring break, at which point I will dig my head down hard into novel revisions...

A great profile of Vanessa Veselka.

A feast of sounds at the British Library.

Dave Lull kindly forwarded Tom Shippey's amusing 1982 review of Martin Amis and others on videogames.

On Friday night (I'm giving a talk in Boston on Thursday) I am going to stay with a dear old friend and see this production of one of my favorite plays!

Have hardly even had any time to read a novel, too much other work and other reading, though I did reread Diana Wynne Jones's Enchanted Glass on Friday night as most soothing available option and also, on the subway, Charlie Williams's appealing latest installment of bouncer noir, Graven Image.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Closing tabs

Dancing your PhD (FT site registration required).

The amazing kidney chain.

Martin Amis's arcades project.

Botanical forensics.

Can't recommend The Broken Heart at all (I think this review was too kind); Galileo had its moments, and the set and staging are gorgeous, but it necessarily provokes the thought It is a good thing that Brecht does not have much of an influence on current playwriting...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Not open to the public, but in the slightly unlikely event that you happen to be reading this and are also in the class, come up and introduce yourself after the lecture: I'm speaking tomorrow to Siddhartha Deb's fiction students at the New School on Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year.  It really is the most extraordinary book (I started rereading it an hour or two ago - I have an old lecture that can probably be 50% recycled but I thought I had better read as much as I could and think about what the appropriate frame will be for this context).

Closing tabs

Just had another truly terrible night of sleep.  For the last four or five days I have been clenching my jaw so tightly during the night that I am afraid it's going to break, and jaw-ache itself becomes a stress factor, but I can't fall asleep with the mouthguard in, so it's really a catch-22! 

I must confess that as hard as I'm working, I still have had time to read a few novels around the edges.  Three good ones, in fact: Taylor Stevens' excellent The Innocent, follow-up to last year's superb debut The Informationist (let us just start calling her "the female Lee Child"!); a truly delightful novel by Daniel O'Malley, The Rook (it's reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones somehow but also quite a bit like Charlie Stross's Laundry books or the Dresden Files - really genuinely charming and funny, I was hugely impressed); and a recommendation from Jo Walton, Sharon Shinn's Summers at Castle Auburn.

Closing tabs:

How long does it take to find an agent?

Wikis in the classroom.

A competition in honor of Helen Hill.

I can't wait to read Francis Spufford's new book!

Irresistible juveniles.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Eyes too like the lobster's"

At the TLS, Claire Harman on Jenny Hartley's new one-volume selection of Dickens' letters:
He is often killingly funny, more so even than in the novels, as in his description of taking his son and friends out on a picnic from Eton; “What I suffered for fear those boys should get drunk – the struggles I underwent in a contest of feeling between hospitality and prudence – must ever remain untold . . . . They were very good, however. The speech of one became thick, and his eyes too like the lobster’s to be comfortable, but only temporarily”.


More on rabbit show-jumping.  (Via Tyler Cowen.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Unusual tongues

At the FT, Daniel Cohen interviews Brian Stowell, author of the only full-length novel written in Manx (site registration required):
In 2006, I published a novel in Manx, The Vampire Murders, satirising life on the Isle of Man. It was serialised in one of the papers here and now bits of it are being used for the Manx equivalent to an A-level. It’s the first full-length novel in Manx. The potential readership is very low indeed – only about 200 people can read it without much difficulty. You could rationalise why I went ahead by saying, “oh, it will be used for studying Manx.” But I never had that in mind at all. I just thought it’d be a great laugh to write a novel in Manx. Now there are a few other people writing original material.
About to be fairly fiendishly busy for the next three or so weeks.  Had a good visit for some days this week from cousin George and her boyfriend Jeremy, although I am slightly ashamed that I didn't make it to either of his gigs (inertia and fatigue were very strong, and Williamsburg and the Lower East Side far away...); Olympia, WA looks like it was fun....

Slightly annoyed with myself due to belated recognition that I have rather been letting Facebook cannibalize amusing but non-literary links that come my way.  Resolved for future not to waste stuff over there: Light Reading is a better archive if I want to find anything later on!  A couple of the best ones I did double up on here also (i.e. black cat auditions), but I hereby offer up the following handful of recapitulations: wings and more wings, presidential aspirations in the youthful professoriat, a day in the grinding room, mattress flip.

Radium-age re-releases!

Light reading around the edges: Carol O'Connell's latest Mallory novel, The Chalk Girl.  I thoroughly enjoyed it (it's better than the last few have been); I find O'Connell an intriguing case, as she basically ignores pretty much all the rules of good writing and yet produces these books that are strangely mesmerizing despite their evident shortcomings in the matter of narration, characterization, plausibility, etc. The books for the Young Lions award seem to me very good this year, and there are certainly a couple I'll blog about at a later stage once confidentiality isn't an issue.

Nice glimpses here of my little nephew as well as of my sister-in-law's very lovely Austin store.  I am trying to figure out when I might get down to Austin: I'd love to go for the 70.3 in late October, though I fancy that even in late October Austin might feel rather warm to me.  I am going to San Antonio for the big eighteenth-century studies conference in March, but teaching obligations on either side mean that there is no way to extend that trip with an Austin leg.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Bad habits

Clarissa to Anna Howe, letter dated "Sat. night, Mar. 18" (the Penguin edition edited by Angus Ross seems to be no longer in print, which is dismaying to me!):
 You see, my dear, he scruples not to speak of himself, as his enemies speak of him.  I can’t say, but his openness in these particulars gives a credit to his other professions.  I should easily, I think, detect a hypocrite: and this man particularly, who is said to have allowed himself in great liberties, were he to pretend to instantaneous lights and convictions—at his time of life too: habits, I am sensible, are not so easily changed.  You have always joined with me in remarking that he will speak his mind with freedom, even to a degree of unpoliteness sometimes; and that his very treatment of my family is a proof that he cannot make a mean court to anybody for interest-sake.  What pity, where there are such laudable traces, that they should have been so mired, and choked up, as I may say!—We have heard that the man’s head is better than his heart: but do you really think Mr Lovelace can have a very bad heart?  Why should not there by something in blood in the human creature, as well as in the ignobler animals?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Chewing through glitches

Margo Lanagan on writing.  (Via Theodora Goss.)  My daily quota is usually only about half the amount Margo mentions (I often set it at 1500 words, which I find comfortably easy i.e. sustainable over a period of weeks, and I will set it lower - 1000 - if I am feeling any strain), but I second what she says, that there's no point going over one's daily quota because it only involves getting a sloppy version that is essentially subtracted from what one can produce the next day. 

I should add that I have always been a huge skeptic about the notion that one should write every day: it simply doesn't seem to take into account life's complexities, desirable and otherwise.  I remember Lee Child saying at a publicity event for one of the Jack Reacher novels that he'd written it in 81 days of writing, not consecutive but nearly so (it is not always practical to write on, say, Thanksgiving).  He writes one of those books each year, not more; Iain Banks, too, writes a draft of a new novel in about three months.  A recharging spell is then desirable.

I write something every day (blogs, emails, lectures, letters of recommendation, reviews, interviews, etc.), and obviously I'm constantly reading and would experience a day without reading as one of mighty deprivation, but I am by no means constantly working actively on a new piece of writing.  The rhythm of the school year suits me pretty well, only it would be better if I would work slightly less hard during the semester and accordingly need less time to bounce back after I'm done teaching in December or May.  I think that a year isn't a good year for me if I didn't have at least 90 days of real writing days, where the first and most important thing I did was write quota/produce first draft (and that should be enough to produce a draft of a book or partial drafts of two books), but that a year in which I have 300 writing days is possibly or even probably a year in which I feel bored, grumpy and understimulated; a semester of teaching gives me a hunger for writing time that I can then really take advantage of, and I do not envy those who have undertaken the life of full-time fiction writer.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Closing tabs

Slightly outside my usual bailiwick, but I enjoyed Gideon Rachmann's piece about lunching with Kenneth Rogoff for the FT (site registration required).  The discussion of chess addiction is compelling, there's good advice about eating before a meal during which one will be expected to talk a lot and I like the small drama of the food-ordering as it plays out on this particular occasion (one always feels a pang for the interviewer deprived of dessert!).

Jace Clayton's amazing alternate Kindle screensavers!

Robin McKinley on starting a novel and revising it.


Not online (I will link to it directly if it goes up later on), but my review of Sarah Manguso's The Guardians can be found in the current issue of Bookforum.

The black cat club

This might be the best thing I ever saw in my life!

My cold is on the mend, after three nights of sleeping for about 12 hours a pop.  Light reading around the edges: the first and second installments of Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy, because young-adult fantasy is by far the best genre to read when ill; before that, Arne Dahl's Misterioso which I enjoyed quite a bit but found very odd in a way that could not clearly be attributed to translator or to original author but that puzzled me considerably (weird switches in POV, slightly surreal transitions, etc. -  I wasn't convinced that they were deliberate); and Joshilyn Jackson's excellent A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty.  It really speaks to an injustice in the reviewing/prestige market in our country that Jackson's books aren't getting full-page treatment in the NYTBR....

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Going underwater

Sheila Heti interviews Joan Didion for the Believer. (And I hesitate to link to it, since I think much of it is preposterous, but I did find that Caitlin Flanagan's piece on Didion in the Atlantic held my attention....)

The Flatt Prize will award $1000 to the winner of its short-story competition.

I have a minor but unpleasant cold; hoping to make a bit of headway this afternoon with the second half of the novel revisions (I sent a new version of the first half to my editor on Tuesday, which was good).  February is going to be a demanding month, and so is March, and April always is because of structural things about the shape of the school year, so I am endeavoring to push hard but also to pace myself for what is essentially an ongoing challenge that runs through the middle of May!