Thursday, March 29, 2012

Closing tabs

Last weekend's conference was worthwhile but exhausting.  With regret but fortitude I announce that I have decided that I must attend the national ASECS conference every year as part of my core responsibilities: fortunately the coming three years will be easier to get to as well as probably rather less expensive (Cleveland, colonial Williamsburg and Minneapolis).  Had some great conversations with friends old and new, with older people I consider wise and with current and former students; meal venues included here and here.

The trip back was horrible and took fourteen hours door to door due to various delays; I got slightly lost in the Dallas airport (the SkyTrain shut down, and it's not well marked for pedestrians) and had significant anxiety that I was not going to make even the later flight I'd been rebooked on due to the initial delay, though all was fine in the end.  My bag turned out to have been on the earlier plane, but before I realized that, I spent a discouraged spell watching an increasingly empty carousel go round at LaGuardia: the sensation of relief when I realized my bag was actually in the luggage room is indescribable.

Closing tabs:

Norwegian larp!

How George Takei conquered Facebook.

The history of the O-U-I-J-A board.

The case for sleeping pills?

And last but not least, a highly archeological cake situation....

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Life writing

A well-known and perhaps apt passage from Tristram Shandy, which I'm teaching later this afternoon:
I am this month one whole year older than I was this time twelve-month; and having got, as you perceive, almost into the middle of my fourth volume—and no farther than to my first day’s life—‘tis demonstrative that I have three hundred and sixty-four days more life to write just now, than when I first set out; so that instead of advancing, as a common writer, in my work with what I have been doing at it—on the contrary, I am just thrown so many volumes back—was every day of my life to be as busy a day as this—And why not?—and the transactions and opinions of it to take up as much description—And for what reason should they be cut short? As at this rate I should just live 364 times faster than I should write—It must follow, an’ please your worships, that the more I write, the more I shall have to write—and consequently, the more your worships read, the more your worships will have to read.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Miscellaneous update

I have just had rather a dreadful week due to circumstances well beyond my control (medical calamity of an extended family member, won't go into more detail than that!), and in short, the spring break that I hoped might be restorative just dug me deeper into the hole!

Last night, on a plane to San Antonio for the big annual eighteenth-century studies conference, I thought with dislike about the deep unpleasantness of flying and the unfortunate scheduling of such academic events at a time of year when I am already in any case barely keeping my head above water.

In short, I have been grumpy and glum indeed!

However now that I have actually written my paper (it was in my head, but I did not have time and concentration to get it down on the page until just this afternoon in my hotel room), I feel much less grumpy - that is good.  I remain perplexed that the institution of these conferences still has so much traction in the age of the internet (if one thousand academics each need to spend something in the region of $1,500, probably mostly reimbursed by their home institutions but often coming at least partly out of pocket, and 10 hours of travel time and an entire Wednesday to Sunday when none of their other work and life responsibilities offer any surcease, just in order to press the flesh, is that really a good use of communal resources?), but it is admittedly a very attractive setting here, and I will go out for dinner later on with my graduate students and junior colleagues from Columbia.  The conference hotel is very nice!  The metaphysical advantages of non-virtual presence, though, are surely overrated.

Closing tabs: Ed Park on Harry Stephen Keeler; Amy Davidson on the Hunger Games and counterinsurgency; at the TLS, Robert D. Hume on Michael Dobson's book about amateur Shakespeare performance.

Light reading around the edges:

A wonderful book by Will Chaffey, someone I only met recently in the wake of Carey Monserrat's death, called Swimming with Crocodiles (free for Kindle with Amazon Prime, though enthusiasm led me to purchase my copy before I realized I could get it for free!); very vivid and moving in its account of the geology and wildlife of Australia, and also a nerve-racking survivalist tale of a wilderness trek that did not make me reverse my anti-camping position (but I do wish I could go swimming with 'freshies' if not with 'salties'!);

Lauren Groff's mesmerizing and moving Arcadia, which I resisted at first but then fell into headlong (it is not relevant, but I am predisposed to like Groff's work not just because I enjoyed her first novel so much but also because her sister is a top triathlete!);

Seanan McGuire's new novel Discount Armageddon, which is full of charming and humorous details and which I thoroughly recommend if you read this sort of thing;

and an electronic advance copy of Rosamond Lupton's forthcoming Afterwards, which will sound ludicrous if I describe it to you and whose narrative premise I cannot really endorse as a matter of principle but which is certainly one of the most grippingly readable thrillers I will read this year.  It was the only redeeming feature of yesterday's plane flight, that's for sure!

In conclusion, saltwater crocodiles are almost certainly more dangerous than sharks, from a swimmer's point of view - a shark is only going to chomp you by accident (especially if you're wearing a wetsuit that makes you resemble a seal), whereas the croc really does want to digest not just your limbs but probably also your torso if at all possible.

Now I am going to go and find the business center to print out my paper....

Friday, March 16, 2012

Closing tabs

Crossing borders makes us all vulnerable.

"One of the rarest - and most expensive - TSR products"!

Have a browser full of open tabs re: journal articles for thoughts I want to jot down this weekend on formalism and literary study.  Also: two meals today with family and close friends that make me very grateful for good health and fellowship, perennial insomnia problems notwithstanding!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


OK, that's good, I have now finished the three-hour work session that I really should have had before I put that messy marked-up tea-stained manuscript away for some weeks.  All old revisions are typed up, and I'm printing out the full draft so that I can work on the hard copy rather than on-screen (no internet distractions, and gives me a better sense of proportion about how parts relate to whole, pacing, etc.).  I have a good new set of comments from Ed on the rewritten first half, too, so I think I'll start with that/those.

This revision will happen, come hell, high water or histamines....

(One obstacle to single-minded focus, aside from question of regular teaching and other academic responsibilities, is that I need to go to San Antonio for four nights next weekend for ASECS, which will be demanding: I am giving a short paper and am also on a roundtable, but it's more the travel and the socializing that knock you out!)

Will shortly go out for a run - it is if possible an even nicer day today than yesterday!

Stuck up!

This post title is a homage to Wendy, who liked punny blog titles and who would have used it to solve the puzzle of what kind of a doctor I saw on Thursday and Monday, stomach-ache notwithstanding: the allergist!

The initial round of testing on Thursday sent me into something of a mental tailspin.  It was not to my surprise but certainly to my chagrin that I proved violently allergic to nearly every major environmental trigger.  On my way home, I was so immersed in the leaflet the doctor gave me that I actually missed my subway stop; of course, partly the distress is physical, the histamines were raging in the bloodstream and the amazingly named "wheal and flare" response to skin pricks is unpleasant, but I think the major emotional stress factor here concerns the question of living with a cat.  To me that seems non-negotiable!  I have obtained new bedding and will start allergy shots tomorrow or the next day: the doctor chooses five high-priority allergens to desensitize the patient to, and I think she said that we will do spring pollen/trees, fall pollen/trees, dust mites, cockroaches (NYC living!) and cat dander.  I'll go a couple times a week just for next week or two to get a head start, and then fall back to once a week.  I also have nasal spray and instructions to wipe down the cat with a wet cloth a couple times a week: little does he know what is in store....

Light reading around the edges: an advance copy of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, which truly exists at the sweet spot between Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Crais (I wasn't crazy about the final twist at the very end, but it is grippingly readable); and Kameron Hurley's fascinating and engaging God's War, which has a misleading and odd opening that I think detracts from the effectiveness of the book as a whole but which I really loved otherwise.  Kind of like Steph Swainston, with worldbuilding reminiscent in certain respects of but to my taste superior to The Windup Girl.

Head back in the game

I was very glum yesterday: I had had such visions of productivity in the way of pages and exercise for my spring break, and in the event it is fully halfway over and I have essentially done no pages and no exercise!  Debilitating insomnia on Saturday and Sunday nights, and then on Monday morning it came clear to me that really I wasn't just having the stomach-ache and slight queasiness of insufficient sleep, but really a minor stomach ailment that led to me spending the day in bed.  Didn't even feel well enough to read a book, which is saying something.  Stomach-ache has finally lifted this morning, fortunately, and I think I will run for an hour later on.

In short: I guess I've just been working too hard, and that my plans for the break (it's only one week) were unrealistic.  Just now I am finally about to dig in on the dreaded novel revisions.  Need to get my head back in that game!  This, unfortunately, is quite literally (only it was on the chair visible in the background - I have just transferred the stack to newly cleared desk) the state in which I left it: I put it aside a month ago when pressures of work became too great.  Today will be devoted to figuring out where the hell I left off and trying to reduce the pile of papers I actually need to attend to.  It will be good, really....

Some tabs to close:

Access all areas?

Tradecraft for the aspirational publishing reporter.

The virtues of writing a textbook or synthesis at mid-career.

Last but not least, a strong list of finalists for the Young Lions Fiction Award at the New York Public Library!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Light reading catch-up

I hadn't really intended to, but in effect I am clearly taking the weekend off (tomorrow I have ambitious exercise plans and am also meeting my dad for lunch and the matinee of Nico's ballet)....

Finally had time to read some novels, soothingly!

Edward St. Aubyn's At Last is pretty amazing; I like the aphoristic mode here better than the mode of more profound commentary, but these Patrick Melrose books really are a must-read (and as I said, I think the opening chapter of this one may be the single best novel opening I've read in recent memory).

I considerably enjoyed Anya Lipska's Where the Devil Can't Go, a crime novel about Polish immigrants in London (a good recommendation from Maxine!); Sharon Shinn's Troubled Waters is what my grandmother, speaking disparagingly of certain kinds of sliced bread, would have called 'pap,' but highly readable pap; S. G. Browne's Breathers: A Zombie's Lament is absolutely wonderful (thanks to Jared for the recommendation); Robert Harris's The Fear Index is goofily heavy-handed in its Frankenstein parallels but certainly a page-turner.

Bonus link (FT site registration required, but it's more interesting than what Harris tells us about finance!): school for quants.

Closing tabs

Why Diana Athill moved into an old people's home.  (This is the same place my grandmother lived before she died!)

Francis Spufford reviews Turing's Cathedral.  Have obtained a copy on basis of that review.

Luc Sante on the relationship between writing and editing.

Pantone squares as fruit tarts.  (Not perhaps as amazing, due to constitutive textural irregularities, as the Pantone cookies of yesteryear.)

Sunday, March 04, 2012


The Observer republishes a great 1992 piece by Anthony Burgess.  All sorts of good things in there, but here's one of my perennial favorite Burgess anecdotes:
For the average reader cannot imagine the immense number of books that are published until he has actually handled them. In the 1960s I was shocked to discover how many novels are published in a year. This was when I was given the job of fiction editor for the Yorkshire Post, a very reputable journal, much read in the dales and the clubs of wool and steel magnates. I had to furnish a fortnightly article in which five or six new books had to be given serious treatment and, in a kind of coda, 10 or so others granted a phrasal summation — like 'All too putdownable' or, rather ambiguous, 'For insomniacs', or 'India encapsulated in a poppadom' or 'Sex on Ilkley Moor — baht more than 'at'. When the stint began, in the January of 1960, I felt that it might be easy enough, for few novels arrived. I had forgotten that the New Year was always a slack time for publishing. As the year burgeoned, so did fiction. I was living in a small Sussex village, and extra staff had to be taken on at the local post office to cope with the flood.

The pay for the fortnightly article was very small — £6 in pre-decimal money — but the incidental rewards were considerable. Every other Monday morning I staggered to the local railway station, weighed down with two suitcases full of new fiction. The villagers, whose memories were short, assumed on each occasion that I was leaving my wife. These suitcases were emptied on to the floor of the back room of Louis Simmonds, a bookseller on the Strand. He paid 50% of the sale price of each book, in crisp new notes. This was non-taxable cash, and my walk back to Charing Cross Station was usually an irregular one.
Here's my old post  on Andrew Biswell's superb Burgess biography.

The competition is for "promising new arts journalists," and it sounds as though it would be a very good way of trying to break into bigger markets - take a look if you're starting out in that sort of line...

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Caslon et al.

A book repository designed along the model of the Svalbard seed vault.  (John Seabrook's memorable piece about the seed vault is online only to New Yorker subscribers, but here's a good slide show to an old NYT story on the same topic.  Peruvian potatoes and Syrian legumes are among the most recent deposits.)

Love life of the Colorado beetle

At the NYRB, John Banville on the latest volumes of Beckett's letters.

Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America

Closing tabs:

This may come in handy one day.

Good advice from my former student Juli Weiner!

Sleep as science-fictional adventure?

I want to see this show....

(The Audubon image is from the Morgan Library website.)

Light reading update

My review of Ellen Ullman's new novel By Blood is up at Slate.  Very happy to be writing for a new 'venue,' as they say!

Miscellaneous light reading around the edges of a busy week: Delia Sherman's lovely young-adult novel The Freedom Maze, which both is and is not like the time-travel books I devoured in my childhood, and Alan Glynn's excellent thriller Bloodland.  Just started on Edward St. Aubyn's At Last, which seemed to me as I read it last night to have what is possibly one of the best opening chapters I have ever seen.