Friday, June 29, 2012

Midnight oil

It's just after midnight, and I'm relieved to say that after a brutal marathon day and evening of work, I've just sent a pretty decent Magic Circle rewrite to my editor.  We will have one more pass through it next week; the ending still isn't right, and I did a lot of new writing for the last stretch that will probably look rough when I come back to it after a few days off.  Final deadline: next Friday.  I will be glad to see the back of this one, though of course books always come back at you for copy-edit, proofing, etc. 

Need to leave for the airport in about 5.5 hours, so I think I will pack now and then see if there's any chance I might get a few hours of sleep.  It may not be an option, as it's been 3 or 4 in the morning before I've fallen asleep the last couple nights....

Light reading around the edges: David Gordon's The Serialist, which I absolutely loved.

Bonus links: nice swim bit with shout-out to my old teacher Doug Stern; Olympic training technology; "First, then, read your book."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Media diets

In May I answered interview questions for the Chronicle of Higher Education's "My Daily Read" feature, and the piece is up now at their website.

Clutter, tethers

"Since this study, I can’t stop enumerating the contents of fridge surfaces."

(I was laughing as I read this: the suggested correlation between number of fridge magnets and total amount of stuff in household struck me as suspect, with the thought in my head being something like "my fridge has a fair number of magnets on it, but I don't have an excessive amount of stuff, especially if you exclude books."  Then I saw the actual picture in the article and flinched with horror - clearly I do not have a lot of magnets on my refrigerator!)

The illustration in the article:
My fridge:
The magnets themselves are a set of Andy Warhol cats my mother gave me, plus a few miscellaneous others; they are holding up gym schedules for Chelsea Piers and local yoga, a postcard a friend sent from Alaska and a snapshot of freesias at an English flower shop sent to me by Becky from Cambridge, a book of stamps and the mammogram referral that is for September and that needs to stay somewhere findable in the meantime.

(I have a fantasy of living in a monastic cell with no stuff!)

I am slightly at the end of my tether after two nights of very poor sleep on the quality/quantity front.  I will do a marathon novel revision session today, at least after I go to the allergist for shots, but I don't think I'm going to make my deadline.  Need to leave for the airport at 5:30am tomorrow and suspect that means I will just stay up all night.  Not feeling very good about this!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"T for take all"

From the OED online, definition for "teetotum":
A small four-sided disk or die having an initial letter inscribed on each of its sides, and a spindle passing down through it by which it could be twirled or spun with the fingers like a small top, the letter which lay uppermost, when it fell, deciding the fortune of the player; now, any light top (sometimes a circular disk pierced by a short peg), spun with the fingers, used as a toy.The letters were originally the initials of Latin words, viz. T totum, A aufer, D depone, N nihil. Subsequently they were the initials of English words, T being interpreted as take-all: see quot. 1801. On the French totum or toton, the letters are T, A, D, R, meaning, according to Littré, Totum, tout, Accipe, prends, Da, donne, Rien (nothing).

1720   D. Defoe Life D. Campbell (1841) 50   A very fine ivory T totum, as children call it.
1778   F. Burney Evelina III. xxi. 240   And turn round like a tetotum.
1800   Sporting Mag. 15 48   A man was lately convicted..for selling a teetotum.
1801   J. Strutt Glig-gamena Angel-ðeod iv. iv. 341   When I was a boy the te-totum had only four sides, each of them marked with a letter; a T for take all; an H for half, that is, of the stake; an N for nothing; and a P for put down, that is, a stake equal to that you put down at first.
1818   T. Moore Fudge Family in Paris v. 23   Though, like a tee~totum, I'm all in a twirl, Yet even (as you wittily say) a tee~totum Between all its twirls gives a letter to note 'em.
1893   W. S. Gilbert Utopia (Limited) 11,   She'll waltz away like a teetotum.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday update

I was grumpy this morning when my exercise plans were thwarted, but have just had a very productive hour and a half session of brainstorming (it is a ridiculous word, but descriptive) and writing bits of new draft at the library.  A lot of work to be done between now and Thursday, but I think it will work.

Miscellaneous light reading: Christa Faust's highly enjoyable Supernatural tie-in novel, Coyote's Kiss.  I wonder how much this sort of work pays?  Really I have no room for it in my life, but I would love to write a Fringe tie-in.  I guess that is why people write fanfic, for free...

In other television-related news, I continue to spend an inordinate number of hours watching House (currently near end of Season 7).  I am not sure why it's so addictive, but I'm reminded of how when I first read Master and Commander, I then couldn't rest until I had read all of Patrick O'Brian's novels about Aubrey and Maturin (I would walk in to Cross-Campus Library in New Haven and check out another four or five and race home to devour and return - I think I read all twenty over the course of about five days, which is slightly grotesque).  The Aubrey-Maturin friendship is built on the same sort of chassis as the House-Wilson relationship, even if the latter is more obviously Holmesian.

Crime and punishment

Diana Athill on working with Gitta Sereny.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Existentially sad?

"The book is just the loss leader for the speech."  (Via varied internet schadenfreude re: Jonah Lehrer, trail no longer retraceable.) 

I have occasionally contemplated the notion that in my ideal universe, I would write fewer reviews and branch out into a mega-speaking-empire, but I think that the exacerbation of habitual insomnia by travel would probably render it inadvisable, even aside from the question of whether literary topics would be likely to attract dollars on that sort of scale....

The problem of evil

An obituary for Gitta Sereny, a writer whose work on Albert Speer and Mary Bell I particularly admire.  (The Daily Mail feels differently.)  (Via the Paris Review.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"V is the Velocipede"

Back at home and on the grid, after detours to Cambridge and Philadelphia.  Finally sent out the long-overdue Austen essay yesterday evening: a considerable relief.

(I seem to have been operating at about 30% of usual horsepower, due to some combination of residual fatigue and other distractions.  It is ridiculous that I let that piece take up so much time....)

Next up: final revision of The Magic Circle!  I have a hard deadline of Thursday, June 28 for getting it to my editor; he'll then go through one more time and I'll do quick turnaround on any further suggestions around the 4th of July holiday.  The quality of his comments is really exceptional, and I have already said here that I feel he almost deserves a co-author credit, given how many good ideas he's given me.  So: ten days of work, counting today.  What I did first today at the library was to go through all of his pages of notes along with the manuscript itself, fixing the 80% of stuff that's minor and marking remaining points that will require more attention.  This evening, I will do some pondering.  Tomorrow I'll get started again properly at the beginning, with bulk of energy devoted to really significantly revamping the final section, which still isn't quite working.

Saw As You Like It at Shakespeare in the Park; it was quite good, with a Western stockade-and-country-music theme that reminded me of Frontierland at Disney.  Other highlights of the weekend: the Butterfly Garden in the Academy of Natural Sciences and my first time on board my brother and sister-in-law's first boat at Fox Grove Marina.

Light reading around the edges: N. K. Jemisin's The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun; and Gideon Lewis-Kraus's A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful, which must be one of the most unflattering self-portraits in the history of memoir-writing but which is nonetheless an extremely worthwhile and interesting book.

Bonus links:

My last academic book got a good review.

This made me think of some of the games in my novel (it would also make a good basis for some sort of TV episode); link courtesy of Bill Anders.

A nineteenth-century alphabet at the Beinecke.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Period television

Jenny Diski has a great rant at the LRB against Downton Abbey and its ilk. 

(Ed. Previous link went only to Columbia gate: this one should work for all.)

Shadow plays

Helen Hill named as one of five women animators who shook up the industry.  (Via Dan Streible.)

I'm in Cambridge for a couple of days to visit a friend of mine who had surgery last month (she's recovering well, but it's a long path of course).  It's bucolic up here!  The Megabus was rather dreadful: every time I swear I won't take it again, but the price differential between bus and Amtrak always sucks me back in (my ticket yesterday cost $7!).  However really for future Boston trips, Amtrak it must be - we waited for forty minutes on 10th Avenue between 40th and 42nd in pouring rain for the bus to actually arrive, and it was a good hour and a half late getting to South Station.  I'd eaten breakfast at 10:30 and figured I could get by to 4:30 with just a Clif Bar (didn't get organized to buy food, and you're not supposed technically to eat on the bus), but was of course starvationally low-blood-sugared by 2:30, and still had four more hours before I hit terra firma.  Amtrak can be very late too, but it is much more comfortable....

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"I wanted to stay a democracy"

What happens when you play a game of Civilization II for ten years?  (Via Ken Wark.)

Symptoms of intelligence

It is rare that I have a thought appropriate for Twitter (too verbose), but this one would have been if I had phrased it briefly and put it there: diagnostician and Holmesian inspiration Joseph Bell was the progenitor of the founder of Taco Bell. 

(Am nearly finished with my Austen essay: Bell was alluded to in an episode of House I watched yesterday, so that may be why he was on my mind, but I was looking up details to make a point there about conditions of knowledge and the phrase "symptoms of intelligence" in Emma.)

Closing tabs

Via Sadie Stein, Sylvia Plath's drawings.
What have neutrinos done for you lately?

Claire Cameron interviews Sheila Heti at The Millions.  (Particularly interesting thoughts there on revision.)

Lauren Beukes's teenage novel-ideas notebook.

Lily Ladewig on publishing her first book of poems (and good tips here on first-book-writing in general).

Highlight of last week: gin and marmalade at Madam Geneva!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Closing tabs

Trying to stay off the computer so that my back (some sort of minor muscle strain, an inconvenience rather than a true pain) can get better!  Currently have laptop propped on a plastic file box, and think I will keep it that way for a week or two: it minimizes internet time-wasting if I have to stand up whenever I want to use the computer....

Delicious things: a super-enjoyable dinner hosted by my new publisher at Public on Tuesday night; a surprise arrival in the mail from Becky in England.

Adorable things: synchronized kittens (via Jane); some pig!

Literary things: Zadie Smith on the Willesden library blues; Lev Grossman on why people in Narnia don't read books.

Uncategorizable things: first-person crop circles.

Miscellaneous light reading around the edges: (1) in the matter of concluding installments of trilogies, Holly Black's Black Heart and Mira Grant's Blackout; (2) a book I seized upon at the Ottawa airport and read hungrily as I traveled home (it seems not to have been published in the US?), Mark Billingham's Good as Dead; (3) in a free electronic publicity copy that hasn't been well formatted for Kindle, Martyn Waites's Born Under Punches (I enjoyed this quite a bit, but am not sure it really has aged well: it was first published almost ten years ago, and so many others have now been mining this vein of anti-Thatcher noir that some of the techniques here seem a little clumsy or crude - I'm keen to read Alan Warner's new novel, which also doesn't seem to be published any time soon in the US but which sounds excellent and which can of course be obtained from the US Amazon site in some more or less illicit fashion). 

Dug in deep now on Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall sequel: I still think her gifts lie in the way of intellectual things and the depiction of characters rather than in the language as such, but it is an extremely engrossing book, there is no doubt.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Blind alleys

An outtake from the last piece I wrote for Bookforum, on money and the novel:
Crime fiction may be the contemporary subgenre where financial crises are most extensively and evocatively registered: Alan Glynn’s recent thrillers Winterland and Bloodland offer a particularly vivid and chilling account of the human fallout of the European financial collapse in Ireland. J. K. Rowling has written a string of novels that made her wealthier than the Queen of England, but the Harry Potter books aren’t themselves particularly interested in money, aside from occasional evocative glimpses of the contents of the vaults in Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games books explore the drama of economic inequality without establishing the actual fiscal underpinnings of the economy she depicts, and when a popular contemporary writer does choose to describe the financial system in more complex detail, it’s usually to lambaste the moral failings markets are supposed to induce in those who trade. In Robert Harris’s The Fear Index, a British hedge fund manager creates a complex set of trading algorithms whose destructive potential exceeds that of Frankenstein’s monster: Don’t try this at home! Vampires in the Twilight books and elsewhere are popularly supposed to be well positioned to accumulate vast wealth owing to their longevity; perhaps, too, their natural affinity with the one percent is instanced in their well-known preference for formal wear.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Closing tabs

Jay Winter on Paul Fussell.

Susanna Rustin interviews Adam Phillips for the Guardian.

The FT has a very good lunch with George R. R. Martin (site registration required).

"It was as if a light had been Nookd" (courtesy of Anjuli and Alice).

I've been trying to stay off the computer due to what is probably a slightly pulled back muscle, but it's somewhat better this morning.  It is fishy that my back is sore enough to prevent me writing my overdue Austen essay but still permits a couple of hours of exercise every day!  Really I was just working too hard from January through May and am now having the traditional post-semester willpower collapse - having now slightly bored myself by watching the first two seasons of House as if under a compulsion, it is now preferable to write the essay, which I am hoping I might finish by the end of the day tomorrow so that I can get back to The Magic Circle for one more round of revision.