Friday, August 31, 2012

"Extractum carnis"

At the FT, Polly Russell on the history of Lemco "liquid beef" (FT site registration required), with special emphasis on Eva Tuite's Lemco-inspired recipe book:
Interspersed with the recipes and seasonal lists are adverts for Liebig Company products: Oxo “fluid beef” (“Energy without Waiting”) and Fray Bentos canned goods (“Always Ready, Always Acceptable”).
There is no mincing words:

Soviet aerialism

Courtesy of Marina H., a lovely piece by Chloe Aridjis on time spent in  East Berlin researching the early Soviet space program:
One tome suggests applying the four humours to the process of task selection: the choleric individual is quick to learn but, prone to impatience, makes mistakes – therefore best for special assignments rather than routine ones; sanguine types flourish under variety and constant excitement rather than repetition (Gagarin was apparently one of these); phlegmatic types, on the other hand, are recommended for systematic activity; and melancholic types . . . cannot become cosmonauts due to their nervous, fearful temperament, and are best suited to be scientific advisors on ground.

Writer as corporation

Interesting interview here with YA writer Cassandra Clare about the business of writing.  I have none of the gifts she clearly possesses in abundance - for all sorts of reasons, I am very lucky to be a professor rather than a writer trying to make a decent living off publishing fiction! - but I like reading about the truly entrepreneurial...

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Information management

There is nothing wrong with the way I am actually going to spend my day (except that I still need to lay hands on my wretched course reader originals and class notes for the style lecture - why, oh why am I not a much better-organized person?!?), only what I really want is to spend the day in a virtual-reality version of the London Zoo animal audit!  Exceptional slideshow - definitely click through...

(Link via B., who got it here.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How to write a novel

At the TLS, Tim Shippey on a posthumous collection of nonfiction by Diana Wynne Jones.  To write a novel,
What you need (she says) is, first, the “flavour” of the book, second, the detail of at least two central scenes, and third, the voice that shouts “NOW”.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On criticism

Daniel Mendelsohn's manifesto.

Another MAGIC CIRCLE teaser

Again, courtesy of the copyeditor...

Places, character names, titles of works, authors, brand names:

30 Day Shred
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
agnès b
Aldous Huxley
Arne Jacobsen
Beth Orton
Blade Runner
Bloomingdale Asylum
Brooklyn Lager
Bryn Mawr
Buell Hall
Butler Library
Candy Land
Carl Schurz
Chelsea Piers
Columbia University
Croton Aqueduct
Daniel Schreber
Daryl Hannah
Death of a Salesman
Elizabeth Bishop
David Brenner
Flatiron Building
Frederick Law Olmsted
Friedrich Nietzsche
Golden Bough
Grant’s Tomb
Harlem Plain
Hudson River
I, Claudius
Jillian Michaels
John D. Rockefeller
John Jay
John Loudon McAdam
Kate Spade
Ken Saro-Wiwa
Kent Hall
Lajos Kossuth
Lemon Pledge
Lois Duncan
Lower Merion
Marlboro Lights
Martin Ericsson
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mary Renault
Max Soha
Mayor Giuliani
Memoirs of My Nervous Illness
Milton Bradley
Miss Julie
Mont Blanc
Morningside Drive
Morningside Park
Mr. H––
Murphy’s Oil Soap
Oedipus Rex
Old Bay
Peter the Great
Pook’s Hill
Randall Jarrell
Riverside Drive
Riverside Park
Rosa Luxembourg
Sakura Park
Samuel Tilden
Siân Hughes
St. John the Divine
St. Luke’s
Star Trek
Streetcar Named Desire
Summer of Fear
Sun Chips
Terrance Hayes
The Bacchae
The Bell Jar
The Birth of Tragedy
The Blue and White
Tocqueville, Alexis de   
Urban Outfitters
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Wind on the Moon, the

Closing tabs redux

Wish I could see this. 

Also rather wish I could go here!  (Link via B., who got it here.  Note to self: acquire camp chair?)

Great Oliver Sacks piece in last week's New Yorker, including an amazing description of the genesis of his vision of his writing vocation - online for subscribers only, but that podcast is open to all, I think.

Asad Raza's Wimbledon diary.

Rereading We Need To Talk About Kevin for a fuller discussion of Lionel Shriver as stylist in my style revision - but really I need to put that aside and get my syllabi finalized, course readers arranged, books checked on etc.  Still have a bit more leeway time-wise, as my first classes don't meet till next Wednesday and then the following Monday, but can't seem to concentrate on the other with this still unresolved, so I think I'll take a few days this week to do that, return library books, etc. 

I do have some good news that I think no longer needs to be secret - awaiting contract on the style book from Columbia University Press!  Very excited about working with them on this, though there are a couple other editors I've mentally bookmarked as people I'm eager to collaborate with on future projects.

Got home from Cayman late Sunday night and had another endodontist appointment yesterday afternoon.  Fingers crossed that this was the last one, though doctor says there is a ten percent chance a further procedure will be needed.  Went to regular dentist this morning to get the temporary filling in the crown replaced with a permanent one.  Devoutly hoping that this is it for this year's dental woes!  It was certainly much less painful afterwards than the two prior sessions, though there is still some infection.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Closing tabs

Internet telegraphy!  (Courtesy of Alice.  It is an old obsession of mine...)

Matthew Kirschenbaum on Tom Clancy's use of tabletop gaming to choreograph battle scenes.

I liked Ready Player One hugely more than I expected to - I caught a glimpse of a few paragraphs over B.'s shoulder when he was reading it, the sequence in which the narrator describes the eighties cultural materials with which the book's characters are obsessed, and thought it really would not be my cup of tea, but in fact it is quite delightful.  Then a good recommendation from Becca, Harriet Lane's Alys, Always, and that sent me back to another of Becca's recommendations that I had put on my Kindle but never gotten around to, The Flight of Gemma Harding by Margot Livesey.  I love Livesey's writing, and this is an enjoyable read, but I think I just know Jane Eyre too well, and was perplexed by how closely this book followed the earlier novel's contours.

Also: Stanislas Dehaene's Reading in the Brain, which I found worthwhile but not as generally gripping as Maryanne Wolf's book; and a reread of the curious and fascinating Lost in a Book: The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure, by Victor Nell, which I blogged about here when I first read it.  Highly recommended!

Flying back to New York later this afternoon.  One more week before the semester starts.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The superiority of classical restraint in writing

At the Paris Review, Harry Mathews on translating Georges Perec and Marie Chaix:
The photograph of Marie Chaix on the back cover revealed a woman of thirty-two and great attractiveness. When John Ashbery first saw her, he remarked how pretty she was, then corrected himself immediately: “No, not pretty—beautiful.” Her beauty was not that of any stereotype: strong-featured, full of energy and passion. From the start I fantasized about having one of my noncommittal affairs with her. I knew ahead of time that I was safe from any deeper involvement, since she was married and the mother of two little girls. What I did not know was that she had never cheated on her less-faithful husband but now felt inclined to indulge in a small infidelity of her own.
Our interest in one another had preceded our meeting. Two months before, in the hope of one day winning her, I had composed a four-page handwritten letter intended for her, in which I deployed every seductive wile my experience as a writer could supply. I was pleased with the results and confident that they would dispose Marie to think of me as someone more than her translator.
It then occurred to me that this was a shabby way to approach the woman I had come to know in her book: an intensely serious and compassionate human being who had generously taken her readers into the intimate, moving world of her feelings. I tore up my handwritten letter and replaced it with a page containing a dozen typed lines of a formality for which written French is perhaps uniquely capable (“Madame, I have the honor and pleasure of being the translator of your admirable book…”). This was the letter I mailed her.
Marie’s reaction was not what I had foreseen. She later told me that her first impulse was to drop everything and get on the next train to Venice. She wanted to see this mysterious American who had unexpectedly appeared in her life. It was as though my original letter had been encrypted in its typewritten replacement. (This incidentally delighted me as definitive proof of the superiority of classical restraint in writing to the rhetoric of expressionistic overtness.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Style sheet teaser

Courtesy of my excellent copyeditor, and with assistance from the Chicago Manual of Style and Webster, The Magic Circle in a nutshell...
Words and spelling if alternatives exist or CMS or Webster differs from text:

Asian American
boiler room (Webster)
brick red
bûche de noel
catty-corner (variation)
Dickens, Charles
dreidl (alternative spelling)
game master (CMS)
inhering; inhere
living room
low carb
MFA (per Webster)
outwards (secondary)
postdoctoral (per CMS 7.85)
present-day (adj.)
Renaissance Fayre
Sanning eller konsekvens
sauteed (alternative spelling)
scuff mark
spin the bottle
stained glass
super glad
through line
towards (secondary)

Closing tabs

A few weeks ago B. sent me a link with the subject line "A Young Scientist's Illustrated Primer," and it inevitably gave me an irresistible urge to reread what is surely my favorite Neal Stephenson novel, The Diamond Age.  I first read it c. 2001 or so, when I picked up a used mass-market paperback from the science-fiction-oriented table in front of Milano Market, and it was something of a revelation.  It  is the perfect book for me! 

(I think my two other favorites of Stephenson's are Cryptonomicon, which I read in a single sitting on the redeye flight back from Seattle when I was doing the low-budget book tour for Heredity - in certain respects, the length of Stephenson's novels is a vice, but for travel reading, it's a huge virtue, and I think I can also say with some specificity that though I bought a hardcover copy of Anathem, I didn't actually read it until I purchased a second copy for Kindle and devoured it on the trip we took last year to Costa Rica.  Snow Crash is more iconic, perhaps, but it doesn't hold as dear a place in my heart...)

Anyway, the reread totally lived up to my memory of it (I've probably read it a couple times before, couldn't say exactly).  Mouse army!  The texture of the primer passages is perhaps not quite as captivating as a different kind of writer might have managed, but it really is an excellent book.

Finally finished the last section of True Believers, which I'd stalled out on.  Also, this Black Cat Appreciation Day post made me realize that the two Carbonel books I knew very well as a child were followed by a third that I could actually obtain on Kindle.  It is not up to the standard of the first two, but it caused me to reflect on how I might obtain a copy of another book that represented a fantastically desirable and unavailable thing to me as a child, the fourth and final installment in Pamela Brown's Blue Door Theatre series, Maddy Again - I read the first three countless times, but this one I have never read.  Interlibrary loan?

The copyedited manuscript of The Magic Circle came back to me last night, which is exciting.  My favorite thing (I will scan and post a page of it, I think): the personalized style sheet, with all of my proper nouns and allusions tabulated in neat columns. 

About to have a morning session on the style book.  Slightly anxiety-provoking having two projects on my desk and the start of the semester so close, but everything should be manageable if I keep my head.

Miscellaneous other linkage: FBI files on Sylvia Plath's father; literary soap (underlying link is rather delightful); Tom Stoppard interviewed at More Intelligent Life.

Friday, August 17, 2012

"The mind is its own place"

I'm having a good week in Cayman.  If I come here when I'm feeling tormented and obsessive, which is fairly often, it can feel strangulatingly quiet; I count on a certain amount of impersonally chaotic activity in the outside environment as pushback against the internal sensation of "too much traffic"!  But things are in a good place right now. 

Earlier this morning I finished my first close pass through the style book; certainly a few weeks of hard work still remaining on that, but I'm shooting to finish the preliminary rewrite in the next couple weeks and have set a provisional self-imposed deadline of Oct. 1 for a good clean final version. 

In a digressive moment, I drafted what might be the first few pages of a notional essay on why Clarissa is worth your while to read despite its length, and I've read some interesting stuff for the style book too (though I think its new title - it started out as the little book on style and morphed into Notes on Style - is simply Notes on Reading).  Whether or not this will be my best book to date (I think that's a difficult discrimination to make concerning your own work), it certainly feels like the book I was born to write, and the book that most fully conveys the texture of my own interior life.  I'm excited!

Found a great new fitness class here, too; this summer has been colored by back pain in opening and dental woes more recently, but both are now happily behind me and I feel I can (within reason) exercise as much as I like for the next couple of weeks.  It's actually been a good summer for exercise notwithstanding those limiters, and I note that I will take back and jaw pain any day over bronchitis, which really brings everything to a grinding halt....

I've got tickets for some great stuff in NYC in the middle of September, including this trifecta of a single weekend: the Joshua Light Show (with John Zorn, Lou Reed and others); Toni Schlesinger's The Mystery of Oyster Street; Einstein on the Beach.

Light reading around the edges: Victor LaValle's Lucretia and the Kroons (but what I really want is The Devil in Silver - will have to wait another few days for that); Emily St. John Mandel's The Lola Quartet; Sean Chercover's The Trinity Game (of the Dan Brown school of character development, but an enjoyable read); Hjorth and Rosenfeldt's Sebastian Bergman (unstably satirical now and again, particularly in its treatment of the title character, but on the whole appealing); and Katia Lief's Vanishing Girls, which like its predecessors combines the most wildly and distractingly implausible scenarios and procedural details with a very effectively rendered first-person voice and characters.

In other news, it's National Black Cat Appreciation Day.

Friday, August 10, 2012


The effect of reading the first few pages of Lee Child's A Wanted Man was basically to bathe my cells in the soothing elixir of perfect light reading!  (The last time I felt that sensation so strongly was one day earlier in the summer, when I was in a rather bad mood until I realized that a six-minute hard warmup running around the sand volleyball court at Chelsea Piers has an amazingly pronounced positive chemical effect on the body.)  I am only sorry that the book is now finished; I might have to do a massive Reacher reread in the not-too-distant future. 

There is always one particularly funny and knowing sentence early on, sometimes but not always concerning coffee.  Here's my pick, this time round: "He had never killed or injured anyone with a car, except deliberately, but he was a realistic man and didn't kid himself: his driving was much worse than average."

My mouth seems to be truly on the mend now, so I should be able to get back to exercising tomorrow, which will be beneficial; I have chosen to err on the side of caution given risk of further compounding infection, but I think it's better enough that I can go to spin class...

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Morning edition

Things look significantly rosier this morning, I am happy to say.  My mouth feels much better, and I've just sent off a review (due today) to a new venue.  Now to hit the library for some style books (haven't yet made master list, but time is running short) and a quick look at the Edward Gorey exhibit!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Dental woes ongoing

Nothing calamitous, but still very painful!  I had to call the endodontist's office yesterday and get a prescription for amoxycillin, which is clearly a miracle drug and did wonders overnight (after I waited for two hours at the useless local pharmacy, missing all but the final hour of last night's meditation class); but at my appointment today, it was still infected enough that the doctor just recleaned it and put in another temporary filling.  By the end of the session, I had reason to contemplate the evocative nature of the cliche touched a nerve, and it is still very painfully jangling, although knowing that the antibiotics are working makes the pain considerably easier to tolerate than yesterday's throbbing.  I am away for the next two weeks, so we will let it settle and hope for the best (no chewing on that side obviously); I have another appointment on August 27, at which point we will see whether the permanent filling can go in or whether the infection is still unresolved.

But really I should not be complaining, as thanks to the kindness of Maggie Griffin I have in my possession the single thing most calculated to relieve Davidsonian woes, dental or otherwise!  Yep - it's the new Jack Reacher novel...

Monday, August 06, 2012


Huge pang as I finished rereading Faithful Place (which I think is the most formally perfect of the four, though each has its own particular appeal) - no more Tana French books!  However fortunately I was able to plunge straight into Megan Abbott's superb Dare Me, which I loved, and it was a natural progression from that to a book I've been meaning to read for ages, Rebecca Godfrey's Under the Bridge.

Dental woes continue - the right lower jaw is still surprisingly painful, and I have another appointment on Wednesday - but physical therapy has worked wonders for my back, which is largely though not entirely better.  I'm only in New York through Sunday, then in Cayman for two weeks - will be working mostly on the style book, I think, though I'll take a few long novels to read with a view to contemplating ABCs of the novel....

"Let them slip soundlessly..."

Eggs à la Nabocoque.  (Via Ian C.-B.)

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Closing tabs

Edward Gorey at the Columbia Rare Book Library.  (NB I must get over to see this before the exhibit closes on Friday.)

Gary Panter's Dal Tokyo!

Nomenclature and cuisine of the British meal.

Piers Anthony loomed large in the imagination of young readers in the 1980s.

Douglas Coupland's advice for young writers.

Douglas Kennedy on Maeve Binchy.

F. X. Feeney on Gore Vidal.


Some interesting thoughts on style and anachronism in Alan Hollinghurst's review of Peter Carey's new novel at the NYRB:
In Henry Brandling’s narrative, unlike Olivier’s, Carey is claiming to present a historical document, a journal quite specifically written in 1854; here again a number of anachronisms may be mere fictional license, or reasonable guesses that for instance “potty” (meaning a bit mad) might have been idiomatic some time before its first recorded usage in 1920. But still, “you scared the pants off Hartmann,” an idiom first recorded in 1925, “ashtray” (1887), “guff” (US, 1888), “bumph” (1889, and then only as bumf, for bum-fodder), “programmer” and “programme” as a verb (1948 and 1945), are all more or less jarring. When Brandling uses terms like “celluloid” (a plastic invented in 1870) and “snookered” (when the game of snooker wasn’t named till 1889), you start to feel that Carey, a supreme virtuoso of language, who besides can look these things up as easily as I can, must be aiming at some deliberate alienation effect. To what end, though, it is rather hard to say.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


My book has an ISBN!

This goes some way towards consoling me for jaw pain...

Closing tabs

Z-z-z.  (Via GeekPress.)

Ed Park's "Two Laptops: A Short Story"!

Phil Dyess-Nugent on Gore Vidal.  (Also recommended: Inigo Thomas's 2007 LRB piece on the last installment of Vidal's memoirs;  Marcie Frank's How to Be an Intellectual in an Age of TV.)

Elaine Scarry on literature and empathy.

I'm currently slightly under the weather with dental woes.  It is not a particularly interesting backstory; my teeth are otherwise pretty good, but I had a root canal about 10 years ago, and at my annual check-up in May, the dentist asked on the basis of the x-ray whether I'd been having any trouble with it.  The answer then was no, but a week ago I had some swelling and redness/soreness; yesterday I had an appointment with the endodontist that I imagined would be purely brief and diagnostic (I thought I would book whatever treatment was likely to be necessary for perhaps mid-September), but instead I found myself in the chair for an arduous and really fairly unpleasant 90 minutes of excavation!  Walked out slightly reeling, with face still half-numb from the anesthesia.  Am taking a couple days off from exercise, and will continue to be careful over the weekend not to put undue stress on the immune system; apparently they don't give antibiotics for this as a default, only if it gets infected.  I have a follow-up next week for the rest of the work to be done, assuming it's healing properly, and am strongly hoping that it won't be as major as yesterday's appointment!  The co-pay was $400, but it would have been over $2,000 if my insurance didn't cover it, so I can consider myself fortunate that the Columbia dental plan has improved considerably in recent years....