Monday, December 31, 2012


Laura Miller talks to Daniel Mendelsohn about the ethics of the negative review.

I have a very slight cold and (unrelatedly) got barely any sleep last night, but on the other hand I got several important errands done today, including one I was slightly dreading (taking 'new' used bike and case down to Sid's Bikes on the subway for them to pack it up for Saturday travel - my aversion to traveling on the subway with cumbersome things is sufficient that I went so far as to read the packing instructions and contemplate undertaking the disassembly project myself, before coming to my senses and deciding it had better be left to the professionals!).

Almost finished with the first volume of My Struggle. It is curiously and inexplicably mesmerizing, like the charismatic teenage love child of Proust and Thomas Bernhard!

Saturday, December 29, 2012


At the FT (site registration required), an interesting long essay by Hedley Twidle on his Coetzee fixation:
Since Coetzee lodged his manuscripts in Harvard and now Texas, we have learnt that he wrote his major novels almost entirely in University of Cape Town examination books. They have dull orange covers with instructions printed on them: “Peak caps to be reversed”; “Answer only ONE question per booklet”.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Deuces wild

Phillip Dyess-Nugent on Django Unchained and David Bromwich on Spielberg's Lincoln.

2012 round-up

Trawled back through the blog earlier for reading recommendations from 2012. Too lazy to post in links: it's much, much easier for me just to list! Here are some thoughts, anyway. If it's here, it's something I'm actively recommending as worth your time and likely to elicit considerable enjoyment.

Favorite new read: Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels, including At Last.

Strongest other recommendations: David Gordon, The Serialist; Lavie Tidhar, Osama.

Favorite (only!) new book of poetry, also an all-round favorite: Jane Yeh, The Ninjas.

Favorite nonfiction: Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

Slightly under the radar, and absolutely beautifully written: Alan Warner, The Deadman's Pedal.

Novel I most surprised myself by thoroughly enjoying: Ernest Cline, Ready Player One.

Most startlingly unusual new read: Heath Lowrance, The Bastard Hand.

Favorite literary fiction: Heidi Julavits, The Vanishers; Sheila Heti, How Should a Person Be?; Victor La Valle, The Devil in Silver; Ellen Ullman, By Blood. Three also quite literary and very good that I would group together in a single category: Joshilyn Jackson, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty; Lauren Groff, Arcadia; Lydia Netzer, Shine Shine Shine.

Between literary and genre fiction: J. Robert Lennon, Familiar.

Three books of the outdoors I liked very much: Colleen Mondor, Map of My Dead Pilots; Will Chaffey, Swimming with Crocodiles; Cheryl Strayed, Wild.

Vaguely supernatural and humorous: Daniel O'Malley, The Rook; Ben Aaronovich's occult London series; Christa Faust, Coyote's Kiss; and M. H. Van Keuren's debut Rhubarb. Supernatural and less humorous: Chuck Wendig, Blackbirds.

Favorite zombie novel (I think!): S. G. Browne, Breathers: A Zombie's Lament. Mira Grant's final Newsflesh installment also very good, as were the novels of hers I read under the Seanan McGuire byline.

Favorite presidential vampire novel: Christopher Farnsworth, Blood Oath.

Favorite paranormal romance: Lilia Ford, The Heartwood Box.

My favorite crime read of the year was Tana French's Broken Harbor, and it prompted me to reread her three earlier books with strong pangs that there aren't more of them.

Other crime fiction of excellence: Deon Meyer, Seven Days; Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (I am not quite the evangelist for this book that others seem to be, I liked at least a dozen other crime novels better, but it is undoubtedly very good); Alan Glynn, Bloodland; Harriet Lane, Alys, Always; Martyn Waites, Born Under Punches; Johan Theorin, The Darkest Room and Echoes from the Dead; Attica Locke, Black Water Rising and The Cutting Season; Tom Piccirilli, The Last Kind Words; Jorin Lieder Horst, Dregs; John Rector, Already Gone; Anya Lipska, Where the Devil Can't Go; and a couple co-authored crime novels whose authors' names I am too lazy to look up: The Eyes of Lira Kazan, Three Seconds and Invisible Murder.

Megan Abbott's superb Dare Me led me to Rebecca Godfrey's wonderful Under the Bridge.

I hugely enjoyed new books from Lee Child, Karin Slaughter, Taylor Stevens, Mo Hayder, Rosamond Lupton, Mark Billingham, Charlie Williams, Arnaldur Indridason and Liza Marklund.

Books in different genres from one another (science fiction and crime respectively) but lodged in my mind as a couple as they are engaged with some related issues: Kameron Hurley, God's War; Anthony Neil Smith, All the Young Warriors.

And should I count Hilary Mantel's Bringing Up the Bodies under this heading? (I would recommend Mantel instead of George R. R. Martin, if you're not sure about whether to read the Game of Thrones books, although I did quite enjoy the latest installment.)

Two nonfiction books that made a significant impression on me: Tim Parks, On Trying to Sit Still; Gideon Lewis-Kraus, A Sense of Direction.

Other nonfiction: Sarah Manguso, The Guardians; Ben Anastas, Too Good to Be True; Marco Roth, The Scientists; Maureen McLane, My Poets; Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations.

Cycling-related: David Millar, Racing Through the Dark; Tyler Hamilton, The Secret Race. Also, Benjamin Lorr's Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain and the Search for Something Like Transcendence Through Competitive Yoga; and Leanne Shapton's Swimming Studies, which I wished I hadn't read on a Kindle.

I didn't read very much YA fiction this year, but I thoroughly enjoyed Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan's collaboration Teen Human and Gwenda Bond's Blackwood. Delia Sherman, The Freedom Maze is a wonderful book, highly recommended to a wide range of readers; the same goes for Terry Pratchett's Dodger, though it is less original than Sherman's (and also gave me a yen to reread Philip Pullman's 19th-century London trilogy). Laini Taylor's Days of Blood and Starlight is irresistible!

Much reading and rereading of Diana Wynne Jones, not all of it noted here. Other significant rereads: Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty; Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age; Victor Nell, Lost in a Book; Middlemarch; The Hobbit; and the selected works of Lee Child.

Favorite theater: These Seven Sicknesses and Restoration Comedy at the Flea. The Ring Cycle made quite an impression on me, as for that matter did the Ades adaptation of The Tempest, but my favorite opera by far was the ravishing Einstein on the Beach at BAM. While I binged on House and The Good Wife, my favorite television-watching experience involved a truly charming and short-lived older series called Wonderfalls. Favorite movie: Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Here's to an even better year of reading and spectatorship in 2013!


Finally having a quiet morning at home, though I must confess that I feel flat and dispirited rather than relieved. It is probably just accumulated fatigue; I am hoping that another couple days of relative peace and quiet will make a positive difference.

Minor light reading around the edges (jury duty and holiday travels both entail lots of time for novel-reading): Ben Aaronovitch, Whispers Under Ground (these books just get better and better as the series progresses); a few last lingering books by Diana Wynne Jones that I hadn't yet read and that are now available for Kindle (I really like her books more than almost anything else I can think of), Power of Three and The Homeward Bounders and a collection of stories called Believing is Seeing; Matthew J. Kirby's Icefall (implausibly modern heroine, but very nice otherwise); Terry Pratchett's delightful Dodger (probably inferior from a literary point of view to Leon Garfield's Dickensian children's books, but much more lovely to read - those are incredibly dispiriting); Tom Piccirilli's The Last Kind Words, which I enjoyed a good deal but which is very strangely reminiscent of Holly Black's superficially entirely different Curse Workers series; Attica Locke's The Cutting Season (even better than her first one); Christopher Farnsworth's Blood Oath, which I thoroughly enjoyed (presidential vampires!); and William Landay's Defending Jacob.

Also read two non-electronic books at my mother's over Xmas: a copy of Noel Streatfeild's Traveling Shoes, which my mom obtained at a used book sale, and Garry Disher's Whispering Death, borrowed from the public library, which I thought was quite reasonable.

Having completely rotted my brain by reading too many undemanding novels over the past couple weeks (not to mention the candy!), my only plan for the rest of the week is to indulge in vast quantities of exercise and read this.

I also need to look back through the year's blog posts so that I can write an end-of-year round-up....

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Cats in the news

Controversy surrounding federal attempts to regulate cats at the Hemingway Museum in Key West:
The dispute began in 2003 after a museum volunteer and cat lover filed a complaint with the department after an aggressive cat wandered from the property. The agency concluded that the museum needed to follow federal regulations on exhibiting animals. But the museum argued that the cats are born and bred at the house, that they seldom wander beyond the grounds and that it is Mr. Hemingway’s legacy — not the cats — that serve as the main attraction.

“If we had a six-toed cat zoo, we wouldn’t get those numbers,” Ms. Higgins said.

But the agency disagreed. It sent in an animal behavioral specialist to index the cats and analyze the situation. Undercover agents were then sent in 2005 and 2006 to observe the cats and surreptitiously photograph their movements. One photo shows a gray cat sitting on the pavement. It carries the caption: “Picture of six-toed cat taken in restaurant/bar at end of Whalton Lane and Duval. May or may not be a Hemingway Home and Museum cat.”

Friday, December 21, 2012

Widow's walk

Susan Cooper profiled at the Guardian.


Gutted to wake up this morning to an email from longtime correspondent Dave Lull to let me know that Maxine Clarke has died. Petrona has been one of my favorite blogs for as long as I can remember. I only met Maxine once - we had a delightful lunch at the British Library in St. Pancras - but our emails and comments flew back and forth across the Atlantic like you would not believe. This tribute takes the words out of my mouth. What a lovely person she was, in every way: kind, humane, generous, incredibly bright and unassuming. An inconsequential detail: when we talked about my "breeding" book, she revealed that her grandfather was the agronomist who bred the particular strain of wheat used to make Weetabix!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Just a note

to observe that I was released from jury duty at the end of the day - they kept the four of us who were alternates in a separate room for the afternoon, but though deliberations hadn't finished, they let us go regardless. Too tired for true celebration to be in order, but I am incredibly happy that I can spend tomorrow luxuriously at Chelsea Piers - and finally get back to end-of-semester grading responsibilities!

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Tom Keymer on Samuel Johnson and ballooning.

I've had this one bookmarked for some days: it's appealing to me in its own right, because I love Samuel Johnson and I also love the early history of ballooning, but it also caused me to think very intensely of Wendy, who would have turned fifty-three today.

Wendy had cherished for many years a plan to have breakfast near Tiffany's, namely an expedition to the famous Manhattan jewelry emporium! There we saw, among an inconceivable array of wonders, one very lovely piece of jewelry that has stuck with me. I will quote from Wendy's own description of it, because she had a precision of observation and notation that I cannot command when it comes to such things: "A pear shaped peacock tahitian mounted upside down inside a gold netted framework — it was a hot air balloon pendant." It really was extraordinary - it was the most delicate and beautiful thing, very much in the spirit of the Faberge eggs which are the only jeweled thing I could say I actually have an emotional relationship with (they, too, represent a twentieth-century reimagining of an eighteenth-century tradition), and powerfully evoked that strange science-fictional spirit of early aerialism.

Data covered in cats

Twitter account details plotlines from unaired Season 8 of Star Trek: TNG. (Via Brent.)

NB this is clearly written out of same impulse that prompted the only short story I've written in adulthood! I should write another one like this sometime - many life stress problems would be largely solved if I could write shorter pieces instead of books primarily!

"He was calm because of the Mandrax"

At the Phoenix, James Parker on recent lives of Rod Stewart and Leonard Cohen:
Rod spent much of his adolescence perfecting, and then maintaining, his exquisite ragged bouffant, or "bouff": "Picture me if you will, then, carefully dressed and styled for the night, accompanied by my mates, and standing down in Archway Station as the train thunders in — and all of us cowering into the wall, with our arms up over our heads, trying to protect our bouffs from getting toppled by the wind."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reacher's checklist

Via my father, Jack Reacher's wardrobe choices! (FT site registration required. NB in the middle books of Sara Paretsky, there is too much detail about the washing machine - it is the way of V.I. to wash clothes ruinously dirtied by some investigative enterprise, forget them in the washer and then find them smelling moldy a few days later and run them through another wash cycle - this is also the first set of books I read, other than the novels of Dick Francis, where the detective's exercise habits occupy a significant proportion of the pages, including the question of the affordability of new running shoes on a private investigator's income).

I remain excessively frazzled, but a good play and late dinner were soothing. Last night I needed to be home more than I needed to be at the opera; we sensibly left at the first intermission!

My main feeling right now is intense self-reproach at having dug myself so deep into the fatigue pit this semester that jury duty seemed cataclysmic. Now we have the schedule for the next week, it seems at least doable (in retrospect, based on the intensity of my distress yesterday and today, I probably should have deferred service, but between teaching and travel, it's rare that I am actually available, and I thought I should get it over with). We have Tuesday off and that's one of the two days I had a lot of stuff scheduled for on campus, so I only had to reschedule half, not all. Still slightly stymied as to when and how I will read the large heap of end-of-semester student work and dissertation chapters, but it should be that it will be one week from now and I'll be done with the fall semester work and also, if the trial isn't over, have a week's hiatus for Xmas holiday. Could be worse....

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Jury duty

Am very depressed to say that I am an alternate on a jury, and that the trial may run into early January. So glum about it that I almost burst into tears on the street outside the courthouse when they let us go around 1 this afternoon with a call for tomorrow morning!

My faint hope that they will send us home tomorrow after all does not have much basis in reality, but I will wait till the end of the day tomorrow to reschedule my work obligations for next week - it's all stuff like dissertation chapter conferences that can be reconfigured as evening one-on-one meetings if necessary.

Am going to do some meditation now in the hope that it may assist me to greet this turn of events with greater equanimity than I have mustered thus far....

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The ideal bookshelf

The data behind My Ideal Bookshelf. (Via BoingBoing.)

(Amy has commissioned one of these paintings for me as a present, and now I have to decide what books to select! I am leaning towards a subset of the style books, as I'd love to have a sort of visual representation of that project - Emma, Madame Bovary, The Golden Bowl, Proust vol. 1, The Line of Beauty, Barthes and Koestenbaum and St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels, the Anthony Burgess 99 Novels - but it seems a little narrow, I may go more eclectically in the direction of lifetime reading of significance to me (Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows, Pride and Prejudice, a book each by Diana Wynne Jones and Dick Francis, David Copperfield, Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Richard Holmes's The Pursuit, Clarissa!).


Final classes plus other school obligations plus day one of jury duty have absolutely flattened me. This is all I have to share!

Thanks to the kindness of the excellent Maggie Griffin, I saw the Jack Reacher movie on Monday night - highly enjoyable, though of course I will always much prefer the books. The urban audience is seized with hilarity whenever Tom Cruise has either banter or a fight scene!

Great lunch on Tuesday with Amazon publicity people. I'm really excited about what they're going to be able to do for the book. Galleys not quite ready yet, but I should have them soon.

Light reading around the edges: Attica Locke's superb Black Water Rising and J. Robert Lennon's Familiar, which I also enjoyed a good deal, though not perhaps as much as some other particular favorites in a similar vein (1Q84, Glimpses).

I haven't been able to become enthusiastic about the current season of Fringe, but perhaps I'll give it another go this evening. I am so tired that I can hardly see straight!

Monday, December 10, 2012

These fragments

Just finished rereading David Markson's Reader's Block for the final meeting of my master's seminar tomorrow. It is a most amazing novel!

Text for my final style class: the opening chapter of Edward St. Aubyn's final Patrick Melrose novel, At Last. Not always the case, but this time certainly the apportioning of two could be reversed - I was citing St. Aubyn last week as we talked about Austen and D. A. Miller in the MA seminar, and I think everyone who cares about fiction or literature from an intellectual standpoint should read Markson....

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Closing tabs

Abandoned swimming pools.

At the TLS, Jonathan Bate on two new Keats biographies, with interesting more general thoughts on the literary biographer's dilemma.

Emily DePrang on what happened to one man put on Texas's sex offender registry for an offence committed when he was twelve. (And sequel.)

How to create cartoons.

Honey laundering. (Courtesy of B.)

Day in the life

It was an extremely demanding week, full of all the sorts of thing I usually do at work only more so. Everything went fairly smoothly, though, and I've now very beneficially had twenty-four hours off from work: went to see Restoration Comedy at the Flea (it is delightful!) and had dinner afterwards with G. at Petrarca, then had a beautiful morning of exercise at Chelsea Piers. One more day of teaching, and then I've got meetings on Tuesday but few other campus commitments for the rest of the semester, barring end-of-term grading responsibilities and a couple dissertation chapter conferences.

Light reading around the edges: I was rereading the first of Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels for class, and one of the characters is reading Valley of the Dolls, which for some reason I had never read. Amazingly it was available at the Kindle store, so I downloaded it and began reading it immediately. Its portraits of women are at times so grotesque it feels actively malevolent, and I thought several times with relief that times have changed considerably since those days, but it is still a very good read.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Deus ex mutagen

Paul Krugman on Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy. I was a huge Asimov fan as a child; I loved these books, and read them at a young enough age (9? 10?) that I did not really know - I mean, I knew, but I didn't understand - that psychohistory was not a "real" discipline. I imagined that when I grew older I would be able to learn such mastery myself of the complex workings of societies and the future! I like psychogeography too but it's got nothing on the appeal of psychohistory, I think....

An empty diary

Having a twenty-four hour respite from the intense wave of obligations that accompanies the end of term. Good occasion to enjoy this lovely bit by Jenny Diski, which speaks very directly to my soul (that said, I am excited that I can finally go to boxing class today - a combination of work, holidays and illness has made it impossible for many weeks now!):
Being really alone means being free from anticipation. Even to know that something is going to happen, that I am required to do something is an intrusion on the emptiness I am after. What I love to see is an empty diary, pages and pages of nothing planned. A date, an arrangement, is a point in the future when something is required of me. I begin to worry about it days, sometimes weeks ahead. Just a haircut, a hospital visit, a dinner party. Going out. The weight of the thing-that-is-going-to-happen sits on my heart and crushes the present into non-existence. My ability to live in the here and now depends on not having any plans, on there being no expected interruption. I have no other way to do it. How can you be alone, properly alone, if you know someone is going to knock at the door in five hours, or tomorrow morning, or you have to get ready and go out in three days' time? I can't abide the fracturing of the present by the intrusion of a planned future.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


I want to read this journal issue; even though I swore this spring I'd never write another novel again, that conviction has waned and I can't help but think there might be a zombie apocalypse travelogue (horror! survivalism!) in my writing future. Part of the appeal is that I wouldn't have to make up the characters or places, just the nature of the zombie apocalypse and the obstacles and dangers our party of adventurers would face. I have the full cast of characters and locations already, in my life....

I did manage to write the lecture (on the first of St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels, truly a work of genius) and also the letters of recommendation. Had an extremely strenuous and rather glorious run in the late morning, in short sleeves - temperature was in the mid-50s, perfect running weather. Class went well, but by the time I got home from work I was ready to collapse.

Finished reading the most recent Phil Rickman Merrily Watkins novel, The Secrets of Pain. Will go to bed shortly.

I have the luxury, for the first time in many days, of not setting an alarm, and I hope to take maximum advantage of the fact that my first actual engagement tomorrow is boxing class at 2pm! A long night of sleep is in order.

Extreme sport

Lucie Brock-Broido interviewed at Poetry (via Douglas W.):
Attar of hyacinth is the scent I’ve worn all of my adult life, the only scent in fact. (I eschew change.) So consummate is this pressed oil, though, that on more than one occasion, I’ve been told of the lingering presence of my absence in rooms I’ve been in. The man who runs the elevator in the building where I live once told me that, were I to commit a crime, I would be apprehended instantly. Hours after I am gone, he told me, the evidence of hyacinth goes up and down with the elevator all night long.

Invisible things

My review of Oliver Sacks's new book is up at Bookforum.

If I can just write a lecture and two letters of recommendation this morning, I think I will be able to survive through to the end of the semester....

Monday, December 03, 2012

The modern world

See how Syria's internet disappeared. Also, the Pope is on Twitter.

Still feeling distinctly under the weather, but hoping that I will be better enough tomorrow to start exercising again; exercise deprivation has made me feel rather despondent. It is a very busy time of the work year, but I have had a few symptomatic bits of light reading around the edges: Benjamin Lorr's thoroughly engaging Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga and Sakyong Mipham's Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

In a good cause

The YA for NJ fundraiser is raising money post-Sandy for the New Jersey Community Food Bank. Lots of good stuff on their auction site, including a 50-page manuscript critique from my lovely Invisible Things editor Zareen Jaffery. I think they are not the plum prizes on the list, but you could bid on my two YA novels here!