Friday, May 31, 2013

Morning linkage

The last few days have been a little frustrating from the point of view of exercise: in short, I haven't done any, as I continued to feel completely knackered! (Didn't help that it was ninety degrees yesterday - after a morning spent doing interesting but demanding student meetings, and trekking around town all afternoon for a couple doctor's appointments [annual physical, allergist, nothing stressful], I realized I was due to go home and collapse rather than making it downtown for an evening spin class.) But I had a long sleep last night and now feel pretty much back to normal - looking forward to midday spin at Chelsea Piers.

Fascinating piece about similarities and differences between working at a tech start-up and a chocolate start-up. (Via BoingBoing.)

Rooms transformed into large-scale camera obscuras.

Photographic backdrops in prison waiting rooms.

Why Jordan Ellenberg has a quarter of a million friends of friends on Facebook.

The art of Houghton Hall comes home.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Morning edition

Slow start this morning. Got up very early but dragged heels to the point where I no longer really had time to make it out the door for a run. (Will just have to make the effort to do something serious later.)

I liked what Christopher Ricks had to say about Lydia Davis at the TLS.

Had a very good conversation with my editor yesterday over lunch to discuss style revisions. That's the priority: I'm hoping to be done with it by mid-June, which seems fairly realistic (depending on how much attention and time I have to devote to my least-favorite triathlon sport, the time-consuming and stressful CYCLING). Official due date of June 30, which I will certainly make - I'm flying to Cayman June 27, so that's my real effective deadline. It sounds as though the book will be out as early as May or June 2014, which I am excited about - I had imagined it might not be coming out till fall or winter.

I usually like Adam Mars-Jones's criticism, but I feel he really missed the point of Kate Atkinson's new novel (that is a LRB subscriber-only link). He doesn't seem to feel at all the deep emotional affective investment in the characters that dominated my experience of it, or the intensity with which we feel the entanglement of paths taken and not taken in individual women's lives (the fallout of a rape, an abortion, a murder, a choice about what sort of job to undertake or whether to have a child) with world-historical events (English-German relations, the Blitz, the arrival of the Russians). I really loved the book - that and Knausgaard are my two favorites of the year, very different from each other in obvious respects but sharing the qualities of being mesmerizing to read and also important in what they have to say. To talk so much about inconsistencies in the cosmology, as it were, without saving space for what Atkinson wants to do in terms of showing how people in families love each other and tug against the imperatives of necessity - I don't know, it's just a little obtuse! I think I might need to write an essay on counterfactuals and the novel: I have some of that work done already, an argument about novels and alternate lives that starts with the famous passage in Middlemarch and considers some obvious important aspects of that topic before going into a more extended reading of Clarissa's counterfactuals. Could write about Atkinson, the Ian Tregillis books and other paths-not-taken science fiction....

On a more frivolous note, I had cause to utter a rare and happy sentence to B. on Sunday evening: "I have had a sufficiency of cake"! A good friend of bride and groom is the proprietor of Meera's Cakes, and she really outdid herself. There were two enormous cakes at the party on Saturday night (I think I can only find a picture of one of them, a reproduction of the turntable P. was spinning the night he first met G. - I can't see/remember what it was, but the single is even accurately rendered! - the other was a ginormous blue-and-green globe, with red dots marking the places where bride and groom have traveled together - one chocolate, one vanilla, both delicious as well as beautiful to look at), and their remains made their way back to my aunt's house, where we gathered for family tea on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Mark Pringle.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Great interview with Sam Amidon (and check out this link for a taste of his genius):
You know, I’m not a folk-song expert. If we were sitting around and people started singing ballads and songs, I could do the songs from my albums, but I couldn’t sing you a stock of amazing old ballads. I’m not a “folk singer” in that sense. I’m learning these songs as part of my own compositional process. I’m a fiddle player — if we sat down at an Irish session, I could play you a thousand Irish tunes. I could sit here and play you Irish tunes all day. But I’m definitely not an expert in ballads or folk singing, and I’m not a folklorist. I love this world, but I listen to old ballads as an outsider. I listen to it the same way I listen to Miles Davis or something like that — it’s a deep listening experience, but it’s not something that I know a lot about.


"We'd expect the collection, including denture moulds, to sell for £2,000 to £3,000."

Monday, May 27, 2013


Very happy to be safely home in New York with little cat Mickey. London was excellent, but extremely tiring; my cousin P.'s wedding was lovely in every respect, but my favorite part was pretty certainly seeing the bride and groom ride on camels down the Kings Road! (Picture courtesy of Georgina.)

Kate Atkinson's new novel is stunningly good, but I am too tired to write more about it now (but read it!); the flight home passed very quickly, too, as I was able to get Mark Billingham's new Thorne book (not out yet in the US) and Mo Hayder's Poppet (which I see now I could have had on US Kindle after all, but it is traditional to acquire a few large-format UK crime-fiction paperbacks at Heathrow), which carried me very nicely through the journey.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Prime meridian

On Tuesday we went to Bletchley Park, which was highly worthwhile (I think the Colossus rebuild is the most amazing thing, but it's very cool seeing so many bombes and Enigma machines after having read much about them); on Wednesday, we rode a fast boat to Greenwich and saw among other things precision timekeepers at the Observatory and the Maritime Museum. Visiting these places on consecutive days, one is especially struck by the implicit continuities between two different periods of brilliant technical innovation and superb precision manufacturing in British history.

Yesterday evening, a delicious gin sour and smoked mackerel latkes at Mishkin's with my dear old friend Orion and his partner Harvy, a hatter whose recent creation made a big hit this week. Later this afternoon we'll walk over to see my cousin George at her day job, then meet up with another dear friend of mine for dinner.

Light reading (planes, trains, etc.): Michael Sears, Black Fridays (not sure the autistic son plot was really successfully integrated with the trading skullduggery one, but not bad overall); Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs; Andre Aciman, Harvard Square; Gene Kerrigan, The Midnight Choir (I thought this one was fantastically good, even better than the other book of his I read recently); Melissa Scott, The Empress of Earth (I don't think volumes 2 and 3 lived up to the promise of the opening volume, but the trilogy is a pretty good read); Gordon Dahlquist, The Different Girl (another standout - it is a really lovely YA novel, science-fictional in its affinities and most beautifully written, with something of the strange haunting quality that I found as a child in the novels of John Christopher).

Old but good: basset hounds vs. gravity.

Friday, May 17, 2013


I've been quiet here this week, and the week's included rather less exercise than I'd hoped - but that was for the very good reason that I've been working fiendishly on the style book. It's not really finished finished, I will have one more pass through it in June before submitting the final version, but I have just emailed my editor a provisional final draft (with a few missing references and some patches of rougher prose than I'd usually be willing to share); he'll give me notes when I see him in New York at the end of the month.

It will sound immodest, but I think this book really is amazing, it is the book I was born to write! I have a very hard time publicizing my novels - it's not that I don't think you would enjoy them if you are a novel-reader, I am happy saying something like "If you want a novel to while away an hour or two, this one will be pretty well suited to that need, and I hope it will make you feel and know things a bit differently than you did before you read it" - but really I am much more comfortable passionately recommending someone else's novel than my own! This style book (the final title is Reading Style: A Life in Sentences, and it will be published by Columbia University Press) really does do something that is interesting and useful and not quite like any other book about reading and writing. I am excited to shepherd it into the world - I imagine it will be on the fall 2014 list, though I'm not certain.

Flying tomorrow late afternoon from Cayman to the UK for my cousin's wedding. I won't take any work with me, I think, given that I've finished up everything I can do on the manuscript without library access. The extent of obligations to see family and friends will really make it fairly tight even getting in a minimum of exercise, though I'm hoping for a couple civilized runs and at least one visit to the Central YMCA to swim and spin. Back home in New York as of the evening of Memorial Day, and looking forward to what I hope will be a highly satisfactory first block of training for IMWI. Intend to minimize internet time in London, so posting here will probably continue to be very light through to the end of the month.

Miscellaneous linkage:

What Gary Panter doesn't know. (This one really is fantastic.)

What Hilary Mantel's been reading.

Just say no!

Light reading around the edges:

Installments two and three of Ian Tregillis's Milkweed trilogy, The Coldest War and Necessary Evil.

Two crime novels by Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson, Daybreak and House of Evidence.

Daniel Friedman's funny geriatric noir Don't Ever Get Old.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Closing tabs

Sunday's interesting failure has predictably led to a respiratory ailment - I made it to Cayman safely, but unfortunately had to exit hot yoga this morning due to ongoing lung issues. Frustration!

Good linkage:

Renovating Freud's couch

Potato cannon muzzle velocities. (Via Tyler Cowen.)

Cheese paintings! (Via.)

Light reading around the edges: Christa Faust's Fringe tie-in novel and the first volume of Ian Tregillis's Milkweed series, Bitter Seed. The opening chapters are a bit overwritten and the characters feel rather thinly developed, but once I settled into it, I hugely enjoyed it - will read installments two and three immediately.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Footer and white mice

At the TLS, Paul Addison on Lucy Lethbridge's Servants:
Looking into the origins of Universal Aunts, an employment agency founded in 1921 to supply child minders and home helps of many kinds, she has discovered the card index in which its founder, Gertie Mclean, recorded the salient characteristics of applicants. Miss Charlotte Hedgecombe was “hefty, stern, stood for no nonsense, a stickler for etiquette and deportment. On borstal board of governors, Zoological Society’s certificate. Cope older boys, any number”. Miss Phyllis Beckett, on the other hand, “knows all about footer and white mice. Guaranteed not to nag. Can slide down banisters at a push”. Miss Pansy Trubshaw, she noted, understood cricket and foreign stamps, “but not much else”.

Closing tabs

I liked Stephen Graham Jones's All the Beautiful Sinners, although I wouldn't have minded it being a bit clearer at times - there are places where we are just confused rather than poetically oblique/ambiguous in our comprehension about what is going on. Similar DNA to Joe Hill's book, I think, though with different landscapes and long histories.

Have spent morning tidying and packing. I dislike the amount of organization required to leave town, but on the other hand my apartment would probably be an archeological tip of papers and books if I didn't regularly have to clean it up before travel. Trying to gear up for a run on this rainy day, but I fear I have missed my moment, it's absolutely pouring again - it might be I should take the cue from the heavens and have another rest day.

Miscellaneous linkage:

My old schoolmate Nathaniel Frank on Niall Ferguson and homophobia. (Via Katherine B.)

Young singers mangling the Great American Songbook.

"CSI: Monk Seal"?

Animals riding animals! (Via Sarang.)

Monday, May 06, 2013

Life is good

in a week where the two new novels I read are Knausgaard vol. 2 and Joe Hill's Nos4A2. Uncanny the extent to which that book both does and doesn't resemble a novel by Stephen King - it is at once intensely and allusively indebted and very much its own thing. I think Heart-Shaped Box is perhaps slightly more exactly to my taste, but this one is extremely good too (very appealing scene where iPad FBI agents are using to try and locate kidnapped child's iPhone eerily represents alternate universe!).

Also just as good as everybody said: Lawrence Wright's Scientology book, Going Clear. Gripping, indispensable; has also caused me to obtain a copy of Murakami's book about the Japanese subway attacks, which I've been meaning to read for a long time.

Strait is the gate

Octopus squeezes itself through small hole. (Via.)

Thursday, May 02, 2013

My Struggle

Knausgaard vol. 2 is as riveting as vol. 1:
I returned the glass to the table and stubbed out my cigarette. There was nothing left of my feelings for those I had just spent several hours with. The whole crowd of them could have burned in hell for all I cared. This was a rule in my life. When I was with other people I was bound to them, the nearness I felt was immense, the empathy great. Indeed, so great that their well-being was always more important than my own. I subordinated myself, almost to the verge of self-effacement; some uncontrollable internal mechanism caused me to put their thoughts and opinions before mine. But the moment I was alone others meant nothing to me. It wasn't that I disliked them, or nurtured feelings of loathing for them, on the contrary, I liked most of them, and the ones I didn't actually like I could always see some worth in, some attribute I could identify with, or at least find interesting, something that could occupy my mind for the moment. But liking them was not the same as caring about them. It was the social situation that bound me, the people within it did not. Between these two perspectives there was no halfway point. There was just the small, self-effacing one and the large, distance-creating one. And in between them was where my daily life lay. Perhaps that was why I had such a hard time living it. Everyday life, with its duties and routines, was something I endured, not a thing I enjoyed, nor something that was meaningful or that made me happy. This had nothing to do with a lack of desire to wash floors or change diapers but rather with something more fundamental: the life around me was not meaningful. I always longed to be away from it. So the life I led was not my own. I tried to make it mine, this was my struggle, because of course I wanted it, but I failed, the longing for something else undermined all my efforts.

Back to normal

It's amazing having my real computer again - I went and picked it up a couple hours ago, and it feels like coming home! I live a good deal of my life via email and reading things on the internet: that little tablet was a good stopgap, but still.... In particular the Columbia webmail is hopeless, very happy to be using Thunderbird again.

New Kindle Paperwhite arrived yesterday, and I have just ordered a replacement watch (in the meantime I am wearing my other watch, a rather nice diving one - with a bezel! - that Wendy gave me after I got my scuba certification when she came to visit for Breakfast Near Tiffany's).

Saw an odd little play last night with G., Bull at 59E59. It is more of a scenario than a fully fledged play, and I thought only the sole female character had much depth - it's watchable but feels a bit purposeless. (I wasn't that keen on its predecessor Cock either.) Delicious dinner afterwards here - I had beef carpaccio (in my opinion this is the perfect dish - the combination of arugola, parmesan and raw beef is just ridiculously good), an amazing very simple branzino with lightly sauteed vegetables and a tiramisu I ordered after dimly recalling that we had eaten here once before and I had ordered what turned out to be the best tiramisu I have ever tasted. And it still is.

Iggy redux

"It was a lot safer to be in The Stooges than to be in the Army that year."