Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tunnels and bridges

Manhattan's lost meat infrastructure.

Today was in theory my "weekend" day, only really the timing is such that I needed to spend the evening doing a final read of various job materials (cover letters, dissertation abstracts, writing samples) for PhD students applying to jobs with Nov. 1 deadlines! I am at the level of fatigue where I can basically do little more than copy-editing, I am afraid.

Fall break next week, only I'm giving a talk out of town on Monday afternoon, so it will not be as restorative as one might hope. New Haveners, it's Monday at 4pm in LC 317, on the topic of Restoration theater and the eighteenth-century novel - make sure to say hello if you are there. Will be home late Monday night, though, so am hoping for a restorative Tuesday that involves quite a bit of work and exercise (and no alarm set in the morning).

(I am also very sorry to be missing the Cayman triathlon on Sunday, traditional for me on this weekend over the last couple years, though given accumulated fatigue plus the fact that I have neither spun nor swum for many a week, it is really just as well! I thought about going to a swim workout this evening, but the pool chemicals really trigger allergies and asthma: I think I had better just wait till my teaching semester is over; hot yoga is more gentle on the immune system.)

Light reading around the edges: Antonia Fraser's Must You Go?, a memoir (extracted from diaries) of her life with Harold Pinter. Much here to enjoy and appreciate.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In it

Did I ever link to this at the time? Anyway, some thoughts on immersion - in novels, in games, in water - following the publication of The Magic Circle.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Exclusivity redux

I flagged this quotation mentally as I was reading for class, only I dimly remembered (and indeed it is so!) I blogged it the last time I taught this book also....

(I am entering the stretch of the semester where the only thing I want is to be able to spend a month entirely by myself reading books and not talking to anybody!)


Douglas Hofstadter and the problem of understanding human intelligence:
Consider that computers today still have trouble recognizing a handwritten A. In fact, the task is so difficult that it forms the basis for CAPTCHAs (“Completely Automated Public Turing tests to tell Computers and Humans Apart”), those widgets that require you to read distorted text and type the characters into a box before, say, letting you sign up for a Web site.

In Hofstadter’s mind, there is nothing to be surprised about. To know what all A’s have in common would be, he argued in a 1982 essay, to “understand the fluid nature of mental categories.” And that, he says, is the core of human intelligence.

“Cognition is recognition,” he likes to say. He describes “seeing as” as the essential cognitive act: you see some lines as “an A,” you see a hunk of wood as “a table,” you see a meeting as “an emperor-has-no-clothes situation” and a friend’s pouting as “sour grapes” and a young man’s style as “hipsterish” and on and on ceaselessly throughout your day. That’s what it means to understand. But how does understanding work? For three decades, Hofstadter and his students have been trying to find out, trying to build “computer models of the fundamental mechanisms of thought.”
(Via I.H.D.)

Lou Reed redux

A tribute by Luc Sante.

Lou Reed's autograph

It is a long time since I was wholly psychologically in thrall to Lou Reed, but for a number of years (from 17 to 21, maybe?) I think I listened to VU and LR more than pretty much anything else.

I remember hearing "Venus in Furs" on a mix tape playing on a battery-powered boombox that sat on the front seat of my friend Lee's big boat of an American car. It was so arrestingly lovely and like nothing I had ever heard before that I could not rest until I heard the whole album.

It is possible that The Velvet Underground (the book, not the album) was the first thing I ever requested via Interlibrary Loan as a first-year student at Harvard.

Lou Reed is known in recent years to have resembled a lizard. I have seen him at various new-music performances: he was a benevolent presence on the scene, with a much stronger interest in the music of young artists than many of his peers.

My obsession with Lou Reed was still running hot enough c. 1990 that when my then boyfriend (we were living in New York, in a studio apartment on 23rd St. down the street from the Chelsea Hotel) called me up, on a Friday afternoon when I'd gotten home from work a bit early, to say that Lou Reed was standing across the counter from him in the dingy 8th St. computer store he was employed by, I thought it was a joke. Once persuaded the sighting was for real, I raced over and saw the Great Man with my own eyes. I may still have, somewhere in a box, the crumpled credit card receipt, signed by Lou Reed, for a wholly unglamorous desktop computer. It slightly shattered my notion of the rock-star lifestyle that Lou Reed would buy a computer of that ilk in a store of that genus, but on the other hand he was known for his frugality in certain aspects of life.

This is one of the saddest and loveliest songs ever written.

I have probably listened to Berlin at least fifty times, maybe more.

Lou Reed's transsexual muse. (Via Larry LaF.)

There are many reasons I would never do karaoke, but one of them is that it's hard to imagine one of the options would be this, one of only a handful of songs I'd be willing to sing solo in public in a bar, no matter how much alcohol might have been consumed.

Finally, the Daily Mail misses the boat once again, in a recent piece about tattoos gone wrong. Their caption for the picture below: "One couple found a fruity - and permanent - way to show their love for one another." What it should say: classic Warhol banana from the cover of the best album every made!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tallest Dog Ever

Death of a record-breakingly gigantic Great Dane. (Via Rivka.) He slept in his own queen-sized bed.


I'm leading a class at the CUNY Graduate Center in a couple weeks: reading will be two of my favorite essays by Hazlitt, "On My First Acquaintance with Poets" and "The Indian Jugglers," plus an essay I wrote many years ago now about Toni Schlesinger's Shelter columns. In some alternate universe I am an essayist predominantly rather than any other kind of writer - in fact really I think I should be writing a lot more in that mode, along a spectrum from intellectual/analytic to more like this one. Something to ponder....

Soft touch

The revolution in artificial limbs.

Toronto was highly worthwhile but very very tiring! About to head to the library for some Tom Jones and Sorrows of Young Werther time....

Monday, October 21, 2013

Cat island

"Every week, tourists come, even though the island has nothing but cats." (Via - courtesy of Jessie and Steve.)


An outtake from the wretched review that I'm still wrestling with (when they don't come out right the first time round, they often take horrible amounts of subsequent wrangling!):
I have been recommending Wolf Hall to readers impatient for the next volume of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Throne series. They share a good deal of the same source material from Tudor history, but while Martin is a good writer in many respects, especially if one disregards the language at the level of the sentence and concentrates instead on his ability to render complex human and political relationships with clarity and vividness, Mantel is a great one. She demonstrated decades ago, in A Place of Greater Safety (her 1992 novel about the French Revolution), an ability to tell large world-historical stories with the kind of imaginative precision about politics more often associated with works like Robert Caro’s biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson, or indeed with the great nineteenth-century narrative historians Carlyle and Michelet.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

In memoriam redux

Wheelmen is causing my jaw to drop: much of this story, of course, I know already, but even so, the revelations about the financial improprieties & interdependency of the UCI and the US Postal team in the late 90s are pretty amazing - makes me wish I were a financial journalist, there is much potential in that field for stories of Shakespearean dimensions.

Also, IMAX Gravity completely lived up to the hype!

Coming week got thrown for a loop: B.'s old friend J. died this weekend.

(He had a bad cancer diagnosis in fall 2009, but thanks to amazing surgery and radiation he was able to run a triumphant 3:23:40 in Boston in April 2010. B. and I went to Boston to spectate on that occasion; it was a celebration of life. He had a few good years of remission, and then a scary recurrence last summer, so that his death comes more as a sorrow than a surprise.)

Funeral in Toronto on Friday, we'll fly up Thursday and then back to NYC Saturday evening so that B. can make his Sunday early-morning flight back to Cayman. Ugh, let us say fervently what dressed-up friends and I were all saying to each other on the Metro-North train to Yonkers a few weeks ago for K.'s memorial: please can't the next time we find ourselves in our best clothes traveling out of town together be for a wedding or a christening, not for a funeral?

(The need to make travel arrangements and generally contemplate ramifications, mortality, etc. also means that I am way behind on work for the week, but one way or another it will all have to get done in the next few days, so there's no point worrying about that now! On a brighter note, I had a beautiful run yesterday and finally made it to hot yoga today after too long a layoff, so that definitely has a beneficial effect on the moral and physiological equilibrium.)

Closing tabs:

Nico Muhly's career as Baroque archetype. (Also: Nico's Reddit AMA!) We're going tomorrow night, I'm really excited....

Saturday, October 19, 2013

In memoriam

RIP Norman Geras. I was honored to be included in Norm's writer's choice series in 2007. I touched there, I see, on some of the same points I raise again in the introduction to the style book....

The Proust brouhaha

Aciman on Proust at the WSJ:
Proust is interested in minutiae because life, as he sees it, is seldom ever about things, but about our impression of things, not about facts, but about the interpretation of facts, not about one particular feeling but about a confluence of conflicting feelings. Everything is elusive in Proust, because nothing is ever certain. He isn't interested in characters the way Tolstoy and Dickens are interested in characters; he is interested in the vivisection of identity, in people who turn out to be everything they claim they are not, in relationships that are always inscrutably opaque, in situations that conceal an underside that ends up flattering neither the betrayer nor the betrayed. It is Proust's implacable honesty, his reluctance to cut corners or to articulate what might have been good enough or credible enough in any other writer that make him the introspective genius he is.
I am slightly promising myself a month with relatively little else on (next summer, maybe?) in which I read straight through In Search of Lost Time from start to finish - I've read much of it at one time or another, but never in a marathon binge....

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Two Boys

Massive NYT piece about Nico and his opera!

(Hmmm, I am laughing, it is a bit over the top - but I actually have three sets of tickets, for three separate days, for this one - three different companions - also, two after-parties!)

Closing tabs

Demanding week, but highly worthwhile, including a very good dissertation defense this morning (I always think it is a pity that these conversations happen in private, they are so interesting and stimulating [at their best] - this is the dissertation that drew to my attention some time ago to this particularly lovely bit of Adorno on four-handed piano music).

My laptop is fully functional once again, except that something the fixer did stopped the right-click function from working (will investigate this tomorrow when I am less tired); I think I still have two letters of recommendation that should be submitted before the clock turns from the 16th to the 17th, only I am not sure I have it in me, I might just have to hope for the best and submit them tomorrow in the hope that date-based electronic banning of some sort does not cause me to have to fall back some old-school stopgap!

(Fax - but really, it is very unlikely that all letter-writers made this deadline, I imagine the system will still take my letter tomorrow?)

Just got back from a delightful event for my friend and colleague Eleanor Johnson's learned and accessible book about Boethius and the mixing of prose and verse in the Middle Ages.

Light reading around the edges: Pelecanos's new novel The Double, which I liked very much; and Alan Glynn's Graveland, which I found something of a disappointment. He's such a good writer, but he's let all his books sort of converge on one single long conspiracy theory; of course it must be said that there is something quite prescient about the thriller plot of this book, which anticipates a Tsarnaev-style local terror plot and mashes that storyline together with a more Aaron Swartzian sort of paranoia about the way government and big corporate interests can bring down individual journalists and seekers after truth, but really the whole thing doesn't work as a true self-sufficient novel (it was the last straw for me when he brought in a performance-enhancing drug a-la-Limitless - on which note, this is up soon in the reading queue thanks to a good advance bit from B.).

Near the end of Aifric Campbell's On the Floor. The trading-floor bits seem to me superb, but the other plot is a bit weak - I wish she'd just written it as a more extremely descriptive fiction/non-fiction amalgam, more along the lines of this.

Finally, this delightful picture of my nephew, like other photos of both of the very young people who are quite closely related to me, causes me to reflect on the pronounced nature of family resemblance!

Orange soda

Out of all Mimi Lipson's stories, this is one of my very favorites. (Mimi's book has a page on Amazon and an ISBN! Such is the grandeur of modern-day publishing - but truly, the day I saw my first ISBN online was one of the greatest days of my entire life....)

Provence, 1970

I'm excited by this teaser for my friend Luke Barr's forthcoming book! (Book link here; launch next Tuesday in Brooklyn.)

I read a lot of M. F. K. Fisher in high school, it was the kind of thing I plucked off the shelves of the very good library associated with the school I went to (I wrote about it here - hmmm, that's interesting, I now see that bit as being part of the genesis of the style book). I think regularly of what is justly one of the most famous passages in all of her writing, where she describes the perfect meal - not, as one might expect, a gourmet feast of many courses and subtle delicacies, but a picnic of bread and chocolate consumed on a hillside outside what I believe might have been Marseilles (very characteristic of my memory that the bread and chocolate would have lodged there more thoroughly than the geographical location).

The blue meth

Dwight Garner on criticism:
By the time I was in high school my English teachers had turned me on to Pauline Kael and Greil Marcus. I loved James Wolcott’s stuff, too. [. . . .] I remember going through the microfilm and microfiche machines, getting a sore neck, just to find Wolcott’s old stuff in the Village Voice and Harper’s. I still have those Wolcott printouts. They’re on those warped old pieces of prehistoric photo-print paper. I’m still a fan.

His stuff just popped off the page. It was the most vivid critical writing I’d ever read. His stuff shouted, the way good art does, “I’m alive.” I felt the same way about Kael and Marcus, among others. These people had things appearing in magazines like Rolling Stone, and in newspapers, and it felt like, to my blinkered perspective at any rate, a golden age.

I reread the work of my favourite critics—Orwell, Agee, Updike, Tynan, Sheed, Macdonald, Kazin and so on—all the time. Just to breathe that air. But there’s nothing like reading a critic in real time. That’s the blue meth. There’s nothing like going to see a film and coming back and inhaling the words of a critic like AO Scott or Stephanie Zacharek, now at the Village Voice. There’s nothing like getting that buzz in your head.
It is a terrible confession, but I just don't feel that buzz - it's partly why I don't like Twitter, I don't want to be peppered with news about things happening right now - I love instead that feeling of immersion in a deep elsewhere, preferably far in the past....

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tom Jones and two cats

It has been very beneficial to have a few evenings at home, but I am still suffering from fairly pronounced cold symptoms! I got up early and had a productive morning, including a lot of paper commenting, then got back off course when the keyboard on my laptop stopped working - I took it in to a repair place in midtown and am anxiously awaiting news (writing in the meantime on my iPad - really I have device redundancy - but I have letters of recommendation I need to submit Tuesday, I had better be able to get it back before then!).

My evening: a lot more paper comments, but also - more pleasantly - 2 cats and the first two books of Tom Jones!

Friday, October 11, 2013


Clawing my way back to where I should be. Two nights in a row of twelve-hour sleep were highly beneficial: I sat down this afternoon and wrote comments on a dozen student assignments without it seeming like an intolerable effort of will. My inability to do even a single one on Wednesday morning really just told me that I was down to the absolute dregs! That's less than a quarter of the total number I need to comment on for Monday, but it's a good start, and I read a dissertation draft that I've been remiss with - still need to type up comments, but it is a relief to be finally making headway.

(The allergy doctor yesterday clucked with disapproval at the sound of my cough, and took out her stethoscope; she tells me what I knew already, that my lungs are "full up," bronchitis not asthma, and that the only treatment for viral bronchitis is to take an expectorant - Mucinex! - and drink lots of water. I was hoping to exercise today, but it didn't really make sense - tomorrow I will have a stab at something easy and see how it goes. Painful psychological deprivation - all I want is to be running and/or doing hot yoga!)

Seeing Betrayal tomorrow afternoon with a former professor of mine who has an extra ticket. Did finish and send that Bookforum review yesterday, though I am awaiting its return with trepidation as I suspect it is in need of considerable fixing-up!

Starting Tom Jones on Monday, which is fun (I find it easiest when teaching to dig in on a longish book and then just proceed through it in chunks - it requires much less attention than starting a new text or author almost every lecture); and Sentimental Journey on Tuesday, also very good fun to teach. A dissertation defense Wednesday morning early, and then B. arrives Wednesday evening for a 10-day visit!

I am possibly slightly in denial about the fact that the season of letters of recommendation is hard upon us - I have four I think I need to do this weekend, with others looming. Need to start doing daily meditation again - I got out of the habit in August, as I was doing so many training hours & it has some of the same benefits, but really it is very worthwhile, I need to get it back in the mix.

Light reading around the edges: Sara Ryan's amazing graphic novel Bad Houses; Arnaldur Indridason's Black Skies, which gave me a terrible pang of missing my friend Maxine Clarke, who loved these books and all their ilk; and Alex Marwood, The Wicked Girls (some wild implausibilities, but really very good, very gripping, very much the kind of novel I like to read). Close to the end of Pelecanos's latest, The Double; will finish it in bed now and hope for an early night.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Someone should write this story as a crime novel.


I slept for twelve hours, seriously - today is the first day in well over a week when I didn't have to set an alarm - and am finally feeling as though I'm on the mend. Probably need to give it another day before exercising (lungs still with some junk), but this is a relief - amazing how poorly an ordinary cold can make you feel.

Two good mouth links:

I've been following the fortunes of this endeavor for a long time now, and am absolutely delighted to see this great news about Bertie's Cupcakery! Bobbie is a very good athlete, wife of triblogger DC Rainmaker, and an extraordinarily gifted and imaginative baker - she created these nautical cookies to send to my brother and sister-in-law to congratulate them on the acquisition of their first boat....

Another thing I'm keen on: anchovy taste test!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


I was woefully optimistic this morning about the lifespan of my cold - after one hour of sitting upright and doing work, I felt absolutely dreadful, and the day basically went downhill from there! I have to be patient, it's clearly days more before I'll be at anything like full strength....

Closing tabs:

Bad Romance.

A Brief History of a Musical Failure.

Douglas Wolk on Alex Chilton live.

Nico's opera is coming soon!

Morning linkage

A good link from B. to start the day: How far did Rocky Balboa run?

Got eight hours of pretty restful sleep, and though I certainly could have stayed in bed for HOURS more, I finally feel as though I am on the mend - head still somewhat congested, but my lungs have finally stabilized, that is a relief! Off to the library momentarily for review-writing and paper commenting - lots to do today and tomorrow, I am far behind where I should have been....

Monday, October 07, 2013

More things I like

I really want some of these! (Via Brent. It seems reasonable, doesn't it? Two cats and a small herd of pygmy goats: I think really they would be better pets than the capybaras....)

Things I like

Sloth cake! (Via Nico.)

Explore everything

Bradley Garrett, serial trespasser.

Closing tabs

Ugh, I'm still ailing - I feel terrible! Canceled my class this morning and slept much of the day but still have to pull myself together to finish writing my overdue review and get student papers read for tomorrow and Wednesday. Have already taken Advil to no avail - perhaps more caffeine might be helpful? Really lying down seems like the only thing I am inclined to do....

Read my friend and colleague Rachel Adams' new book Raising Henry on the train back from New Haven yesterday. It is superb - highly recommended.

Closing tabs:

Ghostwriting for Tom Clancy. (Curious omission: he never even hints at what he was paid. If I were a ghostwriter, I'd prefer it to be for celebrity autobiographies, but I've always been curious about whether it really would be possible to make a living that way - I mean, it would be less suited to my skill set than my actual job, but I like thinking about it!)

The Hollywood mountain lion known as P-22.

Ruth Franklin's devastating account of Norman Rush's new novel.

This is what I will need for the coming zombie apocalypse. (One cat on each float?)

Custom-built bicycle for a man with no arms.

At Public Books, Katie Gemmill considers eighteenth-century Pygmalion Thomas Day and the victims of his project.

Saturday, October 05, 2013


NEASECS dinosaur dinner!

Closing tabs/minor update

All is well, except that I am suffering from an absolute dreadful cold!

On a brighter note, the NEASECS conference in New Haven is excellent (both yesterday and today I basically went to good morning stuff then came back to hotel room and collapsed for much of the afternoon - I did have some good pizza for dinner last night on my own at Zinc Kitchen, and a lovely dinner at Ibiza on Thursday with C., lunch yesterday with A. at Zinc, coffee with S. at Atticus, etc. etc. - I've got a lot of old friends here).

(I am feeling too ill to paste in links!)

Have just had a long nap and a hot shower to moisten lungs and de-sinusify face, it has given me fortitude I think for pre-dinner cocktails at the Union League with C., B. and J. and the conference dinner at the Peabody Museum. Am taking a whole box of tissues in my bag, I keep on having to fall back on awful brown recycled ones from bathroom paper towel dispensers. One panel to chair tomorrow, then I'll be on a panel home mid-afternoon, having done absolutely NONE of my grading for Monday....

(And I got an extension till Monday on my review from my kind editor, but still haven't really felt well enough to deal with it - if I can get most of the grading done tomorrow evening at home, then I should have a couple hours first thing Monday morning to consolidate what I have and turn it into an actual coherent piece.)

Americaneh is stunningly good, one of the best couple novels I've read all year - not quite sure why I haven't read her other two, but have loaded them onto the Kindle and will look forward to reading them sooner rather than later.

Dinner on Wednesday with G. at the West Bank Cafe was nice, though the play (DeeDee Bridgewater as Billie Holiday) was predictably slightly dreadful - they should just do it as a musical revue rather than trying to make it a melodramatic bio-retrospective! (The flashback scenes in the first half are particularly awful, but I am also not keen on the singer-pretending-to-be-drunk thing in the second half - which is a pity, because really in many respects the music is extremely good, if you can swallow the pastiche element.)

Had a very nice lunch with E. on Thursday at Artisanal (en route to Grand Central - that is possibly the best macaroni and cheese I've ever had, though it is so rich you feel slightly queasy after eating most of the large portion - the cheese crumb/crust on top is absolutely perfect) to talk about my upcoming presentation at the NYU humanities institute - that's one I'm really looking forward to. Many restaurant meals and no exercise do not lead to a feeling of mental and physical equilibrium, but really I just have to let this cold pass - I think Tuesday morning is the first day I'm likely to be really legitimately functional for a run, ugh....