Saturday, November 30, 2013

Iron Mike

At the New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates on Mike Tyson's memoir (I want to read this one - I have a nascent boxing obsession that I hope to let ramp up in 2014):
The title Undisputed Truth is a play on the familiar boxing phrase “undisputed champion”—as in “Mike Tyson, undisputed heavyweight champion of the world,” delivered in a ring announcer’s booming voice and much heard during the late 1980s and early 1990s. A more appropriate title for this lively mixture of a memoir would be Disputed Truth. These recollections of Tyson’s tumultuous life began as a one-man Las Vegas act at the MGM casino. It is now shaped into narrative form by a professional writer best known as the collaborator of the “shock comic” Howard Stern and is aimed to shock, titillate, amuse, and entertain, since much in it is wildly surreal and unverifiable. (Like the claim that “I’m such a monster. I turned the Romanian Mafia onto coke” and that Tyson was a guest at the Billionaire Club in Sardinia, “where a bottle of champagne cost something like $100,000.”)

Mostly, Undisputed Truth is a memoir of indefatigable name-dropping and endless accounts of “partying”; there is a photograph of Tyson with Maya Angelou, who came to visit him in Indiana when he was imprisoned for rape; we learn that Tyson converted to Islam in prison (“That was my first encounter with true love and forgiveness”), but as soon as he was freed, he returns to his old, debauched life, plunging immediately into debt:
I had to have an East Coast mansion…so I went out and bought the largest house in the state of Connecticut. It was over fifty thousand square feet and had thirteen kitchens and nineteen bedrooms…. In the six years I owned it, you could count the number of times I was actually there on two hands.
This palatial property is but one of four luxurious mansions Tyson purchases in the same manic season, along with exotic wild animals (lion, white tiger cubs) and expensive automobiles—“Vipers, Spyders, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis.” We hear of Tyson’s thirtieth birthday party at his Connecticut estate with a guest list including Oprah, Donald Trump, Jay Z, and “street pimps and their hos.” In line with Tyson’s newfound Muslim faith, he stations outside the house “forty big Fruit of Islam bodyguards.”
Good description, too, of the 1997 Tyson-Holyfield "ear-biting fracas."


Alligators and crocodiles use sticks as bait for waterbirds.

Thanksgiving Cthucken

Via Nico; original source here.

Rattus rattus

A natural history of the little-known Anolis blanquillanus.

(Reading this has made me think longingly of Cayman, where multitudinous anoles are one of the most delightful regular sights - terrestrial herpetofauna! I will be there January 2-20, but am now rather wishing I had arranged a pre-Xmas trip as well....)

Straight out of Borges

At the NYT, Rachel Donadio on a librarian's brazen theft scheme at the Girolamini Library in Naples:
In one of the most intriguing elements in the lower-court proceedings, Mr. De Caro also testified that he had several copies of Galileo’s “Siderius Nuncius” forged in Argentina, including one that he placed in the national library in Naples, and that he had taken the original. Last year, Nick Wilding, a scholar, uncovered the forgery.

Asked on Monday outside the courtroom in Naples how you go about forging a book by Galileo, let alone one that was sold at auction and fooled some of the world’s leading experts, Mr. De Caro smiled with excitement.

“Borges, in ‘Ficciones,’ wrote that when a book is false, it is equal to, if not better than, the original,” he said. One of his lawyers quickly approached and said the conversation was over.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Choose your own adventure

My former student Jason Bell on a near miss.

Closing tabs

Best weekend viewing: Weekend of a Champion at the IFC. It is amazing - reminds me (I am laughing, I am the only person who would foreground this association I think!) of what I most like about the early novels of Dick Francis. Here's the trailer - see it if you get a chance.

Reread most of Dangerous Liaisons last night in partial preparation for Tuesday's seminar meeting. It really is the most incredible novel - I wish I could write something with that beautifully taut spring-like construction - it is almost as well-put-together as Oedipus Rex.

Miscellaneous links:

Imagining a future without antibiotics.

What do you do when you're a mathematician and you make a mistake?

At the FT, Pankaj Mishra on the problem with talking about the global novel (site registration required).

Light reading around the edges: Joshilyn Jackson, Someone Else's Love Story; Vidar Sundstol, The Land of Dreams.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Powered by donuts

Incentivized comment-writing this morning with a donut. After today, only three more lectures and two more seminar meetings - it can be done, especially as (miraculously) I do not need to travel over Thanksgiving....

Last week was a bit too busy, and culminated in an enjoyable but demanding weekend trip to Philadelphia, but this week I have every evening at home: beneficial for mental health. B. arrives tomorrow, which is also good and will make me work less this weekend than I have over the last few days. Will either run or go to yoga this afternoon depending on some light/temperature/laziness calculus as yet to be determined, but more immediately am going to get into bed with my Kindle and start reading Joshilyn Jackson's new novel, which I have been eagerly awaiting.

(There is a whole next round of letters of recommendation coming up due, but I cannot face them until later in the week!)

Light reading around the edges:

Richard Kadrey's Dead Set (not bad, but I read it just after finishing The Goldfinch, an imperfect novel whose language is so rich and satisfying that anything else feels flat and monochromatic afterwards); Shawn Vestal's short memoir A. K. A. Charles Abbott; and Kate Maruyama's Harrowgate.

Closing tabs:

The utility of post-its, George R. R. Martin edition.

I want this pie! (Also to read a Sacksian essay on octopus consciousness.)

An interesting article by James Mallinson on the early history of hatha yoga.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On reading books in other countries

At Tablet, Mark Oppenheimer interviews Alberto Manguel. (Via The Literary Saloon.)

"The juxtaposition is a yard sale"

Christopher Hennessy interviews Wayne Koestenbaum (link courtesy of Dave Lull). Here's a bit I especially liked, but there's lots of other amazing stuff too:
I incorporate O’Hara’s attitudes: a near-Romantic high seriousness, an investment in my own pathos. I don’t yearn for high intellectual seriousness. Sometimes I think (perhaps wrongly) that poets who come up through the MFA route have a falsely idealized intellectuality, because they think that intellectuality is the magic serum that they’re going to inject into poetry to lift it above the folderol of an earlier generation. Sometimes I don’t even consider myself a poet; I’m better known as a prose writer or an art critic. When I write a poem, I don’t try to address a major ideological issue or question the veracity of the lyric. I don’t feel burdened by the major obligations that some poets these days bring to the table when they write. Let me put it bluntly: I’m fed up with Adorno; I’ve had plenty of Adorno; if I want Adorno, I know where he is; if Adorno appears in my poems it’s because I want to fuck his ass and it’s not because I think it’s really, really important to educate the reader about Adorno; if Adorno appears in my poem, it’s because he’s making a cameo appearance in drag. I think it’s great to read Adorno (I love Minima Moralia…I almost bought a German copy of it at Lame Duck Books the other day), but I do not feel it’s my job to educate the reader about Adorno. My stance is an aesthete’s, like Frank O’Hara’s. He includes Poulenc and other recherché figures in his poems, but only because they are the furniture in his mind; he’s not making a bid for poetry as a new form of critical theory or historiography.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Short notice I'm afraid - have been too busy this week to deal with email and announcements properly, and am due some catch-up - but I am leading a workshop tomorrow at the CUNY Graduate Center on two of my favorite of Hazlitt's essays, 12-2pm. More information here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Woodsies, buttons

Really I need to go to the library and dig in on this week's teaching stuff (chunks of Tristram Shandy and Rousseau's Confessions plus the inevitable pile of assignments to comment on), but I will close some tabs first. Busy week, but mercifully I was able to collapse at the end of it - did a spin class and hot yoga on Friday, and yesterday I had pretty much the ideal day of exercise: an hour of spinning at Chelsea Piers, an hour of restorative yoga and then eight miles in Prospect Park with L. (we are running the half-marathon in Philadelphia next week). Evenings at home are essential if I want to regain equilibrium, especially as I seem to have multiple nights out this coming week. Much novel-reading, too: in short, I feel finally back to normal for the first time all semester.


The McLeod collator.

Natasha Shapiro offers an amazing list of materials for making altered books.


Soothing light reading around the edges:

Luke Barr, Provence, 1970; Joshilyn Jackson's short story (a teaser for her new novel, for which I am very impatient) My Own Miraculous; Jo Nesbo, Police (over-ingenious in a "wink-wink" fashion in its plot twists, but gripping regardless); Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy (I liked it much better than rather negative reviews would have led me to expect, though I thought Bridget's weight loss in the opening stretch of the book was implausibly easily accomplished!); Laurie King, Touchstone (rather static and artificial in its opening, though it picked up momentum as it went along - absurd in its premises!); Mira Grant, Parasite (an appealing novel of sapient tapeworms by an emergent genius of light reading). Also, my friend "Lilia"'s erotic SF story The Slave Catcher (very good - I would eagerly read a whole novel set in this world).

About halfway through The Goldfinch - lay on the couch for some hours last night reading with one cat draped over my stomach and the other cat flopped out next to my head. Mixed feelings about it (it's uneven), but the good parts are very good indeed.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Reality effects

At the NYRB (gated for subscribers), Mark Lilla on Margarethe von Trotta's film about Hannah Arendt and the Eichmann trial:
The problem is that von Trotta has chosen an episode in Arendt’s life where the stakes were so high, intellectually and morally, that they cannot in good taste be treated as the backdrop of a human interest story. Though the battle may be lost, it can never be emphasized enough that the Holocaust is not an acceptable occasion for sentimental journeys. But here it’s made into one, which produces weird, cringe-inducing moments for the viewer.

In one shot we are watching Eichmann testify or Arendt arguing about the nature of evil; in the next her husband is patting her behind as they cook dinner. When Blücher tries to leave one morning without kissing her, since “one should never disturb a great philosopher when they’re thinking,” she replies, “but they can’t think without kisses!”

Friday, November 01, 2013

A 'Van Doren'

At the LRB, Lynn Visson on the vicissitudes of simultaneous translation.

Good enough to eat

Unseemly gloating, but - I just got the most amazing email from my editor at Columbia. This is going to be the cover for the style book! (Not yet available for pre-order, but it will be soon.) It is certainly the best book I have written to date, and I am pretty certain it is the best cover too....