Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Really I have two committee reports to write by tomorrow morning, but the ritual throat-clearing at the computer before I start to type something more than minimally complicated often includes a catch-up light reading post....

Some YA paperbacks I picked up last time I was at the Bank Street Bookstore: Merrie Haskell, The Princess Curse; William Alexander, Goblin Secrets; Jasper Fforde, The Last Dragonslayer (very appealing series) and then on Kindle the next installment, The Song of the Quarkbeast.

An unmemorable novel by Alexander McCall Smith that I read only because it was set in Cayman, The Forever Girl; one new novel by Victoria Clayton, Stormy Weather, and then two I'd read before (they are delightful, their only flaw is that they are very much all the same as each other), Dance With Me and Out of Love; Ian McDonald, Out on Blue Six; and Jane Gardam, Old Filth. Not sure quite why I haven't read this and sequels already - am now halfway through the second installment.

OK, better get down to business here with report #1....


This Kirkus review of the style book gives a slightly inaccurate impression that I basically just go through saying whether things are good or bad!

Monday, April 07, 2014

The end of the world as we know it

A genuinely charming book trailer for the paperback edition of Annalee Newitz's Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction.

Hands corrected

Hand surgeon James Chang became obsessed with the deformities evident in Rodin's hand sculptures. Now he teaches a class
in which students pick one of Rodin’s hands, diagnose the problem, and develop a surgical plan to correct it. The course is extremely popular, and Chang says he’s been fascinated by the reasons students are drawn to it. “One woman was a butcher’s daughter, one was the organist for the Stanford Chapel,” he said. “I had a baseball player from Stanford who was interested in the mechanics of grip, and a student who was partially paralyzed and wanted to learn more about his condition.”

Internet of Cattle

Farmers are connecting their cows to the internet. (Via Tyler Cowen.)

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Stern distinctions (AMNESIA/INSOMNIA)

Aleksandr Hemon interviews Teju Cole at BOMB:
TC Nigeria is an ideal for me in two ways. One, it’s a space of possibility, an opportunity for its people to move beyond the pressures of tribe or ethnic group. This opportunity is often squandered. Two, it’s a soccer team, one that could be one of the world’s best—there’s certainly enough talent to be, at least, on Uruguay’s level. This opportunity, too, is often squandered. So, Nigeria haunts me in terms of being a space of unfinished histories. But my identity maps onto other things: being a Lagosian (which is like a city-state), being a West African, being African, being a part of the Black Atlantic. I identify strongly with the historical network that connects New York, New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, and Lagos. But, as a subject, Nigeria won’t let go of me.

Like you, I am now in a country where people (convinced of their innocence) sleep well; and like you, I’m still one of history’s amnesiacs.

AH Amnesiacs?

TC I meant to write “insomniacs”! But the error is illuminating.
Also: "yes, I believe in life online, the way a person in 1910 might believe in aviation, or a person in 1455 might believe in movable type: with excitement and apprehension."

Capping the bottle with the genie in it

Ulrich Baer interviewed on reading, writing and other things that matter:
UB. …yeah, but, if you think about them, Baudelaire—I’ve never thought about them this way—Rilke, Celan, I mean there is a reason that I moved toward them from a certain direction, I started with Baudelaire and then I went to Celan. My native language is German. I couldn’t get to Rilke until I had passed through Celan…

GW. …why do you think that is…

UB. …who deconstructs—Celan deconstructs German in a very fundamental way, in a way where you can’t really reconstitute it afterwards. That’s why I call him the last poet of modernity. He’s at the end of a tradition and of a language used in a certain way. I’m not sure if that can ever be redone. And for him this is because it passes through being the language of a kind of mechanized genocide that is not easily dissociated from German as a language. And for me Rilke was too–the German was too melodious and it was too good, in a way. It was too complete, and actually had this promise of transcendence. And I thought, oh he’s promising something greater in German. And then I went back to Rilke after Celan and I translated Rilke into English. So, in some ways, what I find in Rilke is that it’s not the German which makes this promise, but he as a poet is continually trying to find this other place in himself to have some greater awareness, which means it’s not bound up with his German and his incredibly great gift for poetry. He was one of the greatest, a gifted rhymer—he was rhyming way too much. Lou Andreas-Salomé said to him early on, “you’re a great poet” –when he was 19 and she was his lover, she’s 36—and she says, “you’re really great and really talented but you really are overdoing it with the rhyming” (laughs). Take the foot off the pedal a little bit. It’s too much. It was too much in a way, too much “poeticity” in his poetry. And then Rilke kind of pares it down. So in the Elegies, later on, they actually, in a weird way, take away the poetic aspects, the artifice, and get to something—for me—more essential. He gets to something about how language relates us to the world.
I am keen to read The Rilke Alphabet.


The piece Geoff Dyer filed from hospital. (Via Leo Carey.)


Slothified! (Via B.) Sloth rescuer and kitten socializer are at the top of my list of fantasy alternate careers - though really it might just be that I need to find somewhere with a few more animals I can help look after (do not need more in my own home, despite temptation to acquire a pet rat or rabbit for the office)....

Friday, April 04, 2014


Peter Aspden lunches with Mary Midgley for the FT (site registration required):
Midgley went to Oxford during the war, and she has fond memories of a time, she says, when there was a spirit of genuine inquiry in the air. “When I was at Oxford, I suppose some people thought about their careers but not the sort I talked to.” Her “sort” included Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot, Elizabeth Anscombe. “There has been a surge in interest in us today because here we were, four women philosophers [who became prominent], and that hasn’t happened since! The important thing was that we were not put under this kind of cheese grater, with a lot of people from Harvard shouting at us. The men who were there were conscientious objectors, disabled, or ordinants, they weren’t so keen on putting everybody down all the time. I really think it is a vice in professional philosophy, a real crime.”

There was a certain kind of machismo about the winning of arguments, I say. “It’s quite interesting isn’t it? Plato gives this very good explanation of why we shouldn’t just be trying to win arguments all the time, and then look at what Socrates does – he utterly and single-mindedly does precisely that! I think the Athenian law courts have a lot to answer for. All right, it is an important part of our reasoning, but it is not everything. It has to be balanced.”