Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Closing tabs

I have that uneasy pre-travel feeling that I am forgetting something extremely important, and indeed I have a ton of stuff to do tomorrow morning (including packing), but I seem to have survived the frenzy of talk-writing and lecture-writing and so forth....

Have been spoiled with some very good light reading. When I read the good stuff it makes me wonder why I waste my time with second- and third-tier nonsense! On the other hand, the hours must be whiled away some way or another - but I do think I will have a year sometime when I will only read novels I really really want to read, and that the rest of my reading should be narrative nonfiction etc.

Anyway, Deon Meyer's Cobra is superb - hard to imagine a better book in this sort of vein. Then I read a delightful trio of books on the recommendation of Charlie Stross: Max Gladstone's Craft books. I was slightly skeptical at first - it's purely personal preference, but I really always like it best when urban fantasy follows a single character as either first-person narration or third-person limited, it's part of my affinity for character- and voice-driven fiction - but was utterly won over. These books are great! Interestingly Deon Meyer is using a very similar form of narration, in terms of pacing and following a set of characters, though the books are in most other respects about as different as you could imagine.

Just now halfway through a book I have been awaiting for a long time, Garth Nix's new Abhorsen installment Clariel. The original trilogy of Old Kingdom books, along with Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, were the inspiration for The Explosionist and sequel: I kept haunting the shelves of the Bank Street Bookstore looking for something like and as good as those two sets of books, and when I couldn't find them, I thought I would just have to try and make something like that myself....

Closing tabs:

Nobody knows what running looks like.

Metadata scarf and cowl!

Medieval pet names (courtesy of Rivka).

Puggle production line? (Wishful thinking edition.)

Four years later, a lost African gray parrot is reunited with its former owner:
When Nigel vanished four years ago, he spoke with a cultivated British accent.

Little is known about where the African grey parrot went, what he did — or who he was with — in those missing years. But when he was reunited with his owner, Darren Chick, in Torrance last week, the British accent was gone and the bird was chattering in Spanish, often mentioning the name “Larry.”

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Marginalia redux

Strange to say, thinking about marginalia last week for class turns out to have been much more closely related to one of my current scholarly obsessions than I had quite imagined. I'm speaking on Saturday in Dublin (here's more information about the event) on Swift and commentary; been reading rather maniacally and now trying to put thoughts in order, but here is a funny bit from one of my favorite essays in a really excellent new collection.

One delightful but painful side effect of working on this talk has been that I am now absolutely consumed with the desire to spend some months sitting in rare book libraries with amazing tomes before me: I do have a sabbatical coming up, not next year but the following one (i.e. 2016-17), with the only problem being that I have two competing projects that I am equally excited about, The ten-week Clarissa and the new one for which I have just now created a folder on the hard drive titled "Ancients and moderns"!

So, Paddy Bullard, “What Swift did in libraries,” in Jonathan Swift and the Eighteenth-Century Book, ed. Bullard and James McLaverty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 65-84 (the quotation is on 72):
[I]t is clear that Swift was an unusually active reader. This activity often involved a kind of conversation with the text written upon the printed page. The tone of that conversation was often indignant or otherwise aggressive--the anti-Scottish invective of his notes on Clarendon ('Cursed hellish Scots!'--'Greedy Scotch rebellious dogs'--'Diabolical Scots forever', etc.) is not untypically virulent.
Also: "The regularity of Swift's anti-monarchical marginalia across several volumes gives it a ritual quality, as though he were leafing through his books looking for opportunities to perform it. . . . It seems that Swift found in the pages of his personal library a textual site just secure enough to bear anti-monarchical inscriptions that were too dangerous for him to make in any other kind of papers, either published or private" (74).

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Jam yesterday

From William Sherman, "Dirty Books? Attitudes Toward Readers' Marks":
According to his former lodger, the translator and playwright John Henry Jones, Empson was once forced to buy the London Library a new copy of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus: when he returned it they found it covered not only with his marginal notes but with the jam from his morning toast. When I cited this anecdote in a Times Literary Supplement review, Jones himself wrote in to elaborate on the nature of Empson's marginalia: "The work in question was W. W. Greg's parallel-text edition of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, and the librarian . . . was hardly straining at a gnat in demanding a fresh copy--the book was virtually done to death in Empson's zeal to demolish Greg's argument in favour of the B-text, a process which . . . was maintained throughout all quotidian activities."

Closing tabs

A weird crystal.

The notorious difficulty of breeding hyenas.

The Sasquatch of Minecraft.

An interview with James Ellroy.


Impending closure of one of my very favorite New York restaurants, La Lunchonette.

Bad electronic health record software and the handling of the Dallas Ebola patient.

Stephen Fry on the battle for gay rights in Estonia. (Courtesy of Tarvo.)

Finally, something amazing: most epic bike ride ever? I would NEVER do this, but it is lovely to watch....

Book Traces!

I'm really excited about this event! Here is librarian Karla Nielsen's description of why this library-marginalia crowdsourcing project really matters:
Andrew Stauffer describes the importance of the project very eloquently on the Book Traces website but I want to underscore his description of these books as constituting a massive, distributed archive of the history of reading, hidden in plain sight in the circulating collection. Viewed that way, they are a treasure. Historians of reading constantly face an evidence problem because it is difficult to find or follow past readers’ traces. However, not all post-industrial nineteenth century books look like treasure from the outside. They can be crumbly and fragile, riddled with what librarians call inherent vice. Faced with these volumes, some readers, and some library circulation managers, are happy for a rationale that justifies moving them offsite or online. There are many discoveries to made if you think to look, but we need to start looking before the evidence is moved out of sight or obliterated.
More information on the project here (and the lovely Tumblr showcase. Andy will come to class this evening to explain and inspire: I like the show-and-tell aspect to this whole thing!

The readings I've given my students to complement and contextualize the project (must now write lecture!):

#William Sherman, “Dirty Books? Attitudes Toward Readers’ Marks,” from Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 153-178
#H. J. Jackson, “‘Marginal Frivolities’: readers’ notes as evidence for the history of reading,” in Owners, Annotators and the Signs of Reading, ed. Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Mandelbrote (New Castle, DE and London: Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2005), 137-151
#Andrew Stauffer, “Hemans by the Book,” European Romantic Review 22:3 (2001): 373-380
#Nicholson Baker, “Discards,” The New Yorker (April 4, 1994): 64-86

Saturday, October 04, 2014

The originals

Richard Price's history of the NYC Housing Authority:
In most housing projects these days, a hard-times hidden economy thrives, what Mark Jacobson and others call the gray market, consisting of improvised and in some cases ingenious ways of making ends meet—apartments doubling as daycare centers, some licensed, some not; takeaway lunches sold out the door or lowered from the window; a legion of bootleg car mechanics whose garage is the street; come-to-your-house handymen, plumbers, carpenters, computer programmers, and repairmen; just-text-me drivers for hire; CD and DVD duplicators leaving for the commercial strips of Fordham Road, Harlem, and elsewhere; wholesale candy hustlers, kids mostly, heading out to Grand Central Station, Penn Station, and tourist-centric Times Square, introducing themselves as grassroots fundraisers in order to sell ten-cent chocolate bars for two dollars a pop, a 2,000 percent markup.

Dead right!

Several weeks old now, but I meant to link to it much sooner as it is excellent: Diana Athill on why it's silly to be afraid of being dead.

Reading like Nabokov

Janine Barchas on Nabokov's annotations of Mansfield Park.

Rage, grief

Colm Tóibín on the literature of grief (I am eager to read his new novel):
A few years later, in her introduction to her translation of Sophocles' Elektra, one of the great plays about grief, Carson's tone seemed less certain as she wrote about the scene in which Orestes returns and hands his sister an urn with ashes which he says are of her dead brother Orestes. Orestes listens to Elektra mourn at some length before he announces that he was just fooling and that he has, in fact, been alive all the time and is now in front of her. Carson quotes the actor Fiona Shaw saying that she found the "deception/recognition scene between Elektra and Orestes 'unspeakably impossible to play'."

"Critics and scholars (and translators)," Carson goes on, "agree, this scene is a hard nut to crack. Why does Orestes decide to trick his sister into thinking he is dead? Why does he give it up in the middle? What does Sophocles want to achieve here? The alternation of lies and truth, high emotions and low, is bewildering and cruel, the tug of war over an empty urn almost bizarre." So, too, Philip Vellacott, who translated Euripides's version of the play, wonders about this scene and identifies the point "where Orestes should reveal himself … He does not reveal himself. Why?"

Surely the solution is simple. Surely Orestes' trickery is the very currency of grief. Orestes, having lost his father, is unable to come clean. The issues of life and death have entered his spirit and poisoned him so that his approach to re-meeting his sister will be all gnarled. He cannot deal simply with emotion. As Carson writes about Euripides's version of him: "All in all, Orestes is a peculiar customer – not exactly insane but strange and unknowable. His consciousness is entirely his own." Thus his response will be filled with doublespeak and trickery about the very things – the difference between being dead and being alive – that he cannot manage to come to terms with. Becoming "bewildering and cruel", as Carson puts it, and "bizarre", are what has happened to his personality under pressure. While his sister has been doing all the shouting, Orestes has let the pain seep silently into the very core of his being so that nothing he does will ever be easy to explain. While people are busy avoiding his sister because of what she says, they have been perhaps even busier avoiding Orestes because of his silence.

Closing tabs

It can't really be a week since I last posted here, can it?

Hmmm, yes, it can: because I foreswore any voluntary/frivolous forms of writing until I had cleared the desk of letters of recommendation (big round of due dates on Monday and Wednesday) and most of all this now-overdue tenure letter that was supposed to be finished by mid-September. Have just had a very nice quiet Saturday evening at home working on it, and have emailed the PDF to the relevant department chair with a sense of TRIUMPH!

Will now segue to the couch for a glass of wine and the rest of the Wollstonecraft I'm teaching Monday: have finished all the reading for Tuesday's lecture already (had to do SOME work yesterday but was too tired to deal with this letter, even though it was more important), which means that my tomorrow is now clear for (a) a longish run and (b) a lovely day of reading and note-taking for the other (more enjoyable) thing on which I'm currently delinquent, the short paper on Swift and commentary that I am due to deliver in Dublin on October 18! We were supposed to send them to the respondent a long time ago, but this is one of those things that is difficult to feel as a hard deadline in such a flurry of other more concrete and consequential ones (sorry, Frank - if you are reading this, I promise I will get it to you at least a few days before the conference, and hopefully a full week in advance!).

Closing tabs:

Book historian Erik Kwakkel on some of the world's oldest doodles (utterly enchanting).

A must-read piece by my friend Marco Roth on the language of secrecy, a contribution to Alysia Abbott's new collaborative project recording the memories of the adult children of parents who died of AIDS.

Heard a great talk Thursday on Soay sheep - it put me in a good mood! (I went to another very good one on Tuesday, my friend and colleague Joey Slaughter talking about the literature of counter-insurgency. I find great academic talks absolutely exhilarating, while boring or bad ones make me want to stick a fork in my eye: I have never found the knack of tranquilly zoning out, I am more squirming in my seat in distress!)

Some good links at this Paris Review post, including a really fantastic poem called "Treacle" by Paul Farley that I urge you to go and read in its entirety. (Should be paired with the sugar section in The Rings of Saturn!)

Among other features of a very busy week, a fun meeting with rare-book curator Karla about what we will show students in the forthcoming library sessions: lots of great stuff there that I am too lazy to link to, but I cannot resist sharing my enthusiasm about this!

Finally, Lindsay Gibson makes me curious to read Joseph O'Neill's new novel.

Light reading around the edges: Seanan McGuire's latest October Daye book, The Winter Long (this kind of urban fantasy is not for everyone, but she is a writer of immense gifts!); Arnaldur Indridason, Strange Shores (a weak contribution by a strong writer, full of ridiculous things - I kept on saying to myself as I was reading discoveries just don't happen like this!, but on the other hand it passed an evening when I was too tired to do anything more productive!); and Sarah Waters' latest novel, The Paying Guests, which I absolutely loved.

Wollstonecraft calls: I need to get offline!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Catch-up/closing tabs

Oh dear, it is now officially the time in the semester when I admit that I am never going to get on top of all this work and that I'd better just stay calm and ride it out!

So busy this week that (most unusually!) I have not even had a chance to write my race report from the Princeton 70.3 on Sunday. (Short description: fun but hot; bicycle woes, ultimately transcended; sore feet!)

About to head out of town again to see friends and family but more particularly to go to the memorial concert for my mother's dear friend and longtime colleague Don Kawash.

Next two weekends will be mercifully at home, then on Oct. 15 I head to Dublin for the Swift symposium (paper not yet written - that, the overdue tenure letter and a letter of recommendation due Oct. 1 are the three work bits most immediately and guiltily on my mind!).

I'm teaching a graduate seminar this semester that basically features a novel a week, so less light reading than usual (on the bright side, work I can do on trains). Up Monday: Godwin's Caleb Williams, a favorite of mine. Train reading?

Symptom of being overly busy: huge number of unclosed tabs!

Here goes:

Manhattan swimmer replicates fictional Cheever feat! (Sort of.)

Heath Lowrance's ten favorite Westerns.

Lavie Tidhar's selfie horror story.

What makes for a brilliant book cover?

A conference I really would be keen to go to!

Helen DeWitt's library on display at the Artists Space on Greene St. through early November.

"Go to Work on an Egg."

Coach David's wife Megan takes the 50K trail championship!

Anna Deveare Smith on artists' discipline.

Eighteenth-century maven Devoney Looser (a.k.a. "Stone Cold Jane Austen) on the roller derby revival.

Good tip from Nico about an upcoming Britten performance: I have a ticket for Oct. 30.

Ebola watch: we ain't seen nothin' yet.... (More Ebola - that story's from a couple weeks ago and already feels ominously out of date.)

Meager light reading around the edges of an extremely busy September: Willy Voet, Breaking the Chain: Drugs and Cycling - The True Story (Voet is a remarkably unsympathetic character, but it is a fascinating account regardless); Darryl Gregory, We Are All Completely Fine (I really like this guy's books!); M. M. Kaye's The Ordinary Princess, which Katharine Beutner made me think of; and Lauren Beukes, Broken Monsters. Was alternating this week between Kipling's stories and the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy (shuttling back and forth between different bits of light reading is pretty invariably a sign of deep fatigue), but fell back last night in state of utter exhaustion on Seanan McGuire's new October Daye novel, which was more what I was in the mood for.

Wonderful but overly busy schedule has also included breakfast with the author of a favorite book of mine, a black-tie Johnsonian gala at the Knickerbocker Club, a class visit from and dinner with the excellent author of an excellent book I taught last week in LTCM and the second meeting of the Manhattan Supper Club (we convene at G.'s place on Greene St. - we being me and my brother, sister-in-law and niece - and dine on pizza and associated delicacies at Arturo's, with optional add-on ice-cream module to follow!).

Monday, September 22, 2014

On eating and being eaten

The changing diet of polar bears, with a new emphasis on the eggs of snow geese:
David Iles, a graduate student at Utah State University, who has been working at La Pérouse Bay for several years, set out cameras to observe goose nests and caught the bears in the act. He now has 40 cameras set up over a stretch of tundra. They take photographs every two minutes and shoot a burst of 30 images when an animal walks in front of the camera.

In addition to capturing photographs of bears consuming eggs last season, the cameras caught cranes, wolves, eagles and foxes eating. “Everything seems to love eggs out here,” he said.

One goose or one nest may not seem like much. But polar bears are gluttons. Dr, Rockwell described one case in which a bear ate about 1,200 eggs — of eider ducks, in this case — in four days. He said Dr. Gormezano had calculated that a clutch of four eggs would amount to 825 calories, the equivalent of one and a half Big Macs. Three hundred four-egg clutches would be 247,500 calories, or about 10 percent of a bear’s yearly nutritional needs.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Week three

Happy with yesterday evening's Wordsworth lecture for LTCM - I am getting a better handle on how to use the time (I only lecture once a week, for seventy-five minutes, and the other class meeting is in smaller-group seminars taught by advanced doctoral students). "Preface to Lyrical Ballads," a few pages of John Hollander's delightful discussion of accentual-syllabic verse in English from Rhyme's Reason, some thoughts on "The Idiot Boy" and a bit of Geoffrey Hartman at the end: it was fun.


Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads (1802): “Preface” (95-115), “The Thorn” (and Wordsworth’s note on 199-200), “We Are Seven,” “The Idiot Boy,” “Lines Written a few miles above Tintern Abbey,” “Hart-Leap Well,” “‘Strange fits of passion,’” “‘She dwelt among th’ untrodden ways,’” “‘A slumber did my spirit seal,” “Lucy Gray,” “‘Three years she grew in sun and shower’”

Geoffrey H. Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry, 1787-1814 (1964; Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1987), 141-162
Paul De Man, “Time and History in Wordsworth,” Diacritics 17:4 (1987): 4-17

Here is the first assignment, due in seminar this week:

1. Choose a favorite stanza of “The Thorn” and type it up in your assignment. Then read it out loud and mark in boldface where you think the stresses fall in each line.

We will talk about this in lecture Tuesday, and I’ll give you a supplementary handout, but a good deal of English poetry doesn’t fall into clear and easy feet: you don’t need to identify a specific meter or mark iambs and trochees and spondees as per our Virgil/Milton discussion last week, just start to get the feel for the rhythm of the lines.

2. How many lines are in the stanza, and what is the pattern of the rhyme scheme?

Use letters A, B, etc.: a Shakespearean sonnet in this system would be ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, while a Petrarchan sonnet would be ABBA ABBA with the last six lines – the “sestet” following the “octave” – generally following the pattern either CDECDE or CDCCDC.

3. How would you describe the diction of the poem (vocabulary, turns of phrase, habits of speech and style)? How would you describe the voice of the poem’s speaker?

4. In Wordsworth’s own note to “The Thorn,” he gives a detailed description of the character who speaks the poem. How does this affect your reading of the poem? Would the poem stand more effectively on its own without it, or does the note augment and amplify aspects of the poem as we have it? What does Hartman say about this narrator, and do you agree with his assessment? If not, why not?

5. One stanza that provoked mirth in some readers is XVII (ll. 177-187). What is inappropriate or embarrassing about the language here? Why does Wordworth court the risk of becoming ludicrous here and elsewhere in the poem? How does this relate to the defense of repetition he offers in his note to the poem?

6. Why might Hartman call “The Thorn” “Wordsworth’s most experimental poem” (140) and “one of the strangest poems in Lyrical Ballads” (146)? You can give a few quotations from his discussion or offer your own thoughts and speculations; it will be valuable if you can step outside his terminology and argument and offer your own account of why this should be so.

7. Write three to five separate assertions about “The Thorn” that you are willing to stand by. They can range from description (the kind of thing you wrote in answer to the first question above) to argument (making a case about the effects or meaning of some choice Wordsworth has made, as Hartman and De Man often do). Mark each with an A or a D depending on where you see it falling – you can mark it D/A if you feel that it falls equally under the two headings.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Austenian aphorism

Up today in the graduate seminar is a favorite novel of mine, Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story. It is not really a legitimate mode of academic argument, but it's always interesting to see where Austen saw certain techniques in action - here's a passage that always catches my attention:
Not to admire Miss Fenton was impossible--to find a fault in her person or sentiments was equally impossible--and yet to love her, was very unlikely.

That serenity of mind which kept her features in a continual placid form, though enchanting at the first glance, upon a second, or third, fatigued the sight for a want of variety; and to have seen her distorted with rage, convulsed with mirth, or in deep dejection had been to her advantage.
Also up: Terry Castle's chapter “Masquerade and Utopia II: Inchbald’s ‘A Simple Story,’” from Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1986), 290-330; and Marcie Frank's essay “Melodrama and the Politics of Literary Form in Elizabeth Inchbald,” forthcoming in Eighteenth-Century Fiction.

Unintended consequences

Via GeekPress, an interesting and non-melodramatic account of how information from 23andMe genetic testing drove a rift through one family.