Saturday, March 26, 2005

Last night

I saw Neil LaBute's This Is How It Goes at the Public Theater. It did not affect my strong dislike for LaBute's sensibility and style, but the acting was very good.

Friday, March 25, 2005

There's a funny interview

with me at Three Monkeys Online. Check it out. (It's not quite as goofy as the "Five Minutes with Jenny Davidson" interview in the latest issue of Columbia College Today, which is unfortunately not online. That one includes questions like "Do you have a pet?" and "What's your favorite lunch spot?" It was good fun, but Andrew Lawless's questions here were rather more stimulating...)

And amazingly

I've just read the PERFECT novel, Peter Temple's Shooting Star. (The link's to Amazon UK; in a cruel and incomprehensible twist, the only version available on Amazon US is an unabridged audiobook.) I read Temple's Identity Theory this fall and loved it. And wrote about it here. And then I got a most exciting package at the office this afternoon (fully expecting it to be a long dissertation chapter that I'd need to read amidst the million other academic things awaiting), and it was a lovely note from Peter Temple with 2 books. I was very responsible and restrained myself and read a lot of this until after midnight. (Actually I am horrified to see that the list price of this facsimile reprint of William Smellie's late 18th-century translation of Buffon's Natural History is $1,115.00. No, that's not a typo. I was sort of contemplating trying to get hold of my own copy but that pretty much rules it out--seems like it would be cheaper to buy a real 18th-century one, come to think of it.) And then I seized upon Shooting Star and sucked it down. It is criminal that this book isn't available in the US. Seriously, beg, borrow or steal in order to get this book and read it. It's superb.

I have always had this not-so-secret obsession with the novels of Dick Francis. I will admit that the ones from the last 20 years are not much good but the best of the ones from the 70s are very good indeed, and there's nothing else quite like them. But this book gave me the Dick Francis fix and is also much, much darker and smarter and better-written. (A sample line, from near the opening. The ex-soldier/ex-cop/ex-hostage negotiator drives his Alfa into the compound housing the ultra-rich Australian family that has hired him to deliver the ransom for a kidnapped child: "Three Mercedes, one small and two big, were parked in front of the landing-strip terrace that preceded the huge neo-Georgian structure. I parked the shabbier but sexier member of the Axis Powers in front of them." And the hyphen is possibly my favorite punctuation mark, too.) The first-person narration is wonderfully well-written, it's a real voice, and all the emotional content is completely persuasive. And the plot's well-worked-out as well. Seriously, I can't believe how much this is my perfect book. Of course there are seven or eight different kinds of perfect book as far as I'm concerned, some quite different from this (cf. Philip Pullman, Robin McKinley), but this is high up there... Can't wait to read the other one... Too bad it's after 3am already...

A little light reading

around the edges of a frustrating and busy week. First of all, the excellent Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas; I've been hearing about this woman's novels for months now and this one didn't disappoint, it's an excellent book with wolves and funny attractive characters and a very clear sense of what makes a page-turning detective novel. I'm looking forward to reading more. And also (procured at some inconvenience and expense from used-book-sellers and BorrowDirect) two very satisfactory novels by Victoria Clayton, Running Wild and Out of Love.

Monday, March 21, 2005

There's a great piece

in Edge, an interview with Armand-Marie Leroi about "the nature of normal human variety." His book Mutants is a must-read. Here's a taste of the interview (he also touches on the question of why certain kinds of human difference--especially racial difference--have become taboo for geneticists--it's a really thoughtful and interesting discussion):

If you go to teratology museums—literally "monstrosity museums"—in places such as Amsterdam and Philadelphia, you can see rows of babies in bottles. These infants, usually stillborn, are deformed in ways that are truly hideous, that really represent the kinds of monstrosities that you might expect from Greek myth. I mean this quite literally. They include children born with a single eye in the middle of their forehead, and who look exactly like the monsters of Greek myth—Polyphemus in The Odyssey, for example. Indeed, it's sometimes suggested that the monsters of Greek myth were inspired by deformed children, and this seems to be a fairly remarkable correspondence, at least with some of them.

These infants, when you see them, are truly horrific. But very quickly, after you look at them, a sort of intellectual fascination takes over because it's clear that these children tell us something very deep about how the human body is built. Take, for instance, these children with a single eye in the middle of their foreheads. The syndrome is called, appropriately, Cyclopia. Cyclopia is caused by a deficiency in a gene called Sonic hedgehog. Sonic hedgehog is named after a fruit fly gene which when mutated causes bristles to sprout all over the fruit fly larva, hence "hedgehog". When the gene was found in mammals, some wit called it Sonic hedgehog after the video game character. If you get rid of this gene, bad things happen. You lose your arms beneath the elbow and legs beneath the knee. The face collapses in on itself, such that you get a single eye in the middle of the forehead and the rest of the face collapses into a long, trunk-like proboscis. The forebrain, which is normally divided such that we have a left and a right brain—the left and right cerebral hemispheres—is fused into a single unitary structure. Indeed the technical name for this syndrome is called Holoprosencephaly.

Now all this is very horrible, and actually that's just an initial list of things that can go wrong in infants that have no Sonic hedgehog. But what's really interesting about it is that by looking at infants of this sort you can reverse-engineer and ask what Sonic hedgehog does in the embryo. Instantly it tells you that one of the things that Sonic hedgehog does is to keep our eyes apart because if you don't have the gene the face collapses. It also separates the left and and right sides of our brains. And it's needed for the formation of our arms and legs. In fact, it is one of the most ubiquitous and powerful molecules in the making of our bodies.

(Link via Arts & Letters Daily.)

An interesting interview

with Janet Desaulniers at identity theory. I'm definitely going to get this book and read it, I'm sort of obsessed with this problem of how to write about the workplace. These words really ring true to me:

"I had all this collected material, right, and then because a friend was introducing her I had a free ticket to hear Shirley Hazzard speak at the Chicago Humanities Festival and then Shirley Hazzard happened to say, 'We need a Flaubert of the workplace.' And I thought: I'm not busy. Why not me? I could do that. Also, around that time the School was having financial trouble, and I took exception to some of the administration's cost-cutting measures. Suddenly, I'm in all-school meetings and I'm talking, which you really don't want to find yourself doing. But I am. And talking so much that people I've never met are calling me by my first name. Coming up the way I did in a family business, I saw my folks bail employees out of jail and check them into detox and drive them to work during ice storms and hold their hands while they died of cancer. I understood work as an extension of family. So it's especially difficult for me to see people treated badly in the workplace. Denied this and that, and it's so harsh. And cold. I wanted to write about that. I've seen people destroyed in the workplace. And the truth is the workplace does not respect intelligence, does not respect hard work, does not respect all those things it's supposed to respect. Too often it's a terrible place, fraught with hidey-holes of grotesquery, and we all get caught up in them from time to time. We're just tooling along and the bottom falls out. Or we make mistakes all the time and nobody cares, then suddenly we make one and oh-my-god. It's a place roiling with drama and bad behavior. And angst. Work makes people want to die. People weep. And so that day I decided I would give everything I've collected, all this matter, to a group of people trapped in an indecent workplace."

Saturday, March 19, 2005

So instead of reading Voltaire and Diderot

I finished Barbara Trapido's Frankie & Stankie, which I found immensely appealing and interesting. Her most autobiographical novel--crazy Durban 1950s milieu, political and historical stuff all mixed in with these incredible details about things long since vanished. Trapido's great topic, though, is the double pleasure of giddy teenage female friendship and girly light reading. My favorite chapter was chapter eight, which treats the main character's high school years, particularly what she read. After several rather deadpan and enchanting pages about Dinah's early reading habits ("For Dinah--her dad's read-aloud Boys' Book sessions excepted--fiction has always been a matter of foinding one's own easy-option page-turners unaided in the city library, wich has meant a steady diet of Enid Blyton school stories and the Bobbsey Twins followed by Sue Barton Staff Nurse, and the mysteries of Nancy Drew"), Dinah discovers Pride and Prejudice, which "throws at" her "how dialogue can lift and dance on points, how sentences can shine and crackle with a concentrated energy and a sharp crystal intelligence. So listening to Miss Barnes read it is like falling in love. It's like walking on air. It fills Dinah's mind with a new kind of music. Language is all the music she's never learned to play. Language is all the ballet steps she's never learned to dance. And maybe what she loves best of all is the book's disregard for any 'description'. 'Description' isn't there. It's expendable. It's burned away. All that's left is dexterity and concentration. Pride and Prejudice is real life, but all transfigured, and dancing in a box."

It's not so much in evidence in this novel as her others, but Trapido's presiding angels are the Shakespeare comedies, Mozart's operas, Austen--comedy in that slightly older sense. Very much to my taste.

My spring break

has been wantonly squandered on a low-level stomach bug and an out-of-town funeral. I'm completely behind on work. Bright spots: the party for Ken Bruen on Tuesday night at the Black Orchid Bookstore and the excellent Shockheaded Peter on Thursday. I liked it very much; the music is fabulous, and the whole esthetic very appealing. Snip-snip... Just-about-adequate light reading: Michelle Spring's Running for Shelter; Juliet McKenna's The Thief's Gamble. Then I reread one of my favorite books, Barbara Trapido's Juggling, which drove me to the library for a couple of her others (I must have read them 2-3 times each already, but still...)--Brother of the More Famous Jack and The Travelling Hornplayer (my favorite of all, I think; it is so sad and funny and touching). (I like Temples of Delight too but I've read it too many times already.) I really love Trapido's novels, they are almost indescribable but I highly recommend them. Now I'm reading Frankie & Stankie, which I strangely omitted to get hold of when it was published last year.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

This Tuesday

at the Black Orchid Bookshop: "On Tues. March 15 at 7pm, Ken Bruen signs The Magdalen Martyrs ($23), the third Jack Taylor novel. After the devil's bargain made in The Killing of the Tinkers (Paper $13), Taylor must find a woman who survived the infamous Irish laundries. All the qualities that made the Edgar-nominated The Guards an international sensation are found in this latest entry."

A great interview

with Diana Wynne Jones: "'My books are about people learning to be themselves,' she says. 'I don't have any truck with the notion of growing up, so tiresome, there's no profit in talking about what time and nature will do. But most people do start off with no self-image, and that makes a child terribly vulnerable. They don't know themselves enough to say, 'I'd never do that.' Nobody knows how everyone else seems to be managing -- of course, it's by imitation and invention.'"

The most startling fact is that Diana Wynne Jones's sister is the literary critic Isobel Armstrong! That's excellent; I don't know her at all, but she is idolized by several of my friends. The novel that most closely recounts the sisters' wretched childhood is The Time of the Ghost, a strange and disturbing book.

(Link via Sarah.)

Saturday, March 12, 2005

It's mystifying...

I was about to blog about how pleased I was to read a full review in the children's book section of the NYTBR of Eva Ibbotson's The Star of Kazan, a book I bought in England last summer and devoured at one sitting. But I am perplexed to find that the review is nowhere on the Times website! A mystery...

Ibbotson's written a number of books for younger children, and they are lovely too, but this one and Journey to the River Sea are both as satisfying as adult novels. I really love Ibbotson's fiction, and am more broadly puzzled by the fact that her novels for adults aren't more widely read here. I found them in the public library in Cambridge in the early 90s and read them again and again, they are so delightful. But I don't think any of them have been published in paperback here. Some public-spirited publisher should bring them all out here in trade paperback and reap the reward in terms of $$$... these books are really fantastically good. (A Song for Summer does seem to be available, but not Magic Flutes or The Morning Gift or The Countess Below Stairs or A Company of Swans, which are all absolute favorites.) They're the best sort of romantic wish-fulfillment fiction, written with great intelligence and an excellent sense of humor, and the characters are particularly lovable and appealing. Highly literate and remarkably enjoyable pleasure reading; imagine Georgette Heyer rewritten by Neil Gaiman and all set in this lovely pre-war Europe steeped in Mozart and Strauss and scientists dissecting worms and progressive educationalists and suffragettes and you will have some idea. She has a very light touch--a bit like Diana Wynne Jones--or really good European pastry... Seriously, if this kind of thing appeals to you at all, try and get them from your local public library and read them... you will not regret it.

So then I read

an interesting fantasy novel, Sarah Micklem's Firethorn. It took me about a hundred pages to get into it, but once I was about a third of the way through I found it increasingly gripping--the late scenes are really bloody and violent and bleak in a most compelling way, and it's got an attractive feminist bent. It wasn't quite what I was expecting--more like Rosemary Sutcliffe than Robin McKinley; most like George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire Books. Micklem and Martin both write books that are vivid & really well written and compelling, but don't have the thing that makes me read a book over and over again (though it's not clear that's a good thing--it's just an observation about a certain kind of reading). But I will read the next volume of Micklem's trilogy with great interest--she's an excellent prose stylist among other things, has a good eye for anthropological-religious-type detail and the sort-of-medieval world is very fully imagined.

Austen in the news

A good short piece in the Guardian, by Zoe Heller on Austen's early satirical fiction: "The smallness of Jane Austen's fictional canvas is probably the best-known characteristic of her mature work; even those who have never read her six great novels have heard about her 'little bit (two inches wide) of ivory'. But as a teenager, Austen had yet to establish her distinctive boundaries. She was still experimenting. One of the pleasures her early stories afford us is a glimpse of a famously 'quiet' and domestic writer engaging with melodramatic incident, regal vice and other immoral behaviour in a gleefully direct way."

And a useful essay by Michael Caines in the 4 March TLS, but it's not up yet in the archive. Sorry...

$70 and change

It was ridiculously extravagant, but I realized that I just HAD to have that new Ishiguro novel as soon as possible, even if it meant paying extortionate shipping charges from Amazon UK; and then, though it's wholly irrational, I thought I would get a couple other things while I was at it. I restrained myself to 2 others, but it adds up. I wish they had a cheaper international shipping deal.

And then I was in agony waiting b/c the post office guy left a pink slip on Tuesday and I signed so that it would be redelivered and then instead he left ANOTHER slip yesterday afternoon (and I swear I was at home, I don't know why he didn't ring the bell) proclaiming "final notice" and sending me to the post office on 104th St. I went there this afternoon with great anxiety; past experience tells me that they often tell you solemnly that it's too soon for the package to have come back into the office & try again next week. However all went smoothly. I picked it up around 1:30 this afternoon and have now just spent the last 10-11 hours in a glazed-over daze of reading. It is pure greed, of course I should have spaced it out. Worth every penny. In fact I would probably pay seventy MORE dollars (and spend the next 12 hours reading those books if I could get them instantly) to get such a good haul again.

I'd say that Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is his best book yet. And since I've often said that I think he's the best novelist currently writing in English, this is saying a lot. I was practically in tears at the end. It's subtle and painful and almost unbearably sad. Of course I also love novels about cloning. But really this is a novel about memory and loss and a kind of flattening-out of one's own past, so that a prized possession--in this case, the narrator Kathy H.'s cassette tape of Songs After Dark by Judy Bridgewater--remains prized in spite of the fact that "the music has nothing to do with anything. It's an object, like a brooch or a ring, and especially now Ruth has gone, it's become one of my most precious possessions." You could add this to Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" as best summings-up of what it means to lose things. The "students" at Hailsham misunderstand a teacher's casual reference to Norfolk as England's "lost corner," conflating it with the fact that the "lost corner" is where lost property is kept at the school: "Someone--I can't remember who it was--claimed after the lesson that what Miss Emily had said was that Norfolk was England's 'lost corner', where all the lost property found in the country ended up. Somehow this idea caught on and soon had become accepted fact virtually throughout our entire year." Kathy's precious tape is lost, but she finds another copy years later (this may sound clunky, but it's actually an extremely subtle counterpoint to the cloning stuff): "Norfolk came to be a real source of comfort to us, probably much more than we admitted at the time, and that was why we were still talking about it--albeit as a sort of joke--when we were much older. And that's why, years and years later, that day Tommy and I found another copy of that lost tape of mine in a town on the Norfolk coast, we didn't just think it pretty funny; we both felt deep down some tug, some old wish to believe again in something that was once close to our hearts." Belief, community, shared illusions: Ishiguro is a ridiculously good observer of the finer workings of the alliances and rifts that form in groups under conditions of heightened stress.

On a lighter note (I read these two first), Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones is a pleasant but not stellar installment in her Chrestomanci series. I love Diana Wynne Jones's books, but my favorites are the ones like Fire and Hemlock that are really written as much for adults as for kids. At her best, though, she is an absolutely perfect writer--four or five of her books I read again and again because there is nothing else like them.

And also a most delightful novel about love, Moonshine by Victoria Clayton. Her books are for some reason completely unobtainable in the US, as far as I can tell, and they're not the kind of thing I can get through the university library system. My interest was initially piqued by a widespread blogging discussion last year about her--the story's reported here. I won't bother with lots of links, but an author named Victoria Walker published two children's fantasy novels in the early 1970s--The Winter of Enchantment and The House Called Hadlows--and then vanished. But the novels had a cult-like appeal and people wondered what had ever happened to their author and then it turned out that she'd been living a perfectly productive life & having kids and then in her 40s started publishing novels under her married name, Victoria Clayton. I hadn't read the children's books when I was little, but I requested them at the British Library last time I was there doing research (and felt EXTREMELY decadent taking a couple hours away from the 18th-century stuff to gobble up these books--I didn't love them, they felt rather slight, but I can see why people were struck with them). And she's published six or so of these grown-up novels, and if they are all like the one I just read, they are well worth reading, in a sort of backward-looking vein: think of the nicest novels of Mary Stewart and Joan Aiken with beautiful but sensible and practical-minded English heroines.

There is something wholly addictive about novel-reading, I find; the more I read, the more I want to. I seriously would sit down and read another 700-page novel by Clayton RIGHT NOW if I had it to hand. I've got massive amounts of work to do this coming week, though, so I will hope to restrain myself...

Friday, March 11, 2005

More Moe Prager

Last night I read Reed Farrel Coleman's Redemption Street, and it didn't disappoint. These books are wonderful! Moe is an incredibly appealing character and the writing's deceptively simple but basically pure genius. I want more...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I am sorry to say

that the Jenny Davidson rule of reading is that when there are novels in the house--and there are always novels in the house--they get read in order from most to least trashy. ("Trashy" is a compliment as far as novels go. There are some novels that I will not even dignify with the word--I have a personal moratorium, for instance, on the fiction of John Grisham...) I love trashy novels. And I stayed up till all hours last night reading two great ones by Mercedes Lackey: Magic's Promise and Magic's Price. I think this is the best of the Valdemar trilogies; the writing's most satisfactory, the characters most real. I am helpless to explain, though, the appeal of this kind of fantasy (the great trio of this sort are Lackey, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Anne McCaffrey), but I find this kind of book irresistible when it's done well. In that respect I have not much changed from my twelve-year-old self spending my babysitting money at the Waldenbooks...

I've got sort of a glut of novels right now; sometimes there's a dearth, sometimes you get a ton all at once from different sources. Very enjoyable. Though I've got a lot of work to do in the next few weeks, so it's just as well I've exhausted the fantasy ones now (though no doubt I will go poking around to see if I can find anything else before turning to slightly heartier fare).

This also seems an appropriate moment to say that one of my life's ambitions is to publish a novel that goes into a mass-market paperback edition. I love mass-market paperbacks.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Oh and here's the original piece

about the necrophiliac duck--Sarah was clever enough to realize you could actually get the real story, not just the reporter's version. It's one of the best things I've seen for ages!


Well, Nico's come up with the goods, as usual. Check out this story about necrophilia among ducks:

The strange case of the homosexual necrophiliac duck pushed out the boundaries of knowledge in a rather improbable way when it was recorded by Dutch researcher Kees Moeliker.
It may have ruffled a few feathers, but it earned him the coveted Ig Nobel prize for biology awarded for improbable research, and next week he will be recounting his findings to UK audiences on the Ig Nobel tour.
Ducks behave pretty badly, it seems. It is not so much that up to one in 10 of mallard couples are homosexual - no one would raise an eyebrow in the liberal Netherlands - but they regularly indulge in 'attempted rape flights' when they pursue other ducks with a view to forcible mating. 'Rape is a normal reproductive strategy in mallards,' explains Mr Moeliker.

As he recounts in his seminal paper, The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard anas platyrhynchos, he was in his office in the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam, when he was alerted by a bang to the fact a bird had crashed into the glass facade of the building. 'I went downstairs immediately to see if the window was damaged, and saw a drake mallard (anas platyrhynchos) lying motionless on its belly in the sand, two metres outside the facade. The unfortunate duck apparently had hit the building in full flight at a height of about three metres from the ground. Next to the obviously dead duck, another male mallard (in full adult plumage without any visible traces of moult) was present. He forcibly picked into the back, the base of the bill and mostly into the back of the head of the dead mallard for about two minutes, then mounted the corpse and started to copulate, with great force, almost continuously picking the side of the head.

I want to like

these books more than I do, but I find something lacking. Peter Robinson's Strange Affair is certainly a good-quality police procedural, but I just can't really get into his characters, so the decent writing feels mostly for naught. I always secretly mix him up with Reginald Hill anyway, Alan Banks and Peter Pascoe seem virtually interchangeable. Anyway, surely this is a failure of sensibility on my part, everyone I know who reads this kind of book likes them a ton.

Monday, March 07, 2005

I've got to write

a paper in the next few weeks about this guy, who I'm interested in because of the following: "Maupertuis' Systeme de la nature (1751) contained theoretical speculations on the nature of biparental heredity based on his careful study of the occurrences of polydactyly, or extra fingers, in several generations of a Berlin family. He demonstrated that polydactyly could be transmitted by either the male or female parent, and he presciently explained the trait as the result of a mutation in the 'hereditary particles' possessed by them. He also calculated the mathematical probability of the trait's future occurrence in new members of the family. In this research Maupertuis produced the first scientifically accurate record of the transmission of a dominant hereditary trait in humans."

It's for this conference--I'm excited, I've never been to Vegas...


I read two trashy novels and the second half of one very good one. The trashy ones were both by Mercedes Lackey, The Fire Rose and The Gates of Sleep. Lackey's a great storyteller in her way--and the first of these two was much better than the second--but I am really ashamed of myself for reading books like this! The real thing I wish is that the handful of writers who write really, really great novels of this kind--oh, call them fairy-tale adaptations, with a bit of a love story but not too much, like my favorite Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones--would write lots more so that I wouldn't fall back on the ones that aren't as good. Robin McKinley is the best of all--I fantasize about an alternate-universe where there would be, oh, say, 12 entirely different novels of McKinley's that I could order for shipping to my world.

Also finished Maria Edgeworth's Belinda, a particular favorite of mine. I'm teaching it tomorrow. It's a great read--interesting and strange and both like and quite unlike Austen. Also it includes a fictionalized version of the strange episode mentioned in the second paragraph here, in which Edgeworth's father's friend Thomas Day educated two orphan girls along the lines Rousseau had laid out in Emile to see if one of them would make him a suitable wife. And lots of other strange and unexpected elements. Read it if you like Austen & are interested in exploring further afield in contemporary fiction.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Most pleasant light reading

Since I made it through a rough school week unscathed, I have abandoned myself to novel-reading and spent a very delightful day reading the first three in the series of vampire novels by Charlaine Harris: Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas and Club Dead. The world of the novels isn't as striking and as persuasive as Laurell K. Hamilton's, but they're very enjoyable in any case. As the titles suggest, they really fall into the small-town-regional-setting-girl-next-door-narrator-with-a-wisecracking-sense-of-humor-and-heart-of-gold mystery series thing (you know this when the titles sound vaguely hair-salon-ish); the supernatural stuff is a bonus. Good fun.

It is a strange thing that it seems virtually impossible to write novels about vampires without shading into mild-to-medium erotica. Hmm. I think the werewolves and other animal shapechangers are sexier than the vampires in this kind of book, the male vampires are too likely to have waist-length hair in Clairol colors and eyes of turquoise/lavender/etc etc which all sounds to me quite offputting.

An excellent profile

of Oliver Sacks at the Guardian. What follows is a highlight, but the whole thing isn't so gory (and there are some really interesting remarks on the first person versus the third person): "Both parents shared their medical passions with him. In his mother's case, this took forms that now seem grotesque: 'She would occasionally bring back malformed foetuses to the house - anencephalic ones with a protruding eye at the top of their brainless, flattened heads, or spina bifida ones in which the whole spinal cord and brainstem were exposed. Some of these had been still-born; others she and the matron had quietly drowned at birth ('Like a kitten,' she once said) feeling that if they had lived no conscious or mental life would ever be possible for them. Eager that I should learn about anatomy and medicine, she dissected several herself, and then insisted, though I was only 11, that I dissect them myself.' "

Friday, March 04, 2005

"Was It a Pulp Novel..., Or a Desperate Game of Chance with a Girl on the Road to Hell?"

Neal Pollack reviews Domenic Stansberry::

This year's Edgar Award nominations were very different than any other year's: I'd actually read one of the nominated books. I'm the ultimate weather vane for literary winds, and I believe that Best Paperback Original nominee The Confession, by Domenic Stansberry, is a vanguard of change. The fact that Hard Case Crime published the book was enough to get me to open its pages. Hard Case may be the best new American publisher to appear in the last decade.

Last year, to no trumpets at all, Hard Case began putting out pulp paperbacks that can fit in a jeans back pocket. The books feature lurid old-fashioned cover paintings, the likes of which are usually only seen these days on postcards at independent bookstores. Some of the books are originals and some are reprints. All of them are full of grit and muscle, adventure and sex, written with a kind of barely restrained agony that can only be produced by guys who aren't really worried about their reputation. There's not an ounce of froth in the lot. Pulp has returned, in all its sleazy finery.

I just got a seductive package of these Hard Case Crime books and they look absolutely fabulous--I'm going to read Allan Guthrie's this weekend, I've been wanting to get hold of his stuff for a while. My brother Jon is going to love these books!

This "little people of Flores" story

really is crazy and amazing. Here's the latest, in the NYT: "In a study of the shape and contours of its tiny braincase, the 18,000-year-old adult female, who was barely three feet tall, was found to have anatomical attributes suggesting a capacity for higher thinking processes, a significant memory bank and ability to plan. Not bad for a species with a brain one-third the size of a contemporary human's."

What I would love would be to see a pygmy elephant...

I still have this totally unhelpful & unethical fantasy of having a pet monkey. It was my heart's desire when I was a kid--I was obsessed with Jane Gooddall--I sponsored an elephant shrew at the zoo for $10/year, and it was my great pain that I didn't have the $800 you needed to "adopt" a chimpanzee instead. The shrew was the only primate I could afford. I don't think there are any monkeys that the animal protection folks would think it was ok to import and/or house in a NY apartment. But there is a slight, slight chance that if I ever ended up in an academic job in a tropical climate with low real estate costs that I could have a sort of mini-jungle in a conservatory and have a little monkey or two there--obviously the pet stores that import exotic pets are mostly insanely irresponsible and it's probably illegal to import monkeys as pets anyway and all that, but I can't shake the idea--even just a little spider monkey or something....

What I need is a trip to the zoo.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

I am most startled

and tickled to learn from this interesting survey of 100 authors' favorite literary characters that China Mieville's favorite is Jane Eyre! That I would not have guessed....

(I prefer Lucy Snowe in Villette.)

I have too many favorites to decide, but they would include Emma and David Copperfield. Also Moll Flanders of course. I love the first-person narrators of Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows, James Baldwin's Just Above My Head, Richard Powers' The Time of Our Singing. I love Lyra in Philip Pullman's books and Sophie in Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle. I love all of Ken Bruen's narrators but especially the protagonist of The Hackman Blues. And Robin McKinley's Sunshine must also be counted...

Link via the excellent Blog of a Bookslut.

I just saw

a really good play, After Ashley at the Vineyard. It is excellent! Very, very funny--excellent writing--quite moving too. Kieran Culkin is startlingly good. And Dana Eskelson, who plays his mother, is superb. Definitely well worth seeing.

I've just had a very good 36 hours, after a particularly dreary stretch over the weekend. I will post more details once it's worked out, but it sounds as if I've got fellowship funding for next year, which will let me finish my new academic book. And I had a great meeting with my agent--there's one more (biggish? medium? not too bad, anyway) thing she wants me to do, but I think I can take care of it over spring break & get the revised manuscript back to her by the end of the month. So things look much rosier than they did a few days ago. And I've got this talk tomorrow, which should be fun.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

I don't have anything

witty to say about this, but it does have a certain deadpan charm (and the whole article about personality in animals is interesting):

Barely any research has been carried out on the evolution of human personality, but what little there is suggests that it may have some parallels with what's happened in birds.
In a survey of 545 people, Dr. Daniel Nettle of the University of Newcastle in England found that the more extroverted people were, the more sex partners they tended to have had. That might give them an evolutionary edge, but Dr. Nettle found that they were also more likely to wind up in a hospital.

I raised my morale last night

by reading Reed Farrell Coleman's Walking the Perfect Square, the first Moe Prager novel. It's excellent--this guy is such a good writer, he makes it look easy and understated but it's really great. Good settings, good characters, excellent prose style. (Why is my vocabulary so impoverished on this blog? Sometimes I look back with horror and see I've used the word "great" five or six times in as many sentences... Like checking the boxes on the letter of recommendation forms...)