Saturday, October 21, 2006

Around the edges of work

a rather delightful bit of light reading, The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar in an attractive reissue from the excellent Soft Skull Press (bonus: the introduction by Neil Gaiman).

Why haven't I read any of Millar's books before?!? This one was great: it isn't like anything else, it's definitely its own thing, but in a good way it reminded me of Terry Pratchett and Charles de Lint and Holly Black and Suzy McKee Charnas and all sorts of other good stuff. Funny and smart and fantastic: oh, and the main human heroine has a colostomy bag, which seems to me an unusual and interesting touch.

NB I had such a pang thinking of my beloved Scottish grandfather when one of the tiny and troublesome punk-rock Scottish fairies yells out "Wha daur meddle wi me! Touch not the cat bot a glove!" "This was the motto of the MacKintosh clan, and obscure even by Scottish standards," the narrator comments. But of course it is not really obscure at all: the official Davidson family motto is Sapienter si sincere (I can't believe I still remember this stuff, I thought it lost in the mists of childhood), but the Davidsons were also part of the same Clan Chattan whose motto is "Touch not the cat." And one of Mary Stewart's best books is Touch Not the Cat (and why is it that writers like Mary Stewart and Dick Francis make it look so easy to write perfect escapist fiction, and yet there are so few books out there nearly as enjoyable to read as theirs?).

The cat of the motto is a wildcat, not a housecat. Coincidentally I am thinking about writing a novel (also set in New York) about a non-werewolf animal shapeshifter who changes into a cougar, a private-investigator-type novel in a near-future slightly dystopian New York. Of course some urban-fantasy-type writers move indiscriminately between supernatural creatures--the name Laurell K. Hamilton comes to mind, and appealingly & hilariously her main character Anita Blake majored in supernatural creatures in college!--but on the whole I would think you have a strong temperamental preference for fairies, vampires or werewolves depending on a cluster of style-related and other traits. I am in the werewolf camp, I like the way good novels about people who change into animals have to delve into Konrad Lorenz-Frans de Waal--ethologist-type territory. I think it unlikely that I would write a book prominently featuring either vampires or fairies, although I am fond of reading about them.

In other news (this is really exciting--but I promise this isn't going to become a running blog, just occasional posts), I ran ten miles today for the first time. Very, very exciting. I've been doing a class at the Running Center and I can't recommend it highly enough, if in New York and you're a beginner or a serious long-time long-distance runner wanting to improve your speed or whatever there is something good at that place for you. Today was the Last Ten Mile Run, which covers the last ten miles of the actual New York Marathon course two weeks before the race. The weather was perfect and I had a great run--I am steady rather than particularly fast, I have no turn of speed on short distances especially, but I came in at a very respectable one hour and thirty-six minutes (9'36" mile pace, and I feel sure I can do faster than that once I've built up a longer history with the long-distance thing). I am having such a pang that I have wasted all this time without doing marathons, I will not be able to do one before this time next year at the earliest I think but I am doing my first half-marathon in Philadelphia in a month and another in January and after that we will see. I think I am going to do the Running Center's Summer/Fall Marathon Training Program; I will see if I can get a spot in the New York Marathon in the lottery, but if I can't, I'll do the Philadelphia Marathon in 2007 and meanwhile run the nine New York Road Runners races in 2007 that give you an automatic spot in 2008. Hmmm... I like it that I've unleashed my obsessive/extreme side on the problem of exercise...


  1. Your last sentence struck a chord with me. I'm the exact same way about cycling -- obsessive about my training. I'm going to go ride my bike in the 40 degree weather shortly ...

  2. How do you not get bored on the run, Jenny? Any tips? I quite like running but have never done more than 5 miles -- I think it is mainly a mental thing that I get so bored I lose concentration and can't can't make myself keep going. I'm physically quite strong so I think it must all be down to the brain...
    And yes, very well done-- impressive.

  3. For long ones (esp. VERY long ones) it's a pretty good idea to do it with other people, that way you can have a conversation as you're going along and it's much preferable. I don't think it's really safe to run with an iPod or whatever--I listen to music if I'm at the gym, but not when running outside...

  4. Oh I envy you. After 20 years of running (from 37 to 57) my knees just couldn't take it anymore. If I had it to do over again, I would have run lots less--instead of 5x/week, maybe 3x, and instead of 7.5-8.5 minute miles for 45-60 minutes, maybe 10 minute miles for 25-30 minutes, and never never never on asphalt or concrete. Now I am 63 and I can do fast walking and still get an endorphine rush, but it just isn't the same. Not to rain on your parade, but consider the consequences. Best 2U.

  5. Oh, that is such sensible advice. The schedule this coach has had us on is a (mostly--there have been a few four-day weeks, but not many) three-day-a-week schedule for exactly that reason, I guess (with 2 additional days cross-training); I am definitely going to pay attention to this stuff. I'm doing a lot of yoga which seems to me very complementary, and possibly even better for mental and physical health than running--the combination is pretty unbeatable... I am sorry you are not able to do it any more! Consider knee replacements?!? I believe they are quite amazing these days...

  6. I hope you will not spend all your time on exercise and ignore your blog. How will I know what to read without your advice?

    I need to collect enough reading material to last me three months in an isolated area. There is no bookstore access and very limited internet access.

    If you take reader requests, please consider the following question: Could you recommend some fiction titles? I prefer late 20th century, English language. Perhaps I could read something early 20th century. I am afraid of anything written before 1900.

    Or perhaps could you write another novel? I would look forward to something good and contemporary to read.

    --reader fan

  7. Don't worry, dysphoric, I am definitely not going to stop reading.... Fiction titles: these last couple books by Richard Powers are very good and LONG too, "The Time of Our Singing" and "The Echo Maker." Lionel Shriver's "We Need To Talk About Kevin" is another good one (I am especially thinking long here, you see...), and I loved her "Double Fault" also. An extremely funny and bitter and also quite long novel was Cintra Wilson's "Colors Insulting to Nature." But e-mail me at my Columbia account if you want suggestions better tailored to your particular tastes?

  8. Don't have google account--anonymous is Ruby. Knee replacements? No no no no no.

    Hope you don't mind but I put together a list for dysphoric. Went thru this year's books and picked the best out of 90 or so:
    Get a Life-Gordimer
    Moth Skin-Hamid Nohsin
    The Dog of the Marriage-ss- Amy Hempel
    Half a Life and Magic Seeds-Naipaul
    Seven Lies - James Lasdun
    History of Love- Nicole Krauss
    Fatelesness-Imre Kertesz
    Seeing (read Blindness first) - Saramago
    Faithful Spy-Alex Berenson
    In Persuasion Nation-ss- Saunders
    Banishing Verona-Margot Livesey
    This Book will Save Your Life- AN Homes
    The World to Come - Dara Horn
    Winter's Bone - Daniel Woodrell
    A Peculiar Disorder of the Times-Kalfus
    Brief History of the Dead-Brockmeier
    The Road-Cormac McCarthy
    Old Filth-Jane Gardem
    A Woman in Jerusalem-Yehoshua
    Whiteman-Tony d'Souza
    Desertion - A. Gurnah
    Everyman - Phil Roth
    The Tango Singer-Tomas Martinez

    Hunger-Sharman Apt Russell
    Human Cargo-Caroline Moorhead
    Collapse-Jared Diamond
    Enrique's Journey-Sonia Nazario
    Genome - Matt Ridley
    Before the Dawn-Nicholas Wade
    Blink-Malcolm Gladwell
    Darwin (very short biog) - Quammen
    The Cowboy and his Elephant-MacPherson
    Botany of Desire and Omnivore's Dilemma-Michael Pollan
    Maimonides-Sherwin Nuland
    The Good Good Pig - Sy Montgomery
    Dogs of Bedlam Farm - Jon Katz
    Not Even Wrong (autism) - Collins
    The Body Never Lies - Alice Miller

    All of these got at least ** out of a possible **** and I rarely give out ****.

    I know this is your literary blog and if you delete this post, it means I have overstepped a boundary. Sorry in advance. Ruby

  9. Don't be crazy, Ruby, that's a GREAT list & will I'm sure be of interest to many readers here. I haven't read a lot of those, but would gloss as follows: James Lasdun and Margot Livesey are both particular favorites of mine (and Livesey's "The Missing World" is a book I feel I should have written myself, I had had a similar idea and was sort of kicking myself as I read hers for not having already written it & gotten it out of the way--hers is so beautifully done it makes you not want to try anything similar); "Genome" and "Botany of Desire" are probably my favorite out of those non-fiction ones that I've read (my favorite Jared Diamond book is still "The Third Chimpanzee"); I liked "Blink" (reviewed it very favorably for the Voice) but it is very short, wouldn't be good value if you were trying to bring only a small number of books with you for the whole three months; I'm dying to read the Kalfus, my friend Marco Roth had a great review of it in the TLS & it sounds excellent; and I am a Cormac McCarthy non-fan, only read one but the reviews of this latest, even the most glowing ones, have struck me as exceptionally clearly explaining why I do not want to read him--I read the bits they all quote and they make me want to laugh and roll my eyes, they are so embarrassingly mythic and masculinist and significant....

    Oh, and in case it's useful, here's my best books of 2005 list, a bit random but all good stuff, mostly out in PB now probably ("Never Let Me Go" and "Fortress of Solitude" are the two most obvious picks I didn't mention before):

  10. you have just changed the course of the next three months of my life! I had planned on being depressed, as usual, and perhaps reading an iris murdoch novel or two. Now I have your list and I may need to change my login name to euphoric. I think I am in love with your brain. but of course I don't know you, so I can't say that. And I don't want to sound creepy. I will shut up now, and stop littering blog comments.

    thank you very much though!

    --euphoric (temporarily) reader fan

  11. No, no, not creepy at all. I like the way the handle dysphoric is capable of being switched on and off into eu- when appropriate!

  12. still here littering. I am off to the bookstore. I think I will go to St.Mark's books. It's worth the schlep. and there is this amazing bar called angel share around the corner and upstairs, through an unmarked heavy wood door, where they brew fancy cocktails that will make me drunk.

    I have decided to check an extra bag just for books. three months is a long time. even a slow reader dimwit like me runs the risk of dreded nothing to read.

    PS I have been running for > 20 years and have zero knee problems. agree that exercise becomes obsessive, but there are so many things to become obsessive about, that you can balance yourself out in no time at all.

    --bipolar and ocd too, but still running

  13. Euphoric--last list. Just off the top of my head, some great reads for me:
    Sacred Hunger (slave ship and new world)-Barry Unsworth
    Alias Grace and Cat's Eye-Margaret Atwood
    Fingersmith-Sarah Waters
    Fabulous Small Jews-Joseph Epstein
    Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn- Jon. Lethem
    The 25th Hour-David Benioff
    Evidence of Things Unseen-Marianne Wiggins
    Voyage of the Narwhal-Andrea Barrett
    Bound for Canaan (about Undergrn RR)-can't remember author
    Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill-Mark Bittner
    Mountains Beyond Mountain-Tracy Kidder-about Dr. Paul Farmer and the diff one individual can make
    The Dark Room-Rachel Seiffer--3 long short stories
    all the Ripley novels by Patricia Highsmith
    Elephant Memories - Cynthia Moss (she's the elephant woman as Goodall is the chimp woman)
    short stories of John Cheever collected in a fat red paperback
    Oldest Living Confed Woman Tells All-Alan Gurganus (and his novella Blessed Assurance is blessed)

    Bye. Hope your retreat is wonderful.

    Going back thru the archives and what a super duper blog this is, Jenny. I love James Sallis, too! ruby