Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Dick Francis is a brand"

At the Age, Karl Quinn interviews Felix Francis on taking over his father's fiction franchise. Today is Dick Francis's 89th birthday, by the way - many felicitations to one of my particularly favorite writers!

Clarence as Moby-Dick

Winners of the New Yorker "Critterati" contest - dress your pet as a character in literature (courtesy of my former student Emily Colette Wilkinson).

Radical condensations of interior vacillation...

Internet-prompted reading crisis spurs CAAF to devote the month of November to reading nothing but Herman Melville.

Speed reading

When I first got an invitation to participate in this event, I knew I had to be a part of it!

Sponsored by Cabinet Magazine, it's part of the Performa festival. Event description: "A 90-minute relay race of sorts, featuring 25-35 writers and artists who will take turns reading aloud short texts related to the theme of speed while running on three treadmills positioned side-by-side. The velocity of the treadmills will be controlled by the Speed Demon, the somewhat sadistic MC who will oversee the performance."

Saturday, Nov. 14 at 6pm at Definitions Gym, 19 Union Square West (at 15th St.) - note corrected time

The dead speak

Caleb Crain revisits the to me utterly fascinating question of how John Keats actually talked.

(This post is a nice small example of how Caleb uses his blog to organize and annotate his more official publications.)

Also recommended: Lynda Mugglestone's Talking Proper: The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol. And there is a magical essay by Peter Holland, "Hearing the Dead: The Sound of David Garrick," in Players, Playwrights, Playhouses.

Bonus link: Marco Roth has a really lovely piece at n+1 about Caleb's self-published collection of blog posts The Wreck of the Henry Clay.

Sex and the single snail

At the Independent, a brief review by Christopher Hirst of Peter Williams' Snail. The table of contents at the University of Chicago Press website makes me think I really should get a copy of this one...

The trouble with gin

Geoff Dyer has a very interesting piece at the Guardian on John Cheever's journals (the whole piece is well worth reading in its entirety):
What he does not say – how could he? – was that the forms in which he gave dramatic expression to this sense could be enlarged manifestations of confinement, that the hard-won craftsmanship that stood him in good stead at the New Yorker worked against his being able to plumb the complex depths of his being. Only in the shapeless privacy of his journal could he do that. If he was "writing narrative prose" Cheever believed that "every line cannot be a cry from the heart". So he stopped crying. In the journals, meanwhile, he wept "gin tears, whiskey tears, tears of plain salt" and stopped worrying about narrative. The irony is that, while he was instinctively hostile to the splurging of "the California poets", his own best writing would derive from a sustained 40-year word-binge with no thought of form or – at least until very near the end – of publication. A further irony follows: the consummate craftsman ended up being reliant on the posthumous intervention of an editor to turn this repetitive mass of bellyaching, "booze-fighting" and self-lament into a book with immense narrative power.

New wrist joints

At Science News, Rachel Ehrenberg on phantom limbs (link courtesy of GeekPress):
Seven people who had an arm that had been amputated above the elbow were encouraged to learn a particular arm movement that defies biomechanics — turning a hand that’s bent 90 degrees at the wrist the last quarter of a full turn that the hand won’t do. The study participants practiced by imagining that they were moving the phantom limb for five minutes per hour every day until they had achieved the impossible movement or had given up (this took one to four weeks depending on the individual). Four of the participants were successful in feeling the sensation of the impossible movement, the researchers report.

“This shows that body image is constructed in a dynamic manner — it can be changed,” says V.S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego. Previous work by Ramachandran and others has shown that the sensation of a perpetually clenched and painful wrist that often accompanies a phantom limb can be relaxed with a mirror-based therapy: the patient clenches and then unclenches the remaining hand while looking at a boxed mirror that makes it appear both arms are intact. By visualizing both hands unclenching, the patient feels a release in the phantom limb.

To corroborate that the individuals had really learned the new movement (after all, the scientists couldn’t see the phantom limbs) the researchers had them perform a task known as left-right hand judgement before and after their training. The ability to twist the phantom wrist in a new way allowed the participants to react to this task faster than they could before they had learned the impossible move.

Each of the participants who achieved the impossible move also described developing a new wrist joint that allowed the impossible movement. And three of the four reported that moves that were previously possible for the phantom limb were now difficult with their new wrist.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Those pushpins, you wouldn't believe how small they are"

At the New Yorker, Richard Brody on the stop-motion animation of Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox production (subscriber only):
Anderson wanted the figurines to have "a believable sort of finish, a lifelike quality," according to Andy Gent, the puppet master. Although the largest of the figurines were only about eighteen inches tall, their fur was, indeed, fur (which, Gent said, came from "safe sources," suc as "food production"). They had been crafted for maximum pliability of expression: Mr. Fox's eyes were poseable, and his foam-latex face had a jointed framework that could register the slightest sneer or snarl or raised eyebrow. Moreover, the figurines had tailored clothing, made with fabric. (Anderson designed the clothes himself, having his own tailor send fabric samples. He has a suit made from the same corduroy as Mr. Fox's.) In closeup, not only are the buttons on Mr. Fox's white shirt visible; so is the stitching on the edge of the collar.

Molly Cooper, the film's co-producer, told me, "Wes wants the references to be from the real world. A desk actually has a coffee stain, piles of papers, things you'd have in a real-world setting." Standing before the set of the supermarket, which is filled with hundreds of miniature boxes and cans and bottles and jars, Anderson told Dawson, "Stores don't put bread in the refrigerator." Dawson joked, "Here they do," and Anderson responded, "I'm saying a serious thing. Maybe we shouldn't have bread in the refrigerator." Another set featured a miniature piano, whose keys could be depressed individually, so that, when a figurine played, the motions matched those of the real performance being heard on the soundtrack. The walls of one character's office were lined with tiny cards that Anderson had based on the scheduling board in the film's production office. On his computer, he'd shown me a still frame of that set and said, gleefully, "Those pushpins, you wouldn't believe how small they are."
Also (courtesy of Wendy): miniature city in The Hague reduces everything to a fraction of its original size! (And I wouldn't mind seeing Miniatürk, either...)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The orchard and the cupboard

Marcel Proust, "Combray," Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis:
My aunt effectively confined her life to two adjoining rooms, staying in one of them in the afternoon while the other was aired. These were the sorts of provincial rooms which--just as in certain countries entire tracts of air or ocean are illuminated or perfumed by myriad protozoa that we cannot see--enchant us with the thousand smells given off by the virtues, by wisdom, by habits, a whole secret life, invisible, superabundant, and moral, which the atmosphere holds in suspension; smells still natural, certainly, and colored by the weather like those of the neighboring countryside, but already homey, human and enclosed, an exquisite, ingenious, and limpid jelly of all the fruits of the year that have left the orchard for the cupboard; seasonal, but movable and domestic, correcting the piquancy of the hoarfrost with the sweetness of warm bread, as lazy and punctual as a village clock, roving and orderly, heedless and foresightful, linen smells, morning smells, pious smells, happy with a peace that brings only an increase of anxiety and with a prosiness that serves as a great reservoir of poetry for one who passes through it without having lived it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Dear Sir, Am I alone in thinking. . . .?"

Unpublished letters written to the Telegraph:
SIR – I find it intensely humiliating to be asked by airport security staff if I have packed my own bag. This forces one to admit, usually within earshot of others, that I no longer have a manservant to do the chore for me. Gentlemen should be able to answer such questions with a disdainful: "Of course not! Do I look like that sort of person?"

Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume, Guildford, Surrey

20 questions

"We were not asleep; we were not having an argument; we were not having a fight." (It is impossible not to think that in a certain kind of scenario, they would have been having very good sex!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Class A foam

At the New Yorker, Dana Goodyear on James Cameron. I was obscurely fascinated by the extreme diving bits, which I did not know about at all:
Making “The Abyss” was brutal. “It was a battle fought underwater,” one crew member said—and it was over budget and behind schedule before shooting even began. The story, about a deep-ocean oil-drilling crew called upon to prevent a nuclear catastrophe, while dealing with a hostile Navy SEALs unit and visitations from a marine alien, takes place almost entirely at the bottom of the sea. Cameron built the set in Gaffney, South Carolina, in the containment vessel of an abandoned (and never activated) nuclear-power facility, which he filled with eight million gallons of water. The principal actors and much of the crew had to be scuba-certified. As part of the production design, the actors wore helmets that were lit from within. Cameron wore a similar helmet, but his contained a one-way communications device that broadcast his every grunt and breath through underwater speakers all over the set. “He loved it,” Al Giddings, the underwater D.P., who designed the system, said. None of the crew members could talk back, or to one another, and some of them came up with their own sign language. Thumbs up meant “We’re fucked.” Thumb and forefinger up meant “We’re double-fucked.”

The crew was in the water ten hours a day; in ten weeks, the production went through ten thousand five hundred air tanks. “When I first got there, it was, like, ‘Put me in the water! Put me in the water!’ ” Vince Pace, who built the underwater lighting, said. “About four weeks into it I was, like, ‘Listen, I’ve been in the water. Put Jack in the water.’ Two, three months into it you’re saying, ‘If you put me in the water, I’m going to kill you.’ ” To break up the water surface and minimize reflection, the tank was filled with tiny black polypropylene beads, which made their way into noses, ears, and mouths. Infections were rampant, even though the water had enough chlorine in it to turn an electric-blue dive suit gray in a day or two, and bleach the hair and eyebrows of the crew albino-white. Leonard Goldberg got pneumonia after visiting for an afternoon.

The gathering

Bats! (Via BoingBoing.)

Virtual autopsies

My friend Sarah Weinman has a very interesting piece at Tablet Magazine on the ways that new scanning technologies may help solve the problem of the incompatibility of the autopsy with Jewish law.

The blank page

From Edward Said, Out of Place:
I have no concept of leisure or relaxation and, more particularly, no sense of cumulative achievement. Every day for me is like beginning a new term at school, with a vast and empty summer behind it, and an uncertain tomorrow before it. Over time “Edward” became a demanding taskmaster, registering lists of flaws and failures with as much energy as accumulated obligations and commitments, the two lists balancing and in a sense canceling each other. “Edward” still has to begin every day anew and by the end of it normally feels that very little has gone right.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Why Stop With a Barnacle?"

At the Believer, Sarah Manguso interviews Lydia Davis (link courtesy of Maud):
BLVR: Is it better to use the word prosaic because it’s the literal translation of prosaique, or to use the word dull because it occupies the same context in contemporary English as prosaique did in Proust’s French? You chose the former, [C. K.] Scott-Moncrieff chose the latter.

LD: I can’t re-create now what led to my choice of prosaic—but as I was translating Swann’s Way I did of course check and double-check every tricky choice to make sure the translation came as close as I could make it to conveying in English in these times what Proust conveyed in French in those times. In your example, I think I liked the closeness in sound of prosaic to the French: it has the same three syllables and the pr opening. It is historically, and rhythmically, entirely different from dull—which is a wonderful word in itself, of course, and one I would be much more likely to use in my own writing than prosaic.

BLVR: In similar situations, would you always choose the cognate?

LD: Whenever I could, I would use the cognate, but often enough that was for reasons of sound, rhythm.

BLVR: In his biography of Beckett, James Knowlson says that Beckett chose to write in French because in French it was easier for him to write “without style.” You’ve said similar things about translating—that it’s an exercise in not imposing one’s own style on the writing. It sounds like the least postmodern position one can possibly take—that there’s some essential truth that style only cloaks.

LD: No, I wouldn’t say there’s some essential truth that is cloaked by style—if I’ve understood your question. I’d say that if I were to translate into my own style rather than preserving, insofar as I could, the style of the original, I would change the nature of the work in an essential way.

I tried, once, for fun, translating Laurence Sterne into more contemporary English. It worked to some extent—some of the narrative content was preserved, some of the humor, quirkiness, etc.—but it was painful. Each time I abandoned some phrasing of his in favor of an “updated” version, an essential, delightful peculiarity of the work was lost.


An odd and fascinating review at the TLS of a book I think I must read!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thoughts on marathon training?

A poem by my late colleague Kenneth Koch, "You Want a Social Life, with Friends," courtesy of Josh Glenn:
You want a social life, with friends.
A passionate love life and as well
To work hard every day. What's true
Is of these three you may have two
And two can pay you dividends
But never may have three.

There isn't time enough, my friends--
Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends--
To find the time to have love, work, and friends.
Michelangelo had feeling
For Vittoria and the Ceiling
But did he go to parties at day's end?

Homer nightly went to banquets
Wrote all day but had no lockets
Bright with pictures of his Girl.
I know one who loves and parties
And has done so since his thirties
But writes hardly anything at all.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Born digital

Liz Naiden has a nice piece at the Bwog on Friday's eighteenth-century conference. (Which went very well indeed, by the way - so much so that I think we must have another one!)

In other news, I am sorry to report that After Miss Julie wasn't much good - Sienna Miller wasn't terrible, but the production as a whole seemed pointless and incoherent - there were some very good moments, but it didn't add up to anything much. (Certainly it was far inferior to the Cherry Lane Theatre production featuring Michael Aronov that I saw a few years ago, which had a gratuitous Middle Eastern setting but which had the erotic charge and tension that was largely missing from this production.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Les carbonisateurs

An extraordinary piece by Daniel Howden at the Independent on the attempt to preserve gorilla habitat in Virunga National Park.

"Six working Colossi"

Courtesy of my father, a very good letter at the FT (in response to this piece on the top-secret room-sized computing machine named Colossus, invented by Tommy Flowers - site registration required):
A rebuild of Colossus can be seen by the public at The National Museum of Computing in Block H at Bletchley Park. Block H also happens to be the world’s first purpose-built computer centre and housed six working Colossi in the 1940s.

Before his death in 1998, Tommy Flowers took a great interest in the rebuild of Colossus, which began in 1994, and visited us to give his thoughts, reminiscences and moral support.

The rebuild took 14 years and in the Colossus Cipher Challenge two years ago it once again broke a Lorenz coded message in three hours and 40 minutes. However, a German using a laptop broke the code in just 47 seconds and won the challenge.

Tony Sale,
Head of Colossus Rebuild Team and Trustee of The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park

"I'm the last of our little foursome, the last remaining"

Erica Wagner has an excellent piece about Philip Roth at the Sunday Times.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The great game

It is far from the usual Light Reading fare, but I cannot resist the opportunity to link to two major pieces published this week by my dissertation advisor David Bromwich. In general, I have been extraordinarily lucky in my teachers; but perhaps I learned more from David Bromwich than from almost anybody else, not just in terms of an abiding obsession with the writings of Edmund Burke but by virtue of a language for talking about the connections between thought and intellectual temperament and character that I rely upon very heavily in daily life.

The first is at the LRB, on Obama's delusion ("His way of thinking is close to the spirit of that Enlightenment reasonableness which supposes a right course of action can never be described so as to be understood and not assented to"). The second is this NYRB review of Taylor Branch's Clinton book:
Maybe Clinton in his final year in office spoke more easily; in any case, the narrative has a sharper focus now, and the anecdotes fall into a characteristic rhythm:
The president was eating a bowl of bran in January. He said Bob Squier, the campaign consultant, never had a colonoscopy in his life. They diagnosed him six months ago, and he died today at sixty-five. The end comes on quickly if you don't catch it early. "I always eat bran when a friend dies of colon cancer," Clinton said.

Total immersion?

Your brain on e-books.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Olympic and recessional dragons"

At the TLS, Alex Burghart (who has written a funny last paragraph and contributor's note here!) on the artefacts of the Staffordshire hoard:
I joined the thousands of others visiting the Birmingham Museum earlier this month to fog the glass of the display cases housing the choicest items. “Wow!” came the exclamation to my left. “What is it?” said a second. “I don’t know.” That exchange just about summarizes current knowledge. The artefacts are undoubtedly (as Howard Carter said on first leaving Tutankhamen's tomb) “wonderful things”, but the facts behind their wondrousness are not immediately obvious. Even speculating about the hoard before the earth is removed from all of its components is a dangerous business. Yet the early suppositions of those lucky enough to have handled and examined the material already seem to carry weight. Kevin Leahy, of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, has suggested that this is the spoil of battle – goods taken from the dead after a fight – and from what I have seen, the analysis fits. Were the hoard merely plunder we would expect to find everyday riches (coins, hairpins, ingots, etc) in amongst it. Instead we have as many as eighty-four sword and dagger pommel caps, seventy-one hilt collars, two or three gold crosses, a number of twisted-metal rings, what is probably a shield decoration, and at least one cheek-piece from a helmet. Tellingly, several of the items have bent pins still sticking out of them, which means they were ripped from their original mounts. Perhaps most wonderful of all is the resonance with a passage in Beowulf describing the gathering of sword hilts from the dead after battle. “One warrior stripped the other, / looted Ongentheow’s iron mail coat, / his hard sword-hilt, / his helmet too, / and carried the graith to King Hygelac”.

Seeing the finds with Leahy’s interpretation in mind is slightly chilling. The rows of unperished pommels become personal possessions, each one unique, as though fashioned for its owner’s particular fancy, each one a life. The seeming immortality of the gold, which the Anglo-Saxons so loved, somehow drives home the mortality of those who briefly wore it. Sutton Hoo is, above all, a testament to loyalty and love – whoever hauled that boat up that hill and filled it with precious gifts did so out of a profound sense of duty. The Staffordshire Hoard is almost the opposite.

The Meerkat-Mongoose War of 1728

At the Independent, Simon Usborne lays out why there's never been a better time to be a meerkat.

Tufts and tuft-hunters

The etymology of "toffee-nosed."

The quintessential wink

Somehow over the course of the many years of reading and writing in which I have indulged I have come to develop (it is perhaps partly by blogging and writing e-mails?) an unusually baroque way with the sentence; I have sometimes been charged with speaking a curiously elaborate English (I speak more and more in sentences!), and I am greatly enjoying rereading The Golden Bowl for the class I'm currently teaching on style. I have never steeped myself so thoroughly in James as to claim him as an influence; but certainly I see in him some cast of thought that makes me feel I am among my kind...
It really came home to her friend on the spot that this free range of observation in her, picking out the frequent funny with extraordinary promptness, would verily henceforth make a different thing for him of such experiences, of the customary hunt for the possible prize, the inquisitive play of his accepted monomania; which different thing would probably be a lighter and perhaps thereby a somewhat more boisterously refreshing form of sport. (I.ii.6.181)

‘You’re strange, cara mia,’ he consentingly enough dropped; but, for whatever strangeness, he kept her, as they circulated, from being waylaid, even remarking to her afresh, as he had often done before, on the help rendered in such situations by the intrinsic oddity of the London ‘squash’, a thing of vague slow eddies, revolving as in fear of some menace of conversation suspended over it, the drop of which, with a consequent refreshing splash or spatter, yet never took place. (I.iii.1.209)
"A consequent refreshing splash or spatter"! "A somewhat more boisterously refreshing form of sport"!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Eye vs. ear

From Henry James' preface to the New York Edition revision of The Golden Bowl:
It is scarce necessary to note that the highest test of any literary form conceived in the light of 'poetry' - to apply that term in its largest literary sense - hangs back unpardonably from its office when it fails to lend itself to viva-voce treatment. We talk here, naturally, not of non-poetic forms, but of those whose highest bid is addressed to the imagination, to the spiritual and the aesthetic vision, the mind led captive by a charm and a spell, an incalculable art. The essential property of such a form as that is to give out its finest and most numerous secrets, and to give them out most gratefully, under the closest pressure - which is of course the pressure of the attention articulately sounded.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Delightful light reading

Strange to say, the supply of truly delightful light reading in the world is NOT infinite, so I have been very lucky to have within the last couple days the final installment of Stieg Larsson's trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (very good, but not as much character-driven stuff as the previous books; still a page-turner, though), and Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals - more of a sport-related novel than an academic novel, truly, but very delightful to me nonetheless! (The closing pages, describing the culminating "football" match, are almost as pleasing to me as the stories of Caymanian sports journalist Ron Shillingford!)

Friday, October 09, 2009

The snake-and-primate nexus

Snake Detection Theory!

"Not silence, only publicity could protect us in the west"

At the Guardian, this year's Nobelist in Literature Herta Müller on the file kept on her by the Romanian secret service:
In my file I am two different persons. One is called Cristina, who is an enemy of the state and is being fought. To compromise this Cristina a dummy is produced in the falsification workshop of Branch "D" (Disinformation), with all the ingredients that harm me the most – party faithful communist, unscrupulous agent. Wherever I went, I had to live with this dummy. It wasn't just sent after me, it hurried ahead of me. Even though I have, from the beginning and always, written only against the dictatorship, the dummy goes its own way to this day. It has become independent of me. Even though the dictatorship has been dead for 20 years, the dummy leads its ghostly life. For how long yet?


At the Barnes and Noble Review, James Parker considers David Byrne's preponderance of bicycle-atoms.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The perfectibility theorem

I'm on the lineup now for what promises to be a very interesting event on Thursday, Oct. 15 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, "You Can't Be Anything You Want": "an evening examining the promise—and pitfalls—of personal and cultural reinvention, casting a curious eye over the world of minor-league wrestling, the depths of the self-help section, and rock 'n roll's perpetual second act."

Also: on Friday, Oct. 15, our departmental eighteenth-century group is having its first true conference! Both the panels and the lecture are going to be very good (guest speaker Matthew Kirschenbaum is a fantastically good speaker and writer whose talk has the teasing title "Shakespeare's Hard Drive") - open to anyone who's interested, you do not need to be a Columbia affiliate.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The cracked cauldron

More Madame Bovary:
He was unable to see, this man so full of experience, the variety of feelings hidden within the same expressions. Since libertine or venal lips had murmured similar phrases, he only faintly believed in the candor of Emma’s; he thought one should beware of exaggerated declarations which only serve to cloak a tepid love; as though the abundance of one’s soul did not sometimes overflow with empty metaphors, since no one ever has been able to give the exact measure of his needs, his concepts, or his sorrows. The human tongue is like a cracked cauldron on which we beat out tunes to set a bear dancing when we would make the stars weep with our melodies.

Il ne distinguait pas, cet homme si plein de pratique, la dissemblance des sentiments sous la parité des expressions. Parce que des lèvres libertines ou vénales lui avaient murmuré des phrases pareilles, il ne croyait que faiblement à la candeur de celles-là; on en devait rabattre, pensait-il, les discours exagérés cachant les affections médiocres: comme si la plénitude de l’âme ne débordait pas quelquefois par les métaphores les plus vides, puisque personne, jamais, ne peut donner l’exacte mesure de ses besoins, ni de ses conceptions ni de ses douleurs, et que la parole humaine est comme un chaudron fêlé où nous battons des mélodies ã faire danser les ours, quand on voudrait attendrir les étoiles.
I am reminded of an aphorism that Harold Bloom used to utter regularly during the seminar on Shakespeare I took with him at Yale in the mid-90s (a famous pronouncement of Nietzsche's):
That for which we can find words is something already dead in our hearts; there is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking.

Monday ghost miscellany

An eerie glimpse of Anne Frank on film.

Deborah Solomon interviews Rosanne Cash about her new album: covers of songs chosen by her father.

Phil Nugent on Jim Carroll.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


At the Guardian, Philip Pullman on the last man who knew everything:
how the human vocal organs worked, the fact that giants probably didn't exist but dragons probably did, how to make a magic lantern, what the Potala palace in Lhasa looked like, and the habits and appearance of the celebrated juvenile Tartar demon and murderer, Phut.
The book he's reviewing sounds wonderful.

"F***ing hearts!"

At the Independent, Bee Wilson on the eccentricities of Elizabeth Taylor in later life as revealed by William Mann's new biography:
During her marriage to Fisher, she was getting through a pack of cigarettes a day “and never used the same holder”. Her butler had to prepare a special box of holders each day, colour-co-ordinated not just with her outfits but with any tablecloths she might come into contact with. When she and Burton were in Mexico, she flew in the wife of her London chauffeur just to cook them a couple of meals of roast pork. Her hypochondria was stupendous. She once called in sick complaining of a severe injury caused by wearing tight breeches. She consumed jewels as casually as cups of coffee and thought nothing of asking a friend to fly to Switzerland to buy her a house, before summarily calling him back to play cards with her: “Just buy the damn thing so you can get back here and we can play f***ing hearts!”

The absence of narrative progression plus cross-circuited schematism

I guess it was Sarah Manguso's "Writing about not writing" syllabus at Bookforum that prompted me to put this and a few other things into the shopping cart - but at around 10:30 last night when I should have been going to BED I instead picked up David Markson's Reader's Block and LITERALLY found it impossible to put it down until I finished it.

It is the most absolutely mesmerizing book!

It made me feel, too, as though I were its perfect reader ("A novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak minus much of the novel") - I wonder whether it would be appealing to someone who did not so strongly as I grow up reading T. S. Eliot and that Eliotian canon, and with years of reading the Romantic poets and literary biographies in my early twenties - at any rate, it is a sad and staggeringly good book. I will teach a class one day where I can include it on the syllabus, that's for sure - it would make a fascinating end point for an upper-level undergraduate seminar on the debate over ancients and moderns, which is the new class I am thinking I must develop sometime over the next couple years...

I have been very busy (sent my final novel revisions to the editor yesterday!), so light reading has been sporadic and perhaps even more eclectic than usual! Golly, I am overdue for a MASSIVE STINT OF NOVEL-READING - not sure, though, quite when that is going to happen.

Dara Torres's Age is Just a Number reveals more details of the unattractive personality one suspects on the basis of various stories and interviews (if you want an inspirational sport-related book by a significant athlete of that generation who also battled an eating disorder, you will be much better off with Monica Seles' Getting a Grip).

It is no discredit to Frank Bruni's interesting and highly readable memoir Born Round when I say that the most fascinating detail I gleaned from it was that the New York Times has an arrangement with American Express whereby the credit card company provides cards with multiple names for restaurant critics who have to eat incognito!

And as part of a big haul from the excellent Book Depository (free worldwide shipping of books from the UK - though I see I could have gotten it very cheap used!), I indulged in Victoria Clayton's A Girl's Guide to Kissing Frogs (enjoyable, but perhaps not her best - motifs from other books too obviously hashed out again).