Friday, December 31, 2010

A "ham sandwich"

At the FT (site registration required), Henry Hitchings has an absolutely lovely essay about dictionaries of slang old and new (the first is one I consulted when I was long ago writing about Jonathan Wild, and the second is probably out of my price range but does indeed sound, as Hitchings says, "lusciously" browsable):
Leafing through the pages of Green’s Dictionary, one accumulates a stock of favourite oddments: an “Oklahoma credit card” is a siphon tube for stealing petrol, a “knocking-jacket” a nightdress, and a “fogle-hunter” a pickpocket who specialises (or really “specialised”, one imagines) in stealing silk handkerchiefs. Some of the illustrative quotations are equally droll: one letter-writer recalls that “I told you in my last how she gave the athletic stockbroker at Hove the mitten” – to be given the mitten is to have one’s proposal of marriage rejected – and another makes the seemingly far-fetched claim that “Penrith is becoming a real funk-hole”, though a funk-hole is here a place of refuge rather than somewhere James Brown might have frequented.

Year's end

I already linked to my year in reading post for The Millions, but before I realized they wanted something short I did the usual maniacal scroll through the year's blog posts, and made a demented cheat sheet for the purposes of summary. I am too lazy to write it up with links, but I think I'll gather the names here with a few thoughts, by category. Anything I mention here is pretty strongly recommended unless I say otherwise.

New and newish 'literary' novels: Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall; Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses (I'd had this lying around forever, somehow didn't quite pick it up, but I really loved it); Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (couldn't put it down); Michelle Huneven's Blame (this book deserved more attention than it got, I thought it was very good indeed, at least as good as Kate Christensen's Trouble). Sam Lipsyte's The Ask belongs in this group too, only I read it in the form of an advance reading copy in 2009!

I thoroughly enjoyed Justin Cronin's The Passage, and do not agree with the verdict of it offered in this hilarious albeit mean-spirited list of the 10 worst novels of 2010 (but I do agree with one of his assessments, a book I read only a chunk of but disliked so much I haven't even mentioned it on my blog!).

Lewis Shiner's Black & White (you can get here for free!) is stunningly good and generically unplaceable; it could have been published as literary fiction or crime or fantasy, it is just when it comes down to it an excellent novel.

I liked Sebastian Faulks' Human Traces quite a bit, only it is sadder and thus less fully immersive than some of his other novels; I also enjoyed Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood.

Connie Willis's Blackout and All Clear, highly recommended but with the proviso that they are definitely really one long novel and should be read consecutively. I also finally read Octavia Butler's Seed to Harvest books, which are much to my taste.

Some rereads: Mary Renault's Alexander books, favorite novels by Cintra Wilson and Helen DeWitt and Alan Hollinghurst. Also, and amazingly immersively (especially the first, which is one of my favorite novels of all time): War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

I continued to read Thomas Bernhard with amazement; this year's discovery was The Loser.

I loved, loved, loved reading Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolo and Lymond books; they are not my perfect books, there is something overly complex (almost abstruse) about them, but they are spectacularly good light reading, particularly because of volume. Am tempted to get them for my Kindle and periodically reread; would be nice, anyway, to know that they were there for an emergency! (Also thinking about purchasing Susan Howatch's books for same purposes - or Trollope would work too...)

I also loved Donna Tartt's The Little Friend.

Sigrid Nunez's new novel Salvation City could (appealingly) have been published as YA. Joshilyn Jackson's Backseat Saints is a good example of a book that only contingencies of publishing stopped from making literary fiction/best of year lists.

I loved two strange novels about open-water swimming by Jenifer Levin, Water Dance and The Sea of Light. 2010 turned into a year in which I didn't swim nearly as much as I would have liked, but I will hope to remedy this in 2011...

I discovered F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack novels and Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series.

Elif Batuman's The Possessed was quite magical; it even reminded me of my favorite novel of all time, Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows! John Waters' Role Models was also altogether charming.

Some good nonfiction I read (I always read a ton more novels, though): Claire Tomalin's Pepys biography; Loic Wacquant's Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer, which made me wish I were a sociologist. Michael Lewis's The Blind Side does not have the depth of either of those two, but I enjoyed it a great deal, despite knowing virtually nothing about football.

Two other important books for me this year as I began work on a new novel: Andrew Dolkart's book about the architectural history of Morningside Heights and the really wonderful book Pervasive Games: Theory and Design (and to a lesser extent the book by 'Ninjalicious' called Access All Areas); also, of course, the Euripides play The Bacchae, which I think I might reread for the eighth or ninth time later this afternoon.

New and newish books by Jo Walton, Diana Wynne Jones (one of my particular all-time literary heroes), Robin McKinley and Terry Pratchett in the fantasy/YA realm (and I also finally got around to reading the fourth installment of Lian Hearn's lovely Tales of the Otori), and by a host of excellent crime writers already known to me: Kate Atkinson, Ken Bruen, Lee Child (times two!), Robert Crais, Tana French, Deon Meyer, Arnaldur Indridason. Also read, for the first time, the crime fiction of Liz Rigbey, Caroline Carver, David Levien, Ake Edwardsson, Asa Larsson, C. J. Sansom and Jo Nesbo.

Joe Hill's Horns was very good but not as much to my particular personal tastes as Heart-Shaped Box. Robert Harris's Pompeii was not at all bad but not as good as his best books. I liked Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim novels very much indeed. Jilly Cooper's Jump! did not live up to my hopes but was still an enjoyable read.

I was mesmerized and delighted by Keith Richards's Life.

I thought Kristen Hersh's Rat Girl was a considerably better book than Patti Smith's Just Kids.

Indispensable: Gail Steketee and Randy Frost's Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.

I enjoyed autobiographies by Monica Seles and Andre Agassi (the latter is particularly worthwhile), as well as Nick Flynn's Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. And like many other readers, I was fascinated and touched Tony Judt's memoirs, composed and published in pieces in the last months before he died of ALS.

I am sure I have left some important things out, but these are some of the books I loved in 2010....

Production of quota

c. 1,200 words, for a total of 28,260 words

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Production of quota

c. 2,000 words, for a total of 27,042 words.

An aside: it seems clear to me that the blog is a medium curiously well suited to my modes and interests (I include Tumblr-type things under the category of blogs, but not Twitter, which I cannot find any way of feeling enthusiastic about, either as consumer or producer).

I quite like Facebook, though I wouldn't miss it much if it suddenly went away again; but the thing I most regret about it is that it seems clear that most people strongly prefer a social media-Facebook-type format to blogging - whereas to my mind, the way a blog lets you get to know its author over time is uniquely appealing, and the expressive possibilities of blogging also seem unmatched by anything Facebook and its ilk have to offer.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I have two good links to offer that come by way of Facebook status updates: a vegetable orchestra (courtesy of Charles Flatt); the eclipse in Biblical and Mesopotamian thought (courtesy of Seth Sanders). Alas, I fear it is the end of an era...

Monkey College!

Capuchin monkeys trained as service animals. (Via Brent, who saw it at Naked Capitalism.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Edible crayons (via BoingBoing).

Production of quota

Immensely relieved to be back on a more regular schedule.

Enjoyable, too, to be writing again in the first person.

Briefly stymied by fact that I am now close to 'real time' (almanac-style - it is said that Tom Jones is the first novel composed with an almanac and accurate details about the stages of the moon on particular nights and in particular locations), and have to take into account as I write of Dec. 22 and 23 in New York what the weather actually was.

I must say that I have a pang that I have missed this blizzard, though I am very glad not to have been affected by airline disruptions; I guess I will have to use my imagination when I get to the days after Xmas. (This site is handy.)

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 23,268 words

"A Sentence is not emotional a paragraph is"

At the Independent, Jenny Landreth celebrates the joys of cold-water swimming.

Ed Park on the book-length sentence - and readers offer more examples.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Production of quota

Circumstances did not seem hospitable to the production of quota (I am in the overly quiet little lounge in the Cayman Airport waiting for the Tampa flight to board, I am happiest working in a cafe with light buzz of conversation and movement around me), but Brent in his unassuming way seemed to think it would be a good idea if I tried to squeeze out a few words, and in fact it was easy as pie, it came very painlessly for once: c. 1000 words, for a total of 22,246 words.

At times it is a good thing to be flexible, but it seems to me plausible that the next couple weeks contain enough other disruptions and uncertainties that it will behoove me to cleave to the system of quota production with considerable rigidity...

Light reading has been ongoing; the Kindle is a lifesaver for island living! Nothing of particular substance, but all very enjoyable and very much the sort of thing I like: the two latest installments in Laurie King's Sherlock Holmes series, The Language of Bees and The God of the Hive; two thrillers by Chelsea Cain (the serial killer business is - as is often the case - fundamentally implausible, but the characters are very well-drawn and the writing's appealingly sharp), Heartsick and Sweetheart; and the first two books by Andrew Grant (brother of Lee Child), Even and Die Twice. Interesting to contemplate the phenomenon of sibling authors and the similarities of their choices (it seems clear to me in this case that it is more a question of similar choices independently made than of influence). I am fairly certain that my brother M. will never write a novel, but I still hold out hope that my other brother might do so one of these days!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Production of quota

Day 16: c. 1,600 words, for a total of 18,923 words.

This (slightly to my surprise) brings the first section of the novel to an end: I had initially pictured a sort of archival assemblage as the novel's structural framework; now I think I start to see how this first piece might fit together with others....

(Tomorrow I get to - have to - start a new bit; not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but probably it is good, albeit slightly nerve-racking: it will be a first-person narrative told by the character of my main three who is thus far the most unsympathetic and the most opaque in terms of motivation....)


Not a testament to my photographic skills or steadiness of hand, more just a memento of presence - but it was wondrous to behold...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Production of quota

c. 1000 words, for a total of 16,209 words.

I am having two problems with this book, or rather two different aspects of a single problem strike me as I proceed through these early stages of writing: first of all, it is easier for me to write scenes in which people describe or imagine the games they are creating as opposed to scenes in which the games are actually played, leading to a fairly 'talky' effect; second, I am still a little vague as to what other elements will be included aside from game-playing, so that I really more generally need to find more ways of getting the characters out of living rooms and conversations and actually doing things!

(I think that tomorrow the main 'viewpoint' character will go to a yoga class...)

However I also believe it will be wise to continue with the straightforward production-of-quota method rather than stopping to reevaluate; it is much easier to revise an existing draft than to pull things out of the ether, and I need to get as much of this book down on paper as possible before school starts after the MLK holiday in January.

I was happy to find out that the essay on Restoration theater and the novel is not in fact due till the end of February, which makes me hopeful that I might be able to continue on a more-or-less daily quota basis all the way through until the middle of February or the existence of a full draft, whichever comes sooner.

(It will be more difficult once I'm teaching again, but not, I think, impossible. It is true, though, that one needs to be sensible about how many different quota-type obligations one can appropriately assume; certain exercise goals, for instance, have a bit of the same flavor.)

So: quota-writing through to the point of having as complete a draft of BOMH as possible, and in the meantime, once I'm back in New York, I will embark on the necessary syllabus-tweaking and on the reading and research for the theater-and-the-novel essay; mid-February drafting of that essay, to send out before the end of the month; then a revision of the little book on style, which shouldn't take too long but will need my full attention for a couple successive marathon writing and editing weekends.

I have a lovely vacation scheduled to take place over spring break in mid-March (a tour of various wildlife sites in Costa Rica), so if I can get all these things done by then it would really and truly feel like a justified reward; and then when I get back from Costa Rica, it's buckling down for the end of the semester and also the start of a thirteen-week Ironman training plan.

I am registered for a new race for 2011 to replace the one I had to cancel this year; I have been very doubtful as to whether it would be something I could realistically execute, but now I am feeling more myself and it seems possible, indeed something worth striving for. It is Ironman Coeur d'Alene, and it takes place on June 26, 2011.

This has been a hard year for me, partly simply because of getting so much less done than I had imagined/hoped; but it might be that it will be the end of next summer and I will have both the style book and the Bacchae novel finished and accepted for publication, and an Ironman race under my belt: I am at any rate keeping this in mind as a clear goal to shoot for. It is foolish to judge oneself on the basis of accomplishments, very often they are by no means a productive measure for self-evaluation, but it is still a difficult mindset for someone like me to get out of...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fifteen things

At the Millions, some things about my year in reading.

(NB I started writing a list titled "Ten things about my year in reading," only list-making has a natural tendency to escalate!")

Mystery cheats anonymous

Quota seemed as though it might fall victim to the false sense of accomplishment that comes from doing a ninety-minute treadmill run, but in the end it did get produced: c. 1,100 words, for a total of 15,234 words....

A good link: Music Machinery on what the Kindle might tell Amazon about how we're reading!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The icing on the cake

The excellent Sara Ryan, author among other things of an appealing YA novel called Empress of the World, sent me imaginative and funny interview questions and has posted the results on her blog.

Another good bit: The Explosionist led Tanita Davis at Finding Wonderland to explore Sophie's Edinburgh!

Lining up good things for New York in January: Metamorphoses at the Flea; Doveman: The Burgundy Stain Sessions at (Le) Poisson Rouge; The Beast Boot Camp at Chelsea Piers! Also, TNYA's one-hour swim and tickets to see Derek Jacobi at BAM later in the spring; shades of my teenage self....

Jakkes of Dover

Tom Nealon on eating Chaucer.

Production of quota

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 14,117 words.

I am beginning to get a dim glimpse of the novel's overall proportions, but am still without a sense of how long it will end up being; if it were going to be 60,000 words, though (which is short but not excessively so), I'd be almost a quarter of the way through....

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Production of quota

It was mildly alarming that at lunchtime I still showed no sign of producing quota, but I hied myself to Cafe del Sol and sat down and suddenly thought of some things that would happen next, including a couple of scenes that should fall about two-thirds of the way through the book (I will wait and write these when I get there, that is unless I end up completely drawing a blank in the meantime) and that will initiate the final sweep of the drama....

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 13,059 words

Bonus link: I was delighted to be interviewed for Figment's Getting Rilke feature! (Thanks are due to Lauren Cerand.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wonky webs

At the LRB blog, Nick Richardson on a Wellcome exhibit on the history and culture of mind-altering drugs. No pictures at that site of the webs spiders build on drugs, alas, but I am intrigued by the image galleries. Below: a wonderfully grotesque 1881 image of a "morphinomaniac" with abscesses resulting from subcutaneous injection (close your eyes if you are squeamish!)...

Production of quota

I let the rest of the morning slip away from me after starting it with a nice little run, but packed up my things and took 'em to the coffee shop around lunchtime and do seem now to have eked out today's quota: c. 1,103 words, for a total of 10,862 words.

It's a bit patchy, but the good thing about that is that rounding things out and writing the subsequent scene properly will take me through tomorrow as well...

(I am alarmed to see the highly curtailed nature of holiday cafe hours!)

Good Invisible Things publicity: Leila Roy at the Kirkus blog; Aquafortis at Finding Wonderland; and perhaps the best thing for my morale, this post in which a reader bucks the trend and actually enjoys Invisible Things "even more" than The Explosionist!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Caviar, champagne, beards

Miscellaneous light reading: N. K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (loved it and have downloaded the next installment), Gail Godwin's Unfinished Desires, a recommendation from Jo Walton (it did indeed make me want to read more novels about nuns), Liza Marklund's Studio Sex (the 'twist' involved in the journal entries is perhaps a bit too obvious from the start, but nonetheless very much the kind of book I like).

Also, the first two books in Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time sequence. These are so much beloved by a couple of my blogging friends (Levi Stahl, Ed Park) that I resolved to give 'em a chance (I have always meant to read them since I first heard about them in Anthony Burgess's 99 Novels - by the way, a previously unknown [and on the whole undistinguished] work of AB's has been unearthed - but never quite took to them when I tried); the University of Chicago Press has released the whole sequence in electronic editions, and the first installment is currently available for free.

I dislike many things about the voice and the milieu, but I realized as I reviewed my year in reading that some of my best experiences in reading this year involved immersive long novels of a sort that do not grow on trees (Dorothy Dunnett, War and Peace), and that Powell's would be worth a pop. I do not find it intellectually and stylistically engaging in the way of Proust, and it also seems to me much less interesting than Henry James in terms of these questions about what one understands at the time versus later on, but there's definitely something addictive: I've downloaded the next four onto the Kindle and certainly plan to read the rest of the sequence in coming weeks.

Something about the style definitely continues to irk me: I marked passages as I read that seemed to me both remarkable and annoying. Here's a good example from the first installment:
On the whole it could not be said that one felt better for Uncle Giles's visit. He brought with him some fleeting suggestion, always welcome at school, of an outside world; though against this had to be weighed the disturbing impact of home-life in school surroundings: even home-life in its diminished and undomestic embodiment represented by my uncle. He was a relation: a being who had in him perhaps some of the same essence that went towards forming oneself as a separate entity. Would one's adult days be spent in worrying about the Trust? What was he going to do at Reading? Did he manage to have quite a lot of fun, or did he live in perpetual hell? These were things to be considered. Some apology for his sudden appearance seemed owed to Stringham: after that, I might try to do some work to be dealt with over the weekend.
I suppose part of the slight embarrassment of reading a passage like this is that the naive narrator is never really fully cast off - the novel's ongoing playfulness about youthful versus slightly older misapprehensions makes the reader (a reader like me?) uncomfortable. The work I am most reminded of, though superficially nothing like it, is Pope's Essay on Man, a poem I particularly dislike because of the trouble it takes to develop an elaborate and fluent idiom that seems to me overequipped given the relative banality and commonplace nature of the thoughts therein expressed!

These passages from the second installment will give a clearer sense of the quality I'm both struck and troubled by:
I must have been about twenty-one or twenty-two at the time, and held then many rather wild ideas on the subject of women: conceptions largely the result of having read a good deal without simultaneous opportunity to modify by personal experience the recorded judgment of others upon that matter: estimates often excellent in their conclusions if correctly interpreted, though requiring practical knowledge to be appreciated at their full value.
In business, at least in a small way, he had begun to 'make a bit' on his own, and there seemed no reason to disbelieve his account of himself as looked upon in his firm as a promising young man. In fact, it appeared that Peter, so far from becoming the outcast from society prophesied by our housemaster, Le Bas, now showed every sign of being about to prove himself a notable success in life: an outcome that seemed to demand another of those revisions of opinion, made every day more necessary, in relation to such an enormous amount of material, accepted as incontrovertible at an earlier period of practical experience.

All the same, although still far from appreciating many of the finer points of Mrs. Andriadis's party--for there were, of course, finer points to be appreciated in retrospect--and, on the whole, no less ignorant of what the elements there present had consisted, I was at the same time more than half aware that such latitudes are entered by a door through which there is, in a sense, no return. The lack of ceremony that had attended our arrival, and the fact of being so much in the dark as to the terms upon which the party was being given, had been both, in themselves, a trifle embarrassing; but, looking back on the occasion, armed with later knowledge of individual affiliations among the guests, there is no reason to suppose that mere awareness of everyone's identity would have been calculated to promote any greater feeling of ease: if anything, rather the reverse. The impact of entertainments given by people like Mrs. Andriadis, as I learnt in due course, depends upon rapidly-changing personal relationships; so that to be apprised suddenly of the almost infinite complication of such associations--if any such omniscience could, by some magical means, have been imparted--without being oneself, even at a distance, at all involved, might have been a positive handicap, perhaps a humiliating one, to enjoyment.
The periphrasis is so noncommittal, ultimately! But there are some good moments, and I am slightly tempted to adopt the artist Barnby's excuse as a catchphrase: "The dust must have confused my powers of differentiation. . . ."

Production of quota

Today: 1,084 words, for a total of 7,129 words. Fighting towards five digits!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Production of quota

c. 1280, for a total of 6032 words.

(In The Explosionist and Invisible Things, I could follow the useful advice that if things seem to have gotten a bit boring, you can always blow something up; in this novel, it's not generically applicable as a solution, but on the other hand it is always possible to send one's characters to a party....)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Deadwood legends

A cool bit at Wired Science about the afterlife of the Homestake gold mine as a physics lab: this is the mythology of my childhood, my father worked on that project for some years in the 1980s at Penn and had a stint actually living in South Dakota while they built the original neutrino-detection tank! The museum sounds as though it will be highly worthwhile; I have long had a yen to visit that part of the world due to the great impression Laura Ingalls Wilder's books made on me as a young child....

Production of quota

Significantly less painful than yesterday.

c. 1595 words, for a total of 4715 words

"I diet on cod"

A great obituary for Peter Hilton, one of the Bletchley Park codebreakers.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Better late than never

The whole afternoon got caught up in research, but I quailed at the notion of giving up on the quota system so early in the month, and buckled down in the early evening to produce the day's allotment....

c. 1160 words, for total of 3164 words

Procrastinatory tidbits

At the NYRB blog, James Gleick ponders the OED's new and novella-length entry for the word "information."

At the LRB, Michael Wood reflects on linguistic similarities and differences between Lewis Carroll and James Joyce (the piece also quotes, appealingly, a pun from Walter Redfern's book, which I now covet but do not think I will be able to get electronically: "A person who has been given bits of greenery for her birthday instead of the colourful flowers she was hoping for decides to make the best of things. She says: ‘With fronds like these, who needs anemones?’").

As the world comes into its proper alignment!

Just one of those funny little moments....

Probably the thing I find hardest about being in Cayman is lack of near-instantaneous access to the wonderful Columbia library system. After twenty-plus years of having this kind of access at one library or another, I take it almost for granted; I am always running over in the hour before the library closes to grab an armful of books from the stacks.

This morning it suddenly came to me that Julius Chambers's journalistic expose of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum was the book I most wanted to get my hands on in all the world (at least vis-a-vis immediate research imperatives of TBOMS). I grumpily inveighed to myself against Google Books when it seemed that I couldn't get it there, regretted that there wasn't an electronic version in the Columbia Library catalog, was about to pay good dollars for an electronic copy elsewhere and then, magically, realized that I could get a scanned PDF copy of Chambers' A Mad World and Its Inhabitants for free at Kobo Books. I have now transferred it to my Kindle for easy reading in a reclining position, as the early stages of novel-writing always make me feel that I would be able to concentrate better if I were lying down with my eyes closed.

Yes, this search and acquisition process can be much streamlined - really I want to be able to do everything through the library homepage and/or Google and Amazon, I need a simplified interface and a real catalog that will integrate different sources into a single e-book source, but it is still very good, this is the world I thought I should be living in when I was a child in the 1970s dependent on others for physical access to libraries and with that terrible sense of literary scarcity best summed up in these lovely and painful words of Randall Jarrell's!

(Haven't yet written the day's quota, unfortunately - got diverted onto the more enjoyable and easy task of doing research. But it must be eked out before the hour of midnight, that is the rule....)

Confirmed, rumored

Infographic of Columbia University's underground tunnels...

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The magic circle

I have to warn you that it is a PDF, but Johanna Koljonen's description of the production by "larpwrights" Martin Ericsson and Christopher Sandberg of the last three acts of Hamlet as a three-day live-action role-playing game in Stockholm in 2002 is a fascinating read.

(On a lighter note, I am still disappointed and mildly outraged that the Clydesdale Hamlet does not feature a redacted performance of Shakespeare's play with gigantic horses in the lead roles!)

As I've researched the topic, the three games I've found myself most intrigued by and attracted to are (from simplest to most complex) the Japanese location-based game Mogi, the Swedish game Momentum and the aforementioned Hamlet; I am not for the most part a gamer myself, though I suspect that if I hadn't taken part in Tino Sehgal's "This Situation" I might not be writing this novel about games.

Day 2: c. 1200 words, 2058 words total.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Media blackouts

Wesley Yang finds Nassim Taleb digging in his heels at the notion of having to promote another book...

December resolutions

Non-momentous, but I've just written the first 1,109 words (I am typing straight onto the computer, contrary to my usual practice of drafting with pen or pencil on paper) of my new novel.

I am determined to claw back some sense of accomplishment out of the month of December; I am setting a very modest daily quota of 1,000 words, starting today, and I would like to return to New York on Jan. 5 with something on the order of a third of the book drafted.

If I could keep up the daily momentum and plough on forward with the draft (this will depend partly on how clearly I see the novel's through-line but also on the extent to which other things overwhelm me once I'm back 'in school,' including an essay for the Oxford Companion to the Novel on theater and eighteenth-century fiction - this one's due sometime in February, though I have conveniently forgotten exactly when - and the long-deferred revision of the little book on style), I could have a complete version of the story by the beginning of the summer, with a good chunk of time in July and August to revise it and get it ready to send out before the beginning of the school year?

Not at all certain about this (the whole thing might evaporate and turn out not to be worth executing in the first place!), but I think it is worth trying for....

Monday miscellany

Death at age 98 of a Danish actor said to have been a model for Tintin.

The desk of Oliver Sacks (thanks to Dave Lull).

An Explosionist review, an Invisible Things review.

Suggestive excerpts from Jonathan Franzen's "art of fiction" interview in the forthcoming Paris Review.

A mighty appealing essay by Alexander Chee about book surpluses, e-readers and a life of reading.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The diplomatic bag

Andy Martin does a hilariously good interview with Lee Child for The Independent, including a moniker origin-story that I'd never heard before:
The origin of his name goes back to a mid-1970s train ride in the US. He and his wife fell into conversation with an American who told them that he owned a "European" car. It turned out to be a Renault 5, marketed in the US – to give it a certain Parisian chic – as "Le Car". But the friendly American said: "Lee Car". After that, "Lee" became their surrogate definite article: "Can you pass lee butter, please," and so on. When he and his wife had a baby, the kid was inevitably nicknamed "Lee Child". "I was looking for a name that was short, crisp and memorable," he says. Lee Child (Snr) was born.
It is well known to regular readers in these parts that I think Lee Child is a genius of light reading; he is also a genius of (or at least signal innovator in) publicity, witness the recent Reacher Ambassador campaign! I was invited by Lee's longtime publicist Maggie Griffin to become a "Reacher Ambassador," and seized the opportunity; in my office at Columbia is a box full of copies of the book pictured below (one of those slightly-unsightly-in-its-handling-proportions elongated mass-market paperbacks), and if you see me in New York in coming months (I have a plane ticket from Cayman to JFK on January 5) you should ask me for one...

(Given how few novel ideas there are out there about how to publicize good books, this seems to me an excellent one - give away an earlier installment in the series to hook new readers who will purchase or at least obtain all the others. I don't think the first installment in the series is as good as the later ones - I liked it very much when I read it, but it didn't exude that crack-like addictive aura that the few-volumes-later ones did, and I don't know that it would be the best choice for the give-away - but I see why this one was chosen out of recent installments. I think I would have picked Die Trying, personally; my favorite two are Persuader and The Enemy, but each is slightly anomalous in its way and probably wouldn't have been the best choice.)
(Apologies for the flash - I was too impatient to remind myself properly how to turn it off...)

Also: Jack Reacher recently made my list of the fifteen most memorable fictional characters that I could think of off the top of my head who had notionally influenced me (why, though, didn't I think of Sherlock Holmes?).

"I am sensitive about the word glue"

They invented the Post-It note! (FT site registration required.)

Books not bombs

Great Expectations; Hard Times...