Saturday, January 29, 2011

Production of quota

I had gotten almost to the end earlier, but then L. came by to pick me up for an excursion and I had to tear myself away from my desk!

c. 1,600 words, for a total of 61,139 words.

The draft is complete!

There are all sorts of things wrong with it: I do think it will need some sort of a conclusion, and also there are various errors of pacing and plotting that arise from this method of writing without really knowing how things go; that will all need some serious fixing later on. I think I will perhaps just read through it once on the computer tomorrow morning and change any very obvious minor mistakes or misphrasings I see, then put it aside to 'rest'. But it is a huge relief to have such a thing as a draft to work with; revision is certainly arduous in its own way, but it is more compatible with life during a teaching semester, I find the effort required to stay on the system of quota production is really needed for other things in the middle of the school year.

I will probably revise in the weeks after spring break and try and get it to my agent sometime in April; that would be good...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tourism as hygienic precaution

From Mann's Death In Venice, translated by Michael Henry Heim:
The soothing regularity of this existence quickly cast a spell over him: he was charmed by the soft, resplendent benignancy of it all. What a place indeed, combining as it did the appeal of a refined southern seaside resort with a strange, wondrous city in intimate proximity! Aschenbach did not care for pleasure. Whenever and wherever he was called upon to let his hair down, take things easy, enjoy himself, he soon--especially in his younger years--felt restless and ill at ease and could not wait to return to his noble travail, the sober sanctuary of his daily routine. It was the only place that could enchant him, relax his will, make him happy.
(It is obnoxious, but I feel compelled to note that Michael Cunningham's introduction to this edition is exceptionally weak.)

Hello goodbye

At the LRB, Peter Pomerantsev on other things that happened at Moscow Domededovo Airport.

"The Pembrokeshire council begs to differ"

Another big cat sighting!

Production of quota

c. 1,700 words, for a total of 59,534 words.

I was hoping I would perhaps (this is crazy!) finish this morning; but in fact, though I have written a good chunk, there still remains the crucial important culminating scene to write, the forty minutes' or an hour's worth of events that needs to be described to fill in the gap between where I have got to and the last little bit of the novel which I wrote weeks ago so as to get it down on the page while it was still clear to me. And it did not seem like a good idea to rush it, especially as my concentration is by now seriously flagging!

I am going to just spend the weekend cleaning the draft up a bit in very minor ways, and then let it sit for a month or two; I think I will be able to do a better revision if I let some time pass and gain perspective on it. I may not be able to get back to it until March, I'm not sure. It makes me anxious to let things sit, it is tempting to spend a few extra days and send it out to my agent right away, but I know letting it sit is the right thing to do!

(There is probably going to need to be some sort of a "postscript" section, and that I think I'll wait to write until I have done an initial revision on the whole thing and have a clearer sense of what strictly speaking still needs to be told. On the other hand I really like the way the story ends very abruptly, not unexpectedly but with a death that will in some sense not be investigated or ever fully explained, and I wonder if those bits of story that would otherwise serve as postscript might somehow be folded in to the earlier parts of the story; this might be something I have to test on readers?)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Production of quota

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 57,888 words.

No time to write more this morning, but I might try for a longer than usual session tomorrow - it is coming very close to the end. Then I could take the weekend days to clean things up a bit and put the draft aside for some weeks to 'settle.' I need to get started reading for the essay on Restoration theater and the novel, and I am also wondering whether I shouldn't revise the little book on style before coming back to the novel draft and spending some weeks revising it and getting it ready to send out. That is going to be quite a bit of work, I am suspecting, and it would be tempting to do what I can with the style book and send it back out so as not to have both things on my desk at once...


Nico considers the false opposition between schooled and unschooled composers.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Johnny Cash ticket

I saw a fantastically good show earlier this evening; it was a small venue and a relatively little-known singer-songwriter, Pete Sturman at Dixon Place on the Lower East Side, but the quality of the material and the performance would have warranted filling a much larger venue.

Anyway, just a great catalog of songs, a very nice mix of the moving and the comical; the one that makes the tears run down my face (partly because I first heard it not long after our mutual friend Helen Hill died, indeed at her memorial, and because it so strongly makes me think of her, but also just because it is a very good song) is "Wasn't Plannin' on Leavin'". It is a good reminder, too, of the perfection of things on a small scale - this is what the popular song can do, no other genre or mode that I can think of does quite the same thing, it is very lovely and I wish I wrote and sang such things myself!

(Am actually very tempted to get one of the little electric ukeleles that guest performers Sonic Uke were playing...)

Light reading around the edges: Emma Donogue's Room (very good, surely justly deserved to be the huge bestseller it has been); Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad (engaging, memorable, it actually belonged in a talk I heard the other day only perhaps it has been written too recently to have made its way in). Curiously both books make something of the word contrail; I would say I had rarely seen this term in fiction, only of course the reason I noticed it in Egan was having just seen it foregrounded in Donoghue...

(I am trying to "read up" a lot of things I put on my Kindle and then didn't quite get to - seeking an "inbox zero"-type level of purity and cleanliness over there!)

The grass is greener

Sod as photographic medium.

Production of quota

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 56,803 words.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"The nail of Nome"

Gene sequencing retroactively corroborates Nabokov's controversial thesis about the evolution of the Polyommatus blues (the piece is by Carl Zimmer for the New York Times):
At the end of a 1945 paper on the group, he mused on how they had evolved. He speculated that they originated in Asia, moved over the Bering Strait, and moved south all the way to Chile.

Allowing himself a few literary flourishes, Nabokov invited his readers to imagine “a modern taxonomist straddling a Wellsian time machine.” Going back millions of years, he would end up at a time when only Asian forms of the butterflies existed. Then, moving forward again, the taxonomist would see five waves of butterflies arriving in the New World.

Nabokov conceded that the thought of butterflies making a trip from Siberia to Alaska and then all the way down into South America might sound far-fetched. But it made more sense to him than an unknown land bridge spanning the Pacific. “I find it easier to give a friendly little push to some of the forms and hang my distributional horseshoes on the nail of Nome rather than postulate transoceanic land-bridges in other parts of the world,” he wrote.

Donut art

Jennifer Rubell's "Old-Fashioned":

Production of quota

c. 1,100 words, for a total of 55,830 words. Getting near...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Eighteenth-century comparative novel

This course encompasses a series of readings in the eighteenth-century European novel. Style, narratology, the “rise” of realism and the history of novel criticism will all figure in our discussions; the seminar offers a theoretical rather than a thoroughly historical survey, and should serve as groundwork for considering questions about style and the novel in other periods and national traditions.

The novels (available here):

Mme de Lafayette, The Princesse de Cleves (Penguin)
Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (Norton)
Prevost, Manon Lescaut (Oxford World’s Classics, hereafter “Oxford”)
Richardson, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (Oxford)
Sterne, Tristram Shandy (Penguin)
Sterne, A Sentimental Journey (Oxford)
Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist (Oxford)
Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther (Modern Library)
Rousseau, Confessions (Oxford)
Laclos, Dangerous Liaisons (Penguin)
De Sade, Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom and Other Writings (Grove)

The criticism:

Viktor Shklovsky, “The Novel as Parody,” in Theory of Prose (1929), trans. Benjamin Sher, intro. Gerald L. Bruns (Dalkey Archive Press, 1990), 147-170.

Samuel Johnson, Rambler No. 4.

Franco Moretti, from The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture, as excerpted in Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach, ed. Michael McKeon (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 2000), 554-65.

Wayne Booth, “Telling as Showing: Dramatized Narrators, Reliable and Unreliable,” from The Rhetoric of Fiction, 2nd ed. (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1983), 211-40.

Erich Auerbach, “Odysseus’ Scar,” from Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton UP, 2003), 3-23.

Ian Watt, from The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding, as given in Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach, ed. Michael McKeon (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 2000), 363-381.

Tzvetan Todorov, “Primitive Narrative” and “The Grammar of Narrative,” in The Poetics of Prose, trans. Richard Howard (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977), 53-65, 108-119.

Tom Keymer, Richardson’s Clarissa and the Eighteenth-Century Reader (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992), 1-15.

Gilles Deleuze, “Coldness and Cruelty,” in Masochism (New York: Zone Books, 1999).

Terry Eagleton, from Literary Theory: An Introduction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 91-126.

Gérard Genette, from Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, transl. Jane E. Lewin (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1980), 212-262.

Mieke Bal, from Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, 2nd ed. (Toronto, Buffalo and London: U of Toronto P, 1997), 16-77.

Dorrit Cohn, from Transparent Minds: Narratives Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction, as excerpted in Theory of the Novel, ed. McKeon, 493-514.

Stephen M. Ross, from Fiction’s Inexhaustible Voice: Speech and Writing in Faulkner (Athens and London: U of Georgia P, 1989), 1-17.

Deviating from the script

At the Paris Review, Wesley Yang contemplates tiger mothers and other things.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Aside from the story I am trying to tell in my novel, I also have a story to tell in each of the two classes I'm teaching this semester. I'll post the novel syllabus tomorrow after the first class has met, I think; I still need to put together the course reader for that and drop it off at the xerox shop in the next day or two.

The reader for the drama course is done, though; I dropped it off around 8pm on Friday night after a rather frenzied day of running around town. In addition to these required books (that's about eight plays altogether) and various stuff that we'll read online through the Columbia library system (including DNB entries for Garrick and Colley Cibber and a good chunk of Cibber's landmark autobiography), the reader includes these materials:

Erving Goffman, chapter one (“Performances”), The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York: Anchor Doubleday, [1959]), 17-76.

William Wycherley, The Plain Dealer (1677), from The Plays of William Wycherley, ed. Peter Holland (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

Aphra Behn, The Second Part of the Rover (1681), from The Works of Aphra Behn, ed. Janet Todd, vol. 6: The Plays, 1678-1682 (London: William Pickering, 1996).

William Congreve, Love for Love (1694), from The Complete Plays of William Congreve, ed. Herbert Davis (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1967).

John Dryden, All for Love: or, The World Well Lost (1678), from The Works of John Dryden, vol. 13: Plays (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985).

Excerpts on acting styles given in David Thomas and Arnold Hare, eds., Restoration and Georgian England, 1660-1778 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 166-173 and 341-358.

[David Garrick], An Essay on Acting (London: W. Bickerton, 1746).

Denis Diderot, “Paradox on Acting,” in Diderot’s Selected Writings, ed. Lester G. Crocker, trans. Derek Coltman (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 318-329.

Joseph Roach, chapter two (“Nature Still, But Nature Mechanized”), The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (1985; rpt. Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press, 1993), 58-92.

Marcel Mauss, “Techniques of the Body,” in Techniques, Technology and Civilisation, ed. Nathan Schlanger (New York and Oxford: Durkheim Press/Berghahn Books, 2009), pp. 77-95.

Peter Holland, “Hearing the Dead: The Sound of David Garrick,” in Players, Playwrights, Playhouses: Investigating Performance, 1660-1800, ed Michael Cordner and Peter (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 248-270.

David Garrick, The Country Girl (1766), from The Plays of David Garrick, Vol. 7: Garrick’s Own Plays, 1757-1773, ed. Harry William Pedicord (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982).

David Garrick, The Jubilee (1769), from The Plays of David Garrick, Vol. 2: Garrick's Own Plays, 1767 – 1775, ed. Harry William Pedicord and Fredrick Louis Bergmann (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980).

Production of quota

c. 1,500 words, for a total of 54,722 words.

My head is going to explode if I don't finish this draft within the next week or so - I've got too many balls in the air!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


No quota today - I couldn't fit it in between extra boot camp and meeting my dad to go and see the excellent production of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman at BAM - it doesn't seem to have been especially warmly reviewed, but I thought it was great!

(I like Ibsen - wished I could retroactively have replaced Mary Louise Parker in that awful Hedda Gabler the other year with Lindsay Duncan, who would surely have been spectacular.)

The play slightly falls apart in its conclusion, I think, but I found it extremely compelling (hard not to think of the Madoffs, too), and they've also got a gorgeous set. Very good stuff.

(And a nice brunch-type meal beforehand at Scopello; I had the potato and onion frittata, which came with small sides of potato wedges, bacon and salad, and my dad had the eggs benedict with similar sides and an extra side of smoked salmon!)

And this is not related to the preceding in any way, shape or form, but here's a snippet from Deborah Eisenberg's early story "Broken Glass" that I was struck by the other day when I was dipping into her collected stories:
I judged him to be in his late fifties, and he would have been quite good-looking, I thought, except that his face seemed to have been stamped by a habit of geniality and then left unattended.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Frankenstein-level editing

At the FT (site registration required), Shirley Apthorp on two men's quest to reproduce Grieg's performances of nine of his own works:
And so Harrison, who harbours a lifelong fascination with old recordings, embarked on a project to reconstruct Grieg’s playing to the point that it was comprehensible for the modern listener. Digital remastering, he decided, would not do.

“When you first listen to it, all you hear is noise. There are various software solutions for noise reduction. But in the end, you can’t have your cake and eat it. When you take out noise, you also take out tiny bits of information, and it’s incredible how sensitive we are to that kind of information. The best computer we have is the human brain. So I decided to find a low-tech solution to a complex problem.”

In an age before mechanical repetition, before constant noise, before continuous acceleration, did people have a different sense of time? Grieg’s playing is a glimpse of an utterly different approach to sound in space. Pianists today are nowhere near as free with tempi, as improvisatory yet structured, as subtle.

Production of quota

c. 1,200 words, for a total of 53,228 words.

+: When I opened Word today, I was offered an autosaved version of the draft from Wednesday that let me reclaim my lost words! They will need to be 'reconciled' later on with the subsequent version; I borrow the metaphor if not the exact word from Robbie Hudson's appealing notion of doing an 'audit' on a novel draft before writing the denouement.

-: Very sleepless night last night - I did sleep in the end from 6-9am or so, which is adequate, but it meant I had to miss morning boot camp, which is troublesome! Think I might whisk myself off to the gym now for a midday session; I have an important 4pm meeting on campus, and various administrative duties to do with my courses for the semester (I am compiling a funny and interesting course reader for the drama lecture that needs to get to the copy shop by the end of the day), but if I wait to exercise until the evening, I risk setting myself up for another night of not being able to fall asleep...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Production of quota

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 52,040 words.

I am an idiot, I lost the last couple hundred words I wrote yesterday and had to do them again today - I was disconcerted this morning to find that I had not written a scene I could have sworn I remembered having actually gotten down in words on the page, but put it down to absent-mindedness and overly vivid imagination. The absence at the end of the file of the daily word count subsequently clued me in to the fact that I must not have saved the final version of the document...

(I still haven't gotten fully used to the newer version of Word - it gives you the option to recover a document when you open up the program, but if you don't take it then and there and close up the sidebar, you cannot subsequently retrieve it - and the auto-save function doesn't save into the real file you're working on, just into this fake backup one. And this wouldn't be a problem if my laptop battery didn't seem to have died, so that "hibernate" leads inadvertently to a full shutdown including shutting down of Word and closing of draft file. ARGHHHH!)

On a brighter note: my first lecture yesterday was enjoyable, I am glad to be back in the classroom! - and I saw a great concert last night, the Chiara String Quartet playing music by Nico Muhly and Valgeir Sigursson at Merkin Hall. The final piece on the program was Nico's "Diacritical Marks," a string quartet in eight movements commissioned by the quartet; it is truly lovely, it was a delight to listen to...

Light reading around the edges: Don Winslow's Savages (didn't care for it), Hiromi Goto's Half World (liked it quite a bit).

In between I read further chunks of Anthony Powell; I'm now near the end of volume six. I don't at all begrudge the time, I am finding it a quite enjoyable reading experience and it is remarkably convenient to have it on the Kindle (ideal for subway reading), but I am starting to feel grumpy about how much it costs to read this particular work this way - yes, it's 12 novels, but really it's one long novel, if I pay eight or nine dollars for each section I am spending almost a hundred dollars just to read A Dance to the Music of Time! Considering that you can get the whole of War and Peace for about twelve, that just seems deeply wrong - I think I might have to get the next six volumes from the library, it would certainly be the more prudent choice now that I am back in town.

Finally, the little cat is settling in very nicely, and I think this picture shows the extent to which all now seems right in my little world for the first time since Blackie died in May! I have renamed him Mickey, because I know a cat called Max already and because I wanted an endearing and suitable name that ended in -ey (but also because for the first few days he was here he was definitely a hidden Mickey!):

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tiger shamans

The riskiest honey in the world.


At the TLS, Mairéad Hanrahan on Columbia University Press's new edition of Roland Barthes' notes-cum-teaching script The Preparation of the Novel (mmmm, I have to get this one and read it):
The first paradox is the overwhelming focus in the 1978–9 classes on the haiku, which has exemplary status as a “Notation of the Present”: its extreme brevity enables it to approximate most closely and truthfully to the “instant” that, for Barthes, writing seeks to capture. But the haiku’s instantaneity is also a limit. With no room either for narrative or, especially, for the “interweaving” together of truth and falsehood in fiction, it throws the novel into relief.

Cooking with Fernet Branca

The influence of space exploration on terrestrial food. (Via Alexis Madrigal.)

Production of quota

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 51,060 words.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Production of quota

c. 1,500 words, for a total of 50,009 words.

It was hard to get down to business this morning, my mind is on school starting and on the coming season of training and racing. I don't teach till tomorrow, but I need to sort out final details of syllabus, opening lecture, handouts, etc. for Wednesday's class.

I am coming to the climax of the story now, and it is just as well; I have written the little end bit of this section already, which is the scene I had very vividly in mind from very early on, and I am guessing it is probably about 8,000- to 10,000 words that will take me from where I am to that point. If I keep up quota production until the end of next weekend, in other words, I should have a full draft of sorts.

(It is still unclear to me whether the book just ends there or whether there will be some sort of a final section, perhaps written in the form of a newspaper article or some other kind of archival assemblage, that narrates aftermath and explanation. But I think for now I will stop at that abrupt end, unless things come clearer to me about what the 'real' ending would be. I'll let it sit for a week or so and then revise it over the weekend of Feb. 4-6, just a quick down-and-dirty fixing of obvious inconsistencies and repetitions and so forth, so that I can show it to a few early readers.)

This is not how you do it

I really liked Cathy Day's piece at The Millions on why it's a problem that short stories are so much easier to teach than novels in the context of a fiction workshop (and not just because it had a sentence in it that I felt I could have written myself - it applies to dissertation-writers, too, for whom the chapter-workshopping and chapter conferences sometimes go hugely awry!):
[W]riters of big things, like marathon runners in training, need to go on long runs regularly — alone or in small groups. They need water. They need good running shoes. And every once in awhile, they need someone driving by to beep their horn and give them a thumbs up. What they don’t need is for someone to stop them after the first mile and say, “You know what? Your first step out of the block wasn’t that great. Let’s work on your stride for awhile.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Modern fiction

at the Guardian, Laura Miller on how novels deal with the internet.

Production of quota

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 47,264 words.

(I had to get up early to do it so that I could go footloose and fancy-free to double spin class and lunch thereafter with Lauren, whose MLA adventures I am anxious to hear about.)

In other news: there is a small and shy tuxedo cat hidden somewhere in my apartment! I will take a picture of him in another few days once he has truly emerged, but you can see his mug shot here. His name is Max, and he used to frequent a fruit stall in Brighton Beach. He was friendly with the fruit-stall cat, who lived in a second-floor lair that was protected with an alarm system, and the proprietor of the fruit stand became weary of constantly getting middle-of-the-night phone calls from the police when interloper Max had triggered the motion detectors!

Curb your hypergraphia

Joanne McNeil on the blog in 2011. (Via Bookforum.)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Production of quota

c. 1,100 words, for a total of 46,262 words.

I had a magically good New York evening last night at (Le) Poisson Rouge for Doveman: The Burgundy Stain Sessions. Utterly lovely stuff, much of it quite new to me! And then drinks afterwards at Julius with a bunch of good friends I don't see often enough.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Postscript on preserves

The OED entry for 'marmalade' is unexpectedly poetic. (That link will only work if you are a Columbia affiliate.) The original marmalade: "a preserve consisting of a sweet, solid, quince jelly resembling chare de quince (see chare n.4) but with the spices replaced by flavourings of rose water and musk or ambergris, and cut into squares for eating"; and the figurative uses are lovely:
1592 G. Harvey New Let. in Wks. (1884) I. 280 Euery Periode of her stile carrieth marmalad and sucket in the mouth.

1607 T. Walkington Optick Glasse 53 The marmalade and sucket of the Muses.
And, on a different note:
1949 J. Steinbeck Russ. Jrnl. 179 A passage of clarinet marmalade played in unmistakable Benny Goodman style.
Bonus links: Orlando (The Marmalade Cat); and this post on The Frisky Housewife, which was the only one of the books we had, very much gives the flavor of it!

The case of the green parrot

As soon as I heard of this book the other day, I knew I had to read it as soon as possible: I sent several emails, and due to the kindness of the author and her in-house publicist, I received an ARC several days later.

The book is Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead; it is at once rather divinely good and also exactly the sort of book I most like! Let's call it metaphysical noir and group it with two other favorites of mine, Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist and Victor LaValle's Big Machine. Oh, it was so good...

(The only trouble with books is that they take years to write and only a few hours to read, so that I know I won't be getting the next installment any time soon! But I can re-read this one when it comes out, there's a thought...)

Production of quota

c. 1,800 words, for a total of 45,124 words.

Shortened and slanged

Ian Bogost on the rise of the app (via Matthew Battles).

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Poetic justice?
Toxic Waste brand Nuclear Sludge Chew Bars have been recalled by Circle City Marketing and Distributing, doing business as Candy Dynamics, Indianapolis, Ind. The product is imported from Pakistan.

A recent test performed by the California Department of Public Health indicated that some cherry flavor of the bars had slightly elevated levels of lead. No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

Light reading update

I have to say that I hugely enjoyed Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind. I had heard very good things about it, but it is necessary to take epic fantasy recommendations with a grain of salt: however, it breathes new life into the old scarecrow of the genre with incredibly rewarding results. I will even go so far as to say that it strongly and pleasantly reminded me of David Copperfield, one of my top ten favorite novels of all time! My only regret is that I did not wait just a little longer to get to it, since my impulse on finishing it was to demand the next installment - but that's not out till March 1: however will I wait?!?

I had quite mixed feelings about Bound to Last: 30 Writers on their Most Cherished Book. There are a number of very good essays, but many of the others are on the short/shallow side (you get that bad magaziney feeling, cumulatively - there is no clear principle of selection for who is included, and people have spent quite evidently different amounts of time and thought in composing their pieces); there is also a genuinely distressing subtext of hostility towards electronic books! It is perplexing to me - I have seen it elsewhere recently too - why the sense of an opposition? It is surely not an either-or, a few of the writers here acknowledge this thoughtfully but more of them just lash out against the immateriality of the e-text.

Perversely, I read this book on my Kindle - I should have waited till I was back in the U.S. to order it, since I'm only reading it now anyway, but as soon as I heard about Ed Park's piece on "The Dungeon Masters Guide" I knew I had to get my hands on it at once, island living notwithstanding. That piece met or even exceeded expectations: it is a great little bit, and now I will have to get hold of a 'real' copy of the book so that I can xerox it and share it with others!

Other standouts: David Hadju on Ralph Ellison; Karen Joy Fowler on The Once and Future King.

Anyway, here's one of the bits I liked from Ed's essay - I too grew up on and loved those Wordly Wise vocab books! -- the whole pieces takes the form of 100 numbered points:
15. "In grade school, English class was divided between reading, grammar, and spelling. I liked the first, dreaded the second, looked forward to the last. The vocab book we used was called Wordly Wise. There was a whole sequence of them, with an owl on the cover."

16. "At school I loved vocabulary lessons. Discovering new words. I remember distinctly the time we learned the difference between metaphor and simile--the time we learned what these words even were. The words themselves were so interesting. They weren't shaped like other words I knew. Simile reminded me of smile and, in doing so, made me smile."

17. "Dungeons & Dragons, particularly the Dungeon Masters Guide, was like the phantasmagorical appendix to Wordly Wise. My supplementary, self-directed lessons."
When I was in fifth and sixth grade, I used to race through two or three of those Wordly Wise lessons each week, burning through increasingly 'advanced' workbooks like a fiend: at the end of the week, I would take a spelling test on the words I'd learned (really I knew them already!), there would be perhaps 45 of them because I would have done more than one lesson's worth, and I would have to write a sentence to show that I knew the meaning of the word: but laziness and frenetic energy combined made me make huge absurd portmanteau sentences that would fit three or four or five of these words into a single sentence. I fear it left its mark on my writing style...

(I think I have some of these in a box in my office, I will see if I can dig them out; I am overdue for a posting on more Davidsonian juvenilia! I loved those workbooks - I would strongly recommend them to home-schoolers with kids aged 8-12 or so, I think they are ideal.)

Production of quota

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 43,384 words.

"A spoonful a day"

"I am not so sure that marmalade sales really are declining."

Also: what would Paddington have said?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The pod

Also at the LRB, a strange and interesting piece by Iain Sinclair about the culture of London cycling...

"A small hump around 1700"

At the LRB, Jenny Diski on Google's searchable book database (I know at least one person who will be dismayed if she reads this piece - sorry, Alice!):
Melancholy is virtually non-existent before 1570, but begins to rise and then falls until it drops off completely around 1625, about the time of the death of Dowland. It builds again to a great surge in 1650 (when, it says in Wikipedia, ‘the Age of Discovery ends’: reason enough), falls and then picks up, growing nicely and rising with the Romantics in 1800, and then declines gently before starting to increase again after 2000. Sting recorded a very terrible version of Dowland’s songs in 2006. Fuck is quite absent from books until about 1590 when it jolts up the chart for about eight years and then plummets, before returning in the 1630s, holding its own quite robustly until, of course, it disappears completely between 1820 and the mid to late 1950s when it surges once more (Look Back in Anger, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the Beat Poets) and remains ever on the up after that. Not as much as shit, however, which overtook fuck in the 1950s and has remained in the ascendant. Cunt is something of a rarity, hardly visible apart from a small hump around 1700, but then it starts to perk up and continues to rise until the latest available date. I imagine it will have made something of a spurt in 2010.

Production of quota

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 42,305 words.

There are 19 more days in January, if I can just keep this up till the end of the month and keep the whole shape of the thing in focus I will be looking at a full draft in early February...

(The beginning of the spring semester is always especially busy - we have six job candidates coming in to give talks in the first two and a half weeks or so of term, and I'll need to do meals with some or most of them too. Because of the MLK holiday, I only teach one class next week, on Wednesday, but Monday-Wednesday-Friday early-morning boot camp at Chelsea Piers starts on the 17th regardless: I'm in the 7am rather than the 6am class, but it's still going to be brutal, I am not at all one of nature's early risers! The alarm was set for 8:30 this morning for instance, which seemed reasonable enough, but in practice I turned it off and slept till after twelve. I suppose I hadn't fallen asleep till nearly three, so it is not unreasonable, but I prefer to be on the world's schedule rather than that of the creatures of the night...)

(Postscript: I am hoping to ride my bike down to Chelsea Piers in the early morning once the snow clears, but at least for the first week I am going to have to take a taxi, the height of decadence!)

"The scale's but small"

At the TLS, Alan McNee on Rachel Hewitt's history of the Ordnance Survey.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Production of quota

c. 2,000 words, for a total of 40,188 words.

(Not quite as good as it sounds, since some of those were words I am at least for now (copyright issues may mean I need to go back later on to a nineteenth-century translation) borrowing from the Penguin Euripides, and also the Wikipedia definition of thyrsus!)

I have had my eye on 40,000 - it is ridiculously childish, but I cannot stop myself periodically from Googling the phrase "how many words in a novel" and it does seem that 40,000 is the top end of what is considered a novella, NOVEL starts around here. I think 65,000 words would be a good length for this particular novel - it's definitely at the short end but indisputably (?) at that point a novel rather than a neither-fish-nor-fowl - my draft may come in a bit shorter than that, but I think the opening stretch probably needs to have some scenes added, and I guess I will be able to make it to the low 60s without too much difficulty.

I need to finish this draft as soon as I can, there are a lot of other things I would really rather be doing! And unfortunately the supreme recipe for novel composition is to be a bit bored or under-occupied; once I start doing too many other things, the desire (or the will) to write every day is compromised...

Light reading around the edges: a bunch of very good best-of-2010 crime recommendations from Sarah Weinman (the whole list is here), including Jodi Compton's Hailey's War (a bike messenger thriller - I loved it!), Tom Franklin's beautifully titled Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (probably the best out of these three, though they are all excellent - but this one's the most ambitious) and Alan Glynn's Winterland.

Also, Rosanne Cash's Composed (quite good, but marred for me by the strong presence of a sense of mystic patterning/correspondences that I cannot at all assent to!) and Anne Fortier's Juliet: A Novel, which I found a huge disappointment. I had misremembered the recommendation as having come from Jo Walton, but it was actually another Tor reviewer; the book certainly has some good qualities, but it is about three times as long as the substantive content would suggest suitable (leading to much skimming by this reader), and the heroine is the first one I've seen who could be plausibly considered even worse than Twilight's Bella in terms of passivity, rationalization and general uselessness! NB fourteenth-century Italian Catholic father does not charge rebellious teenage daughter with having possibly been challenging his authority by going so far as to read the Bible!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Quest vs. picaresque: the final battle

"Could one make an RPG based on Candide?"

Production of quota

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 37,152 words. [ED. I think that was an 8, not a 7...]

The one trouble with the quota method is that it is slightly monomaniacal, or rather the thing about goals in general is that they should be kept devastatingly simple if one actually wants to execute them successfully: I would like to exercise quite a bit this week too, and there are work things that need to be taken care of, but quota overrides all other demands...

(I wish I could have a week where the only thing I did was exercise! But I need to get this draft finished before I am completely submerged in the coming semester, I still have to write that other essay and also revise the little book on style, preferably before spring break...)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Production of quota

Better late than never: c. 1,200 words, for a total of 37,100 words.

I still haven't gotten out for a run, having spent both yesterday afternoon and this afternoon in bed; I don't think I'm actually getting sick, but I feel completely exhausted and have rather swollen glands, so I guess I will just have to put up with the feeling of uselessness in the meantime - I really cannot stand the notion of getting sick again, I will do anything I can to avoid it!

I need to do some advance planning for the next stretch of novel-writing, but don't want to interrupt quota-writing to do so, and am also starting to feel the pressure of responsibilities for the forthcoming semester. Will have to see how to balance these priorities over the next week and a half or so.

Every child needs a typewriter

Paul Collins on the life and death [ED. "disappearance" will be the better word!] of child novelist Barbara Newhall Follett. (Courtesy of Ed Park.)

Taste, colour and set

It is perhaps not quite blog-worthy, there is nothing absolutely and wildly over-the-top about it, but I was mildly fascinated by this FT piece about Britain's recent marmalade revival (site registration required) and the Marmalade Awards website.

(There is also a prize for Marmalade Cat of the Year!)

My fridge is absolutely bare, I threw out almost everything in fridge and cupboards when leaving the place for subletters in May (I believe this should be done periodically in any case, otherwise aged things pervade!); I believe the purchase of new jams and marmalades is in order...

Entirely unrelated: a rather fantastic Wikipedia biography of British doctor and mass-murderer John Bodkin Adams. (He was convicted, among other things, of the wonderfully named offense "lying on cremation forms"!) This link arrived from my father, who is reading D. R. Thorpe's biography of Harold Macmillan and delighting in the way Macmillan's life seemed to intersect with all sorts of unexpected figures...

Saw an excellent play last night with G. at the Flea Theater, British group Pants on Fire's adaptation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Altogether charming! I think my favorite bits were Io's story (amazing use of gas mask and tap shoes to transform Io into a cow, and a beautifully written and performed song after her transformation back into a girl) and the song about Theseus's black sails, but both the material and the production are excellent: particularly inventive use of puppetry and modest sets to do all sorts of amazing and unexpected things. Lovely stuff!

And then we had a beautiful dinner at Petrarca, which has somehow by stealth and excellence become one of my favorite restaurants, so it was the rare occasion when dinner and the play were both exceptional; we shared a bottle of verdicchio and the amazing piatto rustico, a generous platter of prosciutto and salami and parmesan and so forth, then G. had spaghetti and meatballs and I had seared sesame-crusted tuna with asparagus. Topped off, though I was already rather full, by the Amarena: vanilla gelato with amarena cherries. It was delicious.

Friday, January 07, 2011


Not literary in any particular sense, but do read this piece by Michael Ogg on what it means to depend on home health care aides when sidelined by a permanent disability (via Jane Gross).

A. L. Kennedy on why the worst part of writing is waiting.

Phil Nugent on the trials and tribulations of Winter Wipeout!

Finally, I got a nice piece of news the other day from my friend Helen Hill's mother Becky. Helen's last film, "The Florestine Dresses," has been completed by her husband Paul, and will premiere at the Indie Grits Film Festival at the Nickleodeon Theatre in Columbia, South Carolina on April 13-17, 2011. I will definitely be there for the premiere, and will do what I can to help gather a large group of Helen's friends for the occasion.

(There was an exhibit of the dresses themselves a few years ago; alas, I missed it, though I remember seeing the dresses not long after Helen had first found them - there were more than a hundred of them! - in trash bags on the street and rescued them and begun to investigate the story of their creation.)

Production of quota

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 35,790 words.

I had hoped to write yesterday also, but after an initial stab at heading out to set up shop in a cafe somewhere I had to admit defeat, there were simply too many things clamoring for my attention at home...

(I am home! And it is snowing, and I am going to go out for a gloriously snowy run later - it is good...)

The trip back from Cayman went fairly smoothly, though I was traveling with an excessively large amount of luggage (books are heavy!): I had four bags, two of them c. 52 lbs. each and the other two adding up to an additional 70 lbs. or so (the big ones were my XL North Face duffel and the Aerus bike bag that I used to take that second-hand road bike I acquired this spring down to Cayman, only stuffed with clothes and with no bicycle in it; the small ones were my Tyr transition bag packed so absolutely full with books that they have torn a hole along a seam, it is not what it was designed for, and an ancient small duffel bag to which I will not be able to find a link online), plus a backpack with laptop and a large handbag for carry-on. It was a relief to get here with everything still in tow; the carts at JFK are not designed for carrying so much stuff at once!

I have renewed my lease, I have sorted out the overdue library book situation, I have begun to unpack (but there is still much more to do, as I very thoroughly stowed everything away for subletters and now need to excavate and rearrange as well as unpacking the things I had with me in Cayman). It is also amazing how much junk mail accumulates in just a couple of months; I last picked up mail in late October, but there was still a huge shopping bag of catalogs and credit card offers and so forth waiting for me here...

It's about a week and a half till school starts; I need to make up my syllabi for the new semester and take care of associated logistics, but really the two main other things I am doing are striving to maintain quota production and ramping up the fitness schedule. I am looking forward to teaching again, though; I guess in that sense the purpose of the sabbatical has been served!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Production of quota

c. 1,400 words, for a total of 34,720 words.

I'm flying back to New York later this evening, so blogging will likely be light over the next day or so as I re-enter my New York life (returning overdue library books, renewing my lease, restocking groceries, etc.).

In other news, Invisible Things is favorably reviewed (and in some very good company, too!) in Colleen Mondor's January Bookslut column!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A coat with a pedigree

Edward Gorey's fur coats went up for auction a few weeks ago....

(Bonus link: Lauren Cerand models one of 'em!)

Light reading catch-up

Deon Meyer's Thirteen Hours was so very much the perfect novel of suspense that I felt ready for another installment of Powell: At Lady Molly's.

I enjoyed Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl quite a bit; it is not exactly my favorite type of book, and I felt that the opening stretch is overly complex in a way that might have made me put the book down and not pick it up again had I not been reading it on my Kindle (where I am as yet reluctant to start something and leave it unfinished, for reasons of digital tidiness), but he is an incredibly good sentence-writer, especially in this world of steampunk fantasy (Mieville!) where sentence-writing is not always a priority, and I'll certainly look out for his other books.

Barry Eisler's Fault Line was fine, but it is not perhaps quite as appealing as his Rain books (I think I enjoyed the Andrew Grant books a bit more than this too - the voice seemed more straightforwardly what I like - I guess I just prefer thrillers written in the first person, all other things being equal).

I enjoyed Catherine Fisher's Incarceron very much indeed, only with the proviso that I do miss in YA fantasy the richness and variety and complexity that can be found in the best adult fantasy (N. K. Jemisin being my best recent discovery in this regard). It is very good, though, and I am pleased to see the sequel is out - arghhhh, not yet available on Kindle, though - I was about to download it and start reading it right now!

Production of quota

c. 1,200 words, for a total of 33,327 words.

I have to reread Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? -- and I also think I want to find some way of alluding to and integrating the thought expressed in the passage I blogged a couple of years ago from Sarah Manguso's lovely The Two Kinds of Decay:
A woman rides her motorized chair up a ramp and onto a stage. Ten feet away from the podium, she parks her chair, gets up, and walks a few steps, very slowly, to accept her award.

What a sickening prop.

But people forget a woman in a chair is strong enough to walk a few steps each day and has saved this day's steps for the acceptance of her award.

Chair or no chair: a binary relation. But the vicissitudes of moving the body around are infinite. You never know what a person in a chair can do.

I saw two young women at a lecture once, one of them in a wheelchair that looked like a piece of expensive Italian furniture. Her girlfriend sat down and said You want to do a transfer? and the girl in the chair said Yeah and maneuvered her chair next to the bank of auditorium seats, placed her hands on the arms of the first seat, and swung herself into it with her ropy upper body. Then she reached over and folded up her hot little wheelchair.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Production of quota

Didn't get started till mighty late today: it was the first day for a week when I really could lounge as opposed to getting up and hastening out of the house to write quota, and then I got diverted onto the complex job of beginning to pack up all of my things, including a vast number of books - I'm going back to New York on Wednesday afternoon, I'll be teaching again in the spring semester.

But I did in the end squeeze out quota.

(I am still disconcerted by the way the shape of the novel has suddenly come into focus for me over the last few days. I don't think it's going to be a very long novel - in fact I would be surprised if it comes in much over 65,000 words max, which means I really am pretty much halfway drafted...)

c. 1,100 words, for a total of 32,117 words

Spud gun

There is a fantastic novel in this for somebody. (Not, alas, me.)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

"This thing of dorkness"

It is an old piece, but I enjoyed rereading Paul La Farge's essay on D&D in the Believer. One bit that caught my attention (the underlying reference is to Christopher Lehrich's essay on ritual in role-playing games):
Dungeons & Dragons is not a game. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss notes that “Games… appear to have a disjunctive effect: they end in the establishment of a difference between individual players or teams where originally there was no indication of inequality. And at the end of the game they are distinguished into winners and losers.” Which is, as noted above, not true of D&D: “there is neither an end to the game nor any winner.” But if D&D isn’t a game, then what is it, exactly? One theorist of fantasy role-playing games proposes, following Lévi-Strauss, that D&D is, in the strict sense of the term, a ritual. “Ritual, on the other hand,” this is Lévi-Strauss again, “is the exact inverse: it conjoins, for it brings about a union... or in any case an organic relation between two initially separate groups….”

Production of quota

c. 1,000 words, for a total of 31,028 words.

Wasn't writing particularly fluently this morning, but in fact section III is going to be a roughly 4,000-word academic talk delivered by the third character, and it might be that I need to do some more bits of reading and research before it fully comes together (though I think I can write most of the rest of it over the next couple days).

Now I have a real five-act structure, including a very clear sense of how part IV ends...

(But I am not at all sure about the nature of part V, other than its title, "The Broken Circle"!)

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Production of quota

c. 1,800 words, for a total of 30,066 words.

It is the end of another section; I am not quite sure whether the next one picks up with the third character of my main three or whether I return to the first one whose point of view I hewed to in the initial pages. Perhaps the latter, with a few weeks' gap in time in which things have happened of which she knows naught and whose consequences/aftermath will generate the energy for the main events of the tragedy? Really I am just thinking out loud!

(I made sure to get up fairly early this morning and go to the cafe to write quota; we have an 11am reservation for 8 people for brunch at the Ritz, and it was clear to me yesterday that I would enjoy that infinitely more if I had done the day's writing beforehand! I will also try and either run or bike later on [traffic is anomalously and exceptionally light on New Year's Day in a way that makes it tempting to try for the latter]; I believe in starting the year as I mean to go on....)