Monday, August 29, 2011

Swiss dot

Sadie Stein has a wedding dress in her closet.

Morning update

The Magic Circle has just been emailed to Kathy in its for-now-final version. Very glad to have it off my desk for a bit, though these books always come back at you for more revisions even in best-case scenarios...

I'm here in Cayman just for a couple more days, which will give me time to do some bits and pieces of 'work' work that I'd like to sort out before I'm back in New York (flying home Wednesday evening, settling myself back in and then going to Philadelphia over the weekend to celebrate my niece's second birthday and retrieve my little cat from my mother's house): a couple letters of recommendation, a couple conference-paper abstracts, a journal-article reader's report.

Light reading catch-up:

The two 'Dick Francis' novels that have appeared in the last year, the first a collaboration between Dick and his son Felix and the second Felix's first solo addition to the family franchise. Crossfire was pretty weak, but Dick Francis's Gamble seemed to me stronger. Really I will read any book published under the Dick Francis imprimatur...

Lee Child's Kindle Single Second Son brought a huge smile to my face, only it was over much too quickly! It reminded me of the mystery stories of my childhood, Encyclopedia Brown and Sherlock Holmes and Dorothy L. Sayers and G. K. Chesterton; there is a highly artificial simplicity that results from the compression of a mystery plot into that short form, it is not psychologically realistic but it is nonetheless attractive to me.

Robert Lipsyte's piece in last week's NYTBR sent me back to the book of his I read when I was a kid, One Fat Summer (it holds up very well), and then to a newer one that I also liked very much, Raiders Night.

I absolutely loved Tow Ubukata's Mardock Scramble! Thanks to Nick Mamatas for the recommendation; it is a book that has almost everything I like (including a really fantastic long sequence in the middle concerned with the psychology and tactics of professional gambling in a casino).

I think I will save my thoughts on Gravity's Rainbow for a separate post.

Really I'm looking forward to school starting, not so much the meetings and letters-of-rec aspect of things but getting back into the classroom; I'm teaching the seminar we require of all our incoming MA students for the first time, and will be interested to see how that goes. I'll post that reading list here once I have taught the initial class - it would seem to me very unfair to those students for the internet to see it before they do! Also: a new undergraduate seminar on Swift and Pope!

The combination of novel-finishing and then some sort of minor stomach bug that afflicted me Saturday have thrown me off re: exercise, but I am heading to the gym shortly for a treadmill run. Haven't heard whether the Camana Bay pool has reopened this morning as per the original schedule, but it would be good if I could get in a pool workout in the next couple days. I'll see if I can't hit a TNYA workout on Thursday evening in New York; the Chelsea Piers pool is closed all of this week for refurbishing, unfortunately, and I think the Columbia gym isn't open either, it is the evil season of pool closures universally!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Don't tell everything you know"

Back-to-school bits at the Oxford American from writers who are also teachers. Scroll down especially for J.D. Daniels' "What We Know," which contains a sentence that has captivated me: "I don’t trust the way being a teacher pleases me."

Friday, August 26, 2011


Just printed out the new and improved BOMH (really it is called "The Magic Circle"). One more light copy-edit through, then typing in those corrections and a final careful proof: it will definitely be ready to go back out by the end of the day Monday.

Rock biorhythms

At the Phoenix, James Parker on the new Metallica bio:
The most vivid and engaging passages of Enter Night, actually, are in this key of reminiscence: Wall bumping into Ulrich at the Hammersmith Odeon, the little drummer for some reason on crutches ("His outraged eyes studied mine. A precocious child growing rapidly into a full-on fuck of a man"); Mustaine emerging crackling from some toilet or drug tabernacle to be interviewed ("He held out his paw and allowed me to grasp it"); Hammett chatting pleasantly about essential oils and then clamming up at the arrival of macho man Hetfield ("As we all walked into the bar together, I noticed Kirk affecting a sort of mini-Hetfield saunter. Safety in numbers, I found myself doing the same"). It makes one wish that Wall could have departed further from the conventions of rock biography — got more personal or more poetic/fragmentary, or written a book called My Life In Heavy Metal. Except that Steve Almond already wrote that book, and it had fuck-all to do with heavy metal.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shifting, shifty

At the Guardian, Teju Cole's top ten novels of loneliness. I am excited about this list as it gives me several good new things to read (persuasive to me via the fact that the thoughts on Sebald, Naipaul and Davis are so much what I would choose to note myself, though I dissent from the verdict on Ishiguro's Remains of the Day - I spin out from The Unconsoled as a hub and view Remains and Never Let Me Go as useful clarification of the master project). Naipaul's Enigma of Arrival is surely one of the great underrated books of modern literature, well worth a look for those who have not read it.

(More common style - not criticizing! - on these Guardian lists is to use up several spots, uselessly, on things like Robinson Crusoe - this is more practical.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Closing tabs

I'm dug in properly on BOMH revisions now: I started yesterday morning, it takes a day or two to get into the swing of it but I'm definitely getting there...

My task is very clear, I have three priorities:

(1) Give the 'thriller' plot a better shape and momentum and build it more clearly from the start, including having a clearer sense of one main character's backstory and concerns as they shift over the course of the story the novel tells (and as they appear to and arouse the suspicions of the two other main characters);

(2) Address a couple of places where things suddenly end in an abrupt or overly compressed fashion (my besetting vice!);

(3) Handle the nonfictional/theoretical material about games and game-playing in a way that better integrates it throughout).

The last is easiest, the second is challenging because it's such a weakness of mine but not inherently that difficult, the first involves the need for extended concentration and reimagining and is the hardest part of what needs to be done. Aside from these three specific points, I need to give it one really good further pass through and make sure that the feel is as seamless and suspenseful as I can manage: my mental model for the effect I wanted to create was Donna Tartt's The Secret History, which I haven't reread for at least ten years but which is unusually effective in capturing the reader's attention with a relatively arcane body of material/subject matter melded with a genre-style suspense plot.

Meanwhile, a few tabs to close:

Ted Gioia's list of the top 50 postmodern mysteries includes many particular favorites of mine.

Joanne van der Woude on anagrams and acrostics of grieving in seventeenth-century New England.

Amazing cakes at the Night Kitchen Bakery in Philadelphia (link courtesy of my father, who went to a birthday party featuring one of their cakes and knew I would be entranced!).

Tiddlywinks nomenclature!

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I've finalized the manuscript of the style book and emailed it to my agent. Very pleased with how it's come together. She sent out the earlier version of the book last year, and while everybody passed on it at that stage, there were a number of editors who said they'd be interested in seeing the next iteration, so I am hopeful that it will find a home before too long. Will post here once I have definite news, but that probably wouldn't be till October - and that's quick, could easily be longer even if things go well!

The home stretch

It's been a quiet week at Light Reading; August is always slow as far as digital treasures go (though I enjoyed Andrew O'Hagan's Pippa Middleton piece for New York Magazine) and really I've just been dug in on the style book, which is now in the home stretch. (Mixed metaphor alert? But I cannot do without those phrases.) If it's not done by the end of the day today, I should be finished with it by lunchtime tomorrow...

(After doing a very thorough edit with gap-filling-in new writing in the first half of the week, I typed most of it up late Tuesday night and finished yesterday during the day. Got to Cafe del Sol at 6:30 this morning and sat down and copy-edited the whole manuscript all the way through, finishing around 10 or so. Now I'm sitting at my desk at home about to type in those edits; the only thing remaining to be actually written is several paragraphs for the very end. I don't like writing endings, I prefer just to stop, but it will not do!)

(This is one of the three or four main things I need to fix on BOMH also. That's next up in the queue: say about ten days or two weeks of work on that, and I can get it back to my agent by the end of the month. Couple other bits and bobs of work: reader's report on a journal article, a couple conference paper abstracts. Then change gears and get back into teaching mode; I'm teaching two new classes in the fall, I did one syllabus in June but the other still needs to be sorted out and "thunk" through.)

Anyway, back to style, once I've typed these changes in, I'll print out this final version and read it through one more time, but there are only a few stretches where I've really done significant editing, for lots of the book it's minor changes that I can check just by reading it against the marked-up copy. I am old-school in my methods, I find it is the best way to catch errors...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Light reading catch-up

It was a strangely good week for new books (conventionally they still seem to be published on a Tuesday, which was the old-school tradition). If you pre-order for Kindle, they then appear as if by magic when the official publication date arrives, and I was delighted to devour Charlie Williams' latest installment of the Royston Blake saga, One Dead Hen (if you've been reading here for a while, you already know that I think Charlie is one of literature's great unsung geniuses of the comic first-person voice - this book is great, but start at the beginning of the epic with Deadfolk - it's like reading Proust, the volumes are self-standing but there's no reason not to start at the beginning!); Lev Grossman's The Magician King (excellent, and definitely up to the high standard set by the previous installment - I was initially mildly skeptical, I have perhaps read "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" too many times myself, but was completely won over by about 10% in, and particularly enjoyed the narration of Julia's backstory); and David Liss's The Twelfth Enchantment, an Austen homage of sorts with something of the feel of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - I especially liked how it came alive when the characters talked about the balance of European trade and mechanization, the Luddite plot is inspired!

All of these books were highly absorbing - as I say, it was a very good week for new releases - but perhaps the book that most deeply transported me was an advance copy I obtained via the interesting new service Netgalley, which provides digital galleys to potential reviewers in a variety of formats. It is Deon Meyer's Trackers, and it is absolutely superb. It features several characters from previous books, but I don't think you'd need to have read them in order to immerse yourself in this one; it has an unorthodox structure, to the extent that I slightly started to worry about three-quarters of the way through that a different book had somehow been spliced into my electronic copy, but it all comes together beautifully in the end. If you enjoy crime fiction and aren't yet reading Meyer's books, this is a situation to remedy as soon as possible: he's incredibly good, I just looked through the Amazon listings to see if there was one I'd particularly recommend but really you can't go wrong.

I also read and enjoyed another Netgalley book, Kyle Garlett's inspiring and moving Heart of Iron: My Journey from Transplant Patient to Ironman Triathlete, but that will be more appropriately reviewed at my other blog!

Finally, I am relieved to report that Stephen Knight's vampire book seems to me significantly better than his zombie one, though still rather too much weaponry and firepower for my tastes (it is the same sort of disproportion, compared to the usual thrillers I read, as one finds with paranormal romance when it comes to sex: it is perplexing to encounter these very full descriptions of acts and details that are conventionally minimized or excluded!).

Gravity's Rainbow is mesmerizing: I'm about halfway through, will go back to that now I think...

Never bored of cake

I would be delighted to eat this piece of cake.

More pictures of opening night at the pop-up high tea (said cake looks even better as a cutaway than as a slice)...

Also: ugly cake contest!

American taxidermy

Curating the meat dress. This is a must-read!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Gordon Brown is a fan

Interesting interview with Val McDermid in the Guardian Review.

Loving literature

At Slate, various writers on the "great books" they most hate. The one here that most resonates with me (could have written these sentences myself, and in fact may quote them in the style book) is Daniel Mendelsohn on Joyce:
Honestly I've never been persuaded by Ulysses. To my mind, Joyce's best and most genuine work is the wonderful Dubliners; everything afterwards smacks of striving to write a "great" work, rather than simply striving to write—it's all too voulu. Although there are, of course, beautiful and breathtakingly authentic things in the novel (who could not love that tang of urine in the breakfast kidneys?), what spoils Ulysses for me, each time, is the oppressive allusiveness, the wearyingly overdetermined referentiality, the heavy constructedness of it all. Reading the book, for me, is never a rich and wonderful journey, filled with marvels and (no matter how many times you may read a book) surprises—the experience I want from a large and important novel; it's more like being on one of those Easter egg hunts you went on as a child—you constantly feel yourself being managed, being carefully steered in the direction of effortfully planted treats. Which, of course, makes them not feel very much like treats at all.
NB this obviously all intensely subjective: other writers name some personal favorites of mine, including Hardy's novels and the Iliad (and I love the behavioral psychology in Gravity's Rainbow - I'm only about 150 pages in, so we will see whether I still feel the same way when I finish, but it is a surprisingly enjoyable reread). The great book I most love to hate, I think, is The Great Gatsby, which seems to me infinitely inferior to Fitzgerald's stories...

Primary colors

You are what you eat!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Kafka's eyes

Notional box set of intense desirability! (Link courtesy of Ian C.-B.)

(The sole detail I don't like on this otherwise gorgeous page of designs is the placement of the author's name on the Amerika cover. I don't know why it jumps out at me, but it just doesn't seem right!)

(Is it box set or boxed set? I have always preferred the latter term, but neither one seems actually incorrect, though the first is perhaps a back-formation; on a related note, I really do strongly prefer course release to course relief as the term for getting a reduced course load in exchange for taking on some administrative responsibility, though neither phrase is exactly flattering when it comes to conceiving what it is that one does while teaching.)

Thursday update

I'm having a good week.

I did a little race yesterday, the first of three; it was very warm and on that count mercifully brief, but highly enjoyable. As I said on my other blog, I am very glad to break a streak of not making it to the start line of races I've been looking forward to!

I am just now printing out a new draft of the style book; there are some holes here and there, it needs not just another copy-edit but still some bits and bobs of new writing as well as perhaps a longer tranche of pages about Wittgenstein's Nephew which I am going to sit down with shortly (like in about ten minutes) and reread.

A new structure and rationale have emerged in this iteration of the book, and I like it quite a bit: actually I must confess that I am experiencing the possibly deluded but still desirable conviction of this being the best book I have ever written! (Also, perhaps not coincidentally, the shortest?)

(Really of course one feels the best books are the as-yet-unwritten ones, so it is precious to have this feeling however fleetingly about a book that is mostly in existence already!)

On the basis of literally three words that need filling in (there is a noticeable lack of proportion here between projected effort and potential payoff!), I have realized that another thing I really must do in the next few days is reread Gravity's Rainbow, which curiously I have not read since high school (c. 1987?). It is not available on Kindle, but I have just called the very good local bookstore and they have a copy; they have pulled it from the shelf, in the event of the slightly unlikely chance of someone else purchasing it in the meantime, and I will walk over there in the early evening once it's a bit cooler to pick it up. (Could ride my bicycle, but there are too many cars out there!)

Got a good email from my agent yesterday, full of enthusiasm for BOMH (really it is now called The Magic Circle) and with a few thoughtful and very constructive notes for revision. I'd like another pass through it in any case, as I think there are some things to do with storytelling and pacing that could be stronger, but it sounds as though she'd like to send it out shortly after Labor Day, which is exciting.

So let's say another week or so on style, and I think I can be more or less done with that manuscript by next Friday (some new quotations I can get references for via Amazon's useful "Search inside this book" feature, but a few will need New York library access - I will request everything I need before I am physically back there so that I can finish it up on the Thursday and Friday before the Labor Day weekend, there are few things more frustrating than being prevented from filling in final details on a book manuscript because of holiday library hours and delays with BorrowDirect deliveries - it is a situation I have often experienced!). Then another week or ten days for a good pass back through BOMH, and I should be able to send both books back to Kathy before school starts.

Have had some very good light reading this week also, but that report will have to await a more leisurely moment, I have work to do! I like the feeling that things are happening...

Sunday, August 07, 2011


Remarkably beautiful breakfasts. (Courtesy of Sarang, who found it via The London Review of Breakfasts.)

Minor Sunday linkage

Brent left yesterday for a week in Ottawa; fortunately the style book is now at a stage where I should be able to ramp up work hours (I find that as I first get back into a project, it's wise not to push too hard - a good hour or two every day lets you build up momentum without overstraining, it's not unlike endurance sport training in that regard - but I think I am coming to the point where I can do much longer days of work than that again), and the Kindle is as always indispensable for island living. Neal Stephenson's new novel isn't out yet, unfortunately, but I think it might be a good time to embark upon a massive George R. R. Martin reread in preparation for the new installment of the series: I read those books in a white heat, and long enough ago that it was before I started blogging (sometime during the first few years I was teaching at Columbia, maybe 2002?), so can probably stand a reread, and it is very good to undertake something of copious pages. Otherwise, if I am not watching DVDs in the evening and find myself without much else in the way of outside distraction, I need something like three books a day - it is too many! The Alan Hollinghurst book has yet to arrive, alas...

This is the sort of hobby I could use to while away an hour or two: pig-keeping! (FT site registration required.)

Light reading: Joan Vinge's novelization Cowboys & Aliens (I've been a big fan of hers ever since I read the superlative The Snow Queen and its sequels, and I was also captivated by Vinge's account of why this particular novel represents a personal triumph); Neal Pollack's very funny Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude (the Kindle edition is on sale this month for 99 cents, a definite bargain); Matthew De Abaitua's The Art of Camping, which is full of funny and interesting things but which left me devoutly grateful that I will never have to camp unless perhaps in the event of zombie apocalypse in which case I will have other things to worry about than my personal dislike of camping; and Harry Connolly's Child of Fire, which is quite good but which has caused me to declare a temporary moratorium on urban fantasy, there is just too much of it and it's all built too much along the same sort of chassis: enough!

Bonus links: Matthew's campfire mix, and also an apt illustration from the intriguing Things Organized Neatly blog.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Stage psychics, booth psychics and one 'cyber witch'

I am eager to read A. L. Kennedy's new novel. (Link via Bookforum.)

Light reading catch-up

I am finding it very enjoyable to be back at work on the style book: this is the book that I have waited my whole life to write! It should be done by the end of the month, although I might need a few library days to check some quotations and follow up a couple of last-minute thoughts; I will try not to let impatience get the better of me if that is the way things go.

My cold is mostly gone, only the lungs are still full of junk in a way that is problematic for exercise, and much nose-blowing seems to remain necessary. Otherwise feeling pretty much better; energy levels back to normal, which is probably the most important thing.

I read two books I wished I hadn't (seriously, these Amazon reviewers are clearly working on some sort of demented cost-to-quality ratio when it comes to assigning stars: the book can be only half as good as something else, but if it costs less than half as much, it will come out ahead!). Then I read a very beautifully written short book by Cody James, The Dead Beat; it is now lost in the mists of internet tabbage where I initially got the recommendation, but I thought it was very good, perhaps slightly reminiscent of Jesus' Son though probably only because of the subject matter. Conrad's The Secret Agent more than lived up to my memory of it: it is a minor but distinct work of genius! I found Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy well worth my while, only I wish that it were possible to purchase 'bundled' YA trilogies for Kindle at a discount, it does not seem cost-effective to purchase individual books that one races through at such a rate. Erin Celello's thoughtful debut novel Miracle Beach falls into a genre category that I don't often read, but I enjoyed it and it will repay attention by fans of Joshilyn Jackson and Sara Gruen: I found this one because several years ago I was very much a fan of Erin's triathlon blog!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011


I've been intrigued by the idea of the Amazon Kindle Singles (basically, 99 cents for a piece roughly akin in scale and ambition to a substantial New Yorker feature - sorry to put it that way, but that's the long and short of it!), and I've just readDouglas Wolk's funny and moving contribution to the series, Comic-Con Strikes Again! I do not know that I will ever attend Comic-Con myself, though you never know with these things... - at any rate, this gives a very good glimpse of it. Definitely recommended.