Monday, December 31, 2012


Laura Miller talks to Daniel Mendelsohn about the ethics of the negative review.

I have a very slight cold and (unrelatedly) got barely any sleep last night, but on the other hand I got several important errands done today, including one I was slightly dreading (taking 'new' used bike and case down to Sid's Bikes on the subway for them to pack it up for Saturday travel - my aversion to traveling on the subway with cumbersome things is sufficient that I went so far as to read the packing instructions and contemplate undertaking the disassembly project myself, before coming to my senses and deciding it had better be left to the professionals!).

Almost finished with the first volume of My Struggle. It is curiously and inexplicably mesmerizing, like the charismatic teenage love child of Proust and Thomas Bernhard!

Saturday, December 29, 2012


At the FT (site registration required), an interesting long essay by Hedley Twidle on his Coetzee fixation:
Since Coetzee lodged his manuscripts in Harvard and now Texas, we have learnt that he wrote his major novels almost entirely in University of Cape Town examination books. They have dull orange covers with instructions printed on them: “Peak caps to be reversed”; “Answer only ONE question per booklet”.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Deuces wild

Phillip Dyess-Nugent on Django Unchained and David Bromwich on Spielberg's Lincoln.

2012 round-up

Trawled back through the blog earlier for reading recommendations from 2012. Too lazy to post in links: it's much, much easier for me just to list! Here are some thoughts, anyway. If it's here, it's something I'm actively recommending as worth your time and likely to elicit considerable enjoyment.

Favorite new read: Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels, including At Last.

Strongest other recommendations: David Gordon, The Serialist; Lavie Tidhar, Osama.

Favorite (only!) new book of poetry, also an all-round favorite: Jane Yeh, The Ninjas.

Favorite nonfiction: Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

Slightly under the radar, and absolutely beautifully written: Alan Warner, The Deadman's Pedal.

Novel I most surprised myself by thoroughly enjoying: Ernest Cline, Ready Player One.

Most startlingly unusual new read: Heath Lowrance, The Bastard Hand.

Favorite literary fiction: Heidi Julavits, The Vanishers; Sheila Heti, How Should a Person Be?; Victor La Valle, The Devil in Silver; Ellen Ullman, By Blood. Three also quite literary and very good that I would group together in a single category: Joshilyn Jackson, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty; Lauren Groff, Arcadia; Lydia Netzer, Shine Shine Shine.

Between literary and genre fiction: J. Robert Lennon, Familiar.

Three books of the outdoors I liked very much: Colleen Mondor, Map of My Dead Pilots; Will Chaffey, Swimming with Crocodiles; Cheryl Strayed, Wild.

Vaguely supernatural and humorous: Daniel O'Malley, The Rook; Ben Aaronovich's occult London series; Christa Faust, Coyote's Kiss; and M. H. Van Keuren's debut Rhubarb. Supernatural and less humorous: Chuck Wendig, Blackbirds.

Favorite zombie novel (I think!): S. G. Browne, Breathers: A Zombie's Lament. Mira Grant's final Newsflesh installment also very good, as were the novels of hers I read under the Seanan McGuire byline.

Favorite presidential vampire novel: Christopher Farnsworth, Blood Oath.

Favorite paranormal romance: Lilia Ford, The Heartwood Box.

My favorite crime read of the year was Tana French's Broken Harbor, and it prompted me to reread her three earlier books with strong pangs that there aren't more of them.

Other crime fiction of excellence: Deon Meyer, Seven Days; Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (I am not quite the evangelist for this book that others seem to be, I liked at least a dozen other crime novels better, but it is undoubtedly very good); Alan Glynn, Bloodland; Harriet Lane, Alys, Always; Martyn Waites, Born Under Punches; Johan Theorin, The Darkest Room and Echoes from the Dead; Attica Locke, Black Water Rising and The Cutting Season; Tom Piccirilli, The Last Kind Words; Jorin Lieder Horst, Dregs; John Rector, Already Gone; Anya Lipska, Where the Devil Can't Go; and a couple co-authored crime novels whose authors' names I am too lazy to look up: The Eyes of Lira Kazan, Three Seconds and Invisible Murder.

Megan Abbott's superb Dare Me led me to Rebecca Godfrey's wonderful Under the Bridge.

I hugely enjoyed new books from Lee Child, Karin Slaughter, Taylor Stevens, Mo Hayder, Rosamond Lupton, Mark Billingham, Charlie Williams, Arnaldur Indridason and Liza Marklund.

Books in different genres from one another (science fiction and crime respectively) but lodged in my mind as a couple as they are engaged with some related issues: Kameron Hurley, God's War; Anthony Neil Smith, All the Young Warriors.

And should I count Hilary Mantel's Bringing Up the Bodies under this heading? (I would recommend Mantel instead of George R. R. Martin, if you're not sure about whether to read the Game of Thrones books, although I did quite enjoy the latest installment.)

Two nonfiction books that made a significant impression on me: Tim Parks, On Trying to Sit Still; Gideon Lewis-Kraus, A Sense of Direction.

Other nonfiction: Sarah Manguso, The Guardians; Ben Anastas, Too Good to Be True; Marco Roth, The Scientists; Maureen McLane, My Poets; Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations.

Cycling-related: David Millar, Racing Through the Dark; Tyler Hamilton, The Secret Race. Also, Benjamin Lorr's Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain and the Search for Something Like Transcendence Through Competitive Yoga; and Leanne Shapton's Swimming Studies, which I wished I hadn't read on a Kindle.

I didn't read very much YA fiction this year, but I thoroughly enjoyed Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan's collaboration Teen Human and Gwenda Bond's Blackwood. Delia Sherman, The Freedom Maze is a wonderful book, highly recommended to a wide range of readers; the same goes for Terry Pratchett's Dodger, though it is less original than Sherman's (and also gave me a yen to reread Philip Pullman's 19th-century London trilogy). Laini Taylor's Days of Blood and Starlight is irresistible!

Much reading and rereading of Diana Wynne Jones, not all of it noted here. Other significant rereads: Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty; Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age; Victor Nell, Lost in a Book; Middlemarch; The Hobbit; and the selected works of Lee Child.

Favorite theater: These Seven Sicknesses and Restoration Comedy at the Flea. The Ring Cycle made quite an impression on me, as for that matter did the Ades adaptation of The Tempest, but my favorite opera by far was the ravishing Einstein on the Beach at BAM. While I binged on House and The Good Wife, my favorite television-watching experience involved a truly charming and short-lived older series called Wonderfalls. Favorite movie: Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Here's to an even better year of reading and spectatorship in 2013!


Finally having a quiet morning at home, though I must confess that I feel flat and dispirited rather than relieved. It is probably just accumulated fatigue; I am hoping that another couple days of relative peace and quiet will make a positive difference.

Minor light reading around the edges (jury duty and holiday travels both entail lots of time for novel-reading): Ben Aaronovitch, Whispers Under Ground (these books just get better and better as the series progresses); a few last lingering books by Diana Wynne Jones that I hadn't yet read and that are now available for Kindle (I really like her books more than almost anything else I can think of), Power of Three and The Homeward Bounders and a collection of stories called Believing is Seeing; Matthew J. Kirby's Icefall (implausibly modern heroine, but very nice otherwise); Terry Pratchett's delightful Dodger (probably inferior from a literary point of view to Leon Garfield's Dickensian children's books, but much more lovely to read - those are incredibly dispiriting); Tom Piccirilli's The Last Kind Words, which I enjoyed a good deal but which is very strangely reminiscent of Holly Black's superficially entirely different Curse Workers series; Attica Locke's The Cutting Season (even better than her first one); Christopher Farnsworth's Blood Oath, which I thoroughly enjoyed (presidential vampires!); and William Landay's Defending Jacob.

Also read two non-electronic books at my mother's over Xmas: a copy of Noel Streatfeild's Traveling Shoes, which my mom obtained at a used book sale, and Garry Disher's Whispering Death, borrowed from the public library, which I thought was quite reasonable.

Having completely rotted my brain by reading too many undemanding novels over the past couple weeks (not to mention the candy!), my only plan for the rest of the week is to indulge in vast quantities of exercise and read this.

I also need to look back through the year's blog posts so that I can write an end-of-year round-up....

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Cats in the news

Controversy surrounding federal attempts to regulate cats at the Hemingway Museum in Key West:
The dispute began in 2003 after a museum volunteer and cat lover filed a complaint with the department after an aggressive cat wandered from the property. The agency concluded that the museum needed to follow federal regulations on exhibiting animals. But the museum argued that the cats are born and bred at the house, that they seldom wander beyond the grounds and that it is Mr. Hemingway’s legacy — not the cats — that serve as the main attraction.

“If we had a six-toed cat zoo, we wouldn’t get those numbers,” Ms. Higgins said.

But the agency disagreed. It sent in an animal behavioral specialist to index the cats and analyze the situation. Undercover agents were then sent in 2005 and 2006 to observe the cats and surreptitiously photograph their movements. One photo shows a gray cat sitting on the pavement. It carries the caption: “Picture of six-toed cat taken in restaurant/bar at end of Whalton Lane and Duval. May or may not be a Hemingway Home and Museum cat.”

Friday, December 21, 2012

Widow's walk

Susan Cooper profiled at the Guardian.


Gutted to wake up this morning to an email from longtime correspondent Dave Lull to let me know that Maxine Clarke has died. Petrona has been one of my favorite blogs for as long as I can remember. I only met Maxine once - we had a delightful lunch at the British Library in St. Pancras - but our emails and comments flew back and forth across the Atlantic like you would not believe. This tribute takes the words out of my mouth. What a lovely person she was, in every way: kind, humane, generous, incredibly bright and unassuming. An inconsequential detail: when we talked about my "breeding" book, she revealed that her grandfather was the agronomist who bred the particular strain of wheat used to make Weetabix!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Just a note

to observe that I was released from jury duty at the end of the day - they kept the four of us who were alternates in a separate room for the afternoon, but though deliberations hadn't finished, they let us go regardless. Too tired for true celebration to be in order, but I am incredibly happy that I can spend tomorrow luxuriously at Chelsea Piers - and finally get back to end-of-semester grading responsibilities!

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Tom Keymer on Samuel Johnson and ballooning.

I've had this one bookmarked for some days: it's appealing to me in its own right, because I love Samuel Johnson and I also love the early history of ballooning, but it also caused me to think very intensely of Wendy, who would have turned fifty-three today.

Wendy had cherished for many years a plan to have breakfast near Tiffany's, namely an expedition to the famous Manhattan jewelry emporium! There we saw, among an inconceivable array of wonders, one very lovely piece of jewelry that has stuck with me. I will quote from Wendy's own description of it, because she had a precision of observation and notation that I cannot command when it comes to such things: "A pear shaped peacock tahitian mounted upside down inside a gold netted framework — it was a hot air balloon pendant." It really was extraordinary - it was the most delicate and beautiful thing, very much in the spirit of the Faberge eggs which are the only jeweled thing I could say I actually have an emotional relationship with (they, too, represent a twentieth-century reimagining of an eighteenth-century tradition), and powerfully evoked that strange science-fictional spirit of early aerialism.

Data covered in cats

Twitter account details plotlines from unaired Season 8 of Star Trek: TNG. (Via Brent.)

NB this is clearly written out of same impulse that prompted the only short story I've written in adulthood! I should write another one like this sometime - many life stress problems would be largely solved if I could write shorter pieces instead of books primarily!

"He was calm because of the Mandrax"

At the Phoenix, James Parker on recent lives of Rod Stewart and Leonard Cohen:
Rod spent much of his adolescence perfecting, and then maintaining, his exquisite ragged bouffant, or "bouff": "Picture me if you will, then, carefully dressed and styled for the night, accompanied by my mates, and standing down in Archway Station as the train thunders in — and all of us cowering into the wall, with our arms up over our heads, trying to protect our bouffs from getting toppled by the wind."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reacher's checklist

Via my father, Jack Reacher's wardrobe choices! (FT site registration required. NB in the middle books of Sara Paretsky, there is too much detail about the washing machine - it is the way of V.I. to wash clothes ruinously dirtied by some investigative enterprise, forget them in the washer and then find them smelling moldy a few days later and run them through another wash cycle - this is also the first set of books I read, other than the novels of Dick Francis, where the detective's exercise habits occupy a significant proportion of the pages, including the question of the affordability of new running shoes on a private investigator's income).

I remain excessively frazzled, but a good play and late dinner were soothing. Last night I needed to be home more than I needed to be at the opera; we sensibly left at the first intermission!

My main feeling right now is intense self-reproach at having dug myself so deep into the fatigue pit this semester that jury duty seemed cataclysmic. Now we have the schedule for the next week, it seems at least doable (in retrospect, based on the intensity of my distress yesterday and today, I probably should have deferred service, but between teaching and travel, it's rare that I am actually available, and I thought I should get it over with). We have Tuesday off and that's one of the two days I had a lot of stuff scheduled for on campus, so I only had to reschedule half, not all. Still slightly stymied as to when and how I will read the large heap of end-of-semester student work and dissertation chapters, but it should be that it will be one week from now and I'll be done with the fall semester work and also, if the trial isn't over, have a week's hiatus for Xmas holiday. Could be worse....

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Jury duty

Am very depressed to say that I am an alternate on a jury, and that the trial may run into early January. So glum about it that I almost burst into tears on the street outside the courthouse when they let us go around 1 this afternoon with a call for tomorrow morning!

My faint hope that they will send us home tomorrow after all does not have much basis in reality, but I will wait till the end of the day tomorrow to reschedule my work obligations for next week - it's all stuff like dissertation chapter conferences that can be reconfigured as evening one-on-one meetings if necessary.

Am going to do some meditation now in the hope that it may assist me to greet this turn of events with greater equanimity than I have mustered thus far....

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The ideal bookshelf

The data behind My Ideal Bookshelf. (Via BoingBoing.)

(Amy has commissioned one of these paintings for me as a present, and now I have to decide what books to select! I am leaning towards a subset of the style books, as I'd love to have a sort of visual representation of that project - Emma, Madame Bovary, The Golden Bowl, Proust vol. 1, The Line of Beauty, Barthes and Koestenbaum and St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels, the Anthony Burgess 99 Novels - but it seems a little narrow, I may go more eclectically in the direction of lifetime reading of significance to me (Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows, Pride and Prejudice, a book each by Diana Wynne Jones and Dick Francis, David Copperfield, Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Richard Holmes's The Pursuit, Clarissa!).


Final classes plus other school obligations plus day one of jury duty have absolutely flattened me. This is all I have to share!

Thanks to the kindness of the excellent Maggie Griffin, I saw the Jack Reacher movie on Monday night - highly enjoyable, though of course I will always much prefer the books. The urban audience is seized with hilarity whenever Tom Cruise has either banter or a fight scene!

Great lunch on Tuesday with Amazon publicity people. I'm really excited about what they're going to be able to do for the book. Galleys not quite ready yet, but I should have them soon.

Light reading around the edges: Attica Locke's superb Black Water Rising and J. Robert Lennon's Familiar, which I also enjoyed a good deal, though not perhaps as much as some other particular favorites in a similar vein (1Q84, Glimpses).

I haven't been able to become enthusiastic about the current season of Fringe, but perhaps I'll give it another go this evening. I am so tired that I can hardly see straight!

Monday, December 10, 2012

These fragments

Just finished rereading David Markson's Reader's Block for the final meeting of my master's seminar tomorrow. It is a most amazing novel!

Text for my final style class: the opening chapter of Edward St. Aubyn's final Patrick Melrose novel, At Last. Not always the case, but this time certainly the apportioning of two could be reversed - I was citing St. Aubyn last week as we talked about Austen and D. A. Miller in the MA seminar, and I think everyone who cares about fiction or literature from an intellectual standpoint should read Markson....

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Closing tabs

Abandoned swimming pools.

At the TLS, Jonathan Bate on two new Keats biographies, with interesting more general thoughts on the literary biographer's dilemma.

Emily DePrang on what happened to one man put on Texas's sex offender registry for an offence committed when he was twelve. (And sequel.)

How to create cartoons.

Honey laundering. (Courtesy of B.)

Day in the life

It was an extremely demanding week, full of all the sorts of thing I usually do at work only more so. Everything went fairly smoothly, though, and I've now very beneficially had twenty-four hours off from work: went to see Restoration Comedy at the Flea (it is delightful!) and had dinner afterwards with G. at Petrarca, then had a beautiful morning of exercise at Chelsea Piers. One more day of teaching, and then I've got meetings on Tuesday but few other campus commitments for the rest of the semester, barring end-of-term grading responsibilities and a couple dissertation chapter conferences.

Light reading around the edges: I was rereading the first of Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels for class, and one of the characters is reading Valley of the Dolls, which for some reason I had never read. Amazingly it was available at the Kindle store, so I downloaded it and began reading it immediately. Its portraits of women are at times so grotesque it feels actively malevolent, and I thought several times with relief that times have changed considerably since those days, but it is still a very good read.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Deus ex mutagen

Paul Krugman on Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy. I was a huge Asimov fan as a child; I loved these books, and read them at a young enough age (9? 10?) that I did not really know - I mean, I knew, but I didn't understand - that psychohistory was not a "real" discipline. I imagined that when I grew older I would be able to learn such mastery myself of the complex workings of societies and the future! I like psychogeography too but it's got nothing on the appeal of psychohistory, I think....

An empty diary

Having a twenty-four hour respite from the intense wave of obligations that accompanies the end of term. Good occasion to enjoy this lovely bit by Jenny Diski, which speaks very directly to my soul (that said, I am excited that I can finally go to boxing class today - a combination of work, holidays and illness has made it impossible for many weeks now!):
Being really alone means being free from anticipation. Even to know that something is going to happen, that I am required to do something is an intrusion on the emptiness I am after. What I love to see is an empty diary, pages and pages of nothing planned. A date, an arrangement, is a point in the future when something is required of me. I begin to worry about it days, sometimes weeks ahead. Just a haircut, a hospital visit, a dinner party. Going out. The weight of the thing-that-is-going-to-happen sits on my heart and crushes the present into non-existence. My ability to live in the here and now depends on not having any plans, on there being no expected interruption. I have no other way to do it. How can you be alone, properly alone, if you know someone is going to knock at the door in five hours, or tomorrow morning, or you have to get ready and go out in three days' time? I can't abide the fracturing of the present by the intrusion of a planned future.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


I want to read this journal issue; even though I swore this spring I'd never write another novel again, that conviction has waned and I can't help but think there might be a zombie apocalypse travelogue (horror! survivalism!) in my writing future. Part of the appeal is that I wouldn't have to make up the characters or places, just the nature of the zombie apocalypse and the obstacles and dangers our party of adventurers would face. I have the full cast of characters and locations already, in my life....

I did manage to write the lecture (on the first of St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels, truly a work of genius) and also the letters of recommendation. Had an extremely strenuous and rather glorious run in the late morning, in short sleeves - temperature was in the mid-50s, perfect running weather. Class went well, but by the time I got home from work I was ready to collapse.

Finished reading the most recent Phil Rickman Merrily Watkins novel, The Secrets of Pain. Will go to bed shortly.

I have the luxury, for the first time in many days, of not setting an alarm, and I hope to take maximum advantage of the fact that my first actual engagement tomorrow is boxing class at 2pm! A long night of sleep is in order.

Extreme sport

Lucie Brock-Broido interviewed at Poetry (via Douglas W.):
Attar of hyacinth is the scent I’ve worn all of my adult life, the only scent in fact. (I eschew change.) So consummate is this pressed oil, though, that on more than one occasion, I’ve been told of the lingering presence of my absence in rooms I’ve been in. The man who runs the elevator in the building where I live once told me that, were I to commit a crime, I would be apprehended instantly. Hours after I am gone, he told me, the evidence of hyacinth goes up and down with the elevator all night long.

Invisible things

My review of Oliver Sacks's new book is up at Bookforum.

If I can just write a lecture and two letters of recommendation this morning, I think I will be able to survive through to the end of the semester....

Monday, December 03, 2012

The modern world

See how Syria's internet disappeared. Also, the Pope is on Twitter.

Still feeling distinctly under the weather, but hoping that I will be better enough tomorrow to start exercising again; exercise deprivation has made me feel rather despondent. It is a very busy time of the work year, but I have had a few symptomatic bits of light reading around the edges: Benjamin Lorr's thoroughly engaging Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga and Sakyong Mipham's Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

In a good cause

The YA for NJ fundraiser is raising money post-Sandy for the New Jersey Community Food Bank. Lots of good stuff on their auction site, including a 50-page manuscript critique from my lovely Invisible Things editor Zareen Jaffery. I think they are not the plum prizes on the list, but you could bid on my two YA novels here!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Closing tabs

The cold I have is making me feel distinctly glum. Exercise deprivation not helping. Came home after morning work and midday meetings and went back to bed for about three hours in the afternoon; am hoping a long night of sleep tonight may make me feel a bit better in the morning, though I think it will be Saturday before I can exercise. (Chelsea Piers is finally reopening on Saturday post-Sandy, and I am much looking forward to attending Joanna's 10am spin class, which I have sorely missed!)

Minor light reading: Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Absent One (don't think I'll continue with this series, too preposterous); Michael Connelly, The Black Box (suitable reading for illness, but fairly slight).

Closing tabs:

Chinese typewriters anticipated predictive text functions (via Wen Jin).

Further clarification on the OED's supposedly missing loan words.

Human skulls carved from books! (Via Nico.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Double ablutions

Widely linked to already, but - daily routines of famous writers!


This picture made me laugh!

Unfortunately I am coming down with a cold - not surprising after Thanksgiving travels, but still regrettable. Am going to retire to bed very early this evening and hope I don't feel a lot worse when I wake up.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Abattoir, svelte, bamboo

At the Guardian, Alison Flood on Sarah Ogilvie's scandalous revelations about OED deletions (via Liz Denlinger):
Examples of Burchfield's deleted words include balisaur, an Indian badger-like animal; the American English wake-up, a golden-winged woodpecker; boviander, the name in British Guyana for a person of mixed race living on the river banks; and danchi, a Bengali shrub. The OED is now re-evaluating words expunged by Burchfield, who died in 2004, aged 81.

"This is really shocking. If a word gets into the OED, it never leaves. If it becomes obsolete, we put a dagger beside it, but it never leaves," Ogilvie said.

The spinach myth

Popeye's nutritional preferences the consequence of a transcription error. (Via GeekPress.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Closing tabs

The next three weeks are daunting; however, I trust I will get through....

Superb review at the Guardian for Jane Yeh's The Ninjas! (Courtesy of Ed Park.)

Tim Parks on the artist he grew up with.

Finally, courtesy of B., definitely the week's best job description (scroll down)! More related material here and here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Fiendishly busy. The next month is fairly daunting: the Thanksgiving overland odyssey (I'll be offline for the duration), the last three weeks of classes, several dissertation chapter meetings and a dissertation defense, a few eighteenth-century seminars and colloquia, opera tickets for Don Giovanni and Les Troyens, sundry departmental meetings, etc. etc.

I have a mystery rash on my lower legs that has caused me to google words like scabies, impetigo, ringworm, ensuring a computer screen full of ads for STD testing! (Doctor's appointment next Monday evening, internet self-diagnosis having been found wanting.)

Worst of all I am called for jury duty on Dec. 12! I must get it out of the way, I can't postpone it as I will be traveling quite a bit in the opening months of the new year, but I can't say I'm looking forward to it, not least because of constraints it places on various other end-of-semester scheduling obligations.

Seems like I have been too busy even to keep a proper log of light reading. Catch-up titles: Manel Loureiro's Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End (still can't get enough of these zombie novels, and spent the week after Sandy contemplating the possibility that I might even write one myself one of these days); Laini Taylor's Days of Blood and Starlight, an enchanting book that only prompts the complaint I WANT THE NEXT INSTALLMENT NOW!; Ben Aaronovitch, Moon Over Soho, which I thought was excellent (the first installment had some rookie continuity errors and points of confusion, though already very strong, but this really picks up momentum and delivers on the promise); and another appealing entry in the postapocalyptic zombie stakes, a good recommendation from my colleague Anahid, Kresley Cole's Poison Princess.

I always slightly grumble when these books are built on a romance chassis - I would rather hear less about the fellow's rippling pectoral muscles and more about the exact contents of the survivalist's larder! Still, very much worthwhile, and I dimly recall that Kresley Cole is the writer my friend "Lilia Ford" was recommending as so much superior to the rest of the paranormal romance cohort....

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Two links

Stressful Monday! Two cute animal links: monkeys ride capybaras (I really want a capybara, the swimming pool at B.'s condo complex would be the perfect habitat for a semi-aquatic mammal!); mother cat nurses baby hedgehogs.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Things you love

A great writing exercise from Laini Taylor, via Sara Ryan (whose lovely YA novel Empress of the World has just been reissued):
Do this exercise where you freewrite about the book you would write. (“Writing about” is so much easier than “writing”.) Don’t just describe the plot. Try to get at the feeling of it too, the mood and atmosphere. Be fanciful. You won’t have to abide by this, it’s just an exercise. Think about this too: imagine you are browsing in a bookstore or library, reading flap copy. You’ve had this happen before, you read flap copy that makes your heartbeat speed up, your mind brightens. This book is what you want, it is full of things you love, that fascinate you. You can’t wait to read it. What are those things? Come up with your own ideas that will speed up your heart and brighten your mind.
Only one novel of mine was written at all under this sort of sign - The Explosionist. My first novel was the book I felt compelled to write rather than the book I felt huge desire to read, and it was a strange and exciting feeling when I realized - after perusing the shelves of the Bank Street Bookstore to see whether anything else had come out that could reproduce the thrill for me of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and Garth Nix's Abhorsen books - that if the book I most wanted to read didn't yet exist, I had to write it!

The new novel has not been written under exactly that sign - it was more a compulsion to tell a story that would capture some of the intellectual charisma of the theory and practice of role-playing games, plus longterm desire to write something that reimagines The Bacchae. Then when I was revising, I kept on saying to myself, "I just need to make this world as much a one that readers want to enter as I feel about the world of Fringe...."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Closing tabs

Kathryn Schulz on Andrew Solomon's new book. (With bonus citation for "hair-splitters and lumpers," which I was talking about the other day in class - Darwin!)

Cousin George Pringle: featured track of the day.

Marina Harss on flood damage to properties of the Martha Graham Company.

Erik Davis on psychedelic drugs.

Rachel Adams on contemplating the results of a child's IQ test.

Ben Anastas on how to rack up debt and ruin your life.

"Direwolf, direwolf"

Game of Thrones as an Eric Carle picture book.

"The tot in question"

Ed Park on Rosemary's Baby.

The depressive third person

At Public Books, my colleague Nick Dames considers St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels (I'm teaching the first one and the opening chapter of the last in my style class this semester):
The Melrose novels, incipiently in Never Mind and baldly by the time of At Last, are also dramatic reassertions of the novel’s standing as the form best capable of describing consciousness without trying to “solve” it. Even more curiously, they insist on the flexibility, diagnostic acuity, and delicate modesty of traditional third-person narration, as if it alone—the odd habit of transforming an I into a he, she, or it—could begin to describe what it is like to be aware of our awareness, to be tied down to the only force we know that promises any freedom. If anything can light up the dark room stealthily enough to tell us what darkness looks like, St. Aubyn suggests with a bit more than diffidence, it might be the oldest and most ordinary of fiction’s resources. The decision to write his own story in the third person is more than legal caution or familial reticence. It is also a strong philosophical claim: only by using that linguistic sleight-of-hand might I get a sense of how I am.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"I was a bit insouciant"

The FT lunches with Conrad Black (site registration required): "I’m not much better than a run-of-the-mill millionaire. Maximising my wealth was never my chief thing ... But now it’s time to replenish the inventory of miniature portraits of George Washington."

Also: Philip Roth retires from novel-writing.

Finger sandwiches

A pair of words my heart thrills to.  Tea at the King Edward Hotel, Toronto.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Closing tabs

Have had a bit of a breather in Cayman for a few days, with some important pieces of work finished and much exercise, but am on another plane tomorrow to another country! Then home on Sunday. I am ready, really, for the semester to be over: five more weeks, but two of them only with Monday teaching rather than Monday-Wednesday...

Closing tabs:

Vanessa Veselka on a truck-stop killer and the life of teenage runaways.

Chickens have to live somewhere too!

Note-taking habits of prior ages.

9 political poems to read now that the election's over.

An alluring excerpt from Nancy Marie Brown's Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths.

Smallest man in the world dances with his cat.

Alos: my favorite local sports journalist Ron Shillingford profiles the Wednesday Night Run Club. (B.'s marathon relay team gets a mention!)

Miscellaneous light reading: Jacqueline Carey's Dark Currents: Agent of Hel (not bad, but not up to the standard of her best - she's working in a genre that Seanan McGuire has more of a natural gift for!); Ben Aaronovitch's Midnight Riot; Scott Jurek's Eat and Run.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Hurricane update

Well, I have been lucky, Morningside Heights is high in elevation and I never lost power, but it has been a discombobulating and curiously stressful week! Obviously I couldn't fly out from LaGuardia yesterday. I'm on a direct flight to Cayman on Sunday instead; I will miss the triathlon, but it seemed the best of the available alternatives, and I'm now just trying not to worry neurotically about whether gas shortages will make it difficult to get a cab to JFK early on Sunday morning. I have two human evacuees and one feline in the living room; the younger human and I have had some good runs in Riverside Park and are enjoying massive amounts of Firefly/Big Bang Theory/Fringe to make the time go by. They have a good shot at getting back into their place Sunday morning, I think: fingers crossed that all these transitions go smoothly.

It now seems about a million years ago, but The Tempest at the Met last weekend was great. (Strange sense, during first two acts, of composer deliberately and rather perversely not writing the ravishing music of which he is capable, and moving towards difficulty or stringency instead, but the third act is emotionally much more forthcoming and draws everything back together. The orchestra sounded fantastic.)

Hurricane reading, appropriately and postapocalyptically: Justin Cronin's The Twelve. I enjoyed it, though it's not altogether to my tastes: a bit metaphysical/theological in its priorities, and the cast of thousands makes it sometimes difficult to differentiate one character from another. I thought this review was truly grossly unfair! Not my style of reviewing, anyway: if I hated it that much, I probably just wouldn't write about it.

Yoga today was beneficial!

Jane Yeh's The Ninjas is fantastically good. Separate post to follow at some less distracted juncture.

Irrelevant but interesting: the popularity of Clarks shoes in Jamaica.

Also, someone needs to send me a review copy of Swimming with Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale: Sports, Health and Exercise in Eighteenth-Century England! (Courtesy of Steve B.)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Beauty privilege

Molly Crabapple on the world of a professional naked girl. The whole piece is interesting and true, but this bit especially resonated with me:
When I was 23, I had enough art jobs to quit modeling. In quitting, I first got a look at how non-professionally naked women thought of their looks. It astounded me. Office workers lacerated themselves for not looking like Angelina Jolie, even though Jolie-hot Latina girls were bagging groceries throughout Brooklyn.

As a model, my looks were functional, a quantity to be squeezed and shellacked so as to sell for a higher price. Other women were hotter, but my face worked well enough. Civilian (as I thought of them) women baffled me by torturing themselves for a Hollywood beauty standard that would get them neither a better career nor better cock.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Closing tabs

Can't explain why it was such a tiring week: maybe it's just a tiring point in the semester? Anyway, I'm knackered, and am going to take the evening completely off for phenomenal laziness that may or may not involve novel-reading and a couple episodes of the (non-appealing) new season of Fringe.

On Tuesday I went to a lovely event - my long-ago tenth-grade English teacher Charlotte Pierce-Baker, now a professor at Vanderbilt, was at Columbia to speak about her distressing and moving memoir, This Fragile Life: A Mother's Story of a Bipolar Son. Haven't read it yet, but will do so soon.

Will Wiles on being published by Amazon's new literary fiction imprint (same publisher that's bringing out my novel in the spring).

Two takes: Phil Dyess-Nugent and James Parker on Neil Young's new memoir.

Richard Marshall interviews Paul Fry on various matters to do with theory and literature (good list of reading recommendations at the end!).

Check out Tough Mudder pics!

Light reading around the edges: Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins (and here's a bonus link) and Invisible Murder, the second installment in an excellent Danish crime series.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Six more teaching Mondays between me and the end of the semester, with a Monday holiday the week of the election as a respite. I am weary!

Today in the classroom: two de Man essays, "Semiology and Rhetoric" and "Literary History and Literary Modernity"; also, for my afternoon lecture, the opening stretch of Swann's Way!

My apartment is full of books various publishers have sent me that I don't want to read - there's a stack of thirty or so currently awaiting donation - but then I get one that is the thing I most want to read in the world, and am delighted again at the influx: in this case, it was James Lasdun's Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked. I read it in two short sittings, partly because of the gripping nature of the topic (the way the internet has hugely amplified stalking possibilities for the sociopathic and borderline, as exemplified in a terrible multi-year experience Lasdun himself had with a student who turned into his passionate stalker). In some sense, I deem the book a failure, although because the topic is so interesting and because Lasdun is such a good writer, it remains quite worthwhile. But I don't think he's had enough time to process the experience into a book-length piece (and of course he has the horrible irony of the fact that his novels are about this already, uncannily and avant la lettre, though I have certainly myself found it to be more generally the case that things in life happen that are like things one already wrote in one's novels); it probably would have been better saved as draft and then rewritten as more like a ten-thousand-word essay another few years down the road. He wants the book also to be about anti-Semitism, despite his nagging suspicion that both his stalker and the letter-writer who once sent an obscenely defaced missive to his father are really "just" mentally ill, and there is a general feeling of Lasdun (quite understandably, I hasten to add) still being in the grip of the experience rather than having moved away from it to shape it into something with the clarity and perfection of his fictions.

In other news, Tough Mudder on Saturday was great. (Although I should note that my knees and shins are ridiculously scraped and bruised, as though I have become an unruly five-year-old!)

Light reading around the edges: two more old novels by Diana Wynne Jones, Eight Days of Luke and Archer's Goon. It is strange, this notion she has of a person being split up into constituent parts and losing memory of him- or herself: it's very consistently developed across a wide number of different books. I really love her novels more than almost anything else I can think of.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Looking at my calendar is inducing a feeling of mild awe at the amount of stuff I have to do in the next couple weeks (i.e. before I leave Nov. 1 for some days with B.)! It includes recreational elements as well as just work (Tough Mudder this Saturday, tickets for the Ad├Ęs Tempest at the Met next Saturday evening, a day-long meditation retreat the following day) but there is no doubt that the season of letters of recommendation is upon us....

Heard a fantastically good talk at lunchtime today at the Society of Fellows. David Russell on George Eliot's rage - excellent stuff!

Tyler Hamilton's book really is unbelievably gripping. I couldn't put it down. Strongly recommended.

Miscellaneous other links:

Swim to work!

Cupcake aversion therapy?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bee bit!

Some bees in Cayman had a lucky escape! This is B.'s condo complex, and the video gives you a nice little glimpse of the place (also, why my friend Max, the property manager, is such fun to spend time with!).

In other small-town news, impending showdown at Wednesday Night Run Club! There should be some good coverage in the Cay Compass of the Cayman triathlon, which I'm racing the first weekend in November; I'll definitely link to give a bit of the flavor.

Closing tabs

Friday night I went to Doveman's Burgundy Stain session at LPR. It was magically good: here's the set list and here's a highlight.

On Saturday, dinner was infinitely better than the play, which was possibly the most abominably bad piece of theater I have ever had to sit through! I am currently having a minor obsession with the dessert known as affogato - both Esca and Petrarca have particularly good versions, though I think it's something you can't really go wrong with...

Had a cold all last week, which was depressing and necessitated woefully reduced exercise volume, but it's pretty much gone now. My class on "Plato's pharmacy" yesterday was highly enjoyable, but the afternoon Golden Bowl session was a little bit like the labors of Sisyphus! Must finish rereading the novel this afternoon and do a more dramatic retool of old lecture notes to see what can be done for the final discussion tomorrow. It is possible that it just suffered by dint of my having been up since 6am to revise a book review and make sure I had time to run before my first class; tomorrow I'll have more attention for that session exclusively.

Miscellaneous light reading around the edges: Diana Wynne Jones's Aunt Maria (reading her posthumous collection of essays on writing has given me irresistible urge to immerse myself in Spenser, Sidney, Tolkien etc., but I am also pleased to see how many more of her own novels are available on Kindle compared to the last time I checked - there are a couple I've never read, so I'm looking forward to those last few also); Thomas Enger's Pierced. About halfway through the fascinating The Secret Race, Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle's account of doping in the Tour de France (and more, via DC Rainmaker, whose lovely bride's new business enterprise makes me wish I could pay a quick visit to Paris!).

My former student Paul Morton interviews Katherine Boo at The Millions.

Dwight Garner praises Benjamin Anastas's Too Good To Be True.

Finally, unanticipated uses of the Fluksometer....

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Closing tabs

Steve Burt's life as a girl.

I was distressed yesterday to realize I was coming down with a cold, but I think I've dodged the worst - still somewhat stuffed up, but it has receded somewhat overnight rather than descending to the lungs.  Session #2 on The Golden Bowl this afternoon, and I am about to rewrite my old lecture, as I was visited with inspiration while rereading last night as to a better way to try and bring the book alive in class.

Miscellaneous other links: one year I really am going to go to thisworking in AntarcticaLarissa MacFarquhar on Hilary Mantel.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The science-fictional guide to adolescencce

At the LRB, Stephen Burt on Jo Walton's Among Others, a novel I also very wholeheartedly recommend.

Something evil

Pope Cat is getting a transmission.

If Rambo were a liberal

Great interview with Lee Child at Playboy. (Tip courtesy of L. who picked up the magazine at her hipster hairdresser's!)

(NB I did think it highly implausible when Lee Child said in a recent interview that Reacher would vote Democrat!)

Teaching Madame Bovary was utterly exhilarating. I am increasingly convinced that every year I should just teach a seminar called "Interesting Books" whose only rationale would be that everything on the syllabus is something I think you can't afford to miss if you love novels! I think the main purpose of my spring-semester leave will be reading a ton of novels for the ABCs of the novel book (especially the classic Chinese and Japanese ones I mostly don't know), but it also should mean that I could roll out a couple new courses next year without it inducing a nervous breakdown.

We decide on curriculum as early as November for the following academic year, which is often tough (what will I feel like teaching in September 2013?!?), but I'm thinking I should repeat an old graduate seminar I only taught once - the Idea of Culture class (I have a new one I want to develop, on eighteenth-century modernities starting with Hamlet/Descartes and moving through Swift, Sterne, etc., but I need to get more work done on the ABCs of the novel project before I teach something that puts all sorts of interesting new ideas in my head!). Maybe do the MA seminar one more time, as it counts as a service course (otherwise I need to teach two lecture courses if I don't want to teach in the Core). An undergraduate seminar on voice in fiction that would include Sebald, Bernhard, Ishiguro, Lydia Davis, Gary Lutz, various others. And - this is the duty I am feeling, but it would also be a pleasure, though a lot of work! - a new lecture course, for undergraduates primarily but graduate students also, on eighteenth-century nonfiction. Perhaps just focused around Boswell and Johnson, as I have never taught Boswell's Life of Johnson and suspect that, rather like Clarissa, it is a book that students probably won't read at all if I'm not teaching it!

Absolutely gripped by Diana Wynne Jones's reflections on writing, which are giving me a huge hunger for some serious time immersed in Sidney and Spenser - that, too, is on the agenda for sabbatical reading. (There's also an early essay that makes me keen to reread LOTR!)

Miscellaneous other light reading: Dani Shapiro's Devotion; Reed Farrel Coleman's Gun Church.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Reading in bed

A favorite moment from Oliver Sacks's new book:
Once, while reading Gibbon’s autobiography in bed—this was in 1988, when I was thinking and reading a great deal about deaf people and their use of sign language—I found an amazing description by Gibbon of seeing a group of deaf people in London in 1770, immersed in an animated sign discourse. I immediately thought that this would make a wonderful footnote for the book I was writing, but when I came to reread Gibbon’s description, it was not there. I had hallucinated or perhaps dreamt it, in a flash, between two sentences of text.

Monday, October 01, 2012


Mondays are taxing this semester!

Finished reading Victor LaValle's The Devil in Silver.  It is a strange book; I liked it a good deal, but it also made me feel moderately perplexed much of the time I was reading (not a disagreeable feeling).  Wished he did not feature sudden one-paragraph shifts to different viewpoint character, but that is just a tic of mine, to find such shifts induce something like motion sickness.  Made me feel grateful I have never been institutionalized.

Then: J. K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy!  Curiosity makes us do strange things; I could not resist reading it, though it is not so much my kind of book and I think they have priced the Kindle edition too high ($17.99).  It's fine, but lightning didn't strike twice.

(I recommend instead, if you like that sort of thing, one of Jilly Cooper's epic village novels - she is less good than Rowling with characterization, but she gives you more characters to root for, and the dogs and cats in her books are very fully realized! - in fact this novel is sort of the weird double of Cooper's Wicked!...)

Also recommended, as an "instead" rather than an "as well": Peyton Place! (In this case the exclamation point is my own.)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cracked kettles

From Madame Bovary, part II (translation by Lydia Davis), one of my favorite passages in all of nineteenth-century fiction:
He had heard these things said to him so often that for him there was nothing original about them.  Emma was like all other mistresses; and the charm of novelty, slipping off gradually like a piece of clothing, revealed in its nakedness the eternal monotony of passion, which always assumes the same forms and uses the same language.  He could not perceive—this man of such broad experience—the difference in feelings that might underlie similarities of expression.  Because licentious or venal lips had murmured the same words to him, he had little faith in their truthfulness; one had to discount, he thought, exaggerated speeches that concealed mediocre affections; as if the fullness of the soul did not sometimes overflow in the emptiest of metaphors, since none of us can ever express the exact measure of our needs, or our ideas, or our sorrows, and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when we long to move the stars to pity.

The jerky renaissance

"A group he calls 'lululemons.'"  (Via BoingBoing.)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Closing tabs

A conversation with Randall Munroe, including a fascinating description of the origin of the What If? series (via GeekPress):
It actually started with a class. MIT has a weekend program where volunteers can teach classes to groups of high school students on any subject you want. I had a friend who was doing it, and it sounded really cool -- so I signed up to teach a class about energy, which I always thought was interesting, but which is a slippery idea to define. I was really getting into the nuts and bolts of what energy is, and it was a lot of fun -- but when I started to get into the normal lecture part of the class, it felt kind of dry, and I could tell the kids weren't super into it. And then we got to a part where I brought up an example -- I think it was Yoda in Star Wars. And they got really excited about that. And then they started throwing out more questions about different movies -- like, "When the Eye of Sauron exploded at the end of The Lord of the Rings, and knocked people over from this far away, can we tell how big a blast that was?" They got really excited about that -- and I had a lot more fun doing it than I did just teaching the regular material.
So I spent the second half of the class just solving problems like that in front of them. And then I was like, "That was really fun. I want to keep doing it."
A journey into the opium underworld.

Miniature car models photographed (via Things).

Uganda's Royal Ascot goat races!  (Via Khakasa.)