Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Closing tabs

Very glad to be back home.  I was in Ottawa for a slightly quixotic enterprise, but really I must get back to work; I have several pressing things I need to finish, including the wretched Austen essay, which I didn't have time to tackle again before I left early Saturday morning(it is actually much more relaxing for me to work than to do almost anything else!).  This gives a bit of the flavor of our day on Sunday.

Closing tabs:

"Filling udders with gas is becoming a serious problem."   (Via Tyler Cowen and Brent.)

One iguana's lucky break.

3-D jello sculpture!  (Apparently it's a thing.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012


My Austen draft is now over the 2000-word mark, which given that I'm shooting for 6000-7500 words should mean (in theory!) that it's roughly a third of the way done.  I think I can get much of the rest written tomorrow: I'll certainly be happier if I can leave for Ottawa with the piece mostly drafted. 

(I may be able to get some more writing done on Saturday, as I'm arriving in the late morning, about twelve hours before B. will get there, and haven't made any plans for the day other than perhaps a notional yoga class if I can get organized for it; on the other hand, my flight leaves so early from Newark airport that I've booked a car to pick me up at 6am, so it may not be realistic to think of later-day productivity given likelihood of little to no sleep.)

I had a two-hour run on the schedule for this morning, but felt too anxious about the unwritten nature of the Austen essay to indulge my conviction that running first thing in the day is the best way to get it done.  Will head out in about twenty minutes and feel quite glad now that I waited, as it has been near-torrentially rainy all day but significantly lightened in last hour.  I like running in the rain, but a two-hour very rainy run is likely to leave one excessively chafed as well as sodden....

Life and opinions


Paul Fussell has died.  I can't remember exactly when I first read his books, only that a copy of the subfustian-jacketed Poetic Meter and Poetic Form (it does not at all look as though it would be an exciting book, only to me at the time it was thrilling!) probably came my way when I was fourteen or fifteen via my inspired teacher Deborah Dempsey.  I acquired and read The Great War and Modern Memory not long after that, and it was an eye-opener; I had read a good deal of the WWI poetry Fussell writes about already, and some of the memoirs (Robert Graves, Vera Brittain), but the kind of analysis the book does made me think I want to write a book like this

Two bits that have stayed with me, possibly inaccurately: his observation in passing that before the aftermath of WWI, with British soldiers returning from having spent years in France, the thing you might buy on holiday to remember your trip by was called a keepsake rather than a souvenir; and his reproduction of the text of the amazingly Orwellian form postcard given to soldiers on the front to send home.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Day of culture!

Lunch with my dad at La Lunchonette (I had sauteed scallops and salade nicoise, he had gravlax and rack of lamb) and then an excellent movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, at the IFC Center.  Off shortly to see Cock, whose title gave the NYT some difficulty.

(Apropos of which: "We were allowed seven cunts.")

Also: Zero-gravity design?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The way ahead

I had an extremely good conversation with a career visionary today, and it's given me much to chew over, including some more clarity on thoughts about my priorities over the next couple years and what I want things to look like in ten.  She had many good pieces of advice, but I will share only the most essential: don't do stuff you don't like!

(I'm still waiting, by the way, for word on the little book on style, which is probably the book dearest to my heart right now and which points the way forward to the ABCs of the novel project.  Should know a bit more about what's happening with that, if only in the negative, in another month or so, and will update here once things are more definite.  I am pretty sure I really am going to stop writing novels, by the way; I don't have the resources of time and attention to do it properly, and it then erodes my pleasure in other things I should be enjoying more, namely my core mission of reading and writing about books and generally living in the world of words and ideas.  It would be different if I didn't have a day job - but I love my day job!) 

Can't say exactly when post-school-year recovery tipped over into procrastination, but at any rate the feeling of not writing the Austen essay (I actually can't remember when I last had a stretch of days putting off doing something to that degree!) became unpleasant enough that it was finally better just to give in and get started.  Got an hour of work done on it this morning before getting diverted into other trains of activity; will try for an hour first thing tomorrow, though the day itself includes a number of things that will entirely curtail writing time.  I can't quite explain why I'm feeling so utterly knackered, except to say that I think the grotesque humidity might be partly to blame...

(I will be in Ottawa over the weekend and early next week, which unfortunately forestalls all work, but once I've sent the Austen essay out I need to do one more revision of The Magic Circle; I have neglected the second half each time I've revised it, it's very natural to concentrate on the opening at the expense of the later parts, and I will undertake one more revision in the hope of really addressing this and making the whole thing as good as it possibly can be.  My editor is going to deserve a co-credit on this one!)

Closing tabs:

Eric Banks's racetrack classics.

Cats at sea.

Nineteenth-century scrapbooks!

Light reading around the edges: Helene Tursten's slightly humdrum but readable Night Rounds; Karin Slaughter's e-book novella Snatched (I like this format and think this particular story works well as a teaser for forthcoming series installment); two books by Mo Hayder, Gone (which has several preposterous aspects but which is so grippingly suspenseful that I almost missed my subway stop) and Hanging Hill (which reminded me what an uneven writer Hayder is - some good things about this one too, particularly in the intensity and suspensefulness of some of the storytelling, but much weaker than her best ones).

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Closing tabs

The internet does not seem to have been bountifully full of the particular kind of thing I like to link to this weekend, but here are a few decent ones:

A nice obituary for the author of My Side of the Mountain, a particular favorite of mine in childhood.

"I've collected 10 million buttons."  (FT site registration required.)

"The obvious thing was to have jelly on the glass plate."  (Via Jane.)

I think I'm almost ready to get back to work (I'd better be, as this essay is not going to write itself!).  This week mostly I've just been exercising massively and reading novels: a quite reasonable Swedish thriller called Three Seconds; a book much-awaited by me, Garth Nix's A Confusion of Princes, which does not quite touch the sublimity of his Abhorsen books but which happily made me want to reread Diana Wynne Jones's Deep Secret, which is unfortunately not available for Kindle; Liza Marklund's Red Wolf and Last Will, which I liked very much but due to carelessness read in the wrong order; and Helene Tursten's tediously-titled-in-translation Detective Inspector Huss.  I will definitely read the rest of Tursten's series, as I thought this one was quite good, but the only thing I really have to note about it is that the detectives are constantly eating pizza, open-faced sandwiches and Lucia buns, which made me hungry!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"What's opera, Doc?"

This must be my earliest acquaintance with Wagner....

Really I have no commentary in particular on the Ring at the Met - I did enjoy it, and I'm very glad to have seen the whole thing in one bash, but it confirmed my sense that it's not really suited to my sensibilities.  The music is very easy and compelling to listen to, and the purest and most intense pleasure for me in the whole thing was probably just the lavish beauty of the writing for woodwinds, my favorite family of orchestral instruments.  The clarinets were especially lovely, but of course also English horn, and at various moments my mind drifted to an alternate universe where I am perhaps a professional bassoonist with a sideline in oboe and English horn - really it wouldn't have come to pass, but one has time in that context to sit and ponder such things! 

The 'machine' came into its own in Siegfried, as a surface on which light is projected; in other respects, it seemed cumbersome though not unduly so.  There is a sense in which the lighter moments, especially in Siegfried, are actually familiar anachronistically by way of this vintage of Disney film; in fact, the whole thing was much more Disney than I had possibly imagined, as I had some vague and largely misleading association of the cycle with the most avant-garde wing of twentieth-century Bayreuth productions (why did I somehow imagine that more of this music would sound more like Webern?!?), and of course this is not at all the style in which a house like the Met is going to approach the thing.  It is not an original observation if I say that really the Disney theme park is the most fully realized twentieth-century sequel to Wagner's fantasy of the total work of art.  The music must have sounded electrifyingly strange and original when it was first heard, but has been largely naturalized by way of a century plus of over-the-top movie music; in fact, that was probably my other most startling realization, that the idiom for a certain kind of movie music continues to be borrowed almost literally from Wagner's orchestration, how strange that this should be so!

It was not an electrifying production, in short, but I am very glad to have heard the music all the way through and gain a much clearer sense of what it is really like and how it works.  My one regret is that Eric Owens wasn't singing Alberich in any of the performances I saw; I will have to make sure to go and hear him in something else before too long.

I have no substantive complaints for this week, and in fact I have been busy with some very pleasant things: a party at the NYPL in bestowal of the Young Lions Fiction Award; congratulating our graduating senior English majors and handing out awards in the humanities to other CC students, including one or two of my own, on a day so rainy that it made even me, a die-hard umbrella-despiser, contemplate the utility of such things; a beautiful long run this morning and a very good subsequent meeting on a student's dissertation prospectus.  However I cannot shake my end-of-year malaise: I suppose it is the usual consequence of overwork. 

I have an overdue essay that I should be writing, but I really can't face any work for another day or so; all I want to do is exercise, which puts me in a good mood while I am doing it and for a few hours thereafter, then results in a total mood crash so persistent that even the unexpected arrival in the mail this afternoon of a thousand-dollar check that I wasn't at all expecting didn't cause any appreciable lift!  I think I just have to be patient and wait for the cloud to go away (only I really do need to write that essay!).

Closing tabs:

Nico has a good long post that touches on many matters of interest, but especially wombat gait!

Also: body language....

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Closing tabs

The most amazing tiny food ever!   (Link courtesy of Julia.)  His Etsy store also has some very good things: I will have to get the Christmas cookie earrings for someone I know will like them.

Stephen Burt on zines.

Edmund White on Cranbrook.

Minor opera thoughts to follow later this evening once I have (I hope!) finished my grading....

Friday, May 11, 2012

The legendary immolation scene

I have spent the week in a strange variety of activities conducted through a haze of mild to moderate fatigue: 
  • A miscellany of doctor and dentist appointments, each minor/inconsequential in its own right but cumulatively onerous (and I would say that the pharmacy at the Rite Aid on 110th and Broadway is the worst, except that I switched there a few years ago from the Duane Reade across the street because that one really and truly was the worst!); 
  • a large amount of opera (about which more, perhaps, anon - final installment tomorrow); 
  • and a lot of whacking of the zombie book review that would not die, though I think I have sent its final incarnation to my editor just now.  The issue closes today, so that is pretty much going to have to be it!  
Will be very glad to see the back of that one: those who review regularly know that some pieces come together beautifully in the first draft whereas others have to be monstrously hacked about and rewritten again and again.  Not for the first time, I wonder whether it really is a good idea for me to write reviews: I feel that though reviewing comes as a sort of side benefit of my main reading-and-writing skill set, it's not my true metier.  However it is likely that soon I will have forgotten the pains of this week and will accept whatever invitation next comes my way....

The activity that should loom larger on that list but that I'm very behind on: grading!  Must make some more headway today as grades for graduating seniors are due by the end of the day.

Read two very good novels around the edges, Heath Lowrance's demented and captivating The Bastard Hand and Lavie Tidhar's haunting Osama.  I can't recommend these two highly enough: really unusual and high-quality neo-noir in two quite different inflections, very good stuff.

Miscellaneous linkage:

"Glass Gem" corn.  (Via Elatia Harris.)

Charles Peterson has a long and dispiriting two-part piece at n+1 on the devastation of the research mission at the New York Public Library.

Hawkcam!  (Courtesy of Brent.)

Widely linked to already, but orangutans like iPads too...

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Movie music

I had to stock up on cough drops, but Rheingold was appealingly vulgar and very watchable.  And as L. said, the machine hardly creaks at all...

Grumpy at lung ailment and not having run for a week, but I am on the mend, I think tomorrow will mark a return to full-on exercise.

Also: mother's ruin!  (Via Sarang.)

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The spoon research group

 At the FT, Fuschia Dunlop on the alchemy of cutlery (site registration required):
The sight of 15 adults sucking their spoons like babies was an unusual start to a dinner party, but they had surprisingly different flavours. Copper and zinc were bold and assertive, with bitter, metallic tastes; the copper spoons even smelt metallic as they gently oxidised in the air. The silver spoon, despite its beauty, tasted dull in comparison, while the stainless steel had a faintly metallic flavour that is normally overlooked. As Miodownik pointed out, we were not just tasting the spoons but actually eating them, because with each lick we were consuming “perhaps a hundred billion atoms”.
 When the spoons were tasted with food, there were some surprising revelations. Baked black cod with zinc was as unpleasant as a fingernail scraped down a blackboard, and grapefruit with copper was lip-puckeringly nasty. But both metals struck a lovely, wild chord with a mango relish, their loud, metallic tastes somehow harmonised by its sweet-sour flavour. (“With sour foods, like mango and tamarind, you really are tasting the metal,” says Laughlin, “because the acid strips off a little of the surface.”) Tin turned out to be a popular match for pistachio curry. And Laughlin sang the praises of gold as a spoon for sweet things: “Gold has a smooth, almost creamy quality, and a quality of absence – because it doesn’t taste metallic.”
 I want to eat honey ice cream with a gold spoon...

Home again

Feel much more settled now that I am back at home with my little cat, who was flatteringly happy to see me last night.  I do not know why feline company should be so soothing, but there is no doubt that I am on a more even keel when there is a cat around. 

Read two good books on my travels: Johan Theorin's The Darkest Room (this guy is an awe-inspiringly good popular storyteller - the book gave me a yen to watch Hitchcock movies obsessively and see whether I couldn't craft such a formally perfect and atmospherically chilling narrative of suspense); and Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers.  The amount and quality of reporting that went into this book is staggering: it is really a feat of human achievement like few other things!  It is not a criticism, but I am struck by the oddity of the fact that the style of narration really recognizably is still like what the cluster of mid-19th-century novelists that include Hugo and Dickens and Eliot and Balzac developed - ditto for The Wire - it is a powerful form of narration that, once discovered, has had considerable longevity.

Closing tabs:

Brent's friend Larry Thompson has printed a beautiful edition of "Tintern Abbey."

The National Eagle Repository.

This is the kind of writing I should really be doing.

Friday, May 04, 2012


Well, this has been about the grumpiest week in living memory.  I had a sinus infection and bronchitis during a week I'd hoped to spend doing large amounts of exercise; I was also hoping for clarity to emerge on a piece of work stuff that instead turns out to be enmired even more deeply in murkiness than I had hitherto guessed (in this case murkiness leads me to believe the outcome will ultimately be negative, and in fact the only thing to do now is completely detach from it emotionally!).  Foul mood only slightly dispelled by regular yoga.  Woke up at 4 this morning and couldn't get back to sleep at all; every few minutes, strove to unclench my extremely tightly clamped jaw muscles, but to little avail!

Flying back to NYC later this afternoon and feel that I have resoundingly squandered my week here; I dimly remember that I spent the weekend in a state of elation due to manuscript completion, but can no longer at all recapture the feeling....

Read a bunch of good crime fiction: Asa Larsson's Until Thy Wrath be Past; John Rector's Already Gone; Jorn Lier Horst's Dregs; and Johan Theorin's Echoes from the Dead.  All recommended, but the Theorin is particularly good, and I have downloaded his other book to read at the airport.

Also viewed: Hunger Games movie (in the theater, with popcorn!); The Lives of Others, which caused me to revisit this interesting piece by Timothy Garton Ash; the remaining portion of season 3 of The Mentalist, which seemed to me to go downhill in the last episodes (this show will not be to everyone's taste - I know my mother finds it unwatchable! - but I have on the whole enjoyed it); and several episodes of a very funny and charming program that B. dug out last night to distract me out of my bad mood, Wonderfalls.

I trust I will soon regain my equilibrium.  (Kill or cure: starting tomorrow and ending next Saturday, four massive sessions of Wagner at the Met!)