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.)