Monday, December 30, 2013


(It was not a minor resurgence of the old lung ailment. It was an entirely new one laying itself over the base of the old!)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Invisible libraries

Minor resurgence of lung ailment is making me take the day off exercise, but the good thing about that and the gradual winding-down of holiday family obligations is that I am finally having a much-needed day at home cleaning up the floods of paper that accumulate over the course of the semester. Will probably post a stern to-do list later: it is not interesting, but it provides accountability....

(I am also due an end-of-year reading roundup which I hope to put together in the next couple of days.)

I read a funny book a couple weeks ago, a good recommendation from Brian Berger. It is George Steiner's My Unwritten Books, a title and a concept I wish I had thought of myself (I suppose I can revisit it if I get an opportunity late in my career!). I found a couple of the essays not very interesting, "School Terms" disturbingly elitist and judgment-oriented and "The Tongues of Eros" - about what it is like to have sex in different languages - so grotesquely embarrassing that I could read it only with a kind of appalled horror.

But "Chinoiserie," on Joseph Needham (his wildly wide-ranging history of embryology was one of my favorites of all the books I encountered while reading for the breeding book), is an excellent opener, and I thought "Invidia" was absolutely brilliant and striking, rather like Adam Phillips at his very best.

Here is a bit:
What is it like to be an epic poet with philosophic aspirations when Dante is, as it were, in the neighborhood? To be a contemporary playwright when Shakespeare is out to lunch? "How can I be if another is?" asks Goethe. Outside my door at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton I heard J. Robert Oppenheimer fling at a junior physicist the demand: "You are so young and already you have done so little."
Also of interest: at the FT, Emma Jacobs on the life of ghostwriting (site registration required).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The wound and the gift

Scott Stossel on coming to terms with anxiety.


The cats are one of the few bright points in Inside Llewyn Davis, which I saw last night with G. It is a watchable but bleak film, minor in its ambitions. I liked Luc Sante's account (that's the movie I saw, unless I'd been reviewing it for Cat Fancy or similar!); here's another interesting related link.

Closing tabs:

Indestructible but non-delicious gingerbread houses; the great Finnish gingerbread ticket fiasco of 2013.

I need to do a proper light reading end-of-year roundup, but that entails reading back through the year's blog posts, and I am not sure I have the vim to do it this evening. Currently having very enjoyable Susan Howatch reread - I reread the three St. Benet's books and now am on the second of the Starbridge novels. Appealingly both like and unlike Trollope.

The year's and the day's deep midnight

I missed the right day for posting this, but I had a slightly mangled version of the last line of this poem running through my head on the subway home from hot yoga....

(Also Wikipedia offers relevant thoughts about whether the placement of St. Lucy's Day on Dec. 13 results more directly from the difficulty of measuring the shortest day without modern devices or from the discrepancy between the Julian and Gregorian calendars!)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

10 books that have stayed with me

No point writing this one again in the same form; I already did it last year for my ideal bookshelf! So, ten books of nonfiction that have stayed with me, in chronological order and off the top of my head:

Jane Goodall, In the Shadow of Man
Harlan Lane, The Wild Boy of Aveyron
Martin Gardner, Aha! Gotcha: Paradoxes to Puzzle and Delight
Richard Holmes, Footsteps: The Adventures of a Romantic Biographer
Mikal Gilmore, Shot in the Heart
Primo Levi, The Periodic Table
A. O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests
Gitta Sereny, Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth
Michael Chorost, Rebuilt
Roland Barthes, The Neutral

The white lady

At the Observer Review, some of Andrew Hussey's thoughts on art and heroin, the subject of his new documentary. This is Will Self:
"I think the relationship between heroin and cities, or cityspace, is very interesting," he says. "It has more to do with spatiality, how the inner world of the user connects with the outside word of reality. And what we're really talking about is the psychogeography of heroin. William Burroughs knew this when he wrote The Naked Lunch, the great heroin novel set in the Interzone of Tangier, and Lou Reed knew this. The first Velvet Underground album is essentially a day in the life of a heroin addict in New York City, and a map of where he goes and what he sees and what he feels. And the music sounds like heroin, with its drones and impatient feedback and stuttering words. It's the perfect soundtrack to the junkie life. There is a heroin psychogeography – where to find it, where to buy it, where you can smell it." He goes on: "The point is that heroin users occupy a certain negative space in the world, in society. Burroughs writes in The Naked Lunch how, strung out in Tangier, he could sit and look at his shoe for eight hours. Heroin users don't need to do anything or go anywhere: they just are."
On a related note, I am a huge fan of Let's Get Lost, which I saw because of my friend Phil Nugent's description of Baker in the film as a "junkie vampire".

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Portrait of the artist as an old laptop

At the FT, Douglas Coupland fantasizes about what might be discerned from writers' laptops stored in archives (FT site registration required):
Here’s the most important question: what would I really like to see? Well, here’s a thought: many writers email themselves a copy of their novels at the end of every day, using the cloud as a back-up mechanism. Imagine if one were able to take all of those daily backups and then place them into a sort of stop-frame animation, one could see how an author constructs their work: words per day; words cut and pasted; paragraphs deleted; items shuffled about; typos; notes to self. Then, when the editing process begins, one could watch how a novel is hacked and pruned and reshaped – an organic process displayed in a dynamic organic mode. This would be a fascinating new way of appreciating a book’s creation – a visual language to describe a verbal process. And while this is just a fanciful idea, it does point out a chasm that now exists before the old manuscript and the new, and gives a taste of a visit to the archives of tomorrow.

Of butter and buttercream

At the TLS, Alex Danchev on two new books about food and art. It includes a luscious description of a book I have been meaning to look at ever since I first saw some of these cakes (I would buy a pink Thiebaud cake if I lived in the Bay Area) and this amazing passage written by Henry James (quoted by Mary Ann Caws in the other book under review):
I had an excellent repast – the best repast possible – which consisted simply of boiled eggs and bread and butter. It was the quality of these simple ingredients that made the occasion memorable. The eggs were so good that I am ashamed to say how many of them I consumed. “La plus belle fille du monde”, as the French proverb says, “ne peut donner que ce qu’elle a”; and it might seem that an egg which has succeeded in being fresh has done all that can reasonably be expected of it. But there was a bloom of punctuality, so to speak, about the eggs of Bourg, as if it had been the intention of the very hens themselves that they should be promptly served. “Nous sommes en Bresse, et le beurre n’est pas mauvais,” the landlady said with a sort of dry-coquetry, as she placed this article before me. It was the poetry of butter, and I ate a pound or two of it; after which I came away with a strange mixture of impressions of late gothic sculpture and thick tartines.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Knowlesian dispatches

Nico on Beyoncé's new album.

(Also - more along my taste axis, I am regrettably deaf to the charms of Beyoncé - see Peter Terzian on Throwing Muses.)

Lungs still horribly full of junk, and it will be at least one more day before I can exercise, but I have submitted all my grades for the semester. Various other tasks remain (including two letters of recommendation that I must write tomorrow), but I am going to take the rest of the afternoon and evening off!

Monday, December 16, 2013


Pretty grumpy at this end, thus lack of blogging (my general policy is to stay offline if I'm down in the dumps) - I have been mostly horizontal with a dreadful cold!

(At the end of last week I was still able to persuade myself that I was just having raw lungs of some minor description, but really I spent the weekend almost entirely in bed; managed to get one set of grades in today, but it left me feeling the need for more horizontality. I think it will be Wednesday at the earliest before I can exercise, which has a strongly negative effect on morale....)

Closing tabs:

Cat stars of the new Coen brothers movie!

"It glows when you lick it."

Mike Tyson, philosopher.

Standardization of the "last meal."

Resurgence of the Presto direct-to-acetate audio recorder. (It is a very cool project, and the Rosanne Cash bit is especially worthwhile.)

What's your OED birthday word? (Via Anne F.)

Friday, December 13, 2013


Interesting story. In Cayman, it is the green iguana that is the charming invasive species - as native Philadelphian/New Yorker, I am amazed by tourists that want to take pictures of squirrels (and charmed by presence of black squirrels in Ottawa), but really they are a pest....

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


This might be the most dreadful Xmas list I have ever seen, to the point that I wonder if it's satire - it seems to be without a byline....


It has been an extremely busy week, and I haven't yet started my end-of-semester grading, though I think it shouldn't take too long. It will be the middle of next week at the earliest, I would guess, before I can do any of my own work.

Have had some pleasurable distractions in spite of pressures of work. On Monday night, saw my friend Elliot Thomson's little gem of a comedy (he and actor Peter Hirsch call it his "Faberge egg roll"), Le Refuge.

Last night I met up with G. for the highly enjoyable Le Jazz Hot. The documentary joining-together bits are a little amateurish, though the footage is interesting, but the musicians are superb: I would definitely go and see them again. (The Anderson brothers are twins, and I was strongly reminded of my own twin brothers by the way each referred to the other as "my brother"!) Extremely delicious dinner afterwards at Bottega del Vino; I had beef carpaccio and spinach gnocchi before confirming my previous impression that this restaurant serves the best tiramisu in New York.

Closing tabs:

Colin Wilson is dead. Ritual in the Dark is more an artifact of its time than a great novel, I think, but it's a fascinating phenomenon, that mid-century period of British occultism. You get a bit of it in Jonathan Coe's B. S. Johnson biography - I don't think there's a Wilson biography, but there should be.

Teju Cole on truth and reconciliation in South Africa and elsewhere.

Light reading around the edges: several more Eva Ibbotson comfort re-reads; Charlie Williams' excellently titled Love Will Tear Us Apart; Michael Connelly's The Gods of Guilt (the plot is too intricate and the characters too shallow, but fairly readable regardless); Paul Cornell's London Falling, which is so exactly the sort of book that I like to read that I fell into a psychological slump when I came to the end and realized the next installment hasn't yet been published; and Laini Taylor's really delightful novella Night of Cake and Puppets (more books should have the word "cake" in their titles). I am contemplating a resolution for 2014 to read more nonfiction - one does occasionally, especially when reading something like the Connelly, get the feeling that the brain will rot on a diet of so much pap - but I would have to reserve the right to consume a good deal of light reading regardless, perhaps just not the fodder-level books.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

"Life as a tube"

Let us welcome our new snake overlords.

Mundanities, a.k.a. "Thursday is my weekend"

Thursday this semester was always my "weekend," unless I had complex meetings or a deadline, but the day after the last day of classes always brings particular relief!

I slept late (late enough that I am not going to hot yoga this morning - may hit a class in the early evening if I have the energy, but it's fine if not).

I finally made two phone calls that I've been meaning to take care of for weeks: scheduling a house call to get my two cats a proper checkup (they both had initial kittenage vaccinations, but I have been remiss about vet visits - this is long overdue!); scheduling an appointment with my asthma doctor to discuss ongoing exercise-induced asthma issues but more particularly to ask what I should do about the fact that my indispensable asthma control medication Flovent will no longer be covered by my prescription health coverage plan as of January. This is frustrating, it has worked very well - it would cost about $200/mo. if I am paying for it out-of-pocket, so really I need to find out what I can take instead, but I wish they weren't messing around with some solid basics!

And I have a haircut appointment at 2 and will go from thence to the allergy doctor for shots - missed last week due to Thanksgiving-related scheduling issues.

Not an exciting day, in short, but a very useful one, and the best part of it is that in half an hour or so I will head out for a lovely quiet run. The weather is foggy but very mild, with temperature in the mid-50s - short sleeves!

(I do have to write one more letter of recommendation, but that won't be too bad....)

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


This is the book I wish I could have in my hands right now: The Islands of Chaldea, left incomplete by Diana Wynne Jones when she died and completed by her sister Ursula Jones.
Picking up where her sister left off was an "odd journey", said Jones. "Diana was very much my eldest sister, and I was very much aware of a fury from her, either that I was doing it, or that I was not doing it fast enough. I had awful nightmares about it. It was curiously traumatic," she said. "I was conscious of her looking over my shoulder in many different ways. To start with, there was this disturbing feeling of fury. Then once I'd got under way there was almost a moment of rather grumpy 'oh all right then'. I'm not a believer in any of this sort of thing but I tell you it was palpable, and quite uncanny.

"Then it went ahead very easily. I did notice I was moving things around and changing structures or settings almost at her prompting, possibly because I knew how to get right inside the book at that stage. I certainly managed to erase my style."

And writing the last sentence, she said, "was an unbearable second parting from her: as if she had died again".

Circles redux

At Bookslut, Colleen Mondor has some kind words about The Magic Circle in an end-of-year roundup.

(Alas, I remember saying to B. sometime last year something like "I think this novel might really be a big deal!" In fact it sank like a stone and was barely reviewed, though I got some very nice feedback from actual readers. The world is telling me to be a critic and essayist rather than a novelist, I think - and indeed it is my resolution for the coming year to write at least an essay or two after the manner of Hazlitt!)


Rather arduous week, but I taught my last class of the semester today and I should be able to have a bit of a breather as long as I keep chipping away at tasks: I have one more letter of recommendation to write tomorrow, and a lot of comments on student assignments and various other similar, but it is very good to have a temporary reprieve from the form of public self-performance, however enjoyable and stimulating, that we call teaching!

(This week's reading: Justine, which is sufficiently disturbing that at 11pm on Monday night, though I still had several hundred pages left to read for Tuesday's class, I instead downloaded a favorite novel by Eva Ibbotson and read it in its entirety as a remedy!; and Persuasion.)

Lots of meetings and appointments still over the next two weeks, but I am looking forward to getting more sleep and doing massive amounts of exercise, particularly the hot yoga, which I have a yen for right now (was too tired to get there this afternoon, but with luck I will make it there tomorrow morning).

Miscellaneous light reading around the edges: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus (excellent, memorably so); Jakob Arjouni, Happy Birthday, Turk!, a good recommendation from Chase Madar; Daniel Woodrell, The Maid's Version (excellent); Kelly Braffet, Last Seen Leaving (I've liked all the books of hers I've read, but I think this one is my favorite); Garth Nix, Newt's Emerald (not bad, but it made me think about how Georgette Heyer's Regency pastiche has been so influential that anyone who writes in that period is almost bound to sound exactly like Heyer - it makes me wonder whether there is any other literary period ripe for colonizing with this kind of a verbal and world-building reimagining?); and Gordon Ferris, Truth Dare Kill. I think I am going to spend the evening rereading several other Ibbotson books; they are immensely and indescribably soothing, second only to the works of Diana Wynne Jones I think.

Really I am hungry for something genuinely intellectually demanding, but I think I need a few days of downtime first, and some more light reading to bathe the tired brain. Minor tasks for December include doing the final revisions on my article about particular detail and reading and reviewing an academic book that I promised to write about a long time ago; in January, I think I will be working on a proposal for my long-contemplated little book about Clarissa....

Mind games

Great letter by Mary Midgley on women and philosophy. (Via Matt Hart.)

Monday, December 02, 2013


Lauren Klein's slideshow on the long arc of visual display. (And an associated course syllabus here.)

Faux bedroom synthtronica

Simon Holland's bedroom cassette masters project erases the line between history and fiction:
I began to be approached by people who wanted to have their music on the compilation but who had not even been alive in the eighties. They were contemporary bedroom musicians, usually with a small collection of vintage analogue instruments and equipment who were committed to producing work using authentic vintage methods. So I had an idea: let them produce their music in-the-style-of lo-fi, cassette-based, bedroom-recorded demos and provide a short biography suggesting they had in fact been produced between 1980-89. They had to carefully date their recordings based on the manufacture dates of the vintage synths they were using to avoid any anachronisms and think of artistic motivation based on age, sex and geography. And so I re-wrote the submission brief to include the sound-alikes, and the music kept coming in but I no longer knew if I was listening to something truly historic or retro-perfect facsimiles.

Red in tooth and claw

Action sequence!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Iron Mike

At the New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates on Mike Tyson's memoir (I want to read this one - I have a nascent boxing obsession that I hope to let ramp up in 2014):
The title Undisputed Truth is a play on the familiar boxing phrase “undisputed champion”—as in “Mike Tyson, undisputed heavyweight champion of the world,” delivered in a ring announcer’s booming voice and much heard during the late 1980s and early 1990s. A more appropriate title for this lively mixture of a memoir would be Disputed Truth. These recollections of Tyson’s tumultuous life began as a one-man Las Vegas act at the MGM casino. It is now shaped into narrative form by a professional writer best known as the collaborator of the “shock comic” Howard Stern and is aimed to shock, titillate, amuse, and entertain, since much in it is wildly surreal and unverifiable. (Like the claim that “I’m such a monster. I turned the Romanian Mafia onto coke” and that Tyson was a guest at the Billionaire Club in Sardinia, “where a bottle of champagne cost something like $100,000.”)

Mostly, Undisputed Truth is a memoir of indefatigable name-dropping and endless accounts of “partying”; there is a photograph of Tyson with Maya Angelou, who came to visit him in Indiana when he was imprisoned for rape; we learn that Tyson converted to Islam in prison (“That was my first encounter with true love and forgiveness”), but as soon as he was freed, he returns to his old, debauched life, plunging immediately into debt:
I had to have an East Coast mansion…so I went out and bought the largest house in the state of Connecticut. It was over fifty thousand square feet and had thirteen kitchens and nineteen bedrooms…. In the six years I owned it, you could count the number of times I was actually there on two hands.
This palatial property is but one of four luxurious mansions Tyson purchases in the same manic season, along with exotic wild animals (lion, white tiger cubs) and expensive automobiles—“Vipers, Spyders, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis.” We hear of Tyson’s thirtieth birthday party at his Connecticut estate with a guest list including Oprah, Donald Trump, Jay Z, and “street pimps and their hos.” In line with Tyson’s newfound Muslim faith, he stations outside the house “forty big Fruit of Islam bodyguards.”
Good description, too, of the 1997 Tyson-Holyfield "ear-biting fracas."


Alligators and crocodiles use sticks as bait for waterbirds.

Thanksgiving Cthucken

Via Nico; original source here.

Rattus rattus

A natural history of the little-known Anolis blanquillanus.

(Reading this has made me think longingly of Cayman, where multitudinous anoles are one of the most delightful regular sights - terrestrial herpetofauna! I will be there January 2-20, but am now rather wishing I had arranged a pre-Xmas trip as well....)

Straight out of Borges

At the NYT, Rachel Donadio on a librarian's brazen theft scheme at the Girolamini Library in Naples:
In one of the most intriguing elements in the lower-court proceedings, Mr. De Caro also testified that he had several copies of Galileo’s “Siderius Nuncius” forged in Argentina, including one that he placed in the national library in Naples, and that he had taken the original. Last year, Nick Wilding, a scholar, uncovered the forgery.

Asked on Monday outside the courtroom in Naples how you go about forging a book by Galileo, let alone one that was sold at auction and fooled some of the world’s leading experts, Mr. De Caro smiled with excitement.

“Borges, in ‘Ficciones,’ wrote that when a book is false, it is equal to, if not better than, the original,” he said. One of his lawyers quickly approached and said the conversation was over.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Choose your own adventure

My former student Jason Bell on a near miss.

Closing tabs

Best weekend viewing: Weekend of a Champion at the IFC. It is amazing - reminds me (I am laughing, I am the only person who would foreground this association I think!) of what I most like about the early novels of Dick Francis. Here's the trailer - see it if you get a chance.

Reread most of Dangerous Liaisons last night in partial preparation for Tuesday's seminar meeting. It really is the most incredible novel - I wish I could write something with that beautifully taut spring-like construction - it is almost as well-put-together as Oedipus Rex.

Miscellaneous links:

Imagining a future without antibiotics.

What do you do when you're a mathematician and you make a mistake?

At the FT, Pankaj Mishra on the problem with talking about the global novel (site registration required).

Light reading around the edges: Joshilyn Jackson, Someone Else's Love Story; Vidar Sundstol, The Land of Dreams.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Powered by donuts

Incentivized comment-writing this morning with a donut. After today, only three more lectures and two more seminar meetings - it can be done, especially as (miraculously) I do not need to travel over Thanksgiving....

Last week was a bit too busy, and culminated in an enjoyable but demanding weekend trip to Philadelphia, but this week I have every evening at home: beneficial for mental health. B. arrives tomorrow, which is also good and will make me work less this weekend than I have over the last few days. Will either run or go to yoga this afternoon depending on some light/temperature/laziness calculus as yet to be determined, but more immediately am going to get into bed with my Kindle and start reading Joshilyn Jackson's new novel, which I have been eagerly awaiting.

(There is a whole next round of letters of recommendation coming up due, but I cannot face them until later in the week!)

Light reading around the edges:

Richard Kadrey's Dead Set (not bad, but I read it just after finishing The Goldfinch, an imperfect novel whose language is so rich and satisfying that anything else feels flat and monochromatic afterwards); Shawn Vestal's short memoir A. K. A. Charles Abbott; and Kate Maruyama's Harrowgate.

Closing tabs:

The utility of post-its, George R. R. Martin edition.

I want this pie! (Also to read a Sacksian essay on octopus consciousness.)

An interesting article by James Mallinson on the early history of hatha yoga.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On reading books in other countries

At Tablet, Mark Oppenheimer interviews Alberto Manguel. (Via The Literary Saloon.)

"The juxtaposition is a yard sale"

Christopher Hennessy interviews Wayne Koestenbaum (link courtesy of Dave Lull). Here's a bit I especially liked, but there's lots of other amazing stuff too:
I incorporate O’Hara’s attitudes: a near-Romantic high seriousness, an investment in my own pathos. I don’t yearn for high intellectual seriousness. Sometimes I think (perhaps wrongly) that poets who come up through the MFA route have a falsely idealized intellectuality, because they think that intellectuality is the magic serum that they’re going to inject into poetry to lift it above the folderol of an earlier generation. Sometimes I don’t even consider myself a poet; I’m better known as a prose writer or an art critic. When I write a poem, I don’t try to address a major ideological issue or question the veracity of the lyric. I don’t feel burdened by the major obligations that some poets these days bring to the table when they write. Let me put it bluntly: I’m fed up with Adorno; I’ve had plenty of Adorno; if I want Adorno, I know where he is; if Adorno appears in my poems it’s because I want to fuck his ass and it’s not because I think it’s really, really important to educate the reader about Adorno; if Adorno appears in my poem, it’s because he’s making a cameo appearance in drag. I think it’s great to read Adorno (I love Minima Moralia…I almost bought a German copy of it at Lame Duck Books the other day), but I do not feel it’s my job to educate the reader about Adorno. My stance is an aesthete’s, like Frank O’Hara’s. He includes Poulenc and other recherché figures in his poems, but only because they are the furniture in his mind; he’s not making a bid for poetry as a new form of critical theory or historiography.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Short notice I'm afraid - have been too busy this week to deal with email and announcements properly, and am due some catch-up - but I am leading a workshop tomorrow at the CUNY Graduate Center on two of my favorite of Hazlitt's essays, 12-2pm. More information here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Woodsies, buttons

Really I need to go to the library and dig in on this week's teaching stuff (chunks of Tristram Shandy and Rousseau's Confessions plus the inevitable pile of assignments to comment on), but I will close some tabs first. Busy week, but mercifully I was able to collapse at the end of it - did a spin class and hot yoga on Friday, and yesterday I had pretty much the ideal day of exercise: an hour of spinning at Chelsea Piers, an hour of restorative yoga and then eight miles in Prospect Park with L. (we are running the half-marathon in Philadelphia next week). Evenings at home are essential if I want to regain equilibrium, especially as I seem to have multiple nights out this coming week. Much novel-reading, too: in short, I feel finally back to normal for the first time all semester.


The McLeod collator.

Natasha Shapiro offers an amazing list of materials for making altered books.


Soothing light reading around the edges:

Luke Barr, Provence, 1970; Joshilyn Jackson's short story (a teaser for her new novel, for which I am very impatient) My Own Miraculous; Jo Nesbo, Police (over-ingenious in a "wink-wink" fashion in its plot twists, but gripping regardless); Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy (I liked it much better than rather negative reviews would have led me to expect, though I thought Bridget's weight loss in the opening stretch of the book was implausibly easily accomplished!); Laurie King, Touchstone (rather static and artificial in its opening, though it picked up momentum as it went along - absurd in its premises!); Mira Grant, Parasite (an appealing novel of sapient tapeworms by an emergent genius of light reading). Also, my friend "Lilia"'s erotic SF story The Slave Catcher (very good - I would eagerly read a whole novel set in this world).

About halfway through The Goldfinch - lay on the couch for some hours last night reading with one cat draped over my stomach and the other cat flopped out next to my head. Mixed feelings about it (it's uneven), but the good parts are very good indeed.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Reality effects

At the NYRB (gated for subscribers), Mark Lilla on Margarethe von Trotta's film about Hannah Arendt and the Eichmann trial:
The problem is that von Trotta has chosen an episode in Arendt’s life where the stakes were so high, intellectually and morally, that they cannot in good taste be treated as the backdrop of a human interest story. Though the battle may be lost, it can never be emphasized enough that the Holocaust is not an acceptable occasion for sentimental journeys. But here it’s made into one, which produces weird, cringe-inducing moments for the viewer.

In one shot we are watching Eichmann testify or Arendt arguing about the nature of evil; in the next her husband is patting her behind as they cook dinner. When Blücher tries to leave one morning without kissing her, since “one should never disturb a great philosopher when they’re thinking,” she replies, “but they can’t think without kisses!”

Friday, November 01, 2013

A 'Van Doren'

At the LRB, Lynn Visson on the vicissitudes of simultaneous translation.

Good enough to eat

Unseemly gloating, but - I just got the most amazing email from my editor at Columbia. This is going to be the cover for the style book! (Not yet available for pre-order, but it will be soon.) It is certainly the best book I have written to date, and I am pretty certain it is the best cover too....

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tunnels and bridges

Manhattan's lost meat infrastructure.

Today was in theory my "weekend" day, only really the timing is such that I needed to spend the evening doing a final read of various job materials (cover letters, dissertation abstracts, writing samples) for PhD students applying to jobs with Nov. 1 deadlines! I am at the level of fatigue where I can basically do little more than copy-editing, I am afraid.

Fall break next week, only I'm giving a talk out of town on Monday afternoon, so it will not be as restorative as one might hope. New Haveners, it's Monday at 4pm in LC 317, on the topic of Restoration theater and the eighteenth-century novel - make sure to say hello if you are there. Will be home late Monday night, though, so am hoping for a restorative Tuesday that involves quite a bit of work and exercise (and no alarm set in the morning).

(I am also very sorry to be missing the Cayman triathlon on Sunday, traditional for me on this weekend over the last couple years, though given accumulated fatigue plus the fact that I have neither spun nor swum for many a week, it is really just as well! I thought about going to a swim workout this evening, but the pool chemicals really trigger allergies and asthma: I think I had better just wait till my teaching semester is over; hot yoga is more gentle on the immune system.)

Light reading around the edges: Antonia Fraser's Must You Go?, a memoir (extracted from diaries) of her life with Harold Pinter. Much here to enjoy and appreciate.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In it

Did I ever link to this at the time? Anyway, some thoughts on immersion - in novels, in games, in water - following the publication of The Magic Circle.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Exclusivity redux

I flagged this quotation mentally as I was reading for class, only I dimly remembered (and indeed it is so!) I blogged it the last time I taught this book also....

(I am entering the stretch of the semester where the only thing I want is to be able to spend a month entirely by myself reading books and not talking to anybody!)


Douglas Hofstadter and the problem of understanding human intelligence:
Consider that computers today still have trouble recognizing a handwritten A. In fact, the task is so difficult that it forms the basis for CAPTCHAs (“Completely Automated Public Turing tests to tell Computers and Humans Apart”), those widgets that require you to read distorted text and type the characters into a box before, say, letting you sign up for a Web site.

In Hofstadter’s mind, there is nothing to be surprised about. To know what all A’s have in common would be, he argued in a 1982 essay, to “understand the fluid nature of mental categories.” And that, he says, is the core of human intelligence.

“Cognition is recognition,” he likes to say. He describes “seeing as” as the essential cognitive act: you see some lines as “an A,” you see a hunk of wood as “a table,” you see a meeting as “an emperor-has-no-clothes situation” and a friend’s pouting as “sour grapes” and a young man’s style as “hipsterish” and on and on ceaselessly throughout your day. That’s what it means to understand. But how does understanding work? For three decades, Hofstadter and his students have been trying to find out, trying to build “computer models of the fundamental mechanisms of thought.”
(Via I.H.D.)

Lou Reed redux

A tribute by Luc Sante.

Lou Reed's autograph

It is a long time since I was wholly psychologically in thrall to Lou Reed, but for a number of years (from 17 to 21, maybe?) I think I listened to VU and LR more than pretty much anything else.

I remember hearing "Venus in Furs" on a mix tape playing on a battery-powered boombox that sat on the front seat of my friend Lee's big boat of an American car. It was so arrestingly lovely and like nothing I had ever heard before that I could not rest until I heard the whole album.

It is possible that The Velvet Underground (the book, not the album) was the first thing I ever requested via Interlibrary Loan as a first-year student at Harvard.

Lou Reed is known in recent years to have resembled a lizard. I have seen him at various new-music performances: he was a benevolent presence on the scene, with a much stronger interest in the music of young artists than many of his peers.

My obsession with Lou Reed was still running hot enough c. 1990 that when my then boyfriend (we were living in New York, in a studio apartment on 23rd St. down the street from the Chelsea Hotel) called me up, on a Friday afternoon when I'd gotten home from work a bit early, to say that Lou Reed was standing across the counter from him in the dingy 8th St. computer store he was employed by, I thought it was a joke. Once persuaded the sighting was for real, I raced over and saw the Great Man with my own eyes. I may still have, somewhere in a box, the crumpled credit card receipt, signed by Lou Reed, for a wholly unglamorous desktop computer. It slightly shattered my notion of the rock-star lifestyle that Lou Reed would buy a computer of that ilk in a store of that genus, but on the other hand he was known for his frugality in certain aspects of life.

This is one of the saddest and loveliest songs ever written.

I have probably listened to Berlin at least fifty times, maybe more.

Lou Reed's transsexual muse. (Via Larry LaF.)

There are many reasons I would never do karaoke, but one of them is that it's hard to imagine one of the options would be this, one of only a handful of songs I'd be willing to sing solo in public in a bar, no matter how much alcohol might have been consumed.

Finally, the Daily Mail misses the boat once again, in a recent piece about tattoos gone wrong. Their caption for the picture below: "One couple found a fruity - and permanent - way to show their love for one another." What it should say: classic Warhol banana from the cover of the best album every made!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tallest Dog Ever

Death of a record-breakingly gigantic Great Dane. (Via Rivka.) He slept in his own queen-sized bed.


I'm leading a class at the CUNY Graduate Center in a couple weeks: reading will be two of my favorite essays by Hazlitt, "On My First Acquaintance with Poets" and "The Indian Jugglers," plus an essay I wrote many years ago now about Toni Schlesinger's Shelter columns. In some alternate universe I am an essayist predominantly rather than any other kind of writer - in fact really I think I should be writing a lot more in that mode, along a spectrum from intellectual/analytic to more like this one. Something to ponder....

Soft touch

The revolution in artificial limbs.

Toronto was highly worthwhile but very very tiring! About to head to the library for some Tom Jones and Sorrows of Young Werther time....

Monday, October 21, 2013

Cat island

"Every week, tourists come, even though the island has nothing but cats." (Via - courtesy of Jessie and Steve.)


An outtake from the wretched review that I'm still wrestling with (when they don't come out right the first time round, they often take horrible amounts of subsequent wrangling!):
I have been recommending Wolf Hall to readers impatient for the next volume of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Throne series. They share a good deal of the same source material from Tudor history, but while Martin is a good writer in many respects, especially if one disregards the language at the level of the sentence and concentrates instead on his ability to render complex human and political relationships with clarity and vividness, Mantel is a great one. She demonstrated decades ago, in A Place of Greater Safety (her 1992 novel about the French Revolution), an ability to tell large world-historical stories with the kind of imaginative precision about politics more often associated with works like Robert Caro’s biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson, or indeed with the great nineteenth-century narrative historians Carlyle and Michelet.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

In memoriam redux

Wheelmen is causing my jaw to drop: much of this story, of course, I know already, but even so, the revelations about the financial improprieties & interdependency of the UCI and the US Postal team in the late 90s are pretty amazing - makes me wish I were a financial journalist, there is much potential in that field for stories of Shakespearean dimensions.

Also, IMAX Gravity completely lived up to the hype!

Coming week got thrown for a loop: B.'s old friend J. died this weekend.

(He had a bad cancer diagnosis in fall 2009, but thanks to amazing surgery and radiation he was able to run a triumphant 3:23:40 in Boston in April 2010. B. and I went to Boston to spectate on that occasion; it was a celebration of life. He had a few good years of remission, and then a scary recurrence last summer, so that his death comes more as a sorrow than a surprise.)

Funeral in Toronto on Friday, we'll fly up Thursday and then back to NYC Saturday evening so that B. can make his Sunday early-morning flight back to Cayman. Ugh, let us say fervently what dressed-up friends and I were all saying to each other on the Metro-North train to Yonkers a few weeks ago for K.'s memorial: please can't the next time we find ourselves in our best clothes traveling out of town together be for a wedding or a christening, not for a funeral?

(The need to make travel arrangements and generally contemplate ramifications, mortality, etc. also means that I am way behind on work for the week, but one way or another it will all have to get done in the next few days, so there's no point worrying about that now! On a brighter note, I had a beautiful run yesterday and finally made it to hot yoga today after too long a layoff, so that definitely has a beneficial effect on the moral and physiological equilibrium.)

Closing tabs:

Nico Muhly's career as Baroque archetype. (Also: Nico's Reddit AMA!) We're going tomorrow night, I'm really excited....

Saturday, October 19, 2013

In memoriam

RIP Norman Geras. I was honored to be included in Norm's writer's choice series in 2007. I touched there, I see, on some of the same points I raise again in the introduction to the style book....

The Proust brouhaha

Aciman on Proust at the WSJ:
Proust is interested in minutiae because life, as he sees it, is seldom ever about things, but about our impression of things, not about facts, but about the interpretation of facts, not about one particular feeling but about a confluence of conflicting feelings. Everything is elusive in Proust, because nothing is ever certain. He isn't interested in characters the way Tolstoy and Dickens are interested in characters; he is interested in the vivisection of identity, in people who turn out to be everything they claim they are not, in relationships that are always inscrutably opaque, in situations that conceal an underside that ends up flattering neither the betrayer nor the betrayed. It is Proust's implacable honesty, his reluctance to cut corners or to articulate what might have been good enough or credible enough in any other writer that make him the introspective genius he is.
I am slightly promising myself a month with relatively little else on (next summer, maybe?) in which I read straight through In Search of Lost Time from start to finish - I've read much of it at one time or another, but never in a marathon binge....

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Two Boys

Massive NYT piece about Nico and his opera!

(Hmmm, I am laughing, it is a bit over the top - but I actually have three sets of tickets, for three separate days, for this one - three different companions - also, two after-parties!)

Closing tabs

Demanding week, but highly worthwhile, including a very good dissertation defense this morning (I always think it is a pity that these conversations happen in private, they are so interesting and stimulating [at their best] - this is the dissertation that drew to my attention some time ago to this particularly lovely bit of Adorno on four-handed piano music).

My laptop is fully functional once again, except that something the fixer did stopped the right-click function from working (will investigate this tomorrow when I am less tired); I think I still have two letters of recommendation that should be submitted before the clock turns from the 16th to the 17th, only I am not sure I have it in me, I might just have to hope for the best and submit them tomorrow in the hope that date-based electronic banning of some sort does not cause me to have to fall back some old-school stopgap!

(Fax - but really, it is very unlikely that all letter-writers made this deadline, I imagine the system will still take my letter tomorrow?)

Just got back from a delightful event for my friend and colleague Eleanor Johnson's learned and accessible book about Boethius and the mixing of prose and verse in the Middle Ages.

Light reading around the edges: Pelecanos's new novel The Double, which I liked very much; and Alan Glynn's Graveland, which I found something of a disappointment. He's such a good writer, but he's let all his books sort of converge on one single long conspiracy theory; of course it must be said that there is something quite prescient about the thriller plot of this book, which anticipates a Tsarnaev-style local terror plot and mashes that storyline together with a more Aaron Swartzian sort of paranoia about the way government and big corporate interests can bring down individual journalists and seekers after truth, but really the whole thing doesn't work as a true self-sufficient novel (it was the last straw for me when he brought in a performance-enhancing drug a-la-Limitless - on which note, this is up soon in the reading queue thanks to a good advance bit from B.).

Near the end of Aifric Campbell's On the Floor. The trading-floor bits seem to me superb, but the other plot is a bit weak - I wish she'd just written it as a more extremely descriptive fiction/non-fiction amalgam, more along the lines of this.

Finally, this delightful picture of my nephew, like other photos of both of the very young people who are quite closely related to me, causes me to reflect on the pronounced nature of family resemblance!

Orange soda

Out of all Mimi Lipson's stories, this is one of my very favorites. (Mimi's book has a page on Amazon and an ISBN! Such is the grandeur of modern-day publishing - but truly, the day I saw my first ISBN online was one of the greatest days of my entire life....)

Provence, 1970

I'm excited by this teaser for my friend Luke Barr's forthcoming book! (Book link here; launch next Tuesday in Brooklyn.)

I read a lot of M. F. K. Fisher in high school, it was the kind of thing I plucked off the shelves of the very good library associated with the school I went to (I wrote about it here - hmmm, that's interesting, I now see that bit as being part of the genesis of the style book). I think regularly of what is justly one of the most famous passages in all of her writing, where she describes the perfect meal - not, as one might expect, a gourmet feast of many courses and subtle delicacies, but a picnic of bread and chocolate consumed on a hillside outside what I believe might have been Marseilles (very characteristic of my memory that the bread and chocolate would have lodged there more thoroughly than the geographical location).

The blue meth

Dwight Garner on criticism:
By the time I was in high school my English teachers had turned me on to Pauline Kael and Greil Marcus. I loved James Wolcott’s stuff, too. [. . . .] I remember going through the microfilm and microfiche machines, getting a sore neck, just to find Wolcott’s old stuff in the Village Voice and Harper’s. I still have those Wolcott printouts. They’re on those warped old pieces of prehistoric photo-print paper. I’m still a fan.

His stuff just popped off the page. It was the most vivid critical writing I’d ever read. His stuff shouted, the way good art does, “I’m alive.” I felt the same way about Kael and Marcus, among others. These people had things appearing in magazines like Rolling Stone, and in newspapers, and it felt like, to my blinkered perspective at any rate, a golden age.

I reread the work of my favourite critics—Orwell, Agee, Updike, Tynan, Sheed, Macdonald, Kazin and so on—all the time. Just to breathe that air. But there’s nothing like reading a critic in real time. That’s the blue meth. There’s nothing like going to see a film and coming back and inhaling the words of a critic like AO Scott or Stephanie Zacharek, now at the Village Voice. There’s nothing like getting that buzz in your head.
It is a terrible confession, but I just don't feel that buzz - it's partly why I don't like Twitter, I don't want to be peppered with news about things happening right now - I love instead that feeling of immersion in a deep elsewhere, preferably far in the past....

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tom Jones and two cats

It has been very beneficial to have a few evenings at home, but I am still suffering from fairly pronounced cold symptoms! I got up early and had a productive morning, including a lot of paper commenting, then got back off course when the keyboard on my laptop stopped working - I took it in to a repair place in midtown and am anxiously awaiting news (writing in the meantime on my iPad - really I have device redundancy - but I have letters of recommendation I need to submit Tuesday, I had better be able to get it back before then!).

My evening: a lot more paper comments, but also - more pleasantly - 2 cats and the first two books of Tom Jones!

Friday, October 11, 2013


Clawing my way back to where I should be. Two nights in a row of twelve-hour sleep were highly beneficial: I sat down this afternoon and wrote comments on a dozen student assignments without it seeming like an intolerable effort of will. My inability to do even a single one on Wednesday morning really just told me that I was down to the absolute dregs! That's less than a quarter of the total number I need to comment on for Monday, but it's a good start, and I read a dissertation draft that I've been remiss with - still need to type up comments, but it is a relief to be finally making headway.

(The allergy doctor yesterday clucked with disapproval at the sound of my cough, and took out her stethoscope; she tells me what I knew already, that my lungs are "full up," bronchitis not asthma, and that the only treatment for viral bronchitis is to take an expectorant - Mucinex! - and drink lots of water. I was hoping to exercise today, but it didn't really make sense - tomorrow I will have a stab at something easy and see how it goes. Painful psychological deprivation - all I want is to be running and/or doing hot yoga!)

Seeing Betrayal tomorrow afternoon with a former professor of mine who has an extra ticket. Did finish and send that Bookforum review yesterday, though I am awaiting its return with trepidation as I suspect it is in need of considerable fixing-up!

Starting Tom Jones on Monday, which is fun (I find it easiest when teaching to dig in on a longish book and then just proceed through it in chunks - it requires much less attention than starting a new text or author almost every lecture); and Sentimental Journey on Tuesday, also very good fun to teach. A dissertation defense Wednesday morning early, and then B. arrives Wednesday evening for a 10-day visit!

I am possibly slightly in denial about the fact that the season of letters of recommendation is hard upon us - I have four I think I need to do this weekend, with others looming. Need to start doing daily meditation again - I got out of the habit in August, as I was doing so many training hours & it has some of the same benefits, but really it is very worthwhile, I need to get it back in the mix.

Light reading around the edges: Sara Ryan's amazing graphic novel Bad Houses; Arnaldur Indridason's Black Skies, which gave me a terrible pang of missing my friend Maxine Clarke, who loved these books and all their ilk; and Alex Marwood, The Wicked Girls (some wild implausibilities, but really very good, very gripping, very much the kind of novel I like to read). Close to the end of Pelecanos's latest, The Double; will finish it in bed now and hope for an early night.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Someone should write this story as a crime novel.


I slept for twelve hours, seriously - today is the first day in well over a week when I didn't have to set an alarm - and am finally feeling as though I'm on the mend. Probably need to give it another day before exercising (lungs still with some junk), but this is a relief - amazing how poorly an ordinary cold can make you feel.

Two good mouth links:

I've been following the fortunes of this endeavor for a long time now, and am absolutely delighted to see this great news about Bertie's Cupcakery! Bobbie is a very good athlete, wife of triblogger DC Rainmaker, and an extraordinarily gifted and imaginative baker - she created these nautical cookies to send to my brother and sister-in-law to congratulate them on the acquisition of their first boat....

Another thing I'm keen on: anchovy taste test!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


I was woefully optimistic this morning about the lifespan of my cold - after one hour of sitting upright and doing work, I felt absolutely dreadful, and the day basically went downhill from there! I have to be patient, it's clearly days more before I'll be at anything like full strength....

Closing tabs:

Bad Romance.

A Brief History of a Musical Failure.

Douglas Wolk on Alex Chilton live.

Nico's opera is coming soon!

Morning linkage

A good link from B. to start the day: How far did Rocky Balboa run?

Got eight hours of pretty restful sleep, and though I certainly could have stayed in bed for HOURS more, I finally feel as though I am on the mend - head still somewhat congested, but my lungs have finally stabilized, that is a relief! Off to the library momentarily for review-writing and paper commenting - lots to do today and tomorrow, I am far behind where I should have been....

Monday, October 07, 2013

More things I like

I really want some of these! (Via Brent. It seems reasonable, doesn't it? Two cats and a small herd of pygmy goats: I think really they would be better pets than the capybaras....)

Things I like

Sloth cake! (Via Nico.)

Explore everything

Bradley Garrett, serial trespasser.

Closing tabs

Ugh, I'm still ailing - I feel terrible! Canceled my class this morning and slept much of the day but still have to pull myself together to finish writing my overdue review and get student papers read for tomorrow and Wednesday. Have already taken Advil to no avail - perhaps more caffeine might be helpful? Really lying down seems like the only thing I am inclined to do....

Read my friend and colleague Rachel Adams' new book Raising Henry on the train back from New Haven yesterday. It is superb - highly recommended.

Closing tabs:

Ghostwriting for Tom Clancy. (Curious omission: he never even hints at what he was paid. If I were a ghostwriter, I'd prefer it to be for celebrity autobiographies, but I've always been curious about whether it really would be possible to make a living that way - I mean, it would be less suited to my skill set than my actual job, but I like thinking about it!)

The Hollywood mountain lion known as P-22.

Ruth Franklin's devastating account of Norman Rush's new novel.

This is what I will need for the coming zombie apocalypse. (One cat on each float?)

Custom-built bicycle for a man with no arms.

At Public Books, Katie Gemmill considers eighteenth-century Pygmalion Thomas Day and the victims of his project.

Saturday, October 05, 2013


NEASECS dinosaur dinner!

Closing tabs/minor update

All is well, except that I am suffering from an absolute dreadful cold!

On a brighter note, the NEASECS conference in New Haven is excellent (both yesterday and today I basically went to good morning stuff then came back to hotel room and collapsed for much of the afternoon - I did have some good pizza for dinner last night on my own at Zinc Kitchen, and a lovely dinner at Ibiza on Thursday with C., lunch yesterday with A. at Zinc, coffee with S. at Atticus, etc. etc. - I've got a lot of old friends here).

(I am feeling too ill to paste in links!)

Have just had a long nap and a hot shower to moisten lungs and de-sinusify face, it has given me fortitude I think for pre-dinner cocktails at the Union League with C., B. and J. and the conference dinner at the Peabody Museum. Am taking a whole box of tissues in my bag, I keep on having to fall back on awful brown recycled ones from bathroom paper towel dispensers. One panel to chair tomorrow, then I'll be on a panel home mid-afternoon, having done absolutely NONE of my grading for Monday....

(And I got an extension till Monday on my review from my kind editor, but still haven't really felt well enough to deal with it - if I can get most of the grading done tomorrow evening at home, then I should have a couple hours first thing Monday morning to consolidate what I have and turn it into an actual coherent piece.)

Americaneh is stunningly good, one of the best couple novels I've read all year - not quite sure why I haven't read her other two, but have loaded them onto the Kindle and will look forward to reading them sooner rather than later.

Dinner on Wednesday with G. at the West Bank Cafe was nice, though the play (DeeDee Bridgewater as Billie Holiday) was predictably slightly dreadful - they should just do it as a musical revue rather than trying to make it a melodramatic bio-retrospective! (The flashback scenes in the first half are particularly awful, but I am also not keen on the singer-pretending-to-be-drunk thing in the second half - which is a pity, because really in many respects the music is extremely good, if you can swallow the pastiche element.)

Had a very nice lunch with E. on Thursday at Artisanal (en route to Grand Central - that is possibly the best macaroni and cheese I've ever had, though it is so rich you feel slightly queasy after eating most of the large portion - the cheese crumb/crust on top is absolutely perfect) to talk about my upcoming presentation at the NYU humanities institute - that's one I'm really looking forward to. Many restaurant meals and no exercise do not lead to a feeling of mental and physical equilibrium, but really I just have to let this cold pass - I think Tuesday morning is the first day I'm likely to be really legitimately functional for a run, ugh....

Monday, September 30, 2013


Ken Auletta's profile of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger makes for an extremely interesting read.

Tabless in Morningside Heights

It's partly that I've been busy, but it's more that I've been sad and discombobulated in the wake of my friend K.'s death, and thrown further off balance by a lot of additional obligations in the way of telephonage and friendly and/or memorial gatherings. Blogging mostly happens effortlessly for me as a consequence of curiosity and natural exuberance, but when exuberance is damped down, I am much less likely to flag things mentally as interesting in the first place. Anyway, gradually regaining some equilibrium.

Read a very good long novel that I am reviewing for Bookforum (I am not sure what the rules are, but I always consider titles under embargo until the issue is published!); got that review drafted yesterday and need to revise it to send before I go to New Haven on Thursday for NEASECS.

Dinner on Friday night was much superior to the play, but on the other hand I am not entirely sorry to have seen what is surely the very rare professional theatrical production with a prominent role not just for bicycles (they are mostly represented by a single wheel and stem/handlebars, which the actors jog around on in a fashion that's reminiscent of those pogo-stick-style inflatable balls that children ride on - someone had fun making these) but for a stationary trainer as well.

It is the week of Pamela-Shamela convergence in both of my classes!

I am on two university committees this year that are both going to be quite demanding, in very different ways. That plus three students on the job market and the usual fall spate of letters of recommendation are going to keep me busy. I had a horrible moment last night - really I hadn't forgotten it as such, just hadn't quite fully remembered either - I was thinking, oh, I don't teach till 11:40, if I do one more hour of work now and then get up at 7 I will have plenty of time to do all the absolutely necessary preparations for class etc. and also go for a run - then it suddenly came to my attention that I had a committee meeting from 8:30-10 and a student meeting scheduled for 11 and that my notion of running was an idle fantasy....

Light reading around the edges: Jonathan Lethem, Dissident Gardens (excellent); Robin McKinley, Shadows (I loved it - it is perhaps too similar in its contours to Sunshine, which has the more complex and memorable voice of the two books, but that just means that if you like this kind of book you should read both - I will read any book by Robin McKinley with pleasure, but I liked this one much more than her last two - basically if there were an infinite number of books like this, I would read one every day). Halfway through Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie's Americaneh, which is very much living up to my high expectations for it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Closing tabs

Keeping my head above water, with some good help from funny activities and companions! Including these two.

(Party pics from Friday night. There is a pact among some of the ladies that next year floor-length evening dresses must be worn.)

Arguendo was slight, but dinner afterwards at Malbec was spectacular. (Not cheap, but very very good indeed, and a beautiful and hospitable place to sit and eat.)

Sunday's service for Khakasa in Yonkers was heartbreaking, but I was glad to be able to be there. Another memorial for friends and family will probably be scheduled for sometime a month or two from now.
Started teaching Pamela today, and it's Manon Lescaut tomorrow in my seminar. Two favorites.

Counterintuitive to go out mid-evening on a school night, but a week when you lose a friend is a week when you don't want to turn down any friend's invitation! College classmate Thomas Lauderdale and his band Pink Martini are playing a small private concert at Indochine at 10:30 tonight, and I couldn't say no - it should be a lovely occasion.

Closing tabs:

Simon Singh on freeze-frame gags and the mathematical bent of The Simpsons.

A history of idiosyncratic punctuation marks. (Via GeekPress? Tab's been open long enough that origin is now lost in obscurity.)

Robert Macfarlane on urban exploration.

Last but not least, "Belle Amie" - a lovely video from a friend's daughter's band.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Closing tabs

Not sure if this link is gated or not (I think not, but it's hard to tell with on-campus ethernet!), but my colleague Rachel Adams' book Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery has received a wonderful review from Jerome Groopman in the New York Review of Books.

I hate to make this juxtaposition, but I am still reeling from finding out late last night that a close college friend died earlier this week. Probably by her own hand but the details are still shrouded in obscurity. Checking Facebook, email and phone obsessively to see if I can find out more, even though really there is nothing to know except that it is an awful loss. Here is a picture: she was a great beauty, as well as one of the strongest and most focused and accomplished people I know. One of the last times I saw her properly was for drinks after our mutual friend Carey's memorial service last year. Very strange and sad to think that they are both gone.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Novelistic detail

I had a great time teaching this morning - students had read the introductory chapter of Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel and Roland Barthes' "The Reality Effect." I am eternally preoccupied with both of these pieces, and I think the students were excited about them too.

The Barthes essay is quite abstract, definitely harder to follow than the Watt, but hard too in the sense that it is virtually impossible to find genuinely "insignificant" details of the sort he designates!

I put together these three passages on a handout so that we'd have something to look at; to state the obvious, "the reality effect" is never relevant for first-person narration, so that the Defoe passage is already out of the question; in the second passage, we briefly think the shoes might be a "look at me, I'm real" detail, but the narrator immediately moralizes and "meaningizes" them for the reader; the third passage is closest to what Barthes is talking about, but shows with exceptional clarity how hard it is for novelists and novel-readers not to fold insignificant details back into the world of meaning (the notation of the cost of the postage tells us something about the family's precarious finances; Mr. Garth's saving the red seal for his daughter speaks to his warmth as a family man).

I walk’d about on the Shore, lifting up my Hands, and my whole Being, as I may say, wrapt up in the Contemplation of my Deliverance, making a Thousand Gestures and Motions which I cannot describe, reflecting upon all my Comrades that were drown’d, and that there should not be one Soul sav’d but my self; for, as for them, I never saw them afterwards, or any Sign of them, except three of their Hats, one Cap, and two Shoes that were not Fellows.

- Defoe, The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner (1719)

Her trip to La Vaubyessard had made a hole in her life, like those great chasms that a storm, in a single night, will sometimes open in the mountains. Yet she resigned herself: reverently she put away in the chest of drawers her beautiful dress and even her satin shoes, whose soles had been yellowed by the slippery wax of the dance floor. Her heart was like them: contact with wealth had laid something over it that would not be wiped away.

- Flaubert, Madame Bovary: Provincial Ways, trans. Lydia Davis (1859)

In watching effects, if only of an electric battery, it is often necessary to change our place and examine a particular mixture or group at some distance from the point where the movement we are interested in was set up. The group I am moving towards is at Caleb Garth’s breakfast-table in the large parlour where the maps and desk were: father, mother, and five of the children. Mary was just now at home waiting for a situation, while Christy, the boy next to her, was getting cheap learning and cheap fare in Scotland, having to his father’s disappointment taken to books instead of that sacred calling ‘business’.
The letters had come – nine costly letters, for which the postman had been paid three and twopence, and Mr Garth was forgetting his tea and toast while he read his letters and laid them open one above the other, sometimes swaying his head slowly, sometimes screwing up his mouth in inward debate, but not forgetting to cut off a large red seal unbroken, which Letty snatched up like an eager terrier.

-- Eliot, Middlemarch (1871-72)