Monday, January 28, 2013


Interesting conference on British women's history coming up at Columbia on Feb. 8-9. More details here. And on a related note, I am very keen to read this book!

Having a morning of work catch-up (administrative rather than writing), but will go to this yoga workshop at 10. It has truly been spa month!

Also: this is an idea of genius. Unfortunately I don't use gmail (I run Thunderbird as my main program, but the web-based option is the hopelessly out-of-date Cubmail) - I have to see if I can get transferred to Lionmail....

Saturday, January 26, 2013


to log one more good read, Ben Winters' The Last Policeman, a good recommendation from B. - it is very much the sort of book I most enjoy....


I have gotten fatally behind on logging light reading, mostly because quite a bit of it was undistinguished!

I finished the rest of the Inger Ash Wolfe books (psychologically implausible and with serial killers like nothing that has ever walked the earth, but the writing is otherwise appealing); read several crime novels by Julia Spencer-Fleming; Jennifer McMahon's The One I Left Behind, which I liked a good deal in spite of it again having an implausible serial killer at its heart; Alan Russell's Shame, ditto; Michael Prescott's The Shadow Hunter (dreadful); Grant Jerkins's The Ninth Step (not bad); Alex Berenson's The Faithful Spy (not my preferred kind of thriller, as it follows too many different characters, but good of its kind); and Robert Crais's Suspect (thin in terms of the mystery plot, but gripping as it concerns the relationship between man and dog in K-9 patrol - really very appealing indeed, and especially recommended to those who like reading books with an animal as one of the main characters).

Also, a book that was pretty much as preposterous as I thought it would be - I do not at all buy the basic account of human motivation, either general or specific to the two main characters, and I dislike the melodramatic tinge - and yet it is nonetheless a gripping read, Matt Fitzgerald's Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run. (Here's how the book's subjects responded to the portrait; thoughtful further comments by Dan Empfield here.)

I still think that if you're only going to read one book about endurance sport and you have at all of an interest in the underlying questions of physiology, the best single book has to be Jack Daniels' Running Formula. I am also very partial to 'Doc' Counsilman's The Science of Swimming - really I am enough of an academic and intellectual in my heart of hearts that though I rot my brain with hundreds of trashy novels every year, I really would always rather read a book of substance than a book of fluff - I particularly dislike popularizations and watered-down versions when there is a high-quality and reasonably accessible straight-from-the-source version.

Spa month is coming to an end. I had two pieces of work I had to finish yesterday and it was actually very satisfying to be sinking my teeth back into a real job; I'm going to have a massive training week this coming week, then fly back to New York the following Monday and ramp things back down a bit while I reacclimate to normal life (there will be some school obligations this semester in spite of the fact that I'm not teaching). Am resolved to have at least a "spa week" a couple times a year even if I cannot always spare a whole month! The crucial thing will be to reconceptualize the first half of January and the first half of June not as times to crank out some massive piece of writing that I don't have vim to complete during a teaching semester but rather as times for rest and recovery; this will entail a fairly dramatic change of attitude, I am sure it is easier said than done, but I really am going to try and make it happen....

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


LOLcats of the Middle Ages. (Via B., who got it here.)

Tropical island paradise

Really it falls under the category of unseemly gloating, at least for those reading in northern climes, but this is where I was early Sunday morning!

I am having the best month that I've had for a long time - probably haven't felt this non-insane for ten years! - need to buckle down and get back to work soon, but in the meantime it is a lot of swimming and running and hot yoga, extremely mentally calming. Reading The Tale of Genji and sundry crime fiction of minor import that I will log at a later date.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The American Boy

Thanks to a tip from Robert Hudson, I just read an amazing essay by Daniel Mendelsohn about his adolescent correspondence with Mary Renault. Subscriber-only, but get hold of it yourself if you ever had a thing for Renault's books (I was obsessed with them from about age 10 to 15, and they bear up wonderfully well to present-day rereading)....

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Spouter-Inn

A ravishing paragraph from the early pages of Moby Dick:
Abominable are the tumblers into which he pours his poison. Though true cylinders without--within, the villanous green goggling glasses deceitfully tapered downwards to a cheating bottom. Parallel meridians rudely pecked into the glass, surround these footpads' goblets. Fill to this mark, and your charge is but a penny; to this a penny more; and so on to the full glass--the Cape Horn measure, which you may gulph down for a shilling.
This is the first time I have reread this novel since reading Harry Stephen Keeler - Keeler's style is peculiarly Melvillean, I wonder whether there is some line of influence that can be clearly traced.

Sometimes sabbatical time can be quite stressful - there are a lot of pressures, internal and external, to write books! - but this semester is a sort of "bonus," time I wasn't expecting to get: a function of the mysterious TFRP (I have declined the money option for a few years, but didn't realize leave would accrue so quickly, and it doesn't affect my regular sabbatical accrual - I have another semester coming to me in the academic year 2015-16, even if I don't apply for outside funding to get a second semester).

One book is completely done, and the other just needs a couple weeks of work to be effectively finished also. I intend, luxuriously, to spend a great deal of time this semester doing early stages of reading for the ABCs of the novel project! My intention for this book is to take it in a truly leisurely fashion: anxiety is my spur and my vice, and I feel it can be seen in the pages of the books I've written thus far. This one is going to be for the ages!

Also I'm doing hot yoga every day, and finding it highly beneficial for mental and physical health....

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Oxford Silk Group

Amazing video at the Guardian of silk being harvested from a spider (and lovely accompanying profile of scientist Fritz Vollrath by Tim Adams).

Bioluminescence last night was lovely too. It is understated rather than spectacular, but the moments when you run your fingers through the water and see sparkles coming off them are truly like something from Peter Pan! It is also just incredible being out at night in a kayak on a beautiful secluded bay: it renews my resolve to do more kayaking (and also to get the advanced open-water scuba certification so that I can do a night dive!).

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Three entries

from Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book. If Barthes and Perec were both reading this, it would explain certain similarities between their writing that I've always been curious about (probably not very deep delving into the question would get me a satisfactory answer - I will follow up on this when I am back in New York).
Refined and elegant things - A girl’s over-robe of white on white over pale violet-grey. The eggs of the spot-billed duck. Shaved ice with a sweet syrup, served in a shiny new metal bowl. A crystal rosary. Wisteria flowers. Snow on plum blossoms. An adorable little child eating strawberries.
Cats – Cats should be completely black except for the belly, which should be very white.
Endearingly lovely things . . . Things children use in doll play. A tiny lotus leaf that’s been picked froma pond. A tiny aoi leaf. In fact, absolutely anything that’s tiny is endearing.

Closing tabs

Edward St. Aubyn interviewed at the Times (via):
In the English education system, the last two years before university are spent intensively studying a small number of “set books.” Few people — even as slow a reader as I am — are likely to spend longer in the company of a book than an A-level student. The works I studied over those two years were Racine’s “Ph├Ędre” and Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” for French A-level. “The Portrait of a Lady,” by Henry James; Joyce’s “Ulysses”; poetry by Yeats and T. S. Eliot; and “King Lear” were my set books for English. James’s idea of a “center of consciousness” presiding over a scene, Flaubert’s slogan “le style est tout,” Joyce’s claim that “imagination is memory,” Racine’s austere adhesion to the classical unities and many other aspects of those works became part of the foundations of my sense of taste and, even if I wanted to question them, continued to influence me when I became a writer myself.
Also: the daily routine of Hunter S. Thompson; the career of a human cannonball (FT site registration required).

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Timothy Leary's Nintento Power Glove

Sent corrections on final pages today for The Magic Circle. Fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly now towards publication.

I am doing a thirty-day yoga challenge (thirty classes in thirty days), but I may not have given my lungs quite time enough to repair post-ailment! Will see how they are doing tomorrow....

Closing tabs:

The value of authorial clutter. (Via Jim Caudle.)

John Tierney on why teachers secretly hate grading papers. (Via Lisa Cody.)

Charlie Jane Anders' list of some desirable science-fiction and fantasy titles forthcoming in 2013.

Sunday, January 06, 2013


Unfortunately getting myself out of town has triggered a resurgence of the respiratory ailment I thought I was done with! Sinuses are absurdly full of junk. On the bright side, energy levels are normal and I am also feeling a sense of accomplishment at having got myself here with all arrangements complete and luggage intact: it is enough more complex leaving town for a full month compared to a ten-day trip that there is always a moment in the days before I leave when I wonder whether it will happen at all.

The bicycle has been dropped off at Uncle Bill's for reassembly and we had a lovely dinner last night at Michael's Genuine (I had mahi mahi ceviche, steamed mussels and the delightfully named "cookies, candies and confections" for dessert).

Light reading around the edges and in the air: the enjoyable co-authored Apocalypse: Year Zero; Inger Ash Wolfe, The Calling (preposterous after the fashion of the early Patricia Cornwall - no serial killer in history ever behaved like this! - and full of institutional and psychological implausibilities in the matter of the investigating department, but so well-written that I was more than willing to forgive those trespasses); and a mass-market paperback I received as part of a trade on a huge pile of books expurgated from my apartment from the fellow who sells off a table in front of Milano Market on Broadway, Steve Hamilton's Night Work.

Friday, January 04, 2013

"Jill is very docile"

London Zoo's annual animal census.


It is ironic that the only thing that gets me to do massive and thorough tidying-up at home is the prospect of an imminent departure! However certainly my apartment will be nice and orderly to return to in early February: there is always room for further improvement in the matter of books and papers, but I've gotten a lot of stuff cleared away and effected the traditional end-of-semester expurgation. (If you wait long enough, all papers ultimately can be thrown away!)

I have had a not onerous but fairly long list of things to sort out before leaving, but the mail has been put on hold, prescriptions refilled, cat supplies replenished etc. etc. Will pick up the bicycle from the store this afternoon. Have assembled a lovely pile of books to bring with me: it is my general resolution for 2013 to write less, and though I am hoping January will let me finish two revisions (the style book and an article on the particular detail in life-writing and the novel) and get some work done on a secret project (Moby-Dick is involved!), mostly I will just be exercising and reading, reading on a vast and ambitious scale. It should be glorious!

I have misplaced my real digital camera and my phone camera doesn't provide the click-to-enlarge option, so titles may be obscured, but this will give the flavor of my coming weeks:

Also: next Saturday, bioluminescence!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Bit #3

Probably my favorite passage in the whole novel, and one that has given me a minor revelation of my own! From Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Volume 1:
I was after enrichment. And what enriched me while reading Adorno, for example, lay not in what I read, but in the perception of myself while I was reading. I was someone who read Adorno! And in this heavy, intricate, detailed, precise language whose aim was to elevate thought ever higher, and where every period was set like a mountaineer's cleat, there was something else, this particular approach to the mood of reality, the shadow of these sentences that could evoke in me a vague desire to use the language with this particular mood on something real, on something living. Not on an argument, but on a lynx, for example, or on a blackbird or a cement mixer. For it was not the case that language cloaked reality in its moods, but vice versa, reality arose from them.

Bit #2

From Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Volume 1:
For several years I had tried to write about my father, but had gotten nowhere, probably because the subject was too close to my life, and thus not so easy to force into another form, which of course is a prerequisite for literature. That is its sole law: everything has to submit to form. If any of literature's other elements are stronger than form, such as style, plot, theme, if any of these overtake form, the result suffers. That is why writers with a strong style often write bad books. That is also why writers with strong themes so often write bad books. Strong themes and styles have to be broken down before literature can come into being. It is this breaking down that is called "writing." Writing is more about destroying than creating. No one knew that better than Rimbaud. The remarkable thing about him was not that he arrived at this insight at such a disturbingly young age but that he applied it to life as well. For Rimbaud everything was about freedom, in writing as in life, and it was because freedom was paramount that he could put writing behind him, or perhaps even had to put writing behind him, because it too become a curb on him that had to be destroyed. Freedom is destruction plus movement. Another writer to realize this was Aksel Sandemose. His tragedy was that e was only able to perform the latter part in literature, not in life. He destroyed, and never moved on from what he had destroyed. Rimbaud went to Africa.

Bit #1

From Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Volume 1:
I have always had a great need for solitude. I require huge swathes of loneliness and when I do not have it, which has been the case for the last five years, my frustration can sometimes become almost panicked, or aggressive. And when what has kept me going for the whole of my adult life, the ambition to write something exceptional one day, is threatened in this way my one thought, which gnaws at me like a rat, is that I have to escape. Time is slipping away from me, running through my fingers like sand while I . . . do what? Clean floors, wash clothes, make dinner, wash up, go shopping, play with the children in the play areas, bring them home, undress them, bathe them, look after them until it is bedtime, tuck them in, hang some clothes to dry, fold others, and put them away, tidy up, wipe tables, chairs and cupboards. It is a struggle, and even though it is not heroic, I am up against a superior force, for no matter how much housework I do at home the rooms are littered with mess and junk, and the children, who are taken care of every waking minute, are more stubborn than I have ever known children to be, at times it is nothing less than bedlam here, perhaps we have never managed to find the necessary balance between distance and intimacy, which of course becomes increasingly important the more personality is involved. And there is quite a bit of that here.


In the last issue of the LRB, the final paragraph of Christopher Tayler's review of a new book about the friendship between Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin (not sure whether or not this one's gated):
Either way, it seems unfair to rap Amis on the knuckles for telling Larkin that ‘you seem to observe women much more closely and sensitively and well lovingly ah ha well perhaps not that than I do.’ Or to detect psychic torment in Larkin’s ‘I sometimes read a poem over with a tiny Kingsley crying How d’you mean at every unclear image, and it’s a wonderful aid to improvement.’ It also seems a bit hostile to pack a study of the two sticklers with phrases like ‘sham hypocrisies’, ‘the fact … is prescient’, ‘very contemporaneous presences’ and ‘not much is said but a great deal is magnificently inferred.’ Though it’s humbling to be shown how much of the believability of literary history comes down to getting words right, Bradford ought to get a tiny Kingsley of his own. Failing that, he could consult Amis’s The King’s English (1997), which deals with the imply/infer thing pretty helpfully, then concludes: ‘If you feel you have mental room for only one of the two, stick to infer while you wait for a new head.’

Closing tabs

Lauren Klein's data visualization syllabus.

A very good stargazy pie.

Main task for the day is to knock off as many of the errands on my list as I can. Including some major tidying up at home - I finally got it together yesterday to transport eight or nine boxes of teaching stuff from home office to work (the hotel-style luggage rack I borrowed from my building lobby is not really designed for that kind of load, but I got it there safely and arranged with department administrator to let me in through the secret handicapped-access door...). The accumulation of stuff in life is a great problem, and really I wish I could live in a monastic cell!