Thursday, February 28, 2013

Closing tabs

Down with a cold - not a disastrous one, but I seem to have spent most of the last couple days in bed. Left the opera at first intermission last night, will see how I do at the theater this evening - trying to motivate to get to the library for a couple hours of editing, but really horizontal seems the best position!


McNugget morphology.

Starfish cities.

Proust at the Morgan Library.

On reading fanfic.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Fifteen ways to file your cats. (Via Becky.)

Also, via Jane Y., knitting for reptiles!

I am having some satisfying work on my essay about minute particulars in life-writing and the novel. Also exercising up a storm and waiting for winter to stop.

Enchanted by a pair of novels and a novella originally recommended by some source now lost in the past of the internet; they are not of the highest literary genre, some people don't like reading stuff like this, but they are the kind of thing I particularly like, and so beautifully done I hardly can stand it! Appealing (gay) characters in fantasy world loosely based on seventeenth-century Holland, some magic but not excessive and narrative based on a crime detection plot rather than something more fantastical - they are absolutely delightful. A collaborative project by Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett: Point of Hopes, Point of Knives, Point of Dreams. Must seek out more of Scott's novels and/or reread novels by Ellen Kushner!

Seeing Parsifal on Wednesday next week at the Met (this was a good teaser, but you may need a New Yorker subscription to access it) and 1 Henry IV on Thursday. Culture, sport, light reading - all good....

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Top ten

Bruce Holsinger on how to get an agent. Bruce is a distinguished medievalist whose first novel will appear in 2014 - he knows whereof he speaks!

(I can weigh in here just bbriefly re: the authorial questioning on "what does fifty pages mean?" - use common sense - this goes for graduate admissions as well - it is an automatic huge negative if the applicant ignores the suggested advice about what to submit and sends something on the order of two or three times as long, or single-spaced, or anything else that shows a lack of a sense of proportion.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mouth feel

The section on potato chips is a must-read! Here is a snippet I liked:
The food technicians stopped worrying about inventing new products and instead embraced the industry’s most reliable method for getting consumers to buy more: the line extension. The classic Lay’s potato chips were joined by Salt & Vinegar, Salt & Pepper and Cheddar & Sour Cream. They put out Chili-Cheese-flavored Fritos, and Cheetos were transformed into 21 varieties. Frito-Lay had a formidable research complex near Dallas, where nearly 500 chemists, psychologists and technicians conducted research that cost up to $30 million a year, and the science corps focused intense amounts of resources on questions of crunch, mouth feel and aroma for each of these items. Their tools included a $40,000 device that simulated a chewing mouth to test and perfect the chips, discovering things like the perfect break point: people like a chip that snaps with about four pounds of pressure per square inch.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Tomorrow I am going to a big birthday blowout to celebrate G.'s 90th! His loft is the perfect place for a party, and it's going to feature a lavishly catered buffet, a live jazz band and possibly close to a hundred guests (shooting for eighty, but these things tend to escalate!). And tonight I am having a party at the opposite end of the scale, a Like a Fiery Elephant party for my fall-semester graduate students (we missed a seminar meeting due to Hurricane Sandy, and this was the book that got the axe - I promised I'd have them over at a later date to make up the missed conversation, and the day has now come). I scurried around this morning making preparations, and still need to tidy up, stow surplus triathlon equipment and get drinks in the fridge, but unlike tomorrow's party, this is a celebration of devastating simplicity: pizzas to be delivered at 7:45, wine, beer and a couple bags of half-price day-after-Valentine's candy to supplement the baked goods one student has offered to bring!

Light reading around the edges: an unusual novel by Stina Leicht, Of Blood and Honey. I loved it: particularly recommended to those with an interest in how urban fantasy elements can be hybridized with unexpected other genres. A brutal and amazing book!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Fruit stencils! This is an amazing piece, very much worth clicking through to....

Snoozed alarm for too long this morning and am trying to gear up to get out the door for my run. It is supposed to snow again later, so that's a good incentive to get it done now. Afternoon of grad student appointments and a rather overdue haircut, so I am not sure I will get in a second session later, though I might go to 6:30 hot yoga if I'm done at the hair place in time. (I like having quite short hair, only it's high-maintenance, and it always makes me grumpy to give up an early-evening exercise session in order to be sheared!)

I'm 90% ready to dig in on proper revisions for the two things I'm working on this month, a long-delayed essay on particular detail and the novel and the final revisions on the style book. Need one more session of preliminary work on style, then I will go for it and start really taking the particular detail piece apart and putting it back together in final form. Read enough of the remaining stack of Young Lions submissions last night to submit my rankings - we meet to decide the five-book longlist in early March. Job talks for the postcolonial search are now over; will need to read some materials before that meeting, also in early March.

Miscellaneous light reading: one more Imogen Robertson, Island of Bones; Erin Celello, Learning to Stay (I followed Erin's Ironman training blog obsessively in 2007, the first year I was really fixated on triathlon: on which note, I think this really is the year when I will be able to pull off my Ironman, having been derailed twice before by calamity and illness); Ann Leary's delightful The Good House; Chuck Wendig's Mockingbird, which I hugely enjoyed and which is exactly the sort of book I most wish I could write myself, only somehow I cannot; and my graduate school colleague M. E. Breen's lovely YA novel Darkwood, which has some minor unevenness in terms of introduction of worldbuilding and plot stuff but which is riveting in terms of character and storytelling.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Rear admiral mittens

This is so demented I can hardly look at it! (Via Cleo.)

Life re-entry has proved rather stressful this week, but I think I'm finding my feet. Have just tidied up the apartment and spent an irksome half-hour dealing with some old expense receipts from last year that I need to submit before I can use my Columbia card to pay this year's MLA dues and register for the ASECS conference in April! It is increasingly clear to me that really I am only fit for life in a monastic cell. Plain walls, no possessions, highly structured schedule, lots of silence....


This is lovely.


Annalee Newitz on the cultural history of ninjas.

Paul Morton interviews Ursula K. LeGuin.

Nadia Sirota's concert on Tuesday at the Kitchen was superlative, but animated conversation and drinks at Colicchio and Sons afterwards led to the worst night of insomnia I've had for a while, and yesterday was a bit of a wash. Got a much better night's sleep last night: wasn't crazy about the play, but dinner at Petrarca with G. is one of the most soothing things imaginable...

Monday, February 04, 2013

Decisions, decisions

Heading for the airport in an hour.

Read a couple good novels over the weekend for the Young Lions Fiction Award, but discretion suggests I should not blog about them.

The material in the opening chapters of Thinking, Fast and Slow felt over-familiar; I hasten to add that this is not Kahneman's fault, it simply speaks to how very influential and widespread this work on decision-making would later become. The middle and later chapters were increasingly rewarding and thought-provoking.

Things that speak to my experience most directly: regression to the mean clearly explains what happens when you are on a search committee and the candidate who gave a spectacular first-round interview at MLA is disappointing on campus; the general message to be wary of intuition and to embrace formulas is something that committees should keep very much in mind when reading for PhD admissions; and I am sorry to say (it is a very good chapter!) that everyone who is beginning a PhD degree or doctoral dissertation, a book, a home renovation or other major undertaking should read the chapter called "The Outside View" and consider the implications of baseline prediction and the planning fallacy (and revisit the commitment regularly with a view to considering the sunk-cost fallacy).

It is well-known that graduate admissions is a notorious crapshoot - I talked to a former DGS at Yale who had gone through old records (the program used long ago to rank incoming students in order of expectations for future contributions/eminence) to try and figure out what correlation there might be between those rankings and subsequent careers. There was none discernible.

I do think that years of experience have given me certain insights that are legitimate to apply: for instance, the qualities that lead someone successfully to obtain a Rhodes or Marshall Scholarship, which superficially might suggest aptitude for top-level research in the humanities (and will often ensure admission to top PhD programs), are often at odds with the kind of stubborn individualism and low-reward curiosity that really lead someone to excel at research in the humanities, and many of these students will intelligently reassess their choice a year into the PhD program and leave to do something that will be more stimulating and higher-profile in a larger pond elsewhere. When we give these students spots in our program (and they are likely to have multiple offers and take more lucrative ones at Harvard or Stanford!), we lose the chance to admit the less orthodox but perhaps more temperamentally suited students who have not got such uncheckered undergraduate records.

Now I must stop blogging and start packing!

Friday, February 01, 2013


Very mixed feelings about my month of idyll coming to an end. On the other hand, idyll might pall if it were extended indefinitely (not, in any case, a temperamental possibility for me, even aside from logistical and career concerns). Things to look forward to in New York: the library, Joanna's spin classes at Chelsea Piers, winter running and most of all my little cat Mickey! Also Nadia Sirota on Tuesday night at the Kitchen and an evening of theatergoing on Wednesday with G. (almost certainly to be followed by dinner at Petrarca).

Miscellaneous linkage: a story by Charlie Jane Anders; the coldest journey! (Via B.)

Miscellaneous light reading: Jojo Moyes, Me Before You (a novel my English grandmother would have thoroughly enjoyed!); Alan Russell, Burning Man (very good, and I will certainly read more of his, but it was curious to read two novels about LAPD K-9 officer-dog partnerships in as many days - this was the other one); Matthew Mitcham, Twists and Turns; and an excellent historical mystery (it is a genre that makes me suspicious, but Jane Y. sent me a link that persuaded me I had to check this one out) by Imogen Robertson, Instruments of Darkness. Halfway through the second one in the series now; also midway through Thinking, Fast and Slow, which I have been meaning to read ever since it came out but never quite got around to.

Over the next few days in Cayman, three final hot yoga classes at Bliss (I finished the thirty-day challenge yesterday - thirty classes in less than four weeks definitely leads to a significant feeling of consolidation and progress), a four-mile leg Sunday morning for the Cross-Island Relay (B. has inadvertently intimidated me by observing that he believes I can run 8:15 miles on current fitness and heat acclimation!) and a decadent Sunday-night dinner at Michael's Genuine.


A wise piece by Oliver Sacks at the NYRB on the distortions of memory (link courtesy of Dave Lull):
It is startling to realize that some of our most cherished memories may never have happened—or may have happened to someone else. I suspect that many of my enthusiasms and impulses, which seem entirely my own, have arisen from others’ suggestions, which have powerfully influenced me, consciously or unconsciously, and then been forgotten. Similarly, while I often give lectures on similar topics, I can never remember, for better or worse, exactly what I said on previous occasions; nor can I bear to look through my earlier notes. Losing conscious memory of what I have said before, and having no text, I discover my themes afresh each time, and they often seem to me brand-new. This type of forgetting may be necessary for a creative or healthy cryptomnesia, one that allows old thoughts to be reassembled, retranscribed, recategorized, given new and fresh implications.

Sometimes these forgettings extend to autoplagiarism, where I find myself reproducing entire phrases or sentences as if new, and this may be compounded, sometimes, by a genuine forgetfulness. Looking back through my old notebooks, I find that many of the thoughts sketched in them are forgotten for years, and then revived and reworked as new. I suspect that such forgettings occur for everyone, and they may be especially common in those who write or paint or compose, for creativity may require such forgettings, in order that one’s memories and ideas can be born again and seen in new contexts and perspectives.