Thursday, March 28, 2013


I am safely home in New York, though so tired that I am eying the time and wondering whether I might possibly go to bed pretty much now!

That said, the JetBlue flight gets me home at a much more humane time than the Cayman Airways one - I was here before 5, not at all bad. Very happy to see little cat Mickey and also to find three finished copies of the novel.

Which also has its first post-publication review - Charles McNulty at the LA Times!

Someone who liked it less (I just saw this one last night, though I think it may have been up for a while): Walter Biggins at Bookslut.

In more alarming news, I think my Kindle is on the verge of giving up the ghost. I kept on having to reboot it last night and today on the plane, so that finally I had to give in and read my backup "real" book instead: Leonard Marcus's Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L'Engle in Many Voices. I thought Katharine Weber's piece was one of the most moving in the entire collection, but I was very glad that the cooler and more critical essay by Christine Jenkins was included: the two most serious criticisms I have of L'Engle's writing concern (a) the intolerable smugness of many of the characters we are supposed to like and admire (when I was a child, I did not understand why my mother was not as enthusiastic as I was about L'Engle's books, but I think in retrospect this must have been at the root of it!); and (b) the distressing homophobia in novels like A House Like a Lotus and A Severed Wasp, and Jenkins is very good on both these counts. I think that I would have worshiped Madeleine L'Engle if I had met her between the ages of ten and fifteen, but that I would not have liked her very much at all if I had only encountered her in adulthood: there are some very unattractive elements mixed up with the parts that people rightly found so compelling. Cynthia Zarin's controversial New Yorker profile of 2004 is available online for free in its entirety.

Aside from the usual minutiae (it is difficult to explain how much time I seem to spend thinking about when I am going to get to the allergy doctor's office for my shots!), I really need to get down to business tomorrow morning and finish a good final version of this particular detail essay. I would like to send it out on Monday or Tuesday, and I also still need to write my paper for the ASECS conference in Cleveland next week: I am arguing against the utility of the term "experimental" to describe any eighteenth-century fiction, and then turning around and saying that if we do want to keep it, it fits Richardson's method better than Sterne's. Looking forward to lively conversation on this count and others!

Light reading around the edges: I love Charlie Williams' Mangel series more than almost anything else I can think of, and the latest installment Made of Stone is truly a gem - possibly my favorite one yet. I also greatly enjoyed Bridget Clerkin's Kindle Single Monster.

Bonus link: Jenny Diski on Buzz Bissinger and the shopping business.

I have ordered a new Kindle Paperwhite, but it probably won't arrive till Monday. I hope this current device will last until then. It is very good for all sorts of novel-reading, but particularly invaluable when I want to run down to Chelsea Piers with a tiny trail backpack containing a change of clothes, wallet, keys, asthma inhaler and reading material for lunch and subway home! I do have the Kindle app on my phone, I guess I could fall back on that if I have to....

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Seasonal eggishness

I already saw the top part of this the other day (appealing but a bit fiddly - think I will just buy one at the store, additives notwithstanding!), but scroll down to the bottom of this story and you will see a picture of the world's oldest Cadbury Creme Egg precursor...

Also: this sounds revolting!

Monday, March 25, 2013


The Kirkus review is here. Official publication at twelve midnight, at which point you can get it here (for Kindle or for "real"). It probably won't be stocked in most bookstores, but your local store should be willing to order a copy for you if you prefer to get books that way, and here's a Powell's link for another option.

I am in Cayman till Thursday, and still haven't seen finished copies of the book (I think a box is waiting for me in New York), so it all seems slightly unreal. Will hope to see some of you at Book Culture a week from tomorrow. I've been writing bits and bobs for various guest blog posts and so forth, and I was looking back through old Light Reading posts (= external hard drive of the brain) for when I first read Julius Chambers' journalistic expose of abuses at the Bloomingdale Asylum.

That took me down the rabbit hole: I read back through all of the posts with the tag THE BACCHAE ON MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS.

I started serious reading and research for the book in July 2010, which was a difficult month for other reasons; I started drafting it in December 2010; I had a full draft a couple months later (and also little cat Mickey, a happy addition to the Morningside Heights household), but I had to wait until the summer before I had enough time to pull it all together.

The provisionally final version I had in August 2011 (I accepted an offer from a publisher near the end of the calendar year) underwent significant subsequent revision right down to submission of the final version in July 2012, including a frenetic eleventh-hour rewrite of the final section from third-person to first-person voice. The story is basically one of regular bronchial ailments and brutal insomnia punctuated by the production of quota and a series of revisions that are always optimistically conceived and undertaken but that turn out not to have solved fundamental problems with the manuscript.

Writing a novel is not easy, I am happy with how this one came out but I think it will be wise if I don't write one again for quite a while!

(On the other hand, though, the intellectual excitement of the research and the thinking and the discovery of how things will really fit together properly is unbeatable, there's nothing else like it. I think that despite my resolution not to, I am pretty much stuck on writing another novel one of these days - but it will be good if it's a couple years before the next really compelling idea strikes, zombie apocalypse premise notwithstanding....)

Saturday, March 23, 2013


I loved Jake Arnott's new novel The House of Rumor. He has done something quite amazing, which is to say he has written a novel with the scope and ambition of a Gravity's Rainbow or an Underworld only it is as funny and delightfully readable as - well, truly I can't think of an example, though it has something in common with William Boyd's Any Human Heart or Anthony Burgess's Earthly Powers. Very appealing book!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A novel interrupted

I've been reading the Fat Cyclist blog for a long time now - it's one of the really appealing and well-written big endurance sport blogs (and "Fatty" a.k.a. Elden was instigator of the 100 miles of nowhere insanity). It is a funny and wide-ranging blog that began in part because Elden's wife Susan was battling advanced metastatic cancer; as well as chronicling endurance sport as coping strategy, the blog's raison d'etre includes fund-raising for cancer-related causes.

Susan died some years ago just before completing a novel that Elden has now published. I was keen to read it anyway out of a sense of loyalty (buying an author's book is good, but reading it is perhaps as much or more appreciated?), and I'm also happy to report that it's a really lovely young-adult urban fantasy novel of a sort I particularly enjoy. It reminded me a little of Robin McKinley's Sunshine, a book I have read at least half-a-dozen times, but it's also fresh and original in terms of voice, storytelling and worldbuilding; if you like that kind of book as much as I do, then consider purchasing a copy of Susan Nelson's The Forgotten Gift for yourself.

Zip-detachment strategies

Via Tyler Cowen, the epidemiology of zipper-related genital injuries:
Zip-related genital injuries affect both paediatric and adult cohorts. Practitioners should be familiar with various zip-detachment strategies for these populations.

Closing tabs

The world's first cake hotel. (Pictured below: meringue rug.)

Vacations for cat lovers.

I really cannot get it out of my head that the swimming pool at B.'s condo would be the perfect capybara habitat (dachshund extension optional).

Skulls on stage.

This piece produced in me the sensation that I must read this novel instantly! Fortunately it was available in a Kindle edition....

Miscellaneous other light reading: Peter Dickinson, Shadow of a Hero; Becky Masterman, Rage Against the Dying; Denise Mina, Gods and Beasts (I think that texturally there is almost no crime writer I would rather read than Mina, and I enjoyed this book a great deal - I wanted it to go on forever! - but there is no doubt she's less strong on putting together a coherent plot than on establishing character and mood in language, partly because she thinks in series/stream format rather than in terms of single books); Ian Rankin, Standing in Another Man's Grave (not bad, but perhaps didn't benefit from me reading it right after Mina); the second installment of Seanan McGuire's newest series, Midnight Blue-Light Special; and a very appealing collection of short stories by a college friend of mine, Uli Baer: Beggar's Chicken: Stories From Shanghai.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Eye candy

Peggy Nelson on food-based replicas.

Eye of the needle

The smallest printed book in history.

Made it safely to Cayman yesterday, though the early flight essentially means missing a night of sleep. Will go to 10am hot yoga to try and recombobulate! Signed on for double spin class tomorrow morning and a long ride outdoors on Sunday, weather permitting.

Style manuscript beckons - those revisions will be the main work I'm doing while I'm here, though I have a bit more work to do on the particular detail essay first.

Charterhouse Square

"[S]torage is becoming a problem."

(This book arrived with me recently, though I regretfully remember that the story when it first broke struck me with a kind of Grand Guignol Swift/Celine hilarity, not funny at all of course but with something of the pathos of the scene in Billy Liar where he has procrastinated delivering letters to the extent of wrecking his life and his home with their stored undelivered verbiage - now feel I must read the book in order to think about it from the more serious perspective of those whose loved ones (Evelyn Waugh, Jessica Mitford!) were mistreated there.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Closing tabs

Had a day of errands, including a visit to the dentist to get my broken filling replaced, and am now utterly knackered! Leaving town Thursday and have much to sort out between now and then.

On Saturday, walked out on this at intermission, it seemed so utterly pointless: but had a good dinner afterwards at the West Bank Cafe, including one of the most delicious desserts I've ever eaten. We ate there last week too, after 1 Henry IV; that time I had a butterscotch parfait which a food critic would have called much too sweet but which to me was appealingly like eating a cup full of icing. This was a frozen lemon mousse with a scoop of browned meringue on top and mixed berries around the edge, with a possibly superfluous but delicious-in-themselves scattering of candied pistachios. It was sublime!

Miscellaneous linkage:

The art of lip-reading.

A. L. Kennedy is a fan of Derek Raymond. (Via Sarah W.)

Light reading around the edges (a backlog that I haven't been good about keeping up with here): Tom Pitts, Piggyback (loved it - and thought it compared very favorably with the more-hyped Don Winslow Savages, which I found skillful but almost unreadably pretentious); Chris Pavone, The Expats (fundamentally implausible for all sorts of reasons, but a gripping read and really beautifully executed - I liked this one very much indeed); Nick Harkaway, The Angelmaker (quite good I think, but unfortunately I come to it at a time when I have had an absolute surfeit of this sort of thing - not Harkaway's fault that I have so recently read all of Ben Aaronovitch's novels - let's have a ban, though, on crypto-Dickensian secret occult Londons!); Miss Jane's Undoing, a steamy Regency novella by a former student; and Melissa Scott's The Kindly Ones. Then I followed the Melissa Scott thread down the rabbit-hole: first read Lost Things, co-authored by Scott and Jo Graham (I can disparage this as series fiction all I want, but the fact is that it was sufficiently immersive that I missed my subway stop coming home from Chelsea Piers on Saturday afternoon and had to walk home from 125th St., so absorbed was I in the last bit of the story!), then two novellas that begin the related series in the present day, David Niall Wilson's The Temple of Camazotz and Aaron Rosenberg's Brought to Light. There are a couple more following this one, and they are possibly what I will read next.

Somewhere in the middle there I had a really wonderful mini-binge on novels by Peter Dickinson, almost all of whose novels I've read many many times - but they will bear a good deal of rereading, he is criminally underread and underrated - and some of which are now newly released in digital editions: Some Deaths Before Dying (this one is particularly good); The Yellow Room Conspiracy; and In the Palace of the Khans.

Read one other novel which deserves its own post, but which I may be too tired to write about now. More anon!

Thursday, March 07, 2013


I will shortly get around to putting these events in a sidebar on the blog, with links to the relevant sites, but thought I would share them here first. Really everyone is welcome at the book party, only it is not OK to post someone's personal address on the internet like this, so write me at my Columbia email if you would like more details on that! (I will be sending out invitations via Facebook and email later this month.)

4/2 Book event/Q&A
Book Culture
536 W. 112th St. (near corner of Broadway)
New York, NY

4/9 Party in NYC, 6-9pm, email me for details

4/13 Reading, Writers With Drinks
The Make-Out Room
3225 22nd St., San Francisco, CA
7:30-9:30pm (doors open at 7)

4/17 Book event/Q&A
Rose Contemporary Fine Art Gallery
492 Congress St., Portland, ME

I'm definitely open to doing more events if opportunity arises, so if you are in a position to facilitate something along those lines, let's consult - but with the proviso that because Amazon's literary imprint is the publisher of The Magic Circle, a lot of the independent booksellers that normally would host readings etc. for this kind of book are not so keen! I think that's a pity, but of course I understand where they're coming from.

I will also be doing some kind of a blog tour, and would love to answer interview questions or write guest posts in late March or April, so please do get in touch if that's something you might be interested in.

(Postscript: I got a very good review from Kirkus, which won't be available for free online for another couple weeks, but the Amazon advance reader reviews are distinctly negative! Those are through the Amazon Vine program, and we will hope that reviews by people who actually purchase it are better. If you do read it and enjoy it, I request with only minor shame, please think about writing a review there or at GoodReads to let other people know? You won't be able to post a review until after March 26, the official publication date.)

OK, that's it for self-promotion, for now at least....


Book cakes. (Via.)

NB I am keen on these book cakes, only I wish not so many of them featured fondant! It is usefully sculptural, but it is not deliciously edible - the best-looking and -tasting wedding cake I ever ate was at my friend Peter and Michelle's wedding in New Haven, it was decorated like a piece of Wedgewood porcelain, with blue fondant and white decoration, but underneath the fondant was a whole other layer of delicious vanilla buttercream (the cake was vanilla with raspberry filling), so that the beautiful exterior layer could be discarded without penalty.

On an associatively related note, I often use a meditation DVD that is extremely useful, in that it features different recordings of different sorts of guided meditation at varying lengths, only marred by the fact that the speaker has one of the most annoying voices I've ever heard! There is a "hearing meditation" section in a number of them, and my attention is always snagged when he says the phrase "the faculty of audibility - hearing meditation." I do not think audibility is the correct word - it is a good example of unwanted elegant variation!

Friday, March 01, 2013

A most lovely present

I have been feeling physically rather low due to this cold - exercise deprivation is bad for the morale! - only it was a week with lots of good news concerning students and even my own fortunes (a work promotion that I will report here once it has cleared the necessary layers of bureaucracy), and now I have just received the best present EVER in the mail - a painting of my ideal bookshelf, a token of thanks from A. and O. for post-Sandy hospitality. This is amazing! I just laid it flat across the scanner to give you the impression, but it doesn't do justice to its lovely proportions. Click for a bigger bookshelf.


At the FT, Clive Cookson on the digitization of a massive genetics archive by the Wellcome Library (FT site registration required):
Considering the variety in size and shape of the papers in the archive – some stuck together with corroded clips and staples – digitisation proceeds surprisingly fast. “I’ve done a little over 300 pages in just over three hours today,” says Thomas Cox when I pay a late morning visit to the library’s digitising studio. “Yesterday I did some 700 pages.”

Cox lays each sheet of paper on a self-levelling pneumatic cradle, covered with black flocking material, which is then pushed gently up against a glass plate. Images are captured using a Canon 5D MkIII digital camera with a 100mm macro lens, varying the height between 20cm to a maximum height 150cm above the glass, and connected to an Apple computer. “We’re picking up momentum,” Chaplin says. “We’ll have done 1.5m images by the end of this [Codebreakers] project and 4m in all.”