Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The quiet volume

I went and saw a funny thing today with my friend T. - it is a sort of immersive piece, not entirely unlike one of the games in my new novel, that takes place in a reading room at the NYU library. Though it is a piece about reading, I'm really not the ideal spectator for it - I have thought too much about reading, my opinions are too strong and my knowledge too copious to immerse myself in the experience as I am supposed to! I thought it was better in the idea than in the execution, though again this may be partly due to my own excessive reading speed - they have set it up to accommodate readers of different speed, but they do not really take into account the truly abnormal, which I fear mine is. I wanted the makers of the piece to read Thomas Warton's amazing book about reading, The Logogryph, which I loved and am now keen to revisit.

One of the three books in the pile in front of me - the most interesting thing about the piece, I think, and probably the locus of interest for its makers, is the way it makes you think about the physical position of the reader sitting next to you - was a novel I loathe, in theory and in practice: Jose Saramago's Blindness. I had time to read much more of it than I think I was intended to.

(With the thought running in the back of my head, about the notebook with text produced by the piece's "authors" - "There are many typos on p. 35!" At various times the recorded text coming in through the ears was at odds in ways minor to moderate from the printed text one was asked to find and follow, but I could not imagine that they had deliberately misspelled those words on that page. It was highly distracting.)

Monday, April 29, 2013


I've had several amazing evenings recently of the "only in New York" stamp. Last Wednesday, I went to see my former student Abby Rosebrock's play Different Animals at the Cherry Lane Theatre. It's an incredibly good play, one of the best I've seen for quite some time; Abby performs in it as well as being its author, and I thought everything about the show (acting, music, sets) was just fantastic, something like the tragic marriage of Edward Albee and Anita Loos, very funny but heartbreaking in its conclusions. We dined afterwards at Casa, and the whole thing was just one of those enchanted evenings (G. has had a spell of poor health recently but is on the mend, so it was a particular treat to be out on a beautiful spring night enjoying the pleasures of the city). There is always something particularly pure and lovely about contemplating good things made by one's students!

On Sunday I was at (le) Poisson Rouge for, of all things, the Iggy and the Stooges show! A friend in the band put a bunch of us on the guest list, and it was amazing to see them play in person - I was saying to B. afterwards in an email that I don't like it in fitness classes when teachers tell you to give "120%," it's not logical, 100% is actually the maximum you can give (by definition!) - but if there is such a thing as giving 120%, it is Iggy in performance. Ropy, lean, tanned, glistening with sweat - he is a spectacle, it was pretty amazing.

On Saturday I was in Philadelphia for the memorial service for my beloved high-school music teacher Al Clayton.

Miscellaneous light reading: Harry Bingham, Talking to the Dead (exactly and perfectly to my taste, so much so that I am only dismayed the second in the series isn't out yet); Sarah Pinborough, The Taken (well-written, but more straightforward "genre" horror than her more recent books); Michael Robotham, Say You're Sorry (competent storytelling, but there are too many implausibilities); Alison Gaylin, And She Was and Into the Dark (quite reasonable); Stav Sherez, The Black Monastery (flawed but entirely readable).

I am going to order another Paperwhite, as there's still no word from Delta. Reading on the phone is fine, but it will be better to have a dedicated device. The battery for my laptop should be delivered tomorrow or Wednesday to the repair people; I will be very glad to have that computer back, it's nice to have this tablet and keyboard as a backup but using Cubmail rather than Thunderbird for my main email is detrimental to correspondence! Various other shopping to do before I leave town on the 9th, as I am going straight from Cayman to London for my cousin's wedding, which involves enough separate gatherings that it is putting a strain on my capacity to produce outfits of respectability....

Friday, April 26, 2013

Season of lost and broken things

It is mildly ironic, since things in my life right now are very good and distinctly neither lost nor broken - but it has been the season of lost and broken things!

My Kindle stopped working and I got a new Paperwhite, only to leave it in the seat pocket on a plane in Portland, ME. I filed a lost property report with Delta online, but I haven't heard anything, and I think if they haven't sorted it out by now, it's not likely to surface subsequently. Will order a new one - have been using Kindle app on phone and on my new Kindle Fire, but really as an excessive novel-reader it is worth it for me to have the dedicated reading device.

The SD card on my smartphone stopped working, so I replaced the phone (it was old, I was overdue for a free upgrade), so that doesn't really count. But in the meantime I started getting an error message on my laptop saying that the battery wasn't recognized - it hasn't worked on battery power for weeks now, but as the messages became more frequent, I realized I'd better do something about it. Dropped it off earlier today with repair guy who thinks it is either the battery or the motherboard - very happy to have the Kindle Fire HD (with bluetooth keyboard) to fall back on, as being completely computer-less is not conducive to my tranquility.

I had a lovely time at swim practice last night, but not only did I leave my watch on the floor in the showers (it's old-school gym-building, even in the women's locker room there are no stalls and no shelves to put anything on, I rested my cap/goggles/suit/watch on the floor but the watch must have camouflaged itself sufficiently that I didn't see it), I also seem to have been on auto-pilot and relocked my lock onto the locker when I left! One or both of these may be retrievable by me on Sunday, and both are cheap and easy to replace - but I hope I can put a stop to this trend before it sweeps away something irreplaceable....

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Couch to 5K novel-writing plan

My top 5 tips for aspiring novelists.

Womb Maze

Party-sponsored video games in China. (Via Hua Hsu.)


This is something I'm really excited about - it's not quite "Lunch with the FT," which remains my pinnacle idea of desirable publicity that is still in the realm of the possibly attainable, but in my head it is one of the things I have always wanted to do for a novel I'm publishing, and marks some kind of having arrived! Thrilled to be included in the Largehearted Boy Book Notes; I love the format, and enjoyed working within the constraint of playlist and commentary. It includes many of my favorite songs, and also my new theory about how the Smiths song "Cemetry Gates" is really about live-action role-playing....

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Closing tabs

Brent Cox on William Gibson. (Via Alice.)

"We know when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sleeps." (Via James Bridle.)

The shape of careers?

Eggs will pop soon!

At the intersection of my two blogs, but I found this post by Gordo Byrn thought-provoking. He lays out a minimal base fitness schedule that will let you do something crazy in triathlon after twelve weeks of training without wrecking yourself (2 x 20min strength, 3 runs at shorter of 5mi or 1hr, 3 bikes at 2 x 45 and 1 x 75, 3 swims at shorter of 1350 yards or 25min, for a total of a little over seven hours per week); I think there are close analogies in literary matters, which is to say that you need to do a certain amount of reading and writing every day and every week if you want to be able to call upon all your powers of composition intensely over a more sustained period of time - but huge output over the whole of life is not sustainable, and comes at the cost of too many other things. Worthwhile to think of maintaining base writing fitness even through times when a big writing project can't be a priority.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Trying to gear up for a run - have already curtailed notion of a long one, now just need to get myself out the door for something. Residual fatigue is an obstacle, and hay fever season is upon us; also, not as warm as one might think in April - but really all this just means that I am still very tired!

Miscellaneous linkage:

E. L. Konigsburg has died. I loved so many of her books so much, including the iconic Mixed-Up Files, but I think my two absolute favorites must have always been A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver (what an amazing title aside from everything else - though as someone who has recently felt a bit scathed by 1-star Amazon reviews, I feel slightly relieved to see the vitriol being spilled on this lovely book and its title!) and Father's Arcane Daughter, which I am sorry to see has been retitled My Father's Daughter in the reissue - one of the things I loved as a child about Konigsburg's books was that they made no concessions to imagined notions of children's vocabularies!

At the Guardian: Sebald on Rousseau, Wood/Sinclair/Macfarlane/Self on Sebald.

This is uncanny. (Via Charles. Whole site is very compelling.)

Best thing I saw on the internet this week. (Courtesy of my dad.)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tooth and throat singing

A good error correction in this story at the Times:
An article on Thursday about Caroline Shaw, who won the Pulitzer Prize for music this week, referred incorrectly to a vocal technique explored by a group she has sung with, Roomful of Teeth. It is Tuvan throat singing — a tradition of the Tuvan people of Siberia — not “tooth and throat” singing.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Davidson rule

Postscript on previous post: the Davidson rule is that you do not have to do work in airports or on planes.

(See also The Davidson criterion, for judging novels: is this book suitable for reading on a train or plane? Dickens is, Fielding is not - if you have a book that does not meet this criterion, you will let it fall closed on your lap and stare out the window, making the time pass very slowly.)


Strange and distressing week following news in Boston. My trip to Maine for the reading was very lovely, other than Boston thoughts hanging over us all - and some combination of distress and general excess-travel-related discombobulation led to me accidentally leaving my Kindle on the plane on Tuesday in Portland! Have filed missing property report, it's not at the Delta lost-and-found either in Portland or LGA, so I will wait and see whether it turns up - can read on phone (or of course actual "books") in the meantime. Am going to write a separate post tomorrow with Portland linkage, as my host did an absolutely lovely job taking me to all the most delicious and beautiful places, and they deserve a full account.

Logging of light reading will be slightly erratic: I read a lot of novels over last week due to time in airports etc. but cannot swear this list is inclusive without the record in the "Finished" folder on lost Kindle.

I think this is most of it:

I had a good run of books that are exactly what I like. I read Sarah Pinborough's A Matter of Blood and loved it so much (it was perfectly what I wanted to read) that I was only thwarted to discover that the second and third volumes have only been published in England and are not yet available for US Kindle. However ILL (which reminds me I must reread Jo Walton's novel Among Others, the novel written by one of the few other people in the world who loves ILL as much as I do) has served me well, I have volumes 2 and 3 in my possession (UK hardcover) and will shortly finish 2 and turn to 3.

Two absolutely perfect novels by Deborah Coates, crime fiction with excellent sense of place and mild element of supernatural - read them! I liked them enough that I pillaged the Amazon page for her bits of short fiction as well - the novels are just super.

Gene Kerrigan's The Rage: excellent Irish noir (this crime fiction of the Irish financial crisis is a depressing but extremely interesting subgenre - Alan Glynn and Tana French most obviously coming to mind, but make recommendations in the comments if you have any more suggestions).

Harlen Coben's Six Years is not good value for the money, wait and get it from the library - Crais's books have gotten better, I think, as Coben's have gotten weaker. Too often here I just had the feeling He is making this up, this is nonsense!

A Mira Grant zombie tie-in I missed at the time, and thoroughly enjoyed: San Diego 2013: The Last Stand of the California Brownshirts. Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant = true genius of popular fiction!

Melissa Scott's Five-Twelfths of Heaven, which I loved - but I am halfway through the sequel now (very glad these novels are all available electronically) and it does not seem to me nearly as sharp and engaging. However I certainly will read the whole trilogy.

Strangest and most complex of the bunch: a really uncanny and haunting novel by Richard Bowes, Minions of the Moon. I definitely hadn't read this before, though I think I must have an ARC of it sitting around somewhere in my apartment - and I also had a strange conviction that my friend M. had recommended to me, but could not then decide whether this was a real memory or an imaginary one based on the similarity (minus supernatural elements) of this book to Lawrence Block's Scudder novels and also to M.'s own story. The book it is most like, I think, Scudder notwithstanding, is Graham Joyce's The Tooth Fairy. Highly worthwhile.

Miscellaneous additional linkage:

Beautiful but also distressing: the library at Guantanamo. (Via.)

A happy note to end on: a nice story about a Muswell Hill tortoise.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Training exercise

"County officials who investigated the mishandling of the remains had called it a well-intentioned mistake."

All is well with me in San Francisco - seems that Facebook is better for tracking minor activities on travels (look on my page over there if you are curious, I don't think I can link directly to pics). Mental soundtrack whenever I am here: Camper Van Beethoven's "Tania."

Friday, April 12, 2013

Closing tabs

The reviewer from the Columbia Spectator was not at all keen on my novel; on a brighter note, the picture accompanying the article is very nice! We took it Wednesday morning on the steps of the gazebo in Sakura Park, as Grant's Tomb was closed off from visitors. Really my favorite days of all involve the production of quota on the order of 1500 words and 2-3 hours of fairly strenuous exercise, but I was thoroughly enjoying my week of minor limelight (i.e. photo shoot morning after book party!).

I'm in San Francisco - had a beautiful run this morning, did a spot of work on my taxes so that it wouldn't all await me when I get home Sunday evening and am heading out shortly to visit a friend and her baby. Will read tomorrow night at Writers With Drinks - come and say hello if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

Miscellaneous linkage:

Too much Twitter?

Gravy lakes of the world.

Fast and furious Jurassic life in the egg.

Best literary cat picture ever?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book party!

Thanks to all who came! This is me with my lovely editor Ed Park, as things were winding down.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Madrid pink, Prague green, Waddesdon navy

Via my father, a good Thatcher bit at the Guardian, reminiscences from Thatcher's personal assistant Cynthia Crawford:
In 1987 she was going to Russia for the first time and I had seen a wonderful coat in Aquascutum's window and I went to get it. A lot of her clothes up until that time had been homemade by a lady. She made all those dresses and blouses with bows and things. Mrs Thatcher went to Russia and she looked absolutely fabulous. I said to her: "If you are going to fight an election in June, why don't we ask Aquascutum to make you up some working suits." She agreed, so we ordered these suits. It was when the power shoulders were in and it just revolutionised her. She looked fantastic. She enjoyed all the new outfits and got away from the dresses. She never wears trousers, not even today. She always likes formal clothes, even at home. She hasn't got a lot of casual clothes.

Because her mother was a dressmaker, she knew exactly how things should be made, how hems should be turned and how stitching should be done.

Every outfit had a name. It was mostly the name of the place where it was first worn, such as Madrid Pink or Prague Green. We might say, "We'll take Waddesdon Navy" – because she had several suits in navy. Waddesdon was where she took Mitterrand, and they had a wonderful meal. We knew we were talking about a navy suit that had a trim of a cream collar with navy roses. That was easy because then we knew what we were talking about.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

A three-year phenomenon

A highlight for me from the eighteenth-century studies conference was this bit from Anne Stevens' talk about microgenres, the "Thinks-I-To-Myself" novel:
1811 Edward Nares, Think’s-I-to-Myself. A Serio-ludicro, Tragico-comico Tale, Written by Think’s-I-to-Myself.
1812 I’ll Consider of It! A Tale, in Three Volumes, in Which Thinks I to Myself is Partially Considered.
1812 Barbara Hofland, Says She to Her Neighbour, What? By an Old-Fashioned Englishman.
1812 Edward Nares, I Says, Says I; a Novel. By Thinks-I-to-Myself.
1813 It Was Me, a Tale, by Me, Who Cares for Nothing or Nobody
1813 She Thinks For Herself.

Friday, April 05, 2013


are the most tiring single thing I do: much more tiring than endurance events, as those do not involve nearly so much human contact! I am claiming a human-free evening, and am going to go and skulk somewhere with something along lines of book/burger/beer in a bar far enough away from the conference hotel that I won't get sucked in to joining a table of fellow eighteenth-centuryists! Who are delightful, but I have not read a book since Wednesday, that's not good for my mental health. Conference is going very well, it's highly worthwhile, only it always puts me into state of collapse...

Also: my blog post about The Magic Circle is up at the Kindle Daily Blog; before the Book Culture event the other day, Ron Hogan interviewed me for an installment of The Handsell.

In other news: more rabbit show-jumping! (Via Brent.) If you only click on one link in this post, it should definitely be this one.

Or this, on a rather different note: very good hawkcam at Cornell this year (they would make short work of those bunnies).

Light reading around the edges: two quite good mysteries by M. J. McGrath, White Heat and The Boy in the Snow; two books for the Handsell recommendation process, David Bell's Cemetery Girl and Will Lavender's Dominance; Amanda Davis, Wonder When You'll Miss Me.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Rooftop fliers

Pigeon breeding may become a lost art if a younger generation doesn't take it up. (This book sounds fantastic.)

Frenetic morning

Finished writing my paper at the crack of dawn, printed it in the business center and had very good conversation at the "Novel Experiments" panel - bought sandwich to bring up to room for Reddit chat (I want to run mid-afternoon and need to eat now if that's going to happen), only to find that my room key was no longer working! Mild panic ensued, as that was about when I was supposed to be logging on to the site, but a bellman from the main lobby came up with me to let me in (their key machine is down too!), and I am here and ready to go. All of which is to say come and ask me a question at Reddit from 12 to 1!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


So thoroughly knackered and in need of bed that I will not write at length about light reading or anything else, except to say that the Book Culture event last night was absolutely lovely (a dream evening, and it was particularly nice to see so many former students!); I am writing now from a hotel in Cleveland for my eighteenth-century studies conference, Cleveland is extremely nice (we had a great dinner here - my dessert was the best key lime pie EVER!).

But the main news is that I am doing a Reddit IAMA chat tomorrow, Thursday, at noon - come and ask me a question if you have an idle moment!

On a darker note, this is truly dispiriting. (Via Jonathan L.)

Monday, April 01, 2013

The five-year plan

It's been a bit quiet round here: lots of triathlon training, and I'm trying (with only partial success) not to spend so much time online. Thought I would share this prospectus of sorts: it has served various practical purposes recently, in slightly different variations, and I think I am ready to go on the record with it.


My goal for the next three to five years is an ambitious book project whose working title is The ABCs of the Novel. (My initial title was the more evocative Bread and Butter of the Novel, but one too many people asked me whether I was writing about food in literature, and I realized that rather than the British “bread-and-butter,” meaning elementary or basic, the American “ABCs” would better convey the breaking-down-to-fundamentals aspect of the work I hoped to do.) My first two scholarly books are histories more than anything else, and my own critical imagination remains strongly historical in its procedures and materials. I have found myself wondering, though, what might be done in a non- or even anti-historicist mode: not so much the ‘new formalism’ as a willfully timeless and non-chronologically governed development of the insights of narrative theorists as various as Wayne Booth and GĂ©rard Genette. I have decided to experiment with an abecedarian form something like that of Milosz’s ABCs, Raymond Williams’ Keywords or Barthes’s looser variations on that theme, with the goal of exploring the genre of the novel as widely and deeply as possible and attempting to sum up the results of what now represents about twenty-five years of serious reading on my part in the novel and narrative theory.

As the book is not yet written, it still has a near-magical luster for me (see Samuel Johnson’s lament for “the dreams of a poet doomed at last to wake a lexicographer”): it will be composed of entries that range from 250 words at the shortest to about 6,000 words for more substantive essays. Sample topics include fundamentals about first- and third-person narration, epistolarity, the Pamela-Shamela controversy and narrative epistemologies, the problem of authorial revision, the whys and wherefores of an ongoing communal failure in eighteenth-century studies to supersede or replace the narrative of the ‘rise of the novel’ offered by Ian Watt some fifty years ago, and the emergence of a set of conventions for the notation of human gesture in prose (Sterne and Diderot both loom large in that story). The book will also include brief and highly selective accounts of such topics as the prose fictions of the ancient world and of Japan c. 1000 C.E., romance, fiction and the counterfactual mode, Dostoevsky’s doubles, Tolstoy’s style, theories and histories of the novel by Lukacs, Henry James, E. M. Forster, D. H. Lawrence, Fredric Jameson et al., and a host of other topics.

Alongside this perhaps hubristically ambitious book, I hope to assemble a couple of associated smaller-scale projects: a collection of essays more tightly focused on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British fiction (this will include pieces I’ve already published as well as some new writing composed especially for that volume); and a short book on Richardson’s Clarissa, directed towards teachers, students and others who would like to read this dauntingly long novel and are not sure how to embark on that project. My other associated dream project is to write the introduction for a new trade edition of Clarissa, preferably published in an attractive three-volume format something like 1Q84; there are few things I would like more in life than to get that novel into the hands of a wider audience of readers.

As far as the essay collection goes, I envisage a volume that would reprint these four already published pieces along with four or five new ones composed specifically for the book and with a view to providing a good range of coverage (possibilities might include essays on Haywood, Fielding, Richardson, Smollett, Burney). These are the essays I’ve already written: (1) “Austen’s Voices,” included in Swift’s Travels: Essays in Honor of Claude Rawson (Cambridge, 2008), considers some fundamental points about the first- and third-person forms of narration that Austen inherits from her eighteenth-century predecessors, especially the prose satirists, and modifies radically according to her own vision and priorities. (2) “Restoration Theatre and the Eighteenth-Century Novel,” forthcoming in Tom Keymer’s Oxford History of the Novel in English, Vol. 1: Origins of Print to 1775, sets forth a simple-minded but provocative hypothesis about what eighteenth-century prose fiction might owe to the forms of notation for bodily action that were developed in the dialogue and stage directions of Restoration comedy. (3) “Reflections on the ‘minute particular’ in life-writing and the novel” (under revision) asks some similar questions about particular detail as it functions in realist fiction and eighteenth-century life-writing, (4) The chapter on Austen for the forthcoming Blackwell Companion to British Literature, edited by Robert DeMaria, Jr. and colleagues.