Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On near misses

It all worked out fine in the end, but I had a highly unpleasant half-hour this morning around 9:30am when I went to the TriBike Transport site to check the exact address and time window for Friday's bike drop-off, only to find that the drop-off deadline had been changed to YESTERDAY at 7pm!

Utter panic ensued - I couldn't get through to TriBike, and I started thinking about the various dreadful alternative methods of getting a bicycle to Wisconsin, and how horrible it would be if I had to pursue any of them. Fortunately I soon had a productive chat with a TriBike employee who informed me that the truck wasn't scheduled to pick up bikes from the store until 11am this morning, that she would call the truck's driver and that as long as I could get there by 11:30 it should be fine.

So I threw a few things into the gear bag (no time to pack it properly, just aero helmet and wetsuit and one or two other obvious bits and bobs), grabbed my bicycle and dumped everything in the trunk of a taxi - there was a lot of traffic (I was glad I wasn't riding across town!), but I was in the East Village by 11 sharp and dropped off my stuff with HUGE relief at having dodged a bullet. Acquired a pedal wrench to replace the one I'm not sure where to find and also paid for store mechanic to replace rear tube with broken valve.

Took subway home and found email notification that bike and bag were now safely on route. I will pick them up a week from Friday in Madison: it's a very good service, much better than having to have bike unpacked and rebuilt (capable mechanics do this themselves, but I really prefer to pay a professional to do it properly - especially the reassembly!) and paying airline extortionate fees to slam it around for me. (Not to mention my bike case is in Cayman still.)

(Needless to say, I was having considerable self-reproach at not having checked online over the weekend - they say to check a week or two in advance in case details have changed, but I suppose I didn't imagine it would be more than one day in one direction or another. This sort of lapse is partly just the inevitable consequence of life complexity - I am reasonably on top of life details, I would say, in a general sense, but I am also good at staying focused on getting one thing done at a time. I had to do my 112-mile ride on Sunday, I had to fly home to NYC on Monday and also finish reading and preparing comments on a dissertation for first thing Tuesday morning. It is neither pious nor defensive, I hope, to say that my students' dissertation defenses take priority over Ironman logistics! The rest of yesterday was a wash, with a long nap and a celebratory dinner with dissertation student and colleagues at Le Monde; it was only when I got up this morning that I let my mind shift back to Ironman. A very lucky thing that I saw the change in time to remedy the situation - I have been very pleasantly feeling that the obligations of the new school year have been happily stopping me from obsessing about my race next week, but now I am thoroughly rattled and am going to be a lot more diligent about getting everything I can sorted out in next day or two. Have just made my MASTER LIST of things for different bags. Tomorrow will retrieve tri bike from Sid's Bikes and do some actual exercise - I've had three days off due to travel and fatigue and notional taper, but really I need to do S/B/R over next few days, and hopefully a hot yoga class somewhere in there too.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Back to school

It is nice to be back at home in New York. This time of year is always cheery in Morningside Heights, with students moving in and the optimism of a new school year!

I got home from Cayman yesterday evening, did a dissertation defense this morning and then came home and crashed for a deep and discombobulating three-hour afternoon nap that will probably wreak havoc with tonight's sleep possibilities, but I think it was worth it regardless. I still have one surplus cat staying with me, which is nice (two cats are more than twice as funny than one cat).

I need to get in gear for my opening classes next week (this means trying to unearth notes, course readers, books etc. and wondering why I do not leave them in some better and more systematically accessible fashion) - both are classes I have taught before and enjoy, so it shouldn't be too overwhelming. I'm on a big committee this year that will take up a significant amount of time and attention, and I also have three or four talks scheduled for October and early November, so I think things will be fairly busy.

I am done with the bulk of Ironman training and now have eleven days before I race next weekend in Madison! I am actually finding it nice to have the school stuff to worry about/concentrate on, it takes a bit of pressure off the other. I need to pick up my tri bike tomorrow from the store where it was having a tune-up, make all my complex lists for gear and travel and then drop off my road bike (which I'm actually using for the race) and gear bag on Friday to be transported in a truck to Wisconsin. One more long day on Saturday - the recommendation in the training plan I'm loosely following is to swim 1hr, ride (I will spin indoors) 2hr and run 2hr - at this point, that actually seems pretty short! Otherwise just bits and pieces to stay sharp/fresh.

(Over the past twelve weeks, I have completed approximately 165 hours of training - my biggest week was 20 hours, but many hovering in the region of 15 and recovery weeks at more like 6 or 8. It has been a pleasure and a privilege - I do want to do another iron-distance race in the not-too-distant future, but I think the training has to come in a semester where I have a sabbatical and am not trying to start or finish a major book! Next summer probably just a couple of half-ironman races and an Olympic distance or two.)

Light reading (airport edition): Samantha Shannon, The Bone Season (quite reasonably good - a thousand times better than The Night Circus, which only suggests itself as a comparison because of industry hype, but not perhaps as perfectly suited to my tastes as Laini Taylor's wonderful Daughter of Smoke and Bone books, with which it has a good bit more in common); a super book by David Epstein, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance (I only wished it was longer - had the same experience with Wright's Scientology book - if the notes in the Kindle edition take up the final 30%, one comes very abruptly upon the end of the narrative while still wishing for more!); Kelly Braffet's Save Yourself, which I enjoyed very much indeed. Now reading Elmore Leonard's Raylan Givens stories.

Closing tabs:

The distribution of octopus intelligence.

Grizzlies prefer the overpass, black bears prefer the underpass. (Via Tyler Cowen.)

Another good interview with Wayne Koestenbaum. (Courtesy of Dave Lull.)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Where Minnie off"

This is an amazing story:
Conversing with outsiders, Pitcairners speak a New Zealand-inflected British English. Among themselves, they use an indigenous creole — an amalgam of Tahitian and late-18th-century English — that confounds outside ears: “Wut a way you?” (How are you?), “Fut you no bin larn me?” (Why didn’t you tell me?), “You se capsize and o-o!” (You’ll fall over and get hurt!)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

No-style style

David Gordon remembers Elmore Leonard.

(B. and I just finished watching the most recent season of Justified - I really love it, I think I have to go and get the Raylan books right now. Also if you are not reading David's novels, you should be - they are The Serialist and Mystery Girl - the latter just published by Ed Park under the Little A imprint. Honored to share a publisher with David, truly!)

Too many deaths this week of people I cared about. I haven't mentioned it here, but I was fairly shattered to learn at the end of last week that my friend and teacher Gerald Moore had just died. Gerald was the inspirational coach behind the Beast boot camp, which I did off and on over the last couple years at Chelsea Piers. I loved working with him and was looking forward to taking some more of his classes once IMWI was over. He had a heart attack last year and I knew he had been having ongoing health problems, but he was only in his fifties, and leaves a young family and a lot of bereft students!

Here is the picture of Gerald with his proteges before we did the Tough Mudder race last fall - we were wearing T-shirts with Gerald's picture on them, I must dig mine out when I get home....

Life as a man

These pictures spur thoughts of what an amazing fantasy novel could be written along similar themes....

Particles and waves

There are simply no words to describe how much I loved Paul Devlin's list of things you should know about Albert Murray. Go and read it!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Have had some extremely good light reading in recent days - I tend to fall behind on logging it when I am in Cayman, it is too relaxing here!

Best of all, Wayne Koestenbaum's My 1980s and Other Essays - it is a super collection in any case, but I am also happy because it includes a couple pieces I've been assigning regularly and it is useful to have them between covers. Also, an amazing piece I hadn't read before about Lana Turner, and a "Play-Doh Poetics" that struck me considerably. (Adam Kirsch didn't like the book as much as I did.)

Warren Ellis, Gun Church (odd and rather haunting - I liked it); Kimberly Rae Miller, Coming Clean: A Memoir (interesting counterpoint to Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding, but enough of these punny names, they are good books and don't need that sort of gimmick!); Erin Kelly, The Burning Air (I didn't believe at all in the characters - like, at all - but it is very readable); and David Mark, The Dark Winter, which is a bit melodramatic (compounded by being narrated in the present tense I think) but otherwise not at all bad.

Closing tabs:

Anne Fernald's reminiscences of John Hollander. Professor Hollander's death has given me much thought about teachers and teaching, and what we get from our teachers and leave behind of ourselves with our students....

The rise of the mini-monograph.

Against "strong" female characters. (Via Jane.)

40 trashy novels that are worth reading. (It is a good list, with considerable overlap to my own version of similar, only I would have less "women's fiction" and more science fiction and fantasy.)

Tim Maly on NSA-proofing your email.

Walton Muyumba on Albert Murray. I hope Paul Devlin does write Murray's biography....

"Knowing what to choose"

Another obituary that gives me that sinking end-of-an-era feeling: the great Albert Murray has died at age 97. Here was a description of the time that my friend Paul Devlin kindly took me for a visit to meet the great man. A great loss.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Speed dial

Smoking habits of Lee Child. (Via Ed Park.) I am much looking forward to the new book!

Caran d'ache

Sorry to read in the Times just now that John Hollander has died. He was one of my grad school professors; I still often think of various bits of his book The Figure of Echo, particularly the funny and striking observation (I am paraphrasing from memory), about the poem Marvell wrote in preface to Paradise Lost, that it is Marvell's "On First Looking Into Milton's Bible."

He could be a rambling and digressive teacher, but with a great underlying warmth and a capacious intelligence and almost perversely varied curiosity. He was one of my orals examiners, and I remember him asking the dreadful question, during the exam, "Are there any sonnets in Donne's Songs and Sonnets?" After some panicked mental examination, I answered no; "Of course not!" he exclaimed triumphantly. "Sonnet is simply the Italian word for little song!"

Also, a moment in his class on ecphrasis: JH, discussing the link between character-the-mark-on-a-page and character-the-thing-a-person-has: "What is the Russian word for pencil?" JMD (legacy of two years of college Russian taken for no particular reason): "Karandach." JH, associatively: "Thus the clever name Caran d'Ache, for the Swiss drawing company inspired by a Russian emigre." I had boxes and boxes of those pencils as a child, and I had never put the two things together....

Also, a moment when I had to tell him I was missing an upcoming class due to a doctor's appointment, and feared being greeted by an irascible tirade, but instead was given a huge beaming grin of approval: "Oh, yes. We are living in the era of managed care, these doctors' appointments cannot be rescheduled!" It fit in with one of his favored topics for tirades, and therefore triggered pleasure rather than anger.

It is the end of an era - I think of John Hollander and Kenneth Koch as two poets, critics and teachers quite unlike anything we will ever see again. There will be other wonderful kinds of combination, quite different from what were found in that generation; but nothing quite like those two.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The end of literature

I don't think I already linked to this interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard, conducted by Trevor Laurence Jockims and published in June in Bookforum.

Dangerous games

Nice article from the weekend section of the Cay Compass - not available online, but here's the scan. Publicist for Books & Books has gone all out! (Not sure you can get a readably large version, but try clicking?)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Closing tabs

I read a very good book that slightly spoiled me for others, the first volume of Peter May's Lewis trilogy, The Blackhouse. It was a recommendation from my college friend and fellow recreational triathlete Jean-Jacques; it is an odd book in certain respects, and I am not sure the unusual formal choices are entirely justified, but it's an immersive read with an appealing main character and amazing settings. Alas, though volumes two and three of the trilogy exist, I can't get them until I get back to New York: I had this one from BorrowDirect (various libraries in that system collect UK crime fiction), but even the first one isn't released to U.S. markets until September. I believe there is an earlier series I can plunder in the meantime.

Near the end of the third installment of Daniel Abraham's Dagger and the Coin quartet, but slightly regretting the sheer length of epic fantasy - it is my own fault for reading them all in a week rather than over something more like a month, I am still liking them, but it is slightly over the top!

Also: Christa Faust's second Fringe novel, The Burning Man (the Amazon reviews are unduly harsh, I quite enjoyed it, but it's true that it doesn't fill in backstory in the conventional sense - I think it is a difficult situation writing for obsessive fans!).

I was interviewed on local television this morning, which was very enjoyable but required an emergency visit yesterday to Camana Bay for a colored top and some face powder, neither of which is really in my usual repertoire! A good interview in the weekend edition of the paper, too, but not online - I may post a scan if I can get it formatted correctly.

Closing tabs:

"Her own cats now assume the iPad exists for them." (Via Marginal Revolution.)

David Epstein's new book sounds highly worthwhile.

I want to read this, but even more so I want to eat a piece of one of the cakes! (Also - via Jane - cat donuts.)

10 questions for Wayne Koestenbaum, courtesy of Dave Lull. Much looking forward to the release of My 1980s and Other Essays.

Last but not least, Matthew Kirschenbaum on archiving digital media. (Via Glenn Hendler.)

Monday, August 12, 2013


Not ABCs of the novel - ABCs of the style book! One of my favorite stages in book-writing is when I get the copy-edited manuscript back from the publisher, usually along with a customized style sheet that includes all the proper names given in the text. (Here was a bit of something similar for The Magic Circle.) This book doesn't have a lot of unusual nouns in it, but it does have an amazing canon of proper names. Too long to paste in the whole thing, but this will give a taste of it:
Aciman, André
Acocella, Joan
Adorno, Theodor
Alexievich, Svetlana
Allworthy, Squire
Anthony, Piers
Assingham, Fanny
Augustine, St.
Austen, Jane
Baldwin, James
Balzac, Honoré de
Banks, Iain M.
Barthes, Roland
Beckett, Samuel
Beddoes, Thomas Lovell
Bennet, Elizabeth
Bernhard, Thomas
Berlin, Isaiah
Blake, Nicholas
Blake, William
Bloom, Harold
Boileau, Nicolas
Borges, Jorge Luis
Boswell, James
Boyd, William
Brainard, Joe
Breton, André
Browne, Sir Thomas
Bruen, Ken
Buckner, Brent
Burgess, Anthony
Burke, Edmund
Burroughs, William
Burt, Stephen
Burton, Robert
Byron, Lord
Carter, Angela
Celan, Paul
Chandler, Raymond
Cheever, John
Child, Lee
Christensen, Kate
Crichton, Michael
Coelho, Paulo
Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur
Conrad, Joseph

A low Reynolds number world

The nightmare of swimming through syrup. (Via.)

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Inimitable

At the LRB, Tim Parks on Dickens' children. (That link should work now; the initial version I had was through a Columbia proxy. Thanks, Dave!)

Made it to Cayman safely today, though on only a couple hours of sleep. Am intending to sleep long and hard tomorrow morning!

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Closing tabs

Cumulative fatigue has made me unproductive! It's a recovery week, training-wise, but of course there are many small things that need to get done before I leave town early Thursday morning: things to do with bicycles, things to do with syllabi and course book orders, things to do with library materials for an article revision and a secret project that is beginning to percolate, etc. etc.

Miscellaneous light reading (not enough of it - I need the soothing mental bath of reading a good many narrative pages!): Ivy Pochoda's Visitation Street (I thought it was very good - definitely lived up to the advance praise - in vein of Richard Price or Colin Harrison, with good feel for inner lives of teenage girls); a reread of Tana French's Broken Harbor; and an extremely good epic fantasy, Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin. I saw someone reading it on a plane earlier this summer and it looked appealing: epic fantasy is often a dodgy bet (it's a genre I much enjoy, but I also find a great deal of it unreadable), but this really was good. I would have gotten it even sooner if I had realized that Abraham is one of the co-authors of those pseudonymous science-fiction novels I recently enjoyed so much.

Closing tabs:

How the FBI turned Natalie Zemon Davis on to rare books.

Phil Dyess-Nugent on Funky 4 + 1's "That's the Joint" (and check out the whole series here).

Salad-bar ingenuity. (Great pictures at that link.)

"It's easy to be lonely when all your friends are human"

Jane Yeh, "On Being an Android."

Sunday, August 04, 2013

"I've been to a lot of chocolate tastings in my life"

Fiona Madducks interviews pianist Matsuko Uchida at the Guardian:
Currently I have four pianos, all Steinways – one I call "the Oldie", who was born in 1962 and I bought in 1982. He is now full of new bits but the body is the same.

You're sounding quite tender about these pianos… They're like human beings – all men. Number 2 is good for practising on. The third I call the Boy from Munich – the kind that would drive a sports car. The fourth is the youngster, just getting nappy trained. I'll probably find somewhere in Europe to house him so I don't always have to transport a piano – which is quite a business.
Was listening among other things in the car to and from Vermont this weekend to Brahms violin sonatas, can't imagine how one would listen to them as a young person (or really at any age) without wanting to play the piano rather than the violin - but car companion pointed out to me that there is almost a coming-out narrative for violists, they have played the violin as a youngster because someone else chose it for them but there is a nascent sense, co-timed with emergence of sexual identity, that it is not quite right in some fundamental way....

(Check out this in some ways more forthcoming interview here.)

"The girl who doesn't sit at the table is a failed girl"

Alex Clark interviews Claire Messud at the Guardian:
A counter-reading, though, might suggest that she [the protagonist of Messud's new novel The Woman Upstairs] is too sane; so determined to keep everything on an even keel that she has sacrificed the kind of spontaneity and wildness necessary to fall in love, or to make art. A key question the novel's title invites us to consider is to what extent this has befallen her because she's a woman. "Is that a gendered state?" says Messud now. "No. But is it something that's more often true of women than men? I think so." She and her husband, the literary critic James Wood, have two children, a daughter, Livia, 12, and a son, Lucian, nine, and she goes on to tell me – with some nifty mimicry of the way children talk to one another – about the differences she observes in the kindergarten classes at their schools: "The boys go in the corner, they wave – Hi, Hi – and then they go off and build a Lego tower or whatever before school starts, and the girls go sit at a table and they draw and they look at each other's work and they chat and they say: 'Is that a flower? It doesn't look very much like a flower. Why did you use that colour? You used brown for a flower? Flowers aren't brown.'" It's very funny, until she adds the thought that: "The girl who doesn't sit at the table is a failed girl."

Friday, August 02, 2013

Life v. literature

The weeks where I am most copious here are weeks I am spending a lot of time at home on my computer. What is good for life is not necessarily good for blogging! I've been busy with all sorts of enjoyable things, including a fantastic party Tuesday night at the Algonquin Hotel for Amazon's little A fiction imprint.

I'm writing this Friday evening on my Kindle Fire (links a bit of a pain to paste in, so I may be selective) in a Vermont bed and breakfast; tomorrow Liz and I will race the Kingdom Even-Up Triathlon, and last night we stayed here on her aunt and uncle's absolutely lovely farm. Both of those links are highly worthwhile, and we had an amazing morning visiting calves in the barn (one of them sucked on the heel of my palm in a most endearing fashion), walking the hyper-energetic and muscular black lab blend down and up a very steep dirt road, looking at chickens and pigs and generally enjoying a magical agricultural interlude. There is also a cat, and another dog (a golden retriever that's considerably less active than the lab)! We will go back there tomorrow night for post-race feeding and recovery, and then drive home to New York on Sunday.

(Liz was telling me recently about this, and the family syrup site has just gone live - order some here! I am definitely intending to take a quart home with me: it is perhaps dubious, but I am thinking that it might make good endurance sport fuel....)