Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in brief

At the end of December I always do a quick skim back through the whole year's blog posts, mostly to get the book list together (anything named here is something I wholeheartedly recommend, though not all genres appeal equally to all readers - but we are living in a great age of light reading!) but also to get some sense of patterns: patterns to be repeated, patterns to be avoided.

I am always struck by how much of my life doesn't make it onto the blog, and also by how familiar the pattern of overwork, travel, fatigue and respiratory infection seems to be. Only serious resolution for 2015: live life in a way that doesn't get me sick so often!

I do also think I should read fewer novels and more nonfiction, but I don't want to be too penitential about it either, so we will see how that shakes out (I read the last issue of the NYRB last night before going to bed, as my Kindle needed recharging; it is certainly better than reading schlock, but I am not sure it is necessarily better than reading good fiction, so really what I mean is to get more narrative nonfiction, biography, science writing etc. and see if I can tempt myself more regularly in that direction so that I can pre-filter the good stuff from the pap and find something else to occupy my idle hours).

2014 was a good year in many respects. I taught a couple of graduate seminars I've taught before (one on culture, one on fiction of the 1790s) and I spent a huge amount of time and energy developing a new lecture course, Literary Texts, Critical Methods, the one course we require of all English majors. I loved almost everything about teaching that class, but I was especially taken with the nineteenth-century Americans: William Wells Brown's Clotel, Melville, Dickinson. Alternate self is clearly writing on Melville one universe over.

Books that especially spoke to me as I was teaching them (randomly recalled): Boswell and Johnson on the Hebrides; Inchbald's A Simple Story and Godwin's Caleb Williams, two seriously underrated novels; Endgame! An accident of proximity (last fiction, first play) caused me to realize the uncanny similarities between Billy Budd and The Importance of Being Earnest.

I spent a good deal of my reading and thinking time in the spring serving on a committee that advises the Provost on tenure cases throughout the entire university (we're coming up on the busy season for that again). As their tenure is now a matter of public record, I can say that two books I particularly enjoyed out of dozens I read for that charge were Shamus Khan's Privilege and Gray Tuttle's Tibetan Buddhists and the Making of Modern China.

I wrote four tenure letters for eighteenth-century scholars at other universities (this is at least two more than I should do) and a seemingly endless stream of letters of recommendation. I have mixed feelings about being a gatekeeper, but there is no getting around it.

I had three amazing work trips, to Israel, Dublin and Paris respectively. In Paris I served as a member of the thesis jury for a doctoral dissertation: it was at once completely familiar (I must have done this twenty times by now) and wonderfully strange! (The thesis was extremely good.)

The saddest thing I wrote was the obituary for Brent's father.

In January I was finishing up the index for my little book on style, which came out in June (I think it found quite a few readers, but I am afraid that it essentially sank without a trace otherwise: here was one particularly fun review, but I increasingly realize I am not cut out for the publicity end of the book business - I like writing 'em, not hawking 'em, especially not if they are written by me!); between syllabus-writing, minor publicity, revising an article that I first wrote an incredibly long time ago and aforementioned tenure letters, I didn't get any major work done over the summer, but that was OK, as I wanted a bit of a breather before I plunged into next books.

2014 was also the year I came to realize (it dawns on me very strongly now and again) that though I tend to think of my own writing as my real work and everything else as part of a complex and rewarding but fundamentally external set of obligations, my teaching is also my real work, and might in the end be the thing I do that makes me feel proudest! (Writing, as everyone knows, being more conducive to grinding sense of imperfections and ongoing striving rather than any simple sense of achievement and satisfaction.)

(On a related note, 2015 is going to be a year of starting new books rather than finishing ongoing ones - this is enjoyable, they always glow with promise when the words are not even quite yet on the paper!)

Best thing I heard in a theater: The Death of Klinghoffer. Other best thing I heard in a theatre: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with Neil Patrick Harris in the lead! (Close third: Britten's Curlew River, with the sublime Ian Bostridge. Also: Storm Large.)

Now for a selectively granular record of a rather frivolous year of reading (consider this a list of strong recommendations, with apologies for anything I've accidentally excluded)....

Best book I'd never heard of, courtesy of Marina H.: Delphine de Vigan, Nothing Holds Back the Night.

Favorite "book I somehow never read, or never read since early childhood": Kipling, Kim (and follow-up thoughts on the literature of counter-insurgency courtesy of my friend Joey - was reading Kipling stories all fall on the subway, they are uneven but the standard is incredibly high).

Other favorite "literary" fiction (yes, I know these categories are all slightly fraught): Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun; Knausgaard, vol. 3; Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation; Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests; Teju Cole, Every Day Is For The Thief. Kiese Laymon's Long Division properly belongs here, I think, rather than with the YA books below, though much of the contemporary fiction I most enjoy and admire can't readily be put under any single rubric.

Some older British fiction I just now caughtup with: Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet Chronicles (too sameish, I think, and rather depressing, but the scene in which Hilly gets home after having all her teeth extracted is unforgettable); Jane Gardam's Old Filth trilogy (superb); Margaret Drabble, The Realms of Gold.

Crime: Megan Abbott, The Fever; Tana French, The Secret Place; Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm; Bill Loefhelm's "Devil" series (three installments so far); Warren Ellis, Crooked Little Vein; Anthony Neil Smith, Yellow Medicine (this guy is a slightly undersung genius); Tom Bouman, Dry Bones in the Valley; Harry Bingham, The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (#3 in series); Stav Sherez, Eleven Days and A Dark Redemption; Karin Slaughter, Cop Town; Oliver Harris, The Hollow Man and Deep Shelter; Robert Hudson, The Dazzle (1930s pastiche); Deborah Coates, Strange Country (that might be the only one on this list that has fantastical elements, but there is definite bleed between this and subsequent categories).

Thrillers of excellence: Deon Meyer, Cobra; Terry Hayes, I am Pilgrim; Taylor Stevens, The Catch and The Vessel; Patrick Lee, Runner.

Vaguely science-fictional or fantastic, including alternate history (my heart is really with this category most of all - I have slightly sworn off fiction-writing, but here is where I would be if I were anywhere!): William Gibson, The Peripheral; Jo Walton, My Real Children; Max Gladstone's Craft books; Tim Powers, Declare; Peter Higgins, Wolfhound Century and Truth and Fear; Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident; Martin Millar, The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf (it is beyond words for me to say how much I love this series!); Ben Winter, World of Trouble (almost too sad); Dave Hutchinson, Europe in Autumn; Ben Aaronovitch, Broken Houses; Paul Cornell, The Severed Streets; Charles Stross, The Apocalypse Codex (and reread of entire delightful Laundry series to prepare); Lev Grossman, The Magician's Land; Lauren Beukes, Broken Monsters; James S. A. Corey, book 4 of the Expanse; Daniel Price, The Flight of the Silvers (hungry for next installment of this one - pernicious age of trilogies and series fiction!); Laini Taylor's final installment in the Daughters of Smoke and Bone series; all novels by Daryl Gregory.

I will happily read whatever Seanan McGuire publishes under any name, but I especially enjoyed her Mira Grant Newsflash installment titled The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell, with the proviso that if my mother had been that classroom teacher, she would have managed to get a higher proportion of the children safely out of the building! (It is part of the point of the story that the teacher is relatively inexperienced, so really it's not a fair comparison.)

Favorite reread (along with much Eva Ibbotson, Diana Wynne Jones and Victoria Clayton): Mary Stewart's Merlin books.

YA: Gwenda Bond, Girl on a Wire; Garth Nix, Clariel; Marcus Guillory, Red Now and Laters (this gets award for most mouth-watering title, but it is a very good genre-busting book too, and probably should go under literary fiction as well).

Best literary book about cycling: Paul Fournel, Need for the Bike. But I also enjoyed the repellent Willy Voet's Breaking the Chain, on performance-enhancing drugs in cycling.

Finally, my recommendations from a rather funny assortment of nonfiction: two excellent and completely different essay collections (both belong on best-of-year lists), Leslie Jamison's The Empathy Exams and Kiese Laymon's How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America; Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped; Alice Goffman, On the Run (a book I wish I had written myself); Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch; Ari Shavit, My Promised Land; Judy Melineck and T. J. Marshall, Working Stiff; and last but not least, a ringer from eighteenth-century studies (my review is forthcoming in Biography), Julia Allen's Swimming with Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale.

Best wishes for 2015!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Light reading catch-up

I have again left it too long since last logging....

I find this time of year challenging: very tired still from a demanding fall semester, in theory delighted to now be having quiet time at home but in practice too worn out to be making good use of it! A minor lung ailment is limiting total exercise, though I refuse to let it stop me from inaugurating a good run streak. I want to be working but I can't even finish unpacking, and I still have school stuff to finish off (tomorrow, I hope, if I can get it together) before I can really get my head into the new stuff. Very glum and inertial today until I finally dragged myself out the door for a rather chilly run; hoping that if I can run earlier tomorrow, the whole rest of the day will go better as well.

Have basically been having large amounts of very soothing light reading that I may not log individually (I am also due the traditional end-of-year book recommendation post: may do that tomorrow as I do not intend to go out to celebrate the holiday!):

A strange but quite readable thriller, Dwayne Alexander Smith's Forty Acres; a well-written and remarkably appealing pair of North London procedural/noir crime novels (it is slightly implausible that a character in such dire straits at the opening of the first volume would have it so much together as the author implies, but they are very enjoyable, and set exactly in my grandparents' neck of the woods), Oliver Harris, The Hollow Man and Deep Shelter; five novels by Liane Moriarty (these are not my preferred genre, but she is an amazingly good storyteller - these are the books you want for airport reading, the hours pass by in a flash) and then a couple of young-adult novels by her sister Jaclyn Moriarty, the Cracks in the Kingdom books.

An excellent advance copy came in the mail and I devoured it: this is the latest installment in Bill Loehfelm's Maureen Coughlin series (start at the beginning, the writing is very good), The Devil She Knows.

Then I think my favorite of all this batch, a recommendation I plucked (along with several others - I think that was where I got Oliver Harris as well) from a useful Facebook thread instigated by Bruce Holsinger in traditional end-of-semester desperation: Elizabeth Wein's two mesmerizingly good WWII novels, Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, then her excellent five-book YA series The Lion Hunters. These last in particular are so much like what I would like to have written myself that I feel EW must be my writerly alter ego (and indeed I see commonalities in the bio)! Very fresh (especially after the first one, which is perhaps a little too much in the Mary Stewart Arthurian vein), but also wonderfully familiar: with all the strengths of Rosemary Sutcliff plus a hint of Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond and Niccolo books - highly recommended (the WWII ones are probably even more compelling as writing, she made a leap forward between the two series, but the lion ones are more perfectly and exactly to my taste!).

Resolution for 2014: don't read so many novels!

Rabbits of Gowanus

"These are angry, hardened city rabbits and possibly carnivorous."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Royal icing watch

Gingerbread Fallingwater!

Happy holidays, all. Momentarily off to Philadelphia (if I dally any longer on the computer, I will risk missing my train). Back Friday and looking forward to a spell of a couple of months when I will be able to sleep every night in my own bed!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Closing tabs

Life reentry day: international travel wreaks havoc with exercise schedule and many other things. Yesterday was extremely demanding, and today I am paying the price!

Closing a few tabs in the meantime:

Brook Stevenson interviews Marlon James (his new book is on a pile here, but it's a tome - might have to buy a copy for Kindle as well, easier to hold while reading!).

David Gordon: doomed to read and write?

Chaucer's advice on how to survive the holidays.

For those who have been demoralized by having a journal reject an article! (And underlying link. This fits closely with my own experience as a referee for journals.)

A short history of the shipping pallet.

Perils of digital preservation.

The rise of livestreaming funerals.

Shane Gould on learning to swim.

Last but not least, Michael Hofmann really didn't like it....

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Closing tabs

Twin talk.

Building the fictional bridges on Euro notes in the Netherlands.

Henry Blodget interviews Jeff Bezos.

An interview with my high-school classmate (and scriptwriter for The Interview) Dan Sterling about the response the film provoked from North Korea (and the Washington Post on the Sony hack).

What are MOOCs good for?

The uncomfortable desire to be writing books

I am having a very nice quiet week in Cayman: not completely off from work, but there wasn't any single obvious thing that I needed to motor ahead on, so I'm just taking care of bits and bobs as they come up.

It is always sort of awful to have to write a title and description for a future talk that is as yet not even begun, and this one has the typical flaws of vagueness and grandiosity, but I did enjoy contemplating it this morning and getting some sentences down on paper for the draft program:
“Talking Pages: The Eighteenth-Century Variorum Page”

Jenny Davidson will consider the form and function of the variorum page in Johnson’s Shakespeare editions in the context not just of eighteenth-century scholarly editing but of Scriblerian takes on the edited page. She will look closely at the workings of several specific pages of Johnson’s Shakespeare, but her larger concern is to consider Johnson’s literary career in the light of a late-stage revisiting of the quarrel of ancients and moderns. After telling a sort of prequel story about Swift, Bentley, Theobald and Pope, she will turn to Johnson’s editorial work as an effort of reconciliation and resolution in response to still unresolved tensions between the Scriblerian critical project and the reading techniques of a triumphalist modernity. Johnson’s reclamation of a “conversational” and relatively civil variorum page for what is in some ways a conservative literary project seems to represent a critical turning point in eighteenth-century literary history, and Davidson will conclude by considering analogies between Johnson’s use of the variorum page and the theme of generosity in present-day relationships with the past elsewhere in his writing, with brief excursions to Gibbon and Burke as points of comparison.
This made me think about how there are now three projects I am urgently desiring to work on (four if you count the "Gibbon's Rome" offshoot of the ancients-and-moderns project as a separate book), and how that feeling of desire is so satisfying and yet also so uncomfortable, almost so much so as to make me feel out of breath with anxiety and dissatisfaction that I am not doing anything towards any of 'em RIGHT NOW! I think getting new books started is my single highest priority for 2015, though calm and freedom from anxiety are always the highest thing on the list (time spent on my own work is good for this, so the two goals are not inherently incompatible).

I am still really excited about the Clarissa book, and as I'm teaching that seminar in the spring (and no other course - course release for the Tenure Review Advisory Committee, which keeps me very busy, but it's nice to imagine having the mental space free for doing some bits of actual work on this), it seems not implausible to think I might get some actual pages drafted. But higher priorities for January are to put in some of the groundwork for the Johnson's Shakespeare talk and to draft a proposal for a book that would be something like this only titled "Reading Jane Austen"!

If I'm not miscalculating, I have a full year of sabbatical coming up for 2016-2017: I've been considering taking it as two separate semesters (teach fall and take spring off for two years in a row), as in certain respects you get more bang for the buck that way (two very decent stretches of writing time rather than just one long one, and the fall-semester load of letters of recommendation and job market candidates is heavy enough that it doesn't always feel like leave if you're not teaching), but really if I have all these different books on the go, I should just take both at once, make as much progress as I can and then perhaps apply for a year of fellowship somewhere in the couple years following to finish up what remains undone. A project has to be pretty far forward before I can write a really good fellowship application for it, I think; this is not true for everyone, but seems to be for me....

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Light reading catch-up

I hate it when I leave it too long between logging one tranche of reading and the next, it becomes a nuisance rather than a pleasure to write it up here. But since I am now genuinely enjoying a quiet day in Cayman, I thought I would get a grip on it and clear the backlog....

Kiese Laymon's essay "My Vassar Faculty ID Makes Everything OK" caught my attention for obvious reasons, and I immediately got hold of his two books (I've been hearing great things about his YA novel from Sara Ryan and others for a while): How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America and Long Division. Both are superb, and I am buying copies for my mother and several others for Xmas; the essays are reminiscent of James Baldwin, in the best possible way (it is a strain I miss from the neurasthenic subdivision of contemporary essay-writing: I want to hear much stronger and more widespread crypto-preacherly rage!), and the novel is absolutely a delight.

Probably my other favorites were another pair of books that (BECAUSE I AM AN IDIOT) I read in the wrong order: however, third installment in trilogy will come soon and I expect I will read again from the start at that point, I liked 'em that much. I blame Adam Roberts, whose best SF round-up was where I got the recommendation and which didn't mention the fact of the book in question being a sequel; BUT I also blame my own voracious and forgetful nature as a reader - I could tell something wasn't quite right about the opening, but wasn't willing to put the book down to figure it out. When I finished and went to find whether there was yet a sequel (it's coming in May 2015), I realized that in fact I had already bought volume one the year before, only it wasn't on my current Kindle - it must have been on the one I left in the pocket of a plane that took me to Portland, ME when I was travelling for The Magic Circle. Anyway, these books are PERFECT - it's massive Soviet-era alternate history of a fantastical stamp, more on the Ballard-Pynchon axis in terms of style than the Pullman-Aiken-Explosionist one but still pretty much exactly the sort of thing I most enjoy reading. Hungry for vol. 3! Here's the author's site; the books are by Peter Higgins and are titled Wolfhound Century and Truth and Fear.

Many novels by Patricia Briggs, very convenient for purposes of travel (I wish she was still writing fantasy as opposed to werewolf, but I suspect market pressures drive one pretty strongly towards the latter), some Eva Ibbotson rereading for comfort, Michael Connelly's new novel (these are always readable but increasingly thin, confirming my sad conviction that 90% of bestselling fiction will be much less good than the 5% of genuinely brilliant genre fiction that is too violent or troubling to be enjoyed by all); a couple other good recommendations from the Adam Roberts piece (other pet peeve: when will we have a world of simultaneous publication in all English-language markets?!?), Dave Hutchinson's rather delightful Europe in Autumn and Joe Abercrombie's Half a King.

Oh, and one other one I really loved, though I can't remember now where I got the recommendation: Terry Hayes' I am Pilgrim.

I have a bit of a breather this week at B.'s, then home Sunday for a few days of maniacal end-of-semester grading, brief holiday interlude and then three weeks of INSANE WORK AND FITS OF EXERCISE! I am excited about the latter - I have two different book proposals I want to work on, and two talks I need to get some kind of a handle on (one for a general audience at a liberal arts college, one for a plenary address at a conference I really want to have something good for). Various other things churning around at the back of my mind, but time is finite, I must reconcile myself to that in advance.

I ran a 10K on Saturday and got back to hot yoga today for the first time since August, both of which bode well for exercise prospects in upcoming weeks, but it is certainly still possible that I have one more major respiratory ailment in me for 2014, so I'm trying not to count my chickens....


Edinburgh University gives a library card to a cat.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sweetness and light

Paris was amazing partly just because walking around and thinking about past and present and looking at things is so amazing. About the only thing I did my last day there was lunch with a friend and Columbia colleague near the beautiful Reid Hall (conversation included exploring the possibility that I might teach there in some future semester).

I do not have the gift of assiduous museum-going, and really my only goal was to hit this one, which quite lived up to my expectations. I am not a good photographer, but this gives a little bit of a taste of the wares on offer:

Afterwards, a cupcake from Bertie's Cupcakery! (The proprietor is ""The Girl" of DC Rainmaker fame, and also made some custom-designed cookies to celebrate my brother and sister-in-law's acquisition of their first boat, a Nimble Nomad named Gunny.)

No discredit to an excellent cupcake, but the best dessert I had in Paris was with A. at Le Stella (after a dinner that started with a green bean and parmesan salad, then scallops and sole): a vacherin glace of utter deliciousness!

I had another very good dessert that involved a sort of almond and pistachio foam with raspberries in it, and the other thing I ate several times and most enjoyed was the "filets de dorade" (sea bream), in one case with anchovy butter and in another with sauteed fennel....

Small houses

A short history of the doll's house (FT site registration required). I wish I'd gone to see that shop while I was in Paris (though truthfully I already did about as much as I can manage): but it does seem as though I should see the exhibition when I am in England next summer....

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Mimi sandwich

Life is full of good things just now, only so many good things that I don't have time and leisure to appreciate them fully!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading on Wednesday night with Mimi and Jenny O., but stayed out much later than was really advisable.

The St. Thomas Messiah on Thursday was extremely good: while the soloists are capable though nothing extraordinary (sparkly soprano!), the sound of the boys of the choir is truly the most amazing thing you will ever hear!

After being stuck on a subway platform for almost an hour yesterday on the way to doctor for allergy shots and flu vaccine (high frazzle factor), and also just being out late two nights in a row, I got up at an ungodly hour and then couldn't get into the dreaded RAPS to read files - very stressful couple hours as I developed a few workarounds with the help of a colleague and an office computer - but at some point I had a sad epiphany that really I should not go to my old friends' holiday party in Brooklyn this evening, it was going to prompt a minor nervous breakdown to have another night out given that I also need to be in Prospect Park tomorrow morning at 9am to run 10K for a good cause (and flying out of the country again on Monday).

Much light reading and other Paris catch-up to do still, but not sure how much I will get through this evening. Bed may be on the agenda SOON!

One of those days

I am not super-prone to having "one of those days," as I am (though a victim to mood swings and melancholy like the rest of the world) of a relatively even temper, but I have to say that today started very badly - I got up shortly after 6 (that's never good!) to read electronic files for a 10am meeting, only to find I was locked out of the system. Spent almost an hour frenetically waiting/re-attempting password on two different devices, neither of which wanted to accommodate me - Facebook complaint garnered help from an extremely kind colleague, and by 8:30 I was at the office reading legitimately on a desktop there, but it was certainly not a good start to a long day!

The day ended well, though, with a meeting for my smallish group of eighteenth-century students and associates who need to think about job talks and how to prepare for them; and then I came home and was handed an absolutely delightful package by doorman Felix. It was clearly from its shape a tin of something delicious (hahaha, if it had been something like bicycle cleats instead it truly would have been devastating!), and as he knows I love sweets we were possibly equally excited; I came upstairs and tore it open and it was a really lovely present from my dear friend Helen's mother Becky Lewis, selector of treats par excellence!

With a nice note, too; it is Becky and my dear sister-in-law Jessi who read my style book and responded by sending me amazing boxes of chocolates! Thank you, Becky - what a lovely treat - THIS WILL AID MY PASSAGE THROUGH COMING DAYS!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Paris was absolutely lovely, but I am very happy to be back at home with two funny cats and a real computer (the technology conspired against "real" blogging - there is a very complex and roundabout way to post pictures taken on my iPad in entries here, but the device kept crashing and I gave up and posted to Facebook instead - will put some of that stuff up here later on at a quiet moment, though life re-entry is now slightly daunting).

I really might have to read this book, though it's a minor splurge (and too new to be available yet at the library) - have pasted in the bizarrely steampunk (of course colonialism really did produce this kind of effect, it's not a novel observation) photograph of a nineteenth-century New Zealander with pet tuatara.

Jonathan Losos' Anole Annals blog is one of my great internet pleasures. I cannot really say that in another life I am an anole specialist, as really I do not have the eye or temperament for a natural historian (in a near alternate life, I am writing about Melville and Dickinson, and in a further-away but still plausible one I am an epidemiologist!), but I do really love 'em, and I like the styles of looking and writing on display here - makes me think of another book I very much liked, Richard Fortey's Dry Storeroom No. 1.

My morning's first meeting has been rescheduled from 10:45 to 12:45, buying me an extra hour before I need to be on campus at 11:30: that is good, I must just now try not to waste it all delightfully on the internet....

Thursday, December 04, 2014

A perfect day

(Though with the proviso that given that I am in Paris, it did not include any patisserie or other sweets - that may be remedied in coming days.)

I am staying in a cozy little maid's room on the top floor of a small apartment building near the Pasteur metro (will move tomorrow to stay with friends near the Champs Elysees). Got up at a very dark 8 o'clock to type up my notes for the dissertation defense this afternoon, then had a lovely thirty-minute run down the hill to Les Invalides and back home; really probably had time for longer, but this sort of occasion (i.e. dissertation defense) prompts feelings of anxiety about being ready in time, untoward disasters, etc. so I thought I'd better leave some slack!

We took the bus to the Sorbonne; first the examiners had lunch together as a group, then we did the defense in a highly ceremonial room (the candidate sits facing the five jurors, then rows of audience behind, including friends and family). In the break, we were lucky enough to get in to see the chapel, which is not usually open to view: rather splendid and haunting sight.

I am relieved to say (and intend to write an email to thank my excellent high-school French teacher) that I was very readily able to understand the presentations of colleagues speaking in French, though it is absolutely beyond me even to comprehend let alone produce a brief bit of colloquial conversation in bar or restaurant! Both the dissertation and the defense were very good, and we then followed the traditional proceeding and adjourned to a cafe for the small party the candidate throws for examiners and family - champagne and delicious snacks were involved.

Just now catching up on internet at the corner cafe with a glass of wine and a rather substantial cheese and charcuterie plate. A day truly well spent!

Tomorrow, I have the leisure for a longer run I think....

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Life in the modern world

(or perhaps just the world of prosperous adulthood?) is more manageable than it used to be.

I am writing from Cafe Pasteur (free wifi), having just had a truly Davidsonian lunch (you should be able to order this more often in the US - beef carpaccio, buffalo mozzarella, salad and fries - not ordered separately, that's how the whole thing comes!).

Travels went pretty smoothly: I flew Premium Economy on the way over, though I'm in the regular economy class on the way back (daytime flight doesn't matter so much), and it was well worthwhile. Skipped lines to check in and go through security, and the seats are much more spacious: I didn't really get much sleep, maybe an hour and a half dozing, but it's nice not to be so claustrophobically tucked up against others and seat backs and so forth.

(I just remember the days when you had to have traveler's checks and what have you - pretty amazing to take out euros at an airport ATM and use a credit card to buy a train ticket from a machine - and the internet is a pretty nice thing too for those who are prone to homesickness!)

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Three links and then three more links

Hearing the voice of James Weldon Johnson.

Melville's marginalia.

Charades and puzzles in the Lady's Magazine (shades of Emma!).

Posting will probably be light for the rest of the week, as I'm only taking my iPad with me to Paris rather than my extremely heavy laptop. It has required an insane frenzy of work in order to get ready to leave town: I'm all packed, I will go and do teaching meetings and give my final lecture for LTCM, then come briefly home and fall into a taxi to the airport!

As well as the dissertation defense at the Nouvelle Sorbonne that is the real purpose of my trip, I will see a few friends and generally wander/soak up atmosphere. Three places I'm hoping to hit: the Sade exhibit at the Musee d'Orsay; the Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature; and last but not least, Bertie's Cupcakery!

"'Tis first"

#700, The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition, ed. R. W. Franklin:
The Way I read a Letter's - this -
'Tis first - I lock the Door -
And push it with my fingers - next -
For transport it be sure -

And then I go the furthest off
To counteract a knock -
Then draw my little Letter forth
And slowly pick the lock -

Then - glancing narrow, at the Wall -
And narrow at the floor
For firm Conviction of a Mouse
Not exorcised before -

Peruse how infinite I am
To no one that You - know -
And sigh for lack of Heaven - but not
The Heaven God bestow -