Saturday, December 24, 2016

Short run!

Really I'm still sick, ugh - I overdid it slightly yesterday maybe, it wasn't just feeling queasy towards end of run but I felt pretty woozy at the library afterwards too, and had to come home and lie down for the afternoon instead of working on my book. Just did :30 easy, still not feeling great, will be smarter to err on side of caution. Still wavering about whether or not I am going to NJ this evening for family Xmas eve at my brother's - I think it may make more sense to save energy for tomorrow and the following few days of socializing....

Also, watch battery died halfway through run! NOoooooooo!!!!!!! I am a watch person through and through - must head out now for a couple minor errands anyway and it will be beneficial for morale if I can get the battery replaced...

:30 easy

Friday, December 23, 2016


1hr very easy along the Hudson with my best long-ago training partner who is now moving back to the neighborhood - we will be able to run together a lot more regularly in coming months! Still feeling somewhat under the weather, lungs on the mend but imperfect, and I hate how queasy the postnasal drip makes you feel during exercise (had to go off the clock and walk for some minutes near the end, though I then felt OK enough to finish out the hour).

1hr very easy

Monday, December 05, 2016

Light reading update

Jet lag has me up much earlier than usual: I must make sure not to squander this advantage, if I am smart I can type up the notes for my two remaining Austen chapters and get the production of quota underway before life too much intervenes! Very happy to be home - I always forget how much I love my apartment, and of course the warm welcome from the two funny cats is huge....

First, though, an overdue light reading update, a sort of throat-clearing before getting back into the real work.

The trip home from England went smoothly, with the proviso that I arrived at the airport six hours in advance of my flight (B.'s flight to Miami was a couple hours earlier from a different terminal) and was horrified to learn that the airline would only take checked bags (I had 2 bags of approximately fifty pounds each, one small and densely full of books, the other a cumbersome large duffel full of clothes and miscellaneous running gear) three hours in advance of flying time. Fortunately Heathrow Terminal 5 is very nice and I was able to hole up in a reasonable restaurant for the duration.

Key to successful travel for me is having the right books to read, and in fact the day passed very enjoyably. I read part of and put aside a Swedish thriller I wasn't enjoying, then had an undemanding and enjoyable urban fantasy (at its best, this genre is undemanding and wonderfully immersive) that took me through the first stint of waiting, an incredibly good and funny noir novel for the next bit of waiting and first bit of the flight, and then, incredibly immersively, a long science fiction novel that I have been meaning to read and that absolutely captivated me.

I haven't logged light reading since mid-September, which means I am well overdue for it - forthwith! As always, loosely sorted by categories and with the best stuff mostly singled out at the top. This includes reading from the Australia trip and then the stint of Oxford light reading (probably a little lighter than usual, in volume as well as kind, as I was doing a fair bit of work reading as well).

Strong all-round recommendation at the top, then.

Natasha Pulley, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. My favorite kind of book - captivating! This was a consensus recommendation when I crowdsourced my light reading demands on Facebook before traveling to Oxford, and I enjoyed it very much indeed (reminiscent of but also quite different from Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree, also I thought an extremely good book).

Garth Nix, Goldenhand - latest installment in the Old Kingdom series, which must be my favorite YA fantasy series running today (it was the first three books in this series, plus Pullman's His Dark Materials, that made me write The Explosionist when I got tired of not finding a new trilogy along the lines of Nix's or Pullman's on the shelves of the Bank Street Bookstore)

James Lasdun, The Fall Guy. He is a genius! He writes as good a sentence as anyone you have ever read, but he also has this chilling Talented Mr. Ripleyesque imagination about doubles and secret selves - this one's very good indeed.

The book that surprised and delighted me most perhaps of everything I'm logging here, and that made the first part of the trip from Heathrow to JFK pass as if in a flash, was Joe Ide's IQ. I loved this so much I can hardly say! It's a Sherlock Holmes homage (the story of a young detective coming into his full powers of deductive reasoning), but it's also learned from Walter Mosley's socially conscious noir (with a dash of George Pelecanos) and has a strong satirical element that is genuinely comic rather than just striving for it. The parody rap lyrics are some of the funniest things I've read all year - I had just found this one as a random recommendation on Amazon, hadn't particularly registered anything about it in the world - everyone should read this book!

And the book that captivated me for the remainder of the voyage was N. K. Jemisen's justly lauded The Fifth Season. I loved her earlier trilogy and have had this one on my Kindle for a while, but hadn't quite gotten into it - I think I read the first few chapters and found them a little alienating (I have observed that one weakness of digital publication for novels is that when you have a novel written in a few different voices and timelines you really lose something not having the physical book in your hands, with the extra help it can give in the way of headers and being able easily to leaf back a few pages to orient yourself), put it aside for a quieter moment. But it is glorious - really expansive imaginative storytelling at its absolute best (as ambitious as Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora, for instance, a book I enjoyed very much, but much more unusual and startling in its willingness to invoke fantastical as well as science-fictional elements). Loved it and can't wait to read the next installment.

Kevin Wignall, The Traitor's Story (love his cool unemotional way with storytelling - some storytelling minds are just more attractive than others, the economy and precision of his imagination much appeal to me!)

Tana French, The Trespasser. I continue to feel she's one of the couple best crime novelists writing today - we are used now to the contours of her imagination, so it's a bit less startling than those first few books in the series were, but they are still pretty much at the top of my list of what I most want to read.

A new novel in Emma Newman's appealing Planetfall world, After Atlas (B. was reading this also a few days ago and comments on the miraculously readable convergence of SF and noir investigation). And then what might have been the best discovery of my last few months of light reading because it was so joyful and so well-timed (it saved me from a good amount of post-election angst - not that I was spared, just that I had places to escape into like my Austen book and these novels) - a wonderful series called the Split Worlds. Between Two Thorns, Any Other Name, All is Far, A Little Knowledge - I was slightly gnashing my teeth when I came to the end of book four and realized that it wasn't the end of the story, but now I am glad of it as it means there is another one to read. I had vaguely had the impression that Planetfall was Newman's first novel, which surprised me given what a very very good book I found it - so this makes sense, she had a journeyman series before that might be a little more ragged around the edges but that are absolutely delightful and pretty much my favorite sort of thing in the world to read in times of trouble!

A first installment in a series that is another version of what I most enjoy collapsing into (I was happily downloading books from Amazon end-of-year recommendations for transatlantic travel, only I started this one the night before and stayed up till I finished it, and was only outraged to realize that I could not immediately get the next chunk of story): Todd Lockwood, The Summer Dragon. I was then saying to B. in the car we took to the airport the next morning that books about girls raising dragons are pretty much my favorite thing in the world - he said, implacably, "I find them Pernicious"! (Which reminded me of the time we were riding in a boat across a lake in Costa Rica and saw a huge flock of sea birds, prompting B. to turn to me and observe that one good tern deserves another.)

Connie Willis, Crosstalk. Enjoyable, very much in the vein of her earlier fiction like Bellwether, but slight. I am mildly outraged that the boring book that you are supposed to read if you are a telepath who needs to shield your mind from the intrusion of other people's chaotic thoughts is Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire! And

New Virgil Flowers book from John Sandford, Escape Clause, cause for minor celebration! (I read through the whole of that series and then the Lucas Davenport ones late this spring in a reading binge that was incredibly well timed to coincide with the time of the academic year when I still need a pipeline of light reading but don't have the energy or attention to discover new veins of ore.

New Daniel Faust installment from Craig Schaefer, The Castle Doctrine (these are good but not great - they are not as immediately appealing as Ben Aaronovich's Rivers of London series and not as masterfully told and plotted as Paul Cornell's Shadow London, but very enjoyable - definitely recommended).

Justine Larbalestier's My Sister Rosa is excellent, though I wasn't sure I endorsed the final twist - you can see it coming and I think it complicates what is otherwise a very emotionally true and compelling book

I found Harlen Coben's initial Myron Bolitar novels a bit silly/slight, but like Robert Crais he has gotten better over time. Enjoyed Home, then read the trio of YA Mickey Bolitar novels, which are wildly implausible in their imaginings but quite enjoyable to read (Chelter, Seconds Away, Found). Then read Fool Me Once. Then read Missing You. Then felt I had had enough Coben for a while!

Pre-election solace (genius timing!): Lee Child's new Jack Reacher novel! The last one wasn't great (the dark web stuff is too silly, and really the Reacher premise works best in a time before cellphones and pervasive computing) but this one is a return to form - I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Doug Johnstone, The Jump (very good - subtle, moving)

Walter Jon Williams, This is Not a Game (not bad, sort of sub-William-Gibson)

Seanan McGuire, Full of Briars (novelette in the October Daye world); Mira Grant, Feedback. Poppy Z. Brite, Last Wish and The Gulf.
Michelle Belanger, Mortan Sins (short story in the Conspiracy of Angels world)

Matthew FitzSimmons, Poisonfeather (Gibson Vaugn #2, sequel to The Short Drop). Not quite as smooth as the first one, but it's a worthwhile series, I will certainly continue to read.

Michael Connelly's new Harry Bosch novel, The Wrong Side of Goodbye. I think the quality of the series has declined over the years. This one is a little stronger than some of the couple previous, but I always have a curious feeling as I am reading that it is almost as if he has written the book as an outline rather than a fully imagined and realized story.

A pair of quite reasonable British police procedurals by Sarah Ward, In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw (but don't you wish series naming protocols would undergo a major overhaul?)

David Anthony Durman, Acacia: The War with the Mein (book 1 of a series, I thought it was good and I enjoyed it but I do not know that I have the fortitude quite to read the rest of the saga - also, though I do not imagine influence just deep mythic patterning/stereotype, the children in the displaced ruling family have exactly the same roles and personalities as the Stark children in Game of Thrones!)

Peter Straub, Ghost Story (for some reason I'd never read this, but I think it feels dated now - the gender roles are offputting - and it's so reminiscent of some of the Stephen King of that era that I really wonder who thought of it first). Liked it enough to read Floating Dragon thereafter, but once I'd read those two I felt it really was sufficient, though they are long reasonably enjoyable books of the sort I always need more of.

Helen Callaghan, Dear Amy (couldn't quite get behind this one, I think thriller writers should be banned from writing stories that rely on dissociative selves with comparmentalized knowledge a-la Girl on a Train, whether due to alcohol abuse or mental illness)

Aoife Clifford, All these Perfect Strangers (Australian crime novel, not bad but not memorable); Kirstyn McDermott, Madigan Mine (good premise well told but not quite my preferred genre - I think I was trying to get local color via reading Australian genre fiction)
Ann Turner, Out of the Ice, an Antarctic thriller, was the best of the bunch - reminds me I meant to get her other novel but it was not I think available for Kindle.

Carol O'Connell's latest Mallory novel, Blind Sight. These are so eccentric as to sometimes have become almost unreadably silly, but I didn't think this volume was such a brazen offender as a couple of the others. The story rather recapitulates elements of her standalone novel The Judas Child, which remains my favorite of all her books.

I don't read urban fantasy obsessively, I am too critical of the writing in its bottom tiers, but Ilona Andrews, Magic Binds was worthwhile, and I was very pleased (this was the one I read yesterday morning at the airport with too much luggage) with Suzanne Johnson's Royal Street. Was happy to realize that it is the first of a five-book series, will get the others promptly (though by the time I realized I could do this, I was in a no-wireless zone and had a moment of feeling profoundly thwarted!).

Susan McBride, Walk into Silence - sub-literary, though the writing is quite good - I always feel a bit tricked when I think I'm reading "crime" genre and it turns out to be built on the romance chassis, there is a thinness of imagining around the storytelling

I must have been desperate - a Supernatural novel, Mythmaker! (Actually I do occasionally like reading this sort of tie-in story, though it is mostly only when I can't settle on anything else decent to read!)

Charlie Engle, Running Man: A Memoir. Very enjoyable in parts, but I thought the account of his arrest and imprisonment was somewhat lacking in self-awareness.

Comfort reread: Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, though that was more of a tourism reread - and I suddenly remember now that I never walked into the Botanic Garden, though I ran past it almost every day, to see if I could find Will and Lyra's bench!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Minor work update

The Austen book has been a haven for me over the last couple of weeks. It's killing me to have to put it aside for a few days (weekend travel, then focusing on Gibbon and footnotes for the last two weeks I'm here and in preparation for my Balliol talk on self-annotation)! But I've just drafted chapter 6 of 8. Two more to draft, plus introduction and conclusion.

(It's currently draft zero, so it will need a couple weeks of cleaning up and filling in of references before it's a proper editable first draft - shooting to have proper full draft by Xmas. Due date to publisher in March, but I need to send it by late January so that I'm clear for six weeks of all-on Gibbon in Rome.)

Note to self: don't in future use such similar blues for two related chapters (revision, voice). Under artificial light, the sky-blue post-its are genuinely indistinguishable from the sea-blue ones!

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Packing for an English sabbatical

It is not a complaint, I love this flat and am extremely happy here, but there are a couple things I hadn't bargained for about the English sabbatical flat! I would have packed slightly differently if I had remembered the following:

In English October and November, it is colder inside than outside.

The thermostat seems basically placed to give the illusion of control, and there is no heat from radiators during the day.

The bathroom has a funny shower like a sort of plastic telephone booth - the water is hot and fully pressured, so that's the most important thing, but the bathroom itself is huge and drafty and unheated, and it is impossible to shave legs either in the shower (because the water runs down your legs in such a thick curtain when you are bent over vertically) or out (because the goose-pimples from freezingness catch on the razor).

The washer-dryer is a good amenity, and the washer aspect works fine, but these double-use machines are virtually useless as dryers, and the drying racks in the flat have to be positioned near functioning radiators if you actually want things to dry in a reasonable timeframe.....

Sabbatical makes twice-a-day exercise a near certainty!

Pants that are good for running are fine for yoga, but not vice versa; shirts that are fine for running sometimes fall down over your head in downward-facing dog and similar.

All of which is to say - I bought a pair of fleece pants a few weeks ago as a home comfort (regretted not bringing my Siberia running pants for indoor wear, and my Patagonia down sweater!), and have just descended on a local running store to repair other lacks: shirts that won't fall down when I am somewhat inverted, full-length running tights in case the leg-shaving conundrum remains insoluble (I think I found a good compromise the other day - it was after hot yoga, so I was fairly warm even after the chilly walk home, and I turned on the shower and left the door open and very hastily shaved my legs outside of the shower with shaving cream).

I may have to get some kind of a fleece blanket - I was so cold the other day I pulled a blanket from the warming cupboard, but it made me wheeze pretty severely and I think I should keep my distance from it!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Saturday night ruminations

Reading Decline and Fall XLI has given me an irresistible desire to reread one of my favorite Robert Graves novels, Count Belisarius. Amazingly it is available for Kindle! It is not of the caliber of I, Claudius (which I must have read a dozen times at least between the ages of 10 and 16), but I liked it very much when I was younger, and will be curious to see what I think now (that said, the commenters at Amazon are correct when they say that reading Procopius instead might be a valid choice!).

Very satisfying day - I am down the sabbatical rabbit-hole in the best possible way. Got up, did my 2hr run (a "running meditation" for a recovery week!), was so freezing in English flat afterwards that I went back to bed first just for huddling and then for napping, got up and just about produced quota on Austen, went to hot power yoga, came home, read Gibbon and now am going to retire, appropriately, to bed with a novel. Woo-hoo!

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Work update

Oxford lifestyle continues idyllic - the weather and terrain are so perfect for running, and I have found great yoga and a great lifting coach to work out with. Went to London for a couple days over the weekend for some family visiting, and my mother was here for two nights which was very nice, but I am ready to plunge into total workaholism for the rest of the time I'm here - I must make a quick trip to Cambridge to see friends, but I don't think I'm going to go back to London, I just want to hole up and read and write!

The only tricky thing for me work-wise just now is that I'm totally torn between my desire to draft the Austen book as expeditiously as possible (don't want to lose momentum) and my desire to (a) make use of library materials here to do broad reading for footnotology and (b) make progress on Gibbon project and make sure my lecture at the end of term on Gibbon and Gray is really good. I had an amazing evening of Gibbon-related reading last night that culminated in a massive plan and greater clarity: at home in NYC I have a great collection of Gibboniana from the library, but I don't need to reproduce that collection here, I will have access again in December; I do need to reimmerse myself in Gray (requested amazing slew of stuff to read at the Weston in the rare book room); and I do need to pull together at least a mini-footnote library to reimmerse myself and identify crucial primary sources for library investigation, couldn't bring that stuff with me as luggage book space was given over to the Austen volumes. So I've ordered four things from Amazon UK and identified the area of open stacks in the Bodleian where I can find the 10 or so other things I think I really need to have to hand (list can be found at the bottom of this post).

Austen, though! I hate to lose momentum! This is the chart I made once I had had a week of settling in. As I said previously, I don't think I can finish the draft while I'm here, but I should be able to have the book drafted in full (it is a very rough draft) by Xmas.

Going to step up the pace a bit now - I've drafted three chapters (out of eight, but it's possible that seven and eight aren't really two distinct chapters), so I'll press ahead with five days per chapter for the next three, on manners, morals and voice (one day of assembling the notes, four days of producing quota), then type up the notes for the remaining two chapters (teeth, mourning and melancholy) so that I've at least got something on paper.

I'll be doing some reading and library stuff in the meantime, but week 7 will be wholly devoted to footnotology and Bodleian-Weston time and week 8 will involve delivering my two talks, putting finishing touches on the second one (the first is ready to go) and spending some time with Brent, who will come over for that last week.

Bonus library method picture. (I do not know that there is better evidence for consistency of character than this - in fact, I wrote about it at least once before on this blog, it was a meme making the rounds in 2005 about what you'd look for in the library in 2015 and I will quote the relevant line here - "Then I would arm myself with a pen and paper (one thing I can guarantee is that in 2015 I will still be jotting down call numbers on the back of an old envelope or a supermarket receipt) and write down a huge long list of call numbers and hit the stacks and then go home for a huge orgy of reading.") (In this case it's on the other side of the piece of paper where I made notes about the new powerlifting warmup sequence!)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"The best fruit in England"

Evidence of the genius of Jane Austen, example #149 - and yes, it's almost nine at night, and I'm only now typing up the notes for the second chapter of the Austen book, "Conversation." I printed out draft zero of chapter one on Friday and it actually looks pretty decent! (Now it goes in a folder and I really won't look at it again till I've got the whole thing drafted - I have a strong preference for start-to-finish writing, it leaves the thing much more even in feel when you've put it together than if you work on bits piecemeal.)

Emma, of course, the visit to Donbury Abbey:
The whole party were assembled, excepting Frank Churchill, who was expected every moment from Richmond; and Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting, or talking—strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of.—“The best fruit in England—every body’s favourite—always wholesome.—These the finest beds and finest sorts.—Delightful to gather for one’s self—the only way of really enjoying them.—Morning decidedly the best time—never tired—every sort good—hautboy infinitely superior—no comparison—the others hardly eatable—hautboys very scarce—Chili preferred—white wood finest flavor of all—price of strawberries in London—abundance about Bristol—Maple Grove—cultivation—beds when to be renewed—gardeners thinking exactly different—no general rule—gardeners never to be put out of their way—delicious fruit—only too rich to be eaten much of—inferior to cherries-currants more refreshing—only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping—glaring sun—tired to death—could bear it no longer—must go and sit in the shade.” (E 389-90)
Typing up these notes is an easier job than it was for "Letters," partly because there were so very many examples for that chapter but also because I'd run out of appropriately colored post-its and was using those tape tabs instead - they are much less obvious to the eye in an interleaved book, and I am happy that this one's so much easier!

This now marks the conclusion of week 2 (of 8) in Oxford. I am very happy with how things are going, though slightly ashamed that I have yet to plunge into libraries - that's the project for Monday after I eat breakfast and produce quota, but I didn't want to distract myself from writing before I had made at least a small dent. Finished Gibbon vol. 3 this evening, a satisfying landmark - that's the halfway mark (and the final decline of the empire in the West). Reading a chapter of that a day 'religiously' as it were, and have now also put down 2 (very slow - it's only about 35 miles) 7-hour run weeks, and have found a personal trainer to lift with starting on Tuesday, so all is very well with me currently.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saturday evening snippet

End of week 1 (of 8) in Oxford. Really nice week! Though need to buckle down and start working properly - adjustment period is properly coming to a close....

A Saturday evening Gibbon snippet (new title for book is Gibbon's Rome: A Love Story - it is amazing how just sitting quietly and reading allows ideas to flow, I was having insane thoughts last night about how you would write an opera libretto that would bring the juxtaposition of the father-son dynamic, the father marrying and preventing the son from being able to do so - and not sending the money he promised so that Gibbon has to keep his brokeness a shameful secret from the friends he has been traveling with - and then the moment of impact when Gibbon actually meets Rome the city - but in my book, it's my own love story with the Decline and Fall as well):
I owe it to myself, and to historic truth, to declare, that some circumstances in this paragraph are founded only on conjecture and analogy. The stubbornness of our language has sometimes forced me to deviate from the conditional into the indicative mood.
Main task for remaining weeks is to draft as much of the Austen book as I can (I'm optimistic that I should be able to get most of it down on paper in at least a rough version, top limit of 50K I think for full book so 8 chapters at 5-6K each should be doable in a 1.5K production of quota fashion); glory in libraries and read massive amounts of general footnote stuff (mostly amazing primary sources, especially history and poetry, with footnotes); and (re)read a chapter a day of Gibbon to put myself in the mood.

One of my two talks for the end of term now has an explicit commitment to talk especially about Gray's and Gibbon's footnotes, so I will do some Gray reentry also in between the other footnote reading. Exploration of library system to begin Monday, must first have a proper writing session on Austen and must before that finish typing up notes for the first chapter so that I can proceed to the next stage!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Fast running

Jon Day has a really nice piece at the LRB on two new books about Emil Zatopek:
By modern standards some of his achievements seem modest. He was the first person to run 10,000 metres in under 29 minutes, but runners are now getting close to 26 minutes. He would not have qualified for the 10,000 metres event in the 2016 Olympics, and his marathon times are now matched by those of strong amateurs. The range of his abilities, however, remains unequalled. He was 174.3 cm tall and weighed 68 kg. He had long legs, but his left was slightly thinner than his right. His resting heart rate was measured, on different occasions, at 68 and 56 bpm. Both rates are high for a runner, though it was noted that he was able to recover quickly after exercise. He had an odd diet, fuelling himself before races with beer, cheese, sausages and bread. He drank strange concoctions that he thought would improve his performance: the juice from jars of pickles; a mixture of lemon juice (for vitamin C) and chalk (he thought the calcium would protect his teeth). He ate the leaves of young birch trees because he had noticed that deer did so. Deer run quickly, he reasoned, so he might too.
I will definitely reaad Richard Askwith's - I loved his book Feet in the Clouds more than almost any other book about running....

(This is what I had to say about it at the time I read it - though actually I am really starting to move in the direction of trail-running despite my horrendous sense of direction and fear of heights, as I have been inspired by SWAP teammates! Albeit last time I hitched a ride with Liz to a trail run I was so freaked out by the first five minutes of rock-clambering with ice that I backed out and ran laps on a flat trail around the lake instead!)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Light reading update

I have said this before, but I really do have a resolution to try and log light reading once a month or so - otherwise it piles up so much that the task becomes off-putting.  Going to try and get at least something down here, without links to purchase as that is so much the most troublesome part of doing a long list at once....

This is about three months' worth I think!  Not in chronological order - putting strongest recs up top and then sorting things more or less by category.

Megan Abbott, You Will Know Me - dynamite!

Reread the first two of Paul Cornell's Secret Police series in order to prepare for the third, Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?  I really love these books - the storytelling across volumes is particularly masterful - one of my favorite things in this vein going down.

A pair of YA historical fantasy novels that I liked so much I almost wept when I finished the second one - out of hunger for more - I could tell as soon as I was reading the first one that I was in my absolute favorite kind of fictional world.  These come with my highest recommendation - Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night.

Natalie Baszile's Queen Sugar is PERFECT thoughtful immersive story-telling - again, it so pained me to come to an end of the story.  (It was the fact of the TV series that drew my attention to it, but I don't know that I am enough of a watcher to really get into it - the book is really wonderful though.)

Max Gladstone's latest Craft novel is particularly good (I love this series too): Four Road Cross.

Discovered a new favorite crime writer, James Oswald, and DEVOURED all the books in the Inspector McLean series, despite glitch of latest ones not being available in US for Kindle and having to be ordered from the UK in paperback.  Then I read his OTHER series which I love too, Ballad of Sir Benfro - was mortified to get to the end of what I THOUGHT was final installment and realize that there is still at least one more chunk of story yet to be published.....

I am especially keen on these "it's MOSTLY straight crime only slight occult strand" novels and another very good one I read recently was Barbara Nickless's Blood on the Tracks - hungry for next installment!

Ben Winters, Underground Airlines - hopefully it was a storm in a teacup around publication re: white authors and race (let's NOT think about Lionel Shriver's dreadful latest comments), but I thought this was haunting and powerful, highly recommended.  And even more deeply recommended: Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad.  The novel I have been waiting for him to write - I loved his first one The Intuitionist more than almost anything, and though I think he's written brilliantly since then, no single book of his has captivated me the way that first one did (lack of female protagonist is clearly part of it).  This is incredible - I couldn't put it down.

Alison Umminger, American Girls - I loved this!  One of those books that makes me regret I am no longer writing YA (maybe I will again sometime).  Highly recommended.

Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers - a very good recommendation from Becca S.  I cannot imagine who would not like this novel - it reads like Bonfire of the Vanities only written out of a much finer sense of humanity.

Gina Frangello, Every Kind of Wanting - first pages have off-puttingly long list of names to keep track of, and it did give me cause to think with relief that I am not myself living a life so bound up in the lives of others - but it is really, really good, highly recommended.

Nina Stibbe, Paradise Lodge.  She is a comic genius, what more is there to be said?  This book is slighter I think than the previous installment, but still very much worth reading.

Flynn Berry, Under the Harrow - excellent psychological thriller, better than the over-hyped Gone Girl for sure!

Duane Swierczynski, Revolver: a lovely novel of crime and Philadelphia, reminiscent in some good ways of Pete Dexter but quite fresh too.

David Swinson, The Second Girl - very good - again, reminiscent of Pelecanos but fresh and very much its own book.  I will look forward to reading a next installment on this one.

Chuck Wendig, Invasive: a true heir to the Michael Crichton of The Andromeda Strain era.  Do not read if you find ants creepy or are worried about Zika and genetically modified mosquitoes!

Robin Wasserman, Girls on Fire (I enjoyed this one very much too - beautifully written - a little reminiscent of another novel I loved, Martha O'Connor's The Bitch Posse).

Amy Gentry, Good as Gone - another good one (made me want to reread the series of favorites along similar lines, from Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar through Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree and perhaps best of all Father's Arcane Daughter, horribly renamed My Father's Daughter for a younger generation of readers).

Susie Steiner, Missing, Presumed: I like this sort of police procedural-plus-psychological thriller - there are things that don't quite work here, but I thought this was very good.

Robin Kirman, Bradstreet Gate - a voice- and character-driven literary thriller, very enjoyable, beautifully written.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, inevitably - have read too many things in this time-travel vein I think, it's overused as a trope, but I hear the stage production is really magical....

Jilly Cooper, Mount!  It is so politically incorrect, I don't know what to do about that aspect of it (it's actually quite disturbing) - but really these books are just set in an imaginary time and place that never existed, where late-middle-aged men's cocks "rise like Concorde" with no thoughts on the obsolescence of the metaphor - strange to think how long ago the first installment of the Riders series was published...

Louise Miller, The City Baker's Guide to Country Living - not as whimsical as the title suggests, I enjoyed it (slight, though).

Evelyn Skye, The Crown's Game: very enjoyable alternate-history YA fantasy.  Keen for more!

Michelle Belanger, Conspiracy of Angels and Harsh Gods - very well-written and appealing new urban fantasy series, I liked these enormously.

Seanan McGuire, Once Broken Faith - one of the most consistently excellent genre writers working today.

A reread of a book I liked a long time ago,  Laurie R. King, A Darker Place: she writes extremely well about cults and their internal dynamics.

Charles Stross, The Nightmare Stacks: I like this series so much, but the first-person voice doesn't vary enough to be persuasively the voice of different characters - it's probably worst for the Mo narration, but here too I just don't believe it's a young guy with a different personality than Bob!  That said, very fun, enjoyable light reading...

Other good Scottish crime fiction: Lesley Kelly, A Fine House in Trinity; Douglas Skelton, The Dead Don't Boogie.   Was tipped off to Stuart MacBride via Oswald and read the whole of the Logan McRae series to date, not quite so much my favorite sort of thing as Oswald but extremely good.

Melissa Olson, Nightshades: appealing new paranormal series.  Also Boundary Born (#3 in her other series)

Linsey Hall, four books in Dragon's Gift series - a little bit silly but very enjoyable.

Reread the first two books of Justin Cronin's Passage trilogy in preparation for the third - I still see much of merit in the first two, but the third was a huge disappointment, not least because it has what might be The Worst Magical Negro Problem in the history of genre fiction but also because the voice of Fanning just seems so preposterous.  The limitations of the vision (and its overly eschatological flavor) came through much more clearly as things wrapped up - I wish it could have just stopped with vol. 2!

Daniel O'Malley's second Rook Files installment, Stiletto: not bad, but not perhaps up to the standard of the first, which I really liked.

Rebecca Cantrell, Joe Tesla book one

Clare Mackintosh, I Let You Go (more or less readable but preposterous in its details)

Mark Billingham, Die of Shame (not recommended!)

S. J. Watson, Second Life (not so keen on this one - very artificial)

F. Paul Wilson, Panacea (arghhh, wouldn't have read this if I had realized it was part of author's Grand Mystical Scheme)

J. M. Gulvin, The Long Count: A John Q Mystery - quite readable (the storytelling is good) but preposterously not anchored in real-seeming time and place - the last straw was a reference to (I think - it's too long since I read it now) "dissociative identity disorder" as a diagnosis in Vietnam-era psychology - jury's out on this, will probably read next installment but will hope it is more probable in its details (I may have been reading too much Gibbon!).

On a totally different note, Abby Wambach's Forward, which I read because of a blurb that liked it to Andre Agassi's memoir - not on that level from a literary standpoint or in terms of psychological interest, but certainly worthwhile.

OK, that's most of it, a couple books deserve separate posts.  Have loaded a ton of stuff onto my Kindle in preparation for long flight to Australia....


From Anthony Ervin, Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian, a very good recommendation from Jessica S. (I have followed his career with interest because of his connection to my beloved first adult swim teacher Doug Stern, and it is a very interesting book):
Distance freestylers use a hip-driven stroke, arms gliding long in front and legs acting like an engine in the rear.  You can swim far like that.  But a shoulder-driven stroke is better suited in the 50, the shoulders driving down and the legs almost rising up behind you.  I still use my legs for propulsion but additionally employ them as a leveraging tool to rotate my body.  Instead of just trying to move the water as fast as I can, I try to anchor it with my leg to slip around and over it.  That way, I don't need to generate and expend as much power to get into my catch. 
The center for all of my strength is an X axis that crisscrosses my core, from opposite shoulders to opposite hips.  A line of tension runs through me from my fingertip to my opposite toe.  The hardest part in training is to maintain the flexibility and strength through that X axis, through the core from the shoulder to the opposite hip. If I don't have that deep interconnection and unity, gears start flying and my swim breaks down.  In sprinting, the entirety of the body needs to be solid and connected, from fingertip to toe.  It's almost like reverting to the state before you l earn how to swim, when you're tense in the water.
Bonus links: five books for the swim-obsessedtwo of my favorite books about swimming.

Closing tabs

Leaving for the airport very early for a flight to LAX en route to Sydney, and having the usual scramble to get ready to leave town (it's almost 8 and I haven't gotten out to run, must at least do SOME kind of a run though 2hr may at this point be overkill given that I'm not going to sleep much).  Austen notes woefully behind where I'd hoped they'd be, but I can at least bring the LETTERS chapter with me to work on, having made a little packet of xeroxes and selected three out of the ten volumes whose bits are more extensive & haven't yet been transcribed by me into typed notes.  I've mostly packed.  Cleaning up some tabs (was really looking to find one on Austen's letter-writing that I opened a while ago, but will have to use Google to find that again as it does not seem to be here):

Charlie Stross on why interruptions are a disaster when you're trying to work.

That said, Marilyn Berlin Snell on the disaster of the meditation retreat!

Perec in Australia.

Elizabeth Bishop's alcoholic admissions.

An interview with Mary Gaitskill.

Luc Sante on the art of nonfiction.

Geoff Dyer's new book sounds good.

Hermit crabs make homes out of beach trash.

Eighteenth-century documents discovered in birds' nests during cathedral renovation.

Last but not least, a charming bit of nomenclature: "Johnny Blue Pants"!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

School books

Also I don't think I linked here to the essay I wrote about why I wish I could read more novels set in classrooms, Crossfit boxes, etc,  I wrote this first as a talk about a year and a half ago (it was my literary classrooms talk) and I am pleased to see it now available to a wider readership!  There are so many things I didn't get to talk about there - Diana Wynne Jones's Magid committees for one which in my theory must have been strongly influenced by how many of her close friends and family were professional academics, there is nothing so much like my day-to-day work life as the administrative conversations in the great underrated Deep Secret!

The dining-room table

I am long overdue a light reading update - I have a resolution to do that at least once a month going forward, otherwise the titles mount up so alarmingly that the task begins to seem overly Herculean - but this is really what I have been working on this month.  Working intensively on a new book project always feels like coming home; smaller or shorter things don't have that feeling of entering a real intellectual world, and my only regret is that I can't have one hemisphere of the brain working on Austen while the other works on Gibbon, which is also at the alluring early stage where everything seems possible and there are almost infinite amounts of appealing new material yet to be unearthed and assembled into some kind of a sensible narrative.

Each project asks for its own method - and its own combination of stationery and writing implements! - but this one is more colorful than the last few I've done.  I've already modified the plan from my proposal, and I currently intend to write the book - Reading Jane Austen, an installment in a new Cambridge series that began with Reading William Blake and continued with Reading John Keats - in eight chapters, coded by color here.  First I reread through the complete works plus biography and letters, marking up with a pen.  Then I set up the provisional topics for individual chapters - Letters, Conversation, Revision, Manners, Morals, Voice, Teeth (someone is going to make me change that title later I suspect! But basically, all the gruesome details of social history and ailments of the body that lurk around the edges in Austen's writing), Mourning and Melancholy.  Each one has its own page and a color-coded set of post-its, so that when I then went back through my marked-up volumes, I stuck a post-it to categorize points in the books and also transferred a cryptic notation under the appropriate heading, loosely organized on the page though certainly not rigorously so.

The next step will be to type up these notes in individual files, then to start working on the chapters - I like "pushing" a project in its entirety through from stage to stage, so I'll probably get all the notes typed up and only then start writing rather than taking chapters one at a time.  I had this in retrospect quite unrealistic fantasy that I could type up ALL THOSE NOTES (the book is only supposed to be about 60,000 words, not a long one) before I fly to Australia on Sept. 19, but that does not seem likely to happen - it would take more time and concentration than I probably have available to me in this coming week, which also features quite a few evening work engagements, to manage notes on a chapter-per-day basis.  That said, it is worth trying - or else B. will be wondering why I have brought a very heavy bookpack of work stuff on vacation with me, as once I get going on a job like this I really hate to put it aside before it's done!  (More sensibly, if I have "Letters" notes typed up I could work on drafting that chapter from notes, that wouldn't require bringing such a heavy load with me.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Monday, August 15, 2016

Conjectural histories

I have completely succumbed, by the way, to the allure of Gibbon.  Excited about working on this project!  Here are two small bits that may convey some of the quality I find so irresistible in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

On Gordianus, father and son:
When he reluctantly accepted the purple, he was above fourscore years old; a last and valuable remains of the happy age of the Antonines, whose virtues he revived in his own conduct, and celebrated in an elegant poem of thirty books.  With the venerable proconsul, his son, who had accompanied him into Africa as his lieutenant, was likewise declared emperor.  His manners were less pure, but his character was equally amiable with that of his father.  Twenty-two acknowledged concubines, and a library of sixty-two thousand volumes, attested the variety of his inclinations; and from the productions which he left behind him, it appears that the former as well as the latter were designed for use rather than for ostentation.  
(The note to that last sentence reads: "By each of his concubines, the younger Gordian left three or four children.  His literary productions, though less numerous, were by no means contemptible.")

Or again, in a more contemplative vein (on the difficulty of writing about the empire c. 248-268 CE):
The confusion of the times, and the scarcity of authentic memorials, oppose equal difficulties to the historian, who attempts to preserve a clear and unbroken thread of narration.  Surrounded with imperfect fragments, always concise, often obscure, and sometimes contradictory, he is reduced to collect, to compare, and to conjecture: and though he ought never to place his conjectures in the rank of facts, yet the knowledge of human nature, and of the sure operation of its fierce and unrestrained passions, might, on some occasions, supply the want of historical materials.

Ruin porn of the 18th century

Have just Amazoned a copy of James Crawford's book, reviewed a while ago by Mary Beard for the TLS (I had a copy via BorrowDirect briefly but it was recalled before I had a chance to read it - I think my borrowing privileges have been suspended three or four times this year for overdue recall books, and I've got another overdue BD book - Louise Curran's fascinating book about Samuel Richardson's correspondence that I forgot to return before I left NYC and that can't be renewed again, I read it but haven't transcribed my notes yet - that has probably just tipped me over again today into delinquency....).  This is Beard's opening:
Inside the monastery of S. Trinità dei Monti, which stands at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome, is a room decorated in glorious trompe l’oeil as a ruin. Created in 1766 by Charles-Louis Clérisseau, and originally intended to be the cell of the monastery’s resident mathematician Fr Thomas Le Sueur, it imitates a decaying classical temple, with tumbled columns, a roof open to the sky, encroaching vegetation and a large parrot perched on one of the apparently surviving crossbeams. 

Analytic rage

I wrote about Jenny Diski's life and memoirs for Public Books.  I always feel that this sort of a piece should just trip lightly off the fingers in an afternoon, but really it took quite a lot of my reading and writing attention in June as well, further contributing to my sense of being a useless layabout!  The self-castigation of the academic who is not making progress on her own book projects is not to be believed....

Field review

Remember this?  My review of the year's work in Restoration and eighteenth-century studies is up now at JSTOR (I've also posted it to my profile).  This was a big piece of work - lack of productivity in June and July is probably partly a consequence of pulling all this together in April and May, along with the intensity of the tenure committee obligations.  I feel it as a real accomplishment.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Closing tabs

Quiet summer on the blog - Facebook is getting the sort of idle thought that used to show up here, and I think there is no point resisting the drain in that direction.  Have a lot of open tabs to close, as well as a light reading update that I will write separately.  Funny summer in life - I have done no substantive work of my own, it's all life stuff (apartment declutter, 100 runs in 100 days, family Disney trip etc.) and other people's work stuff - but I am going to have to accept that sometimes I have to pay attention to things that are not a book that I am writing....

The Clown Egg Register.

The beautiful afterlife of Edward Gorey's mink stroller coat.

Starbucks card value exceeds money on deposit at many financial institutions.

Eighteenth-century note-taking (and the interesting underlying link).

Secrets of the London Library.

Roger Luckhurst on trouble in Lovecraft Country.

Sheep View 360.

Baroque wigs of paper.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Closing tabs

A tour of the Svalbard seed vault.

Does tenure encourage risk-taking?

A social history of Australia through its swimming pools.

Jonathon Green's dictionary of slang is going online. Also: what's a chuggypig?

A miniature replica of 1950s Boston.

"He smelled amazing, he really smelled good."

So far I have held off actually buying anything here, but I can't quite bring myself to close this tab on my browser. I was especially partial as a child (still am) to the candies made out of pure sugar - the Now and Laters, the Fun Dip, the candy bracelets and the candy buttons that came on a paper band, the Jolly Ranchers, the Runts and Nerds and SweetTarts and Tart 'n Tinys - I am only surprised they don't have Bottle Caps (the cafe at Butler Library used to sell these, and I would buy a box occasionally when I really needed to fuel maniacal paper-grading - it is just as well that I haven't seen them there for a couple years, I think, as those soft tart powdery crunchable disks are irresistible to me).

I don't agree with Janet Malcolm's position on the Constance Garnett translations. I've seen this argued again and again (and it's akin to the Aciman defense of Moncrieff's Proust); I suspect the difference of opinion may be generational, in that when I first encountered the translations of this vintage as a teenager in the 1980s I just found them irremediably flowery and over-elaborate. I much prefer the newer style.

Finally, Katherine Dunn died in May. I was utterly arrested and captivated by Geek Love when I first encountered it. My college classmate Thomas Lauderdale knew Katherine very well, and when he hosted me on the low-budget book tour for my first novel in 2003 or so he not only made me feel like a literary lion, he took me over to Katherine's house for tea. I was incredibly flattered, at the end of our conversation, when she exclaimed, "Dashing!" Then she told me that I had a dashing mind, an adjective that has stayed with me as a high compliment.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

"After great pain. . ."

In a single sitting the other evening I read Christina Crosby's A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain. It is not a perfect book - I liked least the more intellectual or academic discussions of literary texts that are interwoven with the memoir (they are all well-chosen and apt, but I think these pages and the poststructuralist moments will limit the audience of a book that otherwise should be read by huge numbers of people). But it captures the feeling of living in a profoundly damaged body in the aftermath of catastrophic accident better than almost anything else I have ever read.

I was worried about whether I should read this book at all - I am already phobic enough about riding my road bike that I don't need to read about someone's accident! But afterwards I thought - yes, I did need to read this book, for reasons that have nothing to do with cycling, and others should read it too.

Here is the statement of purpose:
Because of my condition, I've been pondering the reality that everybody has/is a body. Your body emerges through the perception of others as different from yourself, at a touchable distance, and selfhood is not self-contained. What you want, who you are, how you feel are all brought into being over time and in relation to others, and those thoughts and feelings are repeatedly inscribed, creating powerful circuits that organize a sense of embodied self. Such is human interdependency that my self-regard depends on your regard for me. I need and want a more fully livable life, which turns importantly, if not exclusively, on this play of recognition. Spinal cord injury has cast me into a surreal neurological wasteland that I traverse day and night. This account is an effort to describe the terrain. I want you to know, and I, myself, want better to understand, a daily venture of living that requires considerable fortitude on my part and a great dependency on others, without whose help my life would be quite literally unlivable.
For a short book, it manages to touch on an amazing range of subjects, all of which speak very strongly to me even in the places where Crosby's experience least resonates with my own (it is one of the sharpest ironies of the story that in her previous life Crosby was supremely embodied, a sensualist with a strong sexual dimension and a feeling of power in an athletic body - I just don't have that relationship with my body, I don't have gender or body dysphoria as such but I deeply believe that I should be existing not in a body at all but just as a pattern of intelligence and information in the cloud!). Siblings, chronic pain, the relationship between humans and dogs, death via melanoma, love and loss, motorcycles and the pleasure of the open road, breasts (one's own and those of others), the dilemma of relying on wonderful caretakers who are themselves victims of structural inequities that create shame in those who take advantage of them, the value of friendship and community, the Anabaptist tradition and how an adult seeks out versions of communities left behind - anyway, it's really gripping from start to finish. Highly recommended.

Light reading update

I left it way too long to update!

That said, there was a happy development that greatly simplified my light reading life for a spell: Brent did me a "solid" as they say by suggesting that I might enjoy Saturn Run, a space-exploration collaboration from John Sandford and the mysteriously named Ctein. I demurred at first - I very unfairly had lumped together Sandford with James Patterson and similar (I think having "Prey" in the series titles is off-putting, and at some point years ago I clearly conflated Sandford's protagonist Lucas Davenport with the utterly dreadful Alex Cross) - but then I read it and it was utterly delightful! Like the light-reading version of Seveneves or Aurora, two books I liked very much and that stayed with me - it has some of the same qualities as Ready Player One, another book that I resisted initially but gave myself over to with pleasure once I immersed myself in it.

Anyway - it then turns out that Sandford has published EIGHT Virgil Flowers novels (a very good spinoff from the Prey ones) and TWENTY-SIX Prey novels - there is one other spinoff that sounds a little more goofy and I think a few other little clutches of books, so I am pretty much done now (alas!), but I have basically been in light reading heaven, with the soothing fact THAT THERE IS ANOTHER PREY BOOK CUED (QUEUED?) UP TO READ NEXT to alleviate needless anxiety.

However I have just read the last one and it is now time to make my transition into proper summer reading, which actually for me sidelines the light reading somewhat and starts foregrounding more challenging stuff (about which more anon). So, anyway, Saturn Run plus 34 Sandford thrillers have gotten me pretty happily through the last month or so....

As the Prey series came to an end:

Joe Hill, The Fireman (not quite as much to my taste as Nos4a2, but still very good)

Before that happened, this:

Sebastian Faulks, A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts (I loved this one - beautifully written and unutterably moving)

James S. A. Corey, The Churn: An Expanse Novella

Nicola Griffith, Slow River (I perversely could have done without the split time narration, but it is really a wonderful book, I liked it very much indeed)

Sarah Rees Brennan, Tell the Wind and Fire (I might be the perfect target audience for this one - I really liked it - I like all her books very much)

Chris Pavone, The Travelers (I think I liked the other book of his I read a little better, but he is a very good writer)

Ian Rankin, Even Dogs in the Wild

Richard Kadrey, The Everything Box (not quite to my taste - if you don't find it really funny, the conceit falls flattish!)

Jessica Knoll, Luckiest Girl Alive (not sure the voice completely works, but it is well done and I do think it's a better book than Gone Girl in a not dissimilar vein)

Craig Schaefer, Red Knight Falling (Harmony Black #2)

The final installment of Pam Brondos' Fourline Trilogy

C. S. Friedman, the three volumes of The Coldfire Trilogy (good but not great - I lost steam as I got to the last volume)

The first two installments of Roz Kaveney's Rituals: Rhapsody of Blood books.

Seanan McGuire, Chaos Choreography: An InCryptid novel; Every Heart a Doorway

Patricia Briggs, Fire Touched

Kristi Charish, Owl and the Japanese Circus (I liked the writing, but the author doesn't have sufficient grasp of what makes a character likeable or not - the voice and the writing are very good, but the protagonist is so selfish and heedless of the situation of others that I found I just didn't care whether things came out her way or not)

Two Rhona Macleod books by Lin Anderson - not enough substance here to keep my attention.

Looking forward to getting into some meatier stuff - just started Knausgaard vol. 5 which somehow I missed when it actually "dropped" in April....

"Two penises"

A funny recommendation from Tyler Cowen: Robert Trivers' Wild Life: Advevntures of an Evolutionary Biologist. Trivers is an extremely distinguished and influential figure, but it is quite an eccentric book (it becomes immediately clear why it wasn't published by a more mainstream press). I was captivated by this bit in particular:
It is a little known fact outside of Herpetology that all lizard and snake males have two penises, one on the left side and one on the right. A given penis is used preferentially depending on whether the male winds around to the right or the left of the female. (If you are a mammal and have a penis, look down at its underside and see if you do not see a line running up it that shows where the two hemi-penes fused during early development.) Initially in evolution, all genital organs tended to be bi-laterally symmetrical. Testicles and ovaries retained this symmetry, but reductions to one also occurred, as in the case of the penis and the scrotum.

In any case, it is easy to reveal the trait in Anolis males. You hold him upside down and manipulate the penis on either side to cause it to extrude. When both are extruded they look like two bananas peeled outwards.

I used to amuse myself by showing this feature off to Jamaican men, knowing that having two penises would arouse excitement, as well as admiration. "One for the yard, one for the road," was a common excited response.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

The transition to summer

Always awkward and more protracted than I would like! But this is the beginning of a full year of sabbatical - I won't be teaching again till September 2017 - and once I get into a groove, it should be pretty idyllic. I'll be based mostly in NYC with frequent trips to Cayman, but I have two really exciting additional places to be.

(And most immediately, I'll be embarking on the "Reading Austen" book and working on a few smaller non-academic bits, including a piece about Jenny Diski. Clarissa project has not been forgotten but is temporarily on the back burner....)

I'll spend the Michaelmas term (early October through early December) as an Oliver Smithies visiting lecturer at Balliol College, Oxford (I'll be working on the literary history of the footnote with special emphasis on Gibbon and history-writing).

And I'll spend six weeks in February and March as Sovern/Columbia Affiliated Fellow at the American Academy in Rome. Here is the project I'll be working on (I'm really excited about this!):
“Gibbon’s Rome”

“It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764,” wrote Edward Gibbon in a draft of his memoirs, “as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the City first started to my mind.” Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire would expand to treat the long history of the empire as it migrated east, not just the history of the city in which the empire had its origin, and his research took place in libraries, cabinets of medals and so forth in London, Paris, Lausanne and Geneva as well as in the streets of Rome. But the physical landscape of Rome as Gibbon first encountered it in the 1760s provided much of the emotional impetus for the project, and the city figures in the history in a number of different ways.

In “Gibbon’s Rome,” I am proposing a long essay or a short book (probably in the region of 40,000 words) that tells the story of what Gibbon saw in Rome and what it meant to him. I am envisioning a narrative not oriented exclusively towards scholarly readers but written more in the style of something like Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome; another model, in a rather different vein, is Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence. The narrative will weave together a number of different strands with the goal of producing a lively narrative history with a literary-critical bent: recounting the series of choices and accidents that led Gibbon to Rome as a place and a topic; reading important passages from some of the works of history that were formative for Gibbon (this is a book about Gibbon’s reading as well as about Gibbon as tourist!) in earlier years and that contributed to the research techniques and evidentiary protocols that underpin Decline and Fall; considering the rise of the Grand Tour as a mode of self-cultivation and development for wealthy young British men over the first half of the eighteenth century; vividly describing the streets and buildings Gibbon walked through, the state they were in during this period and the kinds of collections of artifacts he was able to visit and examine; and of course analyzing and celebrating the language of Decline and Fall. I will draw on visual and journalistic records made by other visitors during the same period in order to bring the setting most powerfully to life.

My goal in this project is not just to recount the history of one historian’s relationship with one city, though that will occupy a good deal of my attention, but also to use the story of Gibbon’s encounter with Rome as a case study that gives us more general insight into how eighteenth-century writers came to understand the relationship between past and present and the tools for narrating and comprehending historical change. The context in which I developed this project involves a longstanding interest in the battle of ancients and moderns as it was worked out in Britain by combative writers like the textual editor Richard Bentley, Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, and my large-scale research project for the next few years will be to do the groundwork for an ambitious literary history of the footnote in the long eighteenth century. My interest in the footnote really derives from the fact that, as the scholar Evelyn Tribble has observed in an essay on the history of the transition from marginal annotation to footnotes, the shape of the page often becomes “more than usually visible” at periods when “paradigms for receiving the past are under stress”: “In the early modern period, as models of annotation move from marginal glosses to footnotes, the note becomes the battlefield upon which competing notions of the relationship of authority and tradition, past and present, are fought” (“‘Like a Looking-Glas in the Frame’: From the Marginal Note to the Footnote,” in The Margins of the Text, ed. D. C. Greetham [Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1997], 229-244). Gibbon will feature in a chapter of that projected monograph, with the tension between the evidentiary impulse of the notes to the Decline and Fall and their fundamentally skeptical or ironic orientation towards the main narrative providing a starting point for a closer investigation of the footnote in British and French history-writing during this period. But I feel that there’s enough material, in the question of what Gibbon’s monumental history tells us about his own and his contemporaries’ understanding of the relationship between past and present as we comprehend it by way not just of books but by movement through ruins and landscapes and by interaction with historical artifacts, that I’ve made a commitment to pursue this smaller-scale project as a complement to the bigger one.

Six weeks at the American Academy in Rome would provide the ideal setting for some physical exploration of sites and museums alongside time in the library reading some of the narrative histories from which Gibbon took his inspiration as well as modern scholarship on the history of archeology and antiquities in Italy, museums and other viewing sites, other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British visitors’ accounts of their relationship to the city, practices of historical restoration or reconstruction and so forth. An initial list of authors and books of particular interest to me would include Cicero, Livy’s histories, Erasmus’s Ciceronianus and the associated debate on Latin style, Bayle, Voltaire, Bossuet, le Sueur, de la Bléterie’s Life of Julian and Guischardt’s Mémoires critiques et historiques sur plusieurs points d'antiquités militaires. I would especially love to look closely through the collection of historical maps in the Rare Book Room; serendipity has a large role to play in this sort of project, and there will be no substitute for being physically on-site as I embark upon this research.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Documents, ink, methods of drying"

I loved this Paris Review interview with Hilary Mantel. I have been reading her for a long time, ever since my college professor and literary inspiration Simon Schama recommended A Place of Greater Safety to me c. 1993 (and then I read all the backlist):
When I began work on the French Revolution, it seemed to me the most interesting thing that had ever happened in the history of the world, and it still does in many ways. I had no idea how little the British public knew or cared or wished to know about the French Revolution. And that’s still the case. They want to know about Henry VIII.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Kevin Young remembers Prince.

(I have been listening to Prince a great deal over the last couple weeks, especially to Lovesexy - the most baroquely sensual and hyperverbal album I have ever loved! - and Sign o' the Times - I had a huge collection of bootleg Prince tapes in the late 80s, many of them made for me by a friendly co-worker at Urban Outfitters in Philadelphia the summer of 1989, but they are long since lost or destroyed. Might need to fill out the collection again.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Closing tabs

Ah, I am long overdue some tab-closing and a light reading update, but life is complicated and Facebook continues to leach the energy out of blogging! I'm in Cayman for a couple more days, but my term isn't really over - flying back to New York Thursday for a couple more Friday tenure meetings and some end-of-semester teaching stuff. Can get through a couple more weeks without disaster I think....

Anyway, links first (I have upgraded to a new Kindle and will need to consult 2 different devices to get the full log):

How many eggs does a chicken lay in its lifetime?

On the subject of recreational zoology, read Jane Yeh's rhino poem in the NYRB!

At the New Yorker, Adelle Waldman on loving and loathing Samuel Richardson.

The new era of drone vandalism.

Should brand protection extend to paper offerings to the dead?

Top ten things junior faculty should know in order to get tenure. (There was a feminist rebuttal to this somewhere, but I have misplaced the link, and besides, it didn't invalidate the original points, just complemented them!)

What do Enid Blyton's school stories teach a reader about ethics?

Who will come with me to try this sour-cherry-pie sundae?

Finally, on a sadder note, Frederic Tuten interviewed Jenny Diski in 1999 and it's well worth a reread. I won't write more about Diski here, as I am attempting to write a proper piece about her for an online publication I admire, but I have been thinking very much of one of my favorite passages of hers, from On Trying to Keep Still (I think of it all the time and have certainly never read such an uncannily accurate description of why I have such a strong aversion to making plans to see even my favorite people!):
Being really alone means being free from anticipation. Even to know that something is going to happen, that I am required to do something is an intrusion on the emptiness I am after. What I love to see is an empty diary, pages and pages of nothing planned. A date, an arrangement, is a point in the future when something is required of me. I begin to worry about it days, sometimes weeks ahead. Just a haircut, a hospital visit, a dinner party. Going out. The weight of the thing-that-is-going-to-happen sits on my heart and crushes the present into non-existence. My ability to live in the here and now depends on not having any plans, on there being no expected interruption. I have no other way to do it. How can you be alone, properly alone, if you know someone is going to knock at the door in five hours, or tomorrow morning, or you have to get ready and go out in three days' time? I can't abide the fracturing of the present by the intrusion of a planned future.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Closing tabs

The Harvard color vault.

A St. Petersburg seed vault.

Shakespeare First Folio confirmed as genuine. (I have to say, this exhibit runs through Oct. 30 and if there is any chance I would be in the UK between now and then, it seems worth the trek north to get to see this - I guess I can visit another time, it doesn't have to be while the exhibit is up. All I would really need is an appointment here....)

Via Sarang, the 'Werewolf of Worcester'?

PEZ collection! (Underlying occasion.)

Jon Ronson interviews Monica Lewinsky (and Mary Beard against internet trolling)

The 28 naughtiest children in literature?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Long silence

I have a lot of catch-up posts to make, but right now I'm just registering humility in the face of an enormous reviewing job that nominally needs to be done by the 20th (it will take more days than that).  Literalizing the dimensions of the job is helpful!  (It's the Studies in English Literature eighteenth-century roundup.)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Pepys' books

Arnold Hunt on three new Pepys books. I am very keen to read Kate Loveman's, though irked to see that because the CU library has digital access I will not be able to request a "real" copy from BorrowDirect! Here is a good bit from the review, describing the letter C. S. Lewis wrote in support of the publication of an unexpurgated edition of the diary: Lewis’s letter is a fascinating period piece: writing in June 1960, a few months before the Lady Chatterley trial, he urged the Fellows of Magdalene not to be deterred by the risk of public scandal or ridicule. “A spiteful or merely jocular journalist could certainly make us for a week or two very malodorous in the public nostril. But a few weeks, or years, are nothing in the life of the College. I think it would be pusillanimous and unscholarly to delete a syllable on that score.”

Friday, March 18, 2016

Light reading log

Oh dear, I have let two months of light reading accumulate without logging it! Been working very frenetically and that will continue through mid-May, but I've had a nice breather this week in Cayman with B. I had initially thought I'd bring a big pile of work and try and get ahead of the load of upcoming weeks, but in fact it was my assessment at the end of last week that I'd been working so hard I really needed days off more than I needed work time. Need to pace myself for two more months of insanity still! Also the SEL review essay that's the next big upcoming thing involves many many books, and it doesn't make sense to cart them back and forth between two places - it's really just going to have to wait till after my conference in Pittsburgh & Kentucky talk at the end of the month.

Got here Saturday late afternoon with a couple work tasks still hanging over me: 2 committee reports and a grant proposal due Monday. But writing the proposal - it's the "Gibbon's Rome" project - has sent me very pleasantly down the Gibbon rabbithole! Just finished the first volume of Patricia Craddock's biography and will read the second over the weekend - I am itching to work on this stuff. Happy at the thought that I should be able to write two books next year, barring unforeseen calamity, one in its entirety (the Austen book) and one mostly (Gibbon), and make good starts on several others (literary history of the footnote, Clarissa)....

The desire not to sit at the computer pasting in links interminably means that I think I'll just give a simple log.


Frances Hardinge, The Lie Tree. This is wonderful! Manages to be both faithful to the notional period and imaginatively open to different possibilities.

Scott Hawkins, The Library at Mount Char. A genuine standout - strange, haunting - I want to read it again now.

Sari Wilson, Girl Through Glass. Not a perfect novel - the present-past structure feels a little formulaic - but incredibly compelling in its depiction of studying ballet in the late 1970s and the fallout from that life into adulthood. It stayed with me strongly enough that when I saw a job ad a few weeks later for a postdoctoral fellow in the history of dance at Harvard I was convinced I knew someone who would be interested but just couldn't think of the name, until I realized it was the protagonist of this novel!

The Little Women books, all the way through. A fantastically satisfying reading experience still. I know 1, 3 and 4 so well I have almost memorized them, but didn't have my own copy of Good Wives (the only one that I think expresses the ideology of its time in ways that make it sporadically quite offputting to modern readers). They are immensely literary and allusive in a way that enchanted me as a child even as it often confused me.

An old friend's very useful book: Farai Chideya, The Episodic Career.

A new friend's first novel: Katherine Hill, The Violet Hour.

Two novels I'd been holding out against as they sounded a bit too much like Philip Pullman's Golden Compass trilogy, but in the end I liked them very much: V. E. Schwab, A Gathering of Shadows and A Darker Shade of Magic

Zeitgest cluster (Lovecraft redux): Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom and Charlie Williams, Land of Hope and Glory and Monsters (have not yet read Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country but probably will soon).

A charming rather old-fashioned Narnia-type fantasy, Pam Brondos, On the Meldon Plain (second installment of the Fourline Trilogy).

Latest Belfast installment from Adrian Mckinty, Rain Dogs: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel. Is it just me or are these books PERFECT? I love everything about them.

Taylor Stevens, The Mask. There are silly elements but I do find the premise and execution fairly gripping.

Arnaldur Indridason, Into Oblivion. Thin - we go back in time to a case early in Erlendur's career, there are very interesting things about the airport and the role of the US in Iceland in the 60s and 70s but less striking in terms of character.

Mark Billingham, Time of Death (Thorne #13). I find these very readable but this one was marred by one plot turn of such absurdity that it almost discredited the whole story for me - however, a cut above the average regardless.

Three quite good though very bleak crime novels by Eva Dolan (the first is overwritten but the prose style levels out productively), Long Way Home, Tell No Tales, After You Die

A New York crime novel: Andrew Case, The Big Fear (a little overwritten, too much straining for the effect of Richard Price at his most literary, but I appreciated the voices - it's a playwright's novel, in a good way - and will certainly read more).

Peter May, Entry Island. I must confess I find May's Lewis trilogy a bit boring and this one similarly so! Not bad, but curiously disengaged.

Greg Hurwitz, Orphan X. Hahahahaha, like what you'd get if you took Lee Child's Jack Reacher and made him a superhero as well! Silly enough that I almost stopped reading it several times, but the writing is energetic and attractive and in the end I stuck with it.

Alafair Burke, The Ex (too complicated in its plotting for my tastes).

Anne Bishop's latest Others installment, Marked In Flesh.

Deborah Blake, Wickedly Powerful (this series is silly but fun).

Joshilyn Jackson, The Opposite of Everyone (I always love her books)

Carolyn Ives Gilman, Dark Orbit, a science fiction novel of alien encounters - I liked it very much though I think if you want very consistent treatment of the science it might frustrate you.