Friday, January 22, 2016

Hons and rebels

At the FT (site registration required), Jo Ellison on the late Duchess of Devonshire's possessions going up for auction:
Ironically, another lot, a pre-edition of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (£15,000-£20,000) exposes Debo as an early Waugh reader and occasional editor. “She did once recount saying something like, ‘In 1930 women wouldn’t have worn Cartier clips ... ’ ” says MacDonald, of her contribution to his oeuvre. “But, I don’t know if that’s Brideshead.”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Increasing the waddle

Penguin locomotion: "According to Dr Willener, getting these ungainly creatures to walk on a treadmill was one of the biggest challenges of the study, which is published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology."

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Three lives, nine objects

At the TLS, Samantha Ellis considers Deborah Lutz's history of the Brontes in objects:
This book is partly an attempt to talk to the dead, by looking at (and holding, sniffing, weighing) the Brontës’ things. Fans of the writers who cross the world to gaze at Charlotte’s stockings and Anne’s bloodstained handkerchief, sequestered behind glass, might envy Lutz’s intimacy with these objects. They sometimes speak as eloquently about their owners as the books, maybe because although we may not have written great novels, we all have stuff. We have also all watched CSI, so there is something familiar about Lutz, hunched over a scratch on Emily Brontë’s desk, as she says herself, “Was this a message from the dead, or just the results of a bump into a table? I felt like a detective looking for clues, traces of evidence, even bodily fluids. But here no crime had been committed”.
Becca's less enthusiastic thoughts here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


My installment is up in the Hermenautic Tarot - the All-Seeing Eye!

Flying back to NYC in a few hours. It has been a really good trip - I now feel I'm in proper shape to tackle what promises to be a taxing but highly stimulating semester....

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Limited Contingent

From Svetlana Alexievich, Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War (not sure why I have just spent a beautiful afternoon at a tropical island beach hotel lying in bed in air-conditioning reading an incredibly grim book - but it is a very good book!):
Sometimes I want to write down everything I saw. Like, in hospital, the lad who'd lost his arms, his legs and his mate. I remember sitting on his bed writing a letter for him to his mother. Or the little Afghan girl who pinched a sweet from a Soviet soldier and had both her hands hacked off by her own people. I'd like to write it all down exactly as it was and without any comments. If it rained I'd say it rained, just that, without a lot of talk about whether it was a good or bad thing that it was raining.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Two books

I read two very good books this afternoon, each one chosen after I read something about it online: this led me to When Breath Becomes Air (very sad, very moving); this led me to My Name is Lucy Barton. It is uncannily good, also very sad and very moving!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Closing tabs

I did something sensible on this trip and only brought five monographs to read out of the diverse heap of books that have come my way for the Studies in English Literature eighteenth-century roundup which I will be writing in another month or two (still waiting for more books to come in - it's much fewer so far than in previous years, more like 40 or 45 rather than 110+, and I need to figure out whether they don't exist or whether, for instance, review copy budgets are down across the board). Four and a half down, half to go (but I have read it before, in manuscript - I saved it for last because I know I like it!).

Brought a few other substantive books as well as part of resolution for 2016 to read more nonfiction and not quite so much "fodder"....

I always bring any agitation I may be experiencing with me when I come to Cayman, which can be a bit of a trial for all concerned (bouncing off walls!), but fortunately on this trip I am experiencing an unusual degree of peace of mind. (One factor: gratitude that this January is so much less stressful than last January. January through March of 2015 were of sufficient dreadfulness that I really hope I'm not going to have another sequence of months like that any time soon - fingers crossed, anyway.)

Will do the aquabike on Sunday out on the East End; have been doing a lot of hot yoga and similar. A few meals with friends, more quiet time at home, minor work obligations that can be aquitted by phone and email (as B. says of his own work, "Can do it anywhere. Might as well do it on a beach!"). Spa week(s)! Feeling optimistic about the spring semester - the load for the tenure committee will be extremely heavy, but I have gotten into good mental and physical shape in preparation....

Closing tabs:

An interview with Tom Stoppard.

National biscuits?

A fascinating long account of an elaborate con.

Doveman covers David Bowie's Lazarus.

Is reheated pasta less fattening? (Via Jane!)

Miscellaneous light reading, including a couple of real standouts:

Asne Seirstad, One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway. I couldn't put this down - the narration is rather melodramatic (the narrative framework is like that of a serial killer novel) but the reporting goes deep and it is an incredibly compelling read. Strongly recommended.

And Charlie Jane Anders, All the Birds in the Sky - I loved this one (it's kind of like The Magicians but completely in reverse!), I had it via Netgalley but will perhaps see if I can get Charlie Jane to do a blog interview bit in publication week

Also (much that I really loved here, but it can't be said that January is the best month for new releases):

Reread of an old favorite, William Boyd's Armadillo (I still think it's very good, but I now have read a lot more other books in this vein, which somewhat lessens the impression).

Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (loved it!).

Linda Nagata, The Red and subsequent installments (brilliant, haunting, wouldn't have minded if it were a bit less unrelentingly military in its episodes - would make great TV series).

Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora (quite enjoyed it but it caused me to ruminate on why I have such a strong preference for Neal Stephenson even though it can similarly and fairly be charged that his female protagonists might as well be male - but there is something about Stephenson's explanatory and descriptive sentences that is itself compelling to me in a way that Robinson's are not).

Marcus Sakey's Brilliance trilogy (excellent light reading - that's good value for money!).

Pam Brondos, Gateway to Fourline (wasn't sure about this one at first - it reminded me a lot of Charlie Stross's Merchant Princes series, my least favorite of all his books - but decided I was keen, then realized with horror at the end that the next installment isn't out yet! But it is pre-ordered for January 19, which means I can read it in the airport on the way home).

Lila Bowen, Wake of Vultures (at first I found the writing a little too formulaic/polished, but it grew on me - in the end I really liked it - reminded me of the excellent Joan Vinge novelisation of Cowboys and Aliens!).

Sam Hawken, The Night Charter (like a sort of cross between Lou Berney's caper books and Lee Child but with a female Reacher equivalent - I liked it but didn't love it, will definitely seek out more by this author).

Kirsty Eagar, Raw Blue, a very good recommendation from Justine Larbalestier (this is the very best of contemporary YA I think in the non-fantastic vein - really beautifully written and rendered).

Elizabeth Little, Dear Daughter (pretty good, though I never quite bought into the voice - but it is better than Gone Girl!).

Several crime novels by Belinda Bauer (not bad but I am really tired of the serial-killer-close-to-home trope)

Two books about overeating (am on regimen of nutritional soundness which makes me want to read books about people who eat too many doughnuts), Allen Zadoff's Hungry and Lisa Kotin's My Confection: Odyssey of a Sugar Addict. The writing in the latter is very good but it becomes pretty repetitive, I am not sure there was really a whole book in it as opposed to a few very good essays.

That's it for now.


From Maggie Nelson, Bluets:
7. But what kind of love is it, really? Don't fool yourself and call it sublimity. Admit that you have stood in front of a little pile of powdered ultramarine pigment in a glass cup at a museum and felt a stinging desire. But to do what? Liberate it? Purchase it? Ingest it? There is so little blue food in nature--in fact blue in the wild tends to mark food to avoid (mold, poisonous berries)--that culinary advisers generally recommend against blue light, blue paint, and blue plates when and where serving food. But while the color may sap appetite in the most literal sense, it feeds it in others. You might want to reach out and disturb the pile of pigment, for example, first staining your fingers with it, then staining the world. You might want to dilute it and swim in it, you might want to rouge your nipples with it, you might want to paint a virgin's robe with it. But still you wouldn't be accessing the blue of it. Not exactly.
63. Generally speaking I do not hunt blue things down, nor do I pay for them. The blue things I treasure are gifts, or surprises in the landscape. The rocks I dug up this summer in the north country, for example, each one mysteriously painted round its belly with a bright blue band. The little square junk of navy blue dye you brought me long ago, when we barely knew each other, folded neatly into a paper wrapper.
106. When I first heard of the cyanometer, I imagined a complicated machine with dials, cranks, and knobs. But what de Saussure actually "invented" was a cardboard chart with 53 cut-out squares sitting alongside 53 numbered swatches, or "nuances," as he called them, of blue: you simply hold the sheet up to the sky and match its color, to the best of your ability, to a swatch. As in Humboldt's Travels (Ross, 1852): "We beheld with admiration the azure colour of the sky. Its intensity at the zenith appeared to correspond to 41 [degrees] of the cyanometer." This latter sentence brings me great pleasure, but really it takes us no further--either into knowledge, or into beauty.
See also #170 and 226, only I am too lazy to retype them!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Caught my eye

in this story about a junior doctors' strike in the UK:
The National Health Service says it employs 1.6 million people, putting it in the top five of the world's largest work forces, alongside the United States Defense Department, McDonald's, Walmart and the Chinese People's Liberation Army.