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.

Closing tabs

From the archives of Luc Sante.

Some very good Valley of the Dolls coverage here and elsewhere. I read the novel a few years ago: I don't think it's going to catch on with a modern audience, it's too negatively embedded in the judgments of its day, but it is an interesting phenomenon.

Why you can't trust GPS in China.

Cake maze! (Via Jane.)

Tater Tot hotdish and the pleasures of the humble crab stick.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016


Just reread a book that made a great impression on me when I first read it ten years ago, Alice Flaherty's The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain. Still very struck by these final lines:
The scientist asks how I can call my writing vocation and not addiction. I no longer see why I should have to make that distinction. I am addicted to breathing in the same way. I write because when I don't, it is suffocating. I write because something much larger than myself comes into me that suffuses the page, the world, with meaning. Although I constantly fear that what I am writing teeters at the edge of being false, this force that drives me cannot be anything but real, or nothing will ever be real for me again.