Saturday, November 21, 2015


I think I will have the blackcurrant Eton mess - and the Marmite black velvet (FT site registration required).

Truth and lies

"Bob has his trainers feeding dogs baloney treats. We don't do any of that mushy stuff."

(The Robert Crais books are extremely enjoyable reading, by the way: the first is Suspect, the second is The Promise. Crais's books have in my opinion gotten better and better; where Michael Connelly's have become more formulaic over the years (with the last few Bosch books feeling like thinned-out outlines of their former selves), these have become richer and more complicated in terms of character and voice.

"Literary criticism, but in real time"

Andy Martin shadows Lee Child. I have to say that this is an incredibly funny idea I wish I had thought of myself, though I am not sure I would have had the patience to follow up on it, regardless of questions of access!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Celluloid heroes

Entertaining evening with L., who I do not see often enough, watching Nobuhiko Obayashi's wonderfully demented film House. The girls are enchanting and it is genuinely haunting despite the kitsch. Then we wandered fruitlessly around the neighborhood looking for a place to eat, but it was grotesquely crowded. Found a high-top table finally at Smith & Wollensky, where we lifted a glass in my father's memory. (We shared a shrimp cocktail to start and sides of sauteed spinach and mashed potatoes; L. had the sirloin, I had branzino.)

Personal blogging

In an effort to reclaim the territory of the blog back from social media....

They are jackhammering up the street in front of my apartment. The noise is such that the two cats are agitated; it was so loud downstairs that a little boy with his father was afraid to leave the building!

I am up so early only because I had an 8am tooth-cleaning appointment; you have to make them so far in advance, it's the only safe time when I really know I won't have a conflict. It's a beautiful day, upper 50s and sunny; lying in the chair, though, gave me a view of my sandals that made me acknowledge that they have lived their last days - the foam footbeds are completely torn out in chunks - no longer shoes of respectability - I have thrown them in the trash....

Closing a few tabs:

A nice piece at the Guardian about Nadia Sirota and her Meet the Composers show.

Anne Fernald on Goodnight, Moon and modernism. (Mush!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Light reading round-up

Long overdue, possibly in part because it represents mostly a good deal of pap (a word that makes me think of Beckett - much used by my grandmother to disparage the quality of modern store-bought bread, but it is always what I think of when I am too enmired in series fiction).

It is a difficult time of the school year, I think: hard to keep energy levels high with a fairly long stretch to go until the winter break. But my history of the novel class has gone well and I should be able to do some decent regrouping over the break. I booked my ticket to Cayman, I'll be there for almost three weeks....

(Oh dear, I see it really is more than a month's worth that needs logging, that is a pain.)

Slightly shameful list - if I keep reading like this, I am going to ROT MY BRAIN! But I am starting to feel that impatience and hunger for REAL reading and REAL writing that should indeed precede a sabbatical year - MY TIME WILL COME if I can get through to May....

Anyway, a few standouts first:

The best of this bunch, an absolute miracle - Lou Berney's The Long and Faraway Gone. Everyone should read this one, it is incredibly good: among other things gives a better picture than almost anything else I have read (Kate Atkinson's Jackson Browne books might be comparable) of the long shadow violent death casts over individuals and in families. Have read another book of his now too, which I liked but which is more in Elmore Leonard vein (less my cup of tea): Gutshot Straight.

A fun reread of I Capture the Castle, prompted by a blog post I can no longer locate - I read this book obsessively over and over again as a child, don't remember when I last revisited it but was struck this time by how much more than I remembered it almost represents Austen pastiche (did Dodie Smith know about the three notebooks of Austen's juvenilia?).

An essential book of nonfiction - I am sure it will be superseded, but I don't think there's anything currently better that will serve as an introduction to the topic of transgender as it affects children and adolescents, and it would make a good choice for one of these "all entering first-year college students read the book and discuss" assignments: Amy Ellis Nutt, Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family. I was really impressed with this one.

Larissa MacFarquhar's Strangers Drowning (and here's a good interview with Larissa at the Guardian).

A really appealing SF novel that has a twist about HOARDING, amazingly: Emma Newman's Planetfall (not to slap a label on it, but I really like this vein of feminist science fiction - count me a fan, I will read whatever she writes now, slight shades of Jo Walton!).

M. H. Boroson, The Girl With Ghost Eyes (one of the best historical fantasies I've read for a long time - at times the culture is laid on a little thick, perhaps, but it is refreshing and appealing to see something that does not yet again rehash, say, the Heyeresque British Regency vein with a tincture of magic!).

Hester Young, The Gates of Evangeline (farfetched but extremely well-written - I wished it had been written and edited slightly more closely in line with genre fiction constraints rather than literary fiction ones, in terms of tightness of plotting, but really it's good).

Garth Nix, Newt's Emerald (fascinated by the puzzle of how Heyer's Austen pastiche voice came to have such very wide influence - in fact this taken together with Dodie Smith makes me think my Austen book needs to have a little chapter on that at the end!).

Robert Galbraith, Career of Evil (extraordinarily readable, as per Rowling's storytelling gifts, but on the artificial end of the crime fiction spectrum, and you increasingly sense that the main thing she's interested in is the developing relationship between Cormoran and Robin!).

Also very artificial but very enjoyable (there is a clue early on in the form of one of the protagonists reading Agatha Christie's Crooked House!), Peter Swanson, The Kind Worth Killing.

Christopher Buelmann, The Lesser Dead (chilling tale of ancient vampires in NYC, also very well-written).

An Expanse novella (this series is pretty much the best thing around in SF-inflected light reading!), The Vital Abyss.

David Wong, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits (Gibsonesque near-future surveillance neo-noir, with an appealing sense of absurdity).

Then I got happily dug in (this was just as I went to Cayman at the end of October) to two nicely complementary series, the first of which I've read before but are pleasantly rereadable - Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder novels, of which there are ALMOST TWENTY, a blessing - and also an interminable fantasy series, Katharine Kerr's Daggerspell and successors. The reincarnation conceit really makes these books feel as though they will go on forever, which is not entirely a good thing but convenient for travel purposes; I stalled out partway through the fifth installment and am not sure I will take it back up, but I am grateful to the series up to that point for whiling away a few hours pretty happily.

Then a palate-cleanser (Scudder was ongoing), Ed Caesar's Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon.

Melissa Olson's second boundary magic book, Boundary Lines, which I thoroughly enjoyed (she is a good writer) - and in a roughly similar vein, also well-written, Ilona Andrews' second innkeeper installment (these really are funny, I think they are fairly tongue-in-cheek), Sweep in Peace

Kristina Ohlsson's latest, Hostage, which I thought was very good (this series has picked up momentum for me, and I thought this was the best one so far).

Matthew FitzSimmons, The Short Drop (fast and enjoyable read in a genre that is not quite my favorite). (On which note, as a supplementary note for a novel that's preoccupied with diners, where have all the diners gone?)

I was in mild despair earlier as I mistakenly thought there was a new Ben Aaronovitch Rivers of London book - it turned out to my disgust to be just installment #5 of a graphic novel serial in which I have no interest! But I was happily able to console myself by downloading Robert Crais's new novel, The Promise, which passed the evening very nicely.

A few other more substantive things deserve their own posts....

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Robert Hanks on Jenny Diski's writing career. I've read pretty much everything she's published in book form - I had a Diski binge right when I first discovered her, and have followed her ever since with huge enthusiasm - I think that first novel is still really an extraordinary read, but my other favorites are her books of nonfiction (the Montaigne-esque essays in On Trying to Keep Still, the Antarctica book). We once shared a student in common, J.M.L., who confessed she thought of us as her two Jenny D.s! The ongoing cancer diary at the LRB is almost too upsetting to read (and the Lessing installments are fascinating too).

"There is no empirical reason for his gloomy attitude"

At the WSJ, Liesl Schillinger on why Knausgaard can't stop writing:
To heighten the stakes and to increase Knausgaard’s resolve, his publisher at Oktober suggested he produce the book serially, “as Dickens did,” one short volume a month, then rerelease them as a single, 1,500-page magnum opus. Knausgaard thought the idea was “fantastic.” If he missed a single deadline, he would be publicly shamed, at least in his own mind. “The risk factor was very important,” he says. “I couldn’t say, ‘I need more time.’ If you have to do it in eight weeks, you can’t care about the writing or composition; anything goes. It’s a way of making yourself free.” However, once the terror of falling behind on his deadlines had liberated him, Knausgaard wrote so many pages so quickly that he and his editor, Geir Gulliksen, realized a new format had to be devised. They and Oktober’s then-CEO, Berdahl, announced that they would publish six full-length novels, back to back: And thus, My Struggle was born. Fed up with the artifice of fiction, Knausgaard decided to use actual names and events to the greatest extent possible. “I felt like I never said what I really meant to anyone; I was trying to please everybody. I felt like a coward, and I wanted to break out of all of that.”
(Nice shot of Elaine Scarry's book The Body in Pain in one of the photos!) Here was Knausgaard at the NYTBR on reading Michel Houellebecq's latest novel.

Secret messages

The masked letter (I have an earlier one like this in my hypocrisy book!) and other steganographic ploys.

Words and miles

At the Atlantic, Nick Ripatrazone on why many writers run:
The steady accumulation of miles mirrors the accumulation of pages, and both forms of regimented exertion can yield a sense of completion and joy. Through running, writers deepen their ability to focus on a single, engrossing task and enter a new state of mind entirely—word after word, mile after mile.
One day I really am going to write a personal book about exercise....

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wheat, chaff

At the New Republic, Malcolm Harris on a new book about how to make a violin prodigy. I might have to get this one - it is a pang, it is one I would have sent to my father! My mother taught Sarah Chang for a while when she was (more notionally than actually, I feel) enrolled at Germantown Friends School - perhaps I will get a hard copy, then pass it on to her when I am done....