Friday, October 09, 2015

Think big

Diana Nyad takes Proust's In Search of Lost Time as her life model!

Good teeth

Lucy Kellaway lunches with Jonathan Franzen for the FT. I am laughing, I have been a Franzen defender in my time (his books are better than 95% at least of those with a reasonable claim to be worth reading, why trash him?), but he does have a nearly unprecedented ability to say things that make him sound utterly insufferable!

I bogged down halfway through Purity (might finish it this weekend) - the East German scenes seem to me embarrassingly bad, and the limited range of characters and emotions (especially female characters and female emotions) struck me more here than with his last couple books, but it is certainly well above the bar of basic readability...

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Towel love

I've had this tab open for a while - a very nice piece about a favorite novel of mine, Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. (Also a great fan of the dalmatian books!)

Dimples and dismay

Mr. Foote's other leg. I wish I could see this - someone has to bring the production to NYC! Simon Russell Beale is a genius - I saw him in Jumpers, I really thought nobody could have topped Paul Eddington in that role and yet that is exactly what Beale managed to do....

The Zone

An excerpt from Voices from Chernobyl at n+1.

Lost sound

At the LRB, a great piece by Colm Tóibín on two new books about the eighteenth-century castrati:
The French soprano Emma Calvé wrote in her autobiography about hearing the castrato Domenico Mustafà in 1891: ‘He had an exquisite high tenor voice, truly angelic, neither masculine nor yet feminine in type – deep, subtle, poignant in its vibrant intensity … He had certain curious notes which he called his fourth voice – strange, sexless tones, superhuman, uncanny!’ Another writer wrote of a castrato voice that it was ‘so soft, and ravishingly mellow, that nothing can better represent it than the Flute-stops of some Organs’, which themselves were ‘not unlike the gentle Fallings of Water’.

Nonetheless, as Feldman writes, ‘we still lack access to the sound of the castrato’s voice, save some early recordings of the last castrato.’ It is as though we had the letters of Wordsworth and Coleridge and some reviews of their work, or some wonderful descriptions of Impressionist painting, but not the things themselves – the poems or the paintings.

A bucket of meat

Excited to see that Svetlana Alexievich has been given the Nobel Prize for Literature. I've only read one of her books, but it's really one of the most memorable things I've ever read (I have a long quotation from it in my style book): here were my thoughts when I read Voices from Chernobyl almost ten years ago.

Friday, October 02, 2015

The mind's construction in the face

At Vanity Fair, Francis Wheen on the life and work of Josephine Tey.

Distress, deviance

At the Guardian, Olivia Laing on two new biographies of Lou Reed.

"Three hot pancakes lavishly coated in Grand Marnier syrup and orange peel"

The FT lunches with Marian Goodman, site registration required. (I am not at all in that world except because of having done that show of Tino Sehgal's called This Situation at MG's gallery - she hosted a big dinner for us all at a restaurant before the show opened, and my sense of her corresponds quite closely to what is presented in this article.)

Pang of missing my father, who would have been interested to see this one as he followed TS's career closely - and a terrible pang earlier today as B. and I watched the (hugely enjoyable) movie The Martian. The scene where the lead character's fix-it MacGyverism involves using hexadecimal code to program the camera to communicate through 360-degree swiveling was so much what he would have found enjoyably preposterous that I found myself looking to my side to see what he thought!

Thursday, October 01, 2015


Via Tyler Cowen, Yelp for people (the article is by Caitlin Dewey for the Washington Post).

Gay, Rivers, Beacon

At the TLS, Min Wild on Margaret Doody's new book about Jane Austen's names:
Doody’s argument typically works like this: “in an ‘Emma Woodhouse’ of Hart-Field we find reference to Emma Hart (Lady Hamilton) and to Queen Emma, to the rich family of Watson-Woodhouse and to a woodshed, to perfection and ego, to queenship and hardship”. Later, possible significations of “Hartfield” are forensically turned over: a white hart was Richard II’s emblem, there are White Hart pubs, and hearts can be lost, but the name itself is ersatz and “sounds made-up”, Doody explains. Fishing with her in these waters can feel thankless, and sometimes dull, but an acutely perceptive point may suddenly emerge. There are no fields or deer in tepid Mr Woodhouse’s faded Hartfield: “it is like a memory of the country”.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Light reading round-up

As always, the peaks and troughs of joy and anxiety - I will never again find a good novel to read, this novel's amazing, this novel's OVER and what am I going to read next?!?

Some Nordic crime fiction: Jussi Adler-Olsen's new Department Q installment (I can't get a handle on the tone of these, but they're not bad); two pleasantly bland Icelandic crime novels by Yrsa Sigurdardottir; Camilla Lackberg, The Drowning (well-written but wildly implausible, and I am annoyed to realize I have come very late to this series, I would have been better off starting at the beginning of the sequence but I didn't like this one so much that I really want to go back to the same characters years earlier); Kristina Ohlsson's The Unwanted (the best of this batch I think, and I am going to order the next one right away).

A fun novel in Sandman Slim vein, Chris Holm's The Collector. (Covers are wasted on me, but this design is very charming, and the book was well-written - second installment already downloaded.)

A high fantasy novel I found remarkably good (hugely impatient now for next segment of story!): Seth Dickinson, The Traitor Baru Cormorant. So good! (Robert Redick is the other author in not dissimilar vein that I've read recently with comparable enjoyment.)

And two absolutely delightful novels in a subgenre that's a favorite of mine, near-future Gibsonesque surveillance-society noir: Paul McAuley, Something Coming Through and Edward Ashton, Three Days in April. I thought both of these were extremely good - fresh voices, appealing characters, funny and interesting writing. One has aliens, one doesn't, but the literary DNA is similar in either case....

Mail order

Economics of the dark web. (Shades of Lee Child's new Jack Reacher novel!)