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Preview: Light reading

Light reading



"Too much traffic"



Updated: 2017-05-27T00:53:38.769-04:00

 



Life in water

2017-04-17T10:54:54.428-04:00

Lidia Yuknavitch the lifelong swimmer. (Courtesy of Dave Lull.)



Sets of questions

2017-04-17T10:47:39.594-04:00

Rebecca Solnit's life as a writer. Pull quote: "Lots of people want to be me now, but nobody wants to be me 20 years ago when I was living on $15,000 a year."



James, Jimmy, Jamie

2017-04-17T10:44:47.857-04:00

Ed Pavlic's 2015 Boston Review piece on James Baldwin's letters to his brother David. Wish I could read the one about Just Above My Head and real-life family members!



Checking in

2017-04-17T10:40:08.574-04:00

I am determined to reclaim the blog as a place where at the very least I log what I've been reading! Action prompted in particular by trying to download content from Facebook (I am just getting started on a short piece called "Reading Gibbon in the Time of Trump" and want to see which Decline and Fall bits I posted on which days - one of the ways in which Facebook is much inferior to the old-fashioned blog!) and remembering why it would have been better if I'd just posted those bits here. Also thinking quite a bit, around and after the two-year anniversary of my father's death, on the fact that it may not just have been social media that leached the energy away from my blogging vim; it was also very much the nature of my relationship with my father that we shared links and talked about bits we'd seen online, and my avoidance of the FT weekend magazine for instance seems part and parcel of the same phenomenon. Also, keeping so many tabs open is causing Chrome to fail - a tech guy at work showed me a good tool that lets you save a whole host of open tabs onto a single page of links, but really clearing tabs by posting what interested me would be a smarter way....



Wrestling with angels

2017-02-05T12:51:38.988-05:00

I see the last few posts here are mistakes, entries that should have gone to the other blog! Which I keep up very faithfully, only it is boring to read (insanely repetitive, as training must be!). Still overdue a light reading update and a year-end best post, I would like to keep the blog going to that extent but I've been too busy with other things: especially, finishing the Austen book (and juggling the other work commitments that you can only put on hold for so long). Leaving for the airport for Rome in a couple of hours, got some last bits of packing still to do and library books to return, but thought I'd blog a few sentences from J.D. Daniels' very good little book of essays The Correspondence. I think it may have been a mistake to include the two pieces originally written as short stories - they feel different and they don't work as well as the essays. But even so it's a great little volume. Here are a couple paragraphs I especially liked, for obvious reasons:
I took eight weeks off to squat and dead-lift heavy and eat everything that wans't nailed down, and I gained thirty-five pounds and had to buy new pants. Then I went back to sparring and I broke a guy's ribs. That was nice.

And then I did it all again, the way you find yourself eating dinner again the next night; the way you have sex, if you do, again; the way too much to drink was barely enough. It didn't end, it doesn't end, and if I knew what to say next, this wouldn't be the end.



Short run!

2016-12-24T12:36:27.065-05:00

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



Run!

2016-12-23T12:09:24.163-05:00

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



Light reading update

2016-12-05T07:05:48.515-05:00

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 t[...]



Minor work update

2016-11-18T04:36:07.835-05:00

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!
(image)
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Packing for an English sabbatical

2016-11-06T07:42:17.567-05:00

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 night ruminations

2016-11-05T17:29:08.712-04:00

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!



Work update

2016-11-03T08:33:07.864-04:00

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!)[...]



"The best fruit in England"

2016-10-22T15:58:53.797-04:00

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 evening snippet

2016-10-15T15:48:45.470-04:00

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!



Fast running

2016-10-05T15:49:41.543-04:00

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!)




Light reading update

2016-09-18T23:07:58.777-04:00

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? [...]



Criss-cross

2016-09-18T22:50:40.303-04:00

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

2016-09-18T19:55:54.298-04:00

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"!



School books

2016-09-10T18:39:37.624-04:00

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

2016-09-11T10:38:55.832-04:00

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.)[...]



Gibboniana

2016-08-22T11:52:05.069-04:00

What makes a sentence great?  Thanks to Sam Haselby for inviting me to write this one!






Style book now in paperback!

2016-08-17T15:40:44.395-04:00





Conjectural histories

2016-08-15T18:27:11.982-04:00

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

2016-08-22T11:52:28.725-04:00

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.