Sunday, April 20, 2014

it's good for your blood, dearie

Recently, the Onion spoofed an ad campaign in which Applebee’s encouraged hipsters to visit their restaurants “ironically” and middle-aged adults to make fun of hipsters. The parody describes four “with it” young folks “seriously” eating their dinner at Applebee’s while ridiculing the food, service and atmosphere. Behind them sit three sad, middle-aged adults mocking the hipsters, sarcastically saying “because I know who the latest bands are I am too cool to eat a cheeseburger without making fun of it.” Neither group is genuinely happy about their meal or station in life. The Onion’s satire points out that irony and formality have become the same thing. At one time, irony served to reveal hypocrisies, but now it simply acknowledges one’s cultural compliance and familiarity with pop trends. The art of irony has lost its vision and its edge. The rebellious posture of the past has been annexed by the very commercialism it sought to defy.

- 'David Foster Wallace was right'

reading Sunday

Sue Townsend saved my life over the weekend when I binged on ALL the Adrian Mole books, altho I think I was too distressed to catalogue them, WHOOPS. (Other people express psychic distress through dirty kitchens or lapses in personal grooming; for me, it's when my bookblogging goes to pot.) The Confessions of was really a ragbag and I didn't care quite as much for the last four books (except the "Lost" 9/11 one was fantastic), but the first two are absolute gems. But even Wilderness Years, which I thought was the weakest link, had me guffawing out loud unexpectedly as no writer does other than Pratchett. (And in a way Pratchett and Townsend are similar -- the social criticism, the liberalism, the wild flights of fantasy that are carefully elaborated rather than just flung out, and therefore are irresistibly funny.) I think I'd rank them thus:

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ -- 1600 on the old SATs, all the O-levels, Olympic gold medal, however you want to put it. Amazing. How had I never read this before? But if I'd read it before, I wouldn't've been able to read it this weekend, and might have wound up a corpse being chewed on by my cats right now, dead of sheer misery.
The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole -- only slightly less funny, which is even more amazing.
The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole, 1999-2001 -- bitterly funny.
Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction -- even more bitterly funny, and then it gets you right at the end, WHAM.
Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years -- I warmed up to this one after a while, and Adrian's fumbling attempts at parenting Rosie and Glenn are genuinely moving. Got pretty fucking sick of Pandora, tho.
Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years -- I might consider this a kind of weird authorial fanfic rather than the end of the series (haha, Angel series finale syndrome). WMD is a much better conclusion.
Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years -- the only book that was distinctly ehh. I didn't like the Love Interest appearing at the end, or the writing retreat, or nearly anything about it.
The True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole -- more a rough collection than anything else, but some bits were fun.

I also read How to Disappear Completely by Kelsey Osgood, which was amazingly awful, like a really sour, mean-spirited, unedited, overlong blog entry -- particularly when she detailed her jealousy of Marya Hornbacher not once but several times, which gave me severe second-hand embarrassment for her just reading about it. Then the back of the book informed me most of her experience as a pro writer seems to be for....blogs (Psychology Today, Random House), and much was explained. There is a book to be written about how memoirs about addiction and anorexia and alcoholism and even other diseases which don't begin with A simultaneously glorify the very illness they're supposedly proscribing. This really is not it. Not even close.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sue Townsend is saving my life right now

I am reading The Black Prince, by Iris Murdoch. I can only understand one word in ten. It is now my ambition to actually enjoy one of her books. Then I will know I am above the common herd.

- The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾

Thursday, April 17, 2014

books checked out from the library

In absolutely no particular order:

A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman, Alice Kessler-Harris
Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers, Janet Malcolm
Play it Again: Against the Impossible, Alan Rusbridger
Nothing Was the Same: A Memoir, Kay Redfield Jamison
Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations, Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky
A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano, Katie Hafner
The Book of Lost Books, Stuart Kelly
The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov
The Returned, Jason Mott 
One Doctor: Close Calls, Cold Cases, and the Mysteries of Medicine, Brendan Reilly

....and that was just the stuff available in my dinky little local branch, I haven't even started ordering from other branches or, God help them, INTERLIBRARY LOAN yet, MWAHAHAHA.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I want to start up a reading log again, only without the chirpy questions and dull format that made me abandon the last one, so this will be much more informal. I don't feel compelled to write up every book, or even go on for that long (HA, haha) at first. Let's see how it goes.

Books read this month (so far):

Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers, Janet Malcolm. Malcolm, like Kael or Sontag, is for me always interesting and irritating, simultaneously -- such subjective (and often wrong) judgments, rendered with Olympian conviction in clarion prose, so intelligent and so often deliberately wrongheaded. Malcolm's books have always been short yet spectacularly dense, like condensed matter, but this book is more of a falling-off: just about half of it is taken up with a pointless reprint of "A Girl of the Zeitgeist," Malcolm's adoring thirty-year-old lengthy profile of Ingrid Sischy (what everyone remembers from this piece is the flattering yet condemning description of her chopping tomatoes. Only Malcolm). It's not even updated with an epilogue (in fact, some reviewers don't seem to realize it's from 1986). There are some real gems here -- "A House of One's Own," about Vanessa Bell and her apparent melding of domesticity and pure art, "Salinger's Cigarettes," a reconsideration of Franny and Zooey, and of course Malcolm's aggravated attack on the giant Arbus retrospective (which Zoe Heller writes about amazingly, and why aren't you reading that right now?) -- but the majority of pieces don't quite come off. A pallid portrayal of Thomas Struth, now famous for photographing the Queen, and some weak, brief considerations of Gene Porter-Stratton, Edward Weston, nude photography, the Gossip Girl books (for Christ's sake) and William Shawn's son's memoir, are all jumbled together without much structural or thematic connection. The last three bits (eulogies for Shawn, Joseph Mitchell, and a very weird disavowal of autobiography) are, plainly, squibs. It's dismaying to find stuff in a Malcolm collection which would fit in one of those late everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-plus-the-plumber's-crack Updike holdalls. In fine, this isn't any better than the equally disappointing late Malcolm works, Iphigenia in Forest Hills and The Crime of Sheila McGough. But I could (and have) read the Bell and Salinger pieces over and over again. I just wish they were in a book worthy of them.

(I don't even know what to say about the title piece, it just went on forever and made no sense, and I believe it was planned that way and it's so coy and unrevealing and Everyone else loves it, apparently. Good for them. I am alone in wishing that she'd expanded the piece on Vanessa into something like Two Lives or The Silent Woman, sigh.)

The Grave Tattoo, Val McDermid. I read this mainly because Beatrice mentioned it. I had the exact opposite problem that every other critic/reader did with this book: too much modern era, not enough Wordsworth literary history! Also, the two murder storylines, in the past and the present, really didn’t have anything to do with each other at all. Nevertheless, a fun read, and much less upsetting/problematic than the Tony Hill books, none of which I am ever ever reading again (I think I got through two and a half before giving up and running screaming).

Updike, Adam Begley. I have a much longer post planned about this which I will probably never write despite having two pages of notes on it, haha! //cries -- It's a lot better than the giant Cheever and Carver biographies, which, again, everyone loved but me, in that it does attempt to show you some connection between Updike's life and art rather than just detailing how the subject was a complete asshole who, oh yeah, somehow wrote some great stuff on the side. It was quite well-written, except when the author repeatedly indulged himself in some annoying faux-Nabokovian Updike alliteration (see what I did there), and he falls down completely on the question of sexism, and is insulting about feminist critics/criticism/anything feminist. This doesn't happen until fairly late in the book, though. It's much too short and was I think written ENTIRELY without any contribution at all from Updike's second wife, but nevertheless it's still pretty good.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan. Sadly, truly overrated. You have to hesitate about criticizing the writing style of someone who lived through major brain trauma (or at least, I do) but the accolades about how wonderful her writing was just annoyed me. Despite the hype there's no real sense of her doing "investigative reporting" on her own life, unlike, say, The Night of the Gun, because she just goes ahead and fills in chronologically with third-person perspectives mostly gleaned from her parents.

-- That's not even half of what I read but suddenly I'm very tired so I'll just wrap this up with:

I'm right now reading Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, by James L. Swanson, which took some gentle ribbing, as I recall, when it first came out for being kind of an action adventure movie of a book. It's certainly not well-written -- the style ranges from clunky to florid to pedestrian, often within the same paragraph ("now that Booth had slowed down, the pain in his left leg bloomed under the moonlight....relief trickled down the wounded assassin's spine") -- but hell, I like some action adventure movies (we just saw Skyfall on Netflix streaming), and more to the point, this is one of those stories where the events themselves are so gripping the author doesn't have to do much more than just get out of the way. It's our great murder ballad, the tragic wound at the heart of our country, and probably would remain riveting even if acted out with finger puppets.

Booth's calling card - Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Ambition - Lincoln's Life Mask

has Kakutani really not read a Faulkner bio?

After a dear friend sent me Mona Simpson's Casebook and I was rummaging around on the internet for reviews (LOVED Anywhere But Here, heard her read from the then-just-published The Lost Father at Prairie Lights, haven't liked anything she's done since) I found Michiko Kakutani's review of A Regular Guy:
When she mentions one night that Shakespeare wasn't rich, he snaps back: ''Who remembers Shakespeare's daughter?'
For which the obvious reference is a much-quoted line by Jill Faulkner, Count No 'Count's daughter:
I went to him – the only time I ever did – and said, ‘Please don’t start drinking.’ And he was already well on his way, and he turned to me and said, ‘You know, no one remembers Shakespeare’s child.’ I never asked him again.
I would expect the famous book reviewer for, you know, the NEW YORK FUCKING TIMES to at least pick up the parallel, but I guess not. Maybe she ran out of review space.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Intake Interview," Franz Wright

What is today’s date?

Who is the President?

How great a danger do you pose, on a scale of one to ten?

What does “people who live in glass houses” mean?

Every symphony is a suicide postponed, true or false?

Should each individual snowflake be held accountable for the avalanche?

Name five rivers.

What do you see yourself doing in ten minutes?

How about some lovely soft Thorazine music?

If you could have half an hour with your father, what would you say to him?

What should you do if I fall asleep?

Are you still following in his mastodon footsteps?

What is the moral of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”?

What about his Everest shadow?

Would you compare your education to a disease so rare no one else has ever had it, or the deliberate extermination of indigenous populations?

Which is more puzzling, the existence of suffering or its frequent absence?

Should an odd number be sacrificed to the gods of the sky, and an even to those of the underworld, or vice versa?

Would you visit a country where nobody talks?

What would you have done differently?

Why are you here?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

February 9 1964

James Agee in answer to a survey from the Partisan Review, 1939

Have you found it possible to make a living by writing the sort of thing you want to, and without the aid of such crutches as teaching and editorial work? Do you think there is any place in our present economic system for literature as a profession? 

No; no living. Nor do I think there is any place in our etcetera for "literature" as a "profession," unless you mean for professional litterateurs, who are a sort of high-class spiritual journalist and the antichrist of all good work. Nor do I think your implied desire that under a "good system" there would be such a place for real "writers" is to be respected or other than deplored. A good artist is a deadly enemy of society; and the most dangerous thing that can happen to an enemy, no matter how cynical, is to become a beneficiary. No society, no matter how good, could be mature enough to support a real artist without mortal danger to that artist.

Friday, April 11, 2014

a shitty superpower

Believe it or not, they knew about your mood long before you returned from the fridge, flopped on the couch and let out that long, beer-tainted sigh. It's another defense mechanism (notice a pattern here?) that they picked up years before they even knew of your existence. When Mom or Dad's moods started to fluctuate, bad shit happened. Over time, the kids learned that those moods always had telltale signs that predicted their eruptions. Ash that preceded the lava.

At first you take notice, even if it's subconsciously, that before Dad explodes, he starts rubbing his temples. Big, obvious things like that. But over time, you can't help but pick up on more subtle signs. He lets out a very soft sigh when it's going to be just a quick stick-and-move belittling session. He fidgets with his lighter when it's going to be a really bad one. The skill is developed so that when you see it happening, you can either brace yourself for the train wreck, or you can make yourself scarce so you don't have to deal with it.

Just like any skill, the more you use it, the better you get. Over the years, it becomes so woven into the fabric of your personality, you couldn't remove it without completely breaking down who you are as a person and rebuilding the cloth from scratch. So it's rarely ever a case of the person just trying to smother their partner with attention out of some sense of insecurity. It's force of habit. Alarms are going off in their subconscious that shit is about to hit the fan, and they need to defuse that bomb before it goes off. And anything can trip the alarm. The slightest change in tone of voice. The most subtle shift in eyebrows before you speak. The way you're standing. A simple change in your daily routine. The subtle way you look them in the eyes and say, "I'm about to physically punch you directly in the face with my fist. Here I go."

It sounds like a damn superpower, but it can be a real problem in relationships, because the constant questioning and attempts to fix the other person's bad mood can be suffocating. Every person needs to be allowed room to vent their stress and frustrations, but that thought scares the ever-loving shit out of the person who lived through a dysfunctional family. Because he's used to those very things being followed by aggression and hate.

- John Cheese

Sunday, April 6, 2014

it only plays the songs that no one's asking for

actual conversation that just happened in our actual house

"HAH, the cat vomit would have described a parabolic _arc_! Don't mess with me, I took conic geometry! I bet you think Apollonius was Prince's girlfriend!"

Thursday, April 3, 2014


It makes me sad to think about how much I became a ghost in my circle of friends in the last few years. Group dinners, vacations, brunches, shopping trips, nights out at bars and clubs just became less and less a part of my existence until most of the time nobody really bothered to try to include me. I never blamed any of my friends for that; you can only decline invitations because you're literally too poor to participate for so long until people just stop asking. I'm lucky, or perhaps unlucky enough depending on how you look at it, to have some incredibly successful friends who worked really hard and put in the effort to become very well paid in their respective jobs. It's not so much that you envy your friends' success or are jealous of them, it's more that being around people who you consider your peers who all managed to "make it" when you yourself continually stumble and fall makes you question whether you really even belong with that crowd. Being the only fuck up in the room becomes a pretty dark cloud that you'd rather not expose anyone to after a while.

- Christian Gabriel

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

almost good enough to make up for that whole 'Booker-before-she-was-thirty' thing

The reader who is outraged by being “forced” to look up an unfamiliar word — characterising the writer as a tyrant, a torturer — is a consumer outraged by inconvenience and false advertising. Advertising relies on the fiction that the personal happiness of the consumer is valued above all other things; we are reassured in every way imaginable that we, the customers, are always right.

The idea that a work of literature might require something of its reader in order to be able to provide something to its reader is equivalent, in a consumer context, to the idea that a cut-price mobile phone might require a very expensive charger in order for it to function.

- Eleanor Catton

You need to go read that right now, it's awesome (even if I did get turned onto it by Sady Doyle ((she dissed BPAL and praised Hannibal in the space of like two damn days, and that was it for me and Sady Doyle, even before the "Joanna Newsom comes from Tori Amos" article)) ).

(Which is sad, because in its heyday, Tigerbeatdown was amazing. But now she's writing 'think pieces' on How I Met Your Mother and Hannibal, and....yeah. A lot of women who wrote amazing blogs in the 00's are now completely shuttering their personal sides in the twenty-teens. It's really depressing.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

from the biography by Jeffrey Meyers

Trying to bolster the pathetic sales of his books, Scott bought all the copies he could find in Los Angeles and gave them away to friends. Almost everyone who writes about Fitzgerald mentions that during the last year of his life he sold only forty copies of his books and received a royalty of $13.13. But no one has noticed that his book sales were virtually the same at the end of the 1920s as they were at the end of the 1930s. In 1927, two years after he had published The Great Gatsby, his books earned only $153; in 1929 they earned $32. Most of his income, throughout his entire career, came from magazine stories and screenwriting, rather than book sales.

have you ever felt yourself in motion

April 1st, 2002

.....over 10 years ago now. Wow. (I keep thinking I should get myself a fancy-ass 10-year coin, but also feel a little superstitious about it. Also there's something a little sad about buying coins for yourself, but that's just one of the problems with being a shut-in, thank you agoraphobia.)

Also hadn't realized at the time I chose the date (no, I swear) that it was so close to Cobain's suicide. All the "holy shit, it's been 20 years" pieces make me think two things: oh God, I am so fucking old, and oh God, he was so young. He was barely twenty-seven! The baby. (Insert inevitable Lehrer's 'When Keats was my age, he'd been dead five years' gag.) 

I guess it's a measure of old age that even though I know from the inside what that kind of suicidal pain feels like, it's horrifying now to imagine anyone cutting themselves off that young. But when you're that sick you can't understand that burning out and fading away are the same damn thing, in the end.

Wasted, inebriated You don't want her, but you brought her here





books read in April 2014

Fiction is in red.

53. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography, Jeffrey Meyers
54. Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain, Charles Cross
55. The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison
56. Life after Death, Damien Echols
57. Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, Mara Leveritt
58. The Grave Tattoo, Val McDermid 
59. Updike, Adam Begley 
60. Forty-one False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers, Janet Malcolm (WTF was up with reprinting "A Girl of The Zeitgeist"? To fill out the pages?)
61. Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, James L. Swanson
62. Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, Christopher Fowler
63. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾, Sue Townsend (four stars. Five stars. ALL THE STARS. Forever)
64.  How to Disappear Completely, Kelsey Osgood (wow, that was truly terrible)

Sunday, March 23, 2014


My husband is scheduled for* his second pharmacological nuclear stress test,** which might herald his fourth angioplasty (at forty-six). Good thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

*And of course it's at eight in the morning. Why? Because cardiologists are ROBINS, I guess, I have no idea.

**The preparation for which includes no food for 6 hours beforehand, no caffeine for TWENTY-FOUR HOURS beforehand, and, weirdly, no tanning sprays.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ocean Vuong, "Eurydice"

It's more like the sound
a doe makes
when the arrowhead
replaces the day
with an answer to the rib's
hollowed hum. We saw it coming
but kept walking through the hole
in the garden. Because the leaves
were bright green & the fire
only a pink brushstroke
in the distance. It's not
about the light—but how dark
it makes you depending
on where you stand.
Depending on where you stand
his name can appear like moonlight
shredded in a dead dog's fur.
His name changed when touched
by gravity. Gravity breaking
our kneecaps just to show us
the sky. We kept saying Yes—
even with all those birds.
Who would believe us
now? My voice cracking
like bones inside the radio.
Silly me. I thought love was real
& the body imaginary.
But here we are—standing
in the cold field, him calling
for the girl. The girl
beside him. Frosted grass
snapping beneath her hooves.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Henry James to Grace Norton, July 28th, 1883

I don't know why we live—the gift of life comes to us from I don't know what source or for what purpose; but I believe we can go on living for the reason that (always of course up to a certain point) life is the most valuable thing we know anything about and it is therefore presumptively a great mistake to surrender it while there is any yet left in the cup. In other words consciousness is an illimitable power, and though at times it may seem to be all consciousness of misery, yet in the way it propagates itself from wave to wave, so that we never cease to feel, though at moments we appear to, try to, pray to, there is something that holds one in one's place, makes it a standpoint in the universe which it is probably good not to forsake. You are right in your consciousness that we are all echoes and reverberations of the same, and you are noble when your interest and pity as to everything that surrounds you, appears to have a sustaining and harmonizing power. Only don't, I beseech you, generalize too much in these sympathies and tendernesses—remember that every life is a special problem which is not yours but another's, and content yourself with the terrible algebra of your own. Don't melt too much into the universe, but be as solid and dense and fixed as you can. We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live. Sorrow comes in great waves—no one can know that better than you—but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we after a manner see.

'Try To Praise The Mutilated World'

Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

- Adam Zagajewski

Saturday, March 8, 2014

from yet another email to K.

"I meant to just look something up in the new Penguin ed of Hill House (which has a DREADFUL intro by Laura Miller in which she says Jackson is like James -- JAMES!) and began reading it and kept reading it unstoppably hardly even able to tear myself away from it to drink tea or go to the bathroom til I had read it all. God damn. She was golden, wasn't she. She just flew."

Monday, March 3, 2014

books read in March 2014

Fiction is in red.

40. Flanders, Patricia Anthony
41. Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby, Sarah Churchwell (one of the worst goddamn book titles ever)
42. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson (first reread in a good long while)
43. Life Among the Savages, Shirley Jackson (ditto)
44. The Memory of Blood, Christopher Fowler
45. The Invisible Code, Christopher Fowler
46. Raven Black, Ann Cleeves
47. White Nights, Ann Cleeves
48. Dead Water, Ann Cleeves 
49. Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir), Jenny Lawson
50. Hatching Twitter, Nick Bilton
51. The Fever, Megan Abbott (really disappointing) 
52. Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites, Kate Christensen (I was....expecting a lot more about food, frankly) (altho it did kill a couple of hours in the Cardiovascular Diagnostic Imaging Center) 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Rozencrantz & Guildenstern Are....TAs

This is a very old piece of writing I'm still rather unreasonably proud of.


ROZ: What are we doing again?

GUIL: (not looking up) Grading.

ROZ: Oh. (pause) Grading what?

GUIL: Student papers.

ROZ: Oh, these were....written by....human beings?

GUIL: Whom did you think they were written by, then?

ROZ: I thought they were failed Turing tests.


ROZ: Do you want to flip coins?


ROZ: Do you want to re-enact Waiting for Godot?


ROZ: Do you want to grade papers?


ROZ: I'm going mad.

GUIL: ....Going?

ROZ: All right, I've gone mad. What exactly does this mean? "From the dawn of time, there have been two contrasting society changes, one embodied forth in the Ten Commandments, the other shaped by the Hammurabi Code. One is a pillar, the other is a -- "

GUIL: (not looking up again) I told you, it's a student paper.

ROZ: But these are unintelligible! Incoherent! Barely legible! And I didn't say ninety percent of this stuff! And the ten percent I did say is so, so -- terribly garbled and distorted and misunderstood --

GUIL: What part of "student paper" didn't you understand when you signed up for the gig?

ROZ: I thought it was going to be like Stand and Deliver....or Goodbye Mr Chips....or To Sir, With Love.... or --

GUIL: You're not telling me you based a large part of your career, indeed your life, on....Hollywood versions of overly romanticized and absolutely unrealistic visions of pedagogy?

ROZ: Fine, all right, what was it for you then?


GUIL: Dead Poets Society.

ROZ: D'you think these'd get better if we played Beethoven at th --


ROZ: So where's Hamlet....?

GUIL: Teaching. "Strategies of Rhetoric in Late Lacan, Early Derrida and Middle Maimonides."

ROZ: And the O-girl?

GUIL: Departmental chair, Women's Studies.

ROZ: And Claudius is....

GUIL: Gertie got a chair in Tennessee, Feminist History, so they found a gig for him there in Poli Sci.

ROZ: Oh.


ROZ: Well, this certainly isn't heaven, and....I don't think hell would be quite so dull, --

GUIL: (not looking up) No.

ROZ: (piqued) Well how d'you know, then?

GUIL: (still not looking up) The souls in purgatory know they're going to be saved.


The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially 'escapist', nor 'fugitive'. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

- J.R.R. Tolkien

Saturday, March 1, 2014

finished yesterday and I already miss her

and she did

For some, the circus element has replaced the central activity- in a fleeting visit to one of the best funded creative writing schools in the world I met young people who seriously discussed how they would stand up to the stress of a book tour before they had even written a book, let alone had one accepted for publication. In Canada this spring- yes, at a festival- I met a successful young writer who had been completely confused by the demands of her publicist. Her first novel involved an undertaker, and she had been asked to pose as a corpse in a coffin. Should she have said no? Was it demeaning to agree to go for the photo opportunity? As I tried to assure her in my elder statesman way that she had the right to say no, I recalled that a press photographer once long ago asked me to jump off the top of a heaped pile of copies of the Oxford Companion to English Literature. And I did it.

- Margaret Drabble