Sunday, June 23, 2013

start with a sentence

And he said a thing I never forgot: that often books started for him with a sentence, which he knew contained many other sentences.

- Salman Rushdie on Joseph Heller, quoted in Erica Heller's Yossarian Slept Here

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


[Gertrude] once told [Alice] that when she was young she had read so much, read from the Elizabethans to the moderns, that she was terribly uneasy lest some day she would be without anything to read. For years this fear haunted her but in one way and another although she always reads and reads she seems always to find more to read.

- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

hard apples

 The always thought-provoking Mara Collins wrote a post inspired by this essay, which in turn led me to Barthelme.

And still my brain will lay charges at my feet: accuses me of thinking I’m funny when I’m not, of being hopelessly self-absorbed, too judgmental, too needy, too aloof. I want to be perfect so everyone loves me. So I must have a comprehensive list of the ways I’m not perfect, things I can eliminate one by one . The want-to-be-perfect-so-everyone-loves-me is so distorting it starts to underlie everything I do, disrupt my reasons for doing anything–things that I have legitimate reasons for doing, self-care and interests I pursue: all corrupted. What’s more, it disregards all evidence that I am, in fact, loved. How discourteous is that, to think that people who love me are the ones I have fooled? 


I’ve often thought that the single most devastating cyberattack a diabolical and anarchic mind could design would not be on the military or financial sector but simply to simultaneously make every e-mail and text ever sent universally public. It would be like suddenly subtracting the strong nuclear force from the universe; the fabric of society would instantly evaporate, every marriage, friendship and business partnership dissolved. Civilization, which is held together by a fragile web of tactful phrasing, polite omissions and white lies, would collapse in an apocalypse of bitter recriminations and weeping, breakups and fistfights, divorces and bankruptcies, scandals and resignations, blood feuds, litigation, wholesale slaughter in the streets and lingering ill will. 


"Get up," Hilda said. "I'm sorry I said that." 
"You told the truth," said Rebecca. 
"Yes, it was the truth," Hilda admitted. 
"You didn't tell me the truth in the beginning. In the beginning, you said it was beautiful." 
"I was telling you the truth, in the beginning. I did think it was beautiful. Then." 
This "then," the ultimate word in Hilda's series of three brief sentences, is one of the most pain-inducing words in the human vocabulary, when used in this sense. Departed time! And the former conditions that went with it! How is human pain to be measured? But remember that Hilda, too... It is correct to feel for Rebecca in this situation, but, reader, neither can Hilda's position be considered an enviable one, for truth, as Bergson knew, is a hard apple, whether one is throwing it or catching it. 
"What remains?" Rebecca said stonily. 
"I can love you in spite of--" 
Do I want to be loved in spite of? Do you? Does anyone? But aren't we all, to some degree? Aren't there important parts of all of us which must be, so to say, gazed past? I turn a blind eye to that aspect of you, and you turn a blind eye to that aspect of me, and with these blind eyes eyeball-to-eyeball, to use an expression from the early 1960s, we continue our starched and fragrant lives.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

portrait of the reader as a middle-aged woman

Right now hesitating at the moment between (or wait, it's more than two, should it be among) (or amongst for maximum Pretentiousness Points) --

Angelica Lost and Found, Russell Hoban (his last novel and I read the first page and fell in love so have been stupidly PUTTING OFF reading it, what the hell)

Squaring the Circle, Le Guin's translation of a translation of Gheorghe Sasarman

Matthew Cox's novels (poor guy)

Wolf Solent, which A.N.W. mentioned in his horrible book on John Bayley Irish Murdoch

Charles Dickens in Love, next up in the (informal) desk queue

.....instead I reread about 20 pp of Conradi's good yet obviously purposely-vague-in-places and downright censored biography of IM while lying down and fell asleep for about five hours. GAH.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

literary links (staying AWAY from Tumblr)

Elizabeth Showalter on captivity narratives: Although modern Gothic novels narrated by psychopathic men, like John Fowles’s thriller “The Collector” (1963), have inspired actual crimes, the genre of the captivity narrative is very different. Rather than focusing obsessively on women’s helplessness, sexual vulnerability and terror, these books are testaments to women’s courage, resourcefulness and strength.

The Great (Gay) Novelist You’ve Never Heard Of: Great war novels inevitably follow great wars, and in literary circles following World War II, everyone was wondering what would be the successors to “A Farewell to Arms” and “All Quiet on the Western Front” — and who would write them. But when John Horne Burns, age 29, in his small dormitory suite at the Loomis School in Windsor, Conn., on the night of April 23, 1946 (Shakespeare’s birthday, at that), finished “The Gallery” — “I fell across my Underwood and wept my heart out,” he later recalled — he was convinced he had done just that, and more. “ ‘The Gallery,’ I fear, is one of the masterpieces of the 20th century,” he wrote a friend. 

Invisible Men: GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — The prison library here is housed in a prefabricated building behind chain-link fencing and razor wire inside Camp Delta, an older, largely disused wing of the complex. Inside, the place has the feel of a branch library, with several rooms of books divided by language and genre — but its patrons may not browse the stacks. Instead, the chief librarian, a civilian who asks to be identified as “Milton” for security reasons, or an aide fills plastic bins with about 50 books and takes them to each cellblock once a week. If they obey prison rules, the 166 detainees may peer at the spines through the slots in their doors and check out two titles at a time, or make specific requests.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Murdoch does Austen

'Pride and Prejudice as rewritten by IM would probably make Mr Collins into an agonised atheist priest, perhaps having an affair with Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lizzie Bennet would surely discover that Mr Darcy was homosexual and in love with Wickham, which is why he intervened in the elopement of that young man with Lydia....'

- A.N. Wilson, Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her

riddle of the labyrinth

What had the residents of this ancient culture written about? How had they lived? And perhaps most evocative: Was it humanly possible to decipher an unknown script in an unknown language?

That last question drives Fox's narrative and makes her book a thrill even for people who know or care little about ancient Mediterranean culture. "The Riddle of the Labyrinth" is, above all, an exploration of the limits of the human mind. It's a tale of obsession and endurance and the high price that sometimes must be paid for forging into new territory -- even if that territory is intellectual rather than physical.


fun with metrics

Goodreads TBR

Week's top albums from

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"I can't flip"

She turned to the diary, mostly because it was the only writing that did not make her so blocked that her arm grew rigid and she literally could not move her pen, which happened now when she attempted to write fiction. Robert tried to help by getting her an assignment to write an article on astrology for Vogue. She thought she wrote it "lightly," but Robert thought it not "flippant" enough. "You must flip!" he insisted. "I can't flip," she replied sadly, and abandoned it.

- Deirdre Blair, Anaïs Nin

....poor Anaïs, stuck with her unsympathetic women biographers. I can't flip, either.

Monday, June 10, 2013

what I'm reading

It's a beautiful book -- great descriptions, and quite an act of ventriloquism -- but so achingly sad. Everyone's trapped, and remains so.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

most assuredly

As the most successful English woman painter of her time, Margaret Carpenter received regular critical acclaim, especially for her portraits of women and children, and ‘far surpassed in merit most of her contemporary portrait-painters’ (Frith, 3.420). That she was able also to bring up a family is a tribute to her character and determination. Had she not been a woman, she would ‘most assuredly’ have gained election to the Royal Academy (Art Journal, 6).

-- ODNB, Carpenter [née Geddes], Margaret Sarah (1793–1872), portrait and genre painter

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

literary links (get thee behind me, Tumblr!)

Original Forbes article that inspired Let Us Now Praise Famous Men published by Melville House: “With the book, we have a much better map of him writing ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,’ “ said John Summers, who edited “Cotton Tenants” and printed an excerpt from the article in a literary journal he edits, The Baffler. I grew up on Famous Men, it was actually one of my childhood picturebooks. I'm totally going to buy this.

The riddle of the labyrinth: Ms. Fox is attentive to touching traces of idiosyncratic humanity, past and ancient: The church pamphlets and library slips Kober cut up to serve as index cards during the paper shortages of World War II; the “scribal doodles” — a bull, a man, a maze — found on the tablets; the mark a Cretan scribe made when erasing a character on wet clay with his thumb all those centuries ago. “To look at the tablets even now is to be in the presence of other people — living, thinking, literate people,” she writes.  I think I'm going to read this next, I already love Alice.

William Denby dead at 90: He once told The Bloomsbury Review that he recognized his uncertain standing among some critics. “I believed, as I still do, that a black writer has the same kind of mind that writers have had all through time,” he said. “He can imagine any world he wants to imagine.” 

TLS review of the Annotated Frankenstein. ....Wolfson and Levao show that the first edition of Frankenstein of 1818 was packaged as a philosophic novel. Published anonymously, and dedicated to William Godwin, it features more references to the Prometheus legend and Paradise Lost than to such Gothic tropes as perverse sexuality and spectral hauntings. The monster may be stitched together from human and animal parts, yet he is more memorable for being an autodidact who pleads for affection: “his humanity is the most surprising, most disturbing, and ultimately most moving aspect of his character”. I NEED this book....yes! Yes I do. 

deathbed reading

Was reminded yesterday of John Irving's saying he was saving up Our Mutual Friend for his deathbed:

Of course this is madness: I am thinking of a 19th-century deathbed scene, where I am given proper warning that the end is near, and thus I am permitted to surround myself with friends and family....Violence and the unforeseen accident are the late 20th-century equivalents of the deathbed scene; even my doctor friends discourage me from thinking that I will necessarily be allowed the time to read it.

(One suspects Irving has never attended the long dying of, say, someone suffering from AIDS in the 1980s. BUT ANYWAY.) What a grisly question! I loved it of course and have been thinking of it ever since. What book would you read on your deathbed?

For me it would probably be Pride and Prejudice. (I know, I know, I can hear everyone from here: "NOT JANE EYRE?") Not Jane Eyre, not Great Expectations, not The Great Gatsby, not the poetry of Emily Bronte or A.E. Housman, no. Probably not Isak Dinesen. I carry the little pocket Emily Dickinson in my bag (okay, I admit, a large part of that is I love having Dickinson in my pocket; I imagine her peeping out like a mouse), but maybe not her either. But I would want something witty, something sparkling, something of the very best vintage; harrowing but rewarding at the end, as we all would like to imagine life to be. The feeling we are in the most capable firm hands. And something to make me laugh. I would like to have it read aloud, without stopping if medications and illness made me doze off -- I suppose an audiobook on CD would do as well, but one of the delights in reading Austen aloud is when the person reading it has to pause for one of those little indrawn-breath laughs, when something strikes them as inescapably funny they wouldn't laugh at while reading silently. Yes, that would be a good way to go.

Rolando Villazón - Chanson de Kleinzach

my favourite Act I ever, in the whole world (well, that and Les contes d'Hoffmann)

Ludovic Tézier - Mozart - Le Nozze di Figaro - Paris - 2009

right now this is my heroin

one of my favourite poems ever


After a black day, I play Haydn,
and feel a little warmth in my hands.
The keys are ready. Kind hammers fall.
The sound is spirited, green, and full of silence.
The sound says that freedom exists
and someone pays no tax to Caesar.
I shove my hands in my haydnpockets
and act like a man who is calm about it all.
I raise my haydnflag. The signal is:
“We do not surrender. But want peace.”
The music is a house of glass standing on a slope;
rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.
The rocks roll straight through the house
but every pane of glass is still whole.

-- Thomas Tranströmer

Number of words: 2036

aaaaaaaaaaaaand SCENE



I no longer smoke, no longer drink, and I have chronic pancreatitis. I SHALL CELEBRATE WITH A BANANA.

slog slog slog (or, An Ode To

3:00 AM: 1021 words

3:20 AM: 1235 words

//make tea

//stare into space

//crack left shoulder

//worry about getting premature arthritis

//wish for chocolate

3:50 AM: 1712 words


"....if I finish this dinky little story, I'll buy myself this book!"

SUCH A BAD FUCKING IDEA. It's not like you don't have more books than you can read IN TEN YEARS.

Nevertheless it may work.

ETA: Reader, I bought it. Boo-yah.


....figured out how the story goes, what the end means, and BINGO, like usual, immediately lose all interest in writing it. That's so dumb, it's so obvious, it's been done better before by everyone why bother? Stupid and -- NO, BRAIN, that is not the way we do things anymore around here, no, SORRY. Slam the door in its face. Exorcisms-r-us. Go torment someone else.

type type type type type type type

Monday, June 3, 2013

Number of words: 970

Breakthrough! WHOOO!

Forgot how characters in writing always surprise me: the heroine just announced calmly as a child she loved flying on the Concorde to France and back every summer (yes her family is filthy rich). (Did they even let kids fly on the goddamn Concorde? They must have, right? Oh, the siren song of RESEARCH....)

Now it only remains to see how the poor painter across the table from her will respond. BUT FIRST, must drag self out on daily tiny walk and maybe photograph poppies. (Distraction! Divertissement!)

Fatboy Slim with Macy Gray - "Demons"

two salt tablets and another mile

And then I had a MIGRAINE, which wiped me out. I doubt even Charlotte could have written through a migraine. Well, no, she probably did. I think Charlotte could have written through one of those recent tornadoes. I took 3 Advil and drank 2 lattes and went to bed. (Imagine what Charlotte could have accomplished if she had had ibuprofen!)

//stares disconsolately at story

trust the movie trust the movie trust
the movie


marginal comments so far

- "(argh)"

- "(that is like pseudo-Woolfian)"

- "if Charlotte could keep writing after her two remaining sisters DIED, you can write through a headache"

- "more tea is needed"

Darling so far (darlings! already!): "He smiled again -- a Gatsby smile, which made you aware of just how handsome he was and how completely his attention was focused on you."

904 words! ....OMG stuck. Also, headache.

progress not perfection (no danger of that around here....)

I am writing a story! It is a very short story! It is stupid! (THAT'S IT, get in there with that self-correcting negativity before anyone else can ever criticize you first. Lord.) I meant to start writing it on exactly March 3, my day planner tells me! (My day planner is my portable memory, because sure as shit the one in my head doesn't work.) I believe I first had the idea to write this story in....DECEMBER 2012! (Saith the planner.) Jesus. WHAT A WAY TO RUN A RAILROAD. Well, why not start and go on with it now, this is exactly why I trained myself out of watching TV and never log in to Facebook, so I won't get distracted. Because clearly, that is not at all any kind of problem.

301 words! WHOO. I actually just wrote "breaking into an infectious smile," which, oh my fucking God. As one of my best writing buddies used to say: WRITE IT NOW. FIX IT LATER. Irresistible! An irresistible smile. At least it doesn't sound like his teeth have STDs.

-- I have a headache, I have no coffee, I have no chocolate, I have pancreatitis, I am no longer a writer of any kind, not even a blogger, why am I doing this? Well, it's God, I remember when writing was FUN. When the hell did that go away?.....oh, grad school, in about 1995, that's right. Man. Maybe I can sue UNM.

-- I need a soundtrack! Everyone these days writes to a soundtrack. I'm sure in the amount of time it would take me to fix up the perfect soundtrack this sudden urge to write would not wither and die at all., no, this is the Raymond Chandler School of Writing here. You can do one of two things: 1) write. 2) Look out the window. Annie Dillard went so far as to draw a perfect rendition of the view outside her office one semester (no catwaxing there), then drew the shade and taped it over the actual view. No Facebook-checking, no Google Reader-substitute-hunting, no balancing the checkbook (does anyone still do that anymore), no soundtrack-making. You can write, or you can be bored. I cannot stand to be bored, ever, so let's hope this works.

-- A dear dear friend of mine used to say: watch the movie. Trust the movie. Pay attention only to the images unspooling in your head. Listen to the characters, not anything else. Just write what you see. (This works perfectly for me because I am a completely visual person and I space out completely when I write because it actually is like an internal movie. Other friends are non-visual writers, and this just makes them bitter.)

-- Liveblogging, also a distraction. Whoops, update this later.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

'There are no happy endings, because nothing ends'

She should have done science, not spent all her time with her head in novels. Novels gave you a completely false idea about life, they told lies and they implied there were endings when in reality there were no endings, everything just went on and on and on.

― Kate Atkinson, Case Histories

-- Harry, England and St. George!

the miracle of readability

We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing. We take it for granted so simply that in a sense, by the very act of brutish routine acceptance, we undo the work of the ages, the history of gradual elaboration of poetical description and construction, from the treeman to Browning, from the caveman to Keats. What if we awake one day, all of us and find ourselves utterly unable to read? I wish you to gasp not only at what you read but at the miracle of its being readable…

-- Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

the carrier bag theory of diary-keeping

What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through.

- Virginia Woolf, A Writer's Diary, quoted on Goodreads

I have been neglecting this blog shamefully, seduced away by the twin silver globes of Tumblr and GoodReads. I should fix that.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

books read in June 2013

Fiction is in red.

94. Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle, Clement King Shorter
95. Red Moon, Benjamin Percy (seriously in the running for WORST BOOK I HAVE READ ALL FUCKING YEAR)
 96. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan
97. A Month in the Country, J.L. Carr
98. The Great Charles Dickens Scandal, Michael Slater
99. Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her, A.N. Wilson 
100. Turtle Diary, Russell Hoban (aww, it's v fitting that's my 100th book read this year -- I loved and loved it to pieces in my late teens) 
101. The Mysteries, Lisa Tuttle  
102. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman 
103. The Silver Bough, Lisa Tuttle  
104. Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father, Alysia Abbott
105. Yossarian Slept Here, Erica Heller 
106. C. S. Lewis: A Life, Alister E. McGrath
107. Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, Francine Prose
108. The American Way of Eating, Tracie McMillan
109. Moab is my Washpot, Stephen Fry
110. The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis, Alister E. McGrath

2013 booklist