Sunday, September 29, 2013

b is for bullshit and you fed me some

'the unsaid'

It was wonderful and then it was horrible and now it is like the rest of my sometimes fraught existence an experience I will eventually circle around and get to know and understand only through the documentation. I am still recovering from everything. I am still writing, always writing, never writing, trying to write. I am still circling the wound.

- Kate Zambreno

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I'm in love with Holger Syme

The exact opposite of Gilmour’s point is true: good teaching requires empathy — an effort to understand things, ideas, and people totally unlike you. Some of those people are your students. Some of those things are of the past. Some of those ideas are the ideas of authors from different cultures than yours, and yes, shockingly, even of a different gender. Engaging with those people, things, and ideas is not just what research means, and why research is necessary, it’s what reading is.

Gilmour’s account of his teaching, by contrast, is strikingly devoid of empathy. Chinese authors? Can’t love them. Queer authors? Can’t love them. (But Marcel….) Female authors? Can’t love them. White men who are like me or who I want to be? Love those. Sympathy is what this view of things is all about: one big group hug among guys across the twentieth century, all guys like Gilmour. What’s genuinely hilarious, rather than merely depressing, is the predictable homophobia that goes hand in hand with this chest-thumpy, circle-jerky, narcissistic literary self-love-fest: Gilmour loves Chekhov so much, he’d marry him tomorrow if only they weren’t both so amazingly straight. Though “literary” seems almost incidental. None of what makes Chekhov a cool guy, after all, has anything to do with the plays or short stories he wrote. It’s all about his “personality.” His grace. His generosity. And his “bellicose laugh.”

....Most crucially, David Gilmour doesn’t seem to grasp why anyone should read literature at all. We can argue about whether Hamlet is right or not when he claims that art holds a mirror up to nature. But let’s just say he is. Here’s what Hamlet doesn’t say: that art is a mirror you choose to pick up to see yourself. Art shows you a mirror. That thing you see in there isn’t supposed to be your pre-conceived self-image. It’s something strange, and alien, and scary, or ridiculous, or dull. But it’s something that demands engagement. And sometimes, it becomes something that you realize is in fact you — but that’s not meant to be a happy realization. If the thing you see when you look into a book looks exactly like what you think you look like, you’re doing it wrong.

- The Loneliness of the Old White Male

"David Gilmour thinks I'm manly, baby'

just call me johnny guns

dude watchin'

Friday, September 27, 2013

pick yourself up

A.S. Byatt, 'The Children's Book'

First posted on GoodReads, but I'd better get into the habit of xposting here, especially if they start yanking stuff that has cursing in it (I'm doomed)....

(Including some status updates material in this - )

Not even at the halfway point yet, but I am so baffled and dismayed. I love Byatt (loved Possession like everyone else, but I schooled myself to love the Frederica Potter quartet and other novels too), this book is all about topics I love, and so it totally should be my jam, as the kids say, and....instead it's like the dire moment in Little Women when Meg wails about how the jelly won't jell.

I think the biggest problem is the characters - some critics compared this to Middlemarch, but Middlemarch is all _about_ its characters, who leap immediately to mind -- the idealistic Dorothea, the vulnerable Lydgate, wild Will, vengeful Causabon, each face and personality rendered distinct. The relative flatness of people in Possession didn't matter because it was a satire, and the amount of satire in the Frederica Quartet -- contrasted with some real tragedies, like Jude Mason's -- carried those people fairly well. (Frederica was that very odd thing, a self-portrait intended to provoke dislike: Byatt seems to specialize in that.)

Also, there were a LOT FEWER people in even the Quartet books. It's not so much that there are too many people in this novel -- although there are -- but they're really not differentiated. If I have to keep reminding myself Phyllis is not Dorothy (Phyllis is the pretty shallow one, Dorothy is the studious friend of Tom, Tom is his mother's favourite, Julian is....Geraint? no no) that is not a good thing. Byatt is, like Lawrence ('whom I cannot escape, and cannot love'), Murdoch (Byatt's moral and aesthetic ideal), even, dare I say, Drabble, and certainly Lessing, one of those most frustrating writers -- a naturally gifted novelist who keeps wrenching Story around to serve Theme.

This is especially bad in Byatt because when she includes bits of retold myths, or children's stories, or pastiche poetry, you at once relax into what she's telling you -- it feels free and unstrained in a way all that carefully glossy worked-over prose doesn't. In Possession, which was a story about people entranced by stories, and had much less of that "writing is bad for families and especially mothers and really especially children" crap in it, it all worked. But as she herself said, she knew people would love Possession; she considers it lesser. She loves writing these long strenuous brain-taxing half-nonfiction catalogues. But they are impossible to love as Stories.

She really is like Lawrence -- her gift plays free in short stories, devastating and wonderful, but she puts it into harness and blinders writing anything at length.

-- To top it off, neither the potted history, which should provide the epic dark-and-gold-illuminated backdrop for the (flat) people, nor the close-ups on the richly decorated plates, embroidered dresses and kimonos, building ornaments and so on, are distinct enough for me to picture, so it all winds up being a kind of grand-sounding blur. Possession had the anchor of the actual poetry and academic papers and fairytales and letters; they were the backbone of the story. Here, the interludes of Olive's children's tales serve mainly to remind what a good writer Byatt is when she isn't dragging us by the hand on  her own whistle-stop tour of Cultural History. (I remember vaguely learning in grad school about the Morris wallpapers and chairs and carpets and tapestries and hangings and whatever else the Pre-Raphs churned out like medieval factories, but I know nothing about pottery and can't visualize it, and so don't really care. This is disastrous, as pottery is one of the main Themes of the book.)

from "Orlando"

Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted people's parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.

- Virginia Woolf

The Long Secret

Oops I Did It Again

Thursday, September 26, 2013

why GoodReads recommendations suck: an illustration

'Because you shelved Beloved, a few similar books:

Lamb in His Bosom. In 1934, Caroline Miller's novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. It was the first novel by a Georgia author to win a Pulitzer, soon followed by Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind in 1937. In fact, Lamb was largely responsible for the discovery of Gone With the Wind....'


don't want to spend another day here

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

reading....Wednesday! back on schedule, well, that's nice

What did you just finish reading?
Stephen King's Doctor Sleep, which was actually pretty damned good. I was one of the people who mocked and yelled when it was first announced, because I thought it couldn't help but suck, but it was well-written, the characterization was great, the plot hummed along like a 'Bago on cruise control (inside joke) and somehow King made the bits where one character catches up another character on what the fuck's been happening seem intriguing and suspenseful.  Steve, I'm so sorry I doubted you. ....But after Cell, Under the Dome, the Kennedy assassination cinderblock, and that endless Dork Tower crap, can you blame me? (Hmm maybe I'll pick up Joyland. Maybe.)
Also three out of four Dick Francis novels about Sid Halley, which were great, and Tracy Chevalier's Falling Angels, which was so terrible I kept looking at the page in disbelief, the way you stare at a loved one who is saying terrible things to you during an argument. How it was even published I do not know.

What are you reading now?
City of Thieves by David Benioff, which a dear friend gave me, because we are so fucking broke the next time I'll be able to buy a new book will be sometime in early 2014, looks like. It's already pretty great, two pages (or "percents") in: "My grandmother was always on the phone, selling. No one could resist her. She charmed them or she frightened them, and either way, they bought."

What do you expect to read next?
Maybe the Byatt, maybe some Pat Barker?, maybe some weird thing called Henry James' Midnight Song, maybe maybe. Some of the books in the virtual TBR pile:

Reinventing Bach, Paul Elie (looks fantastic)
Kicking and Dreaming, Ann and Nancy Wilson (YESSS Heart - my Seattle girls!)
My Education, Susan Choi
The Afterlife, Donald Antrim
Children of the Ghetto, Israel Zangwill
Ancient Rockets: Treasures and Trainwrecks of the Silent Screen, Kage Baker

....and so on, you get the picture.

ETA - City of Thieves was great, although I was pissed we never got Vika's story (she just...goes off to do dishes and is never heard from again? OK then) and the eternal laddishness of the dialogue got a bit wearying sometimes, but it was perfectly in character for adolescent boys and a good contrast to the epic horror surrounding them. The bit about Zoya's feet was kind of over the top (but again, reminiscent of fairytales - the red shoes!). But still, beautifully written, an amazing book.

from "Censorship, the Goodreads Debacle, and Mission Incoherence"

"For those of us who loved the Goodreads that was, it feels like a pretty sad day. For the guys in the red logo polo shirts who would monetize breathing if they could figure out a way to do it, it’s a pretty good day. For the authors, I don’t think that they realize it yet, but they are just cannon fodder, too. Because the corporate guys don’t care if they sell your book. They just want to sell a book."

- thedeadauthorsclub


Latest childish and utterly cringe-worthy internet slang: "selfies." Use this if you want to remove any doubt you're a simpering idiot.
- Caitlin Kiernan

You know, the arts are supposed to ideally make people like life better than they had before. Somebody once asked me if I’d ever seen that happen, and I said, “Yes, the Beatles did that.” They did. It’s no god-damn joke.
- Kurt Vonnegut

The Philadelphia Story is very likely the best of Shakespeare's comedies that Shakespeare didn't write.
- Caitlin Kiernan

I've always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.
- David Benioff

Matthew Jaffe, "Night in the Forest"

Grauniad review of 'Dr Sleep'

It's possible to interpret the True Knot themselves as allegorical alcoholics, mirroring the novel's merely human drinkers: after all, the villains too are substance-dependent drifters, wrecking children's lives. But while the surface story of supernatural derring-do is never less than a superbly well-engineered ride, full of satisfying twists and switchbacks, the novel's deepest shiverings depend on no made-up devils. At one point in his early desperation, Dan reflects on how other people's well-meaning advice to "Give it time" is misplaced: "Time changed. That was something only drunks and junkies understood. When you couldn't sleep, when you were afraid to look around because of what you might see, time elongated and grew sharp teeth." Time with jaws: now that really is a scary monster.

- Steven Poole

This was really just about how I felt. It's not as horrifying/terrifying as The Shining, but I think it's a much better book. I now have to eat a banquet of Crow (heh, that's funny if you read it) because I thought the idea of a sequel was thirty-seven flavours of stupid and then some, but he really, truly pulled it off. There's all sorts of mirrorings and parallels and callbacks to the first book, but the story stands on its own. It's pretty amazing, after some of the shit he's put out (Cell, I am looking at you).

....Now fucking Shining, on the other hand....the first time I tried to read that book, I was an active alcoholic, and NO FUCKING WAY. I got about 50 pages in and ran. He fucking nails it (he also fucking nails sobering-up in Dr Sleep). Then the second time I was NEWLY SOBER, and read the book BY MYSELF, at night, and was so freaked out I actually couldn't deal with having the paperback in the house and put it in the garbage and had T carry it out. (I am sure King would enjoy that story. "You couldn't deal with having it in the house? Score!") But then, years later, I got another used paperback copy, reread it a couple of times, and loved it. It still scares me shitless.

Dr Sleep was actually less scary, but sadder, because even the villains -- where he's fallen down in the past -- had great motivation, and seemed like real people. (I fucking loved Rose the Hat.) A lot less freaky, but a lot more depth, and it's not as tragic....but deeply sad. Grieving. Shining was about trauma and survival, Dr Sleep is about the aftermath, recovery, going on living.

-- But really, if you want to know what it's like writhing in the hell of addiction? Read The Shining! It's total realism!

Who killed Cock Robin? we know who stuffed him

The largest piece, The Death and Burial of Cock Robin, displays 98 species of British birds including a weeping robin widow and an owl gravedigger. It was the highest-selling item of the sale in 2003, raising £23,500, and usually occupies the entire wall of retired academic Pat Morris' bedroom wall. (Telegraph)

The Night Before Christmas (1913, Ladislas Starevich)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

from "the lesson of the moth," Don Marquis

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself

'What if it were all just an overture and no one knew to what?'

Pavese’s journals: all the things that preoccupy me, crystallized in another way. What luck! What a liberation!

His death prepared for: but nothing is abused, no emotion for him aroused. It just comes as if it were natural. But no death is natural. He keeps his death to himself, private. We hear about it, but it sets no example. No one would kill himself because he did.

And yet last night, when in my deepest depression I wanted to die, I reached for his journals, and he died for me. Hard to believe: through his death, today I am reborn. This mysterious process should be looked into, but not by me. I will not touch it. I want to keep it a secret.

- from the notebooks of Elias Canetti

Monday, September 23, 2013

'It is always not yet winter'

The poem’s last stanza offers a mild gesture toward “resolution” in an ever-unfolding present tense. It is early evening, and the emptied fields look warm under a pink-tinted sky. The images and sounds are specific, but the vision is comprehensive: down by the river, we hear the “wailful choir” of the gnats, while over on the hillside the lambs bleat. In the hedges the crickets sing, the robin harmonizes in the garden, and swallows twitter overhead. Keats indulges in the pathetic fallacy to strike the melancholy note (the gnats are mourning!), but as the song progresses the poet doesn’t project any further emotions onto the choristers; they bleat, trill, whistle, and twitter, as is their nature. It is getting late, and the prospect of decay is everywhere, but its touch is light: “soft-dying day,” “bourne aloft / Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies.” It’s hard not to notice, after a few readings, that although the closing scene is imbued with a sense of mortality, autumn’s song sounds much like spring’s. After all, the birds and the lambs, although now “full-grown,” would have sung and bleated in May as well. The four distinct seasons, with all their sensuous variety, are one forward motion whose end is always death. We may rely on it, and must rely on it; the harvest is our means of surviving the cold that follows.

- Caitlin Kimball

John Keats (1795-1821), "To Autumn" (September 19, 1819)

    SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
        Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless
        With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
    To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
        And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
            To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
        And still more, later flowers for the bees,
        Until they think warm days will never cease,
            For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

    Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
        Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
    Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
        Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
    Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
        Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
            Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
    And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
        Steady thy laden head across a brook;
        Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
            Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

    Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
        Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
    While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
        And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
    Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
        Among the river sallows, borne aloft
            Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
    And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
        Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
        The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
           And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


Grauniad Poem of the Week: "To Autumn," John Keats
All of Keats's Odes abound in mythical beings. There are the three urn-figures of "Indolence" (Love, Ambition and Poesie), the eponymous "Psyche" and "Melancholy", the "light-winged Dryad" of "Nightingale", and the "marble men and maidens" in "Grecian Urn". Like Ambition and Poesie, the addressee of "To Autumn" may be allegorical, Keats taking his cues not only from Spenser's "Mutabilitie" cantos, but from Chatterton's "Ælla: A Tragicall Interlude", both of which feature a male Autumn.

Stephen King on alcoholism and returning to the Shining
It also captures the reality of a recovering alcoholic, a state with which King is intimately familiar. "The hungover eye," he writes, "had a weird ability to find the ugliest things in any given landscape." Danny turns his life around and starts going to AA meetings, where, King writes, he discovers that memories are the "real ghosts". It is a book as extravagantly inventive as any in King's pantheon, and a careful study of self-haunting: "You take yourself with you, wherever you go."

Kelly Clarkson gives up Jane Austen's ring
Mary Guyatt, curator of Jane Austen's House Museum, said: "We have been stunned by the generosity and light-footedness of all those who have supported our campaign to meet the costs of acquiring Jane Austen's ring for our permanent collection. Visitors come from all around the world to see the house where she once lived, and we will now take great pleasure in displaying this pretty ring for their appreciation."

badreads, by this point I'm just surprised GoodReads' Quote of the Day isn't Catullus 16.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013


celebratory reading -- Saturday

WHOOO I FINISHED that Wharton bio! ....oh man, this readsday posting schedule is all fucked up, just like my sleep schedule. ("Delayed sleep-phase disorder," actual diagnosis, not just me "refusing" to go to bed! -- anyway....) 

What did you just finish reading?
That ENORMOUS Wharton bio. Did I mention I finally FINISHED that Wharton bio? Yeah, I might be casually dropping that into conversation all this week, maybe. "Grocery store shopping list? ....did I mention I finished that Wharton bio, so now I'll have time to make it?"

Sadly it was....just not that good. Hermione and Edith are my girls, I can't diss them, but my GOD that was a long awful slog. It wasn't just that the book was long (I love long books, especially long, long biographies), more that it was overstuffed with details about Italian gardens in the US, French gardens in the US, French country estates, giant English houses, English gardens, French gardens in France, on and on....and, you know, I love hearing about what writers are interested in other than writing, but I didn't pick up an eight-hundred-page-long biography of Wharton to read about gardening. The thematic, as opposed to chronological, organization really didn't work for me, and there was much less discussion of Wharton's fiction than I wanted -- occasionally there was a sparkling bit on, say, "Roman Fever," or the excellent analysis of House of Mirth, but then there would be another two hundred pages about gardens.  There's a penultimate chapter on Wharton's library that I loved, and which reminded me of the beautiful chapter on Woolf's reading in the Hermione bio I absolutely fell in love with, but sadly in this book it felt like too little, much too late.

Also: Rose Under Fire, which I greatly disliked, and two three! people on GoodReads unfriended me right after I posted my review of it. Oh dear. Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped, which was incredible. (God, only posting to GoodReads is making me incredibly lazy about just remembering which books I've read, let alone summarizing what I thought of them. I need a break from that site so very badly.) Coming Clean, Kimberly Rae Miller's plainly written and surprisingly touching memoir of her hoarding parents, which is a lot more sensitive and even poetic at times than you might expect from her perky-as-hell food and exercise lifestyle blog.

What are you reading now?
Haven't quite decided yet -- I need something lighter, after that bio, and I'm tired of nonfiction. I've been meaning to read Byatt's Children's Book since it came out, but that's not lightweight, or maybe Cox's The Glass of Time, or Chevalier's Falling Angels; I love Victoriana and Highgate Cemetery, and her idea of showing the shift in Edwardian England through funerary customs is fascinating. Her prose style isn't all that and a bag of chips, but I'm looking to relax.

What do you expect to read next?
Maybe the Byatt. Or maybe Klaus Mann's Mephisto -- I don't think I'm going back up Die Zauberberg anytime soon. I do still want to read Doktor Faustus, though.

ETA And then after all that dithering I picked up Dick Francis instead. Do you know, he is pretty good!

ETA 2 And then I did read Falling Angels. Wow, was that terrible.


nothing more dangerous

But truth be told, there are no minor characters....everyone gets their aria as well as their comeuppance. And in my experience, it is best to keep such folk on the same page, because if they begin to wander aimlessly, like electrons or deviations from a tonic chord, nothing good can come of it. There is nothing more dangerous than a person who wants to become a character in a novel.

- Charles Newman, In Partial Disgrace

my finest hour?

'Roman Fever'

("Roman Fever") is as deceptive as one of its characters. What appears to be a story about long friendship turns out to be about long enmity; resignation turns out to be resentment; one character's apparent dominance is completely overturned.

....Grace does not take the bait: she will not meet Mrs Slade's eye, but looks "straight out at the great accumulated wreckage of passion and splendor at her feet." In that one phrase, Wharton brings in a mighty sense of all the conquests, triumphs and betrayals that make a great civilisation, and of their passing: the two women's lives, set in this context, seem tiny and ephemeral; but the "wreckage of passion" may be just as great. This is the hinge on which the story turns....

- Hermione Lee, Edith Wharton

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I need to marry Jennifer Weiner. I understand I will have to get in line

In 2010, I coined the hashtag Franzenfreude. It was very bad German for a very real problem: When Franzen’s most recent novel, Freedom, was published, newspapers and magazines devoted thousands of words to the book and its author, while giving other literary books far less attention, and, in some cases, ignoring commercial works completely. Perhaps Franzen’s recent name-check was payback for when I implied that he was the face of white male literary privilege, or for pointing out that he’s the kind of writer who goes on Facebook only to announce that he won’t be doing Facebook, with the implication that he doesn't have to do Facebook, because the media does his status updates for him.

- 'What Franzen Misunderstands About Me'

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"Poem Written in A Copy of Beowulf," Borges

At various times, I have asked myself what reasons
moved me to study, while my night came down,
without particular hope of satisfaction,
the language of the blunt-tongued Anglo-Saxons.

Used up by the years, my memory
loses its grip on words that I have vainly
repeated and repeated. My life in the same way
weaves and unweaves its weary history.

Then I tell myself: it must be that the soul
has some secret, sufficient way of knowing
that it is immortal, that its vast, encompassing
circle can take in all, can accomplish all.

Beyond my anxiety, beyond this writing,
the universe waits, inexhaustible, inviting.

'waiting for birth'

It just seems to me a perfect unwonder that writing's almost never terrific fun. If it's not the hardest of the arts -- I think it is -- it's surely the most unnatural, and therefore the most wearying. So unreliable, so uncertain. Our instrument is a blank sheet of paper -- no strings, no frets, no keys, no reed, mouthpiece, nothing to do with the body whatever -- God, the unnaturalness of it. Always waiting for birth, every time we sit down to work.

- J.D. Salinger to Joyce Maynard, 1972

Monday, September 16, 2013

'This is a thing of beauty, Boss'

“He’ll turn into a serpent in your arms,” she said, “a deadly adder. Then a bear, grim and terrible; then a lion, all teeth and claws. Hold him fast and show no fear, for he shall then melt into a burning brand, and you will feel as if you are clasping Hell itself to your bosom. But he shall not – he can not – do you true and lasting harm, as long as your heart holds no fear in it. Last of all he shall turn into a flaming coal, which you must drop into a well, and he will emerge a naked man, truly himself. All you must do then is cover his nakedness and not have sex with him. Then you can go on your way. But that’s the most important part, not having sex with him at the end. Don’t forget and accidentally have sex with him.” 

“Will it kill me?” I asked her. 

“Oh, no, child,” she said. “It won’t kill you. Jonathan Franzen cannot kill. He conquers, but he never fights. The most he will do is write novels at you.” 

I buried my head into her neck. “I don’t want him to write novels at me,” I cried. “I don’t want him to write novels at anyone.” 

She laughed softly but not unkindly and stroked my hair. “There, there. No one can stop Jonathan Franzen from writing novels. Women stronger and older than you have died in the attempt. There is only so much we can accomplish in this life. Be satisfied with not having sex with him. Not having sex with him is enough.”

- via

reading.....Monday, a special edition

What did you just finish reading?
hahaha....reading that Edith Wharton bio

What are you reading now?
reading that Edith Wharton bio

What do you expect to read next?
reading that Edith Wharton bio

.....this thing is EIGHT HUNDRED AND SEVENTY PAGES LONG, I have no idea what possessed me. Jesus. It's really not as good as the gorgeous Woolf bio, either. I've been reading it forever and just passed the halfway mark. WWI. Hoo boy.

(Jilted Edith to sleazy Morton Fullerton: "You write to me like a lover, you treat me like a casual acquaintance!....When one is a lonely-hearted & remembering creature, as I am, it is a misfortune to love too late, & as completely as I have loved you. Everything else grows so ghostly afterward.")

Sunday, September 15, 2013

'without the aid of Joy'

One may be strengthened & fed without the aid of Joy, & no one knows it better than I do; & I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one's centre of life inside of one's self, not selfishly or excludingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity -- to decorate one's inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome any one who wants to come & stay, but happy all the same in the hour when one is inevitably alone.

- Edith Wharton to Mary Berenson, July 1918 letter

Saturday, September 14, 2013

from Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. . . .


(Fantastic review: 'If you preorder now, you will have it in plenty of time to pepper your Thanksgiving prayers with O’Connorisms like, “When I think of all I have to be grateful for, I wonder that you don’t just kill me now.”')

Emily Dickinson's cocoanut cake recipe

The History Kitchen blog does a nice writeup (with photos) here.

various quotes ricocheting around today

I have filled 3 Mead notebooks trying to figure out whether it was Them or Just Me.
 - David Foster Wallace

But when one listens to music, all this is: that some people lie in their graves and sleep, and that one woman is alive—gray-haired, she is sitting in a box in the theatre, quiet and majestic, and the avalanche seems no longer meaningless, since in nature everything has a meaning. And everything is forgiven, and it would be strange not to forgive.  

The Ogre does what ogres can,
Deeds quite impossible for Man,
But one prize is beyond his reach,
The Ogre cannot master Speech:
About a subjugated plain,
Among its desperate and slain,
The Ogre stalks with hands on hips,
While drivel gushes from his lips.
- Auden

I cannot live with You –
 It would be Life –
And Life is over there –
Behind the Shelf

The Sexton keeps the Key to –
Putting up
Our Life – His Porcelain –
Like a Cup –

Discarded of the Housewife –
Quaint – or Broke –
A newer Sevres pleases –
 Old Ones crack –
- Dickinson

from a profile of Peter Ackroyd

“I’ve often thought that all my books are really one book,” Ackroyd says. “They’re all just separate chapters in the long book which will be finished when I’m dead.”


Thursday, September 12, 2013

'Oldest Roman coin in Britain discovered on museum shelf' (2010)

The oldest Roman coin in Britain has been discovered after sitting on a shelf for a decade.

'Roman brothel token discovered in Thames'

A Roman coin that was probably used by soldiers to pay for sex in brothels has been discovered on the banks of the River Thames.

shotgun down the avalanche

reading....well shit, now it's Thursday, isn't it

Summer is haaaanging on in Seattle like that clingy ex who won't stop checking your online updates and it was NINETY-THREE DEGREES TODAY.  The cats camped out on the bathroom tile. I promise no coherence.

What did you just finish reading?
Five Days at Memorial and right after that A Paradise Built in Hell, which were both good (not that well-written, altho the Solnit is better than the Fink, which features such Reporter-Trying-To-Be-Fancy-isms as "pate" and "ilk") but also made me want to drive my fists through a concrete wall out of sheer second-hand rage. Sobering books to read as the economy declines, giant health insurance companies try to dick everyone over before October 1st and climate change ensures we'll have many more environmental disasters to come. Reading it as someone with not one but several chronic illnesses (disabling bipolar disorder, really bad RSI, chronic pancreatitis) was especially fun.

What are you reading now?
That Edith Wharton bio. Still. Up to about page 273 and then stalled out, unable to face yet another approvingly elaborate description of yet another really fancy French estate. I love Lee's bio of Woolf, but I think her thematic-rather-than-chronological approach really doesn't work here.

What do you expect to read next?
A dear friend just gave me all the books on the Booker shortlist, so I'm well-covered. So I am -- starting to read the new Grafton! because I need brain candy after reading about Katrina, but I'm not that enthused, due to the very ill-advised dual narration of the last three or four books. (What is it with mystery novelists suddenly snapping and no longer being able to write in first person anymore in long-running series? Is it like an ACL injury in the writing brain?)


'Habete fiduciam ego sum nolite timere'

I was struck by that error, nolle and noli. Our organism of language mutates. It gets things wrong, by transcription or misunderstanding. Notice even this little clump of sentences that I’ve written: I’ve tried to respect Heaney, the ambiguity of his experience, the mourning ache of his family. (Is it an ache? Is such a word accurate? I don’t know.) But I’ve written about it all the same, and in doing so I have translated it. It is the same kind of translating, on a lesser, more vulgar scale, that Heaney did when he translated the Old English Beowulf into our present-day tongue.

It is a translation that his poetry will eventually require. We die and the language gets away from us, in little ways, like a dropped vowel sound, a change in prepositions, a mistaken transcription. Errors in transfer make a literature.

Like how an infant’s cells are replaced, throughout life, by other, identical versions of themselves, digital messages do not have an “original.” Did Heaney send noli timere? We can trust that his Latin was exemplary, but we have no original because there is no original. A copy of Heaney’s last words exists on his own phone. It exists on his wife’s phone. It likely exists on a server somewhere, an archive maintained by the cell provider, a stash no one will ever read. But the wires that carried it; the air through which it shimmered; the switches that transfigured it between kinds of invisible light: They have already forgotten it, for now they glow with the words of other children and children, parents and parents, and lovers and lovers.

- Robinson Meyer

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

it was all right

I remember turning on a shitty New Mexico radio station one day when I was....thirteen? must've been, I was still stuck in junior high -- and Lou Reed and the Velvets did save my life, just like that. I remember thinking just WHAT IS THIS? and THIS IS IT in about equal measure.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

writing life

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Monday, September 9, 2013

from "Greek Coins," by Rosemary Dobson

Sonya Taaffe put me on to these, and they're just as marvelous as she says they are.

Sappho on Lesbos. An island is a ring, 
a burning-glass for love and suffering. 
To her a crown of violets, the moon,
and a round-dance of girls as offering.

Dolphins, Euripides said, on fire!
They quench their burning in the sea.
As waves from Homer's moving lips
are syllables of the Odyssey.

Pausanias keeps a count of offerings --
horses of gold with hooves of ivory!
They leap in splendour from the printed words
which put his bridle on their memory.

Famed far and wide, Lais the prostitute;
her grave, but never her beauty, in dispute.
From Thessaly: "She was more glittering
than the clear water of the water-spring."

Going down to Delphi, at Lebadeia
splashed my face where the two springs met,
one for Forgetfulness and one for Remembrance.
Much I remember and much forget.

Go read more. They're all amazing.

'For the Anniversary of John Keats's Death (February 23, 1821)'

At midnight when the moonlit cypress trees
Have woven round his grave a magic shade,
Still weeping the unfinished hymn he made,
There moves fresh Maia like a morning breeze
Blown over jonquil beds when warm rains cease.
And stooping where her poet's head is laid,
Selene weeps while all the tides are stayed
And swaying seas are darkened into peace.
But they who wake the meadows and the tides
Have hearts too kind to bid him wake from sleep
Who murmurs sometimes when his dreams are deep,
Startling the Quiet Land where he abides,
And charming still, sad-eyed Persephone
With visions of the sunny earth and sea.

- Sara Teasdale, Helen of Troy and Other Poems (1911)

the most wonderful time of the year

I love this so much I can even forgive them spelling Poe's name wrong.



NAM LE: The key word here is “style.” Today, it carries a cosmetic residue; we associate “style” with stuff that draws attention to itself. This, in itself, isn’t bad—we’re reading and writing at a time when for a work of art to not draw attention to its worked aspect, its artfulness, is blinderism at best and bad faith at worst. I don’t have a problem with this. I personally suspect it’s been this way from Aristotle onward but anyway, what’s material is that it’s this way now. For me, the interesting question then becomes how to draw attention to style without copping out, without becoming necessarily arch or defeatist or esoteric or ironic. Without breaching the dream-state that’s the sine qua non of fiction. Nabokov called what you’re referring to as “necessity” the “inner force of style”: the enlivening energy, the urge to precise articulation, the thing in the absence of which style is arbitrary and a story nothing more than a proof of itself.

I know I’m being nebulous. Part of this is because I resist your phrase, “besides style.” Style is everything. Style is eye, window, and view. And, of course, when it serves its purpose, style is beside the point, is rightly subsumed by subjectivity and subject. Perhaps the handiest definition of literature is language where style and subject are inseparable. Sentences have a wisdom that inheres in their structure, syntax, and constituent parts, and not merely in what they purport to signify. I get agitated when I see critics lauding writers for their “invisible prose,” as though style were only a window to be scrubbed out of sight.

CHARLES D'AMBROSIO: I agree that style is everything, so to me the surface is the hardest part of any story—but if it’s true that style is “everything,” then I think narrative or plot or character or dialogue, any of those “elements,” can’t be considered “not-style” or some other lesser category. Maybe it’s like Aquinas’s idea of divine simplicity, that the being of God is identical to the attributes of God. A story is simple, not composite, assembled from parts. I’m comfortable with the way “style is everything” sweeps up and includes the entirety of a fiction (style as well as what I called “the elements”) because I grew up entranced by the mystery of the Trinity. In fact, we were taught to distinguish ourselves from Protestants based on our capacity to accept this utterly mystical truth. I guess I think of the things of fiction, in a William Carlos Williams’s way: “No ideas but in things.”

- via

Sunday, September 8, 2013

if I could just make it stop

'I think the future belongs to women.'

Women must find their own answer. That’s the important thing. I’m no longer interested in books about women written by men. Even if I could believe in their objectivity, I just can’t find their opinions relevant. Now I will only believe what a woman has to say about women, because even if it’s not entirely true, it’s her struggle and she’s on the way to the answer.

Many of you seek masculine approval. Even though you have inside you your way of talking and writing, you have mountains of it inside you, and even though it is enough to begin expressing yourselves so long as it is with your vocabulary, your abstractions, and your own conceptualization, I think you are still afraid of the master: men. Of their judgment. As long as you have this fear, you will not progress.

- Marguerite Duras

"Song," Ted Hughes

O lady, when the tipped cup of the moon blessed you
  You became soft fire with a cloud's grace;
  The difficult stars swam for eyes in your face;
  You stood, and your shadow was my place:
  You turned, your shadow turned to ice,
  O my lady.

O lady, when the sea caressed you
  You were a marble of foam, but dumb.
  When will the stone open its tomb?
  When will the waves give over their foam?
  You will not die, nor come home,
  O my lady.

O lady, when the wind kissed you
You made him music, for you were a shaped shell.
  I follow the waters and the wind still
  Since my heart heard it and all to pieces fell
  Which your lovers stole, meaning ill,
  O my lady.

O lady, consider when I shall have lost you
  The moon's full hands, scattering waste,
  The sea's hands, dark from the world's breast,
  The world's decay where the wind's hands have passed,
  And my head, worn out with love, at rest
  In my hands, and my hands full of dust,
  O my lady.

what I'm reading

"Don't I know that feeling you describe, when one longs to go to a hospital & have something cut out, & come out minus an organ, but alive & active & like other people, instead of dragging on with this bloodless existence!" - Edith Wharton writing to Sara Norton, January 1902

Saturday, September 7, 2013

manuscript of "Three Sisters," Anton Chekhov

Reading....Saturday. Oh dear.

At least I didn't skip the week?

What did you just finish reading?
Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy, which was incredible -- I sped through the whole thing in about three and a half? days and afterwards felt like I'd burned out more than a few neurons. In a good way.
Anne Carson's Red Doc, which was beautiful but spiky. It was confusing but I think it's meant to confuse. Lots of allegorical figures (Ida, Foresight, Pig Doctor), not people. All of a sudden they're going to a glacier! then it's like Dante, climbing up the back way what? to the mechanic of souls, then the clinic, the laundry room, all glaring cold whiteness. These places all seem the same, mirror images of each other, rooms opening off the same long icy corridor. Not sure how Ida fits in. The mother's deathbed at the beginning, at the end. Splintered like glass, like ice. But all the shards are beautiful. (Also, I fucking loved the ice bats.)
Faithful Place, Tana French -- don't ask me why I didn't read this til now (I read the whole series out of sequence: first the second book, then the first, then tore through the fourth, &c.) Cannot WAIT for the fifth book.

What are you reading now?
Just started reading Hermione Lee's monumental Edith Wharton. Eight hundred and sixty-nine pages, whew. And only about a hundred of those are notes, index, &c. Only just started, but it's very, very good.

What do you expect to read next?
I fucking loathe this question. Will probably be busy with Hermione on Edith for a while. I think instead of trying to guess my next (very very randomly chosen) read I'll fill this space with various TBR piles instead.

On my desk: Hermione, Dopehead by Tim Elhajj, Heroin from Hazelden's Library of Addictive Drugs series, Seattle Architecture, Neil Gaiman's Make Good Art speech, Squaring the Circle, Wolf Solent, The Glass of Time, Charles Dickens in Love, and the biography of Iris Murdoch I had to buy again because I had no idea where my original copy, bought when it first came out, was. Naturellement about a week and a half after buying it, I found its twin shyly peeking out at me from a bookcase about two feet away from the bed. Sigh.  

Lots of good writers are posting interesting reviews to GoodReads now but I'm really sick of the whole voting system, plus I resent now being an unpaid content generator for sigh again. World of web two-dot-oh, how I really do loathe you, corrupting and buying out and killing the virtual communities I love. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

'out of wreckage'

Do I thank them, for their dismissals? Do I thank the silence? Do I thank the alienation?

....Do I thank the cad and coward who has of late destroyed my productivity, days, lucidity, first offering kindredness, friendship, then taking it away? He did also read the manuscript.

Paging through my inbox, thinking of those writers I have been in contact with who I don't speak to anymore. Who have disappeared, either with a harsh flourish or simply fading. How these accumulate to something like heartbreak.

....All that goes into writing a book. The silence, the silencing. And how one must write over that silence.

Out of wreckage, perhaps, comes writing.

- Kate Zambreno

Thursday, September 5, 2013

'Last Letter'

Draft of "Last Letter," Ted Hughes

'1963,' Frieda Hughes (from 45 series)

1963, Frieda Hughes

books read in September 2013

Fiction is in red.

150. Red Doc, Anne Carson
151. Forty-Five: Poems, Frieda Hughes 
152. Faithful Place, Tana French 
153. The Cure of Souls, Phil Rickman 
154. Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink
155. A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit 
156. W is for Wasted, Sue Grafton  
157. Salinger, David Shields and Shane Salerno
158. Men We Reaped: A Memoir, Jesmyn Ward 
159. Coming Clean: A Memoir, Kimberly Rae Miller 
160. Coyote Still Going: Native American Legends and Contemporary Stories, Ty Nolan 
161. Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein  
162. Edith Wharton, Hermione Lee (this was about EIGHT HUNDRED AND SEVENTY PAGES long! I feel like it should count twice!)
163. Whip Hand, Dick Francis  
164. Odds Against, Dick Francis 
165. Falling Angels, Tracy Chevalier 
166. Come to Grief, Dick Francis 
167. Doctor Sleep, Stephen King 
168. City of Thieves, David Benioff 
169. The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt 

2013 booklist


They drank bright mead in cups of gold
They drank bright mead to catch his shrieks
They drank bright mead what kind of knife
They drank bright mead between his cheeks
They drank bright mead was the melody someone sang
You ever see a Pig
In the shape of a man
Shook over hell
And on you went
The teeth it
Shattered the tongue
It rent
You drank bright mead and After bright mead you drank

- Anne Carson, Red Doc

my sweet honey love

Monday, September 2, 2013


nolle timere

During the service one of his sons, Michael Heaney, revealed that his father’s last words, sent as a text message to his wife Marie minutes before he died, were “nolle timere”, Latin meaning “don’t be afraid”.

- via

saint of impossible causes