Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sunday, January 26, 2014

James Atlas on interviewing Iris Murdoch

When I asked her what she thought she had achieved—remember, she was over 70 at this point and had long been considered one of the most important writers in England—she answered, with complete sincerity, “I haven’t achieved anything yet.” She was profound, without sounding that way or, I suspect, even knowing that she was: “Live in the present. It’s what you think you can do next that matters.” And she was funny: “The thing about the theatre is why do people stay there? Why don’t they just get up and go?” But the most valuable thing I learned from Dame Iris Murdoch that evening was about the relationship between art and humility. “One is always discontented with what one has done,” she said. “One always hopes to do better.” To be satisfied with one’s work was to misunderstand the very nature of creativity.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

'We used to have swamps, only the EPA made us take to calling them wetlands'

Thought it might help if I could visualize what the heck the Fens are, so I went looking....OH. Marshes, basically. (Oh, and this country is where Graham Swift's Waterland is set -- I saw the movie and read the book, so I have a better mental picture now.)

First reaction: "It's kinda like British Holland!" No?

This isn't.....a pastoral, exactly, but it seems like the solar opposite of Murder Must Advertise, which I haven't read (yet) (maybe) but has the City setting, bright repartee, disguised identities, and so on -- that's a harlequinade. What would this be? It's a City gent in the country, but it's not like the Phaedrus or Midsummer Night's Dream. Rather sober, somber and sad. Water, stone, marsh, liminality, music, iron, reverberations, darkness. A nocturne.

'A quarter peal of Cambridge Surprise Royal rung Sunday 28th July 2013 on the grand old ten bells at St Barnabas, Pimlico'

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Bells are Rung Up

I dunno here....300+ pages with indecipherable bell-jargon, no Harriet, and very little piffle so far. I am trusting you, Dorothy.

p 23: Dept of Intentionally Unintentional Innuendo: "'Dear me!' he ejaculated, as they groped upon the dark spiral stair."

The Internet: "The cathedral, the parish rector and his wife, and the flood function as symbols of provision, justice, mercy, expiation, and salvation. Discuss how and why." .....//just cries

Fifty pages in. .....there's not a lot of piffle? There's no Harriet? I don't know anything about bell-ringing? (THAT APPEARS TO BE CHANGING) //cries
I do like the writing. It's also rather neat how she keeps making the dialogue do a lot of work for the action -- like she's moving toward writing plays already, or has been. That's always been in her style, but even moreso here.

One hundred twenty pages in. I cannot keep Deacon the butler and Cranton the....actor? no, reformed crook-writer (there's another one of Sayers' sly commentaries on genre and fantasies, and how books can bring the wrong kind of people together) straight, and their names don't help; it's like Baker the weaver and Thatcher the carter in Lords & Ladies. The actual mystery is always the least important element in a Sayers novel, but blah blah emeralds car conflicting stories escape bodies found beards what? And there's not enough quotation fun (altho Wimsey just did quote Poe's "Bells," which I've been expecting for a while now, heh).

One hundred sixty pages in. Piffle entered about thirty pages ago, and has just peaked most delightfully. I am much relieved.

Three hundred pages in. Well, the writing in Part IV is just amazing -- more than makes up for everything I didn't like in the whole rest of the book. Beautiful and haunting.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

xposted from G+

I skipped Herrings (oh dear) and put off Murder Must Advertise and am going for the bells book next, THEN Gaudy Night. I feel I will be ready. (You know that joke about how people intone "I am ready to watch The Wire"? I will be ready to read Gaudy Night.)
-- Read all the Wimsey short stories for a break, the ones in Body are great but the later ones....oh dear. I couldn't deal with the Egg ones, but some of the non-Wimsey non-Egg stories are interesting, with supernatural bits even. A definite air of unease.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

'it’s a familiarity bred not of understanding, but of the Unheimlich'

This essay sinks into soggy self-focused sentimentalism at the end, but the beginning is grand (also does nobody remember the rules about spelling out numbers anymore? WHERE ARE THE COPYEDITORS) (on the breadlines):

A word can mean a whole book.

It’s rare but happens, a book using a word enough and so well as to have invented the word, even if the word was already in the dictionary, so that the word becomes the world of the book, in yours.“Pneumatic” is ever the sex in Brave New World, “languorous” the slack line of beauty in Lolita. In The Secret History, Donna Tartt’s first and thrilling novel, “chill” is not slang, is not cool or alright, and is not just a temperature, either, or a thing on the flesh, but the flesh itself—a clean subcutaneous dread.

The prologue, a murder scene remembered, has “the first chill of the snow.” On the 10th page are “the bright, chill mezzanines” of shopping malls in Plano, where our narrator, Richard Papen, was raised. On page 22, at Hampden College in New Hampshire, is “a chill distaste” on the lips of Henry, leader of the Homer-otic scholars who’ll make our Richard’s fate. On page 63 we see “far-off bonfires, sharp with the edge of a twilight chill.” On page 64, a “chill and early dark.” On page 88, “those chill afternoons when the sky was like lead and the clouds were racing” and on page 119, “the slightest chill,” at which Richard’s bones, years later, ache. “With a small chill,” on page 166, he remembers a clue to his undoing he’d ignored, while on 233 the answer’s “so obvious it [gives him] a chill” and on 238 he’s “disturbed by a chill undertow of reality.” Furthermore: “chill sunlight” (247); “a strange mixture of chill and warmth” (283); “the chill air” (441); “with a chill I recognized…” (494).

To un-chill oneself from The Secret History takes a long time and still might not happen.

- "Donna Tartt's The Secret History"

you don't get the Nobel for being warm and fuzzy

Then again Chekhov wasn't warm and fuzzy, either. Although people seem to think of him as....some kind of Slavic teddy bear/Hallmark card? ("The Five People You Meet In Sakhalin....")

In fact, in few Munro stories is the narrative frame itself without suspicion. This has been especially true in her later collections, in the quasi-fictional stories of Dear Life, for example, where the narrator is never sure if what she’s remembering is true or not. But it came up earlier, as early as “The Ottawa Valley,” a story about the protagonist’s journey with her mother to her childhood home. Throughout the story the mother is herself slightly out of frame, eclipsed by her sister. And at the very last second the narrator breaks the fourth wall. “If I had been making a proper story out of this,” she says, she would end it a certain way. And then the real admission pours forth:

The problem, the only problem, is my mother. And she is the one of course that I am trying to get; it is to reach her that this whole journey has been undertaken. With what purpose? To mark her off, to describe, to illumine, to celebrate, to get rid of her; and it did not work, for she looms too close, just as she always did. She is heavy as always, she weighs everything down, and yet she is indistinct, her edges melt and flow.

- "Resisting Rhapsody: The Year of Alice Munro"

now this is what actual cultural criticism looks like

Think of it this way: The Internet itself isn’t evil, but what is Facebook if not a thing that relies on us incessantly sharing and documenting our lives and comparing them to others’ in perpetuity? The companies and platforms that, for many of us, comprise our experience of the web, have built structures that play to human emotion and desire with ruthless efficiency. Like any phenomenon, you can use these things against the grain, but by and large, we are embroiled in systems meant to extract something from us, whether that is time, feeling, data, or money—and not being able to shake the feeling you should be photographing this moment or checking your phone is part of that.

Is technology inherently alienating or disconnecting? Well, no—it isn’t inherently anything, but our current exposure to digital technology is shaped and purposed by a set of large companies who have gotten really good at exploiting human sentiment. Oversimplifying the discourse to say that it is “technology” in general that it is blame for our alienation—rather than the networks and entities who are dominating those tools—is only hurting, rather than helping the situation.

- Navneet Alang

Monday, January 13, 2014

folks, that's how it's done downtown

As he nears the end of his tale, every part of his story seems to be connected to every other part in mysterious ways. For instance, his coma began on Monday, November 10, and by Saturday, "it had been raining for five days straight, ever since the afternoon of my entrance into the ICU." Then, on Sunday, after six days of torrents, just before he woke up, the rain stopped:

To the east, the sun was shooting its rays through a chink in the cloud cover, lighting up the lovely ancient mountains to the west and the layer of cloud above as well, giving the gray clouds a golden tinge. 

Then, looking toward the distant peaks, opposite to where the mid-November sun was starting its ascent, there it was. 

A perfect rainbow. 

It was as though heaven itself was cheering Alexander's return.

Dave Wert, meteorologist in charge at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office that encompasses Lynchburg, reviews the weather records for the week of November 10 through 16. "There was nothing on the tenth," he says. "Nothing on the eleventh...two hundredths of an inch on the twelfth." The next three days, he says, were rainy and miserable. Then the storm appeared to break on the evening of the fifteenth. The sixteenth was another clear day.

Could there have been a rainbow on the morning of the sixteenth?

"No," he says.

- Luke Dittrich

bad grammar is dangerous

For a lot of people, good grammar is like the opera — elitist and snobby. Never mind that opera tickets cost less than the nose-bleeders at almost any sporting event in the country or that the stories in opera are as Everyman as it gets: boy meets girl, boy loses girl. It’s all about perception. And if you say less fat, fewer calories, maybe people get the idea you are pretentious, and if pretentious, unpalatable. This is why so many of us don’t use capital letters when we email — because it looks stuffy. Which would all be fine were it not the case that bad grammar falls into the same category as bad prose writing, which heralds the depredation of our culture and the exaltation of fascism. Seems like a bold statement, and it is, until you reread George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” which seems every bit as urgent today as it must have in ’46 despite fascism’s being less potent now than it was then. In the essay, Orwell contends that imprecision (and what is poor grammar but the handmaid of imprecision?) allows propaganda to thrive. Imprecision allows you to say one thing when you really mean another, or at least to obfuscate whatever it is that you do mean. Imprecision favors political conformity by relieving all of us of the burden to think. When’s the last you heard a politician who made you think? All you heard were the same hackneyed phrases and idioms that say, in essence, go to sleep now, the machine’s well-oiled. As Charles Baxter writes in his wonderful essay “On Defamiliarization,” the kingdom is running smoothly because no one is learning anything.

- The Millions

'I say this because I love the Internet, not because I hate it.'

It’s almost a perfect callback to William Randolph Hearst’s infamous declaration on the eve of the Spanish-American War, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” Even more fitting, historians don’t think he ever said anything like that. Then as now, it’s the myth that plays, not the reality. Today it just plays on an exponentially larger stage.

The media has long had its struggles with the truth—that’s nothing new. What is new is that we’re barely even apologizing for increasingly considering the truth optional. In fact, the mistakes, and the falsehoods, and the hoaxes are a big part of a business plan driven by the belief that big traffic absolves all sins, that success is a primary virtue. Haste and confusion aren’t bugs in the coding anymore, they’re features. Consider what Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post, told The New York Times in its recent piece on a raft of hoaxes, including Gale’s kerfuffle, a child’s letter to Santa that included a handwritten Amazon URL, and a woman who wrote about her fictitious poverty so effectively that she pulled in some $60,000 in online donations. “The faster metabolism puts people who fact-check at a disadvantage,” Grim said. “If you throw something up without fact-checking it, and you’re the first one to put it up, and you get millions and millions of views, and later it’s proved false, you still got those views. That’s a problem. The incentives are all wrong.”

In other words, press “Publish” or perish.

- Luke O'Neil

the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact

Something in the air links change to change, later making evident a pattern, a fundamental shift. One such kindred event: around the time Fitzgerald’s first “Crack-Up” essay was on national newsstands, the first formal Alcoholics Anonymous group was being organized in Akron, Ohio, making public the fellowship that Bill Wilson and Bob Smith had begun privately at Smith’s house.

- American Scholar

I have, probably unlike Hampl, actually been to AA meetings, because I'm an alcoholic, and one of the things you learn fairly well is the history of AA, because the idea of "two (or more) drunks supporting each other" is still the basic thesis of the entire organization. So I read that and thought What?

The first Crack-Up essay was published in Esquire's February 1936 issue. The exact beginning of AA is different to pinpoint, but the official website offers a detailed timeline:

In an effort to strengthen his prospects’ chances for recovery, Bill welcomes alcoholics to his home at 182 Clinton Street in Brooklyn. The Tuesday night meetings soon give way to temporary residency for some participants — the kind of “way station” arrangement that Dr. Bob and his wife Anne have pioneered in Akron.

Oxford Group meetings for alcoholics continue at the large home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams, with Dr. Bob sometimes joining Mr. Williams to lead meetings. The recovering alcoholics of the group refer to themselves as the “alcoholic squadron of the Oxford Group.”

Clarence S., a Cleveland resident who attends Oxford Group meetings in Akron, announces that he and other Clevelanders will be starting a group open only to alcoholics and their families. Like some other breakaway groups, they will also adopt the name of the Big Book mimeographs now circulating in Akron—“Alcoholics Anonymous.” In May 1939, the first A.A. meeting in Cleveland is held in the home of Al G. (also known as Abby G.), a patent lawyer. 
I know some people see this as pedantic nitpicking. But the fact is the first "official" meeting of the group known as AA wasn't until 1939 (in Cleveland), and there wasn't anything "formal" about AA in 1936. There certainly wasn't a formal split from the Oxford group in Akron until late 1939. AA wasn't much in the national consciousness until the famous Saturday Evening Post article in 1941.

-- If you want to go on about how Fitzgerald's essays were "a sharp pivot, marking a fundamental change in American consciousness and therefore in narrative voice" and so on (you really want American confessionalism to start with Fitzgerald in Esquire? What about Harris's My Life and Loves? What about the early nonfiction of Richard Wright and James Baldwin? What about all the goddamned Early AmLit captivity narratives? -- BUT ANYWAY). -- If you want to declare something like that, fine. But "these two cultural (or spiritual) occasions, which began their public lives at the same time, in the depths of the Great Depression, are linked in the way that history alone can make obvious, displaying a shared landscape" -- just -- no.

(Where did she get this information? Wikipedia? Where are the copyeditors? -- on the goddamn breadlines, that's where.)

(What's more, Fitzgerald explicitly rejects the connection with alcoholism, or even addiction, Hampl is trying to make -- he says flatly "William Seabrook in an unsympathetic book tells, with some pride and a movie ending, of how he became a public charge. What led to his alcoholism, or was bound up with it, was a collapse of his nervous system...." The book he's talking about is Asylum, a 1935 memoir of Seabrook's seven-month stay in a mental institution. If you want to talk about a "cultural shift" involving addiction, confession and alcoholism, the developing influence of the Big Book in the early forties is a better example.)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

shameless even for GoodReads

....fucking wow. I look forward to more five-star reviews of this book from Doctorow's mother, spouse, and possibly his dog! If he has no dog, I'm sure one will be provided for the purposes of reviewing.

And of course it's the top-rated review for this book, of course it is. And the "review" is basically "I copyedited this book and really liked it!" 'CONFLICT OF INTEREST' is apparently not in this guy's vocabulary. Nor GR's.

("....the complete removal of any security in objectivity for the reader" This guy is a copyeditor? really?)

Friday, January 10, 2014

The vulture's maw Shall have his carcase, and the dogs his bones

God help me, after the day I have had (which included a family member's health emergency, extreme financial upset, and the tiny cat crapping on the floor RIGHT IN FRONT OF the litterbox to express her displeasure with its not being changed quickly enough) I am skipping Five Herrings and going straight to Carcase because I neeeeeed me some of my girl Harriet.


-- And it is perfect:

"I'm afraid," admitted Harriet, "that I have never managed to learn all the subtle rules and regulations about male clothing. That's why I made Robert Templeton one of those untidy dressers."

"Robert Templeton's clothes have always pained me," confessed Wimsey. "The one blot on your otherwise fascinating tales."

(Also now I'm wondering whether P.D. James's enchanting Cordelia Gray was based just a little bit on Harriet's detection work at the beginning of this book.) 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

grief to eat

I discovered a mystery: I loved my sorrow. It was as if I had been preparing all my life for that event, that I had entered into my birthright. When I was in graduate school, my husband and I lived in an apartment over a ruined garden that had a grapevine as thick as a child’s body, coiling up the fire escape to my window. At night I could lie in bed and reach out into the dark and pluck grapes to eat. My grief was like that, as if it had given me access to a shadowy world that lies so close to this one that when I concentrated I could push my arm into it and pluck dream fruit. It is a world where beauty cannot be separated from pain, and should not be, as when a scalpel is needed to expose the exquisite organs of the belly. A pen can be a scalpel too.

- Alice Flaherty

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

....man, I dunno about this herrings book, Dorothy

'Och, ay,' said McAdam. 'Him and Mr. Jock Graham is juist at daggers drawn aboot it. Mr. Graham will be fishing the pool below Campbell's hoose. Not but there's plenty pools in the Fleet wi'out disturbin' Campbell, if the man wad juist be peaceable aboot it. But it's no his pool when a's said and dune - the river's free - and it's no to be expectit that Mr. Graham will pay ony heed to his claims, him that pays nae heed to onybody.'


//skips to end

'A careful examination showed a slight difference between the form of lettering and that of the correctly-punched tickets in the same bunch, and also that, whereas the figures purporting to have been punched on it at Mauchline were LMS 23 A, the other tickets bore the cipher LMS 23 B. It was explained that in each case the letter following the numerals denoted the particular collector who clipped the tickets on that train, each man having his own pair of clippers. The Mauchline numbers ranged from 23A to 23G. Therefore, while in itself the punch-mark LMS 23 A was perfectly correct and in order it was suspicious that collector A should have punched only that one ticket out of all the tickets punched on that train. The previous inquiry had, of course, merely been directed to ascertain that the ticket had actually reached Glasgow, and therefore no special attention was paid to the punch-marks. Now, however, it was evident enough that the punch-marks were forgeries, very neatly executed.'

//just cries

(For actual coherent content, see this.)

he blames Philip Roth

Of course, women are not the only ones trying to figure out their identities through reading. Take what happened to male writer Mark Greif: “Philip Roth is the person I’m most sorry I read when I was young,” Greif said in a 2007 n+1 panel. “It ruined my life.” Reading him as a 13-year-old, “I was convinced I was going to get laid. … Philip Roth seemed to make it clear that you become a writer, and then you have sex all the time, and you’re ridiculously rich …  I was like, ‘This is all going to be so easy,’ not realizing that in fact what he was offering was not what life offers most people, and not what it was going to offer me.”

Greif was upset that he was promised a male narrative that didn’t pan out. What he didn’t consider is who was on the other side of that promise. (Not mattering might be even worse than not getting laid.)

- Amanda Hess

....it's really, truly seriously depressing she doesn't mention Adrienne Rich, though, who wrote about loving the male canon (that's what she said) and trying to identify with it just beautifully.

Never mind me 'cause I've been dead / Out of my body, been out of my head

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I've never seen a diamond in the flesh

At its height, writes Lanier “Kodak employed more than 140,000 people.” Yes, Kodak made plenty of mistakes, but look at what is replacing it: “When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people.”

....the value of these new companies comes from us. “Instagram isn’t worth a billion dollars just because those 13 employees are extraordinary,” he writes. “Instead, its value comes from the millions of users who contribute to the network without being paid for it.” He adds, “Networks need a great number of people to participate in them to generate significant value. But when they have them, only a small number of people get paid. This has the net effect of centralizing wealth and limiting overall economic growth.” Thus, in Lanier’s view, is income inequality also partly a consequence of the digital economy. 

It is Lanier’s radical idea that people should get paid whenever their information is used.


And I will rise up with fists And I will take what's mine (mine mine)

oh God, Christopher Fowler, I love you

'You have no jurisdiction here, Renfield,' said Bryant. 'I've been meaning to ask you: Did your mother read Bram Stoker when she was pregnant?'

'What do you mean?' The sergeant fixed him with a glassy eye.

'Renfield was the obsequious fly-eating sidekick to the prince of darkness,' Bryant explained.

....'Are you trying to be offensive, Mr Bryant?' Renfield hissed, sounding unpleasantly nocturnal.

- Ten Second Staircase

some dance to remember

Memory is the raw material of my work. I found my voice in writing of my butcher father slaughtering poultry at his market, my grandparents harassing each other over gin rummy in their living room, a boyhood walk on the beach in the eye of a hurricane. I could know who I was because I knew who and where I’d been. I could find a story, give form to my experience. But now, without reliable memory, I’m a composer with notes but no melody, a sculptor with nothing but crumbled medium. A quarter century ago, in the aftermath of a viral attack that targeted my brain, I had to relearn how to make sense on the page.

- Floyd Skloot

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sunday, January 5, 2014

she is just so damn funny

While buying a pair of brown silk laces, Miss Climpson debated with herself. Should she follow and seize this opportunity? Trying on shoes is usually a lengthy business. The subject is marooned for long periods in a chair, while the assistant climbs ladders and collects piles of cardboard boxes. It is also comparatively easy to enter into conversation with a person who is trying on shoes. But there is a snag in it. To give colour to your presence in the Fitting department, you must yourself try on shoes. What happens? The assistant first disables you by snatching off your right-hand shoe, and then disappears. And supposing, meanwhile, your quarry completes her purchase and walks out? Are you to follow, hopping madly on one foot? Are you to arouse suspicion by hurriedly replacing your own footgear and rushing out with laces flying and an unconvincing murmur about a forgotten engagement? Still worse, suppose you are in an amphibious condition, wearing one shoe of your own and one of the establishment's? What impression will you make by suddenly bolting with goods to which you are not entitled? Will not the pursuer very quickly become the pursued?

Having weighed this problem in her mind, Miss Climpson paid for her shoelaces and retired. She had already bilked a tea-shop, and one misdemeanour in a morning was about as much as she could hope to get away with.

- Strong Poison

Oates does Oates

Why are you a writer, and what is it all about? 

My theory is that literature is essential to society in the way that dreams are essential to our lives. We can’t live without dreaming — as we can’t live without sleep. We are “conscious” beings for only a limited period of time, then we sink back into sleep — the “unconscious.” It is nourishing, in ways we can’t fully understand. Even a bad dream is nourishing, somehow — it is your own creation.

Dreams spring out of sleep, and sleep springs out of — ?

The human brain. Literature is to society as the part of the brain called the hippocampus is to memory. The hippocampus is a small, seahorse-shaped part of the brain necessary for long-term storage of factual and experiential memory, though it is not the site of such storage. Short-term memory is transient; long-term memory can prevail for many decades. If the hippocampus is injured or atrophied, there is no memory. I think that art is the commemoration of life in its variety. The novel, for instance, is “historic” in its embodiment in a specific place and time and its suggestion that there is meaning to our actions. Without the stillness, thoughtfulness and depths of art, and without the ceaseless moral rigors of art, we would have no shared culture — no collective memory. As it is, in contemporary societies, where so much concentration is focused on social media, insatiable in its myriad, fleeting interests, the “stillness and thoughtfulness” of a more permanent art feels threatened.

Well! That sounds like speechifying. That would not be acceptable on Twitter. Shall we leave it at that?

The writer will have the last word?

Of course!

- "Oates interviews herself" 

and you think _I'm_ pedantic

“A loden coat doesn’t have a hood. A hood isn’t part of the context,” Todd said. “It’s a parka or an anorak.”
“There’s others. There’s always others.”
“Name one.”
“Duffel coat.”
“There’s duffel bag.”
“There’s duffel coat.”
“Does the word imply a hood?”
“The word implies toggles.”
“The coat had a hood. We don’t know if the coat had toggles.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “Because the guy was wearing a parka.”
“ ‘Anorak’ is an Inuit word.”
“So what.”
“I say it’s an anorak,” he said.
I tried to invent an etymology for the word “parka” but couldn’t think fast enough.

- Don DeLillo

more on unlikeable women you don't want to root for who are not nice

I complained about this essay before (you say "pedantic" like it's an actual criticism!), but this part of it is pretty neat:

Lessing’s own complexity and flexibility—though it may have occasionally looked like perversity or simple crankiness—was her best asset. She was cynical, unsentimental, and possessed of a frighteningly keen eye for dishonesty and self-delusion: a brilliant woman whose greatest talent was calling bullshit. You could argue that this made her “abrasive,” sure. Or you could describe her in terms we tend to reserve for equally opinionated men: Bold, brave, iconoclastic, uncompromising, daring, self-possessed, strong. 

But whatever set of adjectives we use for Doris Lessing, the fact is, the world needs writers—particularly female writers—like her, who are willing to swim against the current. The mainstream narratives our society faces are still dangerous and harmful, and women, who spend their lives being indoctrinated with the “feminine” traits of sweetness and politeness and general un-disruptiveness, need strong willpower to oppose them. As the publishing industry changes and becomes ever more dependent on clicks and self-policing sectors of interest, there’s an increasing amount of pressure to simply reinforce what readers already believe, and to echo what they come to the table wanting to hear.

- Sady Doyle

from an email to K

I must admit I am not loving Strong Poison quite as TOTALLY as I thought I would, because I had v high expectations and also because I thought there would be more Harriet. I love Harriet, just the mentions of her, with her lovely exotic dark smudgey smokey eyes. Theda Bara! Or Kiki. But she actually doesn't show up very often.

On the other hand, the book has some of the best flights of Wimsey-whimsey ever, which is really saying something, as his emotional shell is soundly cracked and he begins wildly overcompensating and everyone else in the book is like "Peter, you are even more highly strung up and verbose than usual, what?"

(I am so with Harriet. The only reason anyone would put up with him is to hear that glorious flood of piffle all day. Imagine! When you woke up, there would be piffle! That would be jolly. And at night there would be piffle, in bed, that'd be jolly too....)

I just wonder about Harriet -- what does she think of this guy obviously infatuated with her, from first sight, showing up day after day, to amuse and entertain and save her? After the one disastrous romance in her life, which led directly to her life depending on men -- the judge, the lawyers, Peter himself? Does she trust him and tell herself not to? What is she thinking?

in fine, looking forward to Gaudy Night, YESSSSS

I hate Salon but I continue to love Roxane Gay

Somewhere along the line, we forgot that this drama concerned an actual human being. Justine Sacco did not express empathy for her fellow human beings with her insensitive tweet. It is something, though, that the Internet responded in kind, with an equal lack of empathy. We expressed some of the very attitude we claimed to condemn.

....As I watched the online response to Justine Sacco’s tweet, I thought of Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” first published in 1948 but quite prescient. In a village there is a ritual that has gone largely unquestioned for generations. There is a box and in the box are slips of paper. Each year, the heads of each family draw slips of paper. One will be marked and then the members of that person’s family draw slips again. Whoever selects the slip with a black mark is the sacrifice. Everyone takes up stones and sets upon the unlucky victim. Every citizen is complicit in the murder of someone who, just moments before he or she was chosen, was a friend, a neighbor, a loved one.

Justine Sacco was not sacrificed. Her life will go on. We will likely never know if she learned anything from this unfortunate affair. In truth, I don’t worry so much about her. Instead, I worry for those of us who were complicit in her spectacularly rapid fall from grace. I worry about how comfortable we were holding the stones of outrage in the palms of our hands and the price we paid for that comfort.

- "The Cost of Twitter Outrage"

I hate Buzzfeed but I love Roxane Gay

When we finally begin to see the truth of Amy, she says, of the night she met Nick, “That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants: the Cool Girl. Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hotdogs into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding… Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl.”

This is what is so rarely said about unlikable women in fiction — that they aren’t pretending, that they won’t or can’t pretend to be someone they are not. They have neither the energy for it, nor the desire. They don’t have the willingness of a May Welland to play the part demanded of her. In Gone Girl, Amy talks about the temptation of being the woman a man wants but ultimately she doesn’t give in to that temptation to be “the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain.” Unlikable women refuse to give in to that temptation. They are, instead, themselves. They accept the consequences of their choices and those consequences become stories worth reading.

- "Not Here To Make Friends"

(This conversation is always so entirely about gender, and so many people never see that, and that's just so fucking sad. And infuriating. That was the point! The original point. Gahh.)

(Bonus comment: "If a woman on a T.V. show had the same personality as BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, she would be hated by everyone and the show would be canceled. Only male characters can get away with asshole attributes, and are even revered for it: Severus Snape, Thomas from Downton Abbey, Damon Salvatore, Dexter, Ironman, etc. And a lot of this is the fault of fangirls. We make excuses for the men because we find them attractive, and we justify their behavior because they’re funny or “love someone”, which makes them redeemable. Female characters are scrutinized far more heavily, and are usually thrown into one of two categories: ‘Flat, one-dimensional character whose only role is to wear tight-fitting clothes and be the foil to the main character’; or ‘Bitch’. But if you’re a male character and you have all those same bitchy qualities, you are instead labeled ‘complex’.")

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Al di là del bene e del male

Dominique Sanda, Erland Josephson and Robert Powell as Lou Andreas-Salomé, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Paul Rée in Liliana Cavani's Beyond Good and Evil (1977)

'angel or devil, I don't care'

(email to my friend K began: "and then I seriously fell down the Scott Walker hole on UTU via Jacques Brel and Bowie" and Beirut)

aww yeah there's my guy Val

Freaking out BUZZFEED thousands of years later, now that is truly the definition of a fucking classic.

(I fucking love springing this poem on people, it's like making friends agree to watch Plan 9 From Outer Space. "Bring it on, how bad can it be? Hah!....oh god, okay, I surrender.")

my heroine

I myself have been idiotically told that I write “awful” books because the people in them are unpleasant. Intelligent readers do not confuse the quality of a book with the moral rectitude of the characters. For those who want goodigoodiness, there are some Victorian good-girl religious novels that would suit them fine.

Also, what is “likeable”? We love to watch bad people do awful things in fictions, though we would not like it if they did those things to us in real life. The energy that drives any fictional plot comes from the darker forces, whether they be external (opponents of the heroine or hero) or internal (components of their selves).

Do women writers get asked this more than male ones? Bet your buttons they do. The snaps and snails and puppy-dog’s tails are great for boys. The sugar and spice is still expected for girls. Up to a point.

- Margaret Awood

Thursday, January 2, 2014

because it bears repeating

This is a time-honored dodge, which might be called “the Oompa-Loompa defense.” It goes something like this: outsourcing labor to people who will work for less is fine because they are “happy” to do it. Such practices and accompanying rationales have been continually refined—think the helpline that dials a tech in Bangalore. But the fantasy of the happy worker has taken on newer and more mind-bending aspects, as has work itself. It now includes things like the unpaid microlabor of providing content for Web sites. It includes the amateur photographer who provides her images of, say, the police killing a young black man to the local news as an “iReport” for nothing but a credit and a T-shirt. Or a music lover scratching out a review on some hip site for a byline alone. Or consider the subtlest and arguably the most exemplary case: how, in wandering the byways of Facebook and Google, you are diligently rendering gratis a host of information about the preferences and habits of you and your friends—data they sell to advertisers. This, too, is unpaid labor.

In general, there is the boom in such practices that seems tied to the digital era; you can’t spell Internet without intern. As the argument goes, you are paid in access to a desirable milieu, or the chance to do good. Work for nada at an N.G.O.: you are being paid in justice itself. Oh, you might also get the vague promise that such valuable experience will pay off later. This promise is packaged with the threat that if you don’t take the gig, you will be closed out of the disastrous job market altogether. You had better be happy about it.

Ideally, you don’t even know you are working at all. You think you are keeping up with friends, or networking, or saving the world. Or jamming with the band. And you are. But you are also laboring for someone else’s benefit without getting paid.

- Joshua Clover

(and what did AFP take away from this? 'She said that, in the midst of the Kickstarter controversy, the New Yorker published an article "tearing me to pieces". It included "the basest, most cruel insult someone could throw at me, which was to tell me that Bertolt Brecht would not be proud of me".') (Just....what?)

'We're all asking for attention, and one day it could be the wrong kind.'

2013 was the year we were tricked, catfished, and hoaxed. Of course it was! We were so empowered by our ability to make a difference via virtual means that we forgot how vulnerable that made us to trickery. When we saw something outrageous, we were outraged, millions of us all at once; when someone was wronged, we jumped at the chance to come to his or her rescue. We didn't bother to verify our stories; we just believed them. It's poetically ominous that the year began with the revelation that a highly publicized sad story had been fictional: Manti Te'o's deceased girlfriend had been fictional. This was, of course, a double-catfish. Te'o was duped along with the rest of us, he maintains, into believing his girlfriend had died (and that she had existed at all). He sustained the full impact of a blow to his dignity without anyone else being harmed, but in retrospect it seems like a warning: Don't put your trust in people you can't see. We ignored it.

- Tess Lynch,  "The Year in Internet: The Rise of the Hoax Economy"

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

books read in January 2014

Fiction is in red.

1. All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis, Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera
2. Full Dark House, Christopher Fowler
3. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Eli Pariser
3. The Water Room, Christopher Fowler (Bryant and May are like Statler and Waldorf if they were British and solved crime. I adore them)
4. The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, Olivia Laing
5. Strong Poison, Dorothy Sayers
6. Seventy-Seven Clocks, Christopher Fowler
7. Ten Second Staircase, Christopher Fowler
8. Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death, Katy Butler
9. Have His Carcase, Dorothy Sayers 
10. Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages, Phyllis Rose
11. Trent's Last Case, E.C. Bentley
12. The Complete Stories, Dorothy Sayers
13. The Nine Tailors, Dorothy Sayers
14. White Corridor, Christopher Fowler
15. The Victoria Vanishes, Christopher Fowler
16. The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham, Selina Hastings (written in cliches and entirely mediocre)
17.  Is There No Place on Earth For Me?, Susan Sheehan (amazingly reported, but so heartbreaking I'm not sure I'll ever read it again)
18. Orientations, W. Somerset Maugham
19. The Circle, W. Somerset Maugham
20. Bryant & May On the Loose, Christopher Fowler 
21. Denial: A Memoir of Terror, Jessica Stern
22. Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Sara Gran
23. Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, Sara Gran
24. Bryant & May Off the Rails, Christopher Fowler 

Master list of books read in 2014


top artists of 2013 (over 100 plays last 12 months, last.fm)

Songs: Ohia, 548 plays
Magnolia Electric Co., 426 plays

Dessa, 301 plays
Lou Reed, 288 plays
The Rolling Stones, 283 plays
Lisa Germano, 279 plays
Richard Thompson, 268 plays
Low, 263 plays
Morphine, 252 plays
The Raveonettes, 251 plays
Laura Marling, 223 plays
Robyn Hitchcock, 220 plays
Nick Drake, 217 plays
Wild Flag, 214 plays
David Bowie, 200 plays
Ane Brun, 200 plays

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, 197 plays
Florence + the Machine, 195 plays
The Decemberists, 192 plays
Juana Molina, 174 plays
Leonard Cohen, 172 plays
Neko Case, 167 plays
The Clash, 166 plays
The Jam, 166 plays
Nina Simone, 164 plays
Kristin Hersh, 154 plays
Andrew Bird, 153 plays
Joy Division, 152 plays
The Velvet Underground, 151 plays
Sarah Slean, 150 plays
Anaïs Mitchell, 150 plays
Tori Amos, 148 plays
The Pogues, 148 plays
Hole, 147 plays
Aimee Mann, 147 plays
PJ Harvey, 146 plays
Johnny Cash, 145 plays
Scout Niblett, 145 plays
The Cure, 143 plays
Regina Spektor 142 plays
Rilo Kiley 139 plays
Jill Tracy 137 plays
Mark Lanegan 135 plays
The Smiths, 133 plays
Arcade Fire, 129 plays
Metric, 127 plays
Calexico, 126 plays
Patti Smith, 124 plays
Sonic Youth, 121 plays
Throwing Muses, 120 plays
Lamb, 119 plays
Elliott Smith, 118 plays
Echo & the Bunnymen, 118 plays
Sleater-Kinney, 113 plays
Joan Osborne, 113 plays
Cat Power, 113 plays
Natacha Atlas, 113 plays
Rachel Sermanni, 113 plays
Morrissey, 110 plays
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, 109 plays
The Replacements, 107 plays
Mia Doi Todd, 107 plays
Galaxie, 500 105 plays
The National, 104 plays
Jill Barber, 101 plays
Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter, 100 plays

It's interesting trying to figure out these playcounts (at least for me, and it's my blog, so). Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. are oldtime favourites, but the increased plays were clearly due to Molina's death (dammit, Jason). Ditto Lou Reed and VU, altho I play them all the time too. Dessa had a new album out, as did The Raveonettes (sort of, late 2012?), Laura Marling, Lisa Germano, and Robyn Hitchcock (what you need to know here is if a new album from a favourite artist comes out, I PLAY IT TO DEATH) and....no, Wild Flag came out in 2011. Always behind the curve, that's me! (And Wiki says they broke up this year? FUCK). I fucking LOVED the new Low album. Really liked the new Gogol Bordello, too, even if it seemed a little more mainstreamed (this was also true of Janelle Monae and Juana Molina). Scout Niblett pops up with the best breakup album ever (yes that is including Fleetwood Mac), and....no, Mia Doi Todd was 2011, too. Hah. Most of the rest of this is pure "you can drag the girl out of the nineties, but...." Hah, squared.

I was apparently less than thrilled by the new offerings from Dropkick Murphys, New Order, My Bloody Valentine, and the Eels, which is kinda sad. I think I listened to the new Nick Cave several times but just wasn't that blown away. (If I don't PLAY IT TO DEATH, often I will turn up my nose at a new release and then rediscover it to everyone's annoyance much later, when I....PLAY IT TO DEATH, yeah, that's me.) The new BMRC was OK but what I fucking loved were the live KEXP performances, which are gorgeous and haunting. How to Destroy Angels should show more plays, unless that album's not on Spotify (I forget). I know I listened to that new Wire album, but you'd never guess it. I think I liked Iron & Wine but all their albums sound the same to me and send me peacefully to sleep, which also happens with Belle & Sebastian. Break It Yourself and Hands of Glory were both gorgeous, and, no, also both last year. I didn't discover Savages until like LAST WEEK, so I am sure they will be in heavy rotation for January 2014.

(Yes, I am scanning a "list of 2013 music albums" as I type, because my memory is for shit.)

The big soundtracks were Great Gatsby and Catching Fire but I wasn't knocked over by either one. (No, I am not counting the fucking Hobbit.) 12 Years a Slave was amazing, but I think nobody listened to it. Mogwai's re-recording of their Les Revenants music was great, especially "What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?" -- Damn, Neko Case sings "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" on Boardwalk Empire Vol 2? Must get that. Neko Case also covered Robyn Hitchcock on her new album, so that was fucking fabulous. Not sure how I feel about that new Mazzy Star album. I am avoiding Pearl Jam nowadays and that's working out fine for me. The National seems to be bottoming out, which is sad.

The Big No: the new Depeche Mode, Shaking the Habitual oh my god WHAT no, Mosquito was ehh and I just could not fucking listen to Reflektor, just couldn't. Ditto Yeezus. Daft Punk, NO. I....do not know what the fuck is up with all the hipsters drooling over Anxiety, but y'all are seriously fronting. And my God, I am just so tired of Bon Iver.

....yeah, apparently you can keep your Beyonce, Paul McCartney, and Robbie Williams (what was that about dragging the girl out of the nineties?....).

(Man, I don't know who any of these people are. God I'm so fucking old.)

my top songs of 2013, according to last.fm

Songs: Ohia – I've Been Riding With the Ghost, 140 plays

The Raveonettes – Till The End, 99 plays
Songs: Ohia – Farewell Transmission, 92 plays
Dessa – Call Off Your Ghost, 63 plays
Morphine – Cure for Pain, 50 plays
Lou Reed – Ecstasy, 50 plays

Jill Barber – Oh My My, 45 plays
Wild Flag – Romance, 45 plays
Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – Doctor Blind, 38 plays
The Rolling Stones – Sister Morphine, 34 plays
Wild Flag – Black Tiles, 34 plays
Aimee Mann – Wise Up, 33 plays
Jimmy Reed – Bright Lights, Big City, 33 plays
Joy Division – Transmission, 32 plays
Nick Drake – Blues Run The Game, 32 plays
Richard Thompson – Never Give It Up, 32 plays
Hole – Violet, 31 plays
Lamb – Lullaby, 31 plays
Sleater-Kinney – Off With Your Head, 31 plays
Juana Molina – Un Día, 31 plays
The Rolling Stones – Shine a Light, 30 plays
Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – Bottom Of The World, 30 plays

Placebo – Running Up That Hill, 29 plays
Jeff Buckley – New Year's Prayer, 28 plays
Merry Clayton – Gimme Shelter, 27 plays
Cowboy Junkies – I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side, 27 plays
Ane Brun – Do You Remember, 27 plays
Sarah Slean – My Invitation, 26 plays
Tom Waits – Walk Away, 26 plays

Martin Tielli – I'll Never Tear You Apart, 25 plays
Johnny Cash – God's Gonna Cut You Down, 25 plays
Magnolia Electric Co. – Josephine, 25 plays
Magnolia Electric Co. – Little Sad Eyes, 25 plays
Magnolia Electric Co. – Hope Dies Last, 25 plays
Dessa – The Man I Knew, 25 plays
A. Wolf & Her Claws – Alice, 25 plays
Mark Lanegan – Little Sadie, 25 plays
Natacha Atlas – Etheric Messages, 25 plays
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals – Nothing But the Water (I), 25 plays
Morphine – Patience (Alternate Version), 25 plays
Rachel Sermanni – The Fog, 25 plays


Aww yeah, my girls. Frank Black can go suck his own non-existent dick.