Wednesday, December 31, 2014

last book read in 2014

I keep thinking I will write up my impressions of the last half of Persuasion Vol II, but I just feel so ill and overwhelmed by the probable endo (or as a Russian friend of mine used to call it, the Red Army's regular invasion, as if our uteruses were Poland). (Spent last three days in bed, slept something like twelve hours yesterday, and FOURTEEN the day before that. A WINNER IS ME.) Maybe it will be something I can do in the new year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sunday, December 28, 2014

blurred and breathless dead

Is it not possible—I often wonder—that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence? And if so, will it not be possible, in time, that some device will be invented by which we can tap them? I see it—the past—as an avenue lying behind; a long ribbon of scenes, emotions. There at the end of the avenue still, are the garden and the nursery. Instead of remembering here a scene and there a sound, I shall fit a plug into the wall; and listen in to the past. I feel that strong emotion must leave its trace; and it is only a question of discovering how we can get ourselves again attached to it, so that we shall be able to live our lives through from the start.

 - Virginia Woolf, Selected Diaries


'the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for'

“Six months ago people were quitting their day job, convinced they could make a career out of writing,” said Bob Mayer, an e-book consultant and publisher who has written 50 books. “Now people are having to go back to that job or are scraping to get by. That’s how quickly things have changed.”

For romance and mystery novelists who embraced digital technology, loved chatting up their fans and wrote really, really fast, the last few years have been a golden age. Fiction underwent a boom unseen since the postwar era, when seemingly every liberal arts major set his sights on the Great American Novel. Now, though, the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for.

In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. The number of books on Smashwords, which distributes self-published writers, grew 20 percent last year. The number of free books rose by one-third.

Revenue from e-books leveled off in 2013 at $3 billion after increasing nearly 50 percent in 2012, according to BookStats. But Kindle Unlimited is making the glut worse, some writers say.

“Your rabid romance reader who was buying $100 worth of books a week and funneling $5,200 into Amazon per year is now generating less than $120 a year,” (Holly Ward) said. “The revenue is just lost. That doesn’t work well for Amazon or the writers.”

Amazon, though, may be willing to forgo some income in the short term to create a service that draws readers in and encourages them to buy other items. The books, in that sense, are loss leaders, although the writers take the loss, not Amazon.



"Being ironic about it doesn't make your list any more relevant. Lists consume irony and shit it out again. Lists destroy everything they touch."

Saturday, December 27, 2014

top albums of 2014 according to

Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty
Folger Consort – This England: Music From the Time of Shakespeare
Agnes Obel – Philharmonics
Agnes Obel – Aventine
Tara Jane O'Neil – Where Shine New Lights
The Raveonettes – Observator
Portishead – Roseland NYC Live
Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
Throwing Muses – Purgatory / Paradise
Magnolia Electric Co. – Sojourner
Emily Jane White – Ode To Sentience
Jolie Holland – Wine Dark Sea
Kosheen – Resist
The Klezmatics – Possessed
Nick Cave – B-Sides
Dessa – Parts of Speech
Sleater‐Kinney – Start Together // 1994 - 2006
Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel
Billy Bragg – Talking With the Taxman About Poetry
Patrick Doyle – Sense & Sensibility - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

via (click on "Last 12 Months" tab)

top 2014 albums

This week, this year, and overall, respectively:

Thursday, December 25, 2014

I thought I of course blogged this already! But I can't fucking find it. So here it is (again?). A VERY MARY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE


Pompeii - Life and Death in a Roman Town ( Mary Beard )

J.R.R. Tolkien's medical admission record from WWI

A man who did his level best to drive me off social media because I criticized a bad review he wrote of a book about women, by a woman, is now loudly trumpeting how he will only read books by women in 2015. I suppose this is what they mean by ironic.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

screw xmas, THIS is what I wait all year for

Liminality needs to be conceived as both a process and a state of being. More accurately, liminality highlights that being is always in-process: dynamic, temporal, future-orientated and open-ended....Its value as an ontological claim about the nature of the self lies in the way it evokes an evasion of ontological security through the crossing of boundaries and embracing of the marginal / threshold. In other words, if liminality is seen as a site of the multiply constituted and relational self, then it is an essentially unstable and elusive site. One could thus read liminality as enacting a shift from an ontology of being to an ontology of becoming; or, indeed, a synthesis of becoming and being. Rather than simply reconfiguring the spatial aspect of the self (i.e. moving from an atomistic to a relational conception of the ‘I’), liminality draws out the temporal features of selfhood through characterising it as fundamentally transitional.

- Paddy McQueen, "A Life Less Liminal? Issues of Inclusion and Recognition for Trans-Identities"
Oh, Tumblr, some of us were Amy Elliott Dunne fangirls two years ago when the book came out.

(And I remember a lot of discussion with people trying to convince me no, Amy was a stone cold bitch and me raving on about femme fatales, but it's all lost in the e-mist of Goodreads Past now.)

Monday, December 22, 2014

never bet the devil your head

IT was well said of a certain German book that "er lasst sich nicht lesen" — it does not permit itself to be read. There are some secrets which do not permit themselves to be told. Men die nightly in their beds, wringing the hands of ghostly confessors, and looking them piteously in the eyes — die with despair of heart and convulsion of throat, on account of the hideousness of mysteries which will not suffer themselves to be revealed. Now and then, alas, the conscience of man takes up a burthen so heavy in horror that it can be thrown down only into the grave.

- Edgar Allan Poe, "The Man of the Crowd"

Saturday, December 20, 2014

There could not be an objection. There could be only a most proper alacrity, a most obliging compliance for public view; and smiles reined in and spirits dancing in private rapture. In half a minute Charles was at the bottom of Union-street again, and the other two proceeding together; and soon words enough had passed between them to decide their direction towards the comparatively quiet and retired gravel-walk, where the power of conversation would make the present hour a blessing indeed; and prepare it for all the immortality which the happiest recollections of their own future lives could bestow. There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure every thing, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement. There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other's character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting. And there, as they slowly paced the gradual ascent, heedless of every group around them, seeing neither sauntering politicians, bustling house-keepers, flirting girls, nor nursery-maids and children, they could indulge in those retrospections and acknowledgements, and especially in those explanations of what had directly preceded the present moment, which were so poignant and so ceaseless in interest. All the little variations of the last week were gone through; and of yesterday and to-day there could scarcely be an end.

-- Persuasion, chapter 23

Gillian Beer on 'Persuasion'

Persuasion is a book about a longed-for and impossible return. It is, in that sense, a ghost story, and Frederick Wentworth a revenant. Like The Winter's Tale it is about love restored against all likelihood.  The gap of loss can be closed up, youth and beauty retrieved, dead affection revived. The work is both domestic and uncanny, offering to Anne and the reader at last paradisal relief.

-- Isn't that amazing? ("And she keeps doing that, too.")

Friday, December 19, 2014

are you fucking kidding me, Internet

Editor's note: This article was originally titled “We Can't All Just Get Along” in the print version of the magazine. The title was then changed, without the author's knowledge or approval, to “It's Okay to Hate Republicans.” The author rejects the online title as not representative of the piece or its main points. Her preferred title has been restored. We have also removed from the “Comments” section all threats to the author's life and personal safety.



GPOY, oh dear

He held the kind of passion for books and learning that only comes when one has pursued an education on one’s very own — but it was a passion that, because its origins were both private and virtuous, tended toward piety and scorn. His temperament was deeply nostalgic, not for his own past, but for past ages; he was cynical of the present, fearful of the future, and profoundly regretful of the world’s decay.

- Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries

stuck in Bath (first half of Vol II)

- the best thing that could happen to Sir Walter is an industrial accident

- I'm surprised Anne hasn't set fire to Elizabeth's hair

- God, William Elliot is creepy

- Lady Russell has NO taste in men whatsoever

- 'I am no match-maker, as you well know' YOU SURE AS FUCK AREN'T

- so in Bath when you finally start feeling better you find this creepy nurse hanging over your sickbed waving "thread-cases" for you to buy as a kind of secular medical indulgence? Ack

- 'Here and there, human nature may be great in times of trial, but generally speaking it is its weakness and not its strength that appears in a sick chamber' in biographical context that is really fucking heartbreaking

- I forgot to mention earlier how Jane's earlier extreme nastiness about the death of 'thick-headed, unfeeling, unprofitable Dick Musgrove, who had never done anything to entitle himself to more than the abbreviation of his name, living or dead' AND his mother's grief being hilarious because she's fat ('A large bulky figure has as good a right to be in deep affliction, as the most graceful set of limbs in the world. But, fair or not fair, there are unbecoming conjunctions, which reason will patronize in vain--which taste cannot tolerate--which ridicule will seize') squicked me right the fuck out. DAMN, JANE, THAT WAS BAD. YOU ARE SO MUCH BETTER THAN THAT

- news from Uppercross in the next chapter! Have we really spent only a month in Bath? It feels like three eternities. And what on earth shall we do with all these pin-cushions?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Persuasion - second half of Vol I

First half of Vol I


-- As far as I'm convinced this is the book that should be called Pride and Prejudice, not Persuasion, no matter how many Brills (Mc)Gills go on about Lady Russell's persuading Anne and persuasion as seduction and the rhetoric of convincing and make you quake in awe of their giant brains. 'Persuasion' has nothing really to do with it. Both Wentworth and Anne are too proud to get over the disastrous end of their engagement, although Anne seems more simply mortified whenever she sees him, but that's probably due to Mary's utterly tactless "oh, he was so ungallant and called you old and withered." Anne's being withered by age seems more like she's actually staled from custom to the people around her: they see her as the spinster aunt, good for nursing children and invalids, so that's all she is in their circle. (She can't be that withered if a couple of days in Lyme produces that much of a change in her looks. More likely, she's withdrawn and depressed.) -- Austen seems to present Mary as being more thoughtless than mean with that remark, but I don't know, Mary is pretty horrible; then again, seeing Mary as insensible to everything is probably the right default.

You can see Austen still sort of feeling her way around with Wentworth, though; he was shocked into saying Anne was "wretchedly" altered (to her family? jeez, Fred), he never got over her, he never met a woman he thought was her equal, he's still unhappy, blah, blahblah. I....don't like him that much? He seems a bit full of himself, although that's probably him overcompensating in Anne's company (although even when she's gone he blathers on to Louisa about the damn hard nut). I do like how he obviously cares for Anne: he gets the kid (literally) off her back (this is later mirrored when she helps manage the stunned Louisa), he sees she is tired, he's rather stunned himself when he learns she fended off Charles and then exchanges speaking glances with William, he wants her to nurse Louisa and asks her opinion of how best to break the news -- tiny little crumbs, to be sure, but Anne eagerly feasts on them, like poor Lucy Snowe with her non-love letters. He does have a lot of very dry witty asides, and Anne reads his face constantly (especially the contemptuous or fed-up expressions), and they even exchange glances and know what the other is thinking a few times. Austen does do her thing where the real hero's past good deed is recounted by someone else, like the housekeeper's testimony of Mr Darcy, and even if Austen doesn't underline it, surely Anne is thinking Wentworth understands Benwick's pain at losing his fiancee all too well.

I'm struck by how silent this book is; poor Anne still has had barely anything to say, except in the very droll bit where she tries prescribing good solemn prose to poor Benwick, as if it were castor oil. By contrast everyone else soliloquizes like Hamlet. People think of Fanny Price as the doormat, but she's always weeping and judging and refusing to act and refusing to marry Henry and rejecting being obedient to society by remaining true to her own conscience instead in general, as Tomalin so rightly points out. (Yes, I am a partisan in the Fanny Wars. I think she's adorable, if a bit wet.) Fanny observes, but she is young and heroic enough that she still stands up for herself (yes she does); we are flatly informed as far back as the second chapter in this first volume that nobody cares what Anne thinks about pretty much anything. And even when someone, i.e. only Lady Russell, does, she still overrides Anne anyway. Anne is numbed but remarkably unbitter; about the closest she gets to bitchy is thinking at Wentworth "how do you like your so-spirited girl NOW," after Louisa literally throws herself at him and lands on the Cobb instead. But even that doesn't seem mean-spirited as much as accurate, you can  just picture Louisa on one of those frigates they keep talking about: "I'll lean over the side only a little bit more! -- " (Splash.)

Mary and Charles seem like the worst couple in Austen; you know Lydia is heedless and hedonistic enough to make Wickham dance to her tune, at least while she's young and juicy, and Lucy Steele determinedly gets just what she wants, famously, "with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience." (I always love that it amuses Austen to give somewhat-happy endings to her villainous characters: Willoughby does not die of a broken heart, but holds Marianne as his eternal secret standard for women, which must make his wife at least unhappy enough.) Mary is completely self-centered without being that amusing and absolutely unable to be on her own, or to see anyone else get the least bit of attention, and Charles doesn't seem to care about much other than hunting, probably because it enables him to gallop far away from Mary. Mr Bennet at least justifies his existence by being funny, and sheltering Elizabeth somewhat. There is nothing redeeming about Charles and Mary, and Elizabeth and Sir Walter will be just as awful in Bath. Anne is the most alone of all Austen's heroines: even Fanny has Egburp, and gets to know Susan. Anne's sisters either ignore or exploit her, her cousins don't really see her, and the person she truly loves as a mother substitute doesn't know her either (you cannot marry Frederick, you should marry Charles, you must like Bath). The poor thing needs a job, a Hitachi wand, and several dozen issues of Ms.

But this being an Austen novel, she goes to Lyme instead, which is very charmingly portrayed (Austen is rather lovingly dry, just like Wentworth: "a fine south-easterly breeze was bringing in [the tide] with all the grandeur which so flat a shore admitted.") And she gets to talk Byron and Scott (this is another book in which Marmion is lauded, besides my beloved JE; I must try to read it through one of these days), with the palely loitering James Benwick (dry Austen again: "He had a pleasing face and a melancholy air, just as he ought to have").  I think this is the only Austen novel in which the best society, and the pool of possible suitors, is so completely made up of non-titled men who have made their own fortunes: Captain Harville is stuck in a poky lodging house, but has fitted it up very nicely, the Admiral is steered along very well by Wentworth's sister, and the natural openness and freshness of the sea and wind seem to be embodied in the hospitality and high spirits of the sailors. This heroine will not have the reward of a fine country estate or even a settled parsonage, but the social mobility and possible adventure (I particularly love Mrs Croft's rattling off all the places she's been, and Mary absolutely unable to say anything back) are entirely new and exciting.

-- That's what the book is about for me, really: risk, and the decision to take it or not, and the mutability of feeling, which is portrayed in poor Benwick and Louisa but even the main characters. They could stay confined in their roles as rejected, resentful suitor and pining, fading spinster, but Anne and Wentworth in the end are both heroic in speaking out their feelings, even if indirectly. I was confused at first because I kept thinking of this story as a kind of weird Regency Gatsby, an attempt to recapture the past which is apparently successful, but it is really about the kind of emotional risk which lets us overcome the past, not entomb and fetishize it.* Gillian Beers brilliantly compares Persuasion to The Winter's Tale, which is just right: true reconciliation does involve restoration, or perhaps only the realization that what was thought lost has always remained, imperishable. Anne and Frederick change and age, but their love remains constant, their Northern Star.

-- But to get to the completed circle in the gravel path, we must go through Bath UGH. I know Janeite tourism doesn't work this way, but I wonder anyone goes to Bath after reading her books, the associations are usually so unpleasant.

*Relatedly, I just read the last essay in Meghan Daum's new book and I'm sure I'll be naive until I'm ninety, because I was rather shocked by its ending: "I went through this life-changing experience and thought I would change and be better but nothing really happened at all except I did survive a near-fatal infection, so inasmuch as there's a happy ending, that's it, except it's not really that happy because life is so mundane to those who are truly wised-up, like me." Of course true insight is always hard to even hang onto, much less act on, but that seemed to me like nothing so much as her brattily pushing even the possibility of change away. I guess living such an existence truly would be its own sort of punishment, as she more or less points out herself, except that having a major book deal with FSG doesn't seem to be much of a slap on the wrist.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Error," Mark Strand

We drifted downstream under a scattering of stars
and slept until the sun rose. When we got to the capital,
which lay in ruins, we built a large fire out of what chairs
and table we could find. The heat was so fierce that birds
overhead caught fire and fell flaming to earth.
These we ate, then continued on foot into regions
where the sea is frozen and the ground is strewn
with moonlike boulders. If only we had stopped,
turned, and gone back to the garden we started from,
with its broken urn, its pile of rotting leaves, and sat
gazing up at the house and seen only the passing
of sunlight over its windows, that would have been
enough, even if the wind cried and clouds scudded seaward
like the pages of a book on which nothing was written.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Problem: While on mood stabilizers I always feel like my actual feelings are about three feet to the left of me. I can see them! but they're not quite over here.

Solution: THIS IS NOT AN ACTUAL PROBLEM. KEEP TAKING THE MOOD STABILIZERS. (this past summer when we had like no income I had to go off all my medz for about a month and hoooo boy, that got real ugly real quick) (my unmedicated feelings are like Godzilla. They can crush actual cities)

Persuasion - first half of Vol I

I'm breaking my posts on this book into four parts because there's only two volumes, and I don't want to focus on either big volumes or small chapters. The story fits quite nicely in that frame anyway: in chapter 7, Anne sees Wentworth for the first time again (they don't speak) and in Vol II's chapter 7 (chapter 24 continuously) she sees him in Bath. (It is always worth investigating the structure in Austen's novels; she was a very symmetrical plotter.) At the end of chapter 6, which I have just finished, Anne finds out that not only is it that Captain Wentworth, and not only will he be at Kellynch but the Musgroves are determined to introduce themselves to him, which means he will come to Uppercuts* as inevitably as the tide rolls in.

I really did not click with this book at all back when I first read it, and I think now at least part of it was due to my beloved Margaret Drabble's loving descriptions of its mature happiness -- fulfilled romance, second bloom, Austen opening out into new worlds, blahblah. Virginia Woolf famously said that Persuasion was dull because it was a transition novel and "the writer is a little bored" with her own schtick, but I don't think the word is bored so much as bitter. As everyone notes, Austen's humour here is not just sarcastic but caustic: Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliott are never much more than flat ugly stereotypes, ditto Mary Musgrove and Mrs Clay (in a really nasty strike, Austen names the latter PENELOPE in chapter 3, when she is the exact opposite of loving fidelity), and even Lady Russell, the closest thing Anne has to anything like a friend, is rather dull and conventional, and gives Anne terrible advice although she loves her -- indeed, Austen's point is, probably because she loves her, which is a truly depressing insight into human nature. We are about as far away from lovably flawed Mr Bennet and Mrs Jennings as it is possible to get. This is the one book of Austen's set at the time of its writing, where the heroine is older (and still about ten years younger than Austen when writing), isolated, with no real friends, protection or prospects, caught in between being ignored and exploited, with the one great chance of her lifetime missed and far behind her. Anne is fading; her creator was dying.

In fine, I would not describe this novel as sober or grown-up or dull as much as horribly depressing, in its first movement, not just adagio but ritardando. All that joyous reading of The Letter comes late in the game, people! Anne is effaced even in the telling of her own story: the first chapter is devoted to detailing how very unimportant she is (famously, "she was only Anne"): nobody listens to her, and even if they do, like Lady Russell, still nobody takes her seriously. (Again, famously: "She disliked Bath, and did not think it agreed with her -- and Bath was to be her home.") (We also gain a serious clue in the second chapter when Lady Russell wants Anne to go to Bath against her own wishes, for her own good, just as she opposed Anne's marrying Wentworth years ago.) We don't even hear Anne until the third chapter, when she (another clue) defends the navy as a worthy profession, touchingly claiming for them "all the comforts and all the privileges which any home can give" -- as Gillian Beer notes, in this novel the domestic and political spheres are pretty much welded together. Anne only speaks out three times in this whole long scene (Sir Walter and Mrs Clay both rattle away dreadfully), only when other people are silent, and twice only to supply objective information: identities, ranks, as if she were a reference book opened just when someone else wants something. Only at the very end of the scene, and the chapter, when everyone else's more important business is concluded, can Anne slip away to find relief in the night outside (a bit like Marianne Dashwood) and gently sigh about how in a little while "he" may be where she is now. And with this most appropriate consideration of future time becoming time past, the narration slips fully into the subjunctive as we are introduced to the story of the lost suitor who will take Anne's place in the to-be-lost favourite grove. Not Mrs Croft's brother the curate Mr Wentworth, but his brother, the dashing young captain who had no parents, no employment and no permanent home of his own, like Anne when he met her. Austen sidles up on Wentworth, deliberately distancing; his character becomes clear gradually, first far back in time.

Young Captain Wentworth was very dashing indeed: he is described as intelligent, spirited, brilliant, witty, fearless, headstrong and confident ("He had always been lucky; he knew he should be so still") and his confidence is entirely justified as Austen rewards him with not just a job but a promotion, not just success but a great fortune (I think by our terms he's at least a millionaire; what he earns is about equal to what Emma only inherits). Like Colonel Brandon, he builds a strong career on disappointment; like Marianne, Anne loses her "bloom and spirits." The following chapter shows us what Anne's yielding to the "over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence" has brought her to: "nobody will want her in Bath" (in neither a social nor familial sense), her other sister wants her mainly as an unpaid governess and buffer between both her husband and mother-in-law, and she is sunk in an atmosphere of a hundred daily little hypocrisies and insults. On the banishment of the to-be prince, she became a Sleeping Beauty. The horror indeed is that this is no horror, "only" a life, in Charlotte Bronte's words in Shirley, that is not a life at all, but "a black trance like the toad's, buried in marble....a long, slow death" of useless "service." One of the most engrossing things for me about these buildup chapters (really, they give new meaning to the words slow burn) is watching Austen show, very carefully and subtly, how someone whose existence is so limited and unsatisfying can turn to a kind of masochistic automatic martyrdom to find their only sense of achievement, and indeed worth. Under cover of the socially acceptable Romance of rediscovered long-lasting love is a far more radical presentation of how how unacceptable what "ordinary" women are forced to accept daily really is.

But behind Anne's loss of Wentworth is a deeper, more permanent loss that can never be healed: the narrative suddenly baldly cries out, "excepting one short period of her life, she had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation". She has truly been left "alone in the world," and not just regarding music, either. This puts everything into new perspective: Anne's first, and only, love affair happened when she was nineteen, five years after the death of her mother, and about two years spending three years at school in Bath after that great loss, divorced from family and home. Much is made of the novel's autumnal atmosphere, but the point is that a human being's autumn is followed by the winter of old age and death, not nature's eternal renewal. In the words of Housman's translation of Horace:

Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring
Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers
Comes autumn with his apples scattering;
Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.

But oh, whate'er the sky-led seasons mar,
Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams;
Come we where Tullus and where Ancus are
And good Aeneas, we are dust and dreams.

It was Anne's loss of this first love, and her desire to keep even a semblance of it in Lady Russell's ("one who had almost a mother's love, and mother's rights") that made her reject a later, truer, consolatory replacement. The true tragedy of her life is not that she rejected a marriage proposal, but that in attempting to keep emotional security she instead sentenced herself to a life unlived, sterility and numbness, "a sort of desolate tranquility." And society, not only in the persons of her vain and unloving father and eldest sister, but her loving godmother, told her this was nothing but good.

But even if Anne finds that romantic love, it never will make up for that first, greatest loss, or all the years wasted in fear after it. (And indeed at the end of the novel the only flaw in Anne's happiness is the fear she will lose it; but, one way or another, she will lose her husband eventually, and their shared happiness, and even her own life, and our truest bravery consists in welcoming our mortal joy without fearing its inevitable end.)

*Sorry, sorry.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

idle query

I wonder how much of Wikipedia is ripped off (or lightly rephrased) from out-of-print editions of the Britannica Encyclopedia. I don't know how exactly you would figure out the percentage (sit there with side-by-side editions and human eyes, probably), but I'd bet my eyeteeth it's a lot.

Friday, December 12, 2014

two quotes by Meghan Daum

But if most writers have long understood that publishing is a privilege that carries certain responsibilities—foremost among them taking the time to present ideas in a careful and thoughtful manner, ideally with the help of one or more editors—many readers seem to be approaching their commenting privileges like teenagers with newly minted driver’s licenses. Belted in by anonymity and often distracted by the equally reckless ravings of their peers, they take potshots, spread untruths, and, at their worst, spew racism and bigotry that would put a professional writer out of business in a nanosecond. In so doing, they spread a rancor that can eclipse not only the original article but also the comments of readers who take a more constructive, civil approach. They take the very privilege the internet has afforded all of us—the privilege of equal opportunity, instant expression—and spit on it, making the very notion of “speaking your mind” seem almost like a dirty practice, the national pastime of the lowest common denominator.

- The Believer, 2012

....I can’t tell you how lucky I feel that I came of age as a writer before the blogosphere. I mean I had editors whom I worked with. There was a long time to go back and forth on it — I mean, I wrote a whole piece about this in The Believer, about audience reaction and commenting. I started off before all that was really going on. You weren’t writing something and then having readers instantly respond. You heard about it in a few weeks when they started getting letters to the editor, so it’s a very, very different experience.

Do you think writing with that instantaneous reaction would have inhibited your writing?
Definitely. I notice this in students, and I notice this in younger writers. There is a sense of looking over your shoulder as you’re writing and expressing an opinion, because you have this anticipatory anxiety about what the comments are going to say or who’s going to tweet something or call you out on Twitter, or what the reaction is going to be, and I think that’s too bad, because writing is about putting an idea into the world, and letting it kind of sit there for a while and giving people a chance to absorb it. If the blogosphere had been around when I was starting off as a professional writer in the early '90s, I don’t know if I would’ve taken some of the risks that I did. I definitely wrote pieces that were very much the work of a young person and were just deliberately polarizing and certainly, I never wrote anything that I didn’t believe, but I was a very aggressive kind of writer.

And you also had the luxury of once it was off the newsstand —
 — it went away forever.

Yeah, exactly. You didn't have it following you around every time you wrote something new. 
Exactly, exactly. Now, it's sort of at once disposable and nonbiodegradable, you know? It's like everything that is written is kind of the equivalent of Styrofoam.

I was going to say a plastic bag, yeah.
Yes, right. I'm including myself in this. I'm saying, all of us when we write on the web, it's Styrofoam. It's disposable; you don't need it after five minutes, and yet it's never going to go away. It will never break down and be reabsorbed. And that's a very different kind of experience as a writer.

- The Cut interview, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

They drank cocoa (which Wilfred recalled as the great conspiratorial drink of the early twentieth century; trade union meetings in West Ham were usually held at cocoa-rooms).

- The Knox Brothers, Penelope (Knox) Fitzgerald

I just adore her.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


The English language has a great deficit in words to describe the impenetrable hopelessness that mental illness visits upon those afflicted with it. I’ve spent embarrassing amounts of time seeking out words in other languages that give form and substance to this lifetime of experiences. Germans have Verzweiflung, it is the direct translation of despair but it is also accompanied by fear and pain. The Czech litost is the torment of suddenly seeing the extent of one’s own misery. Toska is what Nabakov said could never be fully expressed in English words and described as “a sensation of spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause.”

But my personal favorite has much less to do with misery. It is the Portuguese saudade, a melancholic longing for someone or something that is lost or gone, likely forever. It is often felt for lovers and for the Utopian landscapes of youth, for things that might have never even been but can be longed for nonetheless. My affection for the feeling is not because of its familiarity but because of its absence. I have no such longings. I have no memories of utopias or of perfect lovers or of anything that took might take the shape of bliss. I don’t have any reference points to long into goldennes and then ache for. It is heartening to realize that I don’t suffer from every kind of heartbreak available, just the particular kind that I do.

- The Circumference of Despair: On Depression and Language

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

things making me happy right now

(yes, trying to cheer myself up a little bit....)

Guardians of the Galaxy
Penelope Fitzgerald
Jane Austen
Redbird ("the falling stars will mend our hearts and let us start again....")
my fat black cat purring til he drools
tiny stripey mouthy evil kitten bouncing up from a nap with "HI!"
poached eggs on toasted whole-wheat bread
the new translation of Anna Karenina
my husband finding a DVD of Johnny Mnemonic (favourite so-bad-it's-good movie ever) for me for about six bucks
Dessa, "Sound the Bells" (probably my favourite song of 2014) (runners-up: Laura Marling, "Devil's Resting Place," Agnes Obel, "Aventine," Chelsea Wolfe, "The Warden") (yes I know those came out in 2013, I'm slow)
"In the Hands of Ghosts"

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

books read in December 2014

Fiction is in red. Date of first publication in (parentheses).

178. The Passage, Justin Cronin (2010) (readable enough, but WOW, the hype)
179. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel (2014) (v funny and moving, v Vonnegut-ish)
180. Being Mortal, Atul Gawande (2014)
181. Greywalker, Kat Richardson (2006)
182. Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, Maya Schenwar (2014) (snaps neatly in two: half compelling memoir, half unconvincing jargon)
183. The Knox Brothers, Penelope Fitzgerald (1977, revised ed. 2000) (like a lost work by Woolf)
184. Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, Atul Gawande (2007) 
185. The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer (2014)
186. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, Cary Elwes (2014) (get the audiobook of this, not the hard copy)
187. Stranger, Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith (2014)
188. Persuasion, Jane Austen (1818) (all Woolf comes from this)
189. The Annotated Pratchett File (no idea if this counts as a book, but I downloaded it to my Paperwhite and read it. Stops at around 2002, or Once More with Footnotes)
190. Those Who Save Us, Jenna Blum (2005) (pretty bad)
191. The Invisible Bridge, Julie Orringer (2010) (good - fairly sentimental though)
192. The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life, Andy Miller (2014) (more personal than I was expecting, but v funny)
193. How to Be a Heroine: Or What I've Learned from Reading Too Much, Samantha Ellis (2014) (the less said about this the better) (OF COURSE the "top" reviewer on Goodreads loved it, five stars!!! but it did not move her, any more than anything else ever does, to capitalize any letters at all)
194. To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface, Olivia Laing (2011) (exquisite)

all 2014 booklist posts

Monday, December 1, 2014

of course I adored her

Nebula, Guardians of the Galaxy (Karen Gillan)

what painkillers grouchy old addicts in recovery like me get to take for migraines

1) Advil
2) coffee

3) tea when I've had enough coffee that I know any more will set off pancreatitis/acid reflux/anxiety disorders

4) more tea

5) Benadryl and aspirin

6) more Advil

7) 2-3 emergency cups of black coffee

I cannot tell you the number of doctors -- good doctors, who have seen me for years, who have congratulated me on being sober since April 1, 2002 -- who have offered me Percocet, Tylenol 3, Lortab, Fioricet, Norflex, Vicodin, and I don't know what-all fucking else, including BENZOS (no fucking idea what was going on there, they thought I looked....tense?).  My husband, who has accompanied me to a number of migraine treatment appointments (because when I can't really think or listen or speak that well because PAIN, having someone else toodle along is a good bet) described the effect as something like "a garlic cross waved at a vampire." Whatever the opposite is of drug-seeking, I'm it. Drug-fending-off? When I needed stitches for a minor procedure, "No, I don't want morphine!" When an abscess got so bad I had to go to the ER, "NO, I DON'T WANT MORPHINE." (Husband remarked: "Maybe you could hold up a sign?" That's why I love him.)

And if you are wondering how much pain a migraine could really cause, anyway: as another migraineur once said, a dear friend of mine who was also in recovery, "Imagine you are having the worst headache of your life. (pause) Now multiply that by a factor of ten. (pause) Now imagine that while you're having this headache, someone is splitting open your skull with a red-hot ax. (smile demurely)"

(This grumpy rant brought to you by the construction going on right across the street from my bedroom, which is audible with the windows shut, the white noise machine blasting, and while I'm wearing headphones. Thankfully this wasn't happening during the last four days when I was knocked out flat, but I'm very sensitive to noise, so the migraine has been Looooming over me all damn day, like when you know in the morning as you arrive at school that when it's recess the class bully will beat you up for your lunch money.)
and THEN I got my period ON Thanksgiving day hours before I was going to start cooking, developed a terrible menstrual migraine (flashing checkerboards crying puking the works), and wound up spending basically all four days* of my husband's break huddled in a ball in the dark bedroom. MY LIFE WINS.

*two of them unpaid! \o/