Monday, December 05, 2016

Light reading update

Jet lag has me up much earlier than usual: I must make sure not to squander this advantage, if I am smart I can type up the notes for my two remaining Austen chapters and get the production of quota underway before life too much intervenes! Very happy to be home - I always forget how much I love my apartment, and of course the warm welcome from the two funny cats is huge....

First, though, an overdue light reading update, a sort of throat-clearing before getting back into the real work.

The trip home from England went smoothly, with the proviso that I arrived at the airport six hours in advance of my flight (B.'s flight to Miami was a couple hours earlier from a different terminal) and was horrified to learn that the airline would only take checked bags (I had 2 bags of approximately fifty pounds each, one small and densely full of books, the other a cumbersome large duffel full of clothes and miscellaneous running gear) three hours in advance of flying time. Fortunately Heathrow Terminal 5 is very nice and I was able to hole up in a reasonable restaurant for the duration.

Key to successful travel for me is having the right books to read, and in fact the day passed very enjoyably. I read part of and put aside a Swedish thriller I wasn't enjoying, then had an undemanding and enjoyable urban fantasy (at its best, this genre is undemanding and wonderfully immersive) that took me through the first stint of waiting, an incredibly good and funny noir novel for the next bit of waiting and first bit of the flight, and then, incredibly immersively, a long science fiction novel that I have been meaning to read and that absolutely captivated me.

I haven't logged light reading since mid-September, which means I am well overdue for it - forthwith! As always, loosely sorted by categories and with the best stuff mostly singled out at the top. This includes reading from the Australia trip and then the stint of Oxford light reading (probably a little lighter than usual, in volume as well as kind, as I was doing a fair bit of work reading as well).

Strong all-round recommendation at the top, then.

Natasha Pulley, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. My favorite kind of book - captivating! This was a consensus recommendation when I crowdsourced my light reading demands on Facebook before traveling to Oxford, and I enjoyed it very much indeed (reminiscent of but also quite different from Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree, also I thought an extremely good book).

Garth Nix, Goldenhand - latest installment in the Old Kingdom series, which must be my favorite YA fantasy series running today (it was the first three books in this series, plus Pullman's His Dark Materials, that made me write The Explosionist when I got tired of not finding a new trilogy along the lines of Nix's or Pullman's on the shelves of the Bank Street Bookstore)

James Lasdun, The Fall Guy. He is a genius! He writes as good a sentence as anyone you have ever read, but he also has this chilling Talented Mr. Ripleyesque imagination about doubles and secret selves - this one's very good indeed.

The book that surprised and delighted me most perhaps of everything I'm logging here, and that made the first part of the trip from Heathrow to JFK pass as if in a flash, was Joe Ide's IQ. I loved this so much I can hardly say! It's a Sherlock Holmes homage (the story of a young detective coming into his full powers of deductive reasoning), but it's also learned from Walter Mosley's socially conscious noir (with a dash of George Pelecanos) and has a strong satirical element that is genuinely comic rather than just striving for it. The parody rap lyrics are some of the funniest things I've read all year - I had just found this one as a random recommendation on Amazon, hadn't particularly registered anything about it in the world - everyone should read this book!

And the book that captivated me for the remainder of the voyage was N. K. Jemisen's justly lauded The Fifth Season. I loved her earlier trilogy and have had this one on my Kindle for a while, but hadn't quite gotten into it - I think I read the first few chapters and found them a little alienating (I have observed that one weakness of digital publication for novels is that when you have a novel written in a few different voices and timelines you really lose something not having the physical book in your hands, with the extra help it can give in the way of headers and being able easily to leaf back a few pages to orient yourself), put it aside for a quieter moment. But it is glorious - really expansive imaginative storytelling at its absolute best (as ambitious as Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora, for instance, a book I enjoyed very much, but much more unusual and startling in its willingness to invoke fantastical as well as science-fictional elements). Loved it and can't wait to read the next installment.

Kevin Wignall, The Traitor's Story (love his cool unemotional way with storytelling - some storytelling minds are just more attractive than others, the economy and precision of his imagination much appeal to me!)

Tana French, The Trespasser. I continue to feel she's one of the couple best crime novelists writing today - we are used now to the contours of her imagination, so it's a bit less startling than those first few books in the series were, but they are still pretty much at the top of my list of what I most want to read.

A new novel in Emma Newman's appealing Planetfall world, After Atlas (B. was reading this also a few days ago and comments on the miraculously readable convergence of SF and noir investigation). And then what might have been the best discovery of my last few months of light reading because it was so joyful and so well-timed (it saved me from a good amount of post-election angst - not that I was spared, just that I had places to escape into like my Austen book and these novels) - a wonderful series called the Split Worlds. Between Two Thorns, Any Other Name, All is Far, A Little Knowledge - I was slightly gnashing my teeth when I came to the end of book four and realized that it wasn't the end of the story, but now I am glad of it as it means there is another one to read. I had vaguely had the impression that Planetfall was Newman's first novel, which surprised me given what a very very good book I found it - so this makes sense, she had a journeyman series before that might be a little more ragged around the edges but that are absolutely delightful and pretty much my favorite sort of thing in the world to read in times of trouble!

A first installment in a series that is another version of what I most enjoy collapsing into (I was happily downloading books from Amazon end-of-year recommendations for transatlantic travel, only I started this one the night before and stayed up till I finished it, and was only outraged to realize that I could not immediately get the next chunk of story): Todd Lockwood, The Summer Dragon. I was then saying to B. in the car we took to the airport the next morning that books about girls raising dragons are pretty much my favorite thing in the world - he said, implacably, "I find them Pernicious"! (Which reminded me of the time we were riding in a boat across a lake in Costa Rica and saw a huge flock of sea birds, prompting B. to turn to me and observe that one good tern deserves another.)

Connie Willis, Crosstalk. Enjoyable, very much in the vein of her earlier fiction like Bellwether, but slight. I am mildly outraged that the boring book that you are supposed to read if you are a telepath who needs to shield your mind from the intrusion of other people's chaotic thoughts is Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire! And

New Virgil Flowers book from John Sandford, Escape Clause, cause for minor celebration! (I read through the whole of that series and then the Lucas Davenport ones late this spring in a reading binge that was incredibly well timed to coincide with the time of the academic year when I still need a pipeline of light reading but don't have the energy or attention to discover new veins of ore.

New Daniel Faust installment from Craig Schaefer, The Castle Doctrine (these are good but not great - they are not as immediately appealing as Ben Aaronovich's Rivers of London series and not as masterfully told and plotted as Paul Cornell's Shadow London, but very enjoyable - definitely recommended).

Justine Larbalestier's My Sister Rosa is excellent, though I wasn't sure I endorsed the final twist - you can see it coming and I think it complicates what is otherwise a very emotionally true and compelling book

I found Harlen Coben's initial Myron Bolitar novels a bit silly/slight, but like Robert Crais he has gotten better over time. Enjoyed Home, then read the trio of YA Mickey Bolitar novels, which are wildly implausible in their imaginings but quite enjoyable to read (Chelter, Seconds Away, Found). Then read Fool Me Once. Then read Missing You. Then felt I had had enough Coben for a while!

Pre-election solace (genius timing!): Lee Child's new Jack Reacher novel! The last one wasn't great (the dark web stuff is too silly, and really the Reacher premise works best in a time before cellphones and pervasive computing) but this one is a return to form - I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Doug Johnstone, The Jump (very good - subtle, moving)

Walter Jon Williams, This is Not a Game (not bad, sort of sub-William-Gibson)

Seanan McGuire, Full of Briars (novelette in the October Daye world); Mira Grant, Feedback. Poppy Z. Brite, Last Wish and The Gulf.
Michelle Belanger, Mortan Sins (short story in the Conspiracy of Angels world)

Matthew FitzSimmons, Poisonfeather (Gibson Vaugn #2, sequel to The Short Drop). Not quite as smooth as the first one, but it's a worthwhile series, I will certainly continue to read.

Michael Connelly's new Harry Bosch novel, The Wrong Side of Goodbye. I think the quality of the series has declined over the years. This one is a little stronger than some of the couple previous, but I always have a curious feeling as I am reading that it is almost as if he has written the book as an outline rather than a fully imagined and realized story.

A pair of quite reasonable British police procedurals by Sarah Ward, In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw (but don't you wish series naming protocols would undergo a major overhaul?)

David Anthony Durman, Acacia: The War with the Mein (book 1 of a series, I thought it was good and I enjoyed it but I do not know that I have the fortitude quite to read the rest of the saga - also, though I do not imagine influence just deep mythic patterning/stereotype, the children in the displaced ruling family have exactly the same roles and personalities as the Stark children in Game of Thrones!)

Peter Straub, Ghost Story (for some reason I'd never read this, but I think it feels dated now - the gender roles are offputting - and it's so reminiscent of some of the Stephen King of that era that I really wonder who thought of it first). Liked it enough to read Floating Dragon thereafter, but once I'd read those two I felt it really was sufficient, though they are long reasonably enjoyable books of the sort I always need more of.

Helen Callaghan, Dear Amy (couldn't quite get behind this one, I think thriller writers should be banned from writing stories that rely on dissociative selves with comparmentalized knowledge a-la Girl on a Train, whether due to alcohol abuse or mental illness)

Aoife Clifford, All these Perfect Strangers (Australian crime novel, not bad but not memorable); Kirstyn McDermott, Madigan Mine (good premise well told but not quite my preferred genre - I think I was trying to get local color via reading Australian genre fiction)
Ann Turner, Out of the Ice, an Antarctic thriller, was the best of the bunch - reminds me I meant to get her other novel but it was not I think available for Kindle.

Carol O'Connell's latest Mallory novel, Blind Sight. These are so eccentric as to sometimes have become almost unreadably silly, but I didn't think this volume was such a brazen offender as a couple of the others. The story rather recapitulates elements of her standalone novel The Judas Child, which remains my favorite of all her books.

I don't read urban fantasy obsessively, I am too critical of the writing in its bottom tiers, but Ilona Andrews, Magic Binds was worthwhile, and I was very pleased (this was the one I read yesterday morning at the airport with too much luggage) with Suzanne Johnson's Royal Street. Was happy to realize that it is the first of a five-book series, will get the others promptly (though by the time I realized I could do this, I was in a no-wireless zone and had a moment of feeling profoundly thwarted!).

Susan McBride, Walk into Silence - sub-literary, though the writing is quite good - I always feel a bit tricked when I think I'm reading "crime" genre and it turns out to be built on the romance chassis, there is a thinness of imagining around the storytelling

I must have been desperate - a Supernatural novel, Mythmaker! (Actually I do occasionally like reading this sort of tie-in story, though it is mostly only when I can't settle on anything else decent to read!)

Charlie Engle, Running Man: A Memoir. Very enjoyable in parts, but I thought the account of his arrest and imprisonment was somewhat lacking in self-awareness.

Comfort reread: Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, though that was more of a tourism reread - and I suddenly remember now that I never walked into the Botanic Garden, though I ran past it almost every day, to see if I could find Will and Lyra's bench!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Minor work update

The Austen book has been a haven for me over the last couple of weeks. It's killing me to have to put it aside for a few days (weekend travel, then focusing on Gibbon and footnotes for the last two weeks I'm here and in preparation for my Balliol talk on self-annotation)! But I've just drafted chapter 6 of 8. Two more to draft, plus introduction and conclusion.

(It's currently draft zero, so it will need a couple weeks of cleaning up and filling in of references before it's a proper editable first draft - shooting to have proper full draft by Xmas. Due date to publisher in March, but I need to send it by late January so that I'm clear for six weeks of all-on Gibbon in Rome.)

Note to self: don't in future use such similar blues for two related chapters (revision, voice). Under artificial light, the sky-blue post-its are genuinely indistinguishable from the sea-blue ones!

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Packing for an English sabbatical

It is not a complaint, I love this flat and am extremely happy here, but there are a couple things I hadn't bargained for about the English sabbatical flat! I would have packed slightly differently if I had remembered the following:

In English October and November, it is colder inside than outside.

The thermostat seems basically placed to give the illusion of control, and there is no heat from radiators during the day.

The bathroom has a funny shower like a sort of plastic telephone booth - the water is hot and fully pressured, so that's the most important thing, but the bathroom itself is huge and drafty and unheated, and it is impossible to shave legs either in the shower (because the water runs down your legs in such a thick curtain when you are bent over vertically) or out (because the goose-pimples from freezingness catch on the razor).

The washer-dryer is a good amenity, and the washer aspect works fine, but these double-use machines are virtually useless as dryers, and the drying racks in the flat have to be positioned near functioning radiators if you actually want things to dry in a reasonable timeframe.....

Sabbatical makes twice-a-day exercise a near certainty!

Pants that are good for running are fine for yoga, but not vice versa; shirts that are fine for running sometimes fall down over your head in downward-facing dog and similar.

All of which is to say - I bought a pair of fleece pants a few weeks ago as a home comfort (regretted not bringing my Siberia running pants for indoor wear, and my Patagonia down sweater!), and have just descended on a local running store to repair other lacks: shirts that won't fall down when I am somewhat inverted, full-length running tights in case the leg-shaving conundrum remains insoluble (I think I found a good compromise the other day - it was after hot yoga, so I was fairly warm even after the chilly walk home, and I turned on the shower and left the door open and very hastily shaved my legs outside of the shower with shaving cream).

I may have to get some kind of a fleece blanket - I was so cold the other day I pulled a blanket from the warming cupboard, but it made me wheeze pretty severely and I think I should keep my distance from it!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Saturday night ruminations

Reading Decline and Fall XLI has given me an irresistible desire to reread one of my favorite Robert Graves novels, Count Belisarius. Amazingly it is available for Kindle! It is not of the caliber of I, Claudius (which I must have read a dozen times at least between the ages of 10 and 16), but I liked it very much when I was younger, and will be curious to see what I think now (that said, the commenters at Amazon are correct when they say that reading Procopius instead might be a valid choice!).

Very satisfying day - I am down the sabbatical rabbit-hole in the best possible way. Got up, did my 2hr run (a "running meditation" for a recovery week!), was so freezing in English flat afterwards that I went back to bed first just for huddling and then for napping, got up and just about produced quota on Austen, went to hot power yoga, came home, read Gibbon and now am going to retire, appropriately, to bed with a novel. Woo-hoo!

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Work update

Oxford lifestyle continues idyllic - the weather and terrain are so perfect for running, and I have found great yoga and a great lifting coach to work out with. Went to London for a couple days over the weekend for some family visiting, and my mother was here for two nights which was very nice, but I am ready to plunge into total workaholism for the rest of the time I'm here - I must make a quick trip to Cambridge to see friends, but I don't think I'm going to go back to London, I just want to hole up and read and write!

The only tricky thing for me work-wise just now is that I'm totally torn between my desire to draft the Austen book as expeditiously as possible (don't want to lose momentum) and my desire to (a) make use of library materials here to do broad reading for footnotology and (b) make progress on Gibbon project and make sure my lecture at the end of term on Gibbon and Gray is really good. I had an amazing evening of Gibbon-related reading last night that culminated in a massive plan and greater clarity: at home in NYC I have a great collection of Gibboniana from the library, but I don't need to reproduce that collection here, I will have access again in December; I do need to reimmerse myself in Gray (requested amazing slew of stuff to read at the Weston in the rare book room); and I do need to pull together at least a mini-footnote library to reimmerse myself and identify crucial primary sources for library investigation, couldn't bring that stuff with me as luggage book space was given over to the Austen volumes. So I've ordered four things from Amazon UK and identified the area of open stacks in the Bodleian where I can find the 10 or so other things I think I really need to have to hand (list can be found at the bottom of this post).

Austen, though! I hate to lose momentum! This is the chart I made once I had had a week of settling in. As I said previously, I don't think I can finish the draft while I'm here, but I should be able to have the book drafted in full (it is a very rough draft) by Xmas.

Going to step up the pace a bit now - I've drafted three chapters (out of eight, but it's possible that seven and eight aren't really two distinct chapters), so I'll press ahead with five days per chapter for the next three, on manners, morals and voice (one day of assembling the notes, four days of producing quota), then type up the notes for the remaining two chapters (teeth, mourning and melancholy) so that I've at least got something on paper.

I'll be doing some reading and library stuff in the meantime, but week 7 will be wholly devoted to footnotology and Bodleian-Weston time and week 8 will involve delivering my two talks, putting finishing touches on the second one (the first is ready to go) and spending some time with Brent, who will come over for that last week.

Bonus library method picture. (I do not know that there is better evidence for consistency of character than this - in fact, I wrote about it at least once before on this blog, it was a meme making the rounds in 2005 about what you'd look for in the library in 2015 and I will quote the relevant line here - "Then I would arm myself with a pen and paper (one thing I can guarantee is that in 2015 I will still be jotting down call numbers on the back of an old envelope or a supermarket receipt) and write down a huge long list of call numbers and hit the stacks and then go home for a huge orgy of reading.") (In this case it's on the other side of the piece of paper where I made notes about the new powerlifting warmup sequence!)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"The best fruit in England"

Evidence of the genius of Jane Austen, example #149 - and yes, it's almost nine at night, and I'm only now typing up the notes for the second chapter of the Austen book, "Conversation." I printed out draft zero of chapter one on Friday and it actually looks pretty decent! (Now it goes in a folder and I really won't look at it again till I've got the whole thing drafted - I have a strong preference for start-to-finish writing, it leaves the thing much more even in feel when you've put it together than if you work on bits piecemeal.)

Emma, of course, the visit to Donbury Abbey:
The whole party were assembled, excepting Frank Churchill, who was expected every moment from Richmond; and Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting, or talking—strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of.—“The best fruit in England—every body’s favourite—always wholesome.—These the finest beds and finest sorts.—Delightful to gather for one’s self—the only way of really enjoying them.—Morning decidedly the best time—never tired—every sort good—hautboy infinitely superior—no comparison—the others hardly eatable—hautboys very scarce—Chili preferred—white wood finest flavor of all—price of strawberries in London—abundance about Bristol—Maple Grove—cultivation—beds when to be renewed—gardeners thinking exactly different—no general rule—gardeners never to be put out of their way—delicious fruit—only too rich to be eaten much of—inferior to cherries-currants more refreshing—only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping—glaring sun—tired to death—could bear it no longer—must go and sit in the shade.” (E 389-90)
Typing up these notes is an easier job than it was for "Letters," partly because there were so very many examples for that chapter but also because I'd run out of appropriately colored post-its and was using those tape tabs instead - they are much less obvious to the eye in an interleaved book, and I am happy that this one's so much easier!

This now marks the conclusion of week 2 (of 8) in Oxford. I am very happy with how things are going, though slightly ashamed that I have yet to plunge into libraries - that's the project for Monday after I eat breakfast and produce quota, but I didn't want to distract myself from writing before I had made at least a small dent. Finished Gibbon vol. 3 this evening, a satisfying landmark - that's the halfway mark (and the final decline of the empire in the West). Reading a chapter of that a day 'religiously' as it were, and have now also put down 2 (very slow - it's only about 35 miles) 7-hour run weeks, and have found a personal trainer to lift with starting on Tuesday, so all is very well with me currently.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saturday evening snippet

End of week 1 (of 8) in Oxford. Really nice week! Though need to buckle down and start working properly - adjustment period is properly coming to a close....

A Saturday evening Gibbon snippet (new title for book is Gibbon's Rome: A Love Story - it is amazing how just sitting quietly and reading allows ideas to flow, I was having insane thoughts last night about how you would write an opera libretto that would bring the juxtaposition of the father-son dynamic, the father marrying and preventing the son from being able to do so - and not sending the money he promised so that Gibbon has to keep his brokeness a shameful secret from the friends he has been traveling with - and then the moment of impact when Gibbon actually meets Rome the city - but in my book, it's my own love story with the Decline and Fall as well):
I owe it to myself, and to historic truth, to declare, that some circumstances in this paragraph are founded only on conjecture and analogy. The stubbornness of our language has sometimes forced me to deviate from the conditional into the indicative mood.
Main task for remaining weeks is to draft as much of the Austen book as I can (I'm optimistic that I should be able to get most of it down on paper in at least a rough version, top limit of 50K I think for full book so 8 chapters at 5-6K each should be doable in a 1.5K production of quota fashion); glory in libraries and read massive amounts of general footnote stuff (mostly amazing primary sources, especially history and poetry, with footnotes); and (re)read a chapter a day of Gibbon to put myself in the mood.

One of my two talks for the end of term now has an explicit commitment to talk especially about Gray's and Gibbon's footnotes, so I will do some Gray reentry also in between the other footnote reading. Exploration of library system to begin Monday, must first have a proper writing session on Austen and must before that finish typing up notes for the first chapter so that I can proceed to the next stage!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Fast running

Jon Day has a really nice piece at the LRB on two new books about Emil Zatopek:
By modern standards some of his achievements seem modest. He was the first person to run 10,000 metres in under 29 minutes, but runners are now getting close to 26 minutes. He would not have qualified for the 10,000 metres event in the 2016 Olympics, and his marathon times are now matched by those of strong amateurs. The range of his abilities, however, remains unequalled. He was 174.3 cm tall and weighed 68 kg. He had long legs, but his left was slightly thinner than his right. His resting heart rate was measured, on different occasions, at 68 and 56 bpm. Both rates are high for a runner, though it was noted that he was able to recover quickly after exercise. He had an odd diet, fuelling himself before races with beer, cheese, sausages and bread. He drank strange concoctions that he thought would improve his performance: the juice from jars of pickles; a mixture of lemon juice (for vitamin C) and chalk (he thought the calcium would protect his teeth). He ate the leaves of young birch trees because he had noticed that deer did so. Deer run quickly, he reasoned, so he might too.
I will definitely reaad Richard Askwith's - I loved his book Feet in the Clouds more than almost any other book about running....

(This is what I had to say about it at the time I read it - though actually I am really starting to move in the direction of trail-running despite my horrendous sense of direction and fear of heights, as I have been inspired by SWAP teammates! Albeit last time I hitched a ride with Liz to a trail run I was so freaked out by the first five minutes of rock-clambering with ice that I backed out and ran laps on a flat trail around the lake instead!)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Light reading update

I have said this before, but I really do have a resolution to try and log light reading once a month or so - otherwise it piles up so much that the task becomes off-putting.  Going to try and get at least something down here, without links to purchase as that is so much the most troublesome part of doing a long list at once....

This is about three months' worth I think!  Not in chronological order - putting strongest recs up top and then sorting things more or less by category.

Megan Abbott, You Will Know Me - dynamite!

Reread the first two of Paul Cornell's Secret Police series in order to prepare for the third, Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?  I really love these books - the storytelling across volumes is particularly masterful - one of my favorite things in this vein going down.

A pair of YA historical fantasy novels that I liked so much I almost wept when I finished the second one - out of hunger for more - I could tell as soon as I was reading the first one that I was in my absolute favorite kind of fictional world.  These come with my highest recommendation - Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night.

Natalie Baszile's Queen Sugar is PERFECT thoughtful immersive story-telling - again, it so pained me to come to an end of the story.  (It was the fact of the TV series that drew my attention to it, but I don't know that I am enough of a watcher to really get into it - the book is really wonderful though.)

Max Gladstone's latest Craft novel is particularly good (I love this series too): Four Road Cross.

Discovered a new favorite crime writer, James Oswald, and DEVOURED all the books in the Inspector McLean series, despite glitch of latest ones not being available in US for Kindle and having to be ordered from the UK in paperback.  Then I read his OTHER series which I love too, Ballad of Sir Benfro - was mortified to get to the end of what I THOUGHT was final installment and realize that there is still at least one more chunk of story yet to be published.....

I am especially keen on these "it's MOSTLY straight crime only slight occult strand" novels and another very good one I read recently was Barbara Nickless's Blood on the Tracks - hungry for next installment!

Ben Winters, Underground Airlines - hopefully it was a storm in a teacup around publication re: white authors and race (let's NOT think about Lionel Shriver's dreadful latest comments), but I thought this was haunting and powerful, highly recommended.  And even more deeply recommended: Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad.  The novel I have been waiting for him to write - I loved his first one The Intuitionist more than almost anything, and though I think he's written brilliantly since then, no single book of his has captivated me the way that first one did (lack of female protagonist is clearly part of it).  This is incredible - I couldn't put it down.

Alison Umminger, American Girls - I loved this!  One of those books that makes me regret I am no longer writing YA (maybe I will again sometime).  Highly recommended.

Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers - a very good recommendation from Becca S.  I cannot imagine who would not like this novel - it reads like Bonfire of the Vanities only written out of a much finer sense of humanity.

Gina Frangello, Every Kind of Wanting - first pages have off-puttingly long list of names to keep track of, and it did give me cause to think with relief that I am not myself living a life so bound up in the lives of others - but it is really, really good, highly recommended.

Nina Stibbe, Paradise Lodge.  She is a comic genius, what more is there to be said?  This book is slighter I think than the previous installment, but still very much worth reading.

Flynn Berry, Under the Harrow - excellent psychological thriller, better than the over-hyped Gone Girl for sure!

Duane Swierczynski, Revolver: a lovely novel of crime and Philadelphia, reminiscent in some good ways of Pete Dexter but quite fresh too.

David Swinson, The Second Girl - very good - again, reminiscent of Pelecanos but fresh and very much its own book.  I will look forward to reading a next installment on this one.

Chuck Wendig, Invasive: a true heir to the Michael Crichton of The Andromeda Strain era.  Do not read if you find ants creepy or are worried about Zika and genetically modified mosquitoes!

Robin Wasserman, Girls on Fire (I enjoyed this one very much too - beautifully written - a little reminiscent of another novel I loved, Martha O'Connor's The Bitch Posse).

Amy Gentry, Good as Gone - another good one (made me want to reread the series of favorites along similar lines, from Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar through Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree and perhaps best of all Father's Arcane Daughter, horribly renamed My Father's Daughter for a younger generation of readers).

Susie Steiner, Missing, Presumed: I like this sort of police procedural-plus-psychological thriller - there are things that don't quite work here, but I thought this was very good.

Robin Kirman, Bradstreet Gate - a voice- and character-driven literary thriller, very enjoyable, beautifully written.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, inevitably - have read too many things in this time-travel vein I think, it's overused as a trope, but I hear the stage production is really magical....

Jilly Cooper, Mount!  It is so politically incorrect, I don't know what to do about that aspect of it (it's actually quite disturbing) - but really these books are just set in an imaginary time and place that never existed, where late-middle-aged men's cocks "rise like Concorde" with no thoughts on the obsolescence of the metaphor - strange to think how long ago the first installment of the Riders series was published...

Louise Miller, The City Baker's Guide to Country Living - not as whimsical as the title suggests, I enjoyed it (slight, though).

Evelyn Skye, The Crown's Game: very enjoyable alternate-history YA fantasy.  Keen for more!

Michelle Belanger, Conspiracy of Angels and Harsh Gods - very well-written and appealing new urban fantasy series, I liked these enormously.

Seanan McGuire, Once Broken Faith - one of the most consistently excellent genre writers working today.

A reread of a book I liked a long time ago,  Laurie R. King, A Darker Place: she writes extremely well about cults and their internal dynamics.

Charles Stross, The Nightmare Stacks: I like this series so much, but the first-person voice doesn't vary enough to be persuasively the voice of different characters - it's probably worst for the Mo narration, but here too I just don't believe it's a young guy with a different personality than Bob!  That said, very fun, enjoyable light reading...

Other good Scottish crime fiction: Lesley Kelly, A Fine House in Trinity; Douglas Skelton, The Dead Don't Boogie.   Was tipped off to Stuart MacBride via Oswald and read the whole of the Logan McRae series to date, not quite so much my favorite sort of thing as Oswald but extremely good.

Melissa Olson, Nightshades: appealing new paranormal series.  Also Boundary Born (#3 in her other series)

Linsey Hall, four books in Dragon's Gift series - a little bit silly but very enjoyable.

Reread the first two books of Justin Cronin's Passage trilogy in preparation for the third - I still see much of merit in the first two, but the third was a huge disappointment, not least because it has what might be The Worst Magical Negro Problem in the history of genre fiction but also because the voice of Fanning just seems so preposterous.  The limitations of the vision (and its overly eschatological flavor) came through much more clearly as things wrapped up - I wish it could have just stopped with vol. 2!

Daniel O'Malley's second Rook Files installment, Stiletto: not bad, but not perhaps up to the standard of the first, which I really liked.

Rebecca Cantrell, Joe Tesla book one

Clare Mackintosh, I Let You Go (more or less readable but preposterous in its details)

Mark Billingham, Die of Shame (not recommended!)

S. J. Watson, Second Life (not so keen on this one - very artificial)

F. Paul Wilson, Panacea (arghhh, wouldn't have read this if I had realized it was part of author's Grand Mystical Scheme)

J. M. Gulvin, The Long Count: A John Q Mystery - quite readable (the storytelling is good) but preposterously not anchored in real-seeming time and place - the last straw was a reference to (I think - it's too long since I read it now) "dissociative identity disorder" as a diagnosis in Vietnam-era psychology - jury's out on this, will probably read next installment but will hope it is more probable in its details (I may have been reading too much Gibbon!).

On a totally different note, Abby Wambach's Forward, which I read because of a blurb that liked it to Andre Agassi's memoir - not on that level from a literary standpoint or in terms of psychological interest, but certainly worthwhile.

OK, that's most of it, a couple books deserve separate posts.  Have loaded a ton of stuff onto my Kindle in preparation for long flight to Australia....

Criss-cross

From Anthony Ervin, Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian, a very good recommendation from Jessica S. (I have followed his career with interest because of his connection to my beloved first adult swim teacher Doug Stern, and it is a very interesting book):
Distance freestylers use a hip-driven stroke, arms gliding long in front and legs acting like an engine in the rear.  You can swim far like that.  But a shoulder-driven stroke is better suited in the 50, the shoulders driving down and the legs almost rising up behind you.  I still use my legs for propulsion but additionally employ them as a leveraging tool to rotate my body.  Instead of just trying to move the water as fast as I can, I try to anchor it with my leg to slip around and over it.  That way, I don't need to generate and expend as much power to get into my catch. 
The center for all of my strength is an X axis that crisscrosses my core, from opposite shoulders to opposite hips.  A line of tension runs through me from my fingertip to my opposite toe.  The hardest part in training is to maintain the flexibility and strength through that X axis, through the core from the shoulder to the opposite hip. If I don't have that deep interconnection and unity, gears start flying and my swim breaks down.  In sprinting, the entirety of the body needs to be solid and connected, from fingertip to toe.  It's almost like reverting to the state before you l earn how to swim, when you're tense in the water.
Bonus links: five books for the swim-obsessedtwo of my favorite books about swimming.

Closing tabs

Leaving for the airport very early for a flight to LAX en route to Sydney, and having the usual scramble to get ready to leave town (it's almost 8 and I haven't gotten out to run, must at least do SOME kind of a run though 2hr may at this point be overkill given that I'm not going to sleep much).  Austen notes woefully behind where I'd hoped they'd be, but I can at least bring the LETTERS chapter with me to work on, having made a little packet of xeroxes and selected three out of the ten volumes whose bits are more extensive & haven't yet been transcribed by me into typed notes.  I've mostly packed.  Cleaning up some tabs (was really looking to find one on Austen's letter-writing that I opened a while ago, but will have to use Google to find that again as it does not seem to be here):

Charlie Stross on why interruptions are a disaster when you're trying to work.

That said, Marilyn Berlin Snell on the disaster of the meditation retreat!

Perec in Australia.

Elizabeth Bishop's alcoholic admissions.

An interview with Mary Gaitskill.

Luc Sante on the art of nonfiction.

Geoff Dyer's new book sounds good.

Hermit crabs make homes out of beach trash.

Eighteenth-century documents discovered in birds' nests during cathedral renovation.

Last but not least, a charming bit of nomenclature: "Johnny Blue Pants"!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

School books

Also I don't think I linked here to the essay I wrote about why I wish I could read more novels set in classrooms, Crossfit boxes, etc,  I wrote this first as a talk about a year and a half ago (it was my literary classrooms talk) and I am pleased to see it now available to a wider readership!  There are so many things I didn't get to talk about there - Diana Wynne Jones's Magid committees for one which in my theory must have been strongly influenced by how many of her close friends and family were professional academics, there is nothing so much like my day-to-day work life as the administrative conversations in the great underrated Deep Secret!

The dining-room table

I am long overdue a light reading update - I have a resolution to do that at least once a month going forward, otherwise the titles mount up so alarmingly that the task begins to seem overly Herculean - but this is really what I have been working on this month.  Working intensively on a new book project always feels like coming home; smaller or shorter things don't have that feeling of entering a real intellectual world, and my only regret is that I can't have one hemisphere of the brain working on Austen while the other works on Gibbon, which is also at the alluring early stage where everything seems possible and there are almost infinite amounts of appealing new material yet to be unearthed and assembled into some kind of a sensible narrative.

Each project asks for its own method - and its own combination of stationery and writing implements! - but this one is more colorful than the last few I've done.  I've already modified the plan from my proposal, and I currently intend to write the book - Reading Jane Austen, an installment in a new Cambridge series that began with Reading William Blake and continued with Reading John Keats - in eight chapters, coded by color here.  First I reread through the complete works plus biography and letters, marking up with a pen.  Then I set up the provisional topics for individual chapters - Letters, Conversation, Revision, Manners, Morals, Voice, Teeth (someone is going to make me change that title later I suspect! But basically, all the gruesome details of social history and ailments of the body that lurk around the edges in Austen's writing), Mourning and Melancholy.  Each one has its own page and a color-coded set of post-its, so that when I then went back through my marked-up volumes, I stuck a post-it to categorize points in the books and also transferred a cryptic notation under the appropriate heading, loosely organized on the page though certainly not rigorously so.

The next step will be to type up these notes in individual files, then to start working on the chapters - I like "pushing" a project in its entirety through from stage to stage, so I'll probably get all the notes typed up and only then start writing rather than taking chapters one at a time.  I had this in retrospect quite unrealistic fantasy that I could type up ALL THOSE NOTES (the book is only supposed to be about 60,000 words, not a long one) before I fly to Australia on Sept. 19, but that does not seem likely to happen - it would take more time and concentration than I probably have available to me in this coming week, which also features quite a few evening work engagements, to manage notes on a chapter-per-day basis.  That said, it is worth trying - or else B. will be wondering why I have brought a very heavy bookpack of work stuff on vacation with me, as once I get going on a job like this I really hate to put it aside before it's done!  (More sensibly, if I have "Letters" notes typed up I could work on drafting that chapter from notes, that wouldn't require bringing such a heavy load with me.)