Archive for January, 2009

Weekend Open Thread: Red

Saturday, January 31st, 2009


Weekend Update:

Friday, January 30th, 2009

After the movies, Quatorze (the regular reader formerly known as LXIV — say it just like “guitars,” only with a “k” at the start and an “oars” at the end) and I went to the Museum, so that I could renew my membership, something that I always do in person, in the interest of optimal cash flow. We had lunch, and we saw the retrospective exhibition of Philippe de Montebello’s major acquisitions — and then we went to the Frick. I had already renewed my membership there (“recreated it” is more like it), and Q hadn’t been in a while.

I was distracted, however; I was thinking about my neighbor, a lady who lives just a few floors belowstairs. We met on the elevator this morning and fell into conversation. By the time we got to the lobby, I had given her my card. For the blog, silly! In the driveway, she asked me if I could guess what she did for a living. I had to confess that I’d heard that she’s a therapist. She shrugged with a grace that matched her voice, which — I hope she won’t mind my telling you this — is Julie Christie’s to the life. If it’s a small world, how big can a 692-unit apartment house be? A normal man would be hoping that my neighbor took a fancy to me, but, being me, I hope that she takes a fancy to The Daily Blague. I certainly fancy her as a reader.

I was also distracted by the walk down Fifth Avenue, on the park side’s picturesque hexagonal stepping stones, which substitute for pavement. Ordinarily a pleasurable, interruption-free stroll, it called for hiking boots today: the havoc of a volatile winter has made for a situation that brought to mind traumatic pictures that I saw as a child, of Siberian tombs thrust up through the ground by the permafrost.  It was a trauma to which my feet could relate so well that by 75th Streeet I insisted upon crossing Fifth. I assured Quatorze that spring weather will make the rough places plain, but I’m not sure that either of us believed me.

Bon weekend à tous!

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, January 29th, 2009


¶ Matins: Despite everything, Wall Street bonuses for 2008 totaled $18.4 billion — thank goodness!

¶ Lauds: Ian McDiarmid’s adaptation of Andrew O’Hagen’s novel, Be Near Me, opens at the Donmar Warehouse to warm if cautious praise from Charles Spencer.

¶ Prime: The site has a few strange navigational problems, but the Curated David Foster Wallace Dictionary might be just what you’re looking for in the Word-For-the-Day line. (via

¶ Tierce: Can anyone tell me the bottom line on the Blackwater story in today’s Times? The headline, “Iraq Won’t Grant Blackwater a License,” must mean that Blackwater will not be allowed to provide security services within Iraq, right? Not if you keep reading.

¶ Sext: Here’s a project for Google Maps: mowing the lawn.

¶ Nones: The best part of this story — “Putin’s Grasp of Energy Drives Russian Agenda“  — comes at the end.

As far back as 1997, while serving as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, Mr. Putin earned a graduate degree in economics, writing his thesis on the economics of natural resources.

But —

¶ Vespers: Is Allen Bennett the new John Updike? He’s, er, two years younger. And quite as fluently prolific, if as a man of the theatre rather than as a novelist. Razia Iqbal talks about meeting him, but the interview is nowhere to be found.

¶ Compline: We were neither of us in the mood — at all. But we had to go, in that grown-up way that has nothing to do with obligation. So we got dressed and went. And of course the evening was unforgettable: Steve Ross at the Oak Room.


Nano Note: Barocco

Thursday, January 29th, 2009


One of the first playlists that I created was effectively a dump of all the baroque music that I had in my CD library. I avoided some of the greatest hits — the Water Music, the Brandenburg Concertos — and I excluded vocal music as well. Without scraping every corner of the apartment for miscellaneous discs, I was able to amass a list that would play for 2.8 days. That’s a lot of wallpaper.

Very carefully, I moved the music around. I didn’t want to listen to all twelve of Corelli’s Concerti Grossi in a row, followed by the three discs of Scott Ross’s Scarlatti Anthology. It took forever, and I didn’t do a very good job. But the result was — not tedious. Did I mention the six-CD set of Handel’s chamber music? There are only so many consecutive flute sonatas that I can listen to without going barkers.

Being the proselytizer for pleasure that I am, I persuaded LXIV to permit me to lend him the Nano with the baroque music on it, together with the Logitech dock/speaker set that I bought for travel. I have to upgrade it, because it conks out if the music is too quiet. The problem never arises with baroque music, all of which sounds just as loud as everything else, but Ravel’s Bolero stops it every time. Ten minutes go by, and I’m wondering why the music stopped. What now? Oh, that.

As I thought, LXIV was pleased to have the cornucopia of baroque music add a congenial note to the atmosphere of his flat. “It’s playing when I go to sleep,” he said, “and it’s still playing when I wake up.” (Now, for my part, I cannot fall asleep if music is playing.) So far so good. The thing was, the baroque music was loaded onto the one Nano that I’d bought directly from Apple. It was fire-engine red, and it had my initials stamped on the back. I thought I’d just load the playlist onto another Nano — the pink one, say — and exchange it with LXIV.

That’s when I discovered that I had done all my careful massaging of the baroque playlist on the red Nano itself. Guess what? You can’t download a playlist from a Nano. Not even if your hard drive contains all the same MP3 files! Are we stupid yet? (Why people extol Apple as they do, I’ll never understand.)

LXIV lived with the pink Nano for about a week. He never complained, but he didn’t have to. I was haunted by guilt. Having printed the playlist ( you can do that, at least), I exchanged the Nanos once again. And I am still, about a month later, reconstructing the baroque playlist, this time on a hard drive. Unfortunately, my standards have gone up dramatically, so the going is very slow. And of course there are the inevitable improvements…

It occurred to me that one of these improvements ought to be the overture, as it were; the first piece of music on the playlist. And what ought that to be? What else but Mouret’s famous Rondeau? Famous, that is, from years and years and years of use by Masterpiece Theatre.

As I don’t have a CD with the Mouret on it, I went to Amazon, where I was quickly seduced into downloading the item for the proverbial $0.99. There’s a first time for everything, and my first time with Amazon downloads included losing the Mouret somewhere in my computer. It certainly wasn’t appearing in iTunes! I was so exasperated that I had to do three other technical things before I could come back and thimk [sic!]about what to. Using ancient techniques learned in the days of Windows File Manager, I unearthed the file and put it where it belonged.

And, boy, does it sound cheesy! I couldn’t like it more.

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009


¶ Matins: Back to Afghanistan, where the war always made sense: one hopes that this is how our Iraqi misadventure will end, with a withdrawal to the most troubled part of Central Asia known to the West. What happens in Iraq really never did, at day’s end, matter, except to the Iraqis and to the petulant son of George H W Bush. The future of Pakistan (and, with it, India) is however tied up in the mountain fastnesses where a version of Iranian is lingua franca.

¶ Lauds: Although I’m disinclined to poach from coverage of the Book Review, Toni Bentley’s review of a new translation of Akim Volynsky’s Ballet’s Magic Kingdom: Selected Writings on Dance in Russia, 1911-1925 is so chock-a-block with densely beautiful passages about ballet that I must mention it here.

¶ Prime: Is Alaska really that big? Too bad it looks like a maple leaf.

¶ Tierce:  Of all the rackets to complain about in an apparently noisy neighborhood, a Hamburger homeowner has sued to close a nearby day-care center. Carter Dougherty reports.

¶ Sext: Although I can muster a few plausible observations to explain why I didn’t know until today about the Bacon Explosion, a torpedo of cholesterol that was launched on an unsuspecting world on or about Christmas Day, I think it’s best just to admit that I simply not cool. What’s really interesting is that I read about it in the Times. That’s how I found out about the latest (?) Blogosphere sensation.

¶ Nones: Members of Sri Ram Sena (the Army of Lord Ram) assaulted and chased women drinking in a public bar in Mangalore, Karnataka, according to BBC News. The group’s leader, Pramod Mutalik, says it is “not acceptable” for women to go to bars in India.”

For the past two days, he has argued that Saturday’s assault on the women was justifiable because his men were preserving Indian culture and moral values.

¶ Vespers: A few weeks ago, I came up with the concept of “Dorm Lit” — the masculine correlative to “Chick Lit.” A bookcase stocked with Mailer, Vonnegut, Heller, Pynchon, and The Catcher in the Rye is the prototypical Dorm Shelf. Just last night, I was wondering what newer authors might join these august ranks? Ms NOLA mentioned Murakami — Bingo! And now the brouhaha over the facts of Roberto Bolaño’s life reminds me to add the Chilean author to the list. You don’t even have to read any of the late writer’s books, because the quarrel over his biography seems torn from one of his stories.  

¶ Compline: It’s hard to imagine the publication by any mainstream American newspaper or magazine of Seumas Milne’s attribution of social progress in Latin America — and rejection of neoliberalism worldwide — to the Cuban Revolution. Harper’s or The New Yorker might print a watered-down version, but not what appeared in The Guardian.


In the Book Review: Appraising Grace

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009


The cover review, by Toni Bentley, is an example of what the Book Review’s reviews could be like, if the editors were a little less prone to confuse “selling books” with “engaging readers,” — and if their acknowledgment that favorable reviews are harder to write than unfavorable ones would open them to the suggestion that ipso facto, perhaps, favorable reviews are more valuable as well as more difficult. In any case, this week’s issue is above par.

Big Idea: Angels and Idiots

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009


Here’s a notion that I should like to see laid to rest, interred with the bones of the Dubyas: that human beings are what the Vegan posing as Ellie Arroway’s Dad, in Contact, calls “an interesting mix.” Capable of both great good and great wickedness, yadda yadda yadda. This is nothing but the tired old Great Chain of Being idea: that men and women, uniquely among sublunary creatures, possess quintessential souls, partaking of the divine ether — but that they also, as mortal beings, are corruptly composed of clay and dust. Get it? If we were all quintessence, we’d be good all the time, but thanks to our quintessential souls, we’re not bad all the time. We’re what Plato and Aristotle never dreamed of being cool enough to call “an interesting mix.” Even though they thought it.

(If none of this chatter makes any sense to you, congratulate yourself: you’re as yet uncorrupted!)

The idea that we’re both as noble as angels and as base as tarantulas — an insult to tarantulas — persists. And why not, as long as we recognize that the conceit is altogether human. We’re the ones who have decided that we’re an admixture of spirits and beasts. It’s our way of saying that we’re good, we’re bad, and we can’t help it.

Maybe we can’t help it, but we can stop thinking of ourselves as “an interesting mix.” In fact, there are no angels on hand to make us look stupid, and no animals capable of acknowledging, in so many words, our superiority. Let’s just give it up and accept our uncomplicated starkness, as the smartest things that this little planet of ours has to offer. And let’s just try to live up to that.

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009


¶ Matins: Davos is shaping up to be the party not to be seen at this year. Our Governor Paterson is the latest defector. The White House is sending Valerie Jarrett.

¶ Lauds: Terry Teachout writes about the unglamorous side of being an opera librettist. Asked how he does it all, the man of letters gives the manly answer:

I’m extremely humble about whatever gifts I may have, but I am not modest about the work I do. I work extremely hard and all the time.

¶ Prime: Now that it’s over, I can read about it: the era of Press Bush. Errol Morris asks three wire-service photographers to talk about their most illustrative photographs of the late President. (via

¶ Tierce: Preserving the death camp at Auschwitz poses a peculiar problem: the installation wasn’t built to last. And parts of it were blown up by the evacuating Germans, who assuredly weren’t concerned about the difficulty of maintaining a ruin.

¶ Sext: Clyde Haberman talks about “nontraditional ‘shaming punishments’,” but I thought that shaming punishments were traditional. It’s prison time that’s new and “improved” (not).

¶ Nones: And here I thought that “slumdog” was a standard insult in Mumbai, applied to anyone (particularly anyone Muslim) from the city’s rather ghastly slums. Not so.

The screenplay writer, Simon Beaufoy, said people should not read too much into the title. “I just made up the word. I liked the idea. I didn’t mean to offend anyone,” he said.


¶ Vespers: Notwithstanding his prodigious output, John Updike was too young, at 76, to leave us. The commodore of American letters, he guided a convoy of writers from the avowedly amoral shoals of modernism to a native harbor of immanence, and he set his ships a high example for polished decks.

¶ Compline: It were churlish not to wish long lives to the eight children born tout d’un coup, in the Miracle of Kaiser Bellflower. What a Mozartstag! John Updike dead, a human octopus born!


Friday Movies: Defiance

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009


It’s what the audience brings to the theatre that makes Defiance the very powerful picture that most people are going to find it to be.

Housekeeping Note :Mozart's Birthday

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009


Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Wolfgang Amadé Mozart to you), 27 January 1756 — 5 December 1791.

Daily Office: Monday

Monday, January 26th, 2009


¶ Matins: When Kathleen read the Op-Ed piece in this morning’s paper, “How Words Could End a War,” her impatience boiled over. “They had to do a study to prove this?”

“This” being the possibility that words to the effect of “we’re sorry” could induce Israelis and Palestinians to consider peaceful coexistence.

¶ Lauds: Can serious actresses have “big bosoms”? Helen Mirren wants to know — in a Michael Parkinson inverview from 1975. That’s so long ago that — is her bust the smaller figure? (via The Wronger Box)

¶ Prime: You may recall that the State of West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1861, when Virginia seceded from the United States. You may be surprised to learn that the Federal government proposed a truly radical redrafting of Virginia’s borders, effectively confining it to the Shenandoah Valley.

¶ Tierce: Big Brother as cruise director: Pesky tenant’s lease is not renewed at community-oriented rental in Long Island City. And he’s surprised!

¶ Sext: Here is a list of recent books that have changed the world. Sorry! They’re about world-changing people, inventions, and whatnot. Or so their publishers want us to believe. (via 

¶ Nones: This isn’t funny, I know, but still: Geir Haarde, who has just stepped down as Iceland’s Prime Minister —  “the first world leader to leave office as a direct result of the financial crisis” — wasn’t going to seek re-election anyway, owing to throat cancer. The leader of rival Social Democrat party, Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, has ruled herself out as Haarde’s successor; she is being treated for brain cancer.

¶ Vespers: Here’s a book that I will buy the moment I see it in a shop: To The Life of the Silver Harbor: Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy on Cape Cod, by Reuel K. Wilson.

¶ Compline: Now that the children have gone to bed, it’s safe to read about bonobos, or, if you prefer, about what bonobos have taught Meredith Chivers, “a creator of bonobo pornography.”


Weekend Update: Normal

Sunday, January 25th, 2009


That’s what this weekend was about: feeling  normal again. No more holidays, no more special events. And no more excuses, either.

“Excuses” isn’t the right word. “Priorities” is. I’ve had my hands full of priorities, ever since we got back from St Croix at Thanksgiving. As a result of prioritizing the priorities, I live in a much less cluttered apartment. Oh, the place still looks as cluttered as ever,  but then that’s just a look, a decorative tic. The kind of clutter that I’ve been working on lurked in closets and drawers and cabinets and under-the-bed  boxes.

I took a walk today, and it felt great. That was new. I’ve been limping home from recent walks, so completely out of shape am I. But after a big walk on Wednesday — almost four miles — and another mile or two on Friday and about a mile yesterday, I was my old self again today. I walked over to Central Park. It was very cold, but I think that that helped. I walked the oval that surrounds the Great Lawn. Then I came home. The word for the experience was “invigorating.” At my age, unfortunately, “invigorating” means “good for nothing but a nap in front of a roaring fire.” In the absence of a roaring fire, I merely dozed.

Before the walk, I ran errands. I had to buy a birthday card. It has been so long since I last bought a birthday card that Kathleen had to remind me, if that’s the word, that Barnes & Noble sells them. I had thought I had the perfect card: the William Eggleston photograph of what looks like a Manhattan on the rocks, bathing on a tray table in the sunlight pouring in from a jetliner’s porthole at 35,000 feet. When I opened the box, the card turned out to be a postcard: not suitable under the circumstances.

At least I finally got to the Eggleston show at the Whitney. It closed today. I was an idiot to put it off. But I did see it twice, first on Friday and then yesterday. I persuaded Kathleen to see it yesterday after breakfast, on her way to George Michael. “It’s not the sort of thing that I would go out of my way to see,” she said, “but I’m glad that you suggested it.” The amazing thing about Eggleston’s color is that it makes everything look clean, even the dirt. Take the two most humdrum kitchen photographs in the show: the freezer and the oven. Neither is what you’d call next to Godliness, really; but because all the colors seem right, the subjects appear to be pristine.

Paying for the birthday cards at Barnes & Noble — unsure of my choices, I covered the waterfront, hoping that Kathleen would choose the right one — I bought Transsiberian on an impulse. We were going to watch it after dinner, but, after dinner, we both felt more like reading. Or, in my case, writing.

Everyone I passed in the Park seemed to be much younger than I — about thirty-five, max. Many were not only not speaking English, but not speaking a language that I recognized. Of the Anglophones, the only one to make an impression was a guy who was walking with a woman in a red quilted coat. “I’ve heard the word before, but I’ve never heard anybody use it,” he said. How I wanted to know what the word was! But instead of repeating the word, he repeated himself. As if he hadn’t said it before, he said it again. “I’ve heard the word before, but I’ve never heard anybody use it.” This time, I heard the woman say, “Yeah.” I tried to remember which playwright employs such repetitions, as a tic to signify our failure to attend to one another. I doubt that my thought patterns would have been so grandiose if I hadn’t been walking along the river at Carl Schurz.

Weekend Open Thread: Agitation at the Whitney

Saturday, January 24th, 2009


Weekend Update: Interruption of Service

Friday, January 23rd, 2009


My good friend LXIV sent me the following very definitely not laugh-out-loud-funny joke:

Dear World: 

We, the United States of America, your top quality supplier of the ideals of liberty and democracy, would like to apologize for our 2001-2008 interruption of service. The technical fault that led to this eight-year service outage has been located, and the software responsible was replaced November 4. Early tests of the newly installed program indicate that we are now operating correctly, and we expect it to be fully functional on January 20. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the outage. We look forward to resuming full service and hope to improve in years to come. We thank you for your patience and understanding, 



It was all I could do to smile. Eight years is nearly an entire decade of one’s life.

What makes it all the more satisfying, if also the less tee-hee making, is that the end of Shrubbery coincides with the end of Irrational Exuberance. I honestly can’t determine which was worse.

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009


¶ Matins: Setting aside, for the nonce, dreams of Camelot restored, let us peer deeper into history, with Russell Baker as our guide.

The blooming of literature about the Hundred Days probably has a lot to do with Barack Obama’s assuming the presidency at a moment of economic breakdown just as Roosevelt did seventy-six years ago. Parallels like this are hard for historians and journalists to resist. Could history be repeating itself? It never does, of course. Still, there are similarities too interesting to be discarded without a glance.

¶ Lauds: Carnegie Hall announces its first “recessional” season.
The Kronos Quartet, China, Papa Haydn, Louis Andriessen, and a Polish double bill: the Chopin bicentennial and a Szymanowski festival. Interesting!

¶ Prime: A young man who used to live in Chinatown — I knew him then — has relocated to a great university in the West, where the ghosts of Mmes Child and Fisher have inspired him (apparently) to take up cooking. I shall refer to him as “Deipnosophistos” — the Learned Banqueter — in honor of his new Web log, which demonstrates that classics scholars may indeed know more about leftovers than the rest of us. We’ll call him “Deep” for short.

¶ Tierce: Will Richard Parsons be as good for Citigroup as he was for TimeWarner? Let’s hope so. For starters, he looks like the best possible choice.

¶ Sext: Alexander Chee’s extensive quotation from the Goncourt diaries at Koreanish today makes me resolve to be a better person by remembering who the hell Princesse Mathilde was!

¶ Nones: Inevitable, I suppose: In the wake of the success of Slumdog Millionaire, an organization called Realty Tours & Travel offers 4½ hour, £12 tours of Dharavi, “the biggest slum in Asia,” on the north side of Mumbai. Nigel Richardson reports in the Telegraph.  

¶ Vespers: Yet another story about changes in publishing, this one, augustly, from Time.

¶ Compline: Can you believe it? They’re still arguing about textbook evolution in Texas.


Out and About: The Warmth of Books

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009


It was very cold in Manhattan today, but I spent a great deal of it out on the sidewalks. I won’t say that I was thrilled to be chilled, but it was good to be doing things that were refreshingly hard, even if nothing more demanding than putting one frozen foot in front of the other was called for.

My walks took me to interesting encounters. For the first time, my new barber asked  me my name. He worked for quite a while at my old barber shop, now shuttered, before setting up his own shop not too far away. He hails from Peru and I would trust him with my life. Knowing that he’s a big Obama fan, I asked him if he thought that the President will give up smoking. “Yes,” was his bitingly terse reply. “He has to: he’s got kids.” And that was that. Memo to the White House: This is how the people who love you feel.

My plan was to take the subway down to 51st Street, for lunch with my friend Diana. But Willy was done with clipping my beard shortly before eleven. The only way of filling the time between engagements would be on the hoof. That is, walking thirty blocks was the only way to salve my wine-girdled conscience. Without passing into insobriety, I have almost drunk myself out of my trousers. Exercise!

Walking down Second Avenue, I listened to Teach Yourself Dutch on the Nano. I have listened to Units Twelve through Sixteen so many times that I unthinkingly understand such phrases as “Dish ye frog ya partner” as Dus je vraag je partner — “So you ask your partner….” Such comprehension is totally remarkable, because I haven’t listened to my language courses, Nederlands or otherwise, in so long that the battery on the Nano had completely run out of juice.

I want you to know that I am not brushing up on my Nederlands because I think that it would enrich a conversation about Netherland with its Hague-raised author, Joseph O’Neill.

Over coffee, at the end of lunch, Diana pulled a book out of her bag. It was a first edition of A Question of Upbringing, the first volume of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. At the bottom of the dust jacket — slight tear at the top, otherwise very fine — a cartouche contained the notice, “By the author of Afternoon Men.” That’s like finding an edition of Du côté de chez Swann that identifies Proust as the author of Jean Santeuil. Or nearly. “I’m sure that you’ve read this, but I can never remember,” said Diana. I pointed to the cartouche in my best bandbox manner and told her that I’d even read Afternoon Men. In short, I was utterly undeserving of what came next: the offer of all twelve firsts — all, as I knew from earlier inspection, in v gd dust jackets — as a gift!

I ought to have said “Thank you!”, I know. But perhaps because I felt too much like a cat burglar who’s been offered the Hope Diamond by a blood relative, I had to deflect the offer. It’s one thing to sell what you steal! After much soul searching, back in the Eighties, I realized that I am not a bibliophile. I may be crazy about the contents of books, but books themselves don’t interest me that much — unless they’re inscribed with blushmaking generosity by the author. I’m one of those philistines whose first response to first editions, as to antiques, is “used.” So I insisted to Diana that we contact Baumann and the other book dealers, and find out what she might realize upon a sale of the set. (Early indications suggest that as much as $12,500 is not inconceivable.)

Walking home — I walked home as well! — all I could think of what was a brute I’d been not to thank Diana for the offer. Having mentally rejected it on the highest moral ground, I got lost in transactional mode. Now I must call her tomorrow to apologize.

I ventured forth in the evening, at about six, for an “event” at the Barnes & Noble branch on Warren Street in Tribeca. I had never been there before, but then neither had, by his own confession, Sam Tanenhaus, editor of The New York Times Book Review and the event’s panelist-in-chief. The published purpose of the panel, the constitution of which I’ll get to in a minute, was to discuss the Book Review’s choice of the ten best books of 2008. But that discussion never took place. 

This is not the time to retail Mr Tanenhaus’s remarks about the running of the Book Review, nor to delve into the many interesting things that he and colleagues Liesl Schillinger and Dwight Garner had to say about book reviews. (My disinclination to be discovered as the weekly author of generally disapproving reviews of the Book Review can be imagined.) Nor do I intend to transcribe the wit and wisdom of ringer panelist Joseph O’Neill, except to mention that, when asked by Mr Tanenhaus what he thought about James Wood’s warmly favorable review of Netherland, he replied, in a way that produced gratified laugher from the crowd, that he understood at last why Mr Wood is held in such high esteem by literary types. No; all of that will have to wait.

All I’m going to say right now is that when I thrust yet another copy of Netherland at Mr O’Neill for him to sign, he brightened, recognizing me —not a challenge — and told me that I was “incorrigible.” Little did he know that I’d thought about not going, lest he regard me as a weird if harmless literary stalker. I wanted to say, “I’m here for the Book Review, not for you” (true!), but instead I thanked him for recommending Richard Yates’s The Easter Parade, when we talked at the McNally Jackson affair last summer. I wanted to say that The Easter Parade had opened up my understanding of Revolutionary Road, now a major motion picture starring Kate Winslet, for whom there is probably not a part in any conceivable adaptation of Netherland. Instead, I withdrew the latest issue of Harper’s from my bag and asked him to autograph “The World of Cheese.” If he remembered, wearily, that I’d rewarded his Yates recommendation by asking him to sign his first novel, his family memoir, and his Granta piece about the Trinidadian environmentalist from whom he drew the inspiration for Chuck Ramkissoon, he didn’t show it. Instead, having obliged, he flashed the smile of a proud ten year-old for whom you can’t help hoping for the best possible future and said, “That’s my first short story.”

At dinner, afterward, Kathleen said, “See? I told you you’d be glad you went.”

When I wasn’t feeling guilty about not thanking Diana, on the walk home, I was remembering one of those “literary episodes” that aren’t literary at all, but just tangentially related to the world of books. This happened a few years ago. I was reading the one-volume reduction, as it were, of Anthony Powell’s memoirs, entitled To Keep the Ball Rolling. I was reading it, specifically, during an exam by my internist, who may be a reader but who is definitely a basketball player. “Who’s that?” he asked, upon espying the v gd dust jacket. I muttered the usual swallowed embarrassments, desperate not to be an instructing bore. “Huh!” said the good doctor, whom I do trust with my life. “He looks just like Joe Di Maggio!”

I took another look, and saw that it was quite true. Only this afternoon, though, did I wonder what Powell would have made of the perceived resemblance.

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009


¶ Matins: Let’s hear it for the Sexiest Couple Alive. Are. They. Not?

¶ Lauds: Have you heard/heard of George Li yet? He’s the eleven year-old piano virtuoso whom regular reader JKM heard play the Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto just the other day.

¶ Prime: George Snyder poses the question that has enchained Americans since the assasination of JFK: Where Were You?

¶ Tierce: I have never envied the great and the good who are expected to sit outside in the January freeze to observe the a new president’s swearing-in. They’re paying the price of being the great and the good.

At least their amenities are seen to, the comforts that make civil life civil. Not so the man in the street who shows up for the ceremony — or, in the case of yesterday’s Inauguration, the millions in the mall. David Johnston and Mark Mazzetti report: “For Some in Crowd, a Day of Cold and Confusion.”

¶ Sext: The cutups at Macmillan’s Digital Marketing department — let’s hope that they’ve all still got jobs — prepared a tongue-in-cheek video clip to show you how books come into being in the modern world.

¶ Nones: President Obama’s Inauguration Speech was partly edited in China.

China Central Television, or CCTV, the main state-run network, broadcast the speech live until the moment President Obama mentioned “communism” in a line about the defeat of ideologies considered anathema to Americans. After the off-screen translator said “communism” in Chinese, the audio faded out even as Mr. Obama’s lips continued to move.

¶ Vespers: I’ve just joined Library Thing, paid lifetime membership and all! How hard can it be to convert my ReaderWare data to Library Thing? I’m not asking yet!

¶ Compline: Food for Thought: How to attract more women into Geek Science. They’re asking Obama to take care of this? If you ask me, Natalie Angier’s piece is looking through the wrong end of the telescope.


In the Book Review: Democratic Vistas

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009


Instead of shilling books that President Obama ought to read, why couldn’t the editors get the President himself to create a reading list? I’m sure he’s got the time: If you need something done, ask the busy man!

Friday Movies: Revolutionary Road

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009


Revolutionary Road is about as scary a movie as I’d want to see. But it’s what the French call incontournable — unavoidable, but in a positive sense. Leonardo di Caprio is at the top of his form, but Kate Winslet is (yet again) altogether beyond hers.

April Wheeler (Ms Winslet) passes an incredibly terse judgment on herself, in a scene with the neighbor who’s hopelessly in love with her (David Harbour). I struggled to memorize it, to no avail (and no surprise). Hopes that I would find the line in Richard Yates’s novel were also disappointed.

What impression is this movie making on young people? I thought that it captured the dead-zone quality of suburban life in the Fifties (the film is set in 1955), but it also seemed to me that the Wheelers’ dreams would have come undone in any setting. I look forward to hearing the thoughts of viewers without any personal experience of the era.

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009


¶ Matins: Alone among the people I know, I’m not particularly excited about today’s “historical event.” Nicholas Lemann, in this week’s New Yorker, puts his finger on why.

In American politics, the ultimate contest is trying to get elected President. But the very few people who manage to win that contest then enter another, less visible game, with even longer odds: the race to become one of the handful of Presidents who really matter. Excitement about Barack Obama is at such a high level, and the times are so dire, that he is already well into this second race.

Barack Obama has been President of the United States since early November. We have been looking to him for solutions to our many problems, tapping our feet impatiently waiting for his predecessor to go away. We are hopeful, expectant, and yet — polls suggest — patient as well. We have been living with the Obama Administration for some time now.