01.27.11: the dirty dozen {revenge of coverspy; more subway riders and their books}

01 why did i ever, mary robison (F, late 30s, coppery ribbed knit cap, pale skin, long hooded black puffer coat, mint green wellies, deep purple swiss army backpack at feet, F train)
02 the best american travel writing, bill buford ed., (F, late 20s, white knit hat with pink silk flower, black coat belted over black/white/yellow printed dress, black riding boots, black/blue batik print backpack, F train)
03 china: fragile superpower, susan l. shirk (M, late 30s, red eyebrows, tight grey cap, grey columbia face warmer pulled over nose, grey nylon messenger bag, narrow brown shoes, E train)
04 wuthering heights (twilight-branded cover), emily brontë (F, early 40s, black coat with high, gathered collar, long tan scarf with fur trim, bird shopping bag, black suede louis vuitton bag, F train)
05 richard yates, tao lin (F, late 20s, slightly cleft chin, gold-rimmed aviators, one padded black north face mitten, black patent shoulder bag in lap, floor-length black puffer coat, F train)
06 south side dreams, b.k. ray (M, 40s, black NY knit cap, black and white keffiyeh, bulky black puffer, cuffed jeans, tan work boots, 1 train)
07 franny and zooey, j.d. salinger (M, 20s, curly quiff, grey scarf, open black greatcoat, black leather turf shoes, giant green frame backback, E train)
08 hell's angels, hunter s. thompson (M, early 30s, carefully parted hair, bright red scarf, dangling ear buds, glasses with thick, two-tone rims, black lug sole shoes, leaning forward between knees, F train)
09 three cups of tea, greg mortenson and david oliver relin (M, 20s, beard, navy jacket with epaulets over grey hoodie, messenger bag with knitted grey hat in pocket, red crocheted scarf, wire-rimmed glasses, bose headphones, F train)
10 let the great world spin, colum mccann (F, early 20s, chunky oatmeal-colored chullo hat with matching scarf, straight dark hair, green puffer, tan uggs, chambray dress, black leggings, A train)
11 in a sunburned country, bill bryson (F, early 20s, thin brown headband, long black braid, hooded black coat with black faux fur trim, red pashmina, periwinkle laptop bag, black hobo, F train)
12 the fall of the house of zeus, curtis wilkie (M, early 40s, brush cut, tan, hooded black down jacket, slush-marked brown lace-up boots, jeans, black messenger bag between feet, F train)

absorb what you can of these demographics; the next round's a guessing game.

and lo, for the earth was empty of form, and void. and darkness was all over the face of the deep. and we said: CANDLES.

01: jars

03: melting beeswax

02: jars, wax, amethyst, lincoln

04: cooling beeswax


01.25.11: oscarizer {it begins anew}


to be amended as i see additional nominees and gradually accept the fact that SWINTON is not as universally treasured as i would like her to be. pluses indicate films i've already seen; brackets are predictions.

best actor

javier bardem - biutiful
jeff bridges - true grit +
jesse eisenberg - the social network
{colin firth - the king's speech}
james franco - 127 hours

though franco's a force,
firth is rush-adjacent.
mr. darcy wins.

best actress

{annette bening - the kids are all right}
nicole kidman - rabbit hole
jennifer lawrence - winter's bone +
natalie portman - black swan +
michelle williams - blue valentine +

bening's fourth nod, guys.
her hair's amazing right now.
portman's pregnant, but

her globes acceptance
was super-creepy. i call
old hollywood here.

best supporting actor

{christian bale - the fighter}
john hawkes - winter's bone +
jeremy renner - the town
mark ruffalo - the kids are all right
geoffrey rush - the king's speech

john hawkes should take this,
but people love to forgive
christian bale. whatevs.

best supporting actress

amy adams - the fighter
{helena bonham carter - the king's speech}
melissa leo - the fighter
hailee steinfeld - true grit +
jacki weaver - animal kingdom

loved hailee steinfeld; her
role was super-stylized, though.
blind call: helena.

best director

{darren aronofsky - black swan} +
david o. russell - the fighter
tom hooper - the king's speech
david fincher - the social network
joel and ethan coen - true grit +

so many of the
choices in black swan were so
cool. i'm on team darren.

best picture

black swan +
the fighter
inception +
the kids are all right
the king's speech
127 hours
{the social network}
toy story 3
true grit +
winter's bone +

the social network
is all-around solid work,
per most reviewers.

more importantly,
it says "hollywood 'gets' tech,"
and that message wins.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 do you forgive christian bale?

02 if you're the sort who crams for the academy awards, what are you planning to see?

03 my musts before the ceremony are the fighter, the king's speech, the social network, and the kids are alright; am i missing anything crucial?

04 which film should get best picture?

05 will helena bonham carter wear mismatched shoes again, or was that a "what happens at the golden globes stays at the golden globes" thing?

06 if you had the kids are all right at home and needed to trick someone into watching it with you, what would you do?

01.21.11: the dirty dozen {twelve things i plan to do in iceland}

i started envisioning my dream trip to iceland more than eight years ago. i booked that mother eight minutes ago, and we leave for reykjavik on march 23rd.

01 acquire a vegvísir tattoo*
02 gorge on icelandic design
03 see the northern lights
04 visit eyjafjallajökull and rough it up for cara and nye
05 hoard kulur and adorable detritus from bolludagur
06 lurk like a snow monkey in the blue lagoon (pre-tattoo)
07 bathe in a large vat of mud (ditto)
08 visit the national museum of iceland
09 have a bun at bæjarins beztu
10 admire puffins
11 try brennivin
12 organize elves

ever so much more on this in future posts.

*as gracie wisely notes, the ol' viking compass says "metaphysical bookstore patron" in a way i don't appreciate nearly as much as my earlytwentysomething iceland-envisioning counterpart did. working tattoo plan as of now: a wilson bentley snowflake.

01.20.11: the dirty dozen {twelve ladies who didn't keep them legs close}

tweet of the week: "Ladies keep them legs close, an them books open. I'm telling yall this because I care. We have to become a smarter generation." (amar'e stoudemire)

01 anaïs nin
02 anne sexton
03 edna st. vincent millay
04 simone de beauvoir
05 george eliot
06 anna akhmatova
07 h.d.
08 françoise sagan
09 mary wollstonecraft
10 djuna barnes
11 marina tsvetaeva
12 anne bradstreet



rabbit at rest (john updike)*
CHALLENGER: our tragic universe (scarlett thomas)

i'm not entirely sure what our tragic universe wants. as one reviewer put it, "i wanted to root for this novel and its brain-bending, occasionally contradictory signifiers; i also found myself yearning for a way in." after kicking things off with a thought-experiment quote from baudrillard's simulacra and simulation, scarlett thomas presents us with meg, an asthmatic hack writer in devonshire who pens adventure novels as zeb ross, modern-day england's composite-author equivalent of carolyn keene or gossip girl's cecily von ziegesar.** meg's a hack writer in the grub street sense of the term: she'd vastly prefer to be plugging away at the serious novel she promised her publisher ages ago, but she has to support her shiftless boyfriend in the interim, and she writes a page only to delete four more. were i to attempt serious fiction at all (a mistake i haven't made since college), i'd find it near-impossible to write surrounded by friends like meg's: her set is riddled with author-philosophers who congregate around booze to argue about which stories get to be stories in the first place.
'Isn't this the problem of definition?' Claudia said. 'They obviously weren't telling "stories" as we would understand them. If we say that a story is something with a beginning, a middle and an end, deterministically linked, with at least one main character, then someone else can't come along and say that a story is actually defined as "anything anyone ever says".'
How about if we define "story" differently again?' Frank said. 'What if a story is simply any representation of agents acting? What if that's all it is, and the shape of the narrative, its determinism, its construction of "good" and "bad" characters and so on are culturally specific?'
i'm willing to believe people speak this way, but i have a hard time imagining that they do so all the time. meg's lumpen boyfriend excepted, thomas's characters sure do. "i wanted to write a novel while at the same time unravelling it, so that the result would be simultaneously broken and whole," thomas has said. it...is; i'm not always entirely sure what's going on, particularly when characters are arguing about an american author's discussion of the omega point, an infinitely powerful instant at the end of the finite universe at which it will be possible for us to create an infinity of perfect post-universes in which we live forever. i bitched to joe this weekend about how long it's taken me to pull together this THUNDERTOME: "it's this intentionally storyless story about the death of the author and all this philosophy." "whose philosophy?!"*** "i'm not entirely sure, but i don't like it."

i do quite like some of thomas's other meanderings; she's a great admirer of chekhov's and tolstoy's, and her characters' chats about their relationship**** got me all excited about reading their letters (and anna karenina, which i finished on a train over the weekend and will toss into the first arena of the new year when i finish slogging through these december books). there's also a lovely bit about robert louis stevenson's travels with a donkey in the cévennes about the beast of gévaudan, the chupacabra of the baskervilles of 18th-century france:
'"Wolves, alas! like bandits, seem to flee the traveller's advance, and you may trudge through all our comfortable Europe, and not meet with an adventure worth the name. But here, if anywhere, a man was on the frontiers of hope. For this was the land of the ever-memorable BEAST, the Napoleon Bonaparte of wolves. What a career was his! He lived ten months at free quarters in Gévaudan and Vivarais; he ate women and children and 'shepherdesses celebrated for their beauty'; he pursued armed horsemen; he has been seen at broad noonday chasing a post-chaise and outrider along the king's high road..." There's a bit more after that, Tim said. 'Sometime later Stevenson is lost, and meets two young girls who won't give him directions. One pokes her tongue out at him, and the other just tells him to follow the cows. He says then, "The Beast of Gévaudan ate about a hundred children of this district; I began to think of him with sympathy."'
i came away from our tragic universe with a rather fine reading list, and i appreciate that. i also appreciate thomas's clever imagery, and her affection for her meandering, flawed characters; it would be easy to satirize them, but she does what she can to present them realistically. until they begin chasing beasts and disappearing and maybe practicing magic, that is.
'You shouldn't be able to fix the meaning of the universe, just as you shouldn't be able to reduce Hamlet or Anna Karenina to a sentence or say what they "really mean". I want a tragic universe, not a nice rounded-off universe with a moral at the end. And I don't think looking for a final meaning for the universe is rewarding either.'
fair enough, ms. thomas. i do hope we stumble upon each other in a conversation somewhere else, as you seem lovely; this just isn't quite my scene.

VICTOR: updike, with a blow to the back of thomas's head when she wandered off to eat a tangerine.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 i bet there are more composite authors out there. hazard a guess! who's secretly a collective?

02 have you ever read scarlett thomas? what did you think?

03 had you a major or majors?

04 tolstoy or chekhov, internet: you must pick one.

05 if you were the beast of gévaudan, what sort of person would you eat?

06 is skepticism re: capital-p Philosophy a character flaw?

*previous battle here.

**CZ is an actual person, mind you, but - just trust me here.

***joe was a poli sci / philosophy major. or he minored in philosophy. i could never keep it straight.

****"'Tolstoy, being rich, thinks that living like a peasant is virtuous in its simplicity. But Chekhov's been there and done that. He's eaten goose soup so thin that he says the only substance in it is like the scum you get in a bath after fat market women have been in it. He has slept in troughs.'"

01.18.11: the dirty dozen {in which i make like coverspy and peep at subway riders and their books}

the girl who kicked the hornet's nest, stieg larsson* (F, 30s, black leather/suede moto jacket, fuzzy knitted headband, curly black hair, strident eyebrows, F train)
02 wolf hall, hilary mantel (M, 40s, high cheekbones, black wire-rimmed glasses, checked tweed driving cap with ear flaps, navy overcoat, extremely shiny black oxfords, F train)
03 the girl who played with fire, stieg larsson (F, 20s, belted green wool trench, crocheted orange scarf, highlighted bob, elfin nose, F train)
04 snow crash, neal stephenson (M, late 20s, royal blue anorak, dirty duck boots, short, spiky hair, five-day beard, F train)
05 freakonomics, steven d. levitt (F, 20s, straight blonde hair, black hooded puffer coat, black shoulder bag with gold hardware, dark-wash jeans, brown boots, L platform)
06 lord of the flies, william golding (F, teens, black ponytail, striped fingerless gloves, low pink all-stars, ipod, E train)
07 boy meets girl, meg cabot (F, 20s, knitted black beret, heavy bangs, puffer with black fur-lined hood, grey sweatpants, black uggs, E train)
08 american psycho, bret easton ellis (M, late 20s, patchy ginger beard, tortoiseshell glasses, blue striped oxford, grey hoodie, long grey pea coat, blue bose headphones, F train)
09 the white spider, heinrich harrer (M, late 30s, buddy holly glasses, short graying hair, black umbrella, black messenger bag, silver dive watch, F train)
10 the gate house, nelson demille (M, 60s, dozing, white hair, holding wire-rimmed glasses, burberry plaid scarf, maroon tie, black toggle coat, soft black attache case, B train)
11 girls like us, sheila weller (F, early 20s, curly pink hair, nose ring, jack skellington tote, purple tights, graffiti-covered wellies, ring with giant green stone, B train)
12 rebel without a crew, robert rodriguez (M, early 20s, red ski cap, glasses, black tee with green turntables, brooklyn sweatshirt, navy pea coat, white south american shoulder bag, F train)

*tweet of the week: "Suspicious behavior on the L train this morning. Not one chick was reading 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.'#ifyouseesomethingsaysomething"

01.17.11: texts

1 {11:49pm}: Oh bummer! Was kidnapped by gypsies on the way home. Send beads.
2 {11:55pm}: I have no beads, but I do have these blankets with (almost) no smallpox on them. Will those do?
1 {11:55pm}: Are they fancy? Don't lie.
2 {11:57pm}: If fancy means "riddled with smallpox," then yes. Very fancy.
1 {11:57pm}: Feats of strength!
2 {12:04am}: Feats of smallpox.

01.11.11: backstage moon

backstage moon



rabbit at rest (john updike)*
CHALLENGER: a discovery of witches (deborah harkness)

i have seen the future of pop culture's sudsy love affair with vampires, and it is big - norma desmond big, with gloria swanson eyebrows and dramatic, glassware-endangering gestures. it's for twilight moms and grad students, for recovering goths and people who secretly like forrest gump.** it's moving and cheesy, like overturned fondue. it's - about a library book.
My degree from Oxford, my position at Yale, and my carefully researched and written books had long provided meaning and structure to my life. But none of them were of comfort to me in this strange new world of menacing vampires and threatening witches.
a discovery of witches debuts diana bishop, an american scholar visiting oxford to research a paper on the history of alchemy. she's also an orphaned, non-practicing member of a powerful family of witches, and in the course of a routine day at the bodleian library, she manages to summon ashmole 782, a crazy-powerful book acquired by the bod from the ashmolean museum and lost centuries ago. she doesn't appreciate its significance, what with her shunning of all things witch-related, but she catches on quickly after the book is returned to the stacks and all hell breaks loose in the selden end of duke humfrey's reading room. all three races of creatures (that would be witches, vampires, and daemons; in this universe, one in ten beings is a creature rather than a human) are desperate to get their hands on ashmole 782, and diana's days of spending hours in the library, wearing comfortable-but-flattering yoga pants and striking jewel-tone turtlenecks, enjoying complicated glasses of wine, and making questionably-integrated references to famous scientific and literary works - her BVB*** ones, anyway - are over.

oxford is one of my favorite settings, of course, and the bodleian is an especially excellent bit of it; my nineties hair and i swore an oath (seriously, they make you swear an oath) not to "kindle therein any fire or flame" to become a reader there when i was a local, and i love kindling fires and flames.

nineties lau's library card

one needn't be a brit- or book-lover to take a shine to a discovery of witches, though; we're but sixteen pages in when matthew clairmont - ancient vampire, knight, biologist, oxford don, ladykiller, oenophile, and (spoiler) yoga enthusiast - glides into the library. he's ten times older than stephenie meyer's edward cullen, and considerably more dreamy from a non-tween perspective: he does the requisite secretly-watching-his-lady-while-she-sleeps, playing it chaste, and brooding about exes he's killed, sure, but he has a slammin' wine cellar**** (harkness's vampires haven't much use for food, but they love wine) and has whiled away the millennia by gadding about with folks like kit marlowe, chuck darwin, and everyone mentioned in "we didn't start the fire." her highly entertaining maximalism leaves me more than willing to power through her love scenes.
"What spell have you put on me?" He searched my face. "It's not simply your eyes--though they do make it impossible for me to think straight--or the fact you smell like honey." He buried his face in my neck, the fingers of one hand sliding into my hair while the other drifted down my back, pulling my hips toward him.
My body softened into his, as if it were meant to fit there.
a discovery of witches, per its prepublication material, is to be translated into 32 languages; while i haven't seen explicit references to additional books, i'm guessing it's the first installment of a trilogy. this is excellent news; along with BBC three's marvelous being human, it's the most enthusiastic mixed-species drama i've come upon in some time, and a fine antidote to twilight's regressive tween-baiting. go forth, ms. harkness, and steamroll some YA fiction; scholars is pimps, too.

VICTOR: harkness is the clear crowd favorite, but updike's superior descriptors, emotional plausibility, and lack of yoga carry the day. work on the love scenes, d-harks, and call me.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 vampire yoga: are you in?

02 wine-drinkers, which adjectives would one toss about for the sort of wines you like? i favor spanish reds which are elegiac, chatterley, and cheap.

03 did you buy chatterley as an adjective just then?

04 is nineties hair lauren up there a vampire, a witch, or a daemon? which sort of creature would you be?

05 have you seen being human? do you plan to watch syfy's american adaptation?

*previous battle here.

**i've met a few. terrifying.

***Before Vampire Boyfriend.

****harkness is both a wine blogger and a historian of science. her dinner-and-wine-tasting scenes are lengthy and top chef-esque; i enjoy them immensely.


1: [gestures at photo taped to cabinet] is that your hubby?
2: no, that's raymond chandler. that's joe [gestures at photos pinned to wall].
1: oh. he's a lot younger.
2: and a lot less fond of gimlets, fortunately.

01.05.11: the dirty dozen {villanelles are}

01 a nightmare; there is no other way to say it.
02 legion, and i've committed several.
03 one of those odd strict forms where the highest praise one can give a poet is that the reader forgets he's reading a strict form.
04 the hardest to write.
05 tough to write. I've written a few and are quite fond of them.
04 poised to finally deliver on that promise.
06 a quirky foursome.
07 usually written with a whiff of the tragic.
08 just plain hard work.
09 often written, but rarely written well.
10 simply exercises, well done but no more than that – like a watercolourist on an off day.
11 at their best on slower numbers, which allow more room to indulge fanciful instrumental arrangements and heady, narcotic vocal flourishes.
12 molded of a certain cast. To complete one is quite an achievement.

01.02.11: the dirty dozen {concocted for the holidays}

handmade fabric wreath

01 blood orange sorbet
02 candied blood orange peels
03 rosemary bread, fluffy
04 whole wheat bread, flat
05 chocolate chip / chocolate bar / pecan / almond cookies
06 vanilla ice cream
07 spiced glazed nuts and pretzel mix
08 roasted tomato salsa
09 spinach and artichoke dip
10 boxing day margaritas
11 sugar cookie dough
12 so many hobo names