After-Dinner Note:
Cold Cuts
25 January 2018

¶ What to do with cold cuts? If you make sandwiches at home, this is something that you have to figure out. Because I have always sought orderly solutions to kitchen problems, this one has eluded me. I can tuck the packages of meat and cheese as neatly as you like, but that only makes things worse, because I can easily find what I’m looking for. This means that I can forget about the rest, and go on forgetting about it until things have to be thrown away. 

It turns out that what works for me is the chaotic pocket book — the bag that you have to empty in order to find anything. I hit upon it accidentally. One day, earlier this winter, I did some late-afternoon shopping at Schaller & Weber. When I got home, I was too tired to unpack the shopping bag, and wouldn’t you know there was a space in the refrigerator that was just big enough to hold it. So I tossed it in and shut the door. Although I’ve emptied that bag, and its successors, many times, I’ve never looked back. I throw in leftover bits of chicken and steak. And that’s where I keep the Emmenthal that I buy at Fairway; it belongs with the Land O’Lakes American.

When I want something, I have to unload the whole bag on the counter. Sometimes what I find changes my plans for lunch. Better finish up that ham! 


Library Note:
Book Tour
24 January 2018

¶ So, here’s how it started. Someone was reviewing the poetry of Nancy Cunard in the LRB. Nancy Cunard wrote poetry? Something called “Moods” was quoted, four lines of nursery rhyme. The reviewer compared it unfavorably to Auden’s “Night Mail” — a poem I didn’t know. If I had known it, I’d have wanted to re-read it, so, one way or the other, I set out for Auden’s Collected Poems (edited by Edward Mendelson; Random House, 1976). 

I couldn’t find it.

I still don’t know where half the books in my library are, or even if they’re still in my library, what with last summer’s storage-evacuation purges. Poetry books are kept in two places, but Auden wasn’t in either of them. I couldn’t believe it! Auden! I began tearing apart one of the breakfront shelves in the book room, where the books are three deep, because it’s one of the poetry spots, if not the one where I expected to find Auden. And, what do you know!  I found Lisa Chaney’s Elizabeth David: A Mediterranean Passion, one of the two David biographies that I’d wanted to look at after re-reading Roger Williams’s Lunch With Elizabeth David, which I mentioned the other day. But I hadn’t tried to find them as I was now hunting down Auden. With Chaney in hand, I added Artemis Cooper’s Writing at the Kitchen Table, the other biography, to the search. Pretty soon (but over the course of two days), the writing table in the book room was covered with toppling piles of books, the contents of Shelf B2 mostly. Neither Auden nor Cooper turned up, but as long as I had a mess to clean up, I thought I might as well do it properly.  

Regular readers will be crouching and covering their heads in anticipation of yet another tantrum about the inadequacies of library software. The year before I started this Web log, I lost a nearly complete and highly detailed Access database, all entered by hand, to malware (a visiting relative was visiting Web sites that he oughtn’t t’have), and I have been moaning and groaning about it ever since. (Microsoft abandoned Access, and I am simply not going to say another word about Readerware, because, read on.) When we moved into this apartment a few years ago, I resorted to Evernote to keep track of a few books, and my improvisations there have turned out to be perfectly adequate, as, shelf by shelf, I have entered authors’ names and titles into two-columned tables. If a book has been catalogued in this rudimentary way, I’ll be able to find out where it is in an instant. For a long time, I confined my efforts to the invisible books, the ones shelved behind others. Now I make a record of what’s in front, too, because, as we shall see, I’m often quite bullheadedly mistaken about what I’m looking for, in the way of dust-jackets and bindings. 

When Shelf B2 was cleared, but for the rank at the rear, I created a Note, B2R (“R” for “rear”). Then I hauled out all the books so that I could put their information into a table. The first book was Neil Harris’s Capital Culture, and the third was Joe Hagan’s Sticky Fingers. Sticky Fingers had been lying about somewhere else, not yet shelved, but, like Capital Culture, it was a book that I didn’t really like very much but that contained too much useful information to discard. I created another table for the short books that I stacked horizontally, including Alan Mandelbaum’s Dante. (When I was done, W S Merwin’s Purgatorio stood out in front. That’s literary criticism at its most elementary.) Then a third entry, without a table: “Miscellaneous Chinese books.” 

The Note for B2M (“M” for “middle”) began with a long table of books relating to food. It was in this cluster that I had discovered Chaney and then expected to find Cooper. I created another table, for miscellaneous books, the most important of which is probably Frank Kermode’s memoir, Not Entitled. A third table covered all the poetry books that didn’t seem quite good enough for the front of the shelf, B2F. (Need I?) By now, most of the piles on the writing table had toppled onto the floor, taking desktop knickknacks with them. I managed to stock the front of the shelf without further hands-and-knees frolic. 

There was a bit of extra space in the front, so I thought that I’d bring in some of the poetry books from the mantelpiece bookshelf, which is where Auden was supposed to be AND WAS, all the time. This is what I mean by bullheaded. I didn’t know what to look for, and, besides, the lighting is very atmospheric in the living room, meaning that you can’t see anything unless you’re sitting next to a lamp. Auden was on the top shelf, and I’d discarded the dust jacket, which would have been much easier to read than the small gold lettering on the spine. 

And guess what? Now that I was combing the mantelpiece bookshelf for poetry books, I looked to see what was standing next to Charles Passage’s metrical rendering of Horace, and found, not another book of verse, but the clothbound edition — I’d been expecting a paperback — of Cooper’s Authorized Biography of Elizabeth David. 

The poem that appears after “Night Mail” — better than Nancy Cunard’s railway piece, to be sure, but nevertheless written to be narrated in a General Post Office short — is the famous “As I Walked Out One Evening.” I lingered over these terribly mortal lines, 

In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,

with a dash of Schadenfreude, for I had just eliminated a headache and a worry: I had found my Auden and my Cooper. 

Recovery Note:
Working on Sunday
21 January 2018

¶ In middle of last Fall, I had the bright idea of scheduling the next round of routine doctors’ appointments (including the visit to the dentist) in January, so that I would not be distracted from the holidays. And that worked. But then came the clumps of appointments, after which I seemed never in a mood to cook, or even to think much about food. (We ordered in a lot of Chinese.) In an unfortunate coincidence, I was also paralyzed by meditations on the state of the union in the New Year. I ordered a copy of Fire and Fury the day after its official publication, and yet Amazon scheduled the delivery for the last week of the month. Clearly, the book was wildly more successful than its publisher had anticipated — there weren’t enough books to sell. But the delivery date turned out to be overly cautious. On Friday, I got a note telling me to expect the book on Saturday, and it arrived as promised. I am in no hurry to read it; instead of Wolff, I’m reading the current issue of Harper’s, which features a collection of essays about trying to restart a national conversation. 

¶ Related hunch: Everyone talks about President Trump’s dismal approval ratings as if — they meant something. What I’m beginning to think those ratings really mean is that the people who respond to polls think that Trump is doing an excellent job of portraying a terrible president. Since his administration hasn’t accomplished anything that the Republican Party wasn’t pushing for anyway, who can blame them for enjoying the soap opera? 

¶ Twilight Zone?: Kathleen flew down to Florida this morning for an annual convention. Her flight landed almost an hour (fifty-five minutes) ahead of schedule. Great! But also a little disturbing, no? 

¶ I was going to make Chicken Tetrazzini for dinner last night, but the mushrooms in the fridge weren’t up to it, and having spent the afternoon tidying the apartment, I wasn’t up to going out to Fairway. So I made what I used to call butter sauce. It’s Marcella Hazan’s notorious concoction of three ingredients, one of which is eventually discarded. You take a box of pulped tomatoes, five tablespoons of butter, and an onion that has been halved and peeled but not sliced, and simmer them gently. When the results reach the desired consistency — and the kitchen smells as though a newly-butchered side of beef were hanging in the corner — you carefully fish out the onions and toss them in the sink, to cool down before disposal. Butter, tomato, and onion are each of them complex and protean, and it can be said of Hazan’s miraculous blend that, if less is more here, the more is really more. It’s an indispensable spaghetti sauce, and it couldn’t be easier to make. 

Self-Advert Note:
Lunch With Elizabeth David
9 January 2018

¶ Over at The Daily Blague/reader, I have a few words to say about a novel inspired by the great British food writer, Elizabeth David. And by others, particularly the now almost totally forgotten Norman Douglas. (Would he have been pleased, really pleased, that his protogée‘s Wikipedia entry is so much longer than his own?) Roger Williams’s 1999 novel, Lunch With Elizabeth David, disappointed me when I read it the first time, but I liked it a lot the second. Perhaps it taught me things that I took forever to appreciate. I know that this book survived numerous culls only because David was in the title; I held onto it for the silliest of reasons. Well, whatever it takes.

After-Dinner Note:
Really Roast Chicken
5 January 2018

¶ We Anglophones have a thing about meat that we cook in the oven: we don’t want to call it “baked.” But the very essence of baking is the absence of a focal flame. A baking oven is equally hot everywhere, and very hot nowhere. It’s great for cakes and breads and casseroles, and necessary for high-collagen cuts of meat that require long cooking. But roasting requires fire. What we call “broiling” is just a manner of roasting small pieces of meat that cook very quickly (ie, before the outsides turn to black ash). 

For years, I have been suffering odious comparisons between the chicken that I “roast” at home and the “roast chicken” that they serve up the street at Demarchelier. My chicken is so awfully heavy. Even when it’s not quite cooked at the bone, still a little rosy, and not altogether delicious as a result, it tastes as if it has been too long in the oven. I’ve been tempted to ask how they do it at Demarchelier, where it’s my favorite dish, but I would feel honor-bound to confess that I’d never eat theirs again if I could figure out how to do it myself. Over the years, in any case, I have ruled out (a) special chickens and (b) magical marinades. This leaves only cooking technique, which I probably wouldn’t be able to reproduce without professional-kitchen equipment. 

Because this entry is getting too long, I am going to spare you my thoughts on opening the mail one afternoon a month ago and finding the 2017 edition of Cook’s Illustrated. (Yet another!) All I need to say now is that I actually looked into it after dinner last week and found, to my great surprise, that there were at least four recipes that I wanted to try, pronto. 

Lan Lam’s “Fastest Weeknight Chicken,” from the March & April issue, was one, and I find, on putting it to the test, that it takes me more than halfway to Demarchelier. The chicken is, yes, broiled, but at a distance. I couldn’t have done it in the kitchen upstairs, because the wall oven there had a broiler drawer beneath that allowed a maximum distance from the flame of about five inches. In this apartment I have a stove with one of those dual ovens, oven heat below and broiler heat on top. So the chicken could sit about a foot below the fire. Thanks to one of Lan Lam’s astuces, the skin browned lightly and evenly, with no puckering: I had taken a larding needle to the bird, and poked holes at 3/4-inch intervals. 

Another trick calls for putting the oiled and seasoned chicken in a lightly-oiled, smoking-hot skillet right before putting it in a cold oven and then turning the broiler on. This gives the dark meat a stretch of extra heat. 

Kathleen thought that the chicken done this way just tasted very good, maybe a little better. For me, it was like a new species of fowl. A birthday present that I really do wish I could have opened up thirty or forty years ago. 

After-Dinner Note:
4 January 2018

¶ The Christmas tree has been carted off, leaving fewer needles behind than trees of the past, owing to the diligence of old friend and indispensable man Ray Soleil. It was a lovely tree, just the right height and fullness, and even though we didn’t get round to putting up ornaments until a day or two after Christmas, it gave our hearts a seasonal buoyance. Now it is time to clear up for the New Year. Not to mention my birthday.

Morning Note:
Why So Long?
3 January 2018

Katja Grace spills a crowdsourced cascade of things to consider when trying to ask the question: Why did it take so long, say, to invent rope? My favorite:

  1. Posing the question is a large part of the work. If you have never seen rope, it actually doesn’t occur to you that rope would come in handy, or to ask yourself how to make some.

After Dinner Note:
“What do you do?”
2 January 2018

¶ Major Hoot: At a party at Clay Felker’s, Tina Brown, then new to New York, commits a slight faux pas.

Everyone at the party was so famous but unfortunately I had never heard of them. I said to Shirley MacLaine, “What do you do?” She gave me a manic, hostile stare and went on talking to Ed Epstein about how he should research a book about flying saucers.

 (DBR link.)

¶ Cracked open a tin of MarieBelle Aztec Hot Chocolate, a deluxe product that Kathleen bought a long time ago at Dean & Deluca. It has been sitting around, unopened, and I wondered at the instructions, which called for boiling water, not hot milk. And since when does half a cup of water fill a mug? Nevertheless, Kathleen liked it. She said that it was a little thin, and I was prepared to make another cup with milk, but it turned out that a good deal of the chocolate shards had not quite dissolved.

¶ Remembering the bean slicer that I had years ago at the lake house, I searched Amazon and found it. It looks almost exactly like the Leeuwenhoek microscopes that a bunch of us bought by mail from an outfit in Cambridge, Massachusetts back in the Sixties. Putting it to work with some green beans that I’d bought a week earlier at Fairway, I discovered that the bean slicer doesn’t work well with beans that aren’t really fresh. The slicer has a little blade, reminiscent of a guillotine, for topping and tailing, and it doesn’t work well with old beans, either. But with nice, fresh, firm beans, the slicer is a dream. Cheap, too. The microscope, in contrast, was expensive, and something of a hoax.

Auld Lang Syne Note:
Retour à la blogue
1 January 2018

¶ For a few months, I’ve been itching to blog, the old-fashioned way. Tweeting is still much too short for my shortest thoughts, but not everything that crosses my mind swells naturally into a DBR entry. Also: the link thing?

¶ Happy New Year!

Ancient History

Radical Note:
3 September 2014

¶ We could have looked it up, but we didn’t do more, whenever the word “endorphin” came up, than frown. What a funny-looking word. Derived from what, possibly? “End-” was vaguely Greek, but the rest was gibberish.

Now we know. In a fantastic piece about the seesawing problems of pill and heroin abuse on Staten Island, Ian Frazier writes about the “antagonistic” opioid naloxone, which, injected by nasal spray, saves lives that might be lost to drug overdoses. Naloxone was discovered in Queens, and promptly led to important discoveries.

If naloxone could reverse pain relief when no drugs were present, researchers guessed that the body must have its own pain-relief systems. “Endorphin,” the word, comes from “endogenous morphine.” A number of such natural chemicals were later found, along with receptors in the brain upon which they and the opioids acted. Other studies showed that naloxone may block the pain-relieving effects of acupuncture and placebos, temporarily suppress the urge to eat, and reduce the body’s shock and stress reactions.

We have no suggestions for an improved word, but dropping the “m” in “morphine” was an illiterate move.


Media Note:
2 September 2014

¶ While the Editor was on vacation, Nick Bilton published a piece in the Times about the tweetfall from Ferguson that captured the gist of our misgivings about the replacement of professionally digested news by amateurs’ eyewitness accounts.

When Mr. Carson of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch shared pictures on Twitter of a Molotov cocktail found by the police, Twitter users accused him of lying and making it up. One group even perpetuated a hashtag #mythicalmolotov. When he said he had GoPro footage of protesters firing bullets at the police, naysayers said it was simply fireworks.

Maybe this alternative reality won’t be a surprise to anyone. A survey by Rasmussen Reports nine days after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown found that half of those surveyed had already made up their minds as to who was at fault. By that reckoning, it doesn’t matter what the facts are, people are going to find the tweets that support their viewpoint.

Memory Lane:
Hole in the Mould
31 July 2014

¶ At Aeon, Kristin Ohlson writes beguilingly about memories of childhood — how rare the truly early ones are, and how completely they are overshadowed by those of adolescence and early adulthood. (3 Quarks Daily; via The Morning News)

To form long-term memories, an array of biological and psychological stars must align, and most children lack the machinery for this alignment. The raw material of memory – the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations of our life experiences – arrive and register across the cerebral cortex, the seat of cognition. For these to become memory, they must undergo bundling in the hippocampus, a brain structure named for its supposed resemblance to a sea horse, located under the cerebral cortex. The hippocampus not only bundles multiple input from our senses together into a single new memory, it also links these sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations to similar ones already stored in the brain. But some parts of the hippocampus aren’t fully developed until we’re adolescents, making it hard for a child’s brain to complete this process.

‘So much has to happen biologically to store a memory,’ the psychologist Patricia Bauer of Emory University told me. There’s ‘a race to get it stabilised and consolidated before you forget it. It’s like making Jell-O: you mix the stuff up, you put it in a mould, and you put it in the refrigerator to set, but your mould has a tiny hole in it. You just hope your Jell-O – your memory – gets set before it leaks out through that tiny hole.’

In addition, young children have a tenuous grip on chronology. They are years from mastering clocks and calendars, and thus have a hard time nailing an event to a specific time and place. They also don’t have the vocabulary to describe an event, and without that vocabulary, they can’t create the kind of causal narrative that Peterson found at the root of a solid memory. And they don’t have a greatly elaborated sense of self, which would encourage them to hoard and reconsider chunks of experience as part of a growing life-narrative.

Money Clip:
Econ, Yukon
29 July 2014

¶ John Lanchester’s “Money Talks,” appearing in this week’s New Yorker, could have been written (perhaps a trifle overwritten) by our Editor, who is forever haranguing his readers to sit up, pay heed, and learn how the world really turns. Lanchester’s argument is all the more urgent for concerning money, not culture. For fifty years, sophisticated discussion of the dismal science been abandoned to traders with a stake in it. If this high-minded dereliction was intended to starve finance of life-sustaining attention, it failed more than dismally.

The language of money is a powerful tool, and it is also a tool of power. Incomprehension is a form of consent. If we allow ourselves not to understand this language, we are signing off on the way the world works today—in particular, we are signing off on the prospect of an ever-widening gap between the rich and everyone else, a world in which everything about your life is determined by the accident of who your parents are. Those of us who are interested in stopping that from happening need to learn how to measure the level of the Nile for ourselves.

When you read the piece, you’ll see how the Nile flows into it.


Brokenland Note:
Human People
28 July 2014

¶ What makes human people so special in America? They’re the ones who pay most of the taxes. Corporate people pay much less. Our current regulatory scheme, flourishing under right-wing nurture, favors the dispensation in many ways, most currently in the vogue for “inversion,” whereby an American company buys a foreign one but claims that it was the other way round, so that profits not generated in the US are not taxed. (I remember when, four or five years ago, Chinese firms launched a vogue for these transactions, not for tax purposes but in order to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Global Boulevard is a two-way street.) Paul Krugman takes a crack at inversion in his column in today’s Times.

The most important thing to understand about inversion is that it does not in any meaningful sense involve American business “moving overseas.” Consider the case of Walgreen, the giant drugstore chain that, according to multiple reports, is on the verge of making itself legally Swiss. If the plan goes through, nothing about the business will change; your local pharmacy won’t close and reopen in Zurich. It will be a purely paper transaction — but it will deprive the U.S. government of several billion dollars in revenue that you, the taxpayer, will have to make up one way or another.

Does this mean President Obama is wrong to describe companies engaging in inversion as “corporate deserters”? Not really — they’re shirking their civic duty, and it doesn’t matter whether they literally move abroad or not. But apologists for inversion, who tend to claim that high taxes are driving businesses out of America, are indeed talking nonsense. These businesses aren’t moving production or jobs overseas — and they’re still earning their profits right here in the U.S.A. All they’re doing is dodging taxes on those profits.

And Congress could crack down on this tax dodge — it’s already illegal for a company to claim that its legal domicile is someplace where it has little real business, and tightening the criteria for declaring a company non-American could block many of the inversions now taking place. So is there any reason not to stop this gratuitous loss of revenue? No.

We think that official tolerance of inversion is the strongest evidence to date that American government is depraved.


Inside Voice:
Silence and Slow Time
2 July 2014

At Smart Set, Willard Spiegelman meditates on the importance of quiet in museums. (Not surprisingly, perhaps, he encountered it memorably last fall at the installation of Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet at the Cloisters.) His advice: don’t wait for noisy gawkers to go away. Just stand still and firm; the racket will recede on its own, as you radiate the quiet.

Every so often a miracle occurs. The crowds vanish. Perhaps no one is around to begin with as was the case for me in Philadelphia. Or perhaps something marvelous so transports the viewer that he can forget the crowds, noisy or inconvenient though they may be. At New York’s Frick Collection last winter, I waited for a spot to open and I just planted myself in front of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, on loan from the Netherlands, until I had looked my fill. I made myself ignore my noisy, jostling neighbors. The thrill of slow looking has also happened when I come to an art exhibition that changes my mind about an artist I never knew well: Kandinsky; Arshile Gorky, most recently. Or that opens my eyes to an artist of whom I have previously known nothing at all: Howard Hodgkin, for example, first in Fort Worth and then at the Metropolitan Museum; L. S. Lowry, at Tate Britain last summer. A world opens itself up and invites you in. The surroundings melt and it’s just you and the pictures. These things happen. Keats described the experience as feeling that a new planet has swum into your ken. He was thinking of literature — in his case George Chapman’s translations of Homer — but the analogy obtains.



Dept of Too Big:
Power, Not Price
2 July 2014

¶ In today’s Dealbook, Steven Davidoff Solomon notes that huge business combines have roared back into existence notwithstanding the anti-trust legislation that was designed to stifle them at birth. This has happened because the new megafirms are not nearly as interested in eliminating competition as their Gilded Age predecessors were. What the new behemoths crave is not monopoly but political power — the negative political power to retain their freedom to do as they wish.

Every industry now has its own Washington-based nonprofit to push its agenda. For wireless it is CTIA, and for cable it is the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. There is even an e-cigarettes group called the Electronic Cigarette Industry Group. The new megacorporations, simply by virtue of their size, can use these organizations to lobby for significant change. And with the political-spending rights given to them by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision, these corporations are even more powerful. They are able to steer large sums to preferred candidates. Though they have yet to flex that muscle to the extent that they might, the fear that they could do so is enough to give these companies significant political power with politicians.

This accretion of power is manifestly undesirable — is it not? Solomon is right (if unrealistic) to call for a legislative overhaul.

Market Note:
Inescapable Regulation
22 July 2014

We try to learn something every day. This is easiest when we turn our attention to economics, a field of almost immeasurable ignorance for us. Today, we discovered Karl Polanyi, author of The Great Transformation and the subject of a new book by Fred Block and Margaret Somers. Block and Somers were interviewed by Henry Farrell at the Washington Post(via 3 Quarks Daily)

HF –  How do those ideas help us understand the vexing economic problems we still face today?

FB & MS – By putting government and politics into the center of economic analysis, Polanyi makes it clear that today’s vexing economic problems are almost entirely political problems. This can effectively change the terms of modern political debate: Both left and right today focus on “deregulation”—for the right it is a rallying cry against the impediments of government; for the left it is the scourge behind our current economic inequities.  While they differ dramatically on its desirability, both positions assume the possibility of a “non-regulated” or “non-political” market.  Taking Polanyi seriously means rejecting the illusion of a “deregulated” economy. What happened in the name of “deregulation” has actually been “reregulation,” this time by rules and policies that are radically different from those of the New Deal and Great Society decades. Although compromised by racism, those older regulations laid the groundwork for greater equality and a flourishing middle class.  Government continues to regulate, but instead of acting to protect workers, consumers, and citizens, it devised new policies aimed to help giant corporate and financial institutions maximize their returns through revised anti-trust laws, seemingly bottomless bank bailouts, and increased impediments to unionization.

The implications for political discourse are critically important: If regulations are always necessary components of markets, we must not discuss regulation versus deregulation but rather what kinds of regulations we prefer: Those designed to benefit wealth and capital? Or those that benefit the public and common good? Similarly, since the rights or lack of rights that employees have at the workplace are always defined by the legal system, we must not ask whether the law should organize the labor market but rather what kinds of rules and rights should be entailed in these laws—those that recognize that it is the skills and talents of employees that make firms productive, or those that rig the game in favor of employers and private profits?

This puts a new name to a few ideas that we happen to endorse, and makes them clearer, too.

Dept of Urban Legend:
Knausgaard-Free Days
21 July 2014

¶ At Pacific Standard, Casy Cep reviews her correspondence with Daniel Bloom, an American gadfly currently living in Taiwan. The object of their correspondence, as yet not absolutely resolved, was to demonstrate that the publicity story that accompanied the English translation of Min Kamp — that Karl Ove Knausgaard’s epic autobiography was so popular that all discussion of it in the Norwegian workplace had to be prohibited in order to get anything done — was, to put it mildly, an exaggeration, tipping into patent untruth, that ought never to have been reprinted by reputable newspapers and magazines. In the course of her piece, however, Cep repeats another unfounded myth, all the more meretricious for being about the book itself.

And what did it matter? I’d long decided Bloom was a more interesting story than Knausgaard, whose own work documented every inch of his own life.

Knausgaard is in fact far too good a writer to waste his time on such a documentary project. We don’t understand why it is so fashionable to deny — as the author himself seems inclined to do — Knausgaard’s artistry.

Reading Note:
On Considering the Great American Novel
18 July 2014

¶ At TLS, Sarah Graham (currently at work on a book about Salinger’s short fiction) reviews Laurence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel, and Buell’s approach to that dream, which carefully avoids the selection of one great American novel, sounds both comprehensive and intriguing. According to Graham, Buell sorts novels into four headings, or “scripts”:

  • Novels “made classic by retelling,” such as those concerned with the “ordeals of immigrant transplantation,” ranging from The Scarlet Letter through The Holder of the World.
  • “Up From” Novels. The great novels written to this template are extremely ironic about success. The Great Gatsby, late Roth.
  • Novels that “romance the divides” — between groups and races. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Beloved
  • Meganovels, in which a cast of characters collaborates on a massive project. Moby-Dick, Gravity’s Rainbow.

Graham concludes that Moby-Dick is “the most likely contender” for Great American Novel — a book that we find pervasively rubbishy and steeply unreadable, unquestionably the worst book on any syllabus. (via 3 Quarks Daily)