Vacation Note:


I almost fainted at breakfast, when I read yesterday’s Citigroup closing price. I thought that I was getting away for a bit of vacation. Instead, I rather feel that I’ve left the house on fire.

Reading Robert Shiller’s The Subprime Solution yesterday, while edifying, was probably not great vacation reading. Slim, readable, and chock-a-block with magnificent and profoundly capitalist ideas — what could be more capitalist than shorting real-estate futures? — the book is ultimately depressing, because, as Mr Shiller often says (and as I myself know from having attended a couple of panels in which he was a participant), the financial establishment regards him as something of a wild man. In fact, he is the soul of good sense, endowed with an American knack for the new idea. Next to him, the people who actually run things are shown to spout nothing but eyewash and bromides.

Another depressing thing: remembering the awful reviews that Diane Johnson’s Lulu in Marrakesh got in both the daily Times (Michiko Kakutani) and the Book Review (Erica Wagner). Both reviewers completely misread the narrative, which is, to say the least, unreliable. As I recall, they both thought it unlikely that the CIA (unnamed in the novel) would hire a simpleton like Lulu Sawyer. It would appear, however, that she is exactly the kind of simpleton that the CIA goes in for. It takes a special kind of dingbat to refer to a fellow houseguest as “a gangly British laureate poet.” Thanks to Francine Prose’s praise in The New York Review of Books, I realized that my doubts that Ms Johnson could have written the bad book that the ladies of the Times reported were justified.

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