In “Revolver Revue”

rozhovor-v-RR

I just got my copy of the spring 2015 issue of the Czech literary journal Revolver Revue. They’ve published an interview with me by Veronika Tuckerová, as well as her translation into Czech of an excerpt from my novel Necessary Errors. They illustrated the interview with an old Prague map that I had and with photos that I took in Prague in the early 1990s; it’s a really lovely presentation.

Leafing through the issue, I learn that my translator is something of a dark horse. In the same issue, Revolver Revue has published a portfolio of elegant, meditative paintings by her. She painted them, in tempera on paper, in the Holešovice neighborhood of Prague in 1990, and the window views and interior scenes are evocative of Giorgio Morandi in their subtlety and quietness.

The first volume of Leander’s diary, now safely archived

In the first chapter of American Sympathy, my 2001 study of the literary representation of affection between men in the antebellum United States, I wrote about two genteel Quakers in late-18th-century Philadelphia who kept diaries recording their romantic friendship. Their names were John Fishbourne Mifflin and James Gibson, and they went by the cognomens of Leander and Lorenzo, respectively. Gibson’s diary and the second volume of Mifflin’s were, and still are, in the archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. (Here’s a link to the catalog entry for the physical diaries, and one page of Leander/Mifflin’s diary has been digitized and is available online here. Rather cleverly, the page that the archivists chose to digitize is the one where Leander/Mifflin begins to describe a rather erotic dream that he had about Lorenzo/Gibson.)

I also had access to the first volume of Leander/Mifflin’s diary, through a photocopy that was loaned to me. This photocopy had been made by a bookseller decades earlier, while appraising a private individual’s collection. For safety’s sake, before returning this photocopy, I made a photocopy for myself. This turned out to be prudent, because the first-generation photocopy that I returned was later lost, and although the person who was thought to be the owner of the original manuscript graciously granted me permission to publish, he later told me that he had never been able to locate the original in his collection. Perhaps the bookseller had been mistaken in his memory of who owned the original. In any case, the second-generation photocopy that I had made became the only copy available to scholars.

Over the years, I sent reproductions of the photocopy to any scholar who asked, including Richard Godbeer, who wrote about the diarists in The Overflowing of Friendship (2013), and Sarah Knott, who wrote about them in Sensibility and the American Revolution (2009), but it made me nervous that I hadn’t made any provision about putting the photocopy into an archive somewhere. When my father-in-law passed away this January, I was reminded of the propriety of taking care of these things sooner rather than later, and at last I emailed the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to ask them if they would take custody of the photocopy. I’m happy to report that they said yes, I sent it, and it arrived safely. It doesn’t seem to be in their online catalog yet, but it’s there, if any scholar wants to consult it.

Of course I made a third-generation photocopy for myself, before I put the second-generation one in the mail.

Reading the comments, Romantic-era edition

In a letter to William Wordsworth, dated 11 December 1806, Charles Lamb described the failure of a play that Lamb had written and noticed that he didn’t rate positive and negative feedback equally:

A hundred hisses—damn the word, I write it like kisses—how different—a hundred hisses outweigh a 1000 Claps. The former come more directly from the Heart.

Review of “H Is for Hawk”

“Blood in the Sky,” my review of Helen Macdonald’s memoir H Is for Hawk, appears in the 23 April 2015 issue of the New York Review of Books (subscription required).

Prospect Park in the snow

Prospect Park in snow, 21 March 2015

Prospect Park in snow, 21 March 2015

Prospect Park in snow, 21 March 2015

Prospect Park in snow, 21 March 2015

Prospect Park in snow, 21 March 2015

Prospect Park in snow, 21 March 2015

Prospect Park in snow, 21 March 2015

Prospect Park in snow, 21 March 2015

Prospect Park in snow, 21 March 2015

Prospect Park in snow, 21 March 2015

Prospect Park in snow, 21 March 2015

An excerpt of “Necessary Errors” in Czech

Revolver Revue, spring 2015

The spring 2015 issue of the Czech literary journal Revolver Revue prints an interview with me conducted by Veronika Tuckerová, which she has translated into Czech, as well as an excerpt from my novel, which she has also translated. Very happy about this! Tuckerová reviewed the book in an earlier issue of Revolver Revue, and an English translation of her review has been published by the Aspen Institute.

In other news about the novel: the English-language book made an appearance in the 2014 year-end roundup of the film critic Daniel Carlson. An interview with me, translated into Italian, appears on the website Gioia, in the course of which a pretentious reference of mine to “negative capability” is transfigured into a new word, “kidcapability.” And a set of elegant photos of the Italian edition of the book appear on the website Federico Novaro.

Led astray

Laura Miller on Anthony Lane:

Reading this much of a critic’s work will also alert you to his tics. Lane has only one that annoys me: He will cross the street, walk around the block, catch a cross-town bus and wait in line for an hour to make a dopey pun, and unfortunately we are forced to go with him. For the pun-averse this can sometimes feel like engaging in one of those seemingly straightforward conversations that turns out to be the wind-up for an evangelical pitch or an obscene phone call; you wonder if Lane has enticed you through a whole paragraph on “Braveheart” solely so he can hit you with a groaner like “Fast, Pussycat! Kilt! Kilt!”

Samuel Johnson on Shakespeare:

Shakespeare with his excellencies has likewise faults . . . A quibble is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures; it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspense, let but a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight, that he was content to purchase it, by the sacrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it.

A talk in Portland

Reed College and the University of Portland have invited me to give a talk at the end of March in Portland, Oregon. I’ll be giving the same lecture at both places. The title is going to be “The Disenchantment of Literature in the Age of the Hit Counter,” and here are the details:

Both are free and open to the public. Please come!

Trends in reading

Minutes per day spent on reading for pleasure by Americans age 15 or older

A few weeks ago, I started writing “The Disenchantment of Literature in the Age of the Hit Counter,” a talk that I’m going to deliver at Reed College on March 30 and at the University of Portland on March 31. I found myself wondering whether there was a way to get a quick update of some of the statistics on literacy and reading in America that I collected in 2007, when I wrote an article called “Twilight of the Books” for The New Yorker, and I turned to the American Time-Use Survey (ATUS), which I remembered as one of the most solid sets of data, least subject to the very old-fashioned problem of respondents who lie and say they read more than they actually do. ATUS began in 2003, and it now has a decade of data.

The result is the chart above. In order to compile it, I had to do some arithmetic, which may not be entirely bulletproof, so let me explain. For some reason, in 2003 ATUS reported separate results for time spent reading by men and time spent reading by women, but didn’t report an average for the general population, so to come up with a single number, I weighted those results by what seems to have been the gender balance in America that year, 0.51 men to 0.49 women. In later years, ATUS reported separately time spent reading on weekdays and time spent reading on weekends and holidays, so to get a single average in those years I weighted the results by the ratio of 0.7 weekdays to 0.3 weekends and holidays. (I wondered whether ATUS was properly measuring reading on the internet, so I looked up ATUS’s coding rules for computer activity: “Code the activity the respondent did as the primary activity. For example, if the respondent used the computer to search for work, code as Job Search and Interviewing.” Presumably this means that if the respondent was using the computer to read, the time would be coded as reading, or rather, Leisure/Reading for Personal Interest.)

As you can see, what seems to be happening is a very slow, stately sinking. This is entirely consonant with a Dutch time-use study, much longer term, that tracked the time spent reading in the Netherlands for the first forty years after the introduction of television. I don’t know of an equivalent American study, but I imagine that the pattern in America resembled the one in the graph below.

Hours spent reading vs. watching television as a primary activity, weekends and weekday evenings, by Dutch citizens 12 and older

Butternut squash, broccoli rabe, and farro salad

Butternut squash, broccoli rabe, and farro salad

Yield

4–5 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 1 clove garlic
  • olive oil
  • 3/4 cup farro
  • 1 lemon
  • honey
  • 1 bunch broccoli rate
  • ricotta
  • basil
  • salt
  • pepper

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Peel a butternut squash, cut it in half, scrape out the seeds, and slice into bite-size pieces. Mince garlic in 1/2 tsp salt. Toss the squash and garlic in a few glugs of olive oil, spread on a baking sheet, and roast for 50 minutes, flipping the pieces with a spatula twice, so that they’ll brown evenly.
  3. In a saucepan, fry 3/4 cup farro in 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil for 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 3/4 cup water and 1/4 tsp salt, and simmer, uncovered, for 17 minutes. Drain.
  4. For a dressing, stir vigorously 1 tsp lemon zest, 3 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp honey, 6 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp black pepper.
  5. Rinse and cut up a few leaves of basil.
  6. Rinse, trim, and dry broccoli rabe. Toss with a little salt and olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet, and broil on high for 2 minutes. Flip with a spatula and broil for another 2 minutes. When it’s cool enough, slice into bite-size pieces.
  7. In a large bowl, combine the drained farro, the butternut squash, and the broccoli rabe. Shake the dressing again and pour in half of it. Stir the salad and taste it, and add more dressing if desired. Serve in small bowls, adding to each bowl a spoonful or so of ricotta and a few leaves of basil.

(For a one-page PDF version, click here.)