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.)

Hivemind bleg: distant reading, 18th-century-style

Not too long ago, I read a letter in which a young woman recorded the hour of the day when she would be reading a certain book, in hopes that her correspondent would read the same book at the same time, and a communion would be established between them across distance. It would make a great anecdote for an essay I’m trying to write—but I can’t remember where I read the letter! Does it ring a bell for anyone? My hazy memory is that the writer of the letter was English, though she might have been American, and that she was writing in the 18th or 19th century. She may have been writing to her sister or mother rather than to a friend.

Google hasn’t been much help, because all the search terms I’m looking for (“letter,” “same time,” “book”) are too common. Also, as I remember, the letter itself was a little hermetic about what was going on, and it was an editor’s annotation that made it clear what the young woman was up to. Through Google I did find a 1793 letter from Maria Edgeworth, in which Edgeworth seems to have been making fun of the notion of making “a bargain with anyone I loved, to read the same book with them at the same hour,” so I suspect that this particular kind of bibliomancy was a thing. If anyone knows of any scholarly discussion of the practice, please send that my way, too, because I’m coming up empty-handed in Jstor.

Coming home by rail, 1907

1907.08.08 Coming home by rail

Recto: Hope you are / Coming / Home / by / Rail / and not by wheel / M. K. / H.

Verso: Miss Mabel Duryea / 66 Howard St. / Albany / N. Y.

Postmarked: Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 8 August 1907, 9pm

Richard Terzian, 1924–2015

2013.11.28 Richard Terzian at Thanksgiving

Peter’s father, Richard Terzian, died at home in Latham, New York, on Sunday, 18 January 2015, at age ninety. Born in Watervliet, New York, on 13 July 1924, he was a member of the Armenian American community and was given the baptismal name of Dicran. He grew up in Troy, where he remembered playing kick the can, kick the stick, baseball, and basketball in the streets. In 1942, during World War II, he left high school, where he had been studying electrical wiring, to work at the Watervliet Arsenal, and in March 1943 he enlisted in the U.S. Army. After training at Camp Upton, New York, and the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, he served in England, France, and Germany, assembling jeeps and driving trucks, until November 1945.

After finishing high school, in 1946, he attended the State University of New York’s College for Teachers at Albany, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1954 and a master’s of science in 1958. There he met Barbara Ann Mendoza, Peter’s mother, whom he married in 1959. Until 1981 he taught high school math and driver’s education in a number of Capital District school systems. He was an aficionado of the arts, especially the Impressionists, and loved golf and heated political discussions. He was a warm, sweet, generous man, and a great kidder.

There will be a wake at the Dufresne and Cavanaugh Funeral Home, 149 Old Loudon Road, Latham, NY 12110, on Thursday, January 22, from 5pm to 7pm, and a funeral mass at St. Peter’s Armenian Apostolic Church, 100 Troy Schenectady Road, Watervliet, NY 12189, on Friday, January 23, at 10:30am. If you’d like to make a donation in his name, please consider Community Hospice and the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.

1943 Richard Terzian in uniform with friends at mother's house. Front row: Ed Kazanjian, John Avakian, Richard Terzian. Back row: unknown, Ralph Vartigan, Charlie Partamian, John Jevanian

1945 Tom-Segreto, Noreen-Bayliss, Richard Terzian playing cards in England

1967 Barbara and Richard Terzian with Don Manuel Osorio

1968.08 Richard Terzian holding Peter

2006 Richard, Peter, and Barbara Terzian in Latham

2004.08.15 Richard Terzian holding Nina on the back porch

Something different from Bill, 1907

1907.06.03 Something different from Bill

Recto: Something different and Variety you know / is the spice of life. / Bill. / 6/3/07

Verso, script: Miss Daisy Gillespie. / Ann Arbor / Mich / 213 N Fifth Ave.

Verso, printed: Union Postale Universelle / Carte Postale / [Japanese text] / Sumbikwai.

Postmarked: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 3 June 1907, 11:00pm and Ann Arbor, Michigan, 4 June 1907, 6:00am

Lentils with gingery spinach

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian.

Lentils with gingery spinach

Yield

Serves 2-3 people

Ingredients

  • 1 medium-to-large onion
  • olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup dried green lentils
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger
  • 20 oz (2 bunches) fresh spinach
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • black pepper
  • plain yogurt

Preparation

  1. Peel, halve, and slice the onion. In an omelette pan, sauté the onion in 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns reddish-brown (about 30 minutes).
  2. Peel and chop the garlic. Inspect the lentils, removing any stones, and rinse and drain them. In a small saucepan, sauté the garlic in 1 tbsp of olive oil for 30 seconds, and then add the lentils and 2.5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and set a timer for a 30-minute simmer, partially covering the pot.
  3. Peel and chop the ginger. Rinse the spinach, discarding the stems. Spin the leaves in a salad spinner. If you feel any grit at the bottom of the spinner, rinse the spinach again.
  4. When the onions are brown, spoon them onto a folded paper towel.
  5. When there are 5 minutes left on the timer for the lentils, heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large soup pot and sauté the ginger for 30 seconds, while stirring. Add the spinach and 0.5 tsp salt. Continue stirring until the spinach has wilted (4 to 5 minutes).
  6. When the lentils are done, add about 1 tsp salt, and black pepper to taste.
  7. Place in individual serving bowls: a ladle of lentils, a forkful of spinach, a dollop of yogurt, and a forkful of caramelized onions.

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