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Archive of posts filed under the Literature category.

The Feud

I just read the above-titled book by Alex Beam and I really enjoyed it. I’ve been a fan of Beam for a long time; he just has this wonderful equanimous style. The thing that amazes me is that the book got published at all. It’s subtitle is “Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of […]

“The real thing, like the Perseverance mission, is slow, difficult and expensive, but far cooler than the make-believe alternative.”

Good point by Palko. He’s talking about the Mars rover: There’s a huge disconnect in our discussion of manned space travel. We’ve grown accustomed to vague promises about Martian cities just around the corner, but in the real world, our best engineering minds have never landed anything larger than a car on Mars and this […]

The Alice Neel exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

This exhibit closes at the end of the month so I can’t put this one on the usual 6-month delay. (Sorry, “Is There a Replication Crisis in Finance?”, originally written in February—you’ll have to wait till the end of the year to be seen by the world.) I’d never heard of Neel before, which I […]

“Historians’ Fallacies” by David Hackett Fischer and “The Rhetoric of Fiction” by Wayne Booth

Blog commenters recommended these two books from me. I don’t have much to say about them, but I recommend them both, and they have interesting similarities. They were both written by young professors, Fischer in 1970 and Booth in 1961. Both are presented in a much more organized, structured way than I am used to […]

Honor Thy Father as a classic of Mafia-deflating literature

In an article, “Why New York’s Mob Mythology Endures,” Adam Gopnik writes: [The Mafia] has supplied our only reliable, weatherproof American mythology, one sturdy enough to sustain and resist debunking or revisionism. Cowboys turn out to be racist and settlers genocidal, and even astronauts have flaws. But mobsters come pre-disgraced, as jeans come pre-distressed; what […]

“The Critic as Artist,” by Oscar Wilde

A commenter pointed us to The Critic as Artist, by Oscar Wilde. I’d never heard of this story before, so I clicked on the link and read it, and it was excellent. Some bits: Ernest: But, seriously speaking, what is the use of art-criticism? Why cannot the artist be left alone, to create a new […]

Pittsburgh by Frank Santoro

Last year we discussed a silly study, and that lead us to this interesting blog by Chris Gavaler, which pointed me to a recent picture storybook, Pittsburgh, by Frank Santoro. The book was excellent. I don’t have any insights to share here; I just wanted to thank Santoro for writing the book and Gavaler for […]

This one is for fans of George V. Higgins

I don’t think there are many remaining fans of George V. Higgins: he died 20 years ago, his popularity had been in decline for decades, and his only bestseller was his first book, in 1970, which was also made into a well-received but not particularly popular or well-remembered movie. His writing was extremely mannered, and […]

Leaving a Doll’s House, by Claire Bloom

I read Leaving a Doll’s House, the autobiography of actress Claire Bloom, and, as promised (see P.P.P.S. here), here are my reactions. Bloom’s book is famous because of its chapters on her relationship with author Philip Roth. Actually, though, it throughly covers all her life, with a bit more than half of the book taking […]

Who’s afraid?

Reading this Palko post reminds me of when I saw a performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at a local theater. It was ok, although even then it seemed very old-fashioned in its construction, much more so than older classics like Shaw, for example. But what I really remember is when one of the […]

Rasslin’ over writin’ teachin’

In an article entitled, “Our Students Can’t Write. We Have Ourselves to Blame,” college professor Robert Zaretsky writes: I, for one, spend my semesters picking through the salads tossed and served up as papers by my students. Consider the opening paragraph from a paper I received this semester. The student, who chose to write on […]

The revelation came while hearing a background music version of Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida” at a Mr. Steak restaurant in Colorado

I just read “Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Musak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong,” written by Joseph Lanza and published in 1994, around the same time as V. Vale’s and Andrea Juno’s cult classic book, “Incredibly Strange Music.” Lanza’s book was witty, thought-provoking, and informative, and I liked it a lot. It reminds of the […]

Philip Roth biographies, and literary biographies in general

I was talking with someone the other day about that Philip Roth biography, you know, the one that got pulled by the publisher after it turned out that the biographer had been a major sexual harasser of women who he’d taught in middle school . . . what a messy story! I’m not the world’s […]

Jordan Ellenberg’s new book, “Shape”

The full title is “Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else,” and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Yes, I’m a fan of Jordan Ellenberg, a practicing mathematician who’s also written general-interest books, but I have unpleasant memories of the math olympiad program where they were always trying to shove […]

Frank Sinatra (3) vs. Virginia Apgar; Julia Child advances

I happened to come across this one from a couple years ago and the whole thing made me laugh so hard that I thought I’d share again: My favorite comment from yesterday came from Ethan, who picked up on the public TV/radio connection and rated our two candidate speakers on their fundraising abilities. Very appropriate […]

Nicky Guerreiro and Ethan Simon write a Veronica Geng-level humor piece

I don’t usually go around recommending amusing things that are completely off topic to the blog, but this piece by Nicky Guerreiro and Ethan Simon was just too funny. It’s Veronica Geng-level quality, and I don’t say that lightly. As with Geng’s articles, you can laugh and be horrified at the same time. The story […]

The Tall T*

Saw The Tall T on video last night. It was ok, but when it comes to movies whose titles begin with that particular character string, I think The Tall Target was much better. I’d say The Tall Target is the best train movie ever, but maybe that title should go to Intolerable Cruelty, which was […]

Why did it take so many decades for the behavioral sciences to develop a sense of crisis around methodology and replication?

“On or about December 1910 human character changed.” — Virginia Woolf (1924). Woolf’s quote about modernism in the arts rings true, in part because we continue to see relatively sudden changes in intellectual life, not merely from technology (email and texting replacing letters and phone calls, streaming replacing record sales, etc.) and power relations (for […]

This one’s for all the Veronica Geng fans out there . . .

I recently read Joseph Lanza’s excellent book from 1994, “Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Musak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong.” I’ll have more to say about this book in a future post, but for now I just had to share this bit I noticed on page 53: Lyndon Baines Johnson owned Muzak franchises in Austin […]

Is he … you know…?

Today I learnt, via Sam Power from Bristol, that the legendary IJ Good and the possibly legendary (I really don’t know) RA Gaskins suggested, in their 1971 paper on density estimation, referring to the roughness penalty from density estimation (or non-linear regression) as the flamboyance1 functional. And it would be a crime if we, as a field, […]

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