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Archive of posts filed under the Literature category.

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, […]

Substack.

I read this interesting article by Anna Wiener about Substack, which is a sort of branded blogging and RSS platform that allows writers to charge subscriptions. The topic was interesting to me in part because I’ve been blogging for a long time and in part because as a citizen and consumer of news I am […]

Richard Hamming’s “The Art of Doing Science and Engineering”

I bought this charming book and started flipping through and reading bits here and there. It has a real mid-twentieth-century feel, reminiscent of Richard Feynman, Martin Gardner, and Hugo Steinhaus. It gives me some nostalgia, thinking about a time when it was expected that students could do all sorts of math—it kinda made me wish […]

Earliest Known Uses of Some of the Words of Mathematics

Aki points us to this fun 1990s-style webpage from Jeff Miller. Last year we featured his page on word oddities and other trivia. You might also enjoy his page, Earliest Uses of Various Mathematical Symbols. Here’s an example: The equal symbol (=) was first used by Robert Recorde (c. 1510-1558) in 1557 in The Whetstone […]

What’s the best novel ever written by an 85-year-old?

I recently read A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carré. It was pretty good. Which is impressive given that the author wrote it when he was 85! OK, I’m not saying it was as good as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I still liked it. It was done well, and if it featured some […]

Here is how you should title the next book you write.

I was talking with someone about book titles. I liked the title Red State Blue State Rich State Poor State when I came up with it, but the book did not sell as well as I hoped (not that I thought it would sell enough to make me lots of money; I’m just using sales […]

Meg Wolitzer and George V. Higgins

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a Meg Wolitzer fan (see here and here). During the past year or so I’ve been working my way through her earlier books, and I just finished Surrender, Dorothy, which was a quick and fun and thought-provoking read, maybe not quite as polished as some of […]

Luc Sante reviews books by Nick Hornby and Geoffrey O’Brien on pop music

From 2004. Worth a read, if you like this sort of thing, which I do, but I guess most of you don’t.

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