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21 march 2017

The Turn of the Screw is best read all at once in a deserted house at night.     read more

9 march 2017

In my unplumbable ignorance, I had never heard of Bolesław Prus's great 19th-century novel The Doll till a friend sent me a copy out of the blue a few months ago, from Poland. The Doll is as good as anything in the Russian, French, and English loose-baggy-monster traditions. Learning of its existence is a little bit like finding buried treasure, though it would have been near enough to the surface if I'd ever exerted myself to dig. I can't claim to have read a lot of novels, but I've read a representative sample of Tolstoy and Trollope and Zola, and I was reaching the point where I might (horrors) have to start re-reading them. With Bolesław Prus I've found an new figure whose work is closely comparable.     read more

6 march 2017

Galen, says Judith Weinraub in her global history of salad, believed that lettuce was the perfect vegetable, capable of righting your system of humors when it got out of whack. Every once in a while the right salad comes along when you're in a state of stodge-satiety or dehydration and sets your world straight in a marvelously Galenic manner. At other times, though, a bowl of salad can be a chore. Some glorious dish of baked pasta awaits, all umami and fat; but this little collection of bland, dry leaves looks up at you accusingly as if to say "there's a price for every human pleasure, buddy."     read more

2 march 2017

I haven't been in very many caves, and never, I think, in one that wasn't a tourist attraction equipped with electric lighting and elevators. I'm no more claustrophobic than the next slightly neurotic sedentary office-worker, and darkness, creepy things, and creatures don't bother me. But as Ralph Crane and Lisa Fletcher discuss in their book Cave, the whole point of caves in the wild is that they are never fully known. Every trip into a cave is a potential exploration of the abyss. I prefer cities with grids and streetlights, thank you.     read more