BORC post

("BORC" would be "Bullets of Random Crap," a term that’s been floating around the academic blogosphere; I spotted it most recently at CultureCat.)

  • Signs that exam period is upon us, 1: The library is packed this week. All available study spaces have been snapped up. I overheard a student saying that she’d spent twelve and a half hours in the library the other day. (I hope she took a break to eat something somewhere along the line!)
  • I really want to see Brokeback Mountain, but it’s not playing in Charlottesville. It is playing in Baltimore, where I’ll be over the winter break, but somehow I doubt my family will choose the tragic gay cowboy love story for our annual post-Christmas movie expedition. Though if they do, I’ll be quite happy.
  • This week I learned the Russian word for "hedgehog." It’s pronouced "yozh," and the diminutive is "yozhik."
  • Yesterday evening I made an off-the-cuff reader-advisory recommendation to a colleague who was looking for a novel to give her sister, and she (colleague, not sister) said "Amanda! You’re going to be a librarian!" And that was my Warm Fuzzy Moment of the day.
  • I’ve just been introduced to Subversion. Man, I would have killed for something like this when I was in grad school and trying to keep track of the 500 versions of each dissertation chapter.
  • More snow is on the way, mixed with rain and sleet. Every winter I realize I haven’t outgrown the impulse to listen to the school-closing reports on the radio to see if I’ve got the day off.
  • Signs that exam period is upon us, 2: Today I spotted two students wearing pajama pants as outerwear.

It was evening all afternoon


See that big blob of white on the weather map up above? That’s the
first snow of winter, and it’s been sitting on top of us all day. And it shows no signs of stopping. When I left work (a little early, having been kindly offered a ride home), a couple of students were busy outside Alderman Library making the base of a snowman.

Speaking of which, if you haven’t seen the Calvin & Hobbes Snow Art Gallery, you really should. ("Your snowmen lead tragic lives." "Well, they’re not very bright.")

Link-dump post (mostly literary)

Well, Thanksgiving weekend was blessedly slow-paced, and I spent most of it hanging out with my family and being completely unplugged. Now I’m catching up:

The Classical Language Instruction Project
(via languagehat, and don’t miss the comments on pronunciation). Features people reading bits of
Homer, Vergil, Plato, et al. out loud in Greek and Latin. Note to
self: this winter, read Propertius.

A nifty idea for urban development in Minnesota: library on the ground floor, apartments above
). I’d live in an apartment over the public library, for sure.

They’re having another seminar on Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell over
at Crooked Timber, and Susanna Clarke herself is one of the
participants. Whee!

Speaking of JS&MN: I discovered while Googling it that apparently there’s already a screenplay for the future movie version. Which begs the question: how on earth does one condense an 800-plus-page novel into a couple of hours’ screen time? And what happens to the footnotes? Nonetheless, it’ll be fun to play "Fantasy Casting" until the news of the actual cast comes out.

Speaking of books: "An unforgettable journey of robot love and despair!" It’s the Blurb-O-Matic! (Via scribblingwoman.)

And, via Arts & Letters Daily: years’ worth of the great University of Chicago Latke-Hamantasch Debate has now been condensed into book form, complete with recipes. It made me happy to see the New York Times’ coverage of this year’s debate; I went to several of them as an undergraduate. I miss the mock-serious arguments, the embroidered banners and academic regalia, and the mad dash for the latkes-and-hamantaschen buffet afterwards. (And now I’m hungry.)

Over the river and through the woods

I’m off to my native city for Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother’s, followed by day-after-Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt and uncle’s. There are half-formed plans to see either Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire or the new Pride and Prejudice adaptation or possibly both, and definite plans to eat a lot and play Scrabble. I’ve got a stack of light reading for the train and a couple of articles on librarianish and geeky topics in case my brain finishes recharging before the weekend is over.

Also: No papers to grade! Whoohoo! (A year and a half off the professor-track, and going off on holiday breaks without a stack of papers still makes me happy.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Afternoon at the movies

Overheard at the screening of Capote I saw this afternoon: "That certainly wasn’t a movie for homophobes, was it?" No, indeed. I love overheard audience commentary.

Seriously, though, see it. (Spoilers ahoy, for those of you who require warnings of that type.) Philip Seymour Hoffman demonstrates not only his commendable acting chops, but his total fearlessness about taking on and then completely inhabiting characters who aren’t likeable. You never quite know whether his Truman Capote genuinely feels for the murderers he’s writing about, or is using his intimacy with Perry Smith to further what he feels will be his most important book, or is being driven by his sense of identification with the killers, or some combination of all three. You actually see him switch back and forth; there’s a moment where he consciously shifts gears from Perry Smith’s friend who visits him in jail to Professional Writer Who’s There For The Story, and it’s chilling, but it also makes you recall all the previous scenes that suggest otherwise. "Jack says I’m just using Perry," Capote remarks at one point. "He also says I fell in love with him. How he can believe both of those things I don’t know." But the brilliance of this movie is that it does make you believe both of those things.

I thought for a little while that it was going to turn into one of those "writers sacrifice everything, including their humanity, for their Art" biopics, but, thankfully, it’s a lot messier than that. Near the end, when Smith and Hickock have been executed, Harper Lee tells Capote that maybe he couldn’t save them, but "the fact is, you didn’t want to." And that’s exactly it: he cares about Smith enough to be wrecked when their execution goes forward, but he cares about the book too much to really help them and thus leave the book unfinished. And he knows it. His wordless self-loathing at the end of the film is almost, but not quite, too much to stand. I think I’m going to be rehashing the whole thing in my head for a week.

I’ve been following PSH’s career ever since he stole all of his scenes in Boogie Nights. Long may he continue to get the leading roles. And then there’s Catherine Keener as Harper Lee, so understated that you almost miss how great her performance is. Seriously: see it.

Right brain, left brain

I just figured something out:

Roughly half of my dissertation was about how people mentally organize and store information; the other half was about what it means to talk about poetic form and how poetry seeps into our heads and stays there. (Actually, the proportions are off. Another big part was making the argument that there’s even a connection between point A and point B. One of the questions at my defense, if I recall correctly, was whether I wanted the Magnum Opus to be primarily about A or B.)

Right now my interests are shifting toward LIS-related topics (representation of knowledge! topic mapping! how people develop classification systems! classification in general!) and at the same time I’m trying to start up my creative writing again. I’m having simultaneous urges to write cycles of poems and cook up something long and research-y about the intellectual history of information management. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose; I think I’ve always been fascinated by both systems and metaphors.

I suspect it’s a matter of left-brain/right-brain balance: I feel most intellectually alive when both hemispheres are working and, ideally, talking to each other. Which might partially explain the "you’re right in the middle" result I got when I took the What gender is your brain? quiz

You, dear reader, probably didn’t need to know all that, but I’m glad I’ve hashed it out.

Shameless boasting

Io sono quel gran medico,

dottore enciclopedico

chiamato Dulcamara,

la cui virtù preclara

e i portenti infiniti

son noti in tutto il mondo… e in altri siti.

[I am the great physician, the walking encyclopedia, Doctor Dulcamara; my skill is famous, and my boundless marvels are known all over the world … and in other places.]

L’Elisir d’Amore, act 1, scene 5

That article I’ve been working on, in fits and starts, for months? This afternoon I locked myself in my office, shackled myself to the desk, and finished it, all but for a couple of citations to chase down and some last-minute grooming. I had forgotten the goofy feeling of triumph that comes of finishing a big piece of writing. Done! Just call me dottoressa enciclopedica! (And this is what happens when you listen to Donizetti for hours while writing.)

Things I’m reading and thoughts occasioned thereby

1. Cole Swensen’s Oh, a very short book that does for opera what her later books of poems did for the Tres Riches Heures and the history of illumination. A fellow LibraryThing user recommended it, and I snapped it up, because I dug Goest big time, and there are so few poets who write about opera.

2. Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, which got bumped up on my reading list after all the rapturous reviews that noted its close ties to E. M. Forster’s Howards End. And the parallels are indeed fun to spot, but the characters are all Smith’s own, and I’ve reached the stage of reading in gulps to find out what happens to them next, even though I sort of know what happens next given the plot parallels.

3. At work I’m reading up on topic maps, and am enthralled: such an ingenious way of representing, not just ideas, but the relationships and associations between ideas, the kinds of connections of which knowledge is made. Also, I love the fact that the folks at Ontopia picked Italian opera as the subject of their demonstration topic map.

4. Come to think of it, David Lodge’s Nice Work riffs on Howards End too (as well as on Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South). There’s an intellectual and a practical businessman, who happens to be named Wilcox. They fall in love, after a fashion. There’s even a Leonard Bast character who shows up in a subplot.

5. Something I’d like to do with a topic map: define an "adaptation of" topic association that would allow a user to browse from, e.g., Howards End to On Beauty and Nice Work. Literature is aswarm with works that revise earlier works. It occurs to me that it would be really, really interesting to represent these chains of associations in XML.

6. As Forster would say: "Only connect." Everything does, after a while.


Your random poetry link of the day: 30 translations of Matsuo Basho’s frog haiku, with commentary. From the literal — "Old pond / and a frog-jump-in / water-sound — to the not at all literal — "There once was a curious frog / Who sat by a pond on a log…" Kerplunk. (Via this moment.)


Every year, I forget that November is National Novel Writing Month, and then remember, too late, when people start talking about it. But this year, I’m writing it down in my calendar to remember for next year. Maybe then I’ll actually write that historical spy novel about itinerant musicians. Then again: today, waiting for the bus after work, I saw a girl ride past on a unicycle; yesterday, in the same place and at the same time, an elderly man passed by, spreading peanut butter onto a piece of bread with a knife while walking. I think there’s enough material for a novel right there.