Sunday, July 03, 2011


I've collected a number of small well-made boxes, mostly wooden, from my travels over the years. Some of them serve practical purposes. Others I just keep around on window sills, shelves, or dressers. This month, though, my preoccupation is with cardboard boxes, specifically boxes that we can pack in for our move. Moving companies sell overpriced boxes in several sizes, while Lowe's and other high-volume stores carry more reasonably priced moving containers. But liquor stores are the best source of free, sturdy packing boxes. I especially like liquor crates because they're just the right size for books. Our moving company estimates that we'll have 94 boxes of books, and we're well on our way to that number. The shelves in my study are now lined with boxes rather than books, and filled containers are stacked in various locations around the house. I find that Smirnoff vodka and cranberry boxes are ideal. The original contents wouldn't be of much interest to me, but the boxes are perfect. When I'm driving around I keep my eyes open for discarded boxes that I can use--such as the large toilet crate that was left beside the road down the street; that one will be perfect for large, lighter items that need ample padding, such as mirrors or lamps.

What makes a best seller? Ruth Franklin in Bookforum explains.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


It's been just over a year since I last posted to this blog. The death of J.D. Salinger still resonates, but it is admittedly old news. I'll remedy this long-term neglect with a photo and an update. Herewith, a shot of our newly renovated living room. No, actually we plan to move within a month, and the ph0to shows part of the chaos that has ensued since we got a contract on our house and an agreement to close the deal sometime after July 15, no doubt before the 1st of August. We'll move into the house where I grew up in Auburn, AL. My sister will be vacating the house just before we arrive accompanied by an Allied van. Janne and I have both recently retired, a new life break that gives us this sudden mobility.


“When I became a writer my desk became home; there was no need for another. Every story is a foreign territory, which, in the process of writing, is to my work, to my characters, and in order to create new ones I leave the old ones behind. My prents’ refusal to let go or to belong fully to either place is at the heart of what I, in a less literal way, try to accomplish in writing. Born of my inability to belong, it is my refusal to let go.”

Jhumpa Lahiri, “Trading Stories,” The New Yorker, 06/13 and 20/11, 83.

“When I got off in Florence , I was immediately surprised by the heat and the sun, and the gaiety of the shadows—like what one feels upon reaching the Riviera from Paris.”

Vladimir Nabokov, letter to his wife (Oct. 2-3, 1942) about a trip to do a lecture at Coker College in Hartsville, SC., The New Yorker, 06/13 and 20/11, 100.


British artist David Hockney does a drawing on his iPad every day, often flowers or interiors. This week's New Yorker features one of them as the cover art. They are impressive. An example:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Academic Research

A recent Chronicle article questions the flood of research now being published. The authors focus primarily on scientific research in arguing that there is an excess of mediocre research being published, which makes it hard for scholars to keep up in their fields, places a burden on established scholars to referee papers submitted, and reflects a "quantity over quality" basis for judging professional advancement. They makes several recommendations to stem the tide of marginal research.

My field of written composition has seen a huge growth in the extent of publication over the past 20 years or so. But much of this reflects the growth of the discipline itself. When I entered the profession around 1980, there was only a handful of journals: College English, College Composition and Communication, Research in the Teaching of English, maybe several more. It was possible to read nearly every significant piece of research in the field. Similarly, the number of books on composition was manageable. Now that's not the case. The current situation forces us all to sort of cruise through the available research or to specialize, focusing on only what pertains to our narrow interests. I've chosen the former tack, picking and choosing what interests me or what is authored by writers I know of and admire. This is not necessarily bad. It just means that I no longer feel as though I have a handle on the profession in the way that I did in the early days. Also, nowadays I seldom come across gripping, ground-breaking articles, whereas I remember years ago reading offerings by Robert Connors, Don Murray, Nancy Sommers, Steve Witte, Stephen North, Patricia Bizzell, or Janet Emig that excited me. Part of this feeling may be that I'm more jaded now. Or that retirement is just ahead.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Kingsolver and Junger

Photograph by Eamonn McCabe
Barbara Kingsolver: "I don't see how any art could fail to be political."
A review of Kingsolver's fiction, including her most recent, The Lacuna
Geoff Dyer in The Guardian on recent war reportage, esp. David Finkel's The Good Soldiers (Iraq) and Sebastian Junger's War (Afghanistan)

Friday, January 29, 2010

R.I.P. J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger (1919-2010)


Stephen King
Associated Press
Verlyn Klinkenborg (N.Y. Times)
London Times
Rick Moody
Elaine Woo (L.A. Times)
Mark Feeney (Boston Globe)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Gum Surgery

A week ago a surgeon

peeled my lower gums

and slid in paper thin

grafts gleaned from

cadavers, slices of skin

stitched in and lashed

around my teeth, alien

tissue, purged of DNA,

anonymous and plain.

When my mouth feels

itself again, we’ll see

if my whistle’s still

shrill enough to rattle

glasses off the shelf,

soft enough to coax

a shadow off the wall.