Mildly Malevolent

"So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information." --George Orwell

"Anbody can make history. Only a great man can write it."--Oscar Wilde

contact info:

ecohn-at-uchicago-dot-edu

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Thursday, July 03, 2003

I recently found out that Massachusetts has an official children's book. The issue was fairly controversial, it seems--almost as controversial as the fight over what the official state dessert should be.

Someday, when I'm feeling especially bored, I'm going to write a novel in which a coalition of sinister elementary school teachers overthrows their state government after flooding the State House with legislation (written by their classes) declaring various random households items the official representatives of the state. (When the legislature is bogged down debating whether cotton candy or the snickers bar is the more suitable candidate for official state candy, they'll have trouble recognizing the fast-approaching revolution.) Don't classes have better things to do than debate the merits of whether "Freddy from Fitchburg" or "To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street" better represents the state's values? Has anyone ever heard of "Freddy from Fitchburg," anyway?

Or perhaps I'll find a gullible fourth-grade class willing to propose some really awesome novel as the official book of the commonwealth. Lolita, perhaps? I guess the official book of Massachusetts should have some connection to the state... Nominations from my reader(s) would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

It's nice to see that The Washington Monthly has become vastly more interesting over the past few years, transforming itself from a dry policy magazine into an interesting periodical with articles I'm actually interesting in reading. It's also nice to see that the Monthly has made all of its articles available on line. They don't publicize this, of course--they have the delightfully naive opinion that if they don't put up links to every article, people won't notice that the articles without links are actually there--but readers with a little initiative can easily find the complete contents of the magazine online.

Articles in the current issue include a piece about the growing divide between Bush and the scientific community, a discussion of how the Republican party has hurt the FBI, and an article on envy by my favorite conservative literary critic. The issue even meets its fluffiness quota with a description of the addictiveness of HGTV and a lament about how "Americans' bad taste in coffe is putting Juan Valdez out of business." Perhaps I'll subscribe to the magazine if I ever have any money--if they ever quit publishing everything online, anyway.


I've now finished reading Foucault's Pendulum. I don't think I'll post lengthy thoughts on the book right now, in part since I'm not feeling as articulate as certain book-loving felines and in part because I began reading at really high speed to get it done before I left Boston (so I want a little more time to mull it over.) Suffice it to say that every university should have a School of Comparative Irrelevance.



Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Strom Thurmond's life could be, well, colorful. Here's a fairly detailed account of his extracurricular activities by a British columnist, and here's a Slate article drawing attention to a revelation from a recent Thurmond biography.


Does everyone else find the last paragraph of this article (from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, found via the Talking Points Memo) as disturbing as I do?

Monday, June 30, 2003

Someday, when I'm rich and famous, I'll be such a well-known writer that publishers will send me free copies of their books to review. Until then, I plan to spend my days reading reviews of unusual books in obscure literary journals.


I've just read an article on Harry Potter scholarship, written by a former colleague of mine from The American Prospect. I didn't know whether I should be amused or frightened, but I still felt driven to run a web search for some of the people mentioned in the article. One of them, an authority on both J.K. Rowling and Don Delillo, is a professor at Kansas State University, which leads to a fascinating question: do J.K. Rowling "scholars" end up getting stuck teaching at isolated Great Plains universities, or are Kansas State professors driven to writing about J.K. Rowling by their isolation?

Sunday, June 29, 2003

This evening I found a cool web-site about a cool book.

Speaking of cool books... I had planned to begin writing more substantive entries this weekend (coming soon: my review of Harry Potter, a discussion of why the Harry Potter books are popular, a description of the research I've been doing, a rant about politics, and a query about summer reading), but Umberto Eco has been doing his best to distract me. I'll write more after I've finished Foucault's Pendulum.


The question of the day: Why is it that the publishing world is saturated with books about food and sex, but not with books about sleep?


A question I've sometimes asked myself: Can stupidity be quantified?