Accruing Authority

“I take a lot of notes when I read, particularly in this initial phase of research. I highlight everything I find interesting, and then type out everything I’ve highlighted, and then print out everything I’ve typed, and reread these printed notes as often as possible. In addition to non-fiction, I began reading as much 19th‑century fiction and crime fiction as I could, highlighting idioms, period details and ingenuities of plot. Most of the notes I took never made it into The Luminaries—at least not directly—but I could never have begun writing the novel without them. In many ways I see this initial phase as a process of accruing authority, of finding a perspective on the raw material of the future novel’s world. I’ve always loved that ‘author’ derives from the Latin augere, to increase. This phase of reading and researching lasted for nearly two years, but it wasn’t until the very end of it that the idea for the novel was really born.”

Eleanor Catton on how she wrote The Luminaries


“The beard, being a half-mask, should be forbidden by the police. It is, moreover, as a sexual symbol in the middle of the face, obscene: that is why it pleases women.”

—Arthur Schopenhauer

(Via @GuyLongworth.)

Related reading: Have we reached peak beard?

Write First

“For me, it’s about morning, quiet, solitude and no Internet to plug me into the cacophony until I have written something. Also about not having a conversation with anyone. Which might be why I am single. I have often woken up to a person next to me who says in a sleepy affectionate way ‘Hey—what are you up today?’ and I answer but all I am thinking is ‘You killed it! It’s over! Now I can’t write today.’”

—Guinevere Turner

(Via John August.)

Sunday 04.13.2014 New York Times Digest


1. Who Are Hit Men?

“That idea, of doing something so inhuman, makes the hit man intriguing. Getting close to the unknowable, creating a character who occupies the corners so dark no normal person can see into them. We don’t want to be hit men. We don’t find them glamorous; we’re repulsed by them. But we want to understand.”

2. Diversity and Dishonesty

“We have far too many powerful communities (corporate, academic, journalistic) that are simultaneously dogmatic and dishonest about it.”

3. Sweet Tale of Friendship (Sex, Too)

“Mr. Turturro and Mr. Allen share a barber, and one day Mr. Turturro idly suggested while getting his hair cut that he should write a movie in which he played a prostitute and Mr. Allen played his pimp.”

4. You’ll Go Far, My Pet

“Being a pet parent today — nobody uses the word ‘owner’ anymore, apparently — means cultivating intelligence, manners and communication skills the way the parent of, say, a small human might.”

5. The Justice Gap

“One theme implicit in Taibbi’s reporting is the extent to which the justice system’s newer kinds of inequalities are driven by technology. Computers encourage both the government and the banks to operate on a scale at which consideration of individual circumstance isn’t really possible.”

6. Home Improvement

“Basic problems like educating millions of people, giving them safe drinking water and making sure they have food cannot be solved by hacking the system; change on that scale requires changing the system.”

7. Models With Doctorates

“The clothier has asked women who are Ph.D.s or doctoral candidates to model ‘smart new spring fashions’ (get it?).”

8. Who Advises Best, Pros or Profs?

“Over the past several decades, student support services has been the fastest-growing category of employment in higher education, and the positions, which include academic advising, now make up nearly one-third of professional jobs on campuses.”

9. Looking for America Beyond Its Borders

“Has a discipline that in the 1950s and 1960s was a model of bold interdisciplinary inquiry — fusing literature and history, sociology and economics, popular culture and ethnography — changed, or degenerated, into a bastion of ideological militancy?”

10. Free to Be Mean: Does This Student Satire Cross the Line?

“Issues are peppered with jokes about homosexuals, Jews, Latinos, African-Americans, cancer patients and injured orphans.”

11. 10 Courses With a Twist

“Some professors can make a subject sing, and their courses are not just a credit but an event.”

12. What You Don’t Know About Financial Aid (but Should)

“I literally cried for three days when we got that first financial aid offer. I was in such shock, it took me three days to regain my composure and call them and say, ‘How are we supposed to afford this? You must be kidding.’”

13. The Fading Honor Code

“Ethical judgment, it seems, has been supplanted by our need to succeed.”

14. The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie

“There are musicians as obscure as Wiley and Thomas, and musicians as great, but in none does the Venn diagram of greatness and lostness reveal such vast and bewildering co-extent.”

15. The Triumph of Personal Style

“The more you know about the past, the more you realize that there is little comfort in extremes. The enduring interiors are often the underdecorated ones, and maybe even the ‘undecorated’ ones — the rooms where somebody tried less to create a ‘look,’ than just be themselves.”

16. A Dual Review of What’s New, Starring Kelis and Alejandro Jodorowsky

“I never eat popcorn because, for me, it’s a symbol of the idiocy in the cinemas.”

17. The Aesthetes

“It’s an old story — as old as sailing and sex — yet there is always something new coming over the strait. Indeed, it may be the hunt for newness in an old port that brought them here, adventurers and outsiders — from Mark Twain and Delacroix to Yves Saint Laurent and Tennessee Williams — who merely broke the path for the uprooted of today. Deep in the Casbah and high on the slopes of Vieille Montagne, you find these people, these elegant, exotic plants who fill their days with lunch parties and gossip. They may be the harmless denizens of an old idea, doing it with style, living beyond their means but strictly within their taste. It is a painted city where ripe vegetables and aged spies litter the souks, where men of hidden consequence can always find a drink. Most of all, Tangier is a city where attention to detail is undivided, a place where you meet people just crazy for beauty.”

Sunday 04.06.2014 New York Times Digest


1. A Rationalist’s Mystical Moment

“There were no visions, no prophetic voices or visits by totemic animals, just this blazing everywhere. Something poured into me and I poured out into it. This was not the passive beatific merger with ‘the All,’ as promised by the Eastern mystics. It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, too vast and violent to hold on to, too heartbreakingly beautiful to let go of. It seemed to me that whether you start as a twig or a gorgeous tapestry, you will be recruited into the flame and made indistinguishable from the rest of the blaze. I felt ecstatic and somehow completed, but also shattered.”

2. Last Bohemian Turns Out the Lights

“I didn’t really leave the Lower East Side. It left me.”

3. N.C.A.A. Cashes In, but Not the Players

“In a tournament that has been packed with upsets and surprises, one of the few mainstays has been the prominence of the logos of corporate sponsors alongside the N.C.A.A.’s. In total, some 19 major partners and corporate supporters are listed in the official fan guide of the Final Four.”

4. Technology’s Man Problem

“Tech needs to grow up in a lot of ways.”

5. I Had a Nice Time With You Tonight. On the App.

“We are now in constant and continuous communication with our friends, co-workers and family over the course of a day. These interactions can help us feel physically close, even if they happen through a screen.”

6. The Oracle of Omaha, Lately Looking a Bit Ordinary

“Put 10 percent of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90 percent in a very low-cost S.&P. 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard’s.) I believe the trust’s long-term results from this policy will be superior to those attained by most investors — whether pension funds, institutions or individuals — who employ high-fee managers.”

7. Automation Alone Isn’t Killing Jobs

“What we’re facing isn’t your grandfather’s unemployment problem.”

8. The New Gay Orthodoxy

“Endorsement of same-sex marriage has rather suddenly become nonnegotiable. Expected. Assumed. Proof of a baseline level of enlightenment and humanity. Akin to the understanding that all people, regardless of race or color, warrant the same rights and respect.”

9. Like, Degrading the Language? No Way

“Linguistically, underneath the distractions of incivility, America is taking a page from Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. There is, overall, an awareness of the states of minds of others in much of what is typically regarded as Clearasil-scented grammatical sloth.”

10. The Trick of Life

“Seven years into writing a novel, I started to lose my mind.”

11. This Time, Jim Jarmusch Is Kissing Vampires

“I don’t have enough time as it is to read a book or make music, or see my friends. People don’t believe me, too. They think I’m just saying that because I don’t want to give it to them. But no, I do not have email.”

12. Brothers of Invention

“‘Silicon Valley’ buys into the central dogma of Silicon Valley: Finding new methods to make everything faster, cheaper, more convenient and more efficient will be good for the world.”

13. Banking on My Future as a Father

“Dr. Paul Turek, a men’s fertility specialist and director of the Turek Clinic in San Francisco and Los Angeles, told me he’s been seeing an uptick in young men in the San Francisco area banking their sperm, fearful of the effects of advanced paternal age. Dr. Turek described these men as the ‘aggressive Internet crowd who are single, and want to protect their fertility.’”

14. The Found Art of Thank-You Notes

“The handwritten gratitude intervention seems to be experiencing a moment of vogue.”

15. ’90s Nostalgia Propels Coogi Brand Resurgence

“It’s quite a crazy sweater, to be honest.”

16. Death of a Pied Piper

“In the ’80s, as disco fell out of favor, Mr. Knuckles moved to Chicago and helped pioneer the sound that came to be known as house music, producing club records by day and spinning at night at the Warehouse, which became one of seminal nightclubs of the era.”

17. Who Are You on Facebook Now?

“Facebook recently announced that it would offer users 50 different possibilities and permutations of gender identification. In the gender category under ‘Basic Information,’ the drop-down box now includes such ‘custom’ choices as non-binary, intersex, neutrois, androgyne, agender, gender questioning, gender fluid, gender variant, genderqueer and neither.”

18. Epic Fail

“How do we learn to stop worrying and love it when we bomb?”

19. The Pursuit of Happiness

“Adopting an unusual interpretation of American history, Beckman, a professor of English at the United States Naval Academy, explores the ways outlaw, oppressed and otherwise defiant groups reacted to their condition by creating and celebrating acts of raucous jubilation that represented quests for freedom.”

20. Hey, Robot: Which Cat Is Cuter?

“Many Turkers are actively helping to put themselves out of jobs.”

21. Peter Matthiessen’s Homegoing

“After quitting the C.I.A., Matthiessen returned to America with Patsy and soon settled in Sagaponack, where he would supplement his writing income with commercial fishing. He described those early years on Long Island as the happiest of his life, ‘when I was writing but also doing hard physical labor.’ He referenced a line from Turgenev a few times, from the suicide note of a character named Nejdanov: ‘I could not simplify myself.’ ‘That really struck home,’ Matthiessen said. ‘I knew exactly what he means.’ He paused and then whispered it again. ‘“I could not simplify myself,”’ and then he added, ‘That’s always been my goal.’”

22. The Pernicious Rise of Poptimism

“No matter the field, a critic’s job is to argue and plead for the underappreciated, not just to cheer on the winners.”


Closed Circuit (2013)

Closed Circuit


True Detective (2014)