Catching Up #4

  • Elaine Blair reviews Alison Light's Mrs. Woolf and the Servants (Bloomsbury) for The Nation (17 November 2008):

    Woolf found it difficult to keep her distance from servants, to give orders in a way that established her authority over them (she hated the "measured sweetness" with which servants were supposed to be addressed). [Nellie] Boxall, who worked for Woolf for eighteen years, was an excellent but temperamental cook, and they fought regularly, their rows leaving Woolf surprisingly unsettled and vulnerable. "She doesn't care for me, or for anything," Woolf once complained in her diary, as if talking about a school friend or a lover. She schemed for years to let Boxall go, rehearsing the scene in her mind but losing courage at the last minute, or being won over by Boxall's attempts at peacemaking. Boxall gave and retracted notice dozens of times. She was high-strung and insecure: the parallels with Woolf's disposition are hard to miss.

  • For Granta #102, Benjamin Kunkel describes and reminisces about the state of Colorado, in an essay also printed in State by State (Harper Collins), an anthology edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey:

    My parents' friends were amateur bee-keepers, gardeners, cabinetmakers, guitarists, and our more immediate neighbours likewise seemed to be making things up as they went along. One had a field full of junk cars, many children and a drinking problem; he was always driving off the road. Another ran the local airfield and kept a mountain lion for a pet; when he and his wife divorced later on, she married an arms dealer and moved to Istanbul.

    There was nothing else I knew—we didn't have a TV—but even so I could tell our life was new and rare and unsponsored by tradition. . . . Everything was improvisation, with the thrill and risk the word implies. . . . And life up Salt Creek acquired a real enough frontier air on at least those occasions when a pack rat ventured out from the wall in the living room and my father picked up his .22 rifle to shoot it, a practice that could be unsettling to guests but which mostly impressed me as a display of good aim.

  • Andrew Sullivan investigates the phenomenology of blogs in the November 2008 Atlantic:

    There is simply no way to write about [history-making events] in real time without revealing a huge amount about yourself. And the intimate bond this creates with readers is unlike the bond that the The Times, say, develops with its readers through the same events. Alone in front of a computer, at any moment, are two people: a blogger and a reader. The proximity is palpable, the moment human—whatever authority a blogger has is derived not from the institution he works for but from the humanness he conveys. This is writing with emotion not just under but always breaking through the surface. It renders a writer and a reader not just connected but linked in a visceral, personal way. The only term that really describes this is friendship. And it is a relatively new thing to write for thousands and thousands of friends.