The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

Feb 21 24 2021

Le Petit Prince

by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Today, I read a book in a language that is not English, for only the second or third time in my life.

I’ve been working on a project on the intellectual roots of hypertext and the Web, an inquiry inspired by a class to which Andy van Dam and Norm Meyrowitz invited me to speak last year. I’ve been asking lots of people for advice on sources for various questions. One suggested a multi-volume work which seems eminently pertinent, but which is only available in French.

After some prevarication, I realized that if a graduate student in this pickle came to me for advice, I would likely say, “Learn to read French, or start over on a different topic.” With my hearing problems, I’m never going to manage to speak, but reading might be possible.

I asked my eminent cousin, “Suppose you had a graduate student to whom you had said, ‘go away and come back and talk when you have an adequate reading knowledge of French.’ When would you expect to see this student next?” She said, “Six months: three months intensive coursework, three months in France.” I can’t manage that. There’s work to do, and we’re still in the midst of pandemic. But perhaps we can get somewhere, and perhaps my eminent cousin has high standards.

Reading on the iPad is great because the dictionary is a joy to use. And, do I use it! Even for this famously easy little children’s book, I’m puzzling out the simplest little things. (We do have some esoteric vocabulary: boas (open and closed), baobabs, switchmen, and lamplighters for starters.) This is a profound book but an odd one for children, perhaps even sadder than Charlotte’s Web which was read to me once and remains unbearable to think about.

Next up, I’m going to attempt Jo Walton’s Among Others en Français, where it has a different title but will still, I hope, be tons of fun.

by Heron Carvic

Miss Seeton, a retired art instructor, occasionally helps the local constable with police sketches. She has a certain knack, and the newspapers like her. A Swiss banker, finding his bank entangled in apparent fraud, sends for her and, although she has never been abroad, she hastens to oblige. A light-hearted and light-headed confection.

by Ling Ma

An ambitious and interesting story of the end of the world, as seen from the perspective of an observer to whom anxiety is deeply alien. Candace Chen’s parents had come from Fuzhou and wound up in Salt Lake City. Candace moved to New York where she facilitates the manufacture of Bibles in Chinese factories, and then at the end of the world fled to a shopping mall in Indiana. There’s a lot of emigrating going on, and lots of new worlds, and also a good deal of formal experimentation. I respect the craft and I find myself in sympathy with its bleak vision, but in 2021 I’d hope for Station Eleven instead.

Jan 21 10 2021


We indulged in another night of Truffle Shuffle, this time for steak béarnaise. I’ve made béarnaise before — memorably for the midnight dinner as an undergrad (hint: the dinner was not scheduled for midnight) but also a number of times since — but this was an opportunity to be coached by French Laundry alumni. A delicious steak, the béarnaise turned out great, with tons of tarragon and professional encouragement to take the sauce farther than I’d ever dared. A bunch of people went too far, which furnished a useful lesson on fixing a broken sauce! Not us, fortunately.

Sides: sautéed mushrooms, steak fries, roasted cauliflower in beurre noisette.


Jan 21 6 2021

A New Hope

The election of 2020 left me despairing for the future of American democracy. Even if Trump was defeated, the Republican senate would simply wreck as much as they could, blame Kerensky, and the more-competent Fascists would take power in 2024 with a figurehead like Nicky Haley or Mike Pence hiding the mailed fist.

I may have been too hasty. This morning, it looks like a huge effort in Georgia may have saved the nation.

It’s not saved forever. Mitt Romney, Joe Manchin, and Susan Collins will still determine the limits of the possible. But democracy is never saved forever, and it might perhaps live a little longer.

Thanks to all the activists and volunteers who made this possible.