Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence



David Auerbach's latest writing comes in hardback from Pantheon. Bitwise: A Life in Code is a GenX memoir of the formative influence of programming, leading to ruminations that the interoperability of computers and "real" "life" sets a formative context for us all through quantifiable taxonomies.

This is looser than his journalism, but no less incisive. Per the NYTimes, "what’s really distinctive about this book is his ability to dissect Joyce and Wittgenstein as easily as C++ code." I'm a bit too close to assess this further, in that we share a range of interests (including strong support for Archipelago Books) and similar histories (though I'm a Boomer, and more applied maths than systems), and we've blogcommented each other on matters literary since 2007. So I'll let Mr. Waggish speak for himself: Q&A, excerpts: LitHub, Boston Review, Medium


ripple in still water

Stochastic Bookmark becomes a teenager today, which makes it a nonagenarian in blog years. Posting frequency has waned, though I'm still reliable on BTBA and year-end reading-in-review; the last time I marked a bloggiversary was three years back (end-scroll for a partial index into worthwhile prior posts in this otherwise untagged agglomeration).

This time round, I'll only flag (or is that flog?) one older post, about the family business on Mackinac Island, as it has passed on to the third generation (my niece, her husband, their son now prepping for the fourth), and Mackinac truly is a special place, worth revisiting. (NB: August fully booked by now but I prefer the off-season anyway; 2019 bookings open in 2019.)

Another thing to flag or flog or blog: The date is set (27 Sept) for Archipelago Book's Fall Fête, which I unfortunately missed last year, but have every intention to attend this. (Karl Ove Knausgaard will be book-touring around this time for the release of the final volume of My Struggle, just so's you know.)

And last, and least, the biennial installment of throwaway lines:

I accidentally loaded Tinder on my Kindle and it burst into old flames.

The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, but it likes it.

When the second and third persons switched places, they were cast adrift.

The is is what it ought to be, but the ought is fraught with meaning.

Art is made in the space between is and ought, or should be.

Just because it's a positive-sum game doesn't mean there aren't losers.

Is the difference between a leap of logic and a leap of faith the same as the difference between the long jump and the high jump?

When the St Louis Cardinals play the Baltimore Ordinals, the former may own the score, but the latter owns the innings and the bases.

(previous iterations: 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016)

(oh, the post title? another bloggiversary post characterized as an added ripple to "an eddy in the backwaters of the internets" ...)


moot point

so little to say
and so adept at saying so



what to make of it? the poet don't know
only his role as only begetter
bits of himself dislodged somehow
ending up on otherwise blank sheets
left to the reader to reassemble


BTBA 2018

First off, congratulations to publishers Open Letter and Ugly Duckling for joining Phoneme as two-time BTBA winners (cf shortlist and [prior] winner stats and Chad Post's commentary). The author and translator may split the cash, but recognition gives the publisher a boost (not so much in sales as in other ways, e.g. institutional support for non-profits).

So on the fiction side, Rodrigo Fresán's The Invented Part (trans Will Vanderhyden) took top honors, with Mathias Énard's Compass (Charlotte Mandell) close on its heels, and Wu He's Remains of Life (Michael Berry) a surprise contender. Yes I had misgivings about the first two, but I suppose sheer conceptual fun outweighed other considerations.

On the poetry side, Eleni Vakalo's Before Lyricism (Karen Emmerich) was the one for choice. The judges' comment:
“Before Lyricism is a captivating collection of poetry as well as an awe-inspiring feat of translation. Eleni Vakalo makes her readers hear and see the images written on the page; the book creates its own world around you as you read. Vakalo pushes the Greek language to its limits, stretching its syntax and playing up its room for ambiguity. Karen Emmerich spent over a decade translating these poems and finding ways for English, normally so resistant to ambiguity, to open up and allow for a similar, unsettling abstraction. The end result is nothing short of miraculous and an absolute pleasure to read in English translation.”
Before Lyricism collects a half-dozen of Vakalo's early poetry books; Emmerich's accomplishment is in respecting and preserving the syntactical ambiguities and tenuous connections despite lacking resources available in the original modern Greek, down to the deployment of phrases on the page (as her afterword delineates). Stand-outs are "Diary of Age" and "The Meaning of the Blind", but all have their moments and overall coherence.


BTBA shortlist 2018

Just a quick take on the winnowing of the longlist, as announced at The Millions and 3% (fiction & poetry): as always, sorry to see some of my favorites fall off, glad to see that what piqued interest made it (more at my longlist post), and congrats to Open Letter and Two Lines for their double-entry bookkeeping. And, as usual, I expect I'll end up reading half the shortlist entries. But the turnover among the judges makes it less predictable, not that that isn't a Good Thing, just that my interests seem to be diverging somewhat from the prize criteria (more esoteric? I dunno: has the fiction BTBA become more exoteric?). Looking forward to attending the announcement of the winners (May 31 at the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 W 18th St, NYC).


a long look back

Attention conservation notice: personal reminiscence sans advice, draw what lessons you may.

Today marks a decade since my last full day of work.

A story I liked to tell on my dad:
When I was on the decade plan in college (finished in 9 years, but had a semester's worth of advanced placement), my father would complain, "When are you going to graduate and get a job, you lazy bum?"
So when I finally graduated, and took a position on staff in a NYC programming consultancy, my father asked, "When are you going to get a real job, you lazy bum?"
The consultancy placed me in a research group at Merrill Lynch, which then hired me away, and my father changed his tune.
"Lucky bum."

As, indeed, I was, and am. My career in finance spanned The Great Moderation, which I graduated pretty much just in time for, and I brought a package of skills* in high demand and short supply just as finance was adapting techniques from mathematical physics. Not that I had any idea, it was just stuff I picked up along the way, often at work whilst in and between college (you may have gathered that I was not such a good student by conventional measures, but I was an excellent self-teacher, and I shan't deny other talents) (some of this path previously retraced, though I should note that when I first started as a programmer [cheap, dues to be paid], the only F on my transcript was Intro to Comp Sci [Algol, couldn't be bothered]). Once on Wall Street, I fell quickly on to the fast track, and just as quickly fell off, just as well (never administrated anybody or sold anything, supervising and marketing different story; more a grease monkey than a cog in the machine). So, as a model-maker for market-makers and reconciler of business and risk models, I became a postgrad student of markets, hard work but with an unheard-of stipend (even broke the 1% threshold once, back when it was lower, but only because bonus and severance collided). Yes there were accomplishments, but it would be tedious to list, or read; and while some of these were ostensibly solo, they persistently depended upon a broad array of co-workers and their diverse skills and talents, and not just within my department. But I served with distinction, among which, my last employer declared me redundant, twice over (albeit a decade apart).

So I left between the Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros fails, but didn't know it was for good. I thought I'd sit out the coming round of Musical Chairs, but further events interceded: divorce (my wife's career restarted as mine wound down), a Cipro misadventure, and Irenic wrath ... by which point my shelf life was past expiration date. But a 5-figure lifestyle on a 6-figure income left enough to last long enough (I hope), and time enough for nonremunerative but otherwise rewarding pursuits.

* maths, stats, tech writing, programming: I stumbled into APL without knowing it was a Wall St fave; nor that my homegrown knowledge was top-notch, until the consultancy shoe-horned me into an interview (2 strikes against) wherein I requested an ashtray while taking the tech exam (+ foul tips), which I knocked out of the park. Wholly unplanned but not unforeshadowed: my high school yearbook quote was "Technology has brought meaning into the lives of many technicians." Nowadays, such a mix is often prerequisite to entry-level interviews.


BTBA longlist 2018

This year's BTBA longlist was published Tuesday at The Millions, and repeated (with publisher links) at 3% and with commentary by M.A. Orthofer at The Literary Saloon. I've read a quarter of the nominees, and won't repeat MAO's comments with which I generally agree, but will add that it's odd to see so little representation from Eastern Europe (just Poland, unless one counts East Germany post-unification). (Also, I picked up David Grossman's A Horse Walks into a Bar, expecting to see it listed, but, no.) Of the listed titles that I haven't encountered, the one that most piques my interest is Wu He's Remains of Life (the sole university press offering), then Bergsson's Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller; and I expect and want to see the shortlist (May 15) include Volodine, Hilbig, Schweblin, and Tabucchi (expect but don't particularly want Énard and Fresán). And besides the triple listigs for Open Letter and Feminist Press, congrats to the presses that had two titles selected: Archipelago Books, New Directions, and Two Lines Press. More discussion is being hosted by Trevor (The Mooksie and the Gripes) over at goodreads. (add 17.4: also continuing coverage at 3%: Why This Book Should Win.)


dust collects in the corners of the poem
in places hard to reach
underneath and behind or way above
a slight disturbance in the air
sends motes swarming into sunbeams

(also, a new appendage to legend)