Saturday, April 14, 2018

Mango Languages: French Transliterations!

Students of French tend to find it difficult to pronounce the Romance language; however, Mango Languages' English transliterations have made that aspect of learning French a lot easier.

For example: Bonjour. Vous parlez anglais? (Bone-joor. Voo par-lay a(n)gleh?)

Mango Languages, which I highly recommend, isn't free, but it's free if you have a New York Public Library card.

(Disclaimer: This is not a paid endorsement.)

Saturday, April 7, 2018

J.D. Salinger: Writers vs. Musicians

I recently wrote a post on Nabokov’s views on music and here’s a look at J.D. Salinger’s views on musicians.

Joyce Maynard shared in At Home in the World: A Memoir the following conversation she had with Salinger. (Salinger and Maynard had a 10-month age-gap affair that began when Maynard was 19 and a freshman at Yale.)

Joyce said, “I wish, instead of writing, that I could play an instrument.”

Salinger responded, “Don’t ever suppose it’s some kind of lesser art form […] because nobody’s lined up outside some […] club full of people in turtlenecks waiting to hear you transport them into some other orbit of pure ecstasy.”

Maynard said, referring to a Jazz performance, “They were inventing everything. Right on the spot.”

But Salinger explained that what Joyce assumed was improvisation were “virtuoso effects” from the (jazz) musicians “repertoire”.

Maynard opined that being a musician “looked like so much more fun than” writing to which Salinger exploded:

“Fun! Not much fun in writing […] No notes on a page for us to fall back on. No amazing orgasmic rhythms to make the audience melt. Not one goddamn thing to do with the body, except to try whenever possible to ignore one’s own cursed immobility. God, the unnaturalness of writing. And unlike performing music, it never gets any easier, no matter how much you do it. Every damned time we sit down to work, it’s that same blank page again. A person could have a better time at a Doug McLure retrospective."

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Some Foods Are Too Good

Chocolate Ganache Cake and a Rachel Whiteread Untitled (Nets) 2002

There's a principle in Islam that when a man and a woman are (seemingly) alone, there's actually a third party in the room - Satan. This indicates that one should avoid being alone with an attractive woman, because it's extremely difficult to maintain self-control and not commit fornication or adultery. 

Thus, an attractive woman should be viewed like an attractive piece like Rachel Whiteread at the MoMA. Take one admiring look but don't have a desire to take her home. 

I would opine that the same principle applies to certain foods. Some foods are too good and one shouldn't be alone with them, because it would be extremely difficult to maintain self-control and not eat too much. 

For example, purchasing a slice of chocolate ganache cake would be a better idea than taking an entire cake home, because it would be almost impossible not to eat more than three or even four slices. 

Thus, to maintain optimal weight and health, I would advice against purchasing your favorites foods in bulk but limit yourself to a single serving.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Nabokov & Kafka on Music: It's Primitive, Lulling, Dulling, Stupefying, Numbing, & Animallike

Boyd related in Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years that after a lecture at Spelman College, an African-American women's college in Atlanta, Georgia, Nabokov was invited to the chapel but, "he protested", because he "hated music and singing." 

In a 1964 Playboy interview, Nabokov shared: "I have no ear for music [...] I am bored beyond measure by the motions of the musicians [...] But I have found a queer substitute for music in chess—more exactly, in the composing of chess problems."

And in a lecture on Kafka's "The Metamorphosis", Nabokov opined that music is primitive and animalistic compared to literature and painting, that music has a "[...] lulling, dulling influence [...]" and that Kafka shared his view that music was "stupefying, numbing, animallike":

Without wishing to antagonize lovers of music, I do wish to point out that taken in a general sense music, as perceived by its consumers, belongs to a more primitive, more animal form in the scale of arts than literature or painting. 

I am taking music as a whole, not in terms of individual creation, imagination, and composition, all of which of course rival the art of literature and painting, but in terms of the impact music has on the average listener. 

A great composer, a great writer, a great painter are brothers. But I think that the impact music in a generalized and primitive form has on the listener is of a more lowly quality than the impact of an average book or an average picture. What I especially have in mind is the soothing, lulling, dulling influence of music on some people such as of the radio or records.

In Kafka's tale it is merely a girl pitifully scraping on a fiddle and this corresponds in the piece to the canned music or plugged-in music of today. 

What Kafka felt about music in general is what I have just described: its stupefying, numbing, animallike quality. 

This attitude must be kept in mind in interpreting an important sentence that has been misunderstood by some translators. Literally, it reads “Was Gregor an animal to be so affected by music?” That is, in his human form he had cared little for it but in this scene, in his beetlehood, he succumbs: “He felt as if the way were opening before him to the unknown nourishment he craved.” 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Learn How to Play Chess Like a Writer

A number of writers like Nabokov, Lewis Carroll, and Edgar Allan Poe wrote about and played chess. Unlike Tolstoy, you may not have learned to play chess as a child but I've got a simple way for you to learn, because it can be a daunting task. 

Firstly, I recommend that you learn the names of the chess pieces and how they move:

Moves one box in any direction

Moves in any direction as far as possible

Moves forward\backwards and side-to-side as far as possible (i.e., in straight lines).

Moves diagonally as far as possible

Moves in a L shape and is the only piece that can jump

Moves forward one box but initially can move two but captures diagonally
The only piece that can block
If it reaches the other side of the board, it gets promoted to a piece of your choosing

Secondly and lastly, I recommend that you play. It's that simple. Once you start playing, you'll organically understand how to capture your opponents king (i.e., "Checkmate."). And the game is so kind that you're warned that your king is in grave danger (i.e., "Check."). If you can't find a patient human to play with you, I recommend an app set on the lowest level of difficulty. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

#WhatsInYour[WRITER'S]Bag: A Russian Novelist's knapsack

Transparent Things (1972) p.18

A popular hashtag on Instagram is #whatsinyourbag. For some reason, it can be fascinating to view the contents of a stranger's bags. And writers may find it very interesting to read about the contents of a Russian novelist's 
  • rough drafts of letters
  • an unfinished short story in a Russian copybook
  • parts of a philosophical essay in a blue cahier purchased in Geneva
  • loose sheets of a rudimentary novel temporarily titled Faust in Moscow
  • portable ink
Person is the protagonist in Nabokov's Transparent Things. A quean took Person to a room in a "hideous old roominghouse" where the Russian novelist "[...] sojourned on his way to Italy."

So, what's in your (writer's) bag?

Monday, December 25, 2017

Polyglot Kató Lomb Condones Reading for SLA

Kató Lomb is well-known in the world of polyglots for learning fifteen languages as an adult. In Polyglot: How I Learn Languages, Lomb recommended some unconventional but reportedly effective strategies. For example, she wrote: 

"[...] dare to include reading in your learning program from the very beginning, and second, that you should read actively." (66)

"[...] books [that you find personally engaging], which can be consulted at any time, questioned again and again, and read into scraps, cannot be rivaled as a language-learning tool" (66)

"[...] more efficient means of learning exist [than reading engaging books in a foreign language], [but] more accessible and obliging ones do not." (69)

Lomb recommended buying instead of borrowing. That way the books: "[...] can be spiced with underlines, question marks, and exclamation points [...] and annotated so that they become a mirror of yourself." (69)

"[...] books not only teach grammar but also provide the most painless means of obtaining vocabulary." (74)

Here's Lomb's methodology for using reading as a second-language acquisition (SLA) strategy (69):

So, grab an engaging book in your target language and a (monolingual) dictionary (to be consulted conservatively) to supplement your SLA.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


I recently stopped by the Mid-Manhattan library, which is temporarily housed inside of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. While perusing the art books, a relative showed me a copy of The Bronx Artist Documentary Project. She didn't realize that I was one of the writers of the tome.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Secret[s] of Sleep

The October 23, 2017 issue of The New Yorker is packed with interesting articles. For example, Jerome Groopman's review, "The Secret of Sleep", of Meir Kryger's The Mystery of Sleep is particularly intriguing. 

Kryger's question “Why do all forms of life, from plants, insects, sea creatures, amphibians and birds to mammals, need rest or sleep?” is particularly interesting when viewed through the lens of orthodox Muslims who believe that God doesn't get tired, rest or sleep.  

Groopman writes: "[...] after we have been awake for about fourteen hours, and increases in intensity until the eighteen-hour mark, after which we find it hard not to fall asleep." That explains why, no matter how badly one wants to write, it becomes very difficult to write after being awake for 18 hours - especially if one sleeps five hours per night.

In addition, Groopman writes: "Reiss looks to the historian A. Roger Ekirch, who, in 2001, documented that in early-modern Europe and North America the standard pattern for nighttime sleep was “segmented.” There were two periods, sometimes termed “dead sleep” and “morning sleep,” with intervals of an hour or more when the person was awake, sometimes called “the watching,” during which people might pray or read or have sex. In some indigenous societies in Nigeria, Central America, and Brazil, segmented sleep persisted into the twentieth century. Ekirch hypothesized that segmented sleep was our natural, evolutionary heritage, and that it had been disrupted in the West by the demands of industrialization, and by electricity, which made artificial lighting ubiquitous."

Once again, this is particularly interesting to orthodox Muslims who perform Tahajjud [Arabic: تهجد‎‎].

Lastly, Reiss reminds: "Honoré de Balzac [...] was fuelling his writing with twenty to fifty cups of coffee a day, often on an empty stomach. Balzac believed that, with caffeine, “sparks shoot all the way to the brain,” and “forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink.” Balzac typically wrote between fourteen and sixteen hours a day for two decades, producing sixteen volumes of “La Comédie Humaine” within six years."