April 29, 2005



That depends on the particular academic discipline. Professors of Billiards Administration prefer it, actually.


Why is it so terrible to laud a writer, particularly when much of what is being written is being generated here in Iowa City? The director of any nationally recognized academic program would receive similar treatment anywhere in the world; that aside from the NYT obits and such afforded Conroy as a respected author. The man himself said he never saw writing as a career, but instead lived a full, interesting life in which writing and teaching were (important) components. So what if he was a good pool player? Wishing his death? Sounds like someone received some criticism they couldn't handle. Let the dead rest in peace.


I'm still trying to figure out what's so unflattering about "pool shark" myself, and why it's less flattering than "jazz pianist."

Jim Ruland

Pool shark has come to mean prowess at pool, but it's original definition is one who intentionally misleads someone about their chances for success and then takes all their money. My bad. That's what directors at MFA programs do.


I guess I'm kind of stuck in the past--I don't really care to know that much about a writer. Frank Conroy may very well have been a real jerk, but I was really touched by his books. I hear Miles Davis was a real dick most of the time, too.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
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    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."