Monday 29 November 2010

Marcus Sedgwick - Blood Red, Snow White

It's that time of the year when publications put out their Best of 2010s. Because a lot of my energy in 2010 has gone into feeding Goodreads, I thought I'd share some of the highlights of my reading year as recorded originally on the site. Marcus Sedgwick's fictionalised biography of Arthur Ransome was a surprise hit with me - partly because I had no idea Ransome was so interesting, and partly because it's an intriguing model for biography.


About once a week, I am simultaneously appalled and delighted my my general ignorance. Appalled, because no-one likes finding out they're less well-informed than they thought they were. And delighted, because finding stuff out, is, frankly, cool. Even if you're a bit late to the party.

I knew Arthur Ransome only as the author of 'Swallows and Amazons', which I've not read. I certainly didn't know that he was a journalist who had an unhappy marriage to a slightly unhinged woman, Ivy, and ran off to Russia to escape her 0leabing behind his young daughter Tabitha).

'Snow White, Blood Red' follows Ransome's life in Russia. The first section of the book, told in an allegorical fashion, tells of Ransome's early life, marriage, and journey towards Russia. It also sets the scene for the Russian revolutions of 1917:

Now, only a few trees ahead of him in the forest, stood two men deep in conversation. One was a Russian, the other a Jew, and they were firm friends, though they spent much of their time arguing.

They would argue about all sorts of things, but each would listen politely to what the other had to say. First, the Jew, whose name was Lev, would argue that the people of Russia should be its true masters, and while he did, the Russian, whose name was Vladimir, would stroke his small and excellent beard. Then they would swap, and Vladimir would argue that while what Lev had to say was true, they should not forget that people needed guidance from enlightened minds. And Lev would stroke his own small and excellent beard.

This should be a difficult task to pull off, but Sedgwick does a tremendous job, adapting Ransome's own 'Old Peter's Russian Tales'.

The second section is a single, pivotal evening for Ransome in Moscow, when a British agent attempts to recruit him as a spy. The style for this section - each chapter a time in the evening, 9.20 pm, interspersed with Ransome's planning & reminiscencing - is like a detective novel, with a simultaneous sense of urgency and inevitability.

And the third section - which tells of Ransome's love for a Russian woman, Evgenia, who just happens to be Lenin's secretary, and visits home to his daughter, and gradual involvement in various secret affairs - is told like a (pretty) straight biography, real people and events coloured in with dialogue and emotions.

The book ends with some facty stuff; a timeline, and reproductions of items from the English Secret Service files about Ransome's activities.

'Snow White, Blood Red' is a sophisticated, very enjoyable read. I think the only reason it's classed as YA is that biographies written for the adult market seem less likely to take the kind of licence Sedgwick has (Peter Ackroyd is the only writer of that type I can think of offhand, and I've found his books quite dull). Interestingly, it leaves me with little desire to read another biography of Ransome, because I've grown quite attached to the version that Sedgwick has given me.

Friday 26 November 2010

Rebecca Stead - When You Reach Me

It's that time of the year when publications put out their Best of 2010s. Because a lot of my energy in 2010 has gone into feeding Goodreads, I thought I'd share some of the highlights of my reading year as recorded originally on the site. Here's one of my favourite YA titles of the year, by Rebecca Stead.


A slim, perfect book about love, death, friendship, being 12, and time travel - and a love letter to Madeleine L'Engle's 'A Wrinkle in Time' to boot.

I ordered Stead's book through the public library after finding out it was the winner of last year's Newbery Medal. When I picked it up and saw the big print, I felt disappointed; I'd been excited, but thought that even with my growing passion for children's and YA novels, this was going to be too simple.

I took it home anyway, figuring I'd give it a few pages. And I was immediately hooked. The book might be aimed at 10 year-olds and up, but it's completely engrossing. Miranda, the central figure, is one of the most appealing female characters I've found in a long time, and the book is beautifully and tautly written, managing to be both a straightforward narrative, and a mystery with time-clues dangling throughout.

Rebecca Stead also includes, in Miranda's voice, two of the loveliest evocations of the way you can feel about a book when you're 12:

'The truth is that my book doesn't say how old Meg is, but I'm twelve, so she feels twelve to me. When I first got the book I was eleven, and she felt eleven.'

'I was getting annoyed. The truth is that I hate to think about other people reading my book. It's like watching someone go through the box of private stuff that I keep under my bed.'

If you have a daughter, you should buy this book for her. No matter how old she is.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Listen up

I still feel rather shy about talking about the radio spot I do with Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon on National Radio, every second Wednesday just before midday.

I'm the 'arts commentator' - which still makes me squeak a little when I hear my name on the trailors during Morning Report. I did a series of shows late last year (I think 5 or 6 leading up for Christmas) and have been doing this fortnightly spot since June this year.

Conquering my nerves about live radio is probably the thing I'm most proud of over the past year. I've gone from having a sleepless Tuesday night and feeling like hurling for most of Wednesday morning to looking forward to going up to the studio and having a chat with Kathryn.

Kathryn's terrific to work with. There's nothing better than hitting on a topic that she really enjoys. On the best days, it feels like we're having a great conversation, not broadcasting.

For myself (it might be different for other people), the key to public speaking of any type is slipping into a slightly different persona. On the radio, running a workshop, MC'ing a conference (did that for the first time this year - crippling nerves, total adrenaline rush) - in all these situations I'm a slightly bigger, chirpier, hopefully funny version of myself. I try really hard to put warmth across; there's no better word I can think of for it. And from the feedback I get, people seem to respond.

But I still get a bit of a electric shock - combined embarrassment and pride - when someone says 'I heard you on the radio today'. It's funny knowing that my family and my friends tune in. Not to mention complete strangers. That's the weirdest bit. Occasionally - on a really great day, like yesterday - I'll tweet after I get out of the Radio NZ building, but usually I don't draw attention to it.

The past two shows though have been so much fun, and so satisfying to do, that I did want to share them. The first was on John Parker, on the occasion of him being awarded a Laureateship. That show was done with Kathryn in Auckland and me in the Wellington studio, which I always find harder, but I was really pleased with the result. I felt like we managed to get the sculptural nature of John's pots across the airwaves - no mean feat.

The second, on yesterday's show, was on Karl Fritsch and the two shows he has on/on shortly at Hamish McKay Gallery and City Gallery Wellington. Kathryn was in the studio like normal, and Hamish and Carey very kindly lent me some rings from Karl's show to take up with me for the spot. It made all the difference - a real, immediate engagement - and I hope people heard that. The best moment was when the show ended and the producers came through to look at the pieces too. I felt like I'd done something small but good for art.

In both cases, it was passed on to me that the artists heard the spots and appreciated the pieces. This means the world to me. I genuinely feel that the arts don't get enough positive airtime in this country, and I'm grateful for an opportunity to help remedy this.

You can access the John Parker spot on this page, and the Karl Fritsch piece on this page.

I can't end this post without a shout-out to Richard and Helena and Dempsey who run the RadioNZ website, which is a thing of great wonderfulness.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Looking back, and around

One of the shows I really regret not seeing over the past couple of years is Julian Dashper's 'To the Unknown New Zealander' at Christchurch Art Gallery, where Dashper installed his own works throughout the Gallery's permanent collection hang.

I'm fascinated by artists' relationships with the art that came before them. In a current show at the British National Gallery, Bridget Riley has placed works from the collection (including three works by Seurat and Raphael's Saint Catherine of Alexandria) with her own recent works.

Riley has been a frequent visitor to the National Gallery throughout her career, learning about colour and line: she describes galleries as "the book in which we learn to read". The current show includes one of her earliest works, a copy of Jan van Eyck's Portrait of a Man (Self portrait?) from the National Gallery's collection.

Laura Cumming's review in the Guardian does a better job of selling the show that the National Gallery's own website*:

Indeed the curious effect of this tremendous show, in which Riley's paintings are displayed alongside permanent works from the collection, is that it makes you see past art anew. Look at her suave ripples and you suddenly realise how Mantegna makes his frieze of figures appear to move continuously in both directions. Look at Riley and you may better appreciate the abstract qualities of Raphael.

These old-new pairings soon give way to what is effectively a miniature retrospective – early op-art, 80s stripes, the recent parallel curves and steeply flaring diagonals, cross-cut by verticals. The main gallery is all Riley, and dominated by an immense mural composed of interlinking circles, approximately one metre across, in blazing black on white. Tightly plotted, yet open-ended, it sends the eye round and around in every direction, following the tracery, drawn by particular rhythms, distracted by sparking intersections; a movement as unpredictable as mercury.

The means are simple and perspicuous, but the effect is indefinable.
The Guardian also has a slideshow of paintings from the exhibition, which makes me wish I were there.


Nicolas Poussin, The Triumph of Pan, circa 1636. National Gallery collection.
Bridget Riley, Arcadia 1 (Wall Painting 1), 2007.

*I'm all for the reduction of boosterism, but I think the National Gallery could have sounded a little more excited.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Diana Athill - Instead of a letter

It's that time of the year when publications put out their Best of 2010s. Because a lot of my energy in 2010 has gone into feeding Goodreads, I thought I'd share some of the highlights of my reading year as recorded originally on Goodreads, starting with this memoir by one of my heroes, British writer and editor Diana Athill, originally published in 1976.


One of the cover blurbs for this book - Athill's first memoir, covering her life from birth to when she began writing and publishing in her early forties - suggests that every 17 year-old girl should have a copy of this book pressed upon her.

I wonder what that particular reviewer thought a 17 year-old girl would take out of the book. Would she see read it as a warning?

As a young teenager Athill fell for a young man, about 5 years older than she, who was acquainted with the family. She recounts how she grew up quickly, and soon the young man saw her less as a younger sister and more as a romantic possibility to the point where, when Athill was about to leave for university, they became engaged.

Athill's young man was the centre of her happiness, her world. He was sent to Egypt (this was at the start of WWII) and they corresponded joyfully until his letters stopped coming. It was nearly two years before he wrote to her again, asking her to release him from their engagement, so he could marry another woman.

Athill never married. One of the refreshing things about her memoirs is the calm and un-coy way she writes of her sexual relationships with men; here she talks about an abortion - which saddens her, but which she does not regret - and later miscarriages, her long-term, steady affairs with married men, and her short-term (even one-night stand) relationships conducted out of a sense of obligation, and the feeling that sometimes it is easier to just go to bed with someone than to find a convincing (yet polite) way to turn them down.

She covers her years of war work, and later career in publishing, where she worked with Andre Deutsch to set up two publishing houses (covered more fully in 'Stet').

But most of all Athill writes of unhappiness, and the late discovery, in her forties, of happiness when she begins writing. It is not that writing 'fills a hole' as such, but that it gives her s sense of ease and pleasure, of surprise and success.

So, what that reviewer think a 17 year-old would learn from this life? It is that she should not hitch her happiness to a young man, but look instead for fulfillment in a career? That one can only find true happiness by being happy with oneself, and other platitudes?

The way I read it, Athill was saying something different about unhappiness, and its particular source. It was all consuming ("My soul had shrunk to the size of a pea") but it didn't stop her from doing things, and doing things successfully. It didn't stop her from feeling happy at times. It didn't mean her life wasn't meaningful.

At the same time I was reading this book, I read Jenny Diski (now, there's a writer who can talk about unhappiness) reviewing a self-help get happy book in the LRB:

Truth number four is ‘You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.’ This is not just unfathomable but raises a prior question. Why is Rubin so very sure that happiness is the goal? Why do people, some people, understand their sense of incompleteness as a lack of happiness? Or why do they believe that such an incompleteness can and should be remedied? If the answers to these questions strike you as completely obvious, or they don’t seem to be sensible questions at all, then maybe it’s just me, but I suspect Freud didn’t stop at ordinary unhappiness because he was at a loss to know what to do at that point, but because ordinary unhappiness constitutes part of regular existence.

I once tried this thought out on a panel on a TV book show when we were talking about a biography of Ford Madox Ford. There was general agreement that his had been a tragic life, evidenced by catastrophic love affairs, difficulty in writing and several failed suicide attempts. I wondered if you had to see it as such a tragic life, or just that kind of a life. He did after all have all the melodrama and all those torrid relationships, and he also wrote some of the best novels of the 20th century. Even suicide attempts, if they fail, offer a kind of renewal, if only of unhappiness. Certainly, he wasn’t happy, but was it a tragic life? I’m no more sure what constitutes tragic than I am about defining happiness. They cut that bit out when the show was broadcast, because the other people on the panel just blinked at me and moved swiftly on.


Monday 22 November 2010

The Internet

Earlier this year I paid my dues and became a member of Internet New Zealand. There was a bit of healthy peer pressure behind my decision to join up, but also a sense of obligation. I make my living online. I spend a lot of my non-work life online. The web is crucial to me staying in contact with friends and colleagues. But I don't know as much about the internet - and the threats to a free and open internet - as I should.

So, if you've ever looked at your computer screen while browsing blogs or emailing home or facebooking, and wondered - how does this page appear in front of me? how does Amazon remember my credit card details? what's the difference between 'http://' and 'https://'? why do I use Internet Explorer 6? - you should check out this cute little online book from Google.

20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web covers topics from open source browsers through to cloud computing, HTML5 to protecting your privacy online. That might sound dry, but please - just give a few minutes of your time to trying it out. It's a lovely interface to play with, if nothing else; but overall, I guarantee you'll learn something.* If nothing else, you'll find this handy link to the What browser? site, which will instantly tell you which browser and which version you're using (and has a handy 1 minute video that tells you what a browser is).

*Sure, the book is an advertisement for Google's browser, Chrome. But there's no harm in reading it anyway.

Friday 19 November 2010

Smart, pretty

I do admire American art museum's signage. It often seems lighter - in tone and in heart - than New Zealand's. And I'm quite taken with this piece of work by the IMA's Matt Kelm for their recent Warhol show:

In this interview Kelm describes how the signage references Warhol's work, while also creating an interactive experience that encourages visitors to take the show's poster away with them.

Monday 15 November 2010

Reading and writing

I still feel a moment of 'they're reading our books over there' parochial pride when I see New Zealand children's and YA authors getting mentioned in international magazines and blogs. In this piece on returning to reading YA fiction, American writer Elizabeth Bachner bookends her article with observations on Margaret Mahy's The Changeover

In the beginning of Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover, a teenage girl in New Zealand, Laura, picks up a bottle of shampoo called Paris. There’s a picture on it, of a lovely girl with the Eiffel Tower behind her bare shoulder, but the label is forced to tell the truth in tiny print: “Made in New Zealand, it said, Wisdom Laboratories, Paraparaumu.”

Just for a moment Laura had a dream of washing her hair and coming out from under the shower to find that she was not only marvelously beautiful but transported to Paris. However, there was no point in washing her hair if she were only going to be moved as far as Paraparaumu. Besides, she knew her hair would not dry in time for school, and she would spend half the morning with chilly ears. These were facts of everyday life, and being made in New Zealand was another. You couldn’t really think your way into being another person with a different morning ahead of you, or shampoo yourself into a beautiful city full of artists drinking wine and eating pancakes cooked in brandy.

If I need a good blow-out, I pick up Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses. McCarthy's fatalism - his utter refusal to give you an easy ending - and his sparse, diamond-hard writing leaves me undone every time. So naturally, I'm inclined to disagree with Allen Barra over his argument that Larry McMurty's Lonesome Dove is a better Western than McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Then I recall that I haven't read either book, and update my Goodreads to-read list.*

Lev Grossman, author and Time magazine's book critic, blogs about the two kinds of writers: soloists and thieves. I wonder if this applies to artists as well? I know some artists who are particularly porous, and going to a new show is an experiment in guessing what they've been looking at recently.

I don’t understand how the Soloists do it. It’s like they’re sailing across the Atlantic without instruments — coolly, no map, no reference points, just navigating by the feel of the tiller. The Soloists I know avoid other novels like the plague when they’re writing. It’s like reading them will pollute their pure bloodlines or something.

As a Thief, I don’t have that need for purity. But I would give anything for that sense of absolute direction. Like perfect pitch — Soloists don’t need to tune to anything. To go back to the navigation metaphor, I’m constantly checking my GPS and taking sextant readings and heaving the log and shooting azimuths and God knows what else, just to make sure I haven’t wandered off the map into some bizarre territory where I’ve forgotten that sentences are supposed to have verbs in them or something.

In the New Republic, Elizabeth D. Samet writes about using Sherlock Holmes to teach first-year students at West Point. Samet is trying to tell her students that the knowledge they already have is importnant, and that the knowledge that they pick up as they move through life will be useful in unexpected ways:

I’ve taken to visiting 221B Baker Street on the first day of class because I can’t think of anyone who leverages knowledge more effectively.

I ask my students to read a passage near the beginning of A Study in Scarlet (the detective’s first appearance), in which Dr. Watson vainly attempts to itemize precisely what Holmes knows: next to nothing about literature, philosophy, astronomy, and politics; “practical” but idiosyncratic facts of botany, geology, anatomy, and British law; the most minute details of chemistry and “sensational literature.” After concluding his list by noting that Holmes not only “plays the violin well” but is also “an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman,” Watson throws it into the fire “in despair” of ever figuring out what kind of profession could possibly require this eclectic catalogue of “accomplishments.”

Finally, two medical memoirs:

*Has anyone else ever been put off reading Lonesome Dove because the title sounds too like The Thorn Birds and you're still recovering from the you-knew-it-was-wrong-even-at-the-time pleasure of reading the latter in your early teens? Anyone?

Good looking

There are 15 days left until entries close for the Mix and Mash competition. If you're looking for some inspiration, you might want to check out the slides from the awesome presentations at the Mix and Mash Webstock Mini.

One of my favourite presentations was Chris McDowall's 'Anatomy of a visualisation':

Chris has a terrific blog about data visualation over on the Sciblogs network. Recently his wife Sienna Latham wrote about the data analysis she and Chris worked on to accompany her thesis on English women’s chymical activities during the reign of Elizabeth I. Together, they created a visual interpretation of the network of relationships between the women Sienna studied

I also picked up this amazing visualisation on Twitter today - contradictions in the Bible by Steve Wells

As it happens, there's a visualisation category in the Mix and Mash competition. So shuffle on over there and check it out!

Friday 12 November 2010


A little belated perhaps, but I wanted to note Bronwyn Holloway-Smith's win at the New Zealand Open Source Awards on Tuesday night.

The Open Source Awards recognise New Zealanders' contributions to open source projects, use of open source products, and promotion of the free and open philosophy.

2010 was the first year that an Open Source in the Arts category was run, and the finalists were:
  • Bronwyn Holloway-Smith for Ghosts in the Form of Gifts
  • Douglas Bagnall for Libsparrow, an installation piece entirely based on open source software that was shown at the Dowse.
  • Joel Pitt and Will Marshall for Speed of Sound, a music visualiser used in live environments
Bronwyn describes her project in this way:
These objects are replicas of artifacts imagined as lost, hidden or misregistered during the Museum of New Zealand's tenure in the former Museum Building on Buckle St, now occupied by Massey University's College of Creative Arts. The objects have been created through a process of drawing, digital 3D rendering, and finally printing with an Open Source 3-dimensional printer – the RepRap.
To my mind, one of the most significant things about Bronwyn's project is that the works are released under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license and the design files can be downloaded from her website.

At the awards, I asked Bronwyn whether students at art school were being taught about copyright and licencing - their rights over their work, and the tools (like CC licences) available to them to give people access to view, re-present or remix their works. It's a topic I'm quite interested in, as is Bronwyn, as one of the founders of the Creative Freedom Foundation.

Bronwyn said that the topic didn't seem well-covered. I think that's a real pity. If art schools are training/nurturing/whatever-the-preferred-verb artists, they should be (IMHO) educating them about the profession, and copyright (as well as dealer galleries and auction houses and commissioning) are all part of the apparatus.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Take one thing off ...

It would be a writing course. Every assignment would be delivered in five versions: A three page version, a one page version, a three paragraph version, a one paragraph version, and a one sentence version.

I don’t care about the topic. I care about the editing. I care about the constant refinement and compression. I care about taking three pages and turning it one page. Then from one page into three paragraphs. Then from three paragraphs into one paragraph. And finally, from one paragraph into one perfectly distilled sentence.

Along the way you’d trade detail for brevity. Hopefully adding clarity at each point. This is important because I believe editing is an essential skill that is often overlooked and under appreciated. The future belongs to the best editors.

That's Jason Fried, one of the 37signals co-founders, talking about the class he'd like to see taught at university. 37signals is a web app company; I have a Masters degree in art history, and I wish this course had been available when I was at school.

Friday 5 November 2010

More magic from BERG London

I've written before about my admiration for the design and ideas firm BERG. If you haven't seen the three short films they've put out recently, then lucky you! Here they are. Put aside 10 minutes of your Friday for a special glimpse of the future.

Making future magic (blog post)

Making Future Magic: iPad light painting from Dentsu London on Vimeo.

Incidental media (blog post)

Media surfaces: Incidental Media from Dentsu London on Vimeo.

The journey (blog post)

Media surfaces: The Journey from Dentsu London on Vimeo.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

More magic from the Brooklyn Museum

One of the weird little one-day-I-might ideas that floats about in the back of my mind is putting in an application to Creative New Zealand too get funding so I can take some time off work and update/create as many articles on New Zealand artists in Wikipedia as possible. Frankly, I think it would be a better investment in the overall accessibility of information about New Zealand art than most of the publishing projects that are funded.

For a fantastic example of this in action, look at what the Brooklyn Museum has done for Seductive Subversion, an exhibition of women pop artists. As Rebecca Shaykin notes in a blog post on the Brooklyn Museum site, of the 25 artists in the show, only 14 had entries on Wikipedia, and 3 of these were 'stubs' (brief notes that form a placeholder for a full entry):

So I knew I had my work cut out for me. Over the summer and early fall I created and expanded pages for the artists who needed them most. In so doing, I learned a great deal about their lives. Who would have guessed, looking at Evelyne Axell’s psychedelic nudes, that she had learned to paint by taking private lessons with RenĂ© Magritte? Or that Rosalyn Drexler, in addition to being a Pop artist, was also an award-winning playwright and one-time Mexican wrestler? The more I learned—of Letty Eisenhauer’s rousing performances at early Happenings, Boty’s friendship with Bob Dylan, McAfee’s hilarious illustrations for National Lampoon—the happier I was to know that the biographies of these remarkable women would soon be widely available.

Not only has the Museum invested in improving worldwide access to information about the artists in the exhibition - they've brought Wikipedia back into the exhibition, using iPads. As with so much of what the Museum does, it's an experiment, as Shelley Bernstein explains:

So, what are we looking to learn from this? First, we’d like to see if visitors want this much information in an exhibition setting. The interactive uses the 25 artist articles as a starting point, but visitors have access to the entire wiki from there. Most educators and interpretation staff will say less is more and tend to favor a more guided learning experience, but that’s counter to the web. When providing a web resource in the gallery, do visitors want more control over the information they browse? Second, we’d like to see how visitors react to this type of hardware and how we’ve installed it. Does this provide a better user experience both for the people who want to use it and those who’d rather not be distracted by tech in the gallery setting? Should we be using this type of low-impact equipment in more places throughout the museum? Third, we are going to be looking at browse statistics and how they differ when people are standing near objects versus when they are sitting. Does a seating area mean visitors spend more time with the devices or do people really want to have the information near the works of art?

The thing I admire about Shelley and the Museum is that they don't sit on their laurels (which, in my sector, are acknowledged as being freaking huge). They're constantly trying new things, but that's not rare. What they do superbly, in my opinion, is evaluate their experiments and share their findings. It's a generosity of information and spirit for which I am constantly grateful.

Monday 1 November 2010

Web muster

Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury, on the 40-year history of the cartoon

Censorship was straightforward, and Trudeau never complained because he says "I knew the editors were caught between a rock and a hard place". More sinister was the decision of about a third of the papers that carried him to switch him from the comics to the editorial page alongside their political commentators. "We resisted the move," Trudeau says. "For the simple reason that there are far more readers on the comics page than on the comment page and you want to be where the reader is."

Dwight Garner writes in the New York Times about the Paris Review's release of its entire backlog of author interviews online

The Paris Review interviews are famous, or infamous, for prying into how writers physically get their words onto the page. Things like No. 2 pencils are turned into fetishistic totems. Hemingway, we learn, wrote standing up; Capote, lying down; Raymond Carver often composed in his car.

Thompson, interviewed in 2000, decades after “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” makes delicious mockery of this sort of inquiry. He is asked: “Are there any mnemonic devices that get you going once a deadline is upon you — sharpening pencils, music that you put on, a special place to sit?” He leans back and replies, “Bestiality films.”

John Allen Paulos revisits C.P. Snow's declaration of the division between science and the arts, looking at statistics and storytelling

The focus of stories is on individual people rather than averages, on motives rather than movements, on point of view rather than the view from nowhere, context rather than raw data. Moreover, stories are open-ended and metaphorical rather than determinate and literal.