Jay Rayner in the Guardian excoriates London’t latest steakhouse, Smith & Wollensky:
We order the bone-in ribeye. The char is feeble and the overwhelming taste is of salt. Worse is the texture. It’s floppy. Part of this, I think, is a cultural difference; Americans like to celebrate steaks based on tenderness, as if being able to cut a piece of dead animal with a butter knife is an aspiration. I think that if you’re going to eat beef, you want to know it has come from an animal that has moved. This steak slips down like something that has spent its life chained to a radiator in the basement.
Staying with food, Ron Paste on what happens when you put a photo of poet RS Thomas on your Tyrells crisp bag. A Twitter storm ensued. Quote unquote:
@ronpaste @Tyrrells I don't see any conflict between bleak & beautiful portraits of his rural community and liking crisps. Salted anyway.— Jenny Diski (@diski) January 8, 2014
Sociology researchers are now insisting that we as a society start accepting people who choose to “identify as real vampires” — so that they can be open about the fact that they’re vampires without having to worry about facing discrimination from people who might think that that’s weird. The study, titled “Do We Always Practice What We Preach? Real Vampires’ Fears of Coming out of the Coffin to Social Workers and Helping Professionals” was conducted by researchers from Idaho State University and College of the Canyons and the Center for Positive Sexuality in Los Angeles. “Most vampires believe they were born that way; they don’t choose this,” said Dr. D. J. Williams, the study’s lead researcher and the director of sociology at Idaho State. The study is based on the experiences of eleven “real” vampires — which, by the way, are different from “lifestyle vampires.” [...]
Williams explained that no one should be bothered by a person wanting to drink another person’s blood because “it is generally expected within the community that vampires should act ethically and responsibly in feeding practices,” and it’s not their blood-drinking that’s the real problem here — it’s the fact that they have to worry that other people will judge them for their blood-drinking.
James Joyce cracks the China market with Finnegans Wake thanks to translator Dai Congrong. Quote unquote:
So the 41-year-old professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University was incredulous when the translation became a surprise bestseller in China after hitting shelves last month. Backed by an elaborate billboard ad campaign, the first volume of “Fennigen de Shouling Ye” sold out its first run of 8,000 copies and reached number two on a prestigious bestseller list in Shanghai, second only to a biography of Deng Xiaoping. Sales of 30,000 are considered “cause for celebration” according to Chinese publisher Gray Tan, so 8,000 in a month has made Joyce a distinctly hot property. Ian McEwan, for instance, is considered pretty buzzy in translation, but the print run of Atonement was only 5,000 copies
English vegetarian Tom Cox writes:
There can be a tendency to force your mind open when you eat a thistle, prepare yourself for it tasting surprisingly different to your preconceptions, but what it actually tastes like is a thistle. At best, you might say it tasted like a fibrous, angry cucumber, which doesn’t really work for me as someone who’s always believed cucumber to be redolent of many of the most disappointing parts of British life.
Rolling Stone says that a documentary about Frank Zappa, who died in December 1993, is “in the early stages of development”, so don’t hold your breath. Also that there is a new album, which it calls both Dance With Me and Dance Me This. Either way, it is his 100th official release. Quote unquote:
“Historically, musicians have felt real hurt if the audience expressed displeasure with their performance,” Frank Zappa told Rolling Stone in 1968. “They apologized and tried to make the people love them. We didn’t do that. We told the audience to get fucked.”
Which brings us, regrettably, to New Zealand poets. Ashleigh Young, author of Magnificent Moon (her debut poetry collection is fantastic and you should buy if there are any copies left: try Unity Books in Wellington), blogs occasionally at EyelashRoaming. In her latest post she discusses how writers react to criticism. This is especially interesting for me because as a book editor and manuscript assessor my job is to dish it out, and as an author my job is to take it.
In terms of how well I weather criticism, I have a very thin skin. I have the skin of an Antarctic krill. An Antarctic krill doesn’t have skin exactly; it has a chitinous shell from which it sometimes ejects itself to use as a decoy against predators. The krill leaves this tiny ghost self behind while it makes a getaway.
She proceeds to elicit responses from writers, musicians and even a comedian. Let’s hear from poet Tim Upperton:
I haven’t had many reviews, so I should be grateful for the ones I get, I suppose. But I’m not. I remember a sentence from a review of my first poetry collection: ‘Heavy poems can leave a reader with an intense grimy experience.’ I guess that means something, but what? What’s a ‘heavy poem’? Are my poems insufficiently uplifting, for his taste? I quite like ‘an intense grimy experience’, but I don’t think the reviewer does. Fuck him.
On a more positive note, poetry-wise, Simon Armitage is the new Professor of Poetry at Oxford. Good. He is from Yorkshire, like my mother, who is from Halifax. The Guardian interviewed him in May, before the appointment. Quote unquote:
On stage in London, Armitage introduced another poem. “I think every poet at some stage in their writing life should try and write the definitive home-town poem. With Huddersfield, that was difficult. I didn’t really know what to lock on to as a coordinate. I eventually felt that the one thing that was most authentic were these synthetic – sort of Tudor – coffeehouses.” Laughter. “They’ve even proliferated into Halifax.” The laughter built. “There’s a drive-in! Ye olde drive-in coffee-house.”
Next time I go to Halifax to see my cousins, I know where to go for coffee. Despite what some may say, poets have their uses. So here is kd lang live in 1993 with “Black Coffee”: