The next time we use the term “literary feud”, send a prayer up to the knights of the board. When it comes to bodyslamming reviews, writers and fellow players, chessplayers make the rest of us look like wimps. It all started when Nigel Short wrote this review (second item on page).

Justin Horton reacted: “Psychiatric problems are to be treated with tact and intelligence, not used as grapeshot in a feud that Short should have the wisdom to drop.”

John Cox weighed in: “[Short’s] original obituary was the most outrageous lapse of taste: at a time when quite a few chessplayers here were attending the funeral of someone they barely knew in Birmingham out of respect, Nigel reckoned it was all about whether he’d had Tony’s girlfriend.”

Short defended himself ably and offered a partial explanation of the apparently personal stuff in his review and his earlier obituary of Tony Miles: “Tony was also seen at one British Championship tearing down BCF posters with my image. He even was known to refer to me in conversation as Nigel Shit.”

The exchange is here in its entirety. And nope, literary writers never generate as much fun.

A Few Good Bloggers: Alex Good (Good Reports) hosts a year-end discussion between five literary website editors–Robert Birnbaum (Identity Theory), Jessa Crispin (BookSlut), Alex Good, Maud Newton (, and Michael Orthofer (The Complete Review).

Transfer tubes. Playing accountable football. Securing a “strategic oversight” of your child. Don Watson campaigns against the scourge of Modern Management English, “doctrinal in a way that surpasses even Orwellian English. What was the language style of Stalinism, China’s Cultural Revolution or the Khmer Rouge’s Year Zero has been seized upon by globalised companies and public services”. (More.) Good for him, if it means the Babu can stop “ideating” now.

Mahasweta Devi has received France’s second highest civilian award. The Babu hears that the ceremony was a media feeding frenzy, with photographers shoving each other aside and almost swamping the author, who is usually not amused by displays of this sort. She’s phlegmatic about the award, too: “”I feel happy that my receiving an award has made some people happy, but as for myself I’m unmoved.”

Christmas conjures up the Bah, humbug spirit in the Babu. From my commonplace book:

“Newt remained curled in the chair. He held out his painty hands as though a cat’s cradle was strung up between them. ‘No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s….’


No damn cat, and no damn cradle.

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

On the other hand, there’s always Szymborska. Merry Xmas etc.


I prefer movies.

I prefer cats.

I prefer the oaks along the Warta.

I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.

I prefer myself liking people

to myself loving mankind.

I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.

I prefer the color green.

I prefer not to maintain

that reason is to blame for everything.

I prefer exceptions.

I prefer to leave early.

I prefer talking to doctors about something else.

I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.

I prefer the absurdity of writing poems

to the absurdity of not writing poems.

I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries

that can be celebrated every day.

I prefer moralists

who promise me nothing.

I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.

I prefer the earth in civvies.

I prefer conquered to conquering countries.

I prefer having some reservations.

I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.

I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.

I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.

I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.

I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.

I prefer desk drawers.

I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here

to many things I’ve also left unsaid.

I prefer zeroes on the loose

to those lined up behind a cipher.

I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.

I prefer to knock on wood.

I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.

I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility

that existence has its own reason for being.

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