A Week in Culture: Maud Newton, Part 2


The Culture Diaries

This is the second installment of Maud Newton’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


8:07 A.M. I don’t work on Wednesdays, but I’m up early anyway, mildly hungover and with tea in hand, to write. The dinner scene looks clunkier now; commence line-edits.

9:30 A.M. Online grazing: Garrison Keillor publishes an infuriating death-of-publishing op-ed. Kingsley Amis argues that Keats isn’t a great poet. Graydon Carter says that Kingsley Amis was “an accomplished womanizer, drinker, and conversationalist” who was “funny and raffishly rude, and had the thinnest, whitest skin I’ve ever seen on a man—like a condom filled with skim milk.” The NYPL and the Brooklyn and Queens library systems are beginning major layoffs; protest by joining the postcard campaign.

10:30 A.M. More writing, further consultation of Memento Mori.

12:30 P.M. For lunch: bagel with tomato, onion, lox, and cream cheese. I’ve set aside a little time here because I’m excited to take a look at the galley for my friend Amitava Kumar’s A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, about the U.S. terrorism-detection machine/industry.

2:00 P.M. Back to work on my novel draft.

8:12 P.M. After six hours’ work, I’m feeling more optimistic about the way all the hullabaloo with the dogs leads into the dinner scene.

8:45 P.M. Sushi and drinks with Max. Lately when I drink gin, I’ve been doing it Kingsley Amis’s preferred way, with a little ice, lemon, and water. It’s growing on me. I don’t know why I’m drinking the things he and Muriel Spark did.

11:00 P.M. Time for another episode of Damages (second of Season Two).

1:23 A.M. Amis on owing to/due to: Never say “Due to lack of interest, the carol service has been cancelled”—only “Owing to…”  


7:58 A.M. Ack, up late. Tea, etc. I’m stopping by a friend’s birthday party tonight, but I have to leave the house with wet hair now and hope for the best.

8:50 A.M. On train read Rebecca West’s “Why My Mother Was Frightened of Cats,” a charming reflection on the allure, grace, intelligence, and uncanny perversity of one of my favorite animals. West says she’s never depressed by her lovers’ imperfections or jealous of an attractive woman because no human ever be as beautiful as a cat. Coming from a long line of hoarders, I concur.

9:10 A.M. Work. The Financial District seems even more crowded than usual this morning. Dig around in my bag for my work ID while the security guard waits patiently. Buy a small coffee before going upstairs. I used to like it black, but now I drink what a friend calls kids’ coffee. The guy smiles when I ask for half-and-half and three sugars.

9:15 A.M. In the tax world: a couple of cases, and I still have to revise parts of the online treatise to reflect recent law changes.

10:00 A.M. Online grazing: Nabokov contemplates translation. Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes talks about his books, obsessiveness, and heart surgery.

10:10 A.M. The caffeine doesn’t seem to be taking effect, but I slog through these cases nonetheless.

7:00 P.M. I really am sworn to stay in at night through at least the middle of September, but I had some existing plans, and one of them was to celebrate my friend Katherine’s birthday at her neighborhood bar, which overlooks the Hudson River. Fun! Friends! But I only let myself have one drink.

9:30 P.M. Home again. Write and edit for three hours. So far this iteration of the novel is going about as quickly as planned.


7:30 A.M. Pack bag for long weekend at my sister’s place.

8:30 A.M. You can tell it’s Memorial Day weekend. There are four other suitcases on my subway car alone, and we’re still pretty far from Manhattan. I’ve brought along Nicole Krauss’s October novel, Great House, which, according to her publicity materials, “is a breathtaking exploration of memory, longing and the burden of inheritance, pressing such questions as: What do we pass on to our children and how do they absorb our dreams and losses? How do we respond to disappearance, destruction and change?”

9:00 A.M. Work, aided by “French Roast” coffee.

11:30 A.M. Online grazing: Melville’s Redburn: His First Voyage arguably prefigures Moby Dick. James Wolcott, a longtime Mailer fan, marvels at the posthumous gossip surrounding the The Naked and the Dead author. Francine du Plessix Gray returns to Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and offers a mixed assessment. Written author interviews are becoming more common again. Apple’s iBookstore will allow individuals to submit their own ebooks. BP impedes journalists’ efforts to report on oil spill.

5:40 P.M. As usual, I’m standing in Penn Station with my dinner getting cold in a take-out bag when the sign says this Friday night Amtrak train to Springfield, MA, is going to be delayed a half-hour.

7:00 P.M. Finally situated on the train and headed north. I’m reading Nicole Krauss’s Great House, which is beginning to try my patience.

8:00 P.M. Write, write, write. At first it’s slow-going because someone a few seats up is popping gum, and I’m a little like the killer in “The Telltale Heart” when it comes to irrational, quasi-autistic aversions, but I switch trains in New Haven, and ahhh, peace.

12:03 P.M. In bed at sister’s place, reading Memento Mori. I laugh so hard, the cat gets up off my legs and glowers at me before circling and settling back on my shin.


10:00 A.M. Strong homemade coffee and chocolate-covered almonds for breakfast. My sister’s at work already, but her partner has read and enjoyed Memento Mori, so we talk about that.

10:45 A.M. Check e-mail. Continue ongoing exchange with my friend Laura Miller about iPad applications that may be useful for readers and the impossibility of finding those hypothetical applications amid the clutter of the online store. We both use RSS readers, Instapaper, Kindle, iBooks, Epicurious, Netflix, Twitter apps…. There are supposedly thousands of options now, but as she says, “to look at that #$&! app store, you’d think it was more like 500.”

10:50 A.M. E-mail from my old friend Nelson, who says he’s excited to see my Oxford American essay—”Ode to an Enchanted Hotel”—about Miami’s Biltmore in print.

11:00 A.M. Nine hours of writing and snacking. I’ll spare you the details.

8:00 P.M. Glee. The last two episodes are my first exposure to the show. They are obsessed with the show Chez Sister, and as a former musical theater and chorus nerd I can see why.

Maud Newton won the 2009 Narrative Prize for an excerpt from her forthcoming novel, Generational Curses.