Conversations in New York

“I’m hungry—I really wish I could look this place up and see if they’re still open, but it doesn’t have a name. Or it has a name, but it’s in Japanese and my keyboard doesn’t do Kanji. I don’t even think it has an address.”

The city does feel like a different country at times, and my presence in it should explain the number of recent posts. Expect a more regular schedule shortly, as well as a monster essay on “Ariel Sand’s” memoirish “novel” Never the Face, which I read about first via this interview with Claire Messud.

"You can do other things between the fun bits, you know"

A friend and I have an arrangement to exchange whatever substantial work we’ve written each Friday. It’s like an MFA program, without the pretension. She missed a week, saying:

Nice weather and boys, extension required.

Having some knowledge of such situations (as long as you replace “boys” with “girls”), I replied:

In my experience, you can only spend so much time in the sun before you burn and so much time in bed before, well, you need to do something else in the interim. If that latter bit weren’t true, we probably wouldn’t have iPhones, civilization, and all the other things that make the modern world wonderful or horrible or both.

Yeah, Freud got there first, but so what?

“You can do other things between the fun bits, you know”

A friend and I have an arrangement to exchange whatever substantial work we’ve written each Friday. It’s like an MFA program, without the pretension. She missed a week, saying:

Nice weather and boys, extension required.

Having some knowledge of such situations (as long as you replace “boys” with “girls”), I replied:

In my experience, you can only spend so much time in the sun before you burn and so much time in bed before, well, you need to do something else in the interim. If that latter bit weren’t true, we probably wouldn’t have iPhones, civilization, and all the other things that make the modern world wonderful or horrible or both.

Yeah, Freud got there first, but so what?

Lev Grossman's The Magician King arrives:

… alas, you won’t see any further comments on it until August 9—the publication date.

I’ve been getting more interesting books from publishers lately: Carolyn Cooke’s Daughters of the Revolution is sitting next to my bed, half-read and still promising, and now The Magician King.

Lev Grossman’s The Magician King arrives:

… alas, you won’t see any further comments on it until August 9—the publication date.

I’ve been getting more interesting books from publishers lately: Carolyn Cooke’s Daughters of the Revolution is sitting next to my bed, half-read and still promising, and now The Magician King.

Mac OS 10.7 is out today, and I don't care because "In the Beginning was the Command Line"

A few days ago, I was reading Neal Stephenson’s incredible essay “In the Beginning was the Command Line,” which you can download for free at the link. His work can’t really be summarized because the metaphors he develops are too potent and elaborate to flatten into a single line that describes what he does with them; by the time you finish summarizing, you might as well recreate the whole thing. Despite the folly in attempting summarization, I want to note that he’s cottoned on to the major cultural differences between Windows, Macs, and Unixes like Linux, and by the time you’re done you with his essay realize the fundamental divide in the world isn’t between right and left or religions and secular, but between contemporary “Morlocks” and “Eloi,” the former being the ones who run things and the latter being the ones who mostly consume them (you can see similar themes running through Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out and Anathem). In the meantime, visual culture has become a poorly understood but highly developed global force bathing virtually everyone in its ambiance, and that might not be such a bad thing most of the time. The last issue doesn’t have that much to do with this particular post, but if you want to understand it, and hence an aspect of the world, go read “In the Beginning was the Command Line.”

He wrote the essay in 1999, and the problem with operating systems, or “OSes” in nerd parlance, is that none of them were very good. They crashed frequently or were incredibly hard to use, especially for Eloi, or both. In the last ten years, they’ve gotten much less crashy (OS X, Windows) or much easier to use (Linux) or both, to the point where the differences to a random user who wants to write e-mails, look at YouTube videos, browse for adult material, and look at FaceBook status updates probably won’t notice the quirks of each operating system. Games are a major difference, since OS X and Windows have lots of modern games available and Linux doesn’t, but if you don’t care about games either—and I don’t—you’ll want to discount those.

Some of the major technical differentiators have shrunk: on OS X, you can now communicate with your machine using the Terminal; on mine, I’ve changed the color scheme to trendy green-on-black. Windows has a system called PowerShell, and Linux has various ways to hide the stuff underneath it. But the cultural differences remain. Windows machines still mostly come festooned with ugly stickers (“These horrible stickers are much like the intrusive ads popular on pre-Google search engines. They say to the customer: you are unimportant. We care about Intel and Microsoft, not you”) and a lot of crap-ware installed. OS X machines look like they were designed by a forward-thinking 1960s science fiction special effects person for use by the alien beings who land promising peace and prosperity but actually want to build a conduit straight into your mind and control your thoughts. Linux machines still sometimes want you to edit files in /src to get your damn wireless network working. Given the slowness of cultural change relative to technical change, it shouldn’t be surprising that many of Stephenson’s generalizations hold up even though many technical issues have changed.

This throat clearing leads to the subject of today’s much-hyped launch of Apple’s latest operating system, which is an incremental improvement to the company’s previous operating system. I’ve been using Macs since 2004. I started with an aluminum PowerBook that you can see in this appropriately messy picture. In that time, I’ve steadily upgraded from 10.3 to 10.6, but the move from 10.5 to 10.6 didn’t bring any tangible benefits to my day-to-day activities. It did, however, mess up some of the programs I used and still use regularly, which made me more gun-shy about OS updates than I have been previously. Now 10.7 is out, and you can read the best review of it here. It’s got a bunch of minor new features, most of which I won’t use and are overhyped by Apple’s ferocious marketing department, which most people call “the press.”

I’ve looked at those features and found nothing or nothing compelling. Many are aimed to laptops, but I don’t use a laptop as my primary computer or have a trackpad on my iMac, and it seems like the “gestures” that are now part of OS X, while useful, aren’t all that useful. Apple is also integrating various Internet services into the operating system, but I don’t really care about them either and don’t want to pay for iCloud. I don’t see the point for the kinds of things I do, which mostly tend towards various kind of text manipulation and some messing around with video. It’s not that I can’t afford the upgrade—Apple is only charging $30 for it. I just don’t need it and simultaneously find it annoying that Apple will only offer it through their proprietary “app store,” which means that when I need to reinstall because the hard drive dies I won’t be able to use disks to start the machine.

Still, those are all quibbles of the kind that start boring flame wars among nerds on the Internet. I’ve saved the real news for the very bottom of the page: it’s not about Apple’s OS upgrade, which, at one point, I would’ve installed on Day 1. I remember when OS X 10.4 came out, offering Spotlight, and I was blown away. Full-text search anywhere on your machine is great. It’s magical. I use it every day. Even 10.5 finally had integrated backup software. But 10.6 had a lot of developer enhancements I don’t use directly. Now, 10.7 has improved things further, but in a way that’s just not important to me. The real news is about how mature a lot of computer technology has become. By far the most useful hardware upgrade I’ve seen in the last ten years is a solid state drive (SSD), which makes boots times minimal and applications launch quickly. Even Word and Photoshop, both notorious resource hogs, launch in seconds. New OS versions used to routinely offer faster day-to-day operation as libraries were improved, but it’s not important to move from “fast enough” to “faster.” The most useful software upgrades I’ve seen were moving from the insecure early versions of Windows XP to OS X, and the move from 10.3 to 10.4. The move to 10.7 is wildly unexciting. So much so that I’m going to skip it.

If you look at the list of features in 10.7, most sound okay (like application persistence) but aren’t essential. I rather suspect I’m going to skip a lot of software and hardware upgrades in the coming years. Why bother? The new iterations of OSes aren’t likely to enable me to be able to do something substantial that I wasn’t able to do before, which, in my view, is what computers are supposed to do—like most of the things we make of buy. If you’re an economist, you could call this something like the individual production possibility curve. Installing Devonthink Pro expanded mine. Scrivener might have too. Mac Freedom definitely has, and I’m going to turn it on shortly after I post this essay. The latest operating system, though? Not so much. The latest software comes and goes, but the cultural differences—and discussions of what those differences mean—endure, even as they shrink over time.

EDIT: Somewhat relevant:

Mac OS 10.7 is out today, and I don’t care because “In the Beginning was the Command Line”

A few days ago, I was reading Neal Stephenson’s incredible essay “In the Beginning was the Command Line,” which you can download for free at the link. His work can’t really be summarized because the metaphors he develops are too potent and elaborate to flatten into a single line that describes what he does with them; by the time you finish summarizing, you might as well recreate the whole thing. Despite the folly in attempting summarization, I want to note that he’s cottoned on to the major cultural differences between Windows, Macs, and Unixes like Linux, and by the time you’re done you with his essay realize the fundamental divide in the world isn’t between right and left or religions and secular, but between contemporary “Morlocks” and “Eloi,” the former being the ones who run things and the latter being the ones who mostly consume them (you can see similar themes running through Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out and Anathem). In the meantime, visual culture has become a poorly understood but highly developed global force bathing virtually everyone in its ambiance, and that might not be such a bad thing most of the time. The last issue doesn’t have that much to do with this particular post, but if you want to understand it, and hence an aspect of the world, go read “In the Beginning was the Command Line.”

He wrote the essay in 1999, and the problem with operating systems, or “OSes” in nerd parlance, is that none of them were very good. They crashed frequently or were incredibly hard to use, especially for Eloi, or both. In the last ten years, they’ve gotten much less crashy (OS X, Windows) or much easier to use (Linux) or both, to the point where the differences to a random user who wants to write e-mails, look at YouTube videos, browse for adult material, and look at FaceBook status updates probably won’t notice the quirks of each operating system. Games are a major difference, since OS X and Windows have lots of modern games available and Linux doesn’t, but if you don’t care about games either—and I don’t—you’ll want to discount those.

Some of the major technical differentiators have shrunk: on OS X, you can now communicate with your machine using the Terminal; on mine, I’ve changed the color scheme to trendy green-on-black. Windows has a system called PowerShell, and Linux has various ways to hide the stuff underneath it. But the cultural differences remain. Windows machines still mostly come festooned with ugly stickers (“These horrible stickers are much like the intrusive ads popular on pre-Google search engines. They say to the customer: you are unimportant. We care about Intel and Microsoft, not you”) and a lot of crap-ware installed. OS X machines look like they were designed by a forward-thinking 1960s science fiction special effects person for use by the alien beings who land promising peace and prosperity but actually want to build a conduit straight into your mind and control your thoughts. Linux machines still sometimes want you to edit files in /src to get your damn wireless network working. Given the slowness of cultural change relative to technical change, it shouldn’t be surprising that many of Stephenson’s generalizations hold up even though many technical issues have changed.

This throat clearing leads to the subject of today’s much-hyped launch of Apple’s latest operating system, which is an incremental improvement to the company’s previous operating system. I’ve been using Macs since 2004. I started with an aluminum PowerBook that you can see in this appropriately messy picture. In that time, I’ve steadily upgraded from 10.3 to 10.6, but the move from 10.5 to 10.6 didn’t bring any tangible benefits to my day-to-day activities. It did, however, mess up some of the programs I used and still use regularly, which made me more gun-shy about OS updates than I have been previously. Now 10.7 is out, and you can read the best review of it here. It’s got a bunch of minor new features, most of which I won’t use and are overhyped by Apple’s ferocious marketing department, which most people call “the press.”

I’ve looked at those features and found nothing or nothing compelling. Many are aimed to laptops, but I don’t use a laptop as my primary computer or have a trackpad on my iMac, and it seems like the “gestures” that are now part of OS X, while useful, aren’t all that useful. Apple is also integrating various Internet services into the operating system, but I don’t really care about them either and don’t want to pay for iCloud. I don’t see the point for the kinds of things I do, which mostly tend towards various kind of text manipulation and some messing around with video. It’s not that I can’t afford the upgrade—Apple is only charging $30 for it. I just don’t need it and simultaneously find it annoying that Apple will only offer it through their proprietary “app store,” which means that when I need to reinstall because the hard drive dies I won’t be able to use disks to start the machine.

Still, those are all quibbles of the kind that start boring flame wars among nerds on the Internet. I’ve saved the real news for the very bottom of the page: it’s not about Apple’s OS upgrade, which, at one point, I would’ve installed on Day 1. I remember when OS X 10.4 came out, offering Spotlight, and I was blown away. Full-text search anywhere on your machine is great. It’s magical. I use it every day. Even 10.5 finally had integrated backup software. But 10.6 had a lot of developer enhancements I don’t use directly. Now, 10.7 has improved things further, but in a way that’s just not important to me. The real news is about how mature a lot of computer technology has become. By far the most useful hardware upgrade I’ve seen in the last ten years is a solid state drive (SSD), which makes boots times minimal and applications launch quickly. Even Word and Photoshop, both notorious resource hogs, launch in seconds. New OS versions used to routinely offer faster day-to-day operation as libraries were improved, but it’s not important to move from “fast enough” to “faster.” The most useful software upgrades I’ve seen were moving from the insecure early versions of Windows XP to OS X, and the move from 10.3 to 10.4. The move to 10.7 is wildly unexciting. So much so that I’m going to skip it.

If you look at the list of features in 10.7, most sound okay (like application persistence) but aren’t essential. I rather suspect I’m going to skip a lot of software and hardware upgrades in the coming years. Why bother? The new iterations of OSes aren’t likely to enable me to be able to do something substantial that I wasn’t able to do before, which, in my view, is what computers are supposed to do—like most of the things we make of buy. If you’re an economist, you could call this something like the individual production possibility curve. Installing Devonthink Pro expanded mine. Scrivener might have too. Mac Freedom definitely has, and I’m going to turn it on shortly after I post this essay. The latest operating system, though? Not so much. The latest software comes and goes, but the cultural differences—and discussions of what those differences mean—endure, even as they shrink over time.

EDIT: Somewhat relevant:

Further thoughts on the Kinesis Advantage, Unicomp Space Saver, and Das Keyboard—two years later

The series of reviews I wrote in my search for the perfect keyboard continue to rack up dozens or hundreds of hits per week; the most extensive posts cover the Kinesis Advantage, Unicomp Customizer / Space Saver, and the Das Keyboard. The Unicomp review in particular has become a repository for thoughts on the keyboard, with 60 comments so far and new ones popping up regularly.

By now I’ve spent two years using the Advantage as my primary keyboard, and since then people have e-mailed me an array of questions about it. The latest comes from a guy who is curious about how it compares to the Das Keyboard, especially regarding the key switches, and whether his size (at more than 6’7 “) might make the keyboard impractical.

The keys on the Kinesis Advantage are “Cherry Brown” switches, and those on the Das Keyboard are “Cherry Blue” switches (if you didn’t see the Das Keyboard Review, look now, especially at the video). There’s some difference between the Browns and Blues, but I think if you gave me the Coke-Pepsi challenge by blind-folding me, putting a keyboard with Browns under my fingers and then swapping it for an identical one with Blues, I doubt I’d care. They’re a distinction without a difference.

If you said, “Here’s a Kinesis Advantage with Model M-style buckling springs,” I’d take it. But the difference between the buckling springs and Cherry switches is slight at this level of quality. It’s like the Nikon, Canon, and Sony camera aficionados duking it out over recent DSLRs. The differences between Canon’s Rebels and the Nikon’s  consumer “D” series cameras are marginal. Most people wouldn’t notice. And since most pictures are being shrunk for Flickr or Facebook anyway, the importance of marginal quality improvements declines further.

I’ve used the Advantage close to every day for years, and I can’t see or feel any difference in the keys over time. Most normal keyboards, like the ones that ship with generic desktop computers, get “sticky” or otherwise problematic after a lot of use. This one doesn’t. Searching Google for “Kinesis Advantage Longevity” and similar strings (like durability) doesn’t bring up any horror stories. The Advantage doesn’t have the extreme reputation that IBM Model Ms have, but Kinesis also hasn’t been making them since the 1980s and the Advantage is, by its cost and the commitment necessary to retrain yourself, a much more niche product.

I’m not as tall as you, but I am about 6’1″, and I don’t think you’re likely to have problems with the Kinesis because of the size. Maybe if you have Shaq-size hands you might need or want larger keys, but that’s a niche case. My elbows aren’t turned in at all when I use the Advantage; yours might have to slightly, if you’ve got especially broad shoulders, but again, I don’t think the effect will be too pronounced. I’ve also seen women as short as 5’4″ use the keyboard (note: this is not a euphemism) without any obvious ergonomic problems.

One other point: if you’re having trouble with your wrists, make sure that you’ve got a desk / chair combination that lets you leave your elbows at a 90 degree angle. The top of the screen should be at your eye level. I have three books stuck under my iMac, lifting the screen to the desire height, and a Humanscale Keyboard tray to accomplish this. If you’re using a laptop and it spends most of its life in one place, try to get an external monitor, and get the external monitor at the desired height, or buy a laptop stand (the Griffin Elevator is popular). This might not be practical or might be too expensive, depending on where you work, but if you can do it you’ll have a better overall experience. Just adjusting the height of your monitor and chair might do more for you than a very expensive keyboard.

EDIT: There’s a worthwhile Hacker News discussion about this post; sometimes HN will generate thousands of visitors who leave virtually no comments, because they comment on HN itself. Anyway, the top two comments say the Kinesis Advantage is quite durable, and both people report that they’ve keyboards for more than ten years. One says Kinesis will repair keyboards that have been caught “drinking” soda. Taken together, they allay the longevity worry, especially if Kinesis offers service. It would be a major bummer to have to re-buy a $300 keyboard every five years because it broke, but it sounds like $300 also buys you high-quality keys that can take a lot of clacking.

Thoughts on Anita Shreve's Testimony and Tom Perrotta's Election

I recently read Tom Perrotta’s Election and Anita Shreve’s Testimony very closely because they’re similar to a novel I’m working on and relevant to an academic paper, which is a two-for-one deal. I like both novels, but reading Testimony a third time gave me some insight into how it functions; don’t keep reading if you fear spoilers:

1) Testimony is much looser than Election; I think Election is a better book for that reason. We get a better sense of character from it, and the motivations of each characters. I love the scene where Tammy is crying in front of the school counselor and says, “I’m in love,” but she loves her best friend, or former best friend, Lisa. The counselor says, “When you’re ready, you can tell me all about him.” Tammy thinks, “That’s when I realized how impossible it was, my whole life.” She’s right. That also gives motivation for everything else in the story, which looks inexplicable to everyone else. In Testimony, Silas and Rob in particular remain ciphers throughout the novel. That might be intentional.

2) There are more characters in Testimony; their voices are more different than the voices in Election, but too many of them are weak. Silas is or sounds like an idiot, although there’s an explanation in the sense that “he” wrote his sections in the cold, while he’s nuts with grief at his own behavior, and when he might be committing suicide because he can’t stand facing his family and Noelle. Noelle is little better as a character because she’s a little smarter. Sienna is like my dumber freshmen. Ellen, Rob’s mom, may be the most irritating: she speaks in the second person, and aside from her caring for Rob, she doesn’t have much of a function. I get the impression that she’s there to give conventional middle-class women someone to root for than because she moves the story along. Tammy and Paul’s mother does something similar in Election, but she has many fewer scenes.

3) Testimony has a much weaker sense of scene in general; the scenes it does have are much looser and less focused, as noted above. The abstract observations in Election are grounded in the immediate actions of the characters. The ones in Testimony sometimes aren’t. The Ellen character in particular has this problem. Still, some the lyrical sections in Testimony are quite nice.

4) Both novels have choppier timelines than I realized when I first read through them. Readers can probably follow more dodges and weaves than I fully realized previously, and they can handle moving backward and forward in time without explicit direction.

5) The teenage characters mentioned in point two show the danger of letting teenagers speak as teenagers; I’m fond of quoting Salon‘s review of “90210” and “Gossip Girl” on the subject: “Where Blair and Serena’s lines snap, crackle and pop with wit and cleverness, the soggy stars of “90210” stumble over one cliché after another. “Awkward!” Annie blurts at Ethan after they encounter Ethan’s ex Naomi, then Annie does her best impression of the cynical teenage eye roll, as Ethan mutters, “Good times!” Oof. [. . .] But every scene is filled with such teen-bot tripe.” That’s not true of Testimony, but the novel flirts with this problem. Mike anchors the story sufficiently that we don’t get lost among the inarticulate. Noelle is also more knowledgable than the others, and we’ve all met Siennas. The reason for Silas’s meanderings get explained at the end.

6) I’m impressed that Shreve kept the knowledge that only Mike, Anna, Owen, and Silas have from leaking into the other characters. Silas’s actions remain mysterious to us until we learn his mother is having an affair with Mike. The idea that this would cause him to get drunk and bang a hot 14-year-old girl stretches plausibility but doesn’t tear it.

7) The “professional” characters are very flat, and factual, like the reporter, Colm, and the lawyer; these are supposed to provide a counterpoint to the highly emotionally charged scenes from the teenagers, who aren’t articulate and don’t know what’s happening to them. Except for Noelle, who is looking back, and J. Dot, who is aloof, an asshole, and perhaps right.

8) There are only really two major events in the novel: the making of the tape and the Mike / Anna romance. Virtually everything else is lead up, reaction to, or speculation regarding those two things. Contrast that with Election’s romances: there’s Tracy-Jack. Paul-Lisa. Tammy-Lisa, and Tammy’s crush on Dana. There are other events: Mr. M encourages Paul to run. The Warren family constellation, with its tensions. Tracy’s desire to be president, or be something, with President being a reasonable proxy. The election itself ensures that the novel is about more than just who’s with who. There’s a lot more narrative and less “This is how I feel.” It’s also shorter novel. The longer book doesn’t have quite enough narrative to sustain it. There are a number of places where I say things like, “This chapter is fairly useless.” That’s for a reason.

9) The entries / chapters for Testimony are much longer than the ones for Election because each chapter is much, much longer. I don’t think a greater or smaller number of chapters is inherently better, but in this case I think the game goes to Perrotta; Election has 100 “chapters” or unique voices who speak, while Testimony has 53.

10) Looking over this, I’m too harsh on Testimony. It’s still a very finely written book. I read very few books twice, let alone more than twice, let alone think about them consciously as models for a novel or worth writing an academic article about.

Thoughts on Anita Shreve’s Testimony and Tom Perrotta’s Election

I recently read Tom Perrotta’s Election and Anita Shreve’s Testimony very closely because they’re similar to a novel I’m working on and relevant to an academic paper, which is a two-for-one deal. I like both novels, but reading Testimony a third time gave me some insight into how it functions; don’t keep reading if you fear spoilers:

1) Testimony is much looser than Election; I think Election is a better book for that reason. We get a better sense of character from it, and the motivations of each characters. I love the scene where Tammy is crying in front of the school counselor and says, “I’m in love,” but she loves her best friend, or former best friend, Lisa. The counselor says, “When you’re ready, you can tell me all about him.” Tammy thinks, “That’s when I realized how impossible it was, my whole life.” She’s right. That also gives motivation for everything else in the story, which looks inexplicable to everyone else. In Testimony, Silas and Rob in particular remain ciphers throughout the novel. That might be intentional.

2) There are more characters in Testimony; their voices are more different than the voices in Election, but too many of them are weak. Silas is or sounds like an idiot, although there’s an explanation in the sense that “he” wrote his sections in the cold, while he’s nuts with grief at his own behavior, and when he might be committing suicide because he can’t stand facing his family and Noelle. Noelle is little better as a character because she’s a little smarter. Sienna is like my dumber freshmen. Ellen, Rob’s mom, may be the most irritating: she speaks in the second person, and aside from her caring for Rob, she doesn’t have much of a function. I get the impression that she’s there to give conventional middle-class women someone to root for than because she moves the story along. Tammy and Paul’s mother does something similar in Election, but she has many fewer scenes.

3) Testimony has a much weaker sense of scene in general; the scenes it does have are much looser and less focused, as noted above. The abstract observations in Election are grounded in the immediate actions of the characters. The ones in Testimony sometimes aren’t. The Ellen character in particular has this problem. Still, some the lyrical sections in Testimony are quite nice.

4) Both novels have choppier timelines than I realized when I first read through them. Readers can probably follow more dodges and weaves than I fully realized previously, and they can handle moving backward and forward in time without explicit direction.

5) The teenage characters mentioned in point two show the danger of letting teenagers speak as teenagers; I’m fond of quoting Salon‘s review of “90210” and “Gossip Girl” on the subject: “Where Blair and Serena’s lines snap, crackle and pop with wit and cleverness, the soggy stars of “90210” stumble over one cliché after another. “Awkward!” Annie blurts at Ethan after they encounter Ethan’s ex Naomi, then Annie does her best impression of the cynical teenage eye roll, as Ethan mutters, “Good times!” Oof. [. . .] But every scene is filled with such teen-bot tripe.” That’s not true of Testimony, but the novel flirts with this problem. Mike anchors the story sufficiently that we don’t get lost among the inarticulate. Noelle is also more knowledgable than the others, and we’ve all met Siennas. The reason for Silas’s meanderings get explained at the end.

6) I’m impressed that Shreve kept the knowledge that only Mike, Anna, Owen, and Silas have from leaking into the other characters. Silas’s actions remain mysterious to us until we learn his mother is having an affair with Mike. The idea that this would cause him to get drunk and bang a hot 14-year-old girl stretches plausibility but doesn’t tear it.

7) The “professional” characters are very flat, and factual, like the reporter, Colm, and the lawyer; these are supposed to provide a counterpoint to the highly emotionally charged scenes from the teenagers, who aren’t articulate and don’t know what’s happening to them. Except for Noelle, who is looking back, and J. Dot, who is aloof, an asshole, and perhaps right.

8) There are only really two major events in the novel: the making of the tape and the Mike / Anna romance. Virtually everything else is lead up, reaction to, or speculation regarding those two things. Contrast that with Election’s romances: there’s Tracy-Jack. Paul-Lisa. Tammy-Lisa, and Tammy’s crush on Dana. There are other events: Mr. M encourages Paul to run. The Warren family constellation, with its tensions. Tracy’s desire to be president, or be something, with President being a reasonable proxy. The election itself ensures that the novel is about more than just who’s with who. There’s a lot more narrative and less “This is how I feel.” It’s also shorter novel. The longer book doesn’t have quite enough narrative to sustain it. There are a number of places where I say things like, “This chapter is fairly useless.” That’s for a reason.

9) The entries / chapters for Testimony are much longer than the ones for Election because each chapter is much, much longer. I don’t think a greater or smaller number of chapters is inherently better, but in this case I think the game goes to Perrotta; Election has 100 “chapters” or unique voices who speak, while Testimony has 53.

10) Looking over this, I’m too harsh on Testimony. It’s still a very finely written book. I read very few books twice, let alone more than twice, let alone think about them consciously as models for a novel or worth writing an academic article about.

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