Archive for James Joyce

the best books of the NYT readers

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2022 by xi'an

Two years after Le Monde reported on the list of the 101 favourite novels of [some of] its readers, which I found most fascinating as a sociological entry on said readers, rather than a meaningful ordering of literary monuments (!),  even though it led me to read Damasio’s La Horde du Contrevent, as well as Jean-Philippe Jaworski’s Gagner la Guerre [To the victors go the spoils], The New York Times did something similar to celebrate the Book Review’s 125th anniversary. If on a lesser scale, as it only produces

        1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
        2. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
        3. 1984 by George Orwell
        4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
        5. Beloved by Toni Morrison

as the top five books of the last 125th years, Lee’s, Tolkien’s, and Garcia Márquez’s appearing in both lists, if with a different ranking. (The nomination rules were not exactly the same, though, with only novels for Le Monde and only “recent” books and only one per author for the New York Times.) Here is a longer list of the 25 top contenders, from which NYT readers voted [an opportunity I missed!]:

some of which I had never heard of. And not including a single Faulkner’s… Except for One Hundred Years of Solitude, first published as Cien años de soledad, all novels there were originally written in English. Sadly, the number one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, is also one of the most censored by school boards in the USA! (And so are books by Toni Morrison.)

Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (1932-2018)

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2018 by xi'an


I heard of the death of the writer V.S. Naipal late today, after arriving on the North coast of Vancouver Island. While not familiar with many of his books, I remember reading a House for Mr. Biswas and A Bend in the River in the mid 80’s, following a suggestion by my late friend José de Sam Lazaro, who was a professor in Rouen when I was doing my PhD there and with whom I would travel from Paris to Rouen by the first morning train… As most suggestions from José, it was an eye-opener on different views and different stories, as well as a pleasure to read the crisp style of Naipaul. Who thus remains inextricably linked with my memories of José. I also remember later discussing with, by postal letters, while in Purdue, on the strength of Huston’s The Dead, the last and possibly best novel of Joyce’s Dubliners, which stroke me as expressing so clearly and deeply the final feelings of utter failure of Conroy, Gretta’s husband. As well as his defense of Forman’s Amadeus!

Le Monde puzzle [#845]

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2013 by xi'an

Yet another one of those Le Monde mathematical puzzles which wording is confusing to me:

Take the set of integers between 1 and 1000. endow all of them randomly with red or blue tags. group them by subsets of three or more (grapes). and also group them by pairs so that a switch can change the colour of both integers.  Is it always possible to activate the switches so that one ends up with all grapes being multicoloured?  Unicoloured? 

I find it (again!) ultimately puzzling since there are configurations where it cannot work. In the first case, take a grape made of four integers of the same colour, reunited two by two by a switch: activating the switch simply invert the colours but the grape remains uni-coloured. Conversely, take two integers with opposite colours within the same grape. No mater how long one operates the switch, they will remain of an opposite colour, won’t they?!

This issue of Le Monde Science&Médecine leaflet actually had several interesting entries, from one on “the thirst of the sociologist for statistical irregularities“—meaning that regression should account for confounding factors like social class versus school performances—to the above picture about weighting the mass of a neutrino—mostly because it strongly reminds of Escher, as I cannot understand the 3D structure of the picture—, to  another tribune of Marco Zito informing me that “quark” is a word invented by James Joyce—and not by Carroll as I believed—, to an interview of Stanislas Dehaene, a neuroscientist professor at Collège de France and a (fairly young) member of the Académie des Sciences—where he mentions statistical learning patterns that reminded me of the Bayesian constructs Pierre Bessière discussed on France Culture—.

The Dead

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on April 10, 2011 by xi'an

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” James Joyce, The Dead, Dubliners

In The Guardian of last Saturday, Jonathan Coe wrote a piece about film adaptations of great books, mostly siding with Hitchcock’s views that masterpieces were bound to produce terrible films. (Thus connecting with my post of yesterday. And a much earlier post about subways and books…) However, he manages to find exceptions, such as Huston’s The Dead, which is perfectly translating Joyces’ sublime short story into a film, concluding with

The last few minutes of the film follow Joyce’s final pages closely but not exactly. Fragments of dialogue are transposed, a funny story Gabriel tells at the party being cleverly turned into a ruefully futile attempt to stir his wife out of her melancholy silence during their cab journey home. The painful conversation between husband and wife in the hotel room is just as Joyce wrote it, and flawlessly played by Donal McCann and Anjelica Huston. Then comes the celebrated final monologue, for which the film slips into voiceover for the first time. The script truncates and rearranges it, but holds to its tenor and spirit. As McCann’s voice unfolds, the screen offers us simple shots of wintry landscapes at dusk, the folk tune recurs, distantly, on a solo clarinet, and we are treated, for a few overwhelmingly moving moments, to what film can and should but rarely does become: a perfect counterpoint of word, music and image.

I cannot but agree as I do remember watching this film in Chicago, more than twenty years ago, during a December snowstorm, and emerging speechless from the movie theater, stunned by the masterly way Huston had translated my own apprehension of the story on the screen. (Actually, Huston managed a similar feat, earlier, with the Maltese Falcon.)

A final if still incomplete history of Markov Chain Monte Carlo

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , on May 18, 2010 by xi'an

To keep up with the habit of posting about any (!) arXiving of my papers, the final revision of our paper with George Casella on some recollection on the history of MCMC has been accepted for publication in the Handbook of Markov Chain Monte Carlo: Methods and Applications, edited by Steve Brooks;  Andrew Gelman, Galin Jones, and Xiao-Li Meng, and is re-arXived as well. As stressed by the title, the coverage is anything but exhaustive and we mostly stress the parts of MCMC “history” we witnessed and in which we took part. One referee took issue on this stance, asking for a more scholarly work with less standard entries covered in this chapter. This was a perfectly reasonable request from the handbook perspective, but we had neither the time nor the will to turn into part-time historians, as a large chunk of the MCMC history takes place in the foreign realms of particle physics  (examplified in, say, Landau and Binder) and signal processing! The same referee objected to our light, too light, style, as e.g. the (mock-)inclusion of

Definition: epiphany n. A spiritual event in which the essence of a given object of manifestation appears to the subject, as in a sudden flash of recognition.

within the text. (I remember being puzzled by the term when I read it for the first time in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man as it has a purely ecclesiastic meaning in French…) Again reasonable from the referee’s viewpoint, but handbooks should allow for more freedom of style than journals, unless all chapters get edited by the same managing editor as in Monte Carlo Markov chain in practice where Wally Gilks did an incredible job!

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