Saturday, March 2, 2013

Laugh and the world laughs with you...

Things have been bad for reasons I won't go into. I am now at the MacDowell Colony (every cloud has a silver lining). Very sporadic internet access, good. But today I am doing laundry.

I go online and search for "Michael Lewis" to see what he's up to - and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a review of John Lanchester's Capital by Michael Lewis!  At the NYRB!

I have not yet got to the meat of the review; I have only just come to Lewis's account of Britain in the early 80s:

And the most extraordinary anticommercial attitudes could be found, in places that existed for no purpose other than commerce. There was a small grocery store around the corner from my flat, which carried a rare enjoyable British foodstuff, McVities’ biscuits. One morning the biscuits were gone. “Oh, we used to sell those,” said the very sweet woman who ran the place, “but we kept running out, so we don’t bother anymore.”

This is lovely.  Yes, this is recognizably Britain (O Britain, Britain, Britain).  But if there is one thing lovelier than sheer unadulterated British wrongheaded woollymindedness, it is seeing this through the eye of the young Michael Lewis.  The genius of Lewis is to enable the reader to appreciate the ingenuity of persons capable of spotting a market inefficiency and exploiting it - Bill Walsh developing the passing game in football, Billy Beane using statistics to get the most out of the cashstrapped Oakland A's. And with this genius comes incredulous outrage: incredulity, outrage, at those who have institutionalized sheer lumpen stupidity. (O Michael Lewis, Michael Lewis.)  Here we find the young Lewis, long before he has made a career out of incredulous outrage, confronted with the dear dim cluelenessness of the typical British corner shop.  And showing a keen eye for one of the pleasures of foggy island life: McVitie's Digestives! Heaven.

(The review can only go downhill after this, but those unable to resist diminishing returns can find the rest here.)

5 comments:

R said...

Good to hear from you -- I was wondering where you'd gotten to. Funny, I just had some McVitie's Digestives in Holetown, Barbados.

languagehat said...

I too am glad, both for your return to the interwaves and for the anecdote. Oh how well I remember those "sandwiches"!

tony said...

Thanks for the new post. I have nothing to add except to say that my wife loves McVitie's, my Dad loved Bill Walsh, and I love anything that combines literature and statistics.

Helen DeWitt said...

Bill Walsh + McVities Chocolate Digestives. THIS is what I need.

Phil said...

I haven't noticed spelling issues, but I also find it very bothersome to inform the reality.