Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reading New Yorker Readers

Readers of this blog may be aware of my affection for the New Yorker and my attention to its weekly fiction offerings.

I found this piece amusing in its analysis of perennial complaints about the "typical New Yorker story"—amusing also because it appears to rope me in (tangentially, I suppose—click on the "inner sabremetrician" link) to its argument.

Monday, January 25, 2010

If You Grab That Stuff

From an interesting and topical piece by Rebecca Solnit, whose book Savage Dreams I liked a lot:

We need to banish the word “looting” from the English language. It incites madness and obscures realities.
If you grab that stuff are you a criminal? Should you end up lying in the dirt on your stomach with a cop tying your hands behind your back? Should you end up labeled a looter in the international media? Should you be shot down in the street, since the overreaction in disaster, almost any disaster, often includes the imposition of the death penalty without benefit of trial for suspected minor property crimes?
It’s pretty obvious what my answers to these questions are, but it isn’t obvious to the mass media. And in disaster after disaster, at least since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, those in power, those with guns and the force of law behind them, are too often more concerned for property than human life. In an emergency, people can, and do, die from those priorities. Or they get gunned down for minor thefts or imagined thefts. The media not only endorses such outcomes, but regularly, repeatedly, helps prepare the way for, and then eggs on, such a reaction.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Remembrance from Our Childhood

A lovely passage from the ending of The Brothers Karamazov:

I want you to understand, then, that there is nothing nobler, stronger, healthier, and more helpful in life than a good remembrance, particularly a remembrance from our childhood, when we still lived in our parents' house. You often hear people speak about upbringing and education, but I feel that a beautiful, holy memory preserved from childhood can be the most important single thing in our development. And if a person succeeds, in the course of his life, in collecting many such memories, he will be saved for the rest of his life. And even if we have only one such memory, it is possible that it will be enough to save us some day.

Translated by Andrew H. MacAndrew

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Trivia Quiz: O Brother Where Art Thou?

It's January again, time to show my freshmen O Brother, Where Art Thou?, our reward for having read The Odyssey over the course of the first semester. I guess I've seen the movie around thirty times now, and it still manages to delight me. My colleagues and I will spend the rest of the year quoting it to each other.

One thing about teaching a movie is that you begin to notice tiny details about it. Here's a fairly hard O Brother trivia contest that I wrote up last year while watching the film in class. (I'll post the answers in the comment section.)

1) Which artist from the film's soundtrack has a cameo in which she asks for a record of the Soggy Bottom Boys singing "Man of Constant Sorrow"?

2) Who performs the version of "I'll Fly Away" that's used in the film? (It's different than the one on the Grammy-winning soundtrack album.)

3) Whose translation of The Odyssey is quoted at the beginning of the film?

4) What moment in the film could be construed as a joke about Foley art?

5) Which character is speaking at a moment in the film when the sound doesn't match up with the image—when the dialogue does not fit with the character's mouth?

6) In what year is the movie taking place—and how do you know?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pat and Flannery, on Second Thought

I read this post at the Book Bench several days ago, about Patricia Highsmith and Flannery O'Connor's simultaneous residence at the Yaddo writer's colony. They did not hit it off, apparently. A friend of Highsmith's related this story:

One night they went out on another bender, and once again, Flannery refused to come, and they left her on the porch. And there was a tremendous thunder and lightning storm and [when they went back] there was Flannery kneeling on the porch. And Pat said: “What are you doing?” And Flannery said, “Look, can’t you see it?” And she’s pointing to some knot in the porch wood. And then she said: “Jesus’ face.” And Pat said to me, “That happened. And ever since then, I’ve not liked that woman.”

Just today, though, I had this thought: Assuming that this incident truly occurred, could O'Connor have done this as a private joke on Highsmith, a way of playing off of Highsmith's preconceptions and judgments of the devout, abstemious (yet also wickedly humorous) O'Connor?

Maybe, maybe not. But it does seem like the type of thing that one of O'Connor's characters would do.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Spring and All

After exploring and photographing the area around Spring and Itaska, I headed home, pedaling north on Spring.

I love how St. Louis city streets just go on and on, unlike all the cul-de-sacs and self-enclosed neighborhoods one finds in the suburbs. You can really take a core sample of the city just by following a single street.

Leaving behind the wreckage of the apartments (see post below), I rode by some of Spring's lovelier sections. I particularly like this little jog the street takes at Meramec:

And at Spring and Keokuk there are a couple of handsome apartment buildings. This one just seems solid and proud:

I love the cozy little yard that this L-shaped building embraces:

And the fountain in Tower Grove Park was collared with ice.

If You Build It...

A couple months ago, I was riding my bike south on Spring, through Tower Grove South and into Dutchtown, when I came across a mostly abandoned apartment complex near Spring and Itaska. Adjacent to neighborhoods of fairly old frame and brick houses, it was of obviously more recent vintage, and in its uninspiring architecture felt like public housing. It reminded me a bit of the "low-rises" in The Wire. I didn't have my camera with me that day, but today I was out for a ride and decided to swing by there again (though this time I arrived by a slightly different route, taking Morganford to Bates).

Here's a view of part of the complex, from the west:

The complex comprises eight, maybe ten buildings, most of which are boarded up. The buildings are on both sides of Spring, and extend a block east on Itaska.

Despite the rather alarming condition of so many of the buildings, others in the complex are still occupied. I saw a thirty-something woman enter this building, and a kid in one of the upper windows, as well as a few kids running out to a car in the parking lot behind. Judging by the sign out front, you can still rent an apartment at this place.

Further down Spring are some other apartments, also largely if not entirely abandoned.

The other noticeable construction in the vicinity is a baseball field, which a wind-battered sign on a chain-link fence indicates is the future "Field of Dreams" of St. Mary's High School. I rode up the hill on Itaska to get a better vantage point.

When I got home, I checked around online to see if I could find out any more about this area. I found this very interesting thread on the Urban St. Louis forum.

According to the thread, the ball field used to be the site of more apartment buildings, ones fairly similar to the ones pictured above, which are in actuality the remnants of a much larger and, according to some comments in the thread, rather rough neighborhood. St. Mary's purchased the buildings and demolished them. Included in the thread is an interesting series of photos of the demolition.

The thread offers a variety of viewpoints on these apartments. One commenter, who claims to have lived in the complex in the 1980s, remembers it as a nice place to live, and regrets that poor tenant screening caused it to decline so quickly. Several St. Mary's alums remember the area as scary and crime-ridden. One commenter blames the apartments, which he thinks were public housing, for introducing crime to a formerly stable area. Others find it troubling that urban-style density is giving way to suburban-style campus development. A comparison is drawn to athletic facilities built at St. Louis U. High on the site of a former neighborhood. Though this post at the Dutchtown West site indicates that the apartments on Spring will be refurbished, a commenter on the thread asserts that those plans are now on hold because the developer ran out of money. Even among those who find troubling the buildings' demolition, no one feels that they were much of an architectural or historical loss.

I still have some questions about the history of this area, which is so subtly tucked away from general view: What was on the site before all these relatively new (and indeed rather suburban style) apartment buildings? Were the complexes used solely for subsidized housing, or were they intended to cater to a mixed-income clientele? Does their fate have any implications for the various mixed-income areas that have recently been constructed in St. Louis? Where do all those who used to live here live now?

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Zero-Sum Game

This Post-Dispatch article talks about a proposed new Wal-Mart store in Bridgeton, one that would result in the closing of a Wal-Mart that is partially in neighboring St. Ann, thus reducing the tax base of an area that's already struggling financially. Bridgeton, of course, is looking to offer TIF to Wal-Mart in order to lure them to this big new location. The whole piece is a perfect example of why it's bad to have the St. Louis area divided up into so many little municipalities. According to the article, the Missouri legislature changed TIF laws not too long ago, "taking some authority from the cities and adopting a regional countywide approach." It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. How successful can the regional countywide approach be when the county is still divided up into all these autonomous "cities," each looking out for itself?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Raymond Carver Revisited

I: A Different Kind of Story

In this wonderful season of holiday breaks and seniors away on projects, I've been reading like crazy, working my way through some Christmas presents: The Brothers Karamazov and the Library of America edition of Raymond Carver's collected stories.

I first encountered Carver's fiction in an English class I took during the first semester of my senior year of high school. We read a bunch of stories from Where I'm Calling From, a new and selected collection published shortly before Carver's death in 1988. On the Christmas break after that semester, I read most of the other stories in that collection. Then in my sophomore year of college, I took a contemporary American fiction class in which we studied Cathedral, Carver's 1983 collection.

This time around, I started by reading stories from Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, Carver's first collection—the stories, that is, that I hadn't already read in Where I'm Calling From. Then I went ahead and re-read those, too.

In the back matter of the book, the editors include a little note that Carver wrote for a 1973 anthology in which his story "Neighbors" (from WYPBQP) was included. In that note, Carver expresses some equivocal feelings about the story:

I think the story is, more or less, an artistic success. My only fear is that it is too thin, too elliptical and subtle, too inhuman. I hope this is not so, but in truth I do not see it as the kind of story that one loves unreservedly and gives up everything to; a story that is ultimately remembered for its sweep, for the breadth and depth and lifelike sentiment of its characters. No, this is a different kind of story—not better, maybe, and I surely hope no worse, different in any case—and the internal and external values in the story do not have much to do, I'm afraid, with character, or some of the other virtues held dear in short fiction.

A number of the stories in WYPBQP have this elliptical, even inhuman quality. Few of them are told in the first person; we tend to stand outside the characters, coldly watching them in their pathetic and venal moments.

Not all of the stories are this way—especially not "Nobody Said Anything," one of Carver's greatest stories, about a kid who cuts school one day and goes fishing. But besides that one, I don't know that any of these early stories are remarkable for their sweep, breadth, or depth.

II: Carver vs. Lish

This Library of America collection has drawn a lot of attention (for example) because it includes Beginners, the manuscript that Carver's editor Gordon Lish drastically cut, basically against Carver's wishes, and published as What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Carver's second trade-press collection of stories.

During his lifetime, Carver eventually made clear the differences between his and Lish's visions by re-publishing a story called "A Small, Good Thing" in his third major collection, Cathedral; the story had been published in a truncated and much bleaker form in WWTA as "The Bath."

I had already been familiar with these two versions of the same story, along with the differing versions of the title story, published in the New Yorker a while back. Now, though, having read the first three stories as Carver submitted them, alongside the first three stories as published in WWTA, I find that I much prefer Carver's versions in these cases as well.

- - -

Lish does streamline the first story "Why Don't You Dance?" effectively, but he tampers with the overall mood of the story, which I would describe as a tempered sweetness. In this story, a young couple buys some household furnishings from an alcoholic man who has set them up on his lawn. Lish makes the man nameless, a good editorial choice for this story about a random moment of connection between strangers. But he adds a darkness to the story that is at odds with what Carver's up to.

In the original version the alcoholic man is charmed by the couple's negotiation over the price of the items:

In the lamplight, there was something about the expression on their faces. For a minute this expression seemed conspiratorial, and then it became tender—there was no other word for it.

But Lish makes the moment much more ominous:

He looked at them as they sat at the table. In the lamplight, there was something about their faces. It was nice or it was nasty. There was no telling.

In Carver's original it was never nasty.

Lish adds a nasty element to the conclusion of the story as well, as the girl re-tells the story of what happened that day:

We got real pissed and danced. In the driveway. Oh, my God. Don't laugh. He played us these records. Look at this record player. The old guy gave it to us. And all these crappy records. Will you look at this shit?

Her crudeness and mockery sharply contrast with the tenderness in the original version:

We got drunk and danced. In the driveway. Oh, my God. Don't laugh. He played records. Look at this phonograph. He gave it to us. These old records, too. Jack and I went to sleep in his bed. Jack was hungover and had to rent a trailer in the morning. To move all the guy's stuff. Once I woke up. He was covering us with a blanket, the guy was. This blanket. Feel it.

- - -

The next story, "Viewfinder," is a very short one in both versions. In it, a man with hooks for hands offers to take pictures of another man's house for a small amount of money. But again Lish darkens the ending, severely warping its implications.

In the original, the man, whose wife and children have recently left him, seems to gain a new perspective on his situation when he climbs up to have his picture taken on the roof. He finds a pile of rocks that kids have thrown up there, and in the process of chucking them off his roof he seems to feel that he is cleaning house metaphorically as well as literally.

The photographer snaps a shot and looks at how it's turned out, injecting a positive feeling into the final moments of the story:

"By God, it's okay." He looked at it. He held it up. "You know," he said, "it's good."

"Once more," I called. I picked up another rock. I grinned. I felt I could lift off. Fly.

"Now!" I called.

The photographer has offered the man some empathy (his wife and kids left him too), and helped him by his own example. This story seems like a precursor to Carver's famous story "Cathedral," in which a blind man leads another man to a similar epiphany.

But Lish would have none of it. In the Lish version, the photographer never says the photo turns out okay, and the man on the roof seems to throw the rocks only out of increasingly hysterical anger. The story ends this way:

I laid back on my arm and I hollered, "Now!" I threw that son of a bitch as far as I could throw it.

"I don't know," I heard him shout. "I don't do motion shots."

"Again!" I screamed, and took up another rock.

- - -

Most startling, though, are the changes Lish made to the third story in Carver's manuscript, which Carver titled "Where is Everyone?" This story of addiction and recovery seems a clear precursor to "Where I'm Calling From," from Carver's next collection, a story that John Updike chose as one of the Best American Short Stories of the Century. Indeed, at one point in the story, the exact phrase "where I'm calling from" is used twice.

The story is sprawling, a bit lurid in its details of alcoholic dysfunction. Yet, told in the first person, it's quite affecting; we inhabit the narrator's voice and come to like him. Carver's story is some 11 pages long. Lish, changing the title to "Mr. Coffee and Mr. Fixit," cut it by 78%, according to the editors of the Library of America volume, in which the WWTA version is only three pages long. In this case, Lish doesn't alter the overall implications of the story, but he makes it a very different experience, a jolt of espresso instead of a rich, full-bodied cup of coffee with even a little milk and sugar.

In his review of this volume, James Campbell notes that, later, Carver learned "to curb his characters' tendency to become prolix and sentimental." Perhaps he's thinking of this passage, part of the 78% cut from "Where is Everyone?", in which the alcoholic narrator and his alcoholic wife talk about their marriage:

"When I was pregnant with Mike you carried me to the bathroom when I was so sick and pregnant I couldn't get out of bed. You carried me. No one else will ever do that, no one else could ever love me in that way, that much. We have that, no matter what. We've loved each other like nobody else could or ever will love the other again."

Sentimental? Well, drunks tend toward sentimentality at times, don't they? And, on the other hand, this is rather beautiful, isn't it, and true? It's human, and lifelike, to use the terms Carver used when discussing what was absent from "Neighbors."

And Carver is well aware, too, of the limitations of such sentiment. As the wife says this and they hold hands, the narrator begins to think of something else:

I remembered the half-pint of whiskey or vodka or gin or scotch or tequila that I had hidden under the very sofa cushion we were sitting on (oh, happy days!) and I began to hope she might soon have to get up and move around—go to the kitchen, the bathroom, out to clean the garage.

What Lish has done with this story is taken a messy but lifelike and affecting story about alcoholism (of which Carver had nearly died not long before) and re-tooled it into a sleek, arch piece of hipness, something closer to the type of story in Carver's first book (which Lish had also spent time "cutting and fixing," as Carver puts it in a thank-you note to his editor).

- - -

In any case, it's been fascinating to read these very different versions of the stories, and I'm looking forward to continuing.

Some have suggested that the whole Carver-Lish affair leaves us wondering what's left of Carver as a writer, but I find myself feeling even more respect for Carver and his vision, along with some sadness that he found that vision stymied by an editor with more professional clout and, perhaps, mental stability at the time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Fabric of a City

From an interesting piece about Jonathan Lethem and Brooklyn:

Lethem is not a mourner for the past in the way that traditional Brooklyn nostalgists are – not wailing that people were friendlier back when things were cheaper and more dangerous, or that the Dodgers should never have moved to LA. He observes continuity as much as change. When I say, walking with him and thinking about what he's written, that it's interesting how the fabric of a city creates a kind of human fabric, he responds: "Yeah. I guess I'd call myself a kind of addict of that process. Because it's the unfinished quality that's surprising. Being able to come back here and feel like it was still alive came from realising that gentrification didn't mean that it was somehow sealed in amber now, but that frictions and juxtapositions are still being generated here." He coins a lovely phrase. The Brooklyn that he loves, Lethem says, is marked by "a definitive incompleteness".

I feel the same way about St. Louis: fascinated by the swaths of old neighborhoods, the layers of development, the scars and retrofits, the palimpsest of our built environment. Ride your bike around the South Side—through Tower Grove South, Dutchtown, Carondelet, for instance—and you can see all of that, frictions and juxtapositions akin to those that Lethem finds in Brooklyn.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Stephen King Revisited

The other day I came across this website, which compiles the bestselling books from each decade in the 20th century. Looking through the 1970s through 1990s, I was struck by the emergence and endurance of Stephen King on the top ten lists. He's got a book on the list for virtually every year from 1980 through 1999, and sometimes two at a time.

Skimming through the list reminded me of all the Stephen King books I read between 1988 and 1993, from the time I was 12 till I was 16. Looking over this chronological list, I find that I read 21 of his books. I have very fond memories of some of them; it occurs to me that they were the perfect things to be reading at that time in my life—a bridge to more serious literary fiction. Although I once read literary critic Harold Bloom saying that he had looked in vain for any evidence of "aesthetic dignity" in King's work, his work does in fact have virtues that are well-suited to an adolescent reader: compelling plots, clear (verging on simplistic) character motivations, a lively (if unbeautiful) prose style, and visceral emotional power.

All of the King books I've read were published between 1975 and 1992. Here are the five I think are most worth remembering. (The links are to the Wikipedia entries for each—I find that the plot summaries are quite enjoyable to read.)

1) The Eyes of the Dragon (1987)—The first King novel I ever read remains my favorite, a fact which is kind of disappointing, in a way. This novel is a fairy tale, of sorts, with an evil magician and a spooky castle and a tower prison, with snowy journeys and hair's-breadth escapes, and a charming narrative voice. I re-read it a number of years ago to make up a bonus reading test for my freshmen, and I found that the book held up pretty well. The freshmen who've chosen to read it have invariably enjoyed it, too.

2) Misery (1987)—Most people know the story from the movie, which was also well done. This one filled me with delicious dread as an adolescent, and I re-read it several times. Of all of King's books about writing and writers, I think this one has the most interesting things to say about the craft. I even considered using this book as the summer reading requirement for my Reading and Writing Fiction class. (Instead, I went with Tobias Wolff's Old School, but who knows—I might try this sometime.)

3) Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982)—The first novella in the collection Different Seasons, this is another great escape story (as are the first two novels on this list), which of course was made into a fine movie. I think I read this in one sitting, unable to stop, and completely blown away by the ending.

4) It (1985)—Topping 1000 pages, this was the longest book I'd ever read. And while it certainly has its share of ridiculous scenes, it has an evocative sense of place (the sewers, the forts in the woods) as well as an impressive imaginative range: as counterpoint to his main narrative, King dramatizes horrific eruptions of evil from the historical annals of a small Maine town.

5) Thinner (1984)—This book was originally published under King's secret pseudonym Richard Bachman, but soon after its publication its true author was revealed. It's a fairly pulpy story of a guy who gets cursed by a Gypsy and begins steadily, uncontrollably losing weight. But as I recall, it had a pared-down narrative directness that was irresistible.

Honorable Mentions: Firestarter, The Dead Zone, Christine.

Other than some short stories and essays he's published in the New Yorker (and the first third of The Green Mile, which I took on a vacation in 1999 and found very boring), I've not read much Stephen King in the second half of my life. I don't really see myself ever getting back into him, but he was certainly a major figure in my development as a reader. And I remain impressed by his superhuman output and his personal story.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rival Genres of Reading

From Sam Anderson's reflection on how reading and novels changed in the last decade:

The DFW generation’s primary technological bugaboo was TV, a rival narrative engine that both attracted and repelled. (See Wallace’s classic essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” in which he calls TV “both medicine and poison.”) Novelists in the aughts, however, had to contend with a very different bugaboo. The technology that infinitely distracted us this decade, sometimes even to the point of death—the entertainment that tore us away from work and family and prevented us from immersing ourselves in complex meganovels from the noble old-timey decades of yore—was not a passive, cartridge-based viewing experience but largely a new form of reading: the massive archive of linked documents known as the World Wide Web. TV, in comparison, looks like a fairly simple adversary: Its flickering images lure readers away from books altogether. The Internet, on the other hand, invades literature on its home turf. It has created, in the last ten years, all kinds of new and potent rival genres of reading—the blog, the chat, the tweet, the comment thread—genres that seem not only to siphon our attention but to change the way our brains process text.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Harlem Renaissance?

From an interesting NY Times article about changing demographics in Harlem:

Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College, said, “Harlem has become as it was in the early 1930s — a predominantly black neighborhood, but with other groups living there as well.”

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Contradiction

James Surowiecki's Financial Page in last week's New Yorker is the briefest, clearest, most encouraging thing I've read on health insurance reform. It also has the virtue of affirming my own notion of what's going on.

An especially nice passage about the debate's central contradiction:

Politicians on both sides of the aisle overwhelmingly believe, likewise, that insurance companies should be prohibited from taking preëxisting conditions into account when setting prices or extending coverage. Both the House and the Senate reform bills include language banning this. Even Republicans have been vehement on the subject: Senator Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, has said that “everyone agrees” that we need to eliminate the use of preëxisting conditions, while Senator Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, declared that insurers have to be barred from “charging higher premiums to people who are sick.” The insurance companies themselves have accepted that the only factors they’ll be allowed to take into account in setting prices will be age, region, and whether or not someone smokes. The general consensus, then, is that even if you’re already sick, and guaranteed to run up huge medical bills in the future, you should be able to get health insurance at the same price as someone your age who’s perfectly healthy. Economists have a name for this: “community rating.” And the fact that it has such strong backing in Washington is heartening. Americans, and American politicians, have decided that people should have guaranteed access to insurance, and that they shouldn’t have to worry about losing it just because they get laid off or fall ill.

So where’s the contradiction? Well, Congress’s support for community rating and universal access doesn’t fit well with its insistence that health-care reform must rely on private insurance companies. After all, measuring risk, and setting prices accordingly, is the raison d’être of a health-insurance company. The way individual insurance works now, risk and price are linked. If you’re a triathlete with no history of cancer in your family, you’re a reasonably good risk, and so you can get an affordable policy that will protect you against unforeseen disaster; if you’re overweight with high blood pressure and a history of heart problems, your risk of becoming seriously ill is substantial, and therefore private insurers will either charge you high premiums or not offer you coverage at all. This kind of risk evaluation—what’s called “medical underwriting”—is fundamental to the insurance business. But it is precisely what all the new reform plans will ban. Congress is effectively making private insurers unnecessary, yet continuing to insist that we can’t do without them.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


From Tad Friend's fascinating article (subscription required) about protests at Berkeley to statewide budget cuts in education, a perhaps surprising point, which I appreciate, as a former English major and graduate student in a family of engineers:

Another danger is that privatization can turn a university into a glorified trade school. Business programs and computer-science departments will attract wealthy supporters, but who will bankroll poetry? This concern is heightened because English—a high-enrollment, low-teaching-cost department—actually subsidizes disciplines such as nuclear physics and engineering, which require expensive equipment.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Drop the Thousand

Yesterday one of my Facebook friends asked whether we should call the current year "twenty ten" or "two thousand eleven." It hadn't occurred to me that this was a meaningful question, but apparently some people are really serious about this.

Hendrik Hertzberg adds to the discussion an interesting bit of sociolinguistic analysis:

In my opinion, the late Stanley Kubrick is the culprit for what we’ve just been through. If his movie had been set a hundred years in the future, everyone would have called it “twenty sixty-eight.” But “2001”? You couldn’t call it “twenty one,” obviously. It wasn’t about Blackjack. And you couldn’t say “twenty oh one”; that would just sound stupid. So it was, as it had to be, “two thousand and one” or, less frequently, “two thousand one.”

It was natural for everybody to call 2000 “two thousand.” Besides the millennial portentousness, there was the fact that “two thousand” has one fewer syllable than “twenty hundred.” But when the big three-zero year was over, I’m convinced, we would have reverted to the usual practice and said “twenty oh one,” “twenty oh two,” and so on. (We’d most likely have avoided “twenty one,” “twenty two,” and so on, to avoid confusion with card games and starter rifles.) But Kubrick’s space odyssey had already conditioned us.