I’ve Been Tagged! Reading and writing and all that jazz.

So — just when I thought it was safe to dive back into my book, along comes Bora with a surprisingly existential challenge:

“I hope that Tom Levenson keeps his manuscript close to his computer.”

Why? You may well ask.

Because A Blog Around The Clock got hit with the 123 challenge, AKA the “goosed meme.” (I’ll blog another time about the argument I ‘ve had with Susan Blackmore — author of The Meme Machine and a delightfully ferocious thinker — about the horrible flabbiness of the concept of a meme.)

But more or less back to the point: Bora gets whacked by Lance Mannion, and he whacked me, among others.

So what is this by which I’ve been whacked — tagged? To lift from Bora, you start the 123 game by grabbing the book closest to you at the moment you open the tag. Then you follow the following three rulse.

• look up page 123 in the nearest book
• look for the fifth sentence
• then post the three sentences that follow that fifth sentence on page 123.

So: in answer to Bora’s hope, the answer is, sort of….

I don’t print out manuscripts of my book much at all. I make back ups obsessively — I have two clones of my computer, each updated on every other day (and I’m about to add a third to replace the hard drive that just crumbled, giving me one each for home, office and briefcase.)

(To crash parentheses: I have been haunted most of my writer’s life by this true story. Maxine Hong Kingston was a writer who lived a couple of canyons over from where I grew up in the Berkeley hills. She was careful about backing up her writing, and in 1991, at work on a new novel, she had in her home floppy disks and a printout. On October 19, 1991, what became known as the Oakland Firestorm broke out — a fire that caused 25 deaths and destroyed 3,300 homes. (The house I grew up in escaped, but not by much.)

Kingston’s home burned to rubble, and every copy of her nearly finished book was destroyed.

Hence, my fixation on multiple copies, e-mailed to editors, stored on disks in different zip codes and so on.)

All of which means that my manuscript was right on the computer with which I opened Bora’s challenge. And as it happens, I was just preparing a new formatted version for a writer friend to read and criticize my my attempt to tell the stort of Isaac Newton as a cop.

So yeah — it was close.

So what I’m going to do here is just post the demanded sentences — look for them below, in just a moment.

But before I do, I admit that’s not what the challenge actually demands…and I’ve been dancing around answering Bora for a couple of days because I’m embarassed to admit the heights of my geekiness. But I give up.

The actual, material, bound-between-two-covers book closest to hand when I read the tag was none other than my crumbling Penguin paperback reading copy of The Origin of Species. I can’t remember what it was I was looking up, but there it was, right next to the laptop.

Two problems: 1) I’m writing this at home, and the book is still at my office, so I’ll actually have to post the three sentences in question tomorrow. 2) They’re pretty dull. Darwin could come up with some genuinely vivid writing (grandeur in this view of life, anyone?) but most of the time he was more dogged than eloquent. The passage on page 123 of the Penguin version is one of those more canine ones

Not that I am so prosodically sinless as to cast stones — as you can see in the six, seventh and eighth sentences from the top of page 123 of my work-in-progress, laboring right now under the provisional title of Newton and the Counterfeiter. The “he” in the passage below is Robert Boyle:

He believed in the redemption and the glory of God, and the joys of the world to come. But if death should have held no terrors for him, Boyle was human enough to admit to fear of the pain of dying.
He was a fortunate man in this, as in so much else.

Hungry for more, I hope? Darwin tomorrow, along with a couple of folks to tag just to spread the joy.

Images: “Boyle’s self flowing flask” (also known as “Boyle’s perpetual motion scheme,” and Johann Kerseboom, “Portrait of Robert Boyle,” c. 1689. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Feel free to metaphorize the blogosphere in the context of the Boyle’s flask as much as you like.

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Explore posts in the same categories: blogospheric tail chasing, good books, History of Science, Isaac Newton, science writing, Uncategorized, Writing

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5 Comments on “I’ve Been Tagged! Reading and writing and all that jazz.”


  1. [...] The Inverse Square Blog science and the public square — by thomas levenson « I’ve Been Tagged! Reading and writing and all that jazz. [...]


  2. [...] appears to have put off answering until he could get closer to his copy of On The Origin of Species. Hmm. We’ll have [...]

  3. Eric Roston Says:

    Thanks for the tag — I hit the Keeling curve answering the 123 challenge!

  4. Sam Says:

    I like the photos on this website! Very deep and inspiring…sort of like an apocalypse!


  5. This looks good. Thanks for sharing.


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