During the spring semester of my first year in grad school at Columbia University, some ten years ago, I, for reasons I cannot explain, signed up for a course called Poetry and Technology. For a couple hours each week, I and fourteen or fifteen others sat in a windowless room at the bottom of the engineering building (as if the university administrators had been uncertain where to put us—Humanities? Science? Call it engineering, but stick them in the basement) and discussed, um, poetry? and technology? Yeah, something like that. I remember long talks about theories of Futurism. I remember a class visit from Bruce Andrews, one of the prime movers behind the incomprehensible literary movement called Language Poetry. And I remember the huge sense of relief that washed over me when I looked across the room during the second or third session and saw a woman with long, dark, curly hair who looked, well, like me, and who rolled her eyes at the same nonsense I did. That woman turned out to be Joanna Smith Rakoff, and she and I turned out to have more in common than just hair and a healthy dose of skepticism over literary theory.

six

 

As a child, Sadie Peregrine hated Sunday afternoons, that languorous period when she was meant to start her homework—the homework she’d been avoiding all weekend—and when she began thinking about the tortures of the week that lay ahead. She much preferred Saturdays, at home with her quiet parents, going to matinees, eating Chinese food, or even Sunday mornings, when the entire Peregrine clan—her “immediate extended family,” as she thought of it—gathered around her parents’ table for breakfast. The best part though, was the early morning, before anyone arrived, when her mother slept in and she and her father had the house to themselves, to read the funny pages aloud and eat contraband doughnuts, before running out to the appetizing store on Lex for sable, whitefish, lox, cream cheese, bialys, bagels, and a half loaf of the thin-sliced black bread favored by Sadie’s grandmother, who lived alone in a sprawling apartment off Fifth, tended to by a silent maid named Gretchen, though for as long as Sadie could remember there’d been talk of moving her into the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, if only they could get the lady to agree, which didn’t seem likely. (“To the Bronx,” she rasped whenever confronted with this idea. “You want me to live in the Bronx? With old people?”)