A Roman penis was potent, masterful, prodigious. In a city where the phallus was everywhere to be seen, protecting doorways as a symbol of good luck, guarding crossroads or scaring off birds in gardens, ramrod size was much admired. A generously endowed man hitting the bath-house might well be greeted with ‘a round of nervous applause’. A citizen equipped with such a weapon, particularly a young one, ‘in whom a degree of animal-spirits was natural’, could hardly be expected to keep it permanently sheathed. Even the sternest of moralists acknowledged this. Why else, after all, were there whores? A brothel was not so different from a latrine: dirty and disreputable, yes, but serving an essential purpose as a receptacle of human waste. A man could no more be expected to ignore his sexual needs than he could a full bladder. Not for nothing did the same word, meio, mean both ‘urinate’ and ‘ejaculate’. A thrust or two, deep and quick, like the stabbing of a sword into the guts, ‘right the way up to the hair and the hilt of the balls’, and the business would be done. Whether into the vagina, the anus or the mouth, it made no real difference – just so long as it was masterful. Nor did it greatly matter who took the penis thrust – man or woman, boy or girl – provided that one crucial qualification, one essential safeguard, was respected. Free-born Romans, male and female both: these were strictly, absolutely off-limits.

– Tom Holland, Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar (2015)


Never trust a business with an intercap.

“We are all centaurs now, our aesthetics continuously enhanced by computation. Every photograph I take on my smartphone is silently improved by algorithms the second after I take it. Every document autocorrected, every digital file optimised. It is difficult to think of a medium where creative practice has not been thoroughly transformed by computation and an attendant series of optimisations.”

From Lithub: “10 of the best short stories ever published in Playboy”

Kwame Anthony Appiah: “For hundreds of years, mathematicians tried to do what was called ‘squaring the circle.’ Once you get clear about what’s involved there, you can see that it doesn’t even make sense to propose to ‘square the circle’ because it can’t be done. But it took a while to figure out that it couldn’t be done. A long while. So a lot of our thoughts are really not thoughts, they’re things masquerading as thoughts.”

“It’s cool to think about works of literature enjoying a kind of afterlife, free from their meddling makers; about poems rising triumphantly from the ashes of poets.”

“Four hundred and fifty-four scripted original series aired in the U.S. in 2016. The industry needs writers and, black-hole-like, is sucking in galaxies of them.”

About 9 percent of all tweets today are exactly 140 characters.

“So compressed – so efficient – is late-style [Iain] Sinclair that often he only gives you a scattering of nouns and asks you to fill in blanks for yourself: ‘Ballard. Hitchcock. English vices. Punishment pleasures. Rear Window meets High-Rise.’ It’s flat-pack prose, to be self-assembled by the reader and shot through with the readymade flotsam of Sinclair’s consciousness. Like all true styles it’s infectious stuff. Read a bit of him and you start to think like him. Read too much and you might try to write like him.”

“Traditionally, US book covers tended towards literal interpretation, driven by the complexity of the US market: the image that motivates readers in southern California to pick up a copy of a book is likely to be different to what appeals to readers in South Carolina. As a result, US jackets have tended to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and that does not make for good design.”

Harry Rowohlt, the fellow who translated my book into German and is reading with me on my tour, told me that when someone on the bus or at a nearby table in a restaurant talks on a cell phone, he likes to lean over and shout, ‘Come back to bed, I’m freezing.’

– David Sedaris, Theft by Finding: Diaries, 1977–2002 (2017)

Kwame Kwei-Armah has been announced as the new artistic director of the Young Vic.

“Most voters treat politics like a spectator sport or, even worse, a brutal contact sport. The completely ignorant are what Brennan calls ‘hobbits’; by contrast, those who root for one team and hate the other are ‘hooligans.’ For hooligans, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing: They understand enough to be deeply convinced that their team is on the side of the angels and that the other side are devils. But they are incapable of rationally weighing policy options or even comprehending their own basic interests. For the hooligans, it’s all about identity.”

Everything must burn.

A joke told to me by a media escort, Frank:

Princess Diana and Mother Teresa are in heaven, and the latter isn’t too happy. “It isn’t fair,” she says. “All those years I lived in squalor, devoting myself to the sick and suffering. All she did was attend cocktail parties and model clothes, so how come she has a halo and I don’t?”

Then God says, “That’s not a halo, it’s a steering wheel.”

– David Sedaris, Theft by Finding: Diaries, 1977–2002 (2017)

“We live in a society where the individual is far more empowered, but that brings other challenges. Once the mob gets going, it is very easy to silence authors, or to get publishers to pull books from publication. And that raises questions about the books that are getting out: who is writing them? And who is being approved to write them?”

“Is there a distinction between xenophobia and racism? If there is, then it would be that in the case of xenophobia, people who have never seen these other people before may be frightened, but they wouldn’t proceed from a theory of superiority.”

Fran Liebowitz: “I wouldn’t say that I dislike the young. I’m simply not a fan of naiveté. I mean, unless you have an erotic interest in them, what other interest could you have? What are they going to possibly say that’s of interest? People ask me, Aren’t you interested in what they’re thinking? What could they be thinking? This is not a middle-aged curmudgeonly attitude; I didn’t like people that age even when I was that age.”

All Helen talks about is her pain. Every time I see her she goes on and on and I’m tired of it. Other people’s pain is uninteresting. My own, though, is spellbinding.

– David Sedaris, Theft by Finding: Diaries, 1977–2002 (2017)

Like his concern that people should feel free to break wind at table, or his insistence on adding three new letters to the Latin alphabet, the complete lack of interest he had always shown in forcing himself on male partners marked Claudius out as a true eccentric. Not that people particularly disapproved – for it was the way of the world that different men had different foibles, and just as some might prefer blondes and others brunettes, so were there a few who only ever fucked females, and a few who only ever fucked males.

– Tom Holland, Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar (2015)