Benjamin Markovits

Benjamin Markovits’s Childish Loves is the concluding volume of a trilogy of novels about Byron.

Author website.

From The Blog
29 July 2021

In my last year at university, I got the name of a European basketball agent who could help me land a job after graduation. He gave me a list of Americans already playing overseas. I called one of them and asked him what it was like playing in Europe. His answer reminded me of John Travolta’s line from Pulp Fiction, about ‘the little differences’. ‘They’ve got the skills and everything,’ he said. ‘But they don’t have that attitude, do you know what I mean? That edge …’ 

From The Blog
31 December 2020

On the LRB podcast a few weeks ago, David Runciman and I got into a discussion about the ‘hot hand’ phenomenon. He wrote about it in the London Review in 2006, in a piece on José Mourinho:

The quintessential instance … occurs in basketball, where certain players suddenly and inexplicably acquire the ability to nail three-point baskets one after another (in basketball you get three points for any basket scored from a distance of over 23'9", a formidably difficult feat which means even the best players miss more often than they score).

With the start of the NBA season last week, I’ve been thinking about it again (actually, I think about this stuff pretty much year round, but the season is a good excuse to talk about it). As David wrote in his piece, statisticians will tell you there’s no such thing as a hot streak.

Success: What It Takes to Win at Sport

Benjamin Markovits, 7 November 2013

When I was seven, my father took a job at Oxford and moved us from Texas. We stayed two years. He signed me up to the local football club, Summertown Stars, and sent me to the local Church of England school, St Philip and St James. I was already a competitive, sport-obsessed child, and responded to the sense of cultural difference by exaggerating it. During a classroom discussion – I can’t remember about what exactly – I quoted the great Green Bay Packers football coach, Vince Lombardi: ‘Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.’ My teacher, Mrs Hazel, asked me if I believed that.

In the fourth section of The Emigrants, W.G. Sebald (or rather, his narrative alter ego) travels back to Germany from Norwich to look into the childhood of Max Ferber, an artist based loosely on Frank Auerbach. At 15 Ferber had been sent to England by his parents, who were eventually murdered in the camps at Riga. Sebald finds the silence of the people he encounters weird and unsettling:...

You Have Never Written Better: Byron’s Editor

Benjamin Markovits, 20 March 2008

The relationship between Byron and his editor John Murray lasted a little over ten years. It began in March 1812 with the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, which made Byron’s name. (‘I awoke one morning and found myself famous,’ he famously wrote, or is said to have written.) It ended twice: first, in the winter of 1822, when, after a number of disagreements and misunderstandings, Byron transferred his business to the publisher John Hunt; and finally in the spring of 1824, when Murray presided over the destruction of Byron’s memoirs, which he had not read, in his rooms at 50 Albemarle Street.

Diary: Austin weird

Benjamin Markovits, 1 September 2005

An Englishman landing in Austin will suffer the usual disappointments of arrival. The new airport, just out of town to the south-east, lies in the middle of nothing much. It is expensively spacious, marbled, lit. But even its newness is suggestive of somewhere slightly out of the way: the cleanness of manageable traffic. Nor, as he steps outside, will he find much to impress him. The volume...

Megasuperwarlords: Mark Costello

Benjamin Markovits, 5 August 2004

Before Mark Costello became a writer he was a federal prosecutor. His first book, Bag Men (1997), was set in 1960s Boston. A priest is murdered on the runway at Logan. A new ultra-pure drug is killing the hippies in Cambridge; another one is sending them mad. The hero, just finished at Boston College Law School, explains to his wife why he wants to be a DA: they ‘help people...

Poem: ‘Rosehips’

Benjamin Markovits, 5 February 2004

Rosehips or Hagebutten As I grew up calling themHaggard buttons they sound like Though in fact appear brighter Altogether more cherubic Tough in the cheek like a forced smile Hanging on till it cracks The colour of tomato and mascarpone

Flourished thornily beside the bicycle path Running along the carefully displaced One on top of the other slightly Wonky seaside rocks interspersed By sand...

Lollipop Laurels: Alice McDermott

Benjamin Markovits, 7 August 2003

Alice McDermott writes about Irish-American blue-collar neighbourhoods in Queens and Brooklyn, and summer getaways on Long Island. Someone in her novels always has a cottage there, acquired by a stroke of good fortune and maintained in spite of the surrounding gentrification. She writes about the generation before hers: the policemen, mailmen, shoe salesmen and streetcar conductors still...

You can’t get there from here: Siri Hustvedt

Benjamin Markovits, 19 June 2003

In Siri Hustvedt’s first novel, The Blindfold, a young woman is hospitalised by the combined forces of an unhappy love affair, an artist’s photograph of her, and her translation of an early 20th-century German novella – this is plausible enough, to Hustvedt’s credit. Her plots depend on the occult power of art and the frailty of our ordinary healthy relation to the...

Kiss me! Kundera’s Nostalgia

Benjamin Markovits, 20 February 2003

Milan Kundera’s novels are built around ideas – predicaments, particular emotions, even gestures – like cities around metro stops. His characters live as close to them as possible, meet others of a like mind or misery, then depart for the next stop and the next conception. His new novel, Ignorance, isn’t about ignorance in the ordinary sense, but about the predicaments...

Aestheticise, Aestheticise: ‘Shroud’

Benjamin Markovits, 2 January 2003

John Banville’s heroes seem to be in search of a centre or subject for their ruminations. Ghosts pester them; voices ring in their ears. Something vital has gone wrong and they must take account of it. ‘I have the feeling,’ Alex Cleave declared in Banville’s last book, Eclipse, ‘the conviction, I can’t rid myself of it, that something has happened,...

Count Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy describes a period of history the author knew at first hand: the decade of Hungarian life before the Great War and the end of the Habsburg Empire. Bánffy played a part in national affairs at the time, and his three novels, written twenty years on, look back with nostalgia, but also with bitterness. It’s clear that the...

Diary: Michael Jordan and Me

Benjamin Markovits, 23 May 2002

I grew up in Texas with two obsessions: basketball and Romantic verse. Satisfaction of both lay readily at hand. We had a hoop out back overlooked by the kitchen of a curry-house which sent its smell of spice and soapy water across the court. (Another neighbour once took a shotgun to the lights when I had stayed out late, banging the ball on the cement; I came back the next night and played...

Are words pointless? Bernhard Schlink

Benjamin Markovits, 21 March 2002

The generation battle, in its particular post-Third-Reich incarnation, runs through Bernhard Schlink’s work, both his bestselling The Reader and Flights of Love, a collection of short stories loosely arranged around various break-ups and infidelities. Reviewers tend to discuss the books together, partly because Flights of Love develops plots, characters and arguments already present in

Suspicion of Sentiment: Alice Munro

Benjamin Markovits, 13 December 2001

‘It was love she sickened at,’ Alice Munro wrote in The Beggar Maid. ‘It was the enslavement, the self-abasement, the self-deception.’ If that’s her attitude it doesn’t promise much romance for her latest collection, despite its title; and in fact the book describes not so much love as the subtle changes in loyalty and disposition of which sexual love is...

Philip Larkin once wondered what it would be like for a lover to step inside his skull. ‘She’d be stopping her ears,’ he decided, ‘against the incessant recital/Intoned by reality, larded with technical terms.’ Stepping inside the mind (or prose) of W.G. Sebald elicits a similar reaction – at any rate, it is always a relief to step outside again. Inside,...

From The Blog
17 May 2019

The first mistake I made when I joined the basketball team in Germany was admitting I spoke the language. It would have been weird not to – it would have been very weird. But sometimes over the course of the year, I imagined what it would be like for people around me (coaches, players) to talk naturally with each other in the expectation that I couldn’t understand them. It would have given me an edge.

From The Blog
31 May 2018

When I was a teenager, my friends and I used to waste time at school by talking about the basketball box scores from the night before. (A box score is rows and columns of statistical information: minutes played, rebounds, assists, points scored etc. I think it started as a baseball term. Scores in a box.) We wanted to come up with a formula that measured how good a player was: the Dominance Quotient, we called it, only slightly self-mockingly.

From The Blog
11 November 2016

Leonard Cohen has died. I was sorry to think that the last big world event this guru of chilled-out but vaguely sad-flavoured spiritual love had stuck around to witness was Trump’s victory. (More recent reports say he died on Monday, so at least he got to miss the election.) There was always an element of kitsch to his profundities, and that probably applies to the music, too, which sometimes sounds like the shy campfire strummings of the guy at school who carries an untranslated Rimbaud in his jeans, the kid at camp in a weird hat who sits around playing guitar not because he has lots of friends but because he doesn’t.

From The Blog
14 March 2016

The debate about the point of creative writing programmes took a new turn last week. People seem to like this debate – maybe because so many people like taking creative writing classes. Writing in the Atlantic, Richard Jean So and Andrew Piper start by pointing out how much the literary-industrial complex has grown in the last fifty years, and then try to ask a slightly different question about it. Not the usual, 'is the creative writing industry having a pernicious effect on fiction?' but: is it having any effect at all? They used computational analysis to try answer the question, plugging a couple of hundred books into a computer program to see if it could detect a difference between the novels produced by MFA writers and those written by people who never did an MFA. (‘To make these two groups as comparable as possible’, they ‘only gathered novels by non-MFA writers that were reviewed in the New York Times, which we took as a mark of literary excellence’ – if only.)

From The Blog
6 January 2016

My uncle Bob died a few days before Christmas. I got my height from the same place he did. He was 6'7" and for most of his life well north of twenty stone. He reminded me of the joke about Friar Tuck. ‘Don’t worry, he’s one of us,’ somebody tells Robin Hood, and Robin says: ‘One of us? He looks like three of us.’ In most of Bellow's novels there is a Bellow stand-in, sensitive, successful in his way, but a little dreamy also, unwilling to acknowledge worldly realities, and his big brother, who is bigger physically, too, big-hearted, unpredictable, but greatly loving – he tries to make the Bellow figure face the world.

From The Blog
18 June 2014

The basketball World Cup ended on Sunday. The world won – they beat the Americans four games to one. The world’s team is represented by Argentina, Australia (twice), Brazil, Canada, France (also twice), Italy, the US Virgin Islands, and a handful of other Americans. They are based in San Antonio, Texas. The club they play for is owned by the great-grandson of the inventor of the caterpillar-tread tractor. Their coach comes from Indiana, the son of a Serb father and Croat mother; he graduated from the Air Force with a degree in Soviet Studies. I mention all this because people get funny ideas about Texas. They think it's parochial.

From The Blog
21 June 2013

I didn’t even see the game. I landed after a 12-hour flight in Kuala Lumpur, or versts away from it down the coast where the airport is, took a taxi first along empty roads past miles of billboards and equatorial foliage, and then through chock-a-block city traffic, stuck in tunnels, surrounded by high-rises, for another hour, before I got to my hotel at around 9 a.m. But the room wasn’t ready, so I sat in a lounge with my computer trying to stream the NBA finals, which were happening not only on another continent but on another earth day, 12 hours behind me, on a Thursday summer night after work in Miami.

From The Blog
6 March 2013

In the Champions League tie between Manchester United and Real Madrid which finished last night, for roughly 145 minutes the two sides played at even strength, and United outscored Real 2-1. For roughly 35 minutes, Real were a man up, and outscored United 2-0. Real went through. The shape and flow of the game changed instantly after Nani’s controversial sending off. Whether or not his particular red card was justified, it seems to me that the whole idea of the red card itself is not, and it would make more sense if teams were able to replace a sent-off player, using one of their substitutions.

From The Blog
21 January 2013

I’m trying to remember what I thought about Lance Armstrong before the USADA report came out. I mean, if I thought he was clean. I’ve got personal reasons for liking him: he comes from my hometown, and in 2006 may have helped to save my brother-in-law’s life. Asher Price, who works for the local Austin paper, the American Statesman, got the same kind of cancer that Armstrong had. On the day his testicle was removed, he got an email from the cyclist, which offered not only the usual sympathy but a recommendation: he should see Lawrence Einhorn in Indiana, the doctor who pioneered the treatment that saved Armstrong.

From The Blog
21 December 2012

There’s a second-hand bookshop around the corner from where I live called Ripping Yarns – just a hole in the wall, near a relatively busy intersection, but close to Highgate Woods. It’s been there since before the war but I’m not sure how much longer it will last. The lease is up next September, and I worry that the internet and charity bookshops will eventually drive it out of business. Celia Mitchell, the owner, has to dip into her pocket from time to time to cover costs. I buy as much as I can there, especially in the run-up to Christmas, but it doesn’t add up to much. Second-hand books are cheap. The shop is worth more to me than the books.

From The Blog
26 October 2012

About six years ago I started teaching creative writing to undergraduates. When I took the job at Royal Holloway, I had never taught creative writing, and when I was younger and struggling to get published, I never took creative writing classes either. I was pretty suspicious of them, for the usual reasons. They always made me think of Woody Allen’s joke about the kid who cheats on his metaphysics exam by looking into the soul of the boy sitting next to him.

From The Blog
9 July 2012

So he’s done it again. After two and a half of years of wandering in the wilderness of, well, not mediocrity exactly, but second or third best-ness, after climbing the small foothills of adversity, a twingey back, a few disappointing chokes, a couple of kids, after going four sets with Britain’s first Wimbledon finalist since Bunny Austin, Federer is once again the number one player in the world. Terrific. I never liked Federer.


Roth’s Straw Men

23 January 2014

Adam Mars-Jones argues persuasively that Roth, in The Ghost Writer, is setting up straw men (LRB, 23 January). Judge Wapter, for example, who tasks the young Zuckerman with a list of silly questions: ‘If you had been living in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, would you have written such a story?’ Mars-Jones quotes an earlier line from Roth that suggests some sympathy for Jewish critics who reacted...

Suicidal Piston Device: Being Lord Byron

Susan Eilenberg, 5 April 2007

He could dig no deeper than a grave, six feet perhaps of fractured soil, before the battering instrument began to turn upon itself. [It] sought to bury its body in the reluctant ground...

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