June 30, 2011
1. In my mail today was Irmgard Keun's Child of All Nations, from Overlook Press. I had just been talking about her last night at dinner. I have a thing for Irmgard Keun, and I got a little thrill to open the book and see the first line: "I get funny looks from hotel managers, but that's not because I'm naughty." I doubt it will disappoint.
2. Hans Magnus Enzensberger wrote one of my favorite books last year, The Silences of Hammerstein, and a brief email exchange with his translator has left me impatient for his next large nonfiction project to see English publication. (It's in the works. I'm assured it's brilliant in German.) I'm tiding myself over with the wee slip of a book Fatal Numbers: Why Count on Chance, a long essay on probability, chance, infinity, and why our belief that rationality will save us all is completely irrational.
And from the man's archives, there's "The Radical Loser," an essay available online (in English) about isolation, loneliness, radicalization, and trying to figure out how those factors turn some towards depression and internalization and others to extreme violence.
3. I want to watch this BBC documentary about the Romantics and Rousseau and Blake because, well, Blake. But it's so over done, I'm not sure I'll get past where it's paused now, at minute 7. Can Simon Schama please hit Peter Ackroyd over the head, drag him off camera, and resume hosting? Because I kind of want to see what the thing says about Blake.
June 29, 2011
I've become a little obsessed lately about the idea of being, or more to the point not being, marriage material, and historically what that has meant. Outside of the protection provided by marriage, if you were deemed too slutty or too poor or too ugly or too crazy to be marryable (marriable?), your choices were either spinsterhood, or mistress-dom. And even though circumstances have changed considerably, what with that whole feminism thing, these are still labels we throw around, roles we find ourselves playing. In my latest Smart Set column, I sort of experiment with the idea of the Other Woman, the mistress, and wonder why, when our libraries are full of books about the faithless or scorned wife or the philandering husband, we are missing a literature of the mistress.
Also, one of the books I read for this, Advice to a Young Wife from an Old Mistress is so much better than it has any right to be. (And it's OUT OF PRINT, which is fucking ridiculous.) A mentor of mine recommended it to me when I started rambling about the subject. I was skeptical at first, sure that it was going to be something along the lines of "Don't let yourself go! Go on dates with your husband!" Instead it's incredibly thoughtful, a philosophical look at love and marriage, and love outside of marriage. That book has wisdom between its covers.
John Green, who is always a delight, discusses in this video the relationship he has with his editor Julie Strauss-Gabel. And with all the talk of self-publishing and how editors don't even edit anymore, it's refreshing to have an honest talk about the subject.
“I was standing there in my usual spot behind the counter at the Top Hat Cafe, looking down, thinking about evil, buttering toast.”
I would like to nominate the opening line to Rebecca Wolff's The Beginners as the best first sentence of 2011. I talk to Wolff over at Kirkus about being named after a woman hanged in the Salem witch trials, her various roles as editor, poet, publisher, and now novelist, and why teenage girls are natural black magicians.
Then my brother and I spent a lot of time as young kids reading fantasy and horror, and what might now be called "speculative fiction"—stuff that treated the occult as an entertaining and available alternative to the humdrum world of visible phenomena. There was in the ’70s an occult shop near our apartment in Chelsea called The Warlock's Childe, and we LOVED it, and would go there after school and just look at all the weird pamphlets and black candles and books of spells, etc. Loved it... In writing the novel I became aware that I had a desire to recapture the most necessary ingredient of that world, which is fear: One has to enjoy being afraid, and find it a productive mental space, in order to really want to spend a lot of time in there.
Tara Darby has a series at AnOther Magazine, traveling to the cities great American literature is set, taking photos and writing short essays. She starts off with photos taken in Garden City, Kansas, the setting of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and the home of the murdered Clutter family.
(Also: near where I grew up. We read that book my freshman year of high school, and the teacher's mother sent the original newspaper articles about the killings for us to read. That was a weird class.)
June 28, 2011
A recent visitor had left a piece of paper on which was written the famous E-flat/F-flat dissonance from the Rite. Unable to improve upon that gesture, I placed a pebble among dozens already resting on the slab and thought of what Stravinsky said when Diaghilev asked him how long those chords would go on: “Till the end, my dear.”
If I ever make it to Venice, it will take a lot to keep me from donning a dramatic black gown and throwing myself onto Diaghilev's grave, weeping. But I'm a little obsessed with the Ballet Russes. Just for the hell of it, let's make a list of books about the Ballet Russes:
A Feast of Wonders: Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes by John E Bowlt (read my interview with Bowlt here)
Bowlt is perhaps more interested in Bakst than any other member of the Ballet Russes, but that seems perfectly reasonable. I mean, Jesus. Bakst was the costume and set designer for many of the most famous Ballet Russes productions, and while worshiped in Europe is mostly forgotten in the States. Bowlt's Moscow & St. Petersburg 1900-1920 is also worth a look-through, being beautifully written, designed, and curated.
Diaghilev by Sjeng Scheijen
More of a serviceable biography than an artful one. Every time Scheijen ended a chapter with something along the lines of "little did Diaghilev know that in six months..." in a desperate ploy to create tension I wanted to throw the book out the train window. But it has wonderful anecdotes and photographs, particularly involving Stravinsky -- everyone else would be smiling and casually smoking in group photos, and Stravinsky would be glowering/pouting in the corner. Although my favorite section was the mental image of Stravinsky debuting The Rite of Spring to Diaghilev, which he played solo on his piano for the first time, pounding his fists and his feet to create the rhythms that would scandalize its first audience, huffing and puffing and turning quite purple.
The Allure of Chanel by Paul Morand
Speaking of Stravinsky: Chanel had an affair with him, and was close friends with Diaghilev, bank rolled many of the Ballet Russes productions, and designed costumes as well. Her kinda sorta memoir The Allure of Chanel dishes deeply on her friends, including a wonderful chapter on Stravinsky.
Misia was watching. She immediately sent a telegram to Stravinsky, in Spain: "Coco is a midinette who prefers grand-dukes to artists." Stravinsky almost exploded. Diaghilev sent me a telegram: "Don't come, he wants to kill you."
Later, she relates the incident was good for Stravinsky and turned him into a man. But that's Chanel.
Jason Wilson (my boss! sometimes) tries out some of the new super advanced translation apps. They are supposed to make traveling in nations where you don't know the language a breeze. Just speak into your iPad and nothing could possibly ever go wrong...
“I am eating French toast,” I said, even more slowly and with as much enunciation as I could muster.
“All right and even French toast,” Jibbigo transcribed on its screen. “Está bien incluso y pan tostado frances,” said Sultry Voice.
“Noooo!” Now my kids began laughing at me and Jibbigo.
One of my sons grabbed the iPad. “Mom, are you cutting pears in the kitchen?” he said through the app to his mother, who was indeed cutting pears in the kitchen. “Are you hiding Harrods in the kitchen?” wrote Jibbigo, which Sultry Voice dutifully said in a bizarre game of mistranslation-down-the-lane.
I can't tell if this is better or worse than my technique of, when dealing with painful bureaucracy, simply writing things down in German on a piece of paper (my reading/writing being light years ahead of my ability to make myself understood orally) and handing the paper to the official. It is probably about even, although I very much enjoy the experience of having written correspondence with uniformed gentlemen who are sitting right in front of me.
Stuart Walton has a piece on the different ways a writer's posthumous work can go, from the publishing of every little fragment, no matter how inconsequential, to the hidden masterwork.
And, related: Alan Jacobs writes about the ever important role of the literary executor, which as we know from the bad examples (Stephen Joyce, Lillian Hellman -- who fucked up Dorothy Parker's estate, etc) can do a lot of damage to reputation and scholarship. Which is why I have named as my literary executor a grey African parrot. Those bastards live forever, so there's no danger of it dying and the work being passed down to some future vengeful grandchild. I can teach it to say "go fuck yourself" in response to every request for personal information and rest easy in my grave.
There's an exhaustive interview with cartoonist Roz Chast at the Comics Journal (the only kind of interviews that place seems to do), wherein she talks about her very educational childhood through finding success at the New Yorker, and reminisces about being misunderstood at art school in the 1970s:
This was the height of Donald Judd’s minimalism, or Vito Acconci’s and Chris Burden’s performance art. The quintessential work of that time would be a video monitor with static on it being watched by another video monitor, which would then get static. Doing stories or anything “jokey” made me feel like I was speaking an entirely different language.
June 27, 2011
So, as my mother's daughter, here's what I think about migration: it's just as John Dickson Carr wrote concerning murders. The first is the hardest. After that, it's a piece of cake.
Helen Oyeyemi writes about why she decided to leave London. And is it too spinsterific of me to want her line "Home is where your teapots are" embroidered onto some sort of tea towel or tea cozy or other tea related accessory? Because I'm either going with that or Helen Garner's statement of truth "As the vodka kicks in I begin to make plans" from her diary at The Monthly.
Have we mentioned that we love Jesse Ball's The Curfew. We love Jesse Ball's The Curfew. If the Q&A at Kirkus and the giveaway on our Facebook page wasn't enough to convince you, I also have a review of the damn thing at NPR. Where, accordingly, you can also read a short excerpt from the book.
The Curfew demands to be puzzled over. It's compelling and sly, and it says much with its silences. Ball plays with the idea of what would happen if certain things, like knowledge or music or people, were inexplicably removed, and how those who remained would compensate for those gaps. As an aside, a character muses, "There is a theory that the sun is made up of thousands of suns arranged in a war each against the others. It is a discredited theory, but it has never been disproven." Truth becomes flimsy when facts are being withheld, whether it's the truth about a person's life or basic science.
When a controversy about books in school libraries makes the news, it rare ends in good news. But this time, two students are bringing attention to banned books, in the name of supporting free speech. They chose for their school history project a debate that erupted 25 years ago, starting around one controversial title, but growing to include:
“The Great Gatsby,” “The Red Badge of Courage,” “Wuthering Heights” and “The Old Man and the Sea”; cautionary tales “Fahrenheit 451,” “Brave New World” and “Animal Farm”; and Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” “King Lear” and “Hamlet.”
The students were forbidden access to these books, and the debate made national headlines. And says the 8th grader who chose this topic for her project, to teach us a little something as books continue to be challenged in schools and libraries across the country: “I think I have a strong personality, and I just try to stand up for what I believe in.” Can we give these girls some sort of medal, please?
"Poor Scott was earning so much from his books that he and Zelda had to drink a great deal of champagne in Montmartre in an effort to get rid of it."
If you have to be competitive about something, it's probably better that you're competitive about how many books you can read rather than how many live goldfish you can swallow. That's my contribution to an article about the lit blog phenomenon of Reading Challenges.
June 24, 2011
Scott Korb teaches a literature class on food writing, using the works of MFK Fisher, Michael Pollan, and Edna Lewis and others. After becoming a vegan, it was the work of Fisher that taught him how to enjoy food again, and writers like Pollan that taught him how to think about the ethics of food. He explains in his essay, how he attempts to push through his students' first reactions to the depressing information about our food sources, to get from Pollan back to Fisher.
Most honest discussions that bring together food and animals are really, at bottom, about suffering and killing and death, topics that we all know have a way of making people feel bad.
There's an interesting discussion at New Inquiry, between a philosophy professor who has caught his students plagiarizing and an anonymous plagiarizer, who writes college papers for money. To all aspiring cheats, the professor reveals one of the most obvious tells in a plagiarized paper:
"The correct use of a semicolon is a big red flag for me."
June 23, 2011
We, descendants of enslaved in the former Dutch colony Suriname, want to let you know that we do not accept a book with the title “The Book of Negroes.” We struggle for a long time to let the word “nigger” disappear from the Dutch language and now you set up your “Book of Negroes”! A real shame! That’s why we make the decision to burn this book on the 22nd of June 2011. Maybe you do not know, but June is the month before the 1st of July, the day that we remember the abolition from the Dutch, who put our ancestors in slavery.
God. I can't remember where I saw the link to this, but this video of Superheroes with Dead Wives or whatever you'd like to call it is fantastic. Wonderfully distills this phenomenon of nothing turns a man into a Hero faster in comic books and movies quite like a dead wife or girlfriend.
I would not write, I did not want to write. When one can read, can penetrate the enchanted realm of books, why write?... In my youth I never, never wanted to write. No, I did not get up secretly in the night to scribble poems on the cover of a shoebox! No, I never flung inspired words to the West wind or to the moonlight! No, I never made good marks in composition between the ages of twelve and fifteen. For I felt, and felt it each day more intensely, that I was made exactly for not writing... I was the only one of my kind, the only creature sent into the world for the purpose of not writing.
- Colette, Earthly Paradise
So lesbian Middle Eastern bloggers are all secretly middle aged white dudes, that seems clear. I myself am a middle aged bearded manatee off the coast of Rio, but I found a girl to appear on Chicago public television for me, cheap.
But the story of one of the faux bloggers, A Gay Girl in Damascus, is getting a little weird. The white dude writing the blog was shopping around a faux memoir of his faux life as a gay girl in Damascus -- surprise! -- when this whole thing came to light. He asked Minal Hajratwala for help getting it to agents, and when he was revealed as a fraud, posted a PDF of the manuscript online. (Which you should read. I mean, like five pages of it, and then go outside in the sunlight, and maybe read a book written by a writer who didn't secretly have a penis or something.) Middle aged white dude is of course threatening to sue.
Also, when these things happen, someone will inevitably come up and talk about how the *work* remains, and it's the work that still has value, because it speaks to something shared in our humanity. Or something. Except these frauds are never actually writing from a shared humanity, are they? They're picking very specific marginalized groups to identify with and speak from. It is the equivalent of this.
(See also: "A Note to My Fellow White Males")
June 22, 2011
"Emoticons We Need in These Troubled Times" by Bookslut contributor Jim Behrle.
John le Carré's keynote speech at the Think German conference:
For most of my conscious childhood Germany had been the rogue elephant in the drawing room. Germans were murderous fellows. They had bombed one of my schools (which I did not entirely take amiss); they had bombed my grandparents’ tennis court, which was very serious, and I was terrified of them.
But in my rebellious adolescent state, a country that had been so thoroughly bad was also by definition worth examining. (via)
June 21, 2011
Elif Shafak tells the story of the writing of The Gaze, which did not go well. After vowing she would not leave her Istanbul apartment until the first draft was finished, she had to get a little creative when she ran out of food.
Adam Zagajewski on Rilke:
Maybe it’s more interesting to see Rilke’s work as not as virginal, not as ethereal, as it seems to many readers. After all, like the majority of literary modernists, he is an antimodern; one of the main impulses in his work consists of looking for antidotes to modernity.
If you've been thinking about applying to become a reviewer for Bookslut, now would be a good time to email me a letter of interest and a writing sample or two.
And now, in case your day is stressful, some pretty pictures of pretty Scotland, from a pretty new book of photography. Ah, pretty. Okay, as you were.
Andrzej Stasiuk, author of On the Road to Babadag, takes a tour of World War I battlefields and memorials, and finds that it's a character from a novel, Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Svejk, that he keeps running into.
I'm writing a lot about Schweik, a fictional character, because in these parts the First World War, or rather the memory of it, bears his face. The character is actually a Czech, but here, in Galicia, there are statues or smaller images of him in the towns, the pubs are often named after him, and there are pictures of him hanging in noisy, smoky beer cellars, so you might easily get the impression that he was a real person, not a literary invention. Yes, of the entire war the two figures who are best remembered are Franz Joseph and his most implacable enemy, who could change everything imperial into satire, a spectacle of political necrophilia or the cabaret of the absurd. I wonder if the First World War produced any other hero on his scale? No one comes to mind – none of Celine's or Remarque's heroes are as distinctly memorable as Schweik. They are too self-absorbed, because the war frustrates them. Schweik, meanwhile, frustrates the war with his hypnotic prattle, and in the process he frustrates the sense and order of the world to date. Schweik has no regrets. He laughs and dances on the graves. He is a nihilist, because it's the only way to survive. His creator would end up as a Red Army commissar.
June 20, 2011
One of the books I brought back from the States was Margaret Drabble's The Waterfall. It's very second wave, Doris Lessing if Doris Lessing wrote books I liked at all. But in a new interview at the Guardian, Drabble confesses her books remain timely because "Men and women are still fighting for precedence and thoroughly annoying each other in the same way they always have."
Apple Sauce. Borax. Soup. Borax. Turkey. Borax. Borax. Canned Stringed Beans. Sweet Potatoes. White Potatoes. Turnips. Borax. Chipped Beef. Cream Gravy. Cranberry Sauce. Celery. Pickles. Rice Pudding. Milk. Bread and Butter. Tea. Coffee. A Little Borax
Deborah Blum, she of one of my favorite books Love at Goon Park, tells the remarkable story of early 20th century Poison Squads who dined on poisons and toxins, voluntarily, to help prove a man's hypothesis that the additives and chemicals used in processed foods were slowly poisoning Americans. The Borax, in case you were wondering, was being used by meat processors because "it slowed decomposition but could also react with proteins and firm them up, giving rotting meat a more shapely appearance."
Plaintiff and the Class purchased “Three Cups of Tea,” and many of them, too, spent time reading it, all the while expecting to receive an inspiring true tale of non-fiction. As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants phony marketing and representations promoting the book as a true and honest work of non-fiction, Plaintiff and the Class have been damaged and deceived.
June 16, 2011
This is a Paris of madness and spectacle, of dank prisons reconfigured as dank hospitals, of artists-turned-doctors commanding psychiatric carnivals of some dramatized and eroticized disease.
Oh man, sign me up. The New York Times reviews Violette Nozière: A Story of Murder in 1930s Paris by Sarah Maza and Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris by Asti Hustvedt.
Stanislaw Lem complained for years about the English translation of Solaris, as it was translated from a French translation and not directly from the Polish. But now, after his death, there is finally a direct translation, and if copyright issues allow, we'll be seeing it soon. And maybe this one won't have George Clooney's face all over it. Fingers crossed!
Last night, Al was recommending a book about Hemingway, saying we should admire the writer, not the man. But I've grown affectionate towards Hemingway, and not simply because of how frequently he appeared in Sylvia Beach's memoir and letters, and she obviously adored him and he her. And I don't even care for his writing. But every time I could actually peek behind the blustery bullshit persona, I liked him more and more.
So even though this piece about Hemingway's suicide trods over familiar territory -- his masculine construction, the bloodlust and macho behavior that covered a more fearful nature, how the torment of living falsely for so long contributed to his depression -- I would still recommend reading it. For someone so conflicted, he comes off well. Well, but mistaken. You can see the tragedy that he wasn't able to pull through.
The books I was on WTTW last night, recommending for the summer:
And Chicago Tonight has already posted video of the occasion, so if you want, you can watch the broadcast online. It's a performance of which my best friends' parents approved!
June 15, 2011
I'll believe in evolutionary psychology more, perhaps, when it's used less as an explanation for male philandering and female nesting. These natural men and women, after all, don't still shit in their back gardens.
- From All About Love: Anatomy of an Unruly Emotion by Lisa Appignanesi
Daniel Mason on the compulsive eating of non-food items, also known as pica.
Xiao Qian, a Chinese war correspondent and a literature student, stood over the grave of James Joyce in 1946 in Zurich and mourned, "Here lies the corpse of someone who wasted his great talents writing something very unreadable."
I'll be on WTTW's Chicago Tonight at 7:30, to discuss summer reading, duel two other readers to win the heart of Phil Ponce, and perhaps dying a fiery death live on air, as it is a total lunar eclipse tonight, and I get Mayan-level superstitious about that stuff. So tune in! Who knows what will happen.
June 14, 2011
Writer and translator Qiu Xiaolong offers a five book introduction to Chinese poetry for the lay reader.
Two brainy pieces for you today:
David Eagleman (Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain) has a piece in the Atlantic about how neuroscience is changing the way we think about criminal acts and influencing (and whether it should) the justice system.
And similarly, Josh Fischman writes about whether brain imagery can predict whether children become killers in adulthood.
Bookslut is starting a new weekly series of Q&As with the authors of our favorite new books over at Kirkus. This week: Christine Redfern, the co-author with Caro Caron of the graphic (as in, comic book-y, although kinda that one, too) biography Who is Ana Mendieta?. It's part of the new Blindspot series at the Feminist Press, re-introducing female artists that have been unjustly forgotten.
Redfern and I discuss Mendieta's legacy, the tricky history of women artists killed by their husbands (Mendieta was (allegedly) thrown out a window by her husband), and why projects like Blindspot or the Orange Prize are still necessary.
There was a time when certain orchestras were male-only, and when certain instruments were considered masculine or feminine. The process of hiring was found to be too subjective, filled with favoritism, so “blind auditions” became mandatory in the field. Everyone applying for a position had to audition anonymously behind a screen. You know what? The strangest thing happened. Women started to be hired in record numbers, and on “masculine” instruments. Why? Because they played the instruments the best when the hiring committees listened with only their ears and were not affected by preconceived ideas they received from their eyes. When you hire the best musicians, better music is the result.
Also, on our Facebook page, we have five copies of Who is Ana Mendieta? to give away.
June 13, 2011
I enjoyed Kate Zambreno's tirade about Woody Allen's version of the Lost Generation, in his new film Midnight in Paris:
Hemingway tells Scott that Zelda is standing in the way of his talent, and then later on Owen Wilson is remembering the evening, and remembering that Hemingway is right - that Zelda stood in the way of Scott's genius, but of course he was so in love with her the Wilson romantic understood. The idea that these women stood in the way of their husband's masterpieces, as opposed to midwifing them and helping steward them along, serving not only as inspiration but copyeditors, etc., is so much part of our contemporary romantic consciousness and Allen's film is just a microwaved version of these stories that brew inside the men who have the confidence to want to be the Next Big Thing, while girls just want to go throw themselves into a great body of water and wash away.
Also good: Emma Garman's accounting of the way American romanticize the fuck out of Paris.
We still haven't just collectively decided to pretend like VS whatshisname doesn't exist? Still issuing responses? Really?
So who would he prefer as president? He replies that he is “not current” with the Republican contenders until I mention Sarah Palin. “I am crazy about her,” he answers immediately. “Would she make a good candidate for president? I don’t know but she seems to have succeeded at everything she put her hand to.”
June 10, 2011
The writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who walked his way into the eternal affection of restless souls with his account of a journey across Europe on foot, has died aged 96.
His editor at John Murray, Roland Phillips, said he was immensely sad that "such a great writer – a figure who was a hero to me long before I ever met him – has died" and hailed him as "the greatest travel writer of the 20th century".
Lore Segal has a short video at the New Yorker, in which she discusses immigrating to the United States as a child.
June 9, 2011
More love for On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe. From the book:
Ask yourself quietly a question in the vein of "What am I doing here anyway" -- the fundamental mantra if not prayer of every traveler. For it is precisely on a trip, in the morning, in a strange city, before the second cup of coffee has begun to work, that you experience most palpably the oddness of your banal existence. Travel is no more than a relatively healthy form of narcotic, after all. Have another cup, wait for the rain to let up a bit, and walk to the river, the green and twisting Tisza, and your imagination will speak to you as unmistakably as a growling stomach. Because the water that poured at your feet here was on Montenegro a few days ago and will join the Danube near Novi Sad a few days from now. That's the way of it: geography orders space but muddles the head.
Psychopaths: So in right now! Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test shows up on an episode of This American Life devoted to psychopaths, to meet with suspected psychopath and former CEO of Sunbeam, Al Dunlap.
Just try not to think about all the evil children movies you have ever seen while you take a look at this: Der Spiegel has a selection of photographs of the children of Russian oligarchs. They're from an upcoming book, Little Adults by Anna Skladmann. Skladmann also talks briefly about the project:
Prior to taking the photographs, I interviewed the children briefly in an attempt to find out what their dreams were, what they wanted and how I could show that. Vladimir, for example, explained that he wanted to become an archeologist. I then showed him some pictures from a museum. Later, he decided that he'd rather be Spider Man.
At the X-Men movie:
Me: "Why are there only white people in this movie?"
Friend: "The white people are metaphors for black people."
The letters between Freud and Martha Bernays are now being published. Written during the four years of their long distance engagement, they're very revealing of the sexual politics of the time. (Not to mention Freud's, uh, peculiarities.) Philosopher Jean Bollack wrote about the letters for Süddeutsche Zeitung, and the piece has been somewhat clumsily translated into English at Sign and Sight. (Via)
June 8, 2011
Chris Kraus has a lovely piece on Simone Weil, and her new critical biography out at Reaktion Books. My copy came just as I was leaving, and I kind of wish I had shoved it in my bag as I was walking out the door. I'm hoping the biography is one she deserves. As Kraus points out in her review, the Francine du Plessix Gray bio was a weird piece of work.
“The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: Don't let it happen. It depends on you.”
A book collector (or whatever) in Saskatchewan died, leaving his 350,000 books to his exasperated widow, who just started burning them in the backyard. The couple is looking to find someone to help them sort, catalog, and get rid of the books -- many of them rare -- in case any of you want to wander up to Saskatchewan and give them a hand.
June 7, 2011
Whenever I open a book of travel writing, it turns out that I am hoping it will be exactly like On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe by Andrzej Stasiuk: deeply smart about history and legend and mythology, beautifully written and moving through centuries as well as countries. From the book:
As you travel, history constantly turns into legend. Too much is happening, and in too big a space. No one can remember it all, let alone write it down. You can't devote attention to events that come out of nowhere and whose purpose and sense remain unclear to the end. No one will wrap things into a whole, cobble a finished tale. Neglect is the theme of this region. History, deeds, consequences, ideas, and plans dissolve into the landscape, into something considerably older and vaster than all the striving. Time gets the better of memory. Nothing can be remembered with certainty, because acts do not line up according to the principle of cause and effect. A long narrative about the spirit of the times in this place seems a project as pathetic as it is pretentious, like a novel written from the point of view of God.
Sometimes an author's suicide can project him into that weird sainthood, causing a run on his books and making his final work widely considered a masterpiece, no matter how slipshod. And other times, his or her death simply overshadows any writing, and their last books disappear under all of the turmoil. Richard T. Kelly takes another look at The Sea of Fertility, the last book of Mishima, whose bizarre ritual suicide eclipsed the book he posted to his editor just before his death.
Rachel Cusk writes an appreciation of the great Kingsley Amis.
I do love the Internet sometimes. Most of the time: no. Most of the time I'm reading comments sections and finding the most horrid displays of humanity, thoughts I can't believe people have in their heads, let alone out loud. But then you find wonderful things like the Amazon.com tags for A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World's Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire. The book's research and conclusions about sex have been widely criticized and discredited, and if you do a quick Google search, you can find all sorts of debunkings. Or, you can go read how the customers of Amazon have tagged the book, which eviscerates it in a few quick steps.
So sometimes the Internet is okay. Yesterday, when I was reading someone's rape fantasy about Kate Middleton: not so much. But today, you win.
June 6, 2011
What would prevent most of us from doing so is the nausea which wells to the throat at the thought of this disgustingly elitist outfit. British universities, plundered of resources by the bankers and financiers they educated, are not best served by a bunch of prima donnas jumping ship and creaming off the bright and loaded.
As an American, it's kind of hard not to see this rant and rave about a new for-profit university in the UK that charges £18k a year as anything short of adorable. Odious! Charging money for education is odious. And as an American, with most of my friends still carrying college loan debt, all I can say is, our worlds, they are not the same.
Janet Malcolm talks about her new book Iphigenia in Forest Hills at the Guardian, but also about her apprenticeship at the New Yorker, working the woman ghetto with a shopping column, and also this little prickly dig:
Botsford, who was 17 years her senior, was "a big cutter" and "a strict editor. I was very lucky". He died in 2004. Has she been tempted, in the Joan Didion/Joyce Carol Oates fashion, to write about the experience of widowhood? She gives me a glittering look.
"Absolutely not," she says.
June 2, 2011
In my Smart Set column Used Books, I try to remember the good about Sassy magazine and Courtney Love, because that good is being obscured by their current incarnations, xojane.com and whatever the surgeon did to Love's face.
One wishes your heroes would age well, that they’d get wiser and more sophisticated. Or if they can’t manage that, that they’d Greta Garbo out and move to Bolivia or somesuch. The alternative — aging ungracefully in public with the help of botox, collagen, implants, nips, tucks, stretches, and hormone injections — makes you wonder what you saw in them way back when.
June 1, 2011
If you have any sense in you, you will start reading Irmgard Keun. And I couldn't be happier that she's having a bit of a mini-revival, with two of her novels reprinted in the same month. We have The Artificial Silk Girl, about trying to be frivolous in Weimar Germany, and now After Midnight, which I review over at NPR, about life under the early Nazi regime.
Sanna herself understands enough to know what she shouldn't say — for the most part. As she listens to the radio and a propaganda speech assuring the destruction of anyone who would stand in the way of Germany's future, she wonders if she could possibly, unintentionally, be one of the dissidents. The complexity of the politics in these aggressive messages is too much for her to fully grasp. "I still don't know what it is all about, or what they mean. And it's far too dangerous to ask anyone." The safest route is to keep her head down, go about her life and concentrate on parties — not the political ones; the ones that require dresses.
If you want to feel really, really bad about everything, you can read this three part series on Alan Turing and the torture he endured in the effort to "cure" his homosexuality, and his eventual death. (Via)
Author Hans Keilson died in the Netherlands on Tuesday at age 101. Keilson, who was Jewish and born in Germany, had made the Netherlands his home since 1936. He was a member of the Dutch resistance during World War II, became a psychiatrist and stopped writing fiction decades ago in favor of his practice.
Yet in 2010, at age 100, Keilson had a surprise literary success with the English-language publication of his 1947 novel "Comedy in a Minor Key," a dark comedy about sheltering a Jewish refugee during World War II.