The Daily

This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Jaguars, Jim Beam, Japanese Divorce

August 26, 2016 | by

From the cover of Gringos.

Fifty-three years ago, James Baldwin published The Fire Next Time, on the experience of being black in America. The title comes from a slave song: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign / No more water but fire next time.” This month, Jesmyn Ward published a compilation of essays called The Fire This Time. She wanted a book, as she writes in a brilliant introduction, “that would reckon with the fire of rage and despair and fierce, protective love currently sweeping through the streets and campuses of America … A book that a girl in rural Missouri could pick up at her local library and, while reading, encounter a voice that hushed her fears.” Ward has packed a multitude into a modest volume and fulfills, I think, her desire to provide a full and rich accounting of black life, one that is infrequently given voice. The lead piece is a sharply evocative prose poem by Kima Jones about a trip home to North Carolina for a funeral and time in the woods with her cousins, “with red cups, Black and Milds, Jim Beam, a blue lighter plucked from the card table.” Another favorite is Garnette Cadogan’s essay on walking, as a boy in Kingston and as a young man in the United States. The dissonance between the two is startling but not surprising: in the former, “I’d get lost in Mittyesque moments, my young mind imagining alternate futures,” and in the other, walking is “a pantomine undertaken to avoid the choreography of criminality.” —Nicole Rudick

I often go back to Gringos, the 1991 novel by Charles Portis, when I find myself between books. Portis is a fount of comedy; his books brim with deliciously absurd characters. Gringos features a clique of eccentric expats idling in the Yucatán: there’s Rudy and Louise Kurle, a blond duo, in Mexico recording evidence of aliens; Doc Flandin, an aged historian and anthropologist whose life work comprises a comprehensive account of Mayan culture; Refugio Osorio, a native of Mérida who deals scraps from his land in the jungle (I’m fond of his pup, “Ramos, son of the late Chino, bravest dog in all Mexico”). Their comedy comes from the wry observations of Gringos’s hero and narrator Jimmy Burns, a fortysomething deliveryman and former hustler of pre-Columbian artifacts. Jimmy lives at the marvelously shabby Posada Fausto hotel in Mérida, taking hauling jobs to pay his rent. His life there “rocks along from day to day”—he drinks in bars and heads to the zoo “to look over the fine new jaguar”—until he finds himself caught up in violent hippie rituals at ancient ruins and adventure in the Yucatán. —Caitlin Love Read More »

Correspondence

The Poker Game We Play

August 26, 2016 | by

Bachardy, left, and Isherwood, soon after they met.

Christopher Isherwood, born on this day in 1904, met a teenager on the beach in Santa Monica in the early 1950s. It was Don Bachardy, with whom Isherwood began one of the first openly gay relationships in Hollywood. In their love letters, the pair adopted pet names and, with them, exaggerated identities: Isherwood became “Dobbin” and Bachardy “Kitty.” Their correspondence is published in The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, edited by Katherine Bucknell. The excerpt below is from a March 1963 letter from Isherwood.
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Look

Just Skating and Gettin’ High

August 26, 2016 | by

This month, Swiss Institute becomes Swiss In Situ, moving temporarily to a massive space at 102 Franklin Street in Tribeca. Their first exhibition, up through September 2, features a collection of artist-made zines from the independent Swiss publishing houses Nieves and Innen. Some of our favorites are below.

Lawrence Weiner, Posters November 1965–April 1986, 2011.

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On the Shelf

The Right Drink for the Conservative Taste, and Other News

August 26, 2016 | by

Drink up your propaganda, kids!

  • Today in farts: there’s a new movie called Swiss Army Man, and it’s full of ‘em. Don’t write it off as stupid. Don’t pretend you’re not seduced by the fusillade of flatulence. There is life in those farts, Annie Julia Wyman writes: “The idea for Swiss Army Man began with a fart joke: a man trapped on a desert island feeds a corpse beans so that he can ride it back to civilization. But a fart joke—like every increment of comedy, however large or small—is a simple encapsulation of Swiss Army Man’s optimism and of the beneficence, the real miracle, which is art … Movies of this kind are highly wrought, spiritually advanced, super-durable versions of the space inhabited by children and old people, by beginners and artists and students, by those of us who are still learning and always will be: that is, by everyone, if they can let the farts in.” 

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Arts & Culture

The Spoil of Destruction

August 25, 2016 | by

The house Thomas Mann described as “so completely my own” could be torn down.

Mann, in 1941, at his Pacific Palisades home, with his wife, Katia, and two of their grandchildren.

Thomas Mann’s house in Pacific Palisades, California, is up for sale. The news came as a surprise: the house, designed by the modernist architect J. R. Davidson, was believed to have a reliable owner with Chester Lappen, the lawyer who bought it from Mann in 1953, and his heirs. As late as 2012, they’d expressed no interest in selling. Things have changed. Read More »

From the Archive

The Mutes

August 25, 2016 | by

Louis-Emile Adan, The Suitor, oil on panel.

Louis-Emile Adan, The Suitor, oil on canvas.

Denise Levertov’s poem “The Mutes” appeared in our Winter 1965 issue. Levertov was born in Britain but immigrated to the United States when she was twenty-five; she died in 1997. Read More »