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Our Correspondents

Ad Me

July 22, 2016 | by

Growing up in the context of no context.

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A few years ago, my late friend D. G. Myers and I had a disagreement about the relationship between advertising and literary culture. Myers argued that the ads and articles in the Saturday Evening Post had a bearing on the stories F. Scott Fitzgerald initially published in the magazine, on the grounds that all three came out of the same cultural context. At the time, I was unpersuaded—the ads, I said, were just there to pay the bills—but I have come to see his point.

Last week, I rewatched an episode of Reading Rainbow that I have long cherished. As the episode begins, LeVar Burton, the show’s host, appears alone on a smog-filled dock on Charleston Harbor. Wearing a trench coat and fedora in the style of a hard-boiled detective, Burton is on the trail of Big Mama Blue. Suddenly we hear someone singing opera, and Burton introduces Mystery on The Docks, by Thacher Hurd. The story, narrated by Raúl Juliá, is about an opera-loving short-order cook who saves a famous singer from gangsters. All the characters are rats. Read More »

This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Fever Dreams, Tragic Spells, and In-betweens

July 22, 2016 | by

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Detail from the cover of Jesse Ball’s How to Set a Fire and Why.

Carole Firstman’s ambitiously titled debut, Origins of the Universe and What It All Means, is an essayistic memoir about her relationship with her estranged, eccentric (read: undiagnosed Asperger’s) scientist father, but it’s really a thumbed nose at binary argument and an objective romp through subjectivity’s headspace. Throughout the book, Firstman sets up oppositional arguments in order to force them apart and marinate in the liminal in-between. Is her chauvinistic, mostly absent father good or bad? Firstman thinks it’s hard to say, but it doesn’t stop her from examining the relationship through myriad philosophic and scientific lenses. (I doubt there has ever been a book about family in which one learns more about science and the history of thought.) Though the father does and says things that would make even the least feminist, or simply decent, among us cringe, Firstman’s characterization of family dynamics is pitch-perfect: her own impatience and frustrations with her father balance his foibles and thoughtlessness—and her humor softens the lot. This is a very endearing book, a summer read for the curious mind. —Jeffery Gleaves

The Guggenheim’s recent exhibition “Photo-Poetics: An Anthology” made a huge impression on me; the show featured works by ten photographers—nine women, including Erica Baum—who all work closely, sometimes exclusively, with the printed page. So I was delighted to discover Dog Ear, a book of twenty-five exquisite photographs by Erica Baum, whose preferred source material is printed matter. For the series, Baum dog-eared pages in mass-market paperbacks, then photographed the intersection of words at each fold to create a text of her own. In each tiny piece, bits of sentences read horizontally (“skirts, bee-stung lips,” “It’s a funny thing”) and vertically (“made up her face,” “itchiest dresses”). Part photo, part poem, the results vary in tone, from longing to manic, minimal to marvelous. In “Bear,” which feels like a Tomi Ungerer picture book, where animals scheme and smoke cigars, a polar bear is drunk on schnapps and “pawing” “the birds.” A new, limited edition of Dog Ear comes courtesy of Ugly Duckling Presse. Fittingly, the book jacket doubles as a poster. —Jessica Calderon

It may be based on a British procedural, but the new HBO series The Night Of is unmistakably shot in New York and, just as unmistakably, written by Richard Price. The premise: a studious Pakistani American kid sneaks out of the house with the keys to his father’s cab, then ill-advisedly picks up a passenger, a distraught beauty headed to the Upper West Side. It’s classic noir, with John Turturro as a schlubby but effective public defender, and because it’s a Richard Price script, even a desk sergeant (the excellent Ben Shenkman) can steal a scene. Two episodes in, it’s the best TV I’ve seen this summer. —Lorin Stein  Read More »

At Work

You Are on Display: An Interview with Morgan Parker

July 22, 2016 | by

Photo by Kwesi Abbensetts.

Photo by Kwesi Abbensetts.

Morgan Parker has a long résumé—she teaches and edits—that somehow hasn’t precluded a prolific career as a poet. Her first collection, Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night, came last year; her second, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, is due out in 2017.

A few months ago, Parker’s poem “Hottentot Venus” appeared in the Spring issue of The Paris Review. Her use of famous names and long, playful titles (“Ryan Gosling Wearing a T-shirt of Macaulay Culkin Wearing a T-Shirt of Ryan Gosling Wearing a T-Shirt of Macaulay Culkin”) suggests that she’s light of heart—but she is, as one reviewer put it,“as set on understanding the world as on changing it.” Race and femininism are central to her work, which explores ways to look at the present through the past, to examine ordinary life through pop culture, and to consider the events of her own life. We spoke recently about the joys of lengthy titles, how her many jobs intersect, and the process of crafting a personal mythology. Read More »

On the Shelf

A Big Glooby Blob of Sad Blufush, and Other News

July 22, 2016 | by

Kerouac photographed by John Cohen, 1959. Image via The Spectator.

  • Remember that time Henry James met Winston Churchill? The encounter took place in December, 1914, when Churchill was forty years old and James, his elder by three decades, was still a year from the stroke that would have him signing letters as Napoleon to arrange for “the decoration of certain apartments and palaces ... of the Louvre and the Tuileries.” According to Louis Menand, “Churchill had no idea who James was, found him tedious, and behaved crudely.” After the event, James told his host, Violet Bonham Carter—a friend of Churchill, daughter of the prime minister, and grandmother of Helena—that the “interesting” experience had “brought home to me, very forcibly and vividly … the limitations by which men of genius … purchase their ascendancy … over mankind.”
  • In 1931, during what he described as his wilderness years, Churchill launched an American speaking tour in an effort to make back the money he’d lost in the stock-market crash two years earlier. While crossing Fifth Avenue in New York, Churchill looked the wrong way for traffic and was hit by a taxi, an accident he later wrote up as “My New York Misadventure,” which essay he sold to the Daily Mail for twenty-five hundred dollars. (Yes: about forty thousand dollars in today’s money.) Earlier that year, some three hundred and fifty miles from the site of Churchill’s lucrative debilitation, the hard-bop jazz pianist Conrad Yeatis “Sonny” Clark was born in a Pennsylvania coal patch. Clark’s career was often torturous, in no small part thanks to the heroin addiction that killed him in 1963. But he found a wide following in Japan, and, as Sam Stephenson wrote for the Daily in 2011, “no jazz pianist was more drenched in minor blues” than he was. Clark would have been eighty-five yesterday.
  • Clark released Sonny’s Crib, with John Coltrane on the tenor saxophone, in 1957, the same year Jack Kerouac published On the Road. For Geoff Dyer, “there has never been a better-looking male writer. The Kerouac of the 1950s—athletic, muscular forearms emerging from plaid shirt, dark hair roughly quiffed—could step into a bar in Brooklyn today and he’d still look hip.” But Kerouac’s time at the top was brief: “From the moment his achievement was recognized his talent was in decline. He became imprisoned by the method of composition—spontaneous prose—that had liberated him. The breakthrough that enabled him to become a great writer condemned him to often being a pretty terrible one. Sinking into alcoholism, living with his mum in Florida and Massachusetts, he became ‘a big glooby blob of sad blufush.’ ”
  • Kerouac’s father, a French Canadian printer, died of stomach cancer in 1946, the same year a former domestic servant from Scotland gave birth to the man who last night became the Republican Party’s official candidate for president of the United States. About that last fact you may read a word or two today, but in the midst of the frenzy let us not forget the welcome counsel of Julian Barnes, namely that “this has been a rich time to explore nineteenth-century Scandinavian painting.” A new show at the Fondation Custodia, in Paris, includes paintings by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, a Danish painter who studied under Jacques-Louis David. “The Paris show,” Barnes says, reveals Eckersberg “to be always securely himself, yet frequently on the move.”

From the Archive

Zelda: A Worksheet

July 21, 2016 | by

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In our Fall 1983 issueThe Paris Review published twenty years’ worth of Zelda Fitzgerald’s letters to her husband, Scott. This selection comprises her correspondence between the spring of 1919 and Easter Sunday, 1920, the day Zelda and Scott married. Zelda Fitzgerald was born this month in 1900. Note: Zelda was known for her quirks in punctuation (she was a particularly fond of the em dash), and these are retained in the text. As in the original printing, asterisks denote substantial editorial deletions and ellipses are used to indicate minor omissions. Each letter is addressed to Scott Fitzgerald. —C.L.

Montgomery, 1919

Mrs. Francesca—who never heard of you—got a message from Ouija for me. Nobody’s hands were on it—but hers—and it told us to be married—that we were soul-mates. Theosophists think that two souls are incarnated together—not necessarily at the same time, but are mated—since the time when people were bisexual; so you see “soul-mate” isn’t exactly snappy-stylish; after all: I can’t get messages but it really worked for me last night—only it couldn’t say anything, but “dead,”—so, of course I got scared and quit. It’s really most remarkable, even if you do scoff. I wish you wouldn’t, it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent. Read More »

Our Correspondents

Flannery’s Farm

July 21, 2016 | by

Andalusia and the ache of identity.

Joe McTyre/ Atlanta Constitution, Flannery O’Connor in the driveway at Andalusia, 1962.

Flannery O’Connor in the driveway at Andalusia, 1962. © Joe McTyre/Atlanta Constitution.

You can judge how far outside of Atlanta you are by the gasoline prices. My parents kept calling them out every few minutes as we drove from their house toward Milledgeville to the farm where Flannery O’Connor once lived. Gas that was $2.26 in town became $2.11 just outside the city limits. The weather was less hot than usual, which is to say that while it was still awful and sticky, there was a breeze every now and then. Prices hovered around two dollars as we drove south, and the landscape shifted from tony suburbs to farmland. Soon forests of tall slender pine trees began filling our periphery, and my mother actually gasped when we encountered $1.96 a gallon. At $1.95, we reached Andalusia Farm. Read More »