The Daily

This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Critical Features and Substitute Teachers

February 12, 2016 | by

From the cover of Albert Angelo.

One pleasure of living where I do is the giveaway table, where tenants leave unwanted CDs, cassettes, salt-and-pepper shakers, et cetera, and especially books. These tend to be romance novels or thrillers, but the other week someone left the second edition of August Kleinzahler’s Cutty, One Rock—a book I’d given away many times and had eventually forgotten to replace. My wife let me read the title essay aloud, even though I kept slipping into my version of a New Jersey accent (bad, bad). Then, maybe three days later, on the same table, I found a copy of B. S. Johnson’s 1964 novel Albert Angelo. It was crazy—I’d been meaning to read B. S. Johnson for years. If I had come across any of his novels in a bookstore, I’d have bought them. This one’s about a beleaguered substitute teacher in a London slum, a subgenre (the bitter teacher novel) I especially enjoy. Obviously these books—the old favorite and the object of curiosity—have been two clicks away, but serendipity beats intention every time. —Lorin Stein  Read More »

On the Shelf

Fire Up Your Cliché Detector, and Other News

February 12, 2016 | by

Thanks, word processor!

  • Kafka isn’t often remembered for his sunny worldview. Surprising, then, to read his effusions about the hustle and bustle of the Paris metro, which you’d think would’ve depressed the hell out of him: “The noise of the Metro was terrible when I took it for the first time in my life, from Montmartre to the grand boulevards. Aside from that it isn’t bad, rather it even intensifies the pleasant, calm feeling of speed. The advertisement for Dubonnet is very well-suited to being read, expected, and observed by sad and unoccupied passengers. Elimination of language from commerce, since one does not have to speak when paying, or when getting on or off. Because it is so easy to understand, the Metro offers the best opportunity for an eager, weakly foreigner to assure himself that he has quickly and correctly made his way into the very essence of Paris on his first try.”
  • If Kafka’s too much the Pollyanna for your liking, you can return to abject misery by having a look at Hermann Göring’s art collection: Sarah Wildman writes, “the catalogue of Göring’s art provides a perversely fascinating yardstick for the changing taste of a man known for personal eccentricities as well as horrifying brutality. The emphasis, at first, is on northern European Romanticism, along with the nude female form. But the collection shifts, becomes more expansive, and, occasionally, eschews the Nazi laws on so-called degenerate art to scoop up some of the modern greats … The catalogue provides a fuller picture of how spoliation itself was an integral, early part of the Nazi effort to degrade, dehumanize, and expel the Jews, setting the stage, ultimately, for mass murder.”
  • In which Tony Tulathimutte dares to imagine the unimaginable—technology that actually helps writers do their jobs better: “Google could team up with the NSA to digitize and index every word ever written or recorded, and make this omni-corpus available for indexing, mining, and categorizing. Or by being trained on a personal corpus of writing samples, the detector could be adapted to learn an author’s pet phrases. Zadie Smith pointed out that in all of her novels someone ‘rummages in their purse’; our program would flag each instance, as well as any variations … It could be tailored to specific genres: ‘heaving bosoms’ in romance, ‘throughout history’ in student papers, ‘please advise’ in business emails. Beyond merely detecting clichés, the program could also offer statistically unique replacements for each cliché, constructed by thesaural substitution and grammatical reshuffling.”
  • Today in enduring industry dilemmas: How much should writers and publishers get paid? James McConnachie renews the oldest debate in books: “Writers and publishers are in it together, I tend to feel. Not always in a cuddly way. Sometimes more in a screaming-down-the-mineshaft way … When a publisher tells you he ‘shares your frustration,’ ask him how much he earns—and quite how little he’d pay his lowest paid editorial assistant before he felt he was exploiting the vulnerability of their position. Before he felt he was endangering the long-term sustainability of his business. Publishing is a market, but it is also a fragile ecosystem, and right now we are losing not just individual writers but entire species of authors.”
  • If you’d prefer to think on something loftier, you might ask yourself instead: How do sea creatures have sex? Marah J. Hardt’s Sex in the Sea is here for you. “From rays finding each other through magnetic charges, to whales with labyrinthine labia,” Colin Dickey writes, “Hardt trawls the sea for all manner of odd reproductive habits, including the deep-sea worm, the Osedax, the males of which are tiny, microscopic animals that live entirely inside the females … For many species, including the clownfish, the fish have it both ways: they start off as male, impregnating females left and right; then, as they mature and grow, they switch sex, becoming larger, mature, adult females who can hold more eggs. Known by ichthyologists as BOFFFFs (Big, Old, Fat, Fecund Female Fish), these matriarchs incorporate a number of reproductive advantages not available to those of us stuck with one sex our whole lives.”

Correspondence

Euro Road Trip, Twelve Cadillacs

February 11, 2016 | by

Patrick Leigh Fermor

The British travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, born on this day in 1915, sent this letter to Deborah Devonshire in October 1960, having completed a road trip through plenty of Eastern Europe. Read more of their letters in In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh FermorRead More »

On Sports

Northern Powerhouse

February 11, 2016 | by

David Storey’s classic rugby novel, This Sporting Life, speaks to an enduring schism in English culture.

From a Penguin paperback edition of This Sporting Life.

“I went straight for the full-back,” the up-and-coming rugby star of David Storey’s 1960 novel, This Sporting Life, tells us: “and when he came in I gave him the base of my wrist on his nose. The crack, the groan, the release of his arms, all coincided with a soaring of my guts.” Crucially, the sport here is Rugby League, the fast and furious sister of Rugby Union—the latter being what most people would recognize simply as “rugby.” Save for a few rule differences, the two are similar, yet in a thousand intangible ways, many of them to do with the inescapable pall of class that covered English life throughout the twentieth century, they’re worlds apart. Much of the unique power of This Sporting Life, crafted straight from Storey’s personal experience, is in how it shows us these ways. Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

Silver Lining

February 11, 2016 | by

From Early Silver of Connecticut and Its Makers, 1913.

It’s hard not to have mixed feelings about Florence King after reading her famous memoir, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (1985). She’s … idiosyncratic, certainly. Brave, in certain respects. Independent-minded, yes, and not afraid of being disliked. But King, a notorious crank, was hard to pigeonhole: Where do you fit an openly gay writer who wrote a famously cantankerous and conservative National Review column for decades? Or a feminist who hated the women’s movement and an outspoken agnostic who regularly attended church? 

Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is as singular as its author. King is at her best when she talks about the South in broad, acid terms. She offers a particularly adept explanation of the Southerner’s relationship to silver—one that I read with relish, as I come from a family that fetishizes silver. Read More »

On the Shelf

3-D Demon Eruptions in ’s-Hertogenbosch, and Other News

February 11, 2016 | by

Bosch’s Haywain Triptych. Photograph: Rik Klein Gotink for the Bosch Research and Conservation Project

  • A small Dutch town with the incredible name of ’s-Hertogenbosch is planning a truly legendary celebration of Hieronymus Bosch: “The whole city (already famous in the Netherlands for its wild Shrovetide carnival) is planning to go slightly bonkers with Bosch fever. There will be moving projections of Bosch paintings in the marketplace and 3D recreations—erupting through pavements or hanging from lampposts—of angels, demons, damned souls, mermaids riding on flying fish, drunken priests, lascivious women, and monsters with the legs of a giant chicken and the body of an egg. More images will be projected under the bridges and in the tunnels of the river and canals, for an adventure billed as ‘The Boat Trip of Heaven and Hell.’ ”
  • Meanwhile, in London, the art scene is drawing its inspiration from a more contemporary source: One Direction fan fiction. The artist Owen G. Parry’s latest work “explores the world of ‘Larry Stylinson,’ that is, fanfiction and fanart that explore a sexual relationship between One Direction band members Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson … Parry’s pieces include Larry Underwater Kiss, a digital silk print, Larry!Hiroglyfics, etched drawings of the couple on Perspex alongside the slogan ‘ship everything,’ and Larry!Domestic: masks of Louis and Harry in pink containers, alongside a wearable pregnant belly marked with Harry’s tattoos.”
  • Olly Moss’s new video game Firewatch derives its subversive power from something you don’t find often in the medium: solitude. It does, after all, feature a pair of “rudderless forty-somethings” who keep their eyes to the horizon for a living: “The game is set in a few acres of a fictional national park in Wyoming, where you play as a fire lookout who intends to spend the lingering days of summer working alone at his typewriter, occasionally scanning the horizon for curls of smoke … The core of the game is the relationship between Henry and Delilah, a neighboring lookout with whom Henry keeps in near constant contact on his battery-powered radio. Delilah, who has spent many summers here, is by turns a mentor, a therapist, and a flirt. You choose how Henry responds to her jibes and inquiries, selecting from a range of options to reply either in kind, in defense, or with silence.”
  • From 1940 to 1948, New Yorkers could enjoy the the New York PM Daily, a distinctive tabloid that served as a progressive voice for the city, complete with unflinching photography and a mission statement that feels positively Sanders-esque: “PM is against people who push other people around. PM accepts no advertising. PM belongs to no political party. PM is absolutely free and uncensored. PM’s sole source of income is its readers—to whom it alone is responsible. PM is one newspaper that can and dares to tell the truth.”
  • Most of us (i.e., me) assume that translating is a total paradise—a famously lucrative sideline free of pressure, stress, or neurosis of any kind. The translator Natasha Wimmer sets the record straight: “By translating something you’re implicitly recommending it. I always think about that when I choose a project. I was just reading an interview with the translator Michael Hofmann who translates from German, and he was saying that in his ideal world people would consider his name an imprimatur. I’m really not sure how many people look to the translator to see what to read next, but I do try to make coherent choices … There’s a reason I'm translating a woman next. I think about that; I think about the question of women writers in translation. I’ve translated on commission a lot, so I tend to just choose the best of what I’m offered, and that’s happened to be male writers. But I do think that it’s my responsibility to seek out women writers and to translate them.”