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This Week's Reading

Staff Picks: Booker Gossip, Wittgenstein Gags

October 15, 2010 | by

Howard Jacobson, the winner of this year's Man Booker Prize. Photograph by Luke MacGregor.

Two years ago, in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the Booker Prize, The Guardian dredged up a judge from every single year willing to dish on the behind-the-scenes goings-on: Wives promote their husbands' books; punches are thrown; Salman Rushdie is insulted. Another Booker-related treat: a funny and surprisingly poignant profile of aging table-tennis great Marty Reisman, written in 1999 by this year’s winner, Howard Jacobson (once a ranked junior table-tennis player in England), published for the first time in the U.S. this week by Tablet Magazine. Sample description of Marty: “a leftover Beat poet about to read to a bunch of contemporary kids in a non-English speaking country.” —Miranda Popkey

“A typical Wittgenstein gag was drawing an arrow to the ‘W.C.1’ in a London address on a letter he was going to mail and writing, ‘This doesn’t mean ‘Lavatory.’” If the great man finding amusement in such things tickles you—and it really should—you’ll enjoy the rest of Jim Holt’s little book Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes. And oh yes, French children are apparently fond of jokes about the fantastical creature known as the zizi tordu, or “twisted penis.” Now you’ll read the book, won’t you. —Mark de Silva

A History of Love, by Nicole Krauss. I was pulled in by the fluid, experimental structure and kept reading because Krauss, like Roth, gets Jewish families exactly right. Elie Wiesel wrote that the ambivalent “and yet” is the most Jewish of phrases; it is also protagonist Leo Gursky’s constant refrain. —Kate Waldman

The novelist Douglas Coupland previews his upcoming, five-part Massey Lecture on the culture of our near-future in the Globe and Mail. And Vaughan Bell looks backward, to an era in which murder was among our most social and democratic activities. —David Wallace-Wells

Zadie Smith has a short essay in The New Yorker's money issue about lending funds to a friend. I appreciate her honesty: “Until this episode, I’d thought of myself as a working-class girl who’d happened upon money, my essential character unchanged. But money is not neutral; it changes everything, including the ability to neutrally judge what people will or will not do for it.” Bonus: Zadie was a young violist, just as I was! —Thessaly La Force

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