The Daily

This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: T. S. Eliot and Friends, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

June 17, 2011 | by

Every summer the good people at Oxford Classics sponsor a reading group in the Reading Room at Bryant Park. I joined them this week to discuss New Grub Street (1891), George Gissing’s novel about freelancers who haunt the British Museum. What I remembered—what everyone remembers—is the scary depiction of writer’s block. (George Orwell: “To a professional writer it is ... an upsetting and demoralizing book, because it deals, among other things, with that much-dreaded occupational disease, sterility.”) What I noticed this time was the love story between Jasper Milvain, a slick young critic on the make, and shy, scholarly Marian Yule, the nicest, toughest, smartest person in the book. —Lorin Stein

Galleys of the two-volume Letters of T. S. Eliot just landed on my desk. And everyone who’s anyone is here: Ezra Pound, Lytton Strachey, Edmund Wilson, and Conrad Aiken, but also Wyndham Lewis, Jacques Riviere, and James Joyce. How disarming, though, to see a letter addressed to Bertrand Russell as “Dear Bertie” and signed “Affectionately, Tom.” —Nicole Rudick

I had the chance to do a Q & A with Carmela Ciuraru this week, the author of Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms. The book is a series of portraits of literary figures throughout history—the Brontes, George Eliot, O. Henry, Georges Simenon—who for one reason or another adopted pseudonyms. It’s fascinating—and, incidentally, piqued my interest in an author I hadn’t read, Fernando Pessoa.Sadie Stein

Aaron Sorkin and David Carr talk about cocaine, journalism, and The New York Times. —Thessaly La Force

New Directions Pearls are small books on large topics: Fitzgerald on booze, Garcia Lorca on duende, Borges’s Everything and Nothing. The books are about the size of postcard, which means they fit in your back pocket and can also be used as fans or as bookmarks for bigger books. Right now I’m reading Joseph Roth’s The Leviathan, a longish short story about the coral merchant Nissen Piczenik and his holiday in Odessa. It’s a gem. —Robyn Creswell

Molly Lambert takes on Kanye West over at Grantland and produces this glorious footnote: “Almost all classic West Coast rap is about being the world’s worst boyfriend. Too Short and Eazy-E would not be very good boyfriends.” —Cody Wiewandt

I reread From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which I remembered even less well than Grub Street, but which brought to mind David Grann’s piece on Peter Paul Biro. —L. S.

Tom Bissell reviews the video game L. A. Noire. —T. L.

Because you can’t watch this too many times and, well, it’s Friday. —Peter Conroy



  1. Hannah | June 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Frankweiler (great book!)

  2. Louisa Thomas | June 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    my husband was in the archives of Josef Pieper, a Catholic theologian, when he came across a stash of Christmas cards from Vivienne and Tom Eliot. Apparently they’re horrible kitsch–carolers in the snow, printed verses, that sort of thing. I suppose they’re not included!

  3. Denise | Chez Danisse | June 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Excellent idea. I think I will also reread The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I recall it inspiring great plans of escape.

  4. Denise | Chez Danisse | June 17, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Correction: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

  5. Angeline-Marie | June 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    The “…Mixed Up Files…” remains one of my favorite all time books.

    Like Denise, it inspired great plans of places to escape in Miami, Florida. When I see a fountain full of coins, I still remember the story!

  6. Shelley | June 20, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    George Orwell is always in “diagnosis” mode. He would have made a sharp-eyed, non-nonsense doctor. House?

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