The Daily

This Week's Reading

Staff Picks: Murdock Pemberton, ‘The Last September’

January 20, 2012 | by

Elizabeth Bowen.

Late at night I’ve been savoring Elizabeth Bowen’s 1929 novel, The Last September, about feckless English gentry in County Cork on the eve of civil war. This is Bowen in her early, super-Georgian mode. It’s like The Wind in the Willows meets Mrs. Dalloway, with IRA incursions. —Lorin Stein

This week I finally had a chance to crack open the momentous, beautiful Portrait of Murdock Pemberton. It presents sixty years of accumulated paraphernalia collected by Pemberton, the first New Yorker art critic and a founder of the Algonquin Round Table—paraphernalia that turned up only recently, stored in suitcases in his family’s attic. There are love letters; Freudian analyses conducted by mail; vintage art-gallery brochures; epistolary exchanges with Harold Ross, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Alfred Stieglitz, among others; and of course a plethora of New Yorker columns from the early days of the magazine—all spotted with charming satiric quips on the editorial process, like “every third week or so we feel the editorial complex empowering our sense of proportion and we give vent to a little sermon” or “to keep his luck running fair, every critic should be honest with you now and then.” Indeed!—Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

One day in 1923, a Panamanian civil servant with no interest in poetry returns home from work and composes a long poem that becomes a landmark of the Latin American avant-garde. Such is the premise of César Aira’s Varamo. The rest of the novella reconstructs the events that lead up to (but fail to explain) this mysterious burst of inspiration. It’s a lampoon of our need for narrative, and no one these days does metafiction like Aira. —Robyn Creswell

Maybe it’s because I’m in the thick of ad sales this week, but I was particularly taken with this slideshow of vintage Village Voice ads. My favorite is for a clothing line that sells, among other things, something called the “Capitalist banker coat”: “Intrepid Gyro,” the ad copy reads, “wearing its scars lightly, stalks the surplus sub-world in quest of epic styles without compromise.” —Sadie Stein

I am indulging my primordial self with William Golding’s The Inheritors, a novel chronicling the demise of ambling Neanderthals at the hands of cruel Homo sapiens. —Julian Delacruz

Anyone who has spent any time in this fair city will get a good hoot out of “Shit New Yorkers Say.”—D.F.M.

2 COMMENTS

2 Comments

  1. GZ | January 20, 2012 at 10:42 am

    The inheritors is a great read. One interesting element is Golding’s attention to the manner in which the ‘Neanderthals’ think, that is, primarily in images.

  2. Lorin Stein | January 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Thank you, Deirdre, for recommending “Shit New Yorkers Say.” I love the way he says “Magnolia”!

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