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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: Wittgenstein, Hopper, Strangers

August 30, 2013 | by

Edward Hopper, "Office at Night"

Edward Hopper, Office at Night

Here, in no particular order, are things I hate about historical novels: exposition, walk-ons by famous people, anachronistic dialogue, imaginary letters from actual figures, physical comedy, the looming shadow of war/horrors of trench warfare/Nazi menace, “heated debates,” and Cambridge dons asking after one anothers’ small children—in the nineteen-teens—as if they taught Communications at Pomona. All of these things may be found in Bruce Duffy’s The World As I Found It, a fictionalized life of Ludwig Wittgenstein first published in 1987. Why on earth did I pick it up? Because at 558 pages, it was the longest New York Review Classic for sale at the Strand, and because if the New York Review decides to reprint an historical novel, I want to know why. Within three pages, I was addicted. Within three days, I was babbling about it to my friends. Here’s Bertrand Russell with his bad breath, phlegmatic G. E. Moore, and Wittgenstein—saintly, sympathetic, an angel of intellectual destruction—a hero so well written I kept forgetting he was real. —Lorin Stein

I haven’t been to see the show yet, but the catalogue for the Whitney’s exhibition of Edward Hopper drawings is itself pretty fantastic. The studies for his best-known paintings—Nighthawks and Early Sunday Morning among them—are fascinating windows into his process, and the spare sketches of, say, a man’s suited back are strangely riveting, but my favorite works in the book are his watercolor portraits from 1906–1907 of various “characters” from the Paris streets: La Pierreuse, Le Militaire, Fille de Joie, Le Terrassier. In the figures’ heavy brows and deep shading, they strike me as a strange combination of William Pène du Bois’s drawings of bears and of Eric Powell’s The Goon. Hopper’s rather fashiony pen-and-ink sketches—pages of Figures in Hats, Man with Moustache and Women in Dresses and Hats, Diver, Sailors, Male Figure, and Arm—are also wonderfully chaotic and occasionally bizarre. —Nicole Rudick

Summer, for me, is a season of shared pleasures. Mine culminated in a series of text messages and Snapchats from Turkey as my friend allowed me to (vicariously) read Infinite Jest for the nth time. As I received her images of the book knifed into four sections (one completely footnotes)—for mobility’s sake—one footnote made a particular impression: “But even the first to quail and jump has jumped. Far beyond prohibited, not to jump at all is regarded as impossible. To ‘perdre son coeur’ and not jump at all is outside le Jeu’s limit.” —Taylor Lane

Eugene Lim’s latest novel, The Strangers, is a puzzle—or, maybe more accurately, a one-way mirror; one may not always understand the words and actions of the set of twins the story follows but, nonetheless, they communicate. A publisher searches for just the right shirt and falls in love; a filmmaker hopes for a break; a young man is arrested for vandalizing posters of the president of a paranoid nation; a woman works a missing-persons case on a noncommercial cruise ship. This literary cabinet of curiosities may take you down some strange paths, but I enjoyed the entire trip. —Justin Alvarez

I could not put down Chicago Review 57:3/4, reading its rich contents in one sitting, and have been eagerly anticipating the next issue. 58:1 will feature poetry by Lisa Jarnot and an essay on translation by Nathanaël, among other things. Preview some of the issue content and order here. —Kate Rouhandeh

“It’s not the place that impoverishes me but I who bring my own sense of poverty, of loss, to the place,” writes Marco Roth in his haunting memoir, The Scientists. Roth rightly terms the book “a family romance,” and this is the right word: as much a story of the meaning of love, and loss, as it is one specific account of a family secret and its consequences. —Sadie Stein

 

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