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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: Carson, Comyns, “Carriers”

June 27, 2014 | by

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Detail from an illustration by Ellen Weinstein for the summer issue of Nautilus, a science quarterly.

I don’t care if I never read another charming little book about Marcel Proust—not now that I’ve read Anne Carson’s chapbook The Albertine Workout. In fifty-nine numbered paragraphs (or perhaps, exercises), Carson reviews what little we know about Marcel’s mistress, the most-mentioned and yet most elusive character in Proust’s work. Carson’s findings take us deep into the questions of what love and sex mean to Proust, and in our own lives. As the title implies, you can read The Albertine Workout in one sitting, but you will keep feeling it for days. —Lorin Stein

This week, I discovered the Web site for Nautilus, a science quarterly. I have yet to see the print version, but if it’s anything like the online iteration—elegantly and smartly designed, with illustrations that often have the look of early- to mid-twentieth-century artwork—then it’s worth picking up. The content isn’t what you’d necessary expect from a science magazine (I grew up around hardcore publications like Nature and Science): there’s fiction, photography, and art, in addition to pieces on, say, evolution, lepidoptery, architecture, and ecology. I came to the site looking for Lauren Weinstein’s comic strip “Carriers,” which she posted daily this past week. Weinstein is one of the best cartoonists at work, and this five-part story is proof of that. She and her husband are both carriers for cystic fibrosis, and the comic details her struggle in waiting to find out if her unborn child tests positive for the defect. Weinstein’s characteristic humor keeps pathos at bay, and she reflects entertainingly, by way of her terrific serpentine scroll-downs, on the how and why of genetic mutations such as this one. —Nicole Rudick

What do you think when you hear the name Luis Suárez? If you’ve followed the news this week, the phrases “biting lunatic,” “delinquent toddler,” and the “Hannibal Lecter of soccer” might come to mind; “family guy,” “superhuman,” and Uruguay’s “favorite son” haven’t crossed the minds—or lips—of many sports pundits. If you’re curious about understanding Suárez beyond the memes and gifs, Wright Thompson’s profile from late last month explores the Uruguayan player’s childhood and the mystery surrounding an incident when he head-butted a referee and received a red card in a youth match—which may or may not be true. What really stuck with me after finishing the essay wasn’t the story of the referee or the media scrutiny, but the history of Suárez and his wife, Sofia Balbi. After the pair fell in love at fifteen, Sofia moved to Spain with her family. Suárez, at the time working as a street sweeper, knew that he could never afford a plane ticket on his own. Instead, he dedicated himself to soccer until he became good enough to be picked up by a European team. The thing is, his “completely irrational” plan worked—he played first for Groningen, then moved to Ajax and finally to Liverpool, where he now plays. He married Balbi in 2009, and as Thompson writes, “He loves his family, and soccer gave it to him, and guarantees no Suárez will ever again pick up coins while cleaning the streets.” While this romantic tale doesn’t justify his actions last week, it helps explain the desperation you catch sometimes in his eyes when you watch him play, “someone who fights to win, no matter what … He bites because he is clinging to a new life, terrified of being sucked back into the one he left behind.” —Justin Alvarez

Regular readers of the Daily already know how NicoleSadie, and I feel about the neglected English writer Barbara Comyns. Last week it was my turn to read her gothic novel The Vet’s Daughter. It reminded me powerfully of something Donald Antrim told The Paris Review in issue 203: “In building another world through the fantastic I was making a set of rules that had to be observed, a logic that had to be carried through—that I was in some ways obeying the premise of the very opening line.”  —L.S.

Wilton Barnhardt’s Lookaway, Lookaway is an ideal beach read, particularly if your beach of choice is south of the Mason-Dixon. Out in paperback this week, the novel is a scathing but tender satire of the contemporary South, skewering the hypocrisies that attend a regional identity in flux. Barnhardt’s ensemble cast seems, at first, full of familiar caricatures—a mannered matriarch, a wronged sorority girl, a faintly bigoted Civil War reenactor—but his observations are so acute, and his ear so assured, that what should be a brittle, mean-spirited polemic of a novel is instead a large-hearted frolic: it’s preternaturally wise about these United States and those who refer to them as such. —Dan Piepenbring

This week’s big North Korea story was Kim Jong-un’s denunciation of that Seth Rogen movie as an act of war—it overshadowed a more interesting piece of news. The North Korean defector Shin Dong Hyuk, believed to be the only person born in a North Korean prison camp to escape from the country, gave a powerful and profound testimony last week to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Shin has remarkably mobilized the story of his experiences as a prisoner of the totalitarian regime to raise global awareness of North Korean human rights abuses. Blaine Harden’s biography of Shin, Escape from Camp 14, chronicles, with great candor and reverence, the grim details of Shin’s life growing up in a prison camp and his harrowing journey to escape. One of the most complex, devastating aspects of the book is the extreme guilt Shin harbors for coldly betraying his mother, with whom he never had the chance to build bonds of affection. You’ll read it in one sitting. And as a chaser, check out Shane Smith’s VICE doc, which tracks Smith’s boozy, wandering ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway to access North Korean labor camps in the forests of Siberia. —Chantal McStay

Nirvana enthusiasts will recall 1993 as the year of In Utero, but few remember it as the year Kurt Cobain collaborated with William S. Burroughs. Cobain admired the Beat Generation and held Burroughs in the highest regard—so much so that he contacted the novelist about working on a record together. The result was The ‘Priest’ They Called Him, a ten-inch record that narrates a heroin addiction in its final tailspin, infused with elements of grunge and spoken-word Beat culture. Burroughs reads impassively over Cobain’s guitar: “‘Fight tuberculosis, folks.’ Christmas Eve, an old junkie selling Christmas seals on North Park Street. The ‘Priest,’ they called him …” This past April marked the twentieth anniversary of Cobain’s death—both Cobain and Burroughs are gone, but the record serves as a fitting testimony to their respective ambitions. —Yasmin Roshanian

3 COMMENTS

2 Comments

  1. Bart | June 28, 2014 at 5:03 am

    damn. we’re full of stupid comments, aren’t we?

  2. bennYegg | June 28, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    I miss Chuck P and the Fight Club era, the grit of the 90s (I was just a tween and teen). Can TPR do something on Palahniuk soon? Mercy.

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  1. […] turns out that I was right last week (I love it when that happens) about the print version of Nautilus. It’s sharp, well-rounded, and […]

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