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Staff Picks: Unspooling, Erupting, and Recoiling

April 22, 2016 | by

An image of Tambora taken by the Space Shuttle in 1992, with a view of the caldera produced by the 1815 eruption.

An image of Tambora taken by the Space Shuttle in 1992, with a view of the caldera produced by the 1815 eruption.

On a sad, sad morning, thanks to J. J. Sullivan for sending us this 1989 cover of “When You Were Mine,” by the Blue Rubies. —Lorin Stein

Since Mary Ruefle’s 2008 book Most of It, I’ve watched for a second collection of her short prose. So I was pleased when we published two such pieces from her upcoming book, My Private Property, in our Spring issue. (NB: they’re nestled under Poetry, but as Ruefle told me over the phone, she doesn’t think them poems, per se.) I’ve since gotten my hands on a galley of that book and have read it twice over: Ruefle is as good as ever. In forty-one ambrosial bits, she muses on everything from programs littering a concert-hall floor to menopause to what a bird might think as it watches a woman die. Many of these begin simply—with a golf pencil or a string of Christmas-tree lights—but they unspool into larger existential meditations, on language and death, on creation and sadness and boredom; some are even doused in whimsy. Ruefle’s is a soothing, enlightening voice—always playful, always gentle, and always unfettering some ineffable truth. There’s a closeness I feel toward her as I read this book, as if she’s telling me all the secrets of this world—or at least of hers—and that I’d be wise to listen. “And if you sleep through a truth,” she writes, “you will wake at the bitter end.” —Caitlin Youngquist

This summer marks the bicentennial anniversary of “Frankenstein”—not the book itself, but the spoken nub of the story, which Mary Shelley first narrated by firelight in Switzerland in the summer of 1816. The eighteen-year-old Shelley had traveled with her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, their infant son, and Mary’s stepsister to the shores of Lake Geneva. Their idea was to spend the season with Lord Byron, far from the dreary chill of London. This part of the story is well-known: incessant rain confined the group to the house, and to fight off cabin fever, they each wrote a ghost story. Shelley summoned the tale of Frankenstein, whose frequent confusion with his nameless creation became a great gift to two centuries of pedants, and, lately, to Twitter. What I learned this week, however, from a recent episode of In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg’s indispensable BBC radio show, is that the bad weather that night had its own traceable origin. A year before the Lake Geneva gathering, the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history occurred in Indonesia. The explosion, of a mountain called Tambora, threw thirty-eight cubic miles of rock, ash, and magma into the air. The airborne cloak of sunlight-reflecting ejecta circled the globe and was ultimately responsible for the “ungenial” weather of 1816, which became known as the Year Without a Summer. Tambora’s explosion likely killed some seventy thousand people, so it was hardly the innocuous butterfly of classic chaos theory. Still, we can guess that Shelley might have appreciated, at some level, the distant and violent origins of her tale. “Every thing must have a beginning,” she wrote in the 1831 introduction to Frankenstein, “and that beginning must be linked to something that went before … Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.” —Robert P. Baird
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Staff Picks: Snails Eating Snails, Sailboat Lust, DISSS-CO!

April 15, 2016 | by

The Tarot Garden in Tuscany.

I’ve been impressed by Robyn Schiff’s new collection, A Woman of Property, especially the faithfulness with which it renders the buzzy dread of parenthood: not the fear of begetting but the fear that begetting occasionally begets. To see the world through Schiff’s poems is to see it magnified by motherhood and aswarm with potential menace. The collection includes poems about anthrax and swine flu, “unbearable / supercolonies of ants,” even the slow-motion spectacle of a snail eating another snail. (“Wolf snail rewinding / common snail up its trembling spool, // the wheeling / of the whelk / inside the whelk.”) The poems’ forms are often as relentless as their subjects—it’s the rare stanza that ends on a full stop—but they have their purpose: “The lyric makes me sing,” she writes “what I did not even / want said, to get to stop having / to keep thinking // it.” —Bobby Baird

I was just extolling the artistic virtues of Niki de Saint Phalle to a friend on Monday, complaining about how she’s discussed so infrequently and exhibited so rarely in the U.S. So Ariel Levy’s essay in the latest issue of The New Yorker was a welcome surprise. Levy’s focus is Saint Phalle’s fourteen-acre Tarot Garden in Tuscany, which she worked on for decades. It’s a site I’m keen to visit, especially given Levy’s apt description: “It is as if a psychedelic bomb had exploded in the most picturesque part of Tuscany.” Saint Phalle’s interest in the Tarot, her expression of an overt, joyful eroticism, and her assertion of her own creative value and purpose—especially in relation to intense, passionate affairs with male artists—remind me of her contemporary, Dorothy Iannone, who is likewise under-recognized in this country. Yet Saint Phalle, like Iannone, was never in doubt of her power: “If I didn’t want to be a second-class citizen,” she said, “I would have to go out into the world and fight to impose myself as an artist.”—Nicole Rudick Read More »

Staff Picks: The Hatred of Music, the Love of Phlox

April 8, 2016 | by

From the cover of The Hatred of Music.

I love music, but I like to hear both sides of an argument, so I picked up Pascal Quignard’s The Hatred of Music: ten treatises about the danger in listening. Quignard, himself an accomplished listener, aims “to convey to what point music can become an object of hatred to someone who once adored it beyond measure.” In his crosshairs is not so much music itself but the omnipresence of sound, which has, he argues, metastasized into a force of death more than of life. Quignard can be ponderous—you can imagine him plugging his ears at a Selena Gomez concert—but I can’t deny the depth of his thinking, to say nothing of his gift for aphorism. (“Everything is covered in blood related to sound”; “Rhythm holds man and attaches him like a skin on a drum”; “Concert halls are inveterate caves whose god is time.”) As a kind of lyrical discourse on how we hear, The Hatred of Music belongs on the shelf next to Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise. The second treatise, “It So Happens that Ears Have No Eyelids,” offers this: “What is seen can be abolished by the eyelids, can be stopped by partitions or curtains, can be rendered immediately inaccessible by walls. What is heard knows neither eyelids, nor partitions, neither curtains, nor walls. Undelimitable, it is impossible to protect oneself from it … Sound rushes in. It violates.” I read those words on the subway, as the train groaned into a turn and EDM bled from my neighbor’s headphones. —Dan Piepenbring

Every winter and spring, I receive reams of garden and seed catalogues. Perusing them is, for me, akin to reading a good book and requires that I find a quiet, comfortable spot and consider each page with care. The photographs and copy vary in quality from catalogue to catalogue (I have my favorites), but each nevertheless brings what Katharine White calls “dreams of garden glory.” White became The New Yorker’s first fiction editor in 1925; three years later, the magazine published her first entry in the “Onward and Upward in the Garden” column, in which she wrote on seed and nursery catalogues, gardening books, and her own amateur attempts at floriculture. Last year, New York Review Books collected her fourteen columns. I recognize myself in much of what she writes: when, for instance, she cannot bring herself to stop acquiring plants or when she feels at once cheated and culpable for a plant’s failure to thrive. Mostly, though, I enjoy the moments in which she writes appreciatively of garden life: “Today I’d like nothing more strenuous than to sit still and admire the huge heads of phlox that the wet season has produced in the perennial borders and watch the bees sipping nectar from the poisonous monkshood and plundering the lavender spikes of the veronicas.” —Nicole Rudick Read More »

Together at Last: The Paris Review & Lucky Peach

April 4, 2016 | by

PARISREVIEWlp-pr-covers

Here’s a fact about serious readers: all of them eat. Every last one. And many of them eat multiple times a day.

With this in mind, our shrewd Department of Cross-Promotions is bringing you the perfect deal: a dual subscription to The Paris Review and Lucky Peach, our favorite food journal. That’s one year of the best in literature and the best in food writing for only $50.

We’ve long admired Lucky Peach, which combines some of our favorite ingredients: bold writing, fresh new voices, and an irreverent interest in what and how we eat. We never miss an issue. And we’re proud to say they read us, too, for the best in contemporary fiction, poetry, and interviews. We’ve even shared some writers over the years, like John Jeremiah Sullivan, our Southern editor, whose Lucky Peach essay “I Placed a Jar in Tennessee” won the James Beard Foundation’s MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. Or Ottessa Moshfegh, our 2014 Plimpton Prize winner, who took to Lucky Peach to remember the mayonnaise (or lack thereof) of her youth. Or Alison Kinney, who wrote about the history of Icelandic sagas for the Daily and the history of chocolate eggs for Lucky Peach.

Now, after years of mutual eating and reading, we’ve finally formalized the arrangement. Start your joint subscription now and get two great magazines for one low price. Hurry—this deal is only available through April 30.

Ahoy! All Aboard the Paris Review Cruise

April 1, 2016 | by

Join us for the inaugural Paris Review cruise!

We’re thrilled to announce a new chapter for The Paris Review’s subscribers—an exciting opportunity to meet your fellow readers, enhance your writing skills, and relax in the sun while you support your favorite literary magazine. This August, join us aboard the SS Plimpton for four days of fun, food, and fiction as we set sail for scenic Rehoboth Beach, Delaware! For only $375*, you can make memories and friendships you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.

Want to learn more? Read on! Read More »

Staff Picks: Stirrups, Stravinsky, Sink-feet

March 25, 2016 | by

Meryl Meisler, Butterfly Bedroom Telephone, East Meadow, NY, June 1975, black-and-white photograph, 1975, 20" x 14 1/2". Image via Steven Kasher Gallery.

Among the black-and-white photographs in Meryl Meisler’s show at Steven Kasher Gallery is a vitrine that houses ephemera from Meisler’s youth in Massapequa, Long Island. One piece, from 1969, is an invitation to a swingers’ party that asks attendees to rendezvous in the Island Discount parking lot and boasts that “Our Color Coded Computer Carefully Coordinates Closely Compatible Couples, (put that in your Funk & Wagnalls).” Group adultery aside, this sounds like a fun bunch. And Meisler’s photographs, which she began taking in her early twenties, bear out that notion. In one, an older woman lounges on a bed (whose butterfly spread matches the wallpaper that matches the curtains) while staring openmouthed and goggle-eyed at the camera. In another, a young man in a too-short terry bathrobe shaves while a woman brushes his hair, another man climbs onto the counter to stick his foot in the sink, and a third man, visible only in the mirror, views the scene over the top of the shower doors. The Meislers and their friends are like Tina Barney’s affluent subjects gone astray: kitchsy, boisterous, and lovin’ it. —Nicole Rudick

A year ago, our director of advertising (read, “the person who sells our ads”) left the Review to host a TV show about fashion weeks around the world—Pakistan, China, the Gaza Strip, you name it. Since then, we haven’t seen much of Hailey Gates (though she did attend one Paris Review party via FaceTime from the Congo). So it was with delight and curiosity that we received the trailer for her show, “States of Undress.” It premieres next month on Viceland. We’re staying tuned … —Lorin Stein Read More »