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Read Everywhere, Part 6

July 29, 2014 | by

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Adam Leith Gollner, a contributor to the Daily, reads Issue 209 in Nanjing, China.

Celebrate summer—and get summer reading, all year round—with a joint subscription to The Paris Review and The London Review of Books.

The Paris Review brings you the best new fiction, poetry, and interviews; The London Review of Books publishes the best cultural essays and long-form journalism. Now, for a limited time, you can get them both for one low price, anywhere in the world.

Tell us where you’re reading either magazine—or both! Share photos from around the world with the hashtag #ReadEverywhere.

Subscribe today.

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What We’re Loving: Algiers, Aliens, Adulthood

July 25, 2014 | by

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George Saunders talks to an alien. Detail from an illustration by Thomas Allen, in O, the Oprah Magazine.

I went on vacation planning to read Tristram Shandyat last. Instead I read Frank Kermode on “Modernisms,” most of The Rise of the Novel (including the chapter on Tristram Shandy), and half the Selected Poems of Howard Moss. Total reading time: not much. But it was choice. Then I got home and found The New Yorker in my mailbox. Greg Jackson’s “Wagner in the Desert” is the best fiction debut they’ve published in years. The story belongs to an ancient genre: young, rich people hole up in a country house to avoid the plague. In this case, the country house is a rental in Palm Springs, the plague is adulthood, and the hosts are a Hollywood couple about to start fertility treatments, hoping to get their ya-yas out in a mindful, caring way. Jackson knows his antecedents. He has metabolized Ben Lerner and David Foster Wallace. He can throw in a blank verse, like Melville, to heighten a scene. He even steals, without attribution, from Kenny Rogers. I read “Wagner in the Desert” my first night back, fell asleep, and dreamed I was in the story (and also back in elementary school, getting a lesson in the story) then woke up and read it again, with no diminution of enjoyment. —Lorin Stein

I’ve been reading Adam Shatz’s very smart account of how reporting on the Middle East cured him of political romanticism. I suspect he’s not alone in this experience: “When I finally began to spend time in the place about which I had pontificated for so long, I discovered that I was much more interested in what the people I met had to say than in my own views.” My favorite parts are Shatz’s trips to Algiers—“a city I knew mostly from Gillo Pontecorvo’s film”—and his interview with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. It’s a sobering essay, and a timely one for this low point (after a very high one) in the history of the region. —Robyn Creswell

In this month’s O, The Oprah Magazine, George Saunders explains to a space alien what it means to be human. His explanation takes the form of a series of short-story recommendations, of course. Drawing on diverse selections from Chekhov to Hemingway to Lahiri, he covers the basics of love, loneliness, greed, kindness, death, and empathy. The essay’s a gem, a genuine love letter to reading as a noble pursuit. Saunders says it best: “Short stories are the deep, encoded crystallizations of all human knowledge. They are rarefied, dense meaning machines, shedding light on the most pressing of life’s dilemmas. By reading a thoughtfully selected set of them, our alien could, in a few hours, learn everything he needs to know about the way we live. Except how it feels to lose one’s car in a parking garage and walk around for like three hours, trying to look as if you know where you’re going, so the people driving by—who have easily found their cars, having written the location on their wrists or something—don’t think badly of you. I don’t think there’s a short story about that yet.” —Chantal McStay

Another thing I did on vacation was see The Shining for the first time in a couple of decades. This, unfortunately, was the director’s cut, in which Jack Nicholson has several long, boring conversations with ghosts. But even the scary parts weren’t scary anymore. To hear J. D. Daniels tell it in the new issue of Flaunt, I’d rather have seen the documentary Room 237—at least, if I got to see it with J. D. Daniels: “Room 237 is about unhinged Stanley Kubrick fanatics … Each of them thinks The Shining is a coded message. One participant believes The Shining is Kubrick’s confession that he helped NASA fake the Apollo 11 moon landing. Have you seen The Shining? It’s about an axe murderer. It’s about 145 minutes long.” —L.S.
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Read Everywhere, Part 5

July 23, 2014 | by

Benjamin Louter reads The Paris Review in a kayak off Vancouver Island.

Celebrate summer—and get summer reading, all year round—with a joint subscription to The Paris Review and The London Review of Books.

The Paris Review brings you the best new fiction, poetry, and interviews; The London Review of Books publishes the best cultural essays and long-form journalism. Now, for a limited time, you can get them both for one low price, anywhere in the world.

Tell us where you’re reading either magazine—or both! Share photos from around the world with the hashtag #ReadEverywhere.

Subscribe today.

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What We’re Loving: Voyeurism, Privacy, the King of the Monkeys

July 18, 2014 | by

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An illustration from the Ramayana of Sugriva challenging Vali, ca. 1628–1649

God bless the anonymous German who published, in 1804, The Nightwatches of Bonaventura, a novel full of bizarre comic brio, pitched perfectly and awkwardly between Gothicism and Romanticism. Nightwatches is narrated by Kreuzgang, a poet manqué—and actor manqué, and even puppeteer manqué—who’s taken on a gig as a night watchman for a steady paycheck. He skulks about, muttering to the reader, warding off boredom by staring in people’s windows and riffing on the devil. All the while he seems to suffer from some kind of mood disorder; he’s acerbic where I expect him to be gentle, sententious where I expect him to be forgiving. As he observes, through curtains and windows, a succession of excommunications, thefts, murders, love affairs, and hauntings, Kreuzgang begins to charm with his lyrical cynicism. In his more aphoristic moments, he comments on our era as much as his own: “The character of the times is patched and pieced together like a fool’s coat,” he says, “and worst of all, the fool buttoned in it would like to appear serious…” There’s something perversely irresistible in Nightwatches’s voyeurism and its willful profanity. A new edition is coming in October; its publisher says it’s “one part Poe and one part Beckett,” which is apt, but I thought first of Tom Stoppard at his most playful. If he’d taken some bad LSD in the German countryside, he might’ve written this. —Dan Piepenbring

Some time ago, on their Tumblr, the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora featured a conversation between James Baldwin and the incomparable Audre Lorde. Originally published in Essence in 1984, the conversation, in this iteration, opens with Baldwin’s comment “Du Bois believed in the American dream. So did Martin. So did Malcolm. So do I. So do you. That’s why we’re sitting here”—to which Lorde responds, “I don’t, honey. I’m sorry, I just can’t let that go past. Deep, deep, deep down I know that dream was never mine. And I wept and I cried and I fought and I stormed, but I just knew it.” It’s only the beginning of a vigorous exchange about Baldwin’s experience of being black in America, and Lorde’s of being black and a woman. During the women’s liberation movement in the seventies, black women fought on two fronts for equal rights, and Lorde is gloriously unrelenting on that fact. “Even worse than the nightmare is the blank,” she tells Baldwin. “And Black women are the blank.” —Nicole Rudick

For the first time in almost two hundred years, the Mewar Ramayana can be read and viewed as a complete work, thanks to the British Library’s digital reunification of the beautifully illustrated manuscript. The Mewar version of the great Hindu epic is distinguished by its richly saturated colors and its nonlinear depictions of the Prince Rama story; it was commissioned by Jagat Singh I of the Mewar dynasty in the seventeenth century. Today, the physical pages of the manuscript are divided between the British Library and several different collections in India, but the online project allows the work to be read in full, with a few lovely supplementary materials to boot. It’s that rare digital edition that succeeds by mostly staying out of the way: the focus is on the incredible hi-res images of the paintings and the original Sanskrit script, but there are also unobtrusive English descriptions (text and audio) and commentary from art historians to accompany each page. In one of my favorite illustrations, Rama helps Sugriva overthrow Bali to become king of the monkeys. Sugriva stands outside his brother’s pink confectionary palace, roaring “so that the very birds fall out of the sky in fright.” Rama puts an arrow through Bali, killing him. In the next panel, Rama sits jilted as the enthroned Sugriva, distracted by all the sex and wine that comes with being the monkey king, has forgotten about his greatest ally. So it goes. —Chantal McStay Read More »

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Read Everywhere, Part 4

July 16, 2014 | by

Celebrate summer—and get summer reading, all year round—with a joint subscription to The Paris Review and The London Review of Books.

The Paris Review brings you the best new fiction, poetry, and interviews; The London Review of Books publishes the best cultural essays and long-form journalism. Now, for a limited time, you can get them both for one low price, anywhere in the world.

Tell us where you’re reading either magazine—or both! Share photos from around the world with the hashtag #ReadEverywhere.

Subscribe today.

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What We’re Loving: Boyhood, Blockbusters, Bay Area Ceramists

July 11, 2014 | by

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A publicity shot from Edge of Tomorrow.

Left Coast/Third Coast”: it’s the name of an exhibition up at George Adams Gallery through the middle of next month, and a brilliantly concise epithet for those other places where art gets made. They refer, of course, to the West Coast and to Chicago, and the show focuses on artists whose careers were begun in the Bay Area and in the Windy City in the fifties and sixties. It’s not every day you get to see so many of these artists in one place. Among them are Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson (part of the Hairy Who), Robert Arneson (a wonderfully profane Bay Area ceramist), and Jeremy Anderson (a West Coast sculptor who frequently worked with wood). H. C. Westermann’s work is also here, and it’s always a treat to see his sculptures and drawings in person. These are artists who not only returned to figuration when Abstract Expressionism was at its most monumental, but they did it in what were then considered remote corners of the country for art making. —Nicole Rudick

Go see Edge of Tomorrow, the new Tom Cruise sci-fi romp, and walk out about fifteen minutes before its rah-rah conclusion. What you’ll be left with—as three of us learned yesterday in an impromptu TPR Night at the Movies™—is a grim but heartening existential parable. If you’ve seen the ads, you know that Edge runs with a premise similar to Groundhog Day’s: Cruise plays an infantryman who comes back to life whenever he’s killed. Instead of awaking in sleepy Punxsutawney, he comes to in a militarized, bureaucratized hell, i.e., the future. He’s always hours away from facing a massive extraterrestrial invasion, and he’s always tasked (not unpleasantly) with seeking the counsel of Emily Blunt, who is always crouched in the same sweaty, imperious yoga pose. Cruise’s condition gives him a chance to defeat the aliens, but it also gives us a chance to watch him die, a lot, in an elaborate montage that’s as compelling as anything at the movies now. Step by painstaking step, he has to repeat an intricate performance on which the fate of humanity is staked. If you’re willing to dwell on the sequence, it can take you to some surprising places, some rarefied and some not: I thought of syllogisms, Sisyphus, The Trial, first-person shooters, cheat codes, mid-period Paul Verhoeven, D-Day, Dance Dance Revolution, Kierkegaard’s knight of infinite resignation, those team-building, problem-solving exercises I had to do in elementary school, and how neat it would be to save the planet with Emily Blunt. These ruminations may not bear fruit, but that’s okay—Edge is still a more enlightened mental vacation than it ought to be. —Dan Piepenbring

In trying to come up with recommendations for these posts, I sometimes think of Montaigne, who, despite serving as a legal counselor for most of his professional life, did not like giving advice: “I am very seldom consulted, and even more seldom heeded; and I know of no undertaking, public or private, that my advice has advanced and improved. Even those who, by chance, have come to depend on it, have in the end preferred to be guided by any other brain than mine.” He was a bit of a lone wolf, continuing, “By leaving me alone, they follow my declared wish, which is to be wholly self-reliant and self-contained. It pleases me not to be interested in the affairs of others, and to be free from responsibility for them.” This sentiment may have had something to do with the extreme social isolation in which Montaigne was raised; it was part of his father’s strict pedagogical curriculum, which would put today’s pre-Ivy prep Montessori schools to shame. (Montaigne’s first language—in sixteenth-century France—was Latin. Every morning the child was awakened by soft music. As a baby, he was sent to live with a peasant family for three years so he would not become accustomed to great wealth.) Montaigne later returned to this isolation, retreating to his tower-library in Dordogne when he retired. He considered the opinions of others “flies and specks that distract my will,” and so, at risk of being one of those specks, I recommend the vast, insight-laden Essays of this thoroughly, idiosyncratically educated man. They’re always worth another look. —Chantal McStay

Nearly a decade elapsed between each of Richard Linklater’s three Before Sunrise films, and like that trilogy, his latest, Boyhood, follows a pattern of real time, grounding us in fixed points throughout its character’s lives. Boyhood was filmed over twelve years, which allows its actors to age onscreen. It has an authenticity that’s too rare in cinema—its pinches of dialogue sound like natural exchanges, rooting the audience into a narrative that mirrors the adolescent experience with a painstaking awareness. Linklater recently voiced his intent in The New Yorker: “I always had that personality—I think it’s a writer’s sensibility—where you’re there but not there … I had to make a peace with myself. It’s like, well, you’re not in the moment. But just by contemplating it, by searching for the depth of the moment, that is itself an experience.” —Yasmin Roshanian

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