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Staff Picks: Ghost-Forsaken Plains, Apocalyptic Libertarians

December 12, 2014 | by

darrel-rees

An illustration by Darrel Rees

I know it’s jumping the gun, since the book doesn’t come out till April, but I’ve been enjoying Devin Johnston’s new poetry collection Far-Fetched. His imagery is often unexpected—“Her kiss? Sweet, / and hard enough / to crack your teeth”—or else so familiar and right that its perfection is surprising, as when he observes the fixed interval between a father’s age and his son’s, comparing that even space to “two ruts [that] incise this ghost-forsaken plain / and keep their track width, never to part or meet.” His playfulness is refreshing and smart—“One finds escape through Stephen King, / as through a window left ajar”—and I’m more than occasionally in awe of his linguistic pairings, especially the lines “Clouds purl / in a conch whorl.” —Nicole Rudick

The new issue of Harper’s has a terrifying dispatch from Sam Frank, who has dared to insinuate himself into a community of “apocalyptic libertarians” in Silicon Valley. These are people who conduct polyphasic-sleep experiments, who dream of a program that can simulate “eons of moral progress” to extrapolate “a complete human goal structure.” They’re all fixated on the idea that an artificial superintelligence will, in the next century, attempt to eradicate humanity. And they revere a kind of functionalism that treats our brains as mere processors. One of them, the pluperfectly named Blake Masters, lives by the motto, “Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it. Extinction is approaching. Fight it.” They are, in short, so cold and clinical that Ayn Rand looks like Oprah in comparison, and Frank captures them in moments of paranoia, hubris, and misogyny. Their rationalism isn’t contagious, but the underlying dread certainly is. By the time I finished reading, I felt that humankind was totally fucked. —Dan Piepenbring

“True, it all happened a long time ago, but it has haunted me ever since.” So begins S. Yizhar’s Khirbet Khizeh, published in Hebrew in 1949, in the aftermath of the 1948 War and the Palestinian nakba. It is the story of a company of Jewish soldiers tasked with clearing a Palestinian village, called Khirbet Khizeh, in the closing months of the conflict. It is a war novel that refuses all the pieties of that genre and develops into an anguished—and unresolved—meditation on Jewish history and the meaning of exile. Almost every episode screams out its relevance for today. —Robyn Creswell

That same Harper’s piece introduced me to Darrel Rees, whose willfully tacky, nineties-style graphics collages add a whole dimension of smart anxiety to the essay. You can see more of his illustration work here—his is an aesthetic that feels fantastically out of sync with the crisp, clean, pure designs you see in so many magazines today. —DP

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Staff Picks: Reading Aloud, Rayon Dresses, Red Phones

December 5, 2014 | by

mvr-alarmira-za-telefonnite-izmamnici-v-kiustendilsko-157452

Straight to Moscow.

Our Summer issue this year included Garth Greenwell’s story “Gospodar.” Though I didn’t then know that Greenwell is also a poet, it now seems obvious: his language in the story is economical and precise and yet so fluid. Two and a half years ago, Greenwell’s friend, Max Freeman, a filmmaker and photographer, filmed him reading three of his poems. Greenwell is a superb reader, and I was transfixed by the movement of his face on camera—“enthralled like a bird before a snake,” as he says in the first poem. (Actually, I had to watch the video a couple times because I forgot to pay attention to the words the first time.) The oddly touching “Faculty Meeting with Fly” is the second poem, in which a fly provides interest and pleasure during an otherwise dull moment: “No one before has traced precisely that path / along the thinner vein of my wrist, yet you take / such delight there / … while / beneath you subterraneously my blood must roar / and thrum you like a lyre.” But it’s the last poem, “An Evening Out”—wistful, gorgeous, and sad—that makes the video, and Greenwell’s face, so compelling. —Nicole Rudick

I haven’t read many novels as spooky and sublime and psychologically acute as Forrest Gander’s The Trace. It’s the portrait of a couple in crisis and their misguided road trip through the Chihuahua desert, on the tracks of the writer Ambrose Bierce. Gander’s landscapes are lyrical and precise (“raw gashed mountains, gnarly buttes of andesite”), and his study of a marriage on the rocks is as empathetic as it is unsparing. —Robyn Creswell

Sarah Lazarovic sat down with her brushes and did not stop painting until she’d revealed her entire messy, colorful, and witty journey from a teenaged “fashion-maybe” to a bona fide adult shopping ambassador. In her charmingly illustrated new book, A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy, Lazarovic explains how a mall-lovin’ middle-schooler’s early obsession with scrunchy socks later ballooned into a full-blown consumer obsession with clothes of every possible description. Lazarovic’s story will especially resonate for the late Gen Xer who may have similarly cycled through the Gap Girl to Thrift Girl to Goth Girl to I-just-can’t-have-enough-little-rayon-dresses-for-under-twenty-bucks Girl, who along the way also made good use of the venerable scrunchie and the ubiquitous safety pin when the outfit or occasion called for it. Lazarovic meditates on the “ill-defined distinction between fashion and shopping,” stating that “in childhood we create fashion with very little shopping (except you, Suri Cruise).” Her adult self craves a minimal wardrobe and a spare closet. She writes, “What I love best is how time often reveals a solution to what I need that doesn’t involve buying.” She closes her diary with expert tips on how to fill your own closet with quality over mass quantity. —Charlotte Strick
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Announcing Our Winter Issue

December 1, 2014 | by

TPR 211That photo on the cover comes from Marc Yankus, whose subject is New York buildings: “I can feel the brick, I can feel the hardness and the corners of the building ... the structure, the monolith, the sculpture, the abstract.”

In the Art of Memoir No. 2, Vivian Gornick talks about feminism, bad reviews, love versus work, and coming to terms with failure:

I knew I had to stay with it as long as it took to write a sentence I could respect. That’s the hardest thing in the world to do—to stay with a sentence until it has said what it should say, and then to know when that has been accomplished.

And in the Art of Screenwriting No. 5, Michael Haneke reveals the imaginative process behind movies like The White Ribbon and Amour—and why there are no “right” readings of his films:

I would never set out to make a political film. I hope that my films provoke reflection and have an illuminating quality—that, of course, may have a political effect. Still, I despise films that have a political agenda. Their intent is always to manipulate, to convince the viewer of their respective ideologies. Ideologies, however, are artistically uninteresting. I always say that if something can be reduced to one clear concept, it is artistically dead.

There’s also a special triple feature on Karl Ove Knausgaard, with an exclusive excerpt from My Struggle, Book 4; an essay on depression and Dante’s hell; and an exchange with The New Yorker’s James Wood on masculinity and good reasons for writing badly.

Plus new fiction by Joe Dunthorne, Ottessa Moshfegh, Sam Savage, and Saïd Sayrafiezadeh; poems from Sylvie Baumgartel, Jeff Dolven, Cathy Park Hong, Phillis Levin, Jana Prikryl, Frederick Seidel, and Brenda Shaughnessy; and a series of aphorisms by Sarah Manguso.

Get your copy now. And may we add that a subscription to The Paris Review makes a great present? The recipient will receive a postcard announcing your gift with your personal message. Just select the “gift” option when you check out.

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Announcing the Winner of Our Windows on the World Contest

November 28, 2014 | by

Earlier this week, we announced the five finalists in our Windows on the World contest; today we’re happy to say that the winner is Simon Rowe, with his view from Himeji City, Japan. Simon will have his view sketched by Matteo Pericoli. Congratulations to him, and many thanks to all who entered!

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Simon Rowe

Simon Rowe, Himeji City, Japan

Time has gathered Japan’s villages into towns and cities, even turned some into metropolises, but the cho, or neighborhood, remains the heart and soul of the nation.

Mine resembles an overcrowded circuit board with its dense clusters of houses spanning a century in design and its winding pathways, which deliver children to school, businessmen to bus stops, and elderly to their kitchen gardens. This is Kamiono-cho, in Himeji city—where the westward sprawl that begins in Osaka finally runs out of steam.

Bamboo grows as thick as a man’s leg in the forests beyond the neighborhood, lofty and mesmerizing when the valley winds blow. In Autumn, the smell of burning rice chaff reaches through the window, signaling the end of the harvest season and the start of the festivals that celebrate its bounty. Taiko-drum volleys rattle my window, just as the earthquakes do.

Snow dusts the rooftops in winter. Through the opened window, knife-edged winds carry a whiff of Siberia—chilling, yet invigorating. Spring sees cherry blossoms garnish the neighborhood and family picnics mushroom beneath them. Then the blossoms fall, like the brief and beautiful life of a samurai, with the first spring rains. Summer arrives and the window is shut to the whining insects and the suffocating humidity, which descend on the city. The pane rattles once more with the typhoons of late summer; TV antennas waggle on tiled roofs, momentarily lost to the rain.

The old neighborhood, once famous for strawberry growers, is vanishing. Where fruit grew, model homes now stand. Outside them, housewives gather on dusk to chew over the day’s proceedings and await their children’s return from school. Long after dark, the buses will disgorge their tired husbands, who will drift heavy-hearted back to their homes and sleeping families.

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The Windows on the World Finalists

November 25, 2014 | by

Earlier this month, we announced our Windows on the World contest, giving readers the chance to have the views from their windows sketched by Matteo Pericoli. We’re happy to share the views from our five finalists—their photographs and essays are below. We’ll announce the winner on Friday.

Zara Khadeeja Majoka, Lahore, Pakistan

WindowsOnTheWorldZara

Zara Khadeeja Majoka

My window looks out at the ugly, unpainted, pipe-decorated gray concrete side of the neighbors’ house. Parsimony has preached to many in Lahore that having only the front of your house painted is enough; if your neighbor’s soul shrinks at the sight of the frowning, naked gray concrete, well then they must deal with it. And so, of course, that is what I must do. Joohi is a flowering vine that produces small, fragrant pink and white flowers as lovely and delicate as its name. I had some of the tiled floor beneath my window removed to reveal the soil and planted joohi; within three months, laden with flowers, it had made its way up to my second-floor window. Some days the liveliness of joohi would seem absurdly lovely in contrast with the concrete peeking in from behind its spread. On other days, the unavoidable sight of the concrete still menaced. I am aggressively ugly, it said, and I will outlast your fragile, pretty vine. I needed a tree, I decided, and opted for a peepul, a tenacious tree that clings to whatever scarce particles of soil it finds and is often found sprouting out uncannily from walls and roofs and pipes. I had some more of the floor cleared and planted a sapling. My parents warned that in sixty or so years its unfurling roots could destroy the foundations of both our house and the neighbors’. I pointed out that we were all likely to under-live this problem, so they agreed. I think it will be a year before my peepul reaches my window with its beautiful heart-shaped leaves, the tips of which extend like sweet, elongated musical notes. A peepul tree grows and grows and lives for hundreds of years. Four-thousand-year-old clay seals from the Indus Valley Civilization depict deities standing inside the sacred peepul, Vishnu is said to have been born under a peepul and Gautama Buddha is said to have attained nirvana while meditating beneath one. I only wish to watch mine grow, and know that it will outlast the concrete.

Roderick Moody-Corbett, Calgary, Alberta

Windows on the World Rod Moody-Corbett Pic

Roderick Moody-Corbett

A pair of broken clocks, stilled at odd hours (impossible to say who gave first), rest on the window’s scabbed wooden sill. A garage, the key to which I seem to have lost, if I ever owned (I am house-sitting for friends on sabbatical in Germany), overwhelms my attention, invariably. In the summer, neighborhood cats laze on its mossy slopes. Today, the snow-capped roof is empty. My own cat, nose pressed to the window (she remains one paw too pudgy for the sill), regards this vacancy with an amount of nostalgia, amusement and regret.

Shadows twitch on the clapboards; magpies tinsel the eaves. Funny, I often forget about the short blue stool sitting below the windows whose shades are unevenly drawn.

Fixed to the garage is a slant metal trellis with small lantern feeders sprigged to its rails. The feeders appear empty. If I knew where they kept the birdseed (probably in the garage), I might fill them.

Heidi Lang, Innsbruck, Austria

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Heidi Lang

From my window, I see a building with scant, round windows, like portholes on a cruise ship. Hulking over the ship are the Alps. After having spent so many years on the Great Plains, in a sprawling river city with few dominant shapes, seeing the mountains every morning still surprises me.

My corner apartment is cramped, but from my wraparound balcony I can see in every direction. I can see the school across the street, which keeps its fluorescent lights on even after the neighborhood Lokal has stopped serving Zipfer. I can see hiking trails, but not their avalanche warning signs. I can see a moped shop, but more often I hear it. Hemmed in by the mountains, the city is small enough and the streets congested enough that the fastest way to get around is by bicycle. I walk.

My balcony keeps quiet company with the balconies of neighbors. There’s the elderly gardener, who lives with his wife in the stern of the retired ship. One afternoon he snipped grapes, bunch by bunch, from the single row of vines in his garden, collecting the harvest in a five-gallon bucket. There’s the woman who grew up in the guesthouse that once stood where my apartment does now. She lives with her middle-aged daughter, who shouts cheerfully to me from her balcony.

On a rare sweltering day, the neighbors and I spent the afternoon on our balconies in various stages of unapologetic undress, dutifully not noticing each other. The hot wind billowed in the bed sheets I’d hung up to dry. I sat in a deck chair. The woman who grew up where I live now sat on her terrace, her eyes closed and her short hair gathered up in what looked like a swimming cap.

Simon Rowe, Himeji City, Japan

S.RoweWindowOnTheWorld

Simon Rowe

Time has gathered Japan’s villages into towns and cities, even turned some into metropolises, but the cho, or neighborhood, remains the heart and soul of the nation.

Mine resembles an overcrowded circuit board with its dense clusters of houses spanning a century in design and its winding pathways, which deliver children to school, businessmen to bus stops, and elderly to their kitchen gardens. This is Kamiono-cho, in Himeji city—where the westward sprawl that begins in Osaka finally runs out of steam.

Bamboo grows as thick as a man’s leg in the forests beyond the neighborhood, lofty and mesmerizing when the valley winds blow. In Autumn, the smell of burning rice chaff reaches through the window, signaling the end of the harvest season and the start of the festivals that celebrate its bounty. Taiko-drum volleys rattle my window, just as the earthquakes do.

Snow dusts the rooftops in winter. Through the opened window, knife-edged winds carry a whiff of Siberia—chilling, yet invigorating. Spring sees cherry blossoms garnish the neighborhood and family picnics mushroom beneath them. Then the blossoms fall, like the brief and beautiful life of a samurai, with the first spring rains. Summer arrives and the window is shut to the whining insects and the suffocating humidity, which descend on the city. The pane rattles once more with the typhoons of late summer; TV antennas waggle on tiled roofs, momentarily lost to the rain.

The old neighborhood, once famous for strawberry growers, is vanishing. Where fruit grew, model homes now stand. Outside them, housewives gather on dusk to chew over the day’s proceedings and await their children’s return from school. Long after dark, the buses will disgorge their tired husbands, who will drift heavy-hearted back to their homes and sleeping families.

Jessica Thummel, Denver, Colorado

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Jessica Thummel

The man who previously lived in my apartment had lived here since the early eighties. He was a hoarder and apparently died alone in my bedroom and wasn't found for weeks. I often think about him and how this view must have changed over the course of those thirty years. All around, buildings and houses and businesses have come and gone, and yet the distant horizon has stayed the same. It’s comforting to think of the writing life in this way. To see those mountains, far off in the distance, and know that they will always be there, ready to be climbed, no matter how many new obstacles or roads intersect in the foreground.

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Staff Picks: Staircases, Sister Mountains, Self-Help

November 21, 2014 | by

sd-index-hero_imageSTAIRCASE_newest_01

A still from The Staircase.

In The Program Era, Mark McGurl illuminated postwar American fiction’s inextricable ties to universities and creative-writing programs; his new paper, “The Institution of Nothing,” undertakes a reading of David Foster Wallace in the framework of “the program,” and it’s one of the most thoughtful exegeses I’ve found of Wallace, whose work has enjoyed no shortage of critical insight. (Remember Wyatt Mason on Oblivion?) McGurl finds that the bulk of Wallace’s writing is fixated on institutions—it invokes them as a kind of safe harbor, a respite from the nihilism of the world at large. (This is borne out not just in his books but in his life, which he spent almost entirely in the thrall of institutions of higher learning.) In this light, a certain unnerving conservatism emerges in his work: what should be questions of sweeping political import are recast as matters of individual ethics. McGurl writes, “Clinging to the institutional order, clinging for dear life, Wallace’s commitment is … to a conception of therapeutic community in which what might have become political questions—and, by implication, motives for political contestation—are obediently dissolved.” —Dan Piepenbring

Natalie Lyalin’s poetry collection Blood Makes Me Faint But I Go For It has an intriguing title, but I’ve felt mildly daunted by the illustration on the cover—of a woman who stares straight into my eyes whenever I look at her. It turns out, though, that such feelings of discomfort aren’t inappropriate. Lyalin’s poems are weird, wide-eyed, and bold, and I feel uneasy reading them—in a good way. Like this, from “On the Beaches of Majorca”: “Aboard ships they snapped goodbye to their cities / They sparked like knives / And the oceans took them in with oceanic slurps / In a parallel moment we were on the beaches / Mute pastel puffs / Smoking around a cult-like fire.” Her poems remind me of Karen Russell’s fiction: at once familiar and otherworldly, tame and frightening. Lyalin’s “A Lemon Sweat Over Everything” is almost a poetic version of the title story from Russell’s Vampire in the Lemon Grove:

You can find my bones in the sister mountains
Identify me by the gold fangs
The fangs I showed you in the lemon orchard
almost two hundred years ago
You said they were sexy
The sun blinding you from my mouth
We were both smirking
and then I snarled 
It was very foreign
chasing you around the trees

Nicole Rudick

I could write about the addictive nature of Serial, the true-crime podcast from the This American Life team, but millions of others beat me to the punch. Instead, thanks to a recommendation from my friend Josh Lieberman, I advise you to fill these next two weeks until the next Serial episode with Sundance Channel’s eight-part documentary series, The Staircase. The crime saga follows the case of the novelist Michael Peterson, whose wife, Kathleen, was found unconscious at the bottom of a staircase in the couple’s Durham mansion. Was the death an accident, the result of falling down the stairs after consuming alcohol and Valium—or was she murdered by Peterson? While the twists and turns are captivating and the series is filled with a cast of characters so interesting and bizarre it’s difficult to appraise anyone involved, it’s the fly-on-the wall–style of Jean-Xavier de Lestrande’s filmmaking that kept me going from one episode to the next. —Justin Alvarez

You might have heard that Sam Lipsyte used to be in a punk band called Dungbeetle. This Saturday night at Le Poisson Rouge, they’re reuniting—with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy on drums, no less—as part of the launch party for Radio Silence, a lit-and-music mag that’s just released its third issue. I suspect magic will be in the air. Bring earplugs and a taste for the bizarre. —DP

I had never heard of Lorrie Moore when I tried to sit in on her M.F.A. workshop at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It was 2009, and I was barely eighteen. She kicked me out pretty quickly. Now, having spent the better part of five years recovering from the embarrassment, I have finally read Self-Help, Moore’s first collection of stories. About two-thirds are written in the second person, and this is both refreshing and compelling. It serves an almost didactic purpose in “How,” as Moore guides us, step-by-step, through the motions of dumping a (maybe) dying boyfriend. In “How To Be an Other Woman,” the second person puts a delightful twist on a recycled story: her protagonist struggles to find herself in (and as a result of) a messy extramarital affair. Witty and deft, Moore demands that her readers believe the story could be about them … not that it is about them, but that it could be. She blends comedy and tragedy so seamlessly that I found myself merrily caught between sadness and mirth, cynicism and optimism. —Alex Celia

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