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Factotum

June 26, 2015 | by

Illustration: Graziano Origa

I hate the term “writer’s block.” First cited in the OED in 1950—plain old block was in use as early as ‘31—it feels like a dismissive term for a whole host of terrifying phenomena. Besides, if you write, the concept is scary: to acknowledge its existence is to acknowledge that it could happen to you.

Nineteen fifty may seem recent, but it’s not as if creative people didn’t find themselves in dry spells before that. Perhaps they just knew it as an inextricable part of the process—the brain lying fallow—not a lack so much as another component. Read More »

City of Gold

June 25, 2015 | by

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Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor in an ad for the TWA “Siesta Sleeper Seats,” 1958

At the airport, in a very long, very slow TSA security line, a friendly woman starts to talk.

“This is bad,” she says. She travels a great deal for work. In Dubai, she tells us, “the bins come off a conveyor belt—you don’t have to do anything.” No! we say, as we remove our shoes.

Yes, she assures us. In Dubai, she says, “the airport toilet seats were heated—and the air-conditioning was so high, it felt good.”

Tell us more, we say, as we wrestle with the stack of plastic bins.

In Dubai, she says, they were in and out of security within five minutes.

At this, we are mute with shock—and besides, a guard is shepherding us into line.

“Everything was covered in gold, I shit you not,” she says. “It was pathetic.”

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.

True Lies

June 24, 2015 | by

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Duane Hanson, Tourists II, 1988, fiberglass and mixed media, with accessories. Image via Saatchi Gallery

On those occasions when I’ve taught, I’ve been struck by something: my students don’t seem to lie about what they’ve read. If you mention a book, and they haven’t read it—or even heard of it—they’ll admit to it without embarrassment, or even self-consciousness. “Can you repeat the title?” they might ask, or, even, “That sounds really interesting!” Refreshing and laudable though this may be, I initially found it disorienting: I seem to remember that my teen and college years involved a lot of phantom reading.

Of course, it’s very possible that my sample is simply less pretentious and more self-confident than I was; those odds are good. But the total absence of fronting, of nodding knowingly, of glancing around furtively to gauge others’ reactions—this seems like an important micro-generational sea change. I had considered pretension an endearing, and enduring, trait of youth—certainly I knew plenty of other kids who went in for this sort of lying. Are people now just more open about who they are? Or does having read a lot not even signify much—is it not even worth lying about? Read More »

Jacket Weather

June 23, 2015 | by

Rostand98

Edmond Rostand, twenty-nine, at the first performance of Cyrano de Bergerac, 1898.

At a recent tag sale not far from my parents’ house, I came upon a thin, weathered paperback with a yellowing spine. It stuck out amid the other glossy hardcovers. The cover portrayed a stylized, vaguely Art Nouveau couple embracing passionately; an orange moon winked from behind a tree. This was Art of Love, by a Parisian Casanova. And just my luck, I’d found the “unexpurgated” edition.

Then I noticed, below the illustration, a line of much smaller print: “Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmund Rostand.” Read More »

Civilization Was a Crust

June 22, 2015 | by

Konigsburg Book Cover

From the cover of Frankweiler.

Long before museums were pandering to callow visitors bearing selfie sticks, they were trying to attract young people the old-fashioned way. Any big collection worth its salt has had some sort of children’s guide for decades now: museums encourage kids to look for dogs and cats in Dutch tavern scenes, giving them Bingo-style checklists, colorful maps, and bits of trivia. (Fact: pointillist paintings are made up of lots of little dots.)

The Met has always had an especially good kids’ program, and one indication of this is how enthusiastically—and diplomatically—they embrace the classic E. L. Konigsburg novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. For the uninitiated, though I suspect there are few of you: this book chronicles the exploits of the Kincaid siblings, who run away and hide out in the Metropolitan Museum. There, they sleep in a sixteenth-century bed, bathe (and fish for coins) in a fountain, and, into the bargain, solve an art-world mystery. Read More »

Mister Sun

June 19, 2015 | by

Albert_Anker_-_Knabenbildnis_(02)

Albert Anker, Portrait of a Boy, nineteenth century.

Like many small children, my brother was an accomplished con artist. And as is often the case with little boys, his manipulations were most effective when applied to his mother. I can particularly recall one bit of business he’d pull between the ages of about three and five, when we were at the market and he didn’t feel like walking. He’d gaze up at her beseechingly, bat his eyelashes, and simper, “I’ll carry your bundles if you carry me!”

By this point, I had decisively lost my looks: at seven I was a scrawny, buck-toothed gnome with a waxen complexion and a mullet, usually stalking around in pantaloons and a sunbonnet. Charlie, on the other hand, was still cherubic. Read More »