The Daily

Arts & Culture

Barney’s Wall

April 20, 2016 | by

From the trailer for Barney’s Wall.

Longtime readers of the Review will recall our 1997 interview with Barney Rosset, the irrepressible publisher of Grove Press and the Evergreen Review. In the fifties and sixties, Rosset brought scores of ostensibly obscene books to the U.S., often to the gross offense of the era’s leading fuddy-duddies. The unexpurgated Lady Chatterley’s Lover? A Grove title. Tropic of Cancer—also Grove. American editions of Waiting for Godot, Our Lady of the Flowers, Naked Lunch, Last Exit to Brooklyn—all Rosset’s doing. Even I Am Curious (Yellow), everyone’s favorite X-rated Swedish art-house flick, was a Rosset import. As he says in his Art of Publishing interview, all this illicit material came with its share of trouble—some of which he sought out willingly. When he published Chatterley, for example, Rosset was so eager to strike a blow against censorship that he used the book as bait, getting himself hauled into court: Read More »

The H. L. Mencken Show

April 20, 2016 | by

A brush with the Sage of Baltimore.

H. L. Mencken at the Baltimore Sun.

For better or worse, I am a child of the Plains, and so my first experience with H. L. Mencken was less an introduction than a confrontation. I first learned of the Sage of Baltimore during his cameo appearance in a Great Plains history course, at the University of Nebraska. Henry Mencken considered us part of a large and ever-growing species he called homo boobiens, my professor explained. Wedged between the Omaha race riots and the Agricultural Marketing Act of ’29, Mencken showed up during the Scopes Monkey Trial to wield his pen against William Jennings Bryan, whom he described as “one of the most tragic asses in American history.” What a dick, I thought. I liked him immediately.

I liked him so much that I bought The American Language, the pillar of his bibliography, and never touched it again. Unaware of my purchase, my girlfriend gave me a copy of the same book as a gift, but not before gluing the pages together and carving out the middle to camouflage my secrets. Later I purchased a used copy of The New Mencken Letters and schlepped that 635-page tome around wherever I went, reading a letter or two here and there, recklessly quoting from it in term papers.

From the letters, I became smitten with Mencken’s verbal gymnastics, his apparent refusal to say something plain when it could be said with the cocksure verbosity of a Southern lawyer. Perhaps, too, I was charmed by that most convenient of facts: he was dead. Had Mencken still been alive, I have no doubt I’d have raised my guard, but that is the gift of hindsight. Instead I accepted him the way he accepted himself, disregarding the imperfections—of which, I would later find out, there were many.

Read More »

Who Wrote Lolita First? An Interview with Michael Maar

April 19, 2016 | by

Nabokov in 1969. Photo: Giuseppe Pino

In this conversation—first published last month in the German magazine Cicero—Daniel Kehlmann and the Nabokov scholar Michael Maar discuss one of Maar’s most unlikely discoveries about Lolita.

In your book The Two Lolitas, you made an intriguing discovery—it started to obsess me a bit. What’s equally interesting, and kind of outrageous, is that most Nabokov scholars ignored your finding. Maybe they felt they ought to shield Nabokov from charges of plagiarism. So let’s get this out of the way first—is this about plagiarism?

Of course not. The word came up in the press when I published my first article about the discovery, but that’s not what this is about at all. Read More »

Allen Ginsberg’s Accountant

April 18, 2016 | by

Detail from a portrait of Ginsberg by Elsa Dorfman, 1980.

In the early sixties, Don Wilen had just one tax client—Mrs. Sheftel, who ran the candy store on his corner. When Paul Krassner, radical prankster and editor of the satirical journal The Realist, printed an interview with George Lincoln Rockwell, the American Nazi Party founder, Wilen wrote in to complain.

“I said,” Wilen recently recalled, “ ‘I’m a Jewish accountant, and respect your right to free speech, but hate—’ ”

Krassner rang him up. “An accountant! I need an accountant.” Now Wilen had two clients.

One day Wilen’s mother, babysitting, picked up the phone. “Some friend of yours, making believe he’s the famous poet Allen Ginsberg.” Wilen now had three. Read More »

The Rest Is Silence

April 11, 2016 | by

Chaplin’s trip abroad.

From the cover of My Trip Abroad.

In the fall of 1921, journalists were clamoring to know if Charlie Chaplin intended to play Hamlet. They asked him in Chicago at the Blackstone Hotel. They cornered him at the Ritz. His response each time was coy and evasive: “Why, I don’t know.”

Of all the unlikely questions they tended to ask him at this point in his career—“Are you a Bolshevik?” “What do you do with your old mustaches?”—the Hamlet question seems most out of place. Why would an actor known for his comedy and silence take on a famously verbose and tragic role? Hamlet, with his hemming and hawing, didn’t seem a natural fit for an actor in Chaplin’s position. But then, no actor had ever been in Chaplin’s position before. Read More »

The Borges Memorial Non-Lending Library of Imaginary Books

March 24, 2016 | by

A brief survey of fictional books.

Erik Desmazières, Library of Babel.

I’m soon to move across the country, and surveying my bookcases—the three in the living room and the three in the bedroom, plus the unshelved piles that crop up from any flat surface—fills me with dread. The only cure, I’ve found, is to let my thoughts wander to another, even larger literary collection, a kind of underworld reflection of the one all around me. The books in this second collection are not all fiction, but they are all fictional. I’m imagining a place the late Umberto Eco might appreciate: the Borges Memorial Non-Lending Library of Imaginary Books. Read More »