The Daily

On the Shelf

Still Flying High, and Other News

October 22, 2014 | by

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Detail from the cover of the first issue of High Times, 1974.

  • Ben Bradlee has died at ninety-three: “In his personal vernacular—a vivid, blasphemous argot that combined the swear words he mastered in the Navy during World War II with the impeccable enunciation of a blue-blooded Bostonian—a great story was ‘a real tube-ripper.’ This meant a story was so hot that [Washington] Post readers would rip the paper out of the tubes into which the paperboy delivered it.”
  • High Times turns forty: “It’s easy to forget how radical an outrider of the counterculture this magazine was. Its editors were (and are) brave, subversive and funny. They’ve tended to take nothing seriously except for one crucial thing: the way so many lives have been destroyed by an inept and misguided war on drugs.”
  • A well intentioned, poorly executed update to the Scrabble dictionary has turned into “a clusterfuck,” reliable sources indicate. “There are typos, valid words which have been excluded, and invalid words which have been included … The biggest issue among competitive players is the lack of a publicly available electronic version of the new list … Because of Hasbro’s copyright, and the absence of a public electronic list, errors have been tedious to identify.”
  • Tolstoy’s 1889 novella The Kreutzer Sonata was a famously caustic attack on his wife, Sofiya. She struck back with “Whose Fault?”, a rebuttal in the form of a short story: “Like Tolstoy, Sofiya criticizes the sexual double standard, but she’s far more sympathetic to women, who are kept in ignorance until marriage, then expected to satisfy their husbands and remain beautiful and docile through a long series of pregnancies and betrayals.”
  • “There was a long period when an outhouse was a perfect convenience, and a well-built one could be a luxury good. The Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Wethersfield, Connecticut, is trying to recapture their golden age with an unusual kind of restoration project: The refurbishment of three high-end outhouses—or privies—from the late eighteenth century.”

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Your Newspaper: Writer’s Cut, and Other News

October 21, 2014 | by

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A handyman at the H. C. Johnson Grocery Store in Robertstown, Georgia, reads a newspaper, July 1975. Photo: National Archives

  • “There’s an endless appetite among film buffs for the contents of the cutting-room floor. We’re forever being offered outtakes and alternative endings and ‘director’s cuts’ of movies. But what do newspaper editors excise from raw copy destined for the printed page? What would a ‘writer’s cut’ look like?”
  • Area Novelist Super Pissed He Keeps Getting Compared to Cormac McCarthy: “This is testament to the McCarthy hegemony, to how wholly he dominates an entire sector of American fiction, and to how he has usurped our understanding of a certain literary pedigree. Write a novel with a specific poetical register adequate to the task of addressing nature and redemption, one which includes the sanguinary madness of men, and McCarthy is the artist languidly at hand for every reader itching to make a connection.”
  • “It was difficult sometimes to eat lunch with Robert because his makeup was so realistic. His brains were hanging out of his prosthetics.” An oral history of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
  • Photographers have found themselves “in the age of citizen Instagrammers, in which phones carry an endless roll of virtual film, and there are so many photos that we think we’re entitled to have them for free.” What to do? Litigate!
  • Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, on the novels of the Lebanese writer Rabih Alameddine: “The heroes of his fiction are all misfits of one sort or another. They rebel against what they take to be the tyrannical conventions of Lebanese society—its patriarchy, its sexual norms, its sectarianism. In most of his novels this revolt takes the form of flight to America … In America, Alameddine’s characters discover that the pleasures of individualism often turn out to be empty, and their host country’s foreign policy, particularly its support for Israel, is a constant irritant. So their emigration is only ever partial; the old world haunts all their attempts at reinvention.”

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Hang Your Quiver on Your Wagon, and Other News

October 20, 2014 | by

An illustration of the Amazons from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493.

  • In 1882, Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde spent an afternoon together. They had some homemade elderberry wine and talked about how to be famous.
  • And in 1817, Keats, Wordsworth, and Charles Lamb had dinner. Lamb said repeatedly, “Diddle idle don / My son John / Went to bed with his breeches on.”
  • Winning the Nobel Prize causes an intense, nearly insurmountable euphoria. But according to Patrick Modiano, there is one way to magnify this sensation: by having a family member who hails from the same country that gives the prize. “It gave me even greater pleasure because I have a Swedish grandson … It’s to him I dedicate this Prize. It is, after all, from his country.”
  • Historically, fiction has afforded writers the chance to break taboos—under the guise of the fictive, one can “talk about potentially embarrassing or even criminal personal experiences without bringing society’s censure on oneself.” So what happens when taboos fall away? “It could be we are moving towards a period where, as the writer ‘gets older’ … he or she finds it increasingly irrelevant to embark on another long work of fiction that elaborately reformulates conflicts and concerns that the reader anyway assumes are autobiographical. Far more interesting and exciting to confront the whole conundrum of living and telling head on, in the very different world we find ourselves in now, where more or less anything can be told without shame.”
  • The sexual congress of the Amazons “was robust, promiscuous. It took place outdoors, outside of marriage, in the summer season, with any man an Amazon cared to mate with … The sign for sex in progress was a quiver hung outside a woman’s wagon.”

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The Subjective Flow of Time, and Other News

October 17, 2014 | by

CamilleGravis

Detail from Camille Grávis, Captive balloon with clock face and bell, floating above the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, ca. 1880.

  • Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which just won the Booker Prize, tells the harrowing, oft forgotten story of Australia’s role in building the Thai-Burma Railway: “Although there were nine thousand Australian P.O.W.s who worked on the railroad, a third of whom died while imprisoned, the episode never took hold of the national imagination. Flanagan himself has said that ‘it’s a strange story that isn’t readily absorbed into any nation’s dreams.’”
  • Flanagan’s name is also set to appear on a special British postmark congratulating him on the Booker. “We’re really pleased to share his success in winning this renowned literary award with a postmark that will be delivered to addresses nationwide.”
  • “One way researchers have tried to measure the subjective flow of time is by asking people of different ages to estimate when a certain amount of time has gone by. People in their early twenties tend to be quite accurate in judging when three minutes had elapsed, typically being off by no more than three seconds. Those in their sixties, by contrast, overshot the mark by forty seconds; in other words, what was actually three minutes and forty seconds seemed like only three minutes to them. Seniors are internally slow tickers, so for them actual clocks seem to tick too fast.” (That’s from Lapham’s Quarterly’s elegant new Web site, by the way—note it.)
  • Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum, which provides sanctuary to exiled writers from around the world, celebrates its tenth anniversary this weekend with an event featuring their five current residents, Huang Xiang, Horacio Castellanos Moya, Khet Mar, Israel Centeno, and Yaghoub Yadali.
  • Why did Sartre refuse the Nobel Prize in 1964? “Sartre’s rejection of the Nobel Prize was not personal. It was metaphysical. Every act I take as a writer, Sartre was saying, affects the existence of my readers. Accepting the Nobel Prize would have been, for Sartre, to compromise the freedom of his readers. Indeed, it would have compromised the freedom of all mankind.”

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An Alphabet of Things, and Other News

October 16, 2014 | by

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Detail from Giambattista Moretti’s Alphabeta, 1737.

  • Should the National Book Award rethink its longlist? “It’s hard to stir interest in the same subject twice, which is what the National Book Award is trying to do.”
  • Down with adverbs! “Only two classes of people, it seems, stick up for the adverb: young adults and members of the bar.”
  • At auction next month: Giambattista Morandi’s 1737 Alphabeta. (A bargain at two- to three-thousand euros.)
  • In the forties, America believed it had at last conquered all airborne illnesses. The secret: germicidal lamps, which at the time were a source of extraordinary optimism. “We can look forward confidently to the fact that within another few years at most, control of airborne infection will be on its way to join control of infections through water, milk and solid foods. Another great frontier will have surrendered to man’s onward march.”
  • The Italian novelist Domenico Starnone is fed up with people who think he’s the elusive Elena Ferrante: “Ferrante is not the only one to have written about abandoned women, you know … Let’s say I am Ferrante, or that my wife is. Explain to me one thing: given that it is so rare, in this mud puddle that is Italy, to have international reach, why would we not make the most of it? What would induce us to remain in the shadow?”
  • Beethoven gets real: “Everything I do apart from music is badly done and stupid,” he once wrote.

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Wish You Were Here, and Other News

October 15, 2014 | by

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A still from a film recording of Eugen Weidmann’s execution, June 17, 1939.

  • Richard Flanagan has won this year’s Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. “He instinctively hugged the Duchess of Cornwall as he received the award at a black tie dinner in London.”
  • Last night everything was peachy, but the Booker has a history of dust-ups and disorder. Also idiocy—Julian Barnes recalls an encounter after his novel Flaubert’s Parrot failed to win the prize: “I was introduced after the ceremony to one of the judges, who said to me: ‘I hadn’t even heard of this fellow Flaubert before I read your book. But afterwards I sent out for all his novels in paperback.’”
  • The guillotine at the dawn of the media age: in the Paris of 1939, the simplest way to stop executions was to film them. “Unbeknownst to Parisian prison officials, a film camera had been set up in one of the apartments overlooking the Place Louis-Barthou. The film recorded [an] execution and by the next morning photographic stills appeared on the cover of nearly every French newspaper … The public was scandalized by their own violence; the government embarrassed. In response France banned public executions.”
  • James Wood on the Australian novelist Elizabeth Harrower, whose work is back in print after twenty years: “[Harrower] essentially terminated her literary career. She has said that she thinks of her fiction as something abandoned long ago, buried in a cellar. She can’t now be bothered with writing. ‘I don’t know anybody who knows I’m a writer,’ she said in 2012.”
  • Against basic, the most modish putdown of 2014: “While what it pretends to criticize is unoriginality of thought and action, most of what basic actually seeks to dismiss is consumption patterns—what you watch, what you drink, what you wear, and what you buy—without dismissing consumption itself. The basic girl’s sin isn’t liking to shop, it’s cluelessly lusting after the wrong brands, the ones that announce themselves loudly and have shareholders they need to satisfy. (The right brands are much more expensive and subtle and, usually, privately owned.)”

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