On the Shelf
October 30, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “Whatever type styles were available to The Paris Review founders at the time of printing had just been embraced without our modern preoccupations of ‘branding’ and ‘identity.’ It was less a carelessness than a carefree-ness. At first the uptight twenty-first-century graphic designer in me was frustrated by this inconsistency, but I came to rather admire the early Reviewians for maintaining a consistent voice while continuing to see themselves anew with each issue.” An interview with our art editor, Charlotte Strick.
- “American Sign Language isn’t a translation of English. It’s a language with its own grammar and idioms. Sign language speakers also have their own accents … There are also variations in sign language speed. New Yorkers are notorious fast-talkers, while Ohioans are calm and relaxed. New Yorkers also curse more.” (We’re foul-mouthed, even with our hands.)
- When did the chapter emerge as one of the most essential tools in book-length writing and storytelling? “The chapter has become a way of looking at the world, a way of dividing time and, therefore, of dividing experience. Its origins date back to long before the printing press or even the bound codex, back to the emergence of prose in antiquity as both an expressive and an informational medium. Literary evolution rarely seems slower than it does in the case of the chapter.”
- After Evelyn Waugh married for the second time, he received a letter from a woman he’d known as a student at Oxford: “I think of you all the time when I am making love, until the word and Evelyn are almost synonymous! And in the darkness each night & in the greyness of each morning when I wake I remember your face—& your voice and your body and everything about you so earnestly and intensely that you become almost tangibly beside me.”
- Orson Welles’s unfinished final film, The Other Side of the Wind, may finally see release next year for the centenary of his birth. “The main character’s life has echoes in Hemingway’s: his father’s suicide, the day of his death, his love of Spain … Welles explores the last day of the fictional director’s life before he dies in a car crash that could be an accident or a suicide.”
October 29, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “My mind is so dumb when I write. Each story requires a different style of stupidity ... I don't know how the mind works, but isn't there a part of it that deals specifically with reason and sense? The brainy asshole of the mind? ... That asshole is my intellect. He's a really shitty writer, as you might imagine.” Lorin Stein interviews Ottessa Moshfegh.
- Librarians versus algorithms: Who recommends better books? The latest developments in a John Henry story.
- A new exhibition at Tate Britain shows paintings alongside William Hazlitt’s criticism about them, reminding us of what a vital, unusually perceptive critic he was. “One purrs at what he’d have made of the homogenized, commercialized art world of today—and how surgically he might have cut into it.”
- Sven Birkerts in (and on) convalescence: “How the feel of time changes when all the terms are altered. What on most days had moved with an almost hectic momentum, an ill-choreographed succession of one thing after another, one day just halted, causing the hours to then pool up behind it: the afternoon immobilized, with almost nothing to mark the change or confirm that this is not the world paralyzed into still life.”
- Grady Gordon makes monotype prints “by removing thick black ink from a plexiglass surface.” They’re ghoulish. They “bring about the characters that inhabit the invisible plane.” They make great gifts for your enemies.
October 28, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “The triumphs of late-eighteenth-century French dentistry—professionalization, a commitment to canine conservation and oral hygiene, skill in making and installing artificial dentures—were a crucial element in the complex process ... call[ed] the ‘Smile Revolution.’ Only when an open mouth was able to expose white teeth (or, failing that, white dentures), only when dental hygiene dispelled the miasma of halitosis, could a full smile exposing the teeth be countenanced.”
- At eighty-five, Hedy Pagremanski likes to plant herself on street corners and paint the disappearing buildings of New York. She’s done more than eighty of them. “We have learned that whatever was, isn’t … I once went to the Landmarks Commission and said, ‘What buildings are coming down?’ And they said they never know until the wrecking ball hits. And that was about twenty years ago.”
- Tony Kushner on Tennessee Williams: “Because he was mining himself, his self, so endlessly, at some point what you call a kind of calcification of the heart manifests itself, and the self-mining becomes a kind of self-devouring, self-cannibalism, even; the business of putting your self and your inner life on stage over and over becomes a form of self-consumption.”
- The French culture minister, Fleur Pellerin, has never read any of Patrick Modiano’s books—actually, in the past two years, she hasn’t read any books at all. “I haven’t had time to read anything in the last two years except for a lot of notes, legislative texts, and newswires,” she said. Some have taken this news poorly. “Nothing will uplift us, the soul is an illusion,” one commentator said.
- Lubricious opening lines: Do they attract or dispel readers? (The opening line that prompted this debate is Christos Tsiolkas’s: “My mother is best known for giving blowjobs to Pete Best and Paul McCartney in the toilets of the Star-Club in Hamburg one night in the early sixties.”)
October 27, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- April 1975: Updike and Barth hung out in Baltimore. They ate some soft-shelled crabs and visited Poe’s grave. “I don’t think we’re very unlike,” Updike later wrote. “We’re both sons of the hard-working, temperate Middle Atlantic region, twice married, depression-conscious, and stuck with the belief that there is such a thing as American littrachoor.”
- A lost Malcolm Lowry novel, In Ballast to the White Sea, is soon to see print for the first time. Lowry spent some ten years on the book, which was lost when his home in Vancouver burned down in 1944. He’d left an early copy of the manuscript with his first wife’s mother; it wasn’t rediscovered until 2001.
- Wash your hands of Microsoft Word and its misguided Platonism: embrace WordPerfect. “Intelligent writers can produce intelligent prose using almost any instrument, but the medium in which they write will always have some more or less subtle effect on their prose … When I work in Word, for all its luxuriant menus and dazzling prowess, I can’t escape a faint sense of having entered a closed, rule-bound society. When I write in WordPerfect, with all its scruffy, low-tech simplicity, the world seems more open, a place where endings can’t be predicted, where freedom might be real.”
- Virginia Woolf to Katherine Mansfield, 1921: “I’m in the middle of my novel now, but have to break off, of course, to make a little money. I shall write an article on Dorothy Wordsworth, and so pay for our new sheets.”
- Does the Internet ever sleep? Not in America.
October 24, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- From 1941 to 1976, a group called the New York Subways Advertising Company held regular contests to find Miss Subways, a woman who would appear in glamour shots on posters underground. Twenty-five Miss Subways held a reunion recently. “I thought this would be a springboard for my career, but, instead, I got married when I was twenty-one and had my son before I was twenty-two.”
- On the eighteenth-century Irish writer Laetitia Pilkington, who “is recognizable as a type that still confounds many people today: an ambitious and righteously angry woman who refused to lose her sense of humor. And she used both her anger and her humor in her writing to spin gold out of the indignities and misfortunes—some of them of her own creation—that followed her all her life.”
- “I firmly believe that art is a resistance machine. I want poetry to give hardcore thigh burn. As Frost said, no thigh burn for the writer, no thigh burn for the reader. I want to get to that place of cold neutrality where almost anything could work in poetry, though always somewhere obliquely remembering, it’s not all just up for grabs.” Dorothea Lasky and Adam Fitzgerald talk.
- Is transrealism “the first major literary movement of the twenty-first century”? “Transrealism argues for an approach to writing novels routed first and foremost in reality. It rejects artificial constructs like plot and archetypal characters in favor of real events and people, drawn directly from the author’s experience. But through this realist tapestry, the author threads a singular, impossibly fantastic idea, often one drawn from the playbook of science fiction, fantasy and horror … ”
- Today in exceedingly, affectingly contemporary displays of loneliness: “A twenty-six-year-old woman from Chengdu, in China’s southwest Sichuan Province, has taken an unusual approach to mending her broken heart: spending a week inside Kentucky Fried Chicken, gorging on the food.”
October 23, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “On a winter’s day in 1482 a scholar had an embarrassing disaster, leaving a blood-red blot of ink on the pristine page of a valuable book. He then compounded his crime by confessing, adding a note in the same red ink still legible after 532 years. On the desecrated page of the Historiae Romanae Decades, printed in Venice in 1470, he wrote: ‘Ita macula’—this stain—‘I stupidly made on the first of December 1482.’ ”
- On George Whitman, the eccentric founder of Shakespeare and Company: “He could be welcoming. He could be gruff. He could be charismatic. He could be aloof … This was, after all, a man who on occasion expressed himself by throwing books at people, sometimes affectionately, sometimes less so—a love-hate gesture, or so it sounds, not unlike Ignatz Mouse hurling bricks at an eternally besotted Krazy Kat.”
- Novelists, here is your picaresque, contemporary Bartleby: an Italian coal miner who shirked work for thirty-five years and is now collecting his pension. “I invented everything—amnesia, pains, hemorrhoids, I used to lurch around as if I was drunk. I bumped my thumb on a wall and obviously you can’t work with a swollen thumb … Other times I would rub coal dust into my eyes. I just didn’t like the work—being a miner was not the job for me.”
- Let’s trade fossil casts: “In the first part of the twentieth century, casts of fossil specimens were key to paleo sciences. Because actual fossils were too valuable and rare to ship to international researchers, casts of fossils circulated in their stead … Paleoanthropologists would offer to trade casts of ‘their’ fossils to other researchers in different areas of the world, who had different looking specimens—the casts became a social currency.”
- In praise of reading plays: “A great published script makes you understand what the play is, at its heart. Not just what a certain production was like, though it also ought to do a good job of that. It makes you understand how the play feels as a living work of art—how it sounds and behaves inside your head, a mental effort that matters more in reading a play than in reading any other kind of literature.”