On the Shelf
November 5, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- A new English-language interview with Knausgaard: “I once met a German journalist who compared me to a rock band. He said, the books don’t really have any focus, it’s just loose, it’s like just having some songs about drinking and they don’t have anything else. But it’s in that band photo, that image, where everything comes together. He wondered if I had a certain point in my writing, because it’s all, you know, bits and pieces and nothing. And then he saw pictures of me, he said, ‘You pose like a rock star, you kind of summarize everything there’ … He meant it really, really badly.”
- Today in the anxiety of influence: the aftereffects of one writer’s childhood obsession with Michael Crichton. “Much of the rhythm and timbre I claimed as my own in fact belonged to Crichton: isolating revelatory sentences on a line break between paragraphs … complex sentences interspersed with short sentence fragments like the dots and dashes in Morse Code. Even in my early twenties, writing bad pseudo-autobiographical short stories, it seems that I had retained, by osmosis, the stylistic habits I’d developed while eating ham-and-cheese sandwiches, drinking Coke, and imagining my name writ large on the shelves of an airport bookstore.”
- Just when you’d been thinking, Hey, it’s been a while since I heard a quality new acoustic musical instrument, along comes the Yaybahar, recently invented in Turkey; it uses “a combination of two drum-like membranes, long springs, and a tall fretted neck” to produce plaintive, resonant sounds.
- Must we continue to live in a world where this is happening? “She wears a leather corset and harem pants, like a gypsy girl from a fairytale. She is barefoot. In the dim candlelight, she asks what I’m in the mood for—something sexy? Something dark? I tell her what will please me, and she reads me a poem. She calls herself a poetry whore, and I have paid for her company. For the next ten minutes or so, she will read me her verses, converse with me, entertain me.”
- Fun facts about mace: it was invented in Pittsburgh in 1964 by a couple who kept an alligator in the basement. “At first they called it TGASI, for ‘Tear Gas Aerosol Spray Instrument,’ but soon they came up with the catchier name of ‘Chemical Mace’ … the name implied that chemicals could produce the same incapacitating effect as a medieval mace—a chilling design of spiked club—but without causing the same brutal injuries.”
November 4, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Edgar Allan Poe filed for bankruptcy in 1842. Here’s a long list of his debts, with creditors listed in Philadelphia, Richmond, and New York, and orderly columns of numbers that grow large enough to give you a sympathetic panic attack.
- “If ambitious writers work at the boundaries of the written language (as they should), then they ought do it from a path of mastery, not ignorance; broken rules carry no power if writers and readers don’t notice the transgressions. Proper usage shows us where the earth is, so that, when the time comes, we know what it means to fly.”
- Not unrelatedly: “Dickens published an essay on slang, probably by George Augustus Sala. The 1853 article expressed the view that either slang should be ‘banished, prohibited’ or that there should be a New Dictionary that would ‘give a local habitation and a name to all the little by-blows of language skulking and rambling about our speech, like the ragged little Bedouins about our shameless streets, and give them a settlement and a parish.’ ”
- In which Ann Patchett reminds readers of the New York Times that she’s not married to her dog.
- “I found it odd that there had never been a scientist as a Man Booker judge. There have been many non-literary types amongst the judges: a former spy, a former dancer, a Downton Abbey actor—but science, apparently, was a step too far. Until this year, when I joined the judging panel.”
November 3, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- On Brecht and hygiene: “He was physically repellent. He seldom washed and he smelled. He didn’t brush his teeth, and, consequently, many of his teeth decayed and fell out … Not surprisingly, he suffered halitosis—or rather, others suffered it. Brecht probably thought that, since imitation is the highest form of flattery, he was expressing his solidarity with the proletariat by being dirty. This, however, is insult rather than flattery … Brecht’s dirtiness was a form of condescension, the product of a lack of real interest in what poor people actually wanted.”
- Please allow me to introduce myself: I’m a man of great wealth and taste. That’s why I’ve got this ten-thousand-dollar Rolling Stones art book sitting prominently, resplendently on my coffee table.
- Lionel Shriver on the bitch goddess: “I’ve had to revisit a whole era of my own life, during which I imagined I was miserable. I was living in Belfast, and my career was on the rocks. Over this period, I lost my American publisher, and two novels thereafter were released exclusively in the UK. Reviews were agreeable, but sales meager … This is going to sound a stretch, but: those twelve years in the literary wilderness as a nobody, with a horribly high likelihood of getting nobodier? I think I was happy.”
- Quick and easy advice for reading poetry (and making it, you know, fun): “Someday, when all your material possessions will seem to have shed their utility and just become obstacles to the toilet, poems will still hold their value. They are rooms that take up such little room.”
- The cinema: Should we give a fuck? “We all know that movies make a lot of money for a few people, provide a living for many, and help most of us pass the time—which is fine, as far as it goes. But beyond that, why should anyone care?”
October 31, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- If you’re like me, your otherwise successful ghost-hunting expeditions are often thwarted by matters of taxonomy: Was that a wraith you just saw or simply a type-two apparition? Wonder no more. (N. B., the type-two apparition “leaves behind appalling ectoplasm stains on wallpaper and soft furnishings.”)
- Today in zingers and put-downs, we bring you Edmund Wilson on H. P. Lovecraft, 1945: “The only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art.”
- Whither the artist residency? Say you’re a serious, industrious, diligent artist whose working life requires “solitude, beauty, the natural sublime, and global travel … extended stretches of time, free of any interruption, in order to create new work. All of this can be found on a container ship.” A new residency called Container gives artists the chance to work on just such a ship. (“Artists won’t have to live in a container,” the program hastens to add.)
- And while we’re hithering and thithering: Whither Ethan Hawke, who seems finally to have escaped the long shadow of the nineties? “Ethan Hawke was once the mascot we did not ask for. He has become the one we deserve.”
- To raise money for Freedom from Torture, seventeen authors—including Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Ken Follett, Hanif Kureishi, Will Self, Alan Hollinghurst, and Zadie Smith—are offering the rights to name characters in their new novels. (They call this an “Immortality Auction,” which implies that all the authors involved expect to have healthy readerships in the coming eons.)
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.