On the Shelf
August 14, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Residents of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, rise up, and reclaim Gilbert Sorrentino as your bard! “Sorrentino died of lung cancer in Brooklyn in 2006; he remains widely uncelebrated in his own neighborhood, his own borough, despite the fact that so many of his books are set there, and he lived so much of his life there. The Fort Hamilton High School Alumni Association doesn’t list him in its Hall of Fame. The libraries don’t stock his books, and neither does the local bookstore. I spent thirty years in Bay Ridge as a bookish neighborhood enthusiast without ever hearing his name, until a poet mentioned it to me in passing.”
- Where do typos come from? Our foolish brains, and their inveterate laziness. There’s no escaping it, really.
- Which is part of why we need editors—but even editors aren’t good enough. What the world needs, apparently, is robot editors: “Students almost universally resist going back over material they’ve written … [but they] are willing to revise their essays, even multiple times, when their work is being reviewed by a computer and not by a human teacher. They end up writing nearly three times as many words … Students who feel that handing in successive drafts to an instructor wielding a red pen is ‘corrective, even punitive’ do not seem to feel rebuked by similar feedback from a computer.”
- “It’s a common and easy enough distinction, this separation of books into those we read because we want to and those we read because we have to, and it serves as a useful marketing trope for publishers, especially when they are trying to get readers to take this book rather than that one to the beach. But it’s a flawed and pernicious division … There are pleasures to be had from books beyond being lightly entertained. There is the pleasure of being challenged; the pleasure of feeling one’s range and capacities expanding; the pleasure of entering into an unfamiliar world, and being led into empathy with a consciousness very different from one’s own … ”
- Exploring the annals of Dalkey Archive Press, which is now thirty years old.
August 13, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- RIP, Lauren Bacall. “Her simplest remark sounded like a jungle mating call, one critic said.” (He meant it as a compliment—I think … )
- Michel Gondry’s new film, Mood Indigo, is based on L’Écume des Jours, a 1946 novel by Boris Vian whose title “literally means either ‘The Foam of the Days’ or ‘The Scum of the Days’ but has been translated as ‘Froth on the Daydream,’ ‘Foam of the Daze,’ and—after the Duke Ellington song—‘Mood Indigo.’ The problem of translating Vian doesn’t end with titles. His books are crawling with wordplay: puns, mixed metaphors, neologisms, you name it.”
- Speaking of translational difficulties, here’s how to give yourself an anxiety dream: just before bed, imagine being the first translator to attempt War and Peace or Anna Karenina. “Not only was the sheer prolixity of Tolstoy’s great novels a deterrent to all but the most determined of translators, but after the urbane Turgenev, whose measured prose slipped so easily into English, Tolstoy was also far more unpolished, more uncompromising and, well, altogether more Russian.”
- How to give yourself an anxiety dream, part two: like everything on Facebook and watch as your hyper-personalized world crumbles around you. “Literally everything Facebook sent my way, I liked—even if I hated it. I decided to embark on a campaign of conscious liking, to see how it would affect what Facebook showed me … I began dreading going to Facebook. It had become a temple of provocation … By liking everything, I turned Facebook into a place where there was nothing I liked.”
- Is the science-fiction writer R. A. Lafferty due for a comeback? “Lafferty’s most accessible and widely read novel, Space Chantey, is a psychedelic, Homeric odyssey in which space captain Roadstrum leads an expedition to the pleasure planet Lotophage, where the immortal houri Margaret tells him, very wisely, that ‘there are worse places to live than in tall stories.’ ”
August 12, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Hemingway once slapped a critic in the face with a book. Here’s what that critic wrote: “Hemingway lacks the serene confidence that he is a full-sized man … ”
- One of many bizarre real Victorian novel titles: The Egg, Or The Memoirs Of Gregory Giddy, Esq: With The Lucubrations Of Messrs. Francis Flimsy, Frederick Florid, And Ben Bombast. To Which Are Added, The Private Opinions Of Patty Pout, Lucy Luscious, And Priscilla Positive. Also The Memoirs Of A Right Honourable Puppy. Conceived By A Celebrated Hen, And Laid Before The Public By A Famous Cock-Feeder.
- “What no one wants to accept—and no doubt there is an element of class prejudice at work here, too—is that there are many ways to live a full, responsible, and even wise life that do not pass through reading literary fiction. And that consequently those of us who do pursue this habit, who feel that it enriches and illuminates us, are not in possession of an essential tool for self-realization or the key to protecting civilization from decadence and collapse. We are just a bunch of folks who for reasons of history and social conditioning have been blessed with a wonderful pursuit.”
- As Hollywood continues to reboot every franchise in sight instead of developing new concepts, one cultural critic has some strong advice: Keep up the good work! “Our cultural mythologies exist not to be venerated and preserved in amber, but to be played with, reconstituted, reconsidered, dismantled, dissected, and stripped for parts.”
- Remembering Idris Muhammad, one of the greatest drummers in jazz, who died last week.
August 11, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- An early manuscript of The Sun Also Rises finds Hemingway getting all metafictional: “Hemingway breaks into the narrative to address the reader directly, and, in so doing, calls out the artifice implicit in the writing and reading of fiction. It is a wink at the marketplace—readers want lively, lighthearted tales from abroad—and alludes to the novel’s central dark, repeated joke: that everything awful in life, in all of its sadness and melancholy, is better laughed at.” That’s so po-mo!
- It took E. M. Forster eleven years to write A Passage to India—why? Even his diary is cagey.
- A wealthy Brazilian businessman wants to own and catalog every vinyl record in the world. (Don’t worry. He has interns.)
- “During the First World War, advertisers seemed to be responding to people’s needs relatively quickly … In Country Life, one of the things I noticed, being a woman, was that there were a lot of ads for guard dogs. It’s things like that that start appearing throughout the war—obvious and terribly poignant things, such as identity bracelets—that start to be advertised very widely, as casualty lists mounted … Many of the manufacturers who produced the most eye-catching ads are still in business today. The ads worked.”
- Seduce and Destroy: dissecting Tom Cruise’s potent performance in Magnolia, fifteen years later.
August 8, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- James Wolcott on the scourge of nineties nostalgia: “Mostly a white people’s pastime, nostalgia used to be a pining for an idealized yesteryear, for a prelapsarian world tinted in sepia … the Internet and cable TV have colonized the hive mind and set up carnival pavilions. Now every delight is obtainable and on display at an arcade that never closes … This anxious, ravenous speedup of nostalgia—getting wistful over goodies that never went away—is more than a reflection of the overall acceleration of digital culture, a pathetic sign of our determination to dote on every last shiny souvenir of our prolonged adolescence, and an indictment of our gutless refusal to face the rotten future like Stoic philosophers.”
- With the Open Book project, two professors held “experimental book workshops … to help define what the classic book—and the new book—could be.” Now there’s the Open Book book, “an amalgam of essays on and artwork made from books. ‘Not all of these books are made from and with paper-based books … We purposely sought book-like work for the Open Book exhibition that transcended paper media.’”
- What does a minute feel like? Sixty seconds. What does sixty seconds feel like? A minute. “I was a lab rat in a performance-art piece on the High Line. The artist, an Argentinian named David Lamelas, arranged forty-odd people—friends, tourists, commuters, passersby—shoulder to shoulder, like an extra-long police lineup. ‘The time is now six-thirty-five,’ he announced, looking at his phone. Starting at one end of the queue, we were each supposed to wait for what we estimated to be one minute and then call out the time.”
- In the UK, a new edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has a remarkably creepy cover. “It features a cover photograph of a young girl in make-up and marabou feathers, perched on her mother’s knee with the blank-eyed expression of a doll.”
- Eighteen months ago, Steven Soderbergh retired from filmmaking. Now he’s made The Knick, a grisly TV drama series about a hospital in the earliest days of the twentieth century: It’s “a gritty glimpse of Gilded Age New York … The first ten minutes of the premiere are among the most gruesome I’ve seen this year, as [the doctors] attempt an emergency C-section on a woman with placenta previa, an operation they have already failed at twelve times before.”
August 7, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Peter Mendelsund, who designs book jackets, asked people what they see when they read. They “felt that when they read a book they loved, they saw every aspect of it. Not only that, but they felt that the greatness of a book was predicated on the fact that they were able to visualize it. ‘That character was so real,’ they’d say. That myth of the little homunculus sitting in the back of your skull, watching the author’s movie being projected onto the front of your skull—that’s really important to people. But the whole edifice crumbles when you start to ask questions about it.”
- Was John Hancock’s signature really too big? “Did Hancock know that fifty-six men would ultimately sign the document when he put pen to paper? Or might he have assumed fewer signatories, and thus more space for signing? We know this much: You can’t fit fifty-six Hancock-sized signatures onto the parchment … the document would have needed approximately 5.5 more inches of vertical space to accommodate all the names—even with crammed spacing and slim margins.”
- Good news for underemployed babysitters: Taking your kids to a gallery is a “total waste of time,” according to the artist Jake Chapman. “He says that standing a child in front of a Pollock is an ‘insult’ to the American who pioneered the abstract expressionism. ‘It’s like saying … it’s as moronic as a child? Children are not human yet,’ the father-of-three declared.”
- Questioning Shakespeare’s conservatism: “Rebels and usurpers in Shakespeare's plays are always the bad guys … Rebellion against one’s superiors is presented as a matter of misguided jealousy and intrinsic spite.”
- “A maestro of aspirational porn, Radley Metzger populated his soft- and hard-core films of the 1960s and ’70s with Continental swells whose luxe dwellings and vast expanses of land made for optimal prime pleasure domes … [he] elevated his randy projects with sumptuous production values, his meticulous decor and mise-en-scène long outmoded in today’s quickie online porn.” (For the curious, eight of Metzger’s films are coming to Lincoln Center.)