On the Shelf
February 19, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- More of Mavis Gallant’s diaries.
- “That sovereign of insufferables, Oscar Wilde, has ensued with his opulence of twaddle and his penury of sense. He has mounted his hind legs and blown crass vapidities through the bowel of his neck.” No one spews contumely like Ambrose Bierce spews contumely.
- Bret Easton Ellis has written a script for Kanye West. Guess which one said of the other, “I really like him as a person”?
- So many movies, novels, and TV shows are set in prison—but do they depict it accurately?
- Meet the man who designed David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust outfits. “His interest in Central Asian fabrics led to a coat that can cause car accidents.”
- Fuck it—let’s go skiing.
February 18, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- It’s time to reconsider in earnest that elusive, anxious thing: the Great American Novel.
- Why do we love maps of imaginary places? Umberto Eco has some ideas. (And some fine maps of imaginary places.)
- Relatedly, how did the north come to be the default direction for the tops of maps? It’s the thirty-fifth anniversary of McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World, which famously flipped things around so that south faced up.
- Roger Angell at ninety-three: “I’m feeling great. Well, pretty great, unless I’ve forgotten to take a couple of Tylenols in the past four or five hours, in which case I’ve begun to feel some jagged little pains shooting down my left forearm and into the base of the thumb.”
- A personal ad from a seventeenth-century British alchemist might read something like this: “When I’m not busy attempting to turn various substances into gold, I like to have Dutch masters paint portraits of me in my workshop.”
February 17, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- It’s Presidents Day, and surely you’re looking to relax with a presidential biography. There have been roughly fifteen thousand books written about Abraham Lincoln. These are the ones worth reading.
- New York Fashion Week is over, but it’s never too late to scrutinize these 1919 advertisements for “New York styles”: “a frock of luxurious distinction,” a “wool chiffon panama skirt,” a “bewitching little turban.”
- “Signifying nothing is harder than it looks.” “At Starbucks I order under the name Godot. Then leave.” Behind the Adorno-esque Twitter presence of @NeinQuarterly, one of the medium’s finest aphorists.
- Now that Valentine’s Day is behind us, let’s take a hard look at the history of divorce.
- At last, scientific evidence that those who troll the Internet—lurking in comments sections and hurling epithets like so much feces—are sadistic and psychopathic.
February 14, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- In Taiwan, a commemorative Valentine’s Day train ticket sold out in less than an hour: it takes you from “Dalin (大林, pronounced similarly to ‘darling’ in English) station in Chiayi County to Gueilai (歸來, literally: ‘come back’).” A journey any of us should be willing to make after we’ve behaved badly. It’s love on a real train.
- Voltaire in love: “She understands Newton, she despises superstition and in short she makes me happy.”
- But we can count on literature to remind us that things are not always so sweet. Here are the ten unhappiest marriages in fiction.
- Can atrocity be the subject matter of poetry? Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, on Carolyn Forché’s new anthology.
- “I also like to catch dangling modifiers, because we all miss those … I have had authors who say that dangling modifiers are part of their style and don’t want to change them.” An interview with a crackerjack copyeditor.
February 13, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The last thing the world needs is another Hemingway imitator, but a new app purports to help you write like Ernest Hemingway. It lops off adverbs and corrects instances of passive voice, but “it’s pretty tricky to distill instructions into computer code and make a machine into an editor.” Phew. Job security.
- Why are writers such inveterate procrastinators? “We were too good in English class.”
- Another question: Why do literary biographers insist on portraying “a positive moral image” of their subjects, many of whom were ethically lax?
- The Tournament of Cookbooks has begun. There will be blood. And bruised egos. And bold Mediterranean recipes.
- An 1882 pamphlet—“The Nonsense of It!”—sunders the flimsy arguments against giving women the vote. “‘The polls are not decent places for women at present.’ Then she is certainly needed there to make them decent … the presence of one woman would be worth a dozen policemen.”
February 12, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Behold: the first written use of fuck, from 1528, inscribed by a monk who seems to have been pretty pissed off with an abbot.
- “Kicking against the pricks becomes rather less impressive when the pricks have melted away.” Taking a hatchet to the Hatchet Job of the Year.
- Wes Anderson’s new film, Grand Budapest Hotel, is by his own admission “more or a less a plagiarism” of the works of Stefan Zweig. Will the movie renew American interest in Zweig’s writing?
- An “edit-a-thon” aims to close the gender gap on Wikipedia, to which far more men contribute than women. Though as the Newsweek reporter Katie Baker tweeted, “Maybe few women edit Wikipedia because they do enough thankless unpaid labor already.”
- “Emptying the Skies,” Jonathan Franzen’s 2010 essay on the poaching of migratory songbirds, is soon to be a documentary.
- Toby Barlow’s Write-a-House, a residency program that gives houses to writers, is still a bit shy of its fundraising goal, but there’s a week left in the campaign—help out.