The Daily

This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Snails Eating Snails, Sailboat Lust, DISSS-CO!

April 15, 2016 | by

The Tarot Garden in Tuscany.

I’ve been impressed by Robyn Schiff’s new collection, A Woman of Property, especially the faithfulness with which it renders the buzzy dread of parenthood: not the fear of begetting but the fear that begetting occasionally begets. To see the world through Schiff’s poems is to see it magnified by motherhood and aswarm with potential menace. The collection includes poems about anthrax and swine flu, “unbearable / supercolonies of ants,” even the slow-motion spectacle of a snail eating another snail. (“Wolf snail rewinding / common snail up its trembling spool, // the wheeling / of the whelk / inside the whelk.”) The poems’ forms are often as relentless as their subjects—it’s the rare stanza that ends on a full stop—but they have their purpose: “The lyric makes me sing,” she writes “what I did not even / want said, to get to stop having / to keep thinking // it.” —Bobby Baird

I was just extolling the artistic virtues of Niki de Saint Phalle to a friend on Monday, complaining about how she’s discussed so infrequently and exhibited so rarely in the U.S. So Ariel Levy’s essay in the latest issue of The New Yorker was a welcome surprise. Levy’s focus is Saint Phalle’s fourteen-acre Tarot Garden in Tuscany, which she worked on for decades. It’s a site I’m keen to visit, especially given Levy’s apt description: “It is as if a psychedelic bomb had exploded in the most picturesque part of Tuscany.” Saint Phalle’s interest in the Tarot, her expression of an overt, joyful eroticism, and her assertion of her own creative value and purpose—especially in relation to intense, passionate affairs with male artists—remind me of her contemporary, Dorothy Iannone, who is likewise under-recognized in this country. Yet Saint Phalle, like Iannone, was never in doubt of her power: “If I didn’t want to be a second-class citizen,” she said, “I would have to go out into the world and fight to impose myself as an artist.”—Nicole Rudick Read More »

Staff Picks: The Hatred of Music, the Love of Phlox

April 8, 2016 | by

From the cover of The Hatred of Music.

I love music, but I like to hear both sides of an argument, so I picked up Pascal Quignard’s The Hatred of Music: ten treatises about the danger in listening. Quignard, himself an accomplished listener, aims “to convey to what point music can become an object of hatred to someone who once adored it beyond measure.” In his crosshairs is not so much music itself but the omnipresence of sound, which has, he argues, metastasized into a force of death more than of life. Quignard can be ponderous—you can imagine him plugging his ears at a Selena Gomez concert—but I can’t deny the depth of his thinking, to say nothing of his gift for aphorism. (“Everything is covered in blood related to sound”; “Rhythm holds man and attaches him like a skin on a drum”; “Concert halls are inveterate caves whose god is time.”) As a kind of lyrical discourse on how we hear, The Hatred of Music belongs on the shelf next to Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise. The second treatise, “It So Happens that Ears Have No Eyelids,” offers this: “What is seen can be abolished by the eyelids, can be stopped by partitions or curtains, can be rendered immediately inaccessible by walls. What is heard knows neither eyelids, nor partitions, neither curtains, nor walls. Undelimitable, it is impossible to protect oneself from it … Sound rushes in. It violates.” I read those words on the subway, as the train groaned into a turn and EDM bled from my neighbor’s headphones. —Dan Piepenbring

Every winter and spring, I receive reams of garden and seed catalogues. Perusing them is, for me, akin to reading a good book and requires that I find a quiet, comfortable spot and consider each page with care. The photographs and copy vary in quality from catalogue to catalogue (I have my favorites), but each nevertheless brings what Katharine White calls “dreams of garden glory.” White became The New Yorker’s first fiction editor in 1925; three years later, the magazine published her first entry in the “Onward and Upward in the Garden” column, in which she wrote on seed and nursery catalogues, gardening books, and her own amateur attempts at floriculture. Last year, New York Review Books collected her fourteen columns. I recognize myself in much of what she writes: when, for instance, she cannot bring herself to stop acquiring plants or when she feels at once cheated and culpable for a plant’s failure to thrive. Mostly, though, I enjoy the moments in which she writes appreciatively of garden life: “Today I’d like nothing more strenuous than to sit still and admire the huge heads of phlox that the wet season has produced in the perennial borders and watch the bees sipping nectar from the poisonous monkshood and plundering the lavender spikes of the veronicas.” —Nicole Rudick Read More »

Staff Picks: Stirrups, Stravinsky, Sink-feet

March 25, 2016 | by

Meryl Meisler, Butterfly Bedroom Telephone, East Meadow, NY, June 1975, black-and-white photograph, 1975, 20" x 14 1/2". Image via Steven Kasher Gallery.

Among the black-and-white photographs in Meryl Meisler’s show at Steven Kasher Gallery is a vitrine that houses ephemera from Meisler’s youth in Massapequa, Long Island. One piece, from 1969, is an invitation to a swingers’ party that asks attendees to rendezvous in the Island Discount parking lot and boasts that “Our Color Coded Computer Carefully Coordinates Closely Compatible Couples, (put that in your Funk & Wagnalls).” Group adultery aside, this sounds like a fun bunch. And Meisler’s photographs, which she began taking in her early twenties, bear out that notion. In one, an older woman lounges on a bed (whose butterfly spread matches the wallpaper that matches the curtains) while staring openmouthed and goggle-eyed at the camera. In another, a young man in a too-short terry bathrobe shaves while a woman brushes his hair, another man climbs onto the counter to stick his foot in the sink, and a third man, visible only in the mirror, views the scene over the top of the shower doors. The Meislers and their friends are like Tina Barney’s affluent subjects gone astray: kitchsy, boisterous, and lovin’ it. —Nicole Rudick

A year ago, our director of advertising (read, “the person who sells our ads”) left the Review to host a TV show about fashion weeks around the world—Pakistan, China, the Gaza Strip, you name it. Since then, we haven’t seen much of Hailey Gates (though she did attend one Paris Review party via FaceTime from the Congo). So it was with delight and curiosity that we received the trailer for her show, “States of Undress.” It premieres next month on Viceland. We’re staying tuned … —Lorin Stein Read More »

Staff Picks: Back Waiters, Blackouts, Bulletin Boards

March 18, 2016 | by

From the cover of Sweetbitter, out in May

In its first chapter alone, Jean Stein’s West of Eden: An American Place sees a fortune made and squandered, a dubious murder-suicide, a media blackout, hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribe money, and a death by battery acid. And this isn’t fiction—it’s an oral history of Los Angeles, full of myth and rancor and especially desolation. Focusing on just five addresses, including the Dohenys’ fabled Greystone Mansion and Jack Warner’s Beverly Hills monstrosity, Stein excavates an LA counternarrative that’s been buried for decades in the city’s foundations, obscured by those who insist on marketing the place as paradise. The Los Angeles that emerges here is anything but a dream factory—its denizens are so felled by corruption and hubris that their lives take on the dimensions of Greek tragedy. West of Eden is a stunning accomplishment. Strange that it comes at roughly the same moment as the Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar!, which tells, beneath its frothy surface, another sad story of old Hollywood’s bitter power-brokers. —Dan Piepenbring

“We are getting / rid of ownership, substituting use. / Beginning with ideas. Which ones can we / take? Which ones can we give?” I read these sentences a half dozen times, stopping after each read to consider a new meaning that appeared before me, like an ever-expanding horizon. In fact, most sentences in John Cage’s Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) took several readings to get through. But these fragments of opinions and problems, worries and joys are meant to be meditative, and working through them recalibrates the reader’s perspective. Shifts between typefaces, indentations, and colors make a collage of the text, and there is little sense of where one entry ends and the next begins, which produces wonderfully unexpected juxtapositions and startles to attention odd anecdotes like this one: “In the lobby after La / Monte Young’s music stopped, / Geldzahler said: It’s like being in a / womb; now that I’m out, I want to get / back in. I felt differently and so did / Jasper Johns: We were relieved to be / released.” And to think that it’s really all just words arranged on a page. But, as Cage points out, “If we could change our language, / that’s to say the way we think, / we’d probably be able to swing the / revolution.”  —Nicole Rudick Read More »

Staff Picks: Deadened Hues, Deer Boys, Dullard Fiancés

March 11, 2016 | by

From The Electric Pencil.

I spent this week madly reading Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear, not wanting to put it down until I’d finished. The novel concerns the search for Beatriz Yagoda, a Brazilian novelist who was last seen climbing into an almond tree with a suitcase, but of course it’s really about the characters who take up the pursuit: Yagoda’s two adult children, her bygone publisher, and her ardent American translator. The translator, Emma, runs to the aid of her missing author (“as if there weren’t anyone as reliable in a kidnapping as a devoted translator”), while also running away from her stale life and dullard fiancé in Pittsburgh. Yet even in Brazil, amid the excitement and chaos, she finds herself existing on the margins of a story in which she is also a central actor, returning again and again to the solace and structure of her author’s invented worlds: “And wasn’t the splendor of translation this very thing … To arrive, at least once, at a moment this intimate and singular, which would not be possible without these words arranged in this order on this page?” —Nicole Rudick

“Your book hurts me,” writes Julio Cortázar to Alejandra Pizarnick in the letter that opens her final collection of poems, A Musical Hell. The slender compilation, published before Pizarnik’s suicide in 1972 and translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert as part of the New Directions Poetry Pamphlet series, had escaped me until last weekend, when I found it nestled on the shelf of my local bookshop. Saddle stitched and no more than sixty-four pages long, it’s an intimate coup d’oeil of a mind tormented by depression, paranoia, and genius. In it, Pizarnik breathes a sort of hushed devastation into every verse, believing, as she once said, that “to write is to give meaning to suffering.” Her poems are at once gentle and macabre, with tremors of madness and nightmarish whimsy: Pizarnik writes of the nuns that nip like crows between her legs, she makes a list of all that dead lovers leave behind, she talks of suicide as beautiful. Hers is an indelible art, one I’ll revel in for a while. From “Mortal Ties”: “That savage room was made up in the deadened hues of repressed desire; its light was the color of a mausoleum for infants.” (NB: a new collection of Pizarnik’s poetry will appear this month.) —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »

Staff Picks: Chauffeured Cadillacs, Constant Motion, Cosmic Timewarp Deathtrips

March 4, 2016 | by

Ever since Mike Nichols died in 2014, I’ve wished and wished we had interviewed him in the Review. The HBO documentary Becoming Mike Nichols—an eighty-minute interview conducted by his friend Jack O’Brien—only sharpened my regret. Nichols wasn’t just one of the most important and wide-ranging directors of the last century (and half of the pioneering comedy duo Nichols & May), he was a brilliant explainer of what he did. He and O’Brien discuss his earliest stage productions (Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple) and the filming of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, giving glimpses of his childhood and education and his comedy routines. I could have watched them talk for hours. —Lorin Stein Read More »