The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘advice’


September 21, 2015 | by

Photo: Darwin Bell


Life is an onion—you peel it year by year and sometimes cry. ―Carl Sandburg

Here’s a practical writing tip: if you’re stuck, write “Once upon a time.” Go on, try it—I think you’ll find that even the action is soothing. It’s not just that now you have something on the page, although you do. The words themselves are calming. 

Where did I encounter this piece of advice? I don’t want to rob anyone of credit, but misattribution would be bad, too. I think it was in the cookbook The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper, but I can’t swear to it. Anyway, in this book, one of the authors relates a time-honored tip passed down from her grandmother: if you don’t know what to make for dinner, just cut up an onion and put it on to cook. The action, the aroma, the fact that an onion is the basis for so many dishes—these factors will conspire to prompt a plan. And if nothing else, you’ll enjoy the savory smell of industry. Read More »

Cherish the Poop You Are Full of, and Other News

September 11, 2015 | by

Anonymous, Cabinets d'aisances des fosses inodores (detail), ca. 1830.

  • New York in the late seventies was not exactly a utopia: crime was soaring, graffiti was ubiquitous, mace was a must-have accessory. But a certain set of novels and films has made the era something to yearn for: “This was the last moment when a novelist or poet might withdraw a book that had already been accepted for publication and continue to fiddle with it for the next two or three years. This was the last time when a New York poet was reluctant to introduce to his arty friends someone who was a Hollywood film director, for fear the movies would be considered too low-status … these works express a craving for the city that, while at its worst, was also more democratic … where not even money could insulate you. They are a reaction to what feels like a safer, more burnished and efficient (but cornerless and predictable) city.”
  • Today in writing advice that isn’t total shit, even if it’s about shit: “I preach the radio. I do not preach thinking you must know what you are about. Faulkner had good drugs and a big radio. I recall having heard my own little radio at times. It is rare, yes, and it is, now, rarer. But you are young and have your juice, you’re still full of poop, which is the necessary requisite to tuning the radio. Got to be some poop out there, on the airwaves, or in there, in you, for you to tune it in. Cherish the poop you are full of, and work on excreting it with sound fundamentals.” That’s Padgett Powell, being correct.
  • On procrastination and art: might there be something heroic, or at least admirably resistant, in the idea of putting off one’s writing? “Bartleby is my hero, endlessly preferring not to, but though I find him sympathetic, he—along with all the ‘writers of the no’, writers who turned their backs on writing, Rimbaud and Walser among them—is not in the same game as me. Or if we are in the same game, I’m not playing it right. I don’t turn my back on writing. I don’t say no. I say yes and fail to follow through. I sit suspended between preferring not to and not preferring to enough—I’m hung on a peg.”
  • Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter is “a compressed, unflinching portrait of the turmoil that envelops Bird, an alcoholic, after his son’s birth.” The novel has a new champion: none but Jonathan Franzen, who adores its disturbing elements, its comic elements, its vomit elements: “I don’t know of a more compelling description of throwing up than the ones that occur in this book. He’s sweating, he looks at himself in the mirror, and there’s bad sex. It’s partly that—the really, really tight focus on Bird’s body. There’s nothing like a microscopic view of your body to evoke shame.”
  • While we’re on shame—it’s time for men to cry again. They have much to cry about, being men, and yet they shed no tears … why, when male weeping has been treated as normal in almost every part of the world for most of recorded history? In fact, it was exalted for a while: “ancient Greeks saw it as a model for how heroic men should behave … 20,000 knights swooning from grief were considered noble, not ridiculous … there’s no mention of the men in these stories trying to restrain or hide their tears … They cry in a crowded hall with their heads held high. Nor do their companions make fun of this public blubbing; it’s universally regarded as an admirable expression of feeling.”

Varieties of Reluctance

September 1, 2015 | by


One of Alex Jardine’s illustrations from The Reluctant Cook.

I was delighted, at a London bookshop, to encounter a recent reissue of the 1954 Ethelind Fearon manual The Reluctant Hostess. As far as I’m concerned, Fearon’s entire oeuvre should be in print always, regardless of commercial considerations. She is that idiosyncratic.

Fearon, who died in 1974 and at present doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia entry, was an authority on restoring medieval houses and an accomplished gardener—at one point she kept H. G. Wells’s garden—but as her official Random House bio would have it, “under pressure from publishers and an eager public she also wrote a number of books on such diverse but essential subjects as pigkeeping, pastries, how to keep pace with your daughter, and how to grow herbs.” (I want to meet every member of this supposedly clamoring public.) Read More »

Solve Your Problems with Symmetry, and Other News

July 15, 2015 | by


The Shaker Meetinghouse in New Lebanon, Columbia County, New York.

  • Philosophers are always telling us what to do and why to do it—telling us, in essence, how to rescue ourselves from childhood, how to grow up. For Vivian Gornick, their advice is lacking in what a college counselor might call real-world experience: “The Hebrew philosopher Hillel urged that we do unto others as we would have others do unto us. Kant urged, similarly, that we not make instrumental use of one another. With all the good will in the world—and remarkable numbers of people have it—we have not been able to make these noble recommendations carry the day. Not because we are lazy or venal or incompetent but because most of us live in a state of inner conflict that makes purity of behavior an impossibility. Every day of our lives we transgress against our own longing to act well: our tempers are ungovernable, our humiliations unforgettable, our fantasies ever present … ”
  • Today in ill-advised marketing campaigns: the Australian publisher of the new Lisbeth Salander novel has taken branding to a disturbingly literal level in its quest to find “a female fan prepared to ‘donate’ her back for three months. This would have involved being adorned with her very own Dragon Tattoo for advertising purposes.” The so-called tatvertising campaign sought to find someone who could “handle the pain, just like Lisbeth Salander.” The publisher has since canceled the promotion, but there’s nothing stopping true fans from pursuing masochism to please their corporate masters.
  • Does the art market depress you? The answer should be a resounding yes—no one likes plundering plutocrats. But here’s a thought: you can probably just ignore the whole sordid commercial aspect of the thing. “Sensing that people will one day look back on this era as a freakish episode in cultural history, why not get a head start on viewing it that way? Detach and marvel. Meanwhile, art goes on making meaning for those who are rich only in the desire and leisure to engage with it … To expect the running-scared super-rich to behave benevolently, in regards to art, is plainly foolish.”
  • So you’re conceiving a building in which the sexes are segregated—congratulations! The Shakers have just the kind of architectural design you need. The key is extreme symmetry, “in which one side meticulously mirrors the other, door for door, stair for stair, each fitting answering another … The control implicit in the design goes further. Men and women worked in different trades, so rarely encountered one another in the workplace … The Shakers perfected what they called a ‘living building’: a settlement that served their purposes while also reinforcing their separation from non-believing outsiders.”
  • Critical thinking remains an integral part of an education in the liberal arts—and a vague, endlessly broad term, with no real applicability. What is it? How do we use it? For the answers to these and other unanswerable questions, all you have to do is go to college. But even there the term is on watch now. “One of my colleagues adamantly rejected the inclusion of an allegedly trendy catchphrase (‘experiential learning’) as part of our mission statement, and insisted that we use ‘critical thinking’ instead. My colleague was ostensibly rejecting the professionalization of college education, in favor of the more properly academic priority of intellect. This preference, however, struck me as curious, as it revealed that ‘critical thinking’—whatever cluster of ideas or intellectual ideals hide behind the phrase—had become something for which we felt nostalgia.”

The Trollopian Dowagers of Beverly Hills, and Other News

June 4, 2015 | by


The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

  • Barney Rosset, the “the downtown pugnacious outré rebel” (read: publisher of provocative texts), spent his final years immersed in an artistic experiment—transforming one of the walls of his East Village apartment into an elaborate mural. Now there’s a movement to preserve this mural, even if it’s “an art critic’s worst nightmare. For an esteemed literary publisher to leave behind a final work so unpredictable—and so large—has understandably baffled those who survived him. David Rose, editor-in-chief of Lapham’s Quarterly, typifies most people’s reactions to the wall. ‘It’s the most unexpected thing I would have associated with Barney Rosset,’ he said. ‘Of course he would do this, because it makes no fucking sense whatsoever.’ ”
  • The evolving (devolving?) art of songwriting in the streaming age: If everyone’s using Spotify to listen to music, and Spotify pays artists only after their songs have been streamed for thirty seconds … then why bother to write songs that are longer than thirty seconds? “Now that streaming has taken off, will song form react? Will it just be three choruses and nothing else? Is it the return of the ABAB song form, where the sections have a balanced weight and there are no sections dedicated to ‘setting up’ another section? … And bridges? Bridges to what, exactly? Who has time for a bridge? You’re either there or you’re not there. Why get stuck in transit from one section to another?”
  • The Sketchbook Project is “a collection of crowdsourced sketchbooks that is, according to its staff, the largest in the world. The project was founded in 2006, when Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker, two art students living in Atlanta, began mailing blank Moleskines to anyone who wanted one for a small fee, and then archiving whatever came back.” The project, which now comprises some thirty-four thousand books, is currently mounting its final world tour.
  • “Whenever you introduce a character, you don’t have to specify that they are wearing pants. Most readers will just assume that they are wearing pants unless you say otherwise.” Finally, some useful advice from your favorite established authors.
  • The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is many things, most of them reprehensible—but its fixation on capital and cosmetics is arguably instructive, and it has lofty origins. “There’s something weirdly High Tory about the Beverly Hills Housewife profile, more Trollopian dowager than spirited arriviste.”

Introducing The Paris Review for Young Readers

April 1, 2015 | by

TPR-Young-Final“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time,” E. B. White told this magazine in 1969. “Children are … the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly.”

We couldn’t agree more. That’s why we’re proud to announce The Paris Review for Young Readers, the first magazine that writes up to children. (No offense to Cricket or Highlights.) Imagine a space for children’s literature that doesn’t condescend, cosset, or coarsen; that’s free of easy jokes and derivative fantasy; that invites open discussion and abundant imagination. A space, in other words, that offers the same caliber of fiction, poetry, art, and interviews you expect from The Paris Review, for readers age eight to twelve.

Today marks the release of TPRFYR’s first issue, and we think the table of contents below speaks for itself. Among its poetry and fiction, you’ll find old classics and new favorites—plus some puzzles, quizzes, and advice columns inspired by literature. There’s a portfolio of drawings from Richard Scarry’s lost years, and, at the center of it all, an interview with Eric Carle, the author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. “A child is an almost platonic reader,” Carle says. “His imagination remains unbounded.” Read More »