- Today in Sisyphean undertakings for the greater good: Michael Mandiberg, an interdisciplinary artist, is “transforming the English-language Wikipedia into an old-fashioned print reference set running to 7,600 volumes … [He] describes the project as half utilitarian data visualization project, half absurdist poetic gesture.” You can watch him transfer the digital files to a printer in real time at Denny Gallery, on the Lower East Side, where an exhibition, “From Aaaaa! to ZZZap!,” began yesterday.
- Joshua Cohen on Dostoevsky’s The Double, whose hero Golyadakin “doesn’t know how to present himself socially—or, in a contemporary phrasing, he doesn’t know which self to present, struggling as he is with a decaying class system, stagnant bureaucracy, Godlessness, materialism, precarity, and dread—all of which have rendered him incapable of appropriate behavior, or even of defining appropriate behavior, in front of friends, lovers, colleagues, the church, the state, himself. And I think we’re living in a culture like that today.”
- Alan Hollinghurst’s first chapbook, 1982’s Confidential Chats with Boys, is prized among collectors, but Hollinghurst seldom talks about it. A new interview finds him looking back at those early poems: “I suppose I always had the idea that gay sexuality was essentially innocent, even though it’s almost universally been stigmatized and criminalized. But actually it was innocent and natural … what you’re writing about might in a conventional sense be ‘hard-core’ because you’re writing very explicitly about sex, but actually it was something to which no opprobrious moral definition could be applied.”
- In 2013, Mark Strand reviewed a show of Edward Hopper’s paintings at the Whitney, and the handwritten text was rediscovered after Strand’s death last year. “My own encounters with this elusive element in Hopper’s work began when I would commute from Croton-on-Hudson to New York each Saturday … I would look out from the train window onto the rows of tenements whose windows I could look into and try to imagine what living in one of those apartments would be like … It was thrilling to suddenly go underground, travel in the dark, and be delivered to the masses of people milling about in the cavernous terminal. Years later, when I saw Approaching a City for the first time, I instantly recalled those trips into Manhattan and have ever since. And Hopper, for me, has always been associated with New York, a New York glimpsed in passing, sweetened with nostalgia, a city lodged in memory.”
- Are nature writers “just fiddling while the agrochemicals burn”? “The real danger is that nature writing becomes a literature of consolation that distracts us from the truth of our fallen countryside, or—just as bad—that it becomes a space for us to talk to ourselves about ourselves, with nature relegated to the background as an attractive green wash. The project of re-enchantment might restore to us a canon of lost writings about the eeriness and mystery of our landscape.”
Alan Hollinghurst is sixty today.
I was rather a goody-goody as a child. I hated the idea of being in the wrong and dreaded being punished. Everyone at my prep school was being beaten by the headmaster with the back of a hairbrush round the clock, and I was keen to avoid that. It was only later on I discovered that you could be naughty and get away with it.
What were you reading at that age?
There was a bizarre library at the school that had a lot of old-fashioned children’s adventure books by G. A. Henty and R. M. Ballantyne. I got very involved with Rider Haggard—I still have the tie-in paperback for the film of She with a picture of Ursula Andress on the front, “the most beautiful woman in the world.” I also became an avid collector of a series called The Pan Book of Horror Stories, edited by Herbert Van Thal. I still have these as well, and the gruesome covers take me back—the whole atmosphere of the school suddenly closes in on me when I look at them.
In my school reports, one of the masters was worried about this “macabre reading,” but by the following year, I had discovered Tolkien, with whom I became totally obsessed. I read The Lord of the Rings over and over. I made charts of the kings of Rohan and so on. I used to write letters to my friends in dwarfish runes. The English master took a dim view of this and made me read Barchester Towers as an antidote, when all I wanted to do was to get back to Bilbo Baggins’s eleventy-first birthday party for the seventh time. I’ve never been able to read Trollope since.
—Alan Hollinghurst, the Art of Fiction No. 214
We have to get our stories straight, she and I, but first we have to get John Updike’s stories straight. I have just bought the Everyman edition of The Maples Stories, and I am trying to describe to my date the arc of the Maples’ marriage and why I think these stories are successfully erotic, how they bring the best out of Updike.
I am actually talking about myself, about all the stuff I’ve read, but that’s okay. As last of the male narcissists, Updike would understand. She understands. We are both rehearsing our lines for the evening over a curry somewhere in North London. It is exceptionally, reproachfully cold, and neither of us feels particularly well-equipped to withstand the inclement weather. My shirt makes me look like a Bond villain and feels like a rumpled parachute. The curry is the wrong kind of hot. She asks the most difficult question of all.
“How are you going to pass me off?”
I struggle to reply. She is both my date and not my date. She is the girlfriend of an old friend, and I have been instructed to show her a good time, in return for temporary London accommodation. I am being conspicuously trusted. We are getting to know each other, having only met twice before tonight, but I must be very transparent because she quickly settles on an apt description of our relationship.
“I know,” she says, patting me gently on the arm, “we’ll say I’m your chaperone.”
She makes me sound like a debutante and, in a sense, this is accurate. This is the first time I have attended the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards, but the same is true for her. Read More
The Paris Review sends you holiday cheer—and our Winter issue! Naughty or nice, it’s got something for everyone: a portfolio of women by women, curated by our art editor, Charlotte Strick; fiction by Clarice Lispector, Paul Murray, and Adam Wilson; the English-language debut of French literary sensation Valérie Mréjen; and the conclusion of Roberto Bolaño’s lost novel The Third Reich, with original illustrations by Leanne Shapton.
The Winter issue also contains long-awaited interviews with—
I tell my students that when you write, you should pretend you’re writing the best letter you ever wrote to the smartest friend you have. That way, you’ll never dumb things down. You won’t have to explain things that don’t need explaining. You’ll assume an intimacy and a natural shorthand, which is good because readers are smart and don’t wish to be condescended to.
and Alan Hollinghurst:
I was very excited by the idea of telling truths that hadn’t been told before and breaking down literary categories. Descriptions of gay sexual behavior had until then tended to be restricted to pornography, and the presence of gay lives in fiction had been scant. So I had the great fortune of being given this relatively unexplored territory.
Plus … poems by David Wagoner, Jonathan Galassi, Dorothea Lasky, Ange Mlinko, Gottfried Benn, and Rowan Ricardo Phillips.
F. and I were introduced by a mutual friend while I was on a visit to L.A. I was living in D.C., newly single and working at a political magazine. I had given myself a firm dating rule: no journalists. In a sleepy company town, where ethics precluded romantic liaisons with my sources, it had begun to feel as if I’d doomed myself to celibacy. F. was a writer who’d just finished his first film and was passing time as a listings editor. He was my best friend’s occasional tennis partner. “You’ll love him,” she promised, sending him a text as I shoved my bag in the backseat of her car at LAX. “I’ll have him meet us for drinks at this outdoor German place.” We hit it off instantly.
It started with a challenge. I told him that first night that I’d found Donald Antrim’s The Verificationist overly self-conscious, so he slid The Hundred Brothers into my carry-on for the red-eye back east. Antrim’s endlessly multiplying brothers and claustrophobic prose were right at home in the repetitious concourses of LAX. My perfume leaked in my suitcase during the flight, but I returned his copy anyway, with a handwritten note, reeking of the nape of my neck. Read More
While I was in Los Angeles, I had the chance to see two very different—but very “California”—exhibits, both of which I’d recommend to anyone. The first, Robert Irwin’s “Way Out West” at L&M Arts, is a light installation that’s visually engaging on its own terms, but even more so to those familiar with Irwin’s writing. More straightforward but just as interesting, LACMA’s “California Design, 1930–1965” is a colorful, exhilarating showcase of all things “modern,” from lobster-print swimsuits to Ray and Charles Eames’s living room (which is fully reassembled in the museum) to the original Barbie Dream House. It’s a survey not just of West Coast design, but of the crafting of the modern conception of California as we know it. —Sadie Stein
Sigrid Nunez’s Sempre Susan doesn’t just evoke Susan Sontag, the person, with hard-won sympathy, insight, and cool; it contains (in a very tiny space) material for an entire novel of idealism and disillusionment. This Sontag—who “often struck me as someone who wanted to be feeling ten times what she actually felt”—is a tragic figure, and this memoir captures the spirit of the spirit of her times. —Lorin Stein
I had, much to my shame, never read the fiction of Alan Hollinghurst until this last Indian summer weekend, when I found myself utterly absorbed in the world of The Stranger’s Child. Its prose is marvelously precise, its subjects both literary and sensual, and its general character inimitably English. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn
Lisa Yuskavage’s ethereal paintings are on display at David Zwirner until November 5. —Jessica Calderon
Last spring, the culture guerrillas at Bidoun went to Cairo to check in on the revolution. They came back with their Summer issue (#25), which includes interviews with graffiti artists, tour guides, ex-members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and hard-core metal musicians. Also, dream narratives, photographs, and thumbnail sketches of the dozens of the new political parties. There is very little analysis and no claim to know what comes next. But, more than anything else I’ve read, it gives you a sense of life on the ground. —Robyn Creswell
I just discovered the blog Letters of Note and could not tear myself away. They’ve archived, photographed, and transcribed amazing correspondences: everything from a letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to his family describing his capture in 1944, to a vintage rejection slip from Sub Pop records addressed to “Dear Loser.” —Artie Niederhoffer
Everyone I know has been sending me Kate Bolick’s fascinating piece on marriage, coupling through history, gender imbalances, and, well, as the title says, “All the Single Ladies.” —D. F. M.