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Posts Tagged ‘André Maurois’

Charmed Objects

August 25, 2014 | by

Phantom-Shelf

An example of a Phantom Shelf. Credit: EM Photography

People talk about a “Keeper Shelf” for those books they love more than any others. Those which, I suppose, are worth owning in this time when owning a physical book means something more than it once did. (Or, as much as it once did.) For my money, though, there is no better proof of love for a title than not owning it—that is to say, having given it away. Call it the Phantom Shelf.

When my coffers are in a particularly robust state, I will sometimes indulge in the extravagance of replenishing those favorite books I am most inclined to give away. It is always the same few—titles that I need to share with someone like-minded, right now!—and by the same token, those which I always miss when they are gone. Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Communism, Climates, Cats

April 11, 2014 | by

Joseph_Stalin_with_daughter_Svetlana,_1935

Joseph Stalin with his daughter Svetlana, 1935.

Shortly after moving to New York, I found a used copy of Twenty Letters to a Friend, a memoir, written in 1963, by Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin’s daughter. It’s an unlikely book, to say the least—she condemns Communism, details her father’s agonizing death, and tries to come to terms with her own, very particular Stalinist experience—and it fed my budding fascination with Soviet cultural history. Nicholas Thompson’s essay in the March 31 issue of The New Yorker, which describes his friendship with Alliluyeva and her experiences in the United States, was a reminder of how that bizarre, late Soviet period had first piqued my interest. I’d never read, though, about Alliluyeva’s encounter with Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow, Olgivanna, an adherent of the theosophist G.I. Gurdjieff. Oligvanna believed Alliluyeva to be the reincarnation of her daughter, also named Svetlana, and wanted her to marry the dead woman’s husband; she did. It’s the kind of thoroughly weird story that couldn’t possibly be true, but then, this is Stalin’s daughter. —Nicole Rudick

After receiving two uncomprehending reviews in the New York Times, Jenny Offill’s novel Department of Speculation has finally gotten the kind of attention it deserves, first from James Wood in The New Yorker and now from Elaine Blair in The New York Review of Books. The latter is actually more than a review; it’s a brief and startling essay on the place of adultery in fiction today. Of the marriage in Department of Speculation, Blair writes, “How can a relationship so intensely intimate and companionable seem so easily soluble? And what is that other thing, extramarital sex, that has everyone quickly making contingency plans to jump ship? The wife and husband’s exemplary, perhaps even ideal, modern marriage is a form of personal gratification—a nonbinding choice that is very much bound up with the ego.” When Blair writes about fiction, she writes about life, which in some moods seems to me the only way to do it. Read an excerpt of Offill’s novel in issue 207. —Lorin Stein

I don’t often have the time to reread these days, but I recently gave a copy of André Maurois’s Climates to a friend, and he enjoyed it so much that I was inspired to revisit it. It’s an autobiographical novel of love lost, found, and lost again, the kind of book you find yourself giving to all your friends, wanting them to read it immediately so you can marvel at it together. Back when I first read Adriana Hunter’s beautiful translation, I felt it mirrored the melancholy of events in my own life. I worried, I think, that it wouldn’t resonate as much now. But I was wrong: it is a gripping read, deeply felt, and so full of memorable lines that I wanted to dog-ear every other page. I would have, except that this time it was a library copy—I had long since given mine away. —Sadie Stein

When I rewatched Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, I knew, faintly, that the film’s odd pudding subplot was based on a true story. But only now have I done my homework. Fun fact: in 1999, a Californian engineer named David Phillips was grocery shopping when he noticed a loophole in a frequent-flier offer on Healthy Choice products. He did the math and discovered that if he could purchase enough cheap Healthy Choice–brand foods, the value of the miles would exceed the cost. So Phillips scoured the region, buying up some twelve thousand cups of Healthy Choice pudding—the cheapest product he could find, at a quarter a cup. He redeemed them for 1.25 million American Airlines frequent-flier miles. This is that rare thing, a Kafkaesque story with a happy ending: a man confronts the warped logic of bureaucracy and emerges victorious. It was shrewd of Anderson to rip it from the headlines. In Punch-Drunk Love, Adam Sandler’s character makes the same discovery, and it softens his neurotic, seething violence. He’s attuned to the world, we see, just vibrating on a different wavelength. The plot gets at the surreal, godlike power that corporations can wield in our lives, descending from on high to deliver the occasional windfall or catastrophe. As Sandler’s character says, “I have to get more pudding for this trip to Hawaii. As I just said that out loud I realize it sounded a little strange, but it’s not … You can go to places in the world with pudding.” —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

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Snuffing Out Anachronisms, and Other News

February 26, 2014 | by

anachronism

Not so fast, Abe. Image via Anachro.net.

  • The Cotton Club was also shooting in New York. The night we were shooting the Marshmallow Man, some guy said to me, ‘This is insane, what’s this movie?’ I said, ‘The Cotton Club, man. That guy Francis, you can’t stop him.’” In honor of Harold Ramis, an oral history of Ghostbusters.
  • What do you do when your students’ literary touchstone is Law and Order: SVU?
  • Online, Steven Soderbergh has released Psychos, “a feature-length mashup of Hitchcock’s original 1960 movie and Gus Van Sant’s controversial shot-for-shot 1998 remake.”
  • At last, screenwriters can stop anachronisms in their tracks with the Anachronism Machine. “It maps the script’s words and phrases against a Google database consisting of the full texts of six million books and spits out a graphical rendering of the likely anachronisms the script is guilty of.”
  • The first entry in an A to Z of forgotten books: “When it appeared in 1923, André Maurois’s Ariel was one of a new breed of what reviewers of the time took to calling ‘romance biographies.’”

 

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What We’re Loving: Fictional Memoirs, Unreliable Narrators

February 15, 2013 | by

51eJO4rgNrLAs we close our Spring Issue, plan our Spring Revel, and try to find a new office, I’ve been taking refuge in two books at once. At dinner I’m reading Edward Limonov’s outrageous and very funny “fictional memoir” It’s Me, Eddie, about living as a penniless émigré in a New York SRO. In later years, Limonov has had a confusing political career (he may be the only living Russian poet to have raised a private army or campaigned for Zhirinovsky), but back in 1978 he was pure punk. After dinner it’s the new translation of Climates, by André Maurois, an irresistible, micro-Proustian novel about a jealous husband and the woman who tries to save him. I can’t explain why these two books go so well together, except to note that each one broods on a painful breakup, and that I don’t want either one to end. —Lorin Stein

I’ve been paging through the late Richard Stern’s Still on Call, a collection of essays, reflections, and general miscellany. In one section, Stern describes his encounters with other writers, including a near-stalking of Sinclair Lewis in Central Park and a leisurely lunch with Thomas Mann, but it was Stern’s meeting with “Japan’s most distinguished poet,” Shuntarō Tanikawa, that especially interested me. Unfamiliar with Tanikawa, I tracked down a translation of his 1980 collection, At Midnight in the Kitchen I Just Wanted to Talk to You, and felt an immediate affinity after reading “My Favorite Things,” Tanikawa’s take on Oscar Hammerstein’s famous lyrics. If you can’t get your hands on a copy of the collection, you can still read the poem here—Brenna Scheving

Who writes a novel-length lipogram, and furthermore, who translates it? Sadists? Cat lovers without a cause? Georges Perec and Gilbert Adair have, respectively, accomplished this feat. A Void (translation of the French title, La disparition) could rescue you from the winter doldrums as a cerebral, cleverly disguised detective tale. Written sans the letter e, it forces you to acknowledge the absence while following the protagonist, Anton Vowl. In this paragraph alone, I have used e sixty-two times. If you need further evidence of Perec’s merit as a writer, look at his author photo. —Kendall Poe

I picked up a galley of The Other Typist on a whim, and from the first page was absorbed: I haven’t been able to put it down. Suzanne Rindell’s story of a 1920s police stenographer who becomes increasingly obsessed with a glamorous new typist reminds me at points of Notes on a Scandal and Patricia Highsmith, but has creepy charms all its own. —Sadie Stein

 

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What to Read on a Stormy Weekend

February 8, 2013 | by

Fireplace-Tea-Books-300x199Here in the Northeast, we are all hunkering down for what could be a lot of snow, or at least a little slush. Either way, it will be a weekend for staying indoors with a good book, and we asked some of our bookish friends what they recommend for such occasions.

I Capture The Castle, by Dodie Smith, and Laurie Colwin! —Emily Gould, writer, founder of Emily Books

I am reading a dated but rad detective novel called The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey, wherein a detective laid up in the hospital clears King Richard III of the crime of murdering his nephews using deductive logic and dubious speculation. This is part of my ongoing celebration of Richard III’s skeleton’s coming-out-the-closet or whatever you call it. Otherwise keeping busy with hoarding seltzer/Snackwell’s vanilla cremes. So this is a pretty normal weekend for me. —Pete Beatty, editor

Right now I find myself on page 1400 of Proust, by circumstance. Hoping to make some real headway in the next forty-eight. (Yesterday I was reading it on the A train, and this woman got down on her knees to look up to see what was the giant book I had in my hand. Like, she could have asked. Maybe she was saving me the pretension of responding, “Proust.”) —Brian Ulicky, publicist Read More »

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Elusive Epigraphs; Travel Books

September 2, 2011 | by

Dear Mr. Stein, May I take advantage of the hospitality of your letters column to ask if you or your readers can help me to solve a small puzzle? I have come across an epigraph ascribed to Proust that heads the first chapter of Hamish Miles’s English translation of Édouard VII et son temps by André Maurois (King Edward and His Times, London: Cassell, 1933, p. 1). It reads: “Every social status has its own interest, and to the artist it can be just as compelling to show the ways of a Queen as the habits of a dressmaker. —Marcel Proust.” An excellent colleague of mine remarks that this certainly sounds genuine, and he even wondered if the aperçu came from the bit in Le Côté de Guermantes where Proust talks sniffily about grocers writing aristocratic novels, but I am afraid it is not there. Now we find that the epigraph is nowhere to be found in Maurois’s original French text, so the plot thickens. Much as I am tickled by the idea of an industrious and I daresay underappreciated translator recklessly concocting a spurious epigraph for the purpose of self-promotion, or worse, something tells me that there is an alternative explanation. So can anyone, do you think, identify these lines about “the ways of a Queen” and “the habits of a dressmaker,” and pin them on Proust? Thank you, Angus Trumble

We all hoped it was made up. But no. The epigraph comes from “An Historical Salon,” an essay—really, a celebrity profile—that Proust wrote for Le Figaro in late 1902. His subject is the Princesse Mathilde Bonaparte, a niece of Napoleon’s and the last Bonaparte to remain in Paris after the fall of the Second Empire. She was known for her literary salons, which included Mérimée, Flaubert, and the Goncourts. In the sentences you quote, Proust has just finished his you-are-there description of one of the princess’s soirées and he’s gearing up for the mini bio (which, in the case of Princesse Mathilde, is slightly delicate, since she left her first husband, a Russian tycoon, for another man, with the connivance of yet another uncle: Czar Nicholas I; it's good to know people).

As translated in F.W. Dupee’s edition of Pleasures and Days, the entire paragraph reads:

An artist will serve the truth only, and have no respect for rank. In his portrayals he will take rank into account as a principle of differentiation like nationality, race, or environment. All stations in society have their interest for an artist, and it is as exciting for him to picture the ways of a queen as the habits of a dressmaker. Read More »

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