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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew O’Hagan’

What We’re Loving: Don B., B. Dole, /u/backgrinder

March 7, 2014 | by

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“How hard was it to supply archers arrows in ancient battles?” Bryson Burroughs, The Archers, 1917.

Sozzled novelists (aka, lit lit) seems to be the thing to write about lately, but it’s more fun to read great writers making fun of great writers drinking a lot. In one of his short pieces originally written for The New Yorker’s Notes and Comment section (more quotidian than Talk of the Town and funnier than Shouts and Murmurs, it’s a section I wish they’d revive), Donald Barthelme describes having received a questionnaire from Writer’s Digest that inquired about his drinking habits. Asked if he’s a light, medium, heavy, or “other” drinker, Barthelme says medium: “Light is sissy and Heavy doesn’t go down so well with Deans, Loan Officers and Publishers, and who in the world would want to be Other?” Only a few days before reading this gem, I’d discovered Niccolò Tucci’s essay on drunkenness in issue 19 of The Paris Review. Tucci starts by recounting a pop-sci study on the hangover. We’d do well to heed one of its findings: “Alcohol itself is perfectly harmless. It cannot be blamed for anything … not even for death. What kills you is malnutrition. Drinkers forget to eat. If they ate more, they could drink more. In fact, obesity kills more people than alcohol. People should eat much less.” —Nicole Rudick

Steve Jobs famously quipped, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”—which is often how I feel about the content I find on Reddit, the Internet’s ultimate rabbit hole. Mastering the abbreviated jargon can take some time, but it’s well worth the plunge; I tumbled in, head first, after The Paris Review’s recent AMA. Take, for instance, /u/backgrinder’s response to the very reasonable, if incalculably arcane, question, “How hard was it to supply arrows to archers in ancient battles?” (TL;DR: Surprisingly hard.) —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

I have Bob Dole’s voice in my head, and it’s Richard Ben Cramer’s fault. “Dole’s voice was made for the empty distance and mean wind of the prairie,” Cramer writes in What It Takes: The Way to the White House, his thousand-page opus on presidential politics, published in 1992. Cramer died last year, and I’ve been meaning to delve into this book ever since—for once, the promise of the flap copy is no exaggeration. “An American Iliad in the guise of contemporary political reportage, What It Takes penetrates the mystery at the heart of all presidential campaigns: How do presumably ordinary people acquire that mixture of ambition, stamina, and pure shamelessness that makes a true candidate?” In writing about it here, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew; there’s no way to convey how exhaustively researched it is, how lovingly chronicled, how immaculately well-written. All I can say is that it drove me not just to feel a deep kinship with someone like Bob Dole but to watch the entirety of a Dole debate from the eighties, and to enjoy it. Publishers always like to claim that a given work of nonfiction “reads like a novel,” and it’s so seldom true—but What It Takes has the scope, pace, style, and psychological acuity of the best fiction. —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Self-Help, Self-Hate, Sense and Sensibility

November 1, 2013 | by

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In the last month, thanks to some timely advice from Sam Lipsyte in the Oslo airport, I’ve gone back to two books that I could never get through as a kid: Blood Meridian and Sense and Sensibility. Blood Meridian still defeats me, though I got about halfway through. Does every pueblo have to be ruinous, every puddle some shade of crimson? Will the Judge ever shut up about Darwin? The book it keeps comparing itself to is Moby-Dick, but Moby-Dick doesn’t compare itself to anything, and isn’t—or doesn’t feel—anywhere near as long. Sense and Sensibility, on the other hand, was just my speed. The last two pages are so good, I tore them out and pinned the sheet over my desk as a talisman. (The airport paperback had a painting of Spanish Gibson girls on the cover, and had to be thrown away.) —Lorin Stein

First published in 1957, the late Daniel Anselme’s On Leave chronicles one week in the lives of three soldiers, furloughed in Paris. Anselme, a resistance fighter and journalist, interviewed many conscripted men while researching the novel, and its unflinching look at the horrors of the Algerian conflict meant it was initially ignored by critics and never reprinted or translated. A new edition by Faber & Faber brings this “lost novel” to a whole new readership, and that’s a good thing. While it’s not a light or easy read (although David Bellos’s translation is spare and clear), it remains deeply affecting and, needless to say, relevant. —Sadie O. Stein Read More »

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Andrew O’Hagan on Maf the Dog

January 24, 2011 | by

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe is Andrew O’Hagan’s fourth novel. It details the star’s final years in New York and L.A. as seen through the eyes of her frighteningly learned Maltese terrier, who was born on a Scottish tenant farm. Reporting from the intellectual, artistic, and political epicenters of America in the ’60s, Maf is uniquely positioned to chaperone us not only through Monroe’s private decline but also through the romance and turmoil of her era. On the phone, O’Hagan is soft-spoken and gallant, his Glasgow lilt similar (one imagines) to Maf’s.

You were born in Scotland and spent much of your life in London. What drew you to Marilyn Monroe and this particular scene in America?

I grew up on the West Coast of Scotland. We looked across the sea to Ireland, where my ancestors had come from, and beyond that, to the bigger-seeming civilization that was America. We always felt that we somehow had a strong relationship with the United States. We were very ready to accept American culture. There was, for instance, a great love of movies in my family. And the women all sang songs, not folk songs or Scottish ballads, but the songs of Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan. You might not immediately think of Glasgow as a world propagation center for glamour, but it is, and it was, and I feel the benefit.

Photograph by Eric Skipsey.

I realized a few years ago that I wanted to write about some of the less obvious ghosts of my childhood. I knew Marilyn Monroe had been given a dog by Frank Sinatra, and I started to look for evidence of this dog, feeling that, if I found him, he would prove a very reliable and possibly diverting witness to a culture that had influenced our lives. When I went to New York in 1999, I attended a sale of Marilyn Monroe’s personal belongings at Christie’s. I was writing a piece at the time for The London Review of Books and intended a second piece for Barbara Epstein at The New York Review of Books, so I went to the auction and waited and waited and then my waiting was rewarded when six little Polaroids of Maf the dog were auctioned for $222,000. As I was watching all the people frantically waving their paddles and trying to get a hold of this seemingly crucial piece of art from the twentieth century—that’s how they behaved—I felt I could hear the dog’s voice. I went back to my hotel that night thinking, If I can capture this dog, I’ll have accessed something special, something that really matters to me—and, hopefully, to my readers.

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