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Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Pym’

What We’re Loving (The Love Edition)

February 14, 2014 | by

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Photo: Seyed Mostafa Zamani, via Flickr

“As usual, the love plot is the least convincing aspect of the book,” said my friend, handing me a crumbling, loved-to-death copy of Barbara Pym’s last novel, A Few Green Leaves. It is not clear to me which part my friend found unconvincing—the growing attraction between the meek, widowed rector Tom and the awkward anthropologist Emma, or the obstacles to their match. (E.g.: Tom’s dreary sister, a visit from Emma’s old flame Graham, or the Oxfordshire village full of aging gossips who have nothing better to do than monitor the hand-delivery of casseroles to local bachelors.) At any rate, I bought the whole thing, and I believed that Emma did, too. As Pym’s narrator observes, “Even the most cynical and sophisticated woman is not, at times, altogether out of sympathy with the ideas of the romantic novelist.” —Lorin Stein

The weather yesterday was awful; this incessant wintry-mix business has got to stop. It has me thinking about Russian poems set during the siege of Leningrad, and last night my brain produced one of the most incredible jump shots since 2001: A Space Odyssey—from Boris Pasternak to Guns N’ Roses. The former has a poem that begins “February. Get ink and weep! / To write and write of February / like bursting into sobs, with thundering / slush burning in black spring.” Naturally, that led to “So never mind the darkness / We still can find a way / ’Cause nothin’ lasts forever / Even cold November rain.” The latter seems somehow right today—it’s a song, after all, about the vagaries of love. In fact, the classic Guns N’ Roses catalogue is brimming with Valentine’s Day–appropriate songs: charged lyrics for lovers (“Said, woman, take it slow / And it’ll work itself out fine / All we need is just a little patience”) and the lovelorn (“To think the one you love / could hurt you now / Is a little hard to believe / But everybody darlin’ sometimes / Bites the hand that feeds”). —Nicole Rudick

Some advice: Run, do not walk, to your love’s home. Take her by the hand and recite this Restoration-era poem about premature ejaculation: “The Imperfect Enjoyment,” by John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, a legendary libertine who slept his way around the Royal Court and succumbed, at age thirty-three, to venereal disease. Here, in words as lewd and depraved as anything uttered in 2014, he recounts one of his less inspiring performances. Making love, he can’t quite contain himself, and “In liquid raptures I dissolve all o’er, / Melt into sperm, and spend at every pore.” His lady unsatisfied, he finds himself unable to get it up again, and lambasts his errant penis. “Worst part of me, and henceforth hated most, / Through all the town a common fucking-post.” If that doesn’t make her swoon, gents, nothing will. —Dan Piepenbring

When Dan asked us to recommend love-themed staff picks, I was all set to talk about one of my favorite films, the 1945 Powell-Pressburger classic I Know Where I’m Going! Then I saw it described by Vanity Fair as “a cult among poetic bluestockings” and my enthusiasm dimmed somewhat. But it deserves whatever following it has—incidentally, Pauline Kael and Martin Scorsese are in the cult, too—and I can’t think of a more romantic movie than this tale of a willful young woman stranded in the Scottish Hebrides. (When I describe it like that, I can see why the poetic bluestockings are so excited, but don’t let that put you off!) —Sadie Stein Read More »

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A Week in Culture: Happy Menocal, Artist

March 26, 2013 | by

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DAY ONE

1 A.M. Go to bed with Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals, a book about the work habits of famous artists, writers, philosophers, musicians, etc. Resolve to have a regimented, productive day tomorrow. All these people seem to subsist on coffee and alcohol and amphetamines. I feel like a toddler with my juice and crackers and noodles. 

7:45 A.M. Begin work on a little ad that’s due today for Stubbs & Wootton—fancy slippers made in Spain. It’s for a promotion they’re doing during the Ides of March. Someone at the company started the e-mail chain for the ad with the subject line “Eyes of March,” and I kinda want to do the visual about that. Decide instead to just paint Caesar, wearing the slippers, looking warily over his shoulder. I google “man sitting on column” because I want Caesar to be sitting on a crumbled stump of a column, and find this devil dog

My husband and I puzzle over where our two thousand terrible black umbrellas have gone, as now it’s raining and we have only one. He doesn’t bring it up this morning, but most times when we’re on the subject John likes to note that the pebbled plastic hook on the common street umbrella reminds him of that embalming tool they used in ancient Egypt to take your brain out through your nose. Read More »

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Literary Dinners; Crumbling Apartments

January 6, 2012 | by

I’ve been dreaming of hosting a cozy winter dinner party based on a famous meal from literature. What famous feasts are the most completely described? Id like to be able to re-create the menu, the atmosphere, and the attire, if possible.

There are probably a few people in the world more interested in this question than I—but, I’d reckon, a very few. As long as we’re being frank here, you may as well know that I belong to a literary potluck society in which we do monthly themed dinners. (We have yet to venture into the realm of costume.)

Laurie Colwin once wrote a whole essay on books containing good food; she singled out the early novels of Iris Murdoch, the Barbara Pym canon, and Anna Karenina. Inasmuch as I own and have used the Barbara Pym Cookbook, I can’t really agree that any of these vivid descriptions would make for very satisfying dinner parties (or, in the case of czarist Russia, a very relaxing one for the cook).

Here are a few other ideas to get you started: The Master and Margarita (for more manageable Russian cuisine—and think of the costume opportunities!). If you fancy something Dickensian, see any of the gluttonous Joe’s numerous meals in The Pickwick Papers. If you really want to take the guesswork out of it, Heartburn comes complete with recipes. Proust is a no-brainer—if Proust can ever be called a no-brainer. If your interest runs to tea, root out Enid Blyton. And at the end of the day, does any book in the world have better food than Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy?

If you don’t feel like going the fictional route, there is always the food memoir. Nowadays, you’re spoiled for choice. Or (ration-bound Pym aside) consider the subgenre of cookbooks authored by enthusiastic writers: two whose quality is rivaled by their own idiosyncrasies are Roald Dahl's Cookbook and The Tasha Tudor Cookbook.

Whatever you decide, please drop a line and let me know—the group and I are always looking for ideas.

What do you think about movie adaptations of books? Are there any instances where you think the film actually improved on a particular story, or do you find that adaptations for the most part dont do justice to the original text?

Of course there are terrific adaptations. The Godfather, after all, made a thriller into a baroque masterpiece. We could list successful adaptations all day—I hope you will, in comments—but just a few that I like: The 39 Steps, The Dead, Persuasion, The Remains of the Day, High Fidelity, The Leopard, and, most recently, the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which manages to cover a lot of ground with enviable economy.

I recently moved into a crumbling three-bedroom in Bushwick, with peeling hand-painted green wallpaper in the cramped and poorly lit stairwell. The front door’s peephole, the tin cover of which unmoors itself at night and clatters to the ground, overlooks a dismal and gloomy green landing, where I can easily envision a seedy groping or muffled strangling taking place. My own room is separated from the living room by an old-fashioned sliding parlor door about the size and weight of a Prius. The bathroom window opens into a murky blue chute, which smells like laundry and cigarettes and exhales a strange warmth. What books should I read here?

Reading’s the easy part—sounds like your pad is made for it. What you should watch, and posthaste, is Roman Polanski’s The Tenant.

On the other hand, maybe you shouldn’t.

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Staff Picks: ‘Excellent Women,’ David Lynch Remixes

January 6, 2012 | by

“Perhaps there can be too much making of cups of tea ... Did we really need a cup of tea? I even said as much to Miss Statham and she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look. ‘Do we need tea?’ she echoed. ‘But Miss Lathbury ... ’ She sounded puzzled and distressed and I began to realize that my question had struck at something deep and fundamental. It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind.” Barbara Pym specialized in just such tiny landslides. Thanks to Sadie, over Christmas I read her 1952 novel Excellent Women, about the romantic tribulations of a self-professed spinster in postwar London. You can practically taste the PG Tips. —Lorin Stein

I spent most of the holidays battling a cold and so sought out purely pleasurable reading in Jeff Smith’s comic fantasy epic, Bone. I love feeling so submerged in a book that you can’t possibly tear yourself away; everything else is forgotten. —Nicole Rudick

I recently received this collection of Russian criminal tattoos as a gift. Knowing how to decipher these intricately coded designs could come in handy to anyone who feels they may, at some point, end up incarcerated indefinitely in the former Soviet Union. —Emma del Valle

Zola Jesus finally lets someone remix her music, and it’s David Lynch, remaking “In Your Nature.” —Natalie Jacoby

All the lonely winter souls should brave the cold and venture to Film Forum for the Robert Bresson retrospective. No other director so clearly captures humanity’s elegiac graces. As Jonathan Rosenbaum laments, “In spite of its importance, his work may have difficulty surviving, because most of it doesn’t ‘translate’ to video.” Starts today in glorious 35mm! —Josh Anderson

The comments section of the New York Times’ review of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a study in human nature (or something). For every actual review, there’s someone panning it on principle because they love the Alec Guinness version or the Le Carré novel and have no intention of seeing a remake (1 star); people who haven’t seen it but think it looks good (5 stars); and one guy who fell asleep ten minutes in (1 star). I, for one, recommend it highly: even if you’re a staunch devotee of the 1979 miniseries, you’ll find a lot to love. (And it’s worth it for the Julio Iglesias rendition of “La Mer” alone. Why is this not available for download anywhere?) —Sadie Stein

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Staff Picks: Bathtub Reading, Germaine Tailleferre

December 23, 2011 | by

“Is it dreamed,” Jude asked Teddy, “or dreamt?” From the first sentence of Ten Thousand Saints, you know you’re dealing with a real novelist. Eleanor Henderson’s debut, about a Vermont stoner in 1980s New York, slipped under my radar. (Apparently no one else missed it—it appears on every best-of list from The New York Times to O.) If only I owned a bathtub, I’d be reading it there right now.  —Lorin Stein

What a thrill to discover that Spotify has all of Germaine Tailleferre’s piano works! The only woman in the group of French avant-garde composers knows as Les Six, Tailleferre’s engaging, inventive compositions make for perfect winter listening. —Sadie Stein

It took me weeks, and several recommendations, to sit down and read Zach Baron’s fifteen-thousand-word article on Hunter S. Thompson (“a savant at … writerly failure”), the self-loathing of journalism, traffic jams, desert hackers, and the depressing truth of Las Vegas, but I’m glad that I did. It’s territory that could be trite but here feels both thoughtful and fresh. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

I think I’ve discovered literature’s best (literal) snake: Kaa, from Kipling’s Jungle Book—specifically at the end of the chapter “Kaa’s Hunting.” After barreling into a terrified throng of monkeys and bashing through a stone wall with his head, the massive rock python begins coiling and uncoiling his more than six feet of body in a mesmerizing slow dance that lures all who watch into his deadly grip. Chilling! —Nicole Rudick

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A Week in Culture: Sadie Stein, Editor

November 14, 2011 | by

DAY ONE

4:00 A.M. I can’t sleep. Because I just moved from Brooklyn into Manhattan, my books aren’t unpacked, and so my reading options are limited. The only books I have handy are on decorating—although it’s usually a pretty theoretical study in my case. The pattern of the boards on the floor of this new apartment reminds me of floors I saw in Kraków when I visited there with my father, and I’ve decided rather grandly to do a sort of prewar Eastern European motif. (Again, this is probably theoretical. ) Wonder vaguely where one would find a tiled stove in New York.

I read a few chapters of the inimitable Dorothy Draper’s Decorating Is Fun!, which is filled with gems like “It is just as disastrous to have the wrong accessories in your room as it is to wear sport shoes with an evening dress,” as well as the somewhat less helpful “I don’t believe anything can do as much for a room as a glowing fire in an attractive fireplace. Men and dogs love an open fire—they show good sense. It is the heart of any room and should be kindled on the slightest provocation.” (That said, I’m guessing Alexa Chung or someone is wearing sports shoes with an evening dress as we speak, and probably causing a sensation. Imagine a world with rules and dicta. The mind boggles.)

5:30 A.M. Finally manage to drift off for a few hours, until a handyman unexpectedly knocks at the door at 7:45 to wash the windows. It occurs to me that this is just the sort of dubious ruse a murderer or thief might use to gain entrance to someone’s apartment; let him in anyway.

9:00 A.M. I pass an angry-looking gentleman on the way to the subway.
“Hello,” I say.
“Bloomingdales, Bloomingdales!” he shouts.

3:53 P.M. I get some sad family news. Internet is in and out here, but in a good moment, I find my favorite Barbara Pym quote: “The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things ... the trivial pleasure like cooking, one’s home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.”

4:45 P.M. My old boyfriend e-mails me about a recent fight he got into at a dinner party, over collective nouns. “I was quite put out, let me tell you,” he says. Read More »

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