Posts Tagged ‘birthdays’
February 26, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Michel Houellebecq is fifty-eight today.
You’ve said that you are “an old Calvinist pain-in-the-ass.” What do you mean?
I tend to think that good and evil exist and that the quantity in each of us is unchangeable. The moral character of people is set, fixed until death. This resembles the Calvinist notion of predestination, in which people are born saved or damned, without being able to do a thing about it. And I am a curmudgeonly pain in the ass because I refuse to diverge from the scientific method or to believe there is a truth beyond science.
—Michel Houllebecq, the Art of Fiction No. 206
February 19, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Happy fiftieth birthday, Jonathan Lethem!
You don’t seem to have bothered to rebel against your parents’ milieu—their bohemianism, their leftism.
I tried. It’s very hard to rebel against parents whose lives are so full and creative and brilliant—the option is my generation’s joke: the rebel stockbroker. That wasn’t for me. I wanted what my parents had, but I needed to rebel by picking a déclassé art career. My father came from the great modernist tradition, and so I found a way, briefly, to disappoint him, to dodge his sense of esteem. Very briefly. He caught on soon enough that what I was doing was still an art practice more or less in his vein.
I felt I ought to thrive on my fate as an outsider. Being a paperback writer was meant to be part of that. I really, genuinely wanted to be published in shabby pocket-sized editions and be neglected—and then discovered and vindicated when I was fifty. To honor, by doing so, Charles Willeford and Philip K. Dick and Patricia Highsmith and Thomas Disch, these exiles within their own culture. I felt that was the only honorable path.
—Jonathan Lethem, the Art of Fiction No. 177
February 5, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
With all the hullabaloo surrounding the Burroughs centenary, we’ve been remiss in celebrating another writer, B. S. Johnson, who would have been eighty-one today. (The B. S. stands for Bryan Stanley; if those were your initials, you’d go by them, too.) Johnson was an English novelist—“experimental,” or, if you’d prefer, formally innovative—who published seven novels, most of them in the sixties. I’ve read only The Unfortunates, from 1969, which was reissued a few years ago. It’s a book in a box: its twenty-seven chapters were printed as pamphlets and are, with the exception of the first and the last, intended to be read in any order.
Today it’s easy to shrug off such things as gimmickry, and yes, the format does make the reissue something of an art object, but make no mistake, it’s worth actually opening the box and reading the book. Its plot is straightforward: a sportswriter goes to an unnamed city to report on a soccer match, and as he roams, he begins to meditate on the death of an old friend. Each of the chapters summons different memories, which unfurl in a steady, stately tour de force, in the vein of Beckett or Henry Green’s Party Going. As Jonathan Coe writes in his introduction to the reissue, “Disintegration and frailty: these are the themes of The Unfortunates, and its tone is one of restless, enquiring melancholy.” Oh, well, here, see for yourself—this, the opening paragraph, is something that springs to mind, morbidly, whenever I go to the dentist.
But I know this city! This green ticket-hall, the long office half-rounded at its ends, that ironic clerestory, brown glazed tiles, green below, the same, the decorative hammerbeams supporting nothing, above, of course! I know this city! How did I not realize when he said, Go and do City this week, that it was this city? Tony. His cheeks sallowed and collapsed round the insinuated bones, the gums shriveled, was it, or shrunken, his teeth now standing free of each other in the unnatural half yawn of his mouth, yes, the mouth that has been so full-fleshed, the whole face, too, now collapsed, derelict, the thick-framed glasses the only constant, the mouth held open as in a controlled scream, but no sound, the head moving only slightly, the white dried and sticky saliva, the last secretions of those harassed glands, cauterized into deficiency, his mouth closing only when he took water from a glass by his bed, that double bed, in his parents’ house, bungalow, water or lemon he had to take frequently, because of what the treatment had done to his saliva glands, how it had finished them. Him.
February 5, 2014 | by George Mürer
Meeting William Burroughs on his eightieth birthday.
I have this fairy godmother, a childhood friend of my mother’s who lives in Lawrence, Kansas. My mother and I call her up several times a year and she’s always turning me onto cool stuff. One day, when I was a senior in high school, it occurred to me to ask her,
“Do you know William S. Burroughs?”
I should emphasize that this moment came at the feverish height of a blind obsession I had with William Burroughs and everything Burroughs related.
“You’re friends with him?”
“Well, we certainly know each other. He’s one of our local characters.”
“Do you see a lot of him?”
“I see him all the time, but mostly in the cat-food aisle of the supermarket.”
I went straight to my mother and demanded that we visit my godmother at the earliest opportunity. That summer, after I’d graduated high school and had had my wisdom teeth out, we went to Kansas. Read More »
February 4, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
I finished Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary on the train this morning, and, wouldn’t you know it, today’s his birthday.
Hoban, a Pennsylvanian who lived most of his life in London, was born in 1925 and died in 2011, leaving behind a wondrous collection of sixteen novels for adults and even more for children. Turtle Diary—in which two aloof, single Londoners conspire to free sea turtles from the zoo—was reissued last year and should be required reading for anyone who lives alone, feels alone, or may one day reckon with loneliness. It’s endlessly quotable, and not in the cheap, aphoristic way that people sometimes mean when they say “endlessly quotable”—Hobanisms do not belong on tea bags or T-shirts, or even necessarily in Bartlett’s. It’s more that the whole novel demands to be read aloud, ideally to an audience of one. It might be most fitting, actually, if you read it aloud to yourself. To celebrate Hoban’s birthday, here are two of the novel’s many delightful “turtle thoughts”:
The sign said: “The Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas, is the source of turtle soup … ” I am the source of William G. soup if it comes to that. Everyone is the source of his or her kind of soup.
I think of the turtles swimming steadily against the current all the way to Ascension. I think of them swimming through all that golden-green water over the dark, over the chill of the deeps and the jaws of the dark. And I think of the sun over the water, the sun through the water, the eye holding the sun, being held by it with no thought and only the rhythm of the going, the steady wing-strokes of the flippers in the water. Then it doesn’t seem hard to believe. It seems the only way to do it, the only way in fact to be: swimming, swimming, the eye held by the sun, no sharks in the mind, nothing in the mind.
January 16, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Susan Sontag was born today in 1933.
Is it old-fashioned to think that the purpose of literature is to educate us about life?
Well, it does educate us about life. I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t understand what I understand, were it not for certain books. I’m thinking of the great question of nineteenth-century Russian literature: how should one live? A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.
—Susan Sontag, the Art of Fiction No. 143