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Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Fischer’

English as a Strange Language: Slim John

June 20, 2013 | by


At Bókin, the used bookstore in 101 Reykjavik where Bobby Fischer spent his endgame, the clutter goes all the way up to the ceiling, from which hang collages of magazine clippings picturing Halldor Laxness and the great beauties of the world (an eighties-era Miss Iceland poses with the collected works of her favorite author, William Shakespeare). Christmas-tree lights adorn a waist-high pyramid of hardcovers next to the register. The English-language section, right by the door when you come in, is half blocked off by unsorted boxes and piles of new acquisitions with pages already curling, glue already dissolving.

In Iceland, it’s traditional to open presents on Christmas Eve: a new article of clothing, so the Yule Cat doesn’t get you, and a new book to curl up with. So it was that last December I angled my way into the English stacks, scanned the green spines of Fay Weldon novels and Van Der Valk mysteries sold on by British backpackers, and found Slim John.

Published in 1969, with a cover betraying the influence of Penguin under the swinging, Saul Bass-esque art direction of Germano Facetti, Slim John is in fact the companion volume to a serial of the same name produced by the BBC for overseas broadcast as part of their English by Television initiative. The book is part textbook with exercise sheets, and part shooting script with accompanying stills. Slim John, building on the previous English by Television program, Walter and Connie, is a course for “near-beginners” in English; this means, explains English by Radio and Television head Christopher Dilke in his foreward, “that a coherent and life-like situation can be created from the start.” Though under the supervision of a linguist, the episodes were penned by four veterans of TV thrillers, including Brian Hayles, who wrote thirty episodes of Doctor Who during the tenures of Doctors One through Three. The serial format, which “tends to make the viewer come back for the next lesson just because he wants to know what happens,” per Dilke of the BBC, was undertaken because “fashions change in teaching as well as in dress.” In order to integrate narrative sophistication with regular language pedagogy within Slim John, Dilke explains, “a situation has been invented which makes it necessary for robots planning a take-over of the world to learn English.” Read More »


Chess and Madness

June 13, 2011 | by

Early on in Stefan Zweig’s Schachnovelle (A Chess Novella) the narrator, a casual chess player, expresses his worry that a serious devotion to chess might bring on madness:

How impossible to imagine [...] a man of intelligence who, without going mad, again and again, over ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, applies the whole elastic power of his thinking to the ridiculous goal of backing a wooden king into the corner of a wooden board!

On Monday, I settled down to watch Bobby Fischer Against the World, an entertaining new HBO documentary, directed by Liz Garbus. Besides chronicling the career of one of the greatest chess players of all time, it is also a rumination on the cold war, on political extremism, on youth prodigies and the dangers of sudden fame, and on loneliness. Finally, perhaps most hauntingly, it is about the relationship between chess, genius, and madness.

Bobby Fischer grew up on Lincoln Place, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, the son of a single mother who spent much of her time agitating for communism. A lonely, awkward, uncommunicative boy, he immediately became obsessed with chess when, at age six, he learned how to play from the instructions of a cheap set bought at a candy store below his apartment. Soon, Bobby was staring at his chessboard for hours on end, playing both white and black, engrossed in the absurd attempt of beating himself, and of not letting himself be beaten by himself.

When he was no older than thirteen, this obsession, which at first had worried his mother, seemed to pay off. At the 1956 Rosenwald Memorial Tournament in New York, Bobby’s first appearance at a major chess event, he played a game of such daring and brilliance that he instantly became a sensation in chess circles. Within a year, he had won the prestigious U.S. Open; within another year, he won the U.S. Championship; and within a year after that, he was well on his way toward a lucrative career as an internationally renowned master.

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Staff Picks: Literary Video Games, Return of ‘Spy’ Magazine

February 18, 2011 | by

The other evening at East Village Books I picked up a used copy of Dawn Powell’s 1936 novel, Turn, Magic Wheel, stopped at Second Avenue and Seventh, and settled in to the opening scene ... only to realize that I’d been walking in the footsteps of the writer-hero, Dennis Orphen—and that he, too, had just come to a halt at Second and Seventh. I half expected him to walk in the door. Powell has a way of collapsing the decades between one literary New York and another. Orphen’s sin, to have used a friend as material, is as old as his profession and feels as fresh as Thursday night. —Lorin Stein

I’ve been playing a lost Nintendo video game that was supposedly found at a yard sale and purchased for fifty cents. (In fact, it was recently created by San Francisco-based developer Charlie Hoey.) Why the mention? It’s modeled after The Great Gatsby. Says the Web site: “You’re not in the middle west anymore, son. Welcome to the Wild West Egg.” The Atlantic writes, “At least now we know why Gatsby couldn’t make it to the blinking green light: Sand Crabs.” —Sam Dolph

It seemed like a good idea at the time: the full publication archive of Spy magazine is now available via Google Books. —David Wallace-Wells

I’ve been thumbing through the pages of Lauren Redniss’s Radioactive, an illustrated biography about Marie and Pierre Curie. There’s a show of the book currently at the New York Public Library (where Redniss did much of her research as a Cullman fellow). Not long ago, Dwight Garner praised the book in the Times, saying, “Her people have elongated faces and pale forms; they’re etiolated Modiglianis. They populate a Paris that’s become a dream city.” Spooky and beautiful—Redniss’s work is worth taking a look. —Thessaly La Force

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