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Posts Tagged ‘books’

Alcoholism—What a Hoot!

July 29, 2015 | by

A lobby card for Good Old Soak, one of two films based on Marquis’s character.

Don Marquis, an early twentieth-century humorist, had an almost Disney-like knack for creating benign characters who thrived in the popular imagination. The most famous of these was Archy, a poet-cockroach who practiced his craft after-hours on an old typewriter in the offices of the New York Evening Sun. Archy wrote in lowercase letters with no punctuation, because he was too small to reach the shift key. With his companion Mehitabel, a cat who professed to have been Cleopatra in a past life, Archy and his free verse appeared in some half a dozen books, all of which sold handsomely. He counted E. B. White among his fans. “Mr. Marquis’s cockroach,” White wrote in an introduction to The Life and Times of Archy and Mehitabel,

was more than the natural issue of a creative and humorous mind. Archy was the child of compulsion, the stern compulsion of journalism. The compulsion is as great today as it ever was, but it is met in a different spirit. Archy used to come back from the golden companionship of the tavern with a poet’s report of life as seen from the under side. Today’s columnist returns from the platinum companionship of the nightclub with a dozen pieces of watered gossip and a few bottomless anecdotes. Archy returned carrying a heavy load of wine and dreams. These later cockroaches come sober from their taverns, carrying a basket of fluff. I think newspaper publishers in this decade ought to ask themselves why.

But Marquis was also responsible for a character called Clem Hawley, better known as the Old Soak: an endearing alcoholic who had the misfortune of living in America during Prohibition. Read More »

Staff Picks: Coates, Cartels, Caesar, Cigarettes

July 17, 2015 | by

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Covers of Slash.

There are writers you know about and writers you read. Before I heard him speak, Ta-Nehisi Coates was only the former to me—he came to my school and spoke to a packed auditorium about American self-conception, idealism, and his role in dislodging us from it. This week I’ve been sprinting through his amazing new book, Between the World and Me. A mixture of personal and cultural, critical and historical, the book is written entirely to Coates’s son, a teenager today. It seems that nearly every comment on Coates is excerpting him, lauding him, or calling him James Baldwin, and these staff picks are short, so I hope to get away with simply nodding my head. Yes, rewarding and complex; yes, generous and intimate; yes, “race is the child of racism, not the father.” Yes, an easy book to know about, but a better one to read. One of my clearest memories of his speech was the final question and answer. Someone—an older woman, a professor, I figured—stood up to thank him and asked something like “How do we get these young people to listen to you?” “I’m a writer,” he said. “That’s not my job.” —Jake Orbison

gamelifeAnyone who came of age in the eighties or nineties will grok Gamelife, Michael Clune’s memoir about the computer games of his childhood. But I hope others—those who dismiss gaming as merely narcotic or those who regard old games as curios—will read it, too. Clune captures not just the palm-sweating, self-flagellating thrill of early PC games but their talismanic role in the life of the mind. With their primitive, repetitious designs, these games provided a grammar for children, a way of apprehending the world—I remember feeling it myself, that scary, precarious sense of empowerment, the way reality seemed to bend to accommodate the airtight logic of Pirates! or Wolfenstein 3D. Games, Clune writes, teach us the rules for being alive “in a way nothing else can. They teach us about death, about character, about fate, about action and identity. They turn insights into habit. The habits bore through our defenses. Computer games reach us.” His memoir is also a sharp portrait of post-Reagan America, when communism was vanquished, history was over, and the shopping center was enshrined in the national imagination. —Dan Piepenbring 

If the sophistication of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s escape last week from a maximum-security prison isn’t enough to convince you of the influence (and the reach) of Mexico’s drug cartels, then Matthew Heineman’s documentary Cartel Land will. The film focuses on the leaders of two vigilante groups dedicated to fighting off the cartels—one in the United States (Arizona Border Recon, led by Tim Foley) and one in the Mexican state of Michoacán (Autodefensa, led by José Manuel Mireles). Cartel Land makes no attempts to tell a sanitized or digestible version of the truth; it’s rife with ambiguity, complicity, racism, and brutality. But from all the confusion emerges a compelling—and impressively crafted—narrative arc, one in which resistance, in all its forms, takes center stage amid unimaginable, and seemingly unconquerable, corruption. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

We all love war narratives, those Homeric masterpieces that deliver timeless truths—but Sam Sacks’s piece in the latest issue of Harper’s,First-Person Shooters: What’s missing in contemporary war fiction,” takes no prisoners. Sacks admits that “war is hell, but its themes make critics purr”; he bemoans the genre’s “self-involvement,” its nearly identical perspectives “of individual soldiers who can’t comprehend what they’ve experienced,” and its facile emphasis on “personal redemption.” Nearly all contemporary war fiction, he reminds us, has been “cultivated in the hothouse of creative-writing programs. No wonder so much of it looks alike.” His argument is less about war stories and more about competent fiction, the kind that’s lauded for its subject matter and honesty but amounts to simple confession. Takedowns are usually banal, and it’s easy to hit the biggest targets, but this is an important piece: “one of the jobs of literature,” Sacks writes, “is to wake us from stupor. But in matters of war, our sleep is deep, and the best attempts of today’s veterans have done little to disturb it.” —Jeffery Gleaves
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Beware the Mineshaft of Books, and Other News

July 14, 2015 | by

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Susanna Hesselberg’s ominous library, in Denmark.

  • From 1859 to 1870, Dickens edited All the Year Round, a literary magazine that declined to identify its contributors. But a newly discovered twenty-volume set teeming with Dickens’s annotations threatens to blow everyone’s cover: in pencil, Dickens has noted the authors in each issue, including Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, Lewis Carroll, and Eliza Lynn Linton.
  • The Tale of Genji is a very long eleventh-century Japanese book by the noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu, often cited as the world’s first novel. A new English translation suggests that its stories can still captivate many centuries later, even if those stories were hell to translate. “Every page is sprinkled with poems or phrases pointing to Chinese and Japanese literary sources that an eleventh-century aesthete might have been proud to notice but are lost on most Japanese today, let alone the reader of an English translation … A literal translation of Genji would be unreadable. And the vagueness, so poetic in Japanese, would simply be unintelligible to the Western reader.”
  • Endurance lit—stories of extreme athletic feats in which one daring sportsman survives enormous hardship, et cetera to emerge on the other side a more thoughtful, ethical human being, et cetera—is a thriving subgenre, but what explains its appeal? “Here’s the most revealing facet of endurance lit: most of the best sellers in this genre are about self-imposed hardship. They are about sport, in its widest sense. True endurance is the kind shown by the sweatshop worker who arrives for her fourteen-hour shift, day after day, and is paid buttons … But books about sweatshop workers do not sell by the lorry load.”
  • Public-service announcement: there are libraries and then there are “libraries,” which—watch out—will sometimes turn out to be never-ending pits lined with bookshelves, like this one.
  • New York’s Brazenhead Books, a shop that’s more speakeasy than bookstore, faces an eviction notice, and its proprietor, Michael Seidenberg, is hoping for a billionaire donor. He may get his wish: since the threat of closure has begun to hover, “the secret store has become a ‘secret’ one, with much written about it. The New Yorker has a film crew documenting his exit, as the books begin to get boxed and moved, at least for now, in with his wife and dogs.”

Say Hello to Our Next Writer-in-Residence

June 15, 2015 | by

standard residency art

We’re delighted to announce that Thomas David will be our third Writer-in-Residence—and our first biographer—at the Standard, East Village, in downtown Manhattan. He will be in residence for three weeks this July. We wish him a happy and productive stay. Read More »

Where They Live

June 8, 2015 | by

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Guy Laramée, via This Is Colossal

The French Canadian artist Guy Laramée, whom we’ve featured before on the Daily, has a new series of book sculptures, “Onde Elles Moran”—“Where They Live.” Laramée spent nine months on the series, which features Brazilian birds painted on secondhand, linen-bound Clássicos Jackson—something akin to our Great Books of the Western World, those generically handsome tomes seemingly designed to collect dust on attractive shelves—with the birds’ native habitats carved into the pages.

Laramée has become known for his book sculptures, which he began about five years ago; he regards books as raw material in need of processing, and he’s proven unafraid to go at them with a chain saw. But he can also approach the medium with a miniaturist’s attention to detail, as demonstrated in the topography of the landscapes here; he uses oil, inks, pigments and dry pastels, crayon, fixative, and beeswax. “It all started in a sand blaster cabinet,” he said in an interview with ANOBIUM about the sculptures’ genesis:

I put a book in there—stupid idea—and there it was. Within seconds I saw the landscape, the drama, Borges, the little people who lived in books, everything … I never really totally forget that these are books, that my raw material is not wood, not even paper, but a book. At times I’m lost in the project, in the landscape. But a book is a book, structurally. The pages are not glued, so you have to respect the structure, from the binding of each pages to the cover, otherwise pages will fly away when you release the clamps.

 You can see more of his work at This Is Colossal, JHB Gallery, and on his Web site. Read More »

Meet Your New Neighbors: An Interview with DW Gibson

May 21, 2015 | by

DW-Gibson-author-photo-credit-Chiara-Barzini

DW Gibson. Photo: Chiara Barzini

In cities, trends come, go, and come again; causes rise to prominence, fall by the wayside, and emerge repackaged; neighborhoods flourish or fall out of favor. Condos, cupcake shops, and bike lanes become signifiers; shady buyouts and racist landlords fuel arguments about whether communities are being renewed or decimated.

The word gentrification is in the subtitle of DW Gibson’s most recent oral history, but the author has trouble with it: it’s too broad, he writes, to adequately capture a wide variety of experiences, contexts, and meanings. Several interviewees in his book also seem at odds with the word. One says gentrification doesn’t describe anything in the real world. Another says he doesn’t need to be able to describe it because he knows what it feels like.

To mark the release of The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century, I spoke with Gibson, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, about bringing the human touch to the page, viewing a book as one long panning shot in a film, and the importance of using all the tools at one’s disposal, including cute daughters.

How do you make gentrification something people want to read about?

Most of the books out there are academic or have an academic feel to them. I think the way you get people to care about gentrification is to write about human beings. My goal was to show the human fabric of gentrification. People relate to people, to stories. Read More »