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Posts Tagged ‘books’

On Knowing Things

April 14, 2014 | by

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Photo: Allen Timothy Chang

Yesterday, I was one of several people manning a book-centric advice booth as part of a New York literary festival. For days beforehand, I was paralyzed with nerves. I couldn’t face the other, more legitimate advice-givers; I felt like a charlatan and an impostor. I had something of an existential crisis.

I have always wanted to be a maven. But my standards are high, because I once knew a true maven. She was not a know-it-all; she just knew everything. I met her when I was nineteen and my college boyfriend and I were traveling through London. Lise, who at the time was in her seventies, was a friend of his family, and she was the sort of hostess who welcomed friends, and friends of friends, and acquaintances of friends, to stay with her in her flat, south of Hyde Park.

She was an imposing sort of person, her already-deep voice further deepened by years of chain-smoking. In later years, she had a stern doctor and would periodically use some sort of early e-cigarette, but the Marlboro Reds would generally reappear on the kitchen table. As would the whiskey, the butter. She could speak Russian and German and French and had worked as a translator. Meals at her house lasted for five hours, and at the end everyone was drunk but her. Formerly involved with helping end theater censorship in England—and the widow of a spy-turned-diagnostician-turned-mystery-writer—she seemed to know everyone. Beckett and Pinter and Peter O’Toole would all turn up in her stories; other Sunday lunch guests might be Labour whips, or countesses, or just someone’s young daughter who had lost her way and needed a place to stay for a while. Read More »

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Show, Don’t Tell

April 11, 2014 | by

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Pio Ricci, Das bewunderte Geschenk (The Admired Gift), 1919, oil on canvas.

Recently someone gave me a book. It was a book, she said, that she knew I would love. She had read it and thought of me at once. It was a supremely kind gift. My heart sank.

There are few things more oppressive than the things you are supposed to love—books, movies, records, people—things that somehow match the shorthand you show the world and mirror back just how crudely you have caricatured yourself. When someone says I will like something, I tend to assume the something in question will be precious, tedious, and often aggressively eccentric. Sometimes I do like these things, which is the worst outcome of all.

In the case of this particular book, I already knew. This is an author who people have assumed I have loved since I learned to read. Her novels, generally set on the Upper West Side or in Greenwich Village, are populated with the youngish, Jewish bourgeoisie of the Cuisinart generation: good educations, artistic leanings, and improbable names. Sometimes they have affairs with one another; often they are surrounded by antique china. This author has a cult following. Read More »

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This Author Hates His Book’s Cover

December 19, 2013 | by

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“I was realistic about the book’s marketing … it was, after all, a memoir about some cats, and no state-of-the-nation literary epic. Nonetheless, Simon & Schuster’s birthday-cardish cover—an anonymous actor kitten sitting in a pair of jeans, against a sky-blue background—seemed a curious choice.” —Tom Cox

 

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Best of the “Best”

December 11, 2013 | by

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2013 might well be called the year of the best-of list. If you don’t have the time or energy to read through the hundreds of them, here is a handy-dandy infographic (a cheat sheet of sorts) by A Case for Books that collects those titles most often cited by critics on said lists.

 

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Coziness Porn, and Other News

December 9, 2013 | by

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  • Since Alice Munro skipped the trip to Stockholm, there is instead a Nobel video, and we can all watch it!
  • David Ulin on Nelson Mandela, the writer.
  • Here is some unabashed coziness porn: a slideshow of reading nooks. HuffPo ran it on #SanctuarySunday (which exists, it would seem) but on a Monday morning fraught with wintry mix, I daresay we need it even more.
  • And apparently on the same page, the Guardian brings us a list of comfort reads.
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    My First Book(s)

    December 6, 2013 | by

    Ryan-sandbox-Paris-Review

    There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. —Red Smith

    I

    I wrote my first first book over the course of three months, from July 23 to October 23, 1979. Four weeks in, I turned eighteen. This was a novel, and not the first I’d attempted; in fifth grade, I had written forty pages of a saga called Gangwar in Chicago, inspired by The Godfather and taking place in a city where I’d never been. Setting the story in Chicago meant scouring the map in World Book for locations: Canal Street, I recall, was one. I chose it because I knew Canal Street in New York, and it seemed the sort of landscape in which a gang war could take place. To this day, I have never seen Chicago’s Canal Street, despite the twenty years I spent visiting my wife’s family in a suburb on the North Shore.

    The other novel, the one I finished, was motivated almost entirely by a specific case of envy—of my friend Fred, who had spent the same summer working on a novel of his own. Fred and I were high school writing buddies, confiding to each other, as we wandered the grounds of our New England boarding school, that we both wanted to win the Nobel Prize. Now, he’d written a campus novel, tracing his difficulties as a one-year senior, parsing the school’s social hierarchy in a way that seemed enlightening and true. Fred was more serious, more focused; he not only knew what symbolism was but also how to use it. It made sense that he would write a novel, and that it would be good. A year later, he would write another one, and then we lost track of each other, until six or seven years later, when his short stories started to appear in magazines. Read More »

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