Posts Tagged ‘books’
March 8, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
There’s something profoundly sad about being surrounded by books and unable to find anything to read. It feels like a failure: yours, society’s, the universe’s. It can happen in a poorly stocked library branch, a failing bookstore, an airport newsstand. And it’s a horrible feeling. Read More »
February 25, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Writers should always have a backup plan. A good one is to consider a career in the Central Intelligence Agency, which is what Jennifer duBois did around the time she was applying to M.F.A. programs. You ask: But couldn’t she do both? “When it comes to writing for publication, the CIA’s terms are stark: once you have been under their employ, everything you write for the rest of your life will be subject to their review and redaction … The CIA emphasizes that these redactions apply only to matters of national security—that a potential novelist would not, for example, be forfeiting her artistic autonomy for a lifetime, which is a question I think I actually asked—and, for what it’s worth, I believe this. But then, how could we ever know? Who would ever tell us?”
- Do you have three bucks? Do you have five minutes? Friend, congratulations: you’re about to become a best-selling author. Brent Underwood tells you how: “I didn’t feel like writing a book so I instead just took a photo of my foot. I called the book Putting My Foot Down and included one page with, you guessed it, a photo of my foot … I decided my foot was worthy of the ‘Transpersonal’ category under psychology books and ‘Freemasonry & Secret Societies’ category under social sciences books … Burst onto the scene with three copies sold in the first few hours. Look at that hockey stick growth!”
- When fingerprinting came on the scene in the late nineteenth century, it was regarded as a forensics godsend—and tellingly, it coincided with the popularity of Sherlock Holmes and detective fiction. But Francis Galton, who wrote the first influential book on fingerprints, was interested in them for a different kind of fiction: “He definitively declared that ‘no peculiar pattern …characterizes persons of any of the above races.’ And yet, despite his admission that ‘hard fact had made hope no longer justifiable,’ a closer look at Galton’s writings reveals that racial typologies were never far from his thoughts. The conflicted speculation, conjecture, and hesitation in Galton’s racial rhetoric in Finger Prints can be understood as a deliberate strategy, one which allowed him to perpetuate a strong racial and imperial research program even when his scientific data undermined it.”
- Just a friendly reminder that good times are ahead: the Oscars are happening. A whole bunch of movies will be celebrated, and most of them are highly forgettable, but in interesting ways. Luckily A. S. Hamrah knows these ways, and has written them down. On The Martian: “Ridley Scott’s backlot Mars offers a parable for New Yorkers considering the move to LA … You’ll conduct your social life via text and Skype, make trips to the desert in your electric car. You’ll continue to shave every day on the off chance you get a meeting.” On The Revenant: “Iñárritu has finally solved the problem of how to film a realistic bear fight. The next cinematic problem he should tackle is screenwriting.” On Steve Jobs: “They should have given Steve Jobs away for free without anyone asking for it, like that U2 album. That way people (users) might have watched it by accident.”
- In 1955, the saxophonist Wardell Gray died in bizarre circumstances, found miles outside of Vegas with a broken neck, his body having clearly been moved. For Aaron Gilbreath, his story reminds of “the small pantheon of jazz fiction. Writers looking to turn real life into dramatic narrative need look no further than the real history of American music. Racism, resistance, creativity, invention, the power to shape global culture while enduring systematic repression, violence, drug use, and the countless personalities with memorable names set against the sprawling canvas of post-WWII New York City, Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles–it’s all there.”
February 11, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
It’s hard not to have mixed feelings about Florence King after reading her famous memoir, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (1985). She’s … idiosyncratic, certainly. Brave, in certain respects. Independent-minded, yes, and not afraid of being disliked. But King, a notorious crank, was hard to pigeonhole: Where do you fit an openly gay writer who wrote a famously cantankerous and conservative National Review column for decades? Or a feminist who hated the women’s movement and an outspoken agnostic who regularly attended church?
Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is as singular as its author. King is at her best when she talks about the South in broad, acid terms. She offers a particularly adept explanation of the Southerner’s relationship to silver—one that I read with relish, as I come from a family that fetishizes silver. Read More »
February 5, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Just when you think the book is making a comeback—just when you think reading might actually be cool again, with indie bookstores finding their footing and e-book sales plateauing—you hear that McDonald’s is putting books in their Happy Meals, and your heart sinks. As USA Today reports, “the fast food chain will offer children’s books instead of typical prizes through February 15,” thus ensuring that young customers react with disappointment and outrage at the sight of a book where a toy should rightfully be, beginning, in these malleable minds, an inexorable and probably lifelong association between books and frustration.
- Michelle Dean looks at Robert Lowell’s tempestuous marriage to Elizabeth Hardwick, characterized by an unlikely fusion of abuse and respect: “Though they were married for twenty-three years, their union was worn down by Lowell’s nearly annual hospitalizations for manic depression, his endless philandering, and his alcoholism. At the end of it, almost on a whim, he left her for the writer and ‘muse’—always a loaded term, that—Lady Caroline Blackwood. Then he took Hardwick’s alternately furious and anguished letters to him and folded them, without her consent, into a full-length book of poetry, The Dolphin. This artifact of her humiliation won a Pulitzer … Lowell nonetheless believed that women were his intellectual and artistic equals. He spent most of his life behaving accordingly even as he treated his wives and mistresses so terribly, in romantic terms, that it was almost operatic.”
- Rebecca Mead rereads Sexual Politics, Kate Millett’s seminal 1970 feminist text: “While Millett was publicly cast in the polarizing role of polemicist, there is often in her tone the cool, controlled archness of the literary essayist, a role she might easily have inhabited had the times not called upon her to do otherwise. The book is suffused with a strain of very dark, angry humor, an aspect of Millett’s writing that seems to have been barely noticed—or was perhaps invisible—upon publication. Take, for example, the way she dispatches Freud’s injunction that appropriate sexual development calls for an evolution from clitoral to vaginal orgasm. She calls this ‘a difficult passage in which Freud foresaw that many women might go astray. Even among the successful the project has consumed so much of their productive youth that their minds stagnate.’ If Sexual Politics has endured, it is not just because so much of the political work it recommends remains undone, but also because it is an astringent pleasure to be in the company of Millett on the page.”
- In August 1915, a Jewish businessman was lynched in Marietta, Georgia. He’d been convicted of murdering a thirteen-year-old girl who worked at his National Pencil Company factory, and as Christopher King writes, his story attracted a firestorm of media attention, coming to symbolize the politics of the era: “In truth, he was killed neither by a man nor by the force of men. He died in the raging flames of hatred and the resulting smoke which obscured the impartial vision of justice. A murder, a botched and terribly obfuscated trial, and a tinder box of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, and ‘white rights’ in post-Reconstruction Atlanta had resulted in yet another murder, the creation of the Anti-Defamation League, and the first strong resurgence of a then-dormant Ku Klux Klan since the group had disbanded in 1869. In this time, frame-ups, coercion, forced confessions, bribery, and political corruption came into sharp focus for the ‘grift-ridden’ people of Atlanta. And it was all set to music.”
- “Office Space” is a new exhibition—yes, it’s named after the movie—at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts that takes on all the fun new forms of alienation to have arisen in office life this century: “To believe that there is an omnipresent workplace hierarchy to critique or within which to succumb often gives more credit to management strategies than they might deserve, as these strategies can have comparatively shorter life spans than pre-existing structures of affective labor ... The soft power of the workplace is constantly inculcated by exterior power structures, as much as these power structures are—and already have been, in turn—informed by the dispersal of capital. But honestly, who is really still capable of leaving their work at work?”
February 3, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
Thinking about travel books reminded me of a great piece written for this site by Kim Beeman a few years ago. As she explained at the time, the cult figure George Leonard Herter “ran a sporting-goods store in Waseca, Minnesota, by day and self-published bizarre cookbooks, travel guides, and hunting books by night.” Read More »
February 2, 2016 | by Matt Gallagher
Falling in—and falling out—with Hemingway.
As a young man of a certain kind, I read a lot of Hemingway growing up. My sixteen-year-old self, full of angst and emo aches, found a kindred spirit in Jake Barnes, even if Jake’s brooding was much deeper, darker, and more significant than my own. The northern Michigan of the Nick Adams stories bore a passing resemblance to the Tahoe Basin, where I grew up, and my earliest attempts at creative work were pale imitations of “The End of Something” and “The Three-Day Blow.” The Old Man and the Sea bored me to video games the first time I tried it, but that didn’t stop me from extolling Santiago’s badassness at the dinner table.
This was pre-9/11 America, in a suburban, white-collar community far removed from battle or turmoil. My parents were both children of World War II veterans, and both had protested the Vietnam War; as a result, my brother and I had been raised with a healthy respect for the military, mixed with a healthy skepticism toward the application of military force. While my Hemingway obsession did confuse my mom a bit, she later told me she figured at least it wasn’t drugs, or French philosophy. Read More »