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Posts Tagged ‘celebrity’

Dead Authors’ Homes

August 20, 2014 | by

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Salinger’s old house. Photo: Jim Mauchly / Mountain Graphics Photography

The literary real-estate market is booming. In May, Ray Bradbury’s house was for sale (Los Angeles, California; 2,500 square feet; $1.495 million). Then, in July, John Cheever’s house was for sale (Ossining, New York; 2,688 square feet; $525,000). At the time, you may have kicked yourself for failing to act on those—maybe you couldn’t scrape together the funds in time, or maybe you thought, Well, surely some other Dead Author’s Home will come along soon enough, and that will be the Dead Author’s Home for me.

You’re in luck: as reported by the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, Page Six, and others, J. D. Salinger’s house is for sale, and it’s the most capacious authorial domicile yet (Cornish, New Hampshire; 2,900 square feet; $679,000).

The home’s current owner, Joan Littlefield, told the Valley News, a New Hampshire paper, that “she had been considering advertising the house, which she bought in the 1980s, in The New Yorker, in the hopes of attracting literary types.” To go by the coverage the property’s received, she has the right idea. But what does it mean to want to live in a dead writer’s house? When does fandom devolve into idolatry? 

You might suppose that an ardent admirer of Salinger’s would have much to gain by inhabiting his private space—writerly inspiration, maybe, or a deeper connection to the work, or even just a constant, salubrious mental patter. (It’s another fine morning in J. D.’s kitchen, the satisfied homeowner thought.) Read More »

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Bloomsday Explained

June 13, 2014 | by

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Djuna Barnes, Joyce, 1922.

“Bloomsday,” the James Joyce scholar Robert Nicholson once quipped, “has as much to do with Joyce as Christmas has to do with Jesus.” The celebrations of Ulysses every June 16—the date on which the novel is set—attract extreme ends of the spectrum of literary enthusiasm. Academics and professionals mingle with obsessives and cranks, plus those simply along for the ride. The event can be stately and meticulous or raucous and chaotic—or, somehow, all of the above.

A telling instance came a few years ago, when the Irish Arts Center arranged a Bloomsday picnic in New York’s Bryant Park, under the rueful shadow of the Gertrude Stein statue. (Stein disliked Joyce.) Aspiring Broadway types were enlisted to circulate in period costume before bursting into popular songs from 1900-era Ireland. I spoke to one of the performers, a young Irish actor who had recently moved to New York. Had she read Ulysses? “I plan to,” she said, and in my memory, she adds, “I’m told it’s a grand book by them that knows.” The kicker was when the Irish finance minister, in town for summit meetings, got up to say that his government would take as inspiration the balanced daily budget that appears in Ulysses. The problem? Leopold Bloom’s spreadsheet in Ulysses works out only because he omits the money he’s paid to Bella Cohen’s brothel. No one pointed out the irony.

The admixture of expertise and fanboyism that marks Bloomsday, perhaps unique among literary gatherings, is remarkable—but no more so than Bloomsday’s emergence as a cultural event, one that attracts mainstream attention and participants from well outside the readership of Ulysses, by which I mean to include all those who profess to have read it. A novel written in 1922 and legally unavailable in the U.S. until 1934, a novel hailed to this day as the pinnacle of modernist obscurity and density, one that, as novelist Jacob M. Appel recently put it, “isn’t exactly hopping off the shelves in airports,” has earned an international holiday. Of all the literary celebrations that might blow up, why Joyce, why Ulysses, and why Bloomsday? Read More »

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I Did Not Approve This Message

May 1, 2014 | by

David Foster Wallace, James Joyce, and the trouble with public image.

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Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel filming The End of the Tour, a movie about David Foster Wallace not authorized by his literary trust. Photo: loveleeliz, via Instagram

In 2010, just under two years after David Foster Wallace’s death, the journalist David Lipsky published Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, a memoir of transcripts from an interview he’d conducted with Wallace in 1996 for Rolling Stone. The book was well reviewed—it made the Times best-seller list—and late last year it was announced that it would become a film starring Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky and Jason Segel as Wallace. The End of the Tour is already in postproduction and slated for release in late 2014, but last week, the Wallace Literary Trust issued a public statement making it “clear that they have no connection with, and neither endorse nor support” the film: “There is no circumstance under which the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust would have consented to the adaptation of this interview into a motion picture, and we do not consider it an homage.”

I was struck by similarities between this situation and the case of James Joyce and Samuel Roth, which began in 1926. In his recent book Without Copyrights: Piracy, Publishing, and the Public Domain, the scholar Robert Spoo devotes two chapters to Joyce’s desperate attempts to defend his intellectual property against Roth, an infamous American “booklegger” who reprinted the entire text of Ulysses, as well as large portions of Finnegans Wake, without permission. Roth’s actions, like those of the filmmakers of The End of the Tour, were not illegal: Joyce didn’t possess the U.S. copyright on his works, which were originally published in Europe and—after a brief window during which he could have established copyright by securing American publication—fell immediately into the U.S. public domain. Read More »

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Loose Lips

March 5, 2012 | by

It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.

—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

I spent a recent Sunday morning at the baby shower of a friend made in adulthood. The other attendees all went back to Catholic school, so after the obligatory oohing and aahing over the onesies, conversation turned to Jessie, the surprising no-show of the high school crowd. “She must be hungover again,” said one girl with a knowing shrug.

“Yeah,” another chimed in. “Scott must’ve been on the late shift again, if you know what I mean.”

Snickering all around. “Ugh, Scott,” one said with a theatrical shiver. “That guy is such a loser, my God. If Jessie doesn’t move on soon—”

“Jessie will never move on,” another girl emphatically interrupted. “She finds his gigantic forty-year-old beer belly and pathological fear of commitment totally entrancing, and really who wouldn’t?”

What followed was another ten minutes on the subject of the absent Jessie, who, at thirty-three, all agreed, was definitely way too old to keep answering the midnight booty calls of the ne’er-do-well weeknight bartender at the Harp. Finally, the hostess noticed me nibbling quietly on my teacakes in the corner. “Oh, God, I am so sorry!” she cried. “I forgot that you don’t know Jessie! This must be so boring to you—we will change the subject.” A pause. “So, um, what else should we talk about?” She gazed down at her belly doubtfully.

In the thudding silence that followed, I was allowed to insist that Jessie’s sleazy sexual predilections and Scott’s ironic collection of too-tight NASCAR T-shirts were infinitely more interesting than bump-circumference guessing games or the extortionate price of strollers these days. Several hours past the official end of the party, I left in the glow of new friendships made: it was truly the most fun I’d had in weeks.

Because that’s the thing: gossip is fun, one of the most profound and satisfying pleasures we humans are given. Read More »

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