Posts Tagged ‘Claire Messud’
October 18, 2013 | by The Paris Review
The funny thing about the New York Review’s fiftieth anniversary issue is that it’s basically just a slightly fatter version of the normal product. Here’s Zadie Smith on girl-watching with her father. Here’s Frederick Seidel with a poem I badly wish we’d published ourselves. Here’s Chabon on Pynchon, Mendelsohn on Game of Thrones, and Timothy Garton-Ash writing (unenviably and with aplomb) on the ethos of the Review itself. Here’s Justice Stephen Breyer discussing Proust with a French journalist (Breyer turns out to be the only person about whom one is actually glad to know how Proust changed his life), plus Richard Holmes on Keats, Diane Johnson on MFA programs, Adam Shatz on Charlie Parker, Coetzee on Patrick White—and this is just the beginning. (As usual, I’m saving the politics for last.) There is one discovery I have to single out. In 1949 the German novelist Hans Keilson published one of the stranger World War II novels ever written, a novel later translated into English under the enigmatic title The Death of the Adversary. Thanks to Claire Messud’s beautiful essay on Camus, I think I may know where Keilson’s translator got the phrase. Camus, 1945: “I am not made for politics, because I am incapable of wanting or accepting the death of the adversary.” Thank you, Ms. Messud. Thank you, New York Review. —Lorin Stein
Has any city been so cursed by history and so blessed in its poets as Baghdad? Reuven Snir, a scholar with family roots in Baghdad’s Jewish community, has edited and translated Baghdad: The City in Verse, an anthology of poems from the eighth century to the present, which has been my bedside reading for the last week. There are poems of debauchery (“Baghdad is not an abode for hermits,” an early poet warns his readers), nostalgia, and lament. The mournful note is especially strong in the later poems. But it is already there in Ishaq al-Khuraymi’s “Elegy for Baghdad,” a lament written in the aftermath of a civil war, which remembers a city “surrounded by vineyards, palm trees, and basil,” but now sees a wasteland of widows and dry wells, with “the city split into groups, / the connections between them cut off.” The Mongol invasion of 1258, when tradition says the Tigris ran black with the ink of books and red with the blood of scholars, was still four hundred years away. —Robyn Creswell Read More »
July 29, 2013 | by Katherine Hill
We’re tournament people, my husband and I. The way some people climb rocks or brew beer (I don’t know: What do other people do?), we draw sloppy 64-berth brackets in coffee-stained spiral-bound notebooks then set to vigorous, regimented discussion, rationally whittling down the field until an undisputed champion emerges. Notable competitions past include Most Intriguing City (Helsinki def. Buenos Aires) and Favorite Animal (Polar Bear def. House Cat). Most times, Matt is the tournament master, the committee of one who conceives and presents the field to me, which I then imperiously adjudicate, usually while reclining on a couch or airplane seat and eating something packed with butterfat. It’s a good arrangement, because he is a historian who likes categories and I am a writer who likes making things up.
For tournament people, the next bracket is always a gift. Matt’s mom visited last month, and she brought with her a 32-person field of literary characters for each of us to complete. Our champions were to be not the greatest or most iconic or most influential figures, but the characters we’d most like to have as friends.
“Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert?” Claire Messud had recently demanded of Publishers Weekly.
She had a point. We took Alexander Portnoy instead. Read More »
May 31, 2013 | by The Paris Review
“Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in Medieval Life and Art” opened at the Morgan Library earlier this month. The exhibition packs an astounding range of illuminated manuscripts, each depicting an aspect of the relationship between the body of Christ and medieval culture, into a single room. Though there are a few archetypal works on display, with their colorfully wrought letters, floral detailing, and flattened and disproportional bodies, many of the manuscripts are particularly particular. A German work depicts King David feeding the hungry; he holds a large skewer of meat in one hand and oversized pretzels in the other. Another is a parody of the Mass; I didn’t write down the provenance of the volume, but I did record some of the descriptive text provided by the curator, which narrates the drawings on the pages to which the book is opened: “A fox, dressed in a chasuble, ‘celebrates’ Mass—not on an altar but on the naked buttocks of a man standing on his head. With folded paws, the fox priest bows—not to a chalice but a tankard of ale.” Cheers. —Clare Fentress
“Dear Lorin,” the note read, “I saw this book and thought you might like it, even though it is full of despair.” The book in question is Jean-Pierre Martinet’s 1979 mini-novella The High Life, newly translated by Henry Vale. The narrator, Adolphe Marlaud, is a midget who lives next to the Montparnasse cemetery. He works in a funerary shop, where he passes the time making advances (unwanted) toward the grieving female customers; evenings he spends in the arms of his concierge, an older (and much bigger) woman whom he calls Madame C. Then one night Madame C suggests that they see a pornographic movie, and the drama begins—except, as Marlaud observes, “There’s no drama with us, messieurs, nor tragedy: there is only burlesque and obscenity.” Many thanks to Matt Bucher, administrator of the David Foster Wallace listserv wallace-l, for turning me on to The High Life (even though it is full of despair). —Lorin Stein Read More »
May 3, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
December 27, 2012 | by Francesca Mari
We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!
I knew a kid in college who wanted so desperately to produce a book that he couldn’t stand the sight of their spines. He stacked them—ten or so brown and black books, library hardcovers—in his dorm room, titles to the wall, lips facing forward. He didn’t really buy books, either—at least I don’t recall that he did—but he never passed a bookstore without entering to read. These same stores have since displayed his books in their windows.
“‘You can tell how serious people are by looking at their books,’” Susan Sontag told Sigrid Nunez, long ago when Nunez was dating Sontag’s son. “She meant not only what books they had on their shelves, but how the books were arranged,” Nunez explains. “Because of her, I arranged my own books by subject and in chronological rather than alphabetical order. I wanted to be serious.”
There are many varieties of nerd, but only two real species—the serious and the nonserious—and shelves are a pretty good indication of who is which. “To expose a bookshelf,” Harvard professor Leah Price writes in Unpacking My Library, a recent collection of interviews with writers about the books they own, “is to compose a self.” In Sontag’s case, a very rigorous self. And, of course, that’s just the sort of self someone anxious about his aspirations might shy away from. “A self without a shelf remains cryptic,” Price notes. It’s like the straight-A student who says he hasn’t studied for finals: if you haven’t confessed to caring, no one can consider you to have failed.
There’s not a lot of anxiety about keeping libraries in this collection, however, because the adults featured—Junot Diaz, Steven Pinker, Gary Shteyngart, James Wood, Claire Messud, to name a few—are all solidly successful. Price’s interviews are less about each writer’s affairs and encounters with individual books than his or her shepherding of the whole herd—what’s treasured, tossed, bought twice, allowed to be lent. The interesting questions focus on each writer’s feelings about intellectual signaling and methods of overall arrangement. In other words, the stars of the pictures aren’t the books but the shelves. Read More »