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Posts Tagged ‘Donald Barthelme’

Raskolnikov Meets the Caped Crusader, and Other News

April 8, 2014 | by

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Image via Open Culture

  • If you’re having trouble getting serious reading done, you can go ahead and blame the Internet, which fosters deleterious skimming habits. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”
  • Yesterday was Don B.’s birthday, making today the perfect occasion to reread his 1987 essay, “Not-Knowing.” “Let us discuss the condition of my desk. It is messy, mildly messy. The messiness is both physical (coffee cups, cigarette ash) and spiritual (unpaid bills, unwritten novels). The emotional life of the man who sits at the desk is also messy—I am in love with a set of twins, Hilda and Heidi, and in a fit of enthusiasm I have joined the Bolivian army.”
  • “Every April, ‘O, Miami’ attempts to deliver a poem to every single person in Miami-Dade County.” (There are at least 2.591 million of them—I just checked.)
  • Crime and Punishment and Batman: all in one scintillating, thrill-packed issue of Dostoyevsky Comics. One wonders which superhero moonlighted in the Brothers Karamazov issue.
  • From the annals of game-show history comes Bumper Stumpers, a late-eighties Canadian television curio in which contestants parsed the wordplay in vanity license plates. (E.g., VTHKOLM, which means “fifth column,” obviously.)
  • Meet Todd Manly-Krauss, the “writer” with the world’s most irritating Facebook presence.

 

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Realism for Everyone

April 7, 2014 | by

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Donald Barthelme would’ve been, and should be, eighty-three today. It would be an exaggeration to say that I feel the absence of someone I never met—someone who died when I was three—but I do wonder, with something more than mere curiosity, what Barthelme would have made of the past twenty-odd years. These are decades I feel we’ve processed less acutely because he wasn’t there to fictionalize them: their surreal political flareups, their new technologies, their various zeitgeists and intellectual fads and dumb advertisements. Part of what I love about Barthelme’s stories is the way they traffic in cultural commentary without losing their intimacy, their humanity. They feel something like channel-surfing with your favorite uncle; he’s running his mouth the whole time, but he’s running it brilliantly, he’s interlarding his commentary with sad, sharp stories from his own life, and you’re learning, you’re laughing, you’re feeling, because he’s putting the show on for you, lovingly, his dear nephew.

But I’m losing the thread. My point is not to reveal a secret wish that Barthelme was my uncle.

I wanted to say something about lists. Barthelme was a master of many things, but one of them was, of course, the list—the man could make a prodigious inventory. I don’t mean to be glib when I say that. List-making is often dismissed as sloppy writing, but in Barthelme’s hands, a list never functions as an elision or a cheap workaround; he makes marvelous profusions of nouns, testaments to the power of juxtaposition. His lists feel noetic—they capture the motion of a mind delighting in how many things there are, and how rampantly they’re proliferating, and how strangely they collide in life, when they do. Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Don B., B. Dole, /u/backgrinder

March 7, 2014 | by

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“How hard was it to supply archers arrows in ancient battles?” Bryson Burroughs, The Archers, 1917.

Sozzled novelists (aka, lit lit) seems to be the thing to write about lately, but it’s more fun to read great writers making fun of great writers drinking a lot. In one of his short pieces originally written for The New Yorker’s Notes and Comment section (more quotidian than Talk of the Town and funnier than Shouts and Murmurs, it’s a section I wish they’d revive), Donald Barthelme describes having received a questionnaire from Writer’s Digest that inquired about his drinking habits. Asked if he’s a light, medium, heavy, or “other” drinker, Barthelme says medium: “Light is sissy and Heavy doesn’t go down so well with Deans, Loan Officers and Publishers, and who in the world would want to be Other?” Only a few days before reading this gem, I’d discovered Niccolò Tucci’s essay on drunkenness in issue 19 of The Paris Review. Tucci starts by recounting a pop-sci study on the hangover. We’d do well to heed one of its findings: “Alcohol itself is perfectly harmless. It cannot be blamed for anything … not even for death. What kills you is malnutrition. Drinkers forget to eat. If they ate more, they could drink more. In fact, obesity kills more people than alcohol. People should eat much less.” —Nicole Rudick

Steve Jobs famously quipped, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”—which is often how I feel about the content I find on Reddit, the Internet’s ultimate rabbit hole. Mastering the abbreviated jargon can take some time, but it’s well worth the plunge; I tumbled in, head first, after The Paris Review’s recent AMA. Take, for instance, /u/backgrinder’s response to the very reasonable, if incalculably arcane, question, “How hard was it to supply arrows to archers in ancient battles?” (TL;DR: Surprisingly hard.) —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

I have Bob Dole’s voice in my head, and it’s Richard Ben Cramer’s fault. “Dole’s voice was made for the empty distance and mean wind of the prairie,” Cramer writes in What It Takes: The Way to the White House, his thousand-page opus on presidential politics, published in 1992. Cramer died last year, and I’ve been meaning to delve into this book ever since—for once, the promise of the flap copy is no exaggeration. “An American Iliad in the guise of contemporary political reportage, What It Takes penetrates the mystery at the heart of all presidential campaigns: How do presumably ordinary people acquire that mixture of ambition, stamina, and pure shamelessness that makes a true candidate?” In writing about it here, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew; there’s no way to convey how exhaustively researched it is, how lovingly chronicled, how immaculately well-written. All I can say is that it drove me not just to feel a deep kinship with someone like Bob Dole but to watch the entirety of a Dole debate from the eighties, and to enjoy it. Publishers always like to claim that a given work of nonfiction “reads like a novel,” and it’s so seldom true—but What It Takes has the scope, pace, style, and psychological acuity of the best fiction. —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

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Staff Picks: Alcoholics Anonymous, Hollywood Star Whackers

December 17, 2010 | by

Clancy Martin. Photograph by David Eulitt.

The cover story in this month’s issue of Harper’s: “The Drunk's Club,” by Clancy Martin. An irreverent, harrowing, tough-minded account of Martin’s experience in Alcoholics Anonymous, which he describes (characteristically) as “the cult that saved my life.” —Lorin Stein

I’ve begun reading George Gissing’s New Grub Street, a late Victorian novel of the literary demimonde, which one of the characters calls “the valley of the shadow of books.” It’s a grim place: The editors are stupid, the writers are desperate, and everyone seems to live in a garret. A conflict is shaping up between the Pragmatist, who writes for money, and the Idealist, who writes for love. But Gissing was a Realist—which means, I think, there will be no happy ending for Literature. —Robyn Creswell

Pick up the January issue of Vanity Fair with Johnny Depp on the cover. Look at all the beautiful people. Then turn to page sixty-four, and read about the delusional world of Randy and Evi Quaid. The two are racked with debt and living out of a Prius in Canada. They are convinced they are being hunted by an anonymous group called “the Hollywood Star Whackers” and that Randy’s royalty checks are being funneled into an account under the name of “Ronda L. Quaid.” Says Randy to the reporter: “I guess I’m worth more to ’em dead than alive.” —Thessaly La Force

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Staff Picks: Turkeys and French Cinema

November 28, 2010 | by

Most accounts of turkeys in literature describe the process of hunting or cooking them (Teddy Roosevelt’s sketch of stalking the “peevish piou-piou! of the sleepy birds” is rather lovely, even though the turkeys don't live beyond the next page). In 1978, however, Donald Barthelme reinvigorated the genre with a grumpy but dead-on essay expressing his annoyance at this "mockery of a holiday.” This year’s new discovery dates from 1982, when Jim Nollman recorded his musical collaboration with a large flock of the delicious birds on Playing Music with Animals: Interspecies Communication of Jim Nollman with 300 Turkeys, 12 Wolves and 20 Orcas (America Folkways, of course). The feathered singers join Nollman for a rendition of “Froggy Went a-Courting.” Nollman’s aim? To “[ride] the shared musical energy without aggravating the turkeys.” Make it part of your holiday tradition. —Nicole Rudick

It is never too late to see a movie you should have seen years ago, like L’Avventura. I think there is something to be said for seeing a great thing so late. It feels like being rescued. That’s what I saw this week, as well as two beautiful films by Philippe Garrel, J’entends plus la guitare and Baisers de secours (both introduced by our own diarist Richard Brody), plus Godard’s 1980 bummer Every Man for Himself, plus Alain Cavalier’s charming melodrama Le Combat dans l’ile, all about a fun-loving Parisienne who discovers that her weak-willed industrialist husband is secretly a member of a terrorist cell, and Le Amiche, and the first three films of Terence Malick. Yes, I’ve been out sick this week and have read not one submission. May Monica Vitti forgive me. May Monica Vittii forgive us all. —Lorin Stein

If the Thanksgiving holiday hasn’t made you want to swear off eating altogether and fast in the middle of a spa in the California desert, then try the beautiful, bold, and hefty Essential New York Times Cookbook, edited by the fabulous Amanda Hesser, who cooked (and updated) each and every recipe in this 932-page book. —Thessaly La Force

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