- Ninety-eight years ago this month, Edith Wharton published Summer, a steamy novella “with a plotline that includes sex outside of wedlock, an unplanned pregnancy, and a truly disturbing relationship between a teenage girl and her guardian.” It was not well reviewed.
- Nor, apparently, was When Harry Met Sally, which, though it eventually ascended into the rom-com pantheon, was widely dismissed when it came out twenty-five years ago. Terrence Rafferty wrote, “The debate, of course, is too shallow to engage us, but they might have tried providing a little plot … When Harry Met Sally positions itself comfortably in the middle of nowhere and casts knowing directions in all directions.”
- On Virginia Woolf’s conception of privacy: “Many people accept the idea that each of us has a certain resolute innerness … What interested Woolf was the way that we become aware of that innerness. We come to know it best, she thought, when we’re forced, at moments of exposure, to shield it against the outside world.”
- Today in prudery: in London, the Society of Women Artists’ annual exhibition featured a portrait by Leena McCall, which depicted—trigger warning!—a bit of pubic hair. But don’t worry! Calm down! The painting was summarily removed because it was “pornographic” and “disgusting.”
- In the nineties, Prodigy was one of the most successful Internet companies around, an “interactive personal service” that finally went belly-up in 1999, taking with it “the written record of a massive, unique online culture, including millions of messages and tens of thousands of hand-drawn pieces of digital art.” Now one man has recovered some of that early Web culture.
“The desire for symmetry, for balance, for rhythm is one of the most inveterate of human instincts.” —Edith Wharton, The Decoration of Houses, published on this day in 1897
The proofs of our Summer issue just arrived at Twenty-Seventh Street from the printer. This afternoon is our last chance to catch any mistakes. You always find a few typos—and we have more names to spell-check than usual, because this issue contains more stories, poems, and interviews than any in recent memory.
Some of these writers are regular contributors, including Lydia Davis—with her first publication since she won the 2013 Man Booker International Prize for fiction—and David Gates, whose new story is a favorite of his and ours. Others are writers we’ve been waiting to publish for a while, namely Ben Lerner, whose first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, is one of the best debuts we’ve seen in the past few years, and Kristin Dombek, whose essays in n+1 electrified us. The newly translated stories by Robert Walser are from his groundbreaking 1904 collection, Fritz Kocher’s Essays. This book (which won the admiration of Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin) made me feel for the first time that I understood what all the fuss is about.
Still others, including Emma Cline, Gillian Linden, and the Italian poet Patrizia Cavalli—translated by the likes of Jorie Graham and Mark Strand—are new to us and will probably be new to you. We look forward to saying, You read them here first.
Plus, three interviews.
Two are devoted to the art of literary biography. Michael Holroyd’s lives of Lytton Strachey and George Bernard Shaw, among others, revolutionized the study of Bloomsbury and Edwardian literary history.
I am a great believer in private life, which is quite unfashionable now—to be a celebrity is the thing, or you are nothing. But I believe in private life for the living, and I think that when one is dead one should be a little bit bolder, so that the rest of us may have some record of how things actually were. Otherwise we will be left with well-meant lies, which add to the difficulties of life and lead to real misunderstanding.
Hermione Lee’s biographies of Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton are just as influential.
What is it like to write a death scene?
It depends how they died. Some cynical biographer said to me, Make sure it’s a good death. Make sure you’re not picking someone who just declined.
Finally, we have an Art of Fiction interview with the Nobel laureate Imre Kertész. It is, according to Kertész, the last interview he will ever give. Luisa Zielinski’s probing, sensitive questions explore the reasons that Kertész—ten years after he survived the Holocaust—decided he had to write.
Look, I don’t want to deny that I was a prisoner at Auschwitz and that I now have a Nobel Prize. What should I make of that? And what should I make of the fact that I survived, and continue to survive? At least I feel that I experienced something extraordinary, because not only did I live through those horrors, but I also managed to describe them, in a way that is bearable, acceptable, and nonetheless part of [a] radical tradition … Perhaps I’m being impertinent, but I feel that my work has a rare quality—I tried to depict the human face of this history, I wanted to write a book that people would actually want to read.
Even if you’ve been reading Janet Malcolm for years, the critical appreciations collected in Forty-one False Starts may surprise you. The title essay is (or pretends to be) a series of scrapped beginnings to her profile of the painter David Salle, a giant of the art world in vulnerable mid-career. If you want to write magazine prose, this alone should make you buy the book. Ranging from Bloomsbury to Edward Weston to J.D. Salinger, the entire book is full of stylistic daring, fine distinctions, and bold judgments set down at the speed of thought. —Lorin Stein
The Emperor’s Tomb was the last novel Joseph Roth wrote. Michael Hofmann, whose versions of Roth are all unsettlingly good—more like inhabitations than translations—calls it a “valedictory repertoire of Rothian tropes and characters”: Viennese cafés, feckless and frivolous young men, the call-up to war, the end of Empire, the never-ending nostalgia for Empire. If you’ve read Roth before, you’ll enjoy the new variations on old themes; if you haven’t read Roth, start with The Radetsky March. You won’t want it to end and when it does, reading The Emperor’s Tomb will bring it all back. —Robyn Creswell Read More
“You own every book,” my boyfriend often says to me. And sometimes it seems like that’s true. I now own enough unread books to last me at least ten years, and I keep adding to the collection every day.
Books are meant to be read. This is what I say to myself whenever I, with some level of despair, glance at my many bookshelves. My personal library takes up a substantial amount of room in the Brooklyn apartment I share with two friends. I’ve read a lot of books that I own. I’ve also, truth be told, not read a good number of the books. I feel tremendous guilt toward the books I ignore.
It’s no surprise, then, that Meriç Algün Ringborg’s “The Library of Unborrowed Books” exhibition at Art in General, in Manhattan, should catch my eye. I was intrigued by the concept: the artist had selected more than a thousand titles from the Center for Fiction’s library that have never been borrowed. Read More
- Amazon.com has assigned a love story to every state. As a New Yorker, I find myself ambivalent about the choice of The Age of Innocence. Although Arkansas, arguably, has more of a bone to pick.
- “Wife wanted: intelligent, beautiful, 18 to 25, broad-minded, sensitive, affectionate. For accomplished artist and exciting life. NYR box 1432.” On America’s most erudite personals. (Yes, that was the first.)
- Happy one hundred, Harvard University Press.
- Comic book vendors around the nation are boycotting D. C. Comics following the announcement that the company has asked Orson Scott Card to write part of an upcoming Superman. Card is an outspoken anti-gay advocate.
- Meanwhile, a plan to erect a plaque to Enid Blyton in her home town is tearing Beaconsfield, Bucks asunder: some claim it would be wrong to celebrate an authors whose work is now deemed racist and sexist.