The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Elaine Blair’

What We’re Loving: Captain Kentucky, John Henry, Plagues

December 7, 2012 | by

I picked up Barbara Comyns’s Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead when it was first reissued in 2010 but then had to put it aside. I began it again—and finished it—last week, and I’m so glad I did. The novel, originally published in England in 1954, concerns the Willoweed family and their reactions to an outbreak of madness and suicide in their small village. Its humor is by turns black and light, its characters morbid and delightful. An aberrant pastoral as smart as this one could only come from someone with a biography as nutty and wonderful as Comyns’s. A painter by training—she exhibited with the London Group—Comyns married and had two children. To support them, “she dealt in antiques and vintage cars, renovated apartments, and bred poodles. She later lived in Spain for eighteen years.” —Nicole Rudick

Brain still humming with Elaine Blair’s brilliant essay on David Foster Wallace, I read his own long 1990 review of Wittgenstein’s Mistress, now reprinted in Both Flesh and Not. So much has been written about Infinite Jest, but for me these two essays together do the best job of describing what’s at stake in that novel—morally, philosophically, artistically. Among other things, Wallace reveals his debt to Stanley Cavell (a teacher whose influence he later played down) and his raw-nerved engagement with feminist criticism. At times, too, “The Empty Plenum” reads like a sort of preemptive rebuttal to Jonathan Franzen’s elegy in The New Yorker. Wallace may not have been the sage we wished for, but as Blair writes, he “worked a reverse-Promethean theft, taking our humble spoken idioms and delivering them to the gods.” —Lorin Stein

Read More »

2 COMMENTS

What We’re Loving: Girls, Cribs, and Literary Detective Work

May 18, 2012 | by

How often have you read a TV review by a writer of our generation and thought of Susan Sontag? It's never happened to me—until this week, when I read Elaine Blair’s review of Girls in The New York Review of Books. By paying attention to one little sex scene, Blair makes deep arguments about sex scenes in general, the limits of romantic comedy, and the real meaning of sexual freedom. —Lorin Stein

About a decade ago, my friend Mikey loaned me a book he thought I’d enjoy. I’ve only just got around to picking it up. Though I’m a bad friend, he isn’t: the book—Leonid Andreyev’s The Little Angel—is terrific, after a fashion. The stories are intriguing, especially “At the Roadside Station” and “The City," but the translation is rather bad. I’d love to see it revisited by another publisher and translator. I’m looking at you, NYRB Books. And how about Natasha Randall? I loved her translations of We and A Hero of Our Time. —Nicole Rudick

For those with a green thumb and a love of literature, look no further than Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation Across Two Centuries for an insightful glimpse into garden writing over the last two-hundred years. Lush illustrations color the pages and accompany extensive excerpts from the writings of influential figures of gardening’s past and present, such as Thomas Jefferson, Gertrude Jekyll, and Michael Pollan. Gain a little inspiration for your own beckoning plots, or simply get yourself excited for summer’s peak. —Elizabeth Nelson

Read More »

3 COMMENTS

Staff Picks: Sexual Humiliation, Advanced Style

March 16, 2012 | by

“No one wants to be called a penis with a thesaurus. For an English-language novelist, raised and educated and self-consciously steeped in the tradition of the Anglo-American novel, in which female characters, female writers, and female readers have had a huge part, the prospect of not being able to write for female readers is a crisis. What kind of novelist are you if women aren’t reading your books?” Elaine Blair on DFW, sexual humiliation, and that obscure object of desire, the woman reader. —Lorin Stein

I’ve been reading and rereading galleys of The Poetry of Kabbalah, an anthology of Jewish mystical verse translated (and massively annotated) by Peter Cole. This is ambitious poetry. It combines liturgical solemnity with outrageous flights of metaphor, and Cole’s versions match the originals step for step. About the Poems of the Palaces, a series of hymns from the first millennium, Cole writes that it is “a poetry written for men who would become like angels, serving and praising God. It is not a poetry of ‘personal voice’ or ‘a meter-making argument’ with a ‘self.’ Rather, it is a verse rooted in the magical power of letters and words.” —Robyn Creswell

I was so excited when Ari Seth Cohen's Advanced Style landed on my desk—my love of the blog is no secret and being able to peruse these grandes dames at my leisure is even better! —Sadie Stein

Here’s an example of why some people need actual bookstores: if I hadn’t seen it sitting there at the Strand, I'd never have picked up Babbitt—and what could be better for a bad mood on a Saturday night with a cold? —L. S.

If you are like me and springtime puts you in a whimsical, dancing mood, try The Band Wagon with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Though I am too timid (and clumsy!) to dance like that myself, I live vicariously through their twirls and sashays through Central Park. —Elizabeth Nelson

The huge, knotted automobile parts now on view in the John Chamberlain retrospective at the Guggenheim each look like brushstrokes made massive, three-dimensional, and wonderfully kinetic. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

The Wilder Quarterly is the perfect thing to read in these early days of spring: the Brooklyn-based magazine is a stylish paen to all things green and growing and donates part of proceeds to the Fresh Air Fund. —S. S.

1 COMMENT

Staff Picks: Delightful Fuckers, Ephemeral New York

September 30, 2011 | by

Elaine Blair says let your children read Nicholson Baker: “House of Holes will introduce impressionable readers to many interesting sexual possibilities without a whisper of stereotype or slur. You can be sure that no matter what scene your children are masturbating to, they are not objectifying women. But you will have to make sure that they accidentally stumble on it soon, before they find the Internet, if they are to have a fighting chance at being wholesome and delightful fuckers instead of hopelessly depraved ones like yourself.” —Lorin Stein

My friend Pete turned me on to Ephemeral New York, which, along with Vanishing New York, has immediately entered my personal must-read feed. And if you really want to feel melancholy about our city’s lost treasures, take a look at this. (And thanks to Vanishing New York for turning me on to Karen Lillis’s Bagging the Beats at Midnight, a memoir by a long-time employee of beloved—and endangered—St. Mark’s Bookshop.)Sadie Stein

Is print dead? Not at all. The New York Art Book Fair, hosted by Printed Matter this weekend at P.S. 1, is probably the best browsing experience you’ll have all year. Photobooks, artist’s books, antiquated books, ephemera, zines: it has everything from the small to the massive, the odd to the vintage, the practical to the whimsical. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

I’ve been poking around in Asymptote, a new and impressively eclectic online magazine, with fiction and nonfiction, poetry and criticism, all in translation. I’ve especially enjoyed the (very) short story by Robert Walser, translated by Susan Bernofsky, Adonis’s “Ambiguity,” translated by Elliott Colla, and an essay about riddles by the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky, translated by Shushan Avagyan. There is, in other words, something for everyone. —Robyn Creswell

I picked up a copy of Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi in the office and am thoroughly enjoying doses of Wes Anderson-esque whimsy. It’s a fairy tale disguised as a novel about a writer (named Mr. Fox), his muse (Mary Foxe), and his characters. Like all good fairy tales, the story is told over and over again in various romantic settings, in this case involving plenty of typewriters, brownstones, and flower shops.Artie Niederhoffer

An old interview between Borges and Enrique Krauze, devoted mainly to Spinoza, is newly translated in the current issue of The Reading Room: “Descartes let himself be seduced by that abominable little Protestant sect, the heresy that is the Church of Rome; but if one accepts his premises, one arrives either at solipsism or Spinozism. Which means that Spinoza was a more coherent thinker and certainly much braver than Descartes. For me—simply because I'm a coward myself—bravery is an essential virtue.” –L. S.

Much has already been written on the immersive, off-broadway theatre experience, Sleep No More. Recently extended through November 5, this eerie production has been haunting me all week. Though the storyline (based on Macbeth) left me a bit puzzled and frustrated, the sets, music, and lighting design alone are worth the price of admission. If you go, stick as close to the actors as you can (even when that means literally running up and down stairs) and you might get as lucky as I did to get locked in a room alone with one of the players. What a memorable and bewitching treat to have a monologue recited to you and you alone—sans mask. —Charlotte Strick

4 COMMENTS