Posts Tagged ‘Elif Batuman’
October 28, 2010 | by Lorin Stein
Last night, ten writers “of exceptional talent and promise in early career” received $50,000 each from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation. We proudly lay claim to two of them: Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, whose story, “Most Livable City,” appeared our spring 2006 issue; and our special Dostoevsky correspondent, Elif Batuman.
In his speech congratulating the winners, The Paris Review’s own Peter Matthiessen spoke from experience, counseling novelists in the crowd to intersperse their fiction with gigs that get them out into the world. He also reminisced about the early days of the Review with much sympathy—if not consolation—for young writers facing the sophomore slump.
We add our congratulations to his!
September 24, 2010 | by Lorin Stein
My ex-boyfriend’s birthday is fast approaching. He’s not just any ex—he’s The Ex, the one responsible for approximately ninety percent of my current taste in books, film, and music. We’re still friends, and I want to buy him a book, but I’m stuck. What do you buy for the man who's read everything, and introduced you to all the authors you love? —Joelle D.
Come with a backup. My friend Jennifer and I tend to like the same books, but she has read much, much more than I have. So a few years ago, when I gave her Henry Green’s novel Loving, I kept stashed away (already wrapped up) J. R. Ackerley’s memoir My Father and Myself. She'd read both, as it turned out ... but claimed that she had been “meaning to reread Ackerley for years.” It was such a nice lie. I hope your ex would say the same were he in her shoes. He sounds lucky to have you!
September 17, 2010 | by The Paris Review
What we’ve been reading.
The Cross of Redemption, James Baldwin’s uncollected prose. So absorbing I woke up thinking about it this morning, showered and shaved, and stepped back into the shower. (“You’re wet. You showered,” was my first non-Baldwin thought of the day.) —Lorin Stein
“The First Tycoon of Teen,” Tom Wolfe’s 1964 profile of pop wunderkind Phil Spector—“the first millionaire businessman to rise up out of the teen-age netherworld.” At 23, Spector had already produced “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” “He’s a Rebel,” “Be My Baby,” “Da Do Ron Ron,” “Then He Kissed Me,” “Uptown,” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.” “I get a little angry when people say it's bad music,” Spector tells Wolfe. “It has limited chord changes, and people are always saying the words are banal and why doesn't anybody write lyrics like Cole Porter anymore, but we don’t have presidents like Lincoln anymore either.” —David Wallace-Wells
A recent poem from The New Yorker called, “On the Inevitable Decline Into Mediocrity of the Popular Musician Who Attains a Comfortable Middle Age.” It goes: “O Sting, where is thy death?” —Daisy Atterbury
In the midst of a renewed discussion about female writers and their relationship with the literary establishment, This Recording re-published a piece written by Margaret Atwood in 1976 entitled “On Being A 'Woman Writer.’” Atwood is clear, calm, thorough and undeniably relevant: it wasn't until I got to the bottom of the essay that I realized the piece was over thirty years old. —Miranda Popkey
Elif Batuman’s astounding “Get A Real Degree” in the London Review of Books, which begins as an focused inquiry into the MFA program microculture but expands outward and outward and outward again, until the entire horizon of post-Quixote literature has been pulled into view. —D. W.-W.
I recently watched The Red Stuff, a documentary about the Soviet Union’s race to space. It’s bizarre to see Russian astronauts, especially those now past their prime and overweight, surrounded by Russian space memorabilia. But what I wanna know? Space ice cream. Do the Russians now sell it at their science museums like we do? Also recently viewed: IMAX: Hubble 3D, about the last flight to the Hubble Space Telescope. The images of earth are so beautiful that I cried. —Thessaly La Force
A mesmerizing essay in The Nation on Javier Marías and his Your Face Tomorrow trilogy by the man I'm beginning to think is the best critic writing today, William Deresiewicz. “Marías’s Europeanness is of the autumnal variety, much in evidence in recent decades, the product of a ripened civilization that feels itself equipped for nothing but the harvest," Deresiewicz writes. “Reflection in James or Proust,” he continues, “isn't a commentary on the story; it is essential to the story. It hugs the plot like a lining of a coat. It exposes character, develops relationships, shapes action. It gives utterance to feeling and direction to choice. It evolves, as the protagonists themselves evolve. But reflection in Your Face Tomorrow rarely does any of those things; it simply sits alone in its study, watching the plot go by.” —D. W.-W.
September 3, 2010 | by Lorin Stein
Any reading material for a pathologically shy 33-year-old woman? Who misses sex and fucking and making love and all that? Who even misses blowjobs. Who hasn't gone out with a man in ages? How do people even talk to each other anymore? I've forgotten. —November Whisky
Gosh, poor you. Shyness can be so hard. The first book I would read, if I wanted to reconstruct the language of sex and romance, is Mary Gaitskill's novel Veronica. Or really any of her books. You always get the feeling (at least I do) that Gaitskill is asking herself a question very much like yours. Asking and answering. For similar reasons you might also try Elizabeth Bowen, for example The Heat of the Day. Neither book is cheerful, exactly, but I think they might speak to your condition. Take heart!
July 19, 2010 | by Elif Batuman
10:35 P.M. I spot Amelia and Anne in the crowd walking back to the ferry. Amelia thinks that Stepan Trofimovich must really have been supposed to look like Marx: when he was dying in Varvara Petrovna’s arms, that was nascent Marxism being stifled in the embrace of the serf-based order. Heat lightning flashes above the bay. J. points out the roof of the Merrill Lynch building where he once interned for a twenty-three-year-old investment banker and realized that the corporate world was not for him. We are joined by The New York Post writer, who knows J. from journalism school. She has already submitted her six-inch article via cell phone.
10:45 P.M. Inside the ferry, it’s incredibly hot and stuffy. As in some strange dream, the actors are there too, sitting on benches along the walls. Some of them no longer resemble their characters, while others appear virtually unchanged. Stepan Trofimovich still has a wild black beard and wild white hair. Maybe he was born that way. His presence, I realize, makes me vaguely uneasy—as if part of me fears that he might start coughing and dying again.
10:55 P.M. In the past ten minutes, the ferry hasn’t gotten any less hot, stuffy, or stationary. “Maybe they have to dismantle the set before the boat can start,” J. suggests, producing a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
11:00 P.M. “You know what I’m really craving now, is breakfast cereal,” J. remarks.
“Oh, really?” I reply. “I’m craving an enormous glass of Scotch.”
“Well, sure, that would be OK too. But just picture a big bowl of raisin bran, with cold milk. Doesn’t it sound fantastic?”
I give the matter some thought. “It sounds totally irrelevant to my life and problems,” I confess.
11:05 P.M. J. introduces me to the Post reporter. “I saw you in the audience,” she tells me. “You were writing the whole entire time!” I explain that I was taking notes for a minute-by-minute account, designed for the insatiably curious readers of The Paris Review website. “Now I have to go home and write it up,” I say, in tones that came out sounding more despondent than I had intended.
“Next time you shouldn’t take so many notes,” she says. “The more notes you take, the more notes you have to read later. You’re just creating more work for yourself.”
I give this advice some thought. “Thanks for the tip,” I say. Read More »
July 16, 2010 | by Elif Batuman
The final installment of a four-part review.
5:56 P.M. Another break. As sometimes happens with people under duress, our biological systems have warped into synch and pretty much all 400-odd culture lovers seem to have to pee this time. “Five-minute call!” I’m still in line on the trailer steps, where a faint but palpable ripple of panic passes through the crowd.
6:02 P.M. Back in the theater, I ask the LA Times critic how he is doing. “So-so,” he says. “Hanging in there.” He asks me whether anyone has ever tried to stage the dramatic poem written by Stepan Trofimovich in the first part of Demons. I don’t know that they have, but what a marvelous idea! The description of this lyrical drama is one of my favorite passages in Dostoevsky’s novel:
It is some sort of allegory, in lyrical-dramatic form, resembling the second part of Faust. The scene opens with a chorus of women, then a chorus of men, then of some powers, and it all ends with a chorus of souls that have not lived yet but would very much like to live a little… Then suddenly the scene changes and some sort of “Festival of Life” begins, in which even insects sing, a turtle appears with some sort of sacramental Latin words, and, if I remember, a mineral—that is, an altogether inanimate object—also gets to sing about something… Finally, the scene changes again, and a wild place appears, where a civilized young man wanders among the rocks picking and sucking at some wild herbs, and when a fairy asks him why he is sucking these herbs, he responds that he feels an overabundance of life in himself, is seeking oblivion, and finds it in the juice of these herbs, but that his greatest desire is to lose his reason as quickly as possible (a perhaps superfluous desire).
I am filled with a desire to see a turtle uttering sacramental the Latin words, and a mineral that somehow gets to sing about something. It strikes me as criminal that Peter Stein didn’t include these highlights in his performance. What excuse did he possibly have—there hadn’t been enough time?
6:05 P.M. I count seven empty seats behind me, and eleven to my right.
6:18 P.M. Nikolai has gone to confess to a monk that he once seduced a fourteen-year-old girl and drove her to suicide. This chapter was omitted from the first editions of Dostoevsky’s novels.
6:23 P.M. Nikolai confesses to the monk that he really did secretly marry the pretty retarded lame girl. The monk totally has Nikolai’s number. I hadn’t realized before how much this conversation resembles the exchange between Raskolnikov and the detective in Crime and Punishment.
6:40 P.M. Still confessing. “On my conscience is a premeditated poisoning that no one knows about.”
6:47 P.M. The confession shows no sign of ending. If this was a plane we would be in France by now. I glance at the program notes to see what else has to happen before the dinner break. The mayor has to explode in a fit of jealousy. I wonder how long that will take.
6:48 P.M. Nikolai is weeping in the monk’s lap. Read More »