The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘excerpt’

My Motherland

September 15, 2016 | by

Finding—and writing—the worlds where only I had been.

Robert Walter Weir, watercolor, 8 15/16" x 6 11/16", 1825.

Robert Walter Weir, watercolor, 8 15/16" x 6 11/16", 1825.

In high school I was, like many American intellectual kids, a stranger in a strange land. I made the Berkeley Public Library my refuge, and lived half my life in books. Not only American books—English and French novels and poetry, Russian novels in translation. Transported unexpectedly to college in another strange land, the East Coast, I majored in French lit and went on reading European lit on my own. I felt more at home in some ways in Paris in 1640 or Moscow in 1812 than in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1948.

Much as I loved my studies, their purpose was to make me able to earn a living as a teacher, so I could go on writing. And I worked hard at writing short stories. But here my European orientation was a problem. I wasn’t drawn to the topics and aims of contemporary American realism. I didn’t admire Ernest Hemingway, James Jones, Norman Mailer, or Edna Ferber. I did admire John Steinbeck, but knew I couldn’t write that way. In The New Yorker, I loved Thurber, but skipped over John O’Hara to read the Englishwoman Sylvia Townsend Warner. Most of the people I really wished I could write like were foreign, or dead, or both. Most of what I read drew me to write about Europe; but I knew it was foolhardy to write fiction set in Europe if I’d never been there. Read More »

Sitting Up

August 23, 2016 | by

A brief history of chairs.

Still from Lawrence of Arabia.

Still from Lawrence of Arabia.

There is a pivotal early scene in David Lean’s film Lawrence of Arabia in which T. E. Lawrence and his superior, Colonel Brighton, visit the desert encampment of Prince Faisal, a leader of the Arab Revolt. The royal tent is spartan yet luxurious, patterned woven cloths hang from the low ceiling, a large brass samovar gleams in the candlelight, the ground is covered with a rich carpet. There is no furniture; the men sit on the carpet. Brighton, in his tailored uniform, polished Sam Browne belt, and riding boots, looks distinctly ill at ease with his legs awkwardly stretched out in front of him. Lawrence, a lieutenant and less formally dressed, appears slightly more comfortable, with his legs folded to one side. The prince, attired in a dark robe and a white ghutrah, reclines on a pile of sheepskins, while his colleague Sherif Ali leans casually against a tent pole. The various postures cinematically underline a central point: the relaxed Bedouins are at home in this place—the desert—while the stiff English colonel is an interloper. Lawrence is somewhere in between.

The world is divided into people who sit on the floor and those who sit on chairs. In a classic study of human posture around the world, the anthropologist Gordon W. Hewes identified no fewer than a hundred common sitting positions. “At least a fourth of mankind habitually takes the load off its feet by crouching in a deep squat, both at rest and at work,” he observed. Deep squatting is favored by people in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but sitting cross-legged on the floor is almost as common. Many South Asians cook, dine, work, and relax in that position. Certain Native American tribes in the Southwest, as well as Melanesians, customarily sit on the floor with legs stretched straight out or crossed at the ankles. Sitting with the legs folded to one side—Lawrence’s position above—is described by Hewes as a predominantly female posture in many tribal societies. Read More »

Visible Man

September 4, 2014 | by


Richard Wright in a 1946 photograph by Carl Van Vechten.

Richard Wright was born on this day in 1908; he wrote Native Son and Black Boyamong dozens of other books, and his often controversial work helped to change race relations in the twentieth century. Wright hailed from North Carolina and in 1946 moved to Paris, where he befriended Sartre, Camus, and a number of expatriate writers, including Max Steele, one of The Paris Review’s founding editors. In our fiftieth anniversary issue, from 2003, the late Steele wrote “Richard Wright: The Visible Man,” a remembrance. Below is an excerpt from the essay.

I do not remember what month I saw him for the last time. He was strolling slowly in the light rain toward his flat on Monsieur Le Prince. He, in his double-breasted English raincoat and new beret, was walking upstream against the French with their umbrellas rushing down from the Comedie Française toward the Metro at Odéon.

I remember more vividly the first time I had met him at the Monaco (quite casually, even though I had arrived with a letter of introduction to him from our editor at Harper’s). When he learned I was from Chapel Hill he assumed immediately that I knew Paul Green, with whom he had written the play Native Son. He said, “The sleepiest man I ever saw.” He laughed and talked and laughed that laugh which he later admitted was his first line of defense, though it felt that afternoon like offense. He claimed that Green would go to sleep when they were writing dialogue for the most exciting moments in the play. “I’d say a line and look over and there Paul would be asleep.”

Five years later when I was again in Chapel Hill, teaching, I met Hugh Wilson, a cousin of Paul Green’s, who told me how exciting and dangerous those weeks were when Wright was in town working with Green on the play. “Of course he couldn’t stay at the Carolina Inn and there was no other place, so we got him a room down on Cameron Avenue in that big Victorian house behind those two giant magnolias. When the Ku Klux got wind he was there in a white neighborhood, they put out word they were going to kill him. Wright never knew that. Night after night Paul and I walked shotgun on that block. Paul would go up Ransom and I’d go down Cameron for a block or so and then we’d walk back and stand on the corner awhile, then patrol again. All night. I don’t know how Paul could write the next day. I didn’t care for Native Son. But Black Boy, that was one helluva book!” We admitted it had changed Wilson’s attitude and mine.

I heard later that Ellen [Wright’s wife] had placed a copy of Black Boy on Wright’s chest before the coffin was closed.


A Freaky Friday Excerpt from the Next McSweeney’s

January 24, 2014 | by


Illustration: Carson Murdach

Do not adjust your set. What you see before you is an excerpt from the latest issue of McSweeney’s, our alluring, laid-back, westerly sister. Curiouser still, the McSweeney’s site has an excerpt from our new interview with Geoff Dyer. Have we gone mad? Yes, because we’re also offering an insane deal: a dual, twenty-percent-off subscription to both our magazines. It’s bonkers—we’re practically burning money. Our accountants are tearing their hair out; our lawyers are sweating through their suits. But if you don’t take advantage of this deal, you’re the crazy one—and it’s only available for seven more days. Subscribe now.




All those mornings, our bodies slicked with a sugary sweat. Pure alcohol. You could’ve tasted the night before just by licking our wrists. Stella arcing back so the girls could do body shots from between her perfect breasts. The men drinking and watching, You’re a flexible little thing, aren’t you, sweetheart?

We were inexhaustible in those final few months, throwing ourselves around every chance we got. Our heads might’ve rolled off and we wouldn’t have noticed. Mine probably did. Amanda and Stella started dancing at the Foxhouse two or three nights a week because the money was good and our rent was insane. Then it was three or four nights. They’d show up at the studio in the morning still smelling of tipping dollars. It’s okay if you’re smart about it, they said, stretching at the barre. If you don’t hate it enough to start looking for ways to forget about it.

You should think on it, said Stella, who was spending half the week as Lola.

That accent. They’d eat it up. Amanda was Ruby from Thursday to Saturday.

A swan dive, I guess you could call it.

Sometimes I want to tell you about this, but I won’t. How the hours slammed up against each other. I’d never seen so many sunrises. We’d peel away our damp costumes and step straight into three-dollar g-strings that were only good for a few nights, until the lace was discolored with sweat. The other girls at the club told us we should stick to darker colors: black, navy, even red. Then we wouldn’t be going through so many pairs. But we knew what we were doing. Pale blue. Sugar pink. White, white, white. Let them think we were angelic. We knew how to be angelic. Read More »


Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Dead of Carinthia

January 3, 2014 | by


Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

As a child, I often heard it said that the inhabitants of the village of my birth who had died away from Carinthia had been repatriated and their bodies committed to the soil of their birth. Siegfried Naschenweng, who died in an automobile accident on Golan Heights, was brought first to Vienna in an airplane, and from there repatriated to Kamering in a hearse from the funeral home in Feistritz. One of my mother’s brothers, who fell in the war in Yugoslavia, was repatriated to Feistritz by train. My uncle picked up his mortal remains with a hay cart drawn by two horses and brought them to Kamering, where they lay exposed one more day in his parents’ farmhouse. Apart from all the deceased enumerated and described in this book, the arms, legs, and skulls nailed to the tall stakes that Wilhelm Müller, author of the text to Franz Schubert’s Winterreise, saw in passing from his carriage, while a young priest made the sign of the cross over every piece of the cadaver, are also repatriated to the graveyard of bitter oranges and coated with the ashes from the statue of Saint Florian, patron saint of fire, that the landholders of Kamering burned when the saint allowed the village, which had been built in the form of a cross at the end of the century before, to be reduced to ashes by two children playing with fire, so that it had to be rebuilt, once more in the form of a cross. The corpses of the then five-year-old children who were forced to live with a skull in their chambers in a Trappist monastery, to dine for years on nothing but bread and potatoes that they themselves planted, who were forced to wear a horse’s bit whenever they spoke a word without permission and had to sleep in coffins when they accidentally slept late in the mornings, once again open their eyes in grave number 24 of the graveyard of bitter oranges.Read More »


Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Bloody Boar

January 2, 2014 | by


Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

The first night after we had moved into a sublet room in Rome, I dreamed of a girl who had a swatch of blood resembling a Hitler moustache on her upper lip. As she approached me, and I kicked my legs at her frantically, blood ran from down over her mouth and chin. I sprang awake, and tried to awaken Andrea, but I seemed to be paralyzed, and it was only minutes later that I could once more move around the bed. I said nothing, and waited more than an hour for sleep to return. After that dream followed a second. Bishops and cardinals in their vestments were dying in a hail of bullets; though they stayed dead in their seats, I could not distinguish a single wound on their bodies. I approached a cardinal and looked long at his body. Then I was jarred awake once more by the clangorous bell of the Convent in the Via Tolmino, which tolls every quarter of an hour and which had only allowed me, my first few nights there, to sleep in fifteen-minute increments.

You no longer show any sign of life? But I write about death, my friend!

I like to be among the dead, they do me no harm, and they are people, too. Read More »