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Posts Tagged ‘Francine Prose’

Where Every Night Is Ladies’ Night, and Other News

June 17, 2015 | by

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Thomas Rowlandson, The Covent Garden Night Mare, 1784.

  • Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s 1949 Cré na Cille is a landmark work of Irish modernism, available now in a new translation called The Dirty Dust. It’s a must-read for connoisseurs of decomposition: “All the characters are dead and speaking from inside their coffins, which are interred in a graveyard in Connemara, on Ireland’s west coast. The novel has no physical action or plot, but rather some 300 pages of cascading dialogue without narration, description, stage direction, or any indication of who’s speaking when.” If there’s an afterlife, let’s hope God isn’t a modernist.
  • Of course, the God of antiquity wasn’t such a stand-up guy, either. The Bible finds Jesus promising a rich man “treasure in heaven” if only he’ll give to the poor in life. Somewhere along the line, that caveat fell by the wayside: “By the third century, however, in both Judaism and Christianity, the gesture of giving had become miniaturized, as it were. One did not have to perform feats of heroic self-sacrifice or charity to place treasure in heaven. Small gifts would do … Heaven was thus not only a place of great treasure houses, it included prime real estate in a state of continuous construction due to almsgiving performed on earth by means of common, coarse money.”
  • If you were a woman wandering the streets of eighteenth-century London at night, you were generally taken for a prostitute. A 1754 book called The Midnight-Ramble: or, The Adventures of Two Noble Females: Being a True and Impartial Account of their Late Excursion through the Streets of London and Westminsteralmost certainly written by a man, of course—supposedly aimed to rebuke young ladies for their wanton behavior. But it probably only served to encourage them—these “noble females” seem to have had a great time after dark:The two women resolve to disguise themselves as monks in order to monitor their husbands’ nocturnal activities in the city. In prosecuting this plan, they commission their milliner, Mrs Flim, whose name signals that she is adept at idle deception, to bring them ‘ordinary Silk Gowns, close Capuchins, and black Hats.’ And, having taken care ‘to exhilerate their Spirits with a Bottle of excellent Champain,’ the three of them set off in pursuit of the men.”
  • Elizabeth Taylor wrote twelve novels and several collections of stories, but her name recognition was compromised—turns out there was a certain actress who also happened to go by Elizabeth Taylor. “Another, more eventful world intrudes from time to time in the form of fan letters to the other Elizabeth Taylor,” she wrote. “Men write to me and ask for a picture of me in my bikini. My husband thinks I should send one and shake them, but I have not got a bikini.”
  • Francine Prose on Felix Moeller’s new documentary Forbidden Films, a harrowing study of the cinema of Nazi indoctrination: “One of the most fascinating and disturbing sequences in Forbidden Films deals with Ich Klage An (1941), I Accuse, a film that was used to foster public discussions of euthanasia and to persuade the German public of the necessity of the Nazi euthanasia program. In the film, a doctor’s young and beautiful wife, afflicted with multiple sclerosis, begs her husband to ‘release’ her before her sufferings increase and she degenerates into an unrecognizable version of herself … ‘Her suffering was inhumane,’ the doctor claims in his own defense. ‘That is why I released her.’ During the period that the film was being produced and shown, the Nazis had already murdered, or would subsequently murder, a total of some 70,000 people ... ”

Trollope on the TV, and Other News

April 27, 2015 | by

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An illustration from Trollope’s Barchester Towers, which precedes Doctor Thorne in his Chronicles of Barsetshire series.

  • Rachel Kushner, Francine Prose, Peter Carey, and at least three other prominent writers have declined to attend the PEN American Center Gala on the grounds that it honors Charlie Hebdo, known for its scathing portrayals of Muslims and “the disenfranchised generally.” “I couldn’t imagine being in the audience when they have a standing ovation for Charlie Hebdo,” Prose said.
  • Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame, has announced plans to adapt Trollope’s 1858 novel Doctor Thorne for television. Love, real estate, alcoholism—this novel has it all. No word yet on who will play the Duke of Omnium.
  • If Silicon Valley scuttlebutt is right, “snackable content”—bite-size morsels of dubiously nutritious entertainment—is now the most popular stuff on the Internet. What we ought to do, then, is start to serialize novels again. “Publishers could release novels—either completed upfront or written month to month—on their own imprints or through periodicals such as People or The Paris Review.” (We can’t speak for People, but we’ve serialized two novels in the past few years, and we don’t intend to stop.)
  • Young writers get all the attention—and, more important, all the awards. But “age-based awards are outdated and discriminatory, even if unintentionally so. Emerging writers are emerging writers.”
  • Earlier this month, Adrienne Raphel wrote about the history of “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo” for the Daily—now she’s spoken to NPR’s “All Things Considered” about it.
  • Davide Monteleone, an Italian photographer, is working on In the Russian East, a series of “faces and uniforms” taken along the Trans-Siberian Railway—and a tribute to Richard Avedon’s 1985 book In the American West.

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They Never Slept, and Other News

January 15, 2015 | by

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  • Mona Simpson (a Paris Review alumna) remembers Robert Stone: “He’s certainly not sentimental about the counterculture, or for that matter about much else … In a sense he’s definitely writing about our confrontation with other cultures and what that does to the souls and psyches of the people who are doing that, who are not necessarily the people who plan to do that.”
  • Whatever became of the Pinkertons? The history of the nineteenth century’s premier “national detective agency”: “During the early 1890s, the Pinkertons, as they were more commonly known, had boasted a force of 2,000 active operatives and some 30,000 reserve officers. By comparison, the United States Army, which for decades had been primarily concerned with fighting Native Americans in the West, had fewer than 30,000 officers and enlisted men assigned to active duty. To their enemies—usually the labor unions—the Pinkertons were a private militia at the beck and call of industrialists, bankers, and other agents of capitalism. The state of Ohio outlawed the Pinkertons for fear that they could form an army outside the purview of the American government.”
  • Cangrande della Scala, an Italian nobleman and patron of Dante, died under mysterious circumstances in 1329; many have wondered if he was poisoned. The key to the mystery: his mummified feces.
  • Francine Prose was reading an e-book edition of Vanity Fair, until she got the news that e-book retailers can see what percentage of your books you’ve finished: “As soon as I get home, I’m putting away my e-book and opening my volume of Thackeray. I will happily bear its weight … I don’t like the feeling that a stranger (electronic or human) is spying on my sojourn in Vanity Fair. Whether or not I finish a book will be a secret between me and my bookmark, and someday my grandchildren may be interested (or not) to see when I quit dog-earing the corners of the pages.”
  • What can political cartoons do beyond messages of solidarity? We might look at how Arab cartoonists have responded to their own local and national conflicts … When Westerners were decapitated in Syria this past August, cartoonists made light of the Islamic State’s campaign of terror … While the world recoiled with revulsion at the executions, cartoonists unveiled imagery that shocked in order to shame the Islamic State jihadis and other extremists. This is offensive. This is also Muslims critiquing Muslims­­. Beheading cartoons are an answer to anti-Muslim chatter, and that vapid intonation of ‘Where are the moderate Muslims?’ They’re drawing.”

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What We’re Loving: Gardens, Riches, and Kidneys

June 15, 2012 | by

The classical novel exists, in large part, to teach us how to imagine money—the more than we’ll ever have, the more than we’ll ever lose. Nobody today writes more convincingly about lucre than Jonathan Dee. You glance up from The Privileges thinking, Sure, I can imagine how it would feel to be that level of mega-filthy, godalmighty rich—it’s like grasping some exotic theorem—then you dive back in to watch the Moreys make even more. (For a round-up of moneycentric novels, check out Christian Lorentzen in the new Bookforum.) —Lorin Stein

I’m not a gardener—I can hardly tell tulips from forget-me-nots—but I have many friends who are, and I’ve just come across the perfect book for them. James Fenton’s A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed is short, witty, and useful. If you were starting a flower garden from scratch, Fenton asks, what flowers would you choose to grow in it? The names themselves are a pleasure to read: the Shoo-Fly Plant (also known as the Apple of Peru), the Pheasant’s Eye, the Iceland Poppy, the Blue Pygmy. Fenton also gives sound advice: “When handling seedlings, always hold them by the leaves, not by the stem”; and, “Forcefully remind your cat about the difference between seed trays and litter boxes.” —Robyn Creswell

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What We’re Loving: Sake Bars, Met Balls, and Rhubarb

May 4, 2012 | by

I’m hooked on The Briefcase, by Hiromi Kawakami, a sentimental novel about the friendship, formed over late nights at a sake bar, between a Tokyo woman in her late thirties and her old high school teacher. It’s interesting enough to read about an aging woman drawn to an older man; when this attraction comes wrapped up in Japanese nostalgia for old fashioned inns, mushroom hunting, refined manners, and Basho, how can a person resist? I can only imagine what wizardry must have gone into Allison Markin Powell’s translation. —Lorin Stein

There are so many intriguing events associated with the PEN World Voices Festival this week. One I’ll be catching for sure is this little-seen documentary on Diane Arbus, actually a taping of the photographer discussing a slide show of her work in 1970. The viewing will be followed by readings from Diane Arbus: A Chronology by Francine Prose, Michael Cunningham, and Arbus’s daughter, Doon. —Sadie Stein

The PULSE Contemporary Art Fair is here! Today through Sunday at the Metropolitan Pavilion, galleries from around the world are exhibiting the best of contemporary art. Whether your interest and pockets are shallow or deep, you could easily be held captive for hours, lost in the endless spectacles and hidden nooks. It’s an adventure, so may I suggest comfortable shoes? —Elizabeth Nelson

Two years ago I started reading (and devouring) the Smitten Kitchen blog. I have since made more than thirty of her recipes and have been waiting for her forthcoming first cookbook. This week she posted a sneak peek, so time to start some seasonal cooking—especially as farmer’s markets everywhere have the first spring produce, like asparagus and rhubarb! —Emily Cole-Kelly

Most people will eat fifteen hundred PB&Js before graduating high school. I’ve easily consumed twice that since then. I love peanut butter. I love the taste of it mixed with a good jam. Statistics about the sandwich are always fascinating: women prefer creamy and men crunchy (I only eat crunchy); the vast majority of people put the peanut butter on first (I do, too, but it just makes sense, right?). Leave it to Ruth Reichl to make a great thing even better. Who knew that a little salt and heat could improve upon perfection. —Nicole Rudick

My invitation to the Met’s Costume Institute Ball seems to have been mysteriously lost in the mail, but reading through the gorgeous companion volume to the Schiaparelli and Prada exhibition is (I’m sure) every bit as interesting, and nearly as glamorous. —S.S.

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Staff Picks: Chad Harbach, The Mets, Masters of the Sob

May 27, 2011 | by

Last Sunday I stayed in bed till one P.M.—then stayed up till two A.M.—reading the galleys of Chad Harbach’s first novel, The Art of Fielding. To say it’s the best novel I’ve read about a college shortstop would be true, as far as it went, but it’s about more than that: “For Schwartz this formed the paradox at the heart of baseball, or football, or any other sport. You loved it because you considered it an art: an apparently pointless affair, undertaken by people with a special aptitude, which sidestepped attempts to paraphrase its value yet somehow seemed to communicate something true or even crucial about The Human Condition. The Human Condition being, basically, that we’re alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not.” —Lorin Stein

I’ve been reading Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker article about New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon with mixed feelings. What Wilpon says about his players makes one wonder if he’s trying to sabotage his own team (which is also mine). Carlos Beltran is overpaid, David Wright is overpraised, José Reyes is always injured. These are opinions an owner should keep to himself. But when Wilpon says, “We’re snakebitten, baby,” he sounds like a true Mets fan to me. —Robyn Creswell

If you haven’t read any of Diana Athill’s work, I highly recommend Midsummer Night in the Workhouse, a collection of her short fiction recently released by Persephone. Funny, engaging, and unexpected. —Sadie Stein

I very much enjoyed Francine Prose’s short essay “Other Women” in the new feminist-themed Granta. Prose was secretly writing her first novel as a graduate student. She joined a feminist consciousness-raising group, and, after selling the book, she left her husband and moved to San Francisco. Somehow, she says, she became a feminist. But was it before or after she discovered her husband had slept with nearly every single woman in the group? —Thessaly La Force

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