- Many twelve-year-olds write novels. Few of them garner attention from Alfred A. Knopf, who published The House Without Windows in 1926, when its author, Barbara Newhart Follett, was still young enough to write to a friend, “Daddy and I are correcting the manuscript.” The book attracted enough critical renown to make Barbara famous, thus ensuring that her life went to pieces—she disappeared in 1939, and no one close to her ever saw her again.
- Virginia Woolf’s turbulent final years were well documented in her correspondence, which is full of sorrow and incoherent lapses into a kind of bliss. “As I told you brutally the other day, I feel no attraction in you. There are moments—when you kissed me the other day was one—when I feel no more than a rock,” she wrote to Leonard Woolf, whom she later married. But then, later: “I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good … I don’t think two people could have been happier.”
- Frederic Tuten remembers his friend Roy Lichtenstein: “People were so shocked by Roy’s paintings in the beginning—it was almost as if he had committed a sacrilege … But the point was, if you make what you think is a work of art, you’re going to do what everyone does. If you make a painting as good as Cezanne or Picasso, so what? Nothing has been added, nothing has been brought forward, nothing has been made to change our conception of painting. This is what I, as a young writer … thought I had learned from Roy. No writer I knew personally at that time gave me the feeling that there was something yet fresh to be done in fiction.”
- What does it really mean to be creepy, at the end of the day? Does it have something to do with “displaced sexual energy”? “We can be creeped out by corporations, by places, by inanimate objects, even by periods of time (who is not vaguely creeped out by the 1970s?). We hesitate to say that these things are inherently creepy, and yet the judgment that something is creepy seems somehow more than simply ‘subjective.’ ”
- Time was, any major metropolis worth its salt had a splendorous cathedral on offer. But there’s a more important metric these days: “Cathedrals remain powerful statements of a culture and, to Christians, significant symbols of their faith, but if I were drawing up the rules for what made a city of any worth, my first point of reference would be its botanical garden. These days, I find I have no need of organised religion to guide me through the days. Yet as a denizen of what Henry Miller called ‘the air-conditioned nightmare,’ I find comfort in almost any exposure to the intricate order of the natural world.”
On a recent Sunday evening, in a lounge at the Jane Hotel in Manhattan, the writers Kurt Andersen and Anne Kreamer enacted before an audience the final pages of The Adventures of Mao on the Long March, a 1971 work of literary pastiche by the author Frederic Tuten. Andersen played the role of Chairman Mao, sitting for a fictitious interview. “Have you seen Godard’s La Chinoise?” asked Kreamer, playing his interlocutor. “Have you seen Dali’s Mao/Marilyn?” “Chairman Mao, perhaps I might ask your opinion on birth control.” Tuten himself, a septuagenarian in a black blazer, sat at the front of the room, beaming with happiness at the event held in his honor.
If you have not heard of The Adventures of Mao, you would not have been out of place at its marathon reading. Indeed, some of those who gathered to participate in the reading—a roster including Lydia Davis, Wallace Shawn, Walter Mosley, John Guare, and Edmund White—admitted to having had only a glancing familiarity with the novel or its author. Yet The Adventures of Mao, about, as the title suggests, the Chinese dictator’s rise to power, has always had its advocates; Susan Sontag called it “soda pop, a cold towel, or a shady spot under a tree for culture-clogged footsoldiers on the American long march.” In 1972, the book achieved that pinnacle of literary attention, the John Updike New Yorker review. Analyzing the novel’s five distinct modes—textbooklike history of the Long March; ample direct quotation from the likes of Hawthorne, Melville, and Fenimore Cooper; passages of literary parody of authors such as Kerouac and Malamud; “normal novelistic substance—imaginary encounters and conversations”; and, finally, that extended interview with Chairman Mao—Updike declared the resulting sum “an intelligent, taut, and entertaining change from conventional novels.”
Despite Mao’s champions over the decades—New Directions embalmed it as one of its classics in 2005—the event at the Jane Hotel was in some ways an unlikely one. It had all begun in the Strand Bookstore, where three men in their twenties stumbled upon the book and brought it to their book club. Read More