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Posts Tagged ‘Granta’

What We’re Loving: Pragmatism, Professional Consultants, Pubic Crests

January 31, 2014 | by


Walter Battiss, Wandering Nude 1, 1978, oil on canvas.

Pop quiz! Which American philosopher coined the following expressions: pluralism, time-line, healthy-minded, live option, stream of consciousness, and the bitch-goddess success. Hint: he counted among his most devoted students Gertrude Stein, Theodore Roosevelt, and W.E.B. DuBois. Last hint, from a letter he wrote to his little brother Henry, in 1902: “You have created a new genre littéraire which I can’t help thinking perverse, but in which you nevertheless succeed, for I read with interest to the end (many pages and innumerable sentences twice over to see what the dickens they could possibly mean).” If you guessed William James (correctly), you probably remember him as the main inventor of “pragmatism,” the can-do philosophy that professional philosophers love to hate. But as Robert D. Richardson shows in his 2006 biography William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism, it is hard to imagine a livelier, more lovable mind. As a scientist, James did original work on everything from evolution to spiritualism. As a philosopher, he anticipated everyone from Bergson to Wittgenstein to Austin to Daniel Kahneman. As a person, James is the most appealing kind of genius, continually inspired by his family, by his friendships and romances, and by communion with what he called “the hidden self,” where we are most vulnerable and alive. —Lorin Stein

The latest issue of Granta includes “Nudity,” an essay by Norman Rush about his youthful encounters with the body au naturel. Rush’s parents dabbled in a kind of functional nudism, which we might today call “letting it all hang out.” “The nudity of my parents did not assuage my ripening interest, but inflamed it,” he writes. “I wanted to see other naked female humans, and I wanted my father to keep his bathrobe on.” Though the piece mostly chronicles the young Rush’s quest to see live nudes, it takes an astonishing, affecting swerve in its final paragraph, which I won’t spoil here. It also includes, of course, those quintessentially Rushian terms for the female anatomy, “escutcheon” (the pubic crest) and “introitus” (just look it up). —Dan Piepenbring

Sunday is Groundhog Day (fingers crossed!), but I’ve been heralding the arrival of spring for days now, however futile my attempts may be. Perhaps that’s why I picked up Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book this week. I’ve read Jansson’s Moomin comics and her children’s books, but I haven’t ever delved into her prose. This book—a series of interrelated vignettes about a girl and her grandmother on a quiet island in the Gulf of Finland—is a treasure. Its stories are miniatures not just in length but in perspective as well: sometimes literally, as when the grandmother lays down near the beach and studies a blade of grass, a fluff of down, and a piece of bark in the sand by her face. Through her examination, their minute details are writ large; the bark, for instance, becomes “a very ancient mountain.” And when she finally gazes past them, to the wider world, it no longer looks so big. —Nicole Rudick

The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish is a paean to that now-extinct species, the “dress doctor,” a professional consultant who helped average citizens navigate questions of style and economy in a rapidly changing landscape. How should a working girl look professional on a budget? How might a farm wife stretch a yard of fabric and still be chic? And how to incorporate principles of harmony, proportion, balance, rhythm, emphasis into every aspect of aesthetic life? The author, Linda Przybyszewski, is an academic, and the book serves as an informative cultural history. But more than this, it is a tribute to a time when style—and maybe even life—felt more straightforward, and however arbitrary, there were definitive answers. —Sadie Stein Read More »


What We’re Loving: Neuroscience, Drugs, and Poetry

July 12, 2013 | by


Our contributor Ben Lerner turned me on to an astonishing new book, White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin, by Michael W. Clune. A graduate student in the English department at Johns Hopkins, Clune led a double life as a junkie that in the late nineties took him from the slums of Baltimore to a Chicago jail, and, eventually, into recovery. But White Out is more than a recovery memoir. It is a phenomenology of heroin addiction—the single best thing I have read about the drug—and a deep, often beautiful meditation on the nature of memory, pleasure, and time. “In the timeless space of dope I discovered that time is the great enemy of thought … The teacup I hold in my hand is a bullet shot out of a gun. It’s no wonder that it’s so impossibly hard to think in these conditions. It’s no wonder that maggots grow in fresh meat, that an electric bill is overdue as soon as you open it, that the first time you try something you’re already addicted.” —Lorin Stein

You may remember Samuel Delany from, among other things, our Spring 2011 issue. In that interview, he briefly mentions Dennis, his partner of more than twenty years. Among the photographs we considered to accompany the conversation were shots of Chip and Dennis on the couch in their Harlem apartment, and though they didn’t make the final cut, the images contained an intimacy that was, frankly, very touching. Little did I know that their relationship is the subject of its own book. First published twenty-five years ago and reissued this month by Fantagraphics, Bread and Wine is a graphic novella that gives their origin story, beginning when Dennis had been living on the streets in New York for six years. Loosely structured around Hölderlin’s elegy of the same name, the book is told from Delany’s point of view and is by turns realist and direct and revelatory and romantic. In the same way, Mia Wolff’s superb black-and-white art is alternately detailed and spare, drawing the most out of this honest and heartfelt tale. —Nicole Rudick

David Searcy’s essay “The Hudson River School,” in the latest issue of Granta, is about a lot of things: western Texas, Google Maps, coyotes, the Jared Coffin House, and flossing. And just like his previous essays in the Review (here and here) and his fiction, Searcy leaves it up to the reader to put together the pieces. I’ve always loved that in books. My favorite section is his take on the theater of Google Maps, when you click from one point to another, sweeping “away to the rear like smoke in a wind before things re-materialize around the next coordinate” and the smudges in the distance could be anything—a sheep, a crying child, or, simply, emptiness. —Justin Alvarez

I came across Oliver Sacks’s An Anthropologist on Mars on the bookshelf of the house where I’m staying. Sacks writes on the peculiarities of the human brain with both awe and humility; he trusted his patients’ accounts of rare achromatopsia, of reprieve from total blindness, and of anterograde amnesia when no other doctors would. The fact that it was published twenty years ago and still offers significant theories on neurology speaks to Sacks’s importance in the medical and literary worlds. —Ellen Duffer

The small coastal commune of Cassis, located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of Southern France, is a hub of tourism, boasting a coastline of stunning inlets (calanques) and an abundance of venues for consumption of moules-frites. While visiting last week, I was surprised to come upon a poetry shop, selling nothing but customized and framed poems and boasting “plus de 4000 poèmes à votre service pour ceux que vous aimez.” A refreshing change from overpriced bottled water! —Kate Rouhandeh



Honors Galore, and Other News

April 16, 2013 | by


  • The lit Pulitzer: back and better than ever.
  • Granta presents its Best of Young British Novelists issue.
  • A gorgeous slide show of the selected writers.
  • Simon & Schuster is test-driving an e-book lending program with New York libraries. In addition to checking out titles, patrons will be able to buy directly, with libraries taking a cut.
  • “Intrigued” would be putting it too strongly, but we are mildly curious to see how Go the Fuck to Sleep gets stretched into a movie.






    Aamer Hussein on ‘The Cloud Messenger’

    October 18, 2011 | by

    Aamer Hussein, courtesy of the writer.

    Though The Cloud Messenger is Aamer Hussein’s first novel, it comes after five collections of stories and a novella, Another Gulmohar Tree. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, but a long-time resident of London, Hussein has dramatized the sorts of encounters between and within cultures that reflect his own facility in seven languages. He writes with intelligent restraint about the experience of displacement, but also the indelible richness of wherever we like to think of as home. The Cloud Messenger draws on his own unsentimental education as a student of Farsi to create a romance about language and the unexpected life that reading and translating can take. Last year, we met to discuss the Granta anthology of writing from and about Pakistan at his home in West London.

    Could you begin by explaining your background?

    I’m from Karachi, third-generation in almost an accidental way, because both my grandfather and father were born there, even though they hadn’t lived there very much until after partition because of certain historical … mishaps, you might say. My mother is from Northern India and from a much more traditional family, although her father was an academic.Read More »


    Staff Picks: Bookplate Porn; Peanut Butter and Scotch

    August 19, 2011 | by

    I spent probably an hour paging through Martin Hopkinson’s Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates at the Strand last week, then went back and bought it. If there’s such a thing as bookplate porn, this gorgeous book is the ultimate. —Sadie Stein

    I’ve been reading Robert Gottlieb’s Lives and Letters, a wonderful collection of essays on some of the century’s most illustrious figures. The portraits of the women, like Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, and Margot Fonteyn, particularly sparkle. But my favorite is the short piece on Diana Vreeland, who once said, “Peanut butter is the greatest invention since Christianity,” about her daily lunch: a whole-wheat PB-and-marmalade sandwich, with a glass of scotch. —Ali Pechman

    Adam Zagajewski’s Unseen Hand came out in June, and I wish I hadn’t waited until now to read it. —Clare Fentress

    Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf’s final novel, was edited by Leonard and published posthumously with his revisions. Cambridge’s new annotated edition not only restores the original draft, but also provides a rich halo of context. –Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

    While a staff pick praising the work of the Review’s Southern editor John Jeremiah Sullivan feels a lot like Lemmy wearing a Motorhead shirt, Sullivan’s forthcoming collection of essays, Pulphead, is hands down the best thing I’ve read all year. Sullivan’s voice is straight out of bar stories, and his subjects—from Christian rockers at Creationfest to the Indiana origins of Axl Rose to proto–Tea Party protesters—line up for comic exploitation like so many fish in a barrel. But at the moment when lesser writers would pull the trigger and snigger, Sullivan steps back and asks you to understand the people he encounters on their own terms. Which is not to say the essays won’t have you laughing louder than public decency allows—because they will. But it’s their rare combination of bracing intelligence and empathy that stays with you. —Peter Conroy

    My most anticipated summer film: Don’t Fear the Internet. Next step is getting cast in the sequel to the Facebook movie (a girl can dream). —Mackenzie Beer

    After discovering that Netflix is streaming a handful of films by Hong Kong maestro Johnnie To, I went straight for The Heroic Trio, a kinetic superheroine flick starring Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, and Maggie Cheung. Yes, it is that good. —Nicole Rudick

    If you have a moment, try Mavis Gallant’s Granta essay on “Memory and Invention.” –S.S.

    Passive-aggressive little notepad, you remind me of my fifth-grade teacher. Other than that, I have no theories as to what’s going on here. Disturbing and fun! —A.P.


    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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