Posts Tagged ‘Harvard’
February 26, 2013 | by Rhoda Feng
The Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is both a misnomer and an anomaly. It has long dedicated itself to the task of promoting the reading and writing of poetry and has, for eighty-five years, served as a niche for poets the world over. While its reputation has bloomed over the years, thanks largely to word-of-mouth praise, it has never fared well financially, partly due to competition from larger stores and the Internet, partly because poetry has never been popular with the masses, and partly because its founder seems to have done everything in his power to ensure that his store not be turned into a business.
Located on Plympton Street in Harvard Square, the Grolier occupies just 404 square feet of space and is dwarfed by the neighboring Harvard Book Store. A white square sign with meticulous black lettering juts out near the top of the store entrance. The font size decreases from top to bottom, much like on an eye exam chart, and one can just make out, at the very top, a finely done illustration of three cats (or is it the same cat?) dozing, grooming, and turning their backs on the viewer.
Upon ascending a small flight of steps, one is greeted by the sight of an abundance of colorful spines—approximately fifteen thousand—neatly arranged against nearly every flat surface of the shop. These volumes are neatly balkanized into several categories, including anthologies, used, African-American, early English, Irish, Russian, Chinese, Iranian, Indian, Latin, classical Greek, Japanese, Korean, East European, Spanish, and Catalan.
Above the towering shelves are approximately seventy black and white photos (many courtesy of the photographer Elsa Dorfman) of poets and other members of the literati for whom the Grolier has served as a meeting place for well over half a century. Among the Grolier’s most illustrious visitors, most of whom are smiling or gazing sagely and serenely ahead in the photos, are T. S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, e. e. cummings, Marianne Moore, James Tate, Donald Hall, and Helen Vendler.
Off to one side at the front of the store sits a lean shelf of chapbooks and a donation jar; a small note says that the chapbooks have been generously donated by the author and that monetary contributions to the shop would be greatly appreciated. Directly across this bookcase is the cash register, propped up on a desk and flanked by sundry items, including bookmarks, promotional literature, pamphlets, business cards, and commemorative pens. On the wall right adjacent to the register hangs a certificate from Boston Magazine honoring the Grolier as the best poetry store of 1994. Read More »
December 26, 2012 | by Avi Steinberg
Porn books and librarians have always had a passionate, mutually defining relationship—it was, in fact, a prudish French librarian in the early nineteenth century who coined the word pornography. So it comes as no surprise that the sexy librarian, a fixture of the pornographic imagination, is most at home in books. Each year, new titles are added to the librarian-porn bookshelf. This past season’s crop included additions like Hot for Librarian by Anastasia Carrera; Lucy the Librarian—Dewey and His Decimal by John and Shauna Michaels; The Nympho Librarian and Other Stories by Chrissie Bentley and Jenny Swallows; A Librarian’s Desire by Ava Delaney, author of the Kinky Club series; and soft-core selections like Sweet Magik by Penny Watson. The conventions of the form—the dimly lit stacks, the librarian’s mask of thick glasses and hair tied into a bun, et cetera—are, of course, well known. Unlike video porn, where these conventions are typically used as a wholesale substitute for narrative, porn books still feel the compulsion to tell a story, to make the glasses and bun mean something. I was curious just what story these new books were telling. What does our most current version of the librarian fantasy say about us? To answer this question, I visited the library.
Almost immediately, I hit a snag. It is close to impossible to browse a serious library’s collection of porn and porn criticism without getting sucked into big, sexy historical theories. Within an hour of my visit to Harvard’s Widener Library, I was beginning to suspect that smut had been behind the rise of … everything. I discovered that pornos caused the French Revolution, and that the Renaissance really got going when images of hard-core, swan-on-guy action began to circulate among the people. Every pornographer of note, it seemed, was a pop philosopher; every philosopher, a closet pornographer. As for the rise of the novel, of literary realism, this, I learned, was linked to a certain eighteenth-century depiction of a ponytailed dude taking it from behind from another ponytailed dude while the first dude gets sucked off by a chick, who is also taking it from behind from yet a third ponytailed dude, all while another chick—who happens to be wearing a lovely Dormeuse-style cap—rides piggyback on the first dude, which positions her perfectly to flog the third dude, while being orally pleasured from behind by the second dude. The caption to this illustration reads, “A Typical Scene.” According to the pile of books I’d stacked onto my library desk, our story is nothing but the evolutionary history of the Porno sapiens.
Just as I was letting this thought settle in, I began to hear moaning sounds. At first, I dismissed these as some kind of auditory hallucination, an occupational hazard of reading too much porn. But then I looked around and determined that this particular moaning belonged to a real woman standing a few rows away. To be precise, she was in the process of being properly pinned to the bookshelf by a male companion. After a hasty glance, I retreated to my carrel but can report that the proceedings were, if not quite spirited, certainly forceful—a book fell from the shelf—and that they terminated in muffled resound and a swift escape.
I was alone again in the silence of the stacks. Never before had the questions of the library sex fantasy been so close at hand yet so elusive. What was the relationship between these library fuckers and what I had been reading? And what was the relationship between the library fuckers and what they had been reading? Wasn’t library sex all about harmonizing books with experience, about connecting our unruly and our rule-abiding selves? And, if so, why did I find that the stories told in last year’s library-porn books consistently painted a grim picture of twenty-first-century library sex? Why did many of the best sex scenes in today’s librarian porn take place outside of a library? Read More »
July 11, 2011 | by Misha Glouberman
As told to Sheila Heti.
I grew up in Montreal and went to an upper-middle-class Jewish day school where kids had parents who maybe owned a carpet store or maybe were dentists. And then I went to Harvard for college. And it was pretty weird.
When I applied, I thought it would be great because I would get to meet lots of smart people. Those were the kinds of people I liked to be friends with, and I thought there would be more of them there. That was the main reason I thought it would be a fun place to be. I don’t think I was super ambitious or professional minded or even a very good student.
The thing I figured out soon after I applied was that, on Gilligan’s Island, it wasn’t the Professor who went to Harvard, it was Mr. Howell, the rich man. That was something of a revelation.
It’s funny, because what a lot of people talk about when they talk about going to Harvard is being really intimidated by the place when they arrive. I wasn’t at all intimidated by the place when I arrived—but I was really intimidated after graduating.
I arrived at Harvard from Montreal, which is a pretty fucking hip place to be an eighteen-year-old. I’d been going to bars for a while, and I was in a political theater company that did shows in lofts with homeless people and South American activists. And we went to pubs and got old gay men to buy us drinks. It was a pretty cool, fun, and exciting life for a kid in Montreal. It was a very vibrant place, and young people were really part of the life of the city.
Then when I went to Harvard, the place was full of these nominally smart, interesting people, all of whom at the age of eighteen seemed perfectly happy to live in dormitories and be on a meal plan and live a fully institutional life. And that was completely maddening! This was the opposite of everything I’d hoped for from the environment I’d be in.
February 7, 2011 | by Blair Fuller
In the winter of 1952, I received a telephone call from my mother, Jane Canfield. There was to be an evening party at my parents’ house on Thirty-eighth Street, she told me. “A Harper’s party,” she added, Harper’s being the publishing house of which Cass, my step-father, was chairman. My mother said that I would be a welcome guest and that my younger sister, Jill, and her husband, Joe Fox, were expected.
I had graduated in June the previous year, delayed by two years in the Navy, at the end of World War II, and another year as a student in France. I wanted to be a writer. The Harvard Advocate had published a short story of mine. In Archibald MacLeish’s writing workshop I had started to write a hopeless novel, and had continued to its uninteresting conclusion months after graduating. Now I was a marketing trainee with the Texas company Texaco and would be posted to West Africa in the summer. These were my last months in New York.
My mother continued, “Someone that I know you admire has accepted—J. D. Salinger.”
I told her I would most certainly come.
The Catcher in the Rye had come out the year before. I had read it with enthusiasm but not with the extreme admiration I felt for his short stories in The New Yorker. They seemed to me matchless in their vividness, especially in conveying his characters’ subtle and complex emotions.
When I arrived that evening, Mary, the maid, was waiting at the door to take the guests’ overcoats, and I could see that the house was as finely turned out as it could be: flowers in the vases and the antique furniture shining. “The bar is on the porch,” Mary told me.
I got a drink and joined Jane and Cass in the living room with “Mac” MacGregor, Harper’s editor-in-chief. Soon Jill and Joe arrived, and for a short time it was a mostly family party. Then, nearly all at once, the thirtysome others crowded in, Salinger among them.
A headshot of him had appeared on the Catcher book jacket—dark hair slicked back above a longish, handsome face. This night he was well dressed in a suit with a faint glen plaid pattern, a white shirt whose collar was secured behind the knot of his necktie by a gold collar pin. His cufflinks caught the light. Why did his elegance surprise me?
September 3, 2010 | by Louisa Thomas
James Blake doesn’t like to make it easy. Not even to cheer for him. One fears association with the odious J-Block, the fans who wear Blake T-shirts and chant Blake’s name and act like asses. It’s hard, too, to embrace a guy who shouts “my house,” as Blake did yesterday after defeating the Canadian Peter Polansky in the second round. Plus, he’s been canonized as an “inspirational figure,” honored on opening night in a ceremony called “Reach & Dream” for being a biracial kid from Yonkers who endured scoliosis, career-threatening injuries and illness, etc. It’s best to avoid athletes who are considered heroes.
Still, I was pulling for him yesterday, and I’ll be pulling for him when he takes on the third seed, Novak Djokovic. Blake is a former top-five player, but he is old and aching, and he needed a wild card to play here. He’s one of the most stubborn players on the tour and one of the most fragile, and therefore one of the most interesting to watch. Blake's flurry of forehand errors during the first-set tiebreak yesterday, including one total mishit, was self-doubt made manifest. He has a propensity to over-hit and to mope, “woe-is-meing around the court,” as commentator Pam Shriver put it during Wimbledon. As someone who over-hits and woe-is-mes around the court, I feel a certain kinship. And, as it happens, Blake once inspired me, though not because of his dramatic story.
I first saw Blake play when he was a Harvard sophomore and I was a high school junior visiting the college. I had heard of Harvard’s dreadlocked wonder and wanted to see him for myself. There were a couple of highly-ranked juniors on my high school team, but I’d never watched any player like Blake. When the ball came off his racket, the laws of physics were suspended. At one point, his opponent hit a deep backhand, forcing Blake onto his back foot and out of position, and then unleashed a sharp cross-court forehand. Blake, who had been scrambling to regain his footing, reversed directions at the moment of content, broke into a flat sprint, and—impossibly!—reached the ball inside the service line of the adjacent court, where he ripped a forehand that sent the ball along a bending and dipping path. It seems silly now—Rafa Nadal hits that forehand practically every match—but I really thought I’d witnessed a miracle. All my efforts to be cool were abandoned. I was on my feet, shrieking, hopping, fluttering my hands.
It was the most memorable moment of the weekend. I sometimes think that it was one of the most memorable moments of my teenage years. What has stuck with me even more vividly than incredibility of the shot was the way Blake looked up into stands after he hit it, a stupid grin on his face. It was clear that he wasn’t looking to the tiny crowd of parents and friends to ratify how awesome he was. Something special had just happened, and he wanted us to be a part of it. And we were.
Blake went pro that summer. He had some early success, but after struggling with grief, illness, and injuries (including a broken neck, suffered when he collided with a net-post), he fell out of the top 200 and found himself playing Challenger matches, the minor leagues. Methodically he worked his way back, and then at the 2005 U.S. Open, he made it to the semis, where he lost to Andre Agassi in a fifth-set tiebreak, in what was one of the best U.S. Open matches ever played.
Blake has always been able to take anyone to five sets, even now. At the Australian Open this year, he lost to last year’s U.S. Open champion, Juan Martin del Potro, in five. It’s a particular talent, losing matches so consistently in that way, and it’s not clear whether he wants to win too much or not enough. He plays an uncompromisingly aggressive, all-or-nothing style. “It’s almost like being a bully out there,” an espn3.com commentator described Blake’s game yesterday afternoon. “If he’s on, he’s a good bully.” I’m not totally sure what that means, but it sounds right. I have my own unjustifiable, sentimental theory for why Blake finds himself in so many epic matches: he plays to be remembered, to be part of something special, more than he plays to win.
August 20, 2010 | by The Paris Review
Raced through a great book this week, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose. He took a semester off from Brown and went undercover at Falwell's Liberty University. The portrait he paints of the place is nuanced and fascinating. —Caitlin Roper
I was amazed to learn, from the strangers at Wolfram Research, that the best hangman word is not “syzygy” but “jazz.” And by the inimitable Jed Perl on Salvador Dali and his “cosmic junkyards,” and what one presumes will be Tony Judt’s last published essay. And, finally, anyone caught up in the resurgent moralistic fuss over steroids and baseball should read Eric Walker’s definitive and dismissive “Steroids, Other ‘Drugs,’ and Baseball.” —David Wallace-Wells
“The Burdens of Manliness,” an article in the summer 2010 Harvard Journal of Law and Gender. John M. Klang makes an amusing disclaimer: “I am sure to provoke disbelieving groans from some of the thoughtful readers of this Journal … I should add at the outset, however, that mine is neither a contrived joke borne of some middle-aged fraternity dare nor a stale plea left over from the sensitive troglodyte yearnings of the 1980s Men’s Movement.” —Daisy Atterbury
Seeing as Tom McCarthy's new novel, C, is coming out in a few weeks, I thought it might be worth re-reading his last, Remainder. It was. In contrast to many recent "novels of ideas," McCarthy doesn't discuss concepts and theories: he sets them in motion, in a way only the narrative arts can—leaving the discussion for his readers. A beautifully rendered work. —Mark de Silva
I've been slowly making my way through The Magic Mountain. For the length of an entire subway ride, I can escape to a European sanatorium, where six-course meals are served by dwarves, young ladies whistle with their nitrogen-inflated lungs, and naps on reclining deck chairs are mandatory. —Miranda Popkey
Rereading The Beautiful and Damned. Why? Because there it was at St. Mark's Books, and there I was late for a haircut with nothing to read—and because, really, what could be better? —Lorin Stein