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Posts Tagged ‘J.M. Coetzee’

What We’re Loving: Self-Help, Self-Hate, Sense and Sensibility

November 1, 2013 | by

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In the last month, thanks to some timely advice from Sam Lipsyte in the Oslo airport, I’ve gone back to two books that I could never get through as a kid: Blood Meridian and Sense and Sensibility. Blood Meridian still defeats me, though I got about halfway through. Does every pueblo have to be ruinous, every puddle some shade of crimson? Will the Judge ever shut up about Darwin? The book it keeps comparing itself to is Moby-Dick, but Moby-Dick doesn’t compare itself to anything, and isn’t—or doesn’t feel—anywhere near as long. Sense and Sensibility, on the other hand, was just my speed. The last two pages are so good, I tore them out and pinned the sheet over my desk as a talisman. (The airport paperback had a painting of Spanish Gibson girls on the cover, and had to be thrown away.) —Lorin Stein

First published in 1957, the late Daniel Anselme’s On Leave chronicles one week in the lives of three soldiers, furloughed in Paris. Anselme, a resistance fighter and journalist, interviewed many conscripted men while researching the novel, and its unflinching look at the horrors of the Algerian conflict meant it was initially ignored by critics and never reprinted or translated. A new edition by Faber & Faber brings this “lost novel” to a whole new readership, and that’s a good thing. While it’s not a light or easy read (although David Bellos’s translation is spare and clear), it remains deeply affecting and, needless to say, relevant. —Sadie O. Stein Read More »

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What We’re Loving: The New York Review, Baghdad, Fire

October 18, 2013 | by

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The funny thing about the New York Review’s fiftieth anniversary issue is that it’s basically just a slightly fatter version of the normal product. Here’s Zadie Smith on girl-watching with her father. Here’s Frederick Seidel with a poem I badly wish we’d published ourselves. Here’s Chabon on Pynchon, Mendelsohn on Game of Thrones, and Timothy Garton-Ash writing (unenviably and with aplomb) on the ethos of the Review itself. Here’s Justice Stephen Breyer discussing Proust with a French journalist (Breyer turns out to be the only person about whom one is actually glad to know how Proust changed his life), plus Richard Holmes on Keats, Diane Johnson on MFA programs, Adam Shatz on Charlie Parker, Coetzee on Patrick White—and this is just the beginning. (As usual, I’m saving the politics for last.) There is one discovery I have to single out. In 1949 the German novelist Hans Keilson published one of the stranger World War II novels ever written, a novel later translated into English under the enigmatic title The Death of the Adversary. Thanks to Claire Messud’s beautiful essay on Camus, I think I may know where Keilson’s translator got the phrase. Camus, 1945: “I am not made for politics, because I am incapable of wanting or accepting the death of the adversary.” Thank you, Ms. Messud. Thank you, New York Review. —Lorin Stein

Has any city been so cursed by history and so blessed in its poets as Baghdad? Reuven Snir, a scholar with family roots in Baghdad’s Jewish community, has edited and translated Baghdad: The City in Verse, an anthology of poems from the eighth century to the present, which has been my bedside reading for the last week. There are poems of debauchery (“Baghdad is not an abode for hermits,” an early poet warns his readers), nostalgia, and lament. The mournful note is especially strong in the later poems. But it is already there in Ishaq al-Khuraymi’s “Elegy for Baghdad,” a lament written in the aftermath of a civil war, which remembers a city “surrounded by vineyards, palm trees, and basil,” but now sees a wasteland of widows and dry wells, with “the city split into groups, / the connections between them cut off.” The Mongol invasion of 1258, when tradition says the Tigris ran black with the ink of books and red with the blood of scholars, was still four hundred years away. —Robyn Creswell Read More »

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Books and Bodies: On Organs and Literary Estates

August 22, 2012 | by

The New Yorker made headlines this month by publishing “new” work by F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Thank You for the Light” had been rejected by the magazine in 1936 when Fitzgerald first submitted it, but editorial judgments—like love, pain, and kitchen knives—have a way of dulling over time.

“We’re afraid that this Fitzgerald story is altogether out of the question,” read the original note spurning the story. “It seems to us so curious and so unlike the kind of thing we associate with him, and really too fantastic.”

Resubmitted by Fitzgerald’s grandchildren, “Thank You for the Light” was, at least by Fitzgerald’s own standards, ready for publication. Its condition differs greatly from his final work, tentatively titled The Love of the Last Tycoon but published as The Last Tycoon in 1941. Fitzgerald died of a heart attack before he could finish the novel, so what went to press was a version of his incomplete draft, notes, and outlines pieced together by the literary critic Edmund Wilson. In his preface to the novel, Wilson wrote, “It has been possible to supplement this unfinished draft with an outline of the rest of the story as Fitzgerald intended to develop it.”

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What We’re Loving: Dorian Gray, Sex with Immortals

July 27, 2012 | by

Last Thursday, finding myself with an hour to kill in London, I stopped into Lutyens & Rubinstein bookstore in Notting Hill. No Paris Review (sigh), but I did pick up the Summer issue of Slightly Foxed, a quarterly devoted to little essays about people’s favorite books. The clerk claimed it’s the most popular lit mag they stock. And it’s easy to see why. Crome Yellow, The Lost Oases, The Elegies of Quintilius, and a guide to British sea birds give some idea of the miscellany. Read one issue back to back and you could cross every conceivable reader off your Christmas list. —Lorin Stein

How, exactly, do a human and a god have sex? For Elizabeth Costello, the eponymous protagonist of J. M. Coetzee’s novel, it is less a question of metaphysics than of mechanics. “Bad enough to have a full-grown male swan jabbing webbed feet into your backside while he has his way, or a one-ton bull leaning his moaning weight on you,” she thinks. But when the god does not change form, how does the human body accommodate itself to “the blast of his desire”? What makes the passage so interesting is not only Costello’s amusing speculations on the impracticality of cosmic coupling but the way such a question allows Coetzee to reflect on the whole messy business of the god-human relationship. The gods may never die, he suggests, but that doesn’t mean they know how to live. —Anna Hadfield

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On the Shelf

October 12, 2011 | by

Steve Jobs. Photo by COG LOG LAB.

A cultural news roundup.

  • Roberto Saviano has won the PEN/Pinter International Writer of Courage Award for his exposés on the Naples mafia.
  • Steve Jobs, the movie?
  • Catch-22, the cartoon!
  • Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker is now an editor at large at Faber & Faber.
  • Christopher Hitchens: “The influence of Larkin is much greater than I thought. He’s perfect for people who are thinking about death. You’ve got that old-line Calvinist pessimism and modern, acid cynicism—a very good combo. He’s not liking what he sees, and not pretending to.”
  • Amy Winehouse’s father, Mitch, will write a memoir.
  • Asterix goes on the road in his retirement.
  • Audio fiction goes Hollywood.
  • Dale Carnegie goes digital.
  • Margaret Atwood goes green.
  • Coetzee’s papers, meanwhile, go to the University of Texas.
  • “The first real recipes for what you could identify as biscotti come from about 1550 or so.”
  • Franzen on David Foster Wallace’s non-fiction.
  • Literary matchmaking.
  • Literary jerks.
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    A Week in Culture: Jacques Testard, Editor, Part 2

    February 9, 2011 | by

    This is the second installment of Testard’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

    DAY FOUR

    9:47 A.M. I have a mild headache and I am only on life number three of Dalrymple’s Nine Lives. I’m beginning to think that it’s quite difficult to get any reading done at a literary festival. When we got home last night I asked Forty to pick me up at 9:30 A.M. He asked me for two cigarettes as a token of goodwill. I complied. He never turned up.

    10:34 A.M. I’m attending a showcase panel on “Why Books Matter” with Kiran Desai and Penguin CEO John Makinson. It’s being filmed for the BBC and the spotlights are on the audience. It’s quite painful on the eyes. According to Sunil Sethi, who presents the only literary show on Indian television, book sales are rising by fifteen to eighteen percent per year in India. I find that very hard to believe. One interjection from the floor offers an interesting insight into this phenomenon. “It is not true Mr. Sethi,” says Mumbaikar. “In Bombay the Encyclopaedia Britannica is very popular but that is because it matches the furniture.” That’s more like it.

    1:15 P.M. It’s lunch time. I’ve just had my photo taken by a dozen journalists as a smiling Indian man with neat white hair placed a piece of naan bread onto my plate. I might be in the papers tomorrow—his name is Javed Akhtar and he is a very famous lyricist for Bollywood songs, I’m told. I was an extra in a Bollywood film once. I had to wear a tweed suit at a beach party and pretend to swig from a magnum bottle of vodka.

    7:40 P.M. Salman Ahmad has just taken to the stage. The Guardian has described him as Pakistan’s answer to Bono. Kamila Shamsie wrote a piece on the rise of pop music in the Pakistan issue of Granta1 last year on the emergence of pop music in the eighties which charted Ahmad’s rise and his turn to Sufi Islam for inspiration.

    10:36 P.M. I’m sharing a drink with Samrat, whose debut novel The Urban Jungle came off the press yesterday. He’s just given me a signed copy of it—it’s a modern rewriting of Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Samrat tells me that Sunil Sethi’s statistics on the growth of the book market in India are inaccurate. An English language best-seller in India sells no more than five thousand copies, according to Samrat. I’ve since been looking online and cannot find any information either way. Surely that’s too low?

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    Annotations

    1. I have just realised I am plugging Granta in The Paris Review’s pages. I studied at Oxford anyway and Granta is a Cambridge magazine. Lorin, I’m on your side.

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