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Posts Tagged ‘John le Carré’

Poor Judas, and Other News

April 3, 2015 | by


Giovanni Canavesio, The Remorse of Judas (detail), 1491.

  • Poor Judas. He just can’t seem to catch a break—his is perhaps the most reviled name in history, even though he’s the only one of the apostles who has any identifiable human qualities. “At the ancient French Catholic shrine of Notre-Dame des Fontaines, Giovanni Canavesio’s 1490s fresco was undoubtedly the most horrifying depiction of the traitor I came across … Judas hangs from a rope, looking deranged, eyes flashing madly, half in fear, half in threat, his hair a spiky mop … As he breathes his last, a stream of sweet-potato-like entrails spills out of his open stomach, as well as (with Christianity’s usual scant regard for science) a miniature adult. A golden-winged demon is on hand to catch the newborn, with the implication that it will continue to sow the seeds of Judas’s treacherous legacy into future generations.”
  • A refutation of yesterday’s claim that thrillers are conservative and crime novels leftist: “Consider the supreme master of the spy thriller, John le Carré. His cold war novels stood against the mindless jingoism of the period, resisting the Manichean equation of east-west with evil-good … that kind of fury is typical of the fuel that burns through many thrillers. This is a genre whose most frequent theme is injustice: the urge to right a wrong.”
  • “Lewis Carroll, like many other Victorian ‘innocents’, was obsessed by the beauty and incorruptibility of young girls. The camera was a fairly recent invention. He used it to make images of girls dressed as princesses or beggars or—the clearest image of innocence—naked … Carroll’s maneuvers were awkward on the edge of innocence. In 1880 he mistakenly kissed the daughter of one of his Christ Church colleagues who turned out to be seventeen years old. His amusing ‘apology’ to her mother was ill-received, and not long after that he gave up taking photographs.”
  • Mark McGurl on Tom McCarthy and the convergence of avant-garde fiction and lyrical realism: “To produce genre effects is to send up a flare to distracted readers, reminding them of fiction’s capacity to produce its version of the richly artificial pleasures on offer everywhere else in contemporary mass culture. It is to show off the sheer power of fiction to alter the real, to brighten, re-order and re-color it, as in a children’s book. Ironically, this is especially true of the ubiquitous postapocalyptic variant, which imagines profoundly awful, even starkly depopulated worlds … It turns out to be easy for a novelist to kill off almost everyone. This clears the way for the apparently much harder task of rebuilding the social world in terms other than straggling, incipiently fascist authoritarianism. In this mode, every novel is epic again.”
  • Adventures in surreal estate: talking to the developer of a new luxury condo building in Canarsie, at the far end of Brooklyn. “We call it Loft 87 because it’s a little bit more contemporary-sounding … It’s obviously a regular apartment … I’m bringing everything you would see in Bushwick for half the price.”

Loose Lips Make the World Go Round, and Other News

November 11, 2014 | by


From U.S. World War II–era propaganda.

  • Last week, our editor Lorin Stein spoke at an event in San Francisco about Édouard Levé, whose work he’s translated—the audio from the discussion is now online.
  • Flannery O’Connor has been inducted into the American Poets Corner at New York’s St. John the Divine, the “only shrine to American literature in the country.” “Inducting O’Connor this year was a fairly easy consensus decision. More contentious was the selection of the quotation for her plaque. The challenge was to tread a line between what Nelson called O’Connor’s ‘grand pronouncements’ and what Alfred Corn called her southern ‘cracker-barrel humor.’ The quote they settled on is from a 1953 letter that O’Connor wrote to Elizabeth Hardwick and Robert Lowell … ‘I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing.’ ”
  • John le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man is banned at Guantánamo, and he’s altogether pretty psyched about it: “In banning my novel, the custodians of Guantánamo have once again demonstrated their sensitivity and respect for human dignity. No prisoner who has not been found guilty of any crime should be subjected to cruel and degrading literature.”
  • Today in bold claims from evolutionary psychologists: “Gossip is what makes human society as we know it possible.” Tell all your friends.
  • The long, strange birth of Fundamentalism in America: “The term itself was coined in the 1920s by American Protestants who resolved to return to the ‘fundamentals’ of Christianity. Their retreat from public life after the Civil War had narrowed and, perhaps, distorted their vision. Instead of engaging as before with such issues as racial or economic inequality, they focused on biblical literalism, convinced that every single assertion of scripture was literally true. And so, their enemy was no longer social injustice but the German Higher Criticism of the Bible, which had been embraced by the more liberal American Christians who were still attempting to bring the gospel to bear on social problems.”


What We’re Loving: Gas Stations, New York Stories, The Room

September 13, 2013 | by


Forty-three years after his death, John O’Hara still holds the record for the most stories published in The New Yorker (247), a record all the more impressive when you consider that he spent a decade boycotting that magazine over a negative review. Wherever he published, one of  O’Hara’s favorite subjects was New York City. He specialized in speakeasies, but he also took an interest in gentlemen’s clubs, Park Avenue apartments, dressing rooms, tenements—like Balzac, he aimed at a full panorama, in his case of the years before World War II. Now O’Hara’s New York stories have a volume of their own, thanks to the scholar Steven Goldleaf. My favorite is “Bread Alone,” about a father and son at a ballgame. Something tells me that it inspired the first chapter of Underworld. At least, it would be a worthy inspiration. I read The New York Stories as homework (Goldleaf and I will be discussing O’Hara this coming Monday with the novelist Lawrence Block) but it was a labor of love. —Lorin Stein

“Imagine a movie so incomprehensible that you find yourself compelled to watch it over and over again. You become desperate to learn how (if) on earth it was conceived: Who made it, and for what purpose?” These words could only refer to The Room, a cult phenomenon frequently described as the Citizen Kane of bad films; they come from The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, by Greg Sestero and the peerless Tom Bissell. Sestero was coerced into participating in the project by its enigmatic, megalomaniacal writer-director-star, Tommy Wiseau, and served as reluctant intern, cameraman, casting director, and, ultimately, costar (“Mark,” to the initiated.) The book is hilarious, and the stories behind the making of The Room are even more bizarre than one might expect; truly, like the film itself, they must be seen to be believed. —Sadie Stein Read More »


Rumors of the Death of the Book Greatly Exaggerated, and Other News

April 10, 2013 | by


  • Peter Workman, “known in the publishing world as a genially offbeat entrepreneur of nonfiction, with an on-base percentage—in publishing terms—worthy of Cooperstown,” has died. Workman hits included The Preppy Handbook, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and The Silver Palate Cookbook.
  • Barnes & Noble gets into the self-publishing game with NOOK Press.
  • The death of the book, like doomsday, has been predicted since time immemorial.
  • But: “If reading is going be all digital in fifty years, so be it.” Tim Waterstone, founder of the eponymous bookstore chain, is philosophical.
  • Listen to John le Carré read from his new novel.


    These Quizzes Are Hard, and Other News

    April 8, 2013 | by


    • Can you guess these classic books from their phantom covers? In a word: no. (Well, three of them.)
    • Guess these famous novels from their second lines? We batted like .600.
    • Also disspiritingly difficult: this John le Carré quiz.
    • Buck up! “Without the advertising budgets of major houses, the smaller presses have more difficulty finding readers, Mr. Nelson said, and the idea behind the library was to form a community of people who could share books that were not easy to find elsewhere.” Meet Mellow Pages Library of Bushwick. 
    • Iain Banks, who announced last week that he is dying of cancer, married his long-term partner at Inverlochy Castle Hotel in the Scottish Highlands. As he put it, he asked if she would “do me the honour of becoming my widow.”



    A Man Finds Twenty Grand in a Book, and Other News

    November 13, 2012 | by