The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘John Steinbeck’

My Motherland

September 15, 2016 | by

Finding—and writing—the worlds where only I had been.

Robert Walter Weir, watercolor, 8 15/16" x 6 11/16", 1825.

Robert Walter Weir, watercolor, 8 15/16" x 6 11/16", 1825.

In high school I was, like many American intellectual kids, a stranger in a strange land. I made the Berkeley Public Library my refuge, and lived half my life in books. Not only American books—English and French novels and poetry, Russian novels in translation. Transported unexpectedly to college in another strange land, the East Coast, I majored in French lit and went on reading European lit on my own. I felt more at home in some ways in Paris in 1640 or Moscow in 1812 than in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1948.

Much as I loved my studies, their purpose was to make me able to earn a living as a teacher, so I could go on writing. And I worked hard at writing short stories. But here my European orientation was a problem. I wasn’t drawn to the topics and aims of contemporary American realism. I didn’t admire Ernest Hemingway, James Jones, Norman Mailer, or Edna Ferber. I did admire John Steinbeck, but knew I couldn’t write that way. In The New Yorker, I loved Thurber, but skipped over John O’Hara to read the Englishwoman Sylvia Townsend Warner. Most of the people I really wished I could write like were foreign, or dead, or both. Most of what I read drew me to write about Europe; but I knew it was foolhardy to write fiction set in Europe if I’d never been there. Read More »

All Hail the Refrigerator, and Other News

August 23, 2016 | by

View of Brent Birnbaum’s “Voyeur Voyager Forager Forester,” 2016, Denny Gallery, New York.

  • Writers generally hate to get on in years, because they’re soulless cowards who fear death. (I say this with authority, even at age thirty.) One good thing about getting older, though, is that you can sell your papers—you know, all that junk that records your “process.” Phillip Lopate was looking forward to cleaning house, but the process, he discovered, was more injurious than it seemed from afar: “For years I had been hearing of people selling their papers, and often these writers were, in my humble judgment, no better practitioners of the literary art than I—indeed, in some cases, inferior! How did they do it? … In due course I was approached by a bookseller who handled such transactions, which suddenly made it a concrete, attractive possibility. He contacted the New York Public Library, a logical place for my papers, given my lifelong involvement with the city of my birth, and two representatives from that estimable institution came to my house to examine the lot … In preparation for the librarians’ visit, I had laid out letters, manuscripts, and diaries on the kitchen table and in boxes all about the room. I tried to steer these two examiners, a man and woman, to what I thought might be juicy bits, but their blank emotionless faces (so like those of funders or oncologists, who don’t want to get your hopes up) gave away nothing, and after two hours of idly sifting through the records of a lifetime’s labor, they departed.” 

Read More »

No Known Remedy

December 1, 2015 | by

Illustration: Wellcome Library, London


 The flies have conquered the flypaper. —John Steinbeck

The thing about a flyswatter is, there’s a limited number of places you can effectively wield it. Sure, it’s easy enough to whisk the swatter and even to make contact with your target—but it’s surprisingly difficult to find a surface on which to swat cleanly. And make no mistake: by swat, I mean kill, ruthlessly.

Writing about the phenomenon of house flies a few years ago, the New York Times quoted the dipterologist Harold Oldroyd’s book The Natural History of Flies:

A house or other building is … no more than a large flytrap. It is found that the same building is infested year after year, while the house next door may be immune. At present there is no known remedy for these visitations except to move.

My home is, as I write this, benighted by flies; a neighbor said it was “because it’s getting cold” and that the flies come indoors to prolong their meager lives. Between seasons, and then all summer long, they’re an urban blight. They’re maddening in a way that feels personal. I bought the flyswatter and then some flypaper.

Your modern flypaper comes on a little spool, topped with a small red loop and fastened by a brass thumbtack. One removes the tack, unrolls the tape, and then affixes the whole business to the wall or ceiling (“wherever,” as the packaging puts it, “flies are a nuisance”). It’s very efficient and strangely beautiful: it looks like a coil of amber hanging there, all the more so when it ensnares an unsuspecting fly.

One small fly trapped himself almost at once, which was satisfying. An old boyfriend of my mom’s liked to call it “Jewish hunting.” I quickly swatted it dead and left the paper hanging—partly as a Spartacus-style warning, partly to attract this fly’s foolish compatriots, and partly because it seemed too extravagant to remove a strip of tape after only five minutes of use. But then the paper hung there with its single squashed corpse for days, and the flies buzzed in our ears, and it was not even worth invoking the devil or the Bible or Sartre or Jeff Goldblum, especially since I didn’t actually have anything much to say about them. They are, like bad weather, a banal nuisance. And besides, come winter, my husband and I knew they would all go away, and that we were, in any case, very lucky to be the humans. 

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.

Science Fiction in the White House, and Other News

May 8, 2015 | by


  • A plea to the professoriat: If you really love the humanities, do them a favor and shut up about Shakespeare. “On the shrinking support for the liberal arts in American education … organizations such as ACTA and NAS mistake a parochial struggle over particular authors and curricula for the full-throated defense of the humanities.”
  • When Jules Verne meets the sterling judgment of our nation’s executive branch: John Quincy Adams once approved a journey to the center of the Earth. The plan asked for “one hundred brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia in the fall season, with Reindeer and slays, on the ice of the frozen sea … ”
  • Fran Ross’s 1974 novel, Oreo, newly reissued, “resists the unwritten conventions that still exist for novels written by black women. There’s nothing redemptively uplifting about Ross’s work. The title doesn’t refer to the Bible or the blues. The work does not refer to slavery. The character is never violated, sexually or otherwise. The characters are not from the South. Oreo is sincerely ironic, hilarious, brainy, impenetrable at times.”
  • Scott Timberg’s new book Culture Crash holds the well-being of the cultural middle class as the key to American creativity.” But this thesis only reveals “an unexplored aesthetic bias that favors the sort of art reviewed in the pages of the unrepentantly middle-class New York Times, art that becomes middlebrow through its relative accessibility and popularity. Forget the cynical dross intended for the tasteless masses: It is this kind of middlebrow culture—the kind best known and appreciated by well-rounded liberal-arts grads—of which Timberg wants to see more, even though it abounds right now.”
  • Of Mice and Men contains such hair-raising profanities as bastard and God damn, which make it unsuitable, according to a curriculum-review committee in Idaho, for fourteen- or fifteen-year-old students. “Teachers actually had the audacity to have students read these profanities out loud in class,” one parent said.

Faulkner’s Cocktail of Choice

December 31, 2013 | by


In honor of the new year, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

When I first started working at Kings County Distillery, in the summer of 2010, I was delighted to find the job provided ample time to read. Whiskey making has its own peculiar rhythm. Each batch begins in a flurry, as one juggles a series of tasks like a line cook, but ends in a hush, with little to do but watch the languorous drip of the stills.

This was in the wobbly-legged days of the company’s infancy, before we moved into the grand old brick paymaster building in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. Back then we were based out of a studio space on Meadow Street with wooden floors and five-gallon steel pot stills that had to be emptied, scaldingly, by hand. (This, as our former downstairs neighbors can attest, would prove an unfortunate combination of circumstances.) During that first summer, we worked singly, in nine-hour shifts, so there was a lot of alone time. So, unless one wanted to lose one’s goddamn mind in that little room, one read. Read More »


The High School Literature Zodiac

November 27, 2013 | by

What does your favorite book from high school tell you about your life?


Tim Taranto hails from Upstate New York and attended Cornell. In addition to The Paris Review Daily, his work has appeared on the Rumpus and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Tim lives in Iowa City, where he is studying fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.