Posts Tagged ‘John Williams’
March 15, 2013 | by The Paris Review
I am currently in Missoula, attending a conference at the University of Montana. At a welcome reception last night (in which we were treated to, among other things, some delicious bison meatballs), one title kept cropping up in conversation: John Williams’s Stoner. Why has this 1965 novel of loneliness and small lives acquired such a cult following? As one professor put it, “It captures academia perfectly.” (And since it’s one of my favorites, I felt at home right away.) —Sadie O. Stein
Thank you to John Glassie and Writers No One Reads for highlighting Athanasius Kircher, the seventeeth-century Jesuit priest and polymath who gives a whole new definition to “Renaissance man”: author, inventor, curator, Mount Vesuvius climber. While most of his ideas—covering more than seven million words, in Latin—are dead wrong (universal sperm, the hollowness of mountains), his poetic “translations” of Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions are masterpieces of expression. On a section of an Egyptian obelisk now in Rome’s Piazza della Minerva, Kircher wrote:
Supreme spirit and archetype infuses its virtue and gifts in the soul of the sidereal world, that is the solar spirit subject to it, from whence comes the vital motion in the material or elemental world, and abundance of all things and variety of species arises.
Unfortunately, he only wrote one book of fiction (1656’s Ecstatic Journey), and while most of his work is long forgotten, he was an influence on such writers and artists as Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, and Marcel Duchamp. Not bad for someone who invented an instrument called the cat piano. —Justin Alvarez Read More »
July 8, 2010 | by John Williams
This is the second installment of Williams' culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
DAY FIVE9:30 A.M. I read a profile of novelist David Mitchell by Wyatt Mason in The New York Times Magazine. I try to read anything Mason writes. He’s always sharp, and he was among the few critics who gave one of my favorite novels1 (It’s All Right Now by Charles Chadwick) its due. As for Mitchell, I want to read him in theory, but I’ve yet to feel inspired to actually pick up the books. I’m most interested in Black Swan Green, his semi-autobiographical novel, and by consensus his least formally inventive.
11:45 A.M. I go back through several publishers’ catalogs to firm up a list of titles that I hope to assign for review on The Second Pass in the fall. I add Dinaw Mengestu’s sophomore novel, How to Read the Air, and the list is now sixty-five books long, which seems ambitious. I may have to prune it a bit.
4:35 P.M. I read the first few pages of The Art of Losing, a debut novel by Rebecca Connell that appeared in the mail last week. It’s being published in October, and I add it to the list for review. I realize this is the opposite of pruning.
11:00 P.M. The Criterion Collection recently released Make Way for Tomorrow, a 1937 movie directed by Leo McCarey, who also directed Duck Soup, The Awful Truth, and dozens of others. I watch it on my laptop. It stars Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi as an elderly couple who lose their home to foreclosure. None of their children are able to take them both, so they’re separated. Legendary character actor Thomas Mitchell is great as George, the son who takes in his mother. Made in the wake of the Social Security Act of 1935, the movie, without being overtly political at all, unfolds like an argument for the importance of social safety nets. There are moments of real humor, but the overall mood is melancholy3. Read More »
- A 700-page debut novel published when Chadwick was seventy-two, It’s All Right Now tells the story of one man’s life over several decades. The narrator, Tom Ripple, is a brilliant creation: true to life, fond of bad puns, passive, frustrated, loving, forgetful, nostalgic, accidentally insightful about himself. Chadwick’s style and Ripple’s thoughts are subtle but possessed of great accumulated power. Mason wasn’t totally alone in praising it. David Gates said, “No writer—no writer—has ever been more scrupulous in honoring his characters’ complexity,” and Benjamin Kunkel called the novel “[a]t once modest and epic” and described Ripple as “one of the most vivid and robust characters in recent British fiction.”
- The only novel by Grossman I’ve read is The Book of Intimate Grammar, and that was many years ago, but I remember admiring it. Advance word about the new novel has been enthusiastic, not even including Nicole Krauss’ already legendarily effusive/mystical blurb.
- On one of the DVD’s extras, Peter Bogdanovich recalls having dinner with Orson Welles, and asking him if he’d ever seen Make Way for Tomorrow. Welles responded: “Oh my god! That’s the saddest movie ever made! It would make a stone cry!”
July 7, 2010 | by John Williams
DAY ONE7:00 P.M. Head to Idlewild Books in Manhattan for an event marking the publication of Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager. The evening, like the book, takes the form of a conversation between n+1 editor Keith Gessen and the hedge fund manager. The latter was not in disguise at the event, but people who knew him kept creepily referring to him in code as “HFM.” From all I can tell, he has retired and moved to Austin, so I’m not sure why the anonymity is so important. He looks like a “Steve” to me. Maybe an “Andy.”
10:30 P.M. I've enjoyed the culture diaries contributed by other people, and it's been interesting to see their different approaches. Like Rita Konig, I've mostly chosen to focus1 on a few things a day that captured my prolonged attention. I flip through Reality Hunger by David Shields again. I have extensive notes for a review, but I need to put them together. Several of these notes are just quotes from Shields’ many promotional interviews, almost all of which have annoyed me as much as the book did. I also take a look at the first few pages of Shields’ Black Planet, his chronicle of the 1994-95 season of the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics, lent to me by a friend. Planet is a better read than Reality Hunger, but I won’t know how much that says until I get through more of it.
11:58 P.M. Before going to bed, I check the night’s baseball box scores on ESPN.com. For six months a year, this is a nightly ritual2.
11:30 A.M. I’ve been reading Jackson Lears’ Something for Nothing: Luck in America, partly because I’ve been meaning to for years3 and partly because I’m treating it as research for a potential writing project of my own. The tone is somewhere between generalist and academic, and halfway through I’m enjoying it and finding it useful, particularly the early sections on early-American religious attitudes toward gambling.
1:15 P.M. I go to Andrew Sullivan4’s blog to catch up on the last few days. I’ve been visiting the site less often lately for various reasons—I’ve been busy; reading about Sarah Palin at length is depressing even when you agree with the writer; etc.—but probably three million times since he launched it.
7:30 P.M. I go to the IFC Center with my girlfriend to see the new documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work5. Following an obsessed person around for a while is a reliable documentary formula, and Rivers, at seventy-five, remains obsessed with her career. She’s still funny, maniacally driven, and poignantly unsatisfied.
11:30 P.M. Read a little more of Something for Nothing and write some notes about my own project. Listen to Astral Weeks by Van Morrison while doing it. Read More »
- I do a lot of aimless web surfing, play far more rapid-fire online Scrabble than could possibly be good for me, and listen to music (mostly from the 10,000 songs on my iTunes) almost constantly, but I've tried to spare you my jittery habits whenever possible.
- I've been a big baseball (and Yankees) fan since I was a little kid. Remembering the days when some West Coast games finished too late for the box scores to appear in the next morning's newspaper (thus leaving fans in the dark) makes me feel like I'm a hundred years old. It's oddly comforting to know all the results before night's end. I'm also involved in fantasy baseball, a pastime that my friend Lauren Sandler refers to as "hobbit sex."
- It's true that I occasionally read books about gambling and I'm interested in the subject, but this week's strong emphasis is coincidental, not representative. Up to this point in life, I've liked sports and gambling more than I've liked reading about them. Perhaps that's changing. Gambling does tend to attract the kind of conversational, witty writers I most enjoy.
- I consider myself a political moderate, and I like Sullivan's general lack of orthodoxy. But there are times when he gets hooked on a subject in a way that makes the blog more repetitive than I like it to be.
- This is a case where strong reviews did their job, getting me to see something I wasn’t planning on.