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Tag Archives: Jonathan Lethem

 

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  • On the Shelf

    A Printer Called Lethem, and Other News

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  • Portlanders, start your smug engines: you live in the top city in America for readers.
  • James Joyce in Trieste.
  • Turkey has quietly lifted a ban on some 23,000 books.
  • The Lethem printer resides in the college’s library, Crossett, where it is used by students to print papers and assignments. Prior to Lethem, the college printers were called Rumi and Thoreau for no discernable reason, as neither went there.”
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  • Books

    Shelf-Conscious

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    Chris Killip, 'The Library of Chained Books,' Hereford Cathedral, Hereford, UK, 1992.

    We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

    I knew a kid in college who wanted so desperately to produce a book that he couldn’t stand the sight of their spines. He stacked them—ten or so brown and black books, library hardcovers—in his dorm room, titles to the wall, lips facing forward. He didn’t really buy books, either—at least I don’t recall that he did—but he never passed a bookstore without entering to read. These same stores have since displayed his books in their windows.

    “‘You can tell how serious people are by looking at their books,’” Susan Sontag told Sigrid Nunez, long ago when Nunez was dating Sontag’s son. “She meant not only what books they had on their shelves, but how the books were arranged,” Nunez explains. “Because of her, I arranged my own books by subject and in chronological rather than alphabetical order. I wanted to be serious.”

    There are many varieties of nerd, but only two real species—the serious and the nonserious—and shelves are a pretty good indication of who is which. “To expose a bookshelf,” Harvard professor Leah Price writes in Unpacking My Library, a recent collection of interviews with writers about the books they own, “is to compose a self.” In Sontag’s case, a very rigorous self. And, of course, that’s just the sort of self someone anxious about his aspirations might shy away from. “A self without a shelf remains cryptic,” Price notes. It’s like the straight-A student who says he hasn’t studied for finals: if you haven’t confessed to caring, no one can consider you to have failed.

    There’s not a lot of anxiety about keeping libraries in this collection, however, because the adults featured—Junot Diaz, Steven Pinker, Gary Shteyngart, James Wood, Claire Messud, to name a few—are all solidly successful. Price’s interviews are less about each writer’s affairs and encounters with individual books than his or her shepherding of the whole herd—what’s treasured, tossed, bought twice, allowed to be lent. The interesting questions focus on each writer’s feelings about intellectual signaling and methods of overall arrangement. In other words, the stars of the pictures aren’t the books but the shelves. Read More

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  • On Politics

    What Would Happen if the Three Jonathans Rewrote Mitt Romney?

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    Following Romney’s strong performance at the first presidential debate, we found ourselves wondering why the candidate did not deliver a more stirring speech to the Republican National Convention. The logical next step was to ask: what would happen if we gave his original text to several contemporary writers for a rewrite. The following is an approximation. —A.A.

    Romney:

    Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That president was not the choice of our party, but Americans always come together after elections. We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than what divides us.

    When that hard-fought election was over, when the yard signs came down and the television commercials finally came off the air, Americans were eager to go back to work, to live our lives the way Americans always have—optimistic and positive and confident in the future.

    That very optimism is uniquely American.

    It is what brought us to America. We are a nation of immigrants. We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones, the ones who woke up at night hearing that voice telling them that life in that place called America could be better.

    Lethem:

    Four years ago before our last presidential election, Americans feeling fresh excitement about a new president, after late summer, before the leaves fell off the trees. Read More

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