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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Wechsberg’

What We’re Loving: Quaker Meeting, Blue Trout, and the Call of the Wild

June 21, 2013 | by

Quaker-Meeting-Paris-Review

Quaker Meeting in London, c.1723.

Why aren’t there more novels about Quaker worship? It’s inherently dramatic, people sitting in silence and waiting for God to speak through them. Dramatic—and really, really funny. For proof look no further than Nicholson Baker’s forthcoming novel, Traveling Sprinkler. The hero, Paul Chowder, spends a lot of time attending Quaker meetings (i.e., church). Most of the rest of the novel he spends trying to teach himself the guitar, write (incredibly dorky) songs, and win back the girlfriend who left him in Baker’s earlier novel The Anthologist. There are lots of reasons to love Traveling Sprinkler: Baker gets sweeter with each new book, and underneath the sweetness lie witty arguments about poetry and song and taste. Among other things, this is the best novel I’ve read about Spotify. It also vividly captures Quaker beliefs and practices at a moment when, as Paul Elie wrote last year in the New York Times, many novelists have trouble writing about religion. —Lorin Stein

“Beautiful and brilliant, possessed of an eye protected against sentiment coupled with a steel-trap mind and a tongue feared by all who had been at the receiving end of its talented sarcasm, a sarcasm that for some would always be wickedly amusing, for others just wicked.” So says essayist (and issue 204 contributor) Vivian Gornick of critic and writer Mary McCarthy on The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog. In a piece drawn from her introduction to a new edition of McCarthy’s 1949 novel, The Oasis, Gornick highlights the book’s biting satire but, more importantly, McCarthy’s fearlessness in barely disguising her characters from their real-life counterparts (mostly her Partisan Review colleagues). As McCarthy stated in her Art of Fiction interview, “What I really do is take real plums and put them in an imaginary cake.” —Justin Alvarez Read More »

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On ‘Holiday’

November 30, 2011 | by

Here’s how it begins. You are in a bookstore on the main drag of a small town. You walk along the mystery and western paperback sections, and then you see a wicker basket overflowing with Life magazines. You idly flip through the stack because you know Life was once an important cultural force but have never seen the magazine in person. The copies of Life are musty and torn, and in the middle of the heap you come across something called Holiday. It has the same heft as Life, more than a foot tall and surprisingly heavy, but in place of a black-and-white photograph on the cover there is a colorful swirling yellow illustration of the sun and the words “California Without Cliches.” The magazine is from 1965 and you think it would look good on your coffee table. Also the ads are campy and fun (“San Diego Is a See-Do Vacationland!”), so you buy the magazine—why not, it’s only a few bucks—and take it home. You turn on the TV and half watch Seinfeld as you flip through for the ads. Then you come upon “Notes from a Native Daughter,” the Joan Didion essay you read in college but don’t really remember. You read how California is only five hours from New York by jet but really that is just a delusion: “California is somewhere else.” Now you are somewhere else. Seinfeld ends and another Seinfeld begins and you read the entire essay and then discover a piece by Ray Bradbury, your old pal from high school English. You read his rhapsodic paean to Disneyland (“No beatniks here. No Cool people with Cool faces pretending not to care, thus swindling themselves out of life or any chance for life”), and you think that’s pretty good, too. You head back to the bookstore to see if they have any more issues of Holiday.

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Whenever I mention to someone that I’ve started collecting old issues of Holiday, the excellent yet forgotten monthly travel magazine that was born after World War II and lived until the late seventies, the response generally falls between bafflement and irritation. “Why would you do that?” people ask, as though I’ve just admitted to hoarding old shoehorns or something truly sinister.

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