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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

The Landlord from Ioway: James Alan McPherson, 1943–2016

August 10, 2016 | by

Photo by Tom Langdon.

Photo by Tom Langdon.

Although I didn’t yet know of his dying, I was thinking of James McPherson in the hours afterward, as I listened to President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. I wanted very much for him to explain how these two lodestars of our current political life, Obama and Trump, could exist in the same galaxy. Years ago, at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I had witnessed Jim’s unerring ability to find the pulse of the weakest story. Similarly, during the reigns of Reagan and Bush the First, he had listened intently to the whispering of a far right wing not easily heard in the din of that era’s culture war. I knew I had neither Jim’s wisdom nor imagination, and the night of the convention I could only sense that he again, in a way that most of us could not, would understand the spiritual impoverishment that drove this most incredible of political narratives.

I had to content myself with remembering the rumble of his laughter, the way it could start from the tips of his splayed feet and rise up to his fraying straw cap. I thought, too, of the hesitations in the murmur of his hushed voice, the result perhaps of a stutter long mastered, or the refusal to speak anything other than the truth—his truth perhaps, but a truth that many of his students learned to rely on. Read More »

There’s the Great Man

August 2, 2016 | by

Befriending George Plimpton.

george-plimpton

George Plimpton in his office.

George’s questions were like trampolines, a technology he admired. They bounced you higher—to the next question. This was particularly true when he was talking about writers and writing.

“Did you know that the great Camus played goal for the Oran Football Club?” he asked me when we were walking past an Algerian restaurant near his apartment on Seventy-Second Street. I was unaware but said that I did think Gabriel García Márquez had written a soccer column for a while in Bogota.

Alas,” George sighed, “Le colonisateur de bonne volonte was never moved to write about it. Imagine, the existential goalkeeper.”

Alas,” I said, and he gave me a look. Read More »

You Are on Display: An Interview with Morgan Parker

July 22, 2016 | by

Photo by Kwesi Abbensetts.

Photo by Kwesi Abbensetts.

Morgan Parker has a long résumé—she teaches and edits—that somehow hasn’t precluded a prolific career as a poet. Her first collection, Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night, came last year; her second, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, is due out in 2017.

A few months ago, Parker’s poem “Hottentot Venus” appeared in the Spring issue of The Paris Review. Her use of famous names and long, playful titles (“Ryan Gosling Wearing a T-shirt of Macaulay Culkin Wearing a T-Shirt of Ryan Gosling Wearing a T-Shirt of Macaulay Culkin”) suggests that she’s light of heart—but she is, as one reviewer put it,“as set on understanding the world as on changing it.” Race and femininism are central to her work, which explores ways to look at the present through the past, to examine ordinary life through pop culture, and to consider the events of her own life. We spoke recently about the joys of lengthy titles, how her many jobs intersect, and the process of crafting a personal mythology. Read More »

At the Hundredth Universal Esperanto Congress, and Other News

August 6, 2015 | by

esperanto2

From the 1909 Esperanto Congress.

  • In 1969, Life ran a photo essay called “What it takes to be a lady author anymore,” with predictably outmoded advice: “swim a little,” for starters, “exercise in a bikini,” and be “photographed in bed.” The magazine photographed Jeanne Rejaunier—who was promoting a new novel called, ironically enough, The Beauty Trap—in various titillating poses, and also raking leaves in a Victorian dress. “Just possibly because she smiles so prettily on the book jacket (the back and the front of the book),” Life wrote, “The Beauty Trap is now in its fourth printing.”
  • Today in obscure centennials: “Last week the 100th Universal Congress of Esperanto was held in Lille. The public program included a traditional dance workshop in the Place du Théâtre, an ecumenical service in the Eglise Saint-Maurice and concerts by Esperanto singers. There were also introductory lessons in Esperanto, and an international football match between Esperanto and Western Sahara. (The match was abandoned at half-time with Western Sahara 4–0 up.)”
  • Rock music and fiction haven’t blended terribly well over the years—there’s a Great Jones Street here, a Goon Squad there, and not much between. But 2014 saw no fewer than five entrants in the ongoing contest for Great American Rock Novel, and “interestingly, none of these 2014 titles concerns itself with conveying the over-the-top elements of rock on the page. Rather, they focus on characters dabbling in rock within the larger context of their more domestic pursuits: growing up, falling in love, finding a path, having a family; in short, the arcs that have been part of the novel’s scope since at least Austen. Much of the trouble for these characters comes when their more universal journeys collide with their need to make music, play in band, tour in an airbrushed bus.”
  • Salvador Dalí’s childhood diaries remain untranslated, which is a shame, because they find him witnessing the unrest in the lead up to the Spanish Civil War: “At this point in the journal, the illustrations by Dalí … have become morbid. An old man hangs from a noose with his tongue lolling out. On the facing page, a warrior with sword in hand extends the severed head of a long-haired man toward the viewer.”
  • On the literary scene in Ukraine, which has a strange emphasis on finality: “Ukrainian literature—or Ukrainian culture more broadly—employs the words last quite often: last territory, last bastion, the last issue of a magazine, the last books of a bankrupt publisher, the last Ukrainian-speaking readers, writers, translators. There is a well-known contemporary classic, a collection of essays by one of Ukraine’s best-known authors, Yuri Andrukhovych, called My Last Territory; there is an art management agency called Last Bastion.”

Counter Culture

May 2, 2013 | by

A_small_cup_of_coffee“I would have said, You’re getting there. Now that you said, ‘You nailed it,’ we can never go to the Bluebird again.”

“I was trying to give him a little encouragement,” Clancy said.

“Well, you fucked us.”

The first restaurant we liked in Iowa City was the Bluebird. It’s also the only decent cappuccino in town. We’d go every morning, order our fried eggs, and get three cappuccinos each. The waitresses had to make the cappuccinos themselves. We ordered so many that some of them began to dislike us. One in particular, whom we called Lower East Side. But all of them tried to get away before we had a chance to say, Could we get another.

All, that is, except for a Swingers-looking guy, slightly pudgy, whom we were convinced was gay until Clancy complimented his signet ring. 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.

***

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.

Read More »

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