The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘lists’

Into the Woods

September 23, 2016 | by

What should I bring on my writing retreat?

Arthur Bowen Davies, Hudson Valley Landscape, 1914-18.

Arthur Bowen Davies, Hudson Valley Landscape, 1914–18.

I’m off to the woods to live deliberately! Or, just to live, as it were—all I can do is hope that my deliberateness (and discipline and patience) will kick in eventually, since my destination is an artist’s colony upstate, on the border of Massachusetts, in a forest-locked village called Austerlitz.

In an effusive piece for The Morning News, Alexander Chee once described the writerly boons of retreating to a solitary enclave like Austerlitz, where time and space seem to bend in one’s favor—more pages written, delightful colleagues, and bucolic settings. “Imagine, if you will, the Umbrian countryside in May,” he wrote of a particularly idyllic residency. “Hills and fields, forests, etc. You feel like you’ve wandered into a Merchant Ivory adaptation.” But I flinch each time I consider disrupting what is a perfectly fine routine in Brooklyn: I like my run-down apartment! I like the shitty folding chair I sit in every day to write! I like having to remember to spray down my roach-infested sink with borax while the minutes tick down to a deadline!

My irrational nervousness has to do, in part, with how wild it seems that everything will be taken care of for me: groceries replenished in the communal kitchen, dinners cooked by a chef named Donna. There are free linens and a cleaning person. Even distractions are warded away—a five-page Microsoft Word document explaining colony rules enforces headphones and bans visitors from overstaying their welcome or even using the kitchen or dining rooms. “Studios are private and require a personal invitation,” warns the guide, protecting residents even from each other. Read More »

Flooded Penthouse

September 21, 2016 | by

The below is excerpted from Flooded Penthouse, a book by the painter Margaux Ogden and the writer Hunter Braithwaite, launched to commemorate Ogden’s new exhibition at Puerto Rico’s Embajada, a gallery in a former sex-toy shop. The show, “Nothing Had Yet Been Sacrificed,” takes its title from Luc Sante’s line about the young Bob Dylan—“Everything seemed possible then; no options had been used up and nothing had yet been sacrificed.”


Much as a relationship grows from a mulch of moments, 
these drawings are built up on a ground of notes, numbers, lists. Small bills, pocket change. Doing so causes a slight impropriety to arise, not only because it’s so decidedly un-art (or, depending on how much Rauschenberg you looked at when you were younger, too-art) but because the pocket scraps
 are exhibitionist. Stored in our pants, folded tight against ourselves, they reveal how we pass our days: what we plan to buy, how much we paid for it, how we check off the world. Read More »

Striking Similes

January 21, 2016 | by

There’s an abysmal simile making the rounds online right now, drawn from a certain splashy literary debut: “Breasts like bronzed mangoes.” Yes, it comes courtesy of a male writer, of course; and yes, Google suggests it’s the only use of the phrase “bronzed mangoes” in recorded history. Even so: as an object of ridicule, this is what you’d have to call low-hanging fruit. Read More »

Half Magic

December 16, 2014 | by

John William Waterhouse, The Magic Circle, 1886.

I like the arbitrary lists the Guardian often includes in its children’s book section: best villains in children’s books, best dogs, best mothers. As with all lists, these are made to be debated, and it’s always fun to see what the compiler chooses. But today’s list made me mad. Simply put, it was incomplete. “Best cauldrons in children’s books” did not include the cauldron from Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth.

I’m sure the cauldrons from The Worst Witch and Wyrd Sisters are great. I know the cauldrons found in Lloyd Alexander and J. K. Rowling are high quality. And certainly no one’s denying that Macbeth’s cauldron game is strong. (Even if it’s a stretch to call it a children’s book.) One can justify the exclusion of The Black Cauldron from this list, and, even though I’d have included Eleanor Estes’s The Witch Family, I understand that this is a matter of opinion. But Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth is nothing less than a glaring omission.

If you’re a fan of E. L. Konigsburg, you probably know her first book. It came out the same year—1967—as From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It’s the story of a loner, the titular Elizabeth, who falls under the sway of another girl, Jennifer, who claims to be a witch and takes Elizabeth on as her apprentice. Elizabeth balks at her mentor’s bossiness, but puts up with it: “Before I’d got Jennifer,” she says, “I’d had no one.” Jennifer declares that the pair will make a flying potion as a test for Elizabeth. But the cauldron actually appears earlier in the story, when the kids are asked to bring in kitchen props for a school play.  Read More »

Unpleasant Vibrators Need Not Apply

August 12, 2014 | by


A librarian at the card files at a senior high school in Minnesota, 1974. Photo: David Rees

From The Library Assistant’s Manual, a guide by Theodore Koch “issued on the occasion of the 61st annual meeting of the Michigan State Teachers’ Association, Ann Arbor, October 30–November 1, 1913.”

Qualities that unfit one for library work in general are physical weakness, deformity, poor memory, a discontented disposition, egotism, a lack of system in one’s method of work, and inability or unwillingness to take responsibilities, a tendency to theorize, criticize, or gossip, inability to mind one’s own business, fussiness, and long-windedness.

One librarian advocates listing the virtues and personal qualities of the staff and apprentices by having a questionnaire like the following filled out for each assistant:

Has she tact?
Has she enthusiasm?
Has she method and system?
Is she punctual?
Is she neat?
Is she kind?
Is she a good disciplinarian?
Is she sympathetic?
Is she quick?
Is she willing to wear rubber heels?
Is she a good worker?
Is she accurate?
Has she a pleasing personality?
Has she a sense of responsibility?
Is she patient?
Is she courteous?
Has she self control?
Is she cheerful?
Has she a knowledge of books?
Are her vibrations pleasant?
Has she executive ability?
Can she speak French, German, Spanish, Italian, Yiddish?
Has she social qualifications?
Can she keep a petty cash account?
What are her faults?

Mr. Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress, gives the following advice to aspirants for library positions:

“First, secure the best possible general education, including, if possible, a college course or its equivalent; second, acquire a reading knowledge of at least French and German; third, add to this a training in a library school; fourth, if a choice must be made between the special training in a library school and a general course in a college, choose the general course, but make every effort to supplement this by the special course if only for a brief period; fifth, if an opportunity occurs for foreign travel, utilize it; sixth, if you have not been able to contrive either a thorough general education or special training, your best opportunities in library work will be in a small library where your personal characteristics may be such as to offset these other deficiencies; seventh, without at least a fair reading knowledge of French and German you cannot progress beyond the most subordinate positions in a large library.”


Realism for Everyone

April 7, 2014 | by


Donald Barthelme would have celebrated his birthday today had he not died in 1989. It would be an exaggeration to say that I feel the absence of someone I never met—someone who died when I was three—but I do wonder, with something more than mere curiosity, what Barthelme would have made of the past twenty-odd years. These are decades I feel we’ve processed less acutely because he wasn’t there to fictionalize them: their surreal political flareups, their new technologies, their various zeitgeists and intellectual fads and dumb advertisements. Part of what I love about Barthelme’s stories is the way they traffic in cultural commentary without losing their intimacy, their humanity. They feel something like channel-surfing with your favorite uncle; he’s running his mouth the whole time, but he’s running it brilliantly, he’s interlarding his commentary with sad, sharp stories from his own life, and you’re learning, you’re laughing, you’re feeling, because he’s putting the show on for you, lovingly, his dear nephew.

But I’m losing the thread. My point is not to reveal a secret wish that Barthelme was my uncle.

I wanted to say something about lists. Barthelme was a master of many things, but one of them was, of course, the list—the man could make a prodigious inventory. I don’t mean to be glib when I say that. List-making is often dismissed as sloppy writing, but in Barthelme’s hands, a list never functions as an elision or a cheap workaround; he makes marvelous profusions of nouns, testaments to the power of juxtaposition. His lists feel noetic—they capture the motion of a mind delighting in how many things there are, and how rampantly they’re proliferating, and how strangely they collide in life, when they do. Read More »