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Posts Tagged ‘literature’

In Praise of Minor Literature

July 8, 2016 | by

houseboats

Houseboats by the Thames.

Some of the writers and books I hold in the highest esteem were discovered en passant: buried in the archives of a little-read blog; mentioned in a thirty-year-old essay devoted to more prominent writers; planted near the end of a long list on Wikipedia. (Idleness and obsession are the impetus for most of my discoveries.) Most of these books are rare tastes, not even well known for not being well known. They are not likely to come up at dinner parties, and they are not part of any canon or curriculum. I don’t get any credit for having read them. They are what some people call minor. 

What does it mean to be minor? It’s not the same thing as being obscure. Leon Forrest’s oeuvre is a megalith, but there seem to be about six of us who have read him. Nor is a minor writer a bad writer. Guy Davenport proposed that Thomas Love Peacock, Colette, Simenon, and Michael Gilbert were all “impeccable stylists” but also, next to Tolstoy, Cervantes, Balzac, and Proust, incontrovertibly minor. Davenport, a self-described minor prose stylist who was great enough to be genuinely self-effacing, said that “the theme of a major work must be universal and time-defying.” When judged by this standard, he suggested, even Borges and Poe were minor, since “a Martian could not learn about human nature from either of them.” Read More »

Last Chance: The Paris Review & Lucky Peach

April 29, 2016 | by

PARISREVIEWlp-pr-covers

Attention, shoppers: This is your last chance to get a dual subscription to The Paris Review and Lucky Peach, our favorite food journal. That’s one year of the best in literature and the best in food writing for only $50. The deal ends on April 30, so if you’ve been waiting to subscribe until, say, you’re a little hungrier, you should reconsider. You’re probably hungry enough right now. Subscribe here.

Together at Last: The Paris Review & Lucky Peach

April 4, 2016 | by

PARISREVIEWlp-pr-covers

Here’s a fact about serious readers: all of them eat. Every last one. And many of them eat multiple times a day.

With this in mind, our shrewd Department of Cross-Promotions is bringing you the perfect deal: a dual subscription to The Paris Review and Lucky Peach, our favorite food journal. That’s one year of the best in literature and the best in food writing for only $50.

We’ve long admired Lucky Peach, which combines some of our favorite ingredients: bold writing, fresh new voices, and an irreverent interest in what and how we eat. We never miss an issue. And we’re proud to say they read us, too, for the best in contemporary fiction, poetry, and interviews. We’ve even shared some writers over the years, like John Jeremiah Sullivan, our Southern editor, whose Lucky Peach essay “I Placed a Jar in Tennessee” won the James Beard Foundation’s MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. Or Ottessa Moshfegh, our 2014 Plimpton Prize winner, who took to Lucky Peach to remember the mayonnaise (or lack thereof) of her youth. Or Alison Kinney, who wrote about the history of Icelandic sagas for the Daily and the history of chocolate eggs for Lucky Peach.

Now, after years of mutual eating and reading, we’ve finally formalized the arrangement. Start your joint subscription now and get two great magazines for one low price. Hurry—this deal is only available through April 30.

How Repulsive

February 10, 2016 | by

On the merits of disturbing literature.

Frederic Leighton, Study at a Reading Desk‎, 1877.

In a letter to a reader who was disturbed by his novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “If [Malte] contains bitter reproaches, these are absolutely not directed against life. On the contrary, they are evidences that, for lack of strength, through distraction and inherited errors we lose completely the countless earthly riches that were intended for us.”

Faced with a reader like Rilke’s, it can be hard for a writer to defend the need for “bitter reproaches”—to uphold the disturbing above the merely distasteful. After all, some “disturbing” books do nothing more than shock. Charlotte Roche’s Wetlands, for instance, is a litany of gross and obscene bodily functions that never adds up to more than grossness and obscenity. But good books disturb for good reasons. To disturb is, among other things, to guard against complacency: to make the reader face the underbelly of dark thoughts and actions, see how circumstances can make even good people go astray if they are not vigilant in honoring the best in themselves and in the outside world. Disturbing passages, when skillful, make a vital inquiry into the subtle causes and effects of human behavior. Read More »

Press Triangle for More Information, and Other News

January 18, 2016 | by

Camille Henrot, Guilt Tripping, 2015, three-dimensional nylon polyamide print with video and telephone components, 28" x 7 7/8" x 2 3/8". Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York. Via BOMB

  • Orson Welles and Hemingway had a vexed friendship, if friendship is even the word—their first encounter came to blows, after all. In interviews, Welles tended to speak respectfully, if not kindly, of the writer. But now, a 1973 screenplay by Welles, Crazy Weather, has come to light. Set in Spain, the story features a Hemingway-esque tourist with a macho, ersatz approach to the Spanish culture: “The protagonist in the script, Jim Foster, is travelling to a bullfight with his Spanish wife, Amparo, when they encounter a nameless youth who taunts Foster about his misogyny, flirts with Amparo and later sabotages their car tires. Despite having a Spanish wife and spending years living in Spain, Foster speaks the language only in ‘limited and rather stilted’ form, and is continually mocked for his cliched idea of Spain.”
  • What do women want in a mate? And what do men want? For years, I’ve looked to late-night phone-sex ads and flimsy self-help books to answer these timeless questions; Adelle Waldman looked to literature instead. “The ideal mate, for Jane Austen’s heroines, for Charlotte Brontë’s, for George Eliot’s, is someone intelligent enough to appreciate fully and respond deeply to their own intelligence, a partner for whom they feel not only desire but a sense of kinship, of intellectual and moral equality,” she writes. “Straight male authors devote far less energy to considering the intelligence of their heroes’ female love interests; instead, they tend to emphasize visceral attraction and feelings. From Tolstoy, whose psychological acuity helped to redefine what the novel is capable of, to unabashed chroniclers of sex like Saul Bellow and Philip Roth to contemporary, stroller-pushing, egalitarian dad Karl Ove Knausgaard, men have been, in a sense, the real romantics: they are far more likely than women to portray love as something mysterious and irrational, impervious to explanation, tied more to physical qualities and broad personal appeal than to a belief—or hope—in having found an intellectual peer.”
  • Elena Ferrante’s English translator Ann Goldstein talks about her process and being haunted by Ferrante’s work: “With The Days of Abandonment, partly because it was the first one and partly because it is so haunting, and it’s so concentrated, I was very upset by it. There were things in it that I think everyone recognizes. Like the scene with the key where she thinks she’s locked herself in—I have trouble with keys. And with something like that, she’s writing your nightmare. Those things really did upset me and haunt me. I identified with the narrator—one naturally identifies to some extent with an ‘I’ female narrator going through something that you recognize whether you’ve gone through it or not … When I started translating the first Neapolitan novel, My Brilliant Friend, I had not read the other ones, of course, because they weren’t written yet. So it wasn’t until I got to the end of the last one that I knew the whole story. That was a strange experience: to be reading something, or translating something, that I didn’t really know the end of.”
  • Camille Henrot’s latest exhibition featured a series of hotline phones, all designed to show the vagaries and confusions of language. “I picked up and heard a male voice,” Michael Barron writes, “who, friendly enough and definitely assertive, had me run a gamut of bizarre questions, such as ‘If your dad has fathered more than nine children, press 0 / If your father has eaten any of his children, press 1.” “I always felt like language was a way to dominate people,” Henrot told him in reference to the hotlines. “You want to go to the end of the options. That’s the way we—me and the poet Jacob Bromberg—wrote and structured them. The first one we wrote, ‘Hello & Thank You’—the one that was presented at the Lyon Biennial—was so massive, with a maze of multiple choices. Navigating the whole thing from beginning to end would’ve taken over four hours.”
  • Attention, shoppers: have you been feeling guilty about buying used books? Probably not. But if you have been, stop.

Ghosts Stay Near Home

November 3, 2015 | by

In the third of three excerpts from The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains, Thomas Laqueur looks at the life and afterlife of the churchyard in literature.

John Constable, The Church Porch, East Bergholt, 1810.

In 1806, England’s greatest landscape painter, John Constable, began a series of drawings and oil sketches of the church and churchyard of East Bergholt in the Stour Valley of Sussex, the village in which he had been born. In one of these, a man and two women gather around a tomb and look intently at an inscription that we cannot quite read. Those who saw the final painting would have known the allusion. An engraving published as the frontispiece to a collection of epitaphs the same year makes it explicit: the girl with her back to us blocks most of the text, but we can make out “Here rest / A Youth.” Anyone in the early nineteenth century would have been able to fill in the missing words:

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth,
A Youth, to fortune and to fame unknown

from Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1751). They would not have needed the words; any picture of a churchyard evoked Gray. The “Elegy” was an immediate success when it was published and remained resonant for at least two centuries. “Poem of Poems,” Edmund Gosse, the late nineteenth-century man of letters called it in his English Men of Letters book about Gray. Line for line, it has given more words to the English language, according to the attributions in the Oxford English Dictionary, than any other source; it was probably recited by more schoolchildren in the nineteenth century than any other; it was continually translated—thirty-three times into Italian alone by 1850. It was endlessly reprinted and anthologized in English. Read More »