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Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Mitford’

How Do I Break My Trash Addiction?

June 29, 2012 | by

Dear Paris Review,

For the last few months I have been rotting my brain with nothing but trash. (I am ashamed to admit how trashy, but let’s just say a certain mommy-porn trilogy may have been involved.) And the worst part is, now I find myself unable to read anything good. How do I transition back to respectable books? Sincerely, Trashy

Dear T.,

I think this has happened to a lot of us, in one form or another. I’ve also had a variation on this experience with movies: the Ozus and Bergmans in my Netflix queue mock me as I sheepishly skip over them, yet again, in favor of season 2 of The Borgias or some competitive-cooking show that forces people to re-create a taste memory using one hand, a Bunsen burner, and a palm frond. Sometimes we need transitional fare, the literary equivalent of a basically formulaic romantic comedy with a low budget and indie pretensions, if you will.

The good news is, there is no shortage of reads that are every bit as fun as what you term trash, but won’t leave you feeling like you just wasted six hours of your life. Lorin gave a good rundown not long ago. To his list I’d add classics like The Secret History, Case Histories, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Bonjour Tristesse, and newer titles Skippy Dies, The Chaperone, and Ghost Lights. If you like thrillers, there’s no shortage. I enjoy Tana French, although she’s not everyone’s idea of a beach read. If you’re really having a tough time weaning yourself, maybe try a different genre entirely: humorous essays always go down easy, and, along the same lines, short-story collections provide a gradual transition. Personally, I’m a sucker for a juicy biography: The Sisters, American Gothic, and Savage Beauty all got me through periods of intellectual exhaustion. Good luck, and I look forward to more suggestions from our readers!

 

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Literary Paint Chips: Gallery 1

April 26, 2012 | by

Paint Samples, suitable for the home, sourced from colors in literature. As seen in our two-hundredth issue.

City Fingers1 Delta Khaki2 Navy Rayon3 Limpopo4
Mapp’s Silence5 Nightclub Lycra6 Alleline’s Pink Gin7 Lydia8
Montdore Mink9 Rothko’s Forearm10 Moth11 Mrs. Jones Green12
Elephant Hills13 Camel Cashmere14 Glimpse Gray15 Samsa Juice16
Anne’s Shoes17 Mossy Trout18 Lipstick Smack19 Ocean Heart20
Mediterranean Cock21 Rebecca’s Smalls22 Dock Green23 Fair Fuzz24
Gosling25 Random Dandelion26 Violet Hour27 Golightly28

Annotations

  1. “The clouds have their old color back, their old English color: the color of a soft-boiled egg, shelled by city fingers.” ‘London Fields,’ Martin Amis.
  2. “They hurried out of the room and returned in a minute or two, each pushing a kind of tall dumb-waiter laden, on all its four wire-netted shelves, with eight-month-old babies, all exactly alike (a Bokanovsky Group, it was evident) and all (since their caste was Delta) dressed in khaki.” ‘Brave New World,’ Aldous Huxley.
  3. “Instead, she’d burst into tears. Wetting the front of her navy-blue rayon housewife dress.” ‘Blonde,’ Joyce Carol Oates.
  4. “Then Kolokolo Bird said, with a mournful cry, ‘Go to the banks of the great gray-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.’ ” “The Elephant’s Child,” Rudyard Kipling.
  5. “Miss Mapp inclined her head. Silence was gold.” ‘Miss Mapp,’ E.F. Benson.
  6. “So Becca shows up at the last minute, right before post time. She’s already called about eighteen times just to let us know that she’s coming, finally she dances through the door in this micro lycra red dress— just a sheath really, perfect for that 3:00 a.m. nightclub appearance, but like even I wouldn’t be caught dead walking around in this thing in the middle of the day. But the boys love it and it gets so quiet for a minute you can hear the sound of tongues dropping and saliva splashing on the floor.” ‘Story of My Life,’ Jay McInerney.
  7. “Percy showed it to him last night—over a pink gin, was it, Percy, at the Travellers’?” ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,’ John le Carré.
  8. “Lydia never looked clean; her skin was not pitted like Joe’s but it had a permanent grayness, the grayness of one reared on baked beans, jelly and bread and dripping.” ‘The Millstone,’ Margaret Drabble.
  9. “‘The important thing, dear,’ she said, ‘is to have a really good fur coat, I mean a proper, dark one.’ To Lady Montdore, fur meant mink.” ‘Love in a Cold Climate,’ Nancy Mitford.
  10. “He’s very close to being the shade of the walls, isn’t he, and the shade of the walls is exactly the color of the inside of Rothko’s forearm.” ‘Breaking and Entering,’ Joy Williams.
  11. “He will not open the screen and capture their pollened bodies. He did this once and the terrified thrash of the moth—a brown-pink creature who released col- ored dust on his fingers—scared them both.” ‘In the Skin of a Lion,’ Michael Ondaatje.
  12. “ ‘Now, darling,’ she said sailing past me into the kitchen. ‘I’ve brought you some nice soup, and some smart outfits of mine for Monday!’ She was wearing a lime green suit, black tights and high-heeled court shoes.” ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary,’ Helen Fielding.
  13. “‘Well, let’s try and have a fine time.’ ‘All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?’ ” “Hills Like White Elephants,” Ernest Hemingway.
  14. “Cousin Bette, a victim, ever since her arrival in Paris, to a longing for cashmere shawls, was fascinated by the thought of possessing this particular yellow camel’s-hair, given by the baron to his wife in 1808, and according to the custom of certain families passed over to the daughter in 1830.” ‘Cousin Bette,’ Honoré de Balzac.
  15. “I saw large gray eyes in a bright, lively face, and suddenly this face began to quiver and laugh.” ‘First Love,’ Ivan Turgenev.
  16. “He seemed, unfortunately, to have no proper teeth—how was he, then, to grasp the key?—but the lack of teeth was, of course, made up for with a very strong jaw; using the jaw, he really was able to start the key turning, ignoring the fact that he must have been causing some kind of damage as a brown fluid came from his mouth, flowed over the key and dripped onto the floor.” ‘The Metamorphosis,’ Franz Kafka.
  17. “Everywhere I go, upstairs or down, they all cast admiring glances at my feet, which are adorned by a pair of exceptionally beautiful ( for times like these!) shoes. Miep managed to snap them up for 27.50 guilders. Burgundy-colored suede and leather with medium-sized high heels. I feel as if I’m on stilts, and look even taller than I already am.” ‘Diary of a Young Girl,’ Anne Frank.
  18. “He was the color of moss, that color green. It was as if he had been wrapped up in moss a long time, and the color had come off all over him.” “Nobody Said Anything,” Raymond Carver.
  19. “When I awoke, B. and the girl had gone, leaving in the wake of their coupling a great mountain of disheveled bedding, a brilliant stain of orange lipstick smack in the middle of the pillow, and on the exposed sheet the untidy evidence of their urgency.” ‘A Fan’s Notes,’ Frederick Exley.
  20. “Ah, brig, good-night / To crew and you; / The ocean’s heart too smooth, too blue, / To break for you.” “Shipwreck,” Emily Dickinson.
  21. “And then later that business down below, his thick cock that blue-brown of Mediterranean types and, he wonders if her hair there is as curly as the hair on her head, in and out, he can’t believe it will happen, while the rest of them sit here listening to the rain.” ‘Rabbit Is Rich,’ John Updike.
  22. “These are her underclothes, in this drawer. This pink set here she had never worn. She was wearing slacks of course and a shirt when she died.” ‘Rebecca,’ Daphne du Maurier.
  23. “‘If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,’ said Gatsby. ‘You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.’ ” ‘The Great Gatsby,’ F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  24. “In the black pubic hair, ladies and gentlemen, weighing one hundred and seventy pounds, at least half of which is still undigested halvah and hot pastrami, from Newark, NJ, The Shnoz, Alexander Portnoy! And his opponent, in the fair fuzz, with her elegant polished limbs and the gentle maidenly face of a Botticelli, that ever-popular purveyor of the social amenities here in the Garden, one hundred and fourteen pounds of Republican refinement, and the pertest pair of nipples in all New England, from New Canaan, Connecticut, Sarah Abbott Maulsby! ” ‘Portnoy’s Complaint,’ Philip Roth.
  25. “When the first gosling poked its gray-green head through the goose’s feathers and looked around, Charlotte spied it and made the announcement.” ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ E.B. White.
  26. “Not a dandelion in sight here, the lawns are picked clean. I long for one, just one, rubbishy and insolently random and hard to get rid of and perennially yellow as the sun.” ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ Margaret Atwood.
  27. “At the violet hour, when the eyes and back / Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits / Like a taxi throbbing waiting.” ‘The Waste Land,’ T. S. Eliot.
  28. “For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks.” ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ Truman Capote.

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Transitory Lifestyles; Comic Novels

February 17, 2012 | by

Because of my school’s academic structure, I pack up my possessions and move every two to three months, ricocheting between school, home, and New York. In fact, I’m leaving the city this weekend. This kind of transience can be refreshing, but it is also disorienting, and it can make life feel fragmented or compartmentalized. If you could recommend reading material that addresses the issue of the transitory lifestyle, it might make the journey a little easier.

Whether you’re looking for seekers (The Razor’s Edge), free spirits (On the Road), ramblers (the Little House books) or the Picaresque (Tristram Shandy) there’s no shortage of literary traveling companions. Keep in mind that unstable, constantly-relocating parents also make for memorable childhoods, so the memoir section is rife with tales of itinerant life!

What is the funniest book ever written?

I don’t feel this is a question one person can answer definitively for all sorts of obvious reasons, although I will say NOT The Ginger Man, since all sorts of people, mostly men, are wont to go into ecstasies about its alleged hilarity. But then, lots of the reputedly uproarious classics have left me cold, so what do I know?

You don’t need me to list the “great comic novels” for you—Tom Jones, Tristram Shandy, Lucky Jim … the list goes on. I feel like the “right” answer to this question is something like Ulysses, but I’d be lying if I said it had me in stitches. (Although Mark Twain genuinely has.) Several in the canon get resounding plaudits from my colleagues here: Catch-22 and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are considered comedy classics for a reason.

Says Lorin, “The Tetherballs of Bougainvillea made me laugh longest. London Fields made me laugh hardest (Marmaduke: projectile tears of laughter). Home Land made me laugh loudest. Mark Twain’s sketches and the Jeeves books make me laugh most reliably.”

Deirdre adds that Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask should not be ignored.

As for me, I’ve mentioned it before, but After Claude was the last book to actually make me laugh out loud. I love Scoop, and early parts of The Pursuit of Love. (Although I find Waugh and Mitford’s correspondence funnier than either.) E.F. Benson’s “Mapp and Lucia” series has moments of absolute hilarity. Pictures from an Institution should be in there, surely.

Disclaimer: I find certain scenes in Excellent Women genuinely funny, but Lorin said that he didn’t laugh once, so.

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Staff Picks: ‘Proud Beggars,’ A Brilliant Invalid

December 2, 2011 | by

The New York Review just reissued Alice James, Jean Strouse’s 1980 biography of a brilliant invalid—Henry and William’s sister—whose brave wit shone through depression, physical paralysis, and the constraints of being a female James. Alice is not the only one who comes to life in Strouse’s book; they all do, and the love and loneliness in that family can move you to tears. —Lorin Stein

Albert Cossery was an Egyptian novelist who lived for more than sixty years in the Hôtel La Louisiane in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. He never held a job (he refused to get out of bed before noon), and each of his seven novels is a hymn to laziness. Two new translations of Cossery will be published this month: Proud Beggars, a metaphysical whodunit set in a whorehouse, and The Colors of Infamy, about real estate, blackmail, and life in a Cairene cemetery. Both are treats. —Robyn Creswell

I was in France for a week after Thanksgiving and had the chance to go to some terrific exhibitions, one of the best of which, at the Grand Palais, was on Gertrude Stein and her family and managed to replicate their collection. (The fact that it was called “L’Adventure des Stein” didn’t hurt—and, yes, I took a picture in front of the sign!) Of everything there, my favorite piece was a small Matisse still life of some nasturtiums. And when I looked at the wall text, I saw it was on loan from the Brooklyn Museum. I’m sure there’s some cliché in there about traveling across the ocean to find the treasure in your own backyard. —Sadie Stein

In a superb piece for Vanity Fair last June, Christopher Hitchens relates how he used to open his writing classes with the cheering maxim that anyone who could talk could write (of course he would then ask his students how many of them could really talk). The anecdote is telling: the experience of encountering his latest essay collection, Arguably, is less one of reading and more one of sitting down to a long and intimate dinner with the man himself. Over the course of over a hundred pieces, Hitchens’s fierce intellect ranges from the authors of the Constitution to illicit blowjobs in public toilets to the case for humanitarian intervention in totalitarian states. The wit shimmers, and when the talk turns serious, though you may not always agree with the man, he, like the best interlocutors, will demand you know why and have the courage of your convictions. —Peter Conroy Read More »

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