The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘New England’

A Battery of Tests for You, and Other News

August 19, 2016 | by

“The Make a Picture Story Test,” a psychological study from 1942. Image courtesy Redstone Press, via The New Yorker.

  • Elif Batuman has been reading Psychobook, a new collection of what can only be described as vintage psychological tests. The book is designed for many things, but not to make its readers feel sane: “No less than the many tests in its pages, Psychobook is itself a kind of inkblot, certain to evoke different emotions and associations from different people. For this reader, one recurring sensation was that of a deeply American beleaguerment, with some Eastern European overtones. I thought again and again of the immigrant woman, landing like Kafka’s hero on American shores after a long and, one feels, psychically taxing boat ride, facing the first of many new puzzles in a strange new land … It’s not immediately clear why this book exists, but it would probably look great in a therapist’s waiting room.”
  • Today in junk that might also be art—or, at least, junk that you could soon own: Tekserve, a computer-support shop not far from the Review’s offices in Chelsea, ended its twenty-nine-year run this week. As a kind of progenitor of the Apple store, the business amassed a lot of obsolete technology over the decades, and now you can buy that stuff at auction. Have you had your eye on a Philco Predicta TV? An early “magic lantern” slide projector? A Braille display processor? A Nagra 4.2 portable mono tape recorder? Or perhaps the storied “Mac Museum,” “which comprises thirty-five computers that represent the development of Apple from 1984 to 2004”?
  • Since 1982, the London Review of Books has had featured writers from all over the world for their Diary column. Until this week, no one could say which corners of the globe, exactly, had been represented in the LRB’s pages—but now they’ve gone ahead and marked all eight hundred of their contributors on a map. Note the presences, of course, but also the absences. No one has ever filed a diary from Mongolia or Indonesia, for instance—book your flights now and refine your pitches from thirty thousand feet.

February: Pemaquid Point

February 4, 2016 | by

A postcard of Pemaquid Point, ca. 1930–45.

Ira Sadoff’s poem “February: Pemaquid Point” appeared in our Winter–Spring 1980 issue. His most recent collection is True Faith (2012). Read More »

The Room of Flowers

February 4, 2016 | by

Childe Hassam, The Room of Flowers, 1894.

I am fully and intensely aware that plants are conscious of love and respond to it as they do to nothing else. —Celia Thaxter 

Last year, I picked up a book called An Island Garden by Celia Thaxter. I’m not interested in gardening—I can’t keep a plant alive—but I’d loved her Among the Isles of the Shoals, a sort of informal travelogue. An Island Garden conjures the same passion for a remote and challenging and fiercely beloved place. It evokes a sense of belonging, too. Read More »

Letters from Vladivostok

December 14, 2015 | by

From Letters from Vladivostok.

More and more I enjoy seeing the herds go home at sunset or a little before—I amuse myself studying the faces of the cows and there are so many different expressions on them: the intellectual cow, the woman’s rights (or rather the cow’s rights) cow, the peasant cow, the grand duchess cow, the lesser nobility and the cows who would be charwoman if they were humans. And most of them remind me of people I have met. —Eleanor Pray, 1909

Last week, I received a letter from a reader named Birgitta Ingemanson. She’d read a piece of mine from last month in which I mentioned the doldrums that one can sail into when one is between books. These inter-book periods are restless times, and the transition from one world to another can be a challenge. If the book you finished was good, you mourn its loss. Conversely, a bad book can make you gun-shy. What if the next one’s no good, either? Birgitta wrote, “The thought came to me to send you the enclosed book, with the following simple suggestion when the in-between time strikes again: ‘Try this.’ ” The book was one she had edited: Eleanor L. Pray’s Letters from Vladivostok, 1894–1930Read More »

A Brief History of Shelving, and Other News

November 12, 2015 | by

Titles on the spines: what a concept! A shelf in the Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek. Photo: Erik Kwakkel

  • In 1650, William Pynchon—Thomas’s earliest colonial ancestor—published The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, a small quarto volume about, you know, God and stuff, which caused a hell-storm of controversy in Puritan New England: “To leading officials in the government of Massachusetts Bay, however, this was an insidious text, an exercise in heresy—one the Puritan clergy believed capable of throwing their young and vulnerable colony into irreversible chaos. Pynchon, a prominent layman with a devoted constituency, was charismatic enough to inspire a movement similar to the Antinomian debacle that had nearly brought the colony to its knees in the previous decade … In addition to the burning of Pynchon’s book, the General Court also commissioned a theologian named John Norton to write an official rebuttal … The General Court accepted [Pynchon’s] contrition, though the magistrates did demand he appear before them again the following October. They set bail at £100. This time, Pynchon absconded.”
  • Imagine what it must’ve felt like to be the scribe who invented page numbers. Or title labels. Or spine titles. A physical book is an efficient device, but to look at the history of bookbinding is to see how momentous and hard-won these modest advances were, as Erik Kwakkel writes: “The early history of displaying a book’s title and author on the outside is long and winding: first the information was found on the front or back, then on the fore-edge, and finally on the spine. This order is no coincidence, because it roughly reflects another development, namely how books were stored: first flat (Early and Central Middle Ages), then upright with the fore-edge facing the reader (Later Middle Ages), and finally with the spine facing outward (Early Modern period). Judging from surviving book bindings, the history of the dust jacket actually starts surprisingly late. After all, the earliest traceable specimens date from the fourteenth century.”
  • Punk, which began as street fashion, has completed the final step in its transformation from ethos to consumerist movement: now it’s just street fashion again, and we’re left to wonder if there was ever really anything to it. “Forty years after Television’s legendary residency at CBGB, the world is awash in punk. In the last twenty months, former Village Voice rock critic and punk champion Robert Christgau wrote a memoir about his downtown New York youth, Kim Gordon published her memoirs, Viv Albertine published hers, Richard Hell released the paperback edition of his, Patti Smith released the follow-up to her National Book Award–winning memoir, and HarperCollins signed Lenny Kaye, Smith’s guitarist, to write a memoir of his own. Ramones fans can look forward to a forthcoming Martin Scorsese–helmed biopic and a documentary promising new footage of the seminal band, whose last founding member perished in 2014 … As punk pushes into its fourth decade, its rules, aesthetic, and parameters are still murky at best. Does punk retain any meaning at all?”
  • On the connection between writing and running: “Writers, like runners, often like the idea of their pursuit more so than the difficult work. The appeal of a running regimen is how the miles not only condition the body, but free up a space for the creative mind … Since I’ve returned to distance running, I’ve changed the way I think about writing. Writing exists in that odd mental space between imagination and intellect, between the organic and the planned. Runners must learn to accept the same paradoxes, to realize that each individual run has its own narrative, with twists and turns and strains.”
  • The Paris Review’s intern Joshua Maserow on J. M. Coetzee: “Coetzee doesn’t hate truth. In fact, he yearns for it (transcendental, objective truth). The truth just doesn’t seem all that comforting or that accessible. We must search for our truths but won’t find them. He wears two hats: that of the hopeful Platonist (‘our engagements are with a constantly changing interplay between shadows (fictions) and the real’) but also that of the weary pragmatist (‘the more a person has been offered sympathetic fictions of herself, the more easily she will be able to live within the fiction(s) she holds herself’).”

A Cataract of Ruin

October 26, 2015 | by

Hawthorne’s scariest story.

Thomas Cole, A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains, 1839.

“Even his bright gildings,” Herman Melville once wrote of Nathaniel Hawthorne, “play upon the edges of thunder-clouds.” This was in “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” an 1850 appreciation in which Melville reputed the notion that Hawthorne, fifteen years his senior, was merely “a sequestered, harmless man”:

this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free … At all events, perhaps no writer has ever wielded this terrific thought with greater terror than this same harmless Hawthorne … this black conceit pervades him, through and through.

In the reductive churn that comes with canonization, this “black conceit” seems to have washed off Hawthorne—Melville’s nickname for him, “the Man of Mosses,” hasn’t exactly stuck. We have better Moss People: your Poes, your Lovecrafts, your Shelleys and Stokers. Hawthorne, the thinking goes, is too puritanical to be truly spooky. (Imagine the groans you’d get from reading a bit of The Scarlet Letter around a late October campfire.) But his story “The Ambitious Guest” is scarier than anything in Poe, and its dark romanticism makes no recourse to haunted houses, death masques, black cats, supernaturally sustained heartbeats, or any other genre trope. It’s just about a weary traveler and a nice family who open their home to him. Read More »