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Posts Tagged ‘New Jersey’

Disappearing Doo-wop, and Other News

August 5, 2015 | by

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Mark Havens, Untitled (Sweetbriar & Atlantic), 2006. Image via T Magazine

  • Anxiety has always been a fixture of the human experience—who doesn’t enjoy a good bout of angst and fear now and again? But the word worry is, in its current sense, a fairly new addition to the English language: “Although it was used in the sixteenth century, in all of Shakespeare’s works worry appears just once—as a transitive verb denoting strangling or choking. Only in the Victorian era did its contemporary meaning come into widespread use. The advent of literary modernism in the twentieth century placed the personal inner world center stage. From James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom to Virginia Woolf’s Mr. Ramsay, worriers came to abound in the modernist canon.”
  • August Kleinzahler is in Montreal and trying to speak French: “In general, Quebecers seem to like Americans, in approximate measure to their dislike of Anglophone Canadians. Insofar as no other nationality that immediately comes to mind ‘likes’ Americans (even the Irish seem to have gone off us during the George W. Bush era), I find being in Montreal again a most genial circumstance. ‘You must find yourself a French lover and learn the language on the pillow,’ the fromagier told me.”
  • So you’re looking for a literary agent? Here’s a cool publishing hack: pretend you’re a man. It is, evidence suggests, dramatically easier to find representation that way, as Catherine Nichols learned when she sent out her query letter under a pseudonym: “George sent out fifty queries, and had his manuscript requested seventeen times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in twenty-five … I imagined him as a sort of reptilian Michael Fassbender–looking guy, drinking whiskey and walking around train yards at night while I did the work. Most of the agents only heard from one or the other of us, but I did overlap a little. One who sent me a form rejection as Catherine not only wanted to read George’s book, but instead of rejecting it asked if he could send it along to a more senior agent … George’s work was ‘clever,’ ‘well-constructed,’ and ‘exciting.’ No one mentioned his sentences being lyrical or whether his main characters were feisty.”
  • In fact, even if you prefer simpler hobbies, such as coloring books, the world is determined to rain on your parade: “The bizarre thing about the new adult coloring books is they are virtually impossible to complete. They have to be difficult, because adults are still embarrassed to be seen working away at infant activities … But the main thing making coloring ‘socially acceptable’ is the link to mental health. The mindfulness industry has planted its flag on the business and many books are being sold as an offshoot of meditation … The new mindful coloring books are mindless. You should be drawing your own pictures!”
  • Flashy neon lights, kidney-shaped pools, asymmetrical design elements, and a plethora of plastic palm trees”: these are the “Doo Wop” motels of the Wildwoods, “the three kitschy southern New Jersey shore towns that are home to the largest concentration of midcentury motels in the nation.” A new series of photos by Mark Havens documents “the interplay of an idealized past and its inexorable disappearance.”

Panties Inferno: An Interview with Peter Larkin

January 15, 2015 | by

Making a pop-up book about burlesque.

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Peter Larkin

My mother Racelle, a painter, met the production designer Peter Larkin in the midsixties when she went to work for him as a scenic artist. After my parents divorced, Peter and Racelle became an item, eventually marrying. Peter had a long, Tony Award–winning Broadway career and then moved into film, designing pictures like Tootsie and Get Shorty. He’s a brilliant illustrator, as well—Ralph Allen, who’d conceived the musical Sugar Babies, collaborated with Peter on his book The Best Burlesque.

Burlesque, it turns out, is one of Peter’s great obsessions. Over the past twenty years, he’s created a mass of drawings, mock-ups, and maquettes for Panties Inferno, a pop-up book on the subject. Now eighty-eight, he continues to refine the work, though publishers have told him the book is too expensive to manufacture and publish—something about the glue points. But his pop-ups and drawings are wonderful, a testament to his comprehensive knowledge of the old burlesque scene. I called him to talk about his process and the basis of his fascination with burlesque as well as its history, which he feels has been mischaracterized since burlesque began to die out in the late fifties and early sixties.

Where does burlesque begin, for you?

The word burla is some kind of antique Italian. It means “joke,” and the first burlesque was imitations of what went on uptown. It was a family affair. People brought their lunches and stuff. Florenz Ziegfeld had The Ziegfeld Follies, which probably cost a lot of money—that show had nude ladies in tableaux, but they were forbidden to move. The curtain opened on Aladdin’s cave, say, or an artist’s studio, and all the ladies were still.

But in the early twentieth century, forward-thinking people like the Minsky brothers, of Minsky’s Burlesque, made it so that for a lot less money you could go and see the women moving. It changed tremendously through the years. These acts started out with a preponderance of acts and comics and maybe one or two strippers, and as it went on, more and more time was given over to strippers. The comics were furious. They started to use bluer material, to get even. Read More »

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Field of Dreams

August 19, 2014 | by

Chasing down one grand slam.

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From Baseball ABC, 1885

It was my 3,664th day on Earth, as I later calculated, and I was in a Little League fantasy scenario in Princeton, New Jersey. Play-offs, bases loaded, up at bat against an intimidating pitcher with a gnarly high kick. For an instant, my Louisville Slugger met with the ball, the leather and rubber shape-shifting against the aluminum. A roper up the middle into deep center—I can still feel the smack off the fat of the bat. I’d hit an inside-the-park grand slam. This was my finest moment as an athlete. It’s forever seared into my brain, scored by the cacophony of yelping mothers and fathers loud enough to drive kids away from the ice-cream truck to investigate.

This year marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Little League’s existence, culminating in August’s Little League Baseball World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Williamsport’s Carl Stotz founded the league in 1939 by rounding up his nephews and their neighborhood friends. With the added attention to Little League this year, I began considering my brief moment of glory and how many children over the decades have received such a jolt of confidence—or the opposite—on ball fields nationwide.

The league has since ballooned into an international behemoth, with more than two-hundred thousand teams in all fifty states and more than eighty countries the world over, from Uganda to Kyrgyzstan. Each year now, more than two million boys (and some girls) play ball—their teams often sponsored by local businesses and larger corporations—and get schooled in triumph and failure, sometimes life and death. (The year 1956 marked the first on-field death in Garland, Texas, when Jerry Armstrong hit the twelve-year-old Richard “Rick” Oden in the head with a pitch.)

Our own conquests may not occur in front of the forty-five thousand live fans and more than a million TV viewers the Little League World Series attracts, but they mold our characters nonetheless, before modest collections of parents and siblings. Still, I realized how little detail I actually recalled from my big day. Who was the pitcher? What was the weather like? How old was I exactly? Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Strokes, Sex Appeal, Splenetic Surfers

March 28, 2014 | by

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Emmanuelle Devos in a still from Just a Sigh, 2013.

If you saw American Hustle with your parents, as I did last Christmas, you will have noticed something that set it apart from pretty much every Hollywood movie of the last few years. I refer to the sex appeal of Amy Adams. Her hotness was a blast from the past, and not just because of the disco décolletage. For some reason, Hollywood doesn’t really do sexy these days, at least not in female roles—and certainly not compared to the French. Just think of Lola Créton in Goodbye, First Love or Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue Is the Warmest Color—both playing teenagers with a soulful teenage horniness that’s taboo in American movies—or Marion Cotillard as a double amputee in Rust and Bone, or best and most recent of all, Emmanuelle Devos, the fifty-year-old star of Just a Sigh, who’s never looked better (which is saying something), and who smolders so intensely for Gabriel Byrne that the poor guy just sort of disappears off the screen. Until the actual love scenes, you hardly notice: this is a one-woman show. —Lorin Stein

Rodrigo de Souza Leão died shortly after the publication of All Dogs Are Blue, an autobiographical novel detailing his time in a Rio de Janeiro mental asylum. Souza Leão uses a kind of language his schizophrenia has taught him, creating a poetry that’s at one moment absurd—his two recurring hallucinations are Rimbaud and Baudelaire—and the next heartbreakingly self-aware. (“Is it the kiss of Judas? Will I betray my father in my madness?”) It’s an innovative, original book, though not an easy one to read. But then, as Souza Leão writes, “The truth can be a sloppy invention and still convince everyone.” —Justin Alvarez

When will spring arrive‽ Isn’t all this cold weather lovely though⸮ I love it—I hope it never ends؟ If you’ve been feeling that we have a lack of punctuation marks at our disposal—we don’t have a way to represent, for instance, an ironic question—then why not revive the obsolete irony mark⸮ It has a long history of failure in mainstream typography that you can read all about in Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks, by Keith Houston. But if you believe that to point out irony to an intelligent reader would defeat its purpose wholesale, perhaps you would prefer the percontation point, which was invented by the English printer Henry Denham in the nineteenth century—it’s meant as a visual indication of a rhetorical question. Or the interrobang, which combines the feeling of the exclamation point with the function of the question mark. Or my favorite, the love point, used to denote deep affection. —Anna Heyward

Geoff Dyer was not killed, or even, apparently, seriously impaired by his recent stroke, and he writes buoyantly about the experience for the London Review of Books. Ten days into his new life in Venice Beach, his vision went weird and his coordination abandoned him, and he stumbled about half-blind in perfect weather. His is a kind of coming-of-age story that reminds you how many such stories make up a life, whatever your age. —Zack Newick Read More »

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Philip Roth Reads “In Memory of a Friend, Teacher and Mentor”

June 3, 2013 | by

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In April, Philip Roth published a eulogy for his beloved high-school teacher Bob Lowenstein in the New York Times. A couple of weeks ago, Roth visited Audible.com’s Newark, New Jersey, headquarters to record an audio version of the eulogy, which is now available as a free audio download at Audible. Listen to an exclusive clip below.

For every download of “In Memory of a Friend, Teacher and Mentor,” Audible will donate $1 to the Newark Public Library. “We are delighted to be able to offer Philip Roth’s legions of fans this special audio recording of Philip reading his moving eulogy for his high school teacher,” said Audible founder and CEO Donald Katz. “Here at Audible, we celebrate our connection to the great city of Newark every day, and as a literary company we take special pride in the fact that Newark is Philip’s hometown. Hearing a legendary author reading his own words can be an incredibly intimate and moving experience, and we hope many people will download this wonderful audio piece and in doing so help us support the Newark Public Library, which sustained Philip as a young reader and writer.”

Mr. Roth was kind enough to talk a bit about the audio recording, the important role of the library during his childhood and young adulthood, and the inspiration teachers can provide.

I understand that all of the conference rooms at Audible are named for people or places significant to Newark and its history, and that it has a Philip Roth room. Did you record there?

No, that’s a conference room. It’s right next to the Stephen Crane conference room.  I recorded in a little studio named for Duke Ellington.

Are you someone who can listen to his own voice?

I haven’t done much of it.

As a rule, you don’t do audio recordings?

No, I don’t.

Have you listened to other recordings of your work?

No.

As a matter of principle, or lack of interest?

I listened once. That took care of it. Read More »

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Family Fortunes

October 16, 2012 | by

One recent weekday afternoon, I left my apartment in Los Angeles, walked three blocks, and bought a movie ticket. I was at liberty to see a movie in the middle of the day because I had just left my job, having decided to spend some time not “working,” but writing—and I needed to see a movie because the writing was not working. There was no writer’s block, per se: words trickled out, they were just terrible in that first-draft-fiction way. Compounding this writerly self-doubt was the uncomfortable feeling that I’d invoked a huge privilege—namely, a class privilege (my household could get by for a time, our dogs’ pampered existence intact, without my salary)—to produce a Word document full of tired characters and clichés. Worse still was the suspicion that I was, myself, a tired character and a cliché: too neurotic and guilt stricken to enjoy this temporary luxury and try to do something good with it.

And so, off to the movies. I’d just read about the documentary The Queen of Versailles, said to be the “riches-to-rags” story of a billionaire time-share mogul and his wife forced to cease construction on their new ninety-thousand-square-foot home (the largest in America, once finished) when the economy collapsed. So I chose that one: it was well reviewed, prize winning, and very much of the broader world, a good counterweight to the swimmy interiority of novel drafting. I was also drawn to it because it sounded like the kind of movie I would see with my dad back when I lived in New York; he and I would meet up at the Film Forum after work, usually for some edifying progressive documentary—The Trials of Henry Kissinger or Bush Family Fortunes, say—the significance of which we would then gnaw on over pad Thai afterwards. I liked films like this, and talking to my dad about them, because they helped me make sense of the world, and because they drew clean, reassuring lines in my brain between justice and injustice. Which is to say, walking into The Queen of Versailles, I expected to see a movie about some greedy one-percenters getting their comeuppance and feel good about that.

In a sense, I did. David Siegel, the time-share king, made his billions by seducing people into buying time-shares they can’t afford, largely by convincing them that the purchase will help them feel less like a working stiff and more like a rich person. This isn’t an interpretation but a matter of record—we see his sales force in action, as director Lauren Greenfield captures them talking strategy, luring people to sign on the dotted line, and, later, trying to extract payments from distressed customers after the housing bubble bursts. At that point, when banks refuse to lend to David and he becomes a “victim” of the system from which he has profited so outrageously, we savor the irony all the more because, well, David is a schmuck. He brags to Greenfield about having helped deliver the 2000 election to George W. Bush through “extra-legal” means (the Siegels live in Florida), but won’t elaborate. He channels his philanthropic impulses toward beauty pageants (Jackie Siegel, his wife, is a former beauty queen); a big patron of the Miss America organization, Siegel exudes lecherous entitlement when chatting up the young contestants at a party at his and Jackie’s home. When the Siegels fall on what passes for hard times—droppings from their countless white fluffy dogs pile up around the house, their domestic staff having been reduced to one; Jackie starts shopping at Walmart; there is suddenly talk of an “electric bill”—David becomes irritable and withdrawn, generally making life miserable for Jackie and the couple’s eight children. Partly because we know that the Siegels will always land on padded feet—even if their absurd imitation-Versailles mansion does slip from their grasp, a question that remains unresolved by the end of the film—it’s easy to root against David.

Jackie is a more complicated case. Read More »

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