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Posts Tagged ‘New York Public Library’

Staff Picks: BMX, BBQ, Brutes

January 8, 2016 | by

From an early edition of Black Wings Has My Angel

Dying is an experience that biographers tend to pass over in silence. That’s why Katie Roiphe’s forthcoming book The Violet Hour is a revelation, at least to me. Her case studies—of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, Dylan Thomas, John Updike, and Maurice Sendak—focus on the last months of life, using each writer’s final struggle as a key to his or her character. This is the best book Roiphe has written. She shows that our interest in dying is not just an interest in endings, or in final things, or in posterity. Instead, it has to do with how we get along, how families and friendship work, in short, how we live. —Lorin Stein 

I spent Christmas on the beach in ninety-degree heat, so I wanted something pulpy to read. I took along Elliott Chaze’s Black Wings Has My Angel, a 1954 noir, just reissued. Its plot doesn’t break the mold: a lowlife dude busts out of the clink, picks up a gorgeous hooker, and embarks with her on a life of crime in big-sky country. But Chaze has a strange eye for details, ones that set him against the grain of most crime writers. (Seldom do you hear a hard-boiled guy extol the potato salad at a roadside BBQ joint or tell you about his hernia exam.) Black Wings gathers a bizarre, often comical head of steam that reminded me of Denis Johnson or Wild at Heart. What kept me turning the pages was the easy, blunt wit and endless disdain: “Both had the terrible conceit of little men,” he writes of his employers, “who through fortune or persistence had landed in positions where there were even littler men for them to boss around. I’m sure it never occurred to either of them that they were stupid.” And Chaze gave his hero an excellent nom de guerre: Timothy Sunblade. “I picked that name,” Sunblade tells us, “because it is a name that smells of the out of doors.” —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

Russian Book Jackets from the 1930s

January 7, 2016 | by

E. Kuznetsov, Circus, 1931.

These Russian book jackets from the thirties are among the many riches on offer in the New York Public Library’s newly enhanced digital collections. Below are some favorites; you can see the whole collection hereRead More »

Empty Your Own Chamber Pot, and Other News

January 7, 2016 | by

Tolstoy’s family circle at Yasnaya Polyana, ca. 1905.

Tumefied and Syphilitic, and Other News

November 16, 2015 | by

Huysmans

J. K. Huysmans just relaxing in front of this crucifix like it’s no big thing.

  • Houellebecq’s Submission features many an excursus on Joris-Karl Huysmans, the nineteenth-century French writer of whom Houllebecq himself has said, “I think he could’ve been a real friend to me.” What was Huysmans’s MO? His novel À rebours, which tells of “a nature-hating aesthete named Jean des Esseintes,” has an approach to desire and spiritual malady that feels strikingly on point, even in 2015: “Subtitled ‘A Novel Without a Plot,’ the narrative concerns des Esseintes’s attempts to furnish and decorate a country home where he will be able to live without ever again having to deal with the outside world … He gets turned on by locomotive engines: their steaming, sweating loins girdled in glittering copper corsets; their disheveled manes of black smoke; their horns’ muffled, impassioned cries … Huysmans’s prose isn’t just purple: it’s ultraviolet. Everything in À Rebours is tumefied and syphilitic, damasked with ennui, liver-spotted with arcane longings.”
  • In which Gay Talese slips on a pair of virtual-reality goggles, and balks: “But this doesn’t interest me in the least! … You know why? You know why? It’s the sort of stuff you see in a documentary, but there’s no insight into the situation, into the characters … It’s just a bunch of scenes … Television is driven by imagery … There will be a lead on a slow night, the networks will lead with a forest fire in Topanga California—great visual scenes—or a bombing of Baghdad. Anything that shows you color, smoke, fire, bullets, dodging gets on because it’s visual, but you don’t get anything … There has to be face to face confrontation between the writer and the subject, and the writer has to be able to cultivate something from the subject to get something approximate to the truth of the subject.”
  • What does a debate about the abridgment of Moby-Dick tell us about reading on the Internet? Oh, nothing terribly encouraging: “Countless readers have run aground on Melville’s mountain of details on the art of whaling, or have been left behind as he plunges, like his Catskill eagle, into philosophical realms, but it is precisely in these passages where his real appeal resides … It is rather quaint to locate the manifestation of our collective ruin in a British publisher of abridgments, which have been around nearly as long as novels themselves … Thanks to the oceanic expanses of the web, there is no need to condense or abridge anything anymore, at least not for want of space … This would appear to be a problem. And it is one that is likely to get worse.”
  • Today in techno prophesy: a bunch of smart interdisciplinary types got together and decreed that by the year 2100, “libraries will be both highly distributed and deeply connected, sharing a single collection as they work to meet the emerging demands of their individual communities.” As for the physical books in the libraries, they’ll probably disappear, but only a fuddy-duddy would mourn their loss. “Library isn’t etymologically related to books at all, deriving instead from a Latin word for the smooth inner bark of a tree. It was, in this sense, a thing on which one might write rather than a storehouse of what had already been written. Whatever they become … libraries will retain that original implication, always ‘spaces for creation or curiosity,’ even if they leave the books behind.”
  • Meanwhile, in a concrete bunker seventeen feet underground, the New York Public Library is preparing to store vast, high-density reserves of print: “a new retrieval system [will] ferry the volumes and other materials from their eighty-four miles of subterranean shelving, loaded into little motorized carts … Books will be stacked by height and tracked by bar code rather than by a subject-based system, making for some odd bookfellows … The climate-controlled repository encompasses more than 110,000 square feet … It stretches from beneath the back wall of the main building, which fronts Fifth Avenue, a full block west to Sixth Avenue, and from 42nd Street to 40th Street.”

Staff Picks: Stray Dogs, Stereographs, Pepsi Sex Floats

November 13, 2015 | by

Detail from one of Jim Shaw’s “Dream Objects,” on display now at the New Museum.

Sleep doesn’t always come easy for me, so I was drawn to Linda Pastan’s new collection of poems just from its title: Insomnia. Pastan muses on the daydreams the sleepless have at night, the small histories that emerge as each day wanes. Her narrators sit up wishing their gnarled skin was as beautiful as an apple tree’s, or remembering the “fascinated nightmares” the woodcut novels of Lynd Ward inspired. They think about Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve and the poet Roland Flint and the way asteroids resemble giant brains plucked from their skulls. Though the title suggests otherwise, Pastan writes oneirically, knitting gentle verse together with playful, if often somber, scenes. In “Counting Sheep,” Pastan writes of how restless the sheep are, waiting to be added up: “I notice a ram / pushing up against a soft and curly female … It’s difficult / to keep so many sheep / in line for counting ... ” In “Insomnia: 3 AM,” “Sleep has stepped out / for a smoke / and may not be back”—I just love that. —Caitlin Youngquist

Jim Shaw’s “The End Is Here” is up through January 10 at the New Museum: three floors chockablock with thrift-store paintings, extreme Christian ephemera, and Shaw’s own distinctly outré drawings, paintings, and collages. J. Hoberman has written that “although [Shaw’s] obsessive faux naïve work dares you to find it creepy, it is more often strangely cheerful, as well as enigmatic.” This holds true no matter how outrageous his images are: two aliens fucking on a UFO flight deck, Santa getting his dick bitten off. Shaw’s is a world where even an exsanguinated penis is nothing more than a lark; Freudians need not apply. Then there’s the artist’s collected stuff—from junk piles and yard sales, Shaw has compiled some significant American detritus, and his arrangements make it all more cohesive than you’d expect. Stick around long enough and even the titles for his dream drawings start to make sense: “I was drawing a Pepsi sex float … ” “In Reno there was a Titanic mockup where a girl … ” “I think I was half awake when I thought of this upright piano modeled after the cave monster from It Conquered the World … ” —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

Goya’s Gallows Humor, and Other News

April 29, 2015 | by

Francisco Goya, Wicked Woman, 1819–23. Via NYRB

  • When he was in his early seventies and gravely ill, Goya began a series of private drawings, full of piss and vinegar and intended to amuse his friends—among them were pictures of naked witches, newborn babies tied to poles, and a procuress fingering her rosary and slugging some rotgut. “The captions are minimal: ‘Monk,’ ‘Nothing is known of this,’ ‘I can hear snoring’ … Goya’s drawings may leave us up in the air, filled with a disquieting unease. Yet in the end, the witches and old people are tokens of life, not death—even the tired, ancient man shuffling on his sticks, mockingly captioned Just can’t go on at the age of 98.”
  • By piecing together years of letters, diaries, and newspapers, one scholar believes she’s discovered the man who inspired Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy. She noted, for instance, “that the physical similarities between the Earl and the description of Darcy are ‘obvious,’ with the former looking ‘very intense.’ ” An airtight case.
  • In Park Slope, Brooklyn, for thirty-five years, a gated storefront hid an artist’s studio. “Behind the black gate was a world of color, hundreds of abstract works created and hidden away by Mr. [Leo] Bates, who had a promising start as a painter in the 1970s before renouncing the art world and retreating to his storefront to paint.”
  • Eight rare books, including one by Benjamin Franklin, had long-ago disappeared from the New York Public Library. A woman who recently tried to sell them to an auction house “said the books have been in her family for decades, and there’s no proof that her late parents obtained the books illegally.”
  • Everyone loves a good sentence—and clauses, subordinate or not, are beloved throughout the land—but what of the paragraph, that other indispensible unit of prose? Why do we speak so often of “a great writer of sentences” and so rarely of “a great writer of paragraphs”?

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