The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘print’

Tumefied and Syphilitic, and Other News

November 16, 2015 | by


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.”

The Play’s the Thing

August 26, 2015 | by

From a 1939 Work Projects Administration Poster.

Whenever you hear about the death of another specialty bookstore—RIP Mystery Bookstore! RIP Cookbook Store!—walk over to that unlikeliest bastion of hope, West 40th Street, and breathe a sigh of relief: the Drama Book Shop abides. And it’s not just that the store is a treasure trove of plays and scripts and monologues and a beloved nurturer of theatrical talent, with a Tony Award to prove it. The Drama Book Shop is a testament to one of the few areas where print still reigns supreme.

Newspapers might be threatened by e-readers, technology may have supplanted books, and recipes can be found online in abundance. But scripts? Scripts are necessary. Scripts are tangible. They bow before no millennial’s avowedly shortened attention span. You can highlight on a Kindle, maybe—but can you annotate? Can you plunk it down at a table reading? (The answer is yes, obviously, but it would be harder, significantly harder, and that’s not nothing.) Read More »

The Service Industry’s Snobbiest Sector, and Other News

February 24, 2015 | by

Who could say no to that face?

  • Your stereotypical French waiter is condescending, arrogant, and rigid with hauteur—a veritable seven-course meal of Gallic clichés. But that radiant superiority is earned: French waiters are still more talented than most everyone else in the game. No one has perfected the art as they have. Sartre wrote of their “lively and exaggerated manner, a little too precise, a little too fast … trying to mimic the rigor of a robot while carrying his tray with the temerity of a tightrope walker.”
  • It’s time to bury Pablo Neruda again, a Chilean judge has ruled. Forensic scientists exhumed Neruda’s remains nearly two years ago to investigate a claim by his former driver, who’d said the poet “had been murdered by an injection to his stomach by political enemies.”
  • On Oscar Wilde’s long journey from tasteless sodomite to canonized icon: “In the English classrooms of my youth, Wilde was taught as a pillar of classical learning and modern suavity, not some licentious bogeyman. Wilde, now, is tame; safe. We canonize authors to pretend we understand them; we forgive authors who ought rather to forgive us.”
  • Charles Simic knows how to beat writer’s block: just stay in bed. “When you write in bed, you don’t feel like you’re doing something serious. I’ve been traveling, visiting European institutions, and they give you a gorgeous space to work, with perhaps a lake and a beautiful desk. I could never write there; I feel intimidated by the whole thing. When you’re in bed, you feel very casual about it. It’s just doodling.”
  • Industry analysts, publishers, and grown-ups are flummoxed by news that hip, digitally native young persons apparently prefer reading printed books to reading electronic ones. “These are people who aren’t supposed to remember what it’s like to even smell books,” said one wide-eyed, confused adult. “It’s quite astounding.”

Material Objects

October 22, 2014 | by

Lessons from Rare Book School.

Edward Collier, Trompe l'Oeil of Newspapers, Letters and Writing Implements on a Wooden Board, 1699.

Four stories underneath the stately Georgian campus of the University of Virginia, I was with a group of rare-book experts scrutinizing a five-hundred-year-old Italian woodcut of two chubby infants. They framed a capital letter L. One, with a look of insouciant concentration, was thrusting his butt over the downslope of the L to defecate on it.

“The woodcut accompanies Andreas Vesalius’s discourse on the muscles of excretion,” Roger Gaskell, a rare-book dealer based in Cambridgeshire, told the group. It turns out that Vesalius, the Renaissance physician remembered today as the father of modern anatomy, had an intensely strained relationship with his publishers. “This initial letter differs from the others in the book—despite the fact that the printing house had a perfectly good L already cut,” Gaskell said. “So I rather suspect this shitting putti was a message to his publisher.”

Over a coffee break, the members of Gaskell’s seminar mingled with three others led by such luminaries as Mark Dimunation, the chief of the rare-book division at the Library of Congress. They were gathered in a warren of windowless basement rooms for an annual rite of passage in the world of antiquarian texts: Rare Book School. Read More »


Smoke This Book, and Other News

September 8, 2014 | by


The novelist Martha Baillie turned her book into installation art. Photo via Publishers Weekly

  • In praise of the footnote1: “Many readers, and perhaps some publishers, seem to view endnotes, indexes, and the like as gratuitous dressing—the literary equivalent of purple kale leaves at the edges of the crudités platter. You put them there to round out and dignify the main text, but they’re too raw to digest, and often stiff … Still, the back matter is not simply a garnish. Indexes open a text up. Notes are often integral to meaning, and, occasionally, they’re beautiful, too.”
  • One way of arguing for the necessity of print: “Rather than stand on a street corner yelling, ‘Literature is not commodity!’ I decided to inflict a series of physical experiments on my published work, to take several copies of the new book, go at them with my hands, and see what might result. I stripped the book of its cover, bought a pouch of tobacco, tore the pages, rolled the words.”
  • Among the many treasures of the Bodleian Libraries: “A bivalve locket with locks of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s hair. ‘Blessed are the eyes that saw him alive,’ an inscription reads in Latin.”
  • Metaphor is actually a fundamental constituent of language … In the seemingly literal statement ‘He’s out of sight,’ the visual field is metaphorized as a container that holds things … Ordinary language is saturated with metaphors. Our eyes point to where we’re going, so we tend to speak of future time as being ‘ahead’ of us. When things increase, they tend to go up relative to us, so we tend to speak of stocks ‘rising’ instead of getting more expensive.”
  • Really, though, if humanity discovered evidence of extraterrestrial life, could we be expected to behave ourselves? “There might be happiness and celebration to mark the end of isolation, or the news might be met with a shrug. But human nature suggests it’s more probable that this discovery triggers a chain of events that lead to utter disaster. Suddenly your safe haven is threatened by an unknown ‘them.’ Your time-tested principles of governance and social order are put under pressure. Gossip, rumor, and conjecture will gnaw away at your stable home.”

1. And the endnote, too.


A Library Without Books, and Other News

August 25, 2014 | by


Florida Polytechnic University's new library is bookless. Photo: Rocket Science Photography / Florida Polytechnic University, via the Los Angeles Times

  • We’d all like to believe in untranslatable words. It’s such a romantic thought: that there exist out there, like undiscovered desert islands, ideas we have never even conceived of…” Alas, it isn’t so. Ostensibly untranslatable terms like hyggelig (Danish) or saudade (Portuguese) have plenty of serviceable equivalents.
  • Today in the sad obsolescence of print (or, depending on whom you ask, the ineluctable march of progress): a new library with no books. At a center of higher education, no less.
  • And today in seemingly unobjectionable advice that’s actually terrible, vacuous, entitled, meaningless advice: “Do What You Love” is “the unofficial work mantra of our time … [a] secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment.”
  • On the literature of Alzheimer’s: “Because the full, internal experience of Alzheimer’s is an account that fiction alone can deliver, it’s no surprise that the go-to book for caretakers and early-stage sufferers is a novel.”
  • “For me, there’s a sure sign I’ll be able to muster the maturity to it takes to make art out of my life: When I’m finally able to laugh at a younger version of myself.”