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What We’re Loving: Dickinson, Waltz, Lupines

October 11, 2013 | by

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I’ve been marveling over The Gorgeous Nothings, a coffee table–size book with (gorgeous) color facsimiles of Emily Dickinson’s “envelope writings”—fifty-two poems and fragments written to fit on the backs and flaps of carefully folded envelopes. Marta Werner and Jen Bervin, who edited the book, also provide transcriptions that reflect the actual position of the poems on the page (many are written diagonally, or in columns, or upside down). In her informative afterword, Werner suggests the fragments belong to Dickinson’s “late ecstatic writings.” And there is something inaccessible yet buoyant about these pieces of poetry, written on scraps that often look like the wings of paper birds. —Robyn Creswell

This past weekend, I visited a three-year-old friend (and her parents). I brought her one of my favorite children’s books, Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius. The 1983 National Book Award winner is beautiful, certainly, but just as striking is its story, about an independent woman dedicated to bringing beauty to the world. It’s a classic, for sure, but more importantly, a total delight. —Sadie Stein

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Mr. Paradise

August 22, 2013 | by

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Leonard in his home office.

Elmore Leonard died this week. This is terribly sad news. It’s terribly sad when the world loses someone fantastically gifted who also, through some cosmic fluke, is not a dick. Elmore Leonard was not a dick. He was nice. He wrote something like a book a year, and even the crap ones were better than most of what passes for decent fiction these days. And he was one cool motherfucker.

We hung out one afternoon in October 2010 at his house in the suburbs north of Detroit. I was interviewing him for a story just before his ninety-millionth novel, Djibouti, was about to hit. He wore this black sweater with a scraggly beard and smoked cigarette after cigarette in his office, just talking. His daughter was in the other room futzing with this chair that was in the process of getting reupholstered. Gregg Sutter, Elmore’s longtime research man, floated in and out of the room a couple times, and Elmore sat there at his desk doing his third or fourth interview of the day—late in the day now—an eighty-five-year-old guy talking about how he’s got the best job in the world and why would he ever want to stop doing that? Apparently he didn’t. Sutter said recently that Elmore was banging away at his next book up until he had a stroke a couple weeks ago.

Back then, we talked about a bunch of stuff. The usual chaff about his writing process (longhand, then typewriter), his aversion to all that social media junk, what he was writing now. (Stacked uneasily on a chair nearby was a stack of material about mountaintop removal that Gregg had dug up; it would become fodder for his last novel, Raylan.) He’d just unboxed his first cell phone. He smoked and talked dismissively about his atrial fibrillation and how “you can get a stroke easily with it” and so he took a couple pills for it every day and had bloodwork done every week or so. This was a serene, cool man much more like the smiley bemused grandpa pictured in his current official author photo. Previous versions featured a scowly guy rocking lavender-shaded sunglasses and a the-fuck-you-looking-at puss. I can’t imagine meeting that guy, after having met this guy. Read More »

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Jennifer Egan Fever

July 12, 2011 | by

Photograph by Pieter M van Hattem/Vistalux.

Did you know that Jennifer Egan was robbed by a motorcyclist in Spain at the age of twenty-two? That when she was little, she wanted to be a doctor, but then she tried to be an archeologist? That she’s written exactly one celebrity profile and it’s of Calvin Klein? And that she received a gratuitous amount of CK1, which she wore until it ran out? That her first apartment in New York City was on West 69th Street but she has also lived on East 7th Street (between First Avenue and Avenue A) and West 28th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues), but now she lives in Fort Greene? That she wrote her first (and unpublished) novel while studying abroad at Cambridge? That she was a reader for The Paris Review? That she writes her first drafts by longhand? And her second?

I have Jennifer Egan fever. I caught it at the beginning of last year, when I read “Ask Me if I Care,” a short story of hers that The New Yorker had excerpted from her then-forthcoming novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad. I read the other two stories The New Yorker had published on my iPhone while getting a pedicure. It’s a banal admission only worth recalling because I remember sitting in the salon’s lounge long after the polish had dried and it was time to leave—I had to read it all, right then and there. After that, I read every single story she published, every novel she had written, every interview I could get my hands on. (I knew the obsession was bad when I started picking through the Amazon reviews.)

Egan’s prose is stunning, funny, sexy—cool. Her stories reference Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. She can write about an attractive kleptomaniac on a first date, a topic that seems dangerously cliché, and yet, by the end of opening paragraph, you’re hooked. She’s transparent about her writing process; honest about what she borrows and what she invents. It’s not that she “beat” Jonathan Franzen, though I see why some feel the need to pit the two authors against one another. And it’s not that she’s perfect—I have yet to encounter someone who liked The Keep—but maybe that’s also part of the appeal.

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