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Posts Tagged ‘Raymond Carver’

Sacrosanct

September 17, 2013 | by

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The cement was dirty, but so were my pants after three weeks of traveling. I lay down on the sidewalk in front of the Sagrada Família, stretching back to look up at the Nativity Façade, trying to capture most of my older sister and all of the spires in my camera’s viewfinder.

Sagrada Família is one of the most beautiful churches that I have ever seen; it is also one of the few that I have seen under construction. Not renovation or restoration, but construction. Since 1882, except for a brief interruption caused by the Spanish Civil War, this church has been the constant, but hurried home of masons and stonecutters, carpenters and sculptors, architects and electricians. On any day, a few hundred might be working inside and outside its walls; every month, church authorities spend over a million euros on construction.

The church, like the tourists who scuttle about its lower crypt and the worshippers who bow their heads and fold their hands in its central nave, is in a state of becoming, not being. The most famous hands to touch the church were those of Antoni Gaudí, who took over its design in 1883. When he died forty years later, less than a quarter of the church was finished.

Originally the idea of a bookseller who was inspired by his pilgrimage to Rome, Sagrada Família has always been an expiatory church, funded by donations. It is hard to estimate the total number of persons who have donated to the cause over the last one hundred and thirty-one years. Millions visit the church every year, their admission fees funding the costly construction that will continue for at least another decade.

While it is only a minor basilica, lacking the seat of a bishop, Sagrada Família calls to mind the great gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages. When I lay down on the cement in front of one of its oldest facades, looking up at my sister, I thought of the many generations that had already witnessed its construction.

I thought of the mothers who brought their sons, only to have those boys take their own children to see the magnificent basilica in the making. I thought of all the fathers who came with their grandfathers only to return with their granddaughters to see light pouring through newly installed stained glass windows. I thought of all the generations who had seen and would see this church the way generations before had witnessed the building of the great cathedrals of the world.

Gaudí wanted the interior of Sagrada Família to look like a forest. The columns of the nave stretch like tree trunks from the floor to the ceiling, branching to support the heavy weight of the ceiling, but also sprawling, reaching like tendrils for the sky. The church is beautiful because of its continual incompletion, its revelation that human construction is not so unlike natural construction: you plant a sapling as a child, then years later it is still growing into something taller, something more; your grandparents planted daffodils that decades later you see still returning every spring; you sit reading the newspaper on a bench in a park that your father tells you was once under water, the river having receded miles from its ancient reaches.

Cathedrals reveal human construction for what it is. In “The Cathedral,” Rainer Maria Rilke wrote “Their birth and rise, / as our own life’s too great proximity / will mount beyond our vision and our sense / of other happenings.” The poet disdains the possibility that cathedrals eclipse their makers: “as though that were history, / piled up in their immeasurable masses / in petrifaction safe from circumstance.” Life, Rilke argued, was on the streets beneath the cathedral’s spires, while death was “in those towers that, full of resignation, / ceased all at once from climbing.”

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Literary Valentines

February 14, 2013 | by

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Timothy Leo Taranto is an illustrator of pictures and a writer of stories living in Brooklyn. He hails from the frozen reaches of Upstate New York.

 

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CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Preface

January 7, 2013 | by

We loved Joel Lovell’s profile of George Saunders in yesterday’s Times Magazine. Lovell quotes generously from Saunders’s preface to the new edition of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. By special arrangement with the publisher, we bring you the preface in full.

1.

This book was written in the Rochester, New York, offices of Radian Corporation between 1989 and 1996, at a computer strategically located to maximize the number of steps a curious person (a boss, for example) would have to take to see that what was on the screen was not a technical report about groundwater contamination but a short story.

I had graduated from the Syracuse MFA program in 1988 and had been writing stories that owed everything to Ernest Hemingway and suffered for that. They were stern and minimal and tragic and had nothing to do whatsoever with the life I was living or, for that matter, any life I had ever lived.

We billed our hours, and I would respond to any disrespect toward my person by declaring (in my mind, always only in my mind): “Thanks, a-hole, your project has just funded a Saunders grant for the arts.” And, for an edit that could have been done in an hour, I would bill that program manager’s project an hour and a half, then use the liberated half hour to work on my book.

This book.

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What We’re Loving: Prohibition, Bourbon, Coffee

December 14, 2012 | by

When I asked my college advisor how I could learn to write dialogue like Raymond Carver, he told me to study a real master: John O’Hara. Naturally this kept me from reading O’Hara's novels for twenty years. Then last week I picked up Butterfield 8, the 1935 story of a young woman who steals a fur coat after a one-night stand. Rarely has such a good book had such a bad ending. If not for the last ten pages, you’d have to call it a great book, with an unforgettable heroine, frank insights into sex and sexual abuse, a vivid picture of New York during Prohibition, and panning shots that prefigure William Gaddis. (Yes, great dialogue too.) —Lorin Stein

At a library sale, I found a box set of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy in pristine condition. The spines weren’t even broken on the slim, stiff paperbacks, and I wondered whether the previous owner had even read them. But that’s all I’ve been doing the past week, and I’m ready to cast aside familial obligations, work responsibilities, holiday demands, and whatnot if they come between me and these books. —Nicole Rudick

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Beautiful Books, and Other News

November 19, 2012 | by

  • Stationer Mr. Boddington’s Studio does a series of whimsical Penguin Classics covers.
  • Raymond Carver’s OkCupid profile, as edited by Gordon Lish.
  • “On the Kindle, each screen shot floats in space, isolated from the previous or subsequent ones, an effect that left my memory of the book weirdly nebulous.” The challenges of reviewing on the Kindle.
  • Five books on anxiety.
  • Mr. Roth hasn’t given up writing entirely. He is collaborating on a novella, via e-mail, with the 8-year-old daughter of a former girlfriend.”
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    Small, Good Things

    September 13, 2012 | by

    One of Mary Oliver’s poems begins “Something has happened / to the bread / and the wine.” A most unusual mystery, the comestibles have not gone the way of the plums in William Carlos William’s “This Is Just to Say.”

    Oliver’s wine and bread, as she explains in the second stanza, “have been blessed.” These two central elements of the Christian faith have been lifted from their ordinariness, isolated in order to show the extraordinariness of even the most ordinary of things. The bread and the wine join water and words to become what believers call sacraments: Eucharist is a sacrament made from staple food and festive drink; baptism is a sacrament made of clean, clear water.

    One way of understanding the sacraments, perhaps best articulated by liturgist Gordon Lathrop, is that simple things become central things. When Christians refer to the bath and the table, they refer not only to the specific sacraments of bathing and eating, but they point also to the sacramental character of every bath and every table. The setting apart of one table and one bath shows forth the splendor of all tables and all baths.

    That setting apart is the calling of Christians but also the vocation of the writer. Read More »

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