Posts Tagged ‘reading’
February 3, 2011 | by Jane Ciabattari
This is the second installment of Ciabattari’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
11:00 A.M. Go out to a café to read a first novel I’m reviewing. Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! is about a family of alligator wrestlers. Talk about Southern Gothic. I’m finding the language fresh and original. Describing a deserted house in the swamp: “A huge hole in the middle of the ceiling opened onto a clear night sky; it looked as if some great predator had peeled the thatched roof back, sniffed once and lost interest.”
6:30 P.M. The panelists for tonight’s National Book Critics Circle discussion I’m moderating, “Book Reviews, Revamped,” are all sitting in the office of Noreen Tomassi, the executive director of the Center for Fiction. I love this place. Floors of books, collections dating back to the nineteenth century.
Once the audience has gathered, we head downstairs to the second floor, where we have a discussion of the ways in which four publications are headed into the new decade.
Jennifer MacDonald, who is involved with revamping The New York Times Book Review, breaks news: in February Paper Cuts is merging into the ArtsBeat blog, and they have hired a new children’s book editor, Pamela Paul.
Robert Messenger, who launched the Wall Street Journal’s stand-alone print book section this fall, says he’s not reinventing a book-review section, he’s preserving an old form, and Rupert Murdoch wants him to edit for the reader, not for advertisers.
Craig Teicher talks about Publishers Weekly’s revival under a new owner, the poetry coverage, and the news blog he’s started.
Barbara Hoffert talks about writing the weekly prepub alert for Library Journal, and mentions the new opportunities for small presses and work in translation to be reviewed.
February 2, 2011 | by Jane Ciabattari
8:42 A.M. I sit on the couch, drinking cold leftover coffee, reading through the printout of the novel I’m working on. The week’s first cultural artifact is the most elusive: a work of fiction in progress, still finding its shape. I’m working on the last quarter of the book, which is mostly rough draft. I’ve been weaving together three narrative threads, set in different time periods, from the 1830s, when two families work together on the underground railroad in small-town Illinois, to 2004.
To see how other writers handle structure with multiple points of view and chapters that slide around in time, I’ve been rereading Heidi Durrow’s first novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. It’s clear by page twenty that young Rachel’s Danish mother jumped off a roof with her three young children, and that only Rachel survived. Durrow keeps building suspense. In the first chapter, Rachel has gone to live with her black grandmother. She is the “new girl” in school: “I learn that black people don’t have blue eyes. I learn that I am black. I have blue eyes. I put all these facts into the new girl.”
I’m suddenly reminded of Quicksand, an autobiographical first novel by the Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen. It’s mentioned in Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts’s collagelike book of essays, Harlem Is Nowhere. I pull out the galley and double check. Yes, Rhodes-Pitt writes that Helga Crane, the narrator in Larsen’s novel, is both black and Danish, as is Larsen, the author. Rachel in the Durrow novel seems to be a cultural descendant of Helga, who has a fractured sense of self but finds temporary contentment in “Harlem, teeming black Harlem.”
January 7, 2011 | by The Paris Review
Over the break I read what is now my very favorite Trollope novel, and the one I was saddest to finish: Framley Parsonage. I’m coming down off it with DeLillo’s Running Dog, Henry Petroski’s history of the bookshelf, and The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. —Lorin Stein
I watched Jan Švankmajer’s Little Otik and Alice in one night; both films are hilarious and nightmarish. Švankmajer is best known for his use of stop-motion and his exaggerated and bizarre sound editing, which reminds me a bit of David Lynch. I love the dialogue of his characters, especially that of the young girl in Little Otik, Alžbětka, who is perfectly vulgar. —Natalie Jacoby
I have been enjoying William Trevor’s Selected Stories for that moment of calm at the end of each day. I’m about a quarter way through the enormous book, but my favorite story is still the first, “The Piano Tuner’s Wives.” It begins: “Violet married the piano tuner when he was a young man. Belle married him when he was old. There was a little more to it than that, because in choosing Violet to be his wife the piano tuner had rejected Belle, which was something everyone remembered when the second wedding was announced.” —Thessaly La Force
September 9, 2010 | by Jesse Moss
DAY FOUR, San Francisco
Visiting my father in Noe Valley, kids in tow. He announces his latest obsession. The founder of the Chinese Film Industry was a jew from Odessa named Benjamin Brodsky. My father’s planning to visit Beijing in October, and has secured permission from the Chinese State Film Archives to look at Brodsky’s papers. Apparently Brodsky lived through the 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco and may have owned a chain of Nickleodeons. If Brodsky hadn’t existed, I wonder if my father might have invented him, as he conveniently embodies all his obsessions: early cinema, China, and Jewish identity. I google Brodsky and discover someone’s just made a documentary about him. Scooped.
On the coffee table, an old issue of Ramparts magazine. In his early, radical days, my father was an editor at Ramparts’ publishing imprint, and edited Richard Boyle’s Vietnam War memoir, Flower of the Dragon. Boyle was a wild-man, the inspiration for Oliver Stone’s Salvador. He used to come stay at our house and play marathon war games with my older brother, elaborate mock battles (The Siege of Khe Sanh was one) with toy soldiers on the living room floor.
It’s the July 13, 1968 issue of Ramparts. I read “Why We Lost the War,” an interview with the French General André Beaufre. The first question is “How do you explain why the most powerful, best armed and supposedly best informed nation in history could not achieve success in ground fighting?” I’ve just seen the Afghan war documentary Restrepo, by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington and read Junger’s companion book, War. The question echoes strongly. Counter-insurgency strategy has come to seem like nothing more than pseudo-science to me, 21st Century phrenology and publishing a manual about it doesn’t mean it works.
I browse an article about little retailers fighting big chain stores, and a piece about the brutality of the Oakland Police Force. All strikingly current subjects for a 42 year-old magazine. The ads however, are pure nostalgia (“Nudism Explained”). I find them oddly compelling, like the ads for strange novelties in old comic books, a window into an alternate universe.
I flip through a catalogue for a 1978 exhibition of Dorothea Lange’s photographs at the Oakland Museum. The photos are beautiful. An alchemy of art and propaganda.
Dinner at the Universal Café, a foodie outpost in the outer Mission. We stare at the menu and talk about food. My wife accuses my father of being a self-hating foodie. On our last visit he proclaimed himself sick of talking about food with his foodie friends. He would eat it, he said, but not talk about it. But of course, like everyone here, he can’t help himself. I hail my wife for coining the phrase.
At Clooney’s Pub, a Lesbian dive-bar in Bernal Heights, we celebrate our friend Eric’s birthday. Eric and his girlfriend Amanda have just seen Dark Passage, the Delmer Daves film noir, with Bogart and Bacall. We talk noir, and Nightfall the Aldo Ray film we saw at the Film Forum.
We drive down to Old Bayshore Road to Silver Crest Donut Shop. It’s Eric’s birthday tradition. In the parking lot, he warns us to expect trouble in the donut shop bar. I think, what donut shop has a bar? It’s a rough place, in a rough part of town. The Greek bartender greets us warmly, and pours six shots of Ouzo. On the jukebox, I put in a quarter and select a track called simply: “Greek Music.” The shots are free. We chase the Ouzo with huge, greasy, delicious donuts. Read More »
September 8, 2010 | by Jesse Moss
DAY ONE, Solomon Islands
I’m on a flight from Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, to Brisbane, going home after a week long shoot for the World Health Organization. I’m finishing James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, which my mother gave me just before I left. It’s a surprisingly good companion, and I return to it every night in my hotel room. On the nightstand next to me is an industrial sized can of Raid bug-spray that comes complimentary with every room in the hotel. They’ve just had elections here, and downstairs by the hotel pool, local pols are as plentiful as the bugs, drinking SolBeer and plotting the political future of the country.
A storm came through the night before, and when I stepped out on my balcony in the morning, I could see, for the first time, an island in the distance. It’s Tulaghi. And the body of water that separates us is called Iron Bottom Sound. It’s the gravesite of a huge number of American and Japanese warships. My wife’s grandfather was in the First Marine Division when they fought here, on Guadalcanal, in 1943. So I feel a strange and distant personal connection to the place.
Filming in the jungle, I see a man with a machete on a forty-foot pole. Jesus Christ. He’s cutting Betel Nut, and chewing it. He smiles at me, a mouthful of stained red teeth. I’m reminded of Michener’s Bloody Mary. I stand under the tree with my camera and pray a betel nut doesn’t fall on my head.
Michener’s book was the basis for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which I’ve never seen. I ask my colleague Elsie, a native islander, where Bali H’ai is and she gives me a blank look. I feel like a fool for asking. I stare at the map of the island chain in her office, hoping it will materialize magically, like Tulaghi, while a mechanic tries to repair our rental car. Later, while photographing the boat harbor in Honiara, I suppress a strong urge to book one-way passage on a local freighter to the remote islands of the Western Province. Read More »
August 20, 2010 | by The Paris Review
Raced through a great book this week, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose. He took a semester off from Brown and went undercover at Falwell's Liberty University. The portrait he paints of the place is nuanced and fascinating. —Caitlin Roper
I was amazed to learn, from the strangers at Wolfram Research, that the best hangman word is not “syzygy” but “jazz.” And by the inimitable Jed Perl on Salvador Dali and his “cosmic junkyards,” and what one presumes will be Tony Judt’s last published essay. And, finally, anyone caught up in the resurgent moralistic fuss over steroids and baseball should read Eric Walker’s definitive and dismissive “Steroids, Other ‘Drugs,’ and Baseball.” —David Wallace-Wells
“The Burdens of Manliness,” an article in the summer 2010 Harvard Journal of Law and Gender. John M. Klang makes an amusing disclaimer: “I am sure to provoke disbelieving groans from some of the thoughtful readers of this Journal … I should add at the outset, however, that mine is neither a contrived joke borne of some middle-aged fraternity dare nor a stale plea left over from the sensitive troglodyte yearnings of the 1980s Men’s Movement.” —Daisy Atterbury
Seeing as Tom McCarthy's new novel, C, is coming out in a few weeks, I thought it might be worth re-reading his last, Remainder. It was. In contrast to many recent "novels of ideas," McCarthy doesn't discuss concepts and theories: he sets them in motion, in a way only the narrative arts can—leaving the discussion for his readers. A beautifully rendered work. —Mark de Silva
I've been slowly making my way through The Magic Mountain. For the length of an entire subway ride, I can escape to a European sanatorium, where six-course meals are served by dwarves, young ladies whistle with their nitrogen-inflated lungs, and naps on reclining deck chairs are mandatory. —Miranda Popkey
Rereading The Beautiful and Damned. Why? Because there it was at St. Mark's Books, and there I was late for a haircut with nothing to read—and because, really, what could be better? —Lorin Stein