The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Staff Picks: Deadened Hues, Deer Boys, Dullard Fiancés

March 11, 2016 | by

From The Electric Pencil.

I spent this week madly reading Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear, not wanting to put it down until I’d finished. The novel concerns the search for Beatriz Yagoda, a Brazilian novelist who was last seen climbing into an almond tree with a suitcase, but of course it’s really about the characters who take up the pursuit: Yagoda’s two adult children, her bygone publisher, and her ardent American translator. The translator, Emma, runs to the aid of her missing author (“as if there weren’t anyone as reliable in a kidnapping as a devoted translator”), while also running away from her stale life and dullard fiancé in Pittsburgh. Yet even in Brazil, amid the excitement and chaos, she finds herself existing on the margins of a story in which she is also a central actor, returning again and again to the solace and structure of her author’s invented worlds: “And wasn’t the splendor of translation this very thing … To arrive, at least once, at a moment this intimate and singular, which would not be possible without these words arranged in this order on this page?” —Nicole Rudick

“Your book hurts me,” writes Julio Cortázar to Alejandra Pizarnick in the letter that opens her final collection of poems, A Musical Hell. The slender compilation, published before Pizarnik’s suicide in 1972 and translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert as part of the New Directions Poetry Pamphlet series, had escaped me until last weekend, when I found it nestled on the shelf of my local bookshop. Saddle stitched and no more than sixty-four pages long, it’s an intimate coup d’oeil of a mind tormented by depression, paranoia, and genius. In it, Pizarnik breathes a sort of hushed devastation into every verse, believing, as she once said, that “to write is to give meaning to suffering.” Her poems are at once gentle and macabre, with tremors of madness and nightmarish whimsy: Pizarnik writes of the nuns that nip like crows between her legs, she makes a list of all that dead lovers leave behind, she talks of suicide as beautiful. Hers is an indelible art, one I’ll revel in for a while. From “Mortal Ties”: “That savage room was made up in the deadened hues of repressed desire; its light was the color of a mausoleum for infants.” (NB: a new collection of Pizarnik’s poetry will appear this month.) —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »

The Thunder Runs Again, and Other News

March 9, 2016 | by

The Bristol Old Vic’s thunder run. Photo courtesy Bristol Old Vic

  • Today in the gender binary: using data collected from e-book readers, a start-up called Jellybooks (inspires confidence, no?) has decreed that “men decide much faster than women if they like a story or not.” The company’s founder, Andrew Rhomberg, spoke to the Guardian: “If an author wants to hold on to a male reader, they have ‘only twenty to fifty pages to capture their attention,’ according to the research. ‘No room for rambling introductions … The author needs to get to the point quickly, build suspense or otherwise capture the male reader, or he is gone, gone, gone.” (I didn’t make it to the end of the article.)
  • On her mother’s side, Alex Mar is descended from Juan Ponce de León: yes, Mr. Fountain of Youth himself, conquistador extraordinaire, slaughterer of innocents. Mar has taken a hard look at her ancestor: “The currency of his name, I guess, has made him the only distant ancestor who warrants mention. I’ve heard him spoken of in two registers: in the Grimms’-fairy-tales voice reserved for children, a tone that says, Oh yes, it’s all true and isn’t it incredible?; and in that faux-modest way of adults, that way of deliberately sounding lighthearted about a thing that makes you proud—a thing you’re convinced gives you an edge … Most historians seem to agree that Juan Ponce de León is one of the more humane of these European settlers, treating the locals he absorbs into his enterprise more like indentured servants than slaves. But what does that mean? How thinly do we have to slice these moral distinctions to see the difference? … Do we inherit darkness, even at a few centuries’ remove?”
  • At the Guggenheim, Francine Prose looks at the work of the Swiss duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss, whose mural How to Work Better you may have seen at the corner of Houston and Mott Streets in New York: “The kind of humor captured in the How to Work Better mural—simultaneously playful and sincere, mingling the banal and the profound, attentive to the contradictions, ironies, and accidental beauties of the world—pervades the Guggenheim show … The two- and three-dimensional works, videos, and films manage to be rebellious without being strident, to be witty and cerebral without ever seeming pretentious or coy, to challenge traditional notions of what art is and can do, and to comment on the society in which we live without making us feel that their principal focus is provocation or attacking our politics and social order.”
  • The Bristol Old Vic, a British theater, dates to 1766, and it has the special-effects technology to match. To summon the sound of thunder, for instance, they roll a bunch of wooden balls down a pine-pitch chute built into the rafters. This “thunder run” had been out of commission since 1942—but now it’s back: “Theater historian David Wilmore was enlisted to carry out test runs, and over three days the Bristol Old Vic technical team learned how to use the old-fashioned sound device … Most thunder runs disappeared with the advance of new technology, and other theaters used less cumbersome methods from the start, like metal thunder sheets rattled offstage. These were often joined by rain boxes, which consisted of dried peas rolling through a long structure with ledges nailed inside, and a wind machine, featuring a rotating cylinder of wooden slats covered with fabric.”
  • What if critics dropped the whole burdensome critical apparatus—the long ledes, the cool authority, the markers of taste—and told us about their dreams? Reviewing Rebekah Rutkoff’s The Irresponsible Magician, one critic sees a way of casting off the constrictions of the book review: “I dream, sometimes, that I am reading—just reading—and as I approach the lower pages of a long PDF, my computer’s battery flashes an urgent red. My more exciting dreams lead me on quests to find some precious object or escape some nefarious force. It’s the normal sort of dream-stuff, but for one crucial thing: my dreams always unfold in cavernous and deserted buildings. In my dreams I navigate endless corridors, traverse indoor gardens, and paddle through underground canals. The landscapes I dream up resemble nothing more than malls. Rundown, or even abandoned malls … Commerce snakes its way into each dream-mind’s working—snakes in, loops round fragments of sensation and assembles them as sense. It urges us—as do family, society, language, and law—toward an inner consensus.”

Bookstore Creeps

March 2, 2016 | by

From the cover of Robert Kyle’s The Crooked City, a pulp novel.

I love bookstores, but there’s something that needs to be said: they’re often filled with lurking creeps. True, creeps lurk everywhere, certainly in New York City, and true, bookstores are also filled with wonderful people who love to read and are interested in things other than making strangers uncomfortable. This should go without saying. But just as a book gives an aspiring interlocutor a better opening than an inscrutable mobile device—“Are you a student?” “What are you reading?” “Is that a novel of old Paris?” (granted this last was an isolated situation)—so, too, does the tangible presence of large numbers of books embolden a certain subset. Read More »

My Harper Lee SparkNotes

February 22, 2016 | by

Writing the SparkNotes for Go Set a Watchman. 

From the cover of Go Set a Watchman.


Context

The summer when I was eight, I read two books: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and To Kill a Mockingbird. My copy of Mockingbird was a cheap lilac paperback. Its cover featured the knot of a tree with a pocket watch and a ball of yarn inside, a mockingbird stamped in silhouette. In the corner, a crescent moon as thin as a tea-stain rose above a clot of green trees.

I lived inside that book. I read it, reread it, and reread it again, sitting in an attic bedroom of my grandparents’ house, hunched on the green shag carpet. I remember the book in discrete images: Dill’s duckweed-like tufts of hair. Slimy Mr. Ewell leering at his daughter. Miss Maudie’s house going up in flames, like a pumpkin, and her prized azaleas frozen and charred in the aftermath. Crotchety, liver-spotted Mrs. Dubose with her perfect camellias, ivory and globular against the glossy leaves. The day when Jem, in a sudden rampage, snatches Scout’s baton and shears off all the buds and flowers on the camellia bushes. And then, when Mrs. Dubose dies, the white box that her servant gives to Jem with one pristine, waxy camellia resting inside. To Kill a Mockingbird showed me how to create a fully realized, sensory world. Read More »

How Repulsive

February 10, 2016 | by

On the merits of disturbing literature.

Frederic Leighton, Study at a Reading Desk‎, 1877.

In a letter to a reader who was disturbed by his novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “If [Malte] contains bitter reproaches, these are absolutely not directed against life. On the contrary, they are evidences that, for lack of strength, through distraction and inherited errors we lose completely the countless earthly riches that were intended for us.”

Faced with a reader like Rilke’s, it can be hard for a writer to defend the need for “bitter reproaches”—to uphold the disturbing above the merely distasteful. After all, some “disturbing” books do nothing more than shock. Charlotte Roche’s Wetlands, for instance, is a litany of gross and obscene bodily functions that never adds up to more than grossness and obscenity. But good books disturb for good reasons. To disturb is, among other things, to guard against complacency: to make the reader face the underbelly of dark thoughts and actions, see how circumstances can make even good people go astray if they are not vigilant in honoring the best in themselves and in the outside world. Disturbing passages, when skillful, make a vital inquiry into the subtle causes and effects of human behavior. Read More »

Armchair Cookbooks

February 2, 2016 | by

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Artistin, 1910.

I’m changing. I have the right, don’t I? People are changing all the time. I have to think about my future. What’s it to you? —The Room

Lisa’s right: you’re never too old to change. When I think that, a year ago, I had never heard the term armchair cookbook … and now I use it at least once a week! What a drab, colorless existence I’d led!

Armchair cookbook: the words are delightfully contradictory, with their warring suggestions of action and relaxation, that cozy mix of nouns. I first encountered the term in reference to The Barbara Pym Cookbook. It seems clear that the term is an Anglicism, more in use north of the border than in the U.S. But it doesn’t refer merely to those books—like the Pym, from which I have never cooked—that combine recipes with straight reading material. At any rate, I use it rather more liberally. Read More »