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Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Daymares, and Other News

June 12, 2014 | by

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Arthur Tress, Child Buried in Sand, Coney Island, 196o, black-and-white photograph. Via Gothamist.

  • Charles Wright will be America’s next poet laureate. “I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do … But as soon as I find out, I’ll do it.”
  • Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is the literary novel of the moment—but it is any good? Many, including our own Lorin Stein, respond with a resounding no. “A book like The Goldfinch doesn’t undo any clichés—it deals in them … Nowadays, even The New York Times Book Review is afraid to say when a popular book is crap.”
  • Every moment of serious reading has to be fought for, planned for … A prediction: the novel of elegant, highly distinct prose, of conceptual delicacy and syntactical complexity, will tend to divide itself up into shorter and shorter sections, offering more frequent pauses where we can take time out. The larger popular novel … will be ever more laden with repetitive formulas, and coercive, declamatory rhetoric to make it easier and easier, after breaks, to pick up.”
  • A portfolio of Arthur Tress’s photographs, from the late sixties and seventies, of children at play in Coney Island: “Tress spoke with children about their dreams—often nightmares that involved falling, monsters, that buried alive scenario—and would then photograph them experiencing it in a safe, staged setting.”
  • New! From the makers of “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” it’s “Morrissey Has an Infection.”

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In Earnest

May 8, 2014 | by

Edelfelt_Läsande_kvinna Reading Woman 1885

Albert Edelfelt, Läsande Kvinna (Reading Woman), 1885

“Every time I buy a book here, it changes my life,” the man told me earnestly. He was not the bookseller, but he was minding the stand on Broadway and Seventy-Third Street while the proprietor got a fruit juice from the nearby cart. He clearly wanted to do right by his friend, the owner, in his brief absence, and I was eager to help him. There was not much that appealed to me, but I finally found a hardcover, lavishly praised the interim salesman to the returned proprietor, and handed him the five-dollar bill that would, he remarked, cover the cost of the mango drink he was now sipping.

I did not really think that The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Cookbook (1992) would change my life. If I’d thought more about it, I might have hoped to share the book with a few likeminded friends, where we’d marvel at the dated food styling and speculate about the quality of “Liza’s Salade de Provence,” which involves corn, raw mushrooms, pink grapefruit, and hearts of palm. In short, I guess you could say what interest I had was ironic.

But then I sat down at home and opened it, and I was reading it, and the act of reading—the process of assimilating letters and sounds and translating that into meaning—is not ironic, is it? In fact, in the absence of other people, there isn’t much irony at all. I might have tweeted something about Joan Collins’s menu planning—“Extravagance is the only way when it comes to buying beautiful dresses and to making salads”—or shared a picture of the “Smoked Salmon Bruschetta” that was allegedly a specialty of Elle Macpherson’s. But instead, I just read, and thought, and maybe smiled a little at some things, but not at anyone’s expense. We were in it together. Read More »

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Hate-Reading

April 15, 2014 | by

At_A_Reading_Desk_by_Frederic_Leighton

Frederic Leighton, Study at a Reading Desk‎, 1877

I am a rereader by nature. Like most rereaders, I have a few beloved favorites—Sisters By a River, or We Think the World of You, or A Girl in Winter—that bring me comfort as well as pleasure. Then there are a few books that I know just as well as these, and revisit just as often, but which I loathe. The writing is not bad; that would make the reading a chore instead of a sick pleasure. Usually I despise the narrator in some way—for being out of touch or oblivious or solipsistic. I particularly hate certain culinary memoirs and novels with leaden dialogue. The irritated satisfaction these books give me is akin to the irresistible pain of worrying a sore tooth. 

I never hate-read work by someone I actually know. A few times I have gone on to learn too much about the writer of one of these books, and the pleasure went away. The wealth of available information may feed some kinds of animus; mine depend on the hermetic isolation of my own obscure prejudices. They must not be humanized. Read More »

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Raskolnikov Meets the Caped Crusader, and Other News

April 8, 2014 | by

Dostoyevsky-cvr

Image via Open Culture

  • If you’re having trouble getting serious reading done, you can go ahead and blame the Internet, which fosters deleterious skimming habits. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”
  • Yesterday was Don B.’s birthday, making today the perfect occasion to reread his 1987 essay, “Not-Knowing.” “Let us discuss the condition of my desk. It is messy, mildly messy. The messiness is both physical (coffee cups, cigarette ash) and spiritual (unpaid bills, unwritten novels). The emotional life of the man who sits at the desk is also messy—I am in love with a set of twins, Hilda and Heidi, and in a fit of enthusiasm I have joined the Bolivian army.”
  • “Every April, ‘O, Miami’ attempts to deliver a poem to every single person in Miami-Dade County.” (There are at least 2.591 million of them—I just checked.)
  • Crime and Punishment and Batman: all in one scintillating, thrill-packed issue of Dostoyevsky Comics. One wonders which superhero moonlighted in the Brothers Karamazov issue.
  • From the annals of game-show history comes Bumper Stumpers, a late-eighties Canadian television curio in which contestants parsed the wordplay in vanity license plates. (E.g., VTHKOLM, which means “fifth column,” obviously.)
  • Meet Todd Manly-Krauss, the “writer” with the world’s most irritating Facebook presence.

 

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Thoreau and the iPad

December 17, 2013 | by

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Recently I took my iPad to a park across a lake, sat under a tree facing the water, and started reading the e-book version of Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s classic avowal of the possibility of, as well as the necessity for, simplicity amid modern life’s profusion and superfluity. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t get much more dissonant than this.

“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys … improved means to an unimproved end,” wrote the handyman sage in the book’s first chapter, titled “Economy.” Few toys are prettier than the iPad, and its prettiness is by no means a feat of economy. Its minimalism, for one, belies the complexity of thought that went into its design, while its ease of use obscures the intricacy of the industry behind its manufacture. That there’s nothing new and improved about its ends should be evident from the resemblance between the categories of apps in the App Store and those of stores listed on the touchscreen directory at the entrance of shopping malls—that harried shopper’s guide to the nonvirtual versions of apps for games, books, sports, lifestyle, and even social networking. Or especially social networking, come to think of it, when you consider that the din from the food court or the theater lobby is nothing more than the noise from so many short messages being broadcast on an unmetered network with unlimited bandwidth.

But what does it matter if my iPad is merely a prettier means to pedestrian ends that are, in Thoreau’s words, “already but too easy to arrive at”? Does that make it one more toy to be transcended or tucked out of sight when meditating on sufficiency? I also own a paperback edition of Walden, its pages worn yellow with age and marred with the fervent notes of my much younger self. It has none of the iPad’s high-precision electronics; the letter m is smudged in several places, and yet it’s lost none of its functionality. And apart from enlightenment, it has only one other app, as a paperweight. Is this nonmultitasking relic the authentic medium for the all-in-one manifesto and proof-of-concept of the uncluttered life? Read More »

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Alienation

October 17, 2013 | by

hostileshirt

I spent far too long staring at this T-shirt, number thirty-seven in BuzzFeed’s gallery of literary paraphernalia. I mean, I understand the basic concept: the wearer is reading, and would prefer not to be bothered. The garment is in the grand tradition of hostile tees, alongside such classics as “Do I LOOK like a fucking people person?” “Fuck You You Fucking Fuck,” and “You read my T-shirt. That’s enough social interaction for one day.” The genre is itself inherently tragic, combining as it does a desperate desire for human connection with a self-protecting defensiveness. This shirt adds to these the element of cognitive dissonance. Save in rare instances when the wearer is, indeed, engaged in reading—and which fact would presumably be self-evident—it’s simply not true. Or maybe they mean reading in a metaphorical, or psychic, sense.

If you encounter this shirt in the wild, you will want to know; your brain will teem with questions, your instinct will be to get to the bottom of the mystery. But of course, per the shirt, you can’t. You’ll walk away. And you’ll both be lonely and confused and left without closure. But maybe the richer for it.

 

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