The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Staff Picks: Castrating Cattle, Driving on Drugs

September 18, 2015 | by

From the cover of Alien Abduction.

I’ve been reading Lewis Warsh’s collection Alien Abduction this week, and it’s pretty great. Many are prose poems, and even those that aren’t read like they are: conversational, plain-dealing, unpretentious. Among my favorites is “Once,” a paragraph of a poem about taking mescaline and going for a drive and the miraculous feeling that comes from arriving back home in one piece and to a domestic scene that is oblivious to the adventure. There’s a loneliness to these poems, even when the poet isn’t alone, but he doesn’t seem heedful of this, or bothered by it: it may be more of a gentle, yawning solitude than loneliness. “There’s a difference between being with someone and being alone,” Warsh writes, “but I can’t tell you what it is.” —Nicole Rudick

The Paris Review was forced to move its offices in 2013; like every other building on our Tribeca block, ours—built in 1869, with a beautiful cast-iron facade, and chock-full of various arts organizations—was sold to a developer who planned to convert its units to high-end condos. For the staffers who were relatively new to the city, it felt like the end of an era—though, of course, the era that established Tribeca as an art haven has been over for a very long time. New York’s abandonment of its identity as a gritty, crime-ridden, artistically productive city is the subject of Edmund White’s essay “Why Can’t We Stop Talking About New York in the Late 1970s?,” published last week in T Magazine and accompanied by the hauntingly beautiful photographs of Peter Hujar. White is too exacting (and too honest; New York of forty years ago, despite its appeal, was a thoroughly unpleasant place to live) to be wistful: he gives the city’s vices more coverage than its virtues. But the piece is undeniably a lament, at least in part, for the New York of the seventies—“the city that, while at its worst, was also more democratic: a place and a time in which, rich or poor, you were stuck together in the misery (and the freedom) of the place, where not even money could insulate you.” —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

Some things I learned from Ted Conover’s “Cattle Calls,” a look into the lives of Iowa livestock veterinarians from the new issue of Harper’s: that more than 10 percent of the nation’s pigs died in a year from porcine epidemic diarrhea; that you can castrate a bull simply by tying a rubber band around its scrotum, and that dogs love to eat raw bull testicles; that agribusiness has made it all but impossible to survive as a vet with a private practice in a rural area; that bald eagles have taken to eating a slurry of dead hog parts sometimes used as fertilizer. Conover’s piece opens with a doctor inserting his arm into a cow’s rectum and ends with an assisted cattle birth; and lest you feel misled by the lurid details I’ve cherry-picked, it’s a generous, evocative portrait of an increasingly rare kind of working life. The photography, by Lance Rosenfield, is strong and lived-in—here in New York, where Fashion Week has just ended, it feels like an authentic rebuke to the parade of editorials glamorizing blue-collar work wear. —Dan Piepenbring
Read More »

Staff Picks: Yeltsin and Yelling

September 11, 2015 | by


From They Live, 1988.

We published Padgett Powell’s “Boris Yeltsin Spotted in a Bar” in our Summer issue. It spoke to me, but I don’t know why. It’s basically a list of items you’d find in a well-stocked hardware store, followed by a meditation on a drunk spouse, followed by the appearance, in an American bar, of someone who may or may not be the deceased Russian statesman. But its narrator, with his digressive style, is lonely in a way that makes him obsessed with everyday mysteries, and he felt very alive to me, in his mania. That story is from Powell’s new collection, Cries for Help, Various­, where—be still my beating heart—it sits among a Yeltsin trilogy, rounded out by “Yeltsin Dancing” and “Yeltsin and Canaries.” As with the rest of Cries for Help, these stories are at once absurd and plaintive; they generate the kind of curiosity you feel when you see one boot sitting in the middle of the street, or the same stranger in three different neighborhoods in a day. Critics sometimes dismiss Powell’s fiction—as with Barthelme’s before him—as directionless riffing, but these aren’t non sequiturs: his sentences gather pathos as they accumulate. He’s hidden a lot of sadness in such a funny book. —Dan Piepenbring

Last weekend, I rewatched John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live, a subversive and satirical take on capitalism. Midway through the film, with the planet in jeopardy, two protagonists engage in an exhausting six-minute fight; one has insisted that the other don sunglasses that allow him to see Earth’s invading aliens. I see now that the scene is an astute comment on human nature: even when the future of the planet is at stake, people can’t be trusted to make the right decisions. This realization comes only from having read Lee Billing’s essay at Nautilus about digging into Stanislaw Lem’s early sixties philosophical tract, Summa Technologiae. The book—which sounds dense but also brilliant—examines questions about our relationship with technological advances, such as “Where are the absolute limits for our knowledge and our achievement, and will these boundaries be formed by the fundamental laws of nature or by the inherent limitations of our psyche?” In Lem’s appraisal, the potential obsolescence of the human race will be determined by the unpredictability of human behavior—an unpredictability he experienced firsthand as a Polish Jew in World War II: “We were like ants bustling in an anthill over which the heel of a boot is raised … Some saw its shadow, or thought they did, but everyone, the uneasy included, ran about their usual business until the very last minute, ran with enthusiasm, devotion—to secure, to appease, to tame the future.” —Nicole Rudick
Read More »

The Most Misread Poem in America

September 11, 2015 | by

Everyone knows Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”—and almost everyone gets it wrong.

Frost in 1913.

From The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong, a new book by David Orr.

A young man hiking through a forest is abruptly confronted with a fork in the path. He pauses, his hands in his pockets, and looks back and forth between his options. As he hesitates, images from possible futures flicker past: the young man wading into the ocean, hitchhiking, riding a bus, kissing a beautiful woman, working, laughing, eating, running, weeping. The series resolves at last into a view of a different young man, with his thumb out on the side of a road. As a car slows to pick him up, we realize the driver is the original man from the crossroads, only now he’s accompanied by a lovely woman and a child. The man smiles slightly, as if confident in the life he’s chosen and happy to lend that confidence to a fellow traveler. As the car pulls away and the screen is lit with gold—for it’s a commercial we’ve been watching—the emblem of the Ford Motor Company briefly appears.

The advertisement I’ve just described ran in New Zealand in 2008. And it is, in most respects, a normal piece of smartly assembled and quietly manipulative product promotion. But there is one very unusual aspect to this commercial. Here is what is read by a voice-over artist, in the distinctive vowels of New Zealand, as the young man ponders his choice: Read More »

Paperbacks for the Patriarchy, and Other News

September 1, 2015 | by

The perfect way to kick off your fall?

  • Whatever you’re reading these days, it’s probably not as popular as Amish romance novels, which owe their meteoric rise, perhaps, to an old-fashioned yen for the patriarchy: “There’s no mistaking the potent commercial lure of the ‘bonnet books’—so called because of the young Amish women plastered on their covers. In less than a decade, bonnet titles have overtaken bestseller lists, Christian and non-Christian alike … these novels seldom offer fare any more lurid than a much-regretted kiss. Sex is always offstage, and mere carnal longing is usually mastered by the more powerful desire to do God’s will … their treatment of spiritual questions is itself oddly lustful, given their penchant for containing spiritual inquiry and experience within the strict bounds of faintly illicit-sounding modes of sectarianism and separatism.”
  • Bromance, mandels, mansplain, man-icure, man-purse, bro-hug, manscape, man-date: whither the explosion of Neologisms for Men™? We could laud these new words as evidence of a long overdue recovery: “A popular online collection of old photos shows how much American men used to casually touch each other: Victorian gentlemen posing with hands clasped; grizzled cowboys sitting with arms entwined, and a striking amount of lap-sitting. But such pictures from the middle of the twentieth century and later are rare.  The culprit is homophobia … It turns out that straight men’s need for intense, intimate relationships with each other never went anywhere, as evidenced by the ebullient burst of words celebrating it.”
  • Why, when we read, do some of us hear a voice in our head while others proceed in total quiet? And why, for that matter, did we ever begin reading in silence to ourselves, rather than aloud, to friends? “Silent reading had become the norm for educated readers by the fifteenth century but even four hundred years later, La Cagnotte, Eugène Marin Labiche’s 1864 comedy, mocks a farmer for reading a private letter aloud; the bumpkin retorts that he can’t understand what he reads unless he hears it … Recent neurological research questions whether silent reading actually is silent. Evidence grows that the brain interprets ‘silent’ reading as an auditory phenomenon.”
  • More art from Aidan Koch, whose portfolio lit up our Summer issue: her work will be on view next month at And Now, in Dallas.
  • Bored? Hang out with H. P. Lovecraft fans at the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast, why don’t you. And have a croissant while you’re at it. “In time, we were tapped to hit the buffet line, which snaked down the hotel’s corridor. ‘An ouroboros!’ exclaimed my neighbor, as we shuffled towards bacon and croissants. A sliver of fruit fell to the carpet. ‘The cantaloupe of Thoth!’ someone cried.”

On the Pleasures of Not Reading

August 31, 2015 | by

An illustrations from the Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel (1440–1514).

What a golden age this is for trolls. Never has it been easier, with the proper combination of disdain, ignorance, and calculated condescension, to work hundreds of thousands of strangers into an indignant lather. If you don’t mind the occasional death threat, the polemic has never been a more attractive mode. It’s pungent.

I have to believe the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones feels the same way—his article today, “Get real. Terry Pratchett is not a literary genius,” is too arrant a piece of provocation to be unintentional. Its thrust is that the late Pratchett, whose final Discworld novel has just been published, is part of a “middlebrow cult of the popular” distracting readers from more ambitious, capital-L Literary fare. That’s a contentious argument in and of itself—but Jones’s true troll masterstroke lay in his admission that he’s read hardly a sentence of Pratchett’s work. The author “is so low on my list of books to read before I die,” Jones writes,

that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him. I did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary … life really is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers. I am not saying this as a complacent book snob who claims to have read everything. On the contrary, I am crushed by how many books I have not read.

Some of that feels deliberately bush-league—that “million years” bit gives too much of the game away; clearly this is a piece of rhetoric designed not to be reasoned with but balked at—but beneath the hauteur is a useful point, one that much of literary culture, in its glad-handing, is at pains to admit. There are writers we instinctively, permanently dislike: not only will we never read them, we will quietly relish the not-reading, finding in it a pleasure that can occasionally rival reading itself. Read More »

Let Him Buy Groceries in Peace, and Other News

August 28, 2015 | by

Is that the author of The Map and the Territory in there?

  • Today in Houellebecq: the author has inveighed against Le Monde, the French newspaper of record, for publishing a series of unauthorized pieces about him. Calling journalists “parasites” and “cockroaches,” Houellebecq dismissed the articles for their “malicious sneakiness,” noting that he’d refused to meet the reporter and had explicitly instructed his friends not to speak with her. “Knowing which Monoprix I shop in is not a subject of national importance,” he wrote—somewhat mystifyingly, as the Le Monde piece made no mention of said Monoprix. (He’s also recently announced an exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, in Paris, where he’ll show “photographs, installations and films, along with commissions by other artists such as Iggy Pop and Robert Combas.”)
  • Reading: Why bother? What’s all the fuss about? Four new books aim to show that reading makes us thoughtful and empathetic—“training” for the art of being human. “We might describe it as paideutic criticism, the term taken from the ancient Greek idea of paideia—the original foundation of humanistic study. Paideia meant the pursuit of self-knowledge through examination of the beautiful and the good … By reading and rereading the classics in the company of these genial guides, Virgils to our Dante, we can, in a more modestly modern way, achieve some similar serenity.”
  • We can also find serenity in forgetfulness, which allows us to let go of that ultimate nuisance, personal identity: Going along with Locke’s view of memory as identity is the narrative theory of identity—the idea that one forges and maintains an identity by weaving a coherent narrative out of memories, tying one’s present to one’s past. Memory and the process of remembering are essential to this. Forgetting is an enemy, causing narrative gaps and undermining the sense of having a coherent narrative … Some people court forgetfulness. My students like to quote the old adage that ‘ignorance is bliss’ when we talk about memory and forgetting; from this they think it follows, as night follows day, that ignorance is to be preferred to knowledge when such knowledge undermines happiness. If forgetfulness serves the goal of bliss, who wouldn’t pursue it?”
  • In the wake of the controversy surrounding Duke and three students who refuse to read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Sam Stephenson remembers his time teaching at the university’s Center for Documentary Studies: “ ‘There are people teaching at Duke that barely graduated from UNC,’ I’d tell my students on the first day of class. The ones who laughed usually proved to be the more engaged and thoughtful documentarians … The outlying students—the ones frustrated by the emphasis of their fellow students on linear, pre-professional tracks—tended to find their way to our building, on the wrong side of the tracks, literally … These three students who are objecting to Bechdel’s book could use a dose of good documentary engagement. (I doubt they would have thought my introductory class joke was funny.) The words document and doctor come from the same Latin root, docere, which means, variously, to teach, to learn, to pay attention, to care, and, ultimately, to heal.”
  • There’s a highly advanced, deeply treacherous form of storytelling far beyond the realm of mere literature: dating. Specifically, sugar dating, in which courtship between a sugar daddy and a sugar baby is clouded by the exchange of money. “You can tell yourself whatever story you want, and eventually you'll forget you’re telling a story and you’ll find yourself in the parking lot of a Pizzeria Uno getting sucked off by someone who thinks she’s getting the better end of the deal. And the worst part is, you’ll think you’re helping her. And she’ll give you that blow job, all the while wondering how she could get so lucky, how you could be so dumb. Everyone gets what they want. And, sure, what’s so wrong with that?”