Posts Tagged ‘relationships’
September 19, 2014 | by Ezra Glinter
Leonard Cohen in love.
“Desperation is the mother of poetry.”
Like most people, I remember the first time I had sex pretty well. I can recall the surprisingly adept flirting I carried off beforehand, and the moment of pleasant shock when she kissed me. I remember how we stayed in bed until three the next day and how when we finally got up, faint from hunger, we went to eat at a greasy spoon that had a little jukebox by each table. I have no idea what I ordered, but I do remember that she got a grilled cheese sandwich. In the next year and a half that we were together, I don’t know if she ever ate another one.
We all have memories like that, jumping out of oblivion like buoys in the water. The facts might be fuzzy, but the moments are clear. Leonard Cohen describes such a memory in his first novel, The Favorite Game, published in 1963, when he was twenty-nine:
What did she look like that important second?
She stands in my mind alone, unconnected to the petty narrative. The color of the skin was startling, like the white of a young branch when the green is thumb-nailed away. Nipples the color of bare lips. Wet hair a battalion of glistening spears laid on her shoulders.
She was made of flesh and eyelashes.
Cohen, who turns eighty on Sunday, is exceptionally good at drawing out those moments of sexual crystallization. It’s a skill that, along with his gravelly voice and poems about women’s bodies, has given him a reputation for being a “ladies’ man.” Judging by the adoring crowds at his shows, it’s a reputation he deserves.
Yet it isn’t success with women that accounts for Cohen’s particular vision, even if his fame as a lover may have, over time, borne the fruits of self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather, his work is shot through with fears of physical deficiency and sexual deprivation, loneliness and insecurity. “He could not help thinking that … he wasn’t tall enough or straight, that people didn’t turn to look at him in street-cars, that he didn’t command the glory of the flesh,” he writes of his autobiographical protagonist in The Favorite Game. Decades later, in his 2006 poetry collection Book of Longing, Cohen confessed: “My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke / that caused me to laugh bitterly / through the ten thousand nights / I spent alone.” Read More »
September 4, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Before he made his second “appearance” on The Simpsons in 2004, Thomas Pynchon made a few edits to the teleplay—he crossed out a pejorative line of dialogue about Homer’s ample posterior. “Homer is my role model,” he wrote in the margins, “and I can’t speak ill of him.”
- Walter Benjamin’s “vexed relationship with academia”: “Benjamin could do first-paragraph seduction with a vengeance; yet on the several occasions when certain essays were the key to a prestigious university post—when those powers of seduction would really have worked in his favor—what does he do? He goes in the opposite direction, producing dense thickets of prickly, forbidding verbiage. Today, there isn’t a university press anywhere in the world that wouldn’t kill to get the rights to publish those same contentious, rejected essays.”
- Now that so much of our media is stored in the Cloud, “the tide has turned against the collector of recordings, not to mention the collector of books: what was once known as building a library is now considered hoarding. One is expected to banish all clutter and consume culture in a gleaming, empty room.”
- From If Only He Knew: A Valuable Guide to Knowing, Understanding, and Loving Your Wife, a 1988 Christian relationship guide that seems to presume marriage is a total bummer: “While a man needs little or no preparation for sex, a woman often needs hours of emotional and mental preparation … Comfort her when she is down emotionally. For instance, put your arms around her and silently hold her for a few seconds without lectures or putdowns.”
- In which a Roald Dahl story moves a man to pursue beekeeping, a hobby that teaches us much about the nature of loyalty (and the loyalty of nature).
September 18, 2013 | by Helen Rubinstein
I had to put my leather loveseat up on Craigslist three times before someone answered the ad, and then that someone, in all of New York City, was the guy my closest friend had been sleeping with a few months earlier. I’d never met him, but I knew that he’d once had to leave her house late at night to go take some kind of medication, and that he got really, really sweaty during sex. Also that he didn’t have Internet access at home, kissed exclusively in chaste little pecks, and had two alarmingly close friends who were women. He and Marie were both writing novels about angels. They’d met at the university where they both taught writing and had both earned MFAs in fiction (at different times), and after they’d written together at a coffee shop one winter afternoon, they relocated to his kitchen table for what Marie called “the download”: a pre-hookup conversation about family and spirituality that lasted for hours. Read More »
January 25, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
The first time I cooked for him, it was the height of August. The meal was very simple: a salad; a pasta; some peaches I roasted and served with ice cream. Nothing special. And he seemed to like it okay. But the writing was on the wall: this was a man who ate to live, and not the other way round.
For some of us, this is unthinkable. I am always plotting my next meal, mulling over my last, calculating my degree of appetite. Those days when illness robs me of hunger are among my most hopeless. I remember food scenes in movies and books better than others. The city is mentally mapped by cookies and hamburgers; noodle stands are my landmarks; a trip is an opportunity to eat new things, and work up an appetite, and try more. Read More »
November 18, 2011 | by Angus Trumble
This week we asked our friend Angus Trumble to give us the benefit of his wisdom—and received an embarras de richesses. Thanks to all for your questions and to Angus for his answers; there was none we could bear to cut. By day Angus is the senior curator of paintings and sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art. By night, and sometimes also by day, he blogs on such topics as the euro crisis, the Ladies of Bethany, and his own globe-trotting adventures.
Do the best readers make the best lovers? Would you be more likely to break up with someone if they never read, or read all the time?
I am flattered that you feel I have the necessary qualifications to provide an accurate answer to this question. In my experience, the well-read can be excellent lovers, although there are times when a specific literary prompt may inhibit the natural flow, as for example when one’s partner genuinely believes himself to be some sort of Vronsky, when in fact he lacks the magnificent build, military bearing, disposable income, or even the remotest capacity to smolder. I can quite confidently say that it is unlikely that I would ever commence a relationship with a person who never read, which removes the need to break up with him. My parents’ marriage survived a period in the late fifties, when my mother read the complete works of Sir Walter Scott, evidently led in his direction by a genetically encoded taste for the lowering mist, gloomy crags, and bloodstained crofts and glens of the Highlands of Scotland. On the whole, therefore, I am for readers—although it is also true that I would immediately eject anyone whom I caught in bed with a romantic novel by the late Dame Barbara Cartland.
Have you ever had a story accepted for publication through a slush pile?
As a matter of fact I have, although it was a book review and not a story. My first long article for The Times Literary Supplement was entirely unsolicited and dealt with what struck me at the time as a wholly new and remarkable historical analysis of, of all things, the epidemiology of the Black Death. To my astonishment, in due course this offering propelled me onto the front cover, together with an enormously magnified photograph of a plague-carrying flea. So there is hope.
What should you do if you don’t like a book halfway through? How do you know when you should give it up?
For years, far too many years, I fell into the dangerous trap of being determined to finish a book despite having reached the conclusion half way through—or at the very least having become deeply suspicious—that in all probability this would not give me pleasure or profit. Yet essentially I am an optimist, and therefore, I suppose, when faced with undeniable evidence that a novel in which I am immersed is, for example, a bleak and depressing saga of frustrated sexual longing and entirely populated by characters of scarcely conceivable dullness, part of me hopes that twenty pages hence there awaits bright flashes of comic genius that may yet salvage the experience. Optimistic though I continue to be, from the vantage point of comfortable middle age I can now say that this is never true and that certainly the healthiest, most sensible, and efficient strategy is to abandon ship.
July 29, 2011 | by Sadie Stein
The man I’m dating is smart, charming, charismatic, handsome ... and almost twice my age. Everyone around me keeps saying that our relationship is destined to fail. Do you have suggestions for reading that will give me hope for a happy ending?
Oh, dear. As a wise relative once said to me, “It’s easy to love in a vacuum—it’s other people who are the difficulty.” While it’s true that literature does have its share of unhappy May-December relationships (Laughter in the Dark, anyone? A Gentle Creature? Keep these titles far from smug naysayers!), there’s no shortage of success stories, either. Off the top of my head: Jane Eyre, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Little Women, Gigi, Little Dorrit, Daddy Long-Legs … and I’m sure readers can name others. I’d even add Rebecca to that list—the DeWinters may have their issues, but I wouldn’t say the age gap is one of them. I can’t pretend any of these is guaranteed to make your friends keep their views to themselves, but I hope they provide a little comfort.
I need help putting together my first-ever apartment. Can you share the decorative tastes of any writers you know? Or literary passages about especially inspiring interior spaces?
My decorating training began and ended with a childhood love of a 1928 book called The Young Decrorators, in which a bunch of kids learn the basics of interior decoration.
That said, I do have a few ideas. If you’re looking for literary inspiration, I feel bound to invoke Joris-Karl Huysman’s paean to hedonism, A Rebours (variously translated as Against the Grain and Against Nature):
He had long been a connoisseur in the sincerities and evasions of color-tones. In the days when he had entertained women at his home, he had created a boudoir where, amid daintily carved furniture of pale, Japanese camphor-wood, under a sort of pavillion of Indian rose-tinted satin, the flesh would color delicately in the borrowed lights of the silken hangings.
This room, each of whose sides was lined with mirrors that echoed each other all along the walls, reflecting, as far as the eye could reach, whole series of rose boudoirs, had been celebrated among the women who loved to immerse their nudity in this bath of warm carnation, made fragrant with the odor of mint emanating from the exotic wood of the furniture.
So there’s that. On the other end of the spectrum, I am also a major fan of Dorothy Draper’s Decorating is Fun which, while not technically “literature,” is colorful enough to double as entertaining reading. And Serious Pleasures, the biography of bright young aesthete Stephen Tennant, contains jaw-dropping descriptions of his home, Wilsford Manor (inspired by Huysmans). As to authorial décor, you might get a kick out of this slideshow of writers’ homes.
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