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Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

God, Satan, Waugh

October 28, 2014 | by

Evelynwaugh

A portrait of Waugh by Carl Van Vechten.

Evelyn Waugh was born today in 1903. You can read his Art of Fiction interview here, but there’s also, courtesy of the Spectator’s seemingly endless archives, this unverified bit of trivia from a letter to the paper sent in 1971:

Sir: Colin Wilson, your reviewer of Graham Greene’s autobiography A Sort of Life quotes from a supposed remark that Evelyn Waugh made to Greene—‘You know, Graham, you’ve made more money out of God than Wodehouse made out of Jeeves.’

I believe there are other versions of this story, although I cannot now remember who told me mine.

A few years ago, while in New York, I was but a stone’s throw from the Algonquin Hotel, Mr. Waugh and Mr. Greene were staying in the hotel. Late in the night Mr. Waugh popped into Mr. Greene’s room where a publisher’s party was still going strong to celebrate another Greene book. At some point during this party Evelyn Waugh announced: ‘You know, Graham, you’ve made more money out of the Devil than I’ve made out of God.’

Apocryphal or otherwise, the story does contain a more typical Waugh bite than the Jeeves analogy.

Michael Hastings

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Sartre and Borges on Welles

August 12, 2014 | by

Citizenkane

Theatrical release poster, 1941

In a sense, that poster doesn’t lie: everyone was talking about Citizen Kane. In another, more accurate sense, that poster does lie: not everyone was joining in that “It’s terrific!” chorus.

I hadn’t known, until Open Culture told me earlier today, that Sartre and Borges numbered among Kane’s more outspoken critics. Sartre reviewed the film in 1945, meaning he took four years even to bother seeing it. His is a damning appraisal not just of the movie but—kind of toothlessly—the whole United States cinema culture:

Kane might have been interesting for the Americans, [but] it is completely passé for us, because the whole film is based on a misconception of what cinema is all about. The film is in the past tense, whereas we all know that cinema has got to be in the present tense. ‘I am the man who is kissing, I am the girl who is being kissed, I am the Indian who is being pursued, I am the man pursuing the Indian.’ And film in the past tense is the antithesis of cinema. Therefore Citizen Kane is not cinema.

Not exactly an open-and-shut syllogism, but that’s in keeping with the Continental tradition, I guess.

Borges reviewed Citizen Kane in 1941—in fact, he reviewed many a film in his day, among them King Kong, The Petrified Forest, and Sabotage (the 1936 classic, not the 2014 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle). Many of these can be found in his Collected Nonfictions. As the translation below attests, his review of Kane is typically well observed, though he’s kind of hard on Rosebud, and we can now say, from the vantage of more than fifty years, that he was dead wrong about the whole endurance thing: Read More »

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Sacred Rites

June 10, 2014 | by

Crown

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Crown of Flowers (detail), 1884.

The food takes awhile which gave us time to watch a waitress deliver a Dutch Baby and envelop us with its fragrant, perhaps sacred, steam. A tray of ruby grapefuit [sic] juice in large glasses made me think of luxurious jewels. Obviously we had traveled back to a past time. —A review of the Original Pancake House

When I was about twenty-six, a friend sent me a listing for a job at an online review site, which, at the time, had not yet gone public. It seemed to me a good idea to apply to lots of things, so I sent in a letter.

“We’re looking for someone hip and quirky for this job,” said the woman, Tyler, who interviewed me from San Francisco; she’d mentioned an improbably high salary and a host of benefits and perks. “You seem hip and quirky. But we need someone more integrated into the Web site’s community. I notice you have no reviews, no profile, and no ‘friends.’ We’ll need to see more of a commitment.”

I attacked my new assignment with determination. I set myself a quota of ten reviews a day and implored everyone I knew to join my network. In my capacity as manager of the lingerie store where I worked weekends, I commandeered the computer, knocking out reviews of the coffee at the bodega on the corner (“too subtle for the common palate”), the new artisanal pizzeria (“a horseman of the gentrification apocalypse”), and the local nail salon (“The nail technician was slovenly and surly; her coat was soiled; she started cutting my cuticles without asking”).

While I placed a premium on quantity, I began to take my task seriously: I was appalled by the cavalier manner in which fellow reviewers dismissed small businesses after a single visit or graded spots where they hadn’t bothered to wait for a table. I took special care in rebutting what I felt to be thoughtless and uninformed reviews. My tone became hectoring. Read More »

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Letter from India: The Best Restaurant in the World

July 23, 2012 | by

My friend edits a travel magazine. She lets me review hotels. This means that I can stay at nice hotels free in return for a short review. (The magazine doesn’t pay either; it’s done “on trade.”) I can write four or five hotel reviews a year. Whenever I suggest more, my friend (who is a close friend of more than ten years) goes silent.

I recently arranged to stay at the Hotel in Delhi for two nights on trade. Rooms there start at six hundred dollars, and (uncharacteristically) they included everything—food, minibar, spa, airport pick-up and drop-off—in the trade. I mean it was all, to use their very polite and reassuring word, complimentary. Alcohol would have cost, they did say, but I am not a person who drinks anymore. I recently lost my privileges.

The thing about a free hotel stay is that you pay in time, in tours, and in the unspoken requirement that you ask questions, feign amazement, and jot notes about wall hangings, historic meetings, and persons who have sat in so-and-so chair. (“How do you spell that name? So wonderful. So he really sat here? May I sit?”)

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A Week in Culture: Jane Ciabattari, Writer, Part 2

February 3, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Ciabattari’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

Photograph by Panya Phongsavan.


DAY FOUR

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.

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Five Essential Books for The Critic

July 20, 2010 | by

Over on the National Book Critics Circle blog, Lorin Stein has shared five books that he believes belong in any reviewer's library. Here, Lorin explains the charisma of Susan Sontag:

If you are (or want to be) a critic, then sometimes I think it's good to ask what criticism is for. The first book that made me do that was Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation. "We need an erotics, not a hermeneutics, of art." I was sitting after school in a Swensen's ice cream parlor when I read that. I had to go home and look up the word hermeneutics. But the reviews gave one the gist. This was criticism as seduction. Sontag could make a semi-literate fifteen-year-old want to read Michel Leiris or Samuel Beckett or see a Godard film. She made it all seem both glamorous and accessible—which are things I still feel art should be.

And here, how Vivian Gornick shaped his own writing:

My favorite contemporary book of criticism is Vivian Gornick's collection The End of the Novel of Love. To me that book and Studies make a diptych—both are basically concerned with what Gornick calls "love as metaphor." I read The End of the Novel of Love in my twenties—twice, in the space of a day. Since then I have never written an essay that wasn't, deeply and superficially, indebted to Gornick. For years I tried to model my sentences on hers. My sense of criticism—that it must tell a story, that the story must be true, that the story must unlock a secret in the critic's own inner life—I owe entirely to her example. Whenever a reader points out the similarity of my approach (and my prose) to hers, it is the praise that pleases me most.

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