- If you’ve got an extra $250k–$350k lying around, you could own a part of obscenity history—a print of Robert Mapplethorpe’s electrifying photograph Man in Polyester Suit is up for auction. That’s the one, you’ll recall, that features “a tightly cropped picture of the torso of a black man wearing a three-piece suit, with his large penis hanging out, like a Montgomery Ward catalog hacked by Tom of Finland, with an assist from Duchamp and Groucho Marx.” Twenty-five years ago, Mapplethorpe’s photography unleashed a righteous fury; Jesse Helms and other congressional fuddy-duddies called it obscene and wrote a bunch of angry letters to people. To own Man in Polyester Suit is to give the middle finger to such types, always and forever. I’m sorry I can’t afford it myself. But if someone were to wish to buy it for me as a gift …
- Elizabeth Bishop met Clarice Lispector in 1962, and immediately set about trying to help the Brazilian writer to break out in America. But there was some kind of a hiccup, and things between them cooled: “It is notably odd that Lispector was not more interested in Bishop’s offer to foster relationships with American publishers; she had struggled to get the elite presses of Brazil to take on her books and would struggle to make money after separating from her husband … Bishop personally negotiated the relationships and letters of interests with these editors, but it seems that she never realized or acknowledged that the power she wielded, often with an air of superiority, was precisely what was offensive … The last time Bishop writes about Lispector to Lowell, she says, ‘She’s hopeless, really.’ ”
- Whither e-reading? A few years ago, e-books were poised to take over the world—but reading on a screen has failed to live up to its promise, and e-books are just … kind of boring, especially on the much-vaunted Kindle. “Amazon has built seamless, efficient plumbing for digital books. But after a book has made its way through the plumbing and onto the devices, the once-fresh experience now feels neglected … I’ve found that it’s much more effortless to dip back into my physical library—for inspiration or reference—than my digital library. The books are there. They’re obvious. They welcome me back.”
- If Nietzsche gave a commencement speech—I know, thank God he’s dead, and won’t—he might draw from a part of his Untimely Meditations, devoted to Schopenhauer as an educator, but littered with weird nuggets of quasi-self-help: “There is no drearier, sorrier creature in nature than the man who has evaded his own genius and who squints now towards the right, now towards the left, now backwards, now in any direction whatever … No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There may be countless trails and bridges and demigods who would gladly carry you across; but only at the price of pawning and forgoing yourself. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!”
- In John Keene’s collection Counternarratives, “every available form of literary irony—every possible way of forcing stubborn words to mean more than they pretend—seems to be working at once.” Keene (“black, gay, raised in St. Louis, enamored with language, tormented by it”) is intent on using silence and absence in his fiction; his stories are full of missing texts. “This time, they are the reader’s assumptions and expectations, the dominant narratives—historical and political as well as strictly literary—with which we conjure the world and reproduce it, exclusions and erasures intact.”
- The portraits of Carl Van Vechten: Henri Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and more.
- “Even when he’s dead, as he is for much of the book, we feel that he’s still hovering right next to us, closer to us than our own clothes.” On grief, parallel universes, and Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies.
- “When you want a science fiction movie adapted into a novel that might be better than the original source material, you don’t fuck around. You speed dial Alan Dean Foster and send the check pronto.” The lost art of movie novelization. (Among the stranger films to become novels: Taxi Driver, Young Frankenstein, Deep Throat.)
- Attention, surrealist novelists in search of a conceit: a town in Holland has designed a village made exclusively for people with dementia.
- Or you can start your day with leather and handcuffs: Robert Mapplethorpe’s early Polaroids are here for you.
At Bluestocking Books, my favorite indie bookstore in Hillcrest, San Diego, I pick up a glorious-looking object. The cover is textured, beige with a blue inside flap—a look typical of the publisher Black Sparrow Press. On the front is a painting by Nicole Eisenman of twenty women in a brawl, or having sex, or both. All over the cover and among the cream pages are hand-scrawled notes. It looks like a literature student once owned the book. Probably someone studying creative writing. Probably someone at UCSD. I hold up the paperback to the woman behind the register, and ask, “What is this?”
“That’s Eileen Myles. She’s a lesbian poet. She’s amazing.”
That day I read the entire thing. Read More
7:00 A.M. Wake up to dog barking and strong skunk smell in house. Fear that door to garden was left open and skunk is loose in house. Get out of bed to confirm. Garden door is not open and skunk is not loose. Go back to bed for thirty minutes.
7:30 A.M. Get out of bed. Wash face. Gather belongings, including black cocoon coat purchased for an imminent trip to Paris found for sixteen dollars the day before at a second-hand store. Head home to Mount Washington.
8:00 A.M. Arrive at home. Make tea. Take daily vitamins. Make new favorite quick morning oatmeal: half cup of oats, two heaping tablespoons of maple syrup, cinnamon, chopped apple, fresh dates, walnuts, boiling water. Settle in to enjoy oatmeal and tea. Realize that laptop, aka lifeline, is in Amos’s car. Freak out. Cancel all morning obligations, citing laptop debacle. Text Amos.
8:05 A.M. Amos drops off laptop.
8:10 A.M. Finish oatmeal. Finish tea. Resume all morning obligations. Including: reviewing reactions to Sybil’s sad demise on last night’s Downton Abbey, looking at Atelier Bow-Wow’s pet architecture—otherwise known as teeny tiny buildings on teeny tiny sliver of land—for an article, researching Bruno Munari’s useless machines for a contribution to the new arts journal, synonym.
9:15 A.M. Tackle e-mail. Respond to e-mails from three weeks ago. Debate including ‘apologies for the delayed response.’ Decide against it thinking, No need to always apologize. For all they know I answer e-mail every few weeks because I live in a cabin removed from civilization and spend most of my time in nature. Read More
- Adorable, literal interpretations of author names by illustrator Mattias Adolfsson.
- “I know I said that if I lived to 100 I’d not regret what happened last night. But I woke up this morning and a century had passed. Sorry.” Geoff Dyer, Jackie Collins, A. M. Homes, and others attempt the 140-character novel.
- Speaking of brevity, Ian McEwan declares that the novella is the superior written form because “you can hold the whole thing structurally in your mind at once.”
- Qin Dynasty book burnings.
- Patti Smith: “I remember the very first time I saw Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson together, when they were younger, and I thought, Those two kids could have easily played us [in Just Kids] when they were first starting. There’s something in his eyes. And Robert [Mapplethorpe] was also a bit shy, and a bit stoic. Kristen has a very special quality. She’s not conventionally beautiful, but very charismatic.”