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Posts Tagged ‘selfies’

Shhhh—It’s the Desert, and Other News

October 20, 2016 | by

Photo: Simon Prisner.

  • From afar, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature seems like a real laugh riot, at least to those of us whose main ambition in life is to gain the adulation of the Swedes. But a new volume of Samuel Beckett’s letters suggests that taking home the Nobel is not such a bed of roses: “The Beckett of the years covered by this fourth and final volume of letters is lionized even before he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969. Although, in his case, the word ‘award’ is wholly inappropriate: he considered the prize a threat to his creativity (‘I hope the work will forgive me and let me near it again’). He was on holiday in Tunisia with his wife, Suzanne, when his publisher sent a telegram: ‘In spite of everything they have given you the Nobel Prize.’ Writing to his lover Barbara Bray a week later, Beckett’s response to his laureateship couldn’t be less effusive: ‘Here things are pretty awful and little hope of improvement.’ ”
  • Want some peace and quiet? I don’t mean your garden-variety hushes or lulls. I mean some real fucking silence. Well: go on a hot-air balloon ride in the world’s driest desert, the Atacama. You won’t hear a peep. Ian Thomson did it, and I gather it went pretty well: “In some parts of this shadowless immensity it has not rained for four hundred years … From the air, the Atacama resembled an African savanna, with thorny gorse, inland beaches of white dunes, and the occasional llama skeleton picked clean by condors. I thought: this must be one of the most magnificent views in all the world. We could clearly see horses grazing in a ranch; and away there, beyond a row of solitary carob trees, meadows of alfalfa dwindling in size to resemble toy-railway lichen … In the silence of the Atacama evening, the moon hung bright and radiant; the silence was as deep and complete as if never disturbed. In Santiago the next day it really felt as if we had returned from the moon.” 

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The Ballad of Justin Bobby

October 7, 2016 | by

In Brushes with Greatness, Naomi Fry writes about relatively marginal encounters with celebrities.


Recently, an article I had read in an Israeli women’s magazine when I was maybe eleven popped into my mind. The piece was about fans: people who spent a lot of their time following their celebrity idols around, splitting the difference between adoration and what would now be probably called stalking. I recalled a detail about two sisters who were obsessed with, if memory serves, Kris Kristofferson. Somehow, they had ended up at one of his houses, where a housekeeper let them in and was kind—or unprofessional—enough to give them some mementos of their idol’s: a pair of old cutoff shorts he wore out of the shower and some cigarette butts that he’d smoked. Cigarette butts that he’d smoked! This struck me both then and now as kind of extreme. Imagine being so earnestly fixated on a stranger that touching something that carried only the faintest imprint of his or her body—even something fairly gross like an old cigarette—would be a thing you’d seek out!

Decades have passed, and today very few celebrities still inspire that kind of all-out adulation, engendered by real distance between the famous and nonfamous. The kind of stars I’m thinking about—Beyoncé, maybe Rihanna—have a spectacular untouchability that gives rise to the traditional model of fandom: the type that wants to touch, that desires the laying on of the hands, or at the very least a whiff of the raiment. (Think, for instance, of Drake—a big star in his own right but also, too, a known superfan of Rihanna’s—who, in a song originally meant for her to sing, wrote the lines, “Let my perfume soak into your sweater.”) Read More »

So You’re Adapting a Philip Roth Novel, and Other News

August 2, 2016 | by

From the Indignation poster.

  • Don’t learn this the hard way: it’s likely impossible to wrest a good screenplay from the pages of a Philip Roth novel. Many (okay, like, eight) have tried, the latest being James Schamus, with Indignation. All have struggled and gnashed their teeth. Leo Robson has some thoughts on why, and also some thoughts on the most singularly unfilmable Roth novels: “Sabbath’s Theater might be read as Roth’s ultimate piece of literary one-upmanship over the movies. You can picture Roth at his desk in rural Connecticut, far from the fluorescent, multiplex-ridden metropolis, writing the scenes in which Mickey communes with his lover’s ghost, yelling, ‘You filthy, wonderful Drenka cunt! Marry me! Marry me!,’ and ejaculating over her grave—and then saying to himself, with a vindicated smile, ‘Try filming that.’ ”
  • Rarely do I use this space to bring you practical advice or instruction—but you might want to know how to read a book and walk at the same time. It’s a skill I’ve tried to master for years, and I’m sick of causing traffic accidents in my pathetic efforts at “learning.” Nell Beram tells us that “it’s actually easier than it looks”: “First (and I really shouldn’t have to tell you this), stop reading when you cross the street. Second, forgo magazines. The columns are too narrow, forcing the eyes to skid to a stop at the end of a line as soon as they’ve gotten going. Plus, magazines are floppy, and the wind gets grope-y with the broad pages. So go with a book, ideally a hardback that you can hold comfortably in one hand … Your book cannot exceed fourteen ounces or it will murder your wrist.”

An Indulgence of Authors’ Self-Portraits

March 24, 2016 | by

Philip Roth

“An Indulgence of Authors’ Self-Portraits” appeared in our Fall 1976 issue, the same year Burt Britton’s book Self-Portraits—Book People Picture Themselves was published. Britton’s book displays his collection of self-doodles by famous authors, artist, athletes, actors, and musicians, much of which was sold at auction in 2009. “So what does Mr. Britton look like?” asked the New York Times in 2009. “He refused to be photographed.” —Jeffery Gleaves

One evening fifteen years ago Burt Britton (now head of the Review department at the Strand Bookstore) and Norman Mailer were sitting together in the Village Vanguard where Britton then worked. On impulse, Britton asked Mailer for a self-portrait. Mailer complied—the first of a collection which began to fill the pages of a blank book in the Strand. These were done by friends—primarily writers—who entered their drawings and salutations when they visited the store. No one has refused him a self-portrait. When he remarked on James Jones’ generosity, Jones explained, “Burt, for Christ’s sake, I wouldn’t be left out of that book!”

As his collection grew, Britton was approached by a number of publishers, but always refused publication on the grounds that the self-portraits were the property of his private mania. But recently Anais Nin and others have persuaded him to let others in on how writers view themselves. Random House will publish the entire collection this fall under the title, Self-Portraits—Book People Picture Themselves. Many of the portraits reproduced here are by writers who have been published and/or interviewed in this magazine.  Read More »

The Truth Keeps You Young

November 9, 2015 | by

Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club turns twenty.

Mary Karr. Photo © Deborah Feingold

The first time I met Mary Karr I was, quite frankly, stunned. She was not what I had expected, not that I knew what to expect. I had read all her books, was familiar with the basics of her biography—including any gossip I could find, which is scant in the literary world, even when it comes to best-selling and notoriously dynamic authors—and had even seen her author photo, so I am not sure what came as such a shock to me except for something I might nebulously refer to as her “essence.”

I was standing in the middle of a party, lost, anxious, and sweaty in a slew of people who would all qualify as name-drops among certain bookish weirdos, when I received a firm tap on the shoulder. I spun around to find a petite brunette smiling about six inches too close to my face, if you’re following traditional social protocols. “I’m Mary Karr and I love you, honey.” Read More »

A, B, C, and Other News

July 24, 2015 | by

A few of the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise’s front pages.

  • In its delicacy and volatility, the art of writing is rivaled only by the art of not writing: “There are years, days, hours, minutes, weeks, moments, and other measures of time spent in the production of ‘not writing.’ Not writing is working, and when not working at paid work working at unpaid work like caring for others, and when not at unpaid work like caring, caring also for a human body … It is easy to imagine not writing, both accidentally and intentionally. It is easy because there have been years and months and days I have thought the way to live was not writing have known what writing consisted of and have thought ‘I do not want to do that’ and ‘writing steals from my loved ones’ and ‘writing steals from my life and gives me nothing but pain and worry and what I can’t have’ or ‘writing steals from my already empty bank account’ or ‘writing gives me ideas I do not need or want’ or ‘writing is the manufacture of impossible desire.’ ”
  • This is your annual reminder that in Key West there’s a Hemingway look-alike contest at a bar called Sloppy Joe’s. A hundred heavy-set men with vigorous white beards vie for the title of Papa: “Some wear safari outfits, khakis, and even the excruciatingly hot fisherman’s woolen turtleneck sweater. Some bring their own cheering squad. Most contestants admit (confidentially) that they may never win, but return year after year for the fellowship.”
  • In Fitchburg, Massachusetts, the Sentinel & Enterprise, a newspaper with some 140 years of history behind it, has dedicated twenty-six of its front pages this month to what’s arguably (emphasis on arguably) the most urgent story of our time: the alphabet. Twenty-six typographers from around the world have designed letters to stretch across page A1 from July 13 through August 11. All your favorites are there: g, f, even k. “Print media has declined across the United States … The local newspaper, however, has the potential to thrive beyond the nationals, as it represents a tangible opportunity for community engagement along with local news that doesn’t get covered elsewhere. The Alphabet is going a step further and demonstrating how creative design and artist collaboration can invigorate the format, even if its nature as newsprint makes the work somewhat disposable.”
  • Julian Barnes weighs in on museum selfies (oh, and the life and times of Van Gogh): “It has become harder over the last 130 years or so to see Van Gogh plain. It is practically harder in that our approach to his paintings in museums is often blocked by an urgent, excitable crescent of worldwide fans, iPhones aloft for the necessary selfie with Sunflowers. They are to be welcomed: the international reach of art should be a matter not of snobbish disapproval but rather of crowd management and pious wonder—as I found when a birthday present of a Van Gogh mug hit the mark with my thirteen-year-old goddaughter in Mumbai.”
  • “Writing on a computer can be terribly distracting, so sometimes I like to use a pencil and paper to jot down ideas. I always end up drawing a cartoon duck. Inevitably, the duck is holding a notepad, and I can read the ideas that he wrote down.” Deeply practical ways to invoke the muse.