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Posts Tagged ‘Sophie Pinkham’

What We’re Loving: Russian Doubts, Family Ties, and the Letters Q, T, and X

November 22, 2013 | by


Kazimir Malevich. Or not.

Where do letters come from? Why do they change? What are they, really? What makes a q a q, and what quiddity does it share with Q? These are questions that most kids outgrow around the time they learn how to read. Ewan Clayton has written a book for the rest of us. In The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing, he leads us through the formation of the Roman alphabet, the development of medieval scripts, the evolution of Renaissance and modern typefaces, the rise of cursive, the twentieth-century invention of “print” handwriting as a progressive educational tool, the unexpected success of e-mail, and into the future of data storage. A calligrapher (and former monk) who helped Apple create its onscreen fonts, Clayton is as interested in a digital Gill sans as he is in uncials written with a quill. Although different readers may warm to different chapters of his book, my galleys are dog-eared throughout. Whether his topic is Roman inscriptions, the bookkeeping traditions of the East India Company, the first admission of handwriting as evidence in a court of law, the pitfalls of the paperless office, or the experience of copying sacred texts, Clayton writes with ingenuous charm and contagious enthusiasm, often illustrating his points with “calligraphic studies” of his own. I only wish there were more of these—more illustrations in general—because he turns a line of type into an object of contemplation and makes it okay to be curious, all over again, about the ancient symbols we all spent so long learning to use, and to ignore. —Lorin Stein

Nell Dunn’s 1963 short story collection Up the Junction ain’t for the faint of heart—think bleak birth and mundane death, impersonal sex, pub patrons whose breasts evoke “two cheeses in a gauze bag.” As a young woman Dunn forsook her posh West End upbringing (she’s the daughter of late businessman Sir Philip Dunn) to move to Battersea, South London, where she found work in a sweets factory. At 127 pages it’s an all-out romp, capturing a particular cultural moment and inspiring several more: eponymous works by Ken Loach (a 1965 BBC Wednesday Play), Peter Collinson (a 1968 feature film) and “Squeeze” (a 1979 #2 UK single) all owe their debt to Dunn. —Abby Gibbon Read More »


What We’re Loving: Lustig, Kiwis, and Carousels

June 28, 2013 | by

1993-31-165-Matt Flynn 005

“In the United States, the country with the world’s highest prison population rate (followed closely by Russia), prisoners work for between 93 cents and $5 a day, if they’re paid at all … But the Gulag is an image firmly imprinted on our American brains. It’s easy to imagine—exciting, even, especially since it’s so far away.” A short history of the show trial, with unforgettable digressions, by Daily regular Sophie Pinkham. —Lorin Stein

In 1989, historian Arlette Farge published Le goût de l’archive, her account of immersing herself in the ancient records of the archives of the Bastille. While a virtual love letter to historiography may sound less than riveting, this is an engaging and strangely moving evocation of the pleasures of scholarship. Now out in a new translation (The Allure of the Archives) from Yale University Press. —Sadie O. Stein

Initially, David Ballantyne’s Sydney Bridge Upside Down seems like the perfect summer read: light in conflict, filled with the typical summer escapades that teenagers get into when there’s nothing better to do but get in trouble. However, Ballantyne’s an expert poker player, and a prime example of New Zealand literature (“slaughterhouse fiction”), in which the pastoral paradise initially imagined by Britain as a South Pacific Eden instead morphed from an economy of industrialized violence into casual societal violence. (See the recent Jane Campion miniseries Top of the Lake, for example.) No one leaves this novel unscathed, characters or reader. You’ve been warned. —Justin Alvarez

A few nights ago I watched Max Ophüls’s La Ronde. At the beginning of the movie and between each vignette in it, the omnipresent narrator delivers a little sing-song bit about the inevitable turn, turn, turn of romantic affairs while cranking a carousel round and round. And what a magnificent carousel it is—by far my favorite part of the movie. A turn-of-the-century model (La Ronde was filmed in France 1950 but set in fin-de-siècle Vienna), it has a wooden horse or two, but also a bicycle, a step-stool, a swing, an armchair. Oil lamps hang from the interior of its scalloped canopy. When looking for information about the provenance of this particular carousel, I came across images of two astounding modern carousels at the annual Christmas market in Brussels. This article gives the story behind them. —Clare Fentress

New Directions has put out the most beautiful set of postcards, featuring the book cover that the legendary Alvin Lustig designed between 1941 and 1953. Almost too pretty to use. —S.O.S.



What We’re Loving: Aliens and Birds

April 12, 2013 | by


“Repressed Soviet writers had the chance to become political heroes, even when (as in the case of Joseph Brodsky, for instance) their writing was not explicitly political. Every ‘unofficial’ story or poem became an act of bravery, of protest. Illicit literature was circulated among friends and smuggled abroad; the sheer effort devoted to reading and sharing samizdat texts was a testament to their significance. America has its share of homegrown graphomaniacs, hellbent on becoming the next John Grisham or Jonathan Franzen, but it’s just not the same.” In The Nation, our frequent contributor Sophie Pinkham asks what happened to Russian writing. —Lorin Stein

Lately I have been returning to the work of John Thorne. Thorne, who has published an idiosyncratic and resolutely un-foodie newsletter for thirty years, is acknowledged in the trade to be one of our finest food writers. I think he’s one of the best essayists working, full stop: humane, eccentric, incisive. Start with his book Simple Cooking, although you can’t really go wrong. As Thorne writes in his essay “Perfect Food,” “Our appetite should always be larger and more curious than our hunger, turned loose to wander the world’s flesh at will. Perfection is as false an economy in cooking as it is in love, since, with carrots and potatoes as with lovers, the perfectly beautiful are all the same; the imperfect, different in their beauty, every one.” —Sadie Stein Read More »


A Conspiracy in a Teapot

December 28, 2012 | by

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

At three in the morning, Almaty’s tiny airport is no match for the crackling expanses of sky and snow. As we rise from our seats, the local women shrug on their fur coats, shape shifters assuming animal form. New York hasn’t seen much winter lately, and I’m glad of evidence that the seasons still exist—even if I had to come on a business trip to Kazakhstan to find it.

The long smooth road from the airport is lined with luxury-car dealerships and dilapidated beer shops, their signs askew. “Double beer!” one sign cries, sounding drunk. The streets are named after poets, heroes, and Soviet institutions.  (Meet me at the intersection of Goethe and Komintern. Sentences like these are the reward for time spent in the former Soviet Union.) We pass a fluorescent Eiffel Tower standing sentry in front of a shopping center. “What’s that?” I ask the driver. “The Eiffel Tower,” he answers, matter-of-fact. I’m reminded of a Kyrgyz woman who told me that the Great Wall of China did not exist. Though she herself had visited the wall, she insisted that the section she’d seen was the only real part, built recently to dupe foreigners. “But you can see it from space,” I protested. “The Chinese are very clever,” she answered. “And those Buddhas in the caves? You think those are a thousand years old? All from the eighties. Trust me.”

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