The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘staff picks’

Staff Picks: Conspiracy, Camaraderie, Catsup

November 20, 2015 | by

From the cover of The Mark and the Void.

Two days ago I gathered up a big stack of submissions to read over lunch … but I also took our brand-new office copy of Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. Just in case I ran out of stuff to read, was my ridiculous thinking. The next time I looked up, an hour later, I was late for a meeting and deep in the heart of the Catiline conspiracy, and hadn’t even asked for the check, or looked at a single short story. I’ve promised myself I won’t open the book again until Thanksgiving. —Lorin Stein

In 1917, a Yale professor of public speaking named Grenville Kleiser published Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases: A Practical Handbook of Pertinent Expressions, Striking Similes, Literary, Commercial, Conversational, and Oratorical Terms, for the Embellishment of Speech and Literature, and the Improvement of the Vocabulary of Those Persons Who Read, Write, and Speak English. I’m about two thousand useful phrases in, and let me tell you, this thing moves. It reads like an epic poem written in concert at the stuffiest dinner party in New Haven history. Of especial utility is section seven, on “Literary Expressions,” full of well-wrought piffle fit for the impending holiday-party season. You’ll want to commit “A campaign of unbridled ferocity” to memory. And “The nameless and inexpressible fascination of midnight music.” And “She bandies adjectives with the best.” And “A shadow of melancholy touched her lithe fancies, as a cloud dims the waving of golden grain”—plenty of occasions to put that one to good use. And (last one, I promise, though I’m going to have to devote a whole post to these some day) “The multiplicity of odors competing for your attention.” With these and roughly 14,995 other phrases at your disposal, you’ll be able to aggravate and annoy even your closest friends. —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

Staff Picks: Stray Dogs, Stereographs, Pepsi Sex Floats

November 13, 2015 | by

Detail from one of Jim Shaw’s “Dream Objects,” on display now at the New Museum.

Sleep doesn’t always come easy for me, so I was drawn to Linda Pastan’s new collection of poems just from its title: Insomnia. Pastan muses on the daydreams the sleepless have at night, the small histories that emerge as each day wanes. Her narrators sit up wishing their gnarled skin was as beautiful as an apple tree’s, or remembering the “fascinated nightmares” the woodcut novels of Lynd Ward inspired. They think about Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve and the poet Roland Flint and the way asteroids resemble giant brains plucked from their skulls. Though the title suggests otherwise, Pastan writes oneirically, knitting gentle verse together with playful, if often somber, scenes. In “Counting Sheep,” Pastan writes of how restless the sheep are, waiting to be added up: “I notice a ram / pushing up against a soft and curly female … It’s difficult / to keep so many sheep / in line for counting ... ” In “Insomnia: 3 AM,” “Sleep has stepped out / for a smoke / and may not be back”—I just love that. —Caitlin Youngquist

Jim Shaw’s “The End Is Here” is up through January 10 at the New Museum: three floors chockablock with thrift-store paintings, extreme Christian ephemera, and Shaw’s own distinctly outré drawings, paintings, and collages. J. Hoberman is right when he notes that “although [Shaw’s] obsessive faux naïve work dares you to find it creepy, it is more often strangely cheerful, as well as enigmatic.” This holds true no matter how outrageous his images are: two aliens fucking on a UFO flight deck, Santa getting his dick bitten off. This is a world where even an exsanguinated penis is just a lark; Freudians need not apply. The collected stuff compels, too—from junk piles and yard sales, Shaw has compiled some significant American detritus, and his arrangements make it all more cohesive than you’d expect. Even the titles for his dream drawings come to seem inevitable: “I was drawing a Pepsi sex float … ” “In Reno there was a Titanic mockup where a girl … ” “I think I was half awake when I thought of this upright piano modeled after the cave monster from It Conquered the World … ” —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

Staff Picks: Wood on the Fire, Wood on the Flume

November 6, 2015 | by

Slava Korotki in his handmade boat on the Barents Sea. Photo: Evgenia Arbugaeva, via The Guardian

The banker and poet Samuel Rogers (1763–1855) spent his life at the center of political and literary London. He knew everyone (both Wordsworth and Tennyson borrowed his court suit for royal occasions), and like the Brothers Goncourt—or a Regency Renata Adler—he had a nightly habit of writing up his dinner conversations. As Christopher Ricks observes in a preface to Rogers’s Table-Talk & Recollections, Rogers loved to repeat other people’s gossip. But he loved to record their quirks and sayings, too. Of the Whig leader Charles James Fox, for example: “Very candid—Retracts instantly—continually putting wood on the fire.” “He loves children.” “Josephine a very pleasing woman.” Most interesting for me are the private literary opinions of Rogers’s powerful friends, who talk about Milton, Pope, and the classics very much in the tone of late-night Dylanologists two centuries later, and at the same passionate level of detail. —Lorin Stein

While this may be remembered as the week virtual reality went mainstream, I found myself absorbed in a more time-tested medium—a portfolio of photographs, “Weather Man,” by Evgenia Arbugaeva. Arbugaeva, who grew up in the Russian Arctic, spent several weeks visiting a remote meteorological station in Khodovarikha, one in which data on wind speed, precipitation, visibility, water levels, and the like are still measured and recorded by hand—by Vyacheslav “Slava” Korotki, the station’s resident meteorologist. Slava lives and works in isolation, in a station built in, and by all measures still reminiscent of, 1933. Says Arbugaeva (and so her photos attest): “He doesn’t have a sense of self the way most people do. It’s as if he were the wind, or the weather itself.” —Stephen Andrew Hiltner Read More »

Spooky Staff Picks: Bat Bombs, Phoney Phootey

October 30, 2015 | by

Dorothea Tanning, Guardian Angels, 1946, oil on canvas, 48 1/8" x 35".

Last Halloween we recommended some things that scared us. But there are many such things—we’re easily frightened—so this year we’re doing it again. Stay spooky.

In college, I took a seminar about female Surrealist artists—Remedios Varo, Unica Zürn, Claude Cahun, and Dorothea Tanning, et al. Many of these women’s life stories were harrowing, and their artwork, which often mines frightening psychological territory, is dark, humorous, visionary, and uncanny. It still creeps me out. Dorothea Tanning’s paintings, for instance, are full of tattered clothing and deserted hallways. They’re haunted by somnambulant young girls and oddly sentient sunflowers. Her painting Guardian Angels scares me whenever I look at it: strange, ragged, winged creatures that look like vicious, plucked chickens swirl and tear at each other, rippling with some obscene energy. Later in life, Tanning made forays into sculpture, fashioning soft, upholstered structures that ooze across the boundary between furniture and human figure. My favorite work of Tanning’s is The Birthday, a self-portrait in which she has painted herself stepping through an open door into a corridor that’s full of other doorways. A monster—sort of like one of the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz—huddles, couchant, at her feet, and her expression is otherworldly. Is she letting this beast in or sending him across another threshold? —Hannah LeClair Read More »

Staff Picks: Passing Saviors, Psycho Sitters

October 23, 2015 | by

Marilyn Monroe in Don’t Bother to Knock, 1952.

Before The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, or Blue Sunshine, there was Mischief, Charlotte Armstrong’s 1950 suspense novel and home of the original psychotic babysitter. The story, newly reissued in Sarah Weinman’s anthology Women Crime Writers, follows an out-of-town couple in a Manhattan hotel; for a night out on the town, they leave their only daughter in the care of a meek woman who knows the elevator guy. (Good help is so hard to find.) From there things go quickly south. Armstrong’s fixation on social mores, on the subtle ways we pay obesiance to convention, reminds me of John O’Hara—Mischief’s crazy sitter has an implacable ennui that would put her right at home in the pages of Appointment in Samarra. Her violence is motivated by sheer boredom, and her psychology makes the novel eerily effective, even in its clunkier moments: Armstrong tapped into postwar fears about class and belonging in a new and terrifying way. Two years later the book was adapted in Don’t Bother to Knock, with Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark; “The female race,” says the latter, “is always cheesing up my life!” —Dan Piepenbring

In The Act of Killing, a 2012 documentary, the directors Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn travel to Medan, Indonesia, where they film the feared and vaunted Anwar Congo, Adi Zulkadry, and Herman Koto: deified “gangsters” of the paramilitary Pancasila youth. Congo and co. are family men, cinephiles, and mass murderers who have never faced punishment for their crimes. They’re invited by Oppenheimer and Cynn to make a film about their contribution to the mass killings of 1965–1966, in which a million alleged communists lost their lives. In it they dramatize their “glory days,” abiding by their favorite Hollywood tropes (gangster, western, musical). In one scene, on a rooftop, Congo explains his preferred method of killing: strangulation by wire. In another, we watch him gently admonish his two grandsons for treating some backyard chicklets with too rough a touch. As the camera rolls on, we see Congo’s defenses against remorse and self-disgust erode. Watching these scenes you sense him begging for his comeuppance—“I’m always gazed at by those eyes I didn’t close”—but a full admission of guilt is slow to arrive. It’s probably best to take this one in over several viewings, with a bottle of something strong nearby. Then watch The Look of Silence. Joshua Maserow Read More »

Staff Picks: Dreamers, Dealers, Kidney Donors

October 16, 2015 | by

An illustration by Gustave Doré for Poe’s “The Raven.”

The two things I like most about annotated classics are the annotations and the pictures—which are really the point, if you think about it: you can read the text itself in any edition. Truth be told, sometimes the annotations aren’t very interesting, but the pictures rarely disappoint. Such is the case with the new Annotated Poe from the Belknap Press. Some are illustrations that were made to accompany Poe’s works: there’s great stuff from Arthur Rackham, Harry Clarke, Aubrey Beardsley, and Gustave Doré, such as his very cosmic (very Little Prince) depiction of a line from “The Raven”: “Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” But the book also includes art that was influenced, sometimes obliquely, by Poe: a still from Batman in 1966 shows Adam West quoting a line from Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise”—a nod perhaps to the fact that Bob Kane, Batman’s creator, came up with the idea for the masked detective while visiting the Poe Cottage in Fordham, New York. And still other art in the book feels simply like a wonderful excuse to draw connections across time: a moody photographic close-up by Lisette Model of a pair of legs striding the nighttime pavement made the cut because Poe’s description of a man’s “agitated restlessness” in “The Man of the Crowd” prefigures Model’s candid street photography, which appeared a century later. —Nicole Rudick

As a child, I understood the harrowing effect of my sullen and unloving behavior on my parents, yet continued to behave rottenly anyway. Ben Marcus’s story in this week’s New Yorker, “Cold Little Bird,” about a ten-year-old boy who suddenly begins to withhold affection from his parents, is a chilling evocation of the pressure-cooker tension that can arise in family life. Marcus teases striking images out of dense thickets of metaphor; here his writing is spare, the story proceeding in a series of clipped passages. He captures the subtle features of relationship maintenance; one of the best scenes involves the advance-and-retreat dynamics of tactical apologies. In its refusal to diagnose, the story offers no release valve. I persevered to the end and felt uncomfortable, then guilty, then gladdened by the knowledge that I had never been as bad as this little shit, then embarrassed by that thought, then terrified of my own (nonexistent) child; then impressed that Marcus had been able to provoke in me a parent’s anxiety I had never known existed. —Henri Lipton
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