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Posts Tagged ‘Susan Sontag’

Dear Paris Review, What Books Impress a Girl?

June 8, 2012 | by

Dear Paris Review,

Someone sent me this text message yesterday: Whats a book I should read to make girls think I'm smart in a hot way? I want to seem like a douchey intellectual instead of my deadbeat self. What should I tell him?

Sincerely,
A

Dear A,

The correct answer is probably that your friend should be secure in his tastes, find someone who loves him for who he is, and not worry about impressing anyone. Many movies have demonstrated the pitfalls of posturing and the inevitable public unmasking that follows. That said, our job here is to try to answer questions, and as such, I took the unusual step of soliciting a range of answers from both men and women.  (My own immediate response was to offer the following formula: worst book of great author, a gambit that men of this type also apply to albums, i.e. Metal Machine Music, which they will claim is underrated.) Then too, there is the dual nature of the question: Does the author wish to come across as a poseur for some reason, or attract a woman of substance?  If his goal is (inexplicably) the former, the female contingent offered the following names: Madness and Civilization; The Power Broker; Žižek (any), The Brothers Karamazov. (All worthy reads, needless to say, but often used for ostentatious or intimidating purposes.) And, added one, “I like DFW, but he’s the novelist equivalent of a neg.”

As to books the women whom I spoke to found appealing (and please note that this implies actual reading, not use as props): At Swim Two Birds, The Beauty Myth, “any book read twice.” Elaborated one: “Extra points for Martin Amis memoir, minus points for other Martin Amis nonfiction. Someone who actually appears to be reading William Gaddis for real and not just carrying it around will always rate a second glance. And a straight man reading Mary Gaitskill would be nearly irresistible to me.”

When faced with the same question, male correspondents provided the following terse responses: “Cantos, Pound.” “Kathy Acker.” “Sontag.”

Portnoys Complaint,” said one, “may as well be Yiddish for douche.”

Others were more expansive. “How about Laszlo Kraszahorkai’s Satantango? It’s ostentatious, hip, handsomely designed (looks great on a bedside table), and comes with seals of approval from Sontag, Sebald, and James Wood. It is also, for the most part, unreadable.”

Gravitys Rainbow, all the completed Caro LBJ books, Brothers Karamazov. But if you really want ‘I am a brooding intellectual with an effortless knowledge of contemporary culture,’ I think Matterhorn is tough to top.”

“There’s a difference,” remarked one colleague, “between getting a girl to think you’re smart, and getting a girl to WANT to talk to you. The following are books that will make girls want to talk to you.

—Greatest pick-up book of all time is Just Kids by Patti Smith, because every girl has read it and they ALL want to talk about it.
—Any book ever written by Haruki Murakami
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
White Album by Joan Didion
What We Talk About, When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. (Don’t question it. Just trust.)”

And in corroboration, one fellow says: “If it means anything, the only time a girl ever sat down and started talking to me out of nowhere was when I was reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem in college.  Didion has an effect on people.”

Take this for what it’s worth, and we hope you actually find a book you love in the process.

Have a question for the editors of The Paris Review? E-mail us.

90 COMMENTS

What We’re Loving: Girls, Cribs, and Literary Detective Work

May 18, 2012 | by

How often have you read a TV review by a writer of our generation and thought of Susan Sontag? It's never happened to me—until this week, when I read Elaine Blair’s review of Girls in The New York Review of Books. By paying attention to one little sex scene, Blair makes deep arguments about sex scenes in general, the limits of romantic comedy, and the real meaning of sexual freedom. —Lorin Stein

About a decade ago, my friend Mikey loaned me a book he thought I’d enjoy. I’ve only just got around to picking it up. Though I’m a bad friend, he isn’t: the book—Leonid Andreyev’s The Little Angel—is terrific, after a fashion. The stories are intriguing, especially “At the Roadside Station” and “The City," but the translation is rather bad. I’d love to see it revisited by another publisher and translator. I’m looking at you, NYRB Books. And how about Natasha Randall? I loved her translations of We and A Hero of Our Time. —Nicole Rudick

For those with a green thumb and a love of literature, look no further than Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation Across Two Centuries for an insightful glimpse into garden writing over the last two-hundred years. Lush illustrations color the pages and accompany extensive excerpts from the writings of influential figures of gardening’s past and present, such as Thomas Jefferson, Gertrude Jekyll, and Michael Pollan. Gain a little inspiration for your own beckoning plots, or simply get yourself excited for summer’s peak. —Elizabeth Nelson

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Susan Sontag in a Teddy Bear Suit

May 15, 2012 | by

Photo by Annie Leibovitz

We recommend Flavorwire’s entire, inspired list of “Extremely Silly Photos of Extremely Serious Writers,” but this is really the must-see.

4 COMMENTS

Slanderous Correspondence; Imitations

January 13, 2012 | by

I take great and perverse joy in reading insulting, inflammatory, and slanderous correspondence between authors, publishers, and celebrities. Could you recommend some particularly bilious rivalries?

As Mr. Wilson so justly proclaims in the beginning of “The Strange Case of Pushkin and Nabokov,” we are indeed old friends. I fully share “the warm affection sometimes chilled by exasperation” that he says he feels for me. In the 1940s, during my first decade in America, he was most kind to me in various matters, not necessarily pertaining to his profession. I have always been grateful to him for the tact he showed in refraining from reviewing any of my novels. We have had many exhilarating talks, have exchanged many frank letters. A patient confidant of his long and hopeless infatuation with the Russian language, I have always done my best to explain to him his mistakes of pronunciation, grammar, and interpretation. As late as 1957, at one of our last meetings, we both realized with amused dismay that despite my frequent comments on Russian prosody, he still could not scan Russian verse. Upon being challenged to read Eugene Onegin aloud, he started to do this with great gusto, garbling every second word and turning Pushkin’s iambic line into a kind of spastic anapaest with a lot of jaw-twisting haws and rather endearing little barks that utterly jumbled the rhythm and soon had us both in stitches.

So begins the famous response, by Vladimir Nabokov, to a negative review by Edmund Wilson in The New York Review of Books. The book: Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin. A fun game to play: Exactly where does Nabokov start to show his teeth? Is it “the tact he showed in refraining from reviewing any of my novels”? Or “not necessarily pertaining to his profession”? Or even that “justly” in sentence one?

Six years later, when Norman Mailer was attacked by Gore Vidal in that same magazine, Mailer took his case to the masses—on The Dick Cavett Show—with less sinuous results. The lesson, most publishers will tell you, is never respond. But it's awfully good TV.

I am taking a beginning poetry class and am expected to write imitations of poets on the class list. What should I be careful to do or not do? What should I pay attention to in an imitation?

To get the most out of the exercise, try to make the meter sound exactly like the meter of the poem you’re imitating. And make sure the teacher checks your work. The meter will look and sound right to you—and if you are a beginner, it will almost certainly be wrong. (You will say your words out loud in your head as if they marched along ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk, when in fact they will go baah-duh-dee, buh-dee-doo.) Don’t get hung up on matching the vocabulary of the old poems. You won’t get it right, and it will sound fake. Use words that are more or less natural to you.

And have fun! Read More »

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The Long March

December 12, 2011 | by

On a recent Sunday evening, in a lounge at the Jane Hotel in Manhattan, the writers Kurt Andersen and Anne Kreamer enacted before an audience the final pages of The Adventures of Mao on the Long March, a 1971 work of literary pastiche by the author Frederic Tuten. Andersen played the role of Chairman Mao, sitting for a fictitious interview. “Have you seen Godard’s La Chinoise?” asked Kreamer, playing his interlocutor. “Have you seen Dali’s Mao/Marilyn?” “Chairman Mao, perhaps I might ask your opinion on birth control.” Tuten himself, a septuagenarian in a black blazer, sat at the front of the room, beaming with happiness at the event held in his honor.

If you have not heard of The Adventures of Mao, you would not have been out of place at its marathon reading. Indeed, some of those who gathered to participate in the reading—a roster including Lydia Davis, Wallace Shawn, Walter Mosley, John Guare, and Edmund White—admitted to having had only a glancing familiarity with the novel or its author. Yet The Adventures of Mao, about, as the title suggests, the Chinese dictator’s rise to power, has always had its advocates; Susan Sontag called it “soda pop, a cold towel, or a shady spot under a tree for culture-clogged footsoldiers on the American long march.” In 1972, the book achieved that pinnacle of literary attention, the John Updike New Yorker review. Analyzing the novel’s five distinct modes—textbooklike history of the Long March; ample direct quotation from the likes of Hawthorne, Melville, and Fenimore Cooper; passages of literary parody of authors such as Kerouac and Malamud; “normal novelistic substance—imaginary encounters and conversations”; and, finally, that extended interview with Chairman Mao—Updike declared the resulting sum “an intelligent, taut, and entertaining change from conventional novels.”

Despite Mao’s champions over the decades—New Directions embalmed it as one of its classics in 2005—the event at the Jane Hotel was in some ways an unlikely one. It had all begun in the Strand Bookstore, where three men in their twenties stumbled upon the book and brought it to their book club. Read More »

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Staff Picks: Barbie’s Dream House, All the Single Ladies

October 14, 2011 | by

Lisa Yuskavage, Babushkas, 2011, oil on panel, 8 x 6 inches. Courtesy David Zwirner.

While I was in Los Angeles, I had the chance to see two very different—but very “California”—exhibits, both of which I’d recommend to anyone. The first, Robert Irwin’s “Way Out West” at L&M Arts, is a light installation that's visually engaging on its own terms, but even more so to those familiar with Irwin’s writing. More straightforward but just as interesting, LACMA’s “California Design, 1930–1965” is a colorful, exhilarating showcase of all things “modern,” from lobster-print swimsuits to Ray and Charles Eames’s living room (which is fully reassembled in the museum) to the original Barbie Dream House. It’s a survey not just of West Coast design, but of the crafting of the modern conception of California as we know it. —Sadie Stein

Sigrid Nunez’s Sempre Susan doesn’t just evoke Susan Sontag, the person, with hard-won sympathy, insight, and cool; it contains (in a very tiny space) material for an entire novel of idealism and disillusionment. This Sontag—who “often struck me as someone who wanted to be feeling ten times what she actually felt”—is a tragic figure, and this memoir captures the spirit of the spirit of her times. —Lorin Stein

I had, much to my shame, never read the fiction of Alan Hollinghurst until this last Indian summer weekend, when I found myself utterly absorbed in the world of The Stranger’s Child. Its prose is marvelously precise, its subjects both literary and sensual, and its general character inimitably English. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

Lisa Yuskavage’s ethereal paintings are on display at David Zwirner until November 5. —Jessica Calderon

Last spring, the culture guerrillas at Bidoun went to Cairo to check in on the revolution. They came back with their Summer issue (#25), which includes interviews with graffiti artists, tour guides, ex-members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and hard-core metal musicians. Also, dream narratives, photographs, and thumbnail sketches of the dozens of the new political parties. There is very little analysis and no claim to know what comes next. But, more than anything else I’ve read, it gives you a sense of life on the ground. —Robyn Creswell

I just discovered the blog Letters of Note and could not tear myself away. They’ve archived, photographed, and transcribed amazing correspondences: everything from a letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to his family describing his capture in 1944, to a vintage rejection slip from Sub Pop records addressed to “Dear Loser.”  —Artie Niederhoffer

Everyone I know has been sending me Kate Bolick’s fascinating piece on marriage, coupling through history, gender imbalances, and, well, as the title says, “All the Single Ladies.” —D. F. M.

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