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Cover Model

November 6, 2014 | by

T-Magazine-Luxury

Photo: Inez and Vinoodh for T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

T: The New York Times Style Magazine just sent us a sneak preview of their newest cover model: Philip Roth. He’s in handsome company, perhaps dangerously so. The last guy on the cover was Channing Tatum.

But if Roth has that stressed, I-can’t-bear-to-look thing going on—anxiety chic—it’s not because he’s out of his depth in the modeling game. It’s because he’s been rereading his own work, always a dicey proposition. Specifically, he’s been rereading Portnoy’s Complaint, to which his reputation remains staked, many decades and nearly two dozen novels later. Roth doesn’t have a problem with that, but he does have a problem with those who have cast the book as gratuitous or indecorous:

I portrayed a man who is the repository of every unacceptable thought, a 33-year-old man possessed by dangerous sensations, nasty opinions, savage grievances, sinister feelings and, of course, one stalked by the implacable presence of lust. In short, I wrote about the quotient of the unsocialized that is rooted in almost everyone … One writes a repellent book (and Portnoy’s Complaint was taken by many to be solely that) not to be repellent but to represent the repellent, to air the repellent, to expose it, to reveal how it looks and what it is. Chekhov wisely advised that the writer’s task lies not in solving problems but in properly presenting the problem.

With his usual candor, Roth meditates on Alexander Portnoy’s standing today, in these “erotically unfettered” times. His essay is one in a series wherein authors reread their own work; there’s also Lydia Davis on Break It Down, Robert Caro on The Power Broker, George Saunders on CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Marilynne Robinson on Housekeeping, Jennifer Egan on A Visit From the Goon Squad, and Junot Díaz on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. You can read all of them here

Next month, these writers and others are auctioning annotated first editions of their books to benefit PEN American Center. The auction, “First Editions, Second Thoughts,” takes place December 2 at Christie’s New York; previews begin November 17.

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Disgusting Lives

March 11, 2014 | by

Goops and how to Be Them

From the cover of Goops and How to Be Them, 1900.

The other day I visited with a four-year-old friend; we read a book called Manners. As the title implies, this is a guide to basic children’s etiquette, with an emphasis on consideration for others, and it was cute and instructive. But I couldn’t help thinking that it didn’t have quite the élan of The Goops.

Created by the humorist Gelett Burgess (also inventor of “the blurb”) in the late nineteenth century, the Goops were humanoid characters with enormous round heads who behaved disgracefully—children could profit from their example and get an illicit thrill from their antics. “The Goops” comic strip was a recurring feature in the children’s magazine St. Nicholas. The book, Goops and How to Be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Infants Inculcating Many Juvenile Virtues Both by Precept and Example, with Ninety Drawings, came out in 1900 to instant acclaim. I can still remember the opening lines:

The Goops, they lick their fingers,
and the Goops, they lick their knives;
They spill their broth on the tablecloth,
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!

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