The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘The Transit of Venus’

What We’re Loving: Bejeweled Ostriches, Robot Dancers

May 25, 2012 | by

I know it’s dumb to bet on which novels—which anything—will endure and which won’t. So why, reading Endless Love, Scott Spencer’s 1979 novel of romantic obsession, do I keep thinking, This will outlast us all? Maybe because it reminds me of other novels that have stayed fresh over the decades without the benefit of “classic”—or even cult classic—status: books like Victory, or Rebecca, or The Transit of Venus or The White Hotel or, in a funny way, Mating. You could make a much longer, even more random list, but there’s something they all have in common, something to do with technical sophistication, urgency, and shamelessness, as if the plot came welling up out of a nightmare. They are, you might say, too strong to be classics; they don’t need champions or explaining. People will just keep making each other read them. —Lorin Stein

After my most recent binge at Westsider Books, I found myself holding a copy of something titled The Minikins of Yam. Maybe it’s all these rainy afternoons, but lately I’ve missed the middle school era of my reading life, when “guilty pleasure” was the only category. I freely admit that I chose this paperback by Thomas Burnett Swann, an almost entirely forgotten 1970s author of “neo-romantic fantasy,” solely on account of its awesome cover art, in which a horned lady sallies forth atop a bejeweled ostrich. But Yam delivers exactly what George Barr’s cover art promises: basilisks, subterfuge, and beast-headed gods. If you, too, are an adult human still coping with the end of Harry Potter, look for one of these gorgeous DAW paperbacks to help fill the void. —Allison Bulger

Happy Memorial Day Weekend! If mysophobia (or better options) keep you from the opening of public pools this weekend, I suggest reading David Foster Wallace’s “Forever Overhead,” a story from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men in which a pubescent boy celebrates his thirteenth birthday at a local public pool. You get splash fights, diving-board lines, too-tight suits, Marco Polo—the stuff of poolside dreams—and the fierce awkwardness and exposed, liquid thoughts that public pools and puberty bring forth. Wallace tells the story with manic detail and emotional exactitude, and, as always with dear DFW, it’s at once playful and meditative, unlikely and perfect. —Elizabeth Nelson

I’ve been home sick for the past two days and have found that Space Oddities: A Compilation of Rare European Library Grooves from 1977–1984 is the perfect sound track to a fever. Not a ringing endorsement? Well, you may just have to listen to this collection of carefully culled (by French DJs, naturally) clips from commercials, movies, and TV shows for yourself. I still have my ’08 CD, but good news: the whole album is on Spotify! Try “Robot Dancer.” —Sadie Stein

My experience with Egyptian art is limited mostly to the blockbuster stuff—I remember seeing traveling shows in Texas, where the heavy eye makeup and big jewelry of the statuettes and masks seemed to make a certain kind of sense—and it’s impressive, to say the least. But now I’m finding myself wowed by the smaller, less overtly extraordinary objects in the Met’s “Dawn of Egyptian Art” show (I’ve spent a lot of time with the catalogue as well). The flash of gold and scale is replaced here with the innate beauty of natural materials and form, like a frog carved from a black stone flecked with white; a basket filled with tiny fish, all incised into a single piece of powdery steatite; and the head of a bovid chiseled from clay-hued flint. I’m also unduly impressed with the various hippopotamus-shaped objects—not surprising, since I’ve long been the proud owner of a tubby blue “William.” —Nicole Rudick

NO COMMENTS

Light and Diabolical; Coming Off the Beats

April 27, 2012 | by

Dear Paris Review,
I’ve just finished
Dr. Zhivago and am on the hunt for a palate cleanser. I’ve been left with romance on the mind and would like to stay in this vein. I don’t want to go too lowbrow, like toward trashy romance novels, but something as light and diabolical but still classy and well written would be nice. Any suggestions?
Thanks,
Olivia

Romantic, diabolical, and light—it’s a tall order. But Ivan Turgenev’s First Love rises to the challenge. So does Terry Castle’s long story-essay “The Professor” (the whole collection is a knockout), ditto the title story in David Bezmozgis’s collection, Natasha (ditto the collection). You might also want to see my staff pick for this week, Goodbye, First Love.

In case you’re still jonesing for epic: Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus isn’t exactly light, but it clips along, and it’s romantic with darkness. Then there’s the book that Sadie and I seem to recommend more than any other, not (in my case) because it’s my favorite, but because it’s excellent and so often fits one bill or another, as indeed it fits this one: Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

As a nineteen-year-old writer, struggling against ego and literary giants that marked an era (the Beats), sick of the droning whir of academia, and thirsting for life. What should I read to have me excited about life, about writing.

Thank you,
Connor Goodwin

Ah, to be nineteen and coming off the Beats … I’m tempted to recommend the work of our Southern editor, as for example his collection, Pulphead. There’s a book that knows the Beat tradition, that knows academia, that knows the myth of the great author and quietly steers its own path through those perilous straits. It may give you encouragement. The same is true of The Savage Detectives. Or, if you want a more classic antidote to literary machismo, To the Lighthouse. Or for sheer life affirmation and prose descriptions that make you burst out laughing, they’re so good: Death Comes to the Archbishop or The Adventures of Augie March. Read More »

6 COMMENTS

Summer Reading; Formatting Horrors

April 13, 2012 | by

Dear Paris Review,

I’m a second-semester senior in high school and currently find myself with a lot of empty time. I also have an open summer ahead with plenty of time to read books. Do you have any novel recommendations for someone about to enter college?

Our friends at n+1 devoted an entire pamphlet to the question, more or less: What We Should Have Known. Our advice is more equivocal: the main thing is to have a whole bunch of books so you can switch if you get bored.

With that caveat, and in no special order: To the Lighthouse, Sons and Lovers, Howard’s End, Invisible Man, Brideshead Revisited, Girl in Landscape, Pnin, Rebecca, The Crying of Lot 49, The Broom of the System, Two Girls, Fat and Thin, Portnoy’s Complaint, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, The Transit of Venus, The Death of the Heart, The Tetherballs of Bougainville, Home Land, Cane, As I Lay Dying, The Sun Also Rises, Confessions of a Mask, The Savage Detectives, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Marius the Epicurean, First Love, First Love and Other Sorrows, and Moby-Dick.

I recently read Lolita and have since been obsessed with Nabokov. What are other Russian novels, or to broaden the list, European novels that you would recommend?

Have you read others novels by Nabokov? My favorite is Pnin (see above). The tricky thing about your question is that no European writes like him—or if they do, it’s in a language I can’t read. The most Nabokovian writer I know is John Updike, but he’s American. Try the Rabbit books. You might also like Javier Marías: start with A Heart So White. And if what you really want is European, magisterial, and ironic, there’s Lydia Davis’s new translation of Madame Bovary. Nabokov almost certainly wouldn’t approve of the translation—he never approved—but I think he would disapprove less than of the others. Read More »

5 COMMENTS