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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Parks’

Meet Me on the Bridge

June 25, 2013 | by

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One afternoon I decided to read Groucho Marx in French, because, well, why not? I had temporarily switched Boston for New York on the larkiest of larks, had accidentally been charged $9,000 for a pulled pork sandwich (where my saying “It’s that much because it comes with a little waiter who grows when you pour water on him, right?” fell unbelievably flat), and—with nothing in the immediate particular to do on that May afternoon—felt the moment was right for a book.

Groucho and Me was translated into French in 1981 as Mémoire capitales, and it begins so: “L’ennui avec une autobiographie, c’est que l’on ne peut pas s’ecarter de la verite. Quand on ecrit sur un autre, on peut se permettre des retouches, voire carrement de la broderie anglaise.” (The trouble with an autobiography is that we cannot depart from the truth. When one writes of another, one is permitted alterations, even downright English embroidery.)

Groucho wrote it like this: “The trouble with writing a book about yourself is that you can’t fool around. If you write about someone else, you can stretch the truth from here to Finland.” Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Porto Pim, Montana, Cat Pianos

March 15, 2013 | by

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I am currently in Missoula, attending a conference at the University of Montana. At a welcome reception last night (in which we were treated to, among other things, some delicious bison meatballs), one title kept cropping up in conversation: John Williams’s Stoner. Why has this 1965 novel of loneliness and small lives acquired such a cult following? As one professor put it, “It captures academia perfectly.” (And since it’s one of my favorites, I felt at home right away.) —Sadie O. Stein

Thank you to John Glassie and Writers No One Reads for highlighting Athanasius Kircher, the seventeeth-century Jesuit priest and polymath who gives a whole new definition to “Renaissance man”: author, inventor, curator, Mount Vesuvius climber. While most of his ideas—covering more than seven million words, in Latin—are dead wrong (universal sperm, the hollowness of mountains), his poetic “translations” of Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions are masterpieces of expression. On a section of an Egyptian obelisk now in Rome’s Piazza della Minerva, Kircher wrote:

Supreme spirit and archetype infuses its virtue and gifts in the soul of the sidereal world, that is the solar spirit subject to it, from whence comes the vital motion in the material or elemental world, and abundance of all things and variety of species arises. 

Unfortunately, he only wrote one book of fiction (1656’s Ecstatic Journey), and while most of his work is long forgotten, he was an influence on such writers and artists as Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, and Marcel Duchamp. Not bad for someone who invented an instrument called the cat piano. —Justin Alvarez Read More »

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Just Like Christmas …

November 29, 2012 | by

Our Winter issue takes you north, to an unusual conference in Oslo with John Jeremiah Sullivan, Elif Batuman, Donald Antrim, and filmmaker Joachim Trier. In addition to the proceedings of the first Norwegian-American Literary Festival, this December we bring you new fiction from James Salter, Tim Parks, and Rachel Kushner, poems by Linda Pastan, Ben Lerner, and Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), an interview with Susan Howe, and much more.

Here’s Joachim Trier on literature and film:

In Norway we have a great tradition of writing literature, whereas cinema … historically this is not our strength. A Norwegian friend of mine interviewed Don DeLillo and asked him, “What do American writers talk about, when they hang out casually?” DeLillo said, “We talk about movies.” I felt so proud!

... and Donald Antrim on the fantastical:

When I began writing in earnest, I wrote stories that were modeled on the stories I thought I should write. The stories were about my family, mainly, about my alcoholic mother and about being her son, but they weren't successful. They were dutifully written and they failed ... I went into a depression over this. I didn't know what to do. I got out of the funk eventually, through the fantastic, through making up other worlds.

... and Elif Batuman and John Jeremiah Sullivan on false starts:

BATUMAN
My editor at The New Yorker was like, Why don’t you just skip the whole part where you do all the wrong things and just do the right thing.

SULLIVAN
Thank you. Thank you, editor.

BATUMAN
And then he was like, Of course I’m just joking. He wasn’t joking!

Neither are we. Subscribe now.

 

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Tim Parks, Milan, Italy

May 4, 2012 | by

A series on what writers from around the world see from their windows.


Do I pull up the shutter before my cappuccino or afterward? That’s the first decision of each new day. I need to see if it’s raining. The cord is worn and the shutter’s slats will jam if yanked too hard. The view scrolls up. “View” is generous. This is an ordinary courtyard in a sixties condo in working-class Milan; my small balcony hangs over the building’s main entrance, looking onto other small balconies above and to the left, some alive with plants, with dogs, cats, canaries, others storing old bikes, buggies, bits of furniture. In the middle of the space, a handkerchief of lawn and a tall hoarse chestnut, golden in midsummer, gaunt in winter, remind us of Nature. Otherwise it’s all cement, stucco, and tiling. Not unpleasant, not oppressive, not exciting. After ten minutes in the café (across the street) where recent Chinese arrivals serve excellent coffee and croissants, I work with my back to the open window which lets in dogs barking, a young man iPhoning on his balcony, some challenged creature who yells sporadically down the street. The portinaia sweeps fallen leaves and cigarette stubs, chatting to all comers with unremitting enthusiasm. But I’m wearing earplugs; her voice is muffled. About ten-thirty the sun hunts me down and a bright boil of light finds out how long it is since I vacuumed the parquet. Too long. I frown and turn up the brightness on this other window I’m typing into. —Tim Parks

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Poetic Doubt; Battling Anxiety

March 30, 2012 | by

I recently read Poets in Their Youth, by Eileen Simpson. Now I’ve taken to doubting my every turn. Am I a lout? A drag on my partner’s freedom and happiness? Am I going to drink myself into a coronary or into some sort of baking mishap? Is there anyway I can pretend that I won’t die cold and alone?

Ash Ponders

Dear Ash,

From your note it’s hard to tell whether you’re a poet or a poet’s main squeeze. Those are both high-pressure jobs and generally conducive to drinking. But take heart. For whatever reason, poets today—even good ones—are much less likely to walk in front of a car, or gas themselves, or even destroy their livers than poets fifty years ago. This makes them easier to live with, I imagine. (How could it not?)

Like, perhaps, more than a few of your readers, I am an anxious person. This anxiety manifests itself in a number of ways, but one of the most taxing is when it renders me extremely irritable. Feeling overwhelmed by a cornucopia of small tasks, I sometimes experience an actual skin-crawling physical discomfort as I attempt to slog through them—it’s nails-on-a-chalkboard all over if someone tries to talk to me or sends me an e-mail or if I even glance at any of my open tabs in Chrome. I have the feeling that reading should help—but all those tiny words on a page! It just makes me feel even more agitated. Do you have any particularly soothing books you could recommend? The book equivalent of a warm bath? (Obviously one can’t take a warm bath at work. Or at least not at mine.)

Tim

First, turn off your computer. You could have the calm of a lama, and you still wouldn’t be able to read a book and keep an eye on your e-mail. It can’t be done.

Now, are you able to sneak out of the office? If so, head to the nearest library. Really. In my last job I used to take the subway up to the Forty-second Street library whenever I could. One day I got busted by my editor-in-chief. He was doing the exact same thing.

If you can’t leave your desk, then close your door. If you can’t close your door, try earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.

Readers of this column know my opinion of the Jeeves books. They are gratinee for the soul. Kids’ books lower my blood pressure, too: Roald Dahl, Narnia, E. Nesbit’s Complete Book of Dragons. My grandfather, in his long final illness, swore by Trollope.

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