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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Parks’

Your Book’s Central Nervous System, and Other News

March 13, 2015 | by

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Barbara Wildenboer. Image via This Is Colossal

  • Can a writer’s original inspiration survive success? Imagine you are Karl Ove Knausgaard at this point in his career … Why not enjoy success? Why not accept that you are a genius, if people insistently tell you that you are? One way or another, from this point on it will be hard to achieve the same concentration, the same innocence, when you return to the empty page and the next stage in a life story that is now radically transformed.”
  • Today in dubious superlatives: Was 1925 really “the greatest year” in the history of literature? The BBC has declared it so. They searched “for a cluster of landmark books” and then asked if said books “continue to enthrall readers and explore our human dilemmas and joys in memorable ways”; 1925, with its Hemingway and its Fitzgerald and its Dos Passos and its Dreiser, came away the victor. But make no mistake: seeking the greatest year in literature is a fool’s errand, just as searching for the greatest minute in history would be.
  • Sam Simon, who died this month, is responsible for much of the greatness of golden-age Simpsons episodes, though his collaborations with Matt Groening weren’t always smooth: “It was Simon’s insight that animation allowed The Simpsons to sprawl across a vast canvas, illustrating new locations and inventing characters through the multifold voice talents of the cast. The Springfield the Simpsons inhabit is a mini-world on to itself, with its own rich mythology and history.”
  • The science behind “wordnesia,” a “common brain glitch” in which you can’t spell the simplest words and common language has a sheen of unfamiliarity to it: “Russell Epstein, a cognitive neuroscientist and psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania … posits that these experiences may be linked to concepts described by psychologist William James … [who] contended that our conscious experiences are made up of components he referred to as the nucleus and the fringe.”
  • On the criticism of Bernard Williams: “Williams says that philosophers have typically been motivated by two things: curiosity, and the desire to be helpful.  He unhesitatingly gives priority to the former motive … Above all, philosophy offers reflective analysis of our concepts, and, through these and a study of their history, insight into who ‘we’ are.  If philosophy is to contribute anything distinctive, however, all this must be carried out with clarity and rigor, and the aim of ‘getting it right’ must ‘be in place.’ ”
  • Barbara Wildenboer’s sculptures meld the sprawl of a nervous system to the spines of books.

The World Just Wasn’t Ready, and Other News

December 11, 2014 | by

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Rest in peace, WebVan. Photo: Mark Coggins, via Flickr

  • Tim Parks was dismayed to find that his students were so enthralled by “the printed word and an aura of literariness” that they’d miss obvious absurdities in what they were reading. His advice? “Always read with a pen in your hands, not beside you on the table, but actually in your hand, ready, armed. And always make three or four comments on every page, at least one critical, even aggressive. Put a question mark by everything you find suspect. Underline anything you really appreciate. Feel free to write ‘splendid,’ but also, ‘I don’t believe a word of it.’ And even ‘bullshit.’ ”
  • On a similar note, Oxonians are obsessed with finding marginalia in their library books: on Facebook, the Oxford University Marginalia group “now has two thousand five hundred and three members, making marginalia to Oxford something like what a cappella is to Princeton. ‘The Oxford libraries are still heavily used, and the curriculum remains relatively stable, so you have so many students reading the same texts’ … ‘The books are thrashed, basically.’ ”
  • Not many people are managing to slog through literary best sellers, experts say: “A study has shown the most downloaded ebooks of the year were not necessarily ever finished by hopeful readers.” Just 44 percent of readers made it through The Goldfinch, and 28 percent got through Twelve Years a Slave.
  • Crummy computer news, part one: they’re better at flirting than we are. “Women were okay, able to judge with 62 percent accuracy when a man was flirting with them. Men were worse, accurately guessing that a woman was flirting just 56 percent of the time. The Stanford guys’ flirtation-detection system, in comparison, was able to correctly judge flirting with 71 percent accuracy.”
  • Crummy computer news, part two: all the seemingly horrendous dot-com ideas of the nineties were actually pretty decent. Remember WebVan? No? They wanted to use the Internet to deliver fresh groceries to your door—just as dozens of profitable companies are doing today.

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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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