Tonight I went to my first Spanish class at Idlewild on Nineteenth Street. 7:30 to 9 P.M.. When I signed up for this class in November, shortly after I came back from spending a few weeks in Barcelona, I was flush with the joy of recent travel, and intent on injecting some novelty, intellectual and otherwise, into my life. I had an idea that I might try to make it back to Spain at the end of this year, and if that happened, I’d like to be able to do more than buy a few peaches without tripping over my tongue, or wanting to revert to French, the only other foreign language I know. And if that never happened, I would at least be doing something to forestall dementia. But as the intervening weeks, growing colder and darker, put more and more distance between me and that trip—I dreamed that, didn’t I?—I started to wonder why I’d done such a thing. It seemed as unnecessary and out of character as signing up for ten colonics through Groupon. But when, after the fifteen of us had gathered in a circle in the back of the store, and the teacher welcomed us in Spanish, something in me quickened in response to hearing the language. Maybe it was just sound as souvenir, but some sleeping dog in me perked up. Something similar had happened back in Barcelona, while standing in the La Central bookstore, looking at all the books I wanted to read but could not, feeling a strange urgency to get the key that would unlock what lay between those covers, a strange feeling that this was a language I needed to know deeper. Read More
When I’m able to tear my eyes away from al-Jazeera, which isn’t often, I’ve been reading Ibrahim Aslan’s classic The Heron. Set on the eve of the 1977 bread riots, in a working class Cairene neighborhood, it’s essential reading for anyone who’s been riveted—as who has not?—by the uprising in Egypt. It’s also a great read, expertly translated by Elliott Colla. And if you can get your hands on the film adaptation, al-Kitkat, you’re in for a treat. —Robyn Creswell
I read every word of Tina Fey’s essay in The New Yorker this week. “I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they’re all ‘crazy.’ I have a suspicion—and hear me out, because this is a rough one—that the definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.” —Thessaly La Force
In preparation for our forthcoming Ann Beattie interview, I decided to check out her collection What Was Mine. Beattie is a master of the short story. I could imagine her as being much like a character in her story “Windy Day at the Reservoir,” writing characters and stories that “declare their necessity, so she would not feel she was just some zookeeper, capturing them.” —Janet Thielke
Anne Enright’s graceful reminiscence of her former tutor, Angela Carter, isn’t just a fitting tribute to the woman Salman Rushdie once described as “the benevolent witch-queen” of English letters. It’s a vicarious travelogue, a wry investigation into the significance of mirrors and a tartly candid disquisition on the firm difference between wanting to write and needing to write. Clearly somebody was paying attention in class! —Jonathan Gharraie
Poetry editor Robyn Creswell’s essay for The New York Times Book Review on the writer in Egyptian society. —Lorin Stein
I like to imagine I’m an ambitious reader, but for the true book nerd, try keeping up with the National Book Critics Circle’s “31 Books in 31 Days.” If anything, it makes one appreciate how good criticism can be an excellent excuse not to read the book! —T. L.