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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Lehrer’

Copious Free Time

June 9, 2015 | by


A postcard, ca. 1910.

“Why are narcissists always talking about how busy they are?” my friend wondered as we left the party. At this party, a certain narcissist had been droning on about how much she had to do; how she really shouldn’t be there; that she would be leaving any moment. The implication had been, I suppose, that she was far busier than anyone else—or at least that her docket of tasks was more important. Or that she was more conscientious, maybe. I’m not sure. But it did seem to signify a failure to live in the moment, as it were.

This is a type most of us have encountered at one point or another. Two stand out in my mind—a college professor and the manager of a restaurant where I worked one summer. Both liked to talk, constantly, about how frantically busy they were. But more than this, both of these people were fond of a certain phrase: in my copious free time. As in, “Yes, yet another thing for me to do in my copious free time,” or, “Thanks, Bob! We all know how much I need to fill my copious free time!” or, “I think we all know who’s going to end up doing that—with all my copious free time.” Read More »

Staff Picks: Beach Brain, Polychromatic Plumage

June 5, 2015 | by


From the cover of the Talk reissue.

In 1965, Linda Rosenkrantz summered in East Hampton—as one does, I guess—and had the good sense to bring a tape recorder with her. On the beach, she logged hours of her banal, brilliant conversations with two friends; in 1968 she published the transcripts as a novel, Talk, to be reissued next month. In many ways the book is as exasperating as you’d expect: Linda and her friends, all approaching thirty, seldom entertain thoughts beyond themselves or their coterie. They gossip about fucking and psychoanalysis; pubic dandruff is among their more elevated concerns. And there are moments when you can hear them ham it up for their imaginary audience, affecting even more weariness, intellect, and neurosis than they’ve already claimed. But who cares? Even at its most vapid, Talk captivates: it’s funny, honest, and not infrequently heartbreaking, and it still feels weirdly provocative almost fifty years later. The dialogue captures the sun-brained rhythm of beach talk better than anything I’ve read. —Dan Piepenbring

o-AMELIA-GRAY-900Amelia Gray’s last novel, Threats, was a weird and wonderful book set on the outskirts of reality. Her new story collection, Gutshot, is an episodic version of the same strange locale, one populated by a convulsive puker, a Brobdingnagian snake, and a couple who trap a woman in the air ducts of their house. It’s a place where “the sun beats the shit out of a dirty road called Raton Pass [and] the closet thing to a pair of matching earrings is a guy named Carl who punches you in the head with his fist.” The characters are all misfits of one kind or another, and they are dedicated to their stories even when they don’t seem to want to be a part of them. The title story (my favorite) reads like a shaggy-dog story, except that the ending is unexpectedly moving and meaningful. The membrane between Gray’s stories and our reality is often thin; it's sometimes breached by a pinhole, as in “Viscera,” in which the skin flakes and spittle of a paper-factory employee drift into the pulp, “baking the genetic evidence of his future heart disease into this very page, which you are touching with your hands.” —Nicole Rudick
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Poe in Bronze, and Other News

April 14, 2014 | by

poe statue

The clay model of Stefanie Rocknak’s proposed Edgar Allan Poe statue. Photo via My Modern Met

  • This fall, Boston plans to erect an impressive new statue of Edgar Allan Poe: a raven at his side, a veiny heart tumbling from his “trunk full of ideas,” his coat billowing in the wind.
  • Against the word relatable: “It presumes that the speaker’s experiences and tastes are common and normative … It’s shorthand that masquerades as description. Without knowing why you find something ‘relatable,’ I know nothing about either you or it.”
  • Futurologists are almost always wrong … The future has become a land-grab for Wall Street and for the more dubious hot gospellers who have plagued America since its inception and who are now preaching to the world.”
  • Why are so many young-adult novels set in dystopias? “The complete collapse of the narrative of what a secure future looks like for today’s young people … [has] fostered a generational anxiety about how to cope with overmighty state power.”
  • In case you missed it—last week, “a German fisherman pulled a 101-year-old message in a bottle out of the Baltic Sea.” (It was not, thankfully, an SOS to the world.)
  • “In the recent history of American music, there’s no figure parallel to Tom Lehrer in his effortless ascent to fame, his trajectory into the heart of the culture—and then his quiet, amiable, inexplicable departure.”