- Deaccessioning: it’s one of the cruel realities of our time. But how do libraries determine which books turn to pulp and which remain to yellow on shelves? According to Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner, who’ve created a blog called Awful Library Books, it’s easier than you think: “Kelly and Hibner created the site in 2009. Each week, they highlight books that seem to them so self-evidently ridiculous that weeding is the only possible recourse. They often feature books with outlandish titles, like Little Corpuscle, a children’s book starring a dancing red blood cell; Enlarging Is Thrilling, a how-to about—you guessed it—film photography; and God, the Rod, and Your Child’s Bod: The Art of Loving Correction for Christian Parents … ‘I pull one or two books a week. Nobody’s going to even question that,’ Hibner said. She also keeps a bag of her favorite weeded books under her desk—Vans: The Personality Vehicle, Be Bold with Bananas—in case any inquisitive patrons want examples.”
- It’s not always easy to muster one’s enthusiasm for railways—even train buffs get the blues. But James Meek has been reading The Railways: Nation, Network and People, and so can offer a vital refresher for a world suffering from rail fatigue: “The shock of the speed of the first trains, three times faster than a stagecoach, wasn’t only physical, embodied in the sensations of acceleration and travel, but conceptual: the old measures of distance, how far town X was from town Y, were rendered irrelevant, leading to what commentators as early as 1833 were calling ‘the annihilation of space by time’, twenty-five years before Karl Marx used the phrase in the Grundrisse. Along with the speed of the trains was the shock of the speed with which the railways spread, gouging cuttings out of hills, flinging embankments across bowls of land, boring and blasting tunnels through solid rock, hurling viaducts over valleys and gorges … Writing in the 1960s, Michael Robbins said: ‘The Victorians who created the railway look like a race imbued with some demonic energy.’ ”
- David Means discusses his new novel, Hystopia, and the way he manipulates time in his fiction: “For me, grace lies in a paradox: the moment you are fully in existence while also fully aware of the vastness of time itself; so you’re sitting there in a hospital hallway holding a baby and the baby is looking up at you and you’re in the moment but also aware of the hugeness of the moment, the inexplicable forgiveness in the tactile feeling of this newborn life in your hands and the absolute innocent need inside the baby’s gaze. The writer’s job is to be as true as possible, not only in the drafting but the revision process, to the words and the reality that they are representing and creating. That requires an attempt at humility before the material, somehow. Humor and grace, for me, are entwined.”
- It’s great that Harriet Tubman will soon grace our twenties, but isn’t it time to spice up the ol’ government oil-portrait collection, too? “Looking through the House and Senate portrait collections, you’ll find a wealth of white legislators in ill-fitting suits posing awkwardly among symbolic objects: dogs, children, clocks, gavels, and flags—lots of flags … But if you’re not a white man, gay or straight, good luck getting a portrait painted before you die. The first Asian American in Congress, Dalip Singh Saund (D-CA), served as a representative for four years until a stroke ended his political career in 1962 … Saund died in 1973, but his portrait wasn’t commissioned until 2007, over forty years later, and it shows him standing in the Capitol rotunda, bordered by the places and people that influenced his career: India, California, Gandhi, and Lincoln.”
- Today in new exhibitions: “Olsen Twins Hiding From the Paparazzi.” “Ever wish that visiting a museum was more like watching reality TV and simultaneously browsing TMZ, all while a few wine coolers deep? You’re in luck … [the artist Laura Collins] had a series of paintings depicting the Olsen twins hiding from the paparazzi … Collins’s artwork lines the hallway, which is operating under a ‘jungle’ theme, complete with large green-paper leaves. Mary-Kate and Ashley are not identified in each painting, which Collins says is intentional. ‘I have no idea who’s who. I wanted it to be like, they’re kinda interchangeable. We almost don’t care who’s who.’ ”
“Oh my God,” I said, turning to my husband with tears in my eyes.
“What is it?” he asked, understandably alarmed. The train had stopped at a Connecticut station—Rowayton, maybe—and it smelled like sun-warmed Naugahyde and Metro-North and commuter. “What is it?”
Blinded by tears—and the fact that I’d removed my glasses to dash them away—I pointed to an advertisement on the platform. Read More
For Lesley Blanch, travel writing offered a chance to explore her preconceptions about a place as much as the place itself.
Every travel writer is a character in her own narrative, no less a part of the story than the “foreigners” that story depicts. In my own travels, I’ve found that women in countries that discourage mixed-gender interactions often speak to me more openly about culturally illuminating subjects—sex, love, motherhood—than they might to a male writer. My femaleness, it seemed, wasn’t simply a question of perspective; it was a question of action.
When I raised this subject in a lecture last year, someone in the audience broke in with a question. Why did I feel the need to “insert” myself into my narratives at all? She brought up the travel writer Colin Thubron, whom she cited as the paradigmatic example of the quiet, objective observer. “He doesn’t insert himself into his writing at all!” she exclaimed. Read More
In his prose poem “Rounding Off to the Nearest Zero,” Albert Mobilio writes that “Driving, or at least driving alone, is, I’ve always found, conducive to thinking. The sense of forward motion, the calf’s calibrated flexing, the purposeful grip of the wheel combine, it seems, to concentrate the mind.” Trains have this effect, too: their linear haste through the landscape makes thoughts unspool. The final three chapters of “Big, Bent Ears”—including the latest, Chapter 10—follow the trajectory of the Carolinian 80 as it wends from Durham to New York, and its motion drew Ivan Weiss into a web of associations between the sounds and processes of Tyondai Braxton and of Oren Ambarchi as well as those with whom they collaborate. This new chapter revels in sensory confusion—rhythms that are seen, memories that are sonic, tables that make music—and in the comfort that can be found in music:
I’d walk into a room and be invisible, and music was always the thing that calmed the noise. It was where I found solace. I would go to sleep with the radio next to me and wake up with the radio next to me. Before my eyes would open, my hands would flick the on switch.
The chapter opens with David and Julia, pictured above—strangers who meet on the Carolinian 80 and whose conversation is loosed by the lull of travel. Their exchange, like the rest of the installment, recalls Joseph Mitchell’s lines from our first chapter:
The best talk is artless, the talk of people trying to reassure or comfort themselves, women in the sun, grouped around baby carriages, talking about their weeks in the hospital or the way meat has gone up, or men in saloons, talking to combat the loneliness everyone feels.
Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:
- Chapter One, There Are No Words
- Chapter Two, Borderline Religious
- Chapter Three, Nazoranai, a Documentary
- Chapter Four, In Search of Lost Time in Knoxville
- Chapter Five, Alien Observers
- Chapter Six, Treatise on the Veil
- Chapter Seven, Anatomy of a Sequence
- Chapter Eight, Surrender to the Situation, Part 1
- Chapter Nine, Surrender to the Situation, Part 2
Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.
Once upon a time, a newly married couple rode an old train from Myrdal to Flåm. The train passed through mountains and valleys, past waterfalls and vast lakes. Often the climb was dramatically steep, the hairpin turns almost impossibly sharp. The passengers ran from window to window in a frenzy of excitement, exclaiming at the vivid scenery, blinking in wonder when the train emerged from a tunnel.
A voice spoke to the passengers, first in Norwegian, then in German, then English. The voice spoke of gradients and history: of the men who had built tracks from wood and stone and the many people who had ridden on the red seats of the old train. And there were legends, too: this was folklore country. The land through which the train was passing was said to be haunted by trolls and fays. The valleys were home to the Hulder, a forest siren who lured mortals with her unearthly song. The bride squeezed her husband’s hand in excitement. Here was magic; here was darkness. Read More
Joseph Roth’s hotel years.
“I am a hotel citizen,” Joseph Roth declared in one of the newspaper dispatches anthologized in The Hotel Years: Wanderings in Europe Between the Wars, “a hotel patriot.” It’s easy to see why: Red Joseph was nothing if not a cosmopolitan humanist, and the hotel was his natural habitat. “The guests come from all over the world,” he explains:
Continents and seas, islands, peninsulas and ships, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists are all represented in this hotel. The cashier adds, subtracts, counts and cheats in many languages, and changes every currency. Freed from the constriction of patriotism, from the blinkers of national feeling, slightly on holiday from the rigidity of love of land, people seem to come together here and at least appear to be what they should always be: children of the world.