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Posts Tagged ‘Walker Percy’

Faulkner’s Cocktail of Choice

December 31, 2013 | by

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In honor of the new year, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

When I first started working at Kings County Distillery, in the summer of 2010, I was delighted to find the job provided ample time to read. Whiskey making has its own peculiar rhythm. Each batch begins in a flurry, as one juggles a series of tasks like a line cook, but ends in a hush, with little to do but watch the languorous drip of the stills.

This was in the wobbly-legged days of the company’s infancy, before we moved into the grand old brick paymaster building in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. Back then we were based out of a studio space on Meadow Street with wooden floors and five-gallon steel pot stills that had to be emptied, scaldingly, by hand. (This, as our former downstairs neighbors can attest, would prove an unfortunate combination of circumstances.) During that first summer, we worked singly, in nine-hour shifts, so there was a lot of alone time. So, unless one wanted to lose one’s goddamn mind in that little room, one read. Read More »

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Signpost in a Strange Land

October 21, 2013 | by

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I’m worried about America. I’m worried about its bankrupt cities, its abandoned factories, and its intractable wars. I’m worried that the country faces “a crisis of confidence,” as Jimmy Carter declared in his famous “Malaise” speech, back in 1979. The recent shutdown of the federal government is just the latest indication that America has lost its “unity of purpose,” giving rise to “growing doubt about the meaning of [its citizens’] lives.” I love America—how can you not love the country that gave us jazz and barbecue and The Godfather Part II?—so I take no pleasure from these fatalistic musings. Instead, I find myself looking for comfort, and a sense of perspective, in a novel written half a century ago by another soul-searching Southerner. If Jimmy Carter gave America the “Malaise” speech, then Walker Percy wrote the book on it.

Published in 1961, The Moviegoer was Percy’s first and most widely praised novel, the highlight of a remarkable life in American letters that ended in 1990. His protagonist is a stockbroker in late-fifties New Orleans, a young man pursuing an interest in the movies and affairs with his secretaries, quietly dedicating himself to family and finance. But soon Binx Bolling finds himself on a “search” for a more authentic life, something that will measure and mark his existence against the passage of time. “The search,” he explains, “is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.” Over the course of a fateful Mardi Gras weekend, Binx comes face to face with the same specter that haunts the rubble of postcrash America: “the cold and fishy eye of the malaise.” Read More »

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Walker Percy’s Hurricane

November 6, 2012 | by

As Sandy lashed my bay windows last week, I, like much of the northeast, spent my days mostly staring outside. Trees nodded and bowed in their ancient submission. Debris sped past. On the radio, the mayor said to stay inside. The outdoors became outer space. My world shrunk to the boxy confines of my living room.

Across my region, houses washed into the ocean, a subway system filled with water. Lives and livelihoods shattered. The hope of coastal urbanization flickered. Thousands of people were thrust into hardships heartbreaking and humbling.

It is with some shame and reluctance, then, that I admit to the ease of my own experience. I read by candlelight. Keeping me company during those days was Walker Percy. I had picked his second book—The Last Gentleman—off my shelf after I recalled its strange depiction of hurricanes as philosophically rich events that visit mass existential relief upon entire populations crushed under modern malaise. For Percy, the transformative power of a hurricane lies not just in the immediate excitement, the break in routine it brings, but more so in a storm’s capacity to limit the range of human choice, its ability to deliver a whole city from the chaotic realm of the Possible back the unquestioning mode of the Necessary.

Perhaps I was feeling some of this myself. For the first time in years, I could remain utterly idle in good faith. No pangs of guilt for my laziness, no urgencies of becoming—nothing. It seemed that gusty Sandy had summoned some powerful force from my early youth, a lightheartedness that sent me into a blissful stupor that lasted through the storm.

Which is not to say that everyone in Sandy was lucky enough to be forced into reflection. Many were forced from their homes. There was nothing theoretical about Sandy's destruction. And Percy was, essentially, a philosopher. Read More »

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Did The Moviegoer Fix the NBAs? And Other News

November 5, 2012 | by

  • It was considered a huge upset when The Moviegoer beat out Catch-22, Revolutionary Road, and Franny and Zooey for the 1962 National Book Award. Slate asks: Was the fix in? And why?
  • Speaking of snubbing Richard Yates: “Each time Yates shuffled into Roads that summer, I avoided making eye contact. Why didn’t he get help, join AA?” Leslie Absher recounts her interactions with the author.
  • Books written from beyond the grave. Dead Mark Twain was especially prolific.
  • You may be dead before you finish these: a slideshow of those books most difficult to finish.
  • He apparently hated beards, and other trivia about Roald Dahl.
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    What We’re Loving: Bourbon, Poetry, and Mead

    October 12, 2012 | by

    This week, Lorin and I made a whirlwind trip to Houston, where we had the chance to visit the wonderful Brazos Bookstore. While browsing their well-curated cookbook selection, my eye was caught by a volume called 101 Classic Cookbooks, curated by the Fales Library. Published by Rizzoli, it is as much an art book as a recipe primer (although there are plenty of those too, from such luminaries as Julia Child and Alice Waters). Images of antique receipt books and mid-century food art make for great cultural history. —Sadie Stein

    Charles Portis is that rare literary legend too few have read—me included. When I spotted a copy of his 1979 novel, The Dog of the South, on a friend’s shelf, I knew it was time to find out if the rumors are true. They are. There’s a hopped-up futility to this tale of a man in pursuit of his wife and her lover south of the border, and when Ray’s surrender is set off against small moments of truculence, it’s comic gold. One passage in particular, of Ray trying to outrace another car in a total clunker, reminds me a bit of the pie-fight scene in Gravity’s Rainbow, which was published only six years before; though the setup is far less surreal, it’s rife with absurdity:

    I’ve had enough of this, I said to myself, and I was just about ready to quit when the exhaust system or the drive shaft dropped to the highway beneath the Chrysler and began to kick up sparks. Jack was down for the day. I shot over a rise and left him with a couple honks. Harvest yellow Imperial. Like new. Loaded. One owner. See to appreciate. Extra sharp. Good rubber. A real nice car. Needs some work. Call Cherokee Bail Bonds and ask for Jack. Work odd hours. Keep calling.

    —Nicole Rudick

    Walker Percy, the National Book Award winner and Paris Review interview subject, has a delightful and underappreciated piece called “Bourbon, Neat” on a topic near and dear to my heart. Percy claims that bourbon does for him what a bite of cake did for Proust and goes on to expound an aesthetic approach to bourbon in which the chief pleasure comes from, “the little explosion of Kentucky U.S.A. sunshine in the cavity of the nasopharynx and the hot bosky bit of Tennessee summertime,” words that make this Kentuckian’s breast swell with pride. More importantly, this piece provides a ready-made, literary-minded rebuttal to accusations of alcoholism. A defense, I imagine, that might prove useful to more than a few of our readers. —Graham Rogers

    I recently picked up The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of Poetry Magazine, which was released in celebration of Poetry Magazine’s centennial (thanks to Sam Fox for lending it to me!). If you need to be reminded of the incomparable poems that the magazine published first in its pages (including those of Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, and Sylvia Plath), read excellent poetry by an author you might not have discovered yet, or simply remember why poetry is worth loving, this is the book to turn to. I recommend getting together with a few friends, taking turns opening to a poem at random, and reading out loud—knowing that you (and they) won’t be disappointed. —Emma Goldhammer

    According to Robert Louis Stevenson in “The Secret of the Heather Ale,” the last Pictish king chose to have his son put to death and be killed himself rather than reveal the secrets of his favorite beverage to an invading Scottish army. You could try and re-create the ale that “Was sweeter far then honey, / Was stronger far than wine,” yourself this weekend by boiling five ounces of flowering heather tops (any color, although white is allegedly the luckiest) and boil in a gallon and a half of water. After an hour add seventeen pounds of honey and boil for a further half hour, before leaving the mixture to rest for another thirty minutes. Strain into a seven gallon wine fermenting bin and fill the bin to the top with cold water. Stir through one sachet of champagne yeast, skim off any foam that forms on the surface and decant into clean wine bottles. It should be ready after a week or two. —Charlotte Goldney

    This week the loveable geeks over at A.V. Club published a tripartite list of the 1990s’ best films. It’s a neat little nostalgia trip on its own, populated by Tarantinos and Jarmuschs and Scorseses and such. But web-surfers were quick to point out that the skinny white dude aesthetic of the Club list-makers resulted in the absolute omission of black and female directors from this particular record of the nineties canon. Weirdly, this didn’t yield a firestorm: it produced a thoughtful discussion of the nature of institutional bias (think Linda Nochlin’s essay “Why Have Their Been No Great Women Artists” in 140-character tidbits), and the chance to reflect upon the contingency of our cultural consumption. Start at Slate if you’re interested. —Samuel Fox

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    W. Eugene Smith’s Wichita

    June 22, 2011 | by

    A postcard of Wichita, KS, ca. 1900. The Wichita State University Library Special Collections.

    Last year I visited Wichita, Kansas, for the first time, a guest of the Ulrich Museum of Art, where I gave a talk on W. Eugene Smith, a native son. At dinner afterward, the photographer Larry Schwarm asked, “Do you have pictures of Smith all over your house?” I’ve come to expect the question of whether I identify with Smith’s obsessions, but it had never been framed like this. I paused, pondered, then answered that I didn’t have any pictures of Smith in my house. I do have pictures of Joseph Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor, Bernard Malamud, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Emmylou Harris, and the hand of Wilco’s drummer, Glenn Kotche. But none of Smith.

    I visited Wichita again last April to give another talk at the Ulrich. Like the first trip, I spent several extra days soaking up the town and researching its history, trying to learn as much as I could about Smith’s roots from the vantage of nearly a century later. Nabokov once wrote that examining his childhood was “the next best thing to probing one’s eternity.” But what about probing someone else’s childhood, someone long dead? Rather than my memory or other people’s memories (there aren’t many alive who can attest to Smith’s childhood), I’m investigating faint footprints—artifacts, news clippings, whatever I can find. It seems flimsy, never quite enough.

    Between 1900 and 1930, Wichita’s population grew almost five-fold, from 24,000 to 110,000. It was a pioneer town. With few binding traditions and conventions, anything could happen. People could move to town from the farm and figure out ways to make money. It became known as “Magic City.” It also became known as the “Air Capitol of the World,” home to Cessna, Beech, and other aircraft manufacturers during the ascent of that industry.

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