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Posts Tagged ‘William Styron’

These Bugaboos

June 11, 2014 | by

sophieschoice

One measure of a book’s influence is the mark it leaves on the vernacular. In this sense, many plaudits must go to William Styron, born today in 1925, who helped start The Paris Review and served as an advisory editor. His 1979 novel, Sophie’s Choice, has ascended into idiom, as Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary have acknowledged. The latter defines a Sophie’s Choice as “essentially a no-win situation … a choice between two unbearable options,” and gives the following example:

The loan [sic] hiker’s arm was wedged in a crevice when he slipped and fell. He didn't have the strength to release himself. Each movement wedged his arm more deeply into the crevice. After several days without food and water, he was left with a Sophie's Choice: continue to wait for help and possibly die, or use the serrated blade of his pocket knife to cut off his own arm and climb to safety before bleeding to death.

But some don’t seem to grasp the finer points of the phrase’s usage.

To wit: there has been, since 1984, a restaurant in England named Sophie’s Choice. Yes, a center of fine dining, serving “modern European cuisine and a range of wines from around the world,” which takes its name from a novel whose titular choice involves which of one’s offspring will die in a concentration camp.

“Our emphasis on good service creates a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere,” the proprietors write. Mains include roast breast of Barbary duck and char-grilled medallions of lamb rump with Cumberland sauce. They do weddings. 

Styron said in his second Art of Fiction interview,

Not long ago I received in the mail a doctoral thesis entitled “Sophie’s Choice: A Jungian Perspective,” which I sat down to read. It was quite a long document. In the first paragraph it said, In this thesis my point of reference throughout will be the Alan J. Pakula movie of Sophie’s Choice. There was a footnote, which I swear to you said, Where the movie is obscure I will refer to William Styron’s novel for clarification. This idiocy laid a pall over my life for a dark brief time because it brought back all these bugaboos we have about the written word.

One can imagine that this establishment was no better received, if the author was aware of it. And I hope he was not—this is a scenario in which ignorance is bliss. If you choose to celebrate his birth tonight, best to make your reservations elsewhere.

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Solitude & Company, Part 5

April 25, 2014 | by

In our Summer 2003 issue, The Paris Review published Silvana Paternostro’s oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez, which she has recently expanded into a book. In celebration of García Márquez’s life, we’re delighted to present the piece online for the first time—this is the last of five excerpts we’ve run this week. Read the complete text here.

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Photo: National Archieef Nederland, via Wikimedia Commons

ROSE STYRON: Somehow, everyone on Martha’s Vineyard seemed to know that he was coming to visit us. Everyone wanted to meet him. Harvey Weinstein, spotting me in Vineyard Haven, hurried over to say, “Please invite me—he’s my favorite author—I’ll sweep the floors.” President Clinton, whom Gabo admired and hoped to talk with, wanted Chelsea to meet him. We decided a large cocktail gathering on our lawn would be prudent, to be followed by a very small seated dinner so the president and Gabo and our Mexican guests, the Carlos Fuenteses and Bernardo Sepulvedas (he was the former foreign minister), could chat in relative quiet. At dinner Gabo’s goddaughter, our friend Patricia Cepeda, translated ably. Our Vineyard neighbors, the Vernon Jordans and the William Luers, and Hillary Clinton completed the table. We all remember that President Clinton’s sweater sported an Elvis crossword puzzle.

WILLIAM STYRON: Although I wasn’t listening closely, I could tell—I have enough Spanish to know—that Gabo and Carlos were engaging him in a talk about the Cuban embargo. They were both at that time passionate about the embargo. Clinton was resisting this conversation, I presume because his mind was already made up. He wasn’t about to be budged even by people that he admired as much as Gabo. So Bill Luers, sitting closer, seeing Clinton’s eyes glaze over, as an ex-diplomat spoke out firmly enough to change the tone of the conversation from politics in Cuba to literary matters. It changed the entire tone at the table. Someone, Bill Luers or perhaps Clinton, asked everyone at the table to give the name of their favorite novel. Clinton’s eyes lit up rather pleasurably. We had a sort of literary parlor game. I recall that Carlos said his favorite novel was Don Quixote. Gabo said The Count of Monte Cristo, and later described why. He said it was the perfect novel. It was spellbinding, not just a costumed melodrama, really a universal masterpiece. I said Huckleberry Finn just off the top of my head. Finally, Clinton said The Sound and the Fury. Immediately, to everyone’s amazement he began to quote verbatim a long, long passage from the book. It was quite spellbinding to see him do that because he then began to give a little interesting lecture on the power of Faulkner and how much Faulkner had influenced him. He then had this kind of two-way conversation with Gabo, in which Gabo said that without Faulkner he would never have been able to write a single word, that Faulkner was his direct inspiration as a writer when he was just beginning to read world literature in Colombia. He made a pilgrimage to Oxford, Mississippi. I remember him mentioning this to Clinton. So the evening was a great success, though a total failure as far as politics went. Read More »

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Listen to Garrison Keillor, Iris Murdoch, and William Styron!

December 10, 2013 | by

Iris-Murdoch

Photography credit Nancy Crampton.

This is exciting, and something we’ve had in the works for a long time.

Since 1985, 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center and The Paris Review have copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which became the foundation of a Writers-at-Work interview. As of today, 92Y and The Paris Review are making these recordings available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. The release of these recordings is made possible by a generous gift in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker, who worked in the art department at The Paris Review and volunteered as an archivist at 92Y’s Poetry Center.

The online series kicks off with audio of Garrison Keillor on the secrets of humor writing; Iris Murdoch on what makes a great book; and William Styron on the future of the written word. The series also happily features George Plimpton, the late, great founder of The Paris Review, conducting many of the interviews.

Stand by in the coming months for audio of John le Carré, Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, Octavio Paz, Günter Grass, Paul Auster, Tony Kushner, Czeslaw Milosz, Maya Angelou, Jamaica Kincaid, and Allen Ginsberg, among others.

 

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Spoiler Alert: Why We Abandon Books

July 12, 2013 | by

This infographic on “the psychology of abandonment”—that is, why we don’t finish certain books—makes for fun reading. But even more interesting is the Goodreads list of those titles most frequently abandoned. We don’t want to spoil Stieg Larsson for anyone, but let’s just say that those who don’t persevere are missing out on some sexual sadism and computer espionage.

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Good Little Girls, and Other News

April 4, 2013 | by

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  • “Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense. This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.” Mark Twain’s advice to little girls, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky.
  • Speaking of: the always fun Wodehouse Prize shortlist is posted.
  • “British writing will be far less incisive and fun when he stops.” Tim Martin pays tribute to Iain Banks, who just revealed his terminal illness.
  • “Banks manages to be both popular and profound,” says Stuart Kelly in The Scotsman.
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    Persepolis Ascendant, and Other News

    March 20, 2013 | by

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    • The banning of Persepolis in Chicagoland schools has, in the grand tradition, boosted the graphic novel’s (already robust) sales.
    • “I have only one humble criticism. I wonder if you realize how good you are.” Mutual admiration letters betwixt authors (and yes, the unsolicited humble criticism is Mailer to Styron). 
    • “Philip Roth celebrated his eightieth birthday in the Billy Johnson Auditorium of the Newark Museum last night with the most astonishing literary performance I’ve ever witnessed.” David Remnick was there
    • “There is no modernist stream-of-consciousness novel harder to get through than a publisher-author agreement.” And other things every writer should know
    • Edinburgh’s Looking Glass Books: we want to go to there. 

     

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