“Please don’t write more books. I can’t read so many books,” a little girl once said to Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet and Nobel laureate. The little girl was Mahasweta Devi, who grew up to be one of India’s best-known writers and activists. When Mahasweta died, on July 28—Devi is an honorific—she left behind no small collection herself: she had written more than a hundred books, including fiction and nonfiction about India’s tribal communities, Maoist insurgents, and women. Read More
When Karl Ove Knausgaard joins us in New York this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for the Norwegian-American Literary Festival, he’ll do so not just as the author of My Struggle but as the publisher of Pelikanen (Pelican), the house he founded in 2010. Knausgaard runs the press on what he calls “an idealistic basis”—it’s a nonprofit—with his brother Yngve, Asbjørn Jensen, and a few friends.
In memory of James Salter, who died last week, the Daily is republishing a series of essays from 2011, when Salter received The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. In today’s piece, Jhumpa Lahiri writes about Light Years.
To learn more about Salter, read his 1993 Art of Fiction interview or one of his stories from the magazine: “Sundays” (1966), “Am Strande von Tanger” (1968), “Via Negativa” (1972), and “Bangkok” (2003) are available in full online.
For over half my life, I have returned repeatedly to Light Years. It was the first of James Salter’s books I discovered; it has since led me to all his others. Light Years is the one I know best. The first copy was borrowed. It belonged to my college roommate and was among the handful of books she’d brought with her from home, having nothing to do with our classes. It was a beautiful paperback published by North Point Press: yellow border, rough edges, thickly woven pages, a Bonnard painting on the cover. It was 1985. The book was ten years old; I was eighteen. I was new to New York, a freshman at Barnard College. I was unsophisticated, unmoored, bewildered by college and by the city. Reading the novel was like opening a window for the first time in spring, after a long winter has passed. Something worn out was set aside, something invigorating ushered in. Read More
Oliver Broudy was a disenchanted freelance journalist living in New York City when he met a philanthropically inclined millionaire whose story struck him as so meaningful that he decided to follow it halfway across the world. The result is The Saint, a short memoir of Broudy’s travels with a man whose spiritual efforts range from the incredible to the horrible, and from the enlightening to the self-destructive. Broudy served as managing editor and then senior editor of The Paris Review, working under George Plimpton and Philip Gourevitch.
What made you decide to write this book?
Recklessness, I guess. The last resource of the truly stymied. Before The Saint, I only wrote for magazines. But as sweet a gig as magazine writing can sometimes be, there’s a limit to what you can do in that format. Sometimes it can be agonizing, because you get so close to a subject, but the editorial rubric of the magazine prevents you from addressing it the way you’d like to. So you end up sitting there helplessly as this great material sails by. I used to console myself that I could always go back and write my own version of whatever magazine piece was plaguing me at the time, but inevitably by the time you’re done with the magazine version, revisiting the same material becomes unthinkable. Those lost opportunities linger and ache. That had happened to me too many times, and I was determined to try something different.
Our Spring Revel is on April 12. In anticipation of the event, The Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating James Salter, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. If you’re interested in purchasing tickets to the Revel, click here.
For over half my life, I have returned repeatedly to Light Years. It was the first of James Salter’s books I discovered; it has since led me to all his others. Light Years is the one I know best. The first copy was borrowed. It belonged to my college roommate and was among the handful of books she’d brought with her from home, having nothing to do with our classes. It was a beautiful paperback published by North Point Press: yellow border, rough edges, thickly woven pages, a Bonnard painting on the cover. It was 1985. The book was ten years old; I was eighteen. I was new to New York, a freshman at Barnard College. I was unsophisticated, unmoored, bewildered by college and by the city. Reading the novel was like opening a window for the first time in spring, after a long winter has passed. Something worn out was set aside, something invigorating ushered in.
At the time I had not read much contemporary literature. I had certainly never read sentences so precise, so clean, so fervent and yet so calm. I reacted to the novel as I did to the books of my childhood: it cast a spell in the same way, provoking a reaction that was visceral and dreamlike and whole. But here was a book that was about adulthood, the undiscovered country that lay on the other side of a bridge I was only beginning to cross.
I loved the mood of the book, which was sober and sophisticated, but also casual, playful. I loved its structure, restrained and orderly, while at the same time loose and unspooling. I loved its intimate texture and its images: Nedra’s hands flat on a table, her oat-colored sweater. Pigeons crowding into the R of a furniture store, a martini that is like a change in the weather. I loved the devotional rendering of meals, peoples’ faces, rooms and the objects they contained. Though it felt startlingly modern, I recognized certain ancient forms of literature I was studying in my classes: myth, elegy, ode. The five acts of Shakespeare. Long passages of conversation, as unadorned but as revelatory as dialogue in a classical play.
Many years ago, after I first moved to New York City, I visited a friend of a friend in a basement apartment that he was trying to sublet. He was off to California. Underground living in a dank studio was not for him, and though I too didn’t much like the apartment, I liked him. We talked about books for a while, and before I left I gratefully accepted a novel he pressed into my hands, a battered paperback, its pinkish cover soft with wear. I still have it. It’s called A Legacy.
Mesmerized, I read it and then everything else by Sybille Bedford, never dreaming that soon, when researching my book on Janet Flanner, I’d be deciphering Sybille’s crabbed scrawl in the Library of Congress. I pored over her letters, all scratched onto thin, green typing paper, and I well remember my shock one day, many months later, when she answered a query of mine on those same green sheets, and I told her so. It made her feel a bit posthumous, she said.
That was Sybille Bedford’s wit: reflective, wry, and, as Bruce Chatwin once observed, without irony. She was too smart for that, too tender, too droll, and too much of a realist. I had planned to see her in March of 2006; it would have been her ninety-fifth birthday. Now’s she been gone five years, and it would be her hundredth. We will not see her like again. I miss her every day. I often reread her books.
When we first met, I was astonished that, to me, an aspiring writer, Sybille was always forthright about the struggle any writer, aspiring or no, faces day after day after day. Here was one of the finest stylists of the twentieth century, with a prose of incomparable grace and clarity, admitting that she daily battles sloth, discouragement, distraction, and self-doubt—just like the rest of us. It was as if she was welcoming me into a tribe, without question, without initiation, and with an offer of friendship that was as generous as it was startling. Suddenly, I felt much less alone.