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Trollope on the TV, and Other News

April 27, 2015 | by

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An illustration from Trollope’s Barchester Towers, which precedes Doctor Thorne in his Chronicles of Barsetshire series.

  • Rachel Kushner, Francine Prose, Peter Carey, and at least three other prominent writers have declined to attend the PEN American Center Gala on the grounds that it honors Charlie Hebdo, known for its scathing portrayals of Muslims and “the disenfranchised generally.” “I couldn’t imagine being in the audience when they have a standing ovation for Charlie Hebdo,” Prose said.
  • Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame, has announced plans to adapt Trollope’s 1858 novel Doctor Thorne for television. Love, real estate, alcoholism—this novel has it all. No word yet on who will play the Duke of Omnium.
  • If Silicon Valley scuttlebutt is right, “snackable content”—bite-size morsels of dubiously nutritious entertainment—is now the most popular stuff on the Internet. What we ought to do, then, is start to serialize novels again. “Publishers could release novels—either completed upfront or written month to month—on their own imprints or through periodicals such as People or The Paris Review.” (We can’t speak for People, but we’ve serialized two novels in the past few years, and we don’t intend to stop.)
  • Young writers get all the attention—and, more important, all the awards. But “age-based awards are outdated and discriminatory, even if unintentionally so. Emerging writers are emerging writers.”
  • Earlier this month, Adrienne Raphel wrote about the history of “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo” for the Daily—now she’s spoken to NPR’s “All Things Considered” about it.
  • Davide Monteleone, an Italian photographer, is working on In the Russian East, a series of “faces and uniforms” taken along the Trans-Siberian Railway—and a tribute to Richard Avedon’s 1985 book In the American West.

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This Week's Reading

Staff Picks: Man-boys, Musicals, Multimillionaires

April 24, 2015 | by

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From the cover of Sphinx.

thirlwell“In one corner of the room there was a television, and I find it difficult to avoid a television—not because I am so intent on the game shows and confessions, but just because a moving image is very difficult to ignore. If I’m trying to read on one of those ancient planes where they silently display the film on a screen at the front, I keep looking up at it and losing my concentration, just as in the airport lounge already I will have been distracted by the silent news, and the mini frenzy of its montage.” Usually when we say that something sounds like a translation, it’s a bad thing, but Adam Thirlwell’s new novel Lurid & Cute sounds like brainy colloquial English translated into some slightly brainier (more formal? more poetic? more European?) idiom. We don’t go around talking about “ancient planes” or “the game shows and confessions,” but Zeno might. That interplay between banality and beauty—between the merely cute, or merely lurid, and deep ironic observation—kept me hurrying back to the book. It is, as James Wood might say, “unreliably unreliable”—either a parody or else the end point of a certain kind of wide-eyed man-boy narrator, like Jonathan Safran Foer on crystal, with a gun. —Lorin Stein

“The incident was really quite typical, but still curious … And that’s all.” Most of Daniil Kharms’s writing could be summed up this way—this is, in fact, the way he began and ended a certain forty-five-word story. Several of his stories end with “And that’s it, more or less” and plenty more do so in spirit. They’re so casually, almost indifferently, related that they read like fables—inexhaustible, with an underlying wisdom or moral that, in the case of Kharms’s work, is difficult to pinpoint. That’s because, as Ian Frazier points out in his wonderful recent essay in The New York Review of Books, Kharms’s work falls into a “subgenre of cheerfully moronic writing” that rejects any form of rationality. It’s a kind of humor that can easily get lost in translation (or not—I wonder how many Russians get it). Frazier’s piece sent me running back to my own copy of Today I Wrote Nothing, a selection of Kharms’s writing. I find that reading his prose and poetry requires a kind of release, a letting go of expectations and a faith that the nonsense will pay off. And it does. A man pummels another man with his dentures. A man meets another man who’s bought bread. A succession of women fall out the window until the narrator gets tired of watching. And that’s it, more or less. —Nicole Rudick Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

Regrets Only

April 24, 2015 | by

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Edvard Munch, Jealousy, 1907.

For what we suppose to be our love or our jealousy is never a single, continuous and indivisible passion. It is composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies, each of which is ephemeral, although by their uninterrupted multiplicity they give us the impression of continuity, the illusion of unity. —Swann’s Way

Regret is a waste of time. Everybody knows that. But there are still times when I regret the energy I wasted through many years of undermining my boyfriends’ exes.

I was young and jealous and insecure. Even at the time it felt bad. But in low moments, I would hear the poison oozing out of me, petty and pathetic and sad. “I’ve always thought people who said they preferred early Fleetwood Mac were trying a little hard,” I might remark, idly, while looking at records. Because six months ago he had mentioned in passing that his old girlfriend felt that way!
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Arts & Culture

Distinctly Emasculated

April 24, 2015 | by

Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and sexual anxiety.

Hemingway in Paris, 1924.

History tends to compare Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald—and why not? As contemporaries and rivals, the two make natural foils for each other. Hemingway, we’re told, epitomizes a certain archetypal masculinity; he presented himself as a hunter, a boxer, a war veteran, and a ladies’ man; accordingly, he wrote in a spare, economical style, mostly about war, solitude, and adventure. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, we know as a social striver, someone who prided himself on his budding elitism and his (incomplete) Princeton education, who was known to have his pocket square and his hair-part always just right. He wrote about socioeconomic status in prose that was, at least next to Hemingway’s, often lyrical and adorned, and most would readily agree that he’s the more effeminate of the two. But the sexual identities of these men, formed by their peculiar childhoods and the Lost Generation artists they surrounded themselves with, weren’t as self-evident as many modern readers might think.

There’s a classic story of the homosexual tensions bubbling just beneath the surface between Hemingway and Fitzgerald. It takes place in the men’s room at Michaud’s, at the time an upscale brasserie in Paris. As Hemingway claims in A Moveable Feast—and claims is just the word, because his own sexual insecurities tended to manifest in an unfair emasculation of Fitzgerald—Fitzgerald told him: Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

Is It Sincere? Is It Genuine? and Other News

April 24, 2015 | by

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M. H. Abrams.

  • M. H. Abrams, whose Norton Anthologies have united the bookshelves of English majors across time and space, is dead at 102. His seminal work, The Mirror and the Lamp (1953), was that rare thing, a work of criticism that permeated the culture and changed the way we read; it resuscitated the reputation of the British Romantics and launched a new school of thought. “The first test any poem must pass,” Abrams wrote, “is no longer, ‘is it true to nature?’ but a criterion looking in a different direction; namely, ‘Is it sincere? Is it genuine?’ ”
  • Maureen Freely, Orhan Pamuk’s longtime English translator, has come to see Istanbul through his eyes: “The Istanbul of my own childhood had vanished. I was left, instead, with men streaming down badly paved streets in shabby suits and covered women waiting on the roadside for the bus that never arrived; with collapsing Ottoman palaces, and fountains that had ceased working two centuries ago, and mosques whose lead domes were being plundered piece by piece.”
  • Rupert Brooke, who died in 1915 of a mosquito bite, was once of Britain’s most beloved poets—devastatingly handsome, wealthy, and deeply patriotic, he was an ideal poster child for all things English. But today his sonnets on World War I make him look like a “posh idiot nationalist”: “As with the work of many writers whose worlds have so thoroughly vanished and whose lives have sunk into myth, it can be hard to grasp the humor and the lightness in Brooke’s writing.”
  • Philip Glass has written a memoir. The composer Philip Glass has written a memoir. Philip Glass has written a memoir. It begins in Baltimore. The composer Philip Glass has written a memoir. It begins in Baltimore. The American composer Philip Glass, known for his use of repetition and incremental variation, has written a memoir.”
  • When the scatological meets the diabolical: a history of poop as a weapon. (Oh, like you’ve never tried to kill anyone with it.)

Our Daily Correspondent

And I Was Like…

April 23, 2015 | by

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Gert Germeraad, Portrait of a Man, 2010.

“GET THE HELL OUT OF MY FACE!” the woman screamed. My companion and I both turned around in alarm as we all mounted the escalator to the movie theater.

“Oh, sorry! Not you!” she apologized hurriedly. “I was just telling a story to my friend! That was something I said!”

In the week since, I have overheard several such monologues. One was a teen girl, vehement, on her cell. “I was just like, you do not speak to me that way,” she asserted. Then a guy on his lunch break was relating to his friend, “I was all, I am not the guy you want to mess with, pal.” Read More »