Staff Picks: Walt Whitman, Air Guitar, Laurie Anderson


This Week’s Reading

What we’ve been reading this week.

Lorin Stein

  • The June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review continues to float around the office. Maureen Tkacik’s cover story, on the career facing a young journalist today, is the best thing I’ve read on the subject.
  • To my shame I had never read Dave Hickey’s Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy until this Monday. The essay “Shining Hours/Forgiving Rhyme” moved me to tears in the barber chair. There are four different friends to whom I want to send my copy of this masterpiece—right now—but I’ve marked up so many favorite passages, I’ll need to copy them out first. Plus I can’t decide who needs or deserves it most.
  • I have left a copy of the new Open City in the bathroom that others might discover Samantha Gillison’s wry, wistful story “The Conference Rat.”
  • Also this week I read Stephen Burt’s Close Calls with Nonsense, a collection of his reviews. Over the last dozen years, Steve has taught me more than any critic about contemporary poetry. The book is kind, wise (at times, exasperatingly wise) and full of insight. The last pages, a series of aphorisms, made me love it.
  • Caitlin Roper

  • Smithsonian magazine is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year. I’m enjoying their rich, deep “Forty Things You Need to Know About the Next Forty Years.” The magazine’s founding editor, Edward K. Thompson, said it “would stir curiosity in already receptive minds.” Mission accomplished. Favorite articles include: “6. Oysters Will Save Wolves From Climate Change,” “21. Science Could Enable A Person To Regrow A Limb,” “26. Novelists Will Need A New Plot Device” (poet Rita Dove on the future of literature), and “36. Goodbye, Stereo; Hello, Hyper-Real Acoustics” (Laurie Anderson on the sounds of the future).
  • Thessaly La Force

  • Slate has a very fun story about the fake Twitter feeds of Peter Kaplan, the beloved former editor of The New York Observer. There are two feeds: Wise Kaplan and Cranky Kaplan. Parody has never been better.
  • My friend Deirdre has a short post on The Book Bench blog about Stanford’s bookless library. Apparently, the university is digitizing all of its books, and leaving the shelves bare. As Deirdre asks: “If a tree falls in a forest with no one to hear, will it still make a noise? If a library contains no books, is it still a library?”
  • As professional interviewers, we were all interested in the newly published Mark Twain essay about the institution of the interview. Here’s Twain’s opening line: “No one likes to be interviewed, and yet no one likes to say no; for interviewers are courteous and gentle-mannered, even when they come to destroy.” I like Twain, I like interviews, but all I can think is that I would make an awful archivist: were it not for the typed version of his essay, I’d have no patience to read his terrible handwriting.
  • Here’s some literary synergy. A few weeks ago, my father sent me an e-mail on the anniversary of the start of World War I, mentioning a NYRB article about Walt Whitman. The article touches on Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb who assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Princip believed he was following the orders of Walt Whitman (who was popular among Europeans in the late 19th Century) to bring down kings when he fired his pistol at the Archduke and his wife. The article quotes the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, who noted that “an American poet was responsible for the outbreak of World War I.”

    This week, my colleague David Wallace-Wells passed along this blog post by Tony Judt, who writes about visiting Milosz’s restored manor house. Judt describes his students’ confusion in grappling with Milosz’s The Captive Mind: “When I started out my challenge was to explain why people became disillusioned with Marxism; today, the insuperable hurdle one faces is explaining the illusion itself.” I’m immediately reminded of a class I took on Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and my very same confusion about why anyone would have thought Marxism would ever work.