Staff Picks: Zoë Heller, Roald Dahl, Wes Anderson


This Week’s Reading


Zoë Heller’s savvy essay on Roald Dahl presents the enduring master of children’s fiction (somewhat less enduring, though still somewhat masterly, in his writing for adults) as a perfect misanthrope:

At dinner parties, Dahl’s potent gifts of vituperation regularly sent fellow guests home early. He was once thrown out of a London gambling club for complaining at the top of his voice about the disgusting Jews who were spoiling the place. When his seventeen-year-old daughter Tessa accused him, accurately, of having an affair with Felicity Crosland, the family friend for whom he would later leave Neal, he berated her for being “a nosy little bitch.” He was forever bashing out bitter letters to his publishers and his agents, complaining about perceived slights to his authorial dignity. When he finally threatened to leave Knopf, his editor Robert Gottlieb was only too happy to show him the door. “Let me reverse your threat,” he wrote to Dahl. “Unless you start acting civilly to us, there is no possibility of our agreeing to publish you. Nor will I—or any of us—answer any future letter that we consider to be as rude as those we’ve been receiving.”

David Wallace-Wells

Eugène Guillevic called his charming 1967 book, Euclidiennes, a “somewhat peculiar bestiary.” Each short poem is a caption or ekphrasis for a geometrical figure: line, ellipse, cylinder, spiral. Some figures are apostrophized, others speak in their own voice, and the result is as witty as anything in La Fonatine. Here is “Tangent” (you remember, a straight line that touches a curvaceous line at just one point), expertly “Englished” by Richard Sieburth in the recently released Geometries: “I will only touch you once. / And it will only be in passing. // No use calling me back, / No use reminding. // You will have plenty of time / To rehearse and remember / This moment, // To convince yourself / We’ll never part.” —Robyn Creswell

I got an early copy of the third volume of CF’s phenomenally good Powr Mastrs and read it immediately. CF’s art is more fluid here than in the earlier books, and the latter pages are downright stunning as a result. Though the fantasy-based narrative of the previous books continues, the focus in this volume frequently shifts to repetitions: mesmerizing multipage sequences of a gridded room; subtle transmutations of intricately rendered machinery. Deliberate, minimal action hasn’t been this exciting since Tarkovsky. —Nicole Rudick

Before Wes Anderson made beautiful, wonderful films, he wrote fiction. Indulge in reading “The Ballad of Reading Milton,” a short story of Anderson’s that was published in 1989 by his university’s literary journal, Analecta. It’s charming but also not very good (sorry!); then again, the short stories I wrote in college weren’t much better—a comforting fact considering Anderson’s creative success. —Thessaly La Force

After eyeing Wells Tower’s collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned for twenty minutes at McNally Jackson Books, I finally grabbed it and approached one of the sellers. “I have no money,” I explained, aware that this is something of a nonstarter at retail stores. Still, he was kind enough to give me ten percent off on the grounds that my (perfectly good) copy “looked a bit shopworn.” I’m so glad he did. Towers has a knack for infusing outlandish scenarios with heartache, as in his last tale, about a thuggish Viking who begins to question the marauding life. —Kate Waldman

I feel obliged by patriotism and love of sport to at least mention the news in The Irish Times of the retirement of the much-decorated hurling legend Seán Óg Ó hAilpín. Over the course of his illustrious eleven-year senior career, Ó hAilpín claimed six provincial medals, three All Ireland Championship medals, one League medal, and three All-Star awards. I am duty bound to tip my hat to the half-Fijian, half-Corkonian stalwart, an icon of the game of hurling—the world’s fastest field sport—and a consummate athlete who seemed single-handedly to raise the amateur Gaelic sport to quasiprofessional standards. Up the Rebel. —Brenda Collins

Is the iPad the new Flash for magazines? Jeffrey Zeldman thinks so: “Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.” —T. L.