Staff Picks: End of Empires, Keep Your Day Job


This Week’s Reading

Mary Gaitskill. Illustration by Adrian Bellesguard.

Sometimes you get lucky: You find a used book for five dollars at The Strand by an author you’ve been meaning to read. The cover of Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls, Fat and Thin, is garish, and its themes—incest, middle-school mean-girl power dynamics, adolescent pseudo-rape—are objectively repellent. But Gaitskill is so dead-on in her examination of the emotional life of her two central characters that I can’t help losing myself in the pages until finding a line—one girl holds “her aloneness around her like a magic cloak”—that when I look up, I discover I’ve missed my subway stop. —Miranda Popkey

I have been reading J. G. Farrell’s Troubles, a historical novel–cum–comedy of manners set during the Irish guerrilla war of 1919–21. The backdrop is a grand, Victorian-era hotel in County Wexford, whose squash and palm courts are gradually going to seed—a charming, if somewhat creaky allegory for the end of empire. But with history about to blow their roof off, Farrell’s Anglo-Irish protagonists contrive to worry about how to replace the shingles. I’m everywhere reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro’s great theme, how the collapse of old orders gives new license to self-deception. —Robyn Creswell

In “How to Write Like a Victorian,” Slate’s Paul Collins looks inside the first how-to manual for fiction—which suggests, among other things, that authors haven’t changed much since 1895. They navel-gaze; they fall in love with phrases and plot lines and can’t let them go. The portrait may not be flattering, but Collins has unearthed some historical gems. “No man ought to make the writing of fiction his sole business,” warns the guidebook’s anonymous author. In other words, don’t quit your day job. —Kate Waldman

After reading—and loving—Damon Galgut’s triptych of novellas, In a Strange Room, I was very happy and only a little bit embarrassed to discover that the whole thing had appeared in The Paris Review. —Lorin Stein

I remember years and years ago devouring Hedrick’s Smith’s The New Russians, an account of daily life inside Gorbachev’s USSR, during the early period of my fascination with that vast country. So many books on the subject later, I’m still seduced by its history. Susan Richards’s Lost and Found in Russia, a travelogue/history of the nascent post-Communist nation, offers no shortage of strange tales from the more hidden—and forgotten—regions of the new new Russia. —Nicole Rudick

Last week I netted this collection of Schopenhauer from the stream of galleys and publicity copies flowing through 62 White. It includes, among other glories, “On the Inner Nature of Art” and “The Artist and the Sublime.” Here, we are persuaded that sublimity, as against beauty, flowers only in touching the distance of dread. Jonathan Edwards might have been pleased, one thinks. —Mark de Silva

FIFA will bill the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Finals to Russia and Qatar yesterday as victories for Eastern Europe and the Middle East, neither of which has hosted the tournament, but it’s hard not to take a more cynical view. Qatar has about 328 million fewer citizens than Manchester United has fans. —Peter Conroy