What We’re Loving: Smells, Films, and Flames


This Week’s Reading

9781439142004It is wrong to kvell, but according to both Adam Shatz and Yasmine El Rashidi, our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, has knocked it out of the park with his translation of Sonallah Ibrahim’s modern Egyptian classic That Smell and Notes from Prison. Unlike writers better known in the West, says El Rashidi, Ibrahim “has continuously reinvented the form and language he uses in his work, while probing deeply into the underlying tensions running through Egyptian society. Creswell’s new translation of the novel finally allows English language readers to appreciate these qualities … Despite the differences of syntax between Arabic and English, the translation retains the tone, the vocabulary, and the pared down and staccato rhythm of the original.” We take her word for it. —Lorin Stein

On paper, Sarah Polley’s documentary Stories We Tell and Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color could not be more different, but they made for a nice double feature this past weekend at New Directors/New Films. Both films raise questions about identity and the ownership of memory. Both throw conventional narratives out the window. And when I walked out of each, not all my questions were answered, but maybe that’s the point: life’s complex, and some things unanswerable are still worth exploring. —Justin Alvarez

In Lars Iyer’s Exodus, the friendship between two minor academics, Lars and W., is founded not on shared interest but on a shared sense of failure, self-laceration, and gin. Together Lars and W. bemoan the state of the academy and the seeming impossibility of philosophy, but I laugh loudest when W. bemoans the state of Lars: “‘The true and only virtue is to hate ourselves,’ W. says, reading from his notebook. To hate ourselves: what a task! He’ll begin with me, W. says. With hating me. Then he’ll move on to hating what I’ve made him become. What I’ve been responsible for. Then—the last step—he will have to hate himself without reference to me at all.” For even more Lars and W., also read Spurious, the first book in Iyer’s trilogy. —Brenna Scheving

I only recently discovered A Tale of Three Cities, a European literary/arts journal published out of London, Paris, and Berlin. Issue 2 is out this week; in the meantime, I’ve been satisfying my hunger with updates on the Web site and the Facebook page, which inform of the most interesting literary happenings in London, Paris, and Berlin—events like the Book Club at Le Carmen in Paris. —Matthew Smith

At the Drawing Center this week for the opening of their show Giosetta Fioroni: L’Argento, I was wandering around the center’s bookstore and unthinkingly pulled a title off the shelf. It ended my aimless browsing. The Stage of Drawing: Gesture and Act is the catalogue from a 2003 exhibition of the same name, a selection of drawings and prints from the Tate Collection that also showed at the Drawing Center. Without aiming to be comprehensive, it is a primer on the development of the medium over the past three hundred years, with works from William Blake, Eva Hesse, George Dance, Andy Warhol, and more than a hundred others. The book’s delicacy emerges not just from intimate markings—a much broader range of art is found in these pages—but sensitive curation. —Clare Fentress

Meanwhile, over at The New Yorker, James Wood has written a rapturous review of Rachel Kushner’s novel The Flamethrowers, which had its debut in our Winter issue: “It ripples with stories, anecdotes, set-piece monologues, crafty egotistical tall tales, and hapless adventures: Kushner is never not telling a story.” Read the excerpt here, see the art that inspired the novel, or check out our Q&A. —L.S.