Hunky, Virile Consumers, and Other News


On the Shelf


From a thirties-era Esquire spread.

  • In postwar America, magazines like Esquire and Playboy helped to shape our concept of the bachelor: an unfettered man, a man in complete control of his life, a man who helped to preserve conventional masculinity even as he fretted over his appearance and his home decor. Bachelorhood became the paragon of manly existence—even though most of Esquire’s readers were married. “Because Esquire relied on corporate advertising to continue existing, overthrowing corporate hierarchy and stratification didn’t factor into their discussions of masculine rejuvenation … women were presented as an obstacle to men’s success at entertaining, which reinforced the theory that women were ultimately responsible for men’s inability to control their lives.”
  • People love to hate the Middle Ages—such benighted centuries, those were, full of blood and swine and religious drudgery! Well, people are fools: the medieval era was every bit as culturally rich as any other. They gave us “castles, cathedrals, Italian and Flemish and Byzantine art, printing, plainsong, and parliaments, not to mention universities. Yet the black propaganda of Voltaire, Hume, Kant, and Mark Twain remains suspended in the air like soot in the old factory towns, while intellectuals crow over the birth of ‘modernity’ like fancied fighting cocks.”
  • James Salter had been corresponding with Sally Gall for more than a year, working toward an extended interview—the final edits were en route to him when he died a few weeks ago, and now the transcript has a new resonance. “Style is really more than a particular voice or way of writing,” Salter says. “It presents an entire subjectivity. In a sense, it determines what can be written … Style is the writer.”
  • One of America’s earliest literary hits was Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s 1840 chronicle of his transformative stint as a sailor onboard the Pilgrim. The memoir left a deep mark on Melville, who called it “unmatchable”; today it’s remembered as “a model of reportage, rife with the nautical jargon of a specialist and an anthropologist’s descriptive mastery of life aboard ship and in the Pilgrim’s then-exotic ports of call.”
  • What’s the role of handwriting in the age of the touch screen? “Handwriting is profoundly bodily. Like an exaggerated, intensified version of the sweeps and swipes we use on a tablet, writing by pen can make muscles ache. Write while crying and one’s hand becomes shaky, write with excitement and watch the swirls and loops of one’s arcs become wild—an inky neurochemical expression that type just can’t replicate or capture.”