Staff Picks: Cats, Cattiness, Correction


This Week’s Reading

From Best of Enemies.

I can’t say that I’m much of a fan of Charles Bukowski’s, but I’ve been marveling at our shared love of cats, via a forthcoming collection of short pieces—verse and bits of prose—about or involving his feline friends. It’s endearing to see a grizzled, vulgar street poet bent to the will of a small cat. He recognizes their complexity and frequently shows a candid concern for their opinions of him: “My cat shit in my archives / he climbed into my Golden State Sunkist / orange box / and he shit on my poems / my original poems / saved for the university archives. // that one-eared fat black critic / he signed me off.” But then, cats are the ultimate tough motherfuckers, as Bukowski calls one feline companion, and who better to appreciate the resilience of a stray than another stray: “and now sometimes I’m interviewed, they want to hear about / life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed / shot runover de-tailed cat before them and I say, ‘look, look / at this!’ ” —Nicole Rudick

For those of us who came to political awareness during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, it’s difficult to imagine a time when television news organizations weren’t first and foremost platforms for punditry. But, of course, this wasn’t always the case—a point that lingers in the foreground of Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s brilliant new documentary, Best of Enemies. The film, at its heart, is a portrait of William Buckley, Jr., and Gore Vidal, who, in the words of one commentator, may just as easily have represented “matter and antimatter.” Each was the leading public intellectual for his respective political movement, and each despised the other—so much so that their face-offs, in a series of debates staged during the 1968 presidential conventions, reshaped the landscape of political television. Like any good documentary, Best of Enemies left me eager to devour more of the Buckley-Vidal ideological battle, much of which, thankfully, is readily available online—starting with complete archival footage of the debates themselves. —Stephen Hiltner

Bukowski and friend

Jonathan Blitzer has reported a captivating piece for Oxford American called “Crossing Over”; it tells the story of Claudia Delfin, a transgender woman who’s spent her life shuttling across the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. Now a drug counselor, she spent years as a sex worker and an addict, and began taking hormones when she was a freshman in high school. She lost most of her friends to AIDS, overdoses, hepatitis, or homicide, and given its milieu—rehab clinics, prisons, seedy bars, strip malls, and fast-food joints, all in a kind of no-man’s land that seems hardly to qualify as Mexico or America—hers is a story that, in the wrong hands, would feel exploitative or falsely noir-ish. Blitzer tells it with candor and humanity. It’s some of the most harrowing, clear-eyed journalism I’ve seen this year. —Dan Piepenbring

After Dan published a piece this week about hating authors you haven’t read, many people compared its sentiment to the hype and indignant Twitter commentary attending Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Purity. I’d been thinking about this very problem over the weekend when I decided to do something I’d neglected to do for many years: actually read a Franzen novel. I settled on The Corrections—I know, I know—and however the dialogue around Franzen has shifted in the fourteen years since he published it, the novel has retained its power, a valuable reminder to anyone skeptical of Purity. Yes, just as everyone said, the prose in The Corrections pops and churn; yes, its form proves, as Christian Lorentzen has said, that its author is “a master of structure”; and yes, its observations about late nineties culture are dauntingly sharp. In other words I’m forced to agree that Franzen is as good as his supporters claim he is. Since The Corrections, if not earlier, he’s been chased by the accusation that he hates his characters, and though that may hold true for the new book, I saw no evidence of it here. But I could have missed the contempt because I was too busy laughing at the satire: the refreshing acknowledgment that we all suck a little on the inside and that we’re all capable of, and in fact often do, very dumb and selfish things. More than once while learning to love the Lamberts, I had the impulse to call my grandparents and apologize. —Jeffery Gleaves