Staff Picks: Castrating Cattle, Driving on Drugs


This Week’s Reading

From the cover of Alien Abduction.

I’ve been reading Lewis Warsh’s collection Alien Abduction this week, and it’s pretty great. Many are prose poems, and even those that aren’t read like they are: conversational, plain-dealing, unpretentious. Among my favorites is “Once,” a paragraph of a poem about taking mescaline and going for a drive and the miraculous feeling that comes from arriving back home in one piece and to a domestic scene that is oblivious to the adventure. There’s a loneliness to these poems, even when the poet isn’t alone, but he doesn’t seem heedful of this, or bothered by it: it may be more of a gentle, yawning solitude than loneliness. “There’s a difference between being with someone and being alone,” Warsh writes, “but I can’t tell you what it is.” —Nicole Rudick

The Paris Review was forced to move its offices in 2013; like every other building on our Tribeca block, ours—built in 1869, with a beautiful cast-iron facade, and chock-full of various arts organizations—was sold to a developer who planned to convert its units to high-end condos. For the staffers who were relatively new to the city, it felt like the end of an era—though, of course, the era that established Tribeca as an art haven has been over for a very long time. New York’s abandonment of its identity as a gritty, crime-ridden, artistically productive city is the subject of Edmund White’s essay “Why Can’t We Stop Talking About New York in the Late 1970s?,” published last week in T Magazine and accompanied by the hauntingly beautiful photographs of Peter Hujar. White is too exacting (and too honest; New York of forty years ago, despite its appeal, was a thoroughly unpleasant place to live) to be wistful: he gives the city’s vices more coverage than its virtues. But the piece is undeniably a lament, at least in part, for the New York of the seventies—“the city that, while at its worst, was also more democratic: a place and a time in which, rich or poor, you were stuck together in the misery (and the freedom) of the place, where not even money could insulate you.” —Stephen Hiltner

Some things I learned from Ted Conover’s “Cattle Calls,” a look into the lives of Iowa livestock veterinarians from the new issue of Harper’s: that more than 10 percent of the nation’s pigs died in a year from porcine epidemic diarrhea; that you can castrate a bull simply by tying a rubber band around its scrotum, and that dogs love to eat raw bull testicles; that agribusiness has made it all but impossible to survive as a vet with a private practice in a rural area; that bald eagles have taken to eating a slurry of dead hog parts sometimes used as fertilizer. Conover’s piece opens with a doctor inserting his arm into a cow’s rectum and ends with an assisted cattle birth; and lest you feel misled by the lurid details I’ve cherry-picked, it’s a generous, evocative portrait of an increasingly rare kind of working life. The photography, by Lance Rosenfield, is strong and lived-in—here in New York, where Fashion Week has just ended, it feels like an authentic rebuke to the parade of editorials glamorizing blue-collar work wear. —Dan Piepenbring

J. M. Coetzee is notorious for avoiding chitchat, but in the last few years he’s published dialogues with Berlinde De Bruyckere and Paul Auster, and he’s even taken to writing to the Australian cricketing community about his admiration for the South African team. As a fan, I was delighted to find this trend continue with The Good Story, a carefully orchestrated conversation—a duologue rather than what we customarily think of as dialogue—with a practicing psychoanalyst, Arabella Kurtz. At two hundred pages, their exchange clacks along the many transecting paths of a life in writing and a career in psychoanalysis, with a quiet urgency. For laypeople, like me, who are still mystified about how exactly psychoanalysis works (even after reading The Impossible Profession) this is a good read; it’s an even better one for those interested in the way a smart writer’s mind churns. —Joshua Maserow

I know we featured a big earthy chunk of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Writing Across the Landscape on the Daily today, but I should say that the book is great fun to dip into, and that its best passages often have nothing to do with travel whatsoever. At a Greyhound station in Mexico, for example, he accidentally drops his ballpoint pen in a pay toilet and flushes it, thinking “perhaps it will reappear centuries later in the alluvia of the Rio Grande, and some strange-colored descendant of Americans come upon it, wondering what strange weapon is this, and how many it killed with what ammunition.” And watching his son in the Pacific Northwest, he puts down a cogent riff on adolescent maleness: “A fourteen-year-old boy is a thicket of contradictions, energy and lassitudes, full of internal strife, longings & boredoms, irrational, intemperate, selfish, affectionate with animals, tender, kind and cruel at once … sweet with small children & women, respectful and rebellious at the same time … still in a kind of dormant, lovely state, between childhood and manwar.” —D.P.