Staff Picks: The Hatred of Music, the Love of Phlox


This Week’s Reading

From the cover of The Hatred of Music.

I love music, but I like to hear both sides of an argument, so I picked up Pascal Quignard’s The Hatred of Music: ten treatises about the danger in listening. Quignard, himself an accomplished listener, aims “to convey to what point music can become an object of hatred to someone who once adored it beyond measure.” In his crosshairs is not so much music itself but the omnipresence of sound, which has, he argues, metastasized into a force of death more than of life. Quignard can be ponderous—you can imagine him plugging his ears at a Selena Gomez concert—but I can’t deny the depth of his thinking, to say nothing of his gift for aphorism. (“Everything is covered in blood related to sound”; “Rhythm holds man and attaches him like a skin on a drum”; “Concert halls are inveterate caves whose god is time.”) As a kind of lyrical discourse on how we hear, The Hatred of Music belongs on the shelf next to Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise. The second treatise, “It So Happens that Ears Have No Eyelids,” offers this: “What is seen can be abolished by the eyelids, can be stopped by partitions or curtains, can be rendered immediately inaccessible by walls. What is heard knows neither eyelids, nor partitions, neither curtains, nor walls. Undelimitable, it is impossible to protect oneself from it … Sound rushes in. It violates.” I read those words on the subway, as the train groaned into a turn and EDM bled from my neighbor’s headphones. —Dan Piepenbring

Every winter and spring, I receive reams of garden and seed catalogues. Perusing them is, for me, akin to reading a good book and requires that I find a quiet, comfortable spot and consider each page with care. The photographs and copy vary in quality from catalogue to catalogue (I have my favorites), but each nevertheless brings what Katharine White calls “dreams of garden glory.” White became The New Yorker’s first fiction editor in 1925; three years later, the magazine published her first entry in the “Onward and Upward in the Garden” column, in which she wrote on seed and nursery catalogues, gardening books, and her own amateur attempts at floriculture. Last year, New York Review Books collected her fourteen columns. I recognize myself in much of what she writes: when, for instance, she cannot bring herself to stop acquiring plants or when she feels at once cheated and culpable for a plant’s failure to thrive. Mostly, though, I enjoy the moments in which she writes appreciatively of garden life: “Today I’d like nothing more strenuous than to sit still and admire the huge heads of phlox that the wet season has produced in the perennial borders and watch the bees sipping nectar from the poisonous monkshood and plundering the lavender spikes of the veronicas.” —Nicole Rudick 

From the cover of Onward and Upward in the Garden.

In honor of National Poetry Month, I’ve been reading Gregory Pardlo’s Pulitzer Prize–winning collection from last year, Digest. While some are deeply personal, many of Pardlo’s poems come from a place of observation—such as the preamble to “Marginalia,” in which he bears witness to and absorbs (read: digests) the afternoon din in Prospect Park. These observations read like attempts to bridge the gap between himself and his community with language. The result is, so often, a vivid, scrambling montage of images and utterances (“This is Prospect Park, / Brooklyn, where limbs tickle / and jounce as if ice cubes shiver / along the shirtsleeves of evergreens”) that dissolve as soon as they materialize. And that’s the point. In Digest, belonging evades, even linguistically. In this way, “Marginalia”—and, indeed, the rest of the collection—explores the concept of the Other. We experience Pardlo’s poetry as he experiences Prospect Park: “Illusory, / altogether babel-fractured, a single word / from you might bring the verdant fun-house / down.” We can’t help but harbor the sensation of some ambiguous, inexorable distance. It’s from this space that Pardlo charges us to experience his art: “You are home now, outsider, for what that’s worth.” —Daniel Johnson

If you, like me, are suffering from P–PvOJSW (Post–People v. O. J. Simpson Withdrawal) you might go back to Dominick Dunne’s reports on the trial for Vanity Fair, most of which the magazine has made freely available. They’re quiet marvels of empathy and scrutiny. Of special interest is his final dispatch, from December 1995, soon after Simpson had been acquitted—reporting on O. J.’s celebration party and the vacuum that came to envelop him as his, uh, nonguilt sank in. “I questioned a friend of his on the possibility of suicide,” Dunne writes. “There was a long pause. ‘He has no life other than an afterlife,’ his friend replied. ‘It’s a tougher sentence than if he’d gone to prison.’ ” Nothing, not even FX’s largely excellent series, better captures the odd, tentative form of unrest that gripped L.A. in the immediate aftermath of the verdict. (I say that like I was there; I was nine, and nowhere close.) —D. P.

O. J. acquitted; dig that nineties-era chyron.

Gabriel García Márquez’s underrated final book, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, is a touching novella about love and life in old age. The writing is gentle but never timid—actually, it’s surprisingly erotic. An unnamed journalist, on his ninetieth birthday, wakes with the sudden urge to recapture his youth, and so fills with a new desire: to sleep with a virgin. The romantic old man is no stranger to courtesan circles, but he finds, in his final foray with the oldest profession, a satisfaction that had eluded him for ninety years, and an excitement that transcends sexuality to give new color to his life. Suddenly he’s younger than he was—and Márquez gives his salute to the joys of life of the twilight years. —Ty Anania