The Power of Perfect Park Pics, and Other News


On the Shelf

Roger Minick, Woman with Scarf at Inspiration Point, Yosemite National Park, 1980. From the series ‘Sightseers’. Courtesy of the artist and George Eastman Museum. Via Hyperallergic.

  • Every morning I wake up and I turn to the computer and I ask it, Did they turn a Thomas Bernhard novel into an opera today? The answer has historically been no, which brings me down. But today the answer is yes: David Lang’s opera adaptation of The Loser made its world premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and it is, apparently, good. Francine Prose writes, “The beauty of the music makes us more intensely aware of the grief and disappointment that fuel the narrator’s anger. [Conrad] Tao’s marvelous performance and Lang’s restrained and gorgeous score are haunting reminders of what the narrator has given up. This is, after all, his whole life that he is talking about: his blighted dreams, his unrealized hopes.”
  • A new book, Picturing America’s National Parks, lives up to its name: it’s full of useful park pics, many of them perhaps not as rugged and authentic as you might expect: “Even in the nineteenth century, photographs were more propaganda than truth, conveying an idealistic vision of these ‘untouched’ lands. Eadweard Muybridge, for instance, added perfectly wispy clouds to his wet-collodion images. And notably, these landscapes were usually completely void of people, suggesting another West to be won and protected. If a person does appear, they are a tiny specter dwarfed by the grandeur of nature, and they are certainly not indigenous. There are plenty of ladies in full skirts strolling with parasols among the burbling springs of Yellowstone or the mountains of Yosemite, but no images of the tribes that had inhabited many of these regions for centuries.” 

  • In which Lionel Shriver questions the mantras of cultural appropriation, arguing that to eliminate it is to destroy fiction as a form: “What stories are ‘implicitly ours to tell,’ and what boundaries around our own lives are we mandated to remain within? I would argue that any story you can make yours is yours to tell, and trying to push the boundaries of the author’s personal experience is part of a fiction writer’s job … The ultimate endpoint of keeping out mitts off experience that doesn’t belong to us is that there is no fiction. Someone like me only permits herself to write from the perspective of a straight white female born in North Carolina, closing on sixty, able-bodied but with bad knees, skint for years but finally able to buy the odd new shirt. All that’s left is memoir.”
  • In 2004, while he was serving a sentence in Jessup, Maryland, Robin Woods taught himself to read using the prison library. Then he found a typo in a Merriam-Webster encyclopedia and did what all conscientious citizens do: sent a gentle letter to the editor, Mark Stevens. So began an unlikely correspondence: “Over the next two years, Stevens sent eighteen letters to Woods; Woods sent several dozen to Stevens. They discussed the life of Cleopatra and the self-education of Malcolm X, but Woods barely discussed his criminal record, and Stevens never asked. ‘They were perfectly executed letters, and very courteous,’ Stevens said. ‘It still seems astonishing to me.’ One concluded, ‘I have the honor to be, Sir, your most obedient servant.’ ”