Pick Up the Phone, Bob, and Other News


On the Shelf

Can you hear me, Bob? Bob?

  • [Beep.] Is it rolling, Bob? Ha, get it, that’s from Nashville Skyline … which all of us here at the Academy just adore, by the way—your voice sounds so beautiful without all those cigarettes chewing it up. But anyway, I’m calling because … well, you know why. Okay, Bob? Bob, are you there? Hey, Bob? … Bob? We’ve got this prize to give you. Bob. It’s the big one, ha-ha! It’s the highest honor! … C’mon, Bob, pick up the phone. I know you’re there. Don’t let me just blather on like this—again—Bob? Come on, man. We’ve been trying to get you on the horn for days now. Maybe it’s—you know you can e-mail us, right? I get it, the phone numbers get pretty long when you’re calling international, maybe you’re just sick of trying to dial … plus the time difference … I mean … just have your manager e-mail a little whatever, He accepts, he thinks you’re great … okay, Bob! Look, we’re not saying you have to get in touch. It would just be nice. We’re all big fans and we have—arrangements—to be made. For the banquet. In Stockholm? For the fucking Nobel Prize in Literature, Bob, which, frankly, we went out on a limb, giving this thing to you, I don’t know if you’ve seen the hot takes, and if you could just show a little decency—I mean not decency-decency, we’re all big fans—but it’s, it’s not like we haven’t taken some heat on this one, right, and now with the prolonged silence and all it sort of looks—just … call us back. Please, please call us back, Bob. 

  • We’ll all grow old someday, except for those of us who are already old, like Bob Dylan. (Oh, and those of us who will die young.) Donald Hall is eighty-seven, and solitary, and he writes about that experience in a way that will put the fear of God into you. But, you know, in a good way: “I spend my days alone in one of two chairs. From an overstuffed blue chair in my living room I look out the window at the unpainted old barn, golden and empty of its cows and of Riley the horse. I look at a tulip; I look at snow. In the parlor’s mechanical chair, I write these paragraphs and dictate letters. I also watch television news, often without listening, and lie back in the enormous comfort of solitude. People want to come visit, but mostly I refuse them, preserving my continuous silence … Now and then, especially at night, solitude loses its soft power and loneliness takes over. I am grateful when solitude returns.”
  • I’ve always felt very cringe-y about myself. Fiction is a useful way of getting around it or disguising oneself one way or another. Not being able to write in the first person was very much about that, and self-disgust or anxiety about saying ‘I.’ I used to sit in front of the computer and have a very tough time writing, and I just noticed, once I was in therapy, I didn’t find it so difficult to write … It did seem to me, when I was a kid and also now that I’m a grown-up writer, that a lot of male writers have a certainty that I have never been able to have. I kept on thinking I would grow into it, but I’m never sure I’m doing the right thing.” Zadie Smith talks to Jeffrey Eugenides.
  • Alex Balk would like you to conduct a dangerous thought experiment. Can you handle it? Take a deep breath, and … “cast your memory back to that time before smartphones. (You probably had a flip phone, like Adele in that video.) What do you mostly remember? Were you anxious? Did you dread looking at your phone to see what was on it? … I think if you reflect honestly on that era you will have to answer that not only were any of those things not a prominent part of your personality, but also their absence offered a degree of equanimity which you would today perceive as impossible to deal with. Back before smartphones you were considerably less apprehensive than you are in the present. What we are now being sold subconsciously is the idea that the lack of constant agitation was somehow mundane.”
  • David Campany looks at the road photography of Justine Kurland: “Justine Kurland photographs America’s tangled sense of itself … Her road trips are long and her van is eleven years old. With 250,000 miles on the clock, it gets patched up often. Since nobody feels entirely positive about cars these days, breakdowns and crashes feel like larger symbolic deaths. But as Evans wrote in ‘The Auto Junkyard,’ a 1962 photo-essay published in Fortune, ‘There is a secret imp in almost every civilized man that bids him delight in the surprises and in the mockery in the forms of destruction.’ ”