At Least We Have Isabelle Huppert, and Other News


On the Shelf



  • It’s December: time to roll out the Best Books of the Year lists, and with them the many perils of list making, with its sting of exclusion and its weird subtexts. Just bear in mind that the earliest book list was intended to ban them: “Books lists are one of the oldest and dodgiest forms of literary criticism. The most famous of them is, after all, probably the Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum, enforced for centuries, and surviving long enough to take in both The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis. The impulse behind the modern, secular, ostensibly more pro-literary version of the book list remains disquieting: don’t read that, it would seem to say. Read this. There is an irresistible appeal in such simplicity—in being able to place your trust in the critical acumen that supposedly lies behind the making of such lists. Although one reader’s acumen often turns out to be another reader’s blind prejudice.”
  • Jim Delligatti, the inventor of the Big Mac, has died at ninety-eight. His sandwich remains arguably America’s all-time greatest export, its calling card around the world; a heaping serving of savory corporate imperialism, smothered in special sauce. It’s fucking delicious. And it might’ve made Delligatti a household name, but Mickey D’s wasn’t about to give him a cut of the profits—or even of the glory: “Delligatti, who opened the first McDonald’s in western Pennsylvania in 1957, owned about a dozen franchises in the Pittsburgh area by the mid-1960s, but he struggled to compete with the Big Boy and Burger King chains. He proposed to company executives that they add a double-patty hamburger to the McDonald’s menu … It was introduced on April 22, 1967, with newspaper ads describing it as ‘made with two freshly ground patties, tangy melted cheese, crisp lettuce, pickle and our own Special Sauce’ … The sales remain huge, leading many to believe that Mr. Delligatti, as its inventor, must have reaped a windfall worth billions. Not so. ‘All I got was a plaque,’ he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2007.” 

  • I’ve reserved this space for a quick interruption in celebration of Isabelle Huppert, who should always and forever be celebrated. Rachel Donadio writes, “Susan Sontag, who once called Huppert ‘a total artist,’ said she had never met ‘an actor more intelligent, or a person more intelligent among actors.’ When I saw [Paul Verhoeven’s] Elle, I understood what she meant … What directors love about Huppert—and she prides herself on being an auteur’s actor—is her ability to convey moral complexity in the most unique ways … Huppert can transmit self-awareness. She gives the impression of observing herself at the same time that we, the audience, are observing her. ‘That’s the beauty of it. She’s discovering it as she goes, and is not afraid to feel that,’ Verhoeven said when we spoke. ‘I think there is always a mystery to her acting,’ he added. ‘I have never seen an actor or actress add so much to the movie that was not in the script.’ ”