A cultural news roundup.
- Legendary travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor died this week at ninety-six. Described by the BBC as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene,” Fermor authored twelve books and numerous articles. A BBC tribute gives him his due.
- Australian minister for small businesses Nick Sherry has declared that the bookstore is doomed. Speaking in Canberra, the politician declared, “I think in five years, other than a few specialty bookshops in capital cities, you will not see a bookstore. They will cease to exist because of what’s happening with Internet-based, Web-based distribution … What’s occurring now is an exponential take-off—we’ve reached a tipping point.”
- Not one but two prominent “lesbian bloggers” are revealed to, in fact, be straight men.
- Francine Prose and Keri Hulme have sharp words for Naipaul.
- Rehabilitating the original “Uncle Tom.”
- Murakami publicly criticizes Japan’s nuclear policy.
- The return of Batgirl.
- Actor Mark Rylance quotes poet Louis Jenkins in his Tony acceptance speech.
- Werner Herzog will narrate an audio version of surprise-hit “bedtime story” Go the Fuck to Sleep.
- The 100 greatest nonfiction books?
In Amie Barrodale’s “William Wei,” the eponymous narrator enters into an unusual relationship over the phone with a woman who claims to have met him at a party. What follows, as he says, “changed my life.” Barrodale took the time to answer a few questions.
How would you characterize your work?
When people ask me what kind of things I write, I just say I write stories. I don’t know what else to say.
The details of this story feel real. What inspired it?
I met someone who did this to me. Or something similar.
Your fiction seems to deal frequently with questions of human disconnection.
Disconnection, yes. I don’t know why. I find disconnection painful and very, very emotional, so I like to try to write about it. You can’t boil it down or sum it up. You can only describe it.
A Google search tells me “William Wei” is “the Video Producer for Business Insider,” “Professor of Statistics at Temple University,” and a professor of surgery. Coincidence?
The names came from nowhere but later I learned that Wei, in addition to being a surname, means “who are you?” in Chinese. Or I read that somewhere. I hope it’s true. It’s also a greeting for the phone, Wei.
What writers are you into these days? Who are you reading now?
I really like the stories Donald Antrim has been writing in The New Yorker lately. I love V. S. Naipaul and the novel Pitch Dark by Renata Adler. I also love Wong Kar-Wai, and I just now found, through your guys’ recommendation, Chris Marker. I’m traveling so I’m not reading; my suitemate took the book I brought, and I’m a little embarrassed to say what it was.
What are you working on?
I’m working on a novel, but I’m a little superstitious and yesterday a tarot card reader told me not to discus my idea—someone might take it. I mean, it was a friend with a deck of those cards. I would have discounted it, except that she was the second friend with cards to tell me that, about this book, so …
The living is easy—and it’s time for our summer issue! Whether you’re on the beach, in transit, or just enjoying the long days at home, this is an issue to get lost in: find fiction by Jonathan Lethem, Amie Barrodale, and David Gates and the continuing story of Roberto Bolaño’s lost novel The Third Reich, with original illustrations by Leanne Shapton.
Big news: For the first time, readers can buy a digital version of The Paris Review—for easy access anytime, anywhere. TPR digital can be read on your iPad, laptop, or mobile device. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it’s instant gratification!
If, like us, you still enjoy a little sand between the pages of your beach-house reading, buy a subscription to the paper magazine—and get a Paris Review beach towel!* (We’d tell you to tuck it into a TPR tote, but that might sound pushy.)
From the summer issue:
An expansive interview with William Gibson:
What was more important was to name [my landscape] something cool, because it was never going to work unless it had a really good name. So the first thing I did was sit down with a yellow pad and a Sharpie and start scribbling—infospace, dataspace. I think I got cyberspace on the third try, and I thought, Oh, that’s a really weird word. I liked the way it felt in my mouth—I thought it sounded like it meant something while still being essentially hollow.
A frank interview with Samuel R. Delany:
Finding time to work is the main problem … You write a decent book, and you’re hired as a creative-writing teacher. The next thing you know, you’re director of the program, which basically means you get less time in class and more administration, which nobody likes, so that you can hardly write anything anymore.
A portfolio of video art curated by Marilyn Minter. Poetry by Frederick Seidel, Cathy Park Hong, Kevin Prufer, Lia Purpura, D. Nurkse, and Iman Mersal.
To celebrate the publication of Roberto Bolaño’s collected nonfiction, New Directions and Galapagos Arts Space host translator Natasha Wimmer, novelist Francisco Goldman, writer and Believer editor Heidi Julavits, Harper’s contributing editor Wyatt Mason, and our very own Lorin Stein as they they read from and discuss Between Parentheses, a collection of the late Chilean author’s essays, reviews, speeches, and personal musings. The event is free; doors open at 7:00 P.M. Galapagos Arts Space, 16 Main Street, Brooklyn, New York. Further details here.
“Wanted,” the advertisement read, “sixteen- or seventeen-year-old apprentice cutter for Savile Row firm. Energetic … Intelligent … Smart appearance …” I was skeptical (what the hell was a cutter?) but Dad made the call and we were granted an appointment at ten the following Tuesday. I had never heard of Huntsman before. For that matter, I am not sure that I had ever heard of Savile Row.”
So began, somewhat ignominiously, Richard Anderson’s career as a bespoke tailor. Today, Anderson is “The King of Savile Row,” as The Independent called him—but in 1982 he was a teenager with failing grades who showed up for an interview in white socks, a short-sleeved shirt, and a school blazer.
Anderson’s memoir, Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed, has been called the Kitchen Confidential of the tailoring world, an insider’s look at the industry and one that exposes a certain amount of its foibles and eccentricity. But what’s even more of a revelation than the ins and outs of cutting and fitting is the sheer thoroughness of the traditional apprenticeship, which Anderson served. Even thirty years ago when Anderson got his start, the kind of ground-up dues paying he describes was on the wane; in an era of overnight success, it’s almost unimaginable.
It’s no shock that, since everything’s ripe for the TV picking, even Savile Row got its own BBC special—a reality program that made it look, says Anderson, “quite glamorous.” And as a result, he now gets some ten or fifteen letters a weeks from prospective employees. However, their notion of apprenticeship doesn’t involve sweeping or cutting, let alone the kind of respect for institutional authority that was the backbone of Anderson’s training. “They tend to think they’d quite enjoy designing,” Anderson explains dryly, adding that they also tend to be older and “there’s a big difference between a seventeen-year-old kid just out of school and a twenty-something who’s seen a bit of the world.” Especially one in today’s England, he need not add.
- Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson has been named the UK’s seventh Children’s Laureate. Says she, “I’m hoping to bring some drama and music to the job. I always act out my own stories with lots of audience participation so I’m planning to do lots more of that.”
- Jennifer Worth, author of the Call the Midwife trilogy, has died at age seventy-five.
- Meghan Cox Gurdon’s contention in the Wall Street Journal that YA fiction is too dark and depraved has prompted debate and backlash—including a “#YASaves” hashtag on Twitter.
- A new iPad app allows readers to see more than six hundred of the British Library’s nineteenth-century texts in their original editions—including maps and illustrations. More than a thousand images can be viewed for free, until the paid app launches fully this summer.
- Harry Bernstein, whose memoir, The Invisible Wall, brought him fame at ninety-six, has died at 101.
- Can you pass the Naipaul Test?
- Compose a Twitter haiku in honor of Koko the signing gorilla’s fortieth.
- And taking the “beach read” to a literal extreme, a list of selected pirate fiction.