- In what might be the ultimate honor, it has been proposed that the Internet pay tribute to Ray Bradbury. Says The Guardian, “Tim Bray, a fan of Bradbury’s writing, is recommending to the Internet Engineering Task Force, which governs such choices, that when access to a website is denied for legal reasons the user is given the status code 451.”
- Happy birthday, Yves Bonnefoy!
- Letters to young poets. (And novelists, playwrights, and journalists!)
- Buy Bret Easton Ellis’s apartment. If you dare. To spend a lot.
- It is Audiobook Week, and in its honor, you can win a classic pulp noir.
Several times a week, I sneak downstairs to watch dancers rehearse with Merce Cunningham. I work at a nonprofit located in the New Museum and its current Tacita Dean exhibition includes Craneway Event, a 108-minute film of the choreographer at work in an enormous former assembly plant outside San Francisco. A postcard vista of the bay glistens in the background. As the sun creeps in, it warms the reflective surface of the floor to a bluish-gray so that in some shots water seems to ripple beneath the dancers’ feet.
Architect Albert Kahn originally designed the plant for maximum natural light. Stripped of furnishing and ornament, it looks porous rather than cavernous. There feels something almost prescriptively calming about looking at a space that size while living in a city as densely populated as New York; as if just by looking at it, I reclaim my proper wingspan after weeks in shoebox-sized studio apartments and subway cars sitting elbow-to-elbow with other passengers. My sense of time is similarly unreined. Nothing rushed, no antics, and absent of narrative; the film offers rather than requests my patience.
The term “time-based art” seems especially apt when discussing Tacita Dean’s work. In interviews, she talks of her delight in the period between shooting footage and processing it, as it allows her to revisit a film in progress with a new perspective. Her subjects might be defined broadly as the history slipping through our fingers: fleeting moments, obsolescing technology, the wisdom of an old master (Cunningham died a year after Craneway Event was made,) things just about to disappear.
To celebrate the release of The Paris Review’s Summer issue, we put together a little video that takes you inside the pages of 201.
In case you’ve forgotten, the issue features Tony Kushner and Wallace Shawn on the art of theater; new fiction from Sam Lipsyte and Ann Beattie; nonfiction by Davy Rothbart, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Rich Cohen, and J.D. Daniels; a portfolio curated by Waris Ahluwalia; and poetry by Sophie Cabot Black, Roberto Bolaño, Raúl Zurita, John Ashbery, Octavio Paz, Lucie Brock-Broido, and David Ferry.
Most mornings this past winter—the Boyagoda household already running late—I discovered my oldest daughter reading at the kitchen table: one boot on, gloves, hat, knapsack, and other boot nowhere to be found. So immersed was she, so indifferent to my pleas and threats, that finally I had to pull the book from her grasping hands just to make her finish dressing for the cold walk to school. This experience has made me more sympathetic to my mother, who once spanked me in a grocery store because I wouldn’t stop reading a book. It was by Enid Blyton, the British children’s writer who wrote some 400 nursery, fantasy, and adventure series titles that have sold more than six hundred million copies worldwide, mostly in Britain and the former colonies, including Sri Lanka—where as a girl my mother herself first encountered Blyton. I recently bought one of Blyton’s books for my own daughter. But before passing it on, I decided to reread it.
The book seemed innocuous enough. As with all of Blyton’s adventure stories, it was about boys and girls drawn into mysterious doings while on summer holiday. Bickering but loyal, they best adults who are either distracted and dismissive, or criminals capable of outsmarting everybody but the kids. Working this premise for decades and dozens of stories, Blyton enjoyed great success—at the time of her death, a book club devoted to her work had some 200,000 members in Britain alone. But because that success depended upon such patterned writing, she was also accused by librarians, teachers, and academics of relentlessly dulling the imaginations of her young readers, and of unjustly encouraging those who were reading her from abroad to make identifications that race, geography, history, and politics preemptively denied them. This certainly seems to have been the case for the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; in a 2006 interview with The Times, she explained that her development as a writer was stunted by her early reading: “When I started to write, I was writing Enid Blyton stories, even though I had never been to England. I didn’t think it was possible for people like me to be in books.” Similar notions affect the eponymous protagonists of Jamaica Kincaid’s novels Lucy and Annie John, who both declare they wish they were named Enid, after their favorite author. For both the young Adichie’s and Kincaid’s characters, mimicry and the desire for renaming aren’t simple expressions of literary admiration; they’re also rejections of the children’s African and Caribbean worlds, which have been diminished by their very immersion in Blyton’s books. The Blyton reading experience likewise impacts a colonial child’s maturation in Rohinton Mistry’s novel Family Matters, in which an intelligent Indian boy grows up reading her books and from this develops a dismissive attitude towards the foods and places and names that figure in his Bombay life. When self-loathing and alienation begin to build, he stops reading her; later, noticing her books on his shelves, he admits, “I can’t bear to even open them. I wonder what it was that so fascinated me. They seem like a waste of time now.”
After a week of guest-editing, I leave you with this piece of advice from Canadian extraordinaire Margaux Williamson. À la prochaine mes Parisiens! —Thessaly
Dear Paris Review,
Sadie Stein recently answered this question in your advice column. And now I’m wondering: what books impress a guy? What should I read to seem cool, sexy, and effortlessly smart? Seriously.
Needing to Impress
The answer to this question all depends on how long you need to seem cool, sexy, and effortlessly smart for. If it’s for a one night stand, or for a decent favor, don’t waste your time on reading (that’s not cool!), just go ahead and lie about what you’re reading. If you see some dumb, over-praised book on said guy’s top shelf, you can ask what they think about it and then say, Oh yeah, totally. You can put that book on your imaginary top shelf too or imagine that you regret putting it on your imaginary top shelf. Lying can be real if you imagine successfully.
This lie can be a kind of empathetic gesture, an openness, a pose you can hold to see if you like something new. But this kind of lie is only advised for the short-term—don’t forget that it is only a trick! Can you imagine having to carry on with someone else’s interests for a whole week? Or longer?! Imagine having to pretend forever that you care—or even worse, forgetting that your interests didn’t start off as your own?—growing all sorts of wrong trees in your soul.
Last night Daniel Smith taught me the word anxiolytics. It means “anxiety reducers.” (Dan is the author of Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety, so he should know.) His favorite nonchemical anxiolytic is Singin’ in the Rain. Mine, for now, is “Jesus Dropped the Charges,” by the O’Neal Twins. —Lorin Stein
The 1935 Silly Symphony cartoon “Cookie Carnival” raises so many questions, but most pressing: What is a rum cookie? The highly enlightening Wikipedia article informs us that the animated short, in which various varieties of baked good compete for the title of Cookie Queen, is a take on the Atlantic City bathing-beauty contests of the day, precursors to Miss America pageants. (Incidentally, the gingerbread hobo is voiced by the same actor who immortalized Goofy.) As a friend of mine commented, “Misses Licorice and Coconut were robbed.” And it’s true: Sugar Cookie’s easy victory (after she dons a blonde taffy wig, that is) is a testament to how little standards of beauty have changed, however much baked goods have. —Sadie Stein
Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies, which comes out in early July, needs to be on everyone’s bookshelf this summer. Or, more fittingly, in the pool house. And the latest Vanity Fair has a fun article about the origins of that hideously romantic painting The Singing Butler, which I’m sure you’ll recognize once you see it. —Thessaly La Force
“Helpless,” by Poindexter. I heard this song playing in a store downtown and was convinced it was a new track by French electro band Phoenix. Poindexter gets it right with well-placed cymbal crashes and the type of moody synth that sound tracks an eighties teenage tryst on a foggy night. You can buy “Helpless” off fashion’s jack of all trades (Kitsune) album Kitsune America. SO DO IT. —Noah Wunsch