A cultural news roundup.
- Philip Roth is done with reading fiction.
- As of this writing, there are 718 poetry apps.
- Coups! Cabals! Backstabbing! Drama at the Poetry Society.
- What is “distant reading?”
- “What seems to be happening is that Amazon’s platform is being overwhelmed by spammers who ‘scrape’ content from websites or, in some cases, actually lift entire texts, and republish them as ebooks.”
- The top 10 books of 2011?
- Face it: you can’t read everything.
- “I found myself thinking about ‘translated’ and ‘foreign’ as two separate things—sometimes a translated world can feel far more familiar than the foreign worlds I might find in a novel of the English language; and as a reader I am at home with both familiarity and foreignness.”
- Don’t even bother trying to go to this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival!
- And just in time for Independence Day: Plath, Hemingway, Capote and Woolf—in their bathing suits.
Life of Pi, Yann Martel (F, 20s, long hair, worn black T-shirt, skinny jeans, brown purse, L train)
Any Man of Mine, Rachel Gibson (F, 40s, stripey tote, black pants, F train)
For those of us prone to paranoia, the tumblr CoverSpy has made the New York commute infinitely more harrowing. The site (which also has a Twitter arm) enlists a “team of publishing nerds [who hit] the subways, streets, parks & bars to find out what New Yorkers are reading now.” It makes for addictively voyeuristic reading. And it’s enough to make you long for the soulless inscrutability of a Kindle. Do they know this is for work? you think, and Why are so many people on the L reading Ayn Rand?, and How old would they think I am?
Judging others by their books—or, more charitably, forming relationships based on shared literary tastes—is also the guiding principle behind the online dating site Alikewise.com, which was conceived when one of the founders voiced his wish for a woman who liked The Black Swan. (One friend described it as “actually, a very convenient way to expedite the weeding process.”) As always in such situations, the question quickly becomes not whether people are lying but why and how well. In its way, it is every bit as harrowing as the roving judgments of CoverSpy. So it is perhaps natural that the two organizations should join forces and produce an event that’s either a bibliophile’s dream or a neurotic’s nightmare, depending on how you look at it.
This is Tayve Neese’s unsettling poem “Because my daughters are growing.” The children’s refrain (“Oh, Spider Mother”) about their mother turns out, in that unforgettable final turn, to prefigure their own (potential) futures as mothers, “a small life” inside them that “struggles like an angry fly.” Good poems change what we see: the next time I see a pregnant woman, thanks (I think!) to Neese, that’s what I will see. —Dan Chiasson
The Academy of American Poets promised youth. “All very hip, young, cool poets,” said the invite for a recent Thursday-night reading on the rooftop of the Arsenal Building in Central Park. And it wasn’t just that night’s reading. “The entire reading series,” the e-mail emphasized, “features hip, cool poets.”
On the evening of the hip, cool reading on the rooftop, the clouds hung low and threatened precipitation. The workers of Manhattan, newly released from their cubicles, surged up Fifth Avenue to Central Park, breathing in the cultivated scents of high-end retail that punctuated the doorway of each storefront.
“I’m sick of hearing about Barack Obama,” said someone walking behind me on Fifth Avenue, as I, newly released from my cubicle, inhaled the spicy, luxurious air that poured out the doorway of Henri Bendel. “You know?” she said to her companion. “I’m sick of the jokes.”
The skyscrapers all had trees growing from their atria or complex terraces of ferns sprouting beneath their glass panes. They looked like magazine ads for oil companies. Mr. Softee trucks lined 59th Street, which was also seething with joggers. Around the stoplights the young joggers clustered, running in place. They all wore T-shirts that read “The J. P. Morgan Corporate Challenge.” They jogged to and fro on some sort of athletic scavenger hunt; hip, young, cool corporate types on what appeared to be a fitness mission that promised team building but also possibly resulted in charitable contributions. (I looked it up later: “Forty companies celebrated fitness and camaraderie in one of the world’s greatest urban parks, while raising funds for the Central Park Conservancy.”)
Few contemporary cineastes have enjoyed so estimably varied a career as Fernando Trueba. A onetime book editor whose film oeuvre has garnered no fewer than twenty-eight Goyas, he won an Oscar for Belle Epoque (1993), his sexy tale of a young deserter from Spain’s Civil War landing up at the farm of an aging artist whose comely daughters—one craven, one queer, one a young Penélope Cruz—impart a barnful of lessons about women and love. Since the 2000 release of Calle 54, his warm, exacting documentary on Latin jazz, Trueba has also devoted much energy to the music he loves. His work as a music producer has perhaps been highlighted by his association with Bebo Valdés, the supreme Cuban pianist whose sound was key to the evolution of both Cuban dance music and American jazz a half-century ago and who has spent his ninth decade making impeccable records with his Spanish friend. Trueba’s latest project, a gorgeous animated feature built from Valdés’s music and moments, marks a culmination of his work not only with the ninety-two-year-old pianist but with another long-term collaborator, the celebrated Spanish designer and artist Javier Mariscal. I caught up with Trueba a few days after Chico and Rita opened the Miami International Film Festival to a rousing ovation.
Where did you get the idea to do an animated film about Cuban music in the forties and fifties?
One day I was in Mariscal’s studio in Barcelona, and I saw some drawings he’d done of Habana Vieja. That’s when the lightbulb came on: we should make a movie in these streets, in a Havana created by Mariscal. We agreed that it should be a story about musicians. And then I suggested that if we have a story of a pianist, we could have Bebo play. And I thought, well, what Bebo represents is the style of the forties and fifties, so let’s do a story set in that period. How beautiful—the Havana nightlife of that time, which I knew only from books, or the stories of friends like [Guillermo] Cabrera Infante, the great Cuban writer of Tres Triste Tigres. And it also seemed like a time that was great visually, for Mariscal this era was when modern design started. We started developing the idea, and Mariscal said he felt the work should be very dramatic, like a bolero. And so we had that reference for the story—not a cinematographic reference, or a literary reference, but a song reference. Not a song-style reference, but a song itself. We wanted to build the story like a song, like a bolero.
The tone of a bolero is melodrama, and a lot of those elements are in the story: lost love, longing, nostalgia for that breezy room over the Malecon where Chico and Rita first make love. But how did the music come into it as you were actually writing the script?
When I was writing, I was trying to imagine how Mariscal’s drawings would move, and I had Bebo’s music in mind all the time. We used music to tell the story, to build the characters, the tension. When I work on live-action films, I leave a lot of room for last-minute decisions. Not in terms of the screenplay—I like to have the best possible screenplay in hand—but in terms of directing. I don’t like to work with a close storyboard, like Hitchcock. I’ve done a lot of comedy, a lot of work with actors, and I often like to find the shot on the set, to improvise the line. But with animation, you have to think of every single shot. Absolutely everything is storyboard, and that’s a big difference. To have to imagine one hundred percent of the movie, before it’s actually done—it’s a really strange mental exercise. But it’s great, I love it.
For over the last year, Thomas Bean and Luke Polling have been working on a documentary about George Plimpton called, well, Plimpton!. Today they launched a Kickstarter project to help them cover the expensive costs of paying for archival footage. Watch the video above to see a short clip of the film, which combines Plimpton’s own narration with interviews from his family and friends such as Peter Matthiessen, Gay Talese, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Milbury, Elaine Kaufman, Robert Silvers, James Lipton, Jay McInerney, and Hugh Hefner.
If you donate $100 or more to the film, you’ll receive a Paris Review subscription along with a DVD of the film and other goodies. We can’t wait to see the finished project!