- Walden: the most contemplative video game ever created?
- W. S. Merwin: the movie.
- The dog from The Artist has a book deal.
- Gertrude Stein’s bad war record.
- This is your kids on books.
- The Casablanca e-book: the beginning of a beautiful friendship?
- Predictions from 1962 on the future of book publishing: “Books will be smoother, faster and slicker, and will be strongly influenced by space travel.”
- New York Public Library, Monday afternoon.
“For the writer of fiction,” Flannery O’Connor once said, “everything has its testing point in the eye, and the eye is an organ that eventually involves the whole personality, and as much of the world as can be got into it.” This way of seeing she described as part of the “habit of art,” a concept borrowed from the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. She used the expression to explain the way of seeing that the artist must cultivate, one that does not separate meaning from experience.
The visual arts became one of her favorite touchstones for explaining this process. Many disciplines could help your writing, she said, but especially drawing: “Anything that helps you to see. Anything that makes you look.” Why was this emphasis on seeing and vision so important to her in explaining how fiction works? Because she came to writing from a background in the visual arts, where everything the artist communicates is apprehended, first, by the eye.
She had developed the habits of the artist, that way of seeing and observing and representing the world around her, from years of working as a cartoonist. She discovered for herself the nuances of practicing her craft in a medium that involved communicating with images and experimenting with the physical expressions of the body in carefully choreographed arrangements. Her natural proclivity for capturing the humorous character of real people and concrete situations, two rudimentary elements she later asserted form the genesis of any story, found expression in her prolific drawings and cartoons long before she began her career as a fiction writer.
There comes a point on every tour—very early on, after about the third show—when I completely forget that my traveling companions play music. We sit in airports together, we ride in crowded minivans, we play games, we eat both terrible and amazing meals. I think of them as my older siblings, some of whom are grumpy in the morning, others who always want to chat. What happens onstage is so separate from the rest of the experience that I really do forget that they all speak this other language—when I duck into the crowd every night, for just a few minutes here and there during the down times at the merch booth, it’s like waking up and realizing that the rest of my family is fluent in Japanese.
When all together, we talk about the merch more than the music. That is not a joke or an exaggeration. Is that because it’s easier to talk about T-shirts (a quantifiable object) than the experience of playing music? I don’t know. But it was bothering me, this distance, so I decided to ask the band what they enjoy about the act of playing music. The first three responses came to me live, while we were all sitting in our hotel’s lobby bar in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Because they were (sick? warm? perverse? besotted?) individuals, the people in charge of the hotel sound system played nothing but the Magnetic Fields for the entire first day of our stay, and so while we were talking, we were also listening to their albums, played on shuffle. When there was an unusually long pause between songs, Stephin Merritt said to me, “We are listening to the absence of ourselves.”
- Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, at 150.
- The Wall Street Journal examines the curious appeal of serial novels.
- The New York Times examines the future of publishing.
- The Millions examines the popularity of tiger lit.
- With e-books, fiction reigns supreme.
- James Franco as Hart Crane.
- iPhone chargers disguised as books.
Dear Paris Review,
I’ve just finished Dr. Zhivago and am on the hunt for a palate cleanser. I’ve been left with romance on the mind and would like to stay in this vein. I don’t want to go too lowbrow, like toward trashy romance novels, but something as light and diabolical but still classy and well written would be nice. Any suggestions?
Romantic, diabolical, and light—it’s a tall order. But Ivan Turgenev’s First Love rises to the challenge. So does Terry Castle’s long story-essay “The Professor” (the whole collection is a knockout), ditto the title story in David Bezmozgis’s collection, Natasha (ditto the collection). You might also want to see my staff pick for this week, Goodbye, First Love.
In case you’re still jonesing for epic: Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus isn’t exactly light, but it clips along, and it’s romantic with darkness. Then there’s the book that Sadie and I seem to recommend more than any other, not (in my case) because it’s my favorite, but because it’s excellent and so often fits one bill or another, as indeed it fits this one: Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.
As a nineteen-year-old writer, struggling against ego and literary giants that marked an era (the Beats), sick of the droning whir of academia, and thirsting for life. What should I read to have me excited about life, about writing.
Ah, to be nineteen and coming off the Beats … I’m tempted to recommend the work of our Southern editor, as for example his collection, Pulphead. There’s a book that knows the Beat tradition, that knows academia, that knows the myth of the great author and quietly steers its own path through those perilous straits. It may give you encouragement. The same is true of The Savage Detectives. Or, if you want a more classic antidote to literary machismo, To the Lighthouse. Or for sheer life affirmation and prose descriptions that make you burst out laughing, they’re so good: Death Comes to the Archbishop or The Adventures of Augie March. Read More
Trilce, by the Peruvian modernist César Vallejo, is a book of poems I’ve read (the verb is probably too strong) with much enjoyment and little comprehension. Vallejo’s Spanish has almost nothing in common with the language I learned at school, but its obscurity is addictive: I keep going back to the poems. So far as we know, Vallejo gave only one interview; it has now been translated, for the first time, into English by Kent Johnson. Vallejo’s repartee isn’t as baffling as his poems, but it’s almost as enjoyable. —Robyn Creswell
The lost César Vallejo interview should be paired with Paul Muldoon’s translation of “Piedra negra sobre una Piedra blanca,” which is probably the best English version of Vallejo’s most famous poem. Muldoon calls it “Testimony”:I will die in Paris, on a day the rain’s been coming down hard,a day I can even now recall.I will die in Paris—I try not to take this too much to heart—on a Thursday, probably, in the Fall.It’ll be like today, a Thursday: a Thursday on which, as I makeand remake this poem, the very bonesin my forearms ache.Never before, along the road, have I felt more alone.César Vallejo is dead: everyone used to knock him about,they’ll say, though he’d done no harm;they hit him hard with a rodand, also, a length of rope; this will be borne outby Thursdays, by the bones in his forearms,by loneliness, by heavy rain, by the aforementioned roads.
—John Jeremiah Sullivan