Credit: Harold Edgerton: The Anatomy of Movement, by Gus Kayafas and José Gómez Isla.
My girlfriend insisted that I read some Philip Roth and gave me a copy of Portnoy’s Complaint. I can’t decide if I should keel over laughing because of its impeccable comedic timing or froth at the mouth because of its meticulous rendering of nearly every stereotype I’ve ever seen of neurotic sixties Jews. But perhaps more importantly: do I need to read something different by Roth, or do I need to tell this wonderful woman that our relationship is simply not going to work? —A neurotic twenty-first-century schlemiel
Your wonderful girlfriend gave you Portnoy’s Complaint, you almost plotzed laughing … so you want to end it? Something tells me I’ve missed a step—but that Philip Roth would understand. So, perhaps, would Nathan Zuckerman, the novelist pilloried for his handling of Jewish stereotypes in his comic masterpiece Carnovsky—and the hero of some of Roth’s best books. Start with The Ghost Writer, in which Zuckerman goes to visit an elder statesman of Jewish letters named Lonoff and finds himself powerfully attracted to Lonoff’s amanuensis, who bears a striking resemblance to … well, I won’t spoil it. You might also consider analysis, if you haven’t already.
I think of myself as a semi-Jew: I celebrate holy holidays when I want to, I’m victim to eating bacon regularly, and I wear dresses so short that all my babushka can do is mutter words under her breath at me in Yiddish. I want to get more in touch with my roots. Not in the let’s-all-go-to-synagogue kind of way, but in a contemporary, fun, reading-of-the-Jewish-writer kind of way. Can you recommend anything for this soon-to-be shiksa? —Anna Kogan
Now just a second. Thessaly, are you making the goyisch interns impersonate Jews for Pesach? Have you got them downloading The Jazz Singer on Torrent? Reading Howard Jacobsen on their iPhones? In the age of Google, anyone can spell schlemiel. Go read Lee Siegel for your sins, and don’t let this happen again!
Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.
Elif Batuman describes life after writing a best-selling book and tells how she asked Jonathan Frazen if he had any weed. “There’s some in my freezer,” Franzen replies. “But it’s all the way uptown.” —Thessaly La Force
Having stretched Philip Connors’s Fire Season out over two weeks of late nights, for the pleasure of coming home to it, I tore through Samuel R. Delany’s The Motion of Light in Water in a day. I can’t stop talking about it, because I can’t stop thinking about it. It evokes bohemian New York in the fifties and sixties—gay, straight, and other—more vividly than anything I’ve read. —Lorin Stein
When I saw that Maurice Manning was a finalist for a Pulitzer this year, I went and reread much of his poetry—psalms and pastorals, a philosophical ode to Daniel Boone. If you don’t know his work, you now have no excuse. —Nicole Rudick
What got me about Martin Amis’s The Information were the quick, declarative sentences that suddenly appear in otherwise bleak and descriptive paragraphs. At the start of the novel, Amis skirts around our main character until tying everything together with “He was forty tomorrow, and reviewed books.” The economy of language here is divine. —Rosalind Parry
Jennifer Egan, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this week, discusses her early hopes of becoming a doctor, life as a struggling writer in New York, and the importance of self-criticism and perseverance in a candid interview with The Days of Yore. —Elianna Kan
This letter from Sebastian Junger to Tim Hetherington, the photographer who was killed in Libya this week, is heartbreaking. —T. L.
Next Tuesday, the Norwood Club, that mysterious brownstone on 14th Street devoted to the arts, is throwing open its doors to friends of The Paris Review. Sam Lipsyte, Alexandra Kleeman, and Lorin Stein will stage a mini retrospective of the last three issues.
This event is open to the public, but non-members of the Norwood Club must make a reservation by calling (212) 255–9300 or e-mailing the front desk of the Norwood Club.
Nan Goldin is running late. On a Thursday evening in the Theresa Lang Center, in a New School building on West 13th Street, the crowd—close to a hundred people—is growing restless. At the front of the room at a long plastic table, the other panelists have assembled: Benjamin Walker, the moderator and host of WFMU’s “Too Much Information”; author Lynne Tillman, whose petite frame is overwhelmed by an explosion of dark curls; French philosopher Ruwen Ogien, whose wisps of gray hair are messy and front-swept; French professor of aesthetics Carole Talon-Hugon, whose jet-black hair is combed back and secured with a leopard-print scarf; and a neatly dressed woman who is later revealed to be Talon-Hugon’s translator. A laptop on the table is connected to a large projection screen hanging above the stage. A folder is open on the computer, and file names are visible; the JPEGs have titles like “skinheadshavingsex.”
Goldin is probably best know for The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a collection of her photographs documenting her life and the lives of her friends—homosexuals and junkies, the poor and the marginalized—in the New York of the late seventies and early eighties. In one, titled “Nan one month after being battered,” Goldin faces the camera straight on; she’s wearing bright red lipstick, and her left eye is filled with blood, the area below it bruised a sickening brown. When Goldin arrives around 6:40 P.M., I find myself checking the face of the woman now walking toward the front of the room against my memory of the photograph. Her career is both remarkable and frightening for having provided everyone in the audience with that image as a point of comparison. She sits down and is immediately, endearingly apologetic.
In the fall of 1958, things weren’t going well for eighteen-year-old Tommy Johns. He had graduated from Croton-Harmon High School that year and was working as a janitor, while living with his mother, stepfather, and four younger siblings in an unheated, drafty wood house about two hundred yards from the river and railroad tracks. His parents had money for beer, cheap liquor, and little else. One morning, Tommy got up, put on his secondhand Swedish army coat, told his family he was going to the corner store for cigarettes, and hitchhiked the fifty miles to Manhattan.
Let out of the car in Greenwich Village, he started wandering up Sixth Avenue, choosing that route for no particular reason—maybe just because the cars were going that way. When he crossed the intersection at Twenty-eighth Street, he was surprised to see the familiar figure of W. Eugene Smith standing on the curb next to a tractor-trailer.
Tommy had gone to school with Smith’s son, Pat, and daughter, Marissa, in Croton. He had been over to their spacious, stone home in a quiet, leafy neighborhood on the other side of town. Tommy knew that Mr. Smith had been a famous photographer for Life magazine, covering World War II and other important subjects, yet here he was, standing on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette and looking forlorn.