On February 7, 1497, in the midst of carnival, the charismatic preacher Girolamo Savonarola inspired a falò delle vanità, exhorting his followers to burn immoral objects in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. Tinder included cosmetics, mirrors, Boccacio’s books, artwork, clothing, instruments, and playing cards. (Some say that Botticelli, a devotee, was moved to burn some of his work, but this is speculation.) While these bonfires were not uncommon, the scale of this one made it the most famous. Obviously, in memoriam, we bring you the trailer for the 1990 film adaptation of the 1987 Tom Wolfe novel. Also: everyone was in that movie!
Last year’s Jaipur Literature Festival was exciting and boring at the same time—a death threat is exciting, but thirty death threats are boring; as Dostoevsky wrote, “Man is a creature who can get used to anything.” Salman Rushdie was scheduled to attend: Islamic groups agitated to deny him a visa, which he does not need in order to enter India, but never mind. It was suggested that instead Rushdie might address the festival via video conference: the government itself advised against this. Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil, Amitava Kumar, and Ruchir Joshi read aloud in protest from The Satanic Verses, still banned in India, but, after the gravity of their collective transgression had been brought home to them, they left the festival.
We know what comedy is: life is increased. Think of Rodney Dangerfield addressing the crowd at the end of Caddyshack: “Hey, everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!” And we know what tragedy is: isolation increases. I used to think that life was about winning everything, Mike Tyson once said, but now I know that life is about losing everything.
But what is India, with its boundless affirmation of life in general that befouls so many lives in the particular, with its joyous proliferation unto overcrowding, need, and misery? I did my small part, during my brief month there, to maintain those inequalities: Give me your shoes, I know you have other pair, you not need these, give them me, said a man as he tried to pull my sneakers off while a second man tried to pin my arms; and what he said was true, somewhere on the other side of the world I did have another pair of shoes, four shoes and only two feet; all the same, unhand me, my little friend, before I pick you up and throw you like a javelin.
I attended the 2013 JLF. It began in the same way. Read More
- “The ordinary, mild-mannered bookstore had stripped off its everyday shirt to reveal its superpowers, moving with a slamming shift into warp-speed pleasure.” A paean to vanished bookstores.
- How to (if you must) divest yourself of books.
- Here is a trademark lawsuit involving both space marines and superheroes. Yes, I said space marines.
- “The precision and spirit of Austen’s novels derive, in part, from the cherished objects with which she and her heroines were in daily contact—things that might well have been overlooked or spurned by everyone else.”
- Washington, D. C. earns the title of Most Literate City. The Most Romantic crown, however, goes to Knoxville, Tennessee. (If you define romance as only shopping at Amazon.com, of course.)
In second grade, I first read “The Little Match Girl.” To the uninitiated, this Hans Christian Andersen tale is about a beggar girl who, on Christmas Eve, warms herself by burning her matches one by one, imagining happier times with her dead grandmother by their light. In a final blaze, she imagines herself warm and happy, surrounded by love and the lights of a Christmas tree. Then we learn she’s actually frozen to death.
I was, to put it mildly, traumatized by the story. It haunted me. In the years since, I have learned that this is not an uncommon reaction; no fewer than two of my adult friends have revealed that, from time to time, “The Little Match Girl” intrudes on their thoughts and casts them into the doldrums. But as a seven-year-old, I was wholly unable to deal with my emotions. For days after hearing the story, I was quiet and withdrawn, my thoughts with the poor, cold match girl and her pathetic wares. My teacher, Mrs. Romer, noticed, and asked if everything was okay. I said yes, but one day, thinking of the tiny frozen body on the streets of wintry Copenhagen during a math lesson, I burst into uncontrollable sobs.
The fallout was humiliating. Mrs. Romer asked me to eat lunch with her privately so we could discuss what was bothering me; who knows what trauma she thought to uncover. I was too embarrassed to admit the actual source of my anguish—I knew it to be wildly babyish, as well as irrational—so I quickly concocted a lame story about my brother having the flu. I guess the implication was that I was afraid for his life; in any case, it was unconvincing enough that she called my parents.
Having learned early the dangers of giving into lit-related emotion, I was pleased to see a feature titled What to Do When Books Make You Cry on Public Transportation on BookRiot. Their advice is common sensical and wide-ranging, but does not address the concerns of younger readers. And, really, there is no time like childhood for emotionally wrenching books—if memory serves, in one school year we read Bridge to Terabithia, Number the Stars, Hatchet, and Where the Red Fern Grows. In one school year! Maybe our teachers were trying to toughen us up for public reading; personally, I think holding it together for Cormac McCarthy is a cakewalk after Sounder. “The Little Match Girl,” however, should be reserved for the truly stony hearted. Or at least the over-seven set.
Shortly before Christmas, New York moviegoers could choose between seeing two Tom Cruise films that were screening simultaneously: Jerry Maguire at Lincoln Center (as part of a retrospective celebrating him), and Eyes Wide Shut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (as part of a Christmas movie series). Sorry I could not watch both and be one viewer, I opted for Eyes Wide Shut. “You had me at hello” and “Show me the money!” would have to wait for another day. Surely I was taking the cultural high road, the Guermantes Way, if you will, one that would certainly never meet up with any quippy, Tom Petty–inflected sports romance.
Since the bemused response to the release of Eyes Wide Shut in 1999, the film’s admirers have been increasingly winning out over its critics. But both camps agree that the film is a closed universe, meticulously arranged down to the smallest detail, the ne plus ultra of auteurist micromanagement. Kubrick was a famous hermit who refused to leave England to film Eyes Wide Shut, although it is set in New York. Instead he constructed an enormous studio replica of Greenwich Village, and everything was shot in this controlled environment. Tom Cruise, as though under Kubrick-ordered house arrest, didn’t make another movie for the entire duration of the project (from 1997 to 1999). If you didn’t like the movie, you saw the final product as hermetically sealed and emotionally sterile, a bad imitation of New York and the way that real people talk and feel. But if you liked the movie, it was because each of its frames could be subjected to exhaustive analysis in a thousand term papers, like a game of hidden pictures, mined for occult symbolism, motifs of consumerism, and every possible allegorical reading. Kubrick’s obsessively detailed vision seemed particularly to license a shot-by-shot deconstruction. (I invite you to google: “Eyes Wide Shut illuminati” for a good time.) Read More