For the real action at this year’s Man Booker Prize, you had to hit the cloakroom. For much of the evening, along with correspondents from all the major newspapers, I was sequestered in a large room in the palatial spread of the Guildhall. It was only when I ventured downstairs that recognizable faces attached to tuxedos and evening gowns began to drift in from the dinner. I ran across one former winner, dreamily improvising at an invisible keyboard while explaining how relieved he was to belong to what he called the great continuity of the prize; a well-known literary editor roamed the corridors, warily peering from right to left in the manner of a displaced meerkat; and Anne Robinson, host of The Weakest Link, was huddled against a wall, unusually hushed by the seashell allure of her cellphone. Read More
Last spring our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, came up to New York to give a little reading here on White Street. The surprising but true story he read, about living on the set of One Tree Hill—because it was his family’s house—just appeared in the new issue of GQ:
My wife was eight months pregnant, and we lived in a one-bedroom apartment, the converted ground floor of an antebellum house, on a noisy street downtown, with an eccentric upstairs neighbor, Keef, from Leland, who told me that I was a rich man—that’s how he put it, “Y’er a rich man, ain’t ye?”—who told us that he was going to shoot his daughter’s boyfriend with an ultra-accurate sniper rifle he owned, for filling his daughter full of drugs, “shoot him below the knee,” he said, “that way they cain’t get you with intent to kill.” Keef had been a low-level white supremacist and still bore a few unfortunate tattoos but told us he’d lost his racism when, on a cruise in the Bahamas, he’d saved a drowning black boy’s life, in the on-ship pool, and by this conversion experience “came to love some blacks.” He later fell off a two-story painting ladder and broke all his bones. A fascinating man, but not the sort I wanted my daughter having unlimited exposure to in her formative years. Not my angel. We entered nesting panic. We wanted big and solid. We wanted Greatest Generation, but their parents, even greater. We found it. It had a sleeping porch, and a shiplike attic where I in my dotage would pull objects from a trunk and tell their histories to little ones. We asked for the money, and in some office somebody’s boss came forward with the Stamp.
We commend the essay to your attention, the video version too.
F. and I were introduced by a mutual friend while I was on a visit to L.A. I was living in D.C., newly single and working at a political magazine. I had given myself a firm dating rule: no journalists. In a sleepy company town, where ethics precluded romantic liaisons with my sources, it had begun to feel as if I’d doomed myself to celibacy. F. was a writer who’d just finished his first film and was passing time as a listings editor. He was my best friend’s occasional tennis partner. “You’ll love him,” she promised, sending him a text as I shoved my bag in the backseat of her car at LAX. “I’ll have him meet us for drinks at this outdoor German place.” We hit it off instantly.
It started with a challenge. I told him that first night that I’d found Donald Antrim’s The Verificationist overly self-conscious, so he slid The Hundred Brothers into my carry-on for the red-eye back east. Antrim’s endlessly multiplying brothers and claustrophobic prose were right at home in the repetitious concourses of LAX. My perfume leaked in my suitcase during the flight, but I returned his copy anyway, with a handwritten note, reeking of the nape of my neck. Read More
A cultural news roundup.
- After a particularly contentious run-up, Julian Barnes (finally) wins the Booker.
- The ceremony was … eventful.
- On the other side of the pond, the National Book Award apologizes for its error.
- Lauren Myracle withdraws.
- Roz Chast: “I think that children’s books should be censored not for references to sex but for references to diseases. I mean, who didn’t think after reading Madeline that they were going to get appendicitis?”
- Amazon hoards its superheroes.
- Stan Lee creates new ones.
- Tintin, the movie.
- The Seagull, the movie.
- Spot the fake title.
- Bram Stoker’s notebooks!
- Spalding Gray’s journals!
- C. S. Forester’s lost novel!
- Emily Post 4.0: “Just because someone’s IM service shows them as being ‘available,’ doesn’t necessarily mean they are … Respect ‘do not disturb’ status. Remember, each time you IM you are interrupting someone.”
We were delighted to learn that the bookies’ favorite took the Booker: contributor Julian Barnes won the prize last night for his novel The Sense of an Ending. Barnes, in his 2000 Paris Review interview, describes writing literature as “producing grand, beautiful, well-ordered lies that tell more truth than any assemblage of facts.” But it was in 1998, when he fielded our questions about British literature, that he shed some light on the prize itself. When we asked Barnes whether the Booker ever got it right, he replied, “Yes, in that it is always awarded to a novel of serious intent.” Indeed.
In the spring of 2007, I was invited to a dinner organized by The Paris Review in honor of Norman Mailer. The novelist had just published what would be his last novel, The Castle in the Forest, and would have a conversation with E. L. Doctorow. That evening, when Mailer entered the room, with his very distinctive mien—that of a rather solid and stout man who, because of his age, used two canes—I was deeply moved. I told him—what else do you say in those circumstances?—how much I admired his books and that I started reading them when I was very young, many years ago.
A few days later I told a friend about this experience. “But, how?” he acted surprised, “Did you read Norman Mailer in Cuba?” And added, “Wasn’t he supposed to be one of the banned North American authors on the island?”
My friend had imagined, perhaps for a good reason, that you couldn’t find American literature in Cuba, that it was banned because both countries were at more or less declared war, an openly proclaimed enmity. I patiently explained to him that nothing like this ever happened. Mailer’s books and those of many other North American authors were not censured in Cuba; in fact, they were widely sold. You could find them in every library; they could be read by everyone. Read More