When Mario Vargas Llosa got the call, his first thought was that it was an emergency of some kind. It was around five in the morning in New York, the same hour as in Lima, where most of his family lives—which is why he was alarmed. He’d risen a few moments earlier and, at that hour when the city sleeps, was sitting down to read. It was part of his routine while he was teaching at Princeton for a semester. His wife, Patricia, handed him the phone, and a voice said it was the Swedish Academy. Vargas Llosa first thought it might be a joke, like the one the heartless friends of the Italian writer Alberto Moravia had pulled on him: They awarded him the Nobel in jest, with a call just like this one. And Moravia celebrated, as if he’d actually won. Vargas Llosa hesitated. The voice assured him he had actually won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature, and then the call ended. Those were strange moments—a controlled euphoria, a surprising well of emotion, skepticism. The phone rang again, and the same voice announced that the news would be made official in fourteen minutes, that he should be prepared.
11:00 A.M. Paris Reviewers: You may want to sit down for this, or drink a few stockpiled Four Lokos. I am about to rock your world with a schizophrenic, middlebrow, totally aimless, and mostly pointless cultural hodgepodge. And the jittery attention span of youth is no excuse—I’m well over thirty.
An early morning of kitchen prep, latte guzzling, and e-mail scouring (Techcrunch is my daily must-read e-mail; I’m too busy for other newsletters, though I dearly miss VSL). Then six of us begin our weekly photo shoot for food52. A former food52 editor taught us oldsters the terms “douche-b” and “d-bag.” In her honor, I play for everyone Kanye West’s new song “Runaway,” whose chorus is “Let’s have a toast for the douchebags. Let’s have a toast for the assholes. Let’s have a toast for the scumbags. Everyone of them that I know.”
1:30 P.M. Eat the fruits of our morning labor: two kinds of latkes and a brief break to watch “Don Draper Says What?” He says “What?” and looks handsome in at least forty-three different ways. Back to work, girls!
8:30 P.M. My husband, Tad, and I heap some leftovers—roasted salmon, more latkes, and arugula salad from Fishkill Farms—onto our dinner plates, then sit on the bedroom floor (reminder: must get TV tables!) and veg in front of It’s Complicated. The Nancy Meyers movie is particularly enjoyable because we’re not in the aging-boomer demographic it aims for, and thus are freed up to appreciate the calculated shrewdness—and lifestyle porn (the spas and island kitchens!)—of the seventy-five-million-dollar mom-com.
1:00 A.M. Culture mulching in my new Internet-y lifestyle happens late at night. As I dig myself out of the daily e-mail blizzard, I flip back and forth between Twitter and NYTimes.com. NYTimes is like my wise parents; Twitter, my smartest pals. From Twitter, I link through to Kottke.org to read about extraterrestrial life. Guiltily, I creep on over to the Washington Post to catch up on Jane Black and Brent Cunningham’s op-ed on the food culture wars. This is the topic foodniks have long been avoiding; I love stories that call out the elephant in the room.
New Yorker writer Susan Orlean wrote a cookbook review for food52’s Tournament of Cookbooks. It ran today and was such a gem in structure and tone, I read it once more, just for fun.
Late, late: Realized that I fell so far behind on the Wikileaks hullabaloo that I have no idea where to begin: Analysis? Original breaking story? Instead, look at photos of Brad Pitt’s leather pants on HuffPo. He really should not wear leather pants.
Before Lippincott, Inc. was founded in 1966, artists had no natural industrial partner and no capacity to produce sculpture on an industrial scale. They had to fabricate their own pieces, working alone or perhaps with assistants or students, or turn to manufacturers with no experience producing artworks. Sculpture was typically modest in scale, designed for intimate viewing, and often still produced in the artisanal manner—by the incremental labor of single artists.
After Lippincott, Inc. was founded by my father, Donald Lippincott, and his business partner, Roxanne Everett, sculpture changed. It got bigger, it moved outdoors, it asserted itself as a modern form of public monument. The Lippincott shop introduced industrial production to sculpture and vice versa, and it helped create a new kind of work in which scale was not just a formal matter but a crucial part of the sculptural endeavor. Lippincott’s four decades in business correspond quite neatly with perhaps the most active period of public sculpture in art history; for more than a decade and a half, Lippincott was the only fabricator dedicated exclusively to fine art.
It had rained earlier, and the streets of Manhattan were slick. The traffic lights shone off the pavement, and in the front seat Mario Vargas Llosa discussed the delicate Ivoirian political situation with a taxi driver from Abidjan. I sat in the back seat with Mario’s wife, Patricia, struggling to carry on a polite back-and-forth with her, while simultaneously listening to the discussion going on up front. Patricia and I discussed Mario’s upcoming travel schedule. I mentioned I’d once heard him speak in Madrid, and she nodded, a little bored by me. In truth, I was a little bored by me, too. Perhaps she could intuit that I would’ve preferred to join Mario. It must have been obvious enough. Thick plastic partitions separate the front from the back of New York City taxicabs, and the effect was like watching Mario on an old fuzzy television set, the volume low. I could hear his muffled voice, but only make out a few words: questions about this warring faction or that one, the fragility of the negotiated peace, the coming elections. I wanted to interject—I’ve also been to Ivory Coast!—and this was technically true: I once spent a night in the Abidjan bus station, protected by a knife-wielding tough named Michel, who insisted on locking us inside for own safety—but there was no room for me or my story in this conversation, and so I said nothing. My French is crudely utilitarian, fine for reading a newspaper, say, but not for enjoying a novel by Flaubert, and I’m too embarrassed by my accent to fall into casual conversation with a West African taxi driver; I could only get the sense of the dialogue between Mario and the man from Abidjan, the spirit of it—enough to feel that in the course of a short uptown ride, they’d become almost intimate. We passed 72nd Street, and they shared a joke. Who told it: Mario or the driver? Behind thick plastic, both laughed heartily. Block after rain-soaked block, I sat in silence, straining to hear.
This week, Vargas Llosa will accept the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. Join us as Sergio Vilela trails Vargas Llosa through the Swedish city, writing in with dispatches translated by Alarcón.
Jonathan Franzen has just given the deepest, most searching and revealing interview of his career. And we don’t mean on Oprah. You won’t find this interview on TV, on YouTube, or anywhere else on the Web.
You can only find it in the winter issue of The Paris Review, alongside a startling portfolio, curated by David Salle, of paintings by Amy Sillman and Tom McGrath; a selection of portraits and landscapes by legendary draughtsman Saul Steinberg; and a troubling, sexually charged novella by Hungarian master Péter Nádas.
Issue 195, which will hit newsstands December 15, also includes a Writers at Work interview with novelist Louise Erdrich, poems by Brian Blanchfield and Jim Moore, debut fiction by Alexandra Kleeman and Claire Vaye Watkins, and much, much more.
I’m dating an athlete—more problematically, he’s a great watcher of sports. I was raised on football, so I have no problem screaming at the television with him when pass interference doesn’t get called, but baseball and basketball leave me cold. Are there any good books on either sport—I do love a weepy sports narrative—that I could read to pique my interest? I’m tired of asking my boyfriend to explain the designated hitter to me—as, I’m sure, is he. —M. K.
Dear M. K.,
We at The Paris Review Daily—okay, I, Lorin—know diddly about sports. So we decided to … um, bunt? Hand-off? Bring in a couple of pinch hitters? You get the idea: Your question has been referred to our two Paris Review Daily sports correspondents, Will Frears and Louisa Thomas.
The really good baseball books are The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn; Ball Four, by Jim Bouton; and pretty much anything by Roger Angell. I can’t think of a good basketball book, but for the true weepy sports experience, watch Hoosiers.
If the boyfriend is a soccer fan and she wants to dazzle him with her technical know-how, then Inverting the Pyramid, by Jonathan Wilson, is a must-read.
Jim Bouton’s Ball Four won’t explain the designated hitter, but it will tell you what “beaver-shooting” is, and it will make you laugh. Gay Talese’s “The Silent Season of a Hero” barely visits a ball field, but it will make you ache for Joe DiMaggio. If your boyfriend is a statshead, read Michael Lewis’s Moneyball to demystify sabermetrics. (Plus, it’s always satisfying to read a story in which the men in charge hadn’t a clue.) John McPhee’s A Sense of Where You Are, about Bill Bradley as a Princeton basketball player, is in awe of its subject, but so am I.
To learn the rules, try Wikipedia.
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