Credit: In Giacometti’s Studio, by Michael Peppiatt.
This has been a week of emotionally taxing reading. First, Shirley Jackson’s deliciously creepy tales (“The Lottery” has nothing on “The Summer People,” by the way), then Joyce Carol Oates’s New Yorker article on her husband’s sudden death and the advent of unexpected widowhood, and finally, a smattering of Marina Tsvetaeva’s vulnerable, heartfelt poems. Next week: Maybe I’ll lighten things up with a little Don Marquis—toujours gai! —Nicole Rudick
A copy of The New Yorker’s newly minted 20 Under 40 book, edited by Deborah Treisman, landed on my desk. The colors on the spine are festively appropriate for the holidays (just like our fresh-off-the-press winter issue). Some of my favorites (and there are many): Daniel Alarcón’s “Second Lives,” (check out what he wrote for us this week); Salvatore Scibona’s “The Kid”; and C. E. Morgan’s “Twins.” —Thessaly La Force
I have this compulsion where I read the first one hundred pages of a book, and then stack it on my bedside table. I never finish them—call me promiscuous. But I feel guilty not finishing books! What do you advise?
There’s nothing wrong with not finishing a book. Samuel Johnson, surely one of the great readers of all time, claimed to feel guilty because he almost never read a book to the end—but still, he didn’t. Finish them, I mean. Why should you read a book just because it’s there, or (worse) because you read it yesterday? Completism is the bugbear of actual reading. There are books even by some of my favorite authors that I have never looked at and never plan to. If you really love Henry Green’s Loving, why should you have to read Living? And, really, how many second acts redeem a slow act one? I say, enjoy your promiscuity and keep reading new things. (But better make space on your bedside table!)
The world press surrounds him, chases him, wears him down. And by now, Mario Vargas Llosa has begun to feel the secondary effects of this immense happiness—a happiness for which even he has been unable to find an appropriate adjective. The celebration has been defined by an overwhelmingly busy schedule, the most emotional plaudits, the harsh Swedish winter, and the vertigo of being in the public eye minute by minute in the Twitter age. Vargas Llosa is mostly silent, careful not to strain his voice, and hopeful that the pain he’s felt in his leg for the past forty-eight hours will soon pass.
This morning, I found him eating cereal for breakfast at Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel, and he told his daughter Morgana that the pain hadn’t yet gone away. The novelist had even asked the Nobel organizers to let him stop by a clinic on the way to the opening of an exhibit about his life and work at the Cervantes Institute. What had happened?
ALL DAY All work, no Internet play.
>1:00 A.M. Time to do some serious reading online. Nah! Read about the Steve Martin imbroglio at the 92nd Street Y. Skip over to a piece on Google and Groupon (best part: Andrew “Mason, Groupon’s chief executive, declined an earlier interview request, adding that he would talk ‘only if you want to talk about my other passion, building miniature dollhouses.’”) Listen to some Beth Orton, which always makes me think of a former boyfriend/jackass, who introduced me to her music—a shame, because I like you Beth!—so I switch to Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara,” a song I love because it scorns the clichéd drum climax interlude. The song builds and builds and never resolves.
Then my surfing goes to a dark place. Read Gawker story on whereabouts of Julian Assange, followed by a New York Times story on the suicide of the suspect in the murder of Ronni Chasen, a Hollywood publicist.
Robert Scoble pulls me from my death spiral. Thank you, man. Listen to his interview with Kevin Systrom, a cofounder of the Internet sensation Instagram. I like listening to company founders tell their stories, although I’m more interested in their tone and salesmanship than what they actually do. Systrom’s was confident, controlling, and mildly dismissive.
Dip my toe into the Times story on obesity surgery. Decide I’d rather think of something besides Lap-Bands before bed … like my to-do list! It’s three pages long and includes items like “Read Wired story on coupons” and “Look up foodie episode of South Park”—plus a whole host of actual work and responsibility, like “Figure out health insurance” and “Sign Addie up for ballet.”
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.