Add James Salter’s Dusk to the list of genius reissues coming out this year. Modern Library has put out a handsome new edition of the story collection, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award when it first appeared in 1988. (If songs from 1988 can be called oldies, then a book from the same year definitely qualifies as a classic reissue.) Dusk had been out of print for many years, so the new edition is a godsend for those of us who don’t have the original issues of Esquire, Grand Street, and, ahem, The Paris Review lying around. Four of the stories in Dusk first appeared in our pages, and to celebrate the return of a great book, we’ve put the full text of “Am Strande von Tanger,” the lead-off story in the collection, online here. That story is forty-two years old, and it’s still not showing any signs of age.
DAY ONE7:00 P.M. Head to Idlewild Books in Manhattan for an event marking the publication of Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager. The evening, like the book, takes the form of a conversation between n+1 editor Keith Gessen and the hedge fund manager. The latter was not in disguise at the event, but people who knew him kept creepily referring to him in code as “HFM.” From all I can tell, he has retired and moved to Austin, so I’m not sure why the anonymity is so important. He looks like a “Steve” to me. Maybe an “Andy.”
10:30 P.M. I’ve enjoyed the culture diaries contributed by other people, and it’s been interesting to see their different approaches. Like Rita Konig, I’ve mostly chosen to focus on a few things a day that captured my prolonged attention. I flip through Reality Hunger by David Shields again. I have extensive notes for a review, but I need to put them together. Several of these notes are just quotes from Shields’ many promotional interviews, almost all of which have annoyed me as much as the book did. I also take a look at the first few pages of Shields’ Black Planet, his chronicle of the 1994-95 season of the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics, lent to me by a friend. Planet is a better read than Reality Hunger, but I won’t know how much that says until I get through more of it.
11:58 P.M. Before going to bed, I check the night’s baseball box scores on ESPN.com. For six months a year, this is a nightly ritual.
11:30 A.M. I’ve been reading Jackson Lears’ Something for Nothing: Luck in America, partly because I’ve been meaning to for years and partly because I’m treating it as research for a potential writing project of my own. The tone is somewhere between generalist and academic, and halfway through I’m enjoying it and finding it useful, particularly the early sections on early-American religious attitudes toward gambling.
1:15 P.M. I go to Andrew Sullivan’s blog to catch up on the last few days. I’ve been visiting the site less often lately for various reasons—I’ve been busy; reading about Sarah Palin at length is depressing even when you agree with the writer; etc.—but probably three million times since he launched it.
7:30 P.M. I go to the IFC Center with my girlfriend to see the new documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Following an obsessed person around for a while is a reliable documentary formula, and Rivers, at seventy-five, remains obsessed with her career. She’s still funny, maniacally driven, and poignantly unsatisfied.
11:30 P.M. Read a little more of Something for Nothing and write some notes about my own project. Listen to Astral Weeks by Van Morrison while doing it. Read More
The semi-finals of this World Cup have led to an earth shattering cosmic twist: everybody now likes Germany.
Most of the credit for this goes down to the way they play. Germany was dazzling to watch, especially in the crushing of Argentina and England. They lost their captain, big star and only member of the team to play outside Germany, Michael Ballack, a month before the finals began. The team they brought to South Africa is made up of young players who mostly came up through the German youth system (and many of whom helped the country win last year’s European youth championship). They’re a marvelous spectacle—they keep their shape, looking to play on the counter attack. And when they do, the ball moves so swiftly and intelligently from one end to the other that no one can keep up with them. They also seem largely free of the diving, grandstanding, and waving of imaginary cards. Unlike so many other teams in the tournament, they get on with things.
Speaking of diving and imaginary card waving, Spain came into the tournament as the European favorites, with ball movement and a promised redemption for previous failures. But even if they win, they will leave with their haloes gleaming a little less brightly. We have been denied the glory of Xavi and Andres Iniesta running the midfield at a tempo and geometry they dictate. Instead we have been forced to watch the odious Sergio Busquets collapse in a heap every time someone looks at him funny, while Xavi and Xabi Alonso get in each other’s way. Up front, Spain has been entirely dependent on goals from David Villa. Fernando Torres, who came into the tournament as the Spanish golden boy, has had so bad a time of it that The Guardian—in a misguided attempt to salvage his reputation—called him a more talented Emile Heskey. Perhaps worse, it turns out he dyes his hair. Read More
By day, Sloane Crosley is the Deputy Director of Publicity at Vintage/Anchor Books. But by—well, on every day, she’s a New York Times bestselling author. Her latest book is How Did You Get This Number, which came out last month. It’s a sparkling collection of essays detailing Crosley’s musings on life in the big city. Recently, she took the time to answer some of my questions while in Denver on book tour.
How do you find life on the road?
It’s not really life. You’re yanked before you settle. I will say I lost my dental floss between Portland and Seattle, so that’s pretty gross if you do the math. But that doesn’t mean it’s not supremely fun.
How do you turn the unremarkable or the everyday into a good story?
Well, there’s a nice compliment imbedded in this question because you’re implying that I have succeeded. If not in weaving straw into gold than at least into weaving straw into a perfectly functional basket. I hope I have. I think the trick—or my trick—is to work backwards. Try to use the format as you used to use it when you were a kid. Topic first, then examples. Okay, so not that structured. But put it this way: if you’re constantly trying to draw out larger meaning or pathos or even just base humor from a single experience merely because you find it amusing, you’re going to get a lot of essays structured like this: “One day I saw a bunch of mice. Then I went on with my day and events happened with people and I never thought about the mice. Then one of the people said something seemingly meaningless but, in fact, reminded me that we are all just like mice.” See what I mean?
Are you ever tempted to write fiction?
It won’t be news to aficionados, but this spring the gospel historian and producer Anthony Heilbut released a new compilation, How Sweet It Was: The Sights and Sounds of Gospel’s Golden Age. A copy arrived last week at White Street. The CD contains some knockout live performances: Brother Joe May, Mahalia Jackson at her best, Dorothy Love Coates “groaning and even barking” onstage with the Swan Silvertones.
But it’s the companion DVD that I can’t get out of my head. It contains twenty-seven kinescope clips from the early sixties, most from a half-hour syndicated program called TV Gospel Time, nearly all of them rare and hard to find. Plug in your earphones, close your door—do what you need to do—and brace yourself for the download. You just can’t watch Marion Williams sing “It Is Well With My Soul” without laughing and crying. At least I can’t, and I’ve seen it a dozen times. Ditto J. Robert Bradley’s “Amazing Grace.” Mahalia Jackson once said, “Nobody need mess with ‘Amazing Grace’ once Bradley gets through with it.” This performance bears her out. As Heilbut writes in his liner notes:
You’ll hear a few members of the choir, and Rosetta Tharpe herself, hollering out as he sings. This was not the usual practice on TV Gospel Time, where songs rarely lasted long enough to get people happy. But Bradley could move the coldest church.
In its classic form, gospel was music designed to kill—to slay the congregation in spirit, moving them not just to laughter, tears, and hollers, but to screams and even seizures. The first woman who started shrieking was known, in the parlance of the gospel quartets, as “Sister Flute.” Big churches had volunteers in nurses’ uniforms to tend to the stricken.
Later these forces were unleashed on white teenagers, to memorable effect. Little Richard, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye, Al Green—two whole generations of soul singers got their start and their sound in church. You know what they can do. And you know the idioms too: You set me free. You set my soul on fire. Have mercy. Help me now. I need you early in the morning/in the midnight hour/in the evening/to hold my hand. Not to mention that rock and roll standby: I feel all right. Read More
Over the past year, Diego Maradona has had Argentinians scratching their heads. Why wouldn’t he pick a settled team for the qualification campaign? Instead he chopped and changed his lineup, running through seventy-five players. For a time, it looked like they wouldn’t qualify and when they did, Maradona faced the doubting press corps and told them “they could suck it and keep on sucking it.”
Even then there were doubts. Messi and Maradona were said not to get on, and Diego was thought to prefer his son-in-law, the pint-sized and prolific Sergio Aguero. His final squad did not include Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti, who had both just orchestrated Inter Milan’s Champions League victory. He had too many strikers, not enough midfielders—in short, the Albicelestes were in big trouble.
All of these concerns have turned out to be irrelevant. Argentina is one of the teams of the tournament. They have scored loads of goals, including this monster from Tevez. Messi has been utterly mesmeric, not scoring yet, but regularly drawing not just a double- or triple-team but what quite often looks like the massed ranks of the Napoleonic Guard to defend him, opening up acres of space for his teammates.
On the sidelines, looking like Tony Montana’s best friend, with his diamond earrings, shiny suit, and mullet, has been Diego. He is fantastic to watch, not as potent as when he sliced England apart single-handedly in 1986, but still so involved, kicking every ball alongside his players, and then when forced to substitute them, consoling them with a hug and a kiss. Read More