Last November, New York Review Books published Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey: My Own Life. Aubrey, who died in 1697, is remembered for his Brief Lives, a collection of short biographies with a candor and color that enlarged the possibilities of the genre. Scurr has assembled an “autobiography” for Aubrey from remnants of his letters, manuscripts, and books, setting his sensitivities against the turmoil of Restoration-era England. He emerges as an empathetic, surprisingly modern figure. Below, Lucas Adams illustrates some of his favorite entries from My Own Life.
- Yesterday Dracula’s castle was for sale; today it’s Ray Bradbury’s house in Los Angeles, which is on the market for a comparatively reasonable $1.5 million. “His three-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot house, built in 1937, is painted a cheery yellow. It has three bathrooms, hardwood floors, and sits on a generously sized 9,500-square-foot lot.” This concludes today’s edition of Literary Real Estate.
- The history of Red Lobster, which was recently sold to a capital equity group by its parent company, tells a hopeful but ultimately tragic tale of casual dining in postwar America.
- The short story is “having a moment,” even in the UK: “In Britain we don’t have a culture of literary magazines that routinely publish short fiction. There are dozens in the US and this has helped the form to flourish.”
- Curious new archeological discoveries in the British Virgin Islands: a witch’s bottle and some iron ammunition “magically used to stop violence.” Whether or not it succeeded is another story.
- The 1955 equivalent of online dating: “Women would approach a machine that looked a bit like an old-school automat. The machine had photos of different men, each with a short description. She would put her coins in a slot and out would pop a more detailed note, describing just what kind of guy her potential suitor was. The woman would then take her letter to a love-agent who was able to make an introduction.”
Argentinian journalist Leila Guerriero wrote this article, translated by Sarah Foster, based on her interview with Chilean poet Nicanor Parra at his home on the coast of Chile. It was published in the Spanish newspaper El País after Parra was awarded the Cervantes Prize last December. The prize, given by Spain’s Ministry of Culture, is the most prestigious literary award in the Spanish-speaking world. Parra’s poem “Defense of Violeta Parra” appeared in our two-hundredth issue, on newsstands now.
Reaching the house where Nicanor Parra lives, on Lincoln Street in Las Cruces, a coastal town two hundred kilometers from Santiago de Chile, is easy. The hard part is reaching him.
Nicanor Parra Oiundo de San Fabian de Alico is the first-born son out of a total of eight children brought into the world by Nicanor Parra, a high school teacher, and Clara Sandoval. He was born in 1914, was twenty-five during World War II, sixty-six when John Lennon was shot, and eighty-seven when the planes hit the towers. Last September, he turned ninety-seven. Some people don’t even know he’s still alive.
Las Cruces is a town with two thousand inhabitants, shielded from the Pacific Ocean by a bay that embraces several towns: Cartagena, El Tabo. Parra’s house is on a cliff, overlooking the sea. In the garden, a staircase comes down to the front door, where local punks have painted graffiti so that no one will dare touch the house; it says, “Antipoetry.” In the foyer, he has written the names and telephone numbers of his children.
Nicanor Parra’s hair is white. He has a long beard and no wrinkles, only furrows in a face that seems to be made of earth. His hands are tanned, no spots or creases, like two roots rinsed in water. Lying on a table is the second volume of his complete works, Obras completas y algo (1975–2006). In its preface, Harold Bloom writes, “I firmly believe that, if the most powerful poet produced by the New World until now is still Walt Whitman, Parra joins him as an essential poet in our Twilight Lands.” At the end of the eighties, when Parra was still living in Santiago, he stopped giving interviews, and, although there have always been exceptions, he often objects to direct questions in unexpected ways, so that a conversation with him is subject to uncertain diversions, into topics that he repeats and brings up for whatever reason: his grandchildren, the Laws of Manu, the Tao Te Ching, Neruda. Read More