- Coney Island today is a fine place to force-feed yourself hotdogs and get a weird rash, but in centuries past it was a bona fide dreamland—so much so that a new exhibition of early Coney Island art is called “Visions of an American Dreamland.” J. Hoberman writes, “As befits a dreamland, the exhibit—curated by Robin Jaffee Frank, who also wrote much of the show’s excellent, richly illustrated catalogue—is a mix of artifacts and artworks and a trove of suggestive juxtapositions … A 1910 wooden cut-out cartoon of Mae West and Jimmy Durante, both of whom got their starts in Coney Island ‘concert saloons,’ is positioned opposite a selection of roughly contemporaneous Sunday pages by the master draughtsman Winsor McCay, whose gorgeously inventive comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland was surely the greatest graphic expression of fin-de-siècle Coney.”
- Morgan Jerkins reflects on the role of the diary for black women: “The boundaries of a black woman’s social life are many and varied. Alice Dunbar Nelson, who had been married to the famous black writer Paul Laurence Dunbar, wrote in her diary of her lesbian and other extramarital affairs. One of the fears that many black women writers have historically had is that if they reveal too much of their intimate lives, it could reflect badly, not only on themselves but on the black community. In addition to matters of romance and money, these earlier diaries of black women are filled with confessions about strained familial relationships, and personal demons and insecurities … For a black woman in a white world, a conversation with the self is crucial: for when she walks through that often-unwelcoming world she is subjected to confining perceptions of who she might be. When that world insists on racist and narrow paradigms, the diary gives these women a chance to scratch out and rewrite such definitions.”
- Today in unsolicited advice for parents: take your kids to see Where’s Peter Rabbit, a new puppet musical designed to preserve the memory of Beatrix Potter’s darker side. It’ll scare the shit out of them … but, you know, in a good way. As the designer Roger Glossop argues, “[Potter’s] stories really are not all fluffy bunnies. I mean, Mr. Tod, the fox in The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck, is one of the darker villains you will find anywhere in children’s literature … It is a really foul piece and so, dramatically, that is terrific! We do wonder if some children in the audience may leave weeping, although we will certainly not try to scare them.” Sold!
- Not unrelatedly, a new book of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s letters sheds some much-needed light on her past and her feelings about the coddled youths of her day: “Later in life, as the Little House series grew in popularity, her letters are devoted to readers—children, parents, schoolteachers, librarians, even a congressman—who flood Wilder with fan mail. The Laura in this period is given to mildly political disquisitions on how things used to be. ‘The children today have so much that they have lost the power to truly enjoy anything,’ Wilder wrote from her ten-room house in 1944. ‘They are poor little rich children.’”
- To go by the new collection of Jane Austen’s juvenilia, Love and Freindship [sic], no one would ever accuse her of being a poor little rich kid. The book is, at its best, sublimely ridiculous, as in the case of a 1788 work called The Beautifull [sic] Cassandra: “Escaping her parents’ millinery shop with another woman’s hat on her head, Cassandra sets out to ‘make her Fortune.’ Her attempt would last seven hours. For a lot of heroines, that exit from the parental home would be precisely the moment when a handsome man, whether a villain or a preserver, would be thrown in her way. But when Cassandra finds herself in just this situation, passing an attractive Viscount, she walks right by him to devour a gluttonous amount of dessert … The heroine ‘proceeded to a Pastry-cooks where she devoured six ices, refused to pay for them, knocked down the Pastry Cook and walked away.’ ”
Like many editors and critics, I depend on the New York Public Library because it has the books I need when I need them—whether it’s an obscure edition of Les Fleurs du Mal or a monograph on Mary Lamb—and because it is one of the few places in New York where anyone can work in peace and quiet, and with free help from experts in their fields. Now there are plans to overhaul this unique institution and tear out seven floors of stacks. Scott Sherman and Caleb Crain make me wonder why. —Lorin Stein
“The Mafia is the consciousness of one’s own being, the exaggerated concept of one’s individual strength, the only arbiter of every conflict of interests or ideas.” So wrote Giuseppe Pitrè, a nineteenth-century scholar of Italian folklore, and so opens Cosa Nostra: An Illustrated History of the Mafia, which landed on my desk this week. It’s strewn with more bars, cops, and bloody corpses than the best crime movie. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn
The Keith Haring show just opened at the Brooklyn Museum, and though I haven’t made it out there yet, I’ve been following the museum’s Tumblr blog featuring selections from Haring’s journals. They’re putting up a page each day, and most so far are from the early seventies, when he was a teenager, but some of the site’s earliest posts show Haring playing around with ciphers and visual repetitions—hints of what is to come. —Nicole Rudick
Ron Padgett and John Ashbery discuss the life and work of Frank O’Hara in this recent conversation at Harvard. The bittersweet reminiscences include O’Hara’s introduction to Larry Rivers at a party. To hear Ashbery tell it, it wasn’t long till they were canoodling behind a window drape. —Josh Anderson
I was recently blown away by Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry’s famous account of a day in the life of a British Consul suffering from latest-of-late, DT-stage alcoholism. The Consul, one Geoffery Firmin, has reached that fatal apex of the disease in which reality splinters into an inscrutable funhouse, and the quotidian becomes demonic. The vivid depiction makes a sad kind of sense, for in many ways it was a porthole into the late Lowry’s own troubled mind. (Although it must be noted that Volcano’s tragic star is also totally hilarious.) Even if you haven’t read Lowry’s work, you can watch the entire 1972 Oscar-nominated documentary about his life here for free. It is truly fascinating. —Allison Bulger Read More
I am so excited to visit this Djuna Barnes exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum: it’s an archive of her New York journalistic work between 1913 and 1919, frequently illustrated by the budding modernist herself. —Sadie Stein
“John had many moving parts, exploding in as many directions as one of his sentences,” writes Jen Nesselin in one of the rememberances that round out the new collection of John Leonard’s writings, Reading for My Life. “But he was, above all, an enthusiast.” Those ecstatic, exhaustive, amassing—enthusiastic!—sentences, nestled in the pages of The New York Review of Books or Harper’s or The New York Times, were a delight to me for many years. I’m even more delighted to have so many of them in one place. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn
Joseph Cornell, mostly known for his shadow boxes, also made surrealist films. UbuWeb carries some dozen of them, including the rightfully famous Rose Hobart, the only movie to screen publicly during his lifetime—it sent Salvador Dalí into fits of rage, which sent Cornell’s cinema into hiding. Yet it’s The Midnight Party that really charms and disturbs. —Josh Anderson
“They free me from the prison of contemporaneity: one should not live only in one’s own time. A wall of books is a wall of windows.” Leon Wieseltier’s hymn to having shelf upon shelf of books perfectly conveys the reason I’ll never stop bringing books home. —Nicole Rudick
Recently I found myself watching a lot of Israeli cinema. I began with Or, about a daughter struggling to support her mother and keep her out of prostitution, and moved on to Jaffa, about a secret affair between a Jewish woman and an Arab man—both brilliant films featuring the splendid Dana Ivgy. —Natalie Jacoby
For those fond of the scandalous and confessional, take a look at these diaries of the famous. A perfect reading list for the voyeuristic. —Elizabeth Nelson
Of all last week’s tributes to the late, great Gary Carter, the one that choked me up most was an emotional Keith Hernandez, who, back in the day, used to mock the exuberant and clean-living catcher. I also love Left Field Cards’s tribute to “The Kid,” the proceeds of which go to the National Brain Tumor Society. —S.S.
Car Bomb, 2008. Photocollage, acrylic, resin on wood panel. 60″ x 60″. © Fred Tomaselli. Image courtesy of the James Cohan Gallery, New York.
When Motherless Brooklyn author Jonathan Lethem announced in April that he would be relocating from Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, to the white-collar, academic enclave of Claremont, California (where he’d take over David Foster-Wallace’s teaching slot at Pomona College), the borough felt a twinge of old-time, Brooklyn Dodgers–style rejection. Fortunately for dwellers of Kings County—and others who hold resident New York bards dear—Fred Tomaselli was simultaneously putting the finishing touches on the installation of his latest crackerjack show: his unabashedly gorgeous, conceptually expansive midcareer retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum.
Tomaselli is a Brooklynite in the same way most New Yorkers come by their adoptive heritage—as immigrants from ambition. Born in Santa Monica and raised in Orange County, within spitting distance of Disneyland’s Matterhorn, he moved to Los Angeles in 1981, only to leave for New York, and rusty, desperate Brooklyn, in 1985—“one last crazy stupid thing before I got old and lost my nerve,” he later recalled.
This is the second installment of Roper’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
11:30 A.M. John Waters interview. He’s in Provincetown for the summer, so we have to talk on the phone. I’m disappointed not to meet him in person, but still excited to talk. Waters is a charmer. I’m instantly enthralled and never want to hang up.
1:00 P.M. My friend Max sent me some images of paintings by Walton Ford, whom we both admire. I think Ford is my favorite contemporary painter. He paints gigantic, detailed watercolors. There’re sort of Audobon, naturalist illustration-inspired, with a dark, anti-colonial, anti-industrialist twist. I spend about fifteen minutes looking at all the Ford paintings I can find online. This is an example of a kind of culture that is not best delivered via computer screen. I long to see some Ford paintings at full size.
4:15 P.M. “Puritan, Inc.,” a review of Making Haste From Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History on TNR’s The Book written by my friend and colleague David Wallace-Wells.
5:00 P.M. Max sent me this video, probably captured by a security camera, of a guy strolling down the street in a track suit and a pair of sunglasses. He does a double-take, and nearly gets hit by a car careening down the sidewalk. He leaps to safety, missing death by inches. I find it so alarming I watch it over and over again. The way the guy looks up, jukes to one side, then leaps expertly out of the way—I cannot believe it.
6:45 P.M. The Kids Are All Right at the Loews Village 7. I liked Lisa Cholodenko’s High Art. I saw it in college. I know little about this one, which is my ideal movie-going scenario. As soon as the movie starts, I’m engaged. This is the best movie I have seen in a theater since Joon-ho Bong’s Mother. Also, Mark Ruffalo is hot.
9:15 P.M. Kickstarter and Rooftop Films teamed up for a film festival. The roof in Park Slope is vast. We slink in during a film and settle in folding chairs. The film shorts are projected on a screen hung on a brick wall. It’s a warm night, but there is a gentle, steady breeze. I watch two shorts and find my eyes drifting back to the horizon, where a herd of clouds makes its way across the plains of the blue-black sky. Read More