- George Orwell, on food.
- Frederick Seidel, on motorcycles.
- Teenage Bronte, on the block.
- New classics?
- Overrated hacks?
- Pippi, a racist?
- The cult of Betsy-Tacy.
- The Art of Protein Bars.
- The Lego Bible.
- The Jeopardy! Pyramid of Greatness.
- The letters of Wodehouse: “Found in both his fiction and his letters, terms such as “posish,” “eggs and b,” and “f i h s” (“fiend in human shape”) create a clubby feeling of intimacy between writer and reader.”
- Journalism booms in Libya.
- “I’m scared of dying in the middle of a book. I leave notes out in my room so that if I die people know how to finish it.”
The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach’s first novel, is a book about baseball in the way that Moby-Dick is a book about whaling—it is and it isn’t. The shortstop at the center of the novel is Henry Skrimshander, an idiot savant in the field, who is recruited to play for the Harpooners of Westish College, a small school on the shores of Lake Michigan. Harbach was kind enough to answer a few questions by e-mail from his home in Brooklyn.
What was your position?
Over the course of my twelve-year baseball career (which ended when I was seventeen), I played the middle infield—short and second both.
Did you have any hopes of playing in college?
Not really. I was Henry-like (though with hardly a shred of his talent) in the sense that I was a good athlete who was too small and slight. I blame my parents for starting me in school early and making me forever the youngest guy on the team. Read More
You may have heard by now that there’s a Paradise Lost movie in the works, starring Bradley Cooper as the Devil—WTF?! Do you think film adaptation is a good or bad thing for books, particularly ones with wide recognition to begin with? —Liesel
WTF indeed. The two most famous complaints about Paradise Lost are that it’s really, really long (Edgar Allan Poe) and that it’s weak on visuals (T. S. Eliot). If ever a blind poet needed the magic touch of Ridley Scott, that poet was John Milton. But I’m the wrong person to ask—I’ve been holding out for the movie version ever since tenth grade.
Are there any books coming out this fall that you’re particularly excited about? —Leo
Lots—and the stack keeps growing. Two days ago, for example, my sister gave me the galleys of a first novel, Various Positions, by the young Canadian writer Martha Schabas, all about the sexual awakening of a ballerina. Anna tells me I’m going to love it (no matter that I skipped Black Swan) … But sticking just to novels that I’ve actually read: in these pages I’ve already mentioned Chad Harbach’s debut, The Art of Fielding, Nicholson Baker’s sweet-natured book of smut, House of Holes, and Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s novella The Truth About Marie. Readers of The Paris Review proper know Ben Lerner as a poet; his first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, is about … well, it’s about a young poet on a fellowship in Madrid, but I enjoyed it so much I read it twice (and laughed out loud both times). I keep going back to Ann Beattie’s Mrs. Nixon, which is fascinating and only sort of a novel; it veers from fiction into biographical essay, into essay on the art of fiction. Last night I stayed up late—much later than I meant to—reading Spring, an addictively earnest novel about English yuppies in love, by David Szalay. Finally, Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel The Marriage Plot has what must be the most seductive first sentences of the season (seductive, anyway, to a certain micro-demo, which I suspect may include certain readers of the Daily):
To start with, look at all the books. There were her Edith Wharton novels, arranged not by title but by date of publication; there was the complete Modern Library set of Henry James, a gift from her father on her twenty-first birthday; there were the dog-eared paperbacks assigned in her college courses, a lot of Dickens, a smidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot, and the redoubtable Bronte sisters. There were the Colette novels she read on the sly. There was the first edition of Couples, belonging to her mother, which Madeline had surreptitiously dipped into back in sixth grade and which she was using now to provide textual support in her English honors thesis on the marriage plot. There was, in short, this mid-sized but still portable library representing pretty much everything Madeline had read in college, a collection of texts, seemingly chosen at random, whose focus slowly narrowed, like a personality test, a sophisticated one you couldn’t trick by anticipating the implications of its questions and finally got so lost in that your only recourse was to answer the simple truth. And then you waited for the result, hoping for “Artistic,” or “Passionate,” thinking you could live with “Sensitive,” secretly fearing “Narcissistic” and “Domestic,” but finally being presented with an outcome that cut both ways and made you feel different depending on the day, the hour, or the guy you happened to be dating: “Incurably Romantic.”
Last Sunday I stayed in bed till one P.M.—then stayed up till two A.M.—reading the galleys of Chad Harbach’s first novel, The Art of Fielding. To say it’s the best novel I’ve read about a college shortstop would be true, as far as it went, but it’s about more than that: “For Schwartz this formed the paradox at the heart of baseball, or football, or any other sport. You loved it because you considered it an art: an apparently pointless affair, undertaken by people with a special aptitude, which sidestepped attempts to paraphrase its value yet somehow seemed to communicate something true or even crucial about The Human Condition. The Human Condition being, basically, that we’re alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not.” —Lorin Stein
I’ve been reading Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker article about New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon with mixed feelings. What Wilpon says about his players makes one wonder if he’s trying to sabotage his own team (which is also mine). Carlos Beltran is overpaid, David Wright is overpraised, José Reyes is always injured. These are opinions an owner should keep to himself. But when Wilpon says, “We’re snakebitten, baby,” he sounds like a true Mets fan to me. —Robyn Creswell
If you haven’t read any of Diana Athill’s work, I highly recommend Midsummer Night in the Workhouse, a collection of her short fiction recently released by Persephone. Funny, engaging, and unexpected. —Sadie Stein
I very much enjoyed Francine Prose’s short essay “Other Women” in the new feminist-themed Granta. Prose was secretly writing her first novel as a graduate student. She joined a feminist consciousness-raising group, and, after selling the book, she left her husband and moved to San Francisco. Somehow, she says, she became a feminist. But was it before or after she discovered her husband had slept with nearly every single woman in the group? —Thessaly La Force