Over the weekend, Turner Classic Movies ran the 1954 A Star Is Born as part of its Month of Oscars: the single greatest page of the TV-watching calendar. Anyway, by the end—between the tragic irony of Judy Garland starring in a film about addiction and the vulnerable dignity James Mason brought to his role—I was, maybe not surprisingly, in tears. And I thought, in turn, not just of James Mason the matinee idol, but of James Mason the cat fancier. Read More
I can’t say that I’m much of a fan of Charles Bukowski’s, but I’ve been marveling at our shared love of cats, via a forthcoming collection of short pieces—verse and bits of prose—about or involving his feline friends. It’s endearing to see a grizzled, vulgar street poet bent to the will of a small cat. He recognizes their complexity and frequently shows a candid concern for their opinions of him: “My cat shit in my archives / he climbed into my Golden State Sunkist / orange box / and he shit on my poems / my original poems / saved for the university archives. // that one-eared fat black critic / he signed me off.” But then, cats are the ultimate tough motherfuckers, as Bukowski calls one feline companion, and who better to appreciate the resilience of a stray than another stray: “and now sometimes I’m interviewed, they want to hear about / life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed / shot runover de-tailed cat before them and I say, ‘look, look / at this!’ ” —Nicole Rudick
For those of us who came to political awareness during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, it’s difficult to imagine a time when television news organizations weren’t first and foremost platforms for punditry. But, of course, this wasn’t always the case—a point that lingers in the foreground of Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s brilliant new documentary, Best of Enemies. The film, at its heart, is a portrait of William Buckley, Jr., and Gore Vidal, who, in the words of one commentator, may just as easily have represented “matter and antimatter.” Each was the leading public intellectual for his respective political movement, and each despised the other—so much so that their face-offs, in a series of debates staged during the 1968 presidential conventions, reshaped the landscape of political television. Like any good documentary, Best of Enemies left me eager to devour more of the Buckley-Vidal ideological battle, much of which, thankfully, is readily available online—starting with complete archival footage of the debates themselves. —Stephen Hiltner
What a golden age this is for trolls. Never has it been easier, with the proper combination of disdain, ignorance, and calculated condescension, to work hundreds of thousands of strangers into an indignant lather. If you don’t mind the occasional death threat, the polemic has never been a more attractive mode. It’s pungent.
I have to believe the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones feels the same way—his article today, “Get real. Terry Pratchett is not a literary genius,” is too arrant a piece of provocation to be unintentional. Its thrust is that the late Pratchett, whose final Discworld novel has just been published, is part of a “middlebrow cult of the popular” distracting readers from more ambitious, capital-L Literary fare. That’s a contentious argument in and of itself—but Jones’s true troll masterstroke lay in his admission that he’s read hardly a sentence of Pratchett’s work. The author “is so low on my list of books to read before I die,” Jones writes,
that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him. I did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary … life really is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers. I am not saying this as a complacent book snob who claims to have read everything. On the contrary, I am crushed by how many books I have not read.
Some of that feels deliberately bush-league—that “million years” bit gives too much of the game away; clearly this is a piece of rhetoric designed not to be reasoned with but balked at—but beneath the hauteur is a useful point, one that much of literary culture, in its glad-handing, is at pains to admit. There are writers we instinctively, permanently dislike: not only will we never read them, we will quietly relish the not-reading, finding in it a pleasure that can occasionally rival reading itself. Read More
In the evenings, I’ve been reaching for Cesare Paverse’s 1936 debut collection of poetry, Hard Labor, translated from the Italian in 1976 by William Arrowsmith. Finished in exile in the small Calabrian village of Brancaleone, the book is haunted by disenchantment and a sort of muted longing. Pavese’s language is often plain, though nonetheless striking. His poems are short—few run over a page and a half—but they read like stories. He takes us into the fields, where frost “murder[s] the wheat”; into the bedroom, where “[the girls] know how to love. They know more than the men”; to dinner. There’s a cat in heat, a waking country strumpet, a drunk whom he imagines fumbling into the sea. The ease with which Pavese kernels these small narratives into every one of his poems has left me in awe, wondering how his countless other works could have followed such a debut. Here are a few of my favorite lines from “Two Cigarettes”: “… If I come up to her room, / the woman whispers to me, she’ll show me a snapshot of him— / tanned and curly-headed. He shipped on dirty tramps / and kept the engines clean. But I’m better-looking.” —Caitlin Youngquist
I managed to get my hands on an advance copy of War, So Much War, the first English translation of Mercè Rodoreda’s final novel, whose original Catalan version was published in 1980. The last shall be first, I guess: I’ve never read any Rodoreda until now, and hadn’t heard of her until last month, when my sister practically hurled a story of hers at my head. (I didn’t get to it.) So far the book has proven itself a weird but entirely bewitching introduction to the writer. The story follows Adrià Guinart, a teenaged boy who leaves his home in Barcelona at the onset of the Spanish Civil War, forging an errant path through the Catalonian countryside, making glancing and baffling contact with the fighting. More than anything, it’s a medieval romance. The first clue is the novel’s elliptical title (in Catalan: Quanta, Quanta Guerra…), which suggests romance’s cumulative, episodic, ongoing form. Sure enough, the plot is mostly a list of encounters. But romance is as much about discreteness as it is ongoingness, and each of the book’s short, reliably surreal chapters is like a small, beautiful stone. What is astonishing is that Rodoreda writes without visible contempt for her form—a brave stance, considering that the Western novel arguably had its genesis in the ridicule of medieval romance. But the farther I get into War, So Much War, the more I realize that Rodoreda’s form is the only one suited for her subject: the interruptions, the absurdities, the frivolities of war. —Oliver Preston
Most people with scholarly inclinations will visit a novelist’s literary archive to follow the paper trails, as manifested through gathered correspondence, stray postcards, marked-upon stationery, and scattered drafts. A couple of months before the recent publication of his collected letters, I visited the William Gaddis Papers at Washington University in Saint Louis in search of something near the polar opposite.
I had harbored a minor obsession with the novelist for years, even before reading a single word of his writing, probably due his reputation as a writer who crafted a string of unapologetically dense works while almost entirely avoiding the fickleness of the literary limelight. I had bought a used hardcover of Carpenter’s Gothic, one of Gaddis’s shorter novels, at a library booksale just after my early-twenties Pynchon obsession had tapered off a bit. That book sat unread on a shelf for a few years until I decided to make the plunge into Gaddis’s work after seeing his specter, both his name and the titles of his books, floating through David Markson’s great anecdote—and allusion-heavy novels.
More dilettante than scholar, I was on the hunt for certain pieces of the novelist’s realia, that archival category of physical, three-dimensional objects rather than the usual rectangular flatland of manuscripts. Gaddis—who wrote “only” five books over the course of a forty-odd-year career (though amounting to around 2,640 pages in total), with each tome encompassing every possible spectrum of American vernacular and obsession; who won a MacArthur Award and two National Book Awards; and who was famous, as Cynthia Ozick once put it, for not being famous enough—had one object in his collection that I had never seen in a library catalog before. I found this particular entry buried deep within the online finding aid for the Gaddis Papers:
“Box 166.2/- : Zebra Skin, (1 item), Stored in oversize; box on order.”
After scanning across this listing while doing cursory research for something else, I instantly became obsessed with the idea of the zebra skin in the library. What, exactly, did it look like? How was it stored among Gaddis’s papers? Why had he owned it? What was it doing in the special collections of an academic library? Read More
This morning, we mentioned a new bar opening tomorrow in Los Angeles: Barkowski. Writing at LAist, Matthew Bramlett opines,
There are so many things wrong with this place that can be seen almost immediately. Barkowski looks like a bar for bougie people who claim to have read “Ham on Rye” once and go out of their way to tell everyone that it “changed their life.” It’s the bar equivalent of buying a Misfits shirt at Urban Outfitters. Also, doesn’t King Eddy already exist, and didn’t Mr. Bukowski actually patronize that place?
We can’t speak to the lameness of the new watering hole, but it did remind us that Bukowski-themed bars are (appropriately, or worryingly) hardly a new phenomenon, and our readers have informed us of still more.
- Post Office, a whiskey bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is named after Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical 1971 novel “dedicated to nobody.”
- Cambridge, Massachusetts, boasts the fittingly divey Bukowski Tavern of Inman Square (there is also a location in Back Bay), where service is appropriately surly.
- Neither of which is to be confused with Bukowski’s, in Prague, where one can smoke, probably rendering it most Bukowski-esque of all.
- Chinaski’s of Glasgow seems kind of gastropub for the actual gent’s tastes, but can’t fault naming it after his longtime alter ego.
That’s five right there. Got any more?