- In New York, most of the iconic bookstores make certain distasteful concessions to consumers. Their books are in alphabetical order, for example, on neat, clearly marked shelves. Not so in John Scioli’s Community Bookstore, which has been a fixture in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill for more than thirty years. Now it’s closing, and Scioli, having collected five and a half million dollars, wants you to know a few things: “A lot of young people can’t handle this type of store. They want everything to look like a supermarket, like Barnes & Noble. Very neat. Some young people come in and they say, ‘Do you have a computer?’ I’m like, ‘No, do you want to buy a computer?’ and then they start to walk out. They don’t know how they’re supposed to find anything without a computer—like, they want Hemingway, and I tell him that their book is under the ‘Hemingway’ section … they never saw a messy bookstore.”
- From 1918 to 1924, Martin Gusinde, a priest, traveled to Tierra del Fuego, where he began to the photograph the Selk’nam, Yamana, and Kawésqar peoples, whose cultures were even then facing extinction. His pictures are collected in The Lost Tribes of Tierra del Fuego: “Several photos show naked male figures standing barefoot in the snow, their bodies painted in bold white stripes on dark ochre and wearing eerie, phallic headdresses. An image of a snowy field strewn with corpse-like forms—according to the caption, initiates enacting a passage through the underworld—evokes uncanny echoes of the actual Selk’nam genocide. White bone-dust covering the skin and conical masks of Kawésqar initiates gives them a spectral, hallucinatory quality.”
- Today in brouhahas with the classics: Spanish academics have derided a new, more accessible translation of the famously difficult Don Quixote as “a crime against literature.” “You cannot twist the flavor of the words of the greatest writer in our language,” one professor said, though I had thought you couldn’t twist any flavor, period.
- Dance criticism was once a regular part of magazines and newspapers—but in recent years, the New York Post, Time Out New York, The New Republic, the Village Voice, New York, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle have all let go of their dance critics, thus reinforcing the fact that “dance is the least respected of the fine arts … That’s been the case ever since the fourth century when the church took over the arts and banished dance from public religious ceremonies.”
- Clancy Martin on Ottessa Moshfegh’s new novel Eileen: “We expect this pathology of dissatisfaction, ennui, and frustrated need in a certain brand of narcissistic male hero, but in a female narrator it is more disturbing, more interesting, and more exciting. Her hunger lends her a perceptiveness you won’t find in a more content character. Her observations are always a bit too disturbing, too repellent—but they are never blithe, silly, or conventional. She has that scalpel-like, cynical intelligence and insight that one gets with a blistering hangover.”
I first encountered Clancy Martin’s writing in NOON sometime in 2006 or 2007. He became one of my favorite writers. I looked forward to new work from him, wanting to add to the world he’d created in my imagination—a world I found endearingly and distinctively full of vulnerabilities, awkwardness, psychology; bleak, funny, and extreme situations; emotional, considerate, out-of-control characters; and other things I enjoy. I liked his calm, detached, careful, slightly deadpan narrators, and the stories they told—in his novel, How to Sell (2009), and his novella, Travels in Central America (2012)—were dark and moving and, in certain moods, funny on several different levels.
Martin’s new book, Love and Lies: An Essay on Truthfulness, Deceit, and the Growth and Care of Erotic Love, is moving and funny but not, in my view, dark. It’s actually very optimistic, though maybe not in the way one would expect from a book about love. “To choose to fall in love is, we might think, in some way to fabricate or even to falsify love,” Martin writes. “But that’s the very notion I’m combating. I want to challenge the idea that love forces itself upon us with all the strength of truth.” He expands his argument by examining Plato, the Kama Sutra, Nietzsche, Freud, Adrienne Rich, Simone de Beauvoir, James Joyce, and dozens of others, as well as his memories of his personal experiences with his wife, two ex-wives, and three daughters. I asked Clancy some questions about love and lies via e-mail.
One of the quotes in your book is from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche—“Love is mutual loneliness, and the deeper the loneliness, the deeper the love.”
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche recognizes that we are alone, and that the need for love is a mutual recognition that we are alone. Both the desire for and the desire to love—giving and receiving love—spring from this profound, unavoidable, so often avoided fact about human life. We are alone. I can’t get into your head and you can’t get into mine. Many of my memories and thoughts and feelings remain entirely private to me. But it is precisely this fact that informs our need for love. In some ways, the more I love you, the more urgent my need to know you and to reveal myself to you, the beloved, becomes, and so our separation becomes that much more intense. In Freudian terms, it’s as though we all desperately wish to climb back into the womb. And I don’t think we should underestimate the profundity of Freud’s insight on these questions, even though it’s the tired, tiring fashion lately to take him less seriously than we used to do. Read More
There are moods in which even a used bookstore can defeat you, when you can’t imagine why anyone ever bothered, when every first sentence is an effort and a rebuke. Next time you find yourself in that mood, look under A for Ackerley (J. R.). His memoir My Father and Myself is a masterpiece of calm self-hatred. My Dog Tulip is the unforgettable true story of how he gave up on human beings and fell in love with a German shepherd. But the book I needed, and found, the other night is Ackerley’s one novel, We Think the World of You. This too is a dog book. Without having yet read the introduction (I’m a few pages from the end), I suspect it too is autobiographical. Set in London just after the war, it concerns a middle-aged gay man, desperately in love with a young prison inmate, who transfers his overbearing affection to the man’s dog, Evie. Ackerley was, by all accounts, including his, an unpleasant guy. The magic is how clearly he sees himself, with a clarity almost amounting to forgiveness. He is also very funny. Four chapters in, behind two pints at a quiet bar, I felt ready to face the world. —Lorin Stein
I still mourn the loss of Gourmet—the exquisite photography, like eighteenth-century still lifes; the insane, days-long dinners that I never intended to prepare—but I’m grateful to have been directed to Ruth Reichl’s Twitter feed. Her entries are haikus of deliciousness: “Gray. Rain coming. Curled up with the cat, a book, and a comforting bowl of lemon rice soup. Edible sunshine.” “So cold! Tiny tug shoves a big black boat up the river. Bowl of butter-toasted oatmeal. Almonds. Apricots. Brown sugar. Heavy cream. Warmer.” “Cold. Sunny. Blue Tiepolo sky, dappled with clouds. Fluffy pancakes. Lace-edged fried eggs from Barry’s hens. Smoky bacon. Maple syrup. Yes!” —Nicole Rudick Read More
When the novelist Adam Thirlwell told me his idea, I was skeptical: to publish a work of fiction in many translations, each version being a translation of the one before. But Adam Thirlwell is Adam Thirlwell, “schemey like a nine-year-old,” as one collaborator describes him, with “weird vibes, as if he does unorthodox things to the books he carries to the bathroom.” Multiples, the new issue of McSweeney’s, edited by Thirlwell, is an unorthodox thing of beauty, a stunt that only a kid would attempt, and an absolute pleasure to read—though almost nobody on earth will be able to read every page. What Thirlwell has done is to assemble new or obscure works by Kierkegaard, Vila-Matas, Krasznahorkai, et al., translated (and retranslated, and retranslated) by a dream team of polyglot writers. So, for example, Dave Eggers translates a Spanish translation by Alejandro Zambra of an English translation by Nathan Englander of a Hebrew translation by Etgar Keret of an English translation by John Wray of a previously untranslated short story by Franz Kafka. It’s a game of pro-level Chinese whispers, and—thanks to Thirlwell’s list of contributors—a wide-angle snapshot of our literary firmament, circa now. Plus, the afterwords by Thirlwell and Francesco Pacifico have persuaded me not only that it would be fun to read Emilio Gadda in Italian, but that a translator can have more fun with an untranslatable writer than I ever dared to dream. —Lorin Stein
The editors of the New York Times blog Anxiety recently asked Laszlo Krasznahorkai to contribute an essay on the theme. This is the writer who eschews paragraph breaks and short sentences because he feels they are artificial and whose subjects are often very bleak—which is to say, he’s their ideal contributor. The author himself describes it as “a lyrical essay about the terrible meeting between boorishness and aggressiveness,” but with Krasznahorkai, it’s so much more than that. There are paragraph breaks and the occasional brief sentence (one wonders if the former appeared in the original version), but this is a hard little gem, a Möbius strip of what feels simultaneously like madness and utter logic. —Nicole Rudick
But the reason I was telling this story was because I was reminded of that night in St. Petersburg when I saw Annie Baker’s adaptation of Uncle Vanya. Like Vanya and Astrov, I am middle-aged, a drunk, often despondent—perhaps I am having a midlife crisis—and yes, I am an adulterer. (Vanya and Astrov are only would-be adulterers.) At the time I was trying to pick up this Russian waitress—sitting drunk in the snow-covered park, watching a bear dance at the end of a short rope—I was already an adulterer. Two years before, I had left my first wife for my assistant, who worked in my jewelry store. I drank my way into that affair, and I would drink my way through the divorce.
But the sad fact was I did not get to sleep with the Russian waitress. This is what actually happened.
The man with the bear would not leave me alone. Read More
We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2011 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!
The final installment of a three-part saga. Martin is hitchhiking from Kansas City, Missouri, to New York City in order to catch the last day of Christian Marclay’s The Clock at the Paula Cooper Gallery. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.
“You got a way of making a man get to talking, friend,” Sam told me. We had slowly worked our way into his life story, which involved him being adopted by Tennesseans who were somehow heirs or related to heirs of the Pepsi-Cola fortune, dropping out of Emory University, working part-time as an industrial air-conditioning chemical cleaning salesman, and then opening his own air-conditioning cleaning company, which in less than five years and with several hospital, university, and prison contracts across the Southeastern and now Midwestern states had turned him into an independent multimillionaire. But he was having “woman troubles”—I had gotten lucky with that lie—“because, to tell you the honest God’s truth, Clancy, and I ain’t proud to say it, I’ve got wives in four different states. Kids with two of them, and the third one’s pregnant. Even with my income it’s spreading it a bit thin. Thank the good Lord for my trust fund.” I knew if I kept Sam talking we’d sail right past Newark, and sure enough, when we got to his turn he was in the middle of the sad love story of Sam and Sally, and the fight they’d had in Bali last year when she realized all of the international calls he’d been making late at night “for business”—I shook my head with the great sympathy and genuine feeling of brotherly love one married man has for another in such situations—and as we approached the truck stop where he planned on leaving me (I was close enough now that I figured I would just call a cab, it couldn’t cost more than a hundred dollars), he said, “Where’d you say you’re headed again? Hell, we made it in half the time we figured.” Sam does not believe in letting the speedometer drop below “a C note.” Most of the way he was swooping between cars on the highway as though they were parked and we were a very low flying F-16. Time slows drunkenly at that speed, especially in an opulent, muscular truck, with a charismatic Korean chatting amiably beside you while you cling with sore fingers to the handle of the door, the soft tones of the iPod switching randomly from Gun Club to Elvis to Gyptian to Chopin’s Nocturnes.
“Far as we’ve come I guess I can take you right into Brooklyn.” The truck stop is already a mile behind us. “I sure as hell hope we don’t get snarled up in some Friday traffic. Course it’s not even rush hour yet, and we’re headed into the city, not the other way ’round. But I’m gonna be cursing your name when I’m driving back the other way. Hell, you look like you could use a favor. You’re in a bigger hurry than I am.” And back to Sally, who morphs seamlessly into Joanne, who I’m trying to keep straight from Christine, and wondering how many times Sam has said the wrong name in bed.