About ten years ago, after depositing my brother at camp, my parents found themselves in a junk shop in upstate New York. My dad came upon the following playbill for The Evil Eye: A Musical Comedy in Two Acts, presented by the Princeton University Triangle Club from 1915 to 1916. He opened the first page and noticed the following: “Book by Edmund Wilson, Jr., 1916,” and, a bit further down, “Lyrics by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1917.” Numbers like “Jump Off the Wall” and “Harris from Paris” may be lost to history, but we thought we’d share the program with you nevertheless!
Even if you’ve never read a book about the Civil War, the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant will grip your imagination. Dictated by Grant on his deathbed, championed and published by Mark Twain, celebrated by Matthew Arnold and Edmund Wilson (who compared it to Walden and Leaves of Grass), the Memoirs were cited by Gertrude Stein as a main influence on her own prose. However you may write, you’ll find their power is contagious. Every page is a lesson in force, clarity, and grace under pressure. To read Grant’s description of a military problem, then to read the orders he gave, is, among other things, to see a great modern writer at work. —Lorin Stein
Have you ever imagined a music video as you listen to a song? Sigur Ros asked a dozen filmmakers to do just that with songs from their new album. The results are pretty great, but my favorite—and I’m hardly impartial—is Dash Shaw’s animated (I mean that literally) take on “Valtari.” Penned with Shortbus and Hedwig writer John Cameron Mitchell, the video features backgrounds by Frank Santoro, whose colors are, as ever, divine. —Nicole Rudick
If you’re in agreement with a friend of mine who considers most recent American covers of Cormac McCarthy’s novels “oversaturated Windows wallpapers” (why yes, Cormac, that horse is very pretty), then perhaps you will be both pleased and envious to know that the British ones now look like this, and apparently have for some time. Thanks to the now-defunct Aesthetic Book Blog for this gritty eye candy. And check out The Millions’ annualish comparison of American and British book covers for further contemplation. —Samuel Fox
The New Yorker made headlines this month by publishing “new” work by F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Thank You for the Light” had been rejected by the magazine in 1936 when Fitzgerald first submitted it, but editorial judgments—like love, pain, and kitchen knives—have a way of dulling over time.
“We’re afraid that this Fitzgerald story is altogether out of the question,” read the original note spurning the story. “It seems to us so curious and so unlike the kind of thing we associate with him, and really too fantastic.”
Resubmitted by Fitzgerald’s grandchildren, “Thank You for the Light” was, at least by Fitzgerald’s own standards, ready for publication. Its condition differs greatly from his final work, tentatively titled The Love of the Last Tycoon but published as The Last Tycoon in 1941. Fitzgerald died of a heart attack before he could finish the novel, so what went to press was a version of his incomplete draft, notes, and outlines pieced together by the literary critic Edmund Wilson. In his preface to the novel, Wilson wrote, “It has been possible to supplement this unfinished draft with an outline of the rest of the story as Fitzgerald intended to develop it.”
Paul Maliszewski is a friend of mine. He recently published a short-story collection called Prayer and Parable. Around the end of last summer, I asked him if I could interview him about it. We exchanged questions by e-mail for a week. Several times I said that I was incompetent—forget the whole thing—but Paul reassured me I was doing fine. What I especially like about the book is that Paul doesn’t compromise when it comes to portraying reality. He’s a little like Fellini in 8 ½: he preserves the confusion, meaninglessness, suddenness, and asa nisi masa of the everyday.
I have a question that might be a little bit unanswerable. I know you think a lot about individual sentences, and I wondered what makes a good sentence. Am I right in thinking that you give a lot of time to them?
I do give a lot of attention to sentences, but mainly because they don’t come out right for me on the first go-round, or the second, or the eighth, or the thirtieth. Revising takes me a lot of time. I drive myself crazy. I’ll just stare at lines. There are sentences in this book where I had a page, back and front, of all the different versions I was at one time trying. One sentence I’m thinking of was not particularly long or complex, but it was at the end of a story, and I didn’t want it to seem too ending-y, or pat. So there I was, scratching out, writing something new, circling back.
Reading like that is a hard thing to turn off. I catch myself revising e-mails and I think, What are you doing? When I’m working on a story or essay, if I find something messed up, I make myself start over and read it through again. If I find something else wrong, I start back over, and I keep starting over until I can read it without stopping, until I don’t suffer any doubts. That takes a long time, Worse, sometimes revising one sentence throws things off further down the page. It’s like I’m working on a pipeline and making a repair at one point, and whatever fix I make feels right, but it twists things around so that they get gummed up later. Read More
As Mr. Wilson so justly proclaims in the beginning of “The Strange Case of Pushkin and Nabokov,” we are indeed old friends. I fully share “the warm affection sometimes chilled by exasperation” that he says he feels for me. In the 1940s, during my first decade in America, he was most kind to me in various matters, not necessarily pertaining to his profession. I have always been grateful to him for the tact he showed in refraining from reviewing any of my novels. We have had many exhilarating talks, have exchanged many frank letters. A patient confidant of his long and hopeless infatuation with the Russian language, I have always done my best to explain to him his mistakes of pronunciation, grammar, and interpretation. As late as 1957, at one of our last meetings, we both realized with amused dismay that despite my frequent comments on Russian prosody, he still could not scan Russian verse. Upon being challenged to read Eugene Onegin aloud, he started to do this with great gusto, garbling every second word and turning Pushkin’s iambic line into a kind of spastic anapaest with a lot of jaw-twisting haws and rather endearing little barks that utterly jumbled the rhythm and soon had us both in stitches.
So begins the famous response, by Vladimir Nabokov, to a negative review by Edmund Wilson in The New York Review of Books. The book: Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin. A fun game to play: Exactly where does Nabokov start to show his teeth? Is it “the tact he showed in refraining from reviewing any of my novels”? Or “not necessarily pertaining to his profession”? Or even that “justly” in sentence one?
Six years later, when Norman Mailer was attacked by Gore Vidal in that same magazine, Mailer took his case to the masses—on The Dick Cavett Show—with less sinuous results. The lesson, most publishers will tell you, is never respond. But it’s awfully good TV.
I am taking a beginning poetry class and am expected to write imitations of poets on the class list. What should I be careful to do or not do? What should I pay attention to in an imitation?
To get the most out of the exercise, try to make the meter sound exactly like the meter of the poem you’re imitating. And make sure the teacher checks your work. The meter will look and sound right to you—and if you are a beginner, it will almost certainly be wrong. (You will say your words out loud in your head as if they marched along ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk, when in fact they will go baah-duh-dee, buh-dee-doo.) Don’t get hung up on matching the vocabulary of the old poems. You won’t get it right, and it will sound fake. Use words that are more or less natural to you.
And have fun! Read More