- Edgar Allan Poe had only one best seller in his lifetime. It wasn’t The Raven and Other Poems. Nor was it The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, his only novel. It was The Conchologist’s First Book: Or, a System of Testaceous Malacology, Arranged Expressly for the Use of Schools, in Which the Animals, According to Cuvier, Are Given with the Shells, A Great Number of New Species Added, And the Whole Brought Up, as Accurately as Possible, to the Present Condition of the Science. The first edition sold out in two months. And Poe wasn’t even its original author; the book was an abridgment of Thomas Wyatt’s Manual of Conchology. “Poe re-ordered the plates, arranging the organisms from simplest to most complex, and contributed a new preface and introduction. Though the book was intended ‘expressly for the use of Schools,’ the author appears to have done little calibration of his writing style for a young audience. Poe biographer Jeffrey Meyers writes: ‘Poe’s boring, pedantic and hair-splitting Preface was absolutely guaranteed to torment and discourage even the most passionately interested schoolboy.’ ”
- Sōtatsu, a seventeenth-century Japanese artist, found fame for his screens, the most popular of which depicted roiling waves and rocks. (NB: I’ve refrained, with some difficulty, from deploying a “making waves” joke here, but the link you’re about to follow has no qualms about wave jokes.) Sōtatsu’s name faded from memory, but now he’s due for a comeback, courtesy of the Smithsonian: “The six-fold screen at the center of the exhibit, Waves at Matsushima, with its shimmering gold and silver tones, is believed to have been created about 1620 … Likely originally commissioned for a temple by a wealthy sea captain, Waves at Matsushima only became wider known after a pair of exhibitions in the early twentieth century.”
- What does Rodin’s Thinker teach us about violence? “In the original 1880 sculpture, the thinker actually appears kneeling before the Gates of Hell … Sat before the gates, the thinker appears to be turning away from the intolerable scene behind. This, we could argue, is a tendency unfortunately all too common when thinking about violence today … In the original commission the thinker is actually called ‘the poet.’ This, I want to argue, is deeply significant for rethinking the future of the political. The Thinker was initially conceived as a tortured body, yet as a freethinking human, determined to transcend his suffering through poetry. We continue to be taught that politics is a social science and that its true command is in the power of analytical reason. Such has been the hallmark of centuries of reasoned, rationalized, and calculated violence, which has made the intolerable appear arbitrary and normal. Countering this demands a rethinking of the political itself in more poetic terms.”
- It’s settled! Here’s what you should buy Dad this Christmas. “I had cufflinks made out of World War II history books ripped out of his favorite old baseball stadium. Headphones made out of whiskey stone drillbits. It tracks your fitness barbecues. Dads love it. Wireless meat suitcase. A watch made out of more expensive watches. Steve McQueen is here, and he named a star after you. I want to give you something, but your hands weren’t made to accept anything.”
- You’ve seen Michael Mann’s Heat, right? Al Pacino? Robert de Niro? Val Kilmer? Come on! Heat! It’s got that famous scene in it, you know, where de Niro and Pacino meet for a cup of coffee even though they’re mortal enemies? Anyway, it came out twenty years ago, and now Michael Mann has some critical information about that scene: it’s based in life. “Heat began really with a friend of mine named Charlie Adamson, who killed the real Neil McCauley in Chicago in 1963; he’d been telling me about how interesting this guy was. Charlie had great admiration for Neil as a thief, because he was very professional, very disciplined, and very, very smart … Charlie was dropping off his dry-cleaning at a little shopping center in Chicago on Lincoln Avenue, and he saw McCauley, who he had already been surveilling, getting out of his car to go in for a cup of coffee … Adamson says, ‘Come on, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.’ They went in, sat down and had coffee at the Belden Deli, which is no longer there. They had kind of a version of that same dialogue scene that I wrote and put in the movie, but it was very personal—the kind of intimacy you can only have with strangers who think in ways that are not dissimilar to the way you think.”
It may be “better” to give than to receive, but for some of us, it’s also easier. To give is to retain some measure of control, even power, in the dynamic; one who gives does not need to worry about expressing enthusiasm or responding in kind or anything other than sitting back and accepting accolades. When you receive, you want to express pleasure—you want to give them that—and this is exhausting. Gracious gift receiving is very hard, and I’m not just talking about things you don’t want. Read More
Fact: nearly every one of the 214 back issues in our archive, going all the back to 1953, is available for purchase—and they make great last-minute gifts. We’re recommending few of our favorites: the undisputed classics, the oddities, the sleeper hits.
A Writers at Work interview with Rebecca West (Q: “Are there any advantages at all in being a woman and a writer?” A: “None whatsoever.”); fiction by Faulker and Gass; an epistolary squabble between Laura (Riding) Jackson, Martha Gellhorn, Stephen Spender, and the ghost of Yeats; work by thirty-eight poets, including Brainard, Sexton, Creeley, Schuyler, Baraka, and Swenson, and much more—there’s nothing not to love in the double-size twenty-fifth-anniversary issue from Spring 1981. And, perhaps best of all (which is saying a lot), issue 79 contains “The Paris Review Sketchbook,” a hundred-plus-page, mischievous oral history of the Review’s first quarter century: “Literary magazine people never work. They spend hours on end playing pinball machines in cafés.” —Nicole Rudick Read More
Here at the Review, we don’t run a “gift guide,” as such—though we do have our special holiday offers. Even so, I’m here to solve all your holiday present questions. I’m out of ideas! You say. What do I do? Where do I go? How do I live? All these questions have a single answer.
The answer is this image of a dog in a fez and lounging pajamas, reading a newspaper. Read More
There was this shop in the neighborhood where I’d sometimes go. It was a good spot to find inexpensive gifts: small vases, lacquered boxes, a decorative dish where you could leave your spare change—noncommittal things just north of impersonal. I’d have gone there more, but for the saleslady.
She was sour. I mean, really puckered—the sort of acerbic person whose life needs an injection of sunshine from a Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm or an Anne of Green Gables or a Pollyanna. The requisite plucky orphan never seems to have come into her life. The first time I visited her shop, there were some other customers there. “Can I buy these individually?” one asked her.
“No, just as a set,” she said curtly. After the shoppers left, she turned to me. “Can you believe what assholes people are?” she demanded balefully. “This is what I deal with all day.” Read More
I used to get coffee at Pret a Manger almost every morning. It’s a noisy and bustling shop in Union Square, the sort of high-impact environment that teaches people how to shout at one another without sounding unfriendly. (“No, I said I would not like cream cheese!” he yelled at the cashier, smiling with his eyes.) The staff there has been rigorously trained, and no matter how large the crowds are, you can expect to get in and out in just a few minutes. Obviously this is because you’re gently shepherded through the stages of a scripted consumer experience, with the store’s layout, color scheme, music, temperature, and copywriting all doing their part to vectorize you. Later I would learn that Pret, which has more than 350 locations worldwide, holds its employees to stringent standards of affective labor, demanding that they touch one another frequently and display signs of authentic happiness, but I was only intermittently aware of this when I visited regularly. Usually I emerged (my coffee cup snug in its cardboard sleeve, to keep my hand from burning) with the prideful sense that I’d mastered the form of the transaction, with its nested sets of thank yous and predetermined courtesies. I knew the questions the cashier would ask, always with a brittle rictus of corporate-mandate cheer, and I knew the exact order of the questions, and how to answer them. The only bumpiness came at the end of the script, after I’d declined a receipt and the cashier had said, “Thank you, have a great day.” For a while, I responded, “Thanks—you, too,” and the transaction ended there. But I discovered that a slight tweak to this response could advance the dialogue to a third, hidden stage. If I said “You, too—thanks,” the cashier would say, “You’re welcome. Come see us again.”
I tried for several months to find some rejoinder to this, something to elicit some unscripted reaction. “Count on it!” Or, “Don’t mind if I do!” Or, “You know I will, you see me here every morning, five days a week!” Even my best efforts got me nothing but canned laughter (very lifelike canned laughter, it must be said) or another perfunctory exchange of thank-yous. But I was after a human moment. I wanted to parry one rote cordiality against another until the cashier, at last, gave in and acknowledged the ruse. “Look at us,” he’d whisper, “dragooned day after day into this hollow pas de deux of late capitalism.” Then we’d go rob a bank together. Read More