- Javier Marías can think of seven reasons not to write novels, and only one reason to write them. (Fortunately, the one is pretty good.)
- A 540-year-old book—the first to be printed in English—has sold at auction for more than a million pounds. “The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye is a version of a French book written around 1463 … The story is an epic romance which portrays the heroes of Greek mythology as chivalric figures.”
- “I do own a pair of unusual books that I treasure … they are collections of poems, written by Howard Moss, poetry editor of The New Yorker from 1948 to 1987. They originally belonged to the poet May Swenson (1913–1989), who has been a favorite of mine since I stumbled on her “Half Sun, Half Sleep” in high school … Each is heavily underlined, in both pencil and ink—an emphatic, and ugly, green ink, seemingly more suited for some censorious schoolmistress than for Swenson, a nicely calibrated nature poet. Still, I take great pleasure in her scarring underscorings and in her occasional approving check mark or cryptic annotation.”
- The Supreme Court has refused to hear an “emergency petition” from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s heirs, who are seeking “indefinite copyright protection” for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
- In which the novelist Scott Cheshire, an ex–Jehovah’s Witness, visits the Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn: “I felt like throwing up, so I headed for the men’s room to pull myself together, pressed my face against the cold metal towel dispenser, and fainted.”
When you grow up in Los Angeles with divorced parents, you’re always getting stranded somewhere, usually in your own home. This particular conundrum, unique to the geography of LA, is novelized in Darcy O’Brien’s A Way of Life, Like Any Other, a loosely fictionalized account of his sordid childhood in mid-century Hollywood, published in 1978. O’Brien is the only son of two fading film stars, whom he is burdened to babysit. Like all proper LA novels, this one has Malibu, western stars, prostitutes, “screenplay ideas,” Mexican food. But what I was most struck by was O’Brien’s portrait of the LA child as a captive audience. As our protagonist more somberly puts it: “My jailer had forgotten what I was in for but he wanted to keep me there for company.” That is what happens when you are stranded. Parents confide in you, and not just your own parents—anyone’s parents, perhaps because they truly are seeking decent advice, or maybe just because you’re the only other soul they’ve encountered that day. Our hero learns all the right coping mechanisms: make friends with the kid that has a car, play your parents against each other, move in with a nice Jewish producer who has more rooms in his house then he knows what to do with, and then try desperately to convince someone to love you, or at the very least to sleep with you. —Hailey Gates
Ever heard the story of MLB pitcher Dock Ellis’s having thrown a “no-no” in 1970 while he was as high (on LSD) “as a Georgia pine?” Well, now you have. —Stephen Hiltner
Earlier this week, on a flight from the Midwest to the East Coast, I read William Morris’s lecture “The Lesser Arts” to distract myself from the ear-popping, the altitude, and the beginnings of a cold. It’s Morris at his philosophical best: a manifesto on the use and value of the decorative arts, speaking against the notion that they’re somehow “lesser” than other fine arts. “Everything made by man’s hands has a form, which must be either beautiful or ugly,” spoke Morris, “beautiful if it is in accord with Nature, and helps her; ugly if it is discordant with Nature, and thwarts her … the hand of the craftsman is guided to work in the way that she does, till the web, the cup, or the knife, look as natural, nay as lovely, as the green field, the river bank, or the mountain flint.” As I engaged with the text, the interior of the plane—with its many small miracles of engineering packaged in just as many sins of design—felt more and more like a post-apocalyptic bomb shelter. To Morris, even late-nineteenth century London was an abomination of ugliness: “a whole country or more covered over with hideous hovels, big, middle-sized, and little.” One can only wonder what he would think of 2014 London—or, for that matter, New York City. —Clare Fentress
A few weeks ago, when I wrote briefly about Howard Moss, Lorin recommended “Ménage à Trois,” a poem Moss published in The New Yorker in 1969. (Subscribers can read it here.) You might expect, given the title, a bit of titillation—but this is Moss, and his is a household of jaded appetites. Wry, unforgiving, and larded with tart apercus, the poem tells of a trio on a harrowingly dull vacation: “The food is dreadful. The weather worse./ So much for all the touted joys/ Of the Riviera—or wherever we are.” That kind of weariness pervades, and charges, the whole thing. Moss’s exhaustion makes for oddly buoyant verse, and you have to admire the verbal precision behind his contempt: “We provide pornography/ (mental) for the neighbors, who watch our blinds/ As if they were about to disclose an orgy.” That disclose is spot-on. As we approach the treacle-fest that is Valentine’s Day, a ménage as loveless as Moss’s is a fitting aperitif: bitter, but stimulating. “A little citrus kiss,” to borrow a turn from the poem. —Dan Piepenbring Read More
Howard Moss, the late poet, was born today in 1922. Moss’s Selected Poems won the National Book Award in 1972; he served as The New Yorker’s poetry editor for nearly forty years, from 1948 until his death in 1987. The Paris Review published his poem “A Balcony with Birds” in our fourth issue, circa the winter of 1953; an excerpt follows.
The light that hangs in the ailanthus weaves
The leaves’ leavetaking overtaking leaves.
The actual is real and not imagined,—still,
The eye, so learned in disenchantment, sees
Two trees at once, this one of summer’s will,
And winter’s one, when no bird will assail
The skyline’s hyaline transparencies,
Emptying its architecture by degrees.
Roundly in its fury, soon, the sun
Feverish with light, goes down, and on
Come ambitious stars—the stars that were
But this morning dimmed. Somewhere a slow
Piano scales the summits of the air
And disappears, and dark descends, and though
The birds turn off their songs now light is gone,
The mind drowned in the dark may dream them on.