- In France, a twenty-five-year plan to streamline the language for schoolchildren may spell the end of the circumflex, that most mysterious of diacritical marks: “The circumflex came into use in France much later, in the sixteenth century, and the Academie Francaise—let’s dump the acute and the cedilla—haven’t fought to the death to hang on to this trifling novelty. Diacritical marks are now ironic, as they were for Joyce. Anglo-Saxon bands use them as a design feature … From côte to côte, the circumflex tells us how closely French was related to other languages, often via Latin. But according to the Academie Francaise even educated people (‘les personnes instruites’) have trouble with the circumflex, and there’s no need to build a diacritical cult around a consonant that’s disappeared from any given part of speech.”
- In which Vivian Gornick rereads Howards End to discover that Forster knew far less than she’d remembered: “It has often been my experience that rereading a book that was important to me at earlier times in life is something like lying on the analyst’s couch. The narrative I have had by heart for years is suddenly called into alarming question … Howards End has proven just such a book for me. I read it when I was in college and now, many decades later, have reread it only to find myself dismayed not only by how much I got wrong but by how much in the book is wrong—the sexual naïveté, the rhetorical posturing, the hand from the grave all read like hokum today—and yet how absorbing this novel of novels still is!”
- The poet Richard Siken has found an unlikely cult following in the fanfic community, which mines his work for lines they can use to describe the mystery of, say, two characters from Sherlock. Siken, though he intended no resonance here, has embraced his new audience: “Fan fiction sexualizes. It’s transgressive because it suggests the possibility of the erotic. It’s political, because it complicates power structures. And it’s personal, because it grants permission for range of previously unacceptable expressions and interactions. I think my poems enact a space for complicated, multivalent relationships. I think that’s the draw.”
- Meanwhile, Gerry Adams, the president of the Irish republican party Sinn Féin, has become the latest public figure to publish his tweets as poetry: “The book, with its routine dispatches from Adams’s extracurricular activities (‘Pilates. Aaaaaahhhhh’; ‘1st Pilates of 2015…’; ‘Seriously overstretched myself @ pilates’) and its endless jokily plaintive references to overdue household chores, creates a vacuum of significance so total that you wonder whether you’re missing some deeper intent. There is, for instance, an overwhelming emphasis on bathing: aside from the frequent testimonials to his menagerie of rubber ducks, Adams insists again and again on his enjoyment of every aspect of the bathing process. ‘So the bath beckons!’ we are told. ‘Plastic ducks. Soapy suds…’ Elsewhere, he tweets that his bath ‘Overflowth,’ advising his followers that he has just taken delivery of his ‘1st Orange Duck,’ and that ‘A Good Suddy Soak’ awaits him.”
- The Lost Rolls: 1988–2012 collects unused pictures from the photojournalist Ron Haviv, depriving them of context and giving them a strange new beauty. As Colin Dickey writes, “The images of The Lost Rolls were selected from various rolls of undeveloped film that were tucked away in drawers and bags, mostly forgotten, in Haviv’s house for decades. The result is an assemblage of deteriorating photographs, depicting random moments in time and revealing a range of physical imperfections. Many are washed with a rose tint; others are streaked with broad swaths of yellow or drooping blemishes of cyan … Photojournalism is, by its nature, obsessed with the moment and defined by action verbs: to document, to witness, to reveal, to inform, to effect change. The images in The Lost Rolls, by contrast, are unmoored from context. Like the rolls themselves, the time signature here is lost.”
I’m a second-semester senior in high school and currently find myself with a lot of empty time. I also have an open summer ahead with plenty of time to read books. Do you have any novel recommendations for someone about to enter college?
Our friends at n+1 devoted an entire pamphlet to the question, more or less: What We Should Have Known. Our advice is more equivocal: the main thing is to have a whole bunch of books so you can switch if you get bored.
With that caveat, and in no special order: To the Lighthouse, Sons and Lovers, Howard’s End, Invisible Man, Brideshead Revisited, Girl in Landscape, Pnin, Rebecca, The Crying of Lot 49, The Broom of the System, Two Girls, Fat and Thin, Portnoy’s Complaint, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, The Transit of Venus, The Death of the Heart, The Tetherballs of Bougainville, Home Land, Cane, As I Lay Dying, The Sun Also Rises, Confessions of a Mask, The Savage Detectives, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Marius the Epicurean, First Love, First Love and Other Sorrows, and Moby-Dick.
I recently read Lolita and have since been obsessed with Nabokov. What are other Russian novels, or to broaden the list, European novels that you would recommend?
Have you read others novels by Nabokov? My favorite is Pnin (see above). The tricky thing about your question is that no European writes like him—or if they do, it’s in a language I can’t read. The most Nabokovian writer I know is John Updike, but he’s American. Try the Rabbit books. You might also like Javier Marías: start with A Heart So White. And if what you really want is European, magisterial, and ironic, there’s Lydia Davis’s new translation of Madame Bovary. Nabokov almost certainly wouldn’t approve of the translation—he never approved—but I think he would disapprove less than of the others. Read More