I am the first one in Stockholm’s Centralbadet this Monday morning, followed by James, then by an old man wearing big yellow goggles, who does a steady breaststroke around the perimeter of the pool. Watching him, I switch to breaststroke myself and match his speed. It feels comfortable. It feels relaxing. As the three of us swim counterclockwise, I channel my old age, my flabby form, my unself-conscious senior. I think of the two older women I passed in the locker room, whose modest black tanks encased humps and bones and bumpy flesh. The cruel phrase a friend once used to describe a woman’s backside: “a bagful of doorknobs.” I watch my hands trace their double ellipse in front of me, my mother’s wrists, my grandmother’s knuckles.
Literature is trending in the New York art world right now. One show in Chelsea takes its cue from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, and another borrows its title and raison d’être from Henry Miller’s “Stand Still Like a Hummingbird.” In the latter show, at David Zwirner, a work by Mason Williams from 1967 consists of a life-size silkscreen print of a Greyhound bus that can either be hung on the wall as a mural or folded and placed in a box. It seems, to me, to be analogous to much of literature—a picture of the larger world that is neatly held within an object whose diminutive size belies the limitless scope within it. The work weights more than ten pounds, which means it’s still heavier than a six-pack of Proust or a hardcover Larousse Gastronomique. —Nicole Rudick
This week, I revisited Richard Rodriguez’s memoir, Brown: The Last Discovery of America, and found that it’s as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 2002. Rodriguez explores the problem of being read primarily through his racial and sexual identity. He argues that the belief that only your demographic doppelgänger can address or portray you is counter to the function of literature, which allows moments of recognition between two very particular—and therefore different—lives. “Auden has a line,” he writes. “Ports have names they call the sea. Just so, literature will describe life familiarly, regionally, in terms it is accustomed to use […],” but ultimately, has “only one subject: What it feels like to be alive.” Rodriguez’s politics, when you agree with them and especially when you don’t, are stimulating and certainly worth the patient reading they demand. —Alyssa Loh
There are a few things I love so dearly that finding out someone doesn’t like them can make it instantly very difficult for me to relate to that person. “By Your Side” by Sade is one of them. The song has magical soothing powers. It’s a bit like being inside during a summer storm, wrapped in a blanket and watching rain graze the windowpane. (You probably shouldn’t tell me if you don’t like it.) —Anna Hadfield
Even though Thessaly recommended Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies last week, I have to pile on! I’ve rarely been so wholly consumed by a reading experience. Shapton’s vivid description of a moment during a swim practice brought me back to my own high school pool on one of hundreds of winter nights: the soupy chorine-thick smell, the familiar feeling of sweating while in water, and the refreshing wave of winter cold hitting me as I made a flip turn at the far end of the pool. I dog-eared the passage; by the end I had folded down more page corners than were left unturned. In evocatively describing things like sliding around in sheets after shaving your entire body or the ability to know one’s status by the type of goggles, Swimming Studies brings the solitary activity of swimming into everyday life. It isn’t a sports book; in Swimming Studies the author has created a place for athlete and artist to coexist. —Emily Cole-Kelly
Several friends who know me well sent me this photo gallery, and they were right on the money: I’m enraptured by Canadian artist Heather Benning’s conversion of an abandoned farmhouse into a giant, open-sided dollhouse. —Sadie Stein
Last night Daniel Smith taught me the word anxiolytics. It means “anxiety reducers.” (Dan is the author of Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety, so he should know.) His favorite nonchemical anxiolytic is Singin’ in the Rain. Mine, for now, is “Jesus Dropped the Charges,” by the O’Neal Twins. —Lorin Stein
The 1935 Silly Symphony cartoon “Cookie Carnival” raises so many questions, but most pressing: What is a rum cookie? The highly enlightening Wikipedia article informs us that the animated short, in which various varieties of baked good compete for the title of Cookie Queen, is a take on the Atlantic City bathing-beauty contests of the day, precursors to Miss America pageants. (Incidentally, the gingerbread hobo is voiced by the same actor who immortalized Goofy.) As a friend of mine commented, “Misses Licorice and Coconut were robbed.” And it’s true: Sugar Cookie’s easy victory (after she dons a blonde taffy wig, that is) is a testament to how little standards of beauty have changed, however much baked goods have. —Sadie Stein
Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies, which comes out in early July, needs to be on everyone’s bookshelf this summer. Or, more fittingly, in the pool house. And the latest Vanity Fair has a fun article about the origins of that hideously romantic painting The Singing Butler, which I’m sure you’ll recognize once you see it. —Thessaly La Force
“Helpless,” by Poindexter. I heard this song playing in a store downtown and was convinced it was a new track by French electro band Phoenix. Poindexter gets it right with well-placed cymbal crashes and the type of moody synth that sound tracks an eighties teenage tryst on a foggy night. You can buy “Helpless” off fashion’s jack of all trades (Kitsune) album Kitsune America. SO DO IT. —Noah Wunsch
Yesterday a whole bunch of us got up earlyish to talk shop with Janet Coleman on “The Next Hour.” Click here to hear Maggie Paley (“Terry Southern, The Art of Screenwriting”), Rowan Ricardo Philips (“Heralds of Delicioso Coco Helado”), Leanne Shapton (“Prose Purple”), Matt Sumell (“Toast”), John Jeremiah Sullivan (“The Princes”), Robyn Creswell, and Lorin Stein.
It’s no secret how much I admire Leanne Shapton. The former art director of The New York Times’ Op-Ed page is also the author of several books, including Was She Pretty? and Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry. She’s also a contributor to The Paris Review. Open any of the last four issues to glimpse her beautiful illustrations of Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich. Or buy issue 196, whose cover she painted. I visited her studio space north of Manhattan last spring. I can still remember her dog, Bunny, running to greet me. Leanne served tea and sweets, and we talked long after I turned off my tape recorder.
I wake up, walk the dog, or let the dog out. I’ll pretty much start working right off the top, depending on what I need to do, on deadlines.
I was talking to Sheila Heti about how and where we work. Sometimes I feel I get a lot done waiting for something else, with my shoes and coat on, with the car running. I don’t have a set routine. I can work for hours at a time, but I get a lot of stuff done in these weird starts and stops, which makes it a little bit harder to track. I have so many backs of envelopes with notes written on them in my pockets or stuffed into the side door of a car. I also use my Blackberry to write myself notes. Last night, I wrote myself an e-mail that said, “Tough girls with dark pink skin, England air, etc.” Now it’s sort of coming back to me, but when I woke up and read it, I was like, “What? What did I drink?” Lots happens in these little spaces between work and eating and sleeping. Sheila said she had this image of me standing up—you know how you stand up and eat when you’re really hungry? Well I stand up and work. It’s not a Hemingway thing, it’s more like I have to get this done, because the elevator is coming up. Some thing happens then. And that’s when I work.
The Paris Review sends you holiday cheer—and our Winter issue! Naughty or nice, it’s got something for everyone: a portfolio of women by women, curated by our art editor, Charlotte Strick; fiction by Clarice Lispector, Paul Murray, and Adam Wilson; the English-language debut of French literary sensation Valérie Mréjen; and the conclusion of Roberto Bolaño’s lost novel The Third Reich, with original illustrations by Leanne Shapton.
The Winter issue also contains long-awaited interviews with—
I tell my students that when you write, you should pretend you’re writing the best letter you ever wrote to the smartest friend you have. That way, you’ll never dumb things down. You won’t have to explain things that don’t need explaining. You’ll assume an intimacy and a natural shorthand, which is good because readers are smart and don’t wish to be condescended to.
and Alan Hollinghurst:
I was very excited by the idea of telling truths that hadn’t been told before and breaking down literary categories. Descriptions of gay sexual behavior had until then tended to be restricted to pornography, and the presence of gay lives in fiction had been scant. So I had the great fortune of being given this relatively unexplored territory.
Plus … poems by David Wagoner, Jonathan Galassi, Dorothea Lasky, Ange Mlinko, Gottfried Benn, and Rowan Ricardo Phillips.