- Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, interviewed the Moroccan writer Abdelfattah Kilito: “A writer was a sort of creator, naturally, but I always liked to think of him as a reader as well—a great reader. By way of his writing, I tried to make out, or guess at, what he’d read. A sort of literary voyeurism. And the writer would often show his hand, as though by chance. I felt a wonderful sense of complicity when I was able to recognize a title, or a line of poetry, or an allusion.”
- Once he’d graduated from the Sorbonne, Balzac took an internship at a Paris law firm. “An intern is to the Civil Service what a choirboy is to the Church, or what an army child is to his Regiment, or what rats and sidekicks are to Theatres: innocent, gullible, and blinded by illusions,” he wrote in 1841’s The Physiology of the Employee.
- On Scorsese’s new NYRB doc, which debuted this weekend: “Most literary publications, running smoothly, are about as well suited to cinematic narrative as a long-term janitorial project. Scorsese has attempted to pep things up by casting the Review as a front-lines political journal with a rock-star stable of writers. The result is forced, befuddled, and frequently weird. Still, it’s a fine introduction to the long arc of the paper’s history.”
- The art of recording: John Vanderslice quit his job as a waiter at Chez Panisse to open one of the most innovative recording studios in the country. His mantra: “sloppy hi-fi,” which means “capturing loose, spontaneous performances on the best microphones in the world. It means gritting a pretty song with white noise, pink noise, high-quality distortion (not an oxymoron: ‘It has to be high-quality distortion’), tube amps, and tube compressors, and also by physically distressing and damaging the tape. Basically, Vanderslice wants powers of violence over the loveliest sounds.”
- Today in highly unforeseen merchandise: “Prufrock”-themed flats. “These flats feature a mix of lines from the poem and theme collage imagery (peaches, mermaids, coffee spoons, etc). The edges and flexible areas of the flats are black for an extra accent.” (Also available: Pride and Prejudice and Catcher in the Rye flats.)
I’m embarrassed to admit that I barely touched a book over the holidays (besides 84, Charing Cross Road, which I’m in the habit of rereading most years around Christmastime), but I did see a spectacular movie whose imagery I can’t get out of my head. In 1923, a talented artist named Lotte Reiniger was approached by a banker looking to make an investment. He suggested that Reiniger parlay her particular skill—cutting delicate silhouette art—into making a feature-length animated film. Three years and over 250,000 hand-cut images later, The Adventures of Prince Achmed premiered in Berlin. The story is a mélange of tales from the Thousand and One Nights, but good luck paying attention to the plot; the visuals are so arresting that they’ll keep you from focusing on more than one character or bit of pattern during any given scene. The original print of Prince Achmed is lost—a casualty of the Battle of Berlin, in 1945—but thanks to a restoration project completed a little over ten years ago, a fully colorized (and scored!) version is available on DVD from Milestone Films. —Clare Fentress
I’m a sucker for culinary memoirs by authors who aren’t primarily considered “food writers”—a genre that includes work by such varied names as A. J. Liebling, Laurie Colwin, and Jim Harrison. (The Pat Conroy Cookbook and The Roald Dahl Cookbook, respectively, also deserve honorable mentions.) Jason Epstein is best known as a publisher and cofounder of The New York Review of Books, but he’s also an accomplished cook and gourmet. Eating, the 2009 collection of Epstein’s food essays, covers family recipes, his days working as a professional cook, and, of course, the memorable meals he has shared with various literary luminaries. Although Eating is by no means gossipy or indiscreet (the only one who comes under the knife is Roy Cohn, with whom Epstein once lunched at 21), it’s filled with terrific vignettes; one could do worse than lunch, on a ship, with Edmund Wilson and Buster Keaton—“lobster over linguine with a bottle of Chablis beneath a perfect sky.” —Sadie O. Stein
Not long ago—but long enough that I’ve forgotten how it happened—I asked you to explain why exactly the rediscovery of Aristotle, from Arabic sources, mattered so much to medieval theologians. You recommended Étienne Gilson’s 1938 classic primer Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages. Over the vacation a copy arrived at my house from a used bookstore, without any note. I’ve read Gilson’s lectures with great pleasure, and a keen sense of intellectual relief, but I can’t think who you are. Who are you? —Lorin Stein Read More
In five novels and a collection of short stories, Anthony Giardina has written about the conflicts at the intersection of social class, family, and sexuality. Recent History explores the anxieties of a young man whose parents get divorced when his father announces he’s gay; in White Guys, a horrific murder in Boston forces old friends to consider their assumptions about where they belong in the social hierarchy. His new novel, Norumbega Park, traces the lives of the four members of an Italian-American family in Massachusetts over forty years. Richie, the patriarch, is seized by an urge to purchase a traditional house in the titular town, setting in motion a new life for his family. His son Jack breezes through high school on his charm, then runs into trouble when he moves to New York instead of going to college. Joannie, Jack’s sister, joins a convent, and her mother, Stella, struggles with that choice, as well as with her own encroaching mortality. I spoke with Giardina by e-mail about the work and experience that went into creating the new book.
Your fiction has been credited with “charting the move from the working class to the gilded suburbs.” What draws you to this story?
I was a witness, as a young boy, to my father’s desire to move us up, in our case from a working-class neighborhood to a brand-new neighborhood of houses that men built for themselves—my father and his cronies, Italian-American working-class guys who had made some money. They literally blasted into this hill in Waltham, Massachusetts, this area that had just been woods, and they built these houses that I can see now were just basic split-level structures but that seemed to me kind of magical. It wasn’t just houses these guys were building, it was a whole neighborhood they considered “exclusive.” It made them all act differently. They gave parties for themselves—they dressed up, the women wore gowns. And it was maybe the first complex social observation I was able to make, to watch a group of men and women consciously attempt to reinvent themselves.
Later, of course, I was able to see that this was a huge theme in American fiction, but before I knew it as literature, I had seen it in its raw form, and it left me with a vivid sense that this is how class works in America—that assumption of a new identity based on where you live, and how well you’ve done.
I’ve never wanted to do that for myself. I live in a modest house, and I like to assume a suburban identity where I’m just one of the neighborhood guys. Read More