Ever since Mike Nichols died in 2014, I’ve wished and wished we had interviewed him in the Review. The HBO documentary Becoming Mike Nichols—an eighty-minute interview conducted by his friend Jack O’Brien—only sharpened my regret. Nichols wasn’t just one of the most important and wide-ranging directors of the last century (and half of the pioneering comedy duo Nichols & May), he was a brilliant explainer of what he did. He and O’Brien discuss his earliest stage productions (Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple) and the filming of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, giving glimpses of his childhood and education and his comedy routines. I could have watched them talk for hours. —Lorin Stein Read More
- The USPS, in its infinite wisdom, has finally put Flannery O’Connor on a postage stamp, but it’s kind of an ugly one. (Peacock feathers have never more resembled dune grasses.) Our art editor, Charlotte Strick, took a stab at a redesign: “I thought about the puzzle offered up by a six-stamp grid. Using selections of the cover art from our newly rereleased O’Connor editions, I found it great fun to wrap the elements around one another in new ways—aiming for each individual stamp to be a mini-artwork of its own.”
- On Max Beerbohm, whose writing, with its “high masquerading style,” is the subject of a new anthology, The Prince of Minor Writers: “No one is more emphatic about the necessity of making a style out of the sound of spoken English … He understood that the sound of spoken English might be anything but blunt—that spoken English tends to be more circuitous, touched by asides, than the self-consciously simplified kind. There are two kinds of extended sentences: one depends on expanding an idea, the other tries to detail a consciousness. The first is argumentative, the second exquisite.”
- Johannes Kepler is remembered for his contributions to astronomy, but his 1608 book, Somnium, in which a demon describes life on the moon, testifies to his talents as a science-fiction author. Jason Novak has illustrated a few passages: “The dark side of the moon is urban, with landscaped gardens and commerce. The face of the moon is wilderness, with forests, fields, and deserts.”
- In which the printing press meets its perfect shadow, the scanner: “As I pushed down on the lever and the shutters fired, it struck me that this was a kind of reverse press, of the most ancient Gutenberg kind. Instead of a block of ink-stained type being pressed on to a page, the book itself is pressed towards the light and its contents are released into the digital ether, to be republished, retransmitted once again.”
- If autofiction and the “memoir-novel” are the order of the day, then why does Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life succeed on such fiercely imaginative terms? “However much this story of failed love between a wounded veteran and an illegal immigrant smacks of authenticity, its author seems to have done precisely what has been cast as no longer possible, creating an immersive world that is fundamentally a fabrication. The success of this novel beckons a closer look at the most consistent sentiment voiced by its reviewers—that it just feels so different.”
Last week, the British Library launched Discovering Literature, an online collection of more than 1,200 items from the Romantic and Victorian periods, all of it meant to arouse interest in classic English lit. There are manuscript pages and juvenilia from Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Keats, Wordsworth, and Blake, among others, but the diligent forager will find Charles H. Bennett’s vivid illustrations for Aesop’s Fables; more than twenty-five drawings from Gustave Doré’s London: A Pilgrimage; nineteenth-century gynecological gaffes (“the majority of women [happily for them] are not very much troubled by sexual feeling of any kind”); and early vampire stories.
There’s also this: The Yellow Book. Not to be confused with the Yellow Pages or Redbook, The Yellow Book was an illustrated quarterly magazine with a provocative name; it came
from the notorious covering into which controversial French novels were placed at the time. It is, in fact, a “yellow book” which corrupts Dorian in Wilde’s original novel; this generally thought to be Joris-Karl Huysmans’ A Rebours (1884).
The founding principles were that literature and art should be treated independently and given equal status, and Aubrey Beardsley, illustrator of Wilde’s Salomé was appointed art editor.
Indeed, when Wilde was arrested in 1895, there were rumours he had been carrying a yellow-bound book. Though this was actually Pierre Louÿs’s French novel Aphrodite, a confused crowd thought it was a copy of this magazine, and gathered to throw stones at the publishers’ offices.
Those were the days, when the mere sight of a literary quarterly, or even something resembling a literary quarterly, could move a crowd to violence. The Yellow Book was published for only a few years, from 1894 to 1897, but it loomed large; nearly a century later, the scholar Linda Dowling called it “commercially the most ambitious and typographically the most important of the 1890s periodicals. [It] gave the fullest expression to the double resistance of graphic artists against literature, and Art against commerce, the double struggle symbolized by the paired words on the contents-pages of the Yellow Books: Letterpress and Pictures, Literature and Art.”