- Perfumes that smell like books? Depends on the book, really!
- Prom dresses made of newspapers? Depends on the broadsheet, really!
- An MRI with John Jeremiah Sullivan.
- A study finds that literature increases empathy.
- Thomas Jefferson’s gardening journal.
- The best audiobooks for a road trip.
Dear Paris Review,
I’ve just finished Dr. Zhivago and am on the hunt for a palate cleanser. I’ve been left with romance on the mind and would like to stay in this vein. I don’t want to go too lowbrow, like toward trashy romance novels, but something as light and diabolical but still classy and well written would be nice. Any suggestions?
Romantic, diabolical, and light—it’s a tall order. But Ivan Turgenev’s First Love rises to the challenge. So does Terry Castle’s long story-essay “The Professor” (the whole collection is a knockout), ditto the title story in David Bezmozgis’s collection, Natasha (ditto the collection). You might also want to see my staff pick for this week, Goodbye, First Love.
In case you’re still jonesing for epic: Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus isn’t exactly light, but it clips along, and it’s romantic with darkness. Then there’s the book that Sadie and I seem to recommend more than any other, not (in my case) because it’s my favorite, but because it’s excellent and so often fits one bill or another, as indeed it fits this one: Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.
As a nineteen-year-old writer, struggling against ego and literary giants that marked an era (the Beats), sick of the droning whir of academia, and thirsting for life. What should I read to have me excited about life, about writing.
Ah, to be nineteen and coming off the Beats … I’m tempted to recommend the work of our Southern editor, as for example his collection, Pulphead. There’s a book that knows the Beat tradition, that knows academia, that knows the myth of the great author and quietly steers its own path through those perilous straits. It may give you encouragement. The same is true of The Savage Detectives. Or, if you want a more classic antidote to literary machismo, To the Lighthouse. Or for sheer life affirmation and prose descriptions that make you burst out laughing, they’re so good: Death Comes to the Archbishop or The Adventures of Augie March. Read More
My father-in-law, a fiercely intelligent Irishman in his late sixties, has just been diagnosed with cancer. As he is facing a long period of being confined to quarters, I’d like to send him some books to help pass the time. However, he has candidly admitted to me that his concentration is not what it once was, and he finds reading anything of extended length quite difficult. Would you have any suggestions—collections of short pieces of fiction, or tales, personal essays, travel memoirs, for example—that might be suitable? When he’s feeling like his usual self, he enjoys reading Brian Moore and John Banville, outsmarting Stephen Fry on reruns of Qi, and finishing the Irish Times cryptic crossword in half the time it takes me to struggle through the Simplex.
Your father-in-law sounds great. You might ask whether he’s read Brian Moore’s novella Catholics. It’s a very short read, recently back in print: he may have missed it the first time. It happens to have been a favorite of David Foster Wallace; from your description, I wonder if your father-in-law might enjoy Wallace’s essays (either A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again or Consider the Lobster) or my colleague John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead. (Read his recent essay on Ireland if you’d like a preview.) Or Geoff Dyer’s essays, as for example Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It. These are all witty essayists I read when my attention flickers low. Along the same lines, Sadie suggests Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia and Malachy McCourt’s very breezy but entertaining memoir A Monk Swimming.
Does your father-in-law have any interest in Russia? For sheer storytelling, I recommend Ken Kalfus’s PU-239 and Other Russian Fantasies or any collection by Alice Munro (I won’t bother recommending William Trevor). You mention tales; it’s an obvious one, but I’ve found Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales good sickbed reading. For travel writing, maybe Richard Holmes’s Footsteps or Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes?
We wish him a speedy recovery!
I’m looking for a couple of good books—novels or short stories—to read aloud with my boyfriend as we drive from Arizona up through the Badlands to a new start in New York. (We are not—not quite—as young and idealistic as that sentence makes us sound.) What would you recommend?
We like your style.
I suggest you keep a few books going at once, so you can switch around according to the driver’s—and the reader’s—mood. Thus, in no particular order, My Antonia, Denis Johnson’s Angels, True Grit, Last Evenings On Earth, American Purgatorio, any of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels, and The White Hotel. All have a good strong voice, requiring no acrobatics on the reader’s part, most have something to do with travel, and all of them clip along. Sadie points out that the Victorians tend to be good for reading aloud—maybe the Palliser series?—and suggests the stories in Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now. (She also proposed Another Roadside Attraction—and collapsed in giggles, for reasons best known to herself.) Read More
Once a month or so when I was a small boy, my father and I would spend a Saturday morning together in the St. James’s area of London, later meeting my mother and sister for lunch at a restaurant close by. The routine, which never varied and whose endpoint was always the same, started with a haircut at a Turkish barber’s above a clothes shop on a busy shopping street.
Descending into the world again, with newly cut hair, the facades of Jermyn Street—brassy, glazed, filled with the refined and adult promise of brogues, horn-handled hairbrushes, and silk pajamas—stretched left and right before us. Around the corner, through a short flurry of alleys, we came to St. James’s Square: home, in the northwest corner, to our destination, the London Library.
The library building is tall and slim, squashed into the corner between a stately townhouse and the Cypriot Embassy. My first impression of the place was of disjunction; inside and outside do not match up. In a third-story window, an owl perches on the sill (further inspection reveals it to be a decoy). In the stacks, through the latticed metal walkways, as in Borges’s The Library of Babel, “you can see the upper and lower floors, endlessly.” In the fifteen miles of shelving, desks appear at random, with or without a corresponding chair; members and librarians flit past, fragmented faces visible through rows of books. My father and I never stayed long, fifteen minutes or so at most. We returned his books to the librarians, picking up any that had been set aside, and then flung ourselves like hunters into the warren of the stacks.
I joined the library for myself when I was about eighteen and soon the place became an addiction, an obsession. In the summer before university, when many of my friends were embracing their new freedom on beaches or riding trains across Europe, I explored those corridors, picking out books with titles like The West of Buffalo Bill, and Ten months among the tents of the Tuski: with incidents of an Arctic boat expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, as far as the Mackenzie River, and Cape Bathurst. I chose at random. I found, and reveled in, shelving sections like “S. Devil &c.,” “S. Fingerprints,” “H. Exhumation,” “T. Hints for Travellers,” “S. Flower Arrangement,” and my favorite, “S. Fools.” Read More
Readers of the Daily are familiar with the musical musings of our Southern editor John Jeremiah Sullivan. This afternoon, Sullivan spoke with John Schaefer on NPR’s Soundcheck about Michael Jackson’s genealogy, Christian rock, deciphering Geeshie Wiley lyrics with John Fahey—and finding historical depths in everything, even the impossibly shallow. Listen to their conversation here.
Sullivan also reads tonight at 8 P.M. at BAM.
I spent probably an hour paging through Martin Hopkinson’s Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates at the Strand last week, then went back and bought it. If there’s such a thing as bookplate porn, this gorgeous book is the ultimate. —Sadie Stein
I’ve been reading Robert Gottlieb’s Lives and Letters, a wonderful collection of essays on some of the century’s most illustrious figures. The portraits of the women, like Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, and Margot Fonteyn, particularly sparkle. But my favorite is the short piece on Diana Vreeland, who once said, “Peanut butter is the greatest invention since Christianity,” about her daily lunch: a whole-wheat PB-and-marmalade sandwich, with a glass of scotch. —Ali Pechman
Adam Zagajewski’s Unseen Hand came out in June, and I wish I hadn’t waited until now to read it. —Clare Fentress
Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf’s final novel, was edited by Leonard and published posthumously with his revisions. Cambridge’s new annotated edition not only restores the original draft, but also provides a rich halo of context. –Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn
While a staff pick praising the work of the Review’s Southern editor John Jeremiah Sullivan feels a lot like Lemmy wearing a Motorhead shirt, Sullivan’s forthcoming collection of essays, Pulphead, is hands down the best thing I’ve read all year. Sullivan’s voice is straight out of bar stories, and his subjects—from Christian rockers at Creationfest to the Indiana origins of Axl Rose to proto–Tea Party protesters—line up for comic exploitation like so many fish in a barrel. But at the moment when lesser writers would pull the trigger and snigger, Sullivan steps back and asks you to understand the people he encounters on their own terms. Which is not to say the essays won’t have you laughing louder than public decency allows—because they will. But it’s their rare combination of bracing intelligence and empathy that stays with you. —Peter Conroy
My most anticipated summer film: Don’t Fear the Internet. Next step is getting cast in the sequel to the Facebook movie (a girl can dream). —Mackenzie Beer
After discovering that Netflix is streaming a handful of films by Hong Kong maestro Johnnie To, I went straight for The Heroic Trio, a kinetic superheroine flick starring Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, and Maggie Cheung. Yes, it is that good. —Nicole Rudick
If you have a moment, try Mavis Gallant’s Granta essay on “Memory and Invention.” –S.S.
Passive-aggressive little notepad, you remind me of my fifth-grade teacher. Other than that, I have no theories as to what’s going on here. Disturbing and fun! —A.P.