Last March, we announced the ten winners of this year’s Whiting Awards, given annually to writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama, based on early accomplishment and the promise of great work to come. Now we’ve asked eleven Whiting winners, past and present, to write about the books that have influenced them the most—a list to bear in mind as you choose your holiday reading. —D. P. Read More
I am between books. It’s a very uncomfortable place to be. On the one hand, after finishing something good and thought provoking, you don’t necessarily want to move on too quickly—you want to digest and mourn the loss and crave the comfort of its world. You miss the characters. It would feel jarring to just open another novel and invest your mind and heart fully once again. On the other hand, after enough time, you become restive and begin to yearn for the escape, the absorption and stimulation that only a good book can bring—and you begin to wonder if you can ever feel again the pleasure and compulsion you knew only days ago. Maybe, at last, you’ve read every good book in the world. Read More
Over the weekend, someone asked me how I’d argue for the survival of the print book. I was taken aback; it felt like being asked to defend food against Soylent Green, or sex against the exclusive domain of artificial insemination. But I considered the question carefully, and aside from the obvious arguments, here’s one way I like to think of it.
When I was younger, I used to think setting people up would be sort of like recommending a book you loved: whether or not it worked out, a friend would know you’d tried in good faith to match her tastes and interests, and not hold it against you if you’d gotten it wrong. At best, her life would be enriched; at worst, she’d still be able to recognize what you saw in the other person. In any event, once you’d made the introduction, the arrangement ceased to have anything to do with you.
Instead, I discovered that setting people up is more like recommending a movie—specifically, a comedy. And if a friend doesn’t enjoy—doesn’t get—a comedy you like, somehow both of you feel betrayed, and some small part of you thinks less of the other. And there is the horrible knowledge that the person who dislikes always has the advantage. Read More
With George Jonesian morbidity, I’ve been devouring the Wimbledon coverage—in Grantland!—by our sometime special tennis correspondent Louisa Thomas. (Come back, Louisa! We’ll quit our honky-tonking and running around, if you’ll just come back and keep writing the way you do.) —Lorin Stein
I don’t usually laugh out loud when I read, but Iris Owens’s alternately hilarious and appalling After Claude was getting me strange looks on the A train. Incidentally, it’s one of the great NYC summer books, too. —Sadie Stein
I picked up the charming Weeds by Richard Mabey, who suggests that our definition of the word is far more subjective and cultural than we would like to think. The book is sprinkled with entertaining anecdotes, like this one about the eminent rosarian Humphrey Brook, who became slightly belligerent after a few pints of beer at a local pub: “On the way back we passed a suburban garden where the owner was picking modern shrub roses whose shades were a farrago of Day-Glo reds and oranges. Humphrey stopped unsteadily, stared at the scene much as one might at a junk dealer gluing Formica onto a Chippendale table, and screamed ‘Vegetable rats!’ at the hapless grower.” —Thessaly La Force
Chris Weitz’s new movie, A Better Life, opens this weekend in New York at Lincoln Center and the Sunshine. I’ve heard a lot about the film, and it’s not clear how long it will run—I’m not taking any chances. —L. S.
I love you, Victor Shklovsky. —Nicole Rudick
Why shouldn’t The Onion win a Pulitzer? —Cody Wiewandt
I feel hypnotized, and also slightly agitated, when I watch these one-minute films of “beautiful young people … standing around looking beautiful” by Dennis Swiatkowski. —Natalie Jacoby
I’d been waiting for Ben Loory’s first collection of stories, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, ever since I read “The T.V.” Just one question: which stories were meant for nighttime and which for daytime? —Ali Pechman
A wonderful visit to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium last week got me hankering for Jeffrey Yang’s An Aquarium. I like this 2008 poetry collection and abecedary because reading it is sort of like watching blue blubber jellies bounce around inside a light-up tank. —Clare Fentress
If you don’t know who Kreayshawn is, now you know. —C. W.
Last Saturday I caught a midnight showing of John Cassavetes’s Faces. Shot in LA in the mid-sixties, Faces is a movie about sex, booze, and aging—or, you might just as well say, about the faces of John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Seymour Cassel, and Gena Rowlands. It is absolutely sad, absolutely tender, and absolutely unsentimental. You won’t cry, and for days you won’t be able to get it out of your head. Not, at least, by reading The Pumpkin Eater (1962), Penelope Mortimer’s fictional account of her marriage to Rumpole creator John Mortimer: “We didn’t love each other as most people love: and yet the moment I have said that I think of the men and women I have seen clasped together with eyes full of loathing, men and women who murder each other with all the weapons of devotion.” —Lorin Stein
I’ve been enjoying Caroline Preston’s ingenious The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, a novel made up entirely of vintage images. It’s nifty and fun—but the plot moves along, too! —Sadie Stein
Jon-Jon Goulian on Robert Silvers, venerable founding editor of The New York Review of Books: “A man who can field a call like that with such composure is a man, you might say, whose head is still full of marbles, and yet that would leave open the possibility, inconceivable to me, that Bob might one day lose a few. That leaves only one alternative: Bob’s head contains one giant marble, one only, and you will have to behead him to make him give it up.” —L. S.
Maybe the summer is provoking more wanderlust in me than usual, because this week I read two novels about runaways. First up was Robert Walser’s Jakob von Gunten. I moved on to Denis Johnson’s Angels. Reading it late at night in the immensely humid heat and borderline-nonexistent light of my tiny bedroom seemed to underscore every bizarre and frightening episode of Johnson’s book. —Natalie Jacoby
Prior to reading Terry Castle’s collection The Professor: A Sentimental Education, I was only familiar with her jaw-dropping Sontag reminiscences—but I’m sorry it took me so long: all her essays are that funny, pithy, and unexpected. —S. S.
Wesley Yang’s remarkable n+1 essay about Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter at the Virginia Tech massacre, is now available as a Kindle single. —Thessaly La Force
On the lighter side, I recommend our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, on how to survive Disney World—minus the fear and loathing. —L. S.
A George Plimpton video game? —T. L.
A previously unpublished photograph of T. E. Lawrence was made available for sale this week at an auction house in Shropshire. The image, taken in 1912, shows a youthful Lawrence (in a casual coat and an oversize collar) at an archaeological dig in Tell Halaf. I took news of the photo as an excuse to thumb through Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom—an all-time favorite of mine—where I was greeted by one of my favorite passages in all of English literature: “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did.” —Stephen Andrew Hiltner
I was sick in bed for the long weekend and spent my time veering rather oddly between the new edition of Diana Vreeland: An Illustrated Biography by Eleanor Dwight (basically the most glorious fashion porn in existence) and M. Owen Lee’s fascinating Wagner: The Terrible Man and His Truthful Art. I like to think that Vreeland, if not Wagner, would have appreciated the combo. (And incidentally, if you haven’t seen the very bizarre A Rage to Live—a 1965 vehicle about a nympho Suzanne Pleshette—it’s worth adding to your Netflix queue for your next sick day.) —Sadie Stein
I’m a little surprised by my own selection, as it’s not my usual fare, but when a copy of Peter Sloterdijk’s Neither Sun Nor Death appeared on my desk, I cracked it open and was hooked. He’s an appealing and exciting thinker, not least for his “leap out of old-European melancholy and the German maso-theory cartel.” —Nicole Rudick
Today, Jean-Luc Godard’s latest movie, Film Socialisme, opens in New York. I first saw the film last fall, and was mesmerized by its polylinguistic structure and “Navajo English” subtitles. I’ve been eagerly waiting since then to watch it a second time and, in preparation, have been reading Richard Brody’s insightful coverage—on the thematic and symbolic “>revealing the film to be his “most humane, internationalist, [and] multicultural.” —Natalie Jacoby
Sara Breselor’s Idiom piece on lesbian teen fiction is poignant and funny. —S. S.
Oh, bodega cats