- Where 7Up is the uncola, poetry is the “un-Trump,” Eileen Myles says: “Poetry always, always, always is a key piece of democracy. It’s like the un-Trump: The poet is the charismatic loser. You’re the fool in Shakespeare; you’re the loose cannon. As things get worse, poetry gets better, because it becomes more necessary … I think it would be a great time for men, basically, to go on vacation. There isn’t enough work for everybody. Certainly in the arts, in all genres, I think that men should step away. I think men should stop writing books. I think men should stop making movies or television. Say, for fifty to one hundred years.”
- Last week, I sang the praises of Elliott Chaze’s Black Wings Has My Angel, a 1953 heist novel about a seedy couple on the lam. It should have been turned into an excellent movie by now—but we’re lucky because it hasn’t, and that means we have no choice but to read it as Chaze wrote it. Writes Christian Lorentzen: “On a technical level, it is possible to write a perfect crime novel. You might say Black Wings Has My Angel is beyond perfection … [It’s] the sort of love story in which either lover might turn in or murder the other at any moment until its last desperate pages … They stick with each other when everyone’s against them, knowing that neither of them is really fit for the straight and narrow. When the surprises arrive, Chaze makes no false moves, and none of the plot’s mechanics creak. There’s a shoot-out, cigar-involved police brutality, and a jailbreak.”
- Oscar Wilde faced accusations of plagiarism for most of his career—he was clever enough to know he’d sound more clever if he borrowed some choice phrases here and there. James McNeill Whistler, the American painter, was especially dogged in his efforts to bring Wilde’s appropriated bons mots to light: “Many observers dismissed the idea that Wilde’s youthful identification with his Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite poetic idols was so strong that his devotion to them—and not a desire to steal from them—resulted in his apparent copying of their writings … Toward the end of 1886, Whistler’s temper flared up once more when he detected Wilde’s flagrant appropriation of some of his phrases. ‘What has Oscar in common with Art? except that he dines at our tables, and picks from our platters the plums for the pudding he peddles in the provinces.’ ‘Oscar,’ Whistler’s barbs continued, ‘has the courage of the opinions … of others!’ ”
- There’s a popular myth about “Paris Syndrome,” an affliction of disillusionment that apparently strikes about a dozen Japanese tourists a year when, arriving at last in storied France, they find it to be startlingly imperfect beside their fantasies of it. Harriet Alida Lye called bullshit and visited the Japanese Embassy to set things straight. “The man in the press office cut short my efforts,” she writes. “ ‘This so-called Paris Syndrome,’ he said, ‘is not recognized by any officials in either Japan or France, and there is no specific group within the Embassy that deals with any kind of health problems.’ The embassy had ‘no information and no statistics’ on Paris Syndrome … What is it about Paris that creates the possibility for unrealistic expectations in the first place? … Why are people like my dentist unable to perceive that life in this city could be anything other than a dream?”
- What do Roger Angell, Diana Athill, and Ann Burack-Weiss have in common? They’re all old; they all have new books about being old; their new old books are all good. Athill, who led an “unconventional love life,” recalls in her book “how a memoir she wrote on that subject distressed her genteel mother. Their solution to this disagreement was to simply not talk about it, which Athill at first found ridiculous, then comic, and then, finally ‘a very successful way of dealing with a difficult problem. You have a daughter whom you love, she does something you wish very much she hadn’t done, but you want to go on loving her in spite of it.’ The essay ends with Athill observing that this strategy really works. ‘My mother and I grew closer and closer. There are no memories that I value more than that of the almost flame of love which lit her eyes when she opened them and saw me bending over her deathbed.’ ”
Have you ever been reading, say, a George Eliot novel and suddenly wondered how the dry cleaning worked? Or what everyone used for toothpaste? Or how the farm women managed to do all that mowing in corsets? If this is the sort of question that interests you, prepare to be engrossed by Ruth Goodman’s How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life. No doubt some material will be familiar to viewers of Goodman’s BBC series, Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, and Victorian Pharmacy; having spent so much time costumed, cooking, and laboring for the camera, Goodman is terrific at describing the feel of heavy worsteds, or the craving for suet pastry, or the manual skills that she admires in Victorian men and, especially, women. Her admiration is contagious and, often, unexpectedly moving, as we see workmen tending to their gardens or little girls learning, from a magazine, how to sew by “dressing dolly.” This is cultural history even a kid could understand, and that (I suspect) even a scholar might enjoy. —Lorin Stein
Roger Angell received the baseball Hall of Fame’s award for writers last week, and I’ve been reading through Game Time, one of his many Baseball Companions. Angell had a way of getting players, especially pitchers, to talk about their craft with detail and clarity—they’re all philosophers of the game, as well as practitioners. In “Easy Lessons,” a piece about spring training in 1984, Angell talks with some older players who were winding up their careers. A thirty-seven-year-old Reggie Jackson says, “I often think about coming to the end. It’s fairly real—it’s a possibility—and I can’t say it doesn’t bother me.” Tom Seaver and Don Sutton talk pitching mechanics with a courtly, conversational style that is just like Angell’s. With the Mets permanently stuck at five games under .500, it’s a relief to revisit seasons past. —Robyn Creswell
My grandfather worked as a linotype operator, carefully managing sorts and slugs (tiny letters and spaces cast from molten lead) to bring words into type. By definition, this meant he was a comprehensive and intimate reader of countless newspapers, books, and pamphlets over the course of his career, which saw the height of mechanical typesetting and its subsequent decline at the hands of electronic automation. What began as a highly sought-after union job—one that allowed him to travel widely, working for presses in the U.S., Ireland, and Australia—had essentially dried up by the time he retired at fifty-five. So I was heartened when I saw the meticulous shots of lead-letter type and mechanical printing presses and pigs (blocks of lead from which new type is molded) in a PBS feature on Arion Press, one of the last presses dedicated to making books by hand, with hot metal typesetting on handmade pages and hand-sewn bindings. Arion is currently working on a special edition of Leaves of Grass—Whitman, a literary champion of the common man working with his hands, seems a fitting choice for this project. At Arion, you can see some of the last hand-typesetters on Earth, dedicated to an art that is all but lost. There are no big victories to be had against digitization, against the steady decline of books as treasured objects, as things to hold rather than screen sequences to be “46 percent done” with. There are only small, futile acts of defiance, and tiny letters made of lead. The full segment, which includes an interview with former poet laureate Robert Hass, airs tonight on PBS. —Chantal McStay
Though I already quoted it at length in this morning’s news roundup, I can’t endorse Rebecca Mead’s latest column for The New Yorker, “The Scourge of ‘Relatability,’ ” enough. The word relatable was once the province, Mead explains, of daytime talk-show hostesses—the word conjures manicured executives passing glossy focus-group results around a glass conference-room table. (“Will it play in Peoria?” Hollywood bigwigs used to ask, which amounts to the same concern.) But art and literature aren’t, or shouldn’t be, in the thrall of commerce. Why, then, do so many readers, including nominally intelligent ones like Ira Glass, insist that relatability is a valuable metric? “To demand that a work be ‘relatable’ expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer,” Mead writes; “the notion implies that the work in question serves like a selfie: a flattering confirmation of an individual’s solipsism.” Is this all we want from our artists—affable, familiar depictions of everything we already recognize? If you’re a reader who treasures relatability above all else, I can’t relate to you at all. This may mean I should read a novel about you, but let’s continue not to be friends. —Dan Piepenbring
- It’s time to reconsider in earnest that elusive, anxious thing: the Great American Novel.
- Why do we love maps of imaginary places? Umberto Eco has some ideas. (And some fine maps of imaginary places.)
- Relatedly, how did the north come to be the default direction for the tops of maps? It’s the thirty-fifth anniversary of McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World, which famously flipped things around so that south faced up.
- Roger Angell at ninety-three: “I’m feeling great. Well, pretty great, unless I’ve forgotten to take a couple of Tylenols in the past four or five hours, in which case I’ve begun to feel some jagged little pains shooting down my left forearm and into the base of the thumb.”
- A personal ad from a seventeenth-century British alchemist might read something like this: “When I’m not busy attempting to turn various substances into gold, I like to have Dutch masters paint portraits of me in my workshop.”
It seems we’re going to have lots to talk about over the next few weeks, from haircuts to hurt. For starters, an answer your question: A fielder’s choice is recorded when the batter reaches base or a runner advances while another runner is put out. The infield fly rule prevents a trick double play on a pop-up. It’s important to note that The Paris Review team does not play with the infield fly rule in effect.
I became a fan the old-fashioned way: My father took me to a baseball game. Dad cut work, I cut school, and the Orioles beat the Indians, 2–0. Around that time (I was ten years old), my father also bought me a baseball glove. (OK, it was a softball glove, but I insisted on breaking it in with a baseball.) My little sister got one too, but after I showed off my arm by throwing at her head a few times, she went inside for good.
A few years later, when I was beginning my mornings with box scores, my dad started giving me books: David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Wait Till Next Year, a copy of Out of My League inscribed by one George Plimpton. In high school, I worked summers and Friday nights in the Washington Post sports section; in my interview for the job, I discussed the relative merits of Roger Angell and Roger Kahn, the Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio of baseball scribes.