- Today in obsolete fruits: a seventeenth-century still life by Giovanni Stanchi reveals the extent to which selective breeding has altered the watermelon—nay, life!—as we know it. Look at Stanchi’s painting and you’ll see a smaller, rounder, whiter fruit that today would never make it to market. We’ve demanded bigger, redder, juicier, more oblong melons. What have we wrought?
- Samuel Delany has been writing for more than half a century now, and a new collection of his early work reminds of how he’s changed the genre of science fiction: “Delany came of age at a time when the genre was indeed characterized by gee-whiz futurism, machismo adventuring, and white, heterosexual heroes. From the beginning, Delany, in his fiction, pushed across those boundaries, embraced the other, and questioned received ideas about sex and intimacy … Even now, when graphic sex and challenging themes are hardly unusual, Delany’s rapturous sexuality and his explorations of race within the trappings of science fiction have the power to startle.”
- Everyone critiques social media by suggesting that it forces us to turn ourselves into products—the presumption is that we’d prefer a service that allows for some more boundless, less prepackaged form of “self-expression.” But the problem might be more insidious than that: it might be that “users enjoy becoming the product … The self, as a product, loses its enchantment for us and needs to be revitalized to the extent that it becomes familiar, known, understood. We love ourselves only as a novelty, a mystery, not as a staple product. We want to be able to apprehend ourselves as a new, desirable thing that we can consume and enjoy. This makes us feel relevant, marketable. We can imagine someone buying into the idea of us, and that helps us buy into ourselves. But inevitably our desire for ourselves needs to be renewed, and we will need to be repackaged.”
- Jacob Fugger, a banker born in 1459, was known as “Jacob the Rich.” He got this nickname because he was very, very rich. In fact, he may well have been the richest man who ever lived: “Fugger was able to obtain control of commodities such as silver, from Austria, and copper, from Hungary. He built a smelter to refine the copper and traded it himself quite pitilessly … He helped finance a Portuguese scheme to relocate the pepper and spice trade to Lisbon, a move so successful that it delivered a fatal blow to the commercial stature of Venice. He also had a thirst for information about trade and commerce that led him to create a network of couriers whose reports to Augsburg were printed and distributed to clients in the form of a primitive newspaper. Fugger had invented the world’s first news service.”
- But let’s not forget that there are plenty of obscenely wealthy people today and that, unlike Fugger, many of them have been photographed. Myles Little, an editor, has compiled pictures of the upper crust in “One Percent: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality,” and the results are startling—even more so than you’d expect. In part this is because Little strove to make the show “posh”: “I wanted to borrow the language of privilege and wealth by including beautiful photos, beautiful, precious objects, but I wanted to use that language to subvert wealth, and critique wealth and privilege.”
- When Charlotte Brontë was thirteen and her brother, Branwell, was twelve, they designed and wrote a series of tiny books: “Measuring less than one inch by two inches, the books were made from scraps of paper and constructed by hand. Despite their diminutive size, the books contained big adventures, written in ink in careful script.”
- Charles Simic is addicted to soccer, though in his youth he wasn’t very good at playing it: “My grandmother once came to watch me play and when she got home told my mother: ‘All the other kids were running around nicely and kicking the ball, except your son, who kept jumping up and down and flailing his arms.’”
- Later this month, the Guggenheim will host “ANTI-PASTA: A Dinner Inspired by Italian Futurism,” which observes the tenets set forth in Marinetti’s “Manifesto of Futurist Cuisine.” “Be rid of pasta, that idiotic gastronomic fetish of the Italians,” Marinetti wrote, enumerating eleven requirements for an ideal meal, including “harmony between table setting and food, the invention of food sculptures, and the use of scents, poetry, and music, as well as scientific instruments during preparation.”
- This may not be a cause for pride, but we’re proud of it nevertheless: two of the books in this “Weird Sex” roundup are by recent Paris Review interviewees Nicholson Baker and Samuel Delany. (On House of Holes: “Amid the bathetic histrionics, Holes asserts a striking degree of tender, if debauched, humanity.”)
- New York has subways and buses, ferries and trams, but it also has dollar vans, a form of “shadow transit” operating “mostly in peripheral, low-income neighborhoods that contain large immigrant communities and lack robust public transit.”
- The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America—arguably the closest thing our nation has to a band of superheroes—has announced the nominees for this year’s Nebula Awards. Nicola Griffith, interviewed on the Daily last month, is up for best novel; and Samuel Delany, interviewed in the Art of Fiction No. 210, has won what’s surely the most finely named lifetime-achievement award in the land, the Damon Knight Grand Master Award. Congratulations to both!
- Today in common ground for humankind: every language contains the utterance “huh.” Let’s say it together.
- “I don’t think I have the right kind of books for homeless people.”
- Cosmopolitan’s sex tips have probably never been anything to write home about, but this one is especially bad. It involves a glazed doughnut, and its origins are in a 1995 “sexual recipe book” called The Foreplay Gourmet.
- Introducing “normcore,” fashion’s latest, most unremarkable trend: “The kind of dad-brand non-style you might have once associated with Jerry Seinfeld.”
- An update to Tuesday’s note on the Voynich manuscript: a medievalist named Stephen Bax claims to have discovered a way of decoding it.
Our contributor Ben Lerner turned me on to an astonishing new book, White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin, by Michael W. Clune. A graduate student in the English department at Johns Hopkins, Clune led a double life as a junkie that in the late nineties took him from the slums of Baltimore to a Chicago jail, and, eventually, into recovery. But White Out is more than a recovery memoir. It is a phenomenology of heroin addiction—the single best thing I have read about the drug—and a deep, often beautiful meditation on the nature of memory, pleasure, and time. “In the timeless space of dope I discovered that time is the great enemy of thought … The teacup I hold in my hand is a bullet shot out of a gun. It’s no wonder that it’s so impossibly hard to think in these conditions. It’s no wonder that maggots grow in fresh meat, that an electric bill is overdue as soon as you open it, that the first time you try something you’re already addicted.” —Lorin Stein
You may remember Samuel Delany from, among other things, our Spring 2011 issue. In that interview, he briefly mentions Dennis, his partner of more than twenty years. Among the photographs we considered to accompany the conversation were shots of Chip and Dennis on the couch in their Harlem apartment, and though they didn’t make the final cut, the images contained an intimacy that was, frankly, very touching. Little did I know that their relationship is the subject of its own book. First published twenty-five years ago and reissued this month by Fantagraphics, Bread and Wine is a graphic novella that gives their origin story, beginning when Dennis had been living on the streets in New York for six years. Loosely structured around Hölderlin’s elegy of the same name, the book is told from Delany’s point of view and is by turns realist and direct and revelatory and romantic. In the same way, Mia Wolff’s superb black-and-white art is alternately detailed and spare, drawing the most out of this honest and heartfelt tale. —Nicole Rudick
David Searcy’s essay “The Hudson River School,” in the latest issue of Granta, is about a lot of things: western Texas, Google Maps, coyotes, the Jared Coffin House, and flossing. And just like his previous essays in the Review (here and here) and his fiction, Searcy leaves it up to the reader to put together the pieces. I’ve always loved that in books. My favorite section is his take on the theater of Google Maps, when you click from one point to another, sweeping “away to the rear like smoke in a wind before things re-materialize around the next coordinate” and the smudges in the distance could be anything—a sheep, a crying child, or, simply, emptiness. —Justin Alvarez
I came across Oliver Sacks’s An Anthropologist on Mars on the bookshelf of the house where I’m staying. Sacks writes on the peculiarities of the human brain with both awe and humility; he trusted his patients’ accounts of rare achromatopsia, of reprieve from total blindness, and of anterograde amnesia when no other doctors would. The fact that it was published twenty years ago and still offers significant theories on neurology speaks to Sacks’s importance in the medical and literary worlds. —Ellen Duffer
The small coastal commune of Cassis, located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of Southern France, is a hub of tourism, boasting a coastline of stunning inlets (calanques) and an abundance of venues for consumption of moules-frites. While visiting last week, I was surprised to come upon a poetry shop, selling nothing but customized and framed poems and boasting “plus de 4000 poèmes à votre service pour ceux que vous aimez.” A refreshing change from overpriced bottled water! —Kate Rouhandeh
The living is easy—and it’s time for our summer issue! Whether you’re on the beach, in transit, or just enjoying the long days at home, this is an issue to get lost in: find fiction by Jonathan Lethem, Amie Barrodale, and David Gates and the continuing story of Roberto Bolaño’s lost novel The Third Reich, with original illustrations by Leanne Shapton.
Big news: For the first time, readers can buy a digital version of The Paris Review—for easy access anytime, anywhere. TPR digital can be read on your iPad, laptop, or mobile device. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it’s instant gratification!
If, like us, you still enjoy a little sand between the pages of your beach-house reading, buy a subscription to the paper magazine—and get a Paris Review beach towel!* (We’d tell you to tuck it into a TPR tote, but that might sound pushy.)
From the summer issue:
An expansive interview with William Gibson:
What was more important was to name [my landscape] something cool, because it was never going to work unless it had a really good name. So the first thing I did was sit down with a yellow pad and a Sharpie and start scribbling—infospace, dataspace. I think I got cyberspace on the third try, and I thought, Oh, that’s a really weird word. I liked the way it felt in my mouth—I thought it sounded like it meant something while still being essentially hollow.
A frank interview with Samuel R. Delany:
Finding time to work is the main problem … You write a decent book, and you’re hired as a creative-writing teacher. The next thing you know, you’re director of the program, which basically means you get less time in class and more administration, which nobody likes, so that you can hardly write anything anymore.
A portfolio of video art curated by Marilyn Minter. Poetry by Frederick Seidel, Cathy Park Hong, Kevin Prufer, Lia Purpura, D. Nurkse, and Iman Mersal.