- RIP Václav Havel. An essential reading list.
- RIP George Whitman. A video tribute.
- RIP Christopher Hitchens. An unusual officemate.
- You can no longer kiss Oscar Wilde’s grave.
- “The state of publishing—in particular of the kind of fiction which is politely called ‘literary,’ meaning not ‘easy reading’ as in ‘easy listening,’ or necessarily story-led, not bestselling before it is published—is dire.”
- In happier news: McSweeney’s launches a poetry imprint.
- Mowgli’s mixtape.
- The secret lives of Smiley.
- Picture books? There’s an app for that!
- And Gosling does Scrooge. God bless us, every one!
It is with sadness that we mark the passing of Shakespeare & Co. proprietor George Whitman, a good friend to this magazine and to literature generally. Whitman played host to literary giants and hundreds of itinerant travelers. A living legend and a certified character, he for decades managed to balance the demands of an artistic institution and a popular tourist attraction. He’ll be missed and remembered—as he is in this bittersweet reminiscence by Alexander Nazaryan.
Most dust jackets list only literary accomplishments, but I’ve always been a fan of offbeat author bios. So I asked some of my favorite writers to describe their early jobs.
Glen David Gold: The summer I was seventeen, I delivered depositions for my uncle, who had an office in midtown Manhattan. My uncle was a lovely fellow and was very kindly trying to find work for an unemployable nephew. I recall spending many long hours sitting quietly in front of his desk while he looked at piles of paper and then finally said, “Go to Macy’s.” To summarize, perhaps to the point of inaccuracy: some of his work came from writing “cease and desist” letters when, say, a belt manufacturer had a dispute with a designer over unpaid invoices or copyright infringement. So I would bring a scary-looking document to a boutique asking them to stop selling some kind of merchandise until the legal problems were cleared up.
Delivering the subpoenas themselves was an adventure every time. For instance, Bloomingdale’s—it turns out they’d had subpoenas delivered before and were prepared for me. I walked to the information desk and asked where the legal department was. Fifteenth floor. I went to the elevators. Which stopped at twelve. After ten minutes of investigation, it turned out that the employee elevators went to fifteen. When I got to the fifteenth floor, I pulled out my subpoena and the receptionist, without batting an eye, said, “Room 1532.” Need I say that there was no room 1532? I walked the rectangle of that floor for what felt like an hour, asking where room 1532 was. It wasn’t. The legal department was now locked and no one answered the door. Finally, in defeat, and wanting to prolong my return to my uncle’s office, I went to take the stairs down. I opened the stairwell, and there it was: Room 1532, where they received subpoenas. I took mine from my pocket and extended it like it was a fucking sword. Ha! The guy behind the desk—that’s all it was, a converted maintenance closet with a desk in it—wiped the mustard from his chin and looked up in surprise. “Wow,” he said. I took that as a compliment.
Michael Moorcock: I got into publishing at the age of sixteen, writing features and stories for a national weekly juvenile magazine. I later edited the magazine, but before that I sold my collection of toy soldiers to buy my first guitar. I left the magazine job to travel to Paris, where I busked outside George Whitman’s shop, then called Le Mistral and now called Shakespeare & Company. George didn’t mind, since I spent pretty much every cent I earned in his shop. Later I got a gig in Montmartre singing familiar songs for tourists in a little cabaret, and, when I went back to England, I continued to take whatever work I could get playing guitar. My best job was working for a madam called Mrs. Fox, who paid me to perform at parties she organized for groups of men. She supplied the ladies and the drink. I supplied the music. I performed for Icelandic sailors, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and a couple of soccer teams, among others, and became very friendly with Mrs. Fox’s ladies, who were all very sweet and kind to me, perhaps because I was far too shy to make a pass at anyone. They told me some wonderful, sometimes frightening, stories. It was great experience, and stood me in good stead when I came to write my first adult fiction at the age of seventeen.
This morning we received a copy of The Paris Magazine, which bills itself as “The Poor Man’s Paris Review” and has appeared exactly four times since its founding in 1967. This isn’t very often for a quarterly magazine. Like a blazing comet with an extremely irregular orbit, issue four of The Paris Magazine is not to be missed. I commend to your attention—just for example—Todd McEwen on growing up Thoreauvian: “It was Thoreau’s slow, almost maddeningly slow, description of leaves, of trees, that drew me in. Right away I recognized in Thoreau a fellow connoisseur of depression … ” (This called to mind a favorite paragraph from Sam Munson’s recent novel The November Criminals.)
Instead of answering several important e-mails, I also read Rivka Galchen’s essay on the DSM, Ferlinghetti’s game attempt to translate “Le Pont Mirabeau,” and a rangy essay by Michel Houellebecq on contemporary architecture, including these memorable last lines:
A society which has attained an overheated level doesn’t necessarily melt, but it is unable to produce meaning, since all its energy is taken up with the description of its random variations. Every individual is however capable of producing a sort of cold revolution within himself by stepping outside the infomercial flow. It’s very easy to do. It has in fact never been simpler than today to adopt an aesthetic position in relation to the world: all you have to do is take a step to the side. And this step in the final instance is itself useless. It is enough to pause; to switch off the radio, unplug the television; not to buy anything else, not to want to buy anything else. It is enough to no longer take part, to no longer know; to temporarily suspend all mental activity. It is enough, literally, to be still for a few seconds.
Which is exactly what I was! Congratulations to the new editor of The Paris Magazine, Fatema Ahmed, and to its publisher, the much-loved Shakespeare and Company. May they too find some momentary stillness—and yet manage to produce their next issue before 2019.