- Because people are incorrigibly nosy, and because no one seems to find it enjoyable to let an author write her books in peace, an Italian professor has sallied forth with yet another dubious claim as to the true identity of Elena Ferrante. And the professor’s guess isn’t very creative, either; it’s just another professor. “The latest writer forced to deny that she is the creator of the critically acclaimed Neapolitan novels is Marcella Marmo, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Naples Federico II. ‘Truly no, I am not Elena Ferrante,’ she told Corriere della Sera, saying she had only read the first novel in the Neapolitan series and the newspaper should give her the other books as an apology.”
- Today in super: what a shitty word super is, with its grating long u, its relentless cheer, its strange ties to start-up culture. Teddy Wayne writes “Super followed by an adjective—in other words, in adverbial form—was more than five times as common from 2010 to ’12 as from 1990 to ’94, with the biggest leaps coming in the last decade … What was once reserved for the best, the most awe-inspiring and the wondrous is now routinely deployed for the mundane, the banal and the taste of fro-yo … It is a prefix for a wealth of hard math and science terms (such as superset or superstring theory). It can imbue a nebulous proposition with what sounds like data-tested objectivity: ‘We have implemented a superaccessible user database’ comes off as more authoritative or more high-tech than ‘We have implemented a very accessible user database.’ ”
- Eileen Myles has become that strangest of subspecies, the famous poet. Arielle Greenberg wonders why Myles’s fame has itself garnered so much attention, and what it might mean for her work: “It is weird for a poet to be famous, and no one feels this weirdness more deeply than poets themselves. It’s even more weird for a poet to be newly more famous—genuinely, glossy-magazine famous—in her mid-sixties, after writing nineteen books … Why is the media so obsessed with Myles’s ascent into mainstream celebrity? I think a host of reasons are at play: the way Americans try to get ‘cultured’ by osmosis so that stylish articles about poetry make us feel more intellectual, the ‘bootstraps’ nature of Myles’s story, the novelty of someone who ran for president as a piece of performance art getting photographed for glossy magazines. I find myself thinking about a term used a lot in my circles in the early 1990s: co-opting. Back then, it seemed that everything authentic and revolutionary and vital—the riot grrl movement, grunge music, hip-hop—was quickly gobbled up by the establishment and spat back out in clean, shiny packages for mass consumption. I worry that the hoopla over Myles is an attempt by the media to take everything underground about her and her work and use it to make itself look cool.”
- The Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film Cemetery of Splendor continues his long, oblique, quiet approach to political cinema, in which characters struggle to awake from the bland dream of history: “By far the most nakedly political film of Weerasethakul’s career, it is a gentle, open-hearted story of human connection, and it is underlain at every moment by rage and dread. Midway through the film, the two main characters, Jen and Itt, go to the movies. In a slick modern multiplex, they watch a trailer for a schlocky horror flick, a fevered montage of impalements, heaving breasts, and prehensile tongues. This sequence is as close to a direct statement of intent as you’ll ever find in a Weerasethakul film. Cemetery of Splendor has no gore, no bug-eyed demons or shrieking victims, and it makes time for flirtatious conversations with the local librarian, a long sales pitch for a miracle skin cream, and several public group workouts (a charmingly inexplicable staple of this filmmaker’s work). But it too is a horror movie, all the more unsettling for its poky, daylit geniality.”
- It’s been twenty years since Under the Tuscan Sun was published, turning Tuscany into an unseemly pastiche of luxury and authentic European living. What have we done since? Jason Wilson explains: “I have sat on Tuscan-brown sofas surrounded by Tuscan-yellow walls, lounged on Tuscan patios made with Tuscan pavers, surrounded by Tuscan landscaping. I have stood barefoot on Tuscan bathroom tiles, washing my hands under Tuscan faucets after having used Tuscan toilets. I have eaten, sometimes on Tuscan dinnerware, a Tuscan Chicken on Ciabatta from Wendy’s, a Tuscan Chicken Melt from Subway, the $6.99 Tuscan Duo at Olive Garden, and Tuscan Hummus from California Pizza Kitchen. Recently, I watched my friend fill his dog’s bowl with Beneful Tuscan Style Medley dog food. This barely merited a raised eyebrow; I’d already been guilty of feeding my cat Fancy Feast’s White Meat Chicken Tuscany. Why deprive our pets of the pleasures of Tuscan living?”
This is the Library Hotel, in Koh Samui, Thailand. We appreciate the image’s caption: “Real happiness is not complicated at all.” Indeed, we would go so far as to say it doesn’t even require a plane ticket and a hotel room … but it’s lovely to look at, no?
In the study of the Jim Thompson House & Museum in Bangkok, just above Thompson’s old desk, are two separate horoscopes, foretold and framed, hanging on the wall. One of them predicts good luck in 1959, the year Thompson chose to move into this house, retired from the U.S. Army and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), having already relocated to Bangkok and gotten rich revitalizing the Thai silk industry. The other horoscope included in the frame predicts bad luck at the age of 61 for he who was born in the Year of the Horse. Thompson had been born in the Year of the Horse, and in 1967, at the age of 61, he went for a walk in the woods of Malaysia just south of here and never came back. Not even his remains have ever been found.
Thompson’s house is now a museum, although during his lifetime this city would never have accommodated such a thing. He perfected a popular silk that was better than other silks—a silk cut from lengthier cloths and colored by stronger and faster-acting and better-varied dyes. When it was chosen for all the silks used in the movie version of The King and I (1956), it became more popular still. At the time, Thailand had given up on its own silk industry, importing a cheaper fabric from other countries. The localized empire Thompson established would improve the lives of Bangkok’s citizenry, handsomely employing them in a business benevolently run. Still, his enemies were legion, and they extended all the way up into society’s highest strata. The mystery of just why and how Thompson disappeared, and by the agency of whom, is one that persists still and probably always will.
A series on what writers from around the world see from their windows.
My study window looks out over an incongruous jungle located in the heart of Bangkok. As the rest of the neighborhood is dominated by high-rises and townhouses that have sacrificed yards for concrete parking spaces, all remaining wildlife seems to gravitate to our garden. Myopic fantail birds tap against the windowpanes, squirrels chew on the frayed corners of the shutters, and neon-green tree snakes sunbath silently in the rain gutters. (I keep the number of a local snake catcher in my phone, as the lack of rats suggests the presence of a well-fed python somewhere in the vicinity.)
There is another type of wildness here, too. The ficus tree on the right-hand side of this drawing is where the house spirits now reside. At the advice of a fortune-teller, a tricolored band of cloth was tied around its trunk not long after we moved in. In accordance with Thai custom, regular offerings of food and flower garlands are laid out for the spirits so that they might be enticed to exist outside the house, rather than inside—a practice that has put a stop to most (but not all) of the inexplicable shadows and footsteps that flit through these old wooden rooms.
This scene encompasses both the wild and the urban, the known and the unknown. It reminds me that the dividing line between fact and fiction is less clearly defined here in Thailand and that the boundary between the two is porous. In such a place, stories thrive. —Emma Larkin
I’m planning a trip to Southeast Asia later in the year, and I’m looking for fiction set in the countries I’ll be visiting. For the most part I’ve managed to find books that fit the bill—Graham Greene’s The Quiet American for Vietnam, André Malraux’s The Way of Kings for Cambodia, and Christopher Kremmer’s Bamboo Palace for Laos. But I’m really stuck on Thailand. There’s The Beach by Alex Garland, which I’ve read and wasn’t a huge fan of. Aside from that all I can seem to find are some fairly nasty-looking crime novels. I’d prefer something slightly more on the literary side of things if possible, whether fiction or nonfiction.
Thanks (and kap koon kah).
John Burdett’s not your speed, eh? In that case, I recommend Mischa Berlinski’s Fieldwork. Set in Chiang Mae and in the jungles of northern Thailand, it tells the story of an anthropologist and a family of American missionaries battling over the hearts and minds of an animist village. No less an authority than Stephen King raved about it in Entertainment Weekly:
This is a great story. It has an exotic locale, mystery, and a narrative voice full of humor and sadness. Reading Fieldwork is like discovering an unpublished Robertson Davies novel; as with Davies, you can’t stop reading until midnight (good), and you don’t hate yourself in the morning (better).
King didn’t like the title (“Berlinski tells us the editor hung that says-nothing title on the book. The guy should have stuck to editing”). As the editor in question, I may be biased—but I promise it’s the book you want.
Perhaps you can assist me with a delicate matter. Having lately fallen in love, I find I have been inspired to address to my particular Phoebus Apollo a string of flamboyant sonnets, which, although they genuinely come from the heart, are, I suspect, really terrible. True, they scan quite well and, of course rhyme, but in their slightly banal sentimentality they make John Betjeman seem highbrow. So, mindful of the possibility that such a dubious body of work might someday come to light, is it better, do you think, to run the risk of being labeled as an awful poetaster who’s heart is in the right place, or disconcerting Phoebus Apollo by engaging in ruthless self-censorship?
Why not take a page (a very famous page) from Sir Philip Sidney?
Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show
That she (dear She) might take some pleasure of my pain:
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain;
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe,
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain:
Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burn’d brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting Invention’s stay,
Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows,
And others’ feet still seem’d but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite—
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.”
As Sidney writes, a love sonnet needn’t be good—just induce a modicum of pity. Your limitations can only be a strength. Read More