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This year marks The Paris Review’s sixtieth anniversary and we’re all celebrating—and sporting our new anniversary tote bags!
Every spring, we design a tote for our Spring Revel. This year’s bag features silver and blue bubbles highlighting special praise for the Review and a Hadada alighting on a birthday candle: a festive tote for a big year.
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Our Spring Revel will take place tonight! In anticipation of the event, the Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating Paula Fox, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. The following is excerpted from an essay that originally ran as the introduction to Desperate Characters.
A book that has fallen, however briefly, out of print can put a strain on even the most devoted reader’s love. In the way that a man might regret certain shy mannerisms in his wife that cloud her beauty, or a woman might wish that her husband laughed less loudly at his own jokes, though the jokes are very funny, I’ve suffered for the tiny imperfections that might prejudice potential readers against Desperate Characters. I’m thinking of the stiffness and impersonality of the opening paragraph, the austerity of the opening sentence, the creaky word “repast”: as a lover of the book, I now appreciate how the formality and stasis of the paragraph set up the short, sharp line of dialogue that follows (“The cat is back”); but what if a reader never makes it past “repast”? I wonder, too, if the name of the protagonist, “Otto Bentwood,” might be diffi cult to take on first reading. Fox generally works her characters’ names very hard— the name “Russel,” for instance, nicely echoes Charlie’s restless, furtive energies (Otto suspects him of literally “rustling” clients), and just as something is surely missing in Charlie’s character, a second “l” is missing in his surname. I do admire how the old- fashioned and vaguely Teutonic name “Otto” saddles Otto the way his compulsive orderliness saddles him; but “Bentwood,” even after many readings, remains for me a little artificial in its bonsai imagery. And then there’s the title of the book. It’s apt, certainly, and yet it’s no The Day of the Locust, no The Great Gatsby, no Absalom, Absalom! It’s a title that people may forget or confuse with other titles. Sometimes, wishing it were stronger, I feel lonely in the peculiar way of someone deeply married.
It’s a busy time here at The Paris Review. Tomorrow is our annual gala, the Spring Revel, and in two weeks, we move our little office from the Tribeca loft that has been our home for the past eight years to a new space in Chelsea. Boxes are piled high; loose books and papers are strewn about; scissors and tape will not stay in the same place.
Last week, we were clearing a bookshelf of its contents and came across a batch of small, white booklets. The Paris Review: Twenty Year Index, Issues 1–56, they were titled; they appeared to be lists of everything that had been published during the magazine’s first twenty-three years, and were put aside for recycling. Flipping through them later, we realized that the booklets also contained an introduction by George Plimpton, a founder of the magazine and its editor for the first fifty years of its history.
A minihistory of the Review, full of forgotten anecdotes and remembrances, the introduction is particularly poignant as we prepare for these two (for us) significant events. George recalls early offices of the magazine, angering Ernest Hemingway with brash interview questions, the many volunteers who flocked to the Review and gave a fledgling publication a boost. He writes of raucous Revels past: “The Revels were memorable affairs, with so much effort spent by staff members in entertaining the guests that very often the fund-raising aspects of the events were forgotten. The extravaganza on Welfare Island (although 750 people turned up) actually lost money—and primarily because a piano was left out in a glade and was ruined in a post-party rain squall.”
Here’s to a Revel that’s just as fun, but minus the rain.
An Index is simply a statistical compilation which does not suggest the quality of the material listed, or the critical standards that guided its selection. It can only record the appearance, not the gist, of William Styron’s introductory “letter” which set forth the magazine’s principles in the first pages of the first issue—a letter addressed to John P. C. Train, the managing editor, who in questioning Styron’s manifesto elicited a reply which turned out to be lively and pertinent and a considerable improvement on the original document.
An Index can list the people who have worked for the magazine, but it cannot acknowledge their individual contributions. Their number has been vast. The Paris Review has traditionally published a masthead longer by far than Fortune magazine’s. Indeed, so many volunteers turned up to help in the early days that the managing editor referred to the females by the collective name of “Apotheker” (Joan Apotheker … Mary Apo …)—from the German for “druggist,” which he apparently thought appropriate. Their male counterparts were referred to as “Musinskys”—named after the first of their breed who came to work for a Paris summer. Read More
This year our Spring Revel will take place on April 9. In anticipation of the event, the Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating Paula Fox, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize.
When I saw the film adaptation of The Hunger Games last year, I left the theater feeling uneasy about the shaky-cam, blurry, PG-13–sanctioned violence of kids killing kids. It was videogame violence, the sort that disappeared in the span of a moment, not the sort of savagery that hits you in the gut, makes you understand what the cost of violence can be. Weeks later, the film did not sit well with me, lingering as a mediocrity only made palatable by the endless soul of Jennifer Lawrence’s presence onscreen.
And after rereading Paula Fox’s The Slave Dancer, a 1974 Newbery Award–winning children’s novel, I wonder, seriously, what she would make of the glib work aimed at children these days, particularly the uneven aspects of the Hunger Games series—on book and film—a work that puts its characters in thrilling situations and often on the precipice of horrible choices that will define their humanity, but all too often stops and takes the easy way out, in the form of deus ex machinas and conspiracies that go all the way to the top.
Because here’s the thing about Paula Fox’s work: she never takes the easy way out. And in her work for children, she writes with evenness and truth, never lying to children about the horrors of the world. Rather, she gives them the chance to find some light on the other side. Read More