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Category Archives: This Week’s Reading

  • This Week’s Reading

    Staff Picks: A Bouquet to Sybille Bedford; Martin Amis in Brooklyn

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    Five Dials released their latest issue last evening, but I’m still enchanted by “A Bouquet to Sybille Bedford,” with an essay by Aliette Martin, Bedford’s translator and literary executor. —Thessaly La Force

    I’ve been racing through The Tale of the 1002nd Night, Joseph Roth’s last published novel. Set in pre-WWI Vienna, when “the world was deeply and frivolously at peace,” it begins with a fairy-tale visit by the Persian Shah and ends in bankruptcy, alcoholism, and despair. But Roth’s basic buoyancy—unless it is that of the translator, Michael Hofmann—makes this sad story a joy to read. —Robyn Creswell

    Terry Eagleton’s On Evil is a cogent study of a subject about which much is assumed, and little questioned. I often found myself disagreeing with his views, but I appreciated his careful writing, his stylish analysis, and, most of all, his ability to make theory both relevant and exciting. —Rosalind Parry

    This Sunday, I read David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary. The narrator writes nonlinearly about a relationship through definitions for words like aloof and fraught. Here’s Levithan with “catharsis”: “I took it out on the wall. I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU. YOU FUCKER, I LOVE YOU.” Is the couple still together? We never find out. —Angela Melamud

    Christian Lorentzen on Martin Amis’s move to Brooklyn. And rambling with W. G. Sebald in East Anglia. —T. L.

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  • This Week’s Reading

    Staff Picks: Franzen’s Pot Stash, Fire Season

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    Elif Batuman describes life after writing a best-selling book and tells how she asked Jonathan Frazen if he had any weed. “There’s some in my freezer,” Franzen replies. “But it’s all the way uptown.” —Thessaly La Force

    Having stretched Philip Connors’s Fire Season out over two weeks of late nights, for the pleasure of coming home to it, I tore through Samuel R. Delany’s The Motion of Light in Water in a day. I can’t stop talking about it, because I can’t stop thinking about it. It evokes bohemian New York in the fifties and sixtiesgay, straight, and othermore vividly than anything I’ve read. —Lorin Stein

    When I saw that Maurice Manning was a finalist for a Pulitzer this year, I went and reread much of his poetry—psalms and pastorals, a philosophical ode to Daniel Boone. If you don’t know his work, you now have no excuse. —Nicole Rudick

    What got me about Martin Amis’s The Information were the quick, declarative sentences that suddenly appear in otherwise bleak and descriptive paragraphs. At the start of the novel, Amis skirts around our main character until tying everything together with “He was forty tomorrow, and reviewed books.” The economy of language here is divine. —Rosalind Parry

    Jennifer Egan, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this week, discusses her early hopes of becoming a doctor, life as a struggling writer in New York, and the importance of self-criticism and perseverance in a candid interview with The Days of Yore. —Elianna Kan

    This letter from Sebastian Junger to Tim Hetherington, the photographer who was killed in Libya this week, is heartbreaking. —T. L.

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  • This Week’s Reading

    Staff Picks: Cycling, Skiing, and an Island of Solitude

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    Jeanne Mackenzie’s anthology Cycling is a collection of lighthearted, cycle-related selections from various literary figures, including James Boswell, Mark Twain, H. G. Wells, and P. G. Wodehouse, to name but a few. The book is beautifully printed—who could resist its cover?—and the selections delightful, and it’s endearing to see so many writers brought to rapture by so similar and elegant a sensation. As George Bernard Shaw fittingly concludes: “Yes, bicycling’s a capital thing for a literary man.” —Stephen Hiltner

    John Swansburg, this week’s culture diarist, pointed me in the direction of an interview that Slate’s Michael Agger conducted with James Salter last year about Solo Faces and Downhill Racer. —Thessaly La Force

    Ted Hughes’s translation of Jean Racine’s Phèdre absolutely crackles. It’s a poem about envious royals and epic feuds, but to me it was at its best when Hughes captured the private dilemmas of these very public figures. When Phèdre denies her throne, insisting that she cannot rule a country if she cannot rule herself, it is an incredible moment that pits person against state and soul against country: “Me? Rule? Me take control/Of a state flying to pieces/When I cannot control myself?”—Rosalind Parry

    I’ve been reading Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole’s Sacred Trash, a book about the Cairo geniza—that small storehouse where, for centuries, local Jews deposited their shopping lists, letters, wills, and personal libraries. Cole and Hoffman’s book tells the story of how the geniza was “discovered” by European scholars, transplanted to Cambridge, England (also St. Petersburg, New York City, and Budapest), and eventually changed the way we think about Jewish history. I can’t think of another work that succeeds so well in making archival research into gripping adventure. —Robyn Creswell

    Jonathan Franzen on David Foster Wallace in this week’s New Yorker is an item you simply cannot ignore. Oh, and did you see his vacation pics? —T. L.

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  • This Week’s Reading

    Staff Picks: Terry Castle, Jane Smiley, Ramona Ausubel

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    Diary of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne (1809–71).

    Do not take Terry Castle to bed if you plan on getting any sleep. I keep trying to savor The Professor, her memoirs of love and friendship in the academy. It’s like trying to savor cocaine. The title essay, about a formative affair Castle had as an undergraduate, is now up there on a short shelf in my mind alongside Adolphe and First Love. —Lorin Stein

    In the Morgan Library’s exhibition “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives,” Bob Dylan sketches a hotel-room table and then uses it to ink out a poem; JP Morgan has a first-rate time with the girls at dancing school; Charlotte Bronte struggles to write in between her studies; John Ruskin graphs out “pretty” chess moves; and Albert Einstein thinks “about the gravitation-electricity problem again” even though he knows he should be doing other things. The show comes complete with a brochure of carefully typed out diary entries, but I found it much more rewarding to squint my way through the diaries, wondering at the tiny scribbles and neat printings, and feeling just a bit closer to these beloved authors and figures. —Rosalind Parry

    I have a girl crush on Ramona Ausubel, whose short story “Atria” was published in The New Yorker this week. I can’t wait to read her forthcoming novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us. Of it, Ausubel admits, “I have been trying not to think too hard about what it will be like to release this story to the great big world.” (P. S. Don’t miss her story in The Daily last week.) —Thessaly La Force

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  • This Week’s Reading

    Staff Picks: The Wrong Place, Modernist Cuisine

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    Belgian artist Brecht Evens’s The Wrong Place, a graphic novel done in watercolor, is a jewel box. The formal chaos of social interaction—at a dinner party and in a crowded Moroccan-themed night club—comes alive in the book’s riotous melding of clothing and decor patterns and luminous, vivid color. I read it straight through; its gorgeous pages are burned into my brain. —Nicole Rudick

    This Wednesday, I attended a demonstration for the Modernist Cuisine, which could have only been written by a crazy person. Or, in this case, several crazy people. Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet have written five volumes covering everything from sous vide to shit. As The New Yorker’s John Lancaster puts it: “In its packed state, it weighs forty-six pounds. The scale and ambition of the project—and maybe at least one of the egos behind it—are Pharaonic.” At the demonstration, I was served a striped omelette, and like Amanda Hesser, I wish that I had booked it to Myhrvold’s headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, five years ago and joined the effort. —Thessaly La Force

    Earlier this year, Edmund White introduced British readers to his top ten books about New York. I enjoyed the list very much—it featured the expected classics alongside neglected curiosities—but couldn’t help feeling that he’d missed a trick by omitting the complete writings of Whitney Balliett, who was the jazz critic at The New Yorker for fifty years. Balliett’s tastes lean a little too much toward the conservative—goodness knows what he’d make of my predilection for this kind of nonsense—but the perfectly weighted cadences of his prose are as tight and agile as the rhythm section of the slickest combo around. Check out his profiles of Big Sid Catlett, Ben Webster, and Ornette Coleman in particular. This, for me, is the sound of New York. —Jonathan Gharraie

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