“You’ll find that marriage is a good short cut to the truth. No, not quite that. A way of doubling back to the truth. Another thing you’ll find is that the years of illusion aren’t those of adolescence, as the grown-ups try to tell us; they’re the ones immediately after it, say the middle twenties, the false maturity if you like, when you first get thoroughly embroiled in things and lose your head. Your age, by the way, Jim. That’s when you first realize that sex is important to other people besides yourself. A discovery like that can’t help knocking you off balance for a time.”—Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim (via kidpretentious) Give Lucky Jim to the twenty-something in your life so that you don’t have to give him/her a lecture like this to his face.
Blue is therefore the most suitable color of interior life. Whether slick light sharp high bright thin quick sour new and cool or low deep sweet thick dark soft slow smooth heavy old and warm: blue moves easily among them all, and all profoundly qualify our states of feeling.
—from William H. Gass’s On Being Blue, which will be available as an NYRB Classic in early Spring 2014.
Apropos of the chatter and clatter around Kechiche’s latest film, Gass has a lot to say about how blue is not only the warmest color, but also the deepest, the lightest, the darkest, the coldest, and the softest color. In Gass’s words: “Praise is due blue, the preference of the bee.” Indeed!
This whole story would have remained hidden under the starched cuff and sleeve of a jacket, if not for the Weekly Review. The Weekly Review came up with a questionnaire (Your favorite writer? Your average weekly earnings? Your goal in life?) and sent it out to all subscribers. Among the thousands of completed forms (the Review had a huge circulation), the sorters found one, Form No. 11111, which, wander as it would from sorter to sorter, could not be sorted: On Form No. 11111, opposite “Average Earnings,” the respondent had written “0,” and opposite “Goal in Life,” in clear round letters, “To bite my elbow.”
—the opening of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s story “The Unbitten Elbow,” from the collection Autobiography of a Corpse, which hit shelves today! Maybe a certain New York Review of Books should run a similar questionnaire…
Also, just a little reminder:
Please support our Kickstarter to purchase an Australian shepherd puppy, to be named Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, for the office.
The person in question was Giacomo Zapparoni, one of those men who have money to burn…. You couldn’t open a newspaper or a magazine or sit in front of a movie screen without coming upon his name. His plant was quite near, and by exploiting both his own and foreign inventions, he had achieved a monopoly in his field….
Journalists wrote fantastic stories about the objects he manufactured. “To those who have, shall be given.” Probably their imagination ran wild. The Zapparoni Works manufactured robots for every imaginable purpose. They were supplied on special order, and in standard models which could be found in every household. It was not a question of big automatic machines as one might think at first. Zapparoni’s speciality was lilliputian robots. With a few exceptions their scale increased to the size of a watermelon and decreased to something the size of a Chinese curio….
A man like Zapparoni could say what he wanted to—it sounded well. It had authority, not only because he could buy up the press, which paid homage to him in the editorial and the advertising departments, but principally because he was an embodiment of the spirit of the age. This homage had, therefore, the advantage that it was not only paid for, but that it was, at the same time, sincerely felt—it demanded nothing but wholehearted approval from both the intelligentsia and the moralists of the press.
I must, of course, admit that Zapparoni really could pass for the showpiece of that elated technical optimism which dominates our leading minds. With him, technology took a new turn toward downright pleasure—the age-old magicians’ dream of being able to change the world by thought alone seemed almost to have come true….
[Zapparoni] waved to me and called: “Beware of the bees!”
When we first published The Glass Bees (1957), we compared Ernst Jünger's great Zapparoni to Walt Disney. Zapparoni makes fantastic automatons that delight and entertain,” and he also equips the army with “ingenious weapons.” Nowadays, though, there are a multitude of people Zapparoni resembles—and most of them live many miles up the coast from Hollywood.
Most of The Glass Bees takes place as an out-of-work and “hard up” man—a drone?—awaits a job interview with Zapparoni in his fantastical garden (Jünger was an early experimenter with LSD). Beware of the bees, indeed.
This reissue from the New York Review of Books is simply lovely. As I try to understand more what “Caribbean literature” is, this book offers at least one answer. It is a family’s story—part fable, part tragedy, always beautifully written.
No longer Small Business Saturday but a good book is timeless.
"The turkey came from the store so it was all right."
Sometimes, but especially in the fall, it seemed to Tommy that he came from a very bloody race: old ladies encased in dry skins and topped by stuffed birds, drawing their dusty, lifeless smell from ancient animal corpses; slaughtered creatures served at the table and glistening with pink juices; even their plates were garlanded with heaps of dead game, the tureen and serving dishes—relics of his mother’s mother’s family—with the heads of living animals whose mild eyes stared at him from beneath the glaze. Tommy imagined his father—he wasn’t old enough to go hunting from the camp so he could only imagine it—tracking the deer through the dark forest, following the spoor, finger loosely clasping the trigger of the rifle he had carefully cleaned and oiled until it gleamed, waiting to fell and gut the animal that this Thanksgiving Day was hanging by its heels, belly slit and ribs wrenched open, from a rafter in the garage behind the house, awaiting the knives of the butcher.
—from William McPherson’s novel, Testing the Current, which tells the story of Tommy MacAllister, coming of age in the U.S. Midwest. Despite Tommy’s seeming aversion to the bloody business of animal slaughter, however, he’s able to suppress his conviction when it comes to the Thanksgiving turkey: “the turkey came from the store so it was all right,” he notes pages later.
Here’s to the struggles of both the sublimating and conscientious eater on Thanksgiving! But really, here’s to taking time to reflect, with or without that store-bought turkey.
This confession—shall I call it?—is written to keep myself from brooding, to get down to what happened in the order in which it happened. I am not content with myself. With this pencil and exercise-book I hope to find some clarity. I create a second self, a man of the past by whom the man of the present may be measured.
—from Geoffrey Household’s thriller Rogue Male. These are all good reasons to write, whether or not you are on the run from a vicious dictator’s secret police.
The NYRB Classics Goodreads Book Club is currently reading Rogue Male (and developing a lot of tantalizing theories about the reliability of this self-proclaimed “confessor” in the discussion forum). Next month’s pick is Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Autobiography of a Corpse. This is super exciting. Don’t hesitate to join in the fun.
Lastly, please do watch all or part of this clip from the 1976 film adaptation of Rogue Male, starring Peter O’Toole:
“Morris … did not begin her transition until 1964. By then, treatments — and, some would argue, societal notions about womanhood — were more advanced. Perhaps even more importantly, she had already established herself as a historian and travel writer and had been married for 15 years when she began her transition. In fact, she went to Morocco for her surgery, which Dr. George Bourou performed, because in her native England she would not be allowed to have her surgery unless she divorced her wife, something she wasn’t prepared to do at the time. They eventually did divorce, but they remained in contact and reunited in a civil union in 2008.”—
The noted Italian translator William Weaver died last week. The list of Italian authors he, beautifully, translated into English is astonishing: Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Italo Svevo, Elsa Morante, Giorgio Bassani, Roberto Calasso, Primo Levi, Eugenio Montale and many others. NYRB Classics has published three of his translations: Boredomby Alberto Moravia, That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana by Carlo Emilio Gadda, and The Late Mattia Pascalby Luigi Pirandello.
Hereis a paragraph of his translation from That Awful Mess, chosen completely at random:
A man’s gaze plunged the penumbra, then in the shadows: it wound, it climbed among the passes of hope, as an explorer of caves dives and climbs, or a chimney sweep. Not to mention carabinieri! Grumpy, as their duty bound them to be, their eyes never stopped searching. And the eyes that came back to them! Eyes? Furtive arrows! Shots, that make the heart die in the chest, of those standing carabinieri: while at the same time the seamstress spoke to them about Libya: the fourth shore: the dates that were ripening, exquisite, and the officers that she had know there and who had ‘courted’ her with success. This remembering courting captains and colonels for the benefit of plain privates was a stratagem of seduction. Her eyes began to sparkle again then, tiny, pointed, black, darting: under the multiple furrowing of her forehead, under the rumpled pergola of her hair, which was gray and hard, like the fur of a mandrill. Considerable saliva lubricated the outburst of her speech, evocative or oracular as it happened to be: the lips, thirsting, fevered like her gums, dry and viscid, which, deprived of the cutting edge of the former ivory, seemed today the entrance, the free antechamber of every amorous magic.
"When the margins were full, the only thing to do was to paste on little slips of paper."
When I first came, Du côte de chez Swann had just been published, and he was writing A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, which was later to win him the Prix Goncourt. The main aspect of his methods of organization was that he always kept all his work within reach as it grew, just as he kept all his working equipment ready at hand. I soon learned to distinguish between the five main categories of his work: the old exercise books, which dated from long before; the new exercise books, in which he was currently working; the exercise books with notes; the little notebooks; and what have been called (though he never used the word) his ‘paperoles,’ which were odd notes written down on scraps of paper or the backs of envelopes or even the covers of magazines.
—Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the publication of Marcel Proust’s Du côte de chez Swann, so we thought we’d share from Céleste Albaret’s Monsieur Proust, describing her experience working as his housekeeper and literary aide.
Not sure what gift to get that hard-to-please reader this holiday season? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for personalized book recommendations from our experts. We respond to each inquiry and publish suggestions on our blog.
Laura knew that the Russian witches live in small huts mounted upon three giant hens’ legs, all yellow and scaly. The legs can go; when the witch desires to move her dwelling the legs stalk through the forest, clattering against trees, and printing long scars upon the snow.
—Some little-known witch trivia from Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes, a novel about a spinster who makes a pact with the devil and becomes a witch. Why? Because she’s bored, of course.
In this book, Satan’s messenger to the spinster is an adorable, albeit somewhat bloodthirsty, kitten. You’ve never read of such a cuddly ball of evil in your whole life!
We appreciated the enthusiasm—and deft use of quotation marks—in R.H. Kanakia’s recent review of Lolly Willowes on Blotter Paper. Yes: “SATAN ACTUALLY APPEARS!!!!”
I was actually working on a life of Shelley. But for those six days it was the life of Keats, or rather his death, that haunted me. Every creak that ran through the old polished wooden floorboards of the apartment behind me broke my concentration and made me think, painfully and uneasily, of the dying man, and the letters from Fanny Brawne he would not open, and the opium painkiller that was taken from him, and the poems he was forbidden to write.
—from Richard Holmes’s article, "John Keats Lives!", in the 50th anniversary issue of The New York Review of Books. The book Holmes is referring to is his Shelley: The Pursuit, which Stephen Spender called, “The best biography of Shelley ever written.”
Angelica Houston in Manhattan Murder Mystery—her character is a poker buddy of Allen’s character, as was Iris Owens in real life.
Kristen Iversen talks to Emily Gould about their shared love for Iris Owens’s After Claude (which happens to be a recent Emily Books pick) and about Gould’s interview with Stephen Koch, who used to head the writing program at Columbia, and who was a close friend of Owens.
Smith came to the booksellers in St. Paul’s Churchyard. A last hope for the day. And where better to learn to read than in a bookshop?…Books stood in walls and towers and battlements, as if the owner had been in a state of siege for a hundred years.
—from Leon Garfield’s novel, Smith: The Story of a Pickpocket. Today is National Young Readers Day, and we salute Smith’s pursuit of reading—even if he does knock two walls of bookshelves over (onto the shop owner!) on the next page. It was an accident. Maybe.
“It’s a terrible thing being a biographer…one is such a rat.”
Over the weekend, The New York Times published William Grimes’ interview with Artemis Cooper about her journey toward becoming Patrick Leigh Fermor’s biographer. Read the interview here and learn about Cooper’s adorably devious method of extracting personal stories from her friend (she offered to organize his study for him, setting the trap), how she learned to decode Leigh Fermor’s gentlemanly conversation into juicy detail (“Any woman he described as ‘a terrific friend’ was almost certainly a lover.”), and how she helped save the third—presumably lost—part of his memoir about walking across Europe at the age of eighteen.
In early Spring 2014, NYRB will publish the U.S. edition of The Broken Road, the third and final volume in the aforementioned memoir set, edited and assembled by Cooper and Colin Thubron.
"But could the Allies claim to liberate people and at the same time compel them to regard themselves as conquered?"
The distinction of being the first among all the peoples of Europe to be liberated had fallen to the people of Naples; and in celebration of the winning of so well-deserved a prize my poor beloved Neapolitans, after three years of hunger, epidemics and savage air attacks, had accepted gracefully and patriotically the longed-for and coveted honor of playing the part of a conquered people, of singing, clapping, jumping for joy amid the ruins of their houses, unfurling foreign flags which until the day before had been the emblems of their foes, and throwing flowers from their windows on to the heads of the conquerors.
—from Curzio Malaparte’s The Skin, translated from the Italian by David Moore, which came out yesterday. If this is your kind of thing also check out John Horne Burns’s The Gallery, same topic (though less gruesome imagery) but from the American perspective.
Baker was the first director of a children’s public health agency, and the first woman to get a doctorate in public health. She tangled repeatedly with Typhoid Mary. More important, her ideas saved thousands of lives and permanently changed the focus and mission of public health. Her just-reissued 1939 autobiography proves to be one of those magical books that reaches effortlessly through time, as engaging and as thought-provoking as if it were written now.
Witch bottles, demonic spiders, and other evils you can supress in the walls of your house
She had often heard before how skillful men had trapped spirits in a hole in rock or in wood that they had nailed shut, and as long as no one drew out the nail, the spirit remained trapped in the hole.
Did you know that this particular type of household magic has a name? It’s apotropaic magic, and it’s everywhere, including the walls of your house. From the Wikipedia entry on concealed shoes (muffled squeal at the thought of an entire article on concealed witch shoes).
“And life awaits man as the sea awaits the river. You can make meander after meander, twist, turn, seep into the earth — your meanders are your own affair. But life is there, patient, without beginning or end, waiting for you, like the ocean. We were a little apart from the world, little streams damned up by school and protected from violent suns and torrential rains… But however much care it took of us, and our frizzy little pigtailed heads, school could not stop our waters from gathering, and the time came when it opened its sluices and left us to the current.”—The Bridge of Beyond, Simone Schwarz-Bart (via edtechpentameter)
"With your brains and my personality we'll build them the biggest hell on earth."
The cover of our edition of Erich Auerbach’s study of Dante shows a still from the delightfully campy 1935 movie Dante’s Inferno, starring Spencer Tracy—which is not really about Dante but about a guy on the make trying to build the ultimate carnival sideshow.
"Surprise is the keynote of the best travel writing"
There has naturally been speculation as to whether a first-person travel narrative, written 40 years after the event, should be regarded as fact or fiction. In some gentle interventions, Ms. Cooper reveals how the Great Trudge books benefited from artifice: the disguise or obliteration of a personage; the blending of two or more people into a single character. In one of the conversations she had with him while preparing the biography—Ms. Cooper knew Fermor from her childhood—she asked about a passage in which he depicts himself in the saddle when in reality he had walked. ‘I decided to put myself on horseback for a bit,’ he told her. ‘I felt the reader might be getting bored of me just plodding along… . You won’t let on, will you?’ Fermor, she remarks nicely, ‘was making a novel of his life.’
—From James Campbell’s review of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventureby Artemis Cooper, in The Wall Street Journal. To hear more about the Leigh Fermor’s remarkable life, how he turned his trips into books, and how Ms. Cooper sifted the fact from fiction in writing her biography, come hear Ms. Cooper in conversation with Ben Downing tonight as part of the Onassis Foundation lecture series at the New York Public Library main branch on 5th Ave. between 41st and 42nd at 7 pm.
"The rewards of medicine only come from doing the job as well as you possibly can."
The doctor-patient relationship is based on the principle that the patient needs help, and that when called upon, the doctor will leave no stone unturned to make sure that the patient gets all the help that medical science can provide, almost regardless of expense. The patient expects this, and the doctor, if he is any good, has only to be approached, by a complete stranger, before he unleashes this flood of aid (generally paid for by the state or by insurance companies) for the benefit of ‘his’ patient. It is extraordinary how any patient becomes ‘my patient,’ to be helped to the hilt, as soon as he steps into the consulting room. And in the best hands, this is true even when doctor and patient do not actually like each other.
—Common-sense is refreshing. David Mendel has plenty of it in his book, Proper Doctoring. Send it to your congressperson.