WRB—Apr. 2, 2022
There are a lot of links in this one, and you’re going to love every single one.
Many WRB readers swear that they only read it for the links.
To do list:
Please tell us your favorite album or playlist to listen to on a long drive, as one of the Managing Editors [Me. —Chris] is escaping to New York City [for more about this concept, see the Poem] and needs something new to color his trip and distract him from how much the city sucks.
Jennifer Schuessler reports in the NYT on a tiny, tiny book made by Charlotte Brontë as a child.
Everyone is reading Cassandra at the Wedding. Apparently. We’re not.
More on NYRB Classics: in that same journal, Merve Erme has a characteristically can’t-miss essay on Elizabeth Hardwick.
In Orion Magazine [or on their website, more likely] you can read Leslie Jamison’s wonderful new essay about the mysteries of the lighting in hospital wards and her young daughter’s absorption in the old story about Demeter and Persephone. [According to Hippolytus of Rome, the hierophant of the Eleusinian mysteries called out, under a bright light, “A holy child is born to the Lady Brimo, Brimos.” The chorus in Aristophanes’ Frogs says on the same topic, “For us alone is there sun and sacred daylight, for we are initiated.” —Chris] On another Substack, Jamison is interviewed about, among other things, TikTok.
Jeremy Swist tries to explain metal music’s fixation on Roman emperors in Lapham’s Quarterly.
Bon Appétit has an essay from Esmé Weijun Wang remembering growing up with traditional Chinese banquets in the Bay Area. At the other end of the state, Jasmine Liu reports on an exhibit of beautiful ramen bowls.
Joseph Roth’s long out-of-print Rebellion is back out from Everyman’s Library, and in the NYT John Williams tries to explain how a new novel by Hugo Hamilton purports to be narrated by a first-edition copy of the old book.
Elias Greig thinks about whales a lot in an essay structured like a horror story about suburban living published in Overland.
Micah Mattix has a brief note in Spectator World about Wallace Stevens’ collecting habit. We’re having fun imagining what good use he’d have made of Nextdoor.
“Ken Wissoker has helped to enshrine cultural studies in the American academy,” and in The New Yorker Jennifer Wilson has profiled him.
More in walking studies: the history of the invention of “jaywalking” by Clive Thompson.
If you are in the Protestant Cemetery outside the walls of Rome, and your plans to do something effete and sentimental by the grave of Keats are frustrated by a gaggle of lingering tourists [This is all hypothetical. —Chris], you can go find the grave of Antonio Gramsci nearby. In The New Republic, Thomas Meaney considers his legacy.
April 4, 2022 SHOUTS & MURMURS Review:
“Time with the Family” by John Kenny
A funny enough concept but clumsily executed.
[As a man who has been involved in a serious dispute about a piece of Elvis artwork for several years, this story about the Memphis Airport’s struggles with a funny Elvis painting hits close to home. —Chris]
Jennifer Egan will be at Politics and Prose on Wednesday to discuss The Candy House, a sort of follow-up to A Visit From the Goon Squad. [See Lauren Oyler’s review of the book for Harper’s linked in WRB Mar. 16, 2022]
Taco Bell is experimenting with a subscription model: $10 a month for a select menu item every day. [Imagine if we did that. —Nic] [I don’t want to be responsible for supplying people tacos. —Chris]
What we’re reading:
Chris finally received in the mail his copy of In Search of the Third Bird: Exemplary Essays from The Proceedings of ESTAR(SER), 2001–2021. This itself is gratifying, as is the frankly sumptuous binding and printing work that clearly went into this volume. The Works and Days concludes with the lines:
But that man is fortunate and blessed who,
knowing all these
matters, goes on with his work,
innocent toward the immortals,
watching all the bird signs, and keeping clear
of transgression. (Lattimore)
He hopes the felicitous arrival of such a monumental volume can help him watch the bird signs himself.
He has also been reading with delight new issues of Current Affairs, The Lamp, and The Hedgehog Review, all also in the mail recently, and Struggle Magazine, from their charming launch party on Thursday evening here in the District of Columbia. He hopes that one day the launch parties will abate, but that seems unlikely.
Nic had a bad back end of the week, and honestly doesn’t have too much to report. The LRB came in the mail on Friday, and he’s looking forward to flipping through that, at least.
April 12 | Basic Books
Persian: The Age of the Great Kings
by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones
From the publisher: The Achaemenid Persian kings ruled over the largest empire of antiquity, stretching from Libya to the steppes of Asia and from Ethiopia to Pakistan. From the palace-city of Persepolis, Cyrus the Great, Darius, Xerxes, and their heirs reigned supreme for centuries until the conquests of Alexander of Macedon brought the empire to a swift and unexpected end in the late 330s BCE.
In Persians, historian Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones tells the epic story of this dynasty and the world it ruled. Drawing on Iranian inscriptions, cuneiform tablets, art, and archaeology, he shows how the Achaemenid Persian Empire was the world’s first superpower—one built, despite its imperial ambition, on cooperation and tolerance. This is the definitive history of the Achaemenid dynasty and its legacies in modern-day Iran, a book that completely reshapes our understanding of the ancient world.
[Socrates accuses the young Alchibiades of believing that “no one other than Cyrus and Xerxes is worth talking about.” I was joking with some guests on Thursday that it was a really unneccesary example of throwing someone under the bus, because really, who hasn’t been there at least once? —Chris]
“Facts” by Philip Levine
The bus station in Princeton, New Jersey,
has no men’s room. I had to use one like mad,
but the guy behind the counter said, “Sorry,
but you know what goes on in bus station men’s rooms.”
If you take a ’37 Packard grill and split it down
the center and reduce the angle by 18° and reweld it,
you’ll have a perfect grill for a Rolls Royce
just in case you ever need a new grill for yours.
I was not born in Cleveland, Ohio. Other people
were, or so I have read, and many have remained,
which strikes me as an exercise in futility
greater even than saving your pennies to buy a Rolls.
F. Scott Fitzgerald attended Princeton. A student
pointed out the windows of the suite he occupied.
We were on our way to the train station to escape
to New York City, and the student may have been lying.
The train is called “The Dinky.” It takes you only
a few miles away to a junction where you can catch
a train to Grand Central or—if you’re scared—
to Philadelphia. From either you can reach Cleveland.
My friend Howie wrote me that he was ashamed
to live in a city whose more efficient means of escape
Is called “The Dinky.” If he’d invest in a Rolls,
even one with a Packard grill, he’d feel differently.
I don’t blame the student for lying, especially
to a teacher. He may have been ill at ease
in my company, for I am an enormous man given
to long bouts of silence as I brood on facts.
There are two lies in the previous stanza. I’m small,
each year I feel the bulk of me shrinking, becoming
more frail and delicate. I get cold easily as though
I lack even the solidity to protect my own heart.
The coldest I’ve ever been was in Cleveland, Ohio.
My host and hostess hated and loved each other
by frantic turns. To escape I’d go on long walks
in the yellowing snow as the evening winds raged.
The citizens of Cleveland, Ohio, passed me sullenly,
benighted in their Rolls Royces, each a halo
of blue light sifting down from the abandoned
filling stations of what was once a community.
I will never return to Cleveland or Princeton, not
even to pay homage to Hart Crane’s lonely tower
or the glory days of John Berryman, whom I loved.
I haven’t the heart for it. Not even in your Rolls.
[“Facts” was printed by Knopf in What Work Is on quite nice paper, thick and textured, in 1991. If you would like a copy of this book, which won the National Book Award a long time ago, email the WRB with the subject line “Two Strifes.”
I think this poem is atypical among Levine’s work that I’ve read, which has all tended to narratives of a page or two in length and which hasn’t been very funny. This one made me chuckle a little, though I can’t verify most of the facts, having never welded, or left either Princeton or Cleveland, or saved any amount of money toward a Rolls Royce. The tenth stanza reminds me faintly of this dialogue from the story Donald Barthelme included in 1964’s Come Back, Dr. Caligari called “Up, Aloft in the Air”:
“I felt ashamed.”
“It’s being here, in Cleveland.”
And also this scene-setting: “Twilight was lowered onto the landing pattern, a twilight such as has never graced Cleveland before, or since.”
Philip Levine did many things before he died in 2015, such as being poet laureate and writing some more books and growing old, and at least one more visit to Princeton, in 2001—one more lie. Kim Roberts records a very amusing story about the poet on the website of Beltway Poetry Quarterly. —Chris]
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