WRB—Apr. 20, 2022
This one has all sorts of stuff
The characters “Chris” and “Nic” are copyright 2022 Washington Review of Books. Any resemblances to real people, living in the District of Columbia or dead, is entirely coincidental.
To do list:
☑ Call the roller of big cigars [the muscular one],
☐ and bid him whip in kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
☐ Let the wenches dawdle [in such dress as they are used to wear],
☑ and let the boys bring flowers in last month’s newsletters.
☐ Let be be finale of seem [Struggling with this one].
☐ Email WRB [for technical reasons] the best ice cream [In the District, preferably. —Chris]
In the one across the country you can read that we’re all becoming cultural dopes. We strongly disagree, especially in the case of loyal readers of the WRB.
Evan Malmgren does something your Managing Editors have long wanted to do, and visits America’s legacy utopian communities.
For The Point [Have we got it yet? —Nic] Charlie Tyson writes well about being a triplet: “In the beginning, I was lucky to leave the womb alive.”
The Managing Editors [Me. —Chris] don’t know if you are tired of Heti content yet, but Becca Rothfeld has a new piece on her latest in The New Left Review. [I still don’t know what I think about this book. —Still Chris]
“Iran’s great literary modernist,” Sadeq Hedayat, has a new English translation this month, and New York’s great paper has a review from Amir-Hussein Radjy. The Wall Street Journal also has a review, and also a take on our last Upcoming Book.
The Frenchman himself has a reflection at Unherd about his life reading. It’s like reading Proust, but worse.
Barnes & Noble sales have improved markedly in the past year, chiefly because the chain is focusing on something it hasn’t emphasized in years: selling books.
A guy in the city is selling a cigar ashtray from Sans Souci, the defunct Nixon administration hangout that claimed to have invented the Power Lunch.
Amtrak Wants To Seize Union Station, And Honestly, We’re Here For It. [You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler—if you’re the first to write in with the subject line “🔂”] [This is a giveaway. I don't know if Nic made that clear. If you want, as in the novel, a bookstore meet-cute, Iʼd suggest placing a classified ad. —Chris]
The Managing Editors were gratified to find that the Atlantic’s ranking of food scenes in literature made no reference to In the Night Kitchen. [The fewer the better. —Chris]
Several well-placed sources inform us that the American Enterprise Institute has revamped its custom of free lunch for employees. [Take that, Milton Friedman! —Nic]
What we’re reading:
Chris hasn't read much since Saturday. It's actually kind of hard to get tote bags listed for sale, apparently.
Nic, after finishing a project that he felt was killing him, finally finished Repetition. He can’t imagine the burden of being that in love with a Slovene dictionary. He burned through The Only Problem on Holy Saturday and a Nicholson Baker essay collection Easter Sunday. On Monday he picked up An Unsuitable Attachment, one of Barbara Pym’s posthumous novels. [What did Hazel Holt mean by passages that have dated in a way that Pym would find “unacceptable”? —Nic] All the while, he has been rolling through About Town, which is probably the best book on the history of The New Yorker.
May 10 | Coffee House Press
Saint Sebastian’s Abyss
by Mark Haber
From Publisher’s Weekly: Haber writes in a deliberately hyperbolic literary style that is a lot of fun, provided you’re the type of person who has a sense of humor about your own pretensions. His work reads like it has been translated from a Balkan language by an unfunny academic, which makes it, paradoxically, utterly engaging.
[I’m only a few pages into this one, but I’m totally hooked by the strange diction those pages have. —Chris]
Three Prose Poems from Hermes, Dogs, and Star by Zbigniew Herbert
THE PARADISE OF THE THEOLOGIANS
Alleys, long alleys bordered by trees which are as carefully trimmed as in an English park. Sometimes an angel passes there. His hair is carefully curled, his wings rustle with Latin. He holds in his hands a neat instrument called a syllogism. He walks quickly without stirring the air or sand. He passes in silence by the stony symbols of virtues, the pure qualities, the ideas of objects and many other completely unimaginable things. He never disappears from sight because here there are no perspectives. Orchestras and choirs keep silent yet music is present. The place is empty. The theologians talk spaciously. This also is supposed to be a proof.
[Zbigniew Herbert was Polish, and I’ve known his name since I found his poem “Report From Paradise” in college and put a lot of miles on it reading out loud to my friends.
FROM THE TECHNOLOGY OF TEARS
In our present state of knowledge only false tears are suitable for treatment and regular production. Genuine tears are hot, for which reason it is very difficult to remove them from the face. After their reduction to a solid state, they have proved to be extremely fragile. The problem of commercially exploiting genuine tears is a real headache for technologists.
False tears before being quick-frozen are submitted to a process of distillation, since they are by nature impure, and they are reduced to a state in which, with respect to purity, they are hardly inferior to genuine tears. They are very hard, very durable and thus are suitable not only for ornamentation but also for cutting glass.
[I didn’t think twice about him, though, until I found David Foster Wallace’s gushing review of the 1994 English translation of Mr. Cogito reprinted in the posthumous Both Flesh and Not. A reviewer in 2012 asked “Is a list of five underappreciated books written for Salon.com an essential contribution to the Wallace canon? Or a two page recommendation of Zbigniew Herbert’s Mr. Cogito?” I at least am grateful it was in there. “The best book of 1994”—the year of my birth—is no faint praise.
The sleep of fish is beyond imagination. Even in the darkest corner of a pond, among the reeds, their rest is a waking: they hold the same position for an eternity; and it is absolutely impossible to say of them: their heads hit the pillow.
Their tears too are like a cry in the wilderness—numberless.
Fish can’t express their despair with a gesture. This justifies the blunt knife that skips along their spine ripping the sequins of scales.
[Readers have asked for more “fish poems.”
The WRB Classifieds:
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In Tacoma, WA: Energetic, creative, and voracious reader (F24) seeks nice Catholic boy with a sense of humor and openness to adventure. Cat lover a plus. [Email WRB with subject “Pugetaboudit”]
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In D.C./NOVA: Trained singer and pianist (23F) seeks other amateur musicians to play music together casually, and/or conquer DC’s karaoke scene. Some musical ability is a plus, but altogether unnecessary. [Email WRB with subject: “The Song on a Lark”]
Wanted: 30ish woman for The National-esque doctor in American midwest. Belief in predestination and disbelief in fibromyalgia preferred. [Email WRB with subject: “Coffee and Flowers”]
In D.C.: Young man has found people to play tennis with, but is leaving an open offer to play. [Email WRB with subject: “Tennis, Anyone?”]
Grad student in D.C. in need of Italian and/or German speaker for brief help, payment possible. [Email WRB with subject “Sprechen Sie?”]
DC-local male seeking recommendations for DC-local locales to purchase oddities in the service of bedroom decoration. Economical ideas preferred. [Email WRB with subject “Priceless Moments”]
Man, single, 26, seeking to enter the next phase of life and settle down. Low-maintenance preferred, but open to a fixer-upper. Will travel to meet with respondent. No Mazdas, please. [Email WRB with subject: “Passengers Not Included”]
Aging millennial looking for a piano teacher near Fairfax. [Email WRB with subject: “Tickling the Ivories”]
Freelance copyeditor with 10 years’ professional experience editing everything from poetry to scholarly works on long-dead Native American languages offering services to writers everywhere. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for rates and availability.
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