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WRB—Apr. 9, 2022
Eliot, Domes, Employees, Consumption, Conservatives, and more
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To do list:
Send the Washington Review of Books to five people before midnight, or you will be cursed with seven years of bad links!!! [And, no one will answer your Classified ad. —Chris]
In the Supplement, Sam Leith reviews a new book from Rebecca Leeʼs new “very amiable, freely digressive omniumgatherum of book-related bits and pieces,” How Words Get Good.
Amit Chaudhuri reflects on reading “Burnt Norton” in 1980s London between his Bengali upbringing and a career in English letters and the world of the Gita and the Upanishads and Eliotʼs Christian belief: “Human kind cannot bear with very much reality.”
Olga Ravnʼs novel The Employees, (recently translated from Danish by Martin Aitken for New Directions), “examining the way life can seem mindless, even robotic, in its imperative to grow” writes Zoe Hu in review for Bookforum.
Hereʼs a short profile of a man who paints the intricate designs which decorate the domes of mosques.
Lauren Kane surveys the literature of ministers in crisis for Commonweal. [Which has a significantly less-developed Classifieds section than the proud publication you are now enjoying. —Chris]
This is a great headline for a piece on consumption from The Critic. [I used to have a copy of The Magic Mountain, but I don't live like that anymore. —Chris] [You can always ask for me to return it. —Nic]
April 11, 2022 SHOUTS & MURMURS Review:
“What Tsunami?” by Hallie Cantor
No one knows how to write a joke anymore. [I did really like in this issue the Lauren Collins piece on the French true-crime fabulist, more than half of Ian Frazier’s piece on cabin fever, and this new music review. Oh and from the April 4 issue, the Robert Eggers profile. —Chris]
A man in Brookland is giving away an entire run of the 1986 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica.
Washington, D.C., is many things, but it is not a bagel town. [One of the Managing Editors fled to a legitimate bagel town for the weekend, and the other Managing Editor is demanding Ess-a-Bagel. —Nic] [You can just text me, honestly. —Chris]
Will the free cookies at Harris Teeter ever return?
What we’re reading:
Chris has been traveling. He wrote large portions of this newsletter on the subway. He’s probably not going to have time to get Nic bagels.
Nic’s wife feels that Jennifer Egan is “a goon.” Nic just wants to know if anyone else has ever got away with sneaking a PowerPoint presentation into her novel. Another Tove Ditlevsen novel appeared in the mail. This is getting out of hand. [I feel you did this to yourself. —Chris]
April 12 | Knopf
Sedating Elaine: A novel
by Dawn Winter
From the publisher: An exuberant dark comedy about love, grief, sex, guilt, and one woman’s harebrained scheme to tranquilize her voraciously amorous girlfriend for a few days so that she might pay off her drug dealer, make soup, and finally get some peace and quiet.
“Here” by Grace Paley
Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with sagging breasts
and a nicely mapped face
how did this happen
well that’s who I wanted to be
at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
that's my old man across the yard
he’s talking to the meter reader
he’s telling him the world’s sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips
The introduction to Grace Paley’s Art of Fiction interview from 1992, published in The Paris Review 124 after the interview with Italo Calvino, says that “The oft-noted Paley paradox is the contrast between her grandmotherly appearance and her no-schmaltz personality.”
The editors also note that, like my mother, and now, many of my friends, “She spent a lot of time in playgrounds when her children were young,”
and that like Louise Glück, she attended poetry classes in New York City without earning a degree.
While I was reading The Little Disturbances of Man, I made it a point to walk down West 11th Street to see where she and her family had lived as neighbors to Donald Barthelme. Their deep friendship comes up again and again in his interviews.
She “once pointed out, living across the street from a school meant that Don was one of the few American men writing in the mid-twentieth century who paid vivid attention to children.”
He called her “a wonderful writer and a troublemaker.” Before he died they had a falling out.
Which is why it breaks your heart to read in a note for a Gulf Coast collage of tributes published a year after his death (and collected in Just as I Though), “I never didn’t love his fine tragic heart and brilliant work.”
During a 1975 symposium on fiction writing, in conversation on stage with Barthelme, William Gass, and Walker Percy, Grace Paley said “What ought to be? People ought to live in mutual aid and concern, listening to one another’s stories.” (transcript collected in Not Knowing: the Essays and Interviews). I think I agree.
Mario Cuomo named her the first official New York State Writer in 1989.
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