WRB—Aug. 10, 2022
We’re mostly just Managing with the incredible heat these days.
Imagine a succession of more and more particular Reviews of Books, extending from the great metropole outfits, your LRB and NYRB and whatever they do in other languages, to online outlets and provincial-chic [We’re really more of a revue. —Chris] to whatever people happen to say on your social media feed. Extended far enough, the truest Review is the review of books that exists in your own heart—the mystics would place this closest to the source Itself.
To do list:
Order a tote bag;
avail yourself of our world-famous classified ads, now stored on this page for non-paying readers to access, either by placing or responding to one;
For The New Atlantis, Nat Watkins explores “The Secret Life of Leftovers.”
Composer Mark Grant for The American Scholar: “More than 100 years after not just Picasso’s cubist period but all the other -isms in modern art—fauvism, surrealism, abstract expressionism, Dada, and color field among them—art lovers, art buyers, and masses of museumgoers throughout the world wholly accept the presence of most abstract modernism cheek by jowl with contemporary figural and representational works. …Yet it is an uncomfortable home truth that, more than 100 years after Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and the 12-tone music of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern (not to mention the later more radical innovations of Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and John Cage), most non-musicians still agree with Medtner’s 1935 opinions about music: they have never accepted highly dissonant, atonal, or serial compositions. They still don’t want to listen.”
The Times has one of their overdue obits this week on Italian poet Alda Merini, who passed away in 2009.
For TLS [THE TLS? —Chris], Madoc Cairns reviews Adam Potkay’s literary history of hope (you’ll never guess the title, March): “As Potkay moves from antiquity to the present – with an extended detour among the Romantics – he doesn’t have a theme so much as an anti-theme, returning, again and again, to hope’s habit of subversion.”
For Fare Forward, Mark Clemens reviews a recent book of plays by Rowan Williams, that old archbishop (Shakeshafte, 2021): “Each play concerns art, and suffering, and asks a common question: What does truth sound like?”
For Astra, Lily Meyer takes three recent Spanish books in translation from Open Letter Books (Bad Handwriting, Wolfskin, Mothers Don’t, trans. Katie Whittemore, July) as occasion to consider the practice of translation and style itself: “”Every decision in a translation is doubled. First, you decide whether you’re going to deviate from the literal translation of a word, or phrase, or sentence; then, you decide how far your deviation’s going to go. It seems to me that translation style hides inside this double-decision process. Granted, deviating from the original is, or should always be, a way of preserving the original’s spirit — but translation is a choose-your-own-adventure that way. If a problem pops up, it rarely has one and only one solution. (Hence the common practice of re-translating major works every fifty to one hundred years: the best solution in 1900 is likely not the best one today).”
For the Dublin one, Peter Sirr writes about a recent collection from Carcanet of Tang Dynasty poetry, translated by Wong May (In the Same Light, January): “One of the most striking aspects of the Tang tradition is the ferocity of the devotion to poetry: ‘The Tang poets may be scholars, civil servants, ministers, or commanders at the frontier wall; they wrote because they were mad about poetry.’ Or: ‘Li He died young, a certifiable addict to diction. His own practice was to go riding each morning, followed by a boy with a brocade pouch. Should a word or line crop up, the boy would toss it in.’” Chris wrote about Ezra Pound’s old Li Bai back in June. [I just want to say that while Waley’s Translations from the Chinese is a wonderful book for the most part, especially the handsome illustrated edition I found in Michigan many years ago, I found his extensive selections from Bai Juyi basically tiresome. —Chris]
At 4Columns, Brian Dillon reviews Terry Eagleton’s chic-radical book from this spring (Critical Revolutionaries, May): “Though Eagleton never quite says it, Critical Revolutionaries is in part a book about England and Englishness—vexed territory these days in light of post-Brexit nationalism, chaotic authoritarianism, vicious class and culture wars.”
In the Times, we read that “Two eerie story collections depict the mundanity of human suffering”—we’d probably have been fine with just one.
In the “Classifieds” section of the latest New York Review of Books, we see a note promising “DATING FOR BOOK LOVERS. Find a love that loves books. Join free.” We can’t meet that price, but we suspect you might be more successful entering something in our own Classifieds: email us as email@example.com with your ad.
Successful lede: “A group of people has been regularly meeting in the same Buenos Aires cafe for a book club. Two things make this notable: They have been doing it for almost 20 years, and they have only ever discussed the same book.” Ripped from the Borges.
“The magazine that once gave us Pynchon, DeLillo, and Roth now contributes to the erosion of literature and its detachment from the broader history of art.” We want to offer our assurance right now—you’ll never read this about the WRB.
On the success of Guinness. As far as we’re concerned, the only stuff worth drinking is brewed in Baltimore.
Tom Doherty Associates has officially taken the name of its imprint, Tor.
Graywolf Press has a new publisher, Carmen Giménez.
David McCullough has died at age 89. R.I.P. [This is, I promise, not the last link to the NYT in this newsletter. —Chris]
September 27 | Scribner
From the publisher: A lifelong environmentalist, Annie Proulx brings her wide-ranging research and scholarship to the subject of wetlands and the vitally important yet little understood role they play in preserving the environment—by storing the carbon emissions that greatly contribute to climate change. Fens, bogs, swamps, and marine estuaries are the earth’s most desirable and dependable resources, and in four stunning parts, Proulx documents the long-misunderstood role of these wetlands in saving the planet.
Taking us on a fascinating journey through history, Proulx shows us the fens of 16th-century England to Canada’s Hudson Bay lowlands, Russia’s Great Vasyugan Mire, America’s Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, and the 19th-century explorers who began the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Along the way, she writes of the diseases spawned in the wetlands—the Ague, malaria, Marsh Fever—and the surprisingly significant role of peat in industrialization.
A sobering look at the degradation of wetlands over centuries and the serious ecological consequences, this is a stunningly important work and a rousing call to action by a writer whose passionate devotion to understanding and preserving the environment is on full and glorious display.