WRB—Aug. 3, 2022
The Beach Boys! Julia's new Poem! Some ponderous stuff about criticism! What's not to love!
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;
“Unending love is the thing we most want, but where are we to find it? As the German poet Novalis put it, ‘we seek the absolute everywhere and only ever find things.’” That’s a big problem in itself, but Dwight Lindley argues that Pet Sounds (The Beach Boys, 1966) is bigger still.
Emma Goldberg has a little piece for Astra about the future of correspondence: “It really does feel like the boundaries between thought, speech, and writing are more porous these days. We text like we talk; we tweet like we think; we email without the flourishes that mark more thoughtful, premeditated communication.”
Bookforum has a list by Cara Blue Adams of the weirdest diaries around. They missed this one that Ted Gioia writes about on his Substack this week, though: “A hundred years ago, Arthur Inman decided to write the most brutally honest and explicit diary in history—so he hired people to tell him their intimate secrets”
Chris subjected his houseguests to a long speech last week about his conflicted feelings about Clarice Lispector. Anyway, The Paris Review has excerpts up from her quirky newspaper columns, due to be published next month (Too Much of Life: The Complete Crônicas, 2022) in collection from the usual place.
In The Nation: What happened to newspaper book reviewing? Frank Guan reviews Phillipa K. Chong’s book about, well, book reviewing (Inside the Critics’ Circle: Book Reviewing in Uncertain Times, 2020). An excerpt, but read the whole thing: “To avoid the doubts about their individual aesthetic judgments, fiction critics take refuge in the notion of contributing to a critical consensus greater than the sum of its parts. To cut down the risk of vendetta, they pull their punches, veiling deep disapproval as mild qualification and reserving harsh sentences for established literary celebrities who can afford to take a hit.” [I’m not even going to bother linking to that n+1 editorial from last summer. —Chris]
In the latest National Review, Algis Valiunas: “You salvage what you can from a family shipwreck, and if you are a writer you will likely find all sorts of useful materials for constructing your own seaworthy vessel. Although Robert Lowell did well enough as a poet, and made a meal of familial peculiarity and strife, he might have missed his calling as a comic novelist of manners.”
And for the Times, Dwight Garner: “The argument I will make for Memoirs is this: It’s densely yet nimbly written, and you sense Lowell’s judgment and discrimination in every paragraph. As with nearly everything he wrote, there’s a sense of wheels within wheels.”
Also out yesterday, and also in the Times, Greg Mania reviews the second novel of a “triptych”—which is a trilogy from Europe—about a girl who is both sad and horny (Boulder, trans. Julia Sanches, 2022).
Jack Hanson reviews a debut novel out from Dalkey (Emily Hall, The Longcut, 2022): “what happens to the unreliable narrator outside a realist paradigm, when the object of the narrative is the narrator’s very mind? The Longcut, Emily Hall’s debut novel, is a dizzying experiment that takes this question as a starting point and turns it toward the foundations of narrative, not least what it means to trust the stories that make up identity, even reality itself.”
Also in The Baffler: Yeah. Sure, we’ll do it. We’ll link another Hardwick review. Greg Gerke: “For me, Hardwick belongs to the great triad of late-twentieth-century United States poet-critics, along with William Gass and Cynthia Ozick (Henry James and Virginia Woolf were their ultimate precursors), who could do equivalent damage in fiction—fiction is not among Susan Sontag’s natural habitats.”
– What do we want from biography?
Facts, certainly. Names, dates, places. What happened. Some setting of the record straight.
– More than that.
To go back in time. To see the individual in their context.
– More than that.
For the act of reading to take on the intimacy of a meeting. For the page to become flesh.
– More than even that.
To go inside. To understand what made a person tick.
– What made Susan Sontag tick?
Our fair city is hosting some genuine publishing news this week: the trial of the century. For perspective: this is like if the Managing Editors were to attempt to acquire The Girl’s Guide to D.C. [First thing I’d do is jack up the price of Classified ads. —Chris] [First thing I’d do is start charging for them at all. —Nic]
Half Price Books is 50 years old. That’s fine, but you’re reading the 52nd issue of the WRB, so we’ll let you decide which is more impressive.
“Living in Two Times: Photography by Bahman Jalali and Rana Javadi runs from August 6, 2022 through January 8, 2023 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art.”
More museum news: Air and Space will partially reopen in October.
Our sister publication has subtly redesigned its print issue. [I haven’t gotten this one yet but I bet it’s better than the new Jacobin style. —Chris]
Pondered in the local Post: What’s a good vacation read?
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