WRB—Feb. 4, 2023
A Guide to Modern Reading in 194 Rules
Last year, Thomas Pynchon sold 48 boxes of his papers to the Huntington Library in California. Included in Box 13 are a series of hitherto unknown teenage writings by Pynchon’s precursor William Gaddis.1 The influence of the Gaddis juvenilia on Pynchon’s unpublished second novel, Regalia in Passing, is unmistakable.2
To do list:
avail yourself of our world-famous classified ads, either by placing or responding to one;
For Wisdom of Crowds, Damir Marusic on “paranoid style”: “rabbit holes and conspiracy theories go together—almost like peanut butter and jelly, some might say. It’s a very tasty American combination.”
Steven Heller gives a rundown of a new book on data visualization (Joyful Graphics: A Friendly Human Approach to Data, December).
Jo McGowan reflects on John Steinbeck’s voluminous correspondence (A Life in Letters, 1989) in Commonweal this month: “I loved his letters so much I want others to know about them too, for they recall an era when literature stood on its own, without hype or promotions or an Instagram account, and when political discourse was conducted with dignity and respect, even when people disagreed.” [Perhaps a bit of rose-colored hindsight. —Chris]
For the LRB, Mary Hannity reviews a university press book on what happened to the Biritsh in the 20th century (The Maternalists: Psychoanalysis, Motherhood, and the British Welfare State, 2021):
This ‘maternal turn’ in interwar psychoanalytic discourse in Britain, which was at the same time a turn from Freud to Klein, and its impact on postwar welfare policy, is the subject of Shaul Bar-Haim’s new book. He argues that progressive ‘maternalistic’ thinkers from the interwar period involved in education, anthropology and the ‘psy’ professions connected new psychoanalytic ideas of motherhood to an ideal of the state as a maternal entity. The ‘maternal ethics’ of the period were a response to the horrors of the First World War and the emergence of fascism on the continent. In this figuration, motherhood is less a lived experience than a site of collective imaginings, a meeting point between private and public spaces. As Bar-Haim argues, women and mothers were the main intermediaries between the family and the state in its newly interventionist mode, through their encounters with GPs, social workers, psychotherapists and teachers.
In The Atlantic, Judith Shulevitz on that new Salman Rushdie (Victory City, February). People really have nice things to say about it! “What’s important is that Victory City is a triumph—not because it exists, but because it is utterly enchanting. Words are the only victors.” Wow! [“There are two ways to write didactic fiction”—you can just not?]
Paul Franz reviews an imminent forthcoming biography of crime fictionist James Ellroy (Love Me Fierce In Danger, February) for Airmail: “Powell’s originality lies less in probing Ellroy’s deep origins than in how he places the author’s feet squarely on the ground, tracking the at times halting progress by which Ellroy, who by his 29th birthday had yet to write a word of his future oeuvre, made his ascent in the literary world.”
For The New Criterion, Emina Melonic shares notes on Lincoln Perry’s recent book on art (Seeing Like an Artist: What Artists Perceive in the Art of Others, October 2022):
Perry fully accepts the uneasiness and pleasure of experience. The point is not to check seeing Brunelleschi’s dome off the list but to live inside of art to the extent that we can. The journey is worth it, and as Perry writes, “to see deeply and moving art in situ, all your senses participating, from the smell of the flowers to the sound of the birds [!!!], is to both see and feel art.” Are we still capable of such an act? Just as it takes courage to create art authentically (something Perry clearly does), it also takes courage to stand before a painting or sculpture in our bare existence, seeking only its beauty and validation that indeed we are human.
Linda Pastan, the former poet laureate of Maryland, R.I.P.
This month the D.C. premiere of The Lifespan of a Fact, a play about “a fresh-out-of-Harvard fact checker for a prominent but sinking New York magazine,” is running at the Keegan Theatre Thursdays through Sundays this month.
Gawker 2, R.I.P.
[There was a solid period last year when Gawker was consistently running writing—specifically literary criticism and cultural comment of various sorts—I found edifying by writers I admire. There are a few decent Twitter threads rounding up the real greatest hits, you can hunt down one of those if you’re interested. I’ll miss that a lot. Less commented on is what a solid outlet it was for articles, like this one with the thesis “Ulysses is a novel about Stephen Dedalus inventing oat milk,” which were completely pointless but really silly and fun. Maybe this just means I’m a millennial. —Chris]
[Another thing on the topic of silly-and-fun: I recently found a copy of McSweeney’s 5, from 2000, in a store, and flipping through it3 I was sad at how uninteresting recent issues of the same have been. The “copyright page” of this book, a handsome hardcover, goes on for about 10 pages of completely ridiculous earnest, funny rambling about the font they’re using and what the staff is up to and how much they enjoyed making the magazine.4 Recent issues don’t have anything of the sort.5 The “Internet Tendency” site hasn’t provided even mild amusement—It’s like reading “Shouts & Murmurs” but somehow more depressing—for years. But I do miss this stuff! I love laughing!6 I hope that the WRB has a non-tedious dosage of that ethos in the mix. We’re having fun, whether we like it or not. —Chris]
Tense Magazine? [???]
“the qualities of fairy tales allow for different types of stories and different effects. Fairy tales in their abstractness, artifice, and flatness allow stories to operate on different planes. The philosophical, sexual, or primal fears. They are somehow both more Apollonian and more Dionysian at the same time.” — @Lincoln Michel “Fairy Tale as MFA Antidote”
[Four different people texted me this link and said “you haveta put this in the WRB” (or something to that effect). Here you go, guys: “The Last Boeing 747 Leaves the Factory.” —Chris]
Bergman Island is now streaming on the Criterion Channel. Our Film Supplement will be arriving Monday afternoon.
February 14 | Norton
Flash Fiction America: 73 Very Short Stories
edited by James Thomas, Sherrie Flick and, John Dufresne
From the publisher: It has been more than thirty years since the term “flash fiction” was first coined, perfectly describing the power in the brevity of these stories, each under 1,000 words. Since then, the form has taken hold in the American imagination. For this latest installment in the popular Flash Fiction series, James Thomas, Sherrie Flick, and John Dufresne have searched far and wide for the most distinctive American voices in short-short fiction. The 73 stories collected here speak to the diversity of the American experience and range from the experimental to the narrative, from the whimsical to the gritty. Featuring fiction from writers both established and new, including Aimee Bender, K-Ming Chang, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Brian Washington, Robert Scotellaro, and Luis Alberto Urrea, Flash Fiction America is a brilliant collection, radiating creativity and bringing together some of the most compelling and exciting contemporary writers in the United States.