WRB—Feb. 5, 2022
Structural issues, Willa Cather, sensible chuckles, and LinkedIn
We’re attempting to cultivate a spirit of brevity, so we won’t say much. But we must note that we’re flattered so many of you have not only forked over your email addresses for our little project, but said so many kind things about it, basically sight unseen. We hope you are amused or edified this Saturday.
To do list:
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In The New York Times Magazine, “The Towers and the Ticking Clock”, a building falls down. And who knows? Perhaps all of Florida with it.
In the London Review of Books Jonathan Letham has a wonderful remembrance of Stanisław Lem, author of Solaris (on which the Tarkovsky film was based) and many other science fiction novels. Lem seems to be having a bit of a moment for his centenary. M.I.T. Press’ new issue of a handful of his books has some great looking covers.
In The Paris Review, there’s cooking with Virginia Woolf, and in Plough Quarterly, sparring with Emily Dickinson. We would prefer the former, we think. More on Emily, in a different vein.
And Amy Welborn has an interesting post about Willa Cather’s Catholicism, or lack thereof, especially in My Mortal Enemy, which you can read in a single short [I promise —Chris] sitting and might be a good way to spend this afternoon. All the pieces Welborn links to are good reads in their own right, if you don’t have enough tabs open. [I’m interested in what she says about the titular subject of the novella obviously being Oswald; maybe just because of the first line, but I assumed it was meant to refer to Myra, from the perspective of Nellie. Tell me what you think. —Chris]
A graduate student on Twitter made a computer that writes stories. Finally! We asked it what it thought about “Washington” and “Review of Books” and it had this to say:
Washington was founded by George Washington in 1790 as the new country’s new capital. It was a very important time in America’s history, and Washington was a very important person. He was the first president of the United States, and he led the country through many difficult times. He was a great leader, and he made the United States into a great country.
Feb. 7, 2022 SHOUTS & MURMURS Review:
“Preaching-Team Tips for Surefire Sermons” by Paul Rudnick
THREE sensible chuckles.
University of Chicago Press is having a generous sale. Catherine Zuckert’s study of Plato is a very helpful book, and can be had for $11. They also have lots of interesting books on food, like this handheld history of offal and this guide to herbs and spices [which I find useful in my kitchen —Chris].
What we’re reading:
Chris is comfortable admitting that The Anatomy of Melancholy on his nightstand is mostly an affectation, and happy to report to all who reached out with concern that he’s made significant headway on All the King’s Men. Praise from Robert Hass had some quite good lines. More Muriel!—the people cry out—but USPS Media Mail has spoken in a quiet voice: Estimated Delivery Monday 2/7.
Chris was right about the first essay from The Point and bored by the second—to all the people who told him they didn’t like it, he extends an apology. From the same issue, though, Apoorva Tadepalli has a very good essay on careers in literature, in part a later entry into the vast universe of meta-book culture discourse about which a certain kind of person [Chris] never gets tired of reading.
Nic did manage to get a copy of The Very Fine Clock. Two, actually. It’s a delightful little story, and someone should bring it back into print. He cannot say the same for Graham Greene’s children’s books. Speaking of, his bedtime reading these days is Carlyle’s French Revolution, a work he finds amusing, though not necessarily soothing. On a more confidential note, he would like to thank Nicholson Baker for adding him to his personal network on LinkedIn.
New York Review of Books Classics | March 1, 2022
Memories of Starobielsk: Essays Between Art and History
by Józef Czapski
From the publisher: Interned with thousands of Polish officers in the Soviet prisoner-of-war camp at Starobielsk in September 1939, Józef Czapski was one of a very small number to survive the massacre in the forest of Katyń in April 1940. Memories of Starobielsk portrays these doomed men, some with the detail of a finished portrait, others in vivid sketches that mingle intimacy with respect, as Czapski describes their struggle to remain human under hopeless circumstances. Essays on art, history, and literature complement the memoir, showing Czapski’s lifelong engagement with Russian culture. The short pieces on painting that he wrote while on a train traveling from Moscow to the Second Polish Army’s strategic base in Central Asia stand among his most lyrical and insightful reflections on art.
[Czapski’s lectures on Proust’s big book(s?) are already out from NYRB Classics in a quite slim volume, and they are a good read. —Chris]
“Southern Gothic” by Donald Justice
Something of how the homing bee at dusk
Seems to inquire, perplexed, how there can be
No flowers here, not even withered stalks of flowers,
Conjures a garden where no garden is
And trellises too frail almost to bear
The memory of a rose, much less a rose.
Great oaks more monumentally great oaks now
Than ever when the living rose was new
Cast shade that is the more complete shade
Upon a house of broken windows merely
And empty nests up under broken eaves.
No damask any more prevents the moon,
But it unravels, peeling from a wall,
Red roses within roses within roses.
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