WRB—Jan. 18, 2023
Death, or something like it
“I have trouble imagining death at that subscriber level,” she said.
“Maybe there is no death as we know it. Just newsletters changing hands.”
To do list:
avail yourself of our world-famous classified ads, either by placing or responding to one;
In the most recent issue of First Things, Micah Mattix (who has a newsletter of his own,) considers the state of poetry today (and presumably, at least, yesterday and tomorrow) : “The form of poetry is valuable in its own right. It is inherently pleasing. If poetry is to regain its integrity in American intellectual life, we must take seriously not only what it says but how it says it.”
[People (me) do love to wring hands about Rupi Kaur, but I think another really interesting example of pop poet is Kate Baer, who’s landed on the NYT bestseller list for all three of her collections (her latest collection is currently coming in first for sales of poetry from indie bookstores). I can’t say I enjoy Baer’s work—I think it’s guilty of some of what Mattix notes in Kaur’s work—but I will say her control of the line is significantly better than Kaur’s. —Julia]
[This essay got a lot of things right. (I’ll register before I continue that “composed of fragments sprinkled with allusions to Daffy Duck or Walter Benjamin” is a decent summary of the WRB ethos.) Mattix is on the mark, for as much as it’s worth, in his dismissal of Kaur/Gorman-style poetry—“pat immediacy” is a fine summary. The framing that gets imported from Oakeshott, though, hackles me. (I’ve made some noises recently about conservative criticism which might be relevant here.) I don’t think the effort to have poetry’s “contemplative delight” pay its way into civilizational discourse can stand if it comes at the cost of dividing off, even for the sake of argument, its mimetic and argumentative quality. But almost a year ago, we said “We’re attempting to cultivate a spirit of brevity.” So that’s all for now. —Chris]
[In that same spirit of brevity, I will only note that my 18-month daughter loves to play with a Tracy K. Smith collection I own, so much that she keeps it in her collection of board books. So there’s hope, I guess. —Nic]
[Beauty is for the young. —Chris]
When you plug “Saunders” into Amazon, the first three things that come up are titled identically “Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN® Examination.” The fourth thing is “Saunders Q & A Review for the NCLEX-RN® Examination.” The fifth is George Saunders’ latest collection of stories (Liberation Day, October). Erin Somers reviewed it recently for The Nation: “Presented over and over, even in stories that impress with their invention, entertainment value, and critique of consumerist culture, this insistence starts to feel precious and a little stale. It seems more like a case of special pleading than a foundational truth—a day-old pastry force-fed via the Reaching Rod.”
Jacqui has impeccable taste [In my opinion, of course. —Chris] and writes about it on her blog. Yesterday she wrote about Yiyun Li’s latest novel, out from FSG last fall (The Book of Goose, September):
In some respects, The Book of Goose reads like a fairy story or fable with a fatalistic undercurrent throughout—a kind of darkness or unease that permeates the book. Li makes great use of various metaphors and symbols in the narrative—for instance, apples, oranges and knives, with Agnès acting as ‘a whetstone to Fabienne’s blade’. The childhood game of paper-scissors-stone is another highly relevant metaphor, capturing something of the dynamics of the story and its leading players—the smart but manipulative Fabienne and the naïve yet hopeful Agnès.
[When I was putting together this entry I noticed that back in May, we mentioned Isabelle Li’s review of Yiyun Li’s Tolstoy Together in the Sydney Review of Books, but neglected to link to the piece. Here it is. We regret the error. —Chris] [“fairy story with fatalistic undercurrent” is turning out to be the thing alfresco this year. —Still Chris]
[I somehow missed this earlier this month. —Chris, again] In the CRB, Peter Schmidt is paying attention: “If I could create a more beautiful and capacious world simply by choosing to believe, why wouldn’t I?”
[Erin notes early in that Saunders review that, “the narrator’s Aunt Bernie dies of fright, then comes back undead—judgy, pushy, visibly rotting, incensed at what she suffered in her lifetime.” This is a perfect segue to the next section of the newsletter:
And, it seems, literary studies: R.I.P. [Emre in the New Yorker; it’s impossible that you haven’t seen this piece yet. We linked Stefan Collini’s LRB review of the same book (Professing Criticism, January) last month.]
And finally publishing itself, we read on John Warner’s Substack,, C. Michael Curtis, R.I.P.:
[C. Michael] Curtis was an editor at The Atlantic magazine from 1963 to 2005, fiction editor from 1982 until the end of his tenure, an end which was essentially also the end of the The Atlantic publishing fiction before pivoting to a mix of highli.
Curtis is really, pretty much the last of his kind. The days when a young person without specific direction can latch on to an editorial job at a legacy publication and stay there for 40 years, quietly shaping the culture is long gone.
There’s no business model for that anymore.
Is “passion” simply the cover we use to paper over the reality that this is an industry whose history, seen from the vantage point of accountants instead of gentleman or trust fund kids, seems to be a litany of successive foundings, debts, and takeovers?
Jazz, though. [Still going strong? (Harmony Holiday for the Criterion Collection website.) —Chris]
also from Kurp’s blog:
What a pleasure it is to discover that a writer we never suspected of having a sense of humor could actually, on occasion, be quite funny. I remember when it dawned on me that Ishmael was something of a stand-up comic. That changed the way I read Moby-Dick. The same goes for Proust. And Yvor Winters.
January 24 | Transit Books
The Birthday Party
by Laurent Mauvignier, translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker
From the publisher: Buried deep in rural France, little remains of the isolated hamlet of the Three Lone Girls, save a few houses and a curiously assembled quartet: Patrice Bergogne, inheritor of his family’s farm; his wife, Marion; their daughter, Ida; and their neighbor, Christine, an artist. While Patrice plans a surprise for his wife’s fortieth birthday, inexplicable events start to disrupt the hamlet’s quiet existence: anonymous, menacing letters, an unfamiliar car rolling up the driveway. And as night falls, strangers stalk the houses, unleashing a nightmarish chain of events.
Told in rhythmic, propulsive prose that weaves seamlessly from one consciousness to the next over the course of a day, Laurent Mauvignier’s The Birthday Party is a deft unraveling of the stories we hide from others and from ourselves, a gripping tale of the violent irruptions of the past into the present, written by a major contemporary French writer.