WRB—July 16, 2022
All these links! For YOUR benefit!
If you email us your address, the Managing Editors will mail you some WRB stickers.
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;
Lincoln Michel coins a genre for Esquire: the “speculative epic”: “Of course, authors have long used speculative conceits to explore very real-world issues. But what distinguishes these novels are two characteristics: first, the vast canvases they deploy to tackle equally immense issues like global inequality and climate change. Their narratives span hundreds or thousands of years with wide casts of characters and settings. The second defining feature is an omnivorous approach to genre. These novels can’t be pegged as simply ‘science fiction,’ ‘literary fiction,’ or ‘historical realism.’ Instead, history, science fiction, family drama, fantasy, and more all mingle together.” [I’m not entirely sure how a book like Sea of Tranquility, about which I’ve heard nothing but good reports, is more a “speculative epic” than any of the “systems novels” with “maximalist” aesthetics of previous generations. —Chris]
Online for The Hedgehog Review, Richard Hughes Gibson asks, “What even is a paragraph, anyway?”, and surveys the history of the convention: “One clear takeaway from today’s history lesson is surely that there is not now, has never been, and will never be a single Platonic form of the paragraph to which all others must conform. The paragraph has evolved over time to meet a variety of practical needs and aesthetic impulses. It has been, to return to Johnson’s metaphor, woven and unwoven and then woven anew many times over the centuries.”
On Wednesday, we mentioned Oscar Schwartz’ recent essay in The Drift about the recent innovation of the female midlife crisis. “The culture didn’t want to see another commitment-phobic, selfish, egotistic white man leaving one life for another.” Old hat stuff we’ve heard for decades—John Self [I have no way of knowing if this is a real name. —Chris], though, in this month’s issue of The Critic, asks: “Could it be that the stories of the average middle-class white man — the ones we grew up on — were once a novelty? In one sense, yes: there are novels that were as groundbreaking and shocking then as they are considered passé today.”
“We, too, wanted an earthly paradise that wasn’t artificial.”—MIT Press excerpts the professional—and, we gather, quite accomplished—perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena’s recent book on fragrances (Atlas of Perfumed Botany, 2022) for its nostalgic reflections on Patchouli and Vetiver.
For the New Left Review blog, Sidecar, Caitlín Doherty ends up getting around to reviewing the new Ottessa Moshfegh novel (Lapvona, 2022; plugged in WRB June 8, 2022) eventually, but also gives a brief overview of her career of the last eight years which you might find helpful, and also gets in an opening digression on the now tri-state Medieval Torture Museum: “Reacting, perhaps, to the curse of pseudo-relevance which made her satire of contemporary feminine abjection and narcissism, My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018), into a lockdown parable, Moshfegh, like the Medieval Torture Museum, has simply diversified her portfolio of locations. The novel is the latest result of a decade-long obsession with, in the words of one Lapvonian, ‘hard feelings’.”
Chris Vognar begins this review for the Washington Examiner “If you read a killer piece from the Atlantic or Harper’s or the New Yorker, you’re more likely to receive it as an alert on your phone than at a newsstand.” We hope that you, however, got it in the dear old WRB! [It hasn’t even been six months. —Nic] Anyway, he’s got good things to say about Jon Mooallem’s recent book of essays (Serious Face, 2022).
On July 2, Chris gave an ad-hoc recommendation list for NYRB Classics’ summer sale. One book he forgot to mention he’s wanted to check out is Elaine Dundy’s debut novel (The Dud Avocado, 1958). Sophia Kaufman has a wonderful review of it for Full Stop, and an overview of the fascinating life of its author: “The narrator Sally Jay Gorce, much like her creator, views herself not as one of the socialites she weaves her way through, but a spectator, a scientist ‘dropping into the view at feeding time’ as an American in Paris, a city she later describes as ‘one big flea bag.’”
For First Things, Randy Boyagoda reviews the second novel (Run and Hide, 2023), after a twenty-year hiatus, from Pankaj Mishra: “In tone and feeling, Mishra’s new novel is in keeping with this dark Euro-Russian sense of human purpose and possibility, a fact that is all the more noticeable since the novel’s premise and settings—a trio of nobodies rising from the nowhere of poor Indian villages to international publishing junkets and Wall Street wolfing and A-list parties in the Hamptons—might invite aggressive and satirical treatment.”
And for Fare Forward, Katy Carl reviews Boyagoda’s novel from last fall (Dante’s Indiana, 2021), the second in a trilogy inspired by the Comedy: “the antics of Boyagoda’s characters are as tragicomically uproarious as they are startling—and yet, as presented, also entirely believable. The plot delightfully follows Aristotle’s advice to prefer the plausible impossibility to the implausible possibility. What ensues is a genuine levity that lifts the reader over substantive plot points that, less sensitively handled, could raise a multitude of defenses. By lighthearted treatment of the truly ridiculous, Boyagoda earns the right to look with authentic compassion on characters’ serious sorrows.” And by the way, Valerie Stivers’ latest Paris Review “Cooking with…” post is inspired by Dante—fried eel and acorn scones. [I will admit my immediate reaction to seeing the headline here was “Uh oh, Ugolino.” —Chris]
Longreads and The Atavist are hiring a freelance audience editor.
The Atlantic has made its entire archives, going back to 1857, available online, and recruited some reflections on the content from their writers.
Nostalgia rules the day in music streaming. We’re not innocent, certainly. And neither, presumably, are the men accused of attempting to steal “Hotel California.”
The District has a Wegman’s now, and there’s been a lot of fuss.
September 27 | Harper Collins
Art of the Chicken
by Jacques Pépin
From the publisher: Chicken may not be an extravagant ingredient, but for master chef Jacques Pépin, it is the one he turns to most frequently—to cook and to paint. In this beautifully illustrated book, Jacques reminisces on his life through the lens of the humble bird, from his childhood in rural France, where he chased chickens and watched as his maman turned them into her poulet à la crème, to his demanding apprenticeship and long, illustrious career—cooking Chicken Chasseur for Charles de Gaulle and his family, turning down a chance to work as JFK’s White House Chef for a job at Howard Johnson’s, and appearing on television alongside food-world luminaries like Julia Child. Throughout are Jacques’ favorite chicken and egg recipes, conveyed as if he were sharing them over a dinner table. Most significantly, the book displays dozens of Jacques’ stunning paintings of chickens. “If it clucks or scratches, it’s likely that Jacques has painted it.” This unique book is the next best thing to a visit to Jacques’ home, which would include a tour of his art studio, captivating conversation as he cooks, and a toast with a glass of wine over a simple meal of perfect roast chicken.