WRB—July 23, 2022
Art theft and earthquakes and comics and graffiti and, we promise, some stuff about books too.
The WRB is simply the name we give to the things we choose to read together.
[This email is slightly delayed because I couldn’t find a place to sit down in Midtown Manhattan with my computer at 7 a.m. this morning. What is this country coming to? We regret this inconstancy on our part. —Chris]
To do list:
Follow us on Twitter [Or Instagram. Or Facebook.] to keep up with the Barely-Managing WRB Summer Intern [Who’s spending Managerial-Editorial goodwill like it’s going out of style at this point. —Chris];
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 [Several satisfied customers served! —Chris];
This interview on Anne Helen Petersen’s Substack is subtitled “You can’t make this shit up”: it’s with Matthew Bogdanos, the head of the New York Antiquities Theft Task Force.
Lachlan Summers writes for Noema about the long aftereffects of earthquakes and geological “deep time”: “We might imagine all cities as not only a collection of buildings and people, but a geosocial formation, one whose separation from the earth underneath can’t be taken for granted.” [The Robert Macfarlane book Summers mentions (Underland: A Deep Time Journey, 2019) is a great read, especially this excerpt on the ecology under the ground in our forests. —Chris]
Two from London:
Thomas Jones on Shelly: “Shelley’s own premature death at sea casts a long shadow over his life and work, and over those events in both that seem to pre-empt it. They aren’t omens, but you can’t put them down to coincidence, either. It isn’t surprising that someone who spent so much time on the water should have written about it; or that someone who loved sailing but couldn’t swim (and liked to take risks) should have died by drowning.”
And Barbara Newman on sanctuary in medieval England: “Whatever their outcome, sanctuary narratives converted violence into symbolic theatre, making them ideal literary vehicles for exploring justice and mercy, rebellion and public order.”
Two from Dublin:
Johnny Lyons on Larkin: “One of the more annoying traits of postmodernism is its callow knowingness. Nowhere is this more on show than in the claim that we live in a post-truth world. One can’t help suspecting that underneath its chic avowal that knowledge, objectivity and humanity are mere fictions is the genuine fiction that postmodernism is somehow exempt from its own wholesale version of nihilism. Larkin doesn’t engage in such phoney games.”
And Desmond Traynor on time and reading: “So is reading just a hobby, to while away the idle hours, or is it a matter of life and death? Or something in between: an educational resource, a means of self-improvement, something that imparts some meaning, or even aesthetic pleasure? And if it is a mere cop-out, out of what is it a cop?”
Online for The Paris Review, Amber Medland has a short post on E.E. Cummings’ affection for the newspaper comic strip Krazy Kat: “The Kat had a cult following among the modernists. For Joyce, Fitzgerald, Stein, and Picasso, all of whose work fed on playful energies similar to those unleashed in the strip, he had a double appeal, in being commercially nonviable and carrying the reek of authenticity in seeming to belong to mass culture.”
We missed this one in our report on the July 4, 2022 New Yorker, but Anna Wiener’s piece on movie sound effects and their unusually provenance is a lot of fun too: “There was some discussion about sweetening the sound with a higher zjuzz; ultimately, they added a light shhsl to the sheet sounds, for dramatic effect. The reel switched to a scene of a robot drawing a line on a whiteboard. Roesch mimicked the robot’s gestures with an actual marker and whiteboard. The marker, unfortunately, did not sound enough like a marker. ‘Want me to give you a little bit of squeak?’ Roesch asked.”
Online for Verso Books, Philippe Le Goff has a great essay on political philosopher Marshall Berman’s writings about hip hop: “It was around this time that Berman completed All That Is Solid Melts into Air (1982). A line from Joyce’s Ulysses, ‘a shout in the street’, provided a leitmotif for the book’s exploration of the modern city street as a site and source of human possibility and cultural innovation. … Hearing and seeing rap music on the streets of New York, Berman was ‘thrilled’ (a favourite word of his) by this new art form. A revelation, but also a confirmation: ‘Rap knocked me out: I thought, All right, here it is, my shout in the street, I can hear.’”
Slate has an excerpt from Karen Eva Carr’s new book about swimming (Shifting Currents: A World History of Swimming, 2022): “Well into the nineteenth century, most European swimmers were still using the breaststroke and backstroke, and keeping their faces out of the water, even in competition. That is, they swam even less well than the Assyrians, Greeks and Romans had in antiquity, since the ancient swimmers had at least used a crawl stroke.”
In The Wall Street Journal, Dominic Green reviews a new book about persuasion (not the Austen; Forms of Persuasion, 2022): “Mr. Taylor’s Forms of Persuasion is a well-researched, revealing account of how avant-garde art and design filled the ‘fishbowl foyers’ of Midtown Manhattan, the imaginations of board members and the pockets of a lucky few artists, including Andy Warhol [Who recently passed away.], James Rosenquist and Pablo Picasso.”
B. Rothfeld did the new Moshfegh (Lapvona, 2022) for The Guardian, and she says it’s no good: “It does not take long for the unmodulated peevishness of Moshfegh’s creations to become tiresome, if only because the stakes of their vexations are so low.”
The local Post has a fun report on a long-lasting piece of local graffiti and the story behind it: “‘I always thought about them,’ Brian said. ‘Who is this dude who did this? If Ben did it for Nan, is he up on this overpass, bending over, writing upside down? Was a buddy hanging onto his ankles?’” [My favorite piece of long-lasting DMV graffiti, now sadly powerwashed away, was the evocative DIVORCE CULTURE on the Rhode Island Avenue pass over North Capitol Street. —Chris]
We read in Compact about: “eager readers of New Yorker fiction, about the superficial, frigid lives of readers of the New Yorker.” Luckily, we don’t believe—and our experience has borne out—that none of the loyal readers of the WRB lead lives anything like that. And if anyone ever writes fiction about them, you’ll be the first to know.
We read in Mashable: “In the virtual community, there will be a team of ‘BookTok Laureates’: a group of TikTokkers passionate about reading, who will dive into each novel and share their thoughts through a series of content.” We won’t belabor the point, but to note that if you want to organize a book club, our Classifieds section is a perfect way to find fellow readers with the same scintillating wit we’re sure you yourself possess.
This weekend, one Managing Editor has returned to the city of his birth (Washington). Another has returned to the city of angels (New York).
September 13 | Ecco
by T.C. Boyle
From the publisher: In the title story of Walk Between the Raindrops, a woman sits down next to a man at a bar and claims she has ESP. In “Thirteen Days,” passengers on a cruise line are quarantined, to horrifying and hilarious effect. And “Hyena” begins simply: “That was the day the hyena came for him, and never mind that there were no hyenas in the South of France, and especially not in Pont-Saint-Esprit—it was there and it came for him.”
A virtuoso of the short form, T.C. Boyle returns with an inventive, uproarious, and masterfully told collection of short stories characterized by biting satire, resonant wit, and a boundless, irrepressible imagination.
[John Wilson told me on Twitter that Boyle is “one of the best American short story writers of the last 50 years.” —Chris]
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