WRB—July 30, 2022
Larkin, DFW and Sheila Heti, a sale or two, a few job listings, &c
Standing athwart Washington yelling “Place a Classified Ad!”
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;
McNally put out a sketch harvested from David Foster Wallace’s notes earlier this year (Something To Do With Paying Attention, 2022). Jon Baskin (Editor at The Point, subscriptions to which are on sale at the moment) had an essay for The New Yorker this week about the posthumous “novella,” the late writer’s moral vision, and a bit of his legacy: “It is possible that Wallace’s most meaningful influence on the writers and literary commentators who followed him came neither from his stylistic innovations nor his broadsides against postmodern self-consciousness but, rather, from his insistence that literature should aim at a moral purpose that was higher than itself.” [It’s funny that Baskin describes Wallace as “the last major American novelist to be fluent in popular television,” considering the pains DFW was under to insist that he and his generation were also the first in that 1987 Review of Contemporary Fiction essay. —Chris]
And, on similar themes, finally out from paywall at Liberties Journal, Baskin’s essay about Sheila Heti from their latest issue: “By choosing in her most recent novel, and the one written directly after the confused response to Motherhood, to make her main character an art critic rather than an artist, I think Heti means also to suggest something about what it takes for the artist in particular to make herself understood. Her work broaches the important if rarely asked question of why the cultivation of an aesthetically literate public for art—a public capable of appreciating artworks not merely as a pretext for the discussion of culture and politics—should matter to us today.”
For the Los Angeles Review of Books, Josefina Massot pays attention to a recently released piece of metafiction (In Search of the Third Bird, 2021): “One could go on, but the gist is clear: ‘Across history, geography, and culture, associates of the Order have engaged in a very wide variety of attentional practices.’ Such practices are gripping in their own right, well worth the hundreds of pages devoted to them, and they provide valuable templates for those who might wish to refine their own habits of attention. But what makes In Search of the Third Bird a remarkable specimen isn’t ultimately what is said — it’s who says it, and how.”
Jacqui considers Rebecca West’s novel The Fountain Overflows on her blog: “a beautifully written novel by one of Britain’s leading critics and writers, a wonderful evocation of family life that captures its inherent tensions with insight and elegance.”
And for The Millions, Timothy Walsh revisits Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book 50 years on: “Jansson activates a universe of doubts and questions conjured from within the reader’s own psyche. This reservoir of shadowy hopes and fears is magically siphoned from the reader into the book, making the novel feel as though it was written specifically for you. In this way, the book gets under your skin.”
One more unjustly-forgotten-semi-recent-classic: for The New Yorker, Hannah Williams does the routine for Elaine Kraf: “I wanted to read formally experimental novels that were written by women in the nineteen-seventies and eighties and that had what I thought of as a certain New York sensibility. [Why read anything else, really. —Chris] I was picturing un-ashed cigarettes on empty stoops, halogen reflections in scummy puddles, hot asphalt under rushing feet.”
At The New Statesman, John Gray reviews two recently reissued studies of Nietzsche’s later years (Nietzsche in Turin, 1996; Nietzsche in Italy, 1929): “Nietzsche, on the other hand, could not rid himself of the belief – he was the son of a pastor, after all – that the world needed redeeming. In his last months in Turin he gave full vent to his messianic passion. In January 1889, after tearfully embracing a carthorse that was being flogged in the street, he fired off letters to friends announcing he had imprisoned the pope and calling for a concert of European powers against Germany.”
“The most urgent writers of today are Ralph Ellison, Joan Didion, Thomas Pynchon, and Elizabeth Bishop” we read in Tablet. OK. We think you can really read whatever you want. Heck, don’t even bother: “Would the masterpiece of modernism have been any better, more highly esteemed — or more readable — if he’d actually read The Odyssey first, instead of just getting the gist? I doubt it.”
Sublunary Editions is having a 30% off summer sale with code SUMMER22. Chris gushed about their recent issue of Kathleen Tankersley Young’s collected work last week in the Poem section: “really handsome and—refreshingly for a volume of collected poems—bibliographically meticulously volume. I’m working through it slowly and really happy to be doing so. The editor’s preface mentions several poets in comparison—Cummings, Joyce, et al. The comparison I’ve been drawn to over and over again while reading is Eliot. Highly recommend this medium-sized red book.” [I also really enjoyed flipping through the issue of Firmament they sent me, especially this brief essay by Duncan Stuart about silence. —Chris]
Blackbird Spyplane says that it’s “Wodehouse Summer”: “Wodehouse books are a perfect bridge out of ‘t.v. brain’ because they are kind of like the Seinfeld of books: They revolve around a few core heroes and recurring side-characters, all of whom have extremely frivolous concerns, manias and problems that they take extremely seriously, which lead them into all manner of low-stakes capers and jams … but instead of ’90s-era NYC they hang out at private clubs in ’20s and ’30s-era London / cool manors in the British countryside.”
August | Godine
Foodtopia: Communities in Pursuit of Peace, Love & Homegrown Food
by Margot Anne Kelley
From the publisher: Throughout America’s history as an industrial nation, sizable countercultural movements have chosen to forgo modern comforts in pursuit of a simpler life. In this illuminating alternative American history, Margot Anne Kelley details the evolution of food-centric utopian movements that were fueled by deep yearnings for unpolluted water and air, racial and gender equality, for peace, for a less consumerist lifestyle, for a sense of authenticity, for simplicity, for a healthy diet, and for a sustaining connection to the natural world.
Millennials who jettisoned cities for rural life form the core of America’s current back-to-the-land movement. These young farmers helped meet surges in supplies for food when COVID-19 ravaged lives and economies, and laid bare limitations in America’s industrial food supply chain. Their forebears were the utopians of the 1840s, including Thoreau and his fellow Transcendental friends who created Brook Farm and Fruitlands; the single taxers and “little landers” who created self-sufficient communities at the turn of the last century; Scott and Helen Nearing and others who decamped to the countryside during the Great Depression; and, of course, the hippie back-to-the-landers of the 1970s.
Today, food has become an important element of the social justice movement. Food is no longer just about what we eat, but about how our food is raised and who profits along the way. Kelley looks closely at the efforts of young farmers now growing heirloom pigs, culturally appropriate foods, and newly bred vegetables, along with others working in coalitions, advocacy groups, and educational programs to extend the reach of this era’s Good Food Movement.
Foodtopia is for anyone interested in how we all might lead much better—and well-fed—lives.
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