WRB—Mar. 15, 2023
On Being Accused of Wit
Always this newsletter feeds off a sense of deprivation that transcends specifics—it’s built into the psyche of the Managing Editors and their audience.
In Orion, Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams on language and a deconstructed homeland:
My parents believed certain languages to be superior. CHamoru had been disallowed from the start, and its cadence, too. On the occasions my stresses assumed forbidden shapes, the lick of my father’s strap came quick. I spoke English at home and French in school, the two twinning powerfully in me until last night became yesterday night, until even my restless dreams unfolded in both. I learned to write on the beaches of my childhood: ship, shine, and shoe, the letters stretched long and skinny in the sand. As for my mother’s tongue, it remained on a more distant shore.
In RealClearBooks, Emmet Penney on “the greatest armwrestler to walk the face of the earth”:
And that’s another thing about armwrestling: it’s all about intimacy. You can’t hurt someone who’s far away from you. Maybe at the cafeteria table during recess third graders can grip up and then try to rotate their arms counterclockwise, but if you do that as a grown man you’re liable to shatter your humerus like Narsil.
In GQ, John Rosengren on the future of the Iditarod:
Then, six years ago, hours after the finish of the 2017 Iditarod, four of Dallas’s dogs tested positive for a banned opiate painkiller. Critics seized upon the doping violation as evidence of the race’s abusive nature and ratcheted up their public vitriol. Even though Dallas was eventually cleared, the controversy rocked the tight-knit mushing community, with its reverberations still being felt.
[I’ve never been able to forget the line: “There’s disagreement over how long the Iditarod Trail really is, but the best estimates peg it at right around the distance from Carnegie Hall to Epcot.” —Chris]
Two in Public Books:
An excerpt from L. Gibson’s reconsideration of Franzen (Freedom Reread, February) [An Upcoming book from last month!]:
The oppositional framing of Franzen’s career—the opinions Franzen holds, his means of expressing them, the positions they invite others to take with respect to his work and persona—flatten nuance, entrench stances, limit exchange. They “leave little room for ambiguity or contradiction” and, over time, stand to “incrementally entomb” many conversations about Franzen and—perhaps most of all—the author himself.
Federico Perelmuter interviews Benjamín Labatut about that book (When We Cease to Understand the World, 2021):
Translators are the saints of literature. Even the bad ones (God knows there are bad ones). Their work is fundamental: something at the level of what monks, copying manuscripts, did in the Middle Ages. Existing in another tongue is a privilege.
In The Hedgehog Review, Malloy Owen on “the strange career of critical theory”:
Suspicious theorists are so keen to escape the false necessity of Scylla, the evil they know, that they run the risk of steering too close to Charybdis, the void that pulls you in when you have nothing solid to cling to. Like their teacher Nietzsche, who saw the real pitch-black nihilism as no less an enemy than the simpering, repressive virtues he sought to expose, the critical theorists were aware of this danger. They insisted that their social critique aimed not just at mindless destruction of the known but at the establishment of a new form of life that could be imagined, if not exactly specified in shining detail.
- is exactly what it says on the tin
TikTok is hiring an Acquisition Editor.
In case you need a list of the books Patricia Highsmith wrote.
Probably because “The misanthropic writer whose morbid oeuvre provided fodder for classic films like Strangers on a Train (1951) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) is now in the limelight herself.” Here’s the review for today! Cody Siler in LARB on the papers (Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941–1995, 2021):
The tone of the Ripley books, critic Burt Supree writes, is “flat, with little or none of the respite caused by connotation or resonance. No author-persona interrupts to explain causality or ethics.” We smell her protagonists’ sweat when they are afraid; we feel their exhilaration as they kill and get away with it. But she never reassures us that she knows they are in the wrong.
This lack of authorial presence contributed to Highsmith’s relegation to the lower leagues of genre fiction, according to Fiona Peters, who argues that the “deceptive clarity of her writing” made it difficult for reviewers in the United States to classify her work. Ripley’s past is a mystery to the reader. We cannot “Gatsbyise” him into a symbol of American social mobility, as Žižek puts it, or psychoanalyze him..
[I still really have no clue what rhubarb is. One time I had a really good rhubarb yogurt. —Chris] [One time I had a really good strawberry rhubarb yogurt. Sybaritism beckons. —Steve]
Speaking of: [References to “the holy city of Los Angeles”? In my (Proudly. —Chris) East Coast newsletter? Also, a certain prevalent kind of pop music criticism quickly devolves into free association since the writer either lacks the language to discuss the music in itself or just has nothing to say about it. —Steve] [I recently suggested to Steve that someone must write an essay in the style of “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” about Nassau County, Long Island. We can continue the principle by imagining this essay but about Billy Joel. —Chris] [What Chris isn’t telling you is that my texts to him have become a series of increasingly deranged notes for this essay. See What we’re reading for more evidence of this. —Steve] [Monday at 3:09 PM: “Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with Hicksville and Levittown.” —Chris] [I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit wondering if this would have been either funnier or more accurate using Nassau and Suffolk instead. Probably. —Steve]
“The reissue has a truly unforgivable cover, one that employs Shutterstock clip art and a weak font and is altogether unbefitting of an anniversary anything.” [You can usually buy arugola (sic) in the D. of C. these days, though I admit fresh basil is still an unpredictable stock. —Chris]
“Fun With Unitized Glyph Widths” [This is a film from Infinite Jest. —Chris] [After I make my billions in the books and culture newsletter industry I’m buying myself this. —Steve]
“Stories like Jennifer Egan’s make me want to continue my subscription to The New Yorker and discontinue my prescription to anti-depressants.” Perhaps subscribe to the WRB instead?
Winter 2022 issue of the Claremont Review of Books.
The International Booker Prize longlist has been posted.
@capitol hill books now has eight owners.
This Friday through September 10 at the National Gallery of Art, an exhibition on “the interior life.”
Prayer rugs at GW. Through June.
This Saturday, the National Philharmonic Chorale will perform Bach’s Mass in B Minor.
April 11 | Yale
By Nicholas Orme
From the publisher: What was it like to grow up in England under the Tudors? How were children cared for, what did they play with, and what dangers did they face?
In this beautifully illustrated and characteristically lively account, leading historian Nicholas Orme provides a rich survey of childhood in the period. Beginning with birth and infancy, he explores all aspects of children’s experiences, including the games they played, such as Blind Man’s Bluff and Mumble-the-Peg, and the songs they sang, such as “Three Blind Mice” and “Jack Boy, Ho Boy.” He shows how social status determined everything from the food children ate and the clothes they wore to the education they received and the work they undertook.
Although childhood and adolescence could be challenging and even hazardous, it was also, as Nicholas Orme shows, a treasured time of learning and development. By looking at the lives of Tudor children we can gain a richer understanding of the era as a whole.
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