WRB—May 24, 2023
“It stood for not paying people.”
WASHINGTON REVIEW OF BOOKS
WHAT THEY ARE, WITH ALL THE KINDS, CAUSES, SYMPTOMS, PROGNOSTICS, AND SEVERAL REVIEWS THEREOF.
IN BIWEEKLY EMAILS
WITH THEIR SEVERAL SECTIONS, MEMBERS, AND SUBSECTIONS,
PHILOSOPHICALLY, MEDICALLY, HISTORICALLY OPENED AND CUT UP.
THE MANAGING EDITORS.
WITH A SATIRICAL PREFACE, CONDUCING TO THE FOLLOWING DISCOURSE.
We noted last Wednesday that Jenny Erpenbeck has a new novel coming out in translation next month (Kairos, June; n+1 excerpt here). Gal Beckerman writes a big profile of the East German writer in the June issue of The Atlantic:
It’s a truth that made Sebald digressively meditative and Grass revel in absurdity. Erpenbeck is symphonic. In fact, after the Berlin Wall fell, and before she turned to writing, she worked in an opera house in Graz, Austria. The experience shows. Her novels exist on epic planes. Erpenbeck repeatedly constructs stories that span generations, letting history leak into and through them. She relies on leitmotifs—themes, objects, exact phrases recur through the narratives over time and space. In America, our fights about history lately come out of a desire to flatten it, to clear the rubble, to find a clean narrative: 1619 or 1776? Erpenbeck ponders her own messy German birthright and sees a landscape of ruins to play in.
Since the readers of the WRB seem like the sort of people likely to fall in love with someone after seeing an Instagram post once and suffer various mishaps as a result, they may be interested in Julia Case-Levine in Lapham’s Quarterly on the equivalent in the nineteenth century:
As an expression of love at first sight, daguerreotype romances offered a particular advantage; they made encountering a stranger a less unwieldy experience. As journalist and historian Kathryn Hughes writes in Victorians Undone: Tales of Flesh in the Age of Decorum, the nineteenth century saw an exodus from sparse rural towns to swarming cities, where urban dwellers were inundated by inescapable smells, sounds, and sights. To protect oneself from the onslaught of corporeal chaos, the Victorian approach was to avoid thinking or writing about the many bodies one came across in daily life. As Hughes writes, “If flesh and blood registered in Victorian life stories at all, it was in the broadest, airiest generalities.” The daguerreotype made it possible to experience a stranger’s features in such broad and airy strokes—without confronting smelly pits, stale breath, squeaky voices. By boiling down the senses to a manageable confrontation, the daguerreotype came close to the ideal of love at first sight, as described in one 1850 story, “pure as the gaze of an angel.”
The Yale Review has a collection of essays put together about distraction and attention.
In the Times, Deborah Blum reviews a new plant book (Brave the Wild River: The Untold Story of Two Women Who Mapped the Botany of the Grand Canyon, May): “It’s not just the story but the way it’s told that matters here. Unlike those old-time newspaper reporters, Sevigny does not look at her subjects and see women out of place. She sees women doing their job and doing it well.”
And for Heatmap, Jeva Lange interviews Melissa L. Sevigny, the author.
For the Washington Free Beacon, Rob Long, who ought to know, reviews a book about the most annoying music in the world (Music for Prime Time: A History of American Television Themes and Scoring, March): “These days, it’s a rare show that has a really memorable theme song. Network and studio executives don’t really like them. They’re expensive, for one thing.”
“Hoover was one of America’s most popular public figures for half the twentieth century. We should ponder why before we judge too harshly.” That’s Mark Tooley for a blog, about the biography of Hoover, J. Edgar which we got last fall (G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century, November).
For the Sydney Review of Books, Hella Gul reviews Michelle Cahill’s debut novel (Daisy and Woolf, April), which is “preoccupied with Virginia Woolf’s portrayal of a Eurasian character, Daisy Simmons, in Mrs Dalloway.”
Reminder: you can choose which Supplements you receive in your inbox by choosing “Manage Subscription” from the menu which drops down from the top right corner of every page on www.washingreview.com. [Given some editors’ filing track records, this really only applies to Sarah and Steve’s respective verticals. —Chris]
A reader who wishes to remain anonymous has referred to our work as that of “pedantic Catholic playboys.” [I know when I’m beat. —Chris]
What to watch out for in publishing contracts. [Helen DeWitt understands this problem.]
Finally. [A reader complained to me this week that they really dislike when we do this. Is this a widespread sentiment? If this ticks you off please let me know. This one is just a link to a Times article about QR Code menus. —Chris]
Martin Amis, R.I.P. [I was going to just link this and be done with it. But then Christian asked us last night if we were going to do a whole Amis piece round-up run-down ranking type thing. I said no, that seemed like a lot of work, ultimately boring, etc., I protested, we dropped it…Anyway. F— it: here’s all the Amis pieces. —Chris] [Cont. in Critical Notes below.]
Other issues we’re having:
This Saturday at the NGA, the next installment of the film series Burning Illusions: British Film and Thatcherism.
Emily Hamilton at Works in Progress: “DC’s relative success can be traced to a few decisions made decades ago. In the 1970s, policymakers in Arlington County made a decision to adopt what’s known as ‘transit-oriented development planning’ … Some nearby jurisdictions followed suit, learning from Arlington’s example, helping the DC region stay more affordable than the country’s other superstar cities.”
May 23 | NYRB Classics
by Marcel Proust, translated from the French by James Grieve
From the publisher: Now available for the first time in the United States, a celebrated translation of the first volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.
[Finally, we can read the famous book. —Chris]
May 23 | University of Texas Press
Quantum Criminals: Ramblers, Wild Gamblers, and Other Sole Survivors from the Songs of Steely Dan
by Alex Pappademas and Joan LeMay
From the publisher: Steely Dan’s songs are exercises in fictional world-building. No one else in the classic-rock canon has conjured a more vivid cast of rogues and heroes, creeps and schmucks, lovers and dreamers and cold-blooded operators—or imbued their characters with so much humanity. Quantum Criminals presents the world of Steely Dan as it has never been seen, much less heard. Artist Joan LeMay has crafted lively, color-saturated images of her favorite characters from the Daniverse to accompany writer Alex Pappademas’s explorations of the famous and obscure songs that inspired each painting, in short essays full of cultural context, wild speculation, inspired dot-connecting, and the occasional conspiracy theory. All of it is refracted through the perspectives of the characters themselves, making for a musical companion unlike any other. Funny, discerning, and visually stunning, Quantum Criminals is a singular celebration of Steely Dan’s musical cosmos.