WRB—Nov. 30, 2022
For a long time I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, when I had put out my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say “I love the WRB.”
To do list:
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;
and, now for a greatly (40% or so) reduced price for a yearly subscription through the end of the year [This works out to about 25¢ an email.],
For Longreads, Olivia Potts tells the story of the slow cooker:
It was the right product for the right time. Married women were beginning to seek jobs outside of the home, taking them away from the kitchen. A major oil crisis had bumped up the cost of cooking. And Rival knew what they were doing: The Crockpot was available in all the trendy colors of the day—harvest gold and avocado—and marketed as the pot that ‘cooks all day while the cook’s away.’ In 1971, sales were $2 million. By 1975, they were $93 million. In that same year, Mable Hoffman’s Crockery Cookery, the first dedicated Crockpot cookbook, was published, featuring recipes like ‘Busy Woman’s Roast Chicken’—chicken stuffed with ‘stove top dressing,’ or packet stuffing, and cooked in sauternes wine—and ‘Alphabet Pot Roast’ (beef braised in alphabet soup). That year, it outsold The Joy of Sex and the Star Trek Starfleet Technical Manual. To date, it has sold over six million copies, making it one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time.
[I love lines like “In 2018, the close-knit Crockpot community was shaken,” “like most internet communities the slow cooking world is highly regulated,” and “Clearly, this device is no flash in the pan.” —Chris]
And in Current Affairs, Lily Sánchez writes about the joy of cooking slowly: “Cooking is ultimately about enjoying the fruits of the Earth, nourishing oneself and others, and socializing around a shared meal.”
All of this marks a turning away from the fantasies of Plantard and his French collaborators as well as the Holy Blood, Holy Grail authors. The former believed that their avant-garde hoax could change the course of history; the latter compared themselves to the Watergate journalists, exposing Christianity’s greatest cover-up. In contrast, Langdon, and Brown with him, end up endorsing the cover-up and asking readers to go along with them. It may be the case that Mary Magdalene is the grail and has a final resting place in the Louvre, but what matters is the “mystery and wonderment” her legend provokes—better appreciated when it remains veiled in secrecy. Despite the controversy Brown managed to provoke among Catholics, it was actually his archvillain, the disgraced Teabing, who wanted to pick a fight with them. This is another sense in which Brown was not wrong when he said his novel was not anti-Christian. The Priory’s incendiary teachings are reduced to charming gnostic esoterica by the novel’s end.
The Da Vinci Code, then, is a narrative of apocalypse averted. Those who read it primarily as an exposé of the Church, and perhaps followed it with Holy Blood, Holy Grail and other anti-Vatican theorizing, did not read to the end. But the majority of its tens of millions of readers, we may assume, did, and this is one reason the novel’s narrative content made so little lasting impact on the audiences who devoured it. In the end, we may conclude, the Holy Grail, the Priory, and so on are MacGuffins that provide a pretext for, among other things, action sequences and some mystical sermonizing.”
Recently for The Art Newspaper, Scott Reyburn shared his first-hand account of the 2017 auction of the painting Salvator Mundi, attributed to Da Vinci: “Subsequent reading about the conservation of the work revealed that Modestini hadn’t so much restored the painting as given Christ facial reconstruction surgery. And yet for all the new pigment applied to the panel–over 60 percent of the top layer of paint has been lost, according to Ben Lewis’s scrupulously researched 2019 book, The Last Leonardo–the Saviour of the World still had a wonky right eye.”
For Inference, Lambert Meertens tells the story of the Python programming language and his own hand in its development: “First and foremost, a programming language is a tool for expressing algorithmic ideas in a form that lends itself to execution by an automaton. Functional tool design is not a science; it involves seeking a balance between potentially conflicting design objectives.”
On his Substack, Nick Burns shares “highly impressionistic reflection on the psycho-geographical puzzle of Lake Michigan and on the power of its metropolis, the product of nothing more than a few days’ visit and a little bit of reading.” [I happened to wander into the only bar in Washington, D.C. that serves draft Old Style as we were putting this installment together. —Nic]
And on his Substack, John Warner looks at the interesting years in which the National Book Award for fiction was split between two novels: “Looking at the list of finalists and the split award during that 1973–1975 span, it’s easy to detect a schism in American literature between those who were operating in an essentially realist mode, attempting to render the world in a recognizably straightforward way (Williams), and those who were determined to mess with the very fabric of storytelling (Barth).”
[It’s totally incomprehensible to me that Barth ever enjoyed the widespread success that he did, even if Chimera (1973) and Lost in the Funhouse (1968) are both at least 50% amusing. For The Baffler, Rob Madole has a really helpful attempt to look back behind David Foster Wallace and figure out what the point was, anyway:
But we’re still left with the question of the novel’s social function—whether only works of fiction that are “penetrative,” that seek to elicit a species of perspective-broadening sympathy within their readers, are fulfilling literature’s proper role and responsibility. The answer hinges, to a certain extent, on whether one subscribes to a liberal aesthetic program that maintains faith in the weighty, empathy-generating power authors wield to redeem our solipsistic epoch. This isn’t a perspective shared by Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor, at the root of which lies an earthy, self-deprecating joke about the sordidness of all authorial pretensions.
Neil Young claims that he’s never had writer’s block: “I don’t do that. If that happened, I’d go somewhere else, work on something else. I do other projects—I’m building an outdoor model-train layout, which has been a lot of fun. It just takes me away into another world. There’s no pressure to it. I have a buddy who helps me build it. We spend days and days and days and weeks and months on these.” [It’s time to put him back on Spotify. —Nic]
[I am declaring link bankruptcy on this section. Here are all the review links I have and whatever notes I made for myself. I haven’t read all of them yet. I don’t have time to write them all up for this issue either. I hope you find something edifying. —Chris]
Books/movies, link back to last week:
Maybe nag Nic to comment on: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/when-a-girl-is-a-gun-on-joanna-walshs-my-life-as-a-godard-movie/
James Bond sendup, only skimmed, can’t figure out the bit: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/01/books/review/in-a-new-novel-percival-everett-riffs-gleefully-on-007.html
One of those books-about-books deals: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/bookhood-on-emma-smiths-portable-magic/
Goose Book, great lede, maybe connect to Benjamin’s “The Storyteller”, note interesting comparison with Ferrante: https://www.publicbooks.org/into-the-woods-with-yiyun-li/
Music in Ancient Greece, maybe dig up something from Isidore? Boethius?: https://newcriterion.com/issues/2022/12/melodies-unheard
Cézanne, maybe find a quote from the Merleau-Ponty essay: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v44/n23/hal-foster/not-window-not-wall
Henry James thing, make Rebecca West connection, make self-deprecating crack: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/the-aspern-papers-and-other-tales-henry-james-book-review-elizabeth-lowry
Review of that Lipsyte book from the other week: https://www.bookforum.com/print/2904/sam-lipsyte-reinvents-the-detective-novel-for-the-last-days-of-punk-25145
Madoc thing about capitalism: https://www.redpepper.org.uk/review-volt-rush-green-capitalism-elon-musk-lithium-cobalt-mining-review/
Books of Jacob review, lots of interesting thing about the messiah and gnosticism: https://jewishcurrents.org/the-prophet-with-eyes
Bliss Montage is just such a pleasant-sounding title: https://www.thenation.com/article/culture/ling-ma-bliss-montage/
WSJ Bloomsbury anglo stuff: https://www.wsj.com/articles/young-bloomsbury-book-review-a-bohemia-of-their-own-11669395598
Besides liking their soap, we’ll miss the wonderful work Astra has been able to publish this year. [I’ve been saying it feels like at least once a week for a few months something to the effect of “I’m very impressed with the criticism Astra is putting out.” I hope we see more from everyone there. And really I was curious what silly merch they’d come up with for their GREED issue. —Chris]
[“Just My Type” or some stupid heading like that TK]
[I remember being completely smitten with the big famous capitol “I” in the Doves Press English Bible the first time I saw it in college. Robert Green has put out a new revision of his revived Doves Type and developed a headline version for larger display. I’ll admit I’ve been waiting years for there to be an italic; I hope this update signals more development of this very attractive type to come. —Chris]
“Issue #2 of Sociotype Journal, titled ‘Makeshift’, is an investigation of old things made new and new things made weird; a celebration of ingenuity on the hoof and ad hoc creativity under extraordinary circumstances. Typeset entirely in our very own Rework.” [Real heads who have been with us since February may remember I mentioned issue 1 and Gestura way back when. I also want to note my admiration for the punctuation, nice big curves, lowercase and uppercase ‘g’, and the curve on the lowercase ‘t’ on Rework. —Chris]
Look. Yes. We totally missed the National Book Award winners announcement the other week. It’s Imani Perry for South to America (January) for nonfiction and Tess Gunty for The Rabbit Hutch (August) for fiction. It’s been a busy month. [In WRB Oct. 29, 2022, see Charles Ducy’s review of the Gunty novel.]
The Georgetown Library is holding its annual “huge used book sale” this weekend. [That’s the public library, not the university library. —Nic]
January 10 | Penguin Classics
From the publisher: Ian Patterson’s acclaimed new translation of Finding Time Again introduces a new generation of American readers to the literary riches of Marcel Proust. The seventh and final volume in Penguin Classics’ superb new edition of In Search of Lost Time—the first completely new translation of Proust’s masterpiece since the 1920s—brings us a more comic and lucid prose than readers of English have previously been able to enjoy.
In Finding Time Again, Marcel discovers his world destroyed by war and those he knew transformed by the march of time. An exquisite picture of France in the throes of the First World War, and containing, in the “Bal des têtes” sequence, one of Proust’s most devastating set pieces, Finding Time Again triumphantly describes the paradox of facing mortality yet overcoming it through the act of writing. As Marcel rediscovers his vocation, he realizes that he can live on by writing down the story of his own memories and of his quest to recapture the past.