WRB—Oct. 8, 2022
Critics described Wednesday’s newsletter as “spare.” [Where’s our Nobel? —Nic]
When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, WRB
To do list:
order a tote bag or now a MUG, both of which receive rave reviews and are as functional as they are stylish [I am pretty sure I set things up so that you get free shipping if you order both together. Someone let me know if that works. —Chris];
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;
In the LRB, T.J. Clark writes about the unequal relationship between poetry and painting: “Go back to the idea that a poem about a painting is, at its best, something like a performance. The analogy is worth proposing, at least as counter to the ekphrasis line of thought, but of course it breaks down. Music is (mostly) composed to be performed, pictures are (mostly) not. A musical performance is of the notes on the page, maybe later traditions of rendering and so on. A poetic performance is not of notes at all, but of an existing complete (anti-)text – a performance that has already taken place, and whose sound is inaudible. Nonetheless poems about paintings regularly seem to want the kind of closeness – the obedience, the accuracy, the technicality – of great non-virtuoso interpretations. But interpreting what is the question.”
Two from Orion:
Speaking of gardening, Shane Mitchell writes about the Vidalia onion for Bitter Southerner: “While it is a cousin to the native Allium tricoccum, or wild ramp, most varieties of Allium cepa exist only because of cultivation and breeding. The one that would become best known as the Vidalia is yellow Granex, a hybridized cross between the round Texas Early Grano 951C, and another parent, YB986, derived from a flat White Bermuda. In southeast Georgia, at the leading edge of the Atlantic coastal plain, the region’s sandy soil is uniquely low in sulfur, which influences onion flavor and odor. At the molecular level, it’s also what makes you cry. The sweeter the onion, the fewer the tears.”
At The New Statesman, Anna Leszkiewicz writes that True Crime is bad.
Online for The Point, Danielle Rose considers the state of contemporary poetry, and the minor concern that no one reads it: “The general irrelevance of poetry is a shame, but there is no use in assuring oneself of the opposite. The question is what you do in response to that understanding, and throwing one’s hands up in despair is only one of many possibilities. Certainly for most folks it is not the best possibility. The suggestion in my tweet that pursuit of power within poetry is “delusional” was certainly more antagonistic than it needed to be in order to make my point, but the antagonism it inspired in turn suggests that we have never truly moved past Pound’s insistence that poetry can be a vehicle for great cultural and political change.”
If poetry can’t do anything, maybe the novel can? Alex Pabán Freed asks at Gawker: “Follow these thoughts to their logical conclusion, of course, and you’re probably wondering: what can the novel possibly do to help bring about the end of all exploitation? What can the novel do at all? These are good questions to think about, so let’s think about them, starting with some of the claims made about the novel in Timothy Bewes’s recent book Free Indirect; I’m a civilian, but I have some friends in academia, and they tell me this is the new thing in the theory of the novel.”
On that note, two reviews from NYT about new novels:
Janice Y.K. Lee on a new book by Elizabeth McCracken (The Hero of This Book, October): “Don’t trust a writer who gives out advice,” McCracken warns in the first chapter. But the irony is, her words create an exquisite alchemy that makes a reader ready to follow her anywhere, believe every word she writes down. Is this book a novel or is it a memoir? It matters not at all. With every vital, potent sentence, McCracken conveys the electric and primal nature of that first fundamental love.”
Megan O’Grady on a new book by Yiyun Li (The Book of Goose, September): “All fiction is a kind of hoax in that it spins a delusion, inciting genuine feelings with invented characters and situations. The most propulsively entertaining of Li’s novels, The Book of Goose is an existential fable that illuminates the tangle of motives behind our writing of stories: to apprehend and avenge the truth of our own being, to make people know what it feels like to be us, to memorialize the people we keep alive in the provincial villages of our hearts. But it’s the motives behind our impulse to read fiction, and why we enter this delusion so eagerly, that occupied me through Li’s novel: the desire to suspend life in order to return to it more specifically and more vividly known to ourselves — and perhaps in order to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, in our own consequence.”
For Literary Review, Samantha Ellis reviews an upcoming biography of Joseph Roth by Keiron Pim (Endless Flight, December): “Soon he was writing what would become one of his best-loved novels, Job, set in a stunningly evoked shtetl, in which a ‘simple man’ is tested by misfortune. For those who love Roth’s more bitter, mercurial prose, this novel can seem a perplexing return to sentiment and faith. But Pim makes a case for Job, pointing out that its closing miracle does not come from God but from medical science, and also that its hero celebrates, rather fabulously, by going to a hotel.”
The Bethesda Row Arts Festival is this weekend (“the Washington, DC area’s premier outdoor fine arts festival”).
The Fall for the Book Festival began Thursday and will run through next week at George Mason University’s Fairfax campus.
There’s a new issue of Liberties out this week. Links to come in future emails as they cycle things out of the paywall. There’s a new issue of Image out too. The new Astra technically isn’t out until Tuesday but it’s gotten to our mailbox a few times. The Newest Criterion launched last week too [It’s an eternal mystery to me how certain books—the new Donne book (Super-Infinite, September) makes me think of this, but see also for example Rachel Aviv’s new book (Strangers to Ourselves, September)—receive the spontaneous consensus of every editor that they are going to run a review of them. Whence buzz? —Chris]. The European Review of Books says their second issue will be out in December, but things are starting to leak onto their website. There’s a new Mcsweeney’s too.
The Washington Post’s food critic will no longer assign restaurants star ratings.
This is a neat map of the nicest autumn trees in the city.
The Lamp finally has tote bags. [Yeah, all the way from New Hampshire. —Nic] [I would describe their style as “sensible.” —Chris]
A tiny buried lede here is that people apparently cannot stop stealing things from The Paris Review offices.
NYRB Sale on their Notting Hill books.
December 12 | W.W. Norton
The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem
by Matthew Hollis
From the publisher: Renowned as one of the world’s greatest poems, The Waste Land has been said to describe the moral decay of a world after war and the search for meaning in a meaningless era. It has been labeled the most truthful poem of its time; it has been branded a masterful fake. A century after its publication in 1922, T. S. Eliot’s enigmatic masterpiece remains one of the most influential works ever written, and yet one of the most mysterious.
In a remarkable feat of biography, Matthew Hollis reconstructs the intellectual creation of the poem and brings the material reality of its charged times vividly to life. Presenting a mosaic of historical fragments, diaries, dynamic literary criticism, and illuminating new research, he reveals the cultural and personal trauma that forged The Waste Land through the lives of its protagonists—of Ezra Pound, who edited it; of Vivien Eliot, who sustained it; and of T. S. Eliot himself, whose private torment is woven into the seams of the work. The result is an unforgettable story of lives passing in opposing directions and the astounding literary legacy they would leave behind.