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WRB—Sept. 14, 2022
We’re honestly not sure if that emoji thing will work.
To do list:
We usually just say “Follow us on Twitter” here, but since the Barely-Managing WRB Fall Intern managed to flee the state and all his duties both this week, let’s return to how things used to be: forward this newsletter to your mom, or to your boss, print it out and leave it in your neighbors mailboxes [Only if they seem like they have a good vibe. —Chris] [That goes for the moms too. —Nic] or post a link on Twitter yourself, get the word out so we can all finally find out whether Books are good or not;
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;
If you want to just read a fun pull quote and move on with your day, KEEP SCROLLING ABOUT HALFWAY DOWN.
If you want to read Leslie Jamison’s essay in The New Yorker about Choose Your Own Adventure books, CLICK HERE.
In Orion Magazine, this webpage reads at the top “When actor Luke Perry died in 2019, he was buried in a compostable mushroom suit. The only problem: it didn’t work.” What?! From Casey Lyons, who “lives in Colorado and is writing a book about dandelions.” Blessed life.
The Point is wrapping up its “Criticism in Public” series [Readers may remember the interview with Tobi Haslett in WRB May 18, 2022; the whole archive, much like the WRB’s, is well worth going through.]; Jessica Swoboda reflects: “If ‘Criticism in Public’ has left me with one conviction, it’s that the academic reins can stand to be loosened. At present, it seems we’re superglued to them out of fear that we’ll turn into someone’s punching bag or lose out on that coveted tenure-track position if we relax our grip, so we all follow the same rubrics, chase the same trends and write what we think will ruffle the fewest feathers.”
For The Millions, Christopher Schaberg reviews environmentalist Doug Peacock’s latest book (Was It Worth It?: A Wilderness Warrior’s Long Trail Home, January): “It’s an understandable marketing move by the book’s publisher, Patagonia, to play up Peacock’s mythos. But a very different story begins to emerge within the pages—I found myself surprisingly moved and inspired by Peacock’s mellow, methodical, and meditative recounting of various trips and landscapes.”
Nic for the New York Sun [The Sun rises for all. —Nic]: “It is a handsome volume of minimalist design; were it not a hardcover, it could easily be mistaken for a recent issue of the Paris Review. It has the appearance of a smart coffee table book.”
And Michael Schaub for the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Means has never shied away from subjects that are hard to tackle; he’s an unfailingly compassionate writer given to constantly challenging himself and his readers. Two Nurses, Smoking is Means at his best — intelligent, often funny, always beautiful.”
And two online reviews of Ling Ma’s new stories (Bliss Montage, September), also out yesterday:
Bruna Dantas Lobato for Astra: “Even the weaker stories in the book … are redeemed by Ma’s restrained prose style, dry humor, and clever gut-punch endings. But all this technical prowess doesn’t mean the collection lacks a heart.”
And Camille Bromley for Wired: “Often, I wished Ma’s protagonists would emerge into the stories rather than retreat. So many of them feel like they’re on G, the invisibility drug, the outline of each character bleeding indistinctly into the next.”
For The Washington Free Beacon, Dominic Green reviews Ellen Jovin’s new grammar book (Rebel With A Clause, July): “Wittgenstein wrote that ‘the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.’ To be limited in language is to be limited in the world, for language is an invisible net, cast between us and the world. When the net is torn or gaping, words and things come apart; like Hamlet, we find our sense of ourselves is heightened yet dissatisfactory. Fixing the net repairs the torn fabric of reality and allows us to cast it wider. A resolved query, Jovin noticed, produces a ‘therapeutic calm,’ and also greater social confidence.”
For Literary Review, Julia Lovell reviews a “thrilling” new book by Adam Brookes (Fragile Cargo: China’s Wartime Race to Save the Treasures of the Forbidden City; in the UK in September, in the US in February) on the fate of China’s imperial treasures.
[If you subscribed, maybe we could hire freelancers of our own.]
The editor of the Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing is seeking volunteers.
The Kirkus Prize is apparently the world’s richest literary award. Anyway, its finalists have been released.
And the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist, whatever that is. [I’ll say this: I liked Pure Colour. —Chris]
We disagree in the strongest terms with what Mr. Hirschauer has to say in The American Conservative. [I don’t know if I’ve ever reached cruising speed on the Parkway. —Nic]
Eight months ago, Mr. Naida was the one who told the Managing Editors to start an email newsletter. Which makes this nuclear meltdown only the second-worst disaster he’s ever had a personal connection to.
October 25 | Farrar, Straus and Giroux
From the publisher: Darryl Pinckney arrived at Columbia University in New York City in the early 1970s and had the opportunity to enroll in Elizabeth Hardwick’s creative writing class at Barnard. It changed his life. When the semester was over, he continued to visit her, and he became close to both Hardwick and Barbara Epstein, Hardwick’s best friend and neighbor and a fellow founder of The New York Review of Books. In Come Back in September, Pinckney recalls his introduction to New York and to the writing life. The critic and novelist intimately captures this revolutionary, brilliant, and troubled period in American letters. Elizabeth Hardwick was not only his link to the intellectual heart of New York but also a source of continuous support and of inspiration—in the way she worked, her artistry, the beauty of her voice. Through his memories of the city and of Hardwick, we see the emergence and evolution of Pinckney himself as a writer.
Promised Leslie Jamison pull-quote:
The Choose franchise hit a generational sweet spot, alongside the rise of Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games. Back then, it was these text-based experiences which could most powerfully deliver the possibilities of interactive narrative.
The form wasn’t entirely new: the ancient tradition of oral storytelling often involves interaction between audience and storyteller, and (more recently) postmodern literature had begun exploring the possibilities of multiple simultaneous story lines. Robert Coover’s 1969 short story “The Babysitter” imagines a single ordinary night following a series of (increasingly disturbing) paths; John Fowles’s novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman, published the same year, offers three endings for the same story. Some three decades earlier, Jorge Luis Borges’s short story “The Garden of Forking Paths” (1941) imagines the unfinished novel of a Chinese civil servant in which all the possible outcomes of an event occur, rather than just one. But it was a largely forgotten novel called Consider the Consequences, published in 1930, that most closely anticipated the Choose Your Own Adventure form. Written by two middle-aged friends, Doris Webster and Mary Alden Hopkins, it invited the reader to make choices about the romantic life of a young woman and her two suitors, leading to forty-three alternative endings. The opening page offers a disclaimer: “Life is not a continuous line from the cradle to the grave. Rather, it is many short lines, each ending in a choice and branching right and left to other choices, like a bunch of seaweed.”
What we’re reading:
Chris continued reading Rebecca West’s letters up through around the publication of The Return of the Soldier, and then read that novel, which is very short and sad and full of beautiful passages. He started reading What to Listen for In Music as part of a passing impulse of self-improvement. He read the Upcoming book from Saturday’s newsletter after realizing it had been on his desk for months. He finished In the Freud Archives.
He read the collection NYRB Classics has for Walter Benjamin’s “The Storyteller,” which is a slim book with a lot of different things in it. Here is a striking and representative passage:
Writing a novel means taking to an extreme the incommensurable in the depiction of human existence. What distinguishes the novel from the genuine epic becomes clear when one thinks of Homer’s works or of Dante’s. What can be passed on orally, the epic’s assets, is altogether different from what constitutes the novel’s stock-in-trade. The novel differs from all other types of prose—folktales, legends, proverbs, comical stories—in that it neither comes from nor feeds into the oral tradition. This distinguishes it above all from storytelling, which is the type of prose that represents the epic at its purest. Indeed, nothing contributes more to the dangerous silencing of the inner self, nothing kills the spirit of storytelling as thoroughly as the outrageous proportion the reading of novels has attained in all our lives.
On Sunday night, as part of a passing impulse of guilt for having borrowed Nic’s books for so long, he read A Visit from the Goon Squad, and couldn’t put it down until he was through. There’s a lot you can say about the book, but one thing that stands out is how well the children are written, not as mini adults or cartoon annoyances but real kids. He started reading The Candy House right away. [I really should keep track of what I lend you. —Nic] [Don’t worry, I keep them all in a separate stack. —Chris] [A sub-stack. —Still Chris]
Nic picked up Outlandish Knight: the Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman.
“The End of Poetry” by Ada Limón
Enough of osseous and chickadee and sunflower
and snowshoes, maple and seeds, samara and shoot,
enough chiaroscuro, enough of thus and prophecy
and the stoic farmer and faith and our father and tis
of thee, enough of bosom and bud, skin and god
not forgetting and star bodies and frozen birds,
enough of the will to go on and not go on or how
a certain light does a certain thing, enough
of the kneeling and the rising and the looking
inward and the looking up, enough of the gun,
the drama, and the acquaintance’s suicide, the long-lost
letter on the dresser, enough of the longing and
the ego and the obliteration of ego, enough
of the mother and the child and the father and the child
and enough of the pointing to the world, weary
and desperate, enough of the brutal and the border,
enough of can you see me, can you hear me, enough
I am human, enough I am alone and I am desperate,
enough of the animal saving me, enough of the high
water, enough sorrow, enough of the air and its ease,
I am asking you to touch me.
[This is from Limón’s collection The Hurting Kind, out this year. It’s classically a Limón poem, with the block-structure that she often uses. I have a friend teaching an Intro to Creative Writing course who read this poem to his students and then told them they had to write a poem that contained none of the things listed in it. Rough, because Limón does a pretty thorough job of naming popular topics for contemporary poets. And still, she manages to make it a beautiful poem.
The title does double work—it can be read as saying “poetry is over,” but I like that it can also refer to the teleological end of a poem, which here, for Limón, would be the last line: “I am asking you to touch me.” Maybe the point is one person touching another. That’s what this poem leaves me with.
Limón, as our newest national Poet Laureate, is coming to D.C. for a reading at the Library of Congress September 29th. Tickets are free but RSVPs are required; it will also be livestreamed. I recommend checking it out—she’s a lovely reader. —Julia] [Enough poems about poetry? —Chris]
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Pray the Rosary daily!