Monthly Archives: July 2009

17 posts

A Conversation with Author and McSweeney’s Editor Paul Collins

“I think most scholars tend to trust the First Folio more than anything else, not because of the materials that went into it, in terms of what papers did they have on hand, but because it was [the actors] Heminge and Condell. Because it’s the only two people that were directly involved in the productions, that have ever taken part in pulling together an edition of Shakespeare’s works, and so it’s their presence as much as any identifiable set of documents that made the Folio so important to scholars. They’re all we have in terms of eyewitness editing.”

Francis Alÿs: Fabiola at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Perhaps what fascinated him about these portraits was that they show this urge to create and to communicate through art. More though, Alÿs’ display highlights the ways in which art inhabits a space of its own – outside of museums and critical appraisal. The works he has collected pay homage to the fact that it can be made anywhere, by anyone. The art changes and becomes personalized as it is interpreted and lived by individuals

Waiting for the Etonians by Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is undoubtedly one of Britain’s finest living polemicists, and Waiting for the Etonians will be a genuine treat for readers who have come to rely on his rigorous thinking, stylish phrase-making and carefully controlled rage. The book’s subtitle, Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England, reflects his despair at the current state of left-wing (or “left-ish”) thinking in Britain, which he sees as almost irrevocably compromised by post-modernism, cultural relativism and the focus-group politics of New Labour.

The Bolter by Frances Osborne

She introduces a woman who may have upset those around her by her promiscuity, even nymphomania, drug use; but also gives us access to a fearless beauty with gifts of intelligence, wit, and extraordinary powers to attract the opposite sex. Then too, she reveals that her antics as combined with her endowments were nevertheless insufficient in her hunt for love and lasting affection.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton

The concept of Pleasures and Sorrows is a good one. De Botton sets out on a quest to explore a wide range of professions – biscuit manufacturing, rocket science, career counseling – and reflect on modern work. This idea leads him from the jungles of French Guiana to the wilds of suburban South London. He follows the journey of an African fish to the plate of an English boy.

The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of Israel’s Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship by James Scott

The book reveals for the first time the extent of the outrage and widespread disbelief of many of President Johnson’s senior advisers over Israel’s claim that the attack was an accident. Even LBJ was convinced the attack was no accident and confided his disbelief in Israel’s story to a Newsweek reporter, stating that he believed Israel attacked the ship because it was spying on the war. The book also quotes many senior State Department, Navy, NSA and CIA officials talking of their disbelief in the story.

The Second Book of the Tao

The principle idea at the core of Existentialism was the denial of Descartes’ I think, therefore I am. Instead it was, I act, therefore I am. As for fishing, Thoreau never tells us what sort of fish there are, or were in his stream; nor if he ever caught anything. It was the fishing that was his active thought, and that sky full of pebbled stars was where his thought was actively cast. That is poetry, and it is untranslatable as paraphrase or a set of maxims. Whereas the sort of profundities Stephen Mitchell sets down in this book — neatly-designed and printed withal — are for this reader rebarbative.

The Stranger by Max Frei

The Stranger is a translation of the first of a wildly popular series of novels from Russia. By turns serious and screwball, it combines sly, sometimes campy, humor with a yearning for personal insight and a good day’s sleep. The Stranger is an episodic quest set in a parallel universe, in which a Sherlock Holmes-Dr. Watson duo combat malign magicians and search for the perfect restaurant.

The Travels of Marco Polo Translated by W. Marsden

It seems that world is more fantastic than our own travel brochures today can suggest for comfortable tourists. There has never been such an extensive realm, nor one with such an incredible structure of rapid communication over thousands of miles. Commerce thrived from Persia to Java, and one reason that may account for it, was order — and a flat tax of 10%. The law was strict and strictly administered everywhere, which was a marvel to Polo, in comparison with fractious Europe.

Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath by Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman

This continued fighting retreat for allied forces persisted for the four bloody months from December 1941 to April of 1942. In an astounding oversight, General MacArthur, by then en route to Corregidor, disregarded the logistical requirements of his retreating army. He left behind, in one example, 450 million bushels of wheat in a single warehouse despite his junior offices protestations. His starving soldiers ended up eating carabou—until all carabou were gone—then snakes, lizards, crows, whatever. The allied forces, lacking resupply and experience, were pushed back repeatedly, finally making their last stand on the tip of Bataan at the town of Mariveles.

Sunnyside by Glen David Gold

For Gold, like Koontz and Høeg, has a way of combining farce and futility that says something about contemporary fiction. They make you laugh, they make you cry, at times they make you want to strangle them for an overuse of irony. I wouldn’t call it magic realism, though there are certainly aspects of the fantastic in each book. It’s more like acid realism, as if they were all on an amazing trip that could go bad at any moment.

Manhattan: School for Scriveners

For me, it was the people themselves, their intellectual inclinations, their sophisticated speech, their crisp wit in delivery which touched every aspect of my days and later still, my evenings as well. They themselves attracted, fascinated even more than daily procedures of the research itself. I had hardly met an assembly of such varied sorts in my Bronx world before. Among them were not just New Yorkers but some who’d come from other sections of our vast country. Several already lived Bohemian lives in trendy Greenwich Village. They knew a city that I had had no real hint of, had not yet encountered.