The Art of Witness by James Wood [The New Yorker] How Primo Levi survived.
“Primo Levi [wiki] did not consider it heroic to have survived eleven months in Auschwitz. Like other witnesses of the concentration camps, he lamented that the best had perished and the worst had survived. But we who have survived relatively little find it hard to believe him. How could it be anything but heroic to have entered Hell and not been swallowed up? To have witnessed it with such delicate lucidity, such reserves of irony and even equanimity? Our incomprehension and our admiration combine to simplify the writer into a needily sincere amalgam: hero, saint, witness, redeemer.”[more inside]
"There are two kinds of women: those who knit and those who unravel. I am a great unraveler. I can undo years of careful stitching in fifteen gluttonous minutes. It isn't even a decision, really. Once I see the loose thread, I am undone. It's over before I have even asked myself the question: Do I actually want to destroy this?" [more inside]
"It’s late, and you’re still awake. Allow us to help with Sleep Aid, a series devoted to curing insomnia with the dullest, most soporific texts available in the public domain." [more inside]
The Most Misread Poem in America by David Orr [The Paris Review]
“And almost everyone gets it wrong. This is the most remarkable thing about “The Road Not Taken”—not its immense popularity (which is remarkable enough), but the fact that it is popular for what seem to be the wrong reasons. [...] Frost’s poem turns this expectation on its head. Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he “shall be telling,” at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay / In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.”[more inside]
Elena Ferrante, the author of the Neapolitan Novels, discusses how she shapes her stories, her characters, and her decision to remain out of the public eye
In 1864, a nine-year-old slave girl was punished for daydreaming. Distracted by rumors that her brother and father would be sold, she failed to remove worms from the tobacco leaves she was picking. The overseer didn’t whip her. Instead, he pried her mouth open, stuffed a worm inside, and forced her to eat it. This girl is not real.
“African Americans,” he wrote in one of his section introductions for Hokum, “like any other Americans, are an angry people with fragile egos. Humor is vengeance. Sometimes you laugh to keep from crying. Sometimes you laugh to keep from shooting … black folk are mad at everybody, so duck, because you’re bound to be in someone’s line of fire.” Paul Beatty on Satire, Racism and Writing for "Weirdos", from the Paris Review.
Eena, meena, mina, mo, / Cracka, feena, fina, fo, / Uppa, nootcha, poppa, tootcha, / Ring, ding, dang, doe. "Losing Count: “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo” and the ambiguous history of counting-out rhymes," from The Paris Review.
Robert Stone, Novelist of the Vietnam Era and Beyond, Dies at 77 [New York Times]
"Robert Stone, who wrote ambitious, award-winning novels about errant Americans in dangerous circumstances or on existential quests — or both — as commentary on an unruly, wayward nation in the Vietnam era and beyond, died on Saturday at his home in Key West, Fla. He was 77.[more inside]
"The posters are paragons of graphic design principle—but beneath their tidy exteriors are convulsions of pure lust and panic." From the Paris Review, Sam Sweet draws our eyes to Ryan Mungia's "Protect Yourself: Venereal Disease Posters of World War II." Brief interview with Mungia, plus a few more images, here.
Fourth in a series on screen writing in the Paris Review, an interview with Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men.
"Maybe I am extra aware of it because I am currently visiting with my parents, and they have a tendency to shout to each other between floors, and I have a tendency to regress, and suddenly, just as when I was a teenager, all I want is to have some space of my own, where I can read, and think, in private."
Peter Matthiessen’s Homegoing. "He is the only writer ever to win the National Book Award for nonfiction and fiction, but it’s not just the writing: Born into the East Coast establishment, Matthiessen ran from it, and in the running became a novelist, a C.I.A. agent, a founder of The Paris Review, author of more than 30 books, a naturalist, an activist and a master in one of the most respected lineages in Zen. As early as 1978, he was already being referred to, in a review in The New York Times, as a 'throwback,' because he has always seemed to be of a different, earlier era, with universal, spiritual and essentially timeless concerns." Peter Matthiessen, Lyrical Writer and Naturalist, Is Dead at 86.
This is my window. Or my windows—the view from my living room, where I sit and write. Might not seem very inspiring. I wish I could offer green mossy lava, roaring waves, a glacier mountain top. I do have other spaces—in an abandoned powerstation, a favorite fisherman’s cafe by the harbor, a summer house on the arctic circle—but this is my honest view, what I really see most of the days. This house was built in the 1960s when people were fed up with lava and mountains; they were migrating to the growing suburbs to create a new view for themselves. The young couple who dug the foundation with their own hands dreamed of a proper garden on this barren, rocky strip of land. They dreamed of trees, flowers, shelter from the cold northern breeze. What is special depends on where you are, and here, the trees are actually special. They were planted fifty years ago like summer flowers, not expected to live or grow more than a meter. The rhododendron was considered a miracle, not something that could survive a winter. It looks tropical, with Hawaiian-looking pink flowers; Skúli, the man who built the house and sold it to me half a century later, took special pride in it. I am not a great gardener. We are thinking of buying an apple tree, though they don’t really thrive in this climate. I would plant it like a flower, not really expect it to grow, and hope for a miracle. —Andri Snær Magnason [more inside]
Ever since something was invented to replace it, people have been predicting the end of the book: The Death Of The Book Through The Ages [more inside]
To expose a bookshelf is to compose a self. The Paris Review towards a history of bookshelves.
This summer, The Paris Review interviewed two science fiction writers at length, Samuel R. Delany and William Gibson. Below the cut there are two passages, one from each interview. They aren't representative, they are just two of the many, many passages which have been going around in my head for the last few days. [more inside]
In reflecting on the project, McAllister feels “caught between the intimacy of each individual response, and the pattern of the cumulative replies.” The question remains: Why did they answer? McAllister claims no credit, describing his survey form as “barely literate.” He recalls that in his cover letter (no examples of which exist) he misused the word precocious—he meant presumptuous—and in hindsight he sees that he was both, though few writers seemed to mind. “The conclusion I came to was that nobody had asked them. New Criticism was about the scholars and the text; writers were cut out of the equation. Scholars would talk about symbolism in writing, but no one had asked the writers.” Sixteen year old boy dislikes English homework, goes outside the chain of command.
"I can’t imagine a nonfiction writer who wasn’t influenced by the fiction he or she had read. But the “thriller-like pacing” you find in my writing may come more from my own beat than from thrillers. I walk fast and am impatient. I get bored easily—no less with my own ideas than with those of others. Writing for me is a process of constantly throwing out stuff that doesn’t seem interesting enough. I grew up in a family of big interrupters." Janet Malcolm interviewed by Katie Roiphe in The Paris Review.
James Salter Month at The Paris Review. A series of articles throughout April celebrating the life and work of one of the best at his craft there is. A great writer indeed.
"Like most committed crystal meth smokers, when he wants to share his pipe Duze does not take no for an answer." Clancy Martin, the author of How to Sell and a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, is hitchhiking from Kansas City, Missouri, to New York City in order to catch the last day of Christian Marclay's The Clock at the Paula Cooper Gallery. Part I, Part II [more inside]
R Crumb talks to the Paris Review about his adaptation of The Book of Genesis, cartoons, LSD, Winnie the Pooh, Terry Gilliam, and some other things.
Lydia Davis is blogging on translation during the lead-up to her forthcoming Madame Bovary. You can also read Davis discussing style, Beckett, Proust, and translation with The Believer here.
Looking for love among the bookstacks? Try Alikewise, a dating site based on book tastes, instead. [more inside]
San Francisco in Film Noir. Conversation with Nathaniel Rich, associate editor of the Paris Review and author of San Francisco Noir.
The DNA of Literature. The Paris Review, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, makes available free .pdfs of fifty years of interviews with leading writers.