My hatred of bookwarp has almost grown into physical revulsion. I can’t stand the feeling, I can’t stand the way it looks, I can’t stand having books fall victim to spine disease as soon as I get them. My friend, when I mentioned this annoyance of mine, thought it must be a projection of some other (more serious) stress, so fierce was it and, you might say (but I wouldn’t), so disproportionate to its cause. I said, No, it’s really just this, whatever that says about me. I hate when this happens, always to my best books! I can only pray that a cure will soon be discovered.
There’s a good, short interview with Enrique Vila-Matas at the Paris Review (not a “Paris Review Interview” as such)…
Never Any End to Paris uses your youth in Paris to explore ideas of creativity, influence, and identity. The narrator is a writer whose facts and dates are similar to yours, though—I think—he both is and isn’t you. Do you think art requires certain compromises with reality?
Which reality? If you mean the conventional “consumerist reality” that rules the book market and has become the preferred milieu for fiction, this doesn’t interest me at all. What really interests me much more than reality is truth. I believe that fiction is the only thing that brings me closer to the truth that reality obscures. There remains to be written a great book, a book that would be the missing chapter in the development of the epic. This chapter would include all of those—from Cervantes through Kafka and Musil—who struggle with a colossal strength against all forms of fakery and pretense. Their struggle has always had an obvious touch of paradox, since those who so struggled were writers that were up to their ears in fiction. They searched for truth through fiction. And out of this stylistic tension have emerged marvelous semblances of the truth, as well as the best pages of modern literature.
Another good blog, if you’re interested in design, typography, or books and magazines - Fonts in Use. If it sounds geeky, you should know that it really is. Commenters debate arcane matters of kerning and font “openness” as though there were a lot at stake. And that’s why I like it. Anyway, that’s where I learned about this beautiful, very limited (265) Arion edition of Moby Dick, published in 1978/79…
All text in the book was hand-set in metal type (one character at a time) and letterpress printed on custom hand-made paper. To accompany the text throughout, 100 stunning wood engravings were cut by renowned printmaker and illustrator Barry Moser. Due to its high level of craftsmanship, the edition was limited to 265 copies, and is considered a masterpiece of modern bookmaking — named by the Grolier Club as one of the “100 Most Beautiful Books of the 20th Century”.
The typeface used for the main body type — Goudy Modern — has a rustic texture which matches both the story and illustrations perfectly. It also seems fitting that a typeface by such a quintessential American type designer like Frederic Goudy was used to set one of the most quintessential American novels.
To complement the body type, a set of large capitals were designed specifically for the book’s initial caps and titling. The stately face, aptly named Leviathan (not to be confused with H&FJ’sface of the same name), was designed by Charles Bigelow & Kris Holmes, of later Lucida fame. As the name implies, Leviathan was intended for very large sizes, where its sharp details and exaggerated flaring can really shine.
Considering the wide spectrum of writing styles that appear throughout Moby Dick, Hoyem’s typographic restraint is impressive. Using just one weight of one typeface, in only two sizes, he manages to compose most all of the story’s narration, technical documentation, asides, poetry, quotations, etc … not to mention administrative text like captions and folios. With a touch of Leviathan’s stylistic flair, the “just enough is more” typographic palette relies on smart typesetting to communicate the sometimes-complex hierarchy instead of a mess of weights and sizes.
I’m tempted to keep quoting (I’ve already quoted most of it) because, for a bibliophile or anyone with half an interest in design, it’s all really interesting. I encourage you to go and read the rest at the site.
Having the weakness for such things that I do, it’s going to be hard to resist the urge to spring for the newer trade edition of this book, as it will be for the Peter Mendelsund-designed edition of Kafka’s books, whenever it comes out (June or July, apparently). This edition was the subject of another post at Fonts in Use. I might not have noticed the font, or thought twice about it if I had, but it was interesting to hear Mendelsund’s reasons (excuses, some designers might say), for using the down-at-heel “Times” font…
My associations with Times are two-fold, and contradictory. On the one hand, Times puts me in mind of Microsoft, MS Windows, Word (with which Times is distributed and is most people’s intro to the font), which in turn makes me think of nefarious organizations and the powerlessness of the individual in the face of the large, uncaring, politico-corporate entity. On the other hand, as the universal default face, it has an everyman-like humility to it. Kafka, I think, would approve.
The other font, the script, is based on Kafka’s own handwriting. I love those borders, too! Book fetishists, mark your calendars.
Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, by Julio Cortazar and Carol Dunlop, is about a journey the authors take from Paris to Marseilles during which they never leave the highway and its rest stops. Each day they travel for about 20 minutes in total, dividing the day in two, setting up camp and spending the night at every other stop. It’s a pretty lighthearted and low-effort book, at least it seems so at first - two loafers in love, unflaggingly positive in the face of a world that doesn’t know how or when to be lazy. But it grows into something sweeter and more affecting than I expected it would - about love and friendship, and what all road books are about.
This (one chapter from the book) is the kind of casually beautiful prose Cortazar is so good at, that made this book the unsung little joy it was…
I presume a good explorer tends to wake up at dawn to make various scientific observations corresponding to the day as it begins. It must be for that reason that I too almost always wake up very early, but instead of getting up and consulting the various instruments Fafner [their van] is equipped with, I stay agreeably in the house and devote myself to the study of a subject that Vespucci, Cook and Captain Cousteau never even attempted, in other words: La Osita’s manner of sleeping.
This manner of sleeping is perhaps that of all little bears, something which would be impossible for me to verify, for which reason I shall take care not make imprudent generalizations. In Osita’s case her sleep goes through two principal stages, the first of which is not at all extraordinary: Osita finds the most comfortable, most agreeable position, covers up depending on the atmospheric temperature, and for most of the night sleeps very naturally, almost never face up and almost always face down, with lateral intervals that never last long but which give way to other positions with no effort whatsoever after gentle movements that reveal the depth and pleasure of her sleep.
When dawn arrives, in other words the time when I tend to wake up entirely, for the preceding observations have actually been made without too much scientific rigor, I notice quite soon that Osita has entered the second stage of her slumber. It is here where one might well ask whether this manner of sleeping is all her own or if it extends to the entire species, since it seems like quite unusual, even extraordinary behavior, consisting of continuous attempts the sleeping Osita makes to turn herself into a parcel, a bundle, or a package, which contains everything, thanks to a series of movements, gestures, tugs, pulls and tangles that progressively wrap her up in the sheets until she turns into a big white, pink or blue and yellow striped cocoon, depending on the situation, to the point where a quarter of an hour after this daybreak metamorphosis that I always contemplate in amazement has begun, la Osita disappears in a twisting confusion of sheets, which gradually disappear from my side of the bed, by the way, for no one could imagine the strength Osita employs in drawing them to her until she manages to get entirely involved in them and finally keeps still after one last series of evolutions that complete the chrysalis and the evident happiness of its occupant.
Leaning on my elbow on the mattress, which is all that’s left, I tenderly watch Osita and wonder what deep need to return to the womb or something similar her determined labor every dawn responds to. I know very well (because at the beginning I didn’t know and was frightened) that none of this rejects me, for all I have to do is brush the warm parcel at my side with a finger to get a soft growl of satisfaction to emerge from its depths. The mystery is complete, as you can see, because la Osita is content to feel me at her side and at the same time take refuge in a cloister I cannot enter without destroying its precious darkness, its intimate temperature, and something within her knows it and defends it from daybreak till she wakes. Once—not anymore—I tried to unwrap her as gently as possible from the cocoon, because I was afraid she’d suffocate in the tangled sheets and confused pillows, and I found out what it meant to separate her hands from the knots, bonds and other not so loose ends of the sheets between her fingers. So now I only watch her sleep in her ephemeral and undoubtedly atavistic hibernation and wait until she wakes of her own accord, when she begins to extricate herself little by little, to get a hand out, a trickle of hair, a little bum or a foot, and then she looks at me as if nothing had happened, as if the sheets were not a huge whirl around her, the broken chrysalis from which peeks out my new day, my reason to live a new day.
I’ve been having a great time reading poetry lately, specifically 17th century poetry, wading (very slowly) through William Empson’s lovingly, comically difficult Seven Types of Ambiguity and Harold Bloom’s 2004 poetry anthology from the end of whose introduction I wanted to quote this nice passage:
"Ultimately, we seek out the best poems because something in many, if not most, of us quests for the transcendental and extraordinary, however secular, however well within the realm of the natural. We long, as Wordsworth wrote, for "something evermore about to be." The marvelous comes to us, when it comes, in very different forms: ideally in another person, but sometimes by an otherness in the self."
It’s a big enough anthology as it is, I guess, at around a thousand pages, but no matter how big, any attempt to digest the whole of English poetry is going to seem skimpy. I cringe whenever I see the italicized from such and such, if only because I feel the instant temptation then to add more books to an ever-growing Amazon queue so I’ll be able to read whatever it is in its unabbreviated form - I’m that kind of anal, completist type. A scant three or four poems for Donne, for Marvell? An introduction and not more than a few lines of Pope’s Rape of the Lock? What good is that, just to whet the appetite? Not all of us, Harold, like yourself I suppose, have already memorized the poem.
(This picture of the New York Public Library I took from the immensely popular, adult-oriented blog, Bookshelf Porn)
One 17th c. writer not in the anthology (because not precisely a poet), Thomas Browne, I read in university but hadn’t thought of much more until being reminded of him - both explicitly and, in general outlook, implicitly - reading W. G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn a few weeks ago. Borges also had a big thing for him. He said his own books were not worthy of sharing space on his own bookshelves with Browne’s. I like this passage of his Religio Medici, which finds him in unusually uplifted spirits, waxing almost Whitmanesque, (which doesn’t get in the way of him calling the world a “hospitall”), summing up, in a way, one of the dominant themes of the whole period, the parallel expansions of the inner and outer worlds:
"Now for my life, it is a miracle of thirty yeares, which to relate, were not a History, but a peece of Poetry, and would sound to common eares like a fable; for the world, I count it not an Inne, but an Hospitall, and a place, not to live, but to die in. The world that I regard is my selfe, it is the Microcosme of mine owne frame, that I cast mine eye on; for the other, I use it but like my Globe, and turne it round sometimes for my recreation. Men that look upon my outside, perusing onely my condition, and fortunes, do erre in my altitude; for I am above Atlas his shoulders. The earth is a point not onely in respect of the heavens above us, but of that heavenly and celestiall part within us: that masse of flesh that circumscribes me, limits not my mind: that surface that tells the heavens it hath an end, cannot perswade me I have any; I take my circle to be above three hundred and sixty, though the number of the Arke do measure my body, it comprehendeth not my minde: whilst I study to finde how I am a Microcosme or little world, I finde my selfe something more than the great."
Hard to know where to cut this off…
"There is surely a peece of Divinity in us, something that was before the Elements, and owes no homage unto the Sun. Nature tels me I am the Image of God as well as Scripture; he that understands not thus much, hath not his introduction or first lesson, and is yet to begin the Alphabet of man. Let me not injure the felicity of others, if I say I am as happy as any, Ruat coelum Fiat voluntas tua, salveth all; so that whatsoever happens, it is but what our daily prayers desire. In briefe, I am content, and what should providence adde more? Surely this is it wee call Happinesse, and this doe I enjoy, with this I am happy in a dreame, and as content to enjoy a happinesse in a fancie as others in a more apparent truth and reality. There is surely a neerer apprehension of any thing that delights us in our dreames, than in our waked senses; without this I were unhappy, for my awaked judgement discontents me, ever whispering unto me, that I am from my friend, but my friendly dreames in the night requite me, and make me thinke I am within his armes. I thanke God for my happy dreames, as I doe for my good rest, for there is a satisfaction in them unto reasonable desires, and such as can be content with a fit of happinesse; and surely it is not a melancholy conceite to thinke we are all asleepe in this world, and that the conceits of this life are as meare dreames to those of the next, as the Phantasmes of the night, to the conceit of the day. There is an equall delusion in both, and the one doth but seeme to bee the embleme or picture of the other; we are somewhat more than our selves in our sleepes, and the slumber of the body seemes to bee but the waking of the soule. It is the ligation of sense, but the liberty of reason, and our awaking conceptions doe not match the fancies of our sleepes. At my Nativity, my ascendant was the watery signe of Scorpius, I was borne in the Planetary houre of Saturne, and I think I have a peece of that Leaden Planet in me. I am no way facetious, nor disposed for the mirth and galliardize of company, yet in one dreame I can compose a whole Comedy, behold the action, apprehend the jests, and laugh my self awake at the conceits thereof; were my memory as faithfull as my reason is then fruitfull, I would never study but in my dreames, and this time also would I chuse for my devotions, but our grosser memories have then so little hold of our abstracted understandings, that they forget the story, and can only relate to our awaked soules, a confused & broken tale of that that hath passed. Aristotle, who hath written a singular tract of sleepe, hath not me thinkes throughly defined it, nor yet Galen, though hee seeme to have corrected it; for those Noctambuloes and night-walkers, though in their sleepe, doe yet enjoy the action of their senses: wee must therefore say that there is something in us that is not in the jurisdiction of Morpheus; and that those abstracted and ecstaticke soules doe walke about in their owne corps, as spirits with the bodies they assume, wherein they seeme to heare, see, and feele, though indeed the organs are destitute of sense, and their natures of those faculties that should informe them. Thus it is observed that men sometimes upon the houre of their departure, doe speake and reason above themselves. For then the soule begins to bee freed from the ligaments of the body, begins to reason like her selfe, and to discourse in a straine above mortality.”
Besides being a lesson in repetition and anatomical vocabulary, Crash has enough perverted similes in it to satisfy even the greasiest fetishist…
"The images of these wounds hung in the gallery of his mind like exhibits in the museum of a slaughterhouse."
"This small space was crowded with angular control surfaces and rounded sections of human bodies interacting in unfamiliar junctions, like the first act of homosexual intercourse inside an Apollo capsule."
"The sheen of moisture on the skin around her mouth was like the bloom on a morning windshield."
"…the image of windshield glass frosting around her face as she broke its tinted surface like a death-born Aphrodite…"
"In this magic pool, lifting from her throat like a rare discharge of fluid from the mouth of a remote and mysterious shrine, I saw my own reflection…"
"The man, a chemical engineer with an American foodstuffs company, was killed instantly, propelled through his windshield like a mattress from the barrel of a circus cannon."
Above are the Virago editions of a couple of Muriel Spark books; right, my penguinification of Loitering with Intent. I know it’s not worth upsetting myself over, but surely Muriel Spark doesn’t deserve this awful chick-lit treatment. I’m not just saying this because I resent having to shield these books when in public. (I could, if I were that insecure, adopt the Japanese custom of wrapping books in paper. I sometimes do that, and I sometimes am that insecure.) I just think Spark’s books are better, less easily defined, and less Bridget Jones, than these covers make them out to be. Or maybe I’m just under the spell of another book I recently read and - mostly - looked at, Penguin by Design, by Phil Baines. If you’re a fan of that 50s - 60s -70s Penguin style, you should station this book on your coffee table sometime soon. Then you’ll find yourself like me, comparing any book cover, including those Penguin produces nowadays, to the exquisitely bland designs of its old J.D. Salinger covers, for example, and asking yourself what cover wouldn’t be improved by penguinification.
Other highlights (for me) include the 60s poetry series and the New Penguin Shakespeare with David Gentleman’s illustrations…
1. Dining with Oblonsky. A cheating husband and a spendthrift but, next to Kitty maybe, the most likable character in the book. He seems to have an understanding of people, he seems to like people as they are, as opposed to Levin. And he knows how to enjoy himself at a restaurant. When he and Levin dine together near the beginning of the book, Levin preoccupied, thinking only of his proposal to Kitty, the whole novel is held up while Oblonsky hums and haws over what to order. Not Levin, not the waiter, certainly not the reader, can resist this picture of voluptuousness: the “sloshy oysters” and Oblonsky with his “moist and shining eyes”…
Stepan Arkadyich fell to thinking.
‘Shouldn’t we change our plan, Levin?’ he said, his finger pausing on the menu. And his face showed serious perplexity. ‘Are they good oysters? Mind yourself!’
‘Flensburg, your highness, we have no Ostend oysters.’
‘Flensburg, yes, but are they fresh?’
‘Came in yesterday, sir.’
‘In that case, shouldn’t we begin with oysters, and then change the whole plan? Eh?’
‘It makes no difference to me. I like shchi and kasha best, but they won’t have that here.’
‘Kasha à la Russe, if you please?’ the Tartar said, bending over Levin like a nanny over a child.
‘No, joking aside, whatever you choose will be fine. I did some skating and I’m hungry. And don’t think,’ he added, noticing the displeased expression on Oblonsky’s face, ‘that I won’t appreciate your choice. I’ll enjoy a good meal.’
‘To be sure! Say what you like, it is one of life’s enjoyments,’ said Stepan Arkadyich. ‘Well, then, my good man, bring us two – no, make it three dozen oysters, vegetable soup …’
‘Printanière,’ the Tartar picked up. But Stepan Arkadyich evidently did not want to give him the pleasure of naming the dishes in French.
‘Vegetable soup, you know? Then turbot with thick sauce, then … roast beef – but mind it’s good. And why not capon – well, and some stewed fruit.’
The Tartar, remembering Stepan Arkadyich’s manner of not naming dishes from the French menu, did not repeat after him, but gave himself the pleasure of repeating the entire order from the menu: ‘Soupe printanière, turbot sauce Beaumarchais, poularrde a l’estragon, macédoine de fruits …’ and at once, as if on springs, laid aside one bound menu, picked up another, the wine list, and offered it to Stepan Arkadyich.
‘What shall we drink?’
‘I’ll have whatever you like, only not much, some champagne,’ said Levin.
‘What? To begin with? Though why not, in fact? Do you like the one with the white seal?’ ‘Cachet blanc,’ the Tartar picked up.
‘Well, so bring us that with the oysters, and then we’ll see.’
‘Right, sir. What table wine would you prefer?’
‘Bring us the Nuits. No, better still the classic Chablis.’
‘Right, sir. Would you prefer your cheese?’
‘Yes, the Parmesan. Unless you’d prefer something else?’
‘No, it makes no difference to me,’ said Levin, unable to repress a smile.
And the Tartar, his tails flying over his broad hips, ran off and five minutes later rushed in again with a plate of opened oysters in their pearly shells and a bottle between his fingers.
Stepan Arkadyich crumpled the starched napkin, tucked it into his waistcoat, and, resting his arms comfortably, applied himself to the oysters.
‘Not bad,’ he said, peeling the sloshy oysters from their pearly shells with a little silver fork and swallowing them one after another. ‘Not bad,’ he repeated, raising his moist and shining eyes now to Levin, now to the Tartar.
Levin ate the oysters, though white bread and cheese would have been more to his liking. But he admired Oblonsky. Even the Tartar, drawing the cork and pouring the sparkling wine into shallow thin glasses, then straightening his white tie, kept glancing with a noticeable smile of pleasure at Stepan Arkadyich.
2. Farming with Levin. A long day of exhausting work. Beautiful imagery.
3. Hunting with Levin and Laska. Again, beautiful imagery: “Smoke from the shooting, like milk, spread white over the green grass.” I like his way with description. White, green. There’s a reserve to it. Nothing over-elaborate.
And then there’s this dog of Levin’s, with his amazingly rich inner life…
She paused briefly, as if to ask if it would not be better to finish what she had begun. But he repeated the order in an angry voice, pointing to a water–flooded hummocky spot where there could not be anything. She obeyed him, pretending to search in order to give him pleasure, ran all over the hummocks and then went back to the former place, and immediately sensed them again. Now, when he was not hindering her, she knew what to do, and, not looking where she put her feet, stumbling in vexation over high hummocks and getting into the water, but managing with her strong, supple legs, she began the circle that would make everything clear to her. Their smell struck her more and more strongly, more and more distinctly, and suddenly it became perfectly clear to her that one of them was there, behind that hummock, five steps away from her. She stopped and her whole body froze. On her short legs she could see nothing ahead of her, but she knew from the smell that it was sitting no more than five steps away. She stood, sensing it more and more and delighting in the anticipation. Her tense tail was extended and only its very tip twitched. Her mouth was slightly open, her ears pricked up a little. One ear had got folded back as she ran, and she was breathing heavily but cautiously, and still more cautiously she turned more with her eyes than her head to look at her master. He, with his usual face but with his ever terrible eyes, was coming, stumbling over hummocks, and extremely slowly as it seemed to her. It seemed to her that he was moving slowly, yet he was running.
I like these parts…
‘Flush it, flush it,’ cried Levin, nudging Laska from behind.
‘But I can’t flush anything,’ thought Laska. ‘Where will I flush it from? I can sense them from here, but if I move forward, I won’t be able to tell where they are or what they are.’ Yet here he was nudging her with his knee and saying in an excited whisper: ‘Flush it, Lasochka, flush it!’
‘Well, if that’s what he wants, I’ll do it, but I can’t answer for myself any more,’ she thought and tore forward at full speed between the hummocks.
Talk about omniscience.
2. The birth of Levin and Kitty’s child. For my money, the strongest scenes in the whole book, next to those leading to Anna’s suicide, are those that describe the tide of emotions that go through Levin as his wife goes into labour and finally delivers their first child. As Nabokov says, Tolstoy liked the idea of a painful, natural birth. These passages are comic at first - the exaggerated fears - and, later, sublime…
Suddenly there was a scream unlike anything he had ever heard. The scream was so terrible that Levin did not even jump up, but, holding his breath, gave the doctor a frightened, questioning look. The doctor cocked his head to one side, listened, and smiled approvingly. It was all so extraordinary that nothing any longer astonished Levin: ‘Probably it should be so,’ he thought and went on sitting. Whose scream was it? He jumped up, ran on tiptoe to the bedroom, went round Lizaveta Petrovna and the princess, and stood in his place at the head of the bed. The screaming had ceased, but something was changed now. What – he did not see or understand, nor did he want to see and understand. But he saw it from Lizaveta Petrovna’s face: her face was stern and pale and still just as resolute, though her jaws twitched a little and her eyes were fixed on Kitty. Kitty’s burning, tormented face, with a strand of hair stuck to her sweaty forehead, was turned to him and sought his eyes. Her raised hands asked for his. Seizing his hands in her sweaty hands, she started pressing them to her face.
‘Don’t leave, don’t leave! I’m not afraid, I’m not afraid!’ she spoke quickly. ‘Mama, take my earrings. They bother me. You’re not afraid? Soon, Lizaveta Petrovna, soon …’
She spoke quickly, quickly, and tried to smile. But suddenly her face became distorted, and she pushed him away from her.
‘No, it’s terrible! I’ll die, I’ll die! Go, go!’ she cried, and again came that scream that was unlike anything in the world.
Levin clutched his head and ran out of the room. ‘Never mind, never mind, it’s all right!’ Dolly said after him. But whatever they said, he knew that all was now lost. Leaning his head against the doorpost, he stood in the next room and heard a shrieking and howling such as he had never heard before, and he knew that these cries were coming from what had once been Kitty. He had long ceased wishing for the child. He now hated this child. He did not even wish for her to live now; he only wished for an end to this terrible suffering.
‘Doctor! What is it? What is it? My God!’ he said, seizing the doctor by the arm as he came in.
‘It’s nearly over,’ said the doctor. And the doctor’s face was so serious as he said it that Levin understood this ‘nearly over’ to mean she was dying.
Forgetting himself, he ran into the bedroom. The first thing he saw was Lizaveta Petrovna’s face. It was still more stern and frowning. Kitty’s face was not there. In place of it, where it used to be, was something dreadful both in its strained look and in the sound that came from it. He leaned his head against the wooden bedstead, feeling that his heart was bursting. The terrible screaming would not stop, it became still more terrible and then, as if reaching the final limit of the terrible, it suddenly stopped. Levin did not believe his ears, but there could be no doubt: the screaming stopped, and there was a quiet stirring, a rustle and quick breathing, and her faltering, alive, gentle and happy voice softly said: ‘It’s over.’
He raised his head. Her arms resting strengthlessly on the blanket, remarkably beautiful and quiet, she silently looked at him and tried but was unable to smile.
And suddenly from that mysterious and terrible, unearthly world in which he had lived for those twenty–two hours, Levin felt himself instantly transported into the former, ordinary world, but radiant now with such a new light of happiness that he could not bear it. The taut strings all snapped. Sobs and tears of joy, which he could never have foreseen, rose in him with such force, heaving his whole body, that for a long time they prevented him from speaking.
4. Landau, the supposed clairvoyant. A very minor character introduced late in the novel whose whim is responsible for Anna’s being denied a divorce. Like the scene-stealing doctor at the end of Madame Bovary (I remember him being a giant - I don’t know if it says that in the book), this spoilt little troll of a man, just in from France and suddenly the toast of the Russian aristocracy, huddled on the couch and pretending to be asleep, makes an interesting late appearance in the book. He’s there for just one chapter.
5. Anna’s last day, her suicide. Her reasons are half-imagined, illogical, but she follows them to their logical conclusion as though she had no other choice, realizing only when she’s already crouched under the train how she’s only arbitrarily put herself there. I wonder if all suicides aren’t like this.
I’ve read most every interview in the four-volume Paris Review Interviews set by now. The first volume is by far my favorite. Borges, Hemingway, Bellow, Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, Kurt Vonnegut, etc. - there are a lot of big names in there. But the piece in that volume I think I like best is one I didn’t really expect to care that much about: Robert Gottlieb, editor and former New Yorker editor. It’s different in format to others in that it’s not a straight one-to-one interview but a (heavily edited) collection of fragments from interviews with authors who’ve worked with him, as well as responses he’s given in an interview himself. But it reads like a kind of story, about a beautiful lost world of “marvelous readers,” people who have “read everything,” authors of varied temperament, and, finally, hard work and tremendous professionalism. Also: if, like me, you harbour certain wooly fantasies about a New York publishing world somehow bound up with high-rise offices, corduroy jackets, and - just possibly - take-out deli sandwiches, you’ll like bits of period atmosphere like this…
John le Carré: “Negotiations were always tight with Bob. He was celebrated for not believing in huge advances, and it didn’t matter that three other houses were offering literally twice what he was offering. He felt that for half the money, you got the best. Most publishers, when you arrive in New York with your (as you hope) best-selling manuscript, send flowers to your suite, arrange for a limo, maybe, at the airport, and then let you go and put on the nosebag at some great restaurant. The whole idea is to make you feel great. With Bob you did best to arrive in jeans and sneakers, and then you lay on your tummy side-by-side with him on the floor of his office and sandwiches were brought up.
"After I finished one book, I think it was A Perfect Spy, my agent called me and said, Okay, we’ve got x-zillion yen and whatnot, and I said, And lunch. My agent said, What? I said, And lunch. When I get to New York I want to be taken, by Bob, to a decent restaurant for once and not eat one of those lousy tuna sandwiches lying on my tummy in his room. Bob called me that evening and said, I think we have a deal; and is that true about lunch? And I said, Yup, Bob, that’s the break point in the deal. Very well, he said. Not a lot of laughter. So I arrived in New York, and there was Bob, a rare sight in a suit, and we went to a restaurant he had found out about. He ate extremely frugally, and drank nothing, and watched me with venomous eyes as I made my way through the menu.”
priceless anecdotes drawn from my real experiences and souvenir jpegs of lost time
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