• print • Summer 2020

    Against Damnation

    I REALIZED WHEN I WAS AROUND EIGHT THAT THE VERY CONCEPT OF HELL IS INSANE AND EVIL, and never looked back. I don’t regard this as an especially precocious perception—many other Christians I have known report a similar experience.

    I wrote the above sentences for a version of this review in February, in a different world. I ate at restaurants with friends, rode crowded subways, went to the movies. Now it is early April and I have not been outside in a month. I watch Netflix, Zoom with friends, eat beans from a can. And I listen to black metal, whose refrigerated guitars I find perversely soothing

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  • review • May 21, 2020

    Words of Light

    “A disappointed woman should try to construct happiness out of a set of materials within her reach,” William Godwin counseled Mary Wollstonecraft after she tried to kill herself by jumping from a bridge. Virginia Woolf liked to read “with pen & notebook,” a generative relationship to the page. Roland Barthes had a hierarchical system with Latinate designations: “notula was the single word or two quickly recorded in a slim notebook; nota, the later and fuller transcription of this thought onto an index card.” Walter Benjamin urged the keeping of a notebook “as strictly as the authorities keep

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  • excerpt • April 30, 2020

    The Opposite of Nostalgia

    What’s the opposite of nostalgia? I ask that question because the stories in this book take me back to a time & place I thought I’d forgotten—but I really wouldn’t want to go back there.

    I used to sleep a lot. I’m still fond of a good kip & will grab a snooze at the drop of a hat if the opportunity ever presents itself but back in the early 80s I really used to sleep a hell of a lot. Back then sleeping was my favoured method of escaping Thatcher’s Britain.

    I left school in 1982 & went straight on the dole. I left home & moved into a flat above an old factory. My friend was the caretaker. The

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  • excerpt • April 28, 2020

    Metaphorical Distance

    The cultural critic Susan Sontag’s classic Illness as Metaphor emerged from her rage at seeing, after her own cancer diagnosis, “how much the very reputation of this illness added to the suffering of those who have it.” In 1978, Sontag contended with cancer’s reputation as scourge, invader, predator, demonic pregnancy, demonic enemy, barbarian within. Cancer’s roots were then imagined, at least in part, as psychological, resulting from repressed emotion. These metaphoric conceptions of cancer saddled its sufferers with shame and prevented many from seeking proper treatment or even knowing their

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  • booklist • April 16, 2020

    Some classes to take while you’re quarantined

    Social distancing may have brought us farther from our friends, but we have never been in more constant contact with our bookshelves and word processors. Many of us are dusting off unread classics, or attempting to write the book we’ve always meant to. Though they aren’t physically open, universities, literary institutions, and bookstores are providing online classes and community events on literature and composition. Grab your Milton and open “Novel.doc”—the experts are (virtually) in.

    For readers:

    If you’re looking for a quick introduction to major works, Harvard University is offering

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  • booklist • April 09, 2020

    Literary Devices

    Reading at home can’t replace the sense of community and connection offered at your local bookstore, but virtual book clubs, talks, and classes may help fill the void. Independent booksellers and publishers across the US are moving their scheduled spring programming online and some are launching entirely new web series for your quarantine-viewing pleasure. Attending these won’t be the same as meeting in person, but it’ll come close.

    And don’t forget to support indie booksellers by making a direct purchase of books, gift cards, or merchandise, contributing to a fundraising campaign, or donating

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Gem Fatale

    We were called hip-pocketers, because we lived from one deal to the next: Your business could fit in the wallet in your pocket. You bought a used Rolex at a pawnshop for a thousand bucks from the kid who’s just paid five hundred for it, hurried it over to your watch guy to hit it on the wheel and make it look new, replaced the old worn buckle with a South American counterfeit for fifty bucks, and resold it to your friend who owned the jewelry store a few blocks over for twenty-two hundred, twenty-two seventy-five if she wanted a counterfeit leather box. She could retail it the same day for

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Stockholm, Are You Listening?

    Do you find it as obvious as I do that Don DeLillo richly deserves to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature? And right away, as in this year?

    The inner workings of the Swedish Academy are opaque, but the one thing everybody knows is that their record of choices for the literature prize is spotty at best and in some cases purblind and scandalous (see: Peter Handke). Their sins of commission—when is the last time anyone said or wrote anything about the laureates Rudolf Eucken, Carl Spitteler, Frans Eemil Sillanpää, Pearl S. Buck, Nelly Sachs, or Dario Fo?—are exceeded only by their sins of

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    The Tippling Point

    Deacon King Kong (Riverhead, $28) is a warm-blooded free-for-all, a donnybrook, a rumpus, what in baseball lingo would be called a “rhubarb.” And, as it happens, baseball, a steadfast metaphor for democratic ideals, plays a marginal role in James McBride’s bountiful and compassionate comedy of errors, bloopers, and near misses. The generosity of detail and range of emotional life infused in McBride’s vision of working-class Brooklyn at the hinge of the 1960s and 1970s are more characteristic of a nineteenth-century novel than of its counterparts in the twenty-first. And McBride is so adroit at

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Motion Capture

    Davide Sorrenti excelled at the part of photography that takes place long before a camera comes into play. He got people to relax, to be vulnerable and unselfconscious. (To be naked, too, sometimes.) Small and young and rapscallionish, he slid into complicated situations with ease, arrogance, and poise. He was the sort of photographer people in front of the lens wanted to please, because in his big-ego, small-package cocksureness, he seemed privy to some idea of beauty or freedom that maybe, if you let him snap the picture, you might access too.

    In ArgueSKE 1994–1997 (IDEA, $95), the first

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    The Moore the Merrier

    Please don’t bury me

    Down in that cold, cold ground

    No, I’d rather have ’em cut me up

    And pass me all around

    John Prine, “Please Don't Bury Me”

    Fearful indeed the suspicion—but more fearful the doom! It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death.

    Edgar Allan Poe, “The Premature Burial”

    There could be unexpected chiming or clanging.

    —Lorrie Moore, “Author’s Note” to Collected Stories


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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Artful Volumes

    Susan Meiselas joined the famed photo agency Magnum in 1976; the women already on board were Eve Arnold, Mary Ellen Mark, Inge Morath, Abigail Heyman, and Jill Freedman. Three black-and-white photobooks that took up second-wave feminist themes quickly emerged from this diverse crew: Arnold’s The Unretouched Woman (1976), Heyman’s Growing Up Female: A Personal Photo-Journal (1974), and Meiselas’s Carnival Strippers (1976). Arnold’s volume gathered her revelatory images of women and celebrities—Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich—that were not retouched or staged. Meiselas’s book

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