• print • Apr/May 2019

    Lotte Laserstein: Face to Face edited by Alexander Eiling and Elena Schroll

    In Self-Portrait with a Cat (1928), Lotte Laserstein’s hair is short, pushed off her face. The cat holds its pose because it’s tranquilized with brandy. Laserstein’s muse, and maybe lover, Traute Rose, also had short hair and liked loose clothing. In Tennis Player (1929), Rose watches a match while sportily grasping her own racket, waiting to play. For In My Studio (1928), however, she is La Grande Odalisque or she is postcoital. Laserstein, wearing a white linen smock, pays attention to what she is painting; the painting pays attention to Rose’s body. Laserstein’s and Rose’s androgyny was not

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    You Better Work

    If I see Joan Didion’s packing list on Instagram one more time, I’m going to scream. And then I am absolutely going to click. We all have our baggage, we just want to know how to organize it. What if a streamlined suitcase is the missing link, the unheralded key to writing sentences like skate blades? Best to memorize the method, just in case. And so Didion’s scribbled checklist lives inside my head: two skirts, two jerseys, cigarettes, bourbon, Basis soap, Tampax, mohair throw, baby oil, aspirin, etc. I’ve seen this list most often on social-media feeds, but it also pops up in publications

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Low Life

    Call it a curse for an American writer to be born in 1909. These authors matured into the Depression; were subject, if male, to the draft during wartime; passed into middle age during the Red Scare; and, if they were lucky enough to see the 1960s, witnessed liberations they were too old to savor. They also witnessed a sea change in American literary fashions, as the naturalism of the 1930s was demoted by a cadre of critics reorganizing the canon around Henry James. Some of them weren’t very lucky at all. A roll call includes James Agee, dead at forty-five of a heart attack in the back of a

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    The Story of the Eye

    John Berger became a writer you might find on television because of Ways of Seeing, the 1972 BBC series that became a short and very famous book. The show presented observations now common to pop-culture reviews—publicity “proposes to each of us that we transform ourselves, or our lives, by buying something more”—in a place (a box!) that rarely admitted critique beyond yea or nay. The book version of Ways of Seeing, which combined photos and text in a montage format, is now a staple of critical-writing syllabi. Writers like Laura Mulvey and Rosalind Krauss wrote the definitive versions of theories

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Huston, We Have a Problem

    First published in 1952, Lillian Ross’s Picture, an eyewitness report of director John Huston’s adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage, remains the paradigm of a slim genre, the nonfiction account of a movie’s making (and unmaking): from shooting to editing to studio meddling to publicity planning to preview screening to more studio meddling to, finally, theatrical release. The book is populated by raffish heroes (Huston) and tyrannical philistines (Louis B. Mayer), by the beleaguered (producer Gottfried Reinhardt) and the overweening (MGM head of production Dore Schary), and by various

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Home Truths

    In her new book, Women’s Work, celebrated war correspondent Megan K. Stack remembers scoffing when she first read Sheryl Sandberg’s corporate-feminist manifesto Lean In. “Who were these women who didn’t speak at meetings or take their seats at the table?” Stack wondered. She had thought she knew how to navigate life as a woman; she’d earned a place of respect in a high-stakes field. She was used to a certain amount of quotidian sexism, but it was “basically manageable,” she writes, “not ideal, certainly, even enraging, but navigable.” Or at least it seemed that way—“right up until the baby

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Suzanne Lacy: We Are Here edited by Rudolf Frieling, Lucía Sanromán, and Dominic Willsdon

    “I still believe in the power of words to change culture.” That’s Lin Farley, a writer and former reporter, who coined the term sexual harassment in 1975. Farley was teaching at Cornell University at the time and, after conducting feminist consciousness-raising sessions with students, discovered that every young woman in the group had been fired or forced out of a job after rejecting the sexual advances of a male boss. Eleanor Holmes Norton, then the head of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, invited Farley to a hearing on women in the workplace. Farley used the phrase, the New York

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    A Man Apart

    The polymath Dick Higgins once wrote that a book is “the container of a provocation.” With this in mind, he started Something Else Press in 1963, delivering a remarkable number of provocations to a mainstream audience before the imprint’s dissolution a decade later. Higgins packaged neo-avant-garde ideas in mass-market formats, producing books by contemporary artists like John Cage, Claes Oldenburg, Merce Cunningham, and Ian Hamilton Finlay. Something Else also reissued neglected works of the historical avant-garde in deluxe editions, notable among them Gertrude Stein’s vast, long-out-of-print

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Artful Volumes

    “The Golden Age of Hustlers,” a 1989 ballad by trans punk poetess Bambi Lake, is a loving tribute to the sex workers who plied their trade—and sacrificed their bodies—along San Francisco’s infamous Polk Street in the 1970s. The song, a frank portrayal of an outlaw era in Sodom by the Bay, is a glamorous yet melancholy jaunt down memory lane. So is KALIFORNIA KOOL: PHOTOGRAPHS 1976–1982 (Trapart Books, $40), a new collection by photographer Ruby Ray, who chronicled the denizens of San Francisco’s nascent punk and postpunk scenes. (Ray was also a major contributor to the seminal punk zine Search

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  • review • March 21, 2019

    Binstead's Safari by Rachel Ingalls

    Binstead’s Safari, a sort of housewife’s revenge novel by Rachel Ingalls, has no patience for interpretation. Like nearly all of Ingalls’s work, the book is heavily plotted but deceptively languorous, and its jumbling of the domestic and the bizarre places it just beyond the apprehensible. While on vacation with her husband, an academic who ignores and condescends to her, a browbeaten American named Millie decides to change her life. Her husband Stan Binstead, who has only reluctantly brought Millie along on his work trip, is too embarrassed to introduce her to his one London friend, and refuses

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  • review • March 19, 2019

    Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis

    You could describe Chloe Aridjis’s first two novels as mood pieces. Both have a Sebaldian preoccupation with the ways we are haunted by history; both are, as she has put it, “somehow impregnated or overcast with the weight of the past.” Her narrators—one, in Book of Clouds, a Mexican Jew living in self-imposed exile in Berlin, the other, in Asunder, a museum guard idling over London’s National Gallery—are withdrawn and perceptive. They occupy spaces palpitating with the past, with a violence barely glazed over by time, still detectable to those with the wit to pay attention. In Book of Clouds

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  • review • March 12, 2019

    The Last Englishmen: Love, War, and the End of Empire by Deborah Baker

    The acknowledgments to Deborah Baker’s crowded new book tell us how she came to write it. She had been looking for a way into a large subject, India and World War II. “Very few books had looked at the war and the decade that preceded it from the point of view of those for whom the Second World War meant finally getting out from under British rule.” A helpful librarian pointed her to the papers of John Bicknell Auden, elder brother of the poet Wystan Hugh and, as a distinguished geologist and cartographer, a figure of some interest in his own right.

    Auden’s papers took Baker into a world of

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