• 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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  • 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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  • review • February 28, 2019

    Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev

    Partway through Sophia Shalmiyev’s new memoir, Mother Winter, the author returns to Russia in an attempt to find her mother, a woman who has been absent most of her life. Shalmiyev imagines that the journey will be beautiful: “I would book the trip during the famous white nights in June, when the bridges part over the canals and it is dusk at four in the morning, the city actually not being able to sleep so people become possessed; they make out on every corner and leave their spouses for anyone who winks at them. I wanted my three-note, sleepy, leveled and depressed but loyal boyfriend to wake

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  • review • February 12, 2019

    Mothers by Chris Power

    The fiction writer who is also a critic is cursed with the predicament of having strewn about the very tools for his own dismemberment. Hold up the analytic knives to a purely creative output, and the fruits of artistic labor too readily slacken and yield. Susan Sontag has often been castigated for writing novels that fail to meet her own exacting critical standards, but author-critics such as Edmund White, Lionel Trilling, Iris Murdoch, A. S. Byatt, and, more recently, James Wood have also been the subject of this particular jibe. How then, to court success when the stakes of one’s own making

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  • review • February 05, 2019

    Shooting a Revolution: Visual Media and Warfare in Syria by Donatella Della Ratta

    Not long before the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East and Northern Africa in 2010, Google CEO Eric Schmidt trumpeted a “coalition of the connected” as the antidote to authoritarianism. Schmidt claimed that “governments will be caught off-guard when large numbers of their citizens, armed with virtually nothing but cell phones, take part in mini-rebellions that challenge their authority.” Soon after, the idea of the smartphone-equipped rebel gripped the imagination of both the State Department and Silicon Valley, and institutional support and funding soon followed. Schmidt didn’t say then

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Licensed to Spill

    Few acts in pop-music history have a reputation quite as lenticular as that of the Beastie Boys. As such, their new memoir Beastie Boys Book (Spiegel & Grau, $50) seems to pinball from one reputational-perspective tug-of-war to the next. Are Ad-Rock, Mike D, and MCA innovators or carpetbaggers? Serious musicians or stumblers onto greatness? Agents of positive cross-racial understanding or flimsy bridges between cultures? Curious creative-class kids or schmucks?

    All of the above, according to the stories told, and some merely hinted at, in this enjoyable but carefully circumscribed book, which

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2019

    Stardust Reveries

    Ashes to Ashes, the second volume of Chris O’Leary’s song-by-song chronicle of David Bowie’s work, reaches its title track around page 155. Of 1980’s “Ashes to Ashes,” which was Bowie’s second-ever No. 1 single in the UK—the first had been “Space Oddity,” to which “Ashes to Ashes” was the mischievous sequel (We know Major Tom’s a junkie)—O’Leary remarks that it is, “in a way, his last song, the closing chapter that comes midway through the book. Bowie sings himself off-stage with a children’s rhyme: eternally falling, eternally young.”

    In mundane truth, at that point the reader is about

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