• 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

    IF THE STRANGEST THING ABOUT LORRIE MOORE’S COLLECTED STORIES is that it didn’t exist

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Los Angeles Is Burning

    SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, written by Mike Davis in collaboration with historian Jon Wiener, is a kind of sequel to City of Quartz, the cultural analysis of Los Angeles Davis published in 1990. In the beginning of CoQ, Davis described the focus of that book as “the history of culture produced about Los Angeles.” And that is true for roughly two hundred pages of CoQ, as Davis reviews the work of California historians like Carey McWilliams (he approves) and “the European reconceptualization of the United States” carried out by Los Angeles transplants like Theodor Adorno (he’s torn). Davis also turns

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Evidence of Things Not Seen

    WHENEVER I SEE A COPY OF A ROBERT STONE NOVEL in a used-book store, I buy it, pretty much to introduce him to others, to press his work upon others. I recently acquired a copy of A Flag for Sunrise, one of his masterworks—1981 first edition. Out of print. Nine dollars. Between its pages, a folded note. Black ink. Neat handwriting. Life is hard. We’re trying to prepare you for that. Make mistakes . . . fine . . . good. But make them because you don’t know. Learn from them. Do not make them b/c your friends are making them. Anxiety: valid. But don’t give in. How you face it will help make you

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Live Flea or Die

    The last particule of the once-sprawling Chelsea Flea Market closed down on December 29, 2019. That remnant occupied a parking lot on 25th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, but earlier the market, which opened in 1976, had in addition comprised three lots along Sixth Avenue, as well as a garage on 25th Street, the principal setting and primary subject of this beguiling memoir. Flea markets have been in serious decline for years; in many parts of the country a “flea market” is where you go to buy batteries, aftershave, and car parts. The recent, possibly terminal phase has everything

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Fierce Detachments

    Katie Roiphe is someone who, by her own account, writes prose as if heading into combat: She describes her preferred authorial voice as “a vehicle, a tank.” But a while back she began to feel something lacking. “My usual ways of being in the world were no longer working,” she writes at the beginning of her new memoir, The Power Notebooks. “My theories and interpretations were wrong or inadequate.” She was used to building arguments and taking stands, but she wanted to try something different—something looser, more fragmentary, more vulnerable. She began keeping a notebook where she collected

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    The War at Home

    Throughout 2015 and 2016, the US Army set off multiple clouds of deadly chlorine gas, not in some secret location in the Middle East or Afghanistan, but about an hour’s drive south of Salt Lake City. The Dugway Proving Ground, established during World War II, occupies a swath of desert larger than Rhode Island. During the war, the military built villages that resembled German and Japanese towns in order to try out weapons, including poison gas. This activity continues to the present day. In Proving Ground, David Maisel’s aerial and ground-level photos of Dugway—he reports that gaining access

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Bard Times

    The most popular honorary American of all time is unquestionably Jesus of Nazareth. But Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro’s latest book makes a lively case for Will as the man from Galilee’s perennial runner-up among unwitting citizens of the USA. Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future blends Shapiro’s usual zest for unpacking time-capsule moments (e.g., The Year of Lear) with a newfound relish for Trump-era topicality. True, you may be tempted to groan at his fatuous subtitle—our future, really? Say it ain’t so, Weird Sisters. But he’s contrived an

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Like Life

    In 1971, for the month of July, powerhouse poet Bernadette Mayer documented her life by shooting a roll of 35 mm film every day and writing down as many experiences, ideas, observations, feelings, and sights as she could. From those materials, she created Memory, a fabled work of installation art that plunged viewers headlong into the fizzing slipstream of her consciousness. Disorienting and clarifying in equal measure, Memory uncovers the space between living and recorded life. If the latter is imperative to apprehending the tumult of human experience, it nonetheless falls very short of

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Food for Thought

    A man is what he eats. So wrote the nineteenth-century German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, and such is the premise underlying Ben Katchor’s monumental illustrated book The Dairy Restaurant.

    Opening with an image of our earth coalescing from the primordial borscht—and replete with ancient tales, legendary patriarchs, Yiddish-language comic strips, and menus from long-vanished eateries—The Dairy Restaurant is a compendium of curious facts. More than that, it is a learned commentary (if not an encyclopedic midrash) on a particular Jewish American institution that is also, for the author, a lost

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