• print • June/July/Aug 2010

    Dapper Dealer

    In 1950, few Americans bought modern art. Fewer still bought modern American art. The rags-to-riches story of the next fifty years, when New York transformed itself into the hothouse of the art world, is well known. Usually, the story centers on art and artists. However, powerful dealers also played a significant, if less examined, part. Two in particular, Sidney Janis (1896–1989) and Leo Castelli (1907–1999), are now emblematic figures from those glory years. They had a telling touch. Something more interesting, that is, than a Midas touch.

    Janis was the pioneering market maker of the period.

    Read more
  • print • June/July/Aug 2010

    Crossed Cultures

    A new book, a new genre—just what you’d expect from David Mitchell. Since 1999, this wunderkind of British fiction has produced a globe-spanning chain of nine semifuturistic narratives (Ghostwritten), a coming-of-age thriller set in contemporary Tokyo (Number9Dream), a Chinese box of nested tales that take us from the nineteenth century to about the twenty-third (Cloud Atlas), and a portrait of the artist as a very young Englishman (Black Swan Green). And now for something completely different—a historical novel. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, with its stately, melancholy title, is not

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2010

    Power Play

    Once upon a time, Ian McEwan was content to snare readers with his literary gamesmanship and stun them into submission with his talent for revealing the unsettling and irresistibly deviant appetites that undergird life. Thanks to early books like First Love, Last Rites (1975), The Cement Garden (1978), and The Comfort of Strangers (1981) and their tightly plotted agonies of flesh and mind, the press gave McEwan the nickname Ian Macabre. While the exact point of progression is arguable, ever since his missing-child epic, The Child in Time (1987), McEwan has undertaken a much larger, more ambitious

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2010

    Gossip Girl

    It astonished me to learn that Emily Gould has a thing for tattoos. On page 169 of her 208-page memoir, And the Heart Says Whatever, she tells us that she “started getting tattooed,” a verb tense that implies she’ll continue to add to what sounds like an exotic if thematically disjointed exhibit: koi, a chrysanthemum, poppies, two starfish. And on her hip, a broken heart—it was her first: “When it was my turn I barely winced, and soon I had a permanent broken heart. It was emboldening in general to know that I could act nonchalant about pain.”

    Gould’s casual masochism didn’t surprise me. By

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2010

    Bohemian Rhapsody

    First came the Beats, then the hipsters, then the hippies: all within thirty years of World War II. By the 1980s, American countercultural radicalism had exhausted itself, but during its gloriously hectic run it had performed nobly enough that today it is (rightly) credited with having brought about indelible change in our politics, our social attitudes, our arts. Perhaps, most especially, our arts. It was 1950s realpolitik that did it. What had it meant, after all, to have won the fight against Nazi Germany only to be living within the straitjacket of cold-war anxiety?

    In the late 1940s,

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2010

    Sunday Driving

    NASCAR, the nation’s premier stock-car racing circuit, draws an average of seventy-five million TV viewers a year, a third of the US adult population and second among sports only to professional football. Though its roots lie in the Piedmont South, today it draws fans from across the country, and its demographics match up closely with the population at large—middle-class, educated, and surprisingly racially diverse. NASCAR the corporation, owned and operated by the heirs of its founder, William “Big Bill” France, is a slick and efficient multinational operation, generating billions of dollars

    Read more
  • print • Apr/May 2010

    Female Trouble

    For the past quarter century or so, Deborah Eisenberg has been writing such perfect, satisfying, yet un-expectedly disturbing short stories that you would have had to be out of your mind to ask her for a novel. It’s been quite clear from the work she has already given us that she’s capable of saying everything that needs to be said in discrete units of six thousand words or less. And yet it now turns out that when you put all four of her story collections into a single chronologically ordered volume, something emerges that, while not quite a novel, has certain novelistic qualities—including,

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2010

    Medicine Clan

    The fact of our embodiment is something we all face with greater or lesser anxiety. We navigate the world as both thinking minds and reacting bodies, with room enough for heady distortion between them. The body, in its declared state of health or illness, can be used to bolster our psychological defenses; a slew of diagnoses can be called on to explain why we’re not functioning as we think we should be. That said, though interested in all the mentally agitated, I have never felt particularly sympathetic to the suffering of hypochondriacs, having always consigned them to the vast corpus of the

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2010

    Last Exit

    Don DeLillo’s Point Omega is a hard book to critique because it is chock-full of brilliance and ought to be supported simply because we need books that allow humanity to think about the condition of being human. But, in fact, Point Omega’s excess of thought and brilliance is its biggest problem. Slight though it may be, the book totters under the burden of its complexity. At its arid heart is Richard Elster, “a defense intellectual” who, even before our government started its unconstitutional moral experiments, wrote a scholarly essay titled “Renditions.” Its first sentence is “A government is

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2010

    Floating Signifiers

    In the late 1870s, the advent of the telephone created a curious social question: What was the proper way to greet someone at the beginning of a call? The first telephones were always “on” and connected pairwise to each other, so you didn’t need to dial a number to attract the attention of the person on the other end; you just picked up the handset and shouted something into it. But what? Alexander Graham Bell argued that “Ahoy!” was best, since it had traditionally been used for hailing ships. But Thomas Edison, who was creating a competing telephone system for Western Union, proposed a

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2010

    Off the Wall

    As a major serving in the British military during World War II, Jon Naar witnessed a way of life reduced to rubble. In the winter of 1973, as a fifty-something photojournalist living and working in New York, Naar once again saw a devastated landscape. But here the names of the young and dispossessed—often no more than a handle and maybe a number corresponding to the street the kid lived on, like Junior 161 or Stay High 149—were being spray-painted everywhere: bus shelters, handball courts, ice-cream trucks, subway trains, bridges, even trees. This was evidence of a citywide referendum on the

    Read more
  • print • Feb/Mar 2010

    The Shock of the Real

    In aphorism 462 of David Shields’s tenth book, the invigorating Reality Hunger, he observes, “All writing is autobiography: everything that you write, including criticism and fiction, writes you as you write it.” I’ll take that dare.

    The book was intended as an ars poetica for artists—from essayists to filmmakers to comedians to rappers—who infuse “reality” (Shields’s quotes, not mine; this is the kind of book that constantly questions accepted ideas) into their work. The book is also clearly the record of a man trying to figure out why he does what he does, where he’s coming from, and where

    Read more