The Review, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last night at Town Hall, found its niche almost immediately, and has been largely immune to the shifts in the business of cultural production and criticism, enduring for five decades and retaining its spot as the elite platform for probing, diverse cultural criticism and argument, right to the present day.
“Most people think of themselves, in a sense, as realists,” Galchen said, “even if they have speaking dogs in the book.” Julavits reiterated the point that authors themselves often misjudge how their work will be read. “Someone once told me they were talking to Diane Williams and she was just really surprised that people didn’t think of her in the same breath as Jane Austen,” Julavits said. “I sort of loved that as a really sweet misapprehension of what you think you’re doing versus how other people perceive what you’re doing.”(3)
“If I get into any kind of space where I’m trying to extend a narrative, or kind of accrue pages, the energy goes out,” George Saunders said at his book launch last night in Brooklyn, in response to a question about whether he will write a novel. “So I think of my stories as kind of like those little toys and you wind ’em up and put it on the floor and it goes under the couch. That’s kind of like an aesthetic model. So, I think what we have to do is petition for the definition of novel to come down a little, you know: 17 pages, that’s a good number”.(1)
Asked by Farley about the most harrowing day to be on set, Nick had an answer ready. “It was the Julianne Moore scene. We had her for four days. The first two days into the shooting it was a very eerie experience. My mother’s dead, as you all may know, and there was a node in my consciousness where I knew I would see Julianne Moore play this role, but also there was another part of me who thought I’d see my mother again.”
"It is a sequel in that we’re looking at the life of Precious’s child, Abdul Jones, who is now an AIDS orphan," the author Sapphire said. "And it is a sequel in a sense that it continues to look at the profound and devastating effect of AIDS on the African-American community."
Edmund White had prepared hypothetical Shteyngart blurbs for Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies. And Mein Kampf: “Proves that left to their own devices, blondes really do have more fun,” White read.
As for body hair, the night’s other comic motif, Crosley briefly obliged Harding’s request for mockery. “The hair,” she said. “It’s sort of like his nipples are like buttons on a fur coat.”
The more than 160 people who participated in the event read 10 minutes each over a 25-hour period. Participants ranged from the famous—actor Paul Dano kicked things off with the instantly recognizable, “Call me Ishmael”; author and This American Life contributor Sarah Vowell read at Housing Works on Saturday morning; authors Rick Moody and Jonathan Ames read at Molasses Books later the same day—to the lesser-known, including friends of the organizers, and Moby-Dick enthusiasts who had emailed or tweeted at Bullock and Bresnick, hoping to be included.(1)
It was like that all night. The money was flowing, the bartenders were mixing, and the readings were often very funny. But it was also so undeniably sad. “It’s a scandal that they have to have a benefit like this for social services,” cartoonist Ben Katchor said, shaking his head. “The whole thing is nuts. The people in public housing down there, they don’t even get enough social services when the sun is shining.” Katchor would later read from a few of his comics with the help of a laptop and overhead projector.
But the show had to go on, and the event, part of a monthly series put on jointly by Congregation Beth Elohim and local indie The Community Bookstore, was a chance for many to gather and attempt to return to some sense of normalcy. The event, which promised DeLillo in conversation with Auster, as well as an introduction by another literary bigwig, Jonathan Safran Foer, was filled with more than 100 people. It was a refreshingly hightone event in a neighborhood that usually boasts more modest fare. And there was no exclusivity; everyone who could make it out, it seemed, got a seat.
“House For Sale” is the story of Franzen going back home to Missouri to take care of the house his recently deceased mother spent half of her life putting together; the house where Franzen himself was “the only person in the family who’d had a full childhood.” For House For Sale, Fish presents Franzen’s essay in the voices of five actors—Rob Campbell, Merritt Janson, Lisa Joyce, Christina Rouner, and Michael Rudko. Each is cued to read with special sets of lights that, when particular colored bulbs are illuminated, direct specific actors to read a section of the text. But, the playbill explains, the cues aren’t planned in advance; they are determined live so none of the actors know quite when they will be called on.(6)
But a working writer always has—is always living—a back-up plan. For Jami Attenberg that has meant working on an occasional basis at Brooklyn bookstore Word (though she told me that she just ends up using much of the money she makes there on books), writing articles here and there, and taking on assignments as a freelance copywriter. “[It’s] not really good for long-term planning,” she admitted, “but this is just the thing that I love to do so I’m just kind of doing it. I don’t know. I know so many people who hate what they do for a living. Like, hate hate hate hate hate it. And I don’t want to be that person. So I kind of just threw all in on it.”
Things actually move so fluidly that the reader hardly notices there isn’t a single chapter break in the novel. Homes said she simply forgot. “I was just busy writing. I didn’t think about it. And then they called me and said ‘how about some chapters?’ Chapters?” Homes said she thinks that as a writer she shouldn’t have to stop—she should be able to just keep driving. “[It] changes the shape of something because it has a discrete beginning and a discrete ending,” she said. She prefers the larger arc to many smaller ones. And the weight of her dogged researches adds another layer of urgency to the work, the details propelling the narrative and vice versa.
Always happy in the spotlight, or on a dais, or with a microphone pinned to his lapel, Rushdie is now in the odd position of promoting a book about a time when he could do precisely none of these things, when he was living in hiding after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the author's death. And Rushdie is indeed promoting the book, titled Joseph Anton: A Memoir, with great energy. His appearance Thursday night came amidst a busy calendar of events, including recent appearances in Washington, D.C., and Boston, on "The Daily Show," and at The New Yorker Festival.
“Islam at our house stopped at ‘no swine,’” Rushdie said. Once out of that house, while at Cambridge as a student, he finally broke that single rule with a ham sandwich. He was nut struck down by a thunderbolt. “That was the moment,” he deadpanned, “I realized god did not exist.”(2)
As I waited around outside, two other older ladies, each with small, rectangular pieces of cardboard proclaiming that they, too, were looking for tickets, got into a bickering argument when a gentleman in an overcoat decided to give one of the women his spare ticket; the other woman exhibited the injured manner of one whose cab has been stolen. “Can you believe that?” the ticketless woman said repeatedly, to anyone who would listen, shaking her head in disgust.