Episode 27: Ayana Mathis & Justin Torres in conversation with Elliott Holt | PEN / Faulkner Foundation -
I moderated an event with novelists Ayana Mathis and Justin Torres for the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. You can hear the recording on the PEN/Faulkner podcast.
#Repost from @wired with @repostapp —- There are plenty of Google Street View photo projects out there, but artist Aaron Hobson’s heavily-manipulated cinemascapes are a refreshing departure from the usual documentary reality. Not only does he find the most compelling views GSV has to offer, he then mashes them up with dream-like elements to create an incredible fantasy world. More at WIRED.com. (🎨 @cinemascapist)
Elliott Holt is currently one of the best writers we’ve got.
Everybody has a hard job. All real work is hard. My work happened also to be undoable. Morning after morning for 50 years, I faced the next page defenseless and unprepared. Writing for me was a feat of self-preservation. If I did not do it, I would die. So I did it. Obstinacy, not talent, saved my life. —
Philip Roth on being a writer, echoing Joy Williams.
For a more joyful antidote, see Ray Bradbury.
A New Cold War? -
As the United States threatens sanctions against Russia, influential members of President Putin’s inner circle view isolation from the West as a good thing.
“Anti-Americanism has become the main ideology, the main worldview among Russians,” he said. “Now, after Crimea, we have passed the point of no return.”
Dana Goodyear: Lydia Davis’s Radical Fiction -
Lydia Davis’s stories can be vanishingly small, but they have heft. She works from life, in the way that Samuel Beckett did, revealing life’s interactions partway estranged from their contexts. According to the novelist Jonathan Franzen, “She has the sensitivity to track the stuff that is so evanescent it flies right by the rest of us.”
“Literary people know that at the sentence level and the word level she’s the best there is.” Fuck yes, Lydia Davis.
Games without frontiers: “The Americans” revisits Vietnam — and Peter Gabriel -
I’m recapping the stellar second season of “The Americans” for Salon. If you haven’t yet seen the show, binge watch season 1 and then catch up. The show airs on FX on Wednesdays at 10 and it is one of the best things on TV.
Against its evocative ’80s backdrop, You Are One of Them presents a story about the intense yet fragile intimacy between two young girls. Sarah Zuckerman and Jenny Jones are best friends in a Washington, D.C., suburb. They are girls who can feel both terribly safe and terribly vulnerable from within the comforts of their middle-class existences. They are naïve enough to believe that they can change the world while understanding there is a clearly defined “us versus them,” and that as Americans, they have to be ever vigilant about the so-called enemy without considering that the enemy could be in their midst.
The book gracefully toggles between global and personal relationships. Sarah and Jenny’s friendship is depicted as a force as complex, fraught, and unknowable. As individuals and as friends, the girls are territories unto themselves—territories that may, despite their best intentions, be foreign to each other. This is an idea that ultimately drives the novel: that you can never really know the people you love most. — Roxane Gay in Bookforum
I recommend anything by Karen Russell or by Lydia Millet, so when Russell recommends Millet, you know I’m on board.
Issue No. 95
In Lydia Millet’s collection, Love in Infant Monkeys, the author sets herself a Chinese finger trap of a constraint—what if every story in a collection were built around a different celebrity/animal relationship? Let’s speak frankly: this absolutely shouldn’t function. Millet’s straitjacket of a conceit makes those Oulipo dudes look like a bunch of slackers in muumuus. But Millet takes her own dare and she delivers, producing a slender masterpiece about humans’ engagement with and estrangement from the natural world. Love in Infant Monkeys collects ten stories, ten acts of sustained improvisatory brilliance. I first read the collection in 2009 and I loved every one. I admired the success of Millet’s interspecies matchmaking, her instinct for pairing certain outsized human personalities with bizarrely proportioned creatures: David Hasselhoff and a dachshund. Sharon Stone and a Komodo dragon. Every story is audacious, tragic, hilarious, and surprising, but the one I find myself returning to again and again is “Girl and Giraffe.”
There is something gravelly and savagely happy inside the storybook rhythms of this first line: “The man called George Adamson lived a long life, long and rough and most of it in the African bush.” “Long” or “short” is relative, of course; any man’s lifespan is always a winnowing strip of possibilities—constrained and foredoomed. A few lines later, we learn about the Adamsons’ brutal murders in the same cool register; it’s as if the story’s narrator takes on the impersonal serenity of the African bush itself, observing our bloody dealings from the vantage of implacable, autonomous nature.
But the real stars here are a giraffe foal and a young female lion, Girl. (In fact, in this story, the eponymous “Girl” is also a celebrity, albeit an unwitting one—along with 22 other lions, she has a role in the movie adaptation of Born Free.) One of the many bold narrative lunges inside this very short story occurs when Girl escapes, mid-paragraph, into the white space of our imaginations, some unwritten domain, a world that is completely silent, undocumented. She becomes a “wild lion” again:
“In Adamson’s autobiography the end of Boy is well described, while the end of Girl, who lived out her days in the wild, is invisible. Happy endings often are.”
This unusual story builds to an unforgettable climax. It’s a reminiscence—Adamson’s memory of one sublime afternoon, several hours spent on the periphery of an encounter between a giraffe and “his” lion. Girl behaves unpredictably, even miraculously, toward the giraffe, and all Adamson can do is observe: “Being a primate, he watched. Being a primate, he was separate forever”.
Like George Adamson, we are creatures “hypnotized by the future.” Time passes; we watch an eternal patience spread between Girl and giraffe, and contrast this with the mosquito lifespan of human attention, all of George Adamson’s irritation, frustration, craving and dismay. What is the real miracle here? Just a wide-eyed infant giraffe, chewing some leaves. And predatory reality, incarnated as a young lion, granting this tiny ungulate her reprieve. It’s a moment of extraordinary animal complicity; yet we stand outside of it, eavesdropping on an older language with George Adamson. Our birthright, as primates, seems to be conscious mystification, and chronic homesickness. Wonderment, too, thank God: Millet’s brilliant tableaux reminds us that no matter what is happening on the human timescale, somewhere, as James Merrill puts it, “the world beneath the world is brightening.” I held my breath, waiting for Girl to pounce.
Author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Support Recommended Reading
by Lydia Millet
Recommended by Karen Russell
The man called George Adamson lived a long life, long and rough and most of it in the African bush. He set up house in a tent with a thatch roof and dirt floor, full of liquor and books. He smoked a pipe with a long stem, sported a white goatee and went around bare-chested in khaki shorts—a small, fit man, deeply tanned. He was murdered in his eighty-third year by Somali lion poachers.
Joy Adamson, his wife and the author of Born Free, had been stabbed to death a few years before. She bled out alone, on the road where she fell. They were somewhat estranged by the time of Joy’s death. They had cats instead of children—George had raised scores of lions, while Joy had moved on from lions to cheetahs to leopards—and lions and leopards could not cohabit, so George and Joy lived apart. They maintained contact, but they were hundreds of miles distant.
Two of George’s adoptive children, Girl and Boy, had come to live with him in the early nineteen-sixties. This was in Kenya, where the Second Battalion of the Scots Guards was stationed to fight a mutiny in Dares-Salaam. It was the tail end of the British empire in East Africa.
When Girl and Boy were nine months old, the Scots Guards brought them to the plains beneath Mount Kenya, to a farm where a British company was filming Born Free. Along with twenty-two other lions, Girl and Boy had roles in the movie. Afterward most of the lions were sent to zoos, where they would live out their lives in narrow spaces. But Girl and Boy were given to Adamson, who had become attached to them during filming. He took them to a place named Meru, where he made a camp.
Meru was in red-earth country, with reticulated giraffes browsing among the acacia and thornbush. Zebras roamed in families and the odd solitary rhino passed through the brush; there were ostriches, too, and an aging elephant named Rudkin, who plundered tomatoes.
Girl was one of Adamson’s success stories whereas her brother, Boy, was an extravagant failure; yet Boy was the one that Adamson deeply loved.
Girl had been fed all her life, but she took readily to the hunt. Her first kill was a jeering baboon, her second an eland with a broken leg, her third a baby zebra. From there she took down a full-grown cow eland and was soon accomplished. Meanwhile Boy did not feel moved to kill for himself; he merely feasted off the animals she brought down.
So Girl became a wild lion, but Boy did not. Boy remained close to Adamson all his life, often in camp, between two worlds. Though he made forays into the wild, he did not vanish within it. And on one occasion, hanging around camp while people were visiting, he stuck his head into a jeep and bit the arm of a seven year-old boy. This boy was the son of the local park warden; soon an order came down for Boy’s execution.
Though the book has been consistently in print for five decades, Harriet the Spy received mixed reviews when it first appeared. Some criticized Harriet’s fierce independence (she does her spying alone, on occasion sneaking into a neighbor’s dumbwaiter to eavesdrop) and her sometimes less-than ladylike behavior. — Harriet the Spy Celebrates 50 Years of Sleuthing (via bennettmadison)