patti-smithOpen Culture has shared a list of American writer, musician, and photographer Patti Smith‘s favourite books. Included among the 2008 list are titles by Mikhail BulgakovHermann HesseJoseph ConradCharlotte Brontë, Nikolai Gogol, André Breton, Albert Camus and Virginia Woolf. Smith also lists a number of titles associated with the Beat Generation and other post-war American literature, including Allen Ginsberg, Jack KerouacWilliam S. Burroughs, and J. D. Salinger. Mike Springer reproduces the complete list, with brief commentary, over at the Open Culture website.

Cheryl Strayed, Wild
Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Spent this afternoon walking around Cardiff Bay barrage with Jennifer and our good friend, Laura. There’s little that beats good conversation at walking pace. I’ve spent much of this week working on an academic manuscript, so it’s refreshing to get outdoors for awhile and see the sunshine.

I have started reading Cheryl Strayed‘s Wild, a memoir of the author’s life changing decision to hike America’s Pacific Crest Trial. It’s written in an accessible and compelling style which has literally made me laugh and cry within the first fifty pages. An excellent start, and I’m looking forward to reading more of it this afternoon.

The New Yorker has published a new short story by Don DeLillo, entitled “The Itch” • Geoffrey Rush plays Alberto Giacometti in British film made with close involvement of artist’s estate • Herman Melville‘s Mystery: Was Billy Budd black? • Lauren Elkin on Jeanne Moreau

Herman Melville's desk at Arrowhead. Photograph: Ornan Rotem.
Herman Melville’s desk at Arrowhead. Photograph: Ornan Rotem.

The Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai has been writing a novella involving Herman Melville, the American writer responsible for Moby Dick (1851) and ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’ (1853). The work is purported to focus on ‘Melville, New York, and everything in between’, and prompted Kraznahorkai to seek out places that were most significant to the author. He was accompanied by a photographer, Ornan Rotem, who recorded their expedition with a series of beautiful black-and-white images.

The Guardian has published a selection of Rotem’s photographs with accompanying commentary from Krasznahorkai. I was struck by one image in particular, notable for its simplicity and its symmetry: Herman Melville’s desk at Arrowhead. Krasznahorkai relates:  “I went to visit Arrowhead in Pittsfield, the farmhouse where Melville had lived from 1850 to 1863. I walked through the house, saw its tiny rooms, the bedroom, the living room, the study and the desk where he wrote. I looked out the window and saw exactly the same view that Melville would have seen in his day: a meadow that had not changed at all over the past 160 years.”

Alison Flood (The Guardian) reports that Neal Cassady’s letter will be auctioned at Christie’s, after a tour from Seattle to New York
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A letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac, which inspired the spontaneous style of On the Road and was described by Kerouac as “enough to make Melville, Twain … I dunno who, spin in their graves”, is to go up for auction later this month for the second time in less than two years. (more…)

From an interview conducted by George Prochnik (The Telegraph)
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Wes Anderson

George Prochnik: I thought your film [The Grand Budapest Hotel] did a beautiful job of transposing Stefan Zweig’s actual life into the dream life of his stories, and the stories into the fabric of his actual life. You showed how his own experiences had a fairy-tale dimension, confectionary and black by turns. I wondered if you could say anything about these qualities and how Zweig became an inspiration for you.

Wes Anderson: I had never heard of Zweig — or, if I had, only in the vaguest ways — until maybe six or seven years ago, something like that, when I just more or less by chance bought a copy of Beware of Pity. I loved this first book, and immediately there were dozens more in front of me that hadn’t been there before. They were all suddenly back in print. I also read the The Post Office Girl, which had been only published for the first time recently. The Grand Budapest Hotel has elements that were sort of stolen from both these books. Two characters in our story are vaguely meant to represent Zweig himself — our “Author” character, played by Tom Wilkinson, and the theoretically fictionalised version of himself, played by Jude Law. But, in fact, M. Gustave, the main character who is played by Ralph Fiennes, is modelled significantly on Zweig as well. (more…)

Shannon Mattern on how the 1939 World’s Fair anticipated our current obsession with urban data science and “smart” cities.

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Exhibits at the 1939 World’s Fair. Left: Consolidated Edison, “City of Light.” [New York Public Library] Right: General Motors, “Futurama.” [General Motors]
The World of Tomorrow, Leonard Wallock writes, “was the city’s perfected dream of itself.” It manifested desires for “scientific rationality, technological progress, modernist aesthetics, industrial design … consumer prosperity, and … corporate capitalism” in spatial form, via rational urban planning and progressive civil engineering, modernist architecture and sterilized suburbs. Just as important — though much less discussed — was the dream of efficient urban administration. (more…)

Lara Feigel reviews Peter Boxall’s new book about the relevance of the novel in the 21st century

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In his 1925 essay, “Why the Novel Matters”, DH Lawrence celebrated the novel as the “one bright book of life”. According to him, the novelist alone understands that there is as much life in the hand that writes as in the mind that thinks. Where science and philosophy privilege mind over matter, turning man into a “dead man in life”, the novel resurrects the “whole man alive”. Lawrence acknowledged that books do not constitute life, but insisted that they were “tremulations on the ether” that could make the whole man alive tremble into urgent being.

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Brooks Barnes (The New York Times) reports that the British writer is to work with French filmmaker Claire Denis
Zadie Smith. Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images.
Zadie Smith. Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images.

Amid the superheroes, dinosaurs, cyborg assassins and male strippers of the summer movie season comes a drop of sustenance for the cinematic intelligentsia: the French director Claire Denis will make her first English-language film, and she is collaborating on its screenplay with the British novelist Zadie Smith.

Ms. Denis, perhaps best known for “Beau Travail,” a 1999 drama based loosely on a Herman Melville story, does not yet have a title for her new project. But the film will be set in space, according to Screen International, and Ms. Smith, the author of the acclaimed novel “White Teeth,” will help write the screenplay – her first such effort. [Read More]

Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis
From an interview between Dan Gunn and the writer and translator Lydia Davis, published in The Quarterly Conversation

Dan Gunn: Proust’s narrator deduces that, to convey the priority of sense-impressions over pre-formulated conclusions, he needs to write à la Dostoevsky. When I read your work I am, in fact, made to think less of Dostoevsky than of Kafka, and of the way in which the familiar becomes strange in his work—his story “Hands” for example, where his narrator’s two hands appear suddenly to be alien and potentially at war with one another. If one may provisionally call such writing “phenomenal,” do you feel that part of your own work which is “phenomenal” to be working within a tradition? Or is it rather something that you developed privately and intuitively?

Lydia Davis: I think influence is a complicated thing. I am influenced by a kind of writing because I am drawn to it, open to it. I am drawn to it because there is already an affinity between my own sensibility and sense of formal structure and those of the author I am reading or studying. I would not be influenced by a writer alien to me. I really see an ongoing process that starts in earliest childhood. The very first picture books and nursery rhymes have their effect, as do songs and the lyrics of songs. My sensibility as a child is affected by these and then my changing sensibility and sense of structure show in my writings, even the stories written as assignments in grade school. And of course the influences of interactions with family and friends and teachers continue to have their effect. (more…)

Why read a ‘difficult’ book?
Emily Temple (Flavorwire) has compiled a list of ’50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers’. Their toughness varies from the sheer bulk of the volume (eg. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stein’s The Making of Americans), to their stylistic virtuosity (Finnegans Wake, anyone?). But despite their daunting reputations, there can be something special about reading a ‘difficult’ book.

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