Books for the News

Love Game in the New York Times

June 10, 2016
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Love Game in the New York Times

From a recent review of Elizabeth Wilson’s Love Game: A History of Tennis from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon (or, In Defense of Scholarly Publishing) in the New York Times: Wilson drop-shots mini-essays on broader intellectual topics like corporate dominance (“McDonaldization”) into the mix, and occasionally hits the mark, as in a paragraph on punk culture: “When Nastase and Connors brought the spectators into the drama this was a distinctly punk tactic, whether they realized it or not.” Caveat emptor for tennis fans, however: It’s an indication of the content and tone of the book that the Baader-Meinhof Group receives two mentions while the late tennis writer, historian and commentator Bud Collins shamefully gets none. No shame in the Indexical Cultural Context (Love) Game. To read more about Love Game, click here. . . .

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Free e-book for June: Mark Monmonier’s Coastlines

June 8, 2016
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Free e-book for June: Mark Monmonier’s Coastlines

Our free e-book for June is: Mark Monmonier’s Coastlines: How Mapmakers Frame the World and Chart Environmental Change *** In the next century, sea levels are predicted to rise at unprecedented rates, causing flooding around the world, from the islands of Malaysia and the canals of Venice to the coasts of Florida and California. These rising water levels pose serious challenges to all aspects of coastal existence—chiefly economic, residential, and environmental—as well as to the cartographic definition and mapping of coasts. It is this facet of coastal life that Mark Monmonier tackles in Coast Lines. Setting sail on a journey across shifting landscapes, cartographic technology, and climate change, Monmonier reveals that coastlines are as much a set of ideas, assumptions, and societal beliefs as they are solid black lines on maps. Whether for sailing charts or property maps, Monmonier shows, coastlines challenge mapmakers to capture on paper a highly irregular land-water boundary perturbed by tides and storms and complicated by rocks, wrecks, and shoals.Coast Lines is peppered with captivating anecdotes about the frustrating effort to expunge fictitious islands from nautical charts, the tricky measurement of a coastline’s length, and the contentious notions of beachfront property and public access. Combing maritime . . .

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Deirdre N. McCloskey on “How the West Got Rich”

June 6, 2016
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Deirdre N. McCloskey on “How the West Got Rich”

In a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, Deirdre N. McCloskey underlines some of the major themes that inform her decade-in-the-making trilogy The Bourgeois Era, including those particular to its most recent volume, Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World. Denying the centrality of accumulated capital, and turning instead to the accumulation of ideas, McCloskey posits “betterment” at the core of, well, how we became bourgeois. More about this in her book, but here’s a teaser from the WSJ: What caused it? The usual explanations follow ideology. On the left, from Marx onward, the key is said to be exploitation. Capitalists after 1800 seized surplus value from their workers and invested it in dark, satanic mills. On the right, from the blessed Adam Smithonward, the trick was thought to be savings. The wild Highlanders could become as rich as the Dutch—“the highest degree of opulence,” as Smith put it in 1776—if they would merely save enough to accumulate capital (and stop stealing cattle from one another). A recent extension of Smith’s claim, put forward by the late economics Nobelist Douglass North (and now embraced as orthodoxy by the World Bank) is that the real elixir is institutions. On this . . .

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“The most mind-boggling coffee table art book of 2016 (or any time)”

June 3, 2016
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“The most mind-boggling coffee table art book of 2016 (or any time)”

I, too, am biased. I find Paul Laffoley’s work speculatively seductive—the paranoiac bad vibes-side of the New Age, mixed with some pretty great architectural schematics that anticipate accelerationism and our non-anthropocentric future. As part of a pretty compelling interview with Douglas Walla, Paul Laffoley’s legendary gallerist and editor of his catalogue raisonné, conducted by Richard Metzger (another pal of Laffoley’s) for Dangerous Minds, here’s a chunk that capitalizes on the wonder: Richard Metzger: Right after the publisher sent me a black and white print out of the book, you called me up and gingerly suggested that I “might want to give Paul a call at the hospital.” I indicated how great I thought the book was and you replied—more poetically than I’m putting it here—that you were relieved and satisfied that Paul would die knowing that he was on his way into the modern art pantheon, on his own terms. “He’s not going to die an enigma” is what you said. How did he feel about knowing the book would be coming out and the likely trajectory of his posthumous reputation as an artist? Considering his global renown and the financial success that it brought him in the final 15 years of his . . .

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Thomas Bernhard’s Walking is the #1 funniest book of all time LOL

June 2, 2016
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Thomas Bernhard’s Walking is the #1 funniest book of all time LOL

Can’t make this stuff up. From Adam Ehrlich Sachs’s “The 10 Funniest Books” at Publishers Weekly: 1. Walking by Thomas Bernhard  Bernhard’s oeuvre is the longest, funniest joke in literature. If I were being honest this list would probably consist of nine Bernhard books and maybe one by Beckett. But I’ll go with this novella for its extremely long, hysterically funny description of Karrer’s mental breakdown in a clothing store, when he tries to convince a salesman, at some length, that the pants they are selling, when held up to the light, display a number of thin spots that can only be attributed to the use of shoddy materials, materials which Karrer insists (for page after page after page) must be what he refers to as “Czechoslovakian rejects.” To read more about (the patently absurd/deeply wounded/somberly screwball, which might be synonyms for “funny,” so we’ll take it) Walking, click here.   . . .

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Jellyfish (in nature—the other Nature)

May 27, 2016
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Jellyfish (in nature—the other Nature)

Just in time for this weekend’s unofficial “start of summer” gong, Nature (yea, that Nature—though also, ostensibly, “nature,” the wilder of nouns, not that other one qua Lucretius’s De rerum natura) came through with a review of Lisa-ann Gershwin’s Jellyfish: A Natural History. Stuck behind a paywall? Here it is in its glory, for your holiday reads: One resembles an exquisitely ruffled and pleated confection of pale silk chiffon; another, a tangle of bioluminescent necklaces cascading from a bauble. Both marine drifters (Desmonema glaciale and Physalia) feature in jellyfish expert Gershwin’s absorbing coffee-table book on this transparent group with three evolutionary lineages. Succinct science is intercut with surreal portraiture — from the twinkling Santa’s hat jellyfish (Periphylla periphylla) to the delicate blue by-the-wind sailor (Velella velella). To read more about Jellyfish, click here. . . .

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The Dead Ladies Art of Memoir Writing

May 25, 2016
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The Dead Ladies Art of Memoir Writing

From “Live through This,” by Catherine Hollis, her recent essay at Public Books on how much of our own lives we construct when we read and write memoirs: In The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries, Jessa Crispin, the scrappy founding editor of Bookslut and Spolia, finds herself at an impasse when a suicide threat brings the Chicago police to her apartment. She needs a reason to live, and turns to the dead for help. “The writers and artists and composers who kept me company in the late hours of the night: I needed to know how they did it.” How did they stay alive? She decides to go visit them—her “dead ladies”—in Europe, and leave the husk of her old life behind. Crispin’s list includes men and women, exiles and expatriates, each of whom is paired with a European city. Her first port of call is Berlin, and William James. Rather than explicitly narrating her own struggle, Crispin focuses on James’s depressive crisis in Berlin, where as a young man he learned how to disentangle his thoughts and desires from his father’s. Out of James’s own decision to live—“my first act of free will shall be to believe in free will”—the . . .

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Barry Schwabsky on Kristin Ross’s May ’68 and Its Afterlives

May 20, 2016
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Barry Schwabsky on Kristin Ross’s May ’68 and Its Afterlives

Barry Schwabsky on Kristin Ross’s May ’68 and Its Afterlives at Hyperallergic: Okay, but when she dismisses a detractor’s charge that “nothing happened in France in ’68. Institutions didn’t change, the university didn’t change, conditions for workers didn’t change — nothing happened,” I have to wonder. Yes, something happened in the moment, with echoes that went on resonating for a few more years — but really, what long-term upshot did it have? That it’s hard to point to one is sobering, and to brush that aside seems to me too much like turning an uprising into (an unfortunate understanding of) a work of art: useless, complete in and of itself, to be admired, wondered at, and taken as exemplary. From May ’68 to the Arab Spring and Occupy, these beautiful apparitions, so easily quashed, can seem in retrospect a great argument for Leninism, and I can’t help sympathizing with, of all people, the embittered Maoist veteran of May, quoted by Ross, who came away from it with the lesson: “Never seize speech without seizing power.” Except that anyone who thinks they know how to do that is probably deluded. To read the Hyperallergic piece in full, click here. To read more about May ’68 and . . .

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Scorsese Goes to Dinner

May 18, 2016
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Scorsese Goes to Dinner

Via an excerpt from the postscript to Roger Ebert’s Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, up at Esquire: My wife and I sit all by ourselves at the table for 10, awaiting Monsieur Scorsese. Around us, desperate and harried waiters ricochet from table to table with steaming tureens of fish soup and groaning platters of whole lobster, grilled fish, garlic paste, crisp toast, boiled potatoes, and the other accoutrements of a bowl of bouillabaisse. To occupy an unused table in a busy French restaurant is to be the object of dirty looks from every waiter; if you are going to be late, be late—don’t be the ones who get there early and take the heat. Around us, tout le Hollywood slurps its soup. There is Rob Friedman, second in command at Paramount. Over there is Woody Harrelson, who explains he partied till 6 A.M. and then slept two hours, and that was 15 hours ago. He wears the same thoughtful facial expression that his character in Kingpin did when his hand was amputated in the bowling ball polisher. Next to him is Milos Forman, who directed him in The People vs. Larry Flynt. Across from him is director Sydney Pollack (Tootsie). Across from . . .

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Jessa Crispin on US literary culture

May 16, 2016
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Jessa Crispin on US literary culture

From Michelle Dean’s profile of Jessa Crispin for the Guardian: Staying outside of that mainstream, Crispin said, had some professional costs. “We didn’t generate people that are now writing for the New Yorker,” Crispin said. “If we had, I would have thought that we were failures anyway.” She’s bored by the New Yorker. In fact, of the current crop of literary magazines, she said only the London Review of Books currently interested her, especially articles by Jenny Diski or Terry Castle. Of the New Yorker itself, she said: “It’s like a dentist magazine.” Crispin’s general assessment of the current literary situation is fairly widely shared in, of all places, New York. It is simply rarely voiced online. Writers, in an age where an errant tweet can set off an avalanche of op-eds more widely read than the writers’ actual books, are cautious folk. And Crispin can’t stand the way some of these people have become boosters of the industry just at the moment of what she sees as its decline. “I don’t know why people are doing this, but people are identifying themselves with the system,” Crispin said. “So if you attack publishing, they feel that they are personally being attacked. Which . . .

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