Literature

David Hall on The Last Hurrah

March 15, 2016
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David Hall on The Last Hurrah

In timely coincidence with today’s primaries and the book’s return to print, The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor received some well-tailored praise from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Hall, writing in the Columbia Daily Herald,  who suggests we: Take a breather from the daily pounding of politics and reflect: chaos, confusion, and gutter campaigning are not new. . . . Even today’s politics are not speeding away. We have survived travail through democracy. Good and thoughtful fiction lets us pause and reflect. Honing in on The Last Hurrah, an almost-story adapted from the life of notorious Boston mayor James Michael Curley, he writes of the book’s foreboding about the nature of the relationship between media and politics: Another poignant tale of American politics is The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor. Set in an old and mainline northeastern city, the novel examines the dying days of machine politics when largess held voters in sway. Frank Skeffington, 72, believes he is entitled to one more term. His political compass loses its bearing against a young, charismatic challenger, void of political experience but adorned with war medals and good looks. O’Connor’s 1956 novel was prescient in portraying the impact television would have on politics. While The Last . . .

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Norman Maclean and the Christian Tragedy

February 16, 2016
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Norman Maclean and the Christian Tragedy

The most recent issue of Commonweal includes “The River Runs On: Norman Maclean’s Christian Tragedies,” a long-form piece by Timothy B. Schilling, who goes on to read Maclean (expectedly, given the title) through both Christianity and tragedy—but most compellingly, through the author’s own often contradictory and ambivalent relationship to religion. You can read the piece in full here; a brief excerpt from Young Men and Fire that situates the Smokejumpers—first responders to the Mann Gulch fire of 1949, from which the book takes its name— in this context follows below. Maclean tells us that most of the Smokejumpers believe in God. “You wouldn’t dare jump,” they say, “if it was empty out there.” But of the sixteen who descended to fight the fire, only three survived. What then—for them, for us—is the last word in this story? Does the Mann Gulch fire reveal the ultimate tragedy of all human experience? Or does it enjoin us to embrace the world’s faith traditions in looking for a life and a truth beyond death? As in A River Runs Through It, Maclean counters fatalism with Christian symbols and biblical allusions, including references to the Stations of the Cross, the Mass, Calvary, and the Book of Job. He . . .

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Jessa Crispin on St. Teresa and the Single Ladies for the NYT

January 12, 2016
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Jessa Crispin on St. Teresa and the Single Ladies for the NYT

In addition to making an appearance in the “Briefly Noted” books section of the New Yorker, the Cheers equivalent of finding an empty chair between Norm and Cliff at the bar, this week Jessa Crispin, author of The Dead Ladies Project, published an opinion piece at the New York Times on singlehood and St. Teresa, riffing on her pilgrimage to Ávila, the saint’s town. Here’s a nugget of what’s waiting over at the NYT: Five hundred years after St. Teresa, and there are still very few models for women of how to live outside of coupledom, whether that is the result of a choice or just bad luck. I can’t remember the last time I saw a television show or a film about a single woman, unless her single status was a problem to be solved or an illustration of how deeply damaged she was. This continues even as more and more women are staying single longer and longer. I’ve been single for the most part going on 11 years now, and so I have heard every derogatory, patronizing, demeaning thing said about single women. “There has to be someone for you,” a married woman friend once said exasperatedly after I recounted another bad date. Implying, unconsciously, . . .

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An interview with Jessa Crispin at T + L

December 2, 2015
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An interview with Jessa Crispin at T + L

From Molly McArdle’s interview with Jessa Crispin about The Dead Ladies Project at Travel + Leisure:  “Though they are not all ladies, her subjects took part in what could be called the creative life, whether they made, published, or fed great works of art. Crispin’s book mixes criticism, memoir, and travel writing into a collection of essays that is brutal and empathetic, languorous and impatient, smart and, well, smart.” *** What are the responsibilities of a travel writer? How do they differ from the responsibilities of a traveler? Do travelers have any responsibilities at all? “Of course travelers have responsibilities! You have the responsibility not to be an asshole! Not to see this country as being laid out on a platter for your taking. You are a guest—you have to respect that this place has nothing to do with you. Too often you see travelers looking at a landscape and asking, “What can I take from this?” Even the obnoxious dudes who make a big deal about the difference between the “traveler” and the “tourist.” Travel writers have an even greater responsibility, because then they are telling stories about this place that has nothing to do with them, and there is a very long . . .

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Jessa Crispin on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight

November 3, 2015
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Jessa Crispin, author of The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries and editor-in-chief at Bookslut and Spolia magazine(s), recently appeared on an episode of WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, her former stomping grounds as book reviewer. Along with video of Crispin’s conversation (not Dorothy Gale, 2:12; running away to Romania, 6:00; “Don’t Do It, Harper Lee,” 7:58), there’s an excerpt from the book on William James and Berlin, and some quotes from the interview, if digital players leave you cold. You can read more about The Dead Ladies Project, here. . . .

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Juvenescence wins inaugural Bridge Award for Non-Fiction

October 19, 2015
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Juvenescence wins inaugural Bridge Award for Non-Fiction

Robert Pogue Harrison’s Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age was recently announced as the inaugural winner of The Bridge Book Award for Non-Fiction, facilitated by  the American Embassy in Rome, Casa delle Letterature of Rome, Nation-al Italian American Foundation (NIAF), American Initiative for Italian Culture (AIFIC), and Federazione Unitaria Italiana Scrittori (FUIS). From the award description: “The Bridge” is aimed to reinforce the mutual understanding between Italy and the USA by exposing the reading public to the best works of fiction and nonfiction recently released in the two countries. The Award is meant to be a “bridge” that connects two cultures. On the heels of the win, University of Chicago Press promotions director Levi Stahl traveled to Rome to accept the prize on Harrison’s behalf; images from the ceremony follow after the jump. *** To read more about Juvenescence, click here.   . . .

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Is Robert Pogue Harrison the most significant writer in the humanities?

September 30, 2015
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Is Robert Pogue Harrison the most significant writer in the humanities?

Robert Pogue Harrison’s Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age explores the history of culture, from antiquity to the present, in order to frame how neotony, the retention of juvenile characteristics through adulthood, has become central to our youth-obsessed, yet historically entrenched civilization. Mired in the past, and at the same time, forced to look forward, the way in which we frame life and death errs heavy on the side of protracting the cusp of adulthood. “While genius liberates the novelties of the future,” Harrison writes, “wisdom inherits the legacies of the past, renewing them in the process of handing them down.” From the Southern Humanities Review, which considers Harrison one of our foremost academics working today: Robert Pogue Harrison, an intellectual steeped in the philosophical and literary traditions of the Western world, may be the single most significant writer in the humanities today. In three of his previous books—Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, The Dominion of the Dead, and Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition—he developed a particular style of writing that takes readers on a journey through time, tracing a particular concept or trope as it manifests itself in a wide array of literary and philosophical works. . . . In each of his . . .

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The Dead Ladies Project on tour

September 29, 2015
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The Dead Ladies Project on tour

Appropriated from the Spolia Mag Tumblr, here are some upcoming readings and release events surrounding Jessa Crispin’s The Dead Ladies Project. All are free and open to the public, except where indicated. *** The Dead Ladies are going on tour! September 29, New York  A conversation with Laura Kipnis at Melville House 46 John Street, Brooklyn 7PM October 1, Chicago Good old-fashioned house party (open to the public) 1926 W Erie 7PM October 5, London Reading at BookHaus 70 Cadogan Place, Knightsbridge 6:30PM October 12, Paris Reading, champagne, and launch party at Berkeley Books 8 Rue Casimir Delavigne 7:30PM October 15, Leipzig Cabaret! With opera singer Jennifer Porto! Details T/K (Image: Maud Gonne. Or me, in my traveling hat, I’m not sure.) *** To read more about The Dead Ladies Project, click here. . . .

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Proust Questionnaire: Jessa Crispin

September 25, 2015
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Proust Questionnaire: Jessa Crispin

The Proust Questionnaire dates back to the parlor room fad of the “confession album,” popularized in late-nineteenth-century England, in which individuals, families, strangers, and the occasional ill-mannered first date answered a series of questions, which inevitably revealed a bevy of his/her/their aspirations, fantasies, and personal tastes. Earning its current moniker via the series of sophisticated (and yes, Proustian) responses provided by the author in two recorded versions (dated 1885/86 and 1890/91, respectively), the mental survey accrued further cultural currency when it was included as form of celebrity confessional in the back pages of the American magazine Vanity Fair. To celebrate the debut of her first book The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries, we asked writer and editor Jessa Crispin to let us crawl along with her to the recesses of her mind to give you a taste of what makes her tick and let you know why she’s one of the sharpest interlocutors of contemporary art and lit around today. Not playing favorites or anything, but you can read Proust’s—and for fun and karmic restitution, Norman Mailer’s—responses via hyperlink. Read Crispin’s in full below. *** Your favorite virtue: I have been using the Minchiate tarot for a while, and for a while almost every day I was drawing the virtue . . .

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Alan Thomas on Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire

September 11, 2015
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Alan Thomas on Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire

Over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, University of Chicago Press editorial director Alan Thomas has a piece on the legacy of Norman Maclean’s now classic account of the 1949 Mann Gulch disaster, Young Men and Fire—carefully detailed and processed by an account of Thomas’s own experience of bringing the long delayed manuscript to publication. Below follows an excerpt from the longer essay, a must-read for anyone interested in Maclean’s stunning reportage or the contradictions and complexities inherent in a young man editing a posthumous manuscript from one of our most acclaimed storytellers, on furloughs in Japan, Chicago, and Missoula, Montana. Visit the LARB website for me. *** Reading Young Men and Fire for the first time, you expect that the book will end with fire science and the definitive account it allows Maclean to give at the end of part two of the book. But there is a third and last part to come, a very brief section that feels like a coda. It is in some ways the most experimental part of Young Men and Fire, and Marie Borroff, for one, argued in her essay on the book that it is not a success, that the book should have ended short of part three. . . .

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