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Imagine Heidi rewritten by Cormac McCarthy. Five impoverished men decide to lead their cattle to summer pasture in a remote alpine meadow. The village council, however, forbids them because the place is subject to a centuries-old curse. Defiant, the herdsmen guide their cows to the rich green fields. Cooped up in a tiny cabin, the men begin to argue and bicker. Vague, terrifying noises penetrate the starless night. One of the men is killed by a malfunctioning rifle. Another, a twitchy teenager, flees down the mountain in terror. One herder, a superstitious old codger, keeps a mysterious paper tucked in his threadbare coat, confident it will protect him. But the cattle contract an unnamed, contagious disease.
Books and movies about World War I continued to speak to me as I grew into adulthood: Renoir’s Grand Illusion, the Wilfred Owen poem “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” even British mysteries set during that war. By then, I’d learned about metaphor, and what I read and watched about World War I had, to me, powerful metaphors. It wasn’t just about war. No, World War I was about lost youth, grief, and those invisible wounds we all carry. I’d already begun to scar that way myself.
If you’re a writer who’s ever felt sucky about your pitiful advances, the lack of reviews for your books, or your inability to place your literary work altogether, you will finish reading New Grub Street feeling much, much better. Because in the Golden Age of the Novel, things were actually much, much worse.
The cumulative effect is not unlike what it would be like to go on an acid trip with bell hooks. Or to fall asleep on a plane flying over Dubai while Toni Morrison and Anne Carson chat softly in the row ahead of you.
Our staff was very sad to learn of the passing of Carolyn See last week. She was, as Karen Karbo knew, “an institution and a great friend to many writers.” Here, a Lost & Found essay from our thirteenth issue in which Karbo praises See’s novel Rhine Maidens, along with a note from Karbo on the sad […]
In Providence of a Sparrow, a sparrow literally falls into author Chris Chester’s life. A tiny “naked blob of flesh” hatchling, like a “testicle with a beak attached” with bulbous closed eyes, tumbles (or was pushed by overwhelmed parents) out of its nest from the eave of Chester’s home in Portland, Oregon, and into a bed of irises in a cold, wet June. Chester and his wife Rebecca keep the bitty thing alive in a small box with a heating pad. On the advice of an expert friend, they raise the hatchling on puppy food delivered at the end of a toothpick. The bird needs feeding every half hour during daytime. They take turns taking the avian infant to work with them. English sparrows mature in two weeks. In that short time “I swear I could see his mind forming,” Chester writes. The sudden arrival of this odd new companion put Chester’s longstanding depression into remission.
In Galvin’s book, the land is not only a physical place. It is also an escape, a “property of the mind,” a character, and a palimpsest on which people over time have written their stories and seen them dissolve.
Babitz serves the beauty of her subject and manages to write about Los Angeles—that Los Angeles of hipsters, actors, producers, musicians, managers and maître d’s—both as someone subject to its laws and lures and as someone comfortably above them. Addressing her own beauty, which was no slouch, Babitz writes, “The truth is that when you’re as voluptuous and un-hairsprayed as I am, you have to cover yourself in un-ironed muumuus to walk to the corner and mail a letter. Men take one look and start calculating . . . where the closest bed would be.”
Jewett was born in South Berwick, Maine in 1849, and though she traveled widely, she always returned home. As a child, she didn’t like school and was often ill, so her father, a country doctor, would take her on his rounds. She credits him with calling to her attention the speech and dress and customs of small town life. “Don’t try to write about people and things,” he told her. “Tell them just as they are.”
I wondered why the book hit me so hard. I stopped taking it with me on the subway, because at one point, there I was in the corner seat, wetting the pages with my tears. Maybe it was because their library dining room recalled my little studio, or because the new flowers on their crabapple tree reminded me of the bursting blossoms on the magnolia tree outside my window. But the most likely reason I felt keenly pierced by the account of such a love was because it deepened a loneliness I often pretended not to feel.
A True Mirror’s reflection depicts a person as they are seen by others. It’s a curious novelty. Stand in front of one and you see yourself, your true self, staring back. Too worried about what it would reveal, I myself have never viewed one. The closest I have come to having this experience, to accepting […]
This was the rancid sea slug at the center of Lindbergh’s beautiful, whorled book: this idea that somehow separation, an embrace of solitude is the path toward joy. For me, it was the source of my life’s greatest anguish. A Gift from the Sea gave best-selling bonafides to my mother’s notion that she was an island, an island too small for the two of us. Thanks to this goddamn book, I had been cast away.
It could be that few in the Western world have heard of Danish-born novelist and playwright Karl Adolph Gjellerup, much less his “legendary romance” Der Pilger Kamanita (“The Pilgrim Kamanita”), for which he co-won the prize in 1917. But come to Thailand, where the novel was translated in 1930, and you might think it were the product of native genius: the text is excerpted for high school curricula and listed on the Ministry of Education’s top 100 books all Thais should read in full.
Towards the end of the novel, the magistrate asks if there are any Muslims left in Mano Majra. “Astray Muslims,” as he calls them, suggesting that something neat and surgical had happened, as though the British cartographers had drawn clear lines. But the incisions were bloody and, seventy years after, the injuries persist. For most people, the novel introduces a foreign land. For me, it familiarized a land and people I thought I knew. Where the story of Partition ends in Mano Majra, it begins in countless small places like Khanpur.
Reading the Fathers’ book and hearing my mother’s testimony, I felt moved by the longing for a kind of truth I found in both accounts. It is this, the lonesome striving for truth and goodness, that I so admire in my mother. Together, they have helped me to understand religion as a language for the ineffable, not simply as an excuse for uniforms or hateful protest.
From our Theft Issue, the tables turn as Mary Higgins Clark gets robbed. Eighteen years ago, I decided to insure my jewelry. I realized that over the years I had gradually accumulated valuable rings, necklaces, bracelets, and pins. The reason for my treasure trove was that every year when I turned in the latest book […]
More than thirty years ago Thomas James shot himself in the head, but this isn’t about that. When I was twenty-seven, Lucie Brock-Broido gave me, like she had given countless other poets over the years, a poorly xeroxed copy of James’s Letters to a Stranger, but this isn’t about that either. As I read him […]
For seventy-nine recorded seconds in 1957, poet Kenneth Patchen and a group of jazz musicians achieved a perfect melding of minds and biorhythms. A few years before, Patchen had begun a series of collaborations, performing and recording with the Chamber Jazz Sextet in San Francisco, the Bed of Roses Chamber Group in Seattle, the Alan […]
A passionate sailor, striving writer, and unwilling movie star, Sterling Hayden lived a picaresque life in which his nascent internal struggles were compounded by the American century in which he lived. The chief literary artifact of this extraordinary existence, Hayden’s mid-life autobiography Wanderer, published in 1963, distinguishes itself amongst its genre through its formal imitation […]
I find it by accident, pressed between two large volumes on the shelf. Though it has been over twenty-five years, I recognize it instantly: a mere sliver of a book, about half the size of an American trade paperback, with tan card-stock covers smudged from handling. This is my copy of Yukiguni—in English, Snow Country—by […]
Welcome to Tin House’s Bookseller Spotlight, a series of interviews with indie booksellers across the country. Up this week is Shawn Donley with Powell’s Books . Tin House Books: What was the first book you read that made you fall in love with reading? Shawn Donley: I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and like many small […]
I came to Tove Jansson’s work late in life and in a backward fashion. Most people familiar with the Finnish author and illustrator know her as the creator of the Moomins, a family of hippopotamus-like creatures first introduced in a children’s book series in 1945 and then adapted for a comic strip. The tales of […]
The Visit of the Royal Physician, which I cannot stop reading, sometimes even long enough to eat a yogurt, begins like so: On April 5, 1768, Johann Friedrich Struensee was appointed Royal Physician to King Christian VII of Denmark, and four years later he was executed. Why do I find this opening line—an unvarnished statement […]
As a young reader, I had a fascination with stories of the American South. Maybe it was because of my favorite English teacher, Mrs. Clark, a Georgia native who taught To Kill a Mockingbird, and whose black-rimmed glasses and gray pixie cut made her look very much like the author. Or maybe it was because […]
There are dozens of memoirs about raising children with Down syndrome, hundreds of blogs, a galaxy of status updates. But in the beginning was Angel Unaware. Angel Unaware was written by Dale Evans and published in 1953. Evans, an actor, celebrity, and writer, was married to Roy Rogers, with whom she starred in movies and […]