by Dish Staff
Get tripped up:
I was checking out The Millions’ Year in Reading again this morning and came across the entry of one William Giraldi. Giraldi is a critic I’ve run into a few times before. He once wrote a weirdly angry review of two books by an acquaintance of mine. This got him pilloried all over the internet. It was really more of a reap-what-you-sow moment than an outrage moment. I think if you write something angry, you should probably be prepared for people to respond in kind.
What I am about to describe is not something angry he wrote though. It’s just something that made me stop short, before I’d even looked at the byline in my RSS feeder:
Imagine the irredeemably WASPish, cloistered Connecticut world of John Cheever if rendered by James Thurber, or John Updike’s suburban New England strivers and cheaters delivered by Oscar Wilde, or, better yet, imagine if you could make an alloy of H.L. Mencken’s irreligious perceptions and Dorothy Parker’s cagey sapience, and you might come close to beholding the vibrant abilities of Peter De Vries.
I’ve never read Peter De Vries. Let’s stipulate that he’s probably wonderful in all the ways described. I suspect, though, that this sentence would have benefited from about four fewer names included in it. The adjectives could have left too. I am no stranger to long, looping, complicated sentences, and in fact it annoys me that in my own work I have to use the shorter ones so often. The windup here simply goes on too long.
None of these are what bother me, though. What bothers me is this reference to Dorothy Parker’s “cagey sapience.” It’s so totally wrong it took my breath away. An insane overreaction, I know. This is the problem with writing a book about dead writers: you sometimes find yourself with highly developed opinions about other people’s tossed-off remarks about them.
So, caveat emptor, this is a nitpick. But I’m going to unpack it anyway in the interest of intellectualism and all that.
Michael Zhang captions:
Photographer Shelley Calton grew up in Houston, Texas and was raised by a father who owned guns for both hunting and self-defense. She and her two sisters all learned to shoot firearms from a young age.
This background is something Calton shares with the subjects of her project “Concealed.” It’s a series of portraits that looks into the lives of women who arm themselves. Calton writes that, in doing this project from 2011 through 2014, she “sought to more deeply understand [the women’s] collective experiences as concealed carriers.”
Most of these women grew up with guns, Calton says, so they didn’t have an aversion to them. Some women had a traumatic incident in their past that lead them to always have a handgun nearby. One was briefly kidnapped. Others were sick of feeling vulnerable and threatened. Some carry now because their significant others wanted them to be able to protect themselves and their children if needed.
“Some carry on their bodies everywhere they go, some in their purses, and some just in their cars and homes,” says Calton. One woman carries her concealed piece in a small Coach purse, with the pistol taking up most of the space.
This weekend’s short story is Tim Parks’ “Reverend,” just published in The New Yorker. You can surmise the subject matter from its title, which has autobiographical significance for Parks. In an interview, he had this to say about the story’s relationship to his own life:
Reams could be written about the autobiographical links, of one kind or another, in pretty much all of the fiction I have written. If anyone were interested, that is. Let’s say that the distance fiction allows—talking in the third person, declaring from the start, “This is not me, these are not people I know”—enables me to meditate on experiences close to home, on characters like myself, like my father, without being swept away by them. There is also a constant and, I hope, exciting tension between memory and invention, an awareness that, even when you try to say exactly how something was, it is still largely reconstructed through memory and language; it is still a “creative” act.
How the story begins:
After his mother died, Thomas started thinking about his father. All too frequently, while she was dying, there had been talk of her going to meet him in Paradise, returning to the arms of her husband of thirty-two years, who had died thirty-two years before she did. This would be bliss.
Thomas did not believe in such things, of course, though it was hard not to try to imagine them, if only to savor the impossibility of the idea: the two insubstantial souls greeting each other in the ether, the airy embrace. She had been ninety at death, he sixty. There would be some adjustment for that, presumably, in Heaven. The madness of it confirmed one’s skepticism.
You have until noon on Tuesday to guess it. City and/or state first, then country. Please put the location in the subject heading, along with any description within the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. Be sure to email entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book, a new Dish mug, or two free gift subscriptions to the Dish. Have at it.
I want to second Michelle’s endorsement of the outrage year-in-review over at Slate. The item there that jumped out at me was Jordan Weissmann’s account of having played a large part in sparking a “cycle of viral outrage” against a Harvard professor who had “raged [in email] at a local Chinese restaurant that had overcharged him a mere $4 on a takeout order.”
Weissmann cops to a history of producing clickbait outrage journalism, but explains, “It’s something I feel ambivalent about as a writer.” He makes the case for what is, after all, his livelihood. Shaming bad behavior is maybe a good deed? Plus, these pieces apparently function for a place like Slate the way lose-weight-and-get-a-man ones do for women’s mags – they pay for the serious but tough-to-monetize pieces. He also insists that, in this case at least, his target is unlikely to suffer financially. (“And I doubt his $800-per-hour corporate consulting business is going anywhere.”) These are all fair points. But I came away from the essay unsure whether Weissmann had succeeded in convincing himself that viral outrage – that is, of the sort sparked by the ostensibly private slip-up of someone who isn’t in the public eye – is defensible.
Stuart Kelly wonders what would happen if biographers were as formally innovative as novelists:
There have been various attempts at experimental biographies. Although it’s an “academic” book, Samuel Schoenbaum’s Shakespeare’s Lives, published in 1970, is remarkable: a life told through attempts to tell the life, a source book for how legends arise and myths solidify into facts. More recently, Jonathan Coe’s Like a Fiery Elephant, about the avant-garde novelist BS Johnson, deploys a range of tricks – meandering footnotes, choruses of comments, an intrusive and sometimes indolent narrator – which would be recognizable to readers of the novels of BS Johnson. It is a fine example of form being determined by the subject itself.
He goes on to argue that “for literary biography to survive as a genre, it ought to take its lead from literature and go even further”:
The decline of written diaries and paper correspondence … means that future biographers may have to either resign themselves to lost sources, or spend hours with computer boffins recapturing every email, tweet and keystroke from Salman Rushdie’s iPhones and laptops: a kind of archaeology which might reveal nothing more than a penchant for Patience. But a life told innovatively and imaginatively holds out a lifeline to the form. I’ve read biographies of Dickens by John Forster and Peter Ackroyd, Claire Tomalin and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, GK Chesterton and Edgar Johnson. I know the story. But I’d love to hear how Ali Smith or Jonathan Franzen might tell it.
Today on the Dish, Michelle shook her head at the long-overdue exoneration of a black teenager executed in 1944, reflected on a perceived sexist remark made during her J-school days, and added her final thoughts on the Serial finale. More from Michelle on Dorothy Parker tomorrow and a sign-off post with reflections on TNR’s collapse on Sunday.
Our most popular posts today were Howard Roark and the Hacker’s Veto and On The Right Not To Be “Triggered”. Two other posts from Will included his musings over the rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage and his hatho-induced awe over Glenn Beck’s newest video.
Phoebe, our wonderfully bright intern leaving the Dish soon, examined the evolving ways we look at gentrification, highlighted French author Éric Zemmour’s look at his nation’s decline, and joined Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart in considering the role of masculinity in their lives and literature.
Be sure to check out Andrew’s cameo in the Colbert finale and this hilarious story from a reader who ran into the senior Senator from Colbert’s home state of South Carolina. More Santa-crushing stories from readers here.
We’ve updated many recent posts with your emails – read them all here. You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @dishfeed. 20 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here (you purchase one today and have it auto-delivered on Christmas Day). Dish t-shirts are for sale here and our coffee mugs here.
One of our newest subscribers has been a regular emailer since 2010:
The Dish staff photo finally prompted me to subscribe today. I had been dodging the pay-meter on a daily basis since its inception, but seeing the staff photo helped humanize the team, replacing my mental image of a gaggle of flaming liberals – though if I squint real hard, I think I do see a few sparks coming off a couple of you. Happy holidays!
Andrew will be back on Sunday night and likely torture-blogging throughout the week, so be sure to tune in for more on waterboarding, rectal feeding, and war criminals … Merry Christmas!
(Photo: A sign shows the departure times for flights to Cuba at Miami International Airport on December 19, 2014 in Miami, Florida. By Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
I won’t say that this is the greatest thing that I have ever seen, but neither will I say that it is not glorious to behold. Glenn Beck, American, offers a voice of warning … from the future:
Kyle Mantyla of Right Wing Watch (I’d rather watch grass grow) writes:
The best thing about Glenn Beck owning his own network is that he answers to nobody and so there is nothing to stop him from indulging every insane idea that he has, resulting in hour-long programs like last night’s end-of-the-year recap in which a 90-year-old Glenn Beck recorded a dire message from the future about how 2014 was the year in which the whole world fell apart.
Living alone in an abandoned building with only a few tiny candles and a small fire for light and heat, future Beck somehow managed to scrounge up some batteries and video cameras with which to record his message. And even though the world in 2054 is apparently short on food and fuel and energy and everything else, future Beck still somehow managed to obtain stockpiles of footage from news programs that aired forty years earlier and even had the capacity to edit those clips into his dire message about how everything from Ebola, to ISIS, to the Federal Reserve all brought about the complete collapse of capitalism and society starting in 2014.
Glenn Beck, in my opinion the world’s greatest performance artist, has built a fortune on the crackpot credulity of extreme conservative. This video is just delightfully bats. Will Menaker tweets:
My favorite part is that the example of humanity’s great potential for the miraculous is a wedding and the terrible is the missing plane lol
— Will Menaker (@willmenaker) December 19, 2014
It’s like he wants us to know he’s pulling our leg. But then he’s totally not! Glenn Beck is a living magic eye poster. You squint and you see the winking irony, but you try to pull it into focus and it vanishes! All you see is the authentic wild-eyed paranoid ideologue. But then you catch the wink! Agh! The mercury-blooded cipher! I love him so much I wrote down what he said: