Jacob Silverman tackles the niceness epidemic besieging literary criticism at the moment. Where have the hatchet jobs gone? Is social media’s “communalism” robbing critics of their fangs? Each time a publication refuses to print a negative review, the act amounts to “a victory for a publicist, but not for readers,” he writes. (Just a few notes: Silverman’s piece is based on a blog post he wrote recently; Emma Straub has responded on her own blog; and, for what it’s worth, our own Michael Bourne’s recent review of Richard Ford’s Canada was pretty toothy.)
Patti Smith’s M Train was released this Tuesday. Geoffrey O’Brien reviews her memoir at The New York Review of Books: “Perhaps M Train represents the attempt by someone whose career is as public as can be imagined to stake out a zone of inviolable privacy, albeit through the public act of writing a book meant for publication.” Need more music? Check out our Torch Ballads and Jukebox Music column.
“And so despite my esteem for the high challenge of writing, for the reach of the writerly life, it’s not something anyone actually wants me to do. The American mind has made that very clear, it has said: ‘Be a specialised something — fill your head with the zeitgeist, with the technical — and we’ll write your ticket.’”
“Would I have carried myself with the same swagger, or faced adversity with such feminine resolve, without Albertine as my guide?…I was drawn to a striking, remote face—rendered violet on black—on a dust jacket proclaiming its author ‘a female Genet.’ It cost 99 cents, the price of a grilled cheese and coffee at the Waverly Diner, just across Sixth Avenue. I had a dollar and a subway token, but after reading the first few lines I was smitten—one hunger trumped another and I bought the book.” Patti Smith introduces Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin, recently rereleased by New Directions.
In the current Broadway production of Twelfth Night, Mark Rylance plays Olivia, a role which sees him plaster his face in white makeup and style his hair into a “pouf like a charcoal brioche.” Rylance, the first artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London, projects such a palpable “air of distracted grief” in his performance that “the carapace of theatricality evaporates,” Charles Isherwood writes. The Times theater critic also highlights the work of John Douglas Thompson and Harriet Walter.
“What’s emerging from these studies isn’t just a theory of language or of metaphor. It’s a nascent theory of consciousness.” Michael Chorost writes about the importance of metaphors in literature and the brain.
“I became completely obsessed.” At the 92nd Street Y, Rebecca Skloot shares the story behind her bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, joined by members of the Lacks family and actress Rose Byrne, who plays Skloot in the forthcoming film adaptation of her book. Skloot also discusses how the subject of the book is intimately linked to her own father’s health crisis, which Amy Halloran wrote about in our own pages a few years back.