“Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, and Charles Dickens wrote about opium smoking in their novels. But if you read the way they describe opium smoking, without a doubt these people never saw the real thing. It’s laughable…What we see in movies, even to this day, with the obligatory London opium-smoking scene is complete fiction.” Interview with a modern-day opium addict.
“Life is worth less than a line of Baudelaire’s poetry.” These two lyric essays by Chen Li over at Asymptote Journal are economical and well-worth the read. Though Chen Li is from Taiwan, he writes in Chinese; this syllabus of Chinese writing and the “New China” from Casey Walker at The Millions pairs quite nicely.
“What makes a word ‘real’?” Should groan-inducing words like “adorkable” be counted? Anne Curzan, language historian, gives a Ted talk about the human element in dictionaries and the importance of slang.
Granta talks to some translators of Russian literature about what they’re working on, and we learn that Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the first couple of Russian translation are working on a 600-page collection of stories by Nikolai Leskov, an underappreciated contemporary of Dostoevsky. Previously: The Millions interviews P&V.
How do you describe the life and times of John Horne Burns? He was in turn a military intelligence officer, a schoolteacher, a critical darling after he published The Gallery, a pariah after he published anything else, and a gay man in post-WWII America. In characteristic concision, Ernest Hemingway summed the whole thing up thusly: “There was a fellow who wrote a fine book and then a stinking book about a prep school, and then he just blew himself up.”