“Their staff is always sharp, and they seem to cover politics more robustly now. But through the 1960s there were so many political trends they ignored, pretending to be focused on craft and art for art’s sake.” An interview with Joel Whitney about his forthcoming book Finks: How the C.I.A. Tricked the World’s Best Writers, which tells the story of how the intelligence agency helped found The Paris Review. With this backstory in mind, you may read the journal’s author interviews in an entirely new way.
Anwen Crawford reflects on newly published letters from Sylvia Plath; “The belief among many of Plath’s devotees seems to be that if we can get clear of other people’s fingerprints on her texts, allowing Plath to ‘fully narrate her own autobiography,’ as the editors here describe it, we will at last solve the riddle of her. The extremities of her poetry will balance against the circumstances of her life; the latter will equal the former. But her griefs were ordinary; it is what she did with them that wasn’t. Plath turned her common sorrows—dead father, mental illness, cheating husband—into something like an origin story for pain itself, as if her own pain preceded the world.” In the New Yorker
At Guernica Magazine, John Sevigny on Francisco Goya and the invention of modern art.
Shall I compare thee to a wormhole? No, this essay on astrophysics and poetry coupled with a poem for Stephen Hawking is most definitely more lovely. Kalpana Narayanan wrote an essay for The Millions on physics, grief, and Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies that may pique your interest.
Max Porter’s Death Is the Thing With Feathers is a bizarre, beautiful book. Over at The Literary Hub, he talks death, writing, and musical theater with Catherine Lacey. Porter’s book came highly recommended by Garth Risk Hallberg in his 2015 Year in Reading for The Millions.
Out this week: The Burning Girl by Claire Messud; The Hidden Light of Northern Fires by Daren Wang; My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent; To Die in Spring by Ralf Rothmann; and All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler. For more on these and other new titles, go read our most recent book preview.
“All this is by way of saying that in the United States we haven’t got any actual royals, and yet almost the very first stories we hear are about princes and princesses, kings and queens. When a little American kid first learns that there is such a thing as real, live princes and princesses, who live in actual palaces, this is liable to come as a terrific shock, though in general a pleasing one. One would like it to be true; it’s a very nice idea, that there is such a thing as an incorruptible person for whom everything will — everything must — come right in the end.” Maria Bustillos on America’s fascination with royalty.