For the most part, Alexis de Tocqueville had good things to say about the young United States in his book Democracy in America, which is probably why we tend to forget that he thought Americans weren’t funny. What de Tocqueville missed, according to a new history of American humor, is the extent to which American funniness emerged from subversive groups of outsiders. In Bookforum, Ben Schwartz takes stock of the arguments in American Fun.
There’s a lot of (justified) talk about the power of reading, but simply owning a book can be meaningful. Mabel Rosenheck considers Walter Benjamin‘s perspective on book ownership – “[it] is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.” – and her own experiences with book collecting in San Francisco in an essay for The Toast. Pair with Anne Fadiman‘s essay on relationships, books, and relationships with books, “Marrying Libraries.”
A lot is written about artists just starting their careers, and about those artists with a lifetime of work to look back over, but in a piece for The Enemy Barry Schwabasky considers the difficulty of being somewhere in the middle of an artistic career. After all, “most artists do, for better or worse, live through what’s come to be known as their midcareer. It’s just that they don’t often do so with ease. … The middle of the journey sometimes seems to be all about losing the way.”
“I’m the one who gets asked, publicly, how I manage to write and teach and have three kids. Do you get those questions, or do people just assume there is a woman doing all of the homemaking so you can go upstairs and write?” Poets Tracy K. Smith and Gregory Pardlo discuss David Bowie vs. Elton John, the confessional vs. the abstract, and the balance between family and work. Also check out Sophia Nguyen’s Millions review of Smith’s new memoir, Ordinary Light.
How does a writer keep their work fresh? What’s the goal of a successful artist? What is it like to adapt someone else’s writing for the screen? The Atlantic interviews Nick Hornby about his latest book, Funny Girl, and these are some of the questions that come up. Pair with this Millions review of Hornby’s A Long Way Down.