Few classic and contemporary author pairings seem as apt as Edith Wharton and Jia Tolentino. Thanks to Modern Library, the two are finally together in a new edition of The Custom of the Country, Wharton’s novel of manners set in New York’s high society. In her introduction, Tolentino paints the novel’s heroine, Undine Spragg, as an easily relatable figure for today’s readers: “For my money, no literary antiheroine can best Undine—a dazzling monster with rose-gold hair, creamy skin, and a gaping spiritual maw that could swallow New York City. People like her have been abundant in American culture for some time, but I never feel invested in their success; more often, I idly hope for their failure. With Undine, however—thanks to the alchemical mix of sympathy and disdain that animates Wharton’s language in the novel and allows her to match Undine’s savagery with plenty of her own—I find myself wanting her to get everything she desires.”
If you’ve ever heard that literary skill is synonymous with a good memory, you’ve likely bemoaned your own forgetfulness, especially when it comes to important things. Tim Parks felt the same way, until he read a new book on forgetting, which led him to wonder how much knowledge we can retain. In The New York Review of Books, he tackles the paradox of the reader’s memory. You could also read our own Mark O’Connell’s review of Parks’s book Italian Ways.
“In the 1970s it circulated among Left Bank intellectuals, including Sartre and Bernard-Henri Lévy, as an aid to productive writing. In 1981 it was listed as a controlled substance in the US and in 1986, after it was scheduled under the WHO Convention on Psychotropic Substances, it was removed from prescription sale.” The London Review of Books reviews two histories about the role of drugs in the fighting of wars, Blitzed: Drugs In the Third Reich by Norman Ohler and Shooting Up: A History of Drugs in Warfare by Łukasz Kamieński Hurst. Both pay particular attention to Captagon (the name a portmanteau of “captain” and “pentagon”), a pharmaceutical that has become common throughout Eastern Europe, the Gulf States, India, and China, and by 2014 “had become a significant source of funding for all sides in Syria’s civil war.”
On Thursday, the fiction writer Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, which marks the first time a Chinese writer has won the prestigious award. Lauded for his command of “hallucinatory realism,” Yan (whose pen name translates to “not talking” in Mandarin) has drawn comparisons to Faulkner for the complexity of his fictional settings. Back in 2005, John Updike published his thoughts on the writer.
Split This Rock’s Tenth Annual Poetry Contest is now open for submissions, judged by Sheila Black. All prize winners will be invited to read at the 2018 Split This Rock Poetry Festival and have their poems published in The Quarry.
With the erosion of the 175-year-old Times-Picayune, New Orleans will soon be one of the largest metro areas without its own major newspaper publishing every day. Over at The Atlantic, Emily Badger explains the sad saga of its demise as well as the complexities and uncertainties yet to come.
How do you feel about claims that men avoid reading women? Before you answer, consider this piece, which argues that sexism in the lit world is more complicated than it may appear. (For more, go check out our own piece on sexism on the internet, or else take a look at this Harvard Divinity School study on how sexism shapes responses to women’s writing.)
2012 could be the year that we get to know Sergei Dovlatov, and our own Sonya Chung may have played a role. Her 2009 piece on the forgotten Russian humorist helped land one of his stories in PEN America. Soon we started seeing Dovlatov mentioned everywhere, and last year, Counterpoint published The Suitcase, and now The Zone will be released this week. Other new releases this week: An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer, Heft by Liz Moore, and The Evening Hour, a debut novel by Carter Sickels.