The Fire in Fiction

When tragedy hits, what do we read? In the wake of the Notre Dame fire in Paris, at least, the answer is 19th-century fiction: Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame has risen to the top of France’s bestseller list, with multiple editions of the book filling five out of the top 10 slots. As this Guardian article points out, many critics have suggested that the cathedral is the true protagonist of the novel—and, obviously, of the Disney adaptation.

Image credit: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

Death and Taxes

Did you do your taxes? In Souvankham Thammavongsa’s new fiction for The Paris Review, a woman loses her job of 15 years and enrolls in classes at a tax-prep company. Although she is more of a humanities person, the numbers make sense to her; tax returns, she discovers, are all about people. “The tax return,” she thinks, “is, in some ways, a record of truth. People give you what they have. Or, at least, you count on that.” Required reading for anyone who’s ever had a meltdown in an accountant’s office.

Apologizing to Strangers

Edward Hirsch used to write at night, now he writes in the mornings. He bumps into strangers often, because of his eye disease. And he thinks poems tell you things about people’s deep interiority that can be difficult to square with their public personae when you meet them. Asked, in an interview with Ben Purkert, how he thinks of his reader, Hirsch says, “the oddity of reading poetry is that there is a remarkable intimacy established between two people who do not know each other, who are physically removed from each other by space and by time. And this, somehow, enables a kind of connection that’s difficult to establish in ordinary social life.”

Image credit: Michael Lionstar

All About Teeth

Teeth hurt, rot, break, stain. Teeth signify: imagined as property, something to be managed or renovated, they have the power to mark us as lazy or rich, fortunate or fake. After death, they can even transmit information about our lives. For The Rumpus, Thomas Dai asks, what stories do we tell about our teeth? Dealing with sudden dental pain while living abroad, Dai writes, “I am browbeat into feeling guilty for my diet as well as my life, for all the ways I may have been too greedy, all the times I sought too much.”

Image credit: Ruhrfisch

Nabokov on the Run

One hundred years ago this week, a teenage boy named Vladimir Nabokov fled revolutionary Russia with his family for the safety of Western Europe. Seventeen years later, he fled again, with his Jewish wife, from Nazi Germany. Stacy Schiff writes, “[s]windled by history, Nabokov had—thanks to the late-arriving roller skates, over a skin-shedding century, from a land where more people who have lost worlds have ever congregated—amply settled his account.” On Nabokov, the literary refugee.

Image credit: Walter Mori (Mondadori Publishers)

Ernest Hemingway in Cuba

Not everyone knows that Ernest Hemingway spent more than 20 years living in Cuba, at Finca Vigía on the edge of Havana. Now, a restoration center has opened on the property where Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea, A Moveable Feast, and Islands in the Stream, with holdings that include manuscripts, letters, and photographs belonging to the writer. It’s been noted that the whole process would have been much easier if, ahem, someone hadn’t been tightening the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba again… But officials involved hope that projects like this one might eventually help foster better relations between the two countries.

Image credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Are Books Clutter?

At this point, you might think everyone who was going to write about Marie Kondo would have done it already. We did. But then Kondo’s Netflix show came out, and as Hannah McGregor puts it, “the Internet suddenly had a lot of opinions about clutter.”

McGregor’s essay for Electric Literature recaps some of these opinions, and the opinions about the opinions, and fits it all into a much longer history of consumerism and books. “We could pull apart the xenophobia, racism, orientalism, and classism at work in these critiques all day,” McGregor writes, “but I want to focus on how self-identified bookish people reacted to the association of books with clutter, the demotion of these objects from sacred to banal—or, maybe more accurately, the insistence that they are no more sacred than any other objects.”

Tressie McMillan Cottom Is a Public Intellectual

For Guernica, Roxane Gay interviews Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom about her new essay collection, Thick. The two writers talk taking black women seriously, self-protection, and, as McMillan Cottom puts it, “rais[ing] some really good hell for people who cannot—who are just so beaten down themselves that they can’t raise it for themselves.” Read the rest of the conversation here.

A Convergence of Cowboys

It might seem that the cowboy myth has won out over reality, but there are still some holdouts. For the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sean McCoy reports on the 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and tells you everything you didn’t know (so, pretty much everything) about the history and aesthetics of cowboy poetry. Written to be shared, cowboy poetry, McCoy writes, “brings a community together; it bridges the great spaces between ranches and alleviates the isolation inherent to cowboying.”

Photo credit: Wikipedia.