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Tuesday, 30 September, 2014 0 Comments

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris. It’s the follow-up to The Unnamed, which was the second novel by Ferris. On first glance, both books are similar in that they do their best to exhaust the reader. Equally, both are about suffering and despair and one can safely bet that Ferris will not win the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, for which To Rise Again at a Decent Hour has been shortlisted. If you like dentistry, though, there are some amusing bits:

His canine, in an advanced state of decay, was stained the color of weak tea but was still rooted to active nerves. No dentist in his right mind would pull a tooth without at least applying a local anesthetic. I told him that, and he finally agreed to the local. He resumed his meditative position, I juiced him with the needle, and then I went at his canine with a vigorous swaying grip. Two seconds into it he began to moan. I thought the moaning part and parcel of his effecting emptiness to the extreme, but it grew louder, filling the room, spilling out into the waiting area. I looked at Abby, my dental assistant, sitting across the patient from me, pink paper mask obscuring her features. She said nothing. I took the forceps out of my patient’s mouth and asked if everything was okay.
“Yes. Why?”
“You’re making noise.”
“Was I? I didn’t realize. I’m not actually here physically,” he said.
“You sound here physically.”
“I’ll try to be quieter,” he said. “Please continue.”
The moaning started up again almost immediately, rising to a modest howl. It was inchoate and bloody, like that of a newborn’s with stunted organs. I stopped. His red eyes were filmed with tears.
“You’re doing it again,” I said.
“Doing what?”
“Moaning,” I said. “Howling. Are you sure the local’s working?”
“I’m thinking three or four weeks ahead of this pain,” he said. “I’m four to six weeks removed.”
“It shouldn’t be painful at all,” I said, “with the local.”
“And it’s not, not at all,” he said. “I’ll be completely silent.”
I resumed. He stopped me almost that very second.
“Can I have the full gas, please?”
I put him under and removed the tooth and replaced it with a temporary crown.

To Rise Again

Elbow abroad

Saturday, 14 June, 2014 0 Comments

Tonight, Elbow are in Brussels. On the 25th of June, they’re in Dublin, in the Irish Museum of Modern Art, located at the old Royal Hospital. Those Manchester lads do get about.

“Every bone of rivet steel, each corner stone and angle
Jenga jut and rusted water, tower, pillar, post and sign
Every painted line and battered, laddered building in this town
Sings a life of proud endeavour and the best that man can be”

One of the great sentences: No. 2

Monday, 19 May, 2014 0 Comments

“Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Why is this great? The audacity of it all, for starters. The idea that the trees which once stood on the site of Gatsby’s house were so magnificent that they could have played a role in the “last and greatest of all human dreams” is outlandish, but the author is in full flight here and intoxicated with his imagination. There are passages of expression in Gatsby that rightfully have been compared to music, and there are others in the novel that have been likened to magic and this is one that contains a little of both. Fitzgerald’s ability to display those vanished trees is one of his greatest conjuring tricks.

One of the great sentences: No. 1

“Fondly, Jill and Dean”

Thursday, 15 May, 2014 0 Comments

That’s how executive editor Jill Abramson and managing editor Dean Baquet signed a memo to New York Times staff a week ago. The “Jill and Dean” bit was accurate, but the “fondly” was certainly not because Dean now has Jill’s job.

Why the dramatic fall from glory? Writing in the paper today, David Carr and Ravi Somaiyamay focus on this telling incident: “Mr. Baquet had become angered over a decision by Ms. Abramson to make a job offer to a senior editor from The Guardian, Janine Gibson, and install her alongside him in a co-managing editor position without consulting him.” The authoritarian personality was a factor, too, says Ken Auletta in the New Yorker. He notes that the reason Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the paper’s chairman and publisher, hesitated to appoint Abramson as executive editor “was a worry about her sometimes brusque manner.” And Auletta adds, “others in the newsroom, including some women, had the same concern.”

But back to that fond memo. It announced an “Innovation Report” (PDF 257KB) about the digital transformation of the New York Times newsroom. The report was the product of a six-month group effort led by Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, the son of the chairman and publisher.

“In the digital age, it is not enough to produce the best journalism in the world. Once we go up with a ground-breaking story, whether a scoop or a 2,500 word special report or video, this is not the end of our work in the newsroom. Publishing, in today’s crowded environment, includes taking responsibility for and assuming ownership of the impact of our quality journalism on our website, apps and other NYT platforms. That means training all of our journalists in how to use social media to report and amplify their stories. It means our most senior editors must plan and implement a rollout plan for our most important pieces. From the moment a story is published, we should host the conversation about it on and related platforms.

The changes ahead will not be mysterious. The process will be transparent. We will soon be back to you with concrete next steps. With your help, we are excited about tackling the hard work ahead.


Jill and Dean

A week is a long time in media politics.

Easter flowers

Sunday, 20 April, 2014 0 Comments

Happy Easter to all Rainy Day readers! Festus Claudius McKay was born in Jamaica in 1889 and was educated by his older brother, Uriah Theophilus, a teacher, who had a library of English novels, poetry and scientific texts. In 1912, he moved to the US and in 1917 he published two sonnets, The Harlem Dancer […]

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The money shot

Thursday, 3 April, 2014 0 Comments

After his success in directing The French Connection, William Friedkin was at the height of his creative maturity. Reportedly, there was immaturity, too, in the form of a borderline psychopath who screamed at staff, fired guns to scare actors, fired people in the morning and rehired them in the evening. Perhaps it was not surprising that he was given the job of directing The Exorcist, the mother of all demonic movies. Warner Brothers provided him with a budget of $4 million but Friedkin drove it through the roof and the film ended up costing $12 million. He was simply fanatical about his shots, regardless of time or money.

The story goes that one day while filming in New York City he was doing a scene that involved bacon cooking on a grill and he didn’t like how the meat was curling so he stopped work and sent his assistants off to find some preservative-free bacon that would remain flat. Friedkin worked so slowly and precisely that a crew member who was sick and came back to the set three days later found that they were still doing the same bacon shot. Patience, and an obsession with precision, sometimes pays off, however. After costing $12 million to make, The Exorcist has raked in more than $440 million to date.

Writing on the wall: Newsweek, Forbes, New York

Monday, 2 December, 2013 0 Comments

The Gladwellian tipping point for the US magazine industry arrived in 2010, when Newsweek was sold for $1. A doomed merger with The Daily Beast followed, and then came the finale last year when Newsweek ceased print publication. More grim news arrived last month when the publisher of Forbes magazine hired Deutsche Bank AG to examine a sale. “While the company prospered during the dot-com boom, the subsequent bust in 2000 and migration of advertising from print to online sites slammed its finances,” reported Bloomberg.

NY Mag And now New York magazine is following suit. Starting in March, it will abandon its weekly publication schedule and appear 26 times a year instead. Why? Because print advertising revenue is sinking like a stone. “So far this year, the magazine is down 9.2 percent in ad pages compared with the same period last year, which was miserable as well,” writes David Carr in today’s New York Times. And this is happening at a time when its digital revenues have been growing at 15 percent year-over-year. Indeed, in 2014, its digital ad take will outdo print ad revenues.

Carr says that by going bi-monthly as a print magazine, New York will save some $3.5 million, which will then be invested on the digital side and 15 people will be hired to strengthen online content and sales. As regards the non-digital side of things, the publishers hope it will become “a more visual, more deliberative version of the print magazine will make it more hospitable to luxury and fashion.” In other words, a Stateside clone of Intelligent Life.

It may be possible for New York, Forbes and other magazines to reinvent themselves in this time of publishing tumult, but it would be unwise to bet on their success. Their lingering, notes David Carr, grimly, “underscores the dreary economics of print and its diminishing role in a future that’s already here.” That future has a name. And it’s called Buzzfeed.

If you’re feeling a little lost

Saturday, 9 November, 2013 0 Comments

When the composer and cellist Arthur Russell died of AIDS in New York City on 4 April 1992, aged 40, Kyle Gann of The Village Voice wrote: “His recent performances had been so infrequent due to illness, his songs were so personal, that it seems as though he simply vanished into his music.” Arthur Russell was a peculiar talent and his abilities extended far beyond “conventional” composition and performance. His experimental work was a huge hit in the New York disco scene of the early 1980s and tracks such as Is It All Over My Face, which was recorded on stolen studio time, was a commercial hit, a staple in the club scene and a formative influence on Chicago house. Here, Nat Baldwin of the Dirty Projectors performs Arthur Russell’s beautiful A Little Lost.

New York City considers its future past

Wednesday, 23 October, 2013 3 Comments

“Poll Shows de Blasio Maintaining Huge Lead” wrote the New York Times yesterday. The New York City mayoral election takes place on 5 November and the Democratic nominee, Bill de Blasio, looks set to win handsomely. The thing about Bill de Blasio, though, is that he’s not quite what he appears to be. First of all, he’s actually Warren Wilhelm, Jr. He legally changed his name to Warren de Blasio-Wilhelm in 1983, and in 2002 he changed that to Bill de Blasio. In doing so, he traded in his paternal German heritage for his mother’s Italian origins.

In 1988, Warren de Blasio-Wilhelm travelled to Managua to help distribute food and medicine during the Nicaraguan Revolution. He was a fervent supporter of the Sandinista regime and when he returned to the US, the joined a group called the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York, which held fundraisers for the Sandinistas. Filled with revolutionary zeal, De Blasio got involved in the 1989 mayoral campaign of the notoriously incompetent David Dinkins and was rewarded for his efforts with a sinecure at City Hall. Since then, he’s devoted his career to climbing the greasy pole of Democratic politics. Incredibly, voters now trust him with creating jobs, reducing the gap between rich and poor and improving education.

Following September’s primary election, Ben McGrath of the New Yorker went along to the de Blasio victory party in Brooklyn and was impressed by what he saw: “His sixteen-year-old son, Dante, has an afro that would have humbled a young Julius Erving, and his wife, Chirlane McCray, is an ex-radical lesbian.” At the end of the evening, “the likely new First Family of New York City engaged in a signature dance that involved licking their palms, slapping them on the floor, and jumping backward with arms raised.”

New Yorkers seem to have forgotten the citywide murder and mayhem, crime and grime that marked the mayoral misrule of Ed Koch and David Dinkins. Otherwise, they wouldn’t consider giving the city’s top job to such a shameless apparatchik of Democratic machine politics. Nicaragua, despite Bill de Blasio’s revolutionary support, is now is the second poorest nation in the Americas, after Haiti.

Shopping for John and Yoko

Monday, 21 October, 2013 0 Comments

Starting in November 1976, Monday through Friday, Andy Warhol phoned his secretary Pat Hackett each morning and told her about the happenings of the previous day and night. After transcribing the monologue onto paper, Hackett would then type up the pages. Apart from wishing to document his life and times, Warhol had an ulterior motive for keeping a diary: satisfying the tax man. The Internal Revenue Service audited him annually and he liked to present his minute side of the story to the accountants. In all, Warhol dictated more than 20,000 pages, which Ms Hackett dutifully put down on paper.

Published in 1989, Pat Hackett’s Andy Warhol Diaries (mercifully condensed to 807 pages) begins on 24 November 1976 and ends 11 years later on 17 February 1987, just a few days before the artist’s death. Here’s today’s entry:

21 October 1980: “I ran into a boy whose job is to go shopping for John [Lennon] and Yoko [Ono], to buy them clothes and things. I asked him if they’d ever made him bring anything back and he said just once. I asked him if they ever wore any of the clothes they bought since they don’t go out, and he said, ‘They’re going to make a comeback. They’ve been wearing them to the studio.’ Oh, and the best thing he said was that when he started to work for them he had to sign a paper that said, ‘I will not write a book about John Leonnon and/or Yoko Ono.’ Isn’t that great? He said he loves his job. I should find somebody to help me shop — show me where all the good new things are.” Andy Warhol

Six weeks later, on the night of 8 December 1980, Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon four times in the back at the entrance to his New York apartment in the Dakota Building. Lennon was declared dead on arrival at nearby Roosevelt Hospital.

Andy Warhol

City life and letters

Wednesday, 9 October, 2013 0 Comments

When it came to the future of his native city, James Joyce claimed that if Dublin was destroyed you could rebuild it from the detail in Ulysses. The New York author Paul Auster makes no such lofty claims regarding his hometown, but many of his books are maps of the Big Apple, particularly his adopted Brooklyn. Auster is more than urban fiction, though. His books also contain humanity in all its fragility. Oracle Nights Anyone who has fought back from major illness will feel at home in the introduction to Oracle Night:

“I had been sick for a long time. When the day came for me to leave the hospital, I barely knew how to walk anymore, could barely remember who I was supposed to be. Make an effort, the doctor said, and in three for four months you’ll be back in the swing of things. I didn’t believe him, but I followed his advice anyway. They had given me up for dead, and now that I had confounded their predictions and mysteriously failed to die, what choice did I have but l live as though a future life were waiting for me?

I began with small outings, no more than a block or two from my apartment and then home again. I was only thirty-four but for all intents and purposes, the illness had turned me into an old man — one of those palsied, shuffling geezers who can’t put one foot in front of the other without first looking down to see which foot is which.”

As our narrator gets stronger, his wanderings take him as far as a stationary shop in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn and he buys a blue notebook, which then puts him under its spell. The rest is a story about haunted lives.

Those who do get a second bite of the cherry of life and survive serious sickness will relate to this passage towards the close of Auster’s novel: “I had my face in my hands and was sobbing my guts out. I don’t know how long I carried on like that, but even as the tears poured out of me, I was happy, happier to be alive than I had ever been before. It was a happiness beyond consolation, beyond misery, beyond all the ugliness and beauty of the world.”

The ugliness and beauty of the world as captured by writers will feature in two cities this week: Frankfurt, where the annual Book Fair begins today, and Stockholm, where tomorrow the Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced. Prior to that, in our continuing urban week, we’ll look at the city as the battleground for future conflicts.