This weekend’s reading opens darkly: at Vice, Jean Friedman-Rudovsky writes about an isolated community of ultra-conservative Old Colonist Mennonites in Bolivia that experienced a case of serial rapes that went on for years and might still be going on. Nine men were convicted, in 2011, of orchestrating the attacks. They had developed a method of releasing airborne cow tranquilizers into the homes of their victims and attacking them while they were asleep. For a long time, the rapes were attributed to demons, and the community simply ignored them and carried on with their lives. Friedman-Rudovsky’s story examines the hermetical culture of Old Colonist Mennonites and how power dynamics of that culture might have perpetuated this systematic sexual abuse.
This year is the twentieth anniversary of Tom Stoppard’s amazing play “Arcadia,” which opened at London’s Royal National Theatre. Actually, it seems ironic and maybe even a little trifling to attach dates to a play in which time is so supple and elusive a medium. The scenes in “Arcadia” alternate between the present day and the early nineteenth century. The sizable wall of years separating the two becomes, as the play progresses, increasingly permeable. “Arcadia” concludes with two pairs of dancers onstage, one of them contemporary and one belonging to the era of Byron and Keats. The four waltzers are united by the strains of a single melody.
“The phrase ‘wine-dark’ is now so securely lodged in our collective consciousness as to be known even by people who have never read Homer.” Caroline Alexander examines the literary use of wine as a descriptor for the sea.
“Once you begin watching spiders, you haven’t time for much else.” A 1952 letter from E. B. White about writing “Charlotte’s Web.”
George Saunders’s commencement speech to the Syracuse University class of 2013 will be adapted into a book called “Congratulations, By the Way.” (Read Deborah Treisman’s interview with Saunders.)
A chart that shows the popularity of particular cities as literary settings over the past two hundred years.
Using a microscope, librarians at the University of Iowa have finally read the contents of the smallest volume in their collection of miniature books.
You can make a novel out of just about anything these days: recipes, PowerPoint slides, e-mails, text messages. Still, not many novelists have turned to rhyming couplets. The novel is an expansive, necessarily flexible form. Couplets, by definition, are restrictive, far more so than other rhyme schemes, which space out their repetitions, allowing the reader a breath or two before the familiar sound comes boomeranging back. An elegant narrative might be strung together from a series of sonnets, a form in the service of complex expressions of thought and feeling; Vikram Seth pulled it off in his first novel, “The Golden Gate,” in 1986. But couplets bear the stigma of gimmickry, of tipsy limericks and earworms from the Hallmark aisle. Most contemporary poets won’t touch them. Would an architect build a house out of Lincoln Logs?
Now, at the peak of summer, after the flurry of beach reads and before the arrival of fall’s tomes, we have the latest, and the last, book by the writer David Rakoff: “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish,” a novel that moves from a nineteen-twenties Chicago slaughterhouse to a Madison Avenue office in the fifties, from swinging pre-AIDS San Francisco to a contemporary Israeli settlement, all in rhyming couplets. Rakoff, who died, from cancer, last August at the age of forty-seven, was primarily an essayist, a superbly agile one. His work joined a novelist’s fine calibration of detail to a bitingly acute critical sense. He was funny as hell. But the thing that made Rakoff Rakoff was the way he built his sentences.
“Reading a novel, of course, we always have to perform acts of decoding and mind reading. Normally the effort is as unconsciously second nature as it is in real life. But when we’re faced with a narrator who can’t share the task, we have to face our own power —and its limits.” Tom Cutterham on novels with autistic narrators.
Joanna Hershon, the author of “A Dual Inheritance,” and Adelle Waldman, the author of “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.,” discuss their likes and dislikes, as well as what it means to be a Jewish writer.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote a letter to J.F.K. volunteering his services to Kennedy’s campaign.
Noah Berlatsky argues that comparing comic books to poetry does a disservice to comic books.
Following the Bank of England’s announcement that Jane Austen will replace Charles Darwin on the ten-pound note, Abe Books has imagined what other currencies would look like with the faces of notable national writers. (Rebecca Mead writes about those who opposed the Jane Austen currency).
Last week, three dead men were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. At a rain-delayed ceremony at Cooperstown’s Doubleday Field, a small crowd of diehards witnessed Deacon White (catcher), Jacob Ruppert (club owner who built Yankee Stadium), and Hank O’Day (umpire) get canonized in lieu of our generation’s heroes, the grandees of baseball’s so-called “steroid era.”
Since a player must be retired for five years to be eligible for the Hall, this year marked the first crucible for many of the tainted stars of the nineteen-nineties and aughts. Earlier this winter, many of the Hall’s electors used this chance, and their non-votes, to protest the game’s alleged cheaters. Under normal circumstances, the first ballot appearances of Roger Clemens, one of the best right-handed pitchers on record, and Barry Bonds, baseball’s all-time home-run leader, would have been the occasion for a major fête. Instead, Cooperstown saw a fraction of the usual attendance, only the most zealous pilgrims, dressed piously in the jerseys and caps of their hometown teams. In the empty hall, you could hear echoing footsteps; a museum security guard could be seen leaning against a wall in the “Hank Aaron, Chasing the Dream” exhibit, taking a little nap.
Elmore Leonard, eighty-seven, is recovering at a Detroit hospital after suffering a stroke last week.
A short story written by Stieg Larsson when he was seventeen years old will be published next year in an anthology of crime fiction called “A Darker Shade of Sweden.”
Mary McCarthy’s “The Group” and Mary Gordon’s “The Company of Women” are two of the novels being re-released as e-books as part of a new Open Road Integrated Media program that highlights past National Book Award finalists.
At the Financial Times, Keith Lowe writes on the growing number of scholarly books that challenge the idea of American soldiers as heroes during the Second World War.
At the Washington Post, health experts weigh in on the summer’s most popular diet books.
From: Sherman Alexie To: Jess Walter Sent: Thursday, June 20 Subject: Twentieth Anniversary “Lone Ranger and Tonto”
S.A.: So I’ve been trying to write the intro to the twentieth-anniversary edition, but it feels too self-congratulatory, so do you want to have an e-mail exchange about it and use that as the intro?
J.W.: “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” is twenty!?! Your e-mail sent me scurrying to my signed copy. I looked at the jacket photo and there you are, with the greatest “Breakfast Club” pro-wrestling warrior mullet of all time.
At a party in 1971, a young woman turned to The New Yorker’s George W. S. Trow and said, “Did you know that everything demonic is commercial?” The party was thrown by Warner Bros. Records, for the British rock quartet Black Sabbath, at the time a “fledgling” band. Four decades later, thanks to Sabbath and Stephen King and Charles Addams and Stephenie Meyer and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Freddy Kreuger and countless other pop-culture manifestations of the demonic, the question, originally asked in earnest, has become rhetorical—not to say redundant. The undead are everywhere. The occult is a cash machine. New Yorker cartoons are not the only place you’ll find the Grim Reaper these days. He’s also the star of a recent animated children’s series, “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.”