“Most men hold charm in vague suspicion: few cultivate it; still fewer respond to it; hardly any know whether they have it; and almost none can even identify it.”

—Benjamin Schwarz, “The Rise and Fall of Charm in American Men”


The Ghost Writer (2010)

The Ghost Writer (2010)

Sunday 4.20.2014 New York Times Digest


1. A Way for Artists to Live

“‘No one will pay you to write your first book,’ a professor once told me in grad school, and it turns out she was right. You have to find a way to pay yourself.”

2. The Fair to End All Fairs

“In hindsight that fair, thought at the time to be a celebration of modernity, seems instead like the tail end of something, the petering out of what was essentially a 19th-century phenomenon.”

3. Fright Nights in the N.B.A.

“What makes the Skirvin different is that the most notable tellers — and victims — of its supposed haunting are N.B.A. players.”

4. Taking On Adam Smith (and Karl Marx)

“Academic economics is so focused on getting the econometrics and the statistical interpolation technique correct, he said, ‘you don’t really think, you don’t dare to ask the big questions.’ American economists too often narrow the questions they examine to those they can answer, ‘but sometimes the questions are not that interesting,’ he said. ‘Trying to write a real book that could speak to everyone meant I could not choose my questions. I had to take the important issues in a frontal manner — I could not escape.’ He hated the insularity of the economics department. So he decided to write large, a book he considers as much history as economics, and one that is constructed to lead the general reader by the hand.”

5. How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2

“I think a lot about how the most interesting things are happening at the intersection of two fields.”

6. So These Professors Walk Into a Comedy Club…

“Humor, he offers, manifests itself in a three-pronged psychological response: an emotional one (being amused), a cognitive judgment (finding something funny) and a behavioral reaction (laughing).”

7. Abandon (Nearly) All Hope

“Thinking without hope might sound rather bleak, but it needn’t be so. I see it rather as embracing an affirmative, even cheerful, realism. Nietzsche admired Epictetus, the former slave turned philosophy teacher, for living without hope. ‘Yes,’ Nietzsche said, ‘he can smile.’ We can, too.”

8. From Rags to Riches to Rags

“America is a place where a large majority of people will experience either wealth or poverty — or both — during their lifetimes.”

9. Marx Rises Again

“Marxist ideas are having an intellectual moment, and attention must be paid.”

10. One-Man Hollywood in the Midwest

“I moved out to L.A. for about five years when I was 19. But I think the ironic thing about Los Angeles is that it’s the hardest city in the world to make a film. Because you’ve got so many people trying to stick their foot through the same door. So after building a set of contacts out there, I decided to come back here to start making my own films. It’s much cheaper to shoot here, and it’s a lot easier to raise financing because not a lot of people are asking for money for films.”

11. Two Out-of-Towners, Happily So

“It became kind of clear that there is a certain beauty in being able to live in Cleveland as a playwright. I can survive on a playwright’s salary in Cleveland. I can provide for my family.”

12. A Couple of Heirs of Travis Bickle

The King of Comedy has antecedents as varied as All About Eve, A Face in the Crowd and Network. More radical is the movie’s sense of mass culture as an all-encompassing system — the subject of the purposefully garish proto-Pop Art comedies directed by Frank Tashlin in the 1950s, some of which, not coincidentally, starred Jerry Lewis. Pupkin, whose iridescent polyester sport coats and pencil-line mustache were inspired by a mannequin in a Times Square men’s store, is a cartoon comedian. He is also one of Mr. De Niro’s greatest creations.”

13. Updike at Rest

“In a way, what Melville did for whales, Updike did for upper-middle-class life in suburban America: He produced partly allegorical realist novels containing an encyclopedic array of the thousands of facets of human experience, all collected with loving attention to his subject matter.”

14. Spare the Advice

“People of the so-called underdeveloped world have been systematically betrayed by the technocrats in charge of the global development agenda.”

15. Language Without a Country

“Well into his 60s, his reputation secure and his global wanderings over, Pla turned again to the handwritten pages of The Gray Notebook. Before its publication in Catalan in 1966 and in Spanish in 1975, he reworked it, blending the reflections of a young writer learning his trade with those of a mature wordsmith elaborating on his memories.”

16. Sia Furler, the Socially Phobic Pop Star

“Writing for others allowed Furler to hide in plain sight for years. Her songs have sold more than 25 million copies, but in June, she will release her first solo album since 2010.”

17. It’s the End of the World as We Know It … and He Feels Fine

“For Kingsnorth, the notion that technology will stave off the most catastrophic effects of global warming is not just wrong, it’s repellent — a distortion of the proper relationship between humans and the natural world and evidence that in the throes of crisis, many environmentalists have abandoned the principle that ‘nature has some intrinsic, inherent value beyond the instrumental.’ If we lose sight of that ideal in the name of saving civilization, he argues, if we allow ourselves to erect wind farms on every mountain and solar arrays in every desert, we will be accepting a Faustian bargain.”

Los Angeles

L.A. at night

“Los Angeles is where you confront the objective fact that you mean nothing; the desert, the ocean, the tectonic plates, the clear skies, the sun itself, the Hollywood Walk of Fame—even the parking lots: everything there somehow precedes you, even new construction sites, and it’s bigger than you and more abstract than you and indifferent to you. You don’t matter. You’re free.”

Geoff Manaugh

(↬ Ian Bogost.)

Previously: Michael Maltzan and Harlan Ellison on Los Angeles.

Accruing Authority

“I take a lot of notes when I read, particularly in this initial phase of research. I highlight everything I find interesting, and then type out everything I’ve highlighted, and then print out everything I’ve typed, and reread these printed notes as often as possible. In addition to non-fiction, I began reading as much 19th‑century fiction and crime fiction as I could, highlighting idioms, period details and ingenuities of plot. Most of the notes I took never made it into The Luminaries—at least not directly—but I could never have begun writing the novel without them. In many ways I see this initial phase as a process of accruing authority, of finding a perspective on the raw material of the future novel’s world. I’ve always loved that ‘author’ derives from the Latin augere, to increase. This phase of reading and researching lasted for nearly two years, but it wasn’t until the very end of it that the idea for the novel was really born.”

Eleanor Catton on how she wrote The Luminaries


“The beard, being a half-mask, should be forbidden by the police. It is, moreover, as a sexual symbol in the middle of the face, obscene: that is why it pleases women.”

—Arthur Schopenhauer

(Via @GuyLongworth.)

Related reading: Have we reached peak beard?

Write First

“For me, it’s about morning, quiet, solitude and no Internet to plug me into the cacophony until I have written something. Also about not having a conversation with anyone. Which might be why I am single. I have often woken up to a person next to me who says in a sleepy affectionate way ‘Hey—what are you up today?’ and I answer but all I am thinking is ‘You killed it! It’s over! Now I can’t write today.’”

—Guinevere Turner

(Via John August.)