New York Review of Books

W.H. Auden lived a secret life, not as a man with a second family or an illicit habit but as, weirdly enough, a genuinely kind human being. He paid for a friend’s costly operation and camped outside the apartment of a woman who suffered from night terrors until she felt safe enough to sleep on her own again. So why did the poet want to hide his good deeds? He claimed he didn’t want to be admired for basic decency.

Zadie Smith on a certain famous populous island: “Manhattan is for the hard-bodied, the hard-minded, the multitasker, the alpha mamas and papas. A perfect place for self-empowerment—as long as you’re pretty empowered to begin with. As long as you’re one of these people who simply do not allow anything—not even reality—to impinge upon that clear field of blue. There is a kind of individualism so stark that it seems to dovetail with an existentialist creed: Manhattan is right at that crossroads. You are pure potential in Manhattan, limitless, you are making yourself every day.”

For more of this morning’s roundup, click here.


Elegy for a Country’s Seasons
(Via NY Books)

Author Zadie Smith weighs in on the culture of climate change denial.

It’s amazing the side roads you can will yourself down to avoid the four-lane motorway ahead. England was never as wet as either its famous novels suggest or our American cousins presume. The weather has changed, is changing, and with it so many seemingly small things—quite apart from train tracks and houses, livelihoods and actual lives—are being lost. It was easy to assume, for example, that we would always be able to easily find a hedgehog in some corner of a London garden, pick it up in cupped hands, and unfurl it for our children—or go on a picnic and watch fat bumblebees crawling over the mouth of an open jam jar. Every country has its own version of this local sadness. (And every country has its version of our arguments, when it comes to causation. Climate change or cars? Climate change or cell phone sites?) You’re not meant to mention the minor losses, they don’t seem worth mentioning—not when compared to the visions of apocalypse conjured by climate scientists and movie directors. And then there are all those people who believe that nothing much is happening at all.

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Seeing others, too, absorbed in their reading, holding up or pressing down on different-looking books, some intimidating in their appearance, others inviting, makes one a participant in one of the oldest and most noble human activities. Yes, reading books is a slow, time-consuming, and often tedious process. In comparison, surfing the Internet is a quick, distracting activity in which one searches for a specific subject, finds it, and then reads about it—often by skipping a great deal of material and absorbing only pertinent fragments. Books require patience, sustained attention to what is on the page, and frequent rest periods for reverie, so that the meaning of what we are reading settles in and makes its full impact.
—  Charles Simic, “A Country Without Libraries”, New York Review of Books Blog

“In Love, by Alfred Hayes, is a slim novel from 1953 that deserves to be better known. The cover of the new edition features an Elizabeth Bowen quote in which she terms the book “a little masterpiece,” and I’ve rarely seen the breakdown of a relationship, in all its banality and pettiness, evoked more vividly. It’s tough, fresh, very lovely, and will stay with you.”

For more of what we’re loving this week, including Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, The New York Review of Books’ fiftieth anniversary, and Romanian concert pianist Radu Lupu at Carnegie Hall, click here.

“A few weeks ago I received the honor of a lifetime: to illustrate the cover of the Children’s issue of the New York Times Book Review! I was given free reign and enjoyed every minute of it. For those of you who missed it in the issue this past weekend, fear not! The artwork is available now as a limited edition gicleé print. Get yours before they run out!” Aaron Becker, author/illustrator of Journey (Candlewick, 2013)

Me, what’s that after all? An arbitrary limitation of being bounded by the people before and after and on either side. Where they leave off I begin, and vice versa. I once saw a cartoon sequence of a painter painting a very long landscape. When he’d finished he cut it up into four landscapes of the usual proportions. Mostly one doesn’t meet others from the same picture. When it happens it can be unsettling.
—  Russell Hoban, Turtle Diary

It’s all there in Proust—all mankind! Not only all the different character types, but also every emotion, every imaginable situation. Proust is a universal author: he can touch anyone, for different reasons; each of us can find some piece of himself in Proust, at different ages…. What is most extraordinary about Proust is his ability to capture the subtlest nuances of human emotions, the slightest variations of the mind and the soul. To me, Proust is the Shakespeare of the inner world.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on reading Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), in the New York Review of Books. (via)


“It just doesn’t make sense,” she said. “I mean, my sisters get pregnant looking at a cologne ad. They get pregnant in pollen season.”

For six months they had been trying to conceive, and still her period was as regular as the tide. She decided to see a doctor. He told her it would be a waste of money, that the fertility counselor would probably recommend treatments linked to uterine cancer. He went into obscure specifics about the effect of fertility drugs on “weak hydrogen bonds” in the DNA molecule. She listened because he was a very intelligent person who knew more than she did about most things, but in the end she arranged an appointment anyway. To her surprise, the fertility counselor told her that drugs were not necessary. Her hormone levels were fine, and her ovarian reserve was well above the baseline for her age.

“Post-Darwinian Experiments in Consciousness and Other Stories.” — Wells Tower, paintings by John Currin, The New York Review of Books

See more #longreads from The New York Review of Books

Syrian refugees rushing through a hole in the fence near the Turkish border, June 14, 2015. Image by Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images. Syria, 2015.

Syria: The Threat of Indifference

On June 14, 2015, a terrified throng of men and women, many clutching babies and young children by the backs of their shirts, stampeded their way through a narrow opening in a chain-link and barbed-wire fence separating Tal Abyad, a city controlled by the Islamic State, and the Turkish border town of Akcakale. They were fleeing vicious fighting between ISIS militants and Kurdish forces, which were trying to regain Tal Abyad, even as the Turkish military, on the other side of the fence, was trying to keep the border closed. Within hours, several thousand Syrians—a majority of them women and children—squeezed through the gap until ISIS fighters stopped the exodus at gunpoint.

Read the full story by Pulitzer Center grantees Hugh Eakin and Alisa Roth via The New York Review of Books.