If you’ve walked around lower Manhattan or northern Brooklyn in the last year or so, there’s a good chance you noticed a number of light blue, wheat-pasted posters that read WHAT WOULD LYNNE TILLMAN DO? This, it turns out, is not some guerilla marketing strategy for the forthcoming essay collection of the same name by the writer, who is a columnist for Frieze magazine and the author of a number of novels that are greatly admired by Ms. Tillman’s better known contemporaries, including Jonathan Safran Foer, Jonathan Lethem and Fran Lebowitz, all of whom blurbed her new book. The posters are an ad campaign for Dear Dave, a tri-annual photo magazine edited by Stephen Frailey, the head of the photography department at the School of Visual Arts. Since 2009, Dear Dave has been running the question on the posters as a full-page ad in each issue. (The answer is: “Subscribe to Dear Dave,” a phrase that’s printed almost unnoticeably in the corner of each poster.)
Michael H. Miller
Strong, Silent Type: Jesse Ball’s ‘Silence Once Begun’ Constructs a Small Masterpiece Out of Very Little
By Michael H. Miller 1/31 10:00am
“I am trying to relate to you a tragedy,” Jesse Ball writes in Silence Once Begun. “I am attempting to do so in the manner least prejudicial to the people involved.”
Mr. Ball’s remarkable fourth novel is about a writer named Jesse Ball investigating a crime that took place in the mid 1970s outside Osaka, Japan. What the author calls the “Narito Disappearances” involved the mysterious vanishing, seemingly into thin air, of eight single, middle-aged men and women, who lived alone and had no clear connection to one another prior to going missing. These disappearances were so abrupt that food was often left out on the table in their apartments, though there was never any sign of a struggle. They seem to have simply stopped what they were doing and left. In every case, a single playing card was left at the door.
TUESDAY JANUARY 21
Talk: Painting Beyond Belief II at the Jewish Museum
David Joselit, the scholar and critic, will discuss the Jewish Museum’s Marc Chagall show with the artist Thomas Eggerer.–Michael H. Miller Read More
In America, Immigrant Memoir Writes You! Gary Shteyngart, Reckoning With Soviet Russia, Becomes Anxiety-Ridden New Yorker in ‘Little Failure’
By Michael H. Miller 1/08 9:12am
“The past is haunting us,” Gary Shteyngart writes in his new memoir, the ironically titled Little Failure (Random House, 368 pp., $27). I’ll take this as a cue to turn to Mr. Shteyngart’s first published words, the ones that introduced him to a reading public by way of his alter ego, Vladimir Girshkin, protagonist of his 2002 novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook: “The story of Vladimir Girshkin—part P.T. Barnum, part V.I. Lenin, the man who would conquer half of Europe (albeit the wrong half)—begins the way so many other things begin.” Read More
By Michael H. Miller 12/18/13 9:15am
My favorite book of 2013 was first published in 1976. It is a gift to see the return of Renata Adler’s Speedboat, which was brought back into print this year Ms. Adler’s ramblings could be seen in a number of books I admired this year. Tao Lin’s novel Taipei follows a writer through his but Read More
By Michael H. Miller 11/30/13 4:55pm
Peter W. Kaplan, the former editor of the New York Observer, passed away after a battle with cancer Friday. He was 59. As The Observer’s editor-in-chief from 1994 to 2009, Kaplan took a paper with a small circulation and revolutionized the field of journalism, whether people knew it at the time or not. He crafted a voice among his writers that was in turns sophisticated, sarcastic, erudite and honest, a legacy that can be seen nearly everywhere in media today. The writers and editors who came of age under Kaplan represent a veritable checklist of journalistic success stories, including the gossip columnist Frank DiGiacomo; the New York Times editor Alexandra Jacobs; the New Yorker staff writer Nick Paumgarten; Choire Sicha, the founder of The Awl; Candace Bushnell—whose column Sex and the City, which Kaplan named himself, became a pop culture sensation even as the paper that printed it remained relatively obscure; and scores of others. There are few publications in New York City—either extant or extinct—that do not bear at least some of his influence.
By Michael H. Miller 11/27/13 12:56pm
Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman
(Blue Rider Press, 592 pp., $30)
With the more colorful moments of Mike Tyson’s life now thoroughly documented in the minds of the American public, this is a book that should simply be quoted at length because it is absolutely bonkers. From Mr. Tyson’s epilogue:
“These days I Read More
By Michael H. Miller 11/12/13 10:00pm
The novelist Robert Stone has lived long enough to be old. “I seem to have somehow, quietly and secretly and in spite of myself, become 76,” he said recently in his Upper East Side apartment. “I don’t know exactly how that happened. I have no explanation for it.”
Mr. Stone never knew his father, and as a child he ran around between S.R.O. hotels in New York with his schizophrenic mother. He witnessed the air attack on Port Said and traveled to Antarctica as a teenage officer in the Navy, where part of his duties included putting out a small daily newspaper. He has been married to the same woman, Janice, for more than 50 years. He wrote hack journalism to support his family before the release of his first novel. He endured a brief stint in Vietnam in 1971, where he traveled as a reporter with the short-lived INK magazine (his press accreditation was always a hassle), during the country’s so-called Vietnamization. He didn’t see a lot of action but “found out more than I wanted to know” about the dope trade in Saigon. He was something of an honorary member of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and was the only person Esquire could find who knew where Kesey was living after he left the U.S. to escape a possession charge (the magazine eventually killed the piece because it wasn’t “neutral” enough). He saw through the production of his first two novels into Hollywood flops. He used to deep-sea dive, but his lungs are busted from emphysema. He has won a National Book Award and lost the Pulitzer Prize twice, one to John Updike, the other to Philip Roth, his better-known but less-consistent contemporaries. He has written two short-story collections, a memoir and eight novels, one of which, Death of the Black-Haired Girl, is being published this month. He wishes he had written more.
By Alexandria Symonds 10/29/13 9:05pm
The small, luminous painting after which Donna Tartt’s third novel takes its name, The Goldfinch, is by the Dutch painter Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt. You can go see it in New York if you like, at least until Jan. 19, at the Frick, where it’s included in an exhibition that shared an opening day with Ms. Tartt’s release date. The painting was made in 1654, the same year Fabritius was killed at age 32 due to an explosion at a gunpowder store in Delft, a tragedy that left more than a hundred people dead and is echoed in the stunning set piece that opens Ms. Tartt’s expansive, resonant novel. In an ambiguously dated near-contemporary Manhattan, 13-year-old Theo and his mother, left to depend on each other after his deadbeat father’s departure some months before, are visiting a Dutch Masters exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum when a bomb explodes, killing her and others. Theo escapes the wreckage but first has a dreamlike, otherworldly interaction with an old man who isn’t so lucky, whom Theo had seen wandering the gallery with his striking niece before the blast. About to die, he convinces Theo to take The Goldfinch, a longtime sentimental favorite of Theo’s mother, out of the museum and asks him to deliver a ring to what turns out to be a West Village antiques store.
By Michael H. Miller 10/28/13 12:19pm
I want to talk about Lou Reed, not because I knew him or because my peripheral memories of him and his music are any more important than anyone else’s, but because he was my tragically flawed hero and I loved him like a close relation even though I didn’t know him. He always did exactly what he wanted in his music and didn’t care if people liked it or not and so in service to him I’m going to do what I want.
“It’s hard having heroes,” Lester Bangs, Reed’s greatest critic, once wrote. “It’s the hardest thing in the world.” I take this to mean that everyone’s heroes always end up human in the end, subject to all of life’s great failures. A lot of Lou Reed’s music was about these failures, but also the possibility of love among the squalor. I offer the following recollections more or less as evidence of my own failure in reckoning with his life and dealing with his passing.