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.
Michael H. Miller
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
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.
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.
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.
Getting Roth Wrong, But That’s the Point: The Great Man’s ‘Reader in Chief’ Walks Through the Career of Literature’s Favorite Retiree
There’s a passage early in American Pastoral where Nathan Zuckerman, Philip Roth’s most durable alter ego, turns his inability to predict the shocking course of his childhood idol’s life into a universal lament about the limits of perception: “[Y]ou never fail to get them wrong,” he muses. “You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception.”
Struggling through the stultifying, toothless, inappropriately titled documentary Philip Roth: Unmasked on PBS last year, it was hard not to imagine that Mr. Roth had slyly encouraged his unmaskers to get him wrong. The fawning filmmakers lingered on shots of the Great Man composing his work, checked in with some old neighborhood pals and an odd assortment of talking heads and asked Roth no question that he hadn’t already tackled and twisted into a richly ambiguous quandary in one of his novels. The film reeked of good taste and politesse, suggesting that its good Jewish boy of a subject, the one with the bemused twinkle in his eye, would never dare misbehave. In other words, just give him the Nobel already.
The Father, the Son and Norman Mailer: A New Biography Reassesses America’s Most Loved and Hated Writer
Norman Mailer’s writing was about dualities and disappointments. God and the Devil were engaged in an epic battle, and, no matter which side won, life was still excrement and death, “a bath in shit with no reward.” That last bit comes from his 1972 review of Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, published in Mind of an Outlaw, a recent compendium of many of Mailer’s uncollected or out-of-print essays. The book culls together a lot of minor work, the Bertolucci review included, with a few of Mailer’s greatest hits mixed in. Still, Bad Mailer is better than a lot of other writing produced in the 65 years since he set in motion post-World War II fiction with the first line of The Naked and the Dead: “Nobody could sleep.”
As an example, Mailer most clearly outlined his philosophy, which remained consistent even as his styles and topics changed with each book, in an otherwise forgettable profile of Jimmy Carter from 1976, reprinted in Mind of an Outlaw: “Mailer,” he writes, referring to himself in his preferred third person, “had a notion of God as not clearly omnipotent but rather as a powerful God at war with other opposed visions of the universe.” As with God, so too Mailer. The first complete biography of Mailer, by J. Michael Lennon, the author’s longtime friend and archivist, suggests even with its title, A Double Life, that for all of Mailer’s concerns with the universe at large, more interesting was that good and evil were continuously waging war over his own soul. Read More
“When I put on my dress and prosthetic breasts, it felt frightening to go out into the night. This was, as a good friend would say, information. Precisely which other information I sought by becoming Dolores is not entirely transparent to me, but I might have learned it, or other things, in the course of this experiment. For a summation, I refer interested parties to the novel, which is called How You Are.”
Now this is balls. Not that William T. Vollmann, the most compelling and compulsive novelist of his generation (b. 1959) has published a book of photographs and drawings documenting his attempts to pass as a woman named Dolores, but that in the commentary to the images he has referred readers to another book of his not yet published—a book that required him to do his research in drag. How You Are, a novel detailing the transformation of Mr. Vollmann into Dolores, hasn’t been bound yet, and, given the author’s process of editing by accretion—layers of prose like concealer on bald plots—might not even be finished, but The Book of Dolores certainly exists: 200 full-color, glossy pages of cross-dressing decline, hard-covered and soft of belly. Read More
The Twisted Tales of Lore Segal: The Author Speaks Up About Getting Older, Mortality and Stuffed Animals
The writer Lore Segal sat drinking coffee in her Upper West Side apartment next to a small potted tree draped with stuffed monkeys, talking about fairy tales. “I think it’s hilarious and marvelously truthful of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales to give the prince and princess the kingdom,” she said. “Half of it.” She landed on that word decisively. “I mean, that is so profoundly mean. And funny. And true.” Ms. Segal gave a gremlin-like smile under her mop of curly, silver hair. She wore all black clothing and simple silver jewelry that hung on her diminutive frame, making her pointed stare all the more unavoidable. Her presence abounds with contradictions, her wicked black humor tempered by the stuffed animals scattered all around her apartment, from the monkeys to alligators.
“What is it like to know you’re going to die?” Ms. Segal asked in her metallic German accent, but with the earnest curiosity of a child. “How do we handle that? And the answer is we don’t believe it. I know you’re going to die,” she said, pointing right at me. “But not me! And I bet you know I’m going to die, but you don’t think you’re going to die. It’s almost impossible to believe.” She found this very funny. In the moment, so did I. Soon after, she insisted, “Let me show you my pigs!” and led me to her doorway, where she has a modest collection of porcelain and toy pigs, one of which she lovingly cradled in her hand.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 7
Opening: Rachel Rose, “Sonic Hedgehog” at Malraux’s Place
Listen, this ain’t hard. Rachel Rose, great artist, at the studio of Sebastian Black (great artist). Why don’t you just GO already? —Dan Duray
Malraux’s Place, 253 36th Street, Brooklyn, 7-9 p.m.
Opening: Miroslav Tichý at Half Gallery
Miroslav Tichý’s shaky, sometimes surreptitiously snapped photographs of women have only recently gained art world attention. If you’re not familiar with his work (which he often created using homemade cameras), hike on up to Half Gallery for an introduction. —Zoë Lescaze
Half Gallery, 43 East 78th Street, New York, 6-8 p.m. Read More