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.
“I guess I felt—and now feel—as though I was 19 when I wrote it,” Renata Adler said of her first novel Speedboat. “And maybe still am. And by Pitch Dark, I was maybe 19-and-a-half.”
In fact, Ms. Adler, a slight, bespectacled woman who was seated across from me a few weeks ago at a café near Grand Central, was turning 38 when Speedboat was published in 1976. Pitch Dark came out seven years later. Both, long out of print, have just been reissued by NYRB Classics, but not before other writers drummed up interest about Ms. Adler’s work. The National Book Critics Circle campaigned for Speedboat to be reissued, and David Shields, whose 2010 book Reality Hunger helped introduce a new generation of readers to Ms. Adler’s debut, wrote in an email to me, “A crucial part of the performance of her literary persona—in Speedboat and Pitch Dark and elsewhere—is how resolutely un-nice she is while remaining deeply civilized.”
In person, she’s friendly, occasionally pausing mid-thought, hooking her left thumb into the black belt of her blue jeans while she chooses her next words. On the page, she is calm, observant and logical; she is funny, with an eye for the ridiculous; she is rigorous and intelligent. And she is unabashedly honest.
A few weeks back, the author George Saunders, who is blond, with the shaggy beard of someone who has better things to think about than his appearance, was sitting in a Murray Hill hotel with The Observer, playing Jishaku, a Japanese strategy game involving magnets. Several rounds in, he abruptly announced that he would have to stop playing. He was “too competitive,” he said, and couldn’t “concentrate on winning and talking” at the same time.
Putting down his magnets, he launched into an explanation of his parodic use of idiomatic language in his fiction.
The concept had gestated during his years as a geophysical engineer and technical writer for Radian International, an environmental engineering company. There was a lot of on-the-job jargon.
“I got the idea that technical language isn’t necessarily nonpoetic language,” said Mr. Saunders, 54, whose sixth book, the story collection Tenth of December, came out last week from Random House. Eventually, he left Radian to pursue an M.A. in creative writing at Syracuse University. “I’d understand it,” he said of his Radian-speak (though he could have also been telling of his fiction), “but to the outside world it would sound like this nonsense language.”
If you’re a visitor to New York, here’s a little trick to play on your hotel concierge: Slip him or her a nice tip, say $100, and let it be known that you’d be so eternally grateful for a pair of tickets to Elective Affinities, the new one-woman show starring Zoe Caldwell.
It’s not going to happen.
You’ll have no better luck if you’re a New Yorker, but the experience will be less fun, because the abject failure will be yours alone.
Elective Affinities, you see, is a very tough ticket, probably the toughest in town.
Apple’s obsessive control over the apps that can be sold through its online store has come back to bite them.
Apple, Pandora and Dictionary.com were sued in federal court Monday for allegedly helping advertisers create secret profiles of iPhone users without their consent.
According to Wired’s Ryan Singel, “The tracking is possible because Read More
Back in 2003, at the tender of age of 19, Mark Zuckerberg created a Friendster profile listing a few of his favorite things in life: coding, asian girls, quoting Top Gun.
Ryan Tate over at Valleywag found this little gem, noting that it seems more legitimate than several other Mark Zuckerberg profiles on Read More