Harold Pinter wrote Old Times (which opens tonight at the Roundabout) in 1971, only eight years before Caryl Churchill wrote Cloud Nine (which opened last night at the Atlantic). Though both are English plays about sex and subjugation, the two revivals demonstrate just how differently classics can fare as time laps around them. Cloud Nine has grown larger, almost as if it had predicted and made room for its future relevance. Old Times, on the other hand, seems to have contracted, especially in a production that makes too much of a case for its cosmic importance.
Surprise! Twilight is still a thing: Ten years after Edward Cullen and Bella Swan made vampires virtually inescapable, Stephenie Meyer is back to turn your tweens once again. In celebration of the first book's anniversary, Meyer has rewritten Twilight with the genders of the saga's star-crossed lovers reversed. Meet Beau and Edythe, main characters of the newly feminist reading of the series now dubbed Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined, out today. In this version, Bella is Beau, a teen boy who moves to Forks, Washington, and finds himself enamored with the vampire Edythe, the female version of Edward. Meyer explained on Good Morning America that the idea behind the new 442-page book was to put to rest repeated criticism of the original series that it reduced Bella to a "damsel in distress" trope.
Prizes are an essential element of the delicate international literary ecosystem. For publishers, they provide the oxygen of free publicity. For authors, a prize means an unexpected cash windfall and a place among the constellations of little gold stars in the book world’s sky. For the rest of us, literary prizes are a spectator sport, like an Olympics to honor people who sit alone in a room for years at a time. Nothing compares to the Nobel Prize. Just ask Philip Roth: It’s the only prize he hasn’t won. And among annual prizes for new books in English, none of the U.S. prizes — the diluted National Book Award/Pulitzer/National Book Critics Circle trifecta, not to mention miscellaneous PEN honors — is as potent as the U.K.’s Man Booker Prize, now in its second year of being open to non-Commonwealth authors. For the past three years, I have been addicted to gambling on these prizes.
“Come on, mother,” Keira Knightley jokingly says as she helps Judith Light to her feet in a quiet room at the Studio 54 theater. It’s the day before previews begin for Knightley’s Broadway debut as the title character in an adaptation of Zola’s dark romantic novel Thérèse Raquin. (Light plays Thérèse’s aunt and caretaker.) “She’s so free,” Light raves of Knightley. “She’ll interrupt rehearsal to say, ‘Wait, what are we doing here?’ It gives the rest of us permission to do that too. She’s fearless.” Knightley bursts into laughter: “Am I giving that impression?”
It’s only fitting that Atlantic Records is releasing its recording of Hamilton in a variety of formats that, like the hit musical itself, rewind history. The download went on sale September 25; the CD comes out October 16. According to a tweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show’s author, there will also be an actual LP, that throwback medium embedding the topography of a score in warpy spirals of vinyl. The LP, should it happen, would return us nearly to the dawn of the original-cast-album era, when Decca managed to fit not quite all of Oklahoma! on six ten-inch double-sided 78-rpm platters.
A James Franco–painted picture is always worth at least three words. But this one, of Randall Park as his Interview character, is particularly provocative.
The first American production of Cloud Nine opened off Broadway on May 18, 1981, a few weeks before the Times ran its first account of what would later be known as AIDS. That’s pure coincidence, of course; Caryl Churchill’s play about the necessity and cost of all kinds of liberation had already been produced in England, two years before. But one way of understanding what might be meant by a great work is to look not only at what it offers as a reflection on its immediate past (which is the way we judge most new plays) but also at what it anticipated and what it continues to anticipate decades later. Many timely dramas shrink and buckle with age, their laudable politics as passé as their loud clothes. But Cloud Nine, now in a superb revival at the Atlantic, has only grown fuller, meatier, sadder, funnier, sexier, and more provocative — more theatrical, too — as the conditions from which it arose have changed radically, and have not.
Each month, Boris Kachka offers nonfiction and fiction book recommendations. You should read as many of them as possible.
Thirteen Ways of Looking, by Colum McCann (Random House, October 13)
The author of Let the Great World Spin has spent so long illuminating history through fiction that readers might miss the real source of his power: not his heightened ventriloquism but his perfection of sentence, idea, and voice. The title novella in this quartet of contemporary stories riffs on Wallace Stevens's famous blackbirds, the detective genre, and the surveillance state all in the fractured narrative of one heart-torn New Yorker's dying day. Along with the other pieces, all thematically related to a random assault McCann suffered last year, it displays a rare confluence of skill, style, and moral vision.
“I never wanted to be the guy wearing a T-shirt that read ASK ME ABOUT MY NOVEL,” says Garth Risk Hallberg. One August evening in 2012, he was that guy. He’d been invited to the wedding of writer-banker Gary Sernovitz and academic Molly Pulda at the Bowery Hotel. Among his tablemates were Diana Miller, his future editor; Tom Bissell, whom he’d just reviewed in the Times; and Chris Parris-Lamb, a young literary agent whose recent success with Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding was well known to all — including the writer seated across from him. A souvenir “dictionary” defined each guest. Hallberg’s entry read: “Critic-novelist certain he will win the Postmodernist Fiction Trivia Contest to be held in the men’s bathroom at 11:59 tonight.”
We're all kicking ourselves for not seeing Broadway's latest darling, Hamilton, while it was still in previews at the Public Theater — since the move, tickets are almost impossible to get. But last night at the New Yorker Festival, Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and star of the hit show, offered a glimmer of hope: Fear not, Broadway nerds, they are filming Hamilton! "You-couldn't-make-it-up filmmakers have been coming to the show," Miranda said. "I have talked to producers about filming this cast before this cast moves on." He said they will definitely film the production before June, but the team is still undecided about what the format will look like. Fingers crossed for a telecast à la . While you dream about that, scope out more highlights from his talk below:
To promote her latest memoir, M Train (out Tuesday), Patti Smith spoke with The New Yorker's David Remnick at the magazine's festival this weekend about a colorful blend of literary and nonliterary topics. Although the two apparently text from time to time — Smith sent him pictures from Wittgenstein’s house in Vienna on tour this summer — Remnick was clearly starstruck Saturday night; fortunately, he managed to hold it together and accompany Smith on the electric guitar for a surprise performance of "Because the Night." The crowd sang along and beamed just like Remnick when she talked about her upcoming projects, experiences taking acid, and time working in a factory — where she endured a urine dip for reading the work of the decadent poet Arthur Rimbaud. Read on for the night's highlights:
In at least every extra-literary way, Garth Risk Hallberg’s highly anticipated City on Fire arrives unmistakably marked as the season’s extreme weather event. A $2 million book contract; film rights sold on the spot; 911 pages with deluxe fictional facsimiles of a DIY zine, handwritten letters, and faux-whiskey-stained typewritten manuscripts; advance author profiles in Vogue, this magazine, and who knows where else — whatever the book tells us about itself or the state of the American novel, it says a lot about what sort of story New York publishers and Hollywood think they can sell. The selling points would seem to be these: a panoramic social novel that’s also historical, and therefore not under the burden of showing us the way we live now but instead delivering a nostalgic view of the way we may like to believe we lived then; a soft focus on both the perennially fascinating ultrarich as well as two bygone bohemias (punk rock and the downtown art scene); a dizzying, schizophrenic approach to point of view, with the narrative shifting among dozens of characters, some of them very minor, every few pages; a thrillerish structure pitting sad heroes against sadistic villains; and a recurring retreat at crucial moments from realism to Disneyland logic, right down to the wicked stepmother. And then there are Hallberg’s unmistakable literary ambitions: to write an epic on the scale of Don DeLillo’s Underworld, as drenched in pop culture as Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude, and as soaked in downtown cool as Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers.
At the New Yorker Festival on Friday night, acclaimed American writer Don DeLillo offered his thoughts on America's gun violence problem, which was fitting, since DeLillo’s novels are known for story lines that comment upon threats to American society. He speculated on the motivation of lone shooters like the one who murdered nine people in an attack on Umpqua Community College in Oregon this past week.
Last week a luminous secret tree fell in the visionary art forest — that of the best UFO artist I've ever encountered. The artist was Ionel Talpazan (Yah-nell Tahl-pah-zon), who escaped Soviet Romania in 1974 at the age of 19, alone, swimming across the Danube River at night into Yugoslavia, where he was immediately placed in a refugee camp and then somehow was accepted in the United States as a “political refugee,” making his way to New York. He was an ingenious master of his subject and intricate systems. Most people never heard of him, however, because our crazy, beautiful art world persists in maintaining an apartheid system of “insider” and “outsider” artists where “outsiders” are those thought to be weird, unschooled, and “obsessive.” Of course, hundreds of so-called “real” artists fit this description to a T, but never mind. To this day museums, especially, balk at the thought of integrating these artists with the “real” artists, as if the whole system would go to hell. Forget the market, which wants nothing to do with this stuff and sniffs at it as “the outsider market.”
Amy Schumer has mastered the art of leaning all the way in: Her new multi-million-dollar book deal apparently didn't always come with such a hefty price tag. Two years ago, according to the New York Times, she signed a similar deal with HarperCollins for a book of humor essays to be written with help from The New Yorker's Patricia Marx. At the time, Schumer was like any other emerging comedian with a lot of buzz, and so they offered her a $1 million advance. Schumer eventually canceled that deal and returned the check because she was "too busy" (likely launching Inside Amy Schumer) to write a book. She told GQ earlier this summer, "I had a whole deal, but I decided to wait — I thought I would make more money if I waited."
One rom-com, an Emmy, and #squad with Jennifer Lawrence later, and Simon & Schuster's Gallery Books bought the publishing rights to Schumer's book of essays at an auction last week for a cool $8 million. That number, if accurate, would be more than the advances reportedly offered to Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Amy Poehler for their respective books. So in the span of two years, Schumer has negotiated a $7 million pay increase. Not too shabby!
Thirty years ago this fall, The Cosby Show debuted on NBC, and its star was catapulted into the comedic stratosphere. The timing is prime, then, for the release of a sprawling biography. Written by former Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker, Cosby: His Life and Times documents the man’s rise from the Philadelphia projects, while also detailing the creation of his family sitcom and the murder of his son Ennis in 1997.
The book is notable, however, for its complete avoidance of sexual abuse allegations that have dogged Cosby for more than a decade. In a statement to Buzzfeed's Kate Aurthur, Whitaker says, "I didn’t want to print allegations that I couldn’t confirm independently." Regardless, their absence is glaring. Consider the following timeline an appendix to the book.
Lovable little Dobby and his goofy magic have evidently inspired London, as some Harry Potter fans have attempted to free him from Leavesden's Warner Bros. Studio Tour IRL. Friends of the house elf have festooned one of his exhibit cases with their socks, a nod to both Dobby's HP story line, as well as the fact that house elves are granted independence if they are given an item of clothing. Pictures of the honor began circulating via social media this week — even catching the eye of J.K. Rowling, who retweeted because how could you not? This is off-the-charts cuteness:
“In general, life on the road is not easy. Yesterday I saw a family of Roma camping on a cement-parking place. The children had tired, old faces and were smoking cigarettes,” writes formerly Berlin-based musician and multimedia artist Danielle de Picciotto in her graphic diary, We Are Gypsies Now, which was published by Amok Books in August. “The romanticized myth of the gypsy lifestyle is quite different in reality. Anybody who has experienced not having a home knows that it is no joke.”
We Are Gypsies Now, de Picciotto’s second published book, is wondrously illustrated with the author's inky drawings, and features cover and layout design by the Jesus Lizard's David Yow. The diary recalls the planned 18-month nomadic journey de Picciotto and her husband, Alexander Hacke, a musician best known as part of post-punk industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten, undertook after putting all their stuff in storage and leaving their longtime home in Berlin in search of a more fulfilled life elsewhere.
That year-and-a-half-long itinerary has since stretched into five years of trekking from art residency to band gig, all the while couch- and apartment-surfing. Their grand tour brought the couple to the U.S. in September for a series of multimedia performances, which featured readings and animated scenes from the book paired with songs from de Picciotto’s companion album, Tacoma, named for the city of her birth. The couple's upcoming album, Perserverantia, due out later this year, was also being played.
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