BY EDWARD HIRSCH VIA THE PARIS REVIEW
Susan Sontag lives in a sparsely furnished five-room apartment on the top floor of a building in Chelsea on the west side of Manhattan. Books—as many as fifteen thousand—and papers are everywhere. A lifetime could be spent browsing through the books on art and architecture, theater and dance, philosophy and psychiatry, the history of medicine, and the history of religion, photography, and opera—and so on. The various European literatures—French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, etcetera, as well as hundreds of books of Japanese literature and books on Japan—are arranged by language in a loosely chronological way. So is American literature as well as English literature, which runs from Beowulf to, say, James Fenton. Sontag is an inveterate clipper, and the books are filled with scraps of paper (“Each book is marked and filleted,” she says), the bookcases festooned with notes scrawled with the names of additional things to read.
BY LAURIE SHECK VIA THE PARIS REVIEW
A Few Facts He wore five-pound shackles on his ankles every day for four years. This was in the prison camp in Omsk where he was serving out a sentence of hard labor after being convicted of sedition for being part of a revolutionary cell dedicated to the liberation of the serfs and freedom of the press.
For the seven months following his arrest, he’d been kept in solitary confinement in the Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva, his cell window smeared with an oily paste to prevent any daylight from seeping through.
BY ROBERT D. MCFADDEN VIA NY TIMES
Nat Hentoff, an author, journalist, jazz critic and civil libertarian who called himself a troublemaker and proved it with a shelf of books and a mountain of essays on free speech, wayward politics, elegant riffs and the sweet harmonies of the Constitution, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 91.
BY ANDREW MALE VIA THE GUARDIAN
Jim Morrison wrote a song about her, Ed Ruscha romanced her, and she played chess with Marcel Duchamp nude – but it’s her books, to be adapted for TV, that have ensured Babitz’s reputation will last Eve Babitz: the one true LA woman. Photograph: Mirandi Babitz
“Eve Babitz does not give interviews,” says her agent, Erica Spellman-Silverman, in a clipped, formidable tone, down the line from her New York office. As opening lines go, it’s more of a closer, but it makes a kind of sense. After all, Babitz is a currently a writer in demand, undergoing something of a renaissance. She doesn’t need to give interviews.
BY MATTHEW SPECKTOR VIA VOGUE
Image: Courtesy of Random House
The following essay appears as the introduction to Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A. by Eve Babitz, published by New York Review Books.
Any writer may be in or out of step with his or her time, but a great one is inextricably bound to place. Whether native or in exile, certain writers have a tone and temper in their work that is so conditioned by and suffused with the locus of their creation that it becomes almost impossible to consider these things separately. Such is the case with Eve Babitz, whose novels are richly Californian, not just in their regional particulars—I can think of no cultural artifact of any kind that better preserves Sunset Boulevard, circa 1974, than Slow Days, Fast Company—but also in their method and in their mood. This is a strength, naturally: Babitz’s Los Angeles is as idiosyncratically true as William Faulkner’s Mississippi, and as distinct from that place as it is from Joan Didion’s L.A., with which it nevertheless overlaps. Still, there is sometimes an irritating tendency, one as sexist as it is parochial, to imagine Babitz’s work as an accidental, perhaps even unimportant by-product of her glamorous biography. I am loath to bring it up. Babitz attended Hollywood High. Her godfather was Igor Stravinsky. At 20, she was famously photographed playing chess in the nude with Marcel Duchamp. (Only she, alas, is nude. The artist was dressed.) After that—well, to start laying out the names of Babitz’s paramours is to begin building the wall that obscures our view of her work. Even if the famous names factor into the work, which they do—Babitz’s books are nothing if not gossipy—is it important to our understanding that one of her lovers was, say, the lead singer of a famous ’60s rock band who died in a bathtub in Paris, or that another went on to star in an even more famous trilogy of science-fiction movies, and so on? Kind of. But the moment those names are named (in Slow Days, Fast Company, they’re largely pseudonymous, or brushed aside in a way that feels aptly dishabille), Babitz ceases to be the heroine of her own literary biography; she becomes just another flytrap, a not quite cautionary tale, a party girl spattered with genius instead of (this distinction seems important) an actual genius who just happened to, y’know, like to party. Of which, so what? The 20th century is littered with fabled male geniuses who enjoyed their opium, their reefer, their booze and sex and cocaine, but very seldom are these particular titans introduced drugs and conquests first.
BY MELISSA LOCKER VIA ELLE
When Gillian McCain was in high school she took an aptitude quiz that told her she should consider a career in “writing with a sociological bent, especially about fringe groups.” A decade or so later, she teamed up with writer and editor Legs McNeil for their seminal history of New York’s ’70s punk scene, Please Kill Me. Score one for the quiz, right?
Filled with uproarious vignettes about Iggy Pop shaving his eyebrows and instantly regretting it, or Cheetah Chrome insisting to the cops that he really does have pants on (if spandex tights count), the on-the-ground account of punk and its stars has endured. The book was released 20 years ago, but like the scene it documented, Please Kill Me’s impact is still felt now. While Please Kill Me can’t claim to be the first oral history (its authors say Jean Stein and George Plimpton’s Edie: An American Biography was an inspiration for the project), it did lay groundwork for the still-booming genre.
BY HANNAH ONGLEY VIA i-D
Photo via Khannibalism.bandcamp
It’s practically illegal to write about surprise album announcements post-2014 without mentioning Beyoncé, but this unexpected release is honestly one without any precedent whatsoever. William S. Burroughs — the Beat Gen provocateur who passed away in 1997 at the impressive age of 83 — is posthumously releasing a few shocking readings of his drugged up, non-linear 1959 novel Naked Lunch as a psychedelic spoken word album titled Let Me Hang You, reports the New York Times.
VIA NYU ALUMNI BLOG
We recently chatted with Gillian McCain, author of two poetry books, Tilt and Religion, co-author (with Legs McNeil) of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, and co-editor of Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose (also with Legs McNeil). She is also a collector and exhibitor of found photography. She spoke about her time at NYU and her eclectic artistic pursuits. Photo Credit: Annie Watts
Do you have a favorite NYU memory?
My friend Eric Swenson and I organized a reading by Gregory Corso at the Loeb Student Center—we got a thousand people there! It was crazy. It was free, but it was still crazy. We made flyers and went to the park all the time and gave them out. We were hanging out at this rare bookstore in the West Village, and that’s where we met Gregory Corso and the some of the other Beat writers; so they told some of their friends, and it was advertised well at NYU. They were paying Corso a thousand bucks, which was pretty significant at the time. It was an exciting event. And all the friends I made are still my best friends. I met my friend Chris Simunek first day of Expository Writing class—and he is still my one of my best friends. Up until recently he was the editor at High Times. I remember I’d hang out in Washington Square Park a lot and I remember there was this girl about my age, Corene LeMaitre, she just goes: “Nice boots.” And I go: “I like your boots, too.” And she is still a friend of mine. She ended up writing a novel for HarperCollins. So everyone did pretty well. A lot of people I have lost touch with, but I should look them up on Facebook.
BY CHRIS RICHARDS VIA THE WASHINGTON POST
In a city clogged with people who think they’re really interesting, Ian Svenonius actually is.
He’s an underground rock star, an icon of the D.C. punk scene, an author and an auteur, a pontificator equally versed in astrology, Castro, forgotten soul 45s and the politics of the radical left. He’s frequently the coolest person at the party and his hair always looks terrific.
Sassy – the sharpest teen magazine of yesteryear – foresaw all of this when they singled out Svenonius as the “Sassiest Boy in America” in the autumn of 1990. “The reason I entered the contest is to indoctrinate youth gone astray,” Svenonius told The Washington Post shortly after receiving the honor nearly 24 years ago. “There are so many kids dressing like Grateful Dead people. It’s kind of tedious.”
BY ALEXANDER BISLEY VIA PLAYBOY
Irvine Welsh has a cold. But the voice of Britain’s chemical generation still comes through dry and wry from his adopted Chicago home. Twenty years after Trainspotting became a cinematic juggernaut, juxtaposing the joys and horrors of drug life, Trainspotting 2 just kicked off filming in Edinburgh. In the intervening years, Welsh has kept busy. Filth was a terrific film, James McAvoy brilliantly realizing Welsh’s corrupt cop Bruce Robertson. Most recently Welsh wrote A Decent Ride, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins and, bringing Trainspotting’s one and only Begbie back, The Blade Artist. Verging on 60, the Scot is in an entertaining, avuncular mood. Welsh and I discussed this trio, shooting Trainspotting 2, the problem with porn and, of course, The Donald.