“Reading,” according to the writer Joyce Carol Oates, “is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin.” The idea that literature orients readers to the thoughts and feelings of others goes back at least as far as Aristotle, but only recently have psychologists tried testing it in the lab.
I once asked a friend why she doesn’t like watching movies at home. “Because you can’t talk at home,” she replied. This assertion, on its face, is clearly ridiculous. It’s a lot easier to talk through a movie in your living room than in a packed theater, surrounded by a hundred angry, hissing patrons. But I knew what she meant. One of the pleasures of going out to see a movie is talking about it afterward, over dinner or during the walk back to the car. It’s part of the experience — the first part, as soon as you step out of the theater — beginning with the inevitable question, “So, what did you think?” The question becomes much less pertinent in the seclusion of one’s own home, where your companion’s thoughts are more discernible, whether through comments or yawns or by the fact that, halfway through the film, she leaves the room to read a book. But in the darkness of the theater the answer becomes a genuine mystery: what did you think? And so begins the conversation, for movie theaters, as much as they are places we go to watch movies, are also places we go to talk about movies, and therein to learn more about each other and about ourselves.
In one memorable passage from Anne Carson’s latest work Float, she writes of the choreographer Elizabeth Streb, and how she teaches her dancers to fall from heights of 30 feet or more, falling straight for their faces, or spines, or sides. “They look like gods for an instant,” Carson writes. “They redeem the shame of falling, an act we usually associate with being very young or very old or very lost or not the master of oneself.” They are able, amid the fall, to continue to help themselves, exert control while at the mercy of the force. They defy the mortal condition of there being, at some point, nothing more one can do. Here, in this “gravitational scene,” as Carson terms it, there are all sorts of fallings. Of empires, countries, bodies, from grace, in love. It’s “our earliest motion,” she writes. We begin by falling “to the ground. We fall again at the end; what starts on the ground will end up soaking into the ground forever.”
“We bury our dead in the ground,” writes Mary Ruefle, finishing the thought in her new book, My Private Property, a collection of short essays and prose poems. She is likewise concerned with ends, with what accumulates, what soaks in and seeps out. In books out this month, both writers grapple with falling, with absence and longing, losses and lasts. Carson and Ruefle are both poets and more than poets: they are essayists, experimenters; they teach; they are mind-movers and prize-winners. Both concern themselves with what’s to be found in texts from before, Carson as a translator of ancient Greek, Ruefle in her erasure projects, in which she takes old texts and whites-out or eclipses all but a few words, making new meaning from what’s already there. They share a vigor, a sanguine, impassioned engagement with language, the results of which are, in turn, knavish, breathtaking, totally thrilling.
"I find when I'm teaching cooking classes ... my students are often afraid of doing something so massively wrong in the process of cooking that will be irrecoverable that they don't even try in the first place," she says. "I would love to get back to a world where we can be a little bit more relaxed and confident in the kitchen."
But Lohman quickly discovered there was much more than translating historic recipes for modern use: "I didn't realize I was going to be telling the story of disenfranchised people in America throughout history."
“Sooner or later, everything old is new again,” Stephen King once wrote — an observation that’s never been truer than today. Far from being dead, vinyl records sales rose to $416 million last year, the highest since 1988, and artists like the Black Keys, Lana Del Rey and Beck are eagerly embracing the format. Instant Polaroid-like cameras have caught on among millennials and their younger siblings. A new Pew survey shows that print books remain much more popular than books in digital formats. Old-school paper notebooks and erasable whiteboards are the go-to technology among many Silicon Valley types, and even typewriters are enjoying a renaissance in today’s post-Snowden, surveillance-conscious era.
In his captivating new book, “The Revenge of Analog,” the reporter David Sax provides an insightful and entertaining account of this phenomenon, creating a powerful counternarrative to the techno-utopian belief that we would live in an ever-improving, all-digital world. Mr. Sax argues that analog isn’t going anywhere, but is experiencing a bracing revival that is not just a case of nostalgia or hipster street cred, but something more complex.