Paris is doing all this because it needs to. The French capital’s reputation for beauty and charm may still be repeated to the point of cliché, but during the 1960s and ‘70s, this city—like so many others—was profoundly reshaped by car-centric planning. The postwar automotive boom turned the city’s quiet avenues into gasoline-filled arteries, flattening historic buildings and throttling the city core with a beltway that has become a byword for congestion and pollution. That inner Paris survived this onslaught in largely good visual shape is remarkable.
Equally remarkable is the fact that Paris has managed to muster a political movement limiting the future role of cars. It’s a fightback that authorities in London or New York would no doubt struggle to replicate. The story of how Paris let cars eat it away—and then bit back—is worth a closer look.
There’s an old Appalachian saying about this kind of survival that every artist reckons with: root, hog, or die. I like it because it’s imperative rather than formulaic, as the best advice tends to be. I once heard Colum McCann caution against writing what you know. Write toward what you want to know, he said. Standing in his barn between his pot of mash and his gleaming copper still, Sal has somehow accomplished both. He set out to discover what his ancestors had already attempted — a magic concoction of corn, sugar, and fire — and in it, he found his art.
Under “I”, in the index of one of his books, Douglas Hofstadter (of Gödel, Escher, Bach fame) included an entry for “index, challenges of, 598; as revelatory of book’s nature, 598; typo in, 631; as work of art, 598”. As might be said these days: preach! Indexes are challenging to produce; they are revelatory of a book’s nature; and the best ones are works of art. And, as Hofstadter ruefully if wittily recognised (including under “T” “typo in index, 633” in a book that ended on page 632) they sometimes contain typos. But not, you’d hope, those produced by professionals.
Today, the Society of Indexers – the industry body for those professionals (for which, full disclosure, I have the honour to be honorary president) – turns 60 years old. It celebrates its “anniversary, diamond”. “What?” you ask. “Who?” you wonder. No surprise. Indexers are like badgers: they are seldom sighted in the wild, they do their work in the darkness, and when you see one it’s usually because they’ve been run over by an 18-wheeler.
In its sheer expansiveness 4 3 2 1, which is more than twice the length of any book that Auster has published, is unlike anything he has written. Yet it is also commodious enough to encompass everything else he has written. Several times Auster writes playfully of the book of life (“Ferguson sometimes wondered if he hadn’t pulled a fast one on the author of The Book of Terrestrial Life”) and 4 3 2 1 is close to a Book of Auster, studded with allusions to previous novels. Besides the father-and-son relationships, there are various other familiar Austerities: the infatuations with New York City, Parisian culture, and old films; the stories within stories; the search for patterns in chaos; the recurring image of a disoriented man locked in a dark chamber; the bifurcation (or in this case tetrafurcation) of the self, often expressed through alter egos, many of whom share the lineaments of Auster’s biography.
While writing “Richard Nixon: The Life,” John A. Farrell could not possibly have known who would be president on the day his fine book was published. That it happens to be Donald J. Trump is, for him, an extraordinary stroke of luck. To read this biography with an eye only toward the parallels between the two presidents would be lazy and unfair, a disservice to Farrell’s nuanced scholarship.
But the context here is unignorable. The similarities between Nixon and Trump leap off the page like crickets.
It’s certainly not for a lack of effort. Hanging doesn’t work. Slitting his wrists is useless. Shooting himself in the head, overdosing on pills . . . nothing he tries gives him the exit into oblivion he so clearly craves. Each time he succumbs, he witnesses a glowing ring of light, then awakens once again in his motel room. At least it seems like his motel room. What is going on? Maybe if he throws himself in front of a truck . . .
That’s the opening sequence to Demon, Jason Shiga’s bloody brilliant (or brilliantly bloody) action comic, a no-holds-barred assault on good taste and timidity that proves to be as hilarious and captivating as it is incredibly violent and profane.