“After dinner, I made the mistake of saying something about a cigar. It wasn’t as if I asked for one. I probably said something like, ‘I hear that your country is famous for its cigars.’ But they took this as an overpolite way of asking for one, so the hunt began. The shops were closed, but the Rafaels started working on the car. You’ve heard, no doubt, how in Cuba they still drive working American cars from the 1950s, but this was something else, a Frankenstein made from the parts of about four different cars from the ’50s and one Russian car apparently from the ’70s. They got this creature going, and we started moving through the streets. No headlights — one of them held an electric lantern out the window. It was wired to the cigarette lighter. We needed it badly. Within a mile of leaving the town, we were in the face-close darkness of unlighted rural roads. They took me to a kind of kiosk, an open bar in the middle of a field. I don’t know what it was, really. A kind of club. All of the men, about seven of them, were workers in the tobacco fields. They would smuggle out a cigar or two each week, maybe defective ones, for personal use or the chance to trade it away. Rafelito told me, ‘This is the puro puro.”
- Where Is Cuba Going? by John Jeremiah Sullivan
Ouch, right in the grammar!
Among the brand-name French theorists of the mid-20th century, Roland Barthes was the fun one. (Foucault was the tough one, Derrida was the dreamy one, Lacan was the mysterious one — I like to imagine them sometimes as a black-turtlenecked, clove-smoking boy band called Hors de Texte, with the hit album “Discipline ’n’ Punish.”)
Standing so straight on a raised dais, in so immaculate a uniform that he looks like a ventriloquist’s dummy, the Metropolitan Police Service’s new commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, tells the conference in an avuncular voice about his plan for ‘total policing. ’ He is enthusiastic but nebulous. Details are vague.
I picked up Eugenides’s new novel, “The Marriage Plot,” an exuberantly bookish book that offers the clearest account to date of his cohort’s collective aspirations and anxieties. There is, it turns out, a unifying thread; it’s just not a matter of form. The central question driving literary aesthetics in the age of the iPad is no longer “How should novels be?” but “Why write novels at all?”
My Favorite Time of Year:
When NYT Magazine’s Sam Anderson wraps up his year in marginalia:
On Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84:
“Has any author made more fictional phones ring?”
On Joan Didion’s “The White Album”:
“People who accuse Didion of being humorless are insane: she’s hilarious, in a v. strange way.”
My own personal copy of Cesar Aira’s Ghosts is full of the check marks, stars, and occasionally the phrase “Zing!”, most often when he digresses on television.
What are the gems from the margins from of your books?