A thirteen-year-old is a kaleidoscope of different personalities, if not in most ways a mere figment of her own imagination. At that age, what and who you are depends largely on what book you happen to be reading at the moment. You are the yellow-haired, skinny little heroine of The Secret Garden, slowly adjusting to the rigorous disciplines of English country life after being pampered by your devoted Indian ayah. You are a Brontë sister—not Anne, not Charlotte, more likely Emily—pouring out your wild genius on the lonely moor. You are Elizabeth Barrett Browning on her sickbed, great luminous eyes staring from an emaciated face, the helpless victim of a narrow-minded, vengeful father—but your iron will is capable of triumphing over his petty tyranny in the end. You are Jane Eyre, painfully thin and pale of face but steadfast in spirit, able to withstand the cruelty of the hateful Reeds and in the end, after their downfall, to forgive them. For a day or two you might be a tall, serious, dark-eyed sixth-form prefect out of one of Angela Brazil’s school stories, adored by the smaller girls, and, though full of human little faults, pride and joy of the headmistress. Sometimes you are even Clara Bow, the “It” girl, stirring thousands with your warm beauty and throaty voice; or the mysterious Swedish spellbinder, Greta Garbo.
“If I was going to be a woman, I would want to be as beautiful as possible. And they said to me, ‘Uh, that’s as beautiful as we can get you.’ And I went home and started crying to my wife, and I said, ‘I have to make this picture.’ And she said, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Because I think I’m an interesting woman when I look at myself on screen, and I know that if I met myself at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn’t fulfill, physically, the demands that we’re brought up to think that women have to have in order for us to ask them out.’ She says, ‘What are you saying?’ and I said, ‘There’s too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed.’ It was not what it felt like to be a woman. It was what it felt like to be someone that people didn’t respect, for the wrong reasons. I know it’s a comedy. But comedy’s a serious business.”—Dustin Hoffman
“That writers “write” is meant to be self-evident. People like to say it. I find it is hardly ever true. Writers drink. Writers rant. Writers phone. Writers sleep. I have met very few writers who write at all.”—Renata Adler (via Durga Polashi)
“You have to have a certain detachment in order to see beauty for yourself rather than something that has been put in quotation marks to be understood as “beauty.” Think about Dutch painting, where sunlight is falling on a basin of water and a woman is standing there in the clothes that she would wear when she wakes up in the morning—that beauty is a casual glimpse of something very ordinary. Or a painting like Rembrandt’s Carcass of Beef, where a simple piece of meat caught his eye because there was something mysterious about it. You also get that in Edward Hopper: Look at the sunlight! or Look at the human being! These are instances of genius. Cultures cherish artists because they are people who can say, Look at that. And it’s not Versailles. It’s a brick wall with a ray of sunlight falling on it.”—Marilynne Robinson.
“So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years […]
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one had only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.”—T. S. Eliot
Cooked this version of Saag Paneer tonight. Some notes (mostly for myself): I blended the spinach in the Cuisinart instead of finely chopping it—seemed insane to do it with that much Spinach. I also did make my own cheese curds (or basically harder ricotta), but they didn’t hold up when I started to fry them in the oil, even after hanging it out to dry overnight and pressing them flat. They sort of melted into these little blobs, and I panicked, and got paneer from Kalustyan’s. Otherwise, I like that you don’t need to blanche the spinach, and I love the base of flavors you get from the pepper, garlic, and ginger. I added more cream to cut the flavor (but I also started just mixing to taste). Definitely would use again.
Daniel Mendelsohn: I never really entertained the idea until I was 3/4 way through grad school that I would be a working writer. But I never saw why being a scholar should or would restrict you. I was interested in all kinds of things. Not least, to the great embarrassment of many of my colleagues, design—I was very interested in design. And so I used to get W and Vogue and Architectural Digest and they would say, ‘Oh how could you waste your time with that?” But it’s beauty. Beauty is beauty. It’s a chorus by Aeschylus and it’s a Saarinen Womb Chair or a Dorothy Thorpe candelabrum.I never felt, even when I was training myself for academia, that there was this high/low divide. And I’m against this notion—ironically—because of my training in the classics.
Miranda July’s ideal bookshelf (top) and Judd Apatow’s ideal bookshelf (below).
A wonderful new book called My Ideal Bookshelf debuts November 13th. Writer and Paris Review editor Thessaly LaForce and artist Jane Mount interviewed their favourite creators about what few books would be…
The family archive contains many of Fitzgerald’s books. I wrote that sentence as flatly as I could, but in fact it makes my biographer’s pulse race wildly. This is the second time in my life I have been given access to such an extraordinary source of knowledge about my subject. I had the good fortune to look at all that remains of Edith Wharton’s magnificent collection, before her books went back to her American home, The Mount, and I made much use of them in my biography of her. Fitzgerald’s collection could not be more different. These are not beautiful, expensively bound, well-ordered books with high-flown dedications from famous fellow authors. No, they are the battered, treasured, much-used library of a working woman, mostly paperbacks, stuffed full of notes, marks, clippings and reviews, written all over from cover to cover in Fitzgerald’s clear, steady, italic handwriting. But these books are like Wharton’s much grander library in this respect: they provide the entry point to a remarkable writer’s reading life.