Search Results for: New York Review of Books

Robert B. Silvers, Editor of The New York Review of Books: 1929-2017

Robert Silvers
Robert Silvers in 2012. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I believe in the writer—the writer, above all. That’s how we started off: admiring the writer. We organized the New York Review according to the writers we admired most: Edmund Wilson, Wystan Auden, Fred Dupee, Norman, Bill, Lizzie, Mary among them. Each of them had a confident sense of their own prose, and it meant a great deal to them—the matter of a comma, a semicolon, a word—and it does to our writers today. And so, when it comes to making a change, we should not do it without their permission. If a moment comes at some point where we see something should be improved, we don’t just scribble it in but call them up wherever they are. And that is, I think, crucial.

—Robert Silvers, co-founding editor of The New York Review of Books with Barbara Epstein, speaking with New York magazine’s Mark Danner in 2013, on the publication’s 50th anniversary. Silvers died March 20 after an illness. He was 87 years old.

NYRB announced the news on their Twitter feed today:

Shortly after I started Longreads, I was invited to visit the offices of the NYRB to meet their digital editor Matthew Howard. A man was walking toward the front of the office so I stopped him and asked if he knew where Matthew might be. He politely responded that he did know, then turned and walked back through the office to track him down. Matthew met me with a handshake, laughed, and then asked me, “You realize you just sent Robert Silvers to fetch me, right?”

From a grateful reader, thank you, Robert.

See more stories from The New York Review of Books in the Longreads archive.

Our first Longreads Member perk: A digital subscription to the New York Review of Books (Updated)

UPDATE: This offer is now closed (as of 7/19/2011). Thanks to NYRB and all the Longreads Members who signed up!

Last month we introduced the (completely optional) Longreads Membership, and we’ve been thrilled with the response so far. I wanted to personally thank everyone for their support and encouragement.

We’re also excited to announce the first official perk for our Longreads Members: a free, three-month digital subscription to the New York Review of Books.

The NYRB team—who have supported us from the beginning—are offering this perk to all current Longreads Members, as well as the next 100 people who purchase a one-year Longreads Membership.

We hope to continue offering occasional free perks to Longreads Members as a thank-you for your support of our service. It might be a digital subscription, like today’s perk, or it might just be something we think you’ll like because you have really great taste. 

Thanks again.

The Dying Days of the New West

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Tori Telfer | Longreads | May 2018 | 15 minutes (3,912 words)

The American West brings out a hunger in people. I’ve felt it myself — an urge to disconnect from society, buy a horse, live next to a giant saguaro. My husband and I have talked for hours about moving to the town of Truth or Consequences in New Mexico, where we were invited to live by an elderly gay couple we met beside a Tucson, Arizona pool. They told us that houses were cheap and everyone was friends and they’d be our uncles; we took their business card home and spent nights looking at houses on Zillow, cooing over cacti. The destiny was almost made manifest, then real life intruded. Guess where we’re moving instead? New York City.

The urbane, European-inflected East Coast has looked at the West with a strange blend of envy and hope for most of United States history. While the United States was built partially on the idea that the West was our manifest destiny, an East/West rivalry has also been baked into our identity from the beginning; even the famous “Go west, young man!” dictum contained within it some eastward scorn. That cry came from an 1865 New York Times editorial, in which Horace Greeley, the newspaper’s editor, exclaimed that “Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”

In 1836, the writer Francis Grund speculated that westward expansion would only stop when some “physical barrier must finally obstruct its progress”; by the late 1800s, the ocean proved to be no such barrier, as America’s westward colonization encroached on the islands of the Pacific, reaching as far as the Philippines; in 2018, there is so little West left to discover that when we want to dream about the idea of the “frontier,” we look to Mars. Today’s West is a place of deep irony: lands that look wide-open to the naked eye but are actually choked by bureaucratic red tape. In fact, “the West” is more of a mirage than a reality, these days. But the hunger is still there. Read more…

Get With the Modern Age, Sign Up for the Longreads Books Newsletter

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Dear Reader,

Over coffee a few weeks ago, our audience development editor Catherine Cusick told me something remarkable: someone, somewhere is always reading “A Sociology of the Smartphone,” an excerpt from Adam Greenfield’s book Radical Technologies (Verso, 2017) which we published in June of last year. This astute social scientific rumination on our new and profound interconnectedness via the “ubiquitous… slabs of polycarbonate” in our pockets is Longreads’ most-read book feature of all time.

Meanwhile, in “The Death Row Book Club,” our recent excerpt from The Sun Does Shine (St. Martin’s Press, 2018), Anthony Ray Hinton remembers that “the books were a big deal. Nobody had books on death row. They had never been allowed, and it was like someone had brought in contraband.” It is the book, sometimes just a single copytossed from reader to reader across the prison library with a little prayer that it never land too far out of anyone’s reach, since rising from your seat during death row book club is strictly forbidden — which provides a new and profound interconnectedness for the prisoners.


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In another of our recent book excerpts, from Agnès Poirier’s Left Bank (Henry Holt & Co., 2018), we read that when Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir founded their literary magazine Les Temps modernes in the rubble of Paris in 1945, they had to request an allocation of paper from the government. They had to bring their own rations to the literary parties. Nevertheless, the magazine was an instant, global success — Sartre’s and Beauvoir’s books became bestsellers, rumors spread that women would swoon when they heard Sartre lecture, even the State Department got Existentialist fever, and Richard Wright bought his entire family steamer tickets to France and wrote in his diary that he “felt relief as he saw the Statue of Liberty” drifting away. He came to Paris to advise Les Temps modernes on their upcoming “America” issue — in which they excerpted books like The Black Metropolis, a groundbreaking sociology of redlining and poverty on Chicago’s South Side.

Of course, in this post-Rex world, the State Department surely no longer has the wherewithal to bother reading such a minor cultural artifact as the first ever Longreads Books Newsletter. Indeed, the founding of Les Temps modernes differs from the first ever Longreads Books Newsletter in, ah, a number of ways — probably the most important of which is that I have not written a 1,000-page philosophical novel to co-promote with this newsletter. But I find myself dwelling on it anyway, comparing our efforts to the past and its apparent perfection. (Or near perfection. According to David Remnick, who is certainly an authority on such things, it was the first issue of The New York Review of Books — also founded, incidentally, at a moment of paper shortage, during the 1963 printer’s strike — which was “surely the best first issue of any magazine ever.”) After all, it’s becoming more and more difficult to stand on the shaky notion that there is some strong dividing line between “the modern times” and “history.” And difficult to think that we should not be making comparisons.

So in the future (no matter how alarmingly it starts to resemble the past), look to this newsletter to encounter new works that hopefully, as Sartre bragged in his introduction to the first issue of Les Temps modernes, “do not… miss a beat on the times we live in,” that “inten[d] to influence the society we live in,” that “take sides.” You’ll read excerpts from new books like Noliwe Rooks’ groundbreaking study of inequality in public education, Cutting School (The New Press 2017); interviews with authors who’ve written remarkable new books that we’re eager to hear more about, like Elizabeth Flock’s study of love, The Heart Is a Shifting Sea (Harper, 2018); essays and discussions about the writer’s craft; and book reviews. Yes, book reviews. This, despite the fact that, in her interview with Longreads, the cultural critic Michelle Dean notes the hysterics to which Norman Mailer was driven by Mary McCarthy’s The Group when he reviewed it in 1963 (in those same venerable pages of the New York Review of Books, although not in the first issue — I checked — but rather the fourth one). Dean tells us that, reading Mailer’s review and others like it, she “starte[d] to have a sense of humor about the value of a review that comes out when a book is initially released.” She continues:

You start to realize how wildly out of sync [contemporary reviewers tend to be] with whatever later opinion of the book developed after people had the chance to digest it and think about it…. The reception adds an element of absurdity to the whole thing.

So there you have it. The modern times are wildly out of sync (more so than ever?) and absurdly wrong about new books; these days books are as ubiquitous as air and as precious as contraband; and we at Longreads have decided it’s the perfect time to start a books newsletter. Welcome and enjoy!

Dana Snitzky
Books Editor
@danasnitzky

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“We All Had the Same Acid Flashback at the Same Time”: The New American Cuisine

getty images + 123RF images, composite by Katie Kosma

Andrew Friedman | Excerpt adapted from Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: How Food Lovers, Free Spirits, Misfits and Wanderers Created a New American Profession | Ecco | February 2018 | 17 minutes (4,560 words)

* * *

He spent his last pennies on brown rice and vegetables, cooking them for strangers who shuttled him around. Just in time, people started feeding him.

You could begin this story in any number of places, so why not in the back of a dinged-up VW van parked on a Moroccan camping beach, a commune of tents and makeshift domiciles? It’s Christmas 1972. Inside the van is Bruce Marder, an American college dropout. He’s a Los Angelino, a hippy, and he looks the part: Vagabonding for six months has left him scrawny and dead broke. His jeans are stitched together, hanging on for dear life. Oh, and this being Christmas, somebody has gifted him some LSD, and he’s tripping.

The van belongs to a couple — French woman, Dutch man — who have taken him in. It boasts a curious feature: a built-in kitchen. It’s not much, just a set of burners and a drawer stocked with mustard and cornichons. But they make magic there. The couple has adventured as far as India, amassing recipes instead of Polaroids, sharing memories with new friends through food. To Marder, raised in the Eisenhower era on processed, industrialized grub, each dish is a revelation. When the lid comes off a tagine, he inhales the steam redolent of an exotic and unfamiliar herb: cilantro. The same with curry, also unknown to him before the van.

Like a lot of his contemporaries, Marder fled the United States. “People wanted to get away,” he says. Away from the Vietnam War. Away from home and the divorce epidemic. The greater world beckoned, the kaleidoscopic, tambourine-backed utopia promised by invading British rockers and spiritual sideshows like the Maharishi. The price of admission was cheap: For a few hundred bucks on a no-frills carrier such as Icelandic Airlines — nicknamed “the Hippie Airline” and “Hippie Express” — you could be strolling Piccadilly Circus or the Champs-Élysées, your life stuffed into a backpack, your Eurail Pass a ticket to ride.

Marder flew to London alone, with $800 and a leather jacket to his name, and improvised, crashing in parks and on any friendly sofa and — if he couldn’t score any of that — splurging on a hostel. He let himself go, smoking ungodly amounts of pot, growing his hair out to shoulder length. In crowds, he sensed kindred spirits, young creatures of the road, mostly from Spain and Finland. Few Americans.

Food, unexpectedly, dominated life overseas. Delicious, simple food that awakened his senses and imagination. Amsterdam brought him his first french fries with mayonnaise: an epiphany. The souks (markets) of Marrakech, with their food stalls and communal seating, haunt him. Within five months, he landed on that camping beach, in Agadir, still a wasteland after an earthquake twelve years prior. He lived on his wits: Back home, he’d become fluent in hippy cuisine; now he spent his last pennies on brown rice and vegetables, cooking them for strangers who shuttled him around. Just in time, people started feeding him, like the couple in whose van he was nesting. Food was as much a part of life on the beach as volleyball and marijuana. People cooked for each other, spinning the yarns behind the meals — where they’d picked them up and what they meant in their native habitats. Some campers developed specializations, like the tent that baked cakes over an open burner. Often meals were improvised: You’d go to town, buy a pail, fill it with a chicken, maybe some yogurt, or some vegetables and spices, and figure out what to do with it when you got back.

Marder might as well have been on another planet. “This was so un-American at that time,” he says.
Read more…

What Is New York City Without Its Historic Buildings?

AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

Real estate interests are buying up historic buildings around Union Square and forcing New York City’s psychotherapists to move all over Manhattan, or leave for other boroughs. This is the city’s new tech corridor. At The New York Review of Books, Jeremiah Moss eulogizes the passing of his office building, the 165-year-old St. Denis. The St. Denis once housed hundreds of psychotherapists. Moss is now one of two dozen remaining. The building is threatened with demolition, and the district’s larger shift threatens its very identity.

Moss chronicles his building’s long life, in order to show that when a city loses a building, it loses all the lives and eras that imprinted themselves on that building. As he puts it, “Imagine a future Manhattan without shrinks. What will happen to the psyche of that city?” The same goes for a future Manhattan without the physical embodiment of its history. “This is not just a building,” said one tenant. “It was a cohesive community.”

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, is advocating for a zoning to protect the area and its architectural jewels. “The Tech Hub is accelerating the changes,” he told me. What’s coming, he says, are more “high-end high-rise developments—condos, hotels, and tech office buildings.” And there is no limit to how high they can go, thanks to a current zoning that Berman says is “very generous to developers.”

Whatever protections may come, they will not save the St. Denis as it is. Like almost all of the nineteenth-century buildings in the neighborhood, it isn’t landmarked, and the area around it is not protected as a Historic District. Almost every building, from the Romanesque masterpiece at 841 Broadway to the Gothic gem at 808, can be smashed into dust. If that happens, people will talk about how “New York is always changing,” but this change will be different.

“This neighborhood has changed and adapted many times over the generations,” said Berman. “It was a fashionable district, then a honky-tonk entertainment area, and then a center for the art world. It has seen many lives, but most of those changes relied on the adaptive reuse of the existing buildings and moved at a moderate pace of change. The type of change we’re seeing now is unprecedented in the neighborhood’s history, and would erase all the layers that have accumulated over the generations.”

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When Newspapers Cover the Private Lives of Nazis

Adolf Hitler on the patio of the Berghof wearing civilian clothes around 1936. (Imagno/Getty Images)

By now you’ve likely read Richard Fausset’s troubling New York Times’ profile of a “white nationalist and fascist” that tries to normalize and sympathize with its subject. You’ve also likely read the countless follow-ups damning not only Fausset’s article but also the Times’ tepid and inept response.

The profile attempted let ordinary details speak for themselves, and it opens with a description of a wedding registry: “On their list was a muffin pan, a four-drawer dresser and a pineapple slicer…Weddings are hard enough to plan for when your fiancé is not an avowed white nationalist.” But these ordinary details don’t contain meaning, they merely surround it. As Josephine Livingstone of The New Republic explains,

writers who simply represent (rather than report on) extremists leave rhetorical spaces open for Nazi ideology to flood in. You cannot let a Nazi hang himself, because he is the one left holding the rhetorical rope.

Fausset’s article wasn’t the Times‘ first attempt to transform racism into a personality quirk. From 1933, when Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, to his 1939 invasion of Poland, there was a significant movement both in the United States and worldwide to portray Hitler as a misunderstood genius whose everyday likability could better connect with the working class German people and lift the country from its post-war depression.

Magazines and newspapers like the Times of London, The New York Times, The Saturday Review (“Hitler at Home”) and even the American Kennel Gazette (“Hitler Says His Dogs are Real Friends“)  were more interested in Hitler’s interior design sensibility, his gustatory preferences, and his love of German Shepherds. In 1936, Vogue toured Hitler’s chalet as part of a package showcasing the interior design of the homes of foreign rulers. (Federico Mussolini’s villa was also included). Their coverage of Hitler successfully peddled these themes of austerity, industriousness, and single-minded drive to the masses eager to believe in Germany’s rebirth.

In her 2015 book Hitler at Home, Despina Stratigakos, a professor of architecture and history at the University of Buffalo, catalogued numerous attempts to normalize the dictator, which started with the publication of The Hitler that Nobody Knows, a 1932 photo album that doubled as a behind the scenes peek into Hitler’s private life. With more than a hundred photographs taken by Hitler’s personal photographer, the book — which sold 400,000-plus copies by 1942 — meant to serve as a beacon proclaiming Hitler as the leader of the new Germany. But Stratigakos stresses the effect was a more insidious.

Until the turnabout in 1932, National Socialist publicists had diverted attention away from or suppressed stories about their leader’s private life. Yet even as they continued to fight reports that could harm Hitler’s reputation, the Nazis began to construct for public consumption their own version of the private individual. The image of “Hitler as private man” would now be reconfigured from a liability into an asset…Bildung and self-improvement, together with self-discipline, a strong work ethic, and modesty, formed the core moral values of the German middle classes. The components of the “good” Hitler were thus artfully assembled with an eye to courting this constituency of voters and persuading them to abandon their allegiance to [war hero and political opponent Paul von] Hindenburg.

Even the New York Times wasn’t exempt from indulging in Hitler’s spin. Laurel Leff, a professor of history at Northwestern University, published Buried by the Times in 2005, examining the ways the Times either ignored or inadequately covered the Holocaust, partially due to a distaste among the editors for Zionism. In October 1935, the Times magazine included a fawning profile of Hitler as an architect, featuring his remodel of a small Bavarian cottage and it’s transformation into the fortress of Berghof, which was shown completed on the cover of a May 1937 issue.

But perhaps the strangest Times article was, “Herr Hitler at Home in the Clouds.” Written by Hedwig Mauer Simpson, the wife of Stanley Simpson, a British journalist and Munich-based correspondent for the New York Times and Times of London (she was a frequent contributor to the The Associated Press and The Daily Mail)—he would be the first to report on the Dachau concentration camp, a piece that was ultimately turned down by the Times of London. A journalistic power couple within Munich, the Simpsons were among the first reporters to have early access to Hitler, and she was known for her ability to file several stories at once and under intense pressure.

In the article, Simpson rehashes worn troupes about Hitler’s vegetarianism, the long walks he enjoyed with his Alsatian dogs, and his love of the German people. The tick-tock of his daily routine is described down to the minute. Breakfast is at 9 am, lunch is served by “white uniformed butlers,” and dinner is promptly at 8 p.m., with the ladies of the Berghof in evening dress and Hitler in English tweeds. In a rare step back from the festivities, Simpson writes that the setting contains “all the elements of exacting bureaucracy and secret-police efficiency.”

The Times article was published on August 20, 1939, 11 days before Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Simpson would take one of the last peacetime trains out of Munich to London, and it appears she gave up writing following her departure from Germany. There is nothing in the article that suggests the chancellor, who “no makes no secret of being fond of chocolate,” has anything on his mind except the promise of an afternoon nap. Simpson clearly feels pampered and privileged to be in his presence. Whatever she felt on that last train out of Germany isn’t recorded here.

Longreads’ Catherine Cusick recently discussed why articles like Fausset’s and Simpson’s are dangerous: “Reporters and editors committed to covering this movement may not be able to feel their own hearts beating faster out of fear.”

Ordinary details can furnish a room, they can set a table, they can fill the time between hushed meetings of planned genocide or the quiet tapping at a computer, spreading hateful slurs to thousands of followers. If a writer can’t feel that fear, can’t show those feelings on a page, then all the reader is left with is Hitler at home.

New York City’s Housing Emergency

Row of boarded up houses in Harlem. Photo by Frank Vandenbergh. (Getty Images)

Despite having some of the most progressive housing laws in the country, New York City is in the throes of a humanitarian emergency: a man-made and large-scale “displacement of populations” from their homes.

In an essay for The New York Review of Books, Michael Greenberg breaks down four aspects of the city’s current housing crisis: homelessness, rent stabilization loopholes, Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan, and alternatives for reform. Nestled within every terrifying statistic are heartbreaking personal stories — landlords grinding down tenants financially and emotionally until they give in, families with children bought out of apartments they’ve lived in for decades after the rent “perfectly legally” doubles overnight. “I put up with these streets when you had to be half-crazy to go out to the bodega for a quart of milk after dark,” one renter says. “Why should we have to leave?”

An artist I know in South Williamsburg took flight after her landlord paid a homeless man to sleep outside her door, defecate in the hallway, invite friends in for drug-fueled parties, and taunt her as she entered and left the building. In East New York a mother tells of a landlord who, after claiming to smell gas in the hallway, gained entry to her apartment and then locked her out. In January, a couple with a three-month-old baby in Bushwick complained to the city because they had no heat. In response, the landlord threatened to alert the Administration for Children’s Services that they were living with a baby in an unheated apartment. Fearful of losing their child, they left, leaving the owner with what he wanted: a vacant unit.

Stories like these move through the city like an underground stream. I repeat them not because they are extraordinary, but because they are a fact of life for thousands of New Yorkers. For the most part they go unnoticed. The displaced slink away, crouched into their private misfortune, seeking whatever solution they can find. Many experience displacement as a personal failure; they dissolve to the fringes of the city, forced to travel two or three hours to earn a minimum wage, or out of the city altogether, to depressed regions of Long Island, New Jersey, or upstate New York. If they have roots in the Caribbean, as some residents of Central Brooklyn do, they may try to start again there. Or they may join the growing number of people who are officially homeless, dependent on the city for shelter.

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For the New York Times, a Bittersweet Ending for its Public Editor Role

Photo Credit: DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

The publisher of the New York Times announced in a staff memo Wednesday that the position of public editor — an ombudsperson of sorts, meant to be an advocate for the paper’s readers — is being eliminated. The current occupant of the role, Liz Spayd, was expected to remain until summer 2018, but her tenure will now end on Friday.

According to a screenshot tweeted by Times reporter Daniel Victor, the memo read:

The public editor position, created in the aftermath of a grave journalistic scandal, played a crucial part in rebuilding our readers’ trusts by acting as our in-house watchdog. We welcomed that criticism, even when it stung. But today, our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be. Our responsibility is to empower all of those watchdogs, and to listen to them, rather than to channel their voice through a single office.

NPR media reporter David Folkenflik noted on Twitter that the first public editor’s tenure also “coincided with growing outcry over failed WMD/Iraq coverage.” But as Huffington Post media reporter Michael Calderone noted, the “grave journalistic scandal” the publisher referred to was in 2003, when reporter Jayson Blair’s plagiarism and fabrications were revealed. In a lengthy story on their own investigation into Blair’s wrongdoings, Times reporters wrote that “something clearly broke down in the Times newsroom. It appears to have been communication — the very purpose of the newspaper itself.” Read more…