Is the manuscript tucked away somewhere? Was it destroyed? Or are the few known chapters all that ever existed? A deep dive into one of literature’s most enduring riddles.
Forty years after his breakout story, “Johnny Mnemonic,” the father of cyberpunk remains one of the best writers around…
WHEN MY FRIEND Charles McNair and I met the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges in New Orleans, he was 82 years old. As aspiring novelists, we were drunk on the work of the Latin American magic realists. Borges’s cryptic, compressed tales such as “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” and “The Garden of Forking Paths” were the olives in our Latin martini.
Born in 1899, blinded in the 1950s by a congenital disease, Borges had come from Buenos Aires to lecture at Tulane University on aesthetics and the notion of meaning. The place he most wanted us to take him was Preservation Hall, the small stuffy room just off Bourbon Street where the last remnants of old-style Dixieland are still performed. He stood in the back letting the “waves and waves of jazz” roll over him.
On the morning we met him in 1982 in his suite at the Fairmont Hotel, he was attended by Maria Kodama, the lovely young Japanese Argentine factotum who later became his second wife. (When he died in 1986, polite Argentina was outraged that he left his entire estate to her.)
A new study shows that the more people read any kind of fiction the better their language skills are likely to be. Researchers found that people who enjoyed reading fiction for leisure and who identified as a reader scored higher on language tests, whereas those who read to access specific information scored more poorly on the same tests.
Before we get to the books you’re recommending, is assassination ever politically effective and, if it is, are there particular conditions under which it works?
Well, I believe in contingency, and so I think it often has unforeseen consequences. Take the classic assassination of Julius Caesar; the people who killed him were middle aged senators who thought he was going to live a long time—he was only 56—and arrogate more and more power to himself. They saw themselves as acting to defend a venerable republic of several 100 years’ standing. In fact what they did was plunge the Republic into an extremely vicious civil war, which then spread out beyond the Republic into the Empire, leading to the rise of Octavian Caesar, Julius Caesar’s adopted son. After a long hiatus in which he appeared not to want to be an emperor, he acquired all the powers of an emperor and eliminated the assassins who hadn’t committed suicide. It took 13 years, but he tracked the last one down, a poet, and had him killed in Athens. At the end of it all you had a system of imperial rule, and a ruling dynasty. That goes on for several 100 more years in the Western Empire and right down to 1453 in the case of the Eastern Empire. So the assassination had enormous ramifications.
One afternoon while browsing in the English bookstore, located midway between two of the offices where he worked for a few hours nearly every day, Fernando Pessoa spotted a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The scandal generated by its partial publication in The Little Review, between 1918 and 1920, may not have reached Pessoa’s attention, but by 1933 he knew all about its celebrity status as a banned book, judged obscene and still unavailable in the United Kingdom and the United States. The copy he saw—and purchased—was of the two-volume Odyssey Edition, published in December 1932, in Germany. Both volumes have come down to us in pristine condition, without so much as a fleeting pencil mark. The only evidence that Pessoa actually read Ulysses, or enough of it to know that he wanted to read no more, is the laconic commentary he scribbled, in Portuguese, on a scrap of paper:
The art of James Joyce, like that of Mallarmé, is art preoccupied with method, with how it is made. Even the sensuality of Ulysses is a symptom of intermediation. It is oneiric delirium—the kind treated by psychiatrists—presented as an end in itself.
A literature on the brink of dawn.
When the ever elusive Fernando Pessoa died in Lisbon, in the fall of 1935, few people in Portugal realized what a great writer they had lost. None of them had any idea what the world was going to gain: one of the richest and strangest bodies of literature produced in the twentieth century. Although Pessoa lived to write and aspired, like poets from Ovid to Walt Whitman, to literary immortality, he kept his ambitions in the closet, along with the larger part of his literary universe. He had published only one book of his Portuguese poetry, Mensagem (Message), with forty-four poems, in 1934. It won a dubious prize from António Salazar’s autocratic regime, for poetic works denoting “a lofty sense of nationalist exaltation,” and dominated his literary résumé at the time of his death.
Late last spring, a strange, beguiling novel began arriving, in installments, in the mail. Who had written it?
We are engaged in a battle for the classics. There is a faction arguing that classics are at the root of the racial distress of our country. But let me reveal the truth of what it has been like growing up as a Christian Black woman in the United States. I can provide a new perspective on the role classics have played in my life and the life of my ancestors. Beyond fighting to show their general relevance to society, my goal is to show that this thinking, that classics are at the bottom of our racial crises, is based on a fallacy. It is the people who have misused the classics that are racist, not classics themselves (the Bible included). It is my hope that I can show others how the classics have been used as a tool for liberation for African Americans. To accomplish this, I thought the most credible testimony would be my own. Why is this necessary? In the introduction of his book The Battle of the Classics, Eric Adler says classicists must “muster disparate sorts of arguments to stave off the demise of their disciplines. Different circumstances – and different audiences – will require the use of different tactics.” This resonates with me; my testimony is that tactic. Through examples in my life and the examples of my ancestors, I will show how classics are a major part of the African American narrative and to cancel them, we run the risk of canceling an integral part of the African American story.
On Facebook, I recently came across a book that I never expected to see for sale outside of an auction or a fancy rare-book dealer. The book in question was one of the four volumes of the first edition of The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, printed in 1689. The book’s author, Janez Vajkard (German spelling: Johann Weikhart) Valvasor, used to gaze at Slovenians from the 20-tolar banknote; nowadays we have the euro, but a bunch of places across Slovenia, ranging from libraries to restaurants and mountain cabins, continue to carry his name. It makes sense: Glory is an unprecedented magnum opus that summarized just about everything there was to know about the Slovenian heartland province of Carniola. A full set of the recent Slovenian translation will cost you several thousand euros, as will a well-preserved set of the 19th-century reprint. However, the seller of this first-edition volume admitted quite candidly that he wasn’t sure if his book was worth anything at all.
Where’s the catch? It’s true that the binding was almost gone, but that’s what we have bookbinders for. Even a rebound copy of a rare book can still be worth a lot of money. The real problem was that the book was extremely incomplete. Not only were all the fold-out panoramas and maps missing from it, but a bunch of pages with text were gone as well, so that you couldn’t even really call it a reading copy anymore. The title page was present, and you could still use the book to boast that you have a Valvasor first edition at home. However, for most bibliophiles, having such a miserable gutted volume on the shelf would simply be…sad.
This article aims to cover one simple thing: What are the must-read psychology books that someone curious about understanding how the human psyche works should check.
As a passionate reader, online librarian, a person who summarized over 100 books, and also researcher. I was curious, myself, what books are considered must-reads on human psychology. That’s why I took a wild ride in the online world to compile this list of the best psychology books.
So, without further ado, here is a list of must-read psychology books I consider vital for anyone looking to become an expert on how we are designed to operate:
“I had dropped more or less by chance into the only community of any size in Western Europe where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites,” wrote George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia, his memoir of the Spanish Civil War. “The ordinary class-division of society had disappeared.”
Spain, rather than the Wigan Pier journey, was, I think, the true beginning of Orwell’s socialism, the socialism he would, some ten years later, say had been the making of him as a writer, raising his game above humbug and purple prose. Whereas in The Road to Wigan Pier he had disparaged socialism, even as he warmed to it, as a catch-all for cranks and vegetarians, sandal-wearers, nudists and plump summer schoolers in their ill-fitting shorts, the anarchic commonwealth he experienced in Barcelona transfixed him. “I have seen wonderful things,” he gushed to Cyril Connolly, “and at last really believe in Socialism, which I never did before.”
I began this essay because I wanted to explore how and why the young adult book publishing industry in the United States now seems to be primarily targeting adult readers, rather than teens. I wanted to examine what that shift means for actual teenagers—how the segment of the publishing industry created to meet their needs and tell their stories had begun to fail them.
But as I began to research and draft it and continued to think about the shift and its ramifications, the more I kept circling around the reasons behind the shift, how we got here and why. And at some point, I realized I wasn’t writing an essay about the shift at all. I was writing about the young adult publishing industry and the communities that have formed around it: how we have conversations, and how we understand young adult books and who they’re for, and who we invite into various spaces, and how we treat them while they’re there and, above all, how the world in which this industry and its communities exist has been radically altered over the past two decades.
This essay is long. You might not agree with it. As fandom used to say: Your mileage may vary.
“[W]hat is the use of a book”, asks Alice in the opening scene to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “without pictures or conversations?” This question from Alice is at once a critique of her sister’s pictureless tome, and a paving the way for the delight of words and images to follow. Indeed, John Tenniel’s famous illustrations — for both the first edition of Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass — have become integral to how we experience the story, in both books and film. Tenniel, however, was not the first to illustrate the tale. That honor belongs to Carroll himself, whose original manuscript of the story (then titled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”) is littered with thirty-seven of his own sepia-ink drawings. It seems this entwining of word and image — so important to the published version — was there from the beginning.
In the early 1930s, James Joyce’s Ulysses was the most notorious banned book in the United States. Using a stream-of-consciousness style to describe twenty-four hours in the life of a lower-middle class Dubliner named Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s classic, published in 1922, was brilliant, dense, convoluted, complex, and legally obscene. Ulysses was the “only volume of literary importance still under a ban” in the country, Morris Ernst declared. He set out to “liberate” it, and the celebrated case, resolved by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1934, was not only a landmark in the law of literary censorship but also a turning point in Ernst’s career.
How should one narrate the life of a great writer? Joseph Frank’s five-volume biography of Dostoevsky, now supplemented by his Lectures on Dostoevsky, revivified the form by situating the novelist within the ideological struggles of his day. The many fascinating primary sources about Dostoevsky’s life inspired Thomas Marullo to experiment with a new kind of biography in his brilliant Fyodor Dostoevsky: A Life in Letters, Memoirs, and Criticism. (A third volume is still to come.) The novelist Alex Christofi was similarly inspired, and while his innovative biography, Dostoevsky in Love, occasionally intrigues, it ultimately offers little that’s new. All three recognize the difficulty of distinguishing Dostoevsky’s actual life from the legends about him.
The Western tradition has never been more appealingly portrayed than in Rembrandt’s 1653 painting “Aristotle with a Bust of Homer.” Whether you stand in front of it at the Metropolitan Museum or look at it online, the painting turns you into a link in a chain that goes back three thousand years. Here you are in the twenty-first century, contemplating a painting made in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, which portrays a philosopher who lived in Athens in the fourth century B.C., looking at a poet thought to have lived in the eighth century B.C. Tradition abolishes time, making us all contemporaries.
Yet the painting hints that Homer doesn’t quite belong in the same dimension of reality occupied by you, Aristotle, and Rembrandt. Aristotle is portrayed realistically in the dress of Rembrandt’s time—sumptuous white shirt, simple black apron, and broad-brimmed hat. (It wasn’t until the twentieth century that art historians determined that the figure was Aristotle; earlier identifications included a contemporary of Rembrandt’s, the writer Pieter Cornelisz Hooft.) In other words, Aristotle is a human being like us, albeit an extraordinary one. Homer, however, is a white marble bust—a work of art within a work of art.