- A little dab of this and a little dab of that at the eye of the news shitstorm, a little droplet behind your chi — Rachel Monroe on the rise of the Essential Oils: “Oils are touted as something between a perfume and a potion, a substance that can keep you smelling nice while also providing physical and psychological benefits. They are often stocked on the same shelves as herbal remedies such as echinacea and St.-John’s-wort; big-box stores sell aromatherapy diffusers as an alternative to synthetic-smelling products like Febreze. The model Miranda Kerr used oils to help her get over her breakup with Orlando Bloom. The pop star Kesha tweeted that she starts off every day by sniffing essential oils: “They make me feel so peaceful.” Gwyneth Paltrow is a fan, unsurprisingly, but so are RuPaul, Alanis Morissette, and a trainer for the New York Knicks.”
- Snippets from Elizabeth Hardwick’s days at NYRB and at Columbia from Darryl Pinckney: “Elizabeth Hardwick wrote about what engaged her. Over the years, I would hear her say that she’d had to tell an editor she didn’t want to write about a certain book or author because she found she didn’t have anything interesting to say after all. […] it didn’t matter if she was writing for glossy publications with her eye on the word count, for a venerable quarterly with a thick spine, or for a newspaper book-review section not looking for controversy. Every assignment got Hardwick at full sail, all mind and style. Nothing is casual, she said. You are always up against the limits of yourself.”
- I have absolutely no idea whether Kazuo Ishiguro deserves the Nobel, but he is one of my favorite writers — he’s good, and you can find in any number of articles the array of things he’s good at; don’t ask me because I’m of those people who enjoyed Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled. But James Wood, who hated The Unconsoled, and who I also admire, is iffy about the whole business. Which puts me in a rather curious mood: Can it, dear god, be true that Wood is, or even worse, I am, wrong? Wood on the latest Swedish prize giveaway: “I hoped that the Albanian writer Ismail Kadare would win this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature—but, then, I hope that every year. Kazuo Ishiguro’s en-Nobelment is a surprise; I wonder how many readers had thought of him as a likely contender. […] [He has] supremely done [his] own kind of thing, calmly undeterred by literary fashion, the demands of the market, or the intermittent incomprehension of critics.”
- Perhaps the more Twittered author and critic disagreement today is one between Vanessa Grigoriadis and Michelle Goldberg, both of the Times. In the latest episode of the Longform Podcast, Grigoriadis, discusses her latest book, Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus, Goldberg’s consequential review, the subsequent Twitter warfare. If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, Jia Tolentino’s analysis of the contention is informative and concise.
- Bet twenty bucks this guy went to the game to leave it and to tweet about the leaving: “Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an N.F.L. game in his home state of Indiana on Sunday after nearly two dozen players on the visiting San Francisco 49ers knelt during the playing of the national anthem.”
- Speaking of gambling, what are the chances the Democratic Party will be properly up and running in time to win elections? The Times on the reformation of the Left: “It started as a scrappy grass-roots protest movement against President Trump, but now the so-called resistance is attracting six- and seven-figure checks from major liberal donors, posing an insurgent challenge to some of the left’s most venerable institutions — and the Democratic Party itself.“
You’re having a dinner party or you’re invited to one or you’re just at the right place at the right time and a perfunctory dinner extends into a leisurely span of sitting and talking or into a bass-heavy dancing and occasional nibbling: Whom — I think whom is right — would you want to be with? Yes, yes, family, friends, partners, etc. But fantasize a little. Which celebrity, writer, director, president? I’m sure everyone’s at one point imagined having dinner — and post-dinner activities that may lead to breakfast — with their middle school celebrity crushes. Even now, you only need a bit of prompt to fall into that rabbit hole of fantasy. Here are Novella’s choices.
It’s not a hard answer really — who would you want to spend a leisurely evening with, basked in moonlight and the flickering of a single candle on your beautifully decorated table? For me, it would be a literal dream, (and I’m saying this literally because I have had this dream many times) to spend an evening, sharing a meal with Frank Ocean. Ever since 2011, when Frank dropped his first mixtape, Nostalgia Ultra, I immediately became a super fan. Who wouldn’t want to know what goes on in his mind? The opportunity to spend a night, picking his brain — or listening to anything he would want to say — is something that I wouldn’t be able to pass up on. Frank’s lyrics are beautifully written, and combined with the soft velvet of his voice, he creates an aura of mystery that one can’t help wanting to unravel.
Adina Heisler, Contributor
Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ve become a cable news junkie. I used to be totally uninterested in it (back in the more innocent time of two years ago), but that was before we entered the upside-down of politics and “covfefe”. I’ll be the first to admit they can get a little sensational and sometimes spend more time debating tweets or obvious facts, but when you cut out the noise and the partisan-ness, you can find some actual journalism. So I’d invite Jake Tapper (I’m just a tiny bit obsessed with him), Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, Lester Holt, and Anderson Cooper. I’d probably be a little too intimidated to say much, but honestly I’d be happy enough just to listen to the five of them talk. If I did ever pluck up the courage to talk to them, I’d probably ask if they could give me some advice or encouragement to me, since I’m hoping to be a journalist some day.
Drew Brown, Editor-in Chief
Besides great food, dinner conversation is key, so having the right mix of people at a dinner party can make or break your event. I have been in love with Grace Jones since she first asked us to pull up to her bumper. After reading her book I’ll never write my Memoirs, my love for Grace Jones grew even more. Not only would she have plenty of stories to tell, but I might be able to convince her to sing after a few bottles of wine.
I would also add Diane von Furstenberg, who I think is the epitome of style and grace. Diane would also have great stories about her life, fashion, and, of course, Studio 54. Both Titus Burgess and Andre Leon Tally would have all of us in stitches, and I would love to pick the brain of Grace Coddington, whom I adore.
Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor
It has been a long-standing dream of mine to host a dinner party with famous folks in attendance, so you can bet I’ve given this some thought before. To start with, I’d need to invite my ladies Georgia O’Keefe and Frida Kahlo. Both were fantastically talented artists and fiercely independent women. I would love the opportunity just to hear them speak and share ideas. Obviously I would need to invite Jane Birkin simply because she’s everything and I’ve got a feeling she would know which wine to bring. There’s no way I wouldn’t invite Trevor Noah who 1) I love and 2) is absolutely brilliant. My final, and very coveted, invitation would probably have to go to Sade Adu, an unbelievably beautiful and talented woman. Would this be the wildest dinner party? Probably not, but I think some fascinating conversations could come out of it.
Hoon, Managing Editor
Party of five, Robert B. Silvers, Elizabeth Hardwick, Lore Segal, Grace Paley, and yours truly, at hardwood tables and comfortable booth kind of a bistro, well lit enough to read the menu but dim enough to be unselfconscious. Talk about politics and books with plates of porterhouse, salad, and cheese going cold and limp late into the night. Talk about food. Talk about sex and New Jersey. Talk about gentrification. Talk about newspapers. Talk about music and movies. Talk about Hollywood. Grace (Paley) might want to make posters. I might need Kleenex from tears. Elizabeth (Hardwick) might want another glass of wine. Robert (B. Silvers) might need a cigarette, might want to go out on a boat. Lore (Segal) might take notes. Talk about traveling. Talk shit about neighbors. Talk shit about writers. Talk shit about readers. The fun stuff. That’d be nice, getting to befriend some of my favorite writers and editors, all of them, except Lore (thank God), dead. They would still have things to say.
Claire Ball, Contributor
In all honesty, I have never thought about who I would invite to my dream dinner party before, so trying to make a decision and think about this question was difficult for me. My invitees are fairly predictable, especially if you know me, and not very under the radar. Let’s just say my dinner party would very much be a ridiculous A-list affair. To start, I think I would absolutely have to invite my number one crushes, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jake Gyllenhaal. I think Jennifer and Jake would both be super cool, down to earth people to have at a dinner party. I think they’re great actors. I also find Jennifer hilarious because we share the same sense of humour. She is basically my spirit animal.
I would also invite Chelsea Handler because I love how brash and honest she is about everything she talks about, and Ellen Degeneres (I don’t feel the need to explain why). I am also a not-so-low-key Harry Styles fan so I would obviously have to throw him an invite and, ideally, the cast of Game of Thrones would be fun.
Chris Zaghi, Fashion Editor
Just try to imagine this scenario with me: A majestic set of wrought iron gates open up to a winding gravel road; the driveway is lined with nothing but cherry blossom trees; the wind blows them past your car as you drive up to a gorgeous manor tucked away amidst giant oaks and elms; the staircase leading up to the entrance seems to get longer and higher as you walk up; the doors lead to a gilded hallway covered in portraits of royalty; you come to a set of large mirrored doors and the doors swing open and reveal a beautiful room, gold leafing on the walls, pastel pinks and blues are woven throughout, Baccarat crystal chandeliers bathe it in light; as your eyes focus, you notice a beautiful round antique mirror table with 6 people sitting around it; there are cakes and pastries scattered across its surface, champagne bottles pop in a continuous rhythm; the riotous laughing and cheering is almost contagious, but you dare not interrupt the party you’ve just stumbled into. You focus on the guests. You quickly notice me, proposing a toast to my 5 extraordinary guests. Beside me, Marie Antoinette yells “Let us eat cake!” as she stuffs a kiwi tart in her mouth. Across from her, Naomi Campbell calmly says “I can tell you’ve had your fair share already.” And the table bursts into laughter. Beside her, Isabella Blow sends a text message to her pal McQueen — “you‘re missing out darling!” while Leigh Bowery does his best impression of Sasha Velour’s “art-drag” shtick. The room once again breaks into laughter, but something catches the Divine David‘s eye. He tilts his head in confusion and says “Well, that’s not very lovely…” We all turn to look at you, standing there, silently watching this marvelous kiki unfold. Congratulations. You’ve just ruined our night.
In her 1985 interview with the Paris Review, Elizabeth Hardwick said, “In general I’d rather talk about other people. Gossip, or as we gossips like to say, character analysis.” Gossip and analyze character she does in her 1974 book of essays, Seduction and Betrayal with acuity, humor, and intellect one often does not find in everyday gossip. As Joan Didion points out in her introduction to the NYRB 2001 reprint of the essays, Hardwick seems to have seen no distinction between ‘the real and the literary’ and understood “that the women we invent have changed the course of our lives as surely as the women we are.” Hardwick’s essays on the Brontë Sisters, Sylvia Plath, or Zelda Fitzgerald are as much analysis of their works as explorations of writing as an act of transgression and actualization; they are, it becomes clear, characters in a broader history of women in literature as female characters in literature — Nora and Hedda of Ibsen, for instance — are reflections of women in history.
Hardwick writes of of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, “We may very well predict that [Nora] will soon be laughing and chattering again and eating her macaroons in peace, telling her friends – she is going back to her hometown — what a stick Helmer turned out to be. Otherwise her freedom is worth nothing.” She gives us not only an analysis of Nora as a character on stage, but what Nora is as a dramatized but recognizable extension of reality. Hardwick continues: “Nora’s liberation is not a transformation, but an acknowledgment of error, of having married the man. Her real problem is money — at the beginning and at the end. What will she live on? What kind of work will she do? Will she get her children back? Will she get a new husband? When the curtain goes down it is only the end of Volume One.” Through Hardwick, our concerns as readers of Ibsen are extended beyond the drama.
I can’t quite imagine, when thinking of a cliché image of gossips, Elizabeth Hardwick’s acutely original voice discussing suicide as performance in Plath’s poems; for this, I have in mind the Greek chorus. But I like to imagine how natural and, to a degree, fun it must have been for her to discuss such matters over, say, a light lunch in her Upper West Side apartment. Perhaps the facts that she was, with Robert Lowell and the late Bob Silvers, one of the founders of the esteemed New York Review of Books, was friends with Mary McCarthy, and was acquainted with Billie Holiday influence the way I read and review her essays.
But it is less my admiration for the author of Sleepless Nights and more for the quick and revealing sentences that carry her judgments and ideas — such as, “[Plath’s] fate and her themes are hardly separate and both are singularly terrible” — that make the essays stand out as examples of creative, original, and truly revelatory literary criticism.
Hardwick once wrote in her famous 1959 essay, “The Decline of Book Reviewing”, published in Harper’s, “The flat praise and the faint dissension, the minimal style and the light little article, the absence of involvement, passion, character, eccentricity — the lack, at last, of the literary tone itself — have made the New York Times into a provincial literary journal, longer and thicker, but not much different in the end from all those small-town Sunday ‘Book Pages.'” In Seduction and Betrayal, it’s easy to see what Hardwick meant by involvement, passion, character, and eccentricity; she has them all and more to offer her readers. Her scathing review of the Times is humorous but also frightening to one such as myself daring to add on to the conversation. All reviewers — or at least all that one should care to read — should fear adding on to ‘a puddle of treacle’ faced with Hardwick’s work. But good thing she also showed us what to aim for.