Unlikely pairings seem to be a theme this week. Reporting a story under the influence of mind-altering drugs. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien going to see “Snow White” together. D.H. Lawrence given the pulp fiction treatment. But like the title of this week’s vinyl, “Damage and Joy,” their incongruity gives way to an “of course!” moment. (Come to think of it, writers who go by their initials is a sub-theme of the week.)
The Boston Globe’s Malcolm Gay and a story of love, and art, lost to the Holocaust. I’m not sure what haunts me more about this story: that the Nazis killed an artist who might have become a great composer, or that the woman who survived has loved him for the rest of her life, even through her marriages to other men. The latter reminds me of the Susan Minot book “Evening,” whose ending will stay with me forever. (Don’t cheat and watch the movie. It doesn’t come close.) Malcolm Gay talks to our contributor Katia Savchuk about discovering this untold story.
The soundtrack: “The Last Beat of My Heart,” by DeVotchka. When they make a movie of this story, this has to be the song they play as the final credits unfurl. It captures the drama of the story, and the emotions that stay until the last beat of her heart.
One Great Sentence
“He sat in an old chair near a particle board pinned with the yellowed obituaries of steelworker friends who died too early, including Robert Plater. 60. Cancer. A paper target practice figure hung next to the obituaries. Its heart had been blown out.”
Jeffrey Fleishman, “Here’s why Bruce Springsteen’s blue-collar heroes have made Donald Trump their rock star,” Los Angeles Times, October 27, 1016.
Read why we think it’s great.
Nathan Thornburgh talks mind-blowing drugs and Anthony Bourdain. I’ve long been a fan of the Roads & Kingdoms site, which offers an offbeat mix of travel-food-politics longform, with wonderful photography. In a “5(ish) Questions” with Davis Harper, co-founder Nathan Thornburgh offers this sage advice: “It’s funny how there’s a lot of high-level worry about this industry, but sometimes you can just answer it with the same kind of approach that every small or midsized business has to take: Don’t spend a dollar you don’t earn. That’s surprisingly effective as a way of staying in business.”
The soundtrack: “In the Kingdom,” by Mazzy Star. Sure, this isn’t “Fade Into You.” (But seriously, what is?) But these lyrics fit the site’s vibe: “I took that train into the city/You know the one that goes under the bridge/I thought I was listening/to this band play a song that changed me.”
What I’m reading online: Atlas Obscura (another favorite storytelling site) tells us about the time “frenemies” C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien went to the movies together and saw the Disney telling of “Snow White.” This is so sweet and prickly at the same time: They both hated the dwarves, and liked to snipe at Disney. Lewis wrote: “Dwarfs ought to be ugly of course, but not in that way. And the dwarfs’ jazz party was pretty bad. I suppose it never occurred to the poor boob that you could give them any other kind of music.”
The Quality of Life Report: 2017. This piece by Meghan Daum is almost all prickly and not particularly sweet, but it’s pretty brave, in a kind of self-centered bomb-throwing way. In this essay for literary journal VQR, she talks about how the world of political correctness has changed people since she wrote her 2003 novel that gives the essay its title. (Hint: She wasn’t crazy about PC then, and even less so now.) A fascinating, and no doubt divisive, read.
Also slightly prickly is the brilliant writer Elizabeth Strout, who won the Pulitzer for her novel “Olive Kitteridge.” (A must-read.) I was going to call her brilliant Maine writer Elizabeth Strout, but this profile in the New Yorker tells me she doesn’t like being called that. She has a … complicated relationship with her home state. As the story goes on to say, “And yet, when asked, ‘What’s your relationship with Maine?’ she replies, ‘That’s like asking me what’s my relationship with my own body. It’s just my DNA.’” A great profile, and not just for new arrivals in the state like me.
What’s on my bedside table: “Love Among the Haystacks,” by D.H. Lawrence. When I saw this paperback at the Brooklyn Flea last weekend, I was all set to buy it for the cover alone. But then I saw that D.H. Lawrence was the author. When I wrote my very earnest senior thesis on Lawrence back in college, who could have dreamed that one day I’d find a pulp paperback by him?
What’s on my turntable: Although I spend most of my time listening to music on Spotify, sometimes I want to hear the needle touching down on vinyl. This week’s vinyl: “Damage and Joy,” by the Jesus and Mary Chain. My kind sister gave me this album, the latest by the criminally underrated Scottish band. It’s one of those albums where you hear one song that should be a hit, then another, and another. The Reid brothers are pop geniuses. (Granted, sometimes the melodies are … familiar.)
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.