LARB Channels larb blog hoffman

Where I’m Calling From: Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014

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Today on the blog we revisit a piece from LARB Channel Avidly on the passing of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, in light of his latest and last starring movie role in A Most Wanted Man.

By Philip Maciak

Philip Seymour Hoffman was great on the telephone. If you start to think about it, it’s going to be hard to stop. He’s unbelievably, pitifully terrifying foisting phone sex on Jane Adams inHappiness; exploding with frustrated, syncopated rage at Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love; being coolly, almost elegantly threatening in Mission Impossible III; quietly preaching the gospel of Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. And in Magnolia, his Phil Parma picks up a preposterously large cellular phone to find his dying patient’s estranged son and realizes that his job, the work that he does for a living, is, to some extent or another, the work of compassion. This was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s work, too. And he did it better than any one else of his generation. Continue reading


Naked Bookseller Sarah Dessen

Notes to a Visiting Author: “Make This Thing Worth Your While!”

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Photo: Chapel Hill local and YA author Sarah Dessen at a reading at Flyleaf Books

Flyleaf Books is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and hosts hundreds of authors a yearWhen we asked marketing coordinator Linnie Green to write a piece for LARB, there was no hesitation on the topic.   “Rumor has it that if brick-and-mortar bookstores disappear,” she warns, “Amazon plans to institute a mandatory uniform of silly hats and uncomfortable tweed trousers.” How to avoid this fate?  Authors, make sure to team up with local bookstores. Continue reading


Reviews larb blog digs cover

To Die and Live in Studio City

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By Alex Harvey

Back in 1939, Aldous Huxley’s first Californian novel, After Many a Summer Dies The Swan, satirized the local obsession with and search for eternal life. Huxley created a protagonist, Jo Stoyte, a classic Hollywood magnate, who spends his fortune on a quest for personal immortality. Stoyte wants to arrest time; he hires a scientist, Dr. Obispo, to find a breakthrough in medicine that could ensure eternal life. Separate from his personal quest, Stoyte is also the owner of a mortuary. He is happy to profit from the deaths of others. His cemetery is successful, moreover, precisely because it presents itself as a kind of abolition of death. Pordage, the historian, reflects that death has been vanquished in the mortuary not by freeing the spirit from the moribund body, but by “preserving that body, injecting it with embalming fluids, painting over its pallor, twisting its grimaces into the likeness of a smile.” Stoyte’s dead bodies appear to be living even after death. In the ever physically optimistic California, Huxley prophesizes, “the crones of the future will be golden, curly and cherry lipped, neat-ankled and slender.” Continue reading


LARB Channels larb blog ernest and celestine

Bastille Day in Beverly Hills: The Revolution, Televised

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Photo: Ernest and Celestine, New Video Group, 2014

Today’s post was originally published by LARB Channel Marginalia. 

By Ted Scheinman

We were both light in the head from a five-mile hike that had verged on a vision quest — too many miles with too little water under a cloudless sky at Calabasas Peak. It therefore took me a moment to adjust when we found ourselves later that evening strolling through rings of bunting-balloons, a grand promenade of red, white, and blue arches that slipped into the distance, suggesting a Homeric archery contest produced by Marvel. Continue reading


The China Blog WWI Shanghai Memorial

China’s Forgotten World War I

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Photo: The dedication of the WWI memorial in Shanghai, in 1924.

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

World War I has always been primarily associated with Europe. That’s where the conflict began, where the major battles took place, and where the war had its most visible effect – the map of the continent was redrawn in its aftermath. But with the one hundredth anniversary of the war’s outbreak being commemorated this summer, we’re seeing more attention being paid to how non-European countries figured into “the war to end all wars.” Delhi-based writer Chandrahas Choudhury, for example, discusses India’s involvement in World War I in this Bloomberg View article, and The Guardian produced a documentary detailing the global nature of the conflict, though it’s still fairly Euro-centric. Continue reading


LARB Channels larb blog boom and bust

Boom and Bust and What Comes Next

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Photo: Howard Street and First Street by Leo vanMunching.

Today’s post was originally published on LARB Channel Boom, and is available on their site or from their Summer 2014 issue. 

“Boom and bust is our lot and we must follow the ancient advice. . .that Joseph gave to the Pharaoh: Put away your surplus during the years of great plenty so you will be ready for the lean years which are sure to follow.”

—Governor Jerry Brown, State of the State speech, January 2014

By Celia and Peter Wiley

The red circles look like bomb splats in an illustrated history of World War II. They begin on the eastern edge of the city near the Ferry Building and spread westward along Market Street. The graphic is a map of “Tech Hot Spots” printed in the San Francisco Business Times (21-27 February 2014). Each circle represents one of the fifty largest technology companies in the city, the size of each circle determined by the number of the company’s employees. The largest tech employer, according to SFBT, is Salesforce.com with 4,000 employees as of January 2014 (an increase of a thousand from one year earlier). Currently located in the historic Southern Pacific building at One Market Street, Salesforce has plans to occupy a twenty-seven-floor tower at 350 Mission across from the new Transbay Terminal in 2015. Continue reading


LARB Channels larb blog nyt

7 Most Truthy NYT Columnists

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Today’s post was originally published on Avidly, one of our LARB Channels. 

By Jedediah Purdy

AVIDLY’S NORTH CAROLINA CORRESPONDENT, JEDEDIAH PURDY, DISCOVERED THE MAGIC OF FACEBOOK HEADLINE EDITING. TRUTHINESS ENSUED.

Brooks trimmed Continue reading


The China Blog larb blog opium

The Opium War Comes to America (the Book, That is): A Q & A With Julia Lovell

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By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

This week’s China Blog interview is with Julia Lovell, a British specialist in Chinese studies who teaches in London, lives in Cambridge, and has made her mark in several distinctive arenas.  She’s a distinguished translator of fiction (e.g., Zhu Wen’s short stories); she writes lively reviews and short essays for leading newspapers and literary reviews (including this one); and she pens scholarly yet accessible books about China’s past.  I caught up with Julia by email this summer, after talking with her in Cambridge, to ask her some questions about her activities wearing the third of those hats.  More specifically, her book about the Opium War, which came out in other countries beginning in 2011 and which Isabel Hilton described as telling the tale of the events in question “lucidly and compellingly”, is due out next month in its first American edition.  Here below are her answers to my question about a book that was short listed for the Orwell Prize and won France’s Jan Michalski Prize for Literature in 2012. Continue reading


LARB Channels larb blog Wodehouse

Psmith’s Art of Cool: War and Zen in P.G. Wodehouse

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Photo: Cover of the Bietti edition of Leave it to Psmith (1936) – Image via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s post was originally published by Marginalia, one of our LARB Channels. 

By Ted Scheinman

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse committed his first act of civil disobedience in the nave at Saint Nicholas’ Church, Guildford within six months of being born. The author’s account has sufficient zip that no elaboration is necessary:

If you ask me to tell you frankly if I like the names Pelham Grenvillle, I must confess that I do not. I have my dark moods when they seem to me about as low as you can get … At the font I remember protesting vigorously when the clergyman uttered them, but he stuck to his point. “Be that as it may,” he said firmly, having waited for a lull, “I name thee Pelham Grenville.”

— preface to Something Fresh (1915)

However much of this anecdote we choose to believe (I choose to believe all of it), P.G. Wodehouse would spend the subsequent ninety years populating the literary universe with characters whose names were even sillier than his own: Galahad Threepwood; “Puffy” Benger; “Beefy” Bingham; the Earl of Worplesdon; Gussie Fink-Nottle; Pongo Twistleton; Major Brabazon-Plank; “Catsmeat” Potter-Pirbright. There is even a rumor, initiated by me, that Wodehouse rejected “Benedict Cumberbatch” for a lack of pep. Continue reading


Naked Bookseller Kris then and now (1)

Left Bank Books: A Literary Landmark Celebrates 45 Years in St. Louis

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Photo: Left Bank Books co-owner Kris Kleindienst stands in the bookstore’s doorway, then and now. 

By Meg Cook

Last weekend, Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri celebrated its 45th anniversary. The independent bookstore serves the “Gateway to the West” with their large collection of new and used books, and a mission to offer the community “an intelligent, culturally diverse selection of titles with a focus on politics, contemporary arts and literature, high-quality children’s books, African American interest, GLBT titles and more.” Left Bank has never moved from its location in the Central West End of St. Louis – a historic literary neighborhood that has been home to William Burroughs, T.S. Elliot, and Tennessee Williams, among others. Continue reading