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Ramona at Forty: From Avidly

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(Editor’s Note: This piece was originally posted on Avidly, one of our LARB Channels, and was featured on USA Today this morning. What they said: “If you read Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books as a kid like I did, you’ll want to read this piece.” We’ve reproduced it in full below; read it here, or read it on Avidly.)

By Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

I always knew Beverly Cleary was a great writer. I read every single one of her books growing up — even the lesser-discussed ones like Otis Spofford and Ellen Tebbits with all the angst over something called “long underwear” that was mystifying to me as a kid in the 80s. I read most of them multiple times, and certain, VERY IMPORTANT aspects of those books have stuck with me for life. I still want to make Fong Quock’s rice “so that each grain was separate and fluffy and there was a crisp brown crust on the bottom of the kettle,” I still want to know how Emily’s crust rose through her custard pie for the church potluck, and I still really, really want to squeeze an entire tube of toothpaste into the bathroom sink.

So, yeah, Beverly Cleary: great writer, as certified by 10-year-old me. However, I didn’t realize just how great a writer she was until I reread her books as an adult. Or, more specifically, as a parent. Continue reading


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Graffiti in Beijing

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By Cutler Dozier

A skinny 21-year-old Beijinger with shoulder length hair, wearing baggy jeans and a worn t-shirt, stares through his paint-speckled glasses, transfixed by the stack of multicolored graffiti cans arranged in front of him. He goes by the name WEK, and is deciding what colors he will use to paint his name on various walls and shop fronts around the city. He is part of a booming graffiti scene in Beijing and is possibly the most prolific graffiti writer in mainland China today. Continue reading


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Marginalia Radio Interviews Elizabeth Johnson

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Marginalia’s interview with Elizabeth Johnson, part of their ongoing series of radio-style interviews, was published today. Elizabeth Johnson is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University, and author of many bestselling books, including Quest for the Living God. Her new book is Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love. The book’s title comes from chapter 12 of Job: “Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea, will declare to you [that they come from the hand of God.]“

 


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Dear Television Weekly Roundup: May 31 – June 7

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By Jacob Surpin

It’s summer, and times are changing here at the LARB Blog. In addition to the LARB Channels features, today’s post is the first in our weekly roundups of the essays written by the lovely folks of Dear Television. The essays are originally posted on the LARB Main Site (and can usually be found in the “Most Viewed This Week” section), and we’ll be cataloging them here each week for convenience. This week brought essays on Game of ThronesLouie, and Mad Men.

Dear Television, May 31 – June 7

  • Sarah Mesle on the latest Game of Thrones episode, “The Mountain and the Viper.” Mesle manages both to recap the episode as only a true fan can, and also advance a painfully clever argument about names, and how “private names intersect with public categories — the categories a culture makes to create its sense of what’s real and normal.”
  • Lili Loufbourow on the last two episodes of Louie, “Elevator, Part 6″ and “Pamela, Part 1.” A careful exploration, via longform essay, of Louie’s agency, his redeeming qualities (or lack thereof), and his instances of misogyny – and how they intersect.
  • And because we didn’t do a roundup last week, but this essay is too good to miss: Phillip Maciak on the latest Mad Men episode, “Waterloo.” From the second paragraph: “So Ida Blankenship wasn’t an astronaut. But neither is Roger Sterling, neither is Don Draper, and, most pointedly, neither is Bert Cooper. Burgerchef isn’t a family table, a Carousel isn’t a time machine, and the little boy who watches TV in your living room isn’t your son.”

LARB Channels Kevin Hector, Theology Without Metaphysics: God, Language, and the Spirit of Recognition, Cambridge University Press, 2011, 302pp., $31.99

To Speak Truly About God: A Review From Marginalia

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The beginning of the essay over on Marginalia, by Rowan Williams:

When we say that something is true or adequate, what are we claiming?

We might be implying that we have captured the essence of what we are talking about, that we are representing exhaustively or isomorphically the structure of the object. Increasingly, though, philosophical discourse has rendered such a claim problematic, and in connection with language about God it is especially difficult: such claims can be morally objectionable as well as philosophically over-ambitious. Continue reading


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Satire, Cyberspace and the 25th Anniversary of the June 4th Massacre

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I learned several weeks ago that China Digital Times was about to publish Crazy Crab’s Chinese Dream in Cartoons, an e-book featuring material by a satirist whose work I had enjoyed seeing displayed on their site. When I got my advance copy, I began looking through it eagerly, expecting to be amused or moved by cartoons that I hadn’t seen before as well as appreciating the chance to look at some old favorites again. I wasn’t disappointed. And an added plus was making my way through the accompanying explanatory material provided by Sophie Beach, a central figure at CDT, on topics ranging from the derivation of the cartoonist’s name to the symbolism of some of the harder to parse panels.

It was nice to learn as well that the proceeds from sales of the e-book, which was published on May 12, were to be split between the cartoonist and CDT. It’s a site worthy of support, as it’s one of the key online ventures that I rely on—as do many others interested in Chinese current affairs—to keep up to speed on how China is being covered by the media and on how the Party tries to scrub the web clean of the many things it fears or simply dislikes. Continue reading


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Words, Words, Words: Part of Avidly’s Series on Public Intellectualism

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Avidly is running a selection of pieces on public intellectualism and the public commons this week. Today they published the first: an essay by Paul Erickson that raises a number of worthy questions, from the role of the public intellectual, to the preferred mediums for said intellectual, and finally what constitutes acceptable content for a public intellectual to weigh in on. An excerpt from the essay is below.  Continue reading


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A Quantitative Analysis of California in World Literature, from Boom

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Mentions of California in world literature, 1800-2009.

David L. Ulin writes: California owes its name to the written word. The source is the fictional Queen Califia, whose story comes from the Spanish writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo’s 1510 romance The Adventures of Esplandián. “Know ye,” Rodrí­guez de Montalvo wrote, “that at the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California, very close to that part of the Terrestrial Paradise, which was inhabited by black women without a single man among them, and they lived in the manner of Amazons. They were robust of body with strong passionate hearts and great virtue. The island itself is one of the wildest in the world on account of the bold and craggy rocks.” Is it any wonder, then, that when Diego de Becerra and Fortún Ximénez landed at the southern tip of Baja in 1533, they chose to name the place the Island of California, as if they had discovered their own heaven on earth?

I think about the Island of California when I look at Joshua Comer’s data analysis graph. His task — to track the word “California” (and related phrases) through millions of books published across nine languages and several centuries — appears simple enough, but what it yields is something else again. To me, it looks like a voiceprint, or a series of overlapping voiceprints, the residue of a conversation we’ve been having without ever really calculating it, from continent to continent and year to year. It may start with Rodrí­guez de Montalvo, but it’s the proliferation that’s important. . . or, better yet, the cacophony.

Cacophony? Yes, the cacophony of California, which is itself made up of voiceprints, languages interrupting one another, each reading (and writing and speaking) the place through its own filter, its own point-of-view. Such an idea comes embedded in the very heart of Comer’s research, which seems to address the state as both myth and landscape, manifest and historical destiny, demographic and promised land. I’m not even going to try to summarize his findings; to be honest, I don’t think I could do them justice, and anyway, I’m less interested in the data than in the effect. Still, for all that his graphs reveal the fate of references to the state and some of its most essential tropes (the “California dream,” for instance, or “Californian gold”), what they also do is suggest that this is just the beginning of the story, that we are looking at the expression of California as idea.

Read the full piece, and look at Comer’s graphs, here.

(Have you heard? Boom: A Journal of California has joined LARB’s new Channels Project. The LARB Channels — which include the websites AvidlyMarginalia along with Boom — are a community of independent online magazines specializing in literary criticism, politics, science and culture, supported by the Los Angeles Review of Books.)


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Translating Poetry: An Essay from Marginalia

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(With today’s post, the LARB Blog continues featuring content from its new Channels Project. The LARB Channels — which include the websites AvidlyMarginalia and Boom — are a community of independent online magazines specializing in literary criticism, politics, science and culture, supported by the Los Angeles Review of Books. Today’s post comes from Marginalia, an international, open access review of literature and culture in the nexus of history, theology, and religion.)

Last week, Marginalia published this essay on the risks and rewards of translating poetry – we think it deserves a read. The essay, written by Rachel Tzvia Back, records the challenges of translating Tuvia Ruebner from Hebrew to English. Translating Ruebner is particularly compelling, Back notes, because of “the fact that Ruebner’s poetry and poetic sensibility occupied from the very beginning a place of being ‘always already in translation,’ a place of in-betweenness, doubleness and fragmentation.” Continue reading


LARB Channels Portrait of Richard Rodriguez by Timothy Archibald.

California Soul: Boom Interviews Richard Rodriguez

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(With today’s post from Boom, the LARB Blog continues featuring content from its new Channels Project. The LARB Channels — which include the websites AvidlyMarginalia and Boom — are a community of independent online magazines specializing in literary criticism, politics, science, arts and culture, supported by the Los Angeles Review of Books.)

Recently, Boom interviewed Richard Rodriguez. They called the interview “California Soul,” and it’s certainly full of that: “It’s hard to read Richard Rodriguez’s essays and books without feeling that there is something deeply Californian about them. Every one of his books — Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard RodriguezDays of Obligation: Arguments with My Mexican FatherBrown: The Last Discovery of America, and Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography — takes place, at least in part, in California. Rodriguez has lived in California nearly all of his life. So what is it that now makes him say he once was but is no longer a California writer? There is something world-weary in the statement. Rodriguez has seen too much of the world in California, and perhaps too much of California in the world. At his writing table in his apartment in San Francisco, Rodriguez spoke with Boom about California’s soul, why he is no longer a California writer, what’s the matter with his hometown, San Francisco, these days, and love.” The beginning of the interview, where Rodriguez muses about his time in Los Angeles as a younger man, is below. 

Continue reading