Prufrock is off this week and will return on August 8.

Seinfeld on 9/11:

JERRY: Kramer, he just crashed a plane into the World Trade Center! He slit the pilots' throats with a box-cutter! KRAMER: Not "a" box-cutter – MY box-cutter. He borrowed it last week!


Break In Case Of Emergency by Jessica Winter, a satirical novel that may be too real.

"Winter depicts a familiar scene: the private elevator, the deafening din, the gross smell of too much free cheese. Even among the party's 'gnarled gibberish waves of disorienting sound,' rich, graceful Meg 'somehow located a sound frequency at which she could pitch her voice and be heard without shouting.' Jim is possessed of no such skill, and he embarrasses Jen by conspicuously shouting (and binge-eating cheese). It's a small touch, but like Jen's revelation, it's achingly real. Some people—rich people, usually—do seem to have an innate talent for making themselves heard, while the rest of us have to embarrass ourselves by shouting.

"More than a handful of recent novels, movies, and TV shows have succeeded in turning the low-hanging fruit of the contemporary office's mockable folkways into delicious fruit salad. Winter's book stands out, though, by making the stakes of Jen's struggle to emerge triumphant from her stint at LIft so viscerally high. There's often a degree of physical pain involved: Jen spends a lot of the second half of the book dry-heaving or being second-degree-sunburned on a careening ship during an island boondoggle of Karina's (long story). Whether she'll attain artistic success and quit her job isn't a major source of tension; those portraits in the first act will obviously pay off in the third. Whether Jen and Jim's Project will succeed, though—whether Jen can Have It All, and whether or not that would even constitute a happy ending—is a more nuanced problem, and Winter's treatment of it elevates this book from an exercise in technical proficiency to something more bitter and toothy, something more like art."


Cynthia Ozick, the essential critic.

"At the heart of this collection, Ozick does not merely praise literary criticism; she shows us how it's done. She writes here with brainy brio on why Saul Bellow's idiom 'escapes eclipse,' on the sovereign art of Bernard Malamud's 'feelingful moral sensibility,' on W. H. Auden as 'a poet—no, the poet—of unembarrassed intellect,' and on the 'commanding conundrums' of Franz Kafka's abbreviated life, which both transcended and did not transcend 'Prague's roiling German-Czech-Jewish brew.' In each case, Ozick's strengths as a consummate stylist are on full display, above all in the alternations of seriousness and levity. And in each case, the fulcrum of her essays—and of her answer to the question 'why read'—is her wonderment at how these writers educate and enlarge our sympathies."


Brian Wilson and Mike Love have published dueling memoirs of their Beach Boys days.

"Where Love's Good Vibrations is more of a chronological bus tour down memory lane conducted with the fervor of someone who has waited a long time to set the record right and won't let go of the mike, I Am Brian Wilson slipstreams through the past like a message in a bottle, a bobblehead chronicle. It has moments of personal testimony that are poignant and indelible. His father, Murry Wilson, a small-time songwriter, was the band's original manager and browbeating motivator, and bad news. 'My dad was violent,' Brian says. 'He was cruel.' When Murry wasn't physically smacking Brian and others around (Dennis fought back—he and Murry waged a fistfight over a litter of kittens), he would spook the hell out of them by removing his glass eye and making them stare into the empty socket. That alone would give a kid a Freudian complex or two. Later Murry would yank the planks out from under the boys by selling off their publishing company for a relative pittance, vandalizing their past, present, and future earnings. Once psychotropic drugs take their toll, Brian pads around in an extended twilight, a half-zombie. 'Bad days turned into bad months and then bad years.' Once, during a hospital stay, he saw a guy who looked like Tonto from The Lone Ranger looming in the doorway with a 'huge hard-on.' Along with Tonto's flagpole, we get other amusing, absurd snapshots from his memory album, such as breaking out some karate moves for an unimpressed Elvis Presley and the time Dennis and Mike brawled offstage in the middle of a concert ('Dennis won'). The memoir ends with Wilson about to ascend the stage at the Hollywood Bowl, a fade-out reminiscent of those inspirational Hollywood biopics about composers that did so much to hinder music appreciation.

"If it's the jumbo popcorn bag of Beach Boys lore you saltily crave, then Love's Good Vibrations should hold you the length of the circus. In the battle of the Beach Boys memoirs, it's the better read: lively, informative, thumbtacked with crazy specifics, and a decent job of self-exoneration. It's all here and then some, from his learning Transcendental Meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—the band would eventually be split between the meditators (Love, Jardine) and the partyers (Dennis and Carl), with Brian floating in the no-zone—to running afoul of Charlie Manson's jailbird scowl. When Squeaky Fromme, a Mansonette who, dressed in a Red Riding Hood robe, would later attempt to assassinate President Gerald Ford, decided to join Love in the shower, it was no Tonto apparition, and Love would later learn that another Manson disciple, Susan Atkins, who held down a pregnant Sharon Tate as she was stabbed to death, had been one of his children's babysitters. This was the period when the California sun turned occult black, and that the Beach Boys are still touring after a half-century and chugging through the songbook of endless summer is a triumph of nostalgia, perseverance, branding, and trouper professionalism; like the Rolling Stones, they came out the other side of evil, and we should be grateful, not begrudging, that they are still out there entertaining millions and raking in the loot. Love pinpoints the original schism in the band to the moment when Wilson was coronated in the press as a 'genius.' He was a genius, but genius isn't everything, and sometimes it isn't even enough."


So long, Marianne.


Space church and the infinite set of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

"Science, art, and the spiritual have been linked for centuries across pictorial traditions, but they achieve a unique synthesis in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, an audaciously cerebral epic that, whenever seen or contemplated in its original 70mm format, never feels like anything less than a miracle of human imagination. The relevance of 2001 has kept pace with the times, too, as it coolly examines our relationship with technology and the grand mystery of cosmic reality, which grows richer and stranger the more we learn about the physics of massive phenomena we cannot directly observe (dark matter, black holes) and the even spookier action of quantum-scale particles. Grappling seriously with our place in the universe as individuals and as a species, 2001 was the first modern sci-fi movie; mature, intelligent, technically precise, and ambiguously metaphysical, the film mostly dispenses with conventional narrative in order to represent, for much of its 160-minute duration, the physical and psychological experience of 'being in space.' More importantly, by coding his unusually realistic visual journey with mythic totems and baffling set pieces, Kubrick heightens the subjective experience of viewers, leaving the logic of the whole intentionally fuzzy and open to innumerable readings. Forty-seven years after its debut, 2001: A Space Odyssey continues to fascinate audiences, influencing filmmakers as artistically dissimilar as George Lucas, Alfonso Cuarón, and Christopher Nolan, and casting a long, monolithic shadow over any filmic depiction of interstellar space, all without losing its seemingly timeless mystique."


A confession of cannibalism or a mere snowclone?


Essay of the Day: Edmund White on Nabokov's Pale Fire

"Nabokov's masterpiece, of course, is Lolita, which finds a way of renewing the exhausted nineteenth-century tradition of the novel that analyses the passions (Adolphe, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary) by re-creating it through the eyes of a criminal paedophile, in accordance with Nabokov's doctrine that a novel should explore, not the genus or the species but an aberrant variety. Lolita is romantic and funny and perverted. But I have recently re-read Pale Fire (1962) which is, I realize only now, the great gay comic novel, an equally funny and sometimes tender portrait of a homosexual madman, Charles Kinbote. Kinbote (or Botkin) claims to have been the king of the 'distant northern land' of Zembla who, deposed by revolutionary forces, has made another life teaching in an American college. The whole prose component of the book is his 'scholarly' commentary on a 999-line poem by his neighbour, the venerable John Shade. The poem is actually an elegy to the poet's dead daughter, but Kinbote is convinced it is about him and his flight from his captors.

"Nabokov may have been inspired by his own four-volume translation and annotation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, which he had been working on for years. Repeatedly, in the notes to Onegin, he tells the story of his own family and their lost Russian estates. It must have struck him that the self-serving scholarly annotations were funny and ripe for self-satire."

Read the rest here.


Poem of the Day: Five Ancient Poems on Money


Image of the Day: Olympic Tug-Of-War