What we’re reading, third edition: In which we find the mystery in game shows, timeless art and the Dalai Lama’s Patek Philippe watch
Today we offer the latest fare from two long-form masters, as well as an oddball assortment of not-quite-narratives that still get to the heart of a story.
See how Chris Jones and David Grann both build a narrative and then proceed to deconstruct it.
“The Mark of a Masterpiece,” by David Grann from The New Yorker. Grann’s latest threatens to set him up as our literary debunker in chief. On the heels of questioning the evidence around the arson charge that led to the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, Grann looks at the science and the art of Peter Paul Biro, who has made a career of indentifying lost work of art masters.
“TV’s Crowning Moment of Awesome,” by Chris Jones in Esquire. Jones peeks behind the curtain of “The Price Is Right” to consider a Las Vegas weatherman, a game show, long-shot odds and the unknowable nature of everything. We love surprises.
“China worries about losing its character(s)” by Barbara Demick from the Los Angeles Times (via TheBrowser.com). Texting and typing are replacing the elaborate strokes that make up written Chinese. And when it comes time to jot down a few words, more Chinese are realizing they can’t remember exactly how.
“The Road (a comedic translation),”from Jacob Lambert on The Millions.com. Arts criticism can have a narrative bent, of course, but what about a parody fiction as literary criticism? Here’s a sample of Lambert’s treatment of Cormac McCarthy’s monstrously popular novel:
When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold and the ditch he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Not in a weird way … In the dream from which he’d wakened he and the child had wandered in a cave, scrounging for rotted batmeat. Shadows playing the walls like clownpuppets, the whitegloved fingers gnarled and ginshaken. Encircled by the dim, an abattoir lullaby. They came to a great stone room within which lay a longdead lake, its water stagnant and foul. And on the far shore a eunuch mime, naked save for a filthy gray cravat. Dead eyes milky and hollow. With a thin straw to its dirtscarred lips, it knelt, sipping from the brack. It heard their steps, craning its mimeneck to see what it could not. Skin translucent, ribs charbling and swortled, the heart beating tiredly. Facepaint smeared. It waved sadly in their direction, for it could not speak. Then it scuttled into the inky blackness. The man shook his head in the freezing predawn. No more peaches before bed.
Lambert’s take reminds us of the 2007 New York Times piece, “10 Things To Do Before This Article Is Finished,” which lay bare the structure of the ubiquitous trend story — doing one while mocking it.
“Working Lives (1),” from Granta. A compact little nugget of memoir in just over 1,000 words. Interviewer Isa Pessoa and translator Julia Michaels have crafted an account from Antonio Oliveira Ruvenal, a cab driver in Rio de Janeiro. Watch how the story spirals out from Ruvenal’s childhood into his adulthood and then constricts back down to the lives of his children.
“Divine Provenance: the Dalai Lama and His Mysterious Patek Philippe,” from Hodinkee.com (via @esquiremag). A blog sketch rather than a full narrative, but with this strange tale behind the Dalai Lama’s snazzy chronometer, who cares?