Jewish Life in the Work of Marc Chagall, in Class with Geoffrey Hill, and Why Everybody Loves Lee Child

Well, no Stegner yesterday. Amazon says Crossing was delivered, but it wasn’t. Waiting for books by mail has its frustrations in addition to its pleasures (which I noted yesterday). Hopefully, it will arrive today.

Still, it was nice to hear from a handful of readers wholeheartedly recommending the book. So much so that I’d like to start an occasional section called (tentatively) “A Reader Recommends.” If you’ve read a recent (or older but not particularly well-known) book you think Prufrock readers might enjoy, send me a note with a few sentences of recommendation that I can share. I cover a lot of nonfiction and poetry, so I’m more interested in fiction, but I’ll consider anything. I can’t promise to include every recommendation I receive, but I will let you know in a day or two of submission if I will use yours. Look forward to hearing from you! Also: Keep an eye out for The Weekly Standard’s summer reading issue, which will run soon. It should have lots of excellent recommendations.

Why do so many people love Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels? Sam Leith explains.

Jewish life in the work of Marc Chagall: Color and form are not arbitrary in his work. He used them to tell stories—frequently about Jewish life: “Returning to small-town Vitebsk must have felt like a huge backwards step after working in a studio at the heart of the avant garde. Yet returning to the Pale was also a return to the subject that truly animated him – Jewish life – and somehow the imagined colours and the substance of the paintings reconnect. The colour begins to mean something again. In The Newspaper Vendor (1914) a newspaper seller, plying his wares against an acid orange sky, becomes an emblem of provincial gloom and poverty, the darkened greenish spires of the synagogue giving the impression of a forlorn town on the edge of a chemical works. The news is surely bad.”

Should teachers use Minecraft to get kids interested in reading? Why not? “From Spyglass Hill to Ben Gunn’s cave, children can explore every nook and cranny of Skeleton Island as part of Litcraft, a new partnership between Lancaster University and Microsoft, which bought the game for $2.5bn (£1.9bn) in 2015 and which is now played by 74 million people each month. The Litcraft platform uses Minecraft to create accurate scale models of fictional islands: Treasure Island is the first, with Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom just completed and many others planned.”

A brief history of the s’more: “The first mention of this treat is in a 1927 edition of the Girl Scout manual Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. In a nod to the treat’s addictive qualities, it was dubbed ‘Some More.’ The term s’more is first found the 1938 guide ‘Recreational Programs for Summer Camps,’ by William Henry Gibson. Some think the s’more may be a homemade version of the Mallomar or the moon pie, two snacks introduced in the 1910s.”

Brian Allen takes stock of Stanley Kubrick’s photojournalism: “On view is the work of an engaging, entrepreneurial, and brilliant high school senior from the Bronx let loose with a camera on America’s biggest and most dynamic city, just shaken from a laser-like focus on war and, before that, the stupor of the Great Depression…He was paid a pittance, supervised lightly, and cultivated by grizzled old-timers at Look who knew a prodigy when they saw one. An informal ‘Bringing Up Stanley Club’ steered advice and juicy assignments his way. As time passed, he developed his own storylines. His handlers sent him to photograph celebrities: the already famous, like Frank Sinatra, and emerging stars like Montgomery Clift. He learned how to deal with them and catch with the camera what made them irresistible.”

Essay of the Day:

When he was alive, Geoffrey Hill was often called the most difficult poet writing in English. What were his classes like? Esoteric:

“Among poets writing in English during the last forty years, Geoffrey Hill was sometimes named the greatest one alive, but he was always named the most difficult one to read. He had come to live and teach in America in the 1980s, along with a brilliant group which included Paul Muldoon at Princeton (since 1987), Seamus Heaney at Harvard (1985–2006), and Derek Walcott at Boston University (1981–2007). These were famous poets who had been drawn from the United Kingdom and its old territories to the riches of the American universities, yet they were never American poets. They lived in a kind of half-exile in which they were weighted down with laurels and prizes regularly given by literary committees and societies while being mostly ignored or neglected by their students—as Walcott admitted to me in conversation one day.

“One did not have to guess at Hill’s isolation. He was the least famous of that brilliant set of foreign poets, and the least approachable, too. I recall seeing him for the first time in 2001 in the cramped quarters of his office at Boston University, reading something intently and quite alone. His door was open for office hours, but he seemed somewhat startled to be interrupted. I gathered from his demeanor that he was not often consulted in this way. There was a serious tribe of ­poets and critics who admired him from afar, but how many had ­actually met the man? Very few. The sense I got from reading and hearing things about him was that Hill kept himself apart. Not for him the American circuit of parties and book signings. He didn’t write for the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, or any of the elite literary magazines in the U.S.

“He was gruff when I entered, almost forbidding, and that great bald head and those unblinking eyes stared at everything with unusual intensity, and perhaps even a bit of dismissive judgment. But once he spoke, the demeanor softened, and one noticed kindness was lurking in his words and not contempt. I introduced myself and then asked him if he would allow me to audit his classes. He readily agreed.

“I could not know at the time that I was about to witness one of the more esoteric literature seminars given at an American university in 2001. Or any other university, for that matter.”

Read the rest.

Photos: Colorful Castelluccio

Poem: Benjamin Myers, “Historical Markers”

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