Excerpts

On March 26, “Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture,” a traveling exhibition of the great architect’s papers, sketches, and models, arrives at one of his most celebrated buildings, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. Wendy Lesser, author of the new Kahn biography, You Say to Brick, will participate in a public symposium on Kahn’s life and work at the Kimbell on March 25. To celebrate the exhibit, the symposium, and You Say to Brick’s publication, here is a virtual tour of the Kimbell Museum, excerpted from Lesser’s acclaimed new biography.

Swimmer Among the Stars

The pharaoh Necko was not content to rule the Upper and the Lower. He wanted knowledge of the whole. So he plopped a crew of Phoenicians down in the Red Sea and told them to go home the long way. Off they went south, pulling on oars and cursing with lemon breath their bad luck for being alive in the time of the Egyptians.

Savage violence has erupted in recent years across a broad swathe of territory: wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, suicide bombings in Belgium, Xinjiang, Nigeria and Turkey, insurgencies from Yemen to Thailand, massacres in Paris, Tunisia, Florida, Dhaka and Nice. Conventional wars between states are dwarfed by those between terrorists and counter-terrorists, insurgents and counter-insurgents; and there are also economic, financial and cyber wars, wars over and through information, wars for the control of the drug trade and migration, and wars among urban militias and mafia groups. Future historians may well see such uncoordinated mayhem as commencing the third—and the longest and strangest—of all world wars: one that approximates, in its ubiquity, a global civil war.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of John McPhee’s Coming Into the Country, a work of longform non-fiction charting the tensions between the perception of a wild Alaska and the reality of increasingly inaccessible wilderness. The book is a beloved classic in Alaska, and its anniversary has been met with a variety of articles in Alaskan media, and a reevaluation of where the state is, 40 years later. This year also marks the publication of McPhee’s latest book, Draft No. 4, which will come out later this year.

Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin

Paris has always had a ‘taste for tumult’, as Théophile Lavallée noted in 1845,with its ‘hurried, seething, tumultuous’ population, but today it presents a serene face to the world, in spite of all this revolting and murdering. To take a stroll through the lower levels of the Gare du Nord, or to watch the cop show Spiral, is to quickly locate the discord simmering in today’s city.

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Read an excerpt from Japanese writer Hideo Yokoyama’s international bestseller, Six Four.

Universal Harvester

On the living room carpet in Crescent, Irene was trying to teach Lisa to play Parcheesi. Lisa couldn’t follow the action, but she loved the dice, the way they rattled in the little blue cup. Was three too young for board games? Her mother thought probably so, but Lisa’d arrived at every milestone early: weaned early, crawled early, and surprised everybody with her first word before she could walk (“bear!” while having The Little Engine That Could read aloud to her; the bear in question was scratching at a tree on the same hillside where the train stalled). As soon as she could say two simple sentences she began putting them together to tell stories about her dolls: “They stopped playing. They need a rest,” she explained to her mother once, sequestering a Raggedy Ann in one corner of the living room and a nameless blinking-eyed vinyl doll in the one opposite.

Bill Knott

I met Bill Knott in late 1968, or in early 1969, at William Corbett’s house, a gathering place for poets in Boston’s South End. I’d read Knott’s highly acclaimed first book, The Naomi Poems, from Big Table, in the spring of 1968. It was published under the pen name Saint Geraud (1940–1966). I was immediately struck, poleaxed, by the emotional power of the poems. Mostly short, intense lyrics, they were unlike anything I’d ever read and moved me to the bone. I felt, before I’d read Emily Dickinson’s famous comment, as if the top of my head was taken off. Many were love poems. Most were written in his early and mid twenties. There was urgency, a longing, a wild and plaintive high-note sound that was maybe particularly attractive to a twenty-two-year-old man. Forty-seven years later, as I stand on the terrible threshold of senescence, Knott’s poems still lift the hairs on the back of my neck. His anguished poems about the war in Vietnam were among the first I’d read on that subject, and I still believe them to be among the strongest. It is the war that my generation either can’t forget or refuses to remember (sometimes both).

I was planning a novel that involved a breakout from a Chinese labor camp and had just reread The Count of Monte Cristo, looking for ideas. At Hong Kong’s Central Library, I typed the word laogai, “labor reform,” into the computer catalog. Among the books listed, to my surprise and excitement, was the title Chongchu laogaiying, “Escape from the laogai.”

On a spring morning in 2009, Matthew Lawrence dropped the anchor of his small boat at a random spot in the middle of a blue ocean bay on the east coast of Australia, and jumped over the side. He swam down on scuba to where the anchor lay, picked it up, and waited. The breeze on the surface nudged the boat, which started to drift, and Matt, holding the anchor, followed.

A couple of years ago I joined one of those clubs where they teach you how to knock the shit out of other people. The first lesson is how to get the shit knocked out of yourself. The first lesson is all there is. It lasts between eighty and a hundred years, depending on your initial shit content.

Home and Away

Glemmingebro, 6 July

Dear Fredrik,

Today it is sunny and warm, and there is no football on TV, so we plan to go to the beach, for the first time this summer. The problem is that the children don’t want to go. Once they are there, they think it is wonderful, and then I say, now remember for next time, so that it won’t all be so difficult. Yes, yes, they say. Now it is the next time, and they don’t want to go.

Shirley Hazzard

Shirley Hazzard, who died on December 12 at the age of 85, wrote two collections of short stories, four novels, and three works of nonfiction. FSG published her last two works: in 2000, a memoir about Graham Greene, Greene on Capri, and, in 2003, her National Book Award-winning novel, The Great Fire.

The Moravian Night

Powerfully alive, honest, and at times deliciously satirical, The Moravian Night explores the mind and memory of an aging writer, tracking the anxieties, angers, fears, and pleasures of a life inseparable from the recent history of Central Europe. In crystalline prose, Peter Handke traces and interrogates his own thoughts and perceptions while endowing the world with a mythic dimension. As Jeffrey Eugenides writes, “Handke’s sharp eye is always finding a strange beauty amid this colorless world.” The Moravian Night is at once an elegy for the lost and forgotten and a novel of self-examination and uneasy discovery, from one of world literature’s great voices.

He was just tight enough and just familiar enough with the house to be able to go out into the kitchen alone, apparently to get ice, but actually to sober up a little; he was not quite enough a friend of the family to pass out on the living-room couch. He left the party behind without reluctance, the group by the piano singing “Stardust,” his hostess talking earnestly to a young man with thin clean glasses and a sullen mouth; he walked guardedly through the dining-room where a little group of four or five people sat on the stiff chairs reasoning something out carefully among themselves; the kitchen doors swung abruptly to his touch, and he sat down beside a white enamel table, clean and cold under his hand. He put his glass on a good spot in the green pattern and looked up to find that a young girl was regarding him speculatively from across the table.

The Lottery

Visits with my father often include a ceremony, a unique sort of family séance. The tradition goes something like this: An ornate Victorian box is carefully carried from its corner resting place into the center of the living room. The box is placed on a table as my father and the rest of us—his children and grandchildren—gather around it.

The library was pitch-dark when we arrived. We turned on the lights just long enough to arrange our things and hit the sack— separate sacks. The following morning marked the first of many spent exploring West Wind together. The boxes in dry storage represented but a small fraction of the library; there were still thousands that needed to be sorted. This day would be spent gathering the last of the rarest books and shuttling them up to North Conway for safekeeping.

William came up out of the mortuary feeling blown out, depressed. He could not say if Charlotte Reckitt had deserved her end and he told himself he did not care but it was not true. He thought of her ravaged scalp and the tufts of hair and blood on it and how her body had been cut up and the legs still, for god’s sake, missing. Then he could not stop himself and thought of his daughters in Chicago, thought of Margaret. Swore under his breath and clapped his hands on his sleeves as if to dislodge the reek of the dead and stepped out into the fog.

On a February morning in the year 1933 Andreas Egger lifted the dying goatherd Johannes Kalischka, known to all the valley dwellers as Horned Hannes, off his sodden and rather sour-smelling pallet to carry him down to the village along the three-kilometre mountain path that lay buried beneath a thick layer of snow.

On August 29, 1957, Candida sent me a note that read, “ Here is the script of CATCH 18 by Joseph Heller about which we talked yesterday. I’ve been watching Heller ever since the publication of Chapter 1 in New World Writing about a year ago. He’s published a good bit in The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, etc. I’ll tell you more about him when I see you at lunch next week. As ever, Candida.” About seventy-five pages of manuscript came with it, and I was knocked out by the voice, the humor, the anger. We offered Joe five hundred dollars as an option payment. This was only months after Jack Goodman’s death, and the editorial department had developed no real modus operandi; I suppose I just said “I want to do this” and there was nobody interested enough to say no. Joe and Candida decided to wait until there was enough of a manuscript to warrant an actual contract.