December 22, 1941
Shirley Jackson died 48 years ago today. In her honor, her sharp-witted reflection on working retail, as originally published in The New Republic.
To build a building is hard; to criticize a building is, by comparison, easy. For a serious critic, the impulse to write uncomplimentary things should always provoke a bout of preliminary introspection. Does one write from the lofty principle that truth must be spoken to power, or at least to fashion? Will the reader come away from this exercise in scorching criticism of buildings and urban spaces with a heightened appreciation for the built environment and its importance to our daily lives?
'The events described in these stories are real," humorist David Sedaris wrote in the introductory note to Naked, his 1997 collection of nonfiction essays. The New York Times was convinced: When Naked hit the best-seller list, it categorized the book as nonfiction. The Library of Congress called it biography, and Sedaris assured several interviewers over the years that the book was essentially factual. "Everything in Naked was true," he told the webzine Getting It in 1999. "I mean, I exaggerate. But all the situations were true." Great.
The PatronA Life of Salman Schocken,1877-1959By Anthony David(Metropolitan Books, 451 pp., $ 30)For a year in the early 1960s, not long after finishing college, I had a job working for Schocken Books, a small publishing house in New York. Actually, "small" is something of an overstatement. Schocken consisted at the time of four people working in a two-room apartment on 38th Street and Park Avenue: the editor-in-chief Herzl Rome, two secretaries, and the editorial staff, which was me.
The Black Veil: A Memoir With Digressions by Rick Moody (Little, Brown, 288 pp., $24.95) Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation. I apologize for the abruptness of this declaration, its lack of nuance, of any meaning besides the intuitive; but as I made my way through Moody's oeuvre during the past few months I was unable to come up with any other starting point for a consideration of his accomplishment. Or, more accurately, every other starting point that I tried felt disingenuous, nothing more than a way of setting Moody up in order to knock him down.