Zadie Smith’s new story collection, Grand Union, was published in October. (November 2019)

IN THE REVIEW

The Muse at Her Easel

Self-Portrait

by Celia Paul
The word museography properly refers to the systematic description of objects in museums, but it might also do for the culture and ideology surrounding that dusty old figure of legend, the artist’s “muse.” If her aura is fading now, anyone educated during the twentieth century remembers when she played no small part in our curriculae, both formal and informal. (The male muse, back then, existed only in the homosexual realm.) To avoid her, you had to spend a lot of time in libraries seeking evidence of her opposite: not the sitter but the painter; not the character but the author; not the song but the singer.

Fascinated to Presume: In Defense of Fiction

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: To Reason with Heathen at Harvest, 2017. An exhibition of Yiadom-Boakye’s work, curated by Hilton Als, is on view at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, September 12–December 15, 2019.
I have closed novels and stared at their back covers for a long moment and felt known in a way I cannot honestly say I have felt known by many real-life interactions with human beings, or even by myself. For though the other may not know us perfectly or even well, the hard truth is we do not always know ourselves perfectly or well. Indeed, there are things to which subjectivity is blind and which only those on the outside can see.

Robert B. Silvers (1929–2017)

Robert B. Silvers in his office at The New York Review of Books, early 1980s
From its first issue in 1963, Robert Silvers was either co-editor with Barbara Epstein or, after her death in 2006, editor of The New York Review. Bob worked almost to the very end of his life, which would be no surprise to those who knew him well, including those who have written these brief memoirs.

On Optimism and Despair

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit, Krün, Germany, June 2015
Nearly seven in ten Republicans prefer America as it was in the 1950s, a nostalgia of course entirely unavailable to a person like me, for in that period I could not vote, marry my husband, have my children, work in the university I work in, or live in my neighborhood. Time travel is a discretionary art: a pleasure trip for some and a horror story for others.

Fences: A Brexit Diary

Nigel Farage canvassing for ‘Leave’ votes during the Brexit campaign, London, May 2016. He resigned as leader of the UK Independence Party on July 4, shortly after the referendum.
One useful consequence of Brexit is to finally and openly reveal a deep fracture in British society that has been thirty years in the making. The gaps between north and south, between the social classes, between Londoners and everyone else, between rich Londoners and poor Londoners, and between white and brown and black are real and need to be confronted by all of us, not only those who voted Leave.

NYR DAILY

Under the Banner of New York

Maira Kalman: New York, Grand Central Station, 1999

New Yorkers choose to gather under the banner which says “New York”—which is so elastic it really means nothing at all—and that is exactly what I love about this place. The capacity to gather without precise definition I experience as a form of freedom, here where we do not have to be the clerk to the heir of wherever, where we can be unattached to our old European pedigree, or lack of same, and loosened from the bonds of distant villages, with their strictures and demands, their ideas regarding our sexuality or gender, their plans for our future.

Egypt: Laughter in the Dark

The prose of Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji, who is currently in jail for “infringing public decency,” explicitly confronts what happens when one’s fundamentally unserious, oversexed youth dovetails with an authoritarian, utterly self-serious regime that is in the process of tearing itself apart. It’s very bad historical luck—of the kind I’ve never suffered. It’s monstrous. It’s ludicrous. But the fact that the punishment does not fit the crime—that prison is, at this moment in Cairo, the absurd response to the word “pussy”—is exactly what shouldn’t be elided.

The North West London Blues

An 1894 drawing of Willesden Green Library

What kind of a problem is a library? It’s clear that for many people it is not a problem at all, only a kind of obsolescence. At the extreme pole of this view is the technocrat’s total faith: with every book in the world online, what need could there be for the physical reality? This kind of argument thinks of the library as a function rather than a plurality of individual spaces. But each library is a different kind of problem and “the Internet” is no more a solution for all of them than it is their universal death knell.