Caught by the River


17th October 2018

A selection of things we’ve enjoyed reading/watching/listening to lately – and think you might like too

Over on Granta, Nina Ellis considers the short story writer Lucia Berlin (of whom we are great fans) and the notion of home. ‘On the surface, Berlin’s stories have a great deal in common with those of the dirty realists, both in subject matter (poverty, alcoholism, city buses) and in style (realism, minimalism, dark humour). But whereas Robert Rebein writes that dirty realism is about descending ‘into the darkest holes of society’, Berlin’s work moves in the opposite direction. The fiction in which she made her home does not descend into the dirt, or darkness, of urban alienation – it emerges from that dirt. Berlin wrote in pursuit of a sense of belonging, and her fiction is a homecoming.’

Smoke, Wind, and Fire: on the New York Review of Books blog, Danny Lyon drives to New Mexico’s San Juan river to fish for rainbow trout – and encounters some testing conditions on the way.

A British Library Sound and Vision blog recording of the week captures the sound of whistling used by the Batek people in Malaysia to catch fish.

Illustration by Emiliano Ponzi for The New Yorker

How to Write About a Vanishing World: Scientists chronicling ecological destruction must confront the loss of their life’s work and our planet’s riches, says Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker. ‘The message that there’s still “something we can do actively” has a lot to be said for it. It offers a rationale for not giving up—on species, on whole ecosystems—which is also a rationale for continuing to research these subjects and, perhaps most relevant for scientists turned authors, for continuing to write about them. Narrating the disaster becomes a way to try to avert it […] but we seem to have reached the point where even the calls to arms are starting to sound like dirges.’

Helen Macdonald gives Christopher Skaife’s new book, The Ravenmaster: My Life With the Ravens at the Tower of London, a glowing review in The Atlantic: ‘Skaife calls attention to the birds’ beautiful contradictions. In sunlight their dark feathers shine with the iridescence of oil on water. They can be friendly, curious, even loving. In the wild they’ll take turns sliding down snowbanks and make toys out of sticks. At the Tower they play games of KerPlunk, pulling the straws free from the tube to retrieve a dead mouse as their prize. Yet, as that special raven edition of KerPlunk suggests, they’re also birds of gothic darkness and gore, the birds that followed Viking raiders in quest of fresh corpses and that feasted on executed bodies hung from roadside gibbets. You might visit Skaife’s charges in the Tower and watch, entranced, as they gently preen each other’s nape feathers, murmuring in their soft raven idiolect—but you might also see them gang up to ambush a pigeon and eat it alive.’

In their third issue, Pleasure Garden magazine celebrates the rose – and considers its fetishisation and role in mythology. We can’t wait to see what Issue Four – ‘The Romance of the Trees’ – holds.

And finally, get the smooth, funky Jassbusters – the latest album from Connan Mockasin, released last week by Mexican Summer – in your ears: