A manuscript page from Wallace Stegner’s novel Crossing to Safety. Stegner apologized that his markings are not more revealing: “My methods are prelapsarian and prewordprocessarian. It takes me many rewritings to get a first draft, and all the chapters that went into it have been thrown away successively until I get something that will read consecutively. I go through that with an editing pencil and retype it to make a relatively clear second draft.”
Charles-Pierre Baudelaire (1821-1867) The cenotaph of Charles-Pierre Baudelaire by Jose de Charmoy depicts the poet brooding over a gauze-encased body. In the year before his death, Baudelaire, resting in a nursing home and left all but mute from advanced syphilis, nevertheless enjoyed some respite from his deepening depression. He took special pleasure in his many visitors, in Berthe Morisot’s playing Wagner on the piano, and in the numerous flowers which grew in the yard outside the home. His condition also allowed his mother, Caroline, one last chance to play a maternal role and thereby attempt a long overdue reconciliation. According to his mother, Baudelaire died with a smile on his lips.
Where were you, nymphs,
when I was learning to apply
the proper plaster of Paris and papier-mâché
to fledgling cheekbones?
Where a Nereid when I needed
advice on unguents?
A dryad to calm my riotous nerves
and dye my dulling locks?
An oread to teach the ablutions of adoration?
Sylph, you never paid the parson of insecurity—
where were you when these petty hips
toppled the girlhood world?
Put on your face, little goddess.
You’ll need it.
Whittle yourself into shape
before Pygmalion gets here
and raises high the pedestal. He’s not the kind we need.
No thanks to you, it all turned out quite well.
No more violin buying.
My cardsharping days are through.
I exfoliated all layers of despair
and replaced them with voluble dew.
At this age, I rely on my looks, exclusively.
Don’t think I’ll send you my daughter.
“Of course, [baseball]’s both: a sport and a pastime, to borrow from James Salter. The autograph hounds in Ivan Weiss’s trailer, the voyeurism that unsettles our photographer Kate Joyce, and that peculiar alone-in-the-crowd feeling that haunts [photographer Alec] Soth—none of that arises without the ballgames themselves. There’s a reason A Sport and a Pastime is so full of sex, described in elaborate, ritual detail: Salter understood that the strenuous, disciplined, daily exertions of love—the physical sport—enabled and ennobled the pastime of the life around it. The sex had to be closely observed and recorded.”
We are honored to guest edit Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading today.
The winner of this year’s Plimpton Prize for Fiction, Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Bettering Myself” is a story, as editor Lorin Stein notes, that “improves (and makes me laugh) each time I read it.”