The week’s best arts and culture reads – including a profile of the elusive Thomas Pynchon, how the West views the East and the actor’s next big move.

Ian Buruma: East and West
Alec Ash | Five Books | 26 August 2013
Interview in which Buruma recommends and discusses “five Western perspectives of the East”: Chinese Shadows by Simon Leys, A Passage To India by E.M. Forster, The Inland Sea by Donald Richie, The Hidden Force by Louis Couperus and The Quiet American by Graham Greene. “What Couperus saw was that no amount of bullying will in the end lead to mastering countries which one doesn’t understand”.

On the Thomas Pynchon trail
Boris Kachka | New York magazine | 25 August 2013
Profile of the publicity-shy author, pegged to the release of his latest novel, Bleeding Edge, a detective story set in New York, where Pynchon “hides in plain sight, on the Upper West Side, with a family and a history of contradictions”. He has, according to this piece, “an IQ score somewhere in the 190s”, buck teeth, and an unfulfilled ambition to write opera librettos. This feels like the first glimpse of an unauthorised biography, by the way.

Vulgar modernism: Barney Rosset and the Grove Press
Phil Ford | LA Review Of Books | 24 August 2013
Review of Loren Glass’s Counterculture Colophon, a history of the Grove Press publishing house, which flourished in the 1950s and 1960s at the intersection of modernism, bohemia and pornography. “It’s a world furnished in Scandinavian blond wood, with Paul Klee prints and bullfight posters on the walls, Jacques Barzun and Carl Jung on the cover of Time, Bartók and Ornette on the hi-fi, Mailer on TV, and liquor at lunch.”

My teacher’s shadow
Caleb Crain | New Yorker | 22 August 2013
Memoir of Peter Kussi, teacher of translation at Columbia University and the pre-eminent translator into English of modern Czech writers including Hašek, Kundera, and Škvorecký. His parents brought him to America as a child, sparing him from the Holocaust which consumed the rest of his family in Prague. He spent half his working life as a technical writer, knowing only fragments of  Czech, until he set about re-learning the language in his mid-forties.

The God of SNL will see you now
Dave Itzkoff | New York Times | 22 August
Past and present Saturday Night Live cast members tell how they auditioned for the show — which meant, in practice, finding a way to please Lorne Michaels, the SNL creator and producer known for his cryptic, sphinx-like presence. “I felt good because I heard Lorne laugh a little bit. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, laughing his very subtle, subtle laughter. Almost regal laughter.”

What is Al Pacino’s next big move?
Ron Rosenbaum | Smithsonian | 22 August 2013
Profile and interview. At 73, with four decades of stardom behind him, Pacino is still edgy, unsatisfied, and fascinated by himself. The answer to the question posed in the headline is buried halfway down the piece — a film of Oscar Wilde’s Salome: “It’s all highly charged, hieratic, erotic and climaxes with Jessica Chastain, impossibly sensual, bestowing a bloody kiss upon the severed head and licking her lips. It’s not for the faint of heart, but Chastain’s performance is unforgettable.”

Elmore Leonard: The Dutch Accent
Anthony Lane | New Yorker | 21 August 2013
“Elmore Leonard, who died on Monday, at the age of eighty-seven, was hailed as one of the best crime writers in the land. High praise, but not quite high enough, and some way off the mark. He was one of the best writers, and he happened to write about crime. As Leonard delighted in showing us, crime — more than anything, even politics — allows men of all ages to disport themselves across the full range of human ineptitude.”

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