The week’s best arts and culture reads – including Gore Vidal on Orson Welles, how to shake up biographies and a public library security guard’s ‘secret life’.

Living with Bob Dylan
Daniel Lanois et al | Uncut | 25 February 2015
Conversations with the producers, engineers and musicians who worked with Bob Dylan on his six albums from Oh Mercy to Modern Times. “As we walked in to hear the playback, Dylan was in front of me, and he said, ‘Well, we’ve done everything on that one except call the symphony orchestra.’ If it had been my session, I would have got on the phone at that point and called the… symphony orchestra. But the cut was amazing.”

Reinventing the biography
Stuart Kelly | Times Literary Supplement | 25 February 2015
There has scarcely been innovation in biography since Boswell wrote his Life of Samuel Johnson. Biographers have stuck to a chronological template, aspiring only to “microscopic detail and consequently maximal length”. Ruth Scurr’s extraordinary John Aubrey: My Own Life shines brightly against that dull background. It is a successful bid to do something genuinely new with the form, using Aubrey’s own words to construct what might have been his diary.

An ‘outlaw romance’
Rachel Monroe | Gawker | 25 February 2015
Norman Mailer’s infatuation with robber and killer Gary Gilmore was ill-founded but productive. The Executioner’s Song is still “absolutely astonishing” 35 years later. “What I didn’t expect is that the book’s most potent voices, the ones that stick in your head long after Gary’s bluster has faded, are those of women: Gary’s defeated mother, his deeply moral aunt, and Nicole, his damaged, hopeful girlfriend. All of Mailer’s admiration for Gilmore’s outlaw romance is balanced against the pain and disappointment of these women.”

Discovering Mexico
James Fenton | New York Review Of Books | 25 February 2015
Notes by the greatest living English poet on a first visit to Mexico. “One says of any great subject as yet untackled: oh, that’s such a big undertaking, that’s going to need such preparation. Then something happens and you just have to go in there anyway. This lagoon with its peons fishing from their canoes, this place where pelicans drop vertically from the sky into the ocean — this, for now, is Mexico. The complications can wait.” 

The Marquis de Sade brand
Tony Perrottet | Smithsonian | 24 February 2015
The Marquis de Sade is trending again in France. “Today, he is considered a great philosopher”. His writings, suppressed in the 19th Century and viewed as obscene in the 20th, are being re-published by Gallimard in its Pléiade edition, reserved for classic authors. The current head of the family, Hugues de Sade, is negotiating with Victoria’s Secret for a line of de Sade lingerie, and selling bronze casts of his ancestor’s skull. 

Secret Life of a Public Library Guard
Dana Bialek | Narratively | 23 February 2015
Nice piece of slice-of-life reporting, on the workday of Marko Petrovich, a security guard at the Portland Public Library in Maine, where few come for the books but many come for the warmth and the bathrooms. “Indoor spaces that are open to the public are a rare find. The library becomes a living room of sorts. Keeping the building safe and comfortable while at the same time truly public can be a precarious balance.”              

Vidal on Welles
Gore Vidal | New York Review of Books | 1 June 1989
A classic from the vaults. “Everything that Welles touched as a director has a degree of brilliance, here and there, but he was always running out of money, not to mention leading ladies, who kept mysteriously changing in his films. We got to know each other in the Sixties, a period described as the nadir of Welles’s acting career. Well, all I can say is that there was an awful lot of nadir going around in those days.”

For more articles worth reading, visit The Browser. 

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