norbert blei | finding a novel in a newspaper

23 03 2011

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 212 | March 22, 2011

Finding a Novel in a Newspaper

Norbert Blei

So it’s late night. I pick up the New York Times, read and glance over page one.

Maybe I follow an intriguing story’s jump to another page, another section. Maybe I doggedly pursue today’s paper page by page, section by section. Maybe I’m in a fragmented frame of mind (or the news of the day suddenly puts me there), allowing a bold heading, a dramatic photograph, perhaps an appealing font capture my attention and lead me into and beyond whatever a story has to tell.

Some days or nights everything becomes such a jumble I may momentarily pause an wonder: am I reading a newspaper or a work of fiction? Is this the news or a novel assembling itself in my head? Should I laugh? Should I cry? Should I remember as a child on my grandmother’s farm, the warm eggs I once held in my hand?

Case in point. The New York Times, Sunday, March 13, 2011: All three excerpts below, “What I Wore”, “Quotation of the Day”, and “The Rural Life”, appearing in the same issue.


Amanda Hearst


Amanda Hearst 27, is an associate market editor and a blogger at Marie Claire magazine, one o the publications of the Hears Corporation, which was founded by her great-grandfather, William Randolph Hearst. She lives in the West Village and is active on the boards of several charities. —CHLOE MALLE


I was still kind of groggy from being in Europe for the shows, so I woke up trying to figure out a way to incorporate flats into my outfit. I just can’t deal with heels anymore. So I put on black Chanel boots over ribbed DKNY tights and then a blue and white batik-print Zara tulip skirt with an ivory short-sleeved turtleneck sweater from Michael Kors. After a day of working on my blog, I headed to a Core Fusion class at Exhale, for which I wore black Lululemon leggings with a white American Apparel tank top. I love these tanks because they have a built-in bra, so I wear them to work out in, under sweaters. I even ended up wearing a black one later that day under this sheer black Valentino top that I borrowed. I paired the top with black Yigal Azrouel shorts, tights and Prada booties, and headed uptown to the Gagosian Gallery’s opening of “Malevich and the American Legacy.” The only problem is that there was so much traffic that I missed the show! So I turned around and headed to dinner at Palma with a few friends. Nobody commented on my outfit. Should I have worn Zara again?


I woke up and threw on a Christian Dior lace top with leather Vena Cava shorts, Wolford tights and Prada booties. As I was pulling on my boots, the shirt ripped on the sleeve’s hem! I tried to see if I could get away with the rip, but finally decided that I couldn’t. So I kept the booties and tights and put on a Catherine Malandrino dress with an Hermes belt and a black, leather ruffled YSL purse. The belt was a gift from my ex-boyfriend and is probably the best gift I have ever received, period.

After work I headed to the Gagosian Gallery and then met a friend for a drink at the Carlyle Hotel. One drink led to three, so we decided to go out for a bit, dinner and then the Boom Boom Room.


I wore my usual weekend uniform: leggings, T-shirt, oversize sweater. It’s all about comfort on the weekends. I read “Shanta-ram” for a bit (an incredible book about the Mumbai underworld), took my Chiweenie Finn (he’s half Chihuahua, half Dachshund) to Washington Square Park and then watched “Paranormal Activity.” I proceeded to have nightmares all night in my Ralph Lauren flannel button-down.


Rebecca Beeson leggings, my boyfriend’s JDC striped top and a Bodkin gray knit sweater. Because of the rain, I threw on a Patagonia puffer and Finn wore his red parka by Canine Styles. We looked like drowned rats by the time we got back from our walk. We stayed in the house for the rest of the day, officially the laziest weekend ever.


I’m a big fan of J. Crew. I usually buy outfits directly off the mannequins. The styling is just so good! So while I normally wouldn’t have given this blue-and-white checked Oxford shirt a second glance, when I saw it with a camel colored cardigan and green shorts, I bought the whole ensemble. I wore the blouse with a brown Ralph Lauren suede skirt, DKNY stockings and black Ralph Lauren knee-high boots. My goal getting dressed for work is to be as casual as possible while still looking professional, so I’m a big fan of J. Crew and Ralph Lauren for work wear. I’m not really a jeans person, so I wear a lot of shorts and skirts with tights in the winter. Today I wore DKNY stockings, but I usually buy my tights at Duane Reade because they’re $6 and they last a surprisingly long time.


I put on an Urban Outfitters brown and black patterned miniskirt with a black Calvin Klein shirt, Wolford tights and black Chanel knee-high boots. I added a necklace by my friend Prince Dimitri, a watch by Franck Muller and small Tiffany gold hoop earrings. I spent most of the day researching ideas for my blog, but squeezed in a coffee break at Le Pain Quotidien on West 58th Street with my friend Luigi Tadini. After work, I changed into a Topshop by Christopher Kane black dress with black beading on it and black Chanel booties. (I’m such a New Yorker — I wear black all the time!)


One of those mornings where I couldn’t decide what to wear. I tried on a YSL, cowl-neck top with black 7 for All Mankind jeans (nope), a Catherine Malandrino blue floral dress (still not working), and ended up in an off-white Ramblers Way T-shirt, a black and white Chanel tweed blazer, Rag and Bone jeans and purple Miu Miu flats. I went to a market appointment for Matt & Nat bags, a vegan accessories line that is super stylish. In the afternoon I met my mom at Doubles for coffee. She was, as usual, wearing Ralph Lauren.

~ Quotation of the Day ~

“I have no electricity, no water, no cell phone, no telephone. I have no idea what’s happening.”

–Chiyako Ito, a 72-year-old rice farmer whose farm was hit by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami


Verlyn Klinkenborg

Marvel and Persistence

Again and again I’m struck by he persistence of objects. I go out to do the chores wearing a blue plaid wool coat. I have no idea how old it is, because it’s a hand-me-down, and yet every day it’s waiting on the hook. I fed the horses and reflect that Remedy, the retired cutting horse, is at least 31 years old, still sultanic in his majesty. The sun comes up, and here we all are every day—animate and inanimate—persisting together.

There’s nothing very surprising about it, and yet, I can’t help but keep marveling at it. The farm and everything in it seem wonderfully solid, and it all reports for duty, unbidden, every day. This is just a way of countering the other feeling I commonly have—that we’ve all been loaded aboard a planet streaking through time.

….The sunlight feels new and ancient, both. I put on my chore coat, slip on my muck boots and go out to the chicken house my dad and I built after 9/11…When I go out later, there will be something new and fresh, nine or 10 eggs still warm from the hens that laid them.

[from THE NEW YORK TIMES, March 13, 2011]


verlyn klinkenborg | sow those seeds!

13 03 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 172 | March 7, 2009

Editor’s Note: The New York Times is one of the few (perhaps, only) national newspapers to pay attention to man & nature on the editorial page. And Verlyn Klinkenborg, an accomplished poet-essayist of the rural, is the steady voice on the page to all that is green within us. We need more writing of this nature to preserve us—and the meaningful role of good newspapers in our lives. –Norbert Blei

Sow Those Seeds!

by Verlyn Klinkenborg

In August 2004, I wrote a Rural Life editorial about the
victory garden movement during World War II, noting that a
national crisis had turned Americans — for a few years at
least— into a nation of gardeners. Now we are in the midst of
another crisis. And perhaps this is the moment for another na-
tional home gardening movement, a time when the bur-
geoning taste for local food converges with the desire to cut
costs and take new control over our battered economic lives.

There are signs that some people are already thinking
this way. A number of friends have said to me, wistfully, that if
things get worse, they’ll just go to the country and learn to
farm, as if learning to farm were like studying shorthand or
learning to weld.

This is daydreaming. But there’s every reason to think
about putting in a garden. In fact, many seed companies are
reporting higher sales — especially in Britain, which has a
rich tradition of home gardening. At grocery stores and farm
stands, the difference in cost between organic and convention-
ally grown vegetables can be substantial. In the garden, the
difference is negligible.

I can’t help noting, too, that half of “The 11 Best Foods
You Aren’t Eating” — a widely e-mailed Web article by Tara
Parker-Pope of The Times — are easily grown in a northeast-
ern garden, including beets, chard, pumpkins and blueberries.

Growing a vegetable garden isn’t going to balance the
budget or replace lost benefits or even begin to make up for
the shock of a lost job. But part of the crisis we face is a sense
of alienation and powerlessness. You don’t meet many alienat-
ed gardeners, unless it’s been a terrible woodchuck year.

It’s also tempting to assume that a garden can’t really
make much difference in your annual food budget. But you
would never convince my parents of that, who raised four kids
on the fresh and home-canned produce of a big backyard gar-
den. And I can think of few better distractions from the news
of the day than the offerings of seed catalogs and the Edenic
visions they inspire.

But over the years, something odd has happened to seed
catalogs. They’ve come to resemble grocery stores and, in
some sense, the culture at large — fuller and fuller of inedible
stuff to buy, like copper plant labels and sunlight calculators
and fan-cooled sunhats. One of the hard things for beginning
gardeners to learn is that very little of that stuff is needed.
What beginning gardeners need most, in fact, is old garden-
ers, the ones who’ve made do all along and who are starting
their seedlings in windowsills right about now.’

[from THE NEW YORK TIMES 2.15.09]

Verlyn Klinkenborg was born in Colorado in 1952 and raised in Iowa and California. He graduated from Pomona College and received a Ph.D. in English Literature from Princeton University. Mr. Klinkenborg joined the editorial board in 1997. He is the author of “Making Hay” (The Lyons Press, 1986), “The Last Fine Time” (University of Chicago Press, 1991) “The Rural Life” (Little Brown, 2003) and “Timothy; Or, Notes of an Abject Reptile” (Knopf, 2006).

His work has appeared in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, National Geographic, The New Republic, Smithsonian, Audubon, GQ, Gourmet, Martha Stewart Living, Sports Afield and The New York Times Magazine. He has taught literature and creative writing at Fordham University, St. Olaf College, Bennington College and Harvard University and is a recipient of the 1991 Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He lives in rural New York.