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Lew Archer’s assessments of women — “Legs still good. Mouth still good.” — continued to rankle, and I began to collect these instances…for what, I am not yet sure. Maybe as a reminder that this way of seeing females is historical, at least half a century old. It is also our inheritance. And it persists.
Outside of academic circles, where there has been a resurgence in interest, Jonson is a distant third in the contemporary popular imagination about the time period, after canonical William Shakespeare and sexy Christopher Marlowe.
From haikus to a macroeconomic treatise on American industrialism – with lots of novels and story collections in between, of course – here's what we're reading.
Break out the beach umbrellas and the sun block. It’s shaping up to be a very hot summer (and fall!) for new nonfiction.
Art is a conversation between you and someone you’ve probably never met, and that conversation can continue for so long.
Isabel Bolton has fallen into obscurity a second time. How and why does this happen? What accounts for the failure of a work to catch hold, in spite of outstanding reviews?
As a 21st-century ranty feminist, I like to think I'm above all that, and yet there's my actual reading list from the past year: A bunch of white women, and one mixed-race man.
Here, quickly, are some more titles, both old and new, that changed me, whether by their grief, their beauty, their joy, their violence, their ambition, their desire, their imagination, their history, or future, but always, by their truth and courage.
What rough and bloviating beast, with fake tan and tawny comb-over, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
In every one of these books I looked for, and in nearly all I found, shades of the awful, comforting truth: everyone despairs; nearly everyone survives.
This memoir is so starkly, poignantly written, so smart and wrenching, and I just had a truly visceral response to both the story and to Fei's fierce, plain mother love throughout.
For the first time since I was a kid, I found myself reading almost desperately, reading as a purposeful means of escape. I guess I’d forgotten how effective and merciful an analgesic it can be to leave your own imagination and pick up somebody else’s.
All of this would suggest that I’m a boxing fan, one of those old-timey cigar-chewers eager to overlook the sport’s myriad problems and mainstream insignificance in order to enjoy its brutal purity. But despite boxing’s outsize presence in my reading, I’m not particularly interested in it.
Seconds don’t come cheap in elite racing, and the two-hour marathon, at least when Caesar was writing his book, was still 218 seconds away.
Inventing one composite kid from two could make the story stronger. Certainly it would make writing the story easier for me. I come in part from cheating stock — thieves, adulterers, at least two murderers, as far as I know. I was curious: Could I be a cheater, or, more precisely, a compositor, too?
There are a host of moments in the life of a writer/reader that require their own special words. I'd settle for acronyms. We can do this, people! Our tribe came up with Franzenfreude, after all.
"Four titles, four agents, at least a dozen drafts, and more rejections than I care to count..."
Here is a list of suggested reading for the heat and upheaval of July.
In honor of the Tour de France, taking to the couch with Tim Krabbé's sports classic.
Why do some poets perform as though they had just come to in a bad dream?
At over 8,000 words strong and encompassing 84 titles, this is the only second-half 2014 book preview you will ever need.
I want everything to theoretically have some kind of an explanation, but at the same time there’s this question of luck – can you really have that much good luck or bad luck, or does it at some point start to feel supernatural?
Eddie, the main character, no longer wants to be a protagonist. He simply wants to no longer feel like a failure, which is a pretty good definition of adulthood at this moment.
The sheer originality of Flannery O'Connor's stories shows students how amplifying their surrounding world can make great fiction. Now, 50 years after her death, when she is a staple of syllabi and the very canon that previously excluded her and other women, it is most important to stress fresh approaches to her work within the classroom.
If One Story Collected is a stethoscope to the heart of contemporary American fiction, the news is good: despite a run of economic shocks to the publishing industry, the muscle that pumps fresh blood into the system is still beating like a tom-tom.
Literature is full of disappearing mothers.
I never can quite fathom summer’s end at its start, and so my reading lists stretch on endlessly, too, crammed with long novels too unwieldy for the demands of other seasons.
Did Marsh, Thornycroft, Sitwell, Sassoon, and the Thomases all come together for an evening at the ballet—and am I the first to notice?
If you are going to make major claims for Updike as a writer, as Begley wishes to do, you must show how Updike’s style and his cosmology correspond, and you must give an account of the effects that style produces.
Gay is the new vampire. Everywhere in YA fiction, boys are kissing boys, girls are sidling up against the captains of their swim teams, and queer kids are getting cute. Yet there’s a tremendous disconnect between what’s happening in the YA marketplace and what’s going on with adult fiction.
While the following three piano-themed books — Alan Rusbridger’s Play it Again, Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser, and Murray Bail’s extraordinary The Voyage — are all inexplicably devoid of sniper rifles, they do present slightly more nuanced takes on perfection and its discontents.
Growing up all over the place makes you skilled at adapting, but it also makes you hungry to belong, something that in part motivates my writing: carving out a space I know, trying to understand what I’m witnessing around me.
As Alex Trebek said during the introduction to her 21st game, “We have a wonderfully delightful, friendly champion in Julia Collins. Until she gets into a game, then she becomes relentless.”
When the World Was Rear-Wheel Drive understands that loss is imminent and inevitable, and that the things we have lost are beyond retrieval. That’s what makes it so painful, and so lovely.
If Mad Men is itself a kind of advertisement -- a reflection and dramatization of our deepest desires, the ones we didn’t know we had -- then its message is both timeless and markedly modern: family is everything; we are hungry for family; your “real” family are, simply, the people who actually know you.
Nagarkar has said in multiple interviews that he doesn’t want to do the same thing twice. And in challenging himself as a writer, he is challenging his readers as well, tackling religion, history, and current events no matter who might take offense.
In Moomin, I didn’t stumble upon a strange new universe; I found an atmosphere that matched the strangeness I already felt inside.
I didn't have a great need to write that story, but the quote would have fit it so perfectly I actually have an unfinished draft somewhere in my discarded Word documents.
June is overflowing with matrimony -- but it's also the home of another modern ritual, graduation day -- or, as it's more evocatively known, commencement, an ending that's a beginning.
These are evil men, but Gay makes certain that we never forget that they are men, made of the same hope and fury and flesh as us.
Zirin asserts that large-scale events like the Olympics and the World Cup offer countries like Brazil the perfect opportunity to install neoliberal economic policies that their publics would otherwise never authorize.
Tavares, with language uncorrupted by sentiment and attachment, is in search of the secret order of mankind.
The Booker shortlist and the eventual winners have been decried for being too populist, too elitist, too imperialist, too predictable. Edward St. Aubyn's new novel, Lost for Words, is a briskly readable satire on the annual circus.
But the thing I wanted to do with this anthology was get past the stance that we’re going to explain this city. I wanted to get the candid conversations Detroiters have with other Detroiters -- diverse and true and candid conversations people have at a dinner table or in a bar.
As well as showing us pain that in fiction would be unbearable, by having the courage to write memoir, Angelou also shared hope that in fiction would be implausible.
For Bronwen, joining Soho has become a way to keep her mother closer than she ever thought she could. A book will come up that she remembers her mother reading or acquiring. She’ll stumble across books or a note with her mother’s handwriting. She’s surrounded by hundreds of thousands of pages of her mother’s work and passion.
The documentary Finding Vivian Maier recently joined the burgeoning conversation about its titular subject, a reclusive Chicago nanny whose collection of street photography was discovered at a storage auction shortly before her death in the form of thousands of undeveloped rolls of film.
Jenna Blum, whose debut novel became a New York Times bestseller four years after its release, visited with as many as three book clubs a day (an estimated of 800 total), and calls her book a “poster child” for the influence of book clubs on a book’s success.
You need to love words. You don’t need to love a certain type of book or a particular writer, but you need to love letters and phrases and the possibilities of language. You will spend most of your days dealing with words, and students can sense if words do not bring you joy.
You can read Magneto as the nightmare of every post-1945 Jewish humanist. He is the Jew who lost the soulful liberalism of the Yiddishkeit, and who has allowed the Holocaust to turn him into everything he despises. He is the Jew who will bomb Gaza and say, with some credibility, that it is for defense while privately acknowledging a pleasure in revenge. He is the Jew who has allowed the Holocaust to instill in him a debilitating paranoia.
My new binoculars stowed in my backpack, my birding journal scribbled with a few preliminary notes, and I was ready for my inaugural adventure. I biked into Prospect Park with only a vague idea of where to go, and I was still a little mystified about how one actually finds birds.
“But do you think it’s a good way of training oneself — inventing imaginary news?” “None better.”
He never had a chance. Three men held him down while a fourth sliced his face. Afterwards, he was almost unrecognizable. They could have killed him but they wanted him to live, bearing his scars for the rest of his life. Everyone would know what that meant.
I mention Sorrentino’s age -- his relative youth, for an artist so accomplished -- because what I have found most intriguing in his work is the character vehicle he’s chosen, time and again, for his explorations: the aging male in his unlovely twilight.
The standing desk has entered its heyday. It’s changing the cubicle skyline of corporate America, the open-plan shared workspaces of the startup world, and the studios and work nooks of thousands of writers across the country.
If sentimentality is a sin, it is only because feeling can be so beautiful. One moment of sentiment in literature is worth a thousand failures.
Everyone has had a close relationship that works better as a friendship than as a romance, and at some half-drunken moment of intimacy, everyone has wondered why. “New Year’s” seems a story poised to answer this very human question, and then, for some reason, it simply doesn’t.
"We are all just passing through,” Zacharias reminds us. “It is what we remember of the journey that we possess."
In a big shake-up, six books graduate to the Hall of Fame and we have a new number one.
Young God is a strong entry in the tradition of the Southern Gothic Novel (redneck noir subcategory), but, while reading it and after watching True Detective, I began to wonder if the genre still has any explanatory power for contemporary America.
While professional duty compels me to deliver judgment on the work at hand, I cannot in good conscience reveal the title, author or any identifying details about its plot for fear that some perverse soul might be tempted to go out and buy it.
Girls basketball was part of the culture. Each spring the TV broadcasts from the capacity crowds at the state’s largest arena in Des Moines took over one of the three stations our antenna received, and it was largely from these games that I learned the names of small town Iowa: Grundy Center, Montezuma, What Cheer.
Unlike the storms of March and the "uncertain glory" of April, Shakespeare's May, with its "darling buds," is always sweet, and ever the month for love.
What To Expect When 30 Women Write About Giving Birth: On Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers 0
There’s nothing watered-down about the stories in this volume: they are blunt, wistful, confessional, wise, loving, sorrowful, witty and sometimes eerie.
As a breezy and sarcasm-soaked account of one man’s very unsuccessful attempt to repeat what McManus accomplished in 2000, The Noble Hustle does not earn a rightful place in a tradition begun by Alvarez and continued by McManus.
William Shakespeare's 450th birthday is upon us, and at The Millions we wanted to celebrate it in 21st century American style, by debating which of his 38 plays is the best.
The problem with Spider-Man is the same problem with all popular comics heroes. Eventually, after several hundred issues, he hit a moment of stasis in which he stopped evolving, stopped discovering the strange hidden facets of his personality.
Start-ups offer unlimited vacation, but with the implicit understanding that you’ll bring your laptop with you. And there might be foosball in the office, but there’s also a fold-out couch so you don’t have to go home to sleep. Your CEO and you both wear the same company-branded t-shirt, but only one of you is going home to the multi-million-dollar house.
A Fairy Tale is a fascinating and often brutal meditation on alienation and trauma. “What separates man from any other species,” Peter’s father told him one evening, before it all came undone, “is his ability to adapt.” But in A Fairy Tale, adaptation is precisely the problem.
I’ve been around enough creative types to know that the only thing more toxic and debilitating than their schadenfreude is their seething resentment over the success of a rival. Especially when it’s seen as unearned.
Colombia of the ’80s and ’90s contained within itself Hell and Paradise all at once, each in its full force, neither diluting the other. This point is essential to understand why so many of us have taken to calling our beloved Nobel Laureate, the late Gabriel García Márquez, the most important Colombian who ever lived.
I had been casting about for the perfect title when I saw Susan Bernofsky’s new translation of The Metamorphosis at an airport bookstore, the beautiful cover submitting the title letters to the same transformative process as the book’s protagonist undergoes. This, I decided, would be my companion text as I semi-reclined on a plane, lay in bed, sat in a café, strolled upright in a park, and bellied up to a bar.
On the second day, I attended a Seder, with 14 pounds of beef brisket. On the fifth day, I saw Noah, with Russell Crowe looking like 14 pounds of brisket in a distressed denim bag.
One reason that Joan Chase has slipped into obscurity, while her rough contemporaries Robinson, Mason, and Mantel have ascended, is the relative infrequency with which she publishes.
The history of women interacting with Shakespeare's plays is also the history of women's rights, suffrage, and of the feminist movement. Shakespeare has been, and is, an uneasy ally.
A new dress, a change of scene, a spontaneous invitation: Marciano understands that these are the superficial actions people take in order to get at the deeper impulses they cannot name.
Good fiction can be a form of good works. As a Catholic, I recognize that life is a story of continuous revision, of failure and unexpected grace, and of dogged hope. I am comfortable with the white space of ambiguity and mystery. I have faith, not certainty.
This might not be the thing one wants to hear before embarking on a 1,500 page quest, but the trilogy is marked by a narrative desultoriness that applies to both its human and political dramas. The novels are in a some ways about widespread distraction and inaction in the face of an impending catastrophe.
A few years ago, when I first starting reading and writing about Dovlatov, I focused on the wickedly humorous side of Dovlatov’s deadpan. But a few years later, and a few more books into his body of work, I find myself more interested in that earnestness and regret -- in Dovlatov the evolving man and artist, who crafted and, yes, honed a version of himself in his fiction that was just distorted enough to be true.
I think there’s a great temptation to sort of resist what it is you do naturally.
Surely, high-frequency trading is more complicated than Lewis's portrait, but if he hadn’t found a way to boil down this highly technical issue to an emotionally satisfying tale of good vs. evil, most of us would never have known it existed.
It’s February 4, 1937. The poet Osip Mandelstam is in Voronezh, a provincial city deep in the Russian steppe. He has one year left to live.
Donna Tartt's bestseller wins the fiction prize.
One possible implication of The Best European Fiction series is not only that Europe is going the way of America, but that the stories in it already represent the kind of writing that isn’t possible in America anymore.
After centuries of shuffling papers, biographers must now deal with the sudden digitization of the self, and the behavioral changes that have followed.
To better understand how metaphors are being used in coverage of surveillance, PEN embarked on a study of articles by journalists and bloggers. There is rich thematic diversity in the types of metaphors that are used, but there is also a failure of imagination in using literature to describe surveillance.
The literary world and the video games world could greatly benefit each other. Even a conversation, let alone the beginning of real collaborations and dialogues, would help each contend with their respective shortcomings.
The IMPAC tends to be interesting for the breadth of books it considers, and the 2014 shortlist is no exception.
It's miraculous that these little darlings didn't get killed in the rewriting process.
On a dismal midwinter Thursday, we – eighteen current students of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, poets and fiction writers alike - set out to chronicle one ordinary 24-hour period in our lives. Hannah Horvath: take note.
Leslie Jamison is a different kind of listener. She’s one willing to implicate herself and ask the tough questions about her (and our) capacity to understand each other.
If a first novel fails to become a blockbuster, as almost all of them do, publishers are less inclined to get behind the follow-up by a writer who has gained a dubious track record but has lost that most precious of all literary selling points: novelty. Writers get only one shot at becoming The Next Big Thing.
Poetry and music share a word of process -- composition -- and are linked by negotiations of melody, harmony, rhythm, proportion, and discord. Here is a poetry playlist: 10 poets offer their composition soundtracks.
Here is a selection of recommended April reading, heavy on birth, death, and rebirth, and a little boredom.
I know a teacher’s role is not to be an analyst. Actually, I don’t know this. I don’t know why it would be wrong to bring up where the energy of the text is, where the elisions are. To some degree, you move the writer before they can move their text. That’s what I mean by permission. It isn’t the silent listener at the end of a couch but it feels that way – waiting for a writer to face their anxieties, their resistances.
In a corner of the world far from the western imagination, poetry may stand for something vibrant, illicit, honest, and subversive.
Only a true Pollyanna would try to minimize Detroit's staggering problems. But buying into the dreary old ruin-porn narrative is, in its way, as myopic as rosy optimism.
In America it is the privilege of the white man to rollick, even if he is a poor Jew born into moderate squalor. The black man, in this novel at any rate, can only be fucked around; his hope, in this novel, is to discover his own way of doing things.
I had a voracious appetite to consume certain books I’d read long ago, revisiting passages that had always been especially moving. Or -- and this was fun and also eerie in its accuracy -- I found myself submitting to cravings for books I had never before read but the combined language, plot, and characters of which turned out to produce the perfect meal of prose for this pregnant bibliophile.
For most white Americans born outside the South, the Civil Rights Movement is the stuff of history books — fascinating, but abstract. For people like Taylor and myself, whose families were profoundly shaped by the civil rights struggle before we were born, that turbulent era is acutely personal, and at the same time distant and exotic.
Fear and wonder pulled me toward both astronomy and writing. If the world does not create awe in us, we will neuter the beautiful and complex. The profound becomes prosaic.
Set in the New York art world, The Blazing World tells the story of Harriet Burden, an accomplished, middle-aged artist so frustrated by her lack of stature that she arranges for three younger male artists to show her work as their own.
The issue of how adults in Redel's fiction respond to children has reemerged following the recent publication of her short story collection Make Me Do Things. The compulsion suggested by the title reflects the tendency of her characters to lurch toward problematic, even dangerous choices.
For a “blood sport,” la chasse is peaceful. “This is all so civilized,” a foreign policy advisor originally from Montana once remarked to me (even though gunfire blasted around us).
The attack happened in 1991 in Algonquin Park. It was a couple who were experienced campers. What took me years to come to terms with was that they didn’t do anything wrong, and the bear was just being a bear. It was quite chilling.
We hereby submit our ideas for the Goldfinch cast. The process reveals the bizarre extent to which I think I understand the Hollywood casting processes, which starlets we think play trashy the best, and how it might be worth it to turn the cast on its head to let Michael B. Jordan play Theo.
The winners of the National Book Critics Circle Award have been announced in New York City.
He had finished his first [novel], Small Change, when he was 23, and it was bought and slated for publication until he balked at changing the title to Season of Lust. The book was never published, nor were the next three. Eventually, as he puts it, “the noise of the hungry bellies of my kids used to keep me up at night.” So he got a real job, this time as a war correspondent—for, as it turned out, Newsday.
As the practice of writing on paper (everything from telegrams to letters to books to Post-It notes) is increasingly devoured by technology, words on paper are evolving from widespread tools of communication into the rarefied stuff of art. As things recede, they also expand. As a result, words are becoming as legitimate as the more traditional subject matter of painting, drawing, video and sculpture.
I wondered about the first professional decisions of newly minted editors — be they powerful tastemakers blissfully ignorant of P-and-L statements or recently promoted assistants. What drew them to the first proposal they tried to acquire? Did they look upon the decision as a momentous one? Do they even remember it now?
I couldn’t care less really if I’ve disillusioned you. It is within your gift not to read the book. So really, it didn’t give me the minimum pause for thought.
Whether or not True Detective returns for another season and solves its woman problems, here's a list of crime novels where there’s a woman in charge. You might discover, like me, that you’re an accidental fan of the female detective.
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is a staggering accomplishment, an exquisite and often ecstatic rendition of a tumultuous affair: “Jupiter has been with Leda, I thought, and now nothing can avert the Trojan wars. All legend will be broken, but who will escape alive?”
I submit that the kind of place Parker holds within jazz tradition is a little like what you would get if you mixed Beethoven with Jimi Hendrix. He was a game changer.
Life for Scott Stossel has been a gauntlet of morbid what-ifs: what if I pass out, lose control of my bowels, bolt from the podium in the midst of a speech? To keep such mayhem at bay, he’s medicated himself with bourbon, scotch, gin, and vodka. By prescription, he has taken Klonopin, Xanax, Ativan, Imipramine, Wellbutrin, Nardil, Thorazine, Zoloft, Effexor, Paxil, and Propranolol.
High genre is fiction that allows you to investigate an individual text, because it is full of its own traits and merits, whether in its characterizations, its plot, or its prose. Regular genre, I suppose, is something you can only talk about as a family -- tracing the themes shared collectively among its members. High genre will always be vulnerable to the taint of its lower peers, because it shares the equipment, the same beats. This is why people are drawn to True Detective, and yet can accept assertions that it is just another dead naked lady show.
There are precious few opportunities in life to read and be read to, and there is something utopian to me about the creation of a site like Librivox, which operates solely on people's inexhaustible appetite for reading and listening.
We don't know quite what to do with March. We're excited and frightened by its power and variability. Here is a selection of recommended reading for a moody month.
I hope Amtrak develops these introductory residencies into a full program, and that these writers are inspired to create new work, breathe life into old drafts, and maybe even enjoy some good reading.
Bidart wanted to have dinner with Franco so that he could explain his intentions in writing “Herbert White” (which is written in the first-person character of a necrophiliac murderer), plus, he said, “Of course I wanted to have dinner with James Franco! He was brilliant in Pineapple Express!”
The prognosis? It’s not good. Ugrešić laments what has become of the author who has to perform to earn a pittance and a hot meal. She laments a culture where action and image trump the self-doubt and time for contemplation.
There used to be a time when my story might have been: ‘I saw her enter the room and I was terrified that she would recognize me and so I crouched down.’ Which is actually sort of boring. But now you can tell that as: ‘I saw her, and I was like, oh my god! I was like, what if she sees me? I was like, oh my god, I’ve gotta hide. I was like, what am I supposed to say to her?’
How do you teach writing to students who watch movies and television instead of reading?
The great, unlikely gift of postal submissions was the building of patience and discipline. Now we can publish at any and every moment.
What the book may lack in personal revelations about the author, it makes up for with a better understanding of his process.
And the food! If nothing else (and there is plenty else), the novel revels in its cuisine. Sentences are peppered with exquisite dishes throughout and take detailed note of the textures and presentation and garnishes, allowing reader gorge. Dishes served include pig’s ear, hard salami, putty-colored lambs tongue, rabbit ragù with pappardelle, salted brittle, and sardines.
Churchwell has done something almost unimaginable: she has discovered something new and she has written something fresh and revealing about The Great Gatsby.
Even as the RoboCop movies have declined in quality, they have served as ever-sharper reflections of what's going on in the culture at large.
Some branches of physics suggest that we live today in a multiverse. Within the multiverse, our universe is one of many. One variation of string theory holds that all possible outcomes of an event actually happen, across different universes. In this universe, my friends are dead, but in a parallel universe, they decided to sleep in, or to let the driver drive, or to return the suicide package when it came in the mail.
Like much current prison literature, Orange is the New Black seeks strenuously - and tellingly - to reaffirm the triumph of the human spirit. Rather than dwell on her misfortune or become too accustomed to prison life, Piper Kerman stages a protest, Oprah-style: no one can keep her down.
I couldn’t question Hemingway’s mastery of prose. His pancake recipe inspired less confidence.
Is a writer allowed to have regrets? Certainly. Is she allowed to air them publicly? I mean, yeah, it’s a free internet, why not? Do I want to hear a single additional word about the world of Harry Potter from J. K. Rowling that is not in the form of another book? No, not particularly.
But does a universal, mystical “Russian Soul” really exist? Did it ever? Is it the only explanation for what makes Russians Russian? For this crop of authors, the answer is nyet.
A hint of menace creeps in; the title seems less and less like a question or plea and more like an imperative to submit to Eros and the attendant havoc.
James's detective novels represent the best qualities of the genre: they are absorbing, intellectually challenging, emotionally satisfying, and artfully constructed. The process of unraveling the mystery demands the reader’s attention and patience as the investigators work through the evidence, and yet the solutions that emerge seem simultaneously surprising and inevitable.
This kind of gymnastic use of a single word is Smith's specialty, but instead of simply engaging in verbal pyrotechnics for their own sake, Smith wants to understand the dynamic between language and our inner lives.
You may think that the most interesting man in the world has a scraggly gray beard, drinks Mexican beer, and hangs out with women half his age. But you’re dead wrong. I discovered the real deal. His name was Martin Gardner.
I've found myself subconsciously pairing Sochi's absurdities with their analogues from the canon of Russian literature. And as I've come to learn, the Russian masters saw the writing on the wall well before the Olympic torch made its way to the Black Sea's coast.
Accusations of scientism and reductionism may or may not be warranted, but the fact remains: the most fundamental discovery in all of biological science remains more-or-less completely un-talked about in English seminars.
In America, teachers are either seen as angelic or caustic, saviors or sycophants. These stereotypes enable politicians to convince the public to support the latest education fad or slash needed budgets. The reality is we teach because we love to help kids, and we think literature is a way to examine and understand our complex lives.
Here is a selection of recommended reading for February, full of love, birthdays, and late-winter gloom.
The question implicit in Gazdanov’s fascinating novel is whether such macabre determinism is self-perpetuated or inalterably woven into the fabric of our existence. Does believing we are doomed to die in a particular way bring about that very end — or do we believe it because we know in our prescient soul it’s the inexorable truth?
The Grand Experimenter, it turns out, was Ludwig van Beethoven. This musical colossus, completely deaf, his personal affairs in chaos, perennially behind in his finances, unwell and unloved, reworked the string quartet in ways that continue to bewilder and astonish.
This is the story of one person in one fandom, but it’s likely got hints of your story, too, if you’ve ever been involved in this sort of thing. I’d hope that it resonates if you’ve ever really loved something that you haven’t created -- the I’d-kill-for-you kind of love of a work of art that inspires others to say things like, “Whoa, whoa, slow down, it’s just a book.”
Novelists tend to be repulsed by and attracted to the literary biographer, who is both kindred spirit and antagonist, reviver and executioner, exalted Boswell, and the “lice of literature” (to quote Philip Roth from Exit Ghost).
Want Not craves pride of place with such “sprawling” novels of social commentary as Infinite Jest and Freedom. Surprisingly, though, it turns out not to be a didactic story about reducing, reusing, and recycling. It may be just the opposite, a subversive argument that we are focusing our attention on the wrong sort of waste.
A lot of young writers don’t have a lot of empathy, and I don’t think I did. But that’s just part of growing up. If you still have the knives out when you’re my age, it’s time to put them away.
We are undoubtedly swayed by the little billboard that is the cover of every book we read.
I'm a known pig, but over the course of my 20s I have been successfully indoctrinated against certain kinds of fast food and most grocery items that come in packages, which leads to confused, contradictory, and offensive positions on things. I won’t eat a Keebler Snack Cake, but I will eat an entire salami. I spurn the Olive Garden, but regularly eat a calorie-laden burrito filled with God knows what. I see fellow bus-riders with translucent McDonald’s bags to be fed to young children and feel sad, disregarding my past encounters with the Quarter Pounder and the Whopper.
Snow has also become a refrain in my reading. Snow fractures storylines and complicates characters. Snow forces writers to capture atmosphere and mood, and to uniquely describe a common event.
This year's five nominees spring from material that varies widely in tone and quality. This source material is not all bad, by any stretch. But there isn't the handiwork of an untethered imagination in the pack.
In Claire DeWitt, Sara Gran has given the hard-boiled detective a good, hard hipster twist, creating a character with a savagely vigilant mind and a black heart always on the verge of breaking.
We are not revisiting these characters and conceits because we are out of new ideas. A very old idea resonates; it comforts and entertains. In the case of Sherlock, even after all these retellings, it still manages to surprise.
As Upworthy-style headlines sweep the internet, aiming to snag as many clicks as possible by pandering to as many whims and obsessions as possible, the dignified mystery of the great book title stands in stark contrast.
What Meloy does share with Thoreau is a need for wilderness. As a naturalist and memoirist, she guides her readers toward a conscious relationship with the natural world, urging them to bear witness -- to choose something to care about.
Reading literary fiction — including the works of Chekhov — increases scores on tests of empathy and emotional intelligence. But be advised that Chekhov doesn’t provide easy answers to becoming a kinder, more caring person.
As often tends to be the case, the NBCC is offering up what may be the most well-rounded fiction shortlist you'll find.
We take for granted the difficulty of ascending to the empyrean heights of genius, but descending into the “majesty of mud” poses its own challenges for those unpure hacks not blessed “with all the might of gravitation.” Or to put it in distinctly non-Augustan terms, hackin’ ain’t easy.
Love will bring a man to his knees. What ultimately draws me to Dubus is a fear of myself. It is a fear that has no justification in my history: I have managed to avoid violence, certainly any coming from my own hands. But Dubus’s fiction taps into the preternatural worry that we can turn, in a moment, from a person we have prayed to become to something sharp and wrong. To read Dubus is to be possessed by art.
It is tempting to say that this was an episode when one of America’s greatest print forgers crossed paths with one of America’s greatest rare book thieves.
At 9,100 words strong and encompassing 89 titles, this is the only 2014 book preview you will ever need.
We lost great talents from every precinct of the literary world last year. Here is a highly selective compendium of the how they lived, when they died, and the books they left behind
It’s with a sense of incompletion that I offer my nine recommendations here for January, books and poems that begin, or hinge, or are contained in the year’s first month.
What these very different artists have in common is a hunger for that most writerly of staples, narrative.
These were the days when the Internet was new, cell phones were for stockbrokers, and if you missed a movie in the theater, you had to wait six months or even a year or more to catch up. We don’t have to wait for anything now. I’m not sure that’s an entirely good thing.
I watched my students run through a whole lot of books. Here are three published in 2013 that won the hearts of some young adults I know, recommended in their own words. Pick one up for a young adult in your life: satisfaction guaranteed.
For all those readers unwrapping shiny new devices, here are some links to get you going.
The book contains laugh-out-loud scenes with junkies, dealers, and a defense lawyer; charming childhood memories involving Candyland; and moving accounts of Clune’s daily practice of sobriety
A friend told me he still considers it the finest fictional depiction of marriage he’s ever read. I agree.
He is the bastard love-child of John McGahern and JG Ballard, and this is a brilliant book.
Most art from Warhol to present leaves me eye rolling and/or giggling. It finally helped me to understand the contents of the Whitney Museum as more than bad practical jokes.
A book I think of as Pure Enjoyment 2013: each story a mini film-noir unfolding across pages.
I’d place it above every American novel except Moby-Dick, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom!
My absolute favorite thing: a collection of really, really horrible and unsettling stories. Best read late at night, when no one else is home.
It’s hugely imaginative, brilliantly written, funny, and sad. What else would you want from a novel?
Somehow I missed all that when I was a sex obsessed fifteen year old trolling for the dirty parts.
A hypnotic piece of writing that reinvents all those so-called literary reinventions of the crime novel.
Isak Dinesen sends you on your way to wherever you are going to end up, though who knows where that might be. Better yet, once you finally arrive where you’ve been headed all along, you can’t exactly say how you got there.
It is Duras’s great accomplishment that, by the end of The Square, I am convinced that these two minds and souls are not only fully real, but that they are me.
The Orenda sheds new light on the dark crime at the heart of all North American history, but more important than that, it renders the ostensible victims of that crime, the Indians, as complex, fully realized human beings.
I’ve always liked books about drugs; they’re a good substitute for drugs.
The Race Beat could have been a dry list of forgotten bylines and protests, but these personal details made it a sweeping narrative with heroes and villains, tragedy and victory, and even nuance.
I don't buy books or movie tickets based on awards, and I'm proud to be able to say that I bought my copy of The Good Lord Bird before it was nominated for the National Book Award and I finished reading it before the awards ceremony.
What makes Scissors extraordinary isn't Stéphane Michaka's technical fireworks, but the humanity and compassion with which he presents his flawed and fascinating characters, in their struggles with alcoholism, with one another, with their work, with themselves.
Early in the book, Celeste Price marks her classroom with her vaginal juices, so she might better seduce one of the unsuspecting boys in her eighth grade class.
It also oozes braininess and sex. If you aren't intrigued, you're a hard, hard soul.
If you've ever wondered why the Church of England has failed to substantially revise its prayer book since 1662, or what the jokes in Victorian novels about church candlesticks are really about, this is the history for you.
Smart and funny and brutally moving, it's the most aggressive short story collection I've read in a long time, one that forces emotional participation and moral complicity on its readers.
It helps to root myself in the books I’ve been reading over the past 11 months: they have carried me across the ocean, as I have carried them.
Everything about Device 6 -- including your reading/playing experience -- is anticipated by the narrative framework of the book/game.
Tartt’s prose has the unfakeable depth and luster of long gestation, reward for the decade-long waits between her books.
This collection knocked me out because the stories are quiet and understated and lucid and gather up their power almost without the reader realizing it, then they break your heart, just like that.
More biographies should be poetic-philosophical treatises that foreclose morality in favor of essence.
The Second Annual Janet Potter Awards for Literary Achievement...including "Cutest Couple," "Best Temper Tantrum," and "Biggest Failure."
To me, her gift is akin to that of those rare actors, like a Streep or a Brando, who can totally become a character but retain their own essence through and through.
Reading her reminded me of that child-like excitement when you can’t look up from the page, when your eyes seem to be popping from your head, when you think: I didn’t know books could do this!
Rush has successfully created that rare and most valuable art form, the novel of ideas.
We are not always comfortable discussing some of the situations so masterfully portrayed in this book.
Who – or what – the young daughter is can’t be discussed without revealing a major spoiler, suffice it to say it is a whopper.
I’m sick of the relentless, numbing emotionalism of American culture.
This year, as I embarked on a novel, I became a kind of kleptomaniac, with all of the ghosts and voices and ideas from the books I’d just read haunting my attempts to put words on the page.
Real America™ is where you get your first kiss, but also your first black eye. It’s where your uncle sets off fireworks each year on the Fourth of July until your family stops inviting him because of something the aunts won’t talk about.
If I see you at a holiday party this December, I will corner you at the punch bowl and talk your ear off about Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. This book is a masterpiece! And, hey, here, let me ladle you some punch, that’s a nice sweater, etc.
When I read him, he calls me back, to a time not long ago that nevertheless seems distant, when the people I hung around didn't care a whit about prestige or the bull of the thinking class. Their fathers were off in Bosnia, and they didn't need our crap.
This year the books I liked best fell into two categories: tortoises and hares.
When I wasn't reading a bunch of depressing shit, I read some strange and wonderful things.
Pym is funny and witty, brilliant at portraying the middle class English of the 1950s, and in particular she does the "psychology of femaleness" very well.
“No, no, no,” I mutter to my former self. “Believe you me, pal, you don’t know shit about not reading. But you’re about to learn. Stick around another few months, then we’ll talk about not reading.”
Both James Wood and Wayne Koestenbaum continue to be in leagues of their own.
Many of my most memorable reads in 2013 have, I realize now, been re-reads.
I am not the first to say this, but let me say this nonetheless: Thank God for the NYRB series of reissued books.
Probably the single most perfect book I encountered in 2013 -- it didn't just reward my attention; it commanded it.
I decided to Yiddishize some of the writing to make it more haimish. Mr. Darcyvich never had it so good.
The most necessary book of the year 2013. It is full of intellectual fire.
It is entirely without plot, but bear with me when I tell you that this doesn’t prevent it from being its own kind of page-turner.
I'd never read anything by her before and was just floored.
It is a kind of enchantment, to be lured so completely into the life of this character.
I realized that I had a drawer full of blank journals that I had never used, all given to me by friends and family wanting to support my writing habit. I knew I couldn’t be the only writer with this particular surplus, so I decided to draw up a list of items that writers might actually use.
Every emo youngster should read this, it is where their contemporary literature came from!
By the time I got to the end of the first paragraph, I was entirely willing to put myself into her hands and go where she wanted to take me.
Another year of living, another year of reading. And, if you're like us, when you look back, you'll mark out the year in books.
The civil rights movement is a brutal place, where young men torture themselves for the great cause, and where the moments of euphoria are all too rare.
Out came my 12-gauge, and I loosed off a shot that at some 100 feet did no discernible damage, and after a brief bout of what-the-hell-was-that the turkeys continued to forage. A fusillade of two more shots finally brought down a 14-pounder. I hung him for four days, plucked him and by Thanksgiving’s end he was history.
Where You Are, an anthology of sixteen maps by an eclectic mix of writers, artists, and thinkers, delights in leading the reader astray by blowing up the conventional conception of the map.
I want to look for my entry onto the page, into a line, an image, a something. The seven-plus-minute song “Reflektor” has become a ritual these days. Blast it louder and maybe the portal will appear. Will I dive in?
I wanted the reader to feel like they were in some awful, horrendous dive bar in a tremendously deranged Irish city in the middle of the 21st century and there’s some crazy old fucking whisky-drunk nut alongside them whispering this demented tall tale into their ears.
I am not sure if my mother is crying from the beating, from loving him, or because of the broken oven that had survived a civil war but is now not likely to be replaced, and which, although we can’t know that yet, would never bake right again.
Even if I managed to keep my mental concentration long enough to maintain one section of this library-of-the-mind, the idea of trying to juggle multiple sections ended up being too much, and I was forced to give up the whole project, having only completed one of Borges’s hexagons.
Why would Shakespeare involve himself in trying to patch up a play already rejected by Tilney for containing dangerous material, and not only be involved, but agree to write one of the stickiest scenes in the play? It certainly challenges popular conceptions of Shakespeare.
The 200-odd Bronx high school students did not shut up for one single second once they entered the theater. Guys wolf-whistled at girls across the theater, and the girls hollered back, daring the boys to come down after them. Spitbombs flew. Paper airplanes sailed.
Moss Hart had talent, an inhuman tolerance for work, and a pair of brass balls, but what set him apart from the thousands of other guys hanging around theater lobbies in the mid-1920s trying to catch a break was that the man was fucking relentless.
Doctorow's selective use of historical figures and events lends Ragtime its air of verisimilitude without robbing him of the freedom to imagine and distort and mythologize. It is, for a writer of fiction, the best of all possible worlds.
This is fiction as a never-ending car chase, and you might just get away if you can only stop your vehicle from turning into a lampshade.
Authors as influential as Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins have the opportunity to inspire their readers toward greatness, but they squander it miserably.
There’s a smattering of poetry wending its way through space. But where’s the fiction drifting through the dark sea of ionized gas? Wouldn’t we send at least one Chekhov story?
To read Jason Schwartz is to enter a fugue state, in both senses of the word. His writing is, like a musical fugue, a mesmerizing series of themes stated successively in different voices; it is also, in the psychiatric sense, a state marked by wandering and an inability to remember one's past accurately. It is a state unlike any other.
Gardam didn’t sit down to write what would become her first collection of short stories until she was 41. But even in her first works, written for children, a reader can sense a lifetime of thoughtful observation — and the even hand of a veteran gardener, which, it turns out, she is.
While the characters featured in Hatching Twitter feel more like archetypes than actual humans, it’s hard not to eat this stuff up. Aspects of Dorsey’s behavior are hilariously juvenile. After being ousted from the company, he continued to take any and all interviews about Twitter, feigning authority when answering questions he did not know the answer to.
No matter how people approach loneliness or solitude or community, we all do. We’re not that different from each other. The way we experience it is different, but we all experience love, pain, loneliness.
Obama’s administration has been a devastating disappointment, in so many different ways. Fanatical secrecy, the persecution of whistleblowers, foreign interventions and arms shipments that make things worse, the quintupling of drone killings -- it just has to be said.
Cossery would rise late each day, leaving the hotel only in the afternoons, perhaps to take in the sun and watch the girls of the Luxembourg gardens. He would sit for hours at the Flore doing nothing. He wrote only when he had absolutely nothing better to do, producing a new novel roughly every decade. To waiters who asked him if he was not bored, he replied: “I am never bored when I’m with Albert Cossery.”
With a billion swirling atoms of possibility and just that one fixed coordinate, a story takes shape as van den Berg brings the unexpected into brilliant focus.
Why would anyone decide to write a novel in first-person plural, a point of view that, like second-person, is often accused of being nothing but an authorial gimmick? Here are a few novels that prove first-person plural is more of a neat trick than a cheap one.
Most of the personal tributes I’ve seen don’t just talk about how great a musician Lou Reed was but how his fine, fine music literally changed their lives.
One reviewer of The Counselor remarked that the man who wrote the script, Cormac McCarthy, appears never to have read a screenwriting manual. I can think of no higher compliment for a screenwriter.
McDonald’s introduced me — and I would venture thousands of other kids — not only to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer but also to the notion of a classic. In 1977 and again in 1979, the fast food chain paired up with the publisher I. Waldman & Son to distribute Illustrated Classics Editions in their restaurants.
One of the major problems with the heaven-and-back literature is that none of the people who have been there agree about what it’s like. These authors aren’t publicly disputing each other’s testimonials – which is too bad, because that would make for great daytime talk show fodder – but if you read more than one of the books, the discrepancies are hard to miss.
For Americans who have plowed through Munro’s Selected Stories and are looking for a broader taste of Canadian literature — or CanLit, as it is called here — I offer a partial and admittedly idiosyncratic “Beginner’s Guide to Canadian Literature.”
The funny guys and girls who are confident (it was dawning on me, there at that orientation) are the ones who hold court at parties. The funny guys who are diffident become comedy writers. Or, as I once read in an interview with an Onion writer speaking about the makeup of its staff—the closest thing we have to the National Lampoon in its heyday—they’re the guys who are outside the party, making fun of the guy inside telling jokes.
I started to have a terrible, itchy, and at first seemingly irrelevant thought: James Wood would dislike my book. Then my thought clarified into something worse: James Wood would dislike this book and he would be correct.
One thing that makes Roth Unbound interesting is that Pierpont was able to interview Roth in the first years of his retirement. You can feel Roth’s reflective, relaxed state of mind as he looks back on his career, cataloging his regrets and triumphs.
Each offers a thoroughly imagined world that’s immersive enough to make you feel like a kid again, with writing sharp and smart enough to satisfy a book-loving adult.
Living in New York turns out to be a process of earning nostalgia -- hoarding enough memories to give you the kind of claim on a place that makes it possible to leave it. When you reach your limit and set out elsewhere, memories are your consolation prize.
According to curator Sheelagh Bevan, the display is designed to celebrate the physical book and the importance of cover design, while at the same time showing off what everyone comes to the Booker to find: intellectual battles, backstabbing, and bitchery.
Anyone who has ever passed time in a hospital will find something recognizable and true in Lore Segal’s new novel, Half The Kingdom.
Hemingway put the Parisian bar, Harry’s, on the map. Dylan Thomas did the same for Manhattan’s White Horse tavern. This fall, Victor Giron’s Chicago watering hole, Beauty Bar, might prove just as instrumental to independent literature.
What is the wider cultural influence of literary magazines? I am not sure there needs to be one.
Moving beyond localized meaning, the stories challenge us to examine the psychology of our moment, a time in which our inability to understand the sacred paralyzes us in its presence.
It gives me great pleasure to picture the Apostle of Democracy doing quarter-mile repeats on the lawn of Monticello, perhaps in preparation for a match race with his Federalist challenger John Adams at the Founding Fathers Relays. But I digress.
I needed Heaney’s voice to know what a voice could sound like, and through Heaney I discovered my own voice. I learned to listen to the timbre of its echoes.
Maybe those days of curling up in bed with a story were long gone, but what if we read the same book together silently in the living room? If I bought two copies of a novel, we could take on chapter-length chunks each evening and then discuss what we’d just read. Perhaps in this way I could gently lead my son to an appreciation of the deeper internal landscapes that literature offers.
The contenders for the 2013 National Book Award were pared down to a five nominees in each category today. Here’s a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available.
Brad Bumsted is an important reminder that good journalism will always be built on what it was originally built on – not technological innovations, but on the ability of dogged, savvy, intelligent reporters to gather information and quickly turn it into factual, even-handed and engaging prose. Few people have done it longer than Brad Bumsted. Few do it better.
Under the sign of Libra, the reading public will be gifted that rarest literary treasure, a book of such dazzling breadth and scope that it defies any label short of masterpiece.
McNair is inventive, original, and has a particular talent for finding language that is surprising without being showy. But his real skill is his deep familiarity with the South as a place, it’s creatures, customs, and yearnings.
That hospital visit, which was longer than expected, I moved from Housekeeping to Beloved to A Personal Matter. And though these three books are so different that their authors might be surprised to see them all appear in the same sentence, they are linked in my mind, for the broad understandings they offered me of suffering and joy, and the complications of love.
Irish writers have begun to take stock of the post-Tiger years in ways that attest to the global nature of the bust. Two in particular, Aifric Campbell and Alan Glynn, offer compelling if wildly divergent responses to the challenge of representing in fictional terms what Campbell calls “the closed world” of the financial industry.
Alice Munro, called by the Nobel committee "Master of the contemporary short story," has won the 2013 Nobel Prize for literature. Munro, 82, is the first Canadian to take the prize.
The Circle occupies an awkward place of satire and self-importance.
Working poet Paul Chowder from The Anthologist returns in Nicholson Baker’s new novel, Traveling Sprinkler, which isn’t so much a sequel as a remake. It is a novel-rhyme; the two comprise a couplet.
It's been just over two years since Facebook first replaced walls with timelines, and the anniversary begs reflection. Might it truly be Facebook, and not the e-book, that threatens the paperback?
Taken as a collection, Nine Inches reveals a fatal flaw that undermines the skilled artistry: Perrotta’s heavy hand.
Initially I had a blog because everyone told me to have a blog. And when I started, I thought what can I regularly blog about that feels like a deep enough well? And the answer was: the process of writing. The creative process itself. What it takes to do the work, what are the pitfalls and the joys, the struggles and the privileges. We do what we do alone in a room. Yet we’re struggling with the blank pages.
The genius of Clancy's story, its basic believability, like Tolkien's, comes from a firm commitment to letting the plot unfold logically once the initial hook is in place. It is perhaps difficult to believe there is a ring of power that confirms upon its bearer numinous strength, or that a Russian missile submarine commander, in charge of the newest and most secret sub, would defect along with all his officers. But once you buy the beginning, the rest of the books proceed with rigor.
Unless you’re kicking it with the Compsons or Buendias, say, it usually takes a little bit of readerly patience to get through a multigenerational family story. One has to be on one’s game, in terms of care and attention. Nobody wants to spend several hundred pages with a bunch of allegorical figures sitting around the dinner table and passing each other the salt.
Some proposals are perhaps better forgotten. The following unromantic, bizarre, poorly delivered or conceived proposals elicit reactions less like Molly Bloom’s orgasmically affirmative “Yes I will yes I will yes!”.
Critics who have taken up the dead author standard would have us regard creative work as an elaborate Freudian slip: don’t read for what a writer is trying to say, read for what they’ve said in spite of themselves. That’s wrong. Literature (and all the arts, really) is the product of concentrated, intelligent minds to which we are granted intimate, but temporary and incomplete, access.
Meloy made an unexpected foray into middle grade fiction with a 2011 book about 14-year-olds and a magic book that falls into the hands of Russian spies. Despite being a reader in lockstep with this writer, I have absolutely no idea where she's going. It seemed time to query the writer herself.
In David and Goliath, Gladwell appears to have started with an answer and then gone looking for people to prove him right.
Both books are about how falling in love for the first time, particularly if you’ve never seen a love story you can relate to, can be as terrifying and confusing as it is joyful.
Kevin Barry's new collection of stories, Dark Lies the Island, shares the virtues that made his debut novel, City of Bohane, such an astonishment. There is rich music, high humor and deep blackness on every page.
It seems clear that if Tennessee Williams and Lorraine Hansberry were writing today they would be showrunners for a cable series, because that’s where the audience is.
“The babies know just what they need to do,” observed one seasoned mother, watching my son on the playground. He was standing at an iron gate performing what honestly looked like a series of leg-strengthening exercises. He was very focused, very serious. He didn’t need a sign reminding him not to start any new projects.
Using the New York City borough of Queens as a linchpin, Jonathan Lethem’s latest novel questions the American twentieth century’s “great comedy: that Communism had never existed, not once. So what was there to oppose?”
To call The Bluest Eye pornographic is simply wrong. Accusing Morrison’s work of containing child pornography both ignores the very important distinction between pornography and rape and displays the weakness of the arguments against the book.
Twitter somehow encompasses both sides of the Emily Dickinson dichotomy. On Twitter, the Nobodies have seized hold of the mic and managed to occupy the bog.
Just when I’d pronounced myself lost to empty, mindless indulgence, I invented a game: matching reality programs with classic literature. After playing a few times on the couch (flat screen to my left, library shelf to my right), I’m now unable to watch reality shows without asking, “So, what book is this like?” Inevitably, I discover one lesson on how to live and another on how to write.
A great pie is a product of both skill and wisdom; as, I believe, is a great life.
Last year, the fiction finalists included far more male authors than female, however the count is even in 2013.
The first thing to remember is that the government has never, ever respected your privacy. At least not since post-WWI and the Communist threat in America. They’ve been opening your mail for years. They’ve been wire-tapping without warrants for years. The only difference is that it’s easier now.
If this new project, hyped as one of the great literary reveals of our time, cannot help us find Salinger, what can?
It is the unholy alliance of Hitler and Mickey that tees up Urwand’s central claim: from 1933 to 1939, the Jewish moguls who ran Hollywood’s studio system “collaborated” with the Nazi regime, censoring and even quashing films that represented the German state in a negative light.
Most reviews of novellas begin with similar elements: the writer’s arbitrary word count parameter, why “novella” sounds more diminutive than “short novel,” and a lament that publishers are unwilling to support the form. This essay is not such an apology.
The writer -- forced into a seemingly endless series of student conferences and reading a seemingly endless pile of student poems and stories and essays -- sacrificing herself. Maybe there’s no getting around the exhaustion part of it all. At least, maybe, we can be tired but respected.
The writing is clear and economical, and to Maksik’s credit it never competes with Jacqueline’s ongoing plight. Add a plot so tightly focused on her immediate hardships and the unbreakable link to her mother, whose voice comes to her in memory with advice both wanted and unwanted, and Maksik seems to have set up an absolute gauntlet for himself.
A friend once even showed me a porno with a commentary track. While the director offers her insights into the filming process, along with increasingly belligerent rants about her colleagues, she gets completely shit-faced. After about 30 minutes, she passes out, and for the rest of the movie, you can hear her snoring breezily in the background.
Curiously, though, under all three sets of rules -- copyright, fair use, and most archive policies -- I am free to use my iPad to take good resolution images of unpublished manuscripts so long as I don't share them publicly. Who can say if this extends to the privacy of my own home where I might convert an unused closet into a Salinger shrine? Such is the fickleness of U.S. copyright law.
David is the vehicle for Coetzee’s effort to explore belief’s ability to conquer doubt — more particularly, the doubt of Simón — and of the way fantasies can coax even doubt itself into becoming a form of trust, of faith, of belief.
Jonathan Franzen's deeply ambivalent portrait of St. Louis in The Twenty-Seventh City is in some ways the dark twisted fantasy of a native son. After almost a decade here, I understand how this city could have driven him nuts and broken his heart.
Nick Coleman, a long-time music journalist in the UK, was made aware of his body’s terrible capriciousness when one of his ears stopped working. It left a dull blankness for a while, and then a building cacophony of tinnitus in both ears so severe that balance and concentration became almost impossible. Burdened with what could have been a ruinous impediment, he reaffirms his love of music.
Marisha Pessl's writing has done a lot of growing up in the seven years since Special Topics in Calamity Physics was published. Her new novel is bigger, more ambitious, and far more satisfying than her splashy debut.
I'd just gone through this break-up and was feeling crushed and heartbroken. I had quit my salaried staff job in advertising and I was running out of money/time. So I said, that's it. I have to do this. I have nothing else. I have to give it my all and actually finish this novel.
Memoir at its very best is the start of a conversation. It makes its interest in readers explicit, offering not just a series of life events, but a deliberate suggestion of what it is to be a human being – to experience confusion, despair, hope, joy, and all that happens in between.
What is it that can still seize me, after years of failure, and make me seek to write, to make art? I have no idea. All I know is that I do not have it in me to give up.
What follows are love affairs in hotel rooms, quiet suicides in basements, and monologues about being known for wearing goofy hats. What follows are stories that don’t begin and end in the same place, at least not emotionally. There are whole stories in what isn’t said.
Writing a vivid book about stuttering, a book that people read in the privacy of their own lives, is only one level of vulnerability. Standing up to speak about that book, while experiencing the sensation of stuttering and bearing witness to all the immediate reactions that evokes, is quite another.
"Books are solitudes in which we meet," Rebecca Solnit wrote. But before the meeting comes the solitude, the book as a private space that a reader steps into, and there are moments when escaping into a book is a bid for some measure of seclusion. If the solitude you crave at the moment is a quiet one, here’s a short reading list of quiet books that I've recently read and admired.
The books on this list range from the personal to the mythological to the journalistic, and some intertwine all three. They all depict a world of stark contrasts. There is danger here.
But I must come clean. As fun as it is to get a sale, my currently listed volumes are moving at a pace which would take some 70 years to empty my e-store. Of course, that's assuming people will continue to prize certain books: great out-of-print novels, first editions, volumes signed by the author. As e-books continue to take market share, paper books may be destined to become decorative objects, like cupboards built to hold commodes or vinyl album covers.
The first times I saw Elmore Leonard were in the 1950s and '60s, when we were living near each other in a Detroit suburb and I was playing football with his kid.
I never see a 7-Eleven Big Bite and don't instinctively desire to eat it. I know that Heinz ketchup is unmistakable and precious. A new paperback purchased with crisp American dollars? That's bliss. A Stephen King book? That's Shangri-la.
That Green's text, like her life, is marked by an awareness of suffering -- loss, grief, psychic alienation -- makes Bough Down, as excruciating as it is, deeply satisfying.
Strong female characters now reign aplenty in literature without their necessary ingénue escorts, slowly eroding the role of that stock accompanying character. It’s not that these strong female characters newly exist, or that they suddenly gained mass appeal, but rather that they are surviving on their own.
The following garret novels introduce memorably reclusive protagonists, skylight addicts who, in their zealous guarding of their charmed rooms, stay true to the fortifying history of garrets.
Javier Marías may be the only significant working writer to also be a king. As the sovereign of Redonda, Marías is the honorary monarch. His two-decade reign has nearly entirely consisted of bestowing titles on various artists -- John Ashbery is the Duke of Convexo, for example -- as part of an effort at tongue-in-cheek recognition.
The performer's recital is lovely, and the lilt and cadence of her voice are mesmerizing. But then halfway through, something happens that gets me thinking about artistry and solipsism and the fallout of one marrying up with the other. What happens is: A giant fly begins to circle the performer’s face.
What I lacked before coming to the U.S. was an appreciation of the rootedness of David Foster Wallace's work in a specific geography. I had experienced only how the map could shape the territory. Living in Cambridge allowed me to see how the territory might conversely underpin the literary map.
This is not a book about there. It’s about here, what America feels like, here, and now, while at war.
We can’t help being impressed by the incredible array of books and authors Borges discusses in his fictions and his essays, but we must remember that he read them because he loved them, because when he opened up those volumes he felt the “secret portals of heaven” opening up over his head.