The 2014 Longlist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction was announced today, and it’s a very disappointing and stodgy list . Roz Chast is on there (yay!) but it says something about one of the most prestigious literary awards in America that the judges chose NINE books by men and one…
A great list, to which I would add Zadie Smith’s Changing my Mind, Jenny Diski’s Stranger on a Train, Sarah Manguso’s The Guardians, Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave, Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water, Deb Olin Unferth’s Revolution, Lauren Slater’s Lying, and so many more.
"Sometimes,” Baker admits, “I don’t understand the difference between novels and essays. Novels are supposed to be dramatic, but look at ‘War and Peace’ — it’s full of essays. The novel has a stretchiness that can encompass this. On any given day, we make a bunch of revisions of our opinions, and it’s worth slowing down to look at these inconsistencies. That complicated mix of trying to put things in coherent form but also be true to potential interruptions, that’s what the novel can do.”
"I often think of the Orwell essay “In defence of the novel.” Orwell complains that the novel is “being shouted out of existence” by the inflation of praise, and he writes that “to apply a decent standard to the ordinary run of novels is like weighing a flea on a spring-balance intended for elephants.” His view is that since all novels published at a given moment are basically fleas, critics are forced to recalibrate their thermometers to judge the difference between one flea and another flea, making distinctions that aren’t really important. Meanwhile, when a truly great novel comes along, it bursts the thermometer that we are using to measure the fleas. With Franzen and Freedom, it seemed to me that here we have a flea that is being treated as an elephant. That doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the flea—it’s perfectly good as fleas go—but to regard it as an elephant is to lose our grasp of what a really great novel is."
"An essay begins with an idea, but an idea begins with a certain orientation of the mind and will — with a mood, if you please. We have only the ideas that our mood of the moment prepares us to have, and while our moods may be connected to the truth of things, they are normally connected only to some truths, some highly partial facet of reality. Out of that mood we think; out of those thoughts we write. And it may be that only in speaking those thoughts do we discern the mood from which they arose. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” — a terrifying judgment, when you think of it."
“I would not urge you simply to get off the PlayStation. I would urge you to understand who made the game. I would not urge you to take down your King James poster. I would urge you to think about the business that makes him possible. Perhaps you’d like to be part of that business some day. I would urge you think about what Kendrick is doing in his lyrics, to think about music. Do you know how to read music? Have you learned an instrument? Would that interest you? How about poetry? Have you ever read any? Would you consider trying to write some of your own?”—Ta-Nehisi Coates (via theatlantic)
"I just called myself a connoisseur of novels, which stretches the definition a little: ‘An expert judge in matters of taste.’ I have a deep interest in my two inches of ivory, but it’s a rare connoisseur who does not seek to be an expert judge of more than one form. By their good taste are they known, and connoisseurs tend to like a wide area in which to exercise it. I have known many true connoisseurs, with excellent tastes that range across the humanities and the culinary arts — and they never fail to have a fatal effect on my self-esteem. When I find myself sitting at dinner next to someone who knows just as much about novels as I do but has somehow also found the mental space to adore and be knowledgeable about the opera, have strong opinions about the relative rankings of Renaissance painters, an encyclopedic knowledge of the English civil war, of French wines — I feel an anxiety that nudges beyond the envious into the existential. How did she find the time?”
"There are choices we can make as consumers and as members of a creative community. A lot of the stuff I’m about to mention might seem very obvious. It’s definitely stuff you’re already doing. Let’s resolve to do more.
1. Buy books. New and old books, print books and ebooks, hardcover and paperback books, used and brand-new books.
2. Buy books from all kinds of stores.
3. Borrow books from libraries.
4. Recommend books. Use social media to discuss your reading. Use book clubs to discuss your reading. Use conversations with friends to discuss your reading. If you think someone you know would particularly like a book, tell her. Give her the book as a present or take it out from the library and hand it to her.
5. Thank people who have recommended books to you.
6. Read and write about books.
7. When writing about books online, don’t default to linking to a particular book retailer when mentioning the book. A lot of literary sites always link to Amazon because by doing this they get some amount of money via the Amazon Affiliates program. I believe that these sites should reevaluate their business models.
My current default is to link to Goodreads, but it’s probably even better to mix it up.
8. Diversify your sources of book recommendations. Start reading a different magazine or blog of book reviews.
"It’s easy to point to bad memoirs and use them to attack the entire form but the form is never the problem. When you attack personal writing you attack Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, and Sylvia Plath. In truth most books are bad and most publishers are risk averse. Many bookstores are going out of business. The changing media landscape has made it harder for journalists to make a living. But that’s not a problem with memoir."
I actually wouldn’t wish I had a gun. I’ve shot a rifle at camp once, but that’s about it. If I had a gun, there is a good chance I would shoot myself, thus doing the active shooter’s work for him (it’s usually “him.”) But the deeper question is, “If I were confronted with an active shooter, would I wish to have a gun and be trained in its use?” It’s funny, but I still don’t know that I would. I’m pretty clear that I am going to die one day. That moment will not be of my choosing, and it almost certainly will not be too my liking. But death happens. Life — and living — on the other hand are more under my control. And the fact is that I would actually rather die by shooting than live armed.
This is not mere cant. It is not enough to have a gun, anymore than it’s enough to have a baby. It’s a responsibility. I would have to orient myself to that fact. I’d have to be trained and I would have to, with some regularity, keep up my shooting skills. I would have to think about the weight I carried on my hip and think about how people might respond to me should they happen to notice. I would have to think about the cops and how I would interact with them, should we come into contact. I’d have to think about my own anger issues and remember that I can never be an position where I have a rage black-out. What I am saying is, if I were gun-owner, I would feel it to be really important that I be a responsible gun-owner, just like, when our kids were born, we both felt the need to be responsible parents. The difference is I like “living” as a parent. I accept the responsibility and rewards of parenting. I don’t really want the responsibilities and rewards of gun-ownership. I guess I’d rather work on my swimming.
"Magic Hours demonstrates clearly the bind of being a modern essayist: One must present oneself as an authority, but an authority who is also compelled to confess that to be human is necessarily to be weak, frightened, flawed. The position is somewhat irreconcilable, and the discomfort thereby engendered also speaks to something very deep, I suspect, in the kind of North American reader liable to have picked up the book in the first place. It’s a very familiar discomfort. Fans of this kind of writing might share the consciousness, with Bissell and his cohort, of being too lucky, too rich, too educated — privileged, powerful, but flawed, even undeserving. This disconnect winds up making the book really very good, which is to say, entirely true to the experience of its likely readership."
"I was not raped or victimized. I am not 13, uneducated, or impoverished. I do not live in Kansas or Alabama or North Carolina or Arizona. I did have some excellent consensual sex without benefit of wedding ring or adequate health insurance. And then I got pregnant and the choices at my disposal threw me into a monthlong tailspin until, in a few painful hours, those choices vanished, through a very nonmagical physiological process.
No one has unlimited choices; that’s a fact. So what lingers after this long, hot, confusing summer is this: With so many forces legitimately outside our control – forces of biology, history, geography, age — why is every woman in the United States not running blue-faced onto the field to do battle with those who would take what choices she does have away?”
"What to make of this? There is a violence to reviews like this, to reading reviews such as this, that depresses the spirit, that makes me feel silenced, when all I wrote about, which is not even acknowledged in the review, is the theories and histories of women writers who have been silenced by the culture. I feel flayed alive. I feel humiliated and shamed. I feel like giving up. But that’s horrible too, all that power, when that is the opposite impulse of the book, which traces my coming to writing and other women’s coming to writing and tries to theorize what made them stop writing. What I hate is that so much of the work is aware of how women writers have been historically read and dismissed, and yet I still give that dismissal so much power. What I hate is that I muse about contemporary and future girls who want to be writers, and encourage them to be brave in drawing from their own lives for their literature, despite the taboo against memoir, despite how they will be dismissed, despite how girls have always been dismissed, told that they are silly and self-indulgent and shouldn’t have a voice anyway."
"The serious critic can’t merely be an ecstatic initiate either, however—someone whose worship of Art and artistes can threaten to devolve into flaccid cheerleading. The negative review, after all, is also a form of enthusiasm; enthusiasm and passion for the genre which, in this particular instance, the reviewer feels has been let down by the work in question. The intelligent negative review, indeed, does its own kind of honor to artists: serious artists, in my experience, want only to be reviewed intelligently, rather than showered with vacuous raves—not least, because serious artists learn from serious reviews. (The best advice I ever got, right before the publication of my first book, was from a publishing mentor who told me, “The only thing worse than a stupid bad review is a stupid good review.” And he was right.) For this reason, any call to eliminate negative reviewing is to infringe catastrophically on the larger project of criticism: if a critic takes seriously his obligation to pass judgments—which, merely statistically, are likely to have to be negative as well as positive—his sense of responsibility to those judgments and their significance has to outweigh all other considerations. People who want to go to lots of parties without provoking awkward literary encounters should be caterers, not critics."
"Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others. Black America ever lives under that skeptical eye. Hence the old admonishments to be “twice as good.” Hence the need for a special “talk” administered to black boys about how to be extra careful when relating to the police. And hence Barack Obama’s insisting that there was no racial component to Katrina’s effects; that name-calling among children somehow has the same import as one of the oldest guiding principles of American policy—white supremacy. The election of an African American to our highest political office was alleged to demonstrate a triumph of integration. But when President Obama addressed the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, he demonstrated integration’s great limitation—that acceptance depends not just on being twice as good but on being half as black. And even then, full acceptance is still withheld. The larger effects of this withholding constrict Obama’s presidential potential in areas affected tangentially—or seemingly not at all—by race. Meanwhile, across the country, the community in which Obama is rooted sees this fraudulent equality, and quietly seethes."
“Being fact-checked is not very fun. Good fact-checkers have a preternatural inclination toward pedantry, and sometimes will address you in a prosecutorial tone. That is their job and the adversarial tone is even more important than the actual facts they correct. In my experience, seeing your name on the cover of a magazine will take you far in the journey toward believing your own bullshit. It is human to do so, and fact-checkers serve as a valuable check to prevent writers from lapsing into the kind of arrogant laziness which breeds plagiarism and the manufacture of facts. The fact-checker (and the copy-editor too actually) is a dam against you embarrassing yourself, or worse, being so arrogant that don’t even realize you’ve embarrassed yourself. Put differently, a culture of fact-checking, of honesty, is as important as the actual fact-checking.”
"Sixth, be balanced. If there is awful writing in the book you’re reviewing, and you want to quote it, go right ahead. But if the book is 5 percent awful and 95 percent fine, don’t spend 75 percent of your review quoting the worst passages. People do this when they’re angry. I understand: sometimes, when I am reading a book, I hate the things I hate far more than I like the things I like. But succumbing to the hate means that you are giving your reader an unbalanced view of the book. Indeed, your job is to characterize what the book is like — to give as full a picture as possible of the experience of reading it. This means, analyze the writing style, the flow of thoughts, the narrative approach–not just a plot summary and a bunch of rotten quotes. Control your emotions. Want the writer to be good. Want all writing to be good. If this writing is not good, regard the situation as regrettable, rather than cause for an end zone dance."
“There seems to be a nostalgia, both implied by Silverman’s essay and in other corners of the critical world, for the good old days (which are not actually behind us) of sharp, negative reviews. There is a grave misperception that a negative review is more honest than a glowing, enthusiastic one. Indeed, negative reviews make careers and get attention, even if like Dale Peck’s savage New Republic pieces, the author regretfully walks some of them back later, after his name is made, after the anthology is sold. Nevertheless, it’s practically a fetish for some critics, recalling those better, savage days. Ooh, remember when Richard Ford spat on Colson Whitehead!
But why are we even framing criticism as either negative or positive? The most interesting book reviews are those that make me think, the reviews that bring out interesting themes in a work. Good criticism is not merely about liking or disliking a book or exploring a books merits and failings. Good criticism, for me, is about trying to understand how the book works and what it offers, or doesn’t, to contemporary culture, where the book fits within a tradition, and how it speaks to history.”
"Lots of talk lately about the GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL that seems to be exclusively masculine. And how many of the characters in the GENIUS BOOKS are likable? Is Holden Caulfield likable? Is Meursault in The Stranger? Is Henry Miller? Is any character in any of these system novels particularly likable? Aren’t they usually loathsome but human, etc., loathsome and neurotic and obsessed? In my memory, all the characters in Jonathan Franzen are total douchebags (I know, I know, I’m not supposed to use that, feminine imagery, whatever, but it is SO satisfying to say and think). How about female characters in the genius books? Was Madame Bovary likable? Was Anna Karenina? Is Daisy Buchanan likable? Is Daisy Miller? Is it the specific way in which supposed readers HATE unlikable female characters (who are too depressed, too crazy, too vain, too self-involved, too bored, too boring), that mirrors the specific way in which people HATE unlikable girls and women for the same qualities? We do not allow, really, the notion of the antiheroine, as penned by women, because we confuse the autobiographical, and we pass judgment on the female author for her terrible self-involved and indulgent life. We do not hate Scott Fitzgerald in "The Crack-Up" or Georges Bataille in Guilty for being drunken and totally wading in their own pathos, but Jean Rhys is too much of a victim."
"Jonah Lehrer is part of a system that allows magazines, year after to year to publish men, and white men in particular, significantly more than women or people of color. He is part of a system where the 2012 National Magazine Awards have no women nominees in several key categories. He is part of a system where white editors belabor the delusion that there simply are few women or writers of color who are good enough for their magazines because said editors are too narrow in what they want, what they read, what they think, or just too lazy to work beyond their Rolodex of writers who look and think just like them. He is part of a system that requires an organization like VIDA to do an annual count that reveals a disheartening, ongoing and pervasive practice of a certain kind of writer predominantly gaining entrance to the upper echelons of publishing. He is part of a system that exhausts itself denying these problems exist or that these problems matter.
Lehrer certainly didn’t create this system, but he didn’t challenge the way it coddled him, either. That system is working overtime right now to justify what Lehrer has done, to vouch for his intelligence, his personality, his struggle, his genius, to explain how this debacle happened in ways that completely absolve the system and allow it to remain intact. This is how it works when you’re part of the system. When you’re not part of the system, when you’re a woman who self-destructs so spectacularly, for example, the system works overtime to excoriate, to shred all dignity. The system still stays intact.”
"Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn’t allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d’être was obviated when “menu” buttons appeared on remotes, so it’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter."
This piece is so awesome I'm reading Le Guin again ASAP
"Anybody who reads a lot is, if you like, an addict. The people who put their initials on the fly-leaf of a library copy of a mystery so that they won’t keep checking the same book out over and over are story addicts. So is the ten-year-old with his nose in The Hobbit, oblivious to dinnertime or cataclysm. So is the old woman rereading War and Peace for the eighth time. So is the scholar who studies the Odyssey for forty years. The very quality of story is to hold, to fascinate. Ask the Wedding Guest to stop listening once the Ancient Mariner gets going. He can’t. He’s hooked. Sometimes you get hooked on mere plot, sometimes on mere familiarity and predictability, sometimes you get hooked on great stuff."
"A market economy, even a mixed market economy, will have winners and losers. Some of that will be luck of the draw, and some of it will be the results of untoward shenanigans, but as long as people perceive that there’s a generally fair method of winning that’s somewhat under their control — such as hard work — then they’re pretty willing to tolerate some shenanigans on the side. I might be a little annoyed at some of what investment bankers have been allowed to pull, but as long as my family and I are doing fine, it won’t rise above the level of annoying.
But if legitimate avenues up start all closing at the same time, a certain fatalism starts to make sense. That fatalism can be politically passive, as in drug addiction and small-time crime, or politically active in ways I prefer not to think about.
If we want to maintain a mixed market economy, we need to maintain some perceived level of basic fairness. That means realistic and ethical ways for a kid whose parents don’t make much money to climb by his own effort. Piece by unthought piece, we’re blocking those ways. Some of that may be outside of our conscious control, but much of it isn’t. Before we send a message to an entire generation that there’s just no point in bothering, let’s at least stop blocking constructive effort. Kids can read patterns, and if the pattern says that they needn’t bother, they’ll draw some pretty awful conclusions.”
The hideous cloud of productivity now looms over all our lives. It seems that actual writers use productivity apps to get on with their articles and books. Helen Oyeyemi advises writers to download the Write or Die app onto their computer (or does she write on an iPhone?). In ‘kamikaze mode’, if you stop writing for more than 45 seconds it starts deleting the words you have already written. Other writers claimed they use it (‘great for those days when you simply can’t start’) or joined in with advice for getting those words down on the page… .
So let me join in. First, I have a workaround for Write or Die: don’t write any words, and the bastard app can’t delete them. That’ll show it. Second, wonder if chucking words at a blank space is really what writers have to do to get their work done. The article talks about writers’ block. If you think you’ve got writers’ block after 45 seconds of not writing, you don’t need an app, you need someone gently to tell you that you should consider the possibility that writing is not just about writing, it’s also (and maybe mainly) about the space in between the writing, when nothing seems to be happening, or random stuff is having an incoherent party inside your head. Almost always, you do eventually start to write, and it seems that you’ve been considering after all. It’s not as comfy as writing a thousand words in half an hour, but it seems to work OK, so long as you think of it as part of a process of writing rather than writer’s block.
"“Shaming people,” one of VIDA’s organizers told The New York Observer, recently, “has never really changed anyone’s mind.” She said this by way of explaining why VIDA tries not to name names. I sympathize with her point; we here are ladies, and we were brought up to be nice about this. Add to that my burden of Canadianness, and suddenly the whole thing has to be positively treacly. It’s just how I feel more comfortable.
But niceness has become, paradoxically, a chokehold on this discussion. How nice can you be about being shut out of a conversation? How nice are you obligated to be? Does it extend to deliberately obscuring facts so as not to make people feel you are calling anyone specific out? Does it really get us anywhere to write essays like this one of mine to explain this again and again? To cloak them in calm language, to try to be diffuse about it because diffusion is “polite”?”
"Most writers aspire to represent the speech of their own time. They listen to people talking at home, in the street and in the media. If the authors of a particular historical moment tend to sound similar, it is most likely due to this common influence rather than their influence on each other. It would be absurd for, say, Jonathan Franzen to write about 21st century Americans in the prose style of Anthony Trollope, but that doesn’t mean that Trollope’s approach to “the way we live now” (to borrow the much-quoted title of his best-known book) hasn’t infused Franzen’s ambition to write sweeping, often satirical “social” novels set in the present day. In fact, it’s precisely his desire to emulate Trollope that makes it impossible for Franzen to write prose like Trollope’s; the way we live now can’t be described in the language they used then."
Robert Atwan, from Foreword to Best American Essays 2011
"I’m not usually sold on epiphanies, especially of the life-transforming type. I’m more interested in the opposite experience: not those rare moments of startling insight or realization, but — what I suspect are more common — those sudden flashes of anxious confusion and bewilderment."
“If mankind was put on earth to create works of art, then other people were put on earth to comment on those works… Not to judge objectively or critically assess these works but to articulate their feelings about them with as much precision as possible, without seeking to disguise the vagaries of their nature, their lapses of taste and the contingency of their own experiences, even if those feelings are of confusion, uncertainty or — in this case — undiminished wonder.”
"When people wield accusations of privilege, more often than not, they want to he heard and seen. Their need is acute, if not desperate and that need rises out of the many historical and ongoing attempts to silence and render invisible marginalized groups. Must we satisfy our need to be heard and seen at the expense of not allowing anyone else to be heard and seen? Does privilege automatically negate any merits of what a privilege holder has to say?
We need to get to a place where we discuss privilege by way of observation and acknowledgment rather than accusation. We need to be able to argue beyond the threat of privilege. We need to stop playing Privilege or Oppression Olympics because we’ll never get anywhere until we find more effective ways of talking through difference. We should be able to say this is my truth and have that truth stand without a hundred clamoring voices shouting, giving the impression that multiple truths cannot coexist. At some point, doesn’t privilege become beside the point?”
"When you look deeper, though, which is challenging in a trilogy with the depth of a murky wading pool, these books are really about Ana trying to change/save Christian from his demons— she is the virginal, good girl who can lead the dark bad boy to salvation as if, historically, trying to change a man has ever worked out well. At one point during their courtship, Ana thinks, “This man, whom I once thought of as a romantic hero, a brave shining white knight—or the dark knight as he said. He’s not a hero; he’s a man with serious, deep emotional flaws, and he’s dragging me into the dark. Can I not guide him into the light?” I wanted to take Ana aside and say, “Girl, you cannot lead this man into the light. Let that dream go.”
After all the trials this couple faces, and after all the hot sex, we’re supposed to think this trilogy is about a young woman and her happily ever after. It’s not. Ana’s sexual awakening is a convenient vehicle for the awakening of Christian’s humanity. Fifty Shades of Grey is about a man finding peace and happiness because he finally finds a woman willing to tolerate his bullshit for long enough.”
"It turns out that most athletes’ high tolerance for pain while exercising may also help them deal with it when they’re at rest.
A fresh analysis of studies on pain perception by researchers at the University of Heidelberg in Germany finds that athletes can tolerate more pain than non-athletes. And, the researchers conclude, regular physical activity can change the way practically anyone perceives and tolerates pain.”
“If there is a problem with the novel, and I’m agreed with Shields that there is, it is not because it doesn’t participate in modern technology, can’t talk about it or isn’t involved with it; I can download in seconds on my Kindle a novel made up entirely of emails or text messages. Perhaps the problem is rather a slow weakening of our sense of being inside a society with related and competing visions of the world to which we make our own urgent narrative contributions; this being replaced by the author who takes courses to learn how to create a product with universal appeal, something that can float in the world mix, rather than feed into the immediate experience of people in his own culture. That package may work for some, as I believe my student’s account of dramatic upheavals in the Mongol empire will work for many readers; it has its intellectual ideas and universal issues: but it doesn’t engage us deeply, as I believe my other student’s work might if only he could get it right. And this is not simply an issue of setting the book at home or abroad, but of having it spring from matters that genuinely concern the writer and the culture he’s working in.”—http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/jan/19/writing-adrift-world-mix/ Tim Parks, “Writing Adrift in the World”
“If only she were one of these busy, useful women, who were always knitting or sewing. Then perhaps it wouldn’t matter about the ravenous hours. She sat for a long time among the faded ink of her notebooks, brooding, until Nicholas came in with their Ovaltine on a tray and it was time to go to bed.”—Barbara Pym, Jane and Prudence
The conversations are all around me, the ones about what I can and cannot do with my uterus, my ovaries, which of my basic health care needs should be paid for, whether this or that opinion or act or prescription medication makes me a slut. My congressmen are having these conversations, the news pundits, my president, my friends. When they happen, I act as though I am outraged, and I am, but much stronger than my outrage is my complete and utter humiliation.
I can’t believe that people are saying these things. That questions about my body, my choices, are even up for public commentary and public debate. I feel powerless, small. I want to tell everyone to stop, even the people that are on my side. I want to shout at them that this is none of their fucking business. It makes me angry. It makes me afraid.
“Now may be the time to mention that I basically agree with Marcus, that his attack on Franzen is often spot-on, but that I think he’s wrong in his overweening emphasis on language as the site of artistic progress and writerly authenticity. What we need is an avant-garde that innovates not only at the level of the sentence, but also at the level of plot, character-development, and world-building, an avant-garde that doesn’t concede these domains to manufacturers of factory templates but rather reclaims them, instead of adding them as halfhearted concessions or using them to package books in ways that smuggle the good stuff (i.e., language) to skeptical readers. Of course, one might retort that paintball-loving individuals with disposable incomes will be no more interested in an avant-garde of plot than they are in an avant-garde of the sentence.”—http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?id=433. Review of The Flame Alphabet
“We are all perpetually smoothing and arranging reality to conform to our wishes; we lie to others and to ourselves constantly, unthinkingly. When, occasionally — and not by dint of our own efforts but under the pressure of external events — we are forced to see things as they are, we are like naked people in a storm.”—Janet Malcolm, In the Freud Archives
“The Last Samurai is the story of a single mother, Sybilla, and her son, whom she calls “Ludo”–though on his birth certificate it says either ‘David’ or ‘Stephen,’ ‘one or the other.’ It makes sense that Sybilla would consider it pointless to be certain, because one of the things this novel is about is precisely how we figure out and then live up to who we think we are. It’s also about the accidents that determine the lives we lead, regardless of who we might be, and about the choices and values and loves and hates and languages and books and ideas and music and art and movies and people that constitute those lives and make them worth living–or not. It’s a celebration of genius and an attack on mediocrity, a paean to the human capacity to create and learn and think and reason and a lament for the seductions of banality.”—http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/novelreadings/helen-dewitt-the-last-samurai. Review of Helen Dewitt’s The Last Samurai
“We hear a lot these days about two opposing tendencies in literature. On the one hand, there’s a tendency away from the novel, toward nonfiction. On the other hand, there’s a tendency away from objective journalism, toward memoiristic or essayistic nonfiction. They’re opposing tendencies, but they both reflect an anxiety about how much we can trust facts. We expect facts to give us objective truth, but objective truth keeps eluding us. We move away from the novel, because the novel isn’t factual; but in our nonfiction writing, we feel constantly compelled to cast doubt on our access to objective facts. We hire teams of fact-checkers to track them down. Fact-checkers do a lot of great work, but they can’t solve the nature of reality for us.”—http://therumpus.net/2012/04/the-rumpus-interview-with-elif-batuman/ From a discussion of Mike Daisey.