“Poetry is just prose chopped up into lines. I mean this to be final, categorical, and no slight on poetry.”
“With a single poem, which says that her beloved Anactoria is more valuable than the splendor of any cavalry, infantry, or fleet, she created a tradition of ‘love-not-war’ lyrics whose future stretches from Propertius to Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Bruce Springsteen. As the definitive ur-voice of lyric ecstasy, she is so consequential that poets of every generation, from Catullus to Sylvia Plath and Anne Carson, have used her to define their aesthetic manifestos: among the ancients, only Homer can claim an instrumental role in literary history equivalent to Sappho’s.”
“I have written only one book about travel, concerning a journey across the Oman desert. I have written many books about place, which are nothing to do with movement, but many more about people and about history.” Here, she answers questions, some from readers, about her book Venice, her career, and her brushes with history.
“The local prosecutor wrote an urgent letter to its publishers trying to delay its release. Book sellers are taking orders for copies that wait in sealed boxes, ready to be opened on Tuesday. Some people are dreading its revelations about rape in their football-loving college town. Others are glad: Tell the story, they say, the louder the better.”
“The ‘memoir’ of a British war correspondent who purportedly committed rape, murder and other crimes before dying last year was initially written several years ago as a novel, it has emerged. Author Colin Carroll had described the novel in an interview more than five years ago with a local newspaper in Cork.”
“No writer wants to own the label ‘confessional’ anymore. It’s an epithet, with the same tenor as ‘hipster’ or ‘artisanal': something for privileged narcissists who can’t see any of their own silliness. … And yet, the practice has deeply ancient, religious roots. Bruenig notes that it was designed not just to let the person who is confessing spill his or her guts, but also a sort of collective anecdote.”
For centuries, Chin P’ing Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase) – a sprawling tale of the rise and fall of a corrupt merchant and his six wives, and only now available in a complete English version – “has been known in China as an ‘obscene book.’ Governments have banned it and parents have hidden it from children.” Yet, as a 17th-century critic put it, “anyone who says that Chin P’ing Mei is an obscene book has probably only taken the trouble to read the obscene passages.”
“For centuries, if what you had written was going to be shown to others, it would have to be placed in a library, usually a church library. And since the only way anyone would know that a new piece of literature had been written was if the writer personally put the word around, there would usually be some kind of social connection between writer and readers.”
“Food-packet rhetoric, like most advertising, is mainly in the business of selling nice feelings. Especially on-trend these days is an ersatz, kitschy friendliness. On a bar of chocolate, for example, the manufacturers boast that “we use only the finest quality organic beans from our friends in the Dominican Republic”. (Isn’t it nice that they are friends?)”
“DARE, as the dictionary is known, has announced that it will shutter most of its operations this summer unless it can find new sources of funding to cover its roughly $525,000 annual budget. The print dictionary had been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other sources. More recently, the budget was covered in large part by stopgap grants from the university, which are set to run out.”
“Vintage/Anchor Books is now experimenting with selling short stories à la carte, through its Vintage Shorts digital imprint. Throughout May, to mark Short Story Month, Vintage will release a digital short story each day for 99 cents, the price of many iTunes singles.” The range is wide, form Poe, Chekhov, and Cather to Alice Munro, Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz.
The author of One Day and Us also says, “the debate between digital and physical has had a kind of gladiatorial flavour … Cavaliers versus Roundheads, or perhaps more accurately, for someone of my age at least, Betamax versus VHS, with only one survivor allowed. All too often in this debate I’ve felt like the proud owner of a vast collection of Betamax.”
Thirlwell: “In [my novels] Politics and The Escape, these grand themes of history and politics were mischievously seen as equivalent to more apparently minor problems like sleeping arrangements in a threesome, or premature ejaculation.
Shteyngart: “But premature ejaculation and politics intersect quite a bit.”
Thirlwell: “Well that’s certainly true.”
“Anton Szandor LaVey’s founding text of the Church of Satan, The Satanic Bible, survives in the broad popular consciousness, in part thanks to regular challenges by groups seeking to ban it … Very little effort needs to be expended by the Church to market itself, because it can piggyback on the defensiveness of the Christian American majority.”
“Explosive” is the word routinely used to describe the growth of M.F.A. programs in creative writing. Iowa was the first, established in 1936. By 1994, there were 64. By last year, that number had more than tripled, to 229 (and another 152 M.A. programs in creative writing), according to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Between 3,000 and 4,000 students a year graduate with the degree; this year, about 20,000 applications were sent out.
Leading the pack in attracting misguided outrage was Sherman Alexie’s young-adult title The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, followed by Marjane Satrapi’s girl-comes-of-age-in-Iran graphic memoir Persepolis and Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s And Tango Makes Three, about the same-sex pair of penguins who raised a chick at the Central Park Zoo.
“What lurks behind the literary landmarks of Victorian London? Fear? Joy? Ambiguity? In a new data mining project, a Stanford University research collective has sought to map the British capital’s ’emotional geography’ by categorizing what feelings or sensations common settings convey in the novels of Dickens, Thackeray, Austen and 738 [of their colleagues].”
“If you don’t know the poet’s original work, what are you reviewing? But when you whittle the already small pool of poetry critics down to those who are multilingual or translators themselves, the result is that hardly anyone reviews translations, and in turn fewer people read them. If nobody reads poetry, less than nobody reads international poetry.”
“During the years that she worked at Random House, she published books by Muhammad Ali, Henry Dumas, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Toni Cade Bambara and Gayl Jones, whom she discovered in the 1970s. Jones’s manuscript was so impressive that when Morrison read it for the first time, uppermost in her mind, she once wrote, was ‘that no novel about any black woman could ever be the same after this.'” Oh, and then she started writing her own novels.
“There is clearly a tension between the varieties of “translation” happening all around us—every moment of every day, truly one of the fundamental activities that hold our world together—and the persistent recycling of platitudes about how this activity, so basic and ubiquitous, is impossible. If the platitudes are recalled more often than translation’s pervasiveness, it is only because translators are usually invisible, their work mysterious.”