The day that Patti Smith and Sam Shepard met, she didn’t even know his real name (nor did she for a very long time afterward), but their meeting changed theatre, poetry, and punk.
The British poet says that “Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler teaches me what a book of poetry can look like. In form, heart, focus and humility it’s everything I hope to give to the reader. Smith is the greatest living poet. Every book is better than the last.”
Western literature’s gradual progression from narratives that relate actions and events to stories that portray minds in all their meandering, many-layered, self-contradictory complexities. I’d often wondered, when reading older texts: Weren’t people back then interested in what characters thought and felt?
“Icelandic … has changed so little since then on our small and isolated island, that we can still more or less read [the Sagas] as they were first written. But Iceland is not so isolated anymore.” Novelist Ragnar Jónasson explains the factors that are making English more prevalent there than ever before (“Will Icelandic soon become the second language of Icelanders?”), and then looks at a couple of surprising sources of hope for the mother tongue.
“From about 1450 to 1750, most pop-ups appeared in scientific books. Movable paper parts were once used to explain the movements of the moon, the five regular geometric solids, the connections between the eye and the brain, and more.”
About the scene ion Kafka on the Shore in which fish fall from the sky: “People ask me, ‘Why fish? And why are they falling from the sky?’ But I have no answer for them. I just got the idea that something should fall from the sky. Then I wondered: what should fall from the sky? And I said to myself: ‘Fish! Fish would be good.'”
The first decade of the 21st century was a transitional one in terms of reader-writer relations, its habits now as foreign as those of Edward R. Murrow’s America. Gone are the happy days when we dialed up to submit a comment to Salon.com, only to be abused by Glenn Greenwald or destroyed — respectfully — by the academics at Crooked Timber. Back then, we could not have imagined feeling nostalgic for the blogosphere, a term we mocked for years until we found it charming and utopian. Blogs felt like gatherings of the like-minded, or at least the not completely random.
“Using data from your smartphone such as weather, location and time, the programme interacts with the reader to tell the narrative in a unique and individualised way. No two stories will ever be the same experience. The technology enables the narrative to sync to the reader’s surroundings. So if it’s raining in real life, it will start raining in the story, if you’re sitting in a cafe, the action will take place in a cafe.”
“The experimental novel, Burns’s third, is narrated by an unnamed 18-year-old girl, known as ‘middle sister’, who is being pursued by a much older paramilitary figure, the milkman,” during Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Burns, the first Booker winner from Ulster, “beat writers including the American literary heavyweight Richard Powers; Daisy Johnson, at 27 the youngest author ever to be shortlisted for the award; and the Canadian writer Esi Edugyan.”
What is the true point of a bookish life? Note I write “point,” not “goal.” The bookish life can have no goal: It is all means and no end. The point, I should say, is not to become immensely knowledgeable or clever, and certainly not to become learned. Montaigne, who more than five centuries ago established the modern essay, grasped the point when he wrote, “I may be a man of fairly wide reading, but I retain nothing.” Retention of everything one reads, along with being mentally impossible, would only crowd and ultimately cramp one’s mind.
“Latin’s revival, among young teachers on the one hand and nostalgic nationalists on the other, appears to flourish on two opposing ends. But while they may seem to be separate, the two are inexorably and uneasily linked through the history of white men’s appropriation of Latin as a marker of superiority.”
Board chair Jon West-Bey, who developed the institution based on his graduate thesis: “We wanted to put programs before space. We didn’t want to be the type of place where we said, ‘If we build it, they’ll come.’ It was more, ‘We’ll come to you.'”
I thought it’d be tough. I thought it’d be hard work. But I also thought I’d be able to do it. I mean, I read quickly. But it was a huge ask. It did just swallow up my year. I got to a point where I was actually dreaming mash-ups of the books I was reading. I would wake up in the morning and go, “Did that happen?”
Democracy shamocracy, right? “Sweet Fruit, Sour Land by Rebecca Ley is the winner of the 2018 Not the Booker Prize. Our three judges have taken the brave decision to overrule the public vote and put their weight behind this dark dystopian novel in the place of Ariel Kahn’s optimistic and gentle Raising Sparks.”
Sarah Schulman’s new book is about people trying to figure out whom to blame, and a state where corruption at the very top leeches into every relationship. Where does her protagonist find some reality? In AA meetings. “The sheer humanity of people being able to admit their flaws in a world in which no one will admit their flaws is illuminating.”
The Man Booker Prize short-listed authors explain, at least a little, how their brains work.
It’s a mystery – one that Susan Orlean, author of the new The Library Book, says may never be solved. But she started out wanting to write about the day-to-day life of a city library. “”I liked the idea of doing it in L.A., out of this contrarian idea that people don’t associate libraries with L.A., which made it kind of delectable.
Well, at least not when the book is a new one from Haruki Murakami. There are contests, and there are ghost cats and there’s pasta. “When during a quiz at the Three Lives launch party a woman won a large tote bag containing a bag of pasta and a jar of tomato sauce, she got the biggest cheers of the night.”
The Guadaloupean writer, author of I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem and other books, won The New Academy Prize in Literature, “a new prize established by a group of over 100 Swedish cultural figures as a substitute for this year’s Nobel in Literature, which was not awarded for the first time since 1949 because of a sexual misconduct scandal.”
Ashley Fetters talks with classics scholar Donna Zuckerberg (yes, Mark’s sister) about what the “Red Pill” community — “the corner of the internet dominated by men’s-rights activists, the alt-right, pickup artists, and the sex-eschewing communities known as Men Going Their Own Way” — finds in these ancient Latin books (e.g., Ovid’s Ars Amatoria) and how they misread and misuse the texts.
With a different set of judges each year, it is a fool’s errand to try to guess the eventual winner. So I have always had a simple formula: never judge the books – study the judges.
Daniel Mendelsohn: “While our forebears looked confidently to the text of the Aeneid for answers, today it raises troubling questions. … Two thousand years after its appearance, we still can’t decide if [Virgil’s] masterpiece is a regressive celebration of power as a means of political domination or a craftily coded critique of imperial ideology — a work that still has something useful to tell us.”
Kwame Anthony Appiah, chair of the judges, implicitly blamed editors for the poor quality of some of this year’s submissions while announcing the 2018 shortlist: “We occasionally felt that inside the book we read was a better one, sometimes a thinner one, wildly signalling to be let out.” Fellow judge Val McDermid went further by suggesting modern editors don’t know what they’re doing. “I think,” she said, “young editors coming through are not necessarily getting the kind of training and experience-building apprenticeship that happened when I was starting out.”
Lloyd Alexander, author of the five-volume series The Chronicles of Prydain, was deeply influenced by Sartre; indeed, he was the first to translate Nausea into English. “Despite Alexander’s remarkable role in the history of existentialism, oddly no one has made any connection between that philosophy and his own work” — until Jesse Schotter, here.
The average person “consumes about 34 gigabytes across varied devices each day” — some 100,000 words’ worth of information. “Neither deep reading nor deep thinking can be enhanced by the aptly named ‘chopblock’ of time we are all experiencing, or by 34 gigabytes of anything per day,” Maryanne Wolf argues.
With only one exception, everyone I speak to feels the same: that something has been lost. “A big, big mistake,” says Carmen Callil, co-founder of Virago books and former managing director of Chatto & Windus. “Its USP has gone,” says a leading agent (this despite the fact that he represents some US authors). “This whole fucking thing about us having such a cultural cringe towards America,” says one publisher.
“I’m always more interested in mystery books where ‘whodunit?’ isn’t the biggest question of all. Even if the red herring doesn’t feed into whodunit, because of course it can’t, it feeds into more integral questions: What makes the detective go down that sidetrack? … A bunch of times I’ve started off writing something thinking, ‘This might be the solution’ and then going, ‘This totally can’t be the solution, it doesn’t fit — but I can see why the narrator might want it to be the solution.'”
Most of these new dystopian stories take place in the future, but channel the anger and anxieties of the present, when women and men alike are grappling with shifting gender roles and the messy, continuing aftermath of the MeToo movement. They are landing at a charged and polarizing moment, when a record number of women are getting involved in politics and running for office, and more women are speaking out against sexual assault and harassment.
Growing up with few books in the house was associated with below-average literacy rates, while he presence of around 80 books raised those rates to the mean. Literacy continued to increase with the number of reported books up to around 350, at which point it flattened out.
“The fabled horror magazine that has thrilled and terrified readers since 1979 looked dead and buried last year. But now, just in time for Halloween, Fangoria has crawled out of its own grave in the form of a new quarterly journal with photos so high-gloss that the blood looks wet.”