30 September 2009
Up at The Millions today, I’ve offered my own Top Five works of fiction since 2000 (none of my selections made The Millions Top 20 Best Fiction of the Millennium list last week). And I’ve sung the praises of my #6, The Tutor of History, by Nepali novelist Manjushree Thapa.
It’s a book review “sort of,” because it’s also something of a compare-contrast exercise, looking also at three other novels I read recently: Ali Smith‘s The Accidental, Rachel Kushner‘s Telex From Cuba, and Lily Tuck‘s The News From Paraguay (all, incidentally, major award-winners).
I seem to have taken up the cause of under-sung novels, particularly ones that have significant readership outside of the U.S. but are little known here. Tutor falls into that category. Later this week, a review I wrote of Australian novelist Carrie Tiffany‘s debut, Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living, will appear at The Second Pass.
29 September 2009
Swinging back to the literary from the political — though a gentle half-arc swing — I’m excited about Jimmy Carter‘s forthcoming White House diaries, which will be released in October 2010 from Farrar Strauss & Giroux. Read more about it here.
If you haven’t read any of Carter’s numerous books, I’d recommend his memoir, An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood, which gave me such a strong sense of what has shaped his values and politics over his lifetime. Growing up on a farm in the American south on the heels of the Depression, Carter seems to have absorbed the core of his life lessons during those years–which I found both fascinating and heartening.
28 September 2009
A little detour into global affairs today…
I’ve got Afghanistan on the brain, ever since David Brooks wrote in his NY Times Op-Ed piece last week that “historical evidence suggests that…middling strategies just create a situation in which you have enough forces to assume responsibility for a conflict, but not enough to prevail.” In other words, it’s “all in or all out” — which, in my mind, puts genuine leadership at odds with voter impatience. If it happens that troop increase and long-term commitment to the Af-Pak War is what’s required, then the Obama presidency, I fear, is at high risk. It’s aggravating — that the “American people” (whoever that may be) want to be safe from terrorism, but will vote out any political leader who asks for patience and sacrifice to that end.
If it happens that the best course is to pull out, then cries of “broken campaign promises” will be the President’s other potential downfall.
I appreciated Frank Rich‘s piece in the NY Times this past Sunday, in which he exhorted the President to do what he needs to do, regardless of what he said 18 months ago on the campaign trail.
Obama finds himself at that same lonely decision point now. Though he came to the presidency declaring Afghanistan a “war of necessity,” circumstances have since changed…. [ ] it’s up to the president to decide what he thinks is right for the country’s security, the politics be damned. That he has temporarily pressed the pause button to think it through while others, including some of his own generals, try to lock him in is not a sign of indecisiveness but of confidence and strength.
I’m not sure why mind-changing is considered a sign of weakness or dishonesty in politics. As if mindless consistency, or any sort of consistency, were an ultimate sign of character. The world changes so quickly these days, faster than Internet media can even keep up. Why wouldn’t contradiction–saying one thing today, another thing tomorrow–be understood as the way we live now? It seems to me that the only constant we have anymore is change.
26 September 2009
This statement by John Grisham in the Telegraph last week about his approach to writing makes me realize just how unproductive and illogical it is to make comparisons between or generate debates about the relative value of Grishamesque/Dan Brown thrillers and literary novels that are driven by elements other than pure suspense:
“I know that what I do is not literature… For me, the essential component of fiction is plot. My objective is to get the reader to feel impelled to turn the pages as quickly as possible. If I want to achieve that, I can’t allow myself the luxury of distracting him. I have to keep him hanging on and the only way to do it is by using the weapons of suspense. There is no other way. If I try to understand the complexities of the human soul, people’s character defects and those types of things, the reader gets distracted.”
It’s not even like apples and oranges; it’s like apples and… artichokes? Onions? I don’t even know.
22 September 2009
I’d been paring down on print periodicals, mostly for financial reasons; but then NPR was offering a subscription to The Atlantic Monthly for its membership premium, and I couldn’t resist.
Some absorbing articles in the September issue:
A painful, illuminating, exasperating article by David Goldhill on the problems beneath the problems of the health care system, from the perspective of a free-market capitalist
I found each of these articles upsetting and frustrating, along with challenging and educational. What more can you ask for…
21 September 2009
Check out the Best Fiction of the Millenium (So Far) Top 20 at The Millions this week. Panelists included:
- Sam Anderson is the book critic for New York Magazine.
- Rosecrans Baldwin is the author of the forthcoming You Lost Me There and a founding editor of The Morning News.
- Elif Batuman is the author of the forthcoming The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them
- Mark Binelli is the author of Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die and is a contributor to Rolling Stone.
- Elise Blackwell is the author of Hunger and other books
- Patrick Brown is a contributor to The Millions.
- Sonya Chung is the author of Long for This World and is a contributor to The Millions.
- Elizabeth Crane is the author of You Must Be This Happy to Enter and other works of fiction.
- Ben Dolnick is the author of Zoology.
- Ben Ehrenreich is the author of The Suitors.
- Stephen Elliot is the author of The Adderall Diaries and other books and is founding editor ofThe Rumpus.
- Scott Esposito is the founding editor of Conversational Reading and The Quarterly Conversation.
- Joshua Ferris is the author of Then We Came to the End and the forthcoming The Unnamed.
- Rivka Galchen is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances.
- Lauren Groff is the author of Delicate Edible Birds and The Monsters of Templeton.
- Garth Risk Hallberg is the author of A Field Guide to the North American Family and is a contributor to The Millions.
- John Haskell is the author of Out of My Skin and American Purgatorio.
- Jeff Hobbs is the author of The Tourists.
- Michelle Huneven is the author of Blame and other novels.
- Samantha Hunt is the author of The Invention of Everything Else and The Seas.
- Sara Ivry is a senior editor of Tablet.
- Bret Anthony Johston is the author of Corpus Christi: Stories and is director of the Creative Writing Program at Harvard University.
- Porochista Khakpour is the author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects.
- Lydia Kiesling is a contributor to The Millions.
- Benjamin Kunkel is the author of Indecision and is a founding editor of N+1.
- Paul La Farge is the author of Haussmann, or The Distinction.
- Reif Larsen is the author of The Complete Works of T.S. Spivet.
- Dorothea Lasky is the author of Awe and other books.
- Edan Lepucki is a contributor to The Millions.
- Yiyun Li by The Vagrants
- Margot Livesey is the author of The House on Fortune Street and other books.
- Fiona Maazel is the author of Last Last Chance.
- C. Max Magee is the founding editor of The Millions.
- Sarah Manguso is the author of the memoir The Two Kinds of Decay and other books.
- Laura Miller is the author of The Magician’s Book and is the book critic at Salon.
- Meghan O’Rourke is the author of Halflife: Poems and is a founding editor of DoubleX.
- Ed Park is the author of Personal Days and is a founding editor of The Believer.
- Emre Peker is a contributor emeritus to The Millions.
- Arthur Phillips is the author of The Song is You and three other novels.
- Nathaniel Rich is the author of The Mayor’s Tongue and is a senior editor at The Paris Review.
- Marco Roth is a founding editor of N+1.
- Andrew Saikali is a contributor to The Millions.
- Mark Sarvas is the author of Harry, Revised and is the proprietor of The Elegant Variation.
- Matthew Sharpe is the author of Jamestown and other works of fiction.
- Gary Shteyngart is the author of Absurdistan and The Russian Debutante’s Handbook.
- Joan Silber is the author of The Size of the World.
- Martha Southgate is the author of Third Girl From the Left and other books.
- Lorin Stein is a senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- Felicia Sullivan is the author of The Sky Isn’t Visible from Here and is the founding editor ofSmall Spiral Notebook.
- Jean Thompson is the author of Do Not Deny Me and other books.
- David Ulin is book editor of the Los Angeles Times
- Amanda Eyre Ward is the author of Love Stories in This Town and other books.
- Dan Wickett is executive director and publisher of Dzanc Books.
- John Williams is founding editor of The Second Pass
- Anne K. Yoder is a contributor to The Millions.
- Todd Zuniga is the founding editor of Opium Magazine