14 August 2012
At The Millions today, my Q&A with James Salter, on the occasion of the release of A Sport and Pastime and Solo Faces in e-book format, by Open Road Media. I re-read Solo Faces last month and admired it even more: that signature omniscient narration is not only unusual, but simply gorgeous in its confidence, its simplicity.
If you missed my profile of JS in Tin House last winter, you might enjoy this Q&A, the intro to which rehashes a little of how I first came in contact with Salter, back in 2010. It’s been a great privilege to interact with him. At 87, he’s having an inspiringly productive year, filled with the recognition and acclaim he deserves.
9 August 2012
Despite myself, I can’t seem to dredge up any repulsion or disdain for this. The truth is I’ll be there (next summer, i.e. the new, delayed release date) with bells on.
6 August 2012
Thanks to Wendy S. for introducing me to Irish writer Mary Costello‘s debut story collection, The China Factory.
At The Millions today, my review/profile/interview with Costello. It’s a weird form, I admit, and probably unkosher in the criticism world — but somehow, to me, it feels right.
6 July 2012
You know I can’t resist pet-related news and literature. Links from Bookforum’s Omnivore here.
Pax, 4th of July, Riverside Park
5 July 2012
New Yorkers have spoken, and they have been heard. ”The adopted city budget restores $39.6 million of the $42.6 million proposed cut to The New York Public Library.” This happened on June 28, when the city proposed its annual budget. Read the press release here.
Also, a heartwarming story about a town called McAllen, Texas, where an abandoned Walmart building was turned into the largest single-story public library in the United States. Word is getting around all over again because the interior design firm won the 2012 Library Interior Design Competition.
Hoorah for public services that feed the mind and the soul.
30 June 2012
I had hit a dud streak in my reading; Anna Keesey‘s Little Century saved me. Really enjoyed it and hope you do, too. My review at The Millions. (Note: I don’t normally write reviews; when I write about books, I more just pontificate and/or relate the book to other things I’m thinking about. Something about Little Century made me want to actually look more closely at its strengths; I was surprised that I liked it so much, for various reasons.)
2 May 2012
At The Millions today, this month’s Post-40 Bloomer, poet Spencer Reece. (Actually, this is April’s feature, but it took me longer than I’d expected to write, so it’s only posting today.) Take a look – Reece’s story is exemplary of the post-40 bloomer, I think, in all its life-living, art-making richness.
One thing I did not manage to cover in my piece is the fact that James Franco, when he was a film student at Yale, approached Reece, who was a Divinity student there at the same time, about making a short film based on Reece’s poem “The Clerk’s Tale.” I was focusing so much on studying Reece’s poetry, that I decided not to watch the film; I thought it would take my mind in a completely different direction I didn’t want to go.
But, in case you’re interested, here’s a synopsis and some stills, from Cannes, where the film was a closing night feature.
9 April 2012
That’s right, not a typo, post NINETY.
Thanks to Nick at The Millions for alerting me to this:
96-year-old novelist Herman Wouk has sold his latest novel to Simon & Schuster. The Lawgiver follows the production of a movie about Moses through “letters, memos, emails, journals, news articles, recorded talk, tweets, Skype transcripts, and text messages” sent between characters.
Not his debut, obviously, but still. If blooming is understood as “peaking,” this is quite an impressive late-life peak.
30 March 2012
I enjoyed Elaine Blair‘s review of Michel Houllebecq‘s most recent novel, The Map and the Territory in the NY Review of Books. It was one of those reviews that I suspected was more interesting/compelling than the book itself, the ultimate effect of which was to interest me in a book I otherwise would have bypassed.
Now, I realize that what I appreciated in Blair’s approach to the review was my sense that she is a kindred spirit: she is a woman interested in the “maleness” of male literature. This week, she writes about Houllebecq v. American male novelists. She cites (as I have many times) David Foster Wallace‘s essay on the Great Male Novelists (GMNs), and the gap between Updike/Bellow/Mailer/Roth and today’s younger generation of male novelists:
When you see the loser-figure in a[n American] novel, what you are seeing is a complicated bargain that goes something like this: yes, it is kind of immature and boorish to be thinking about sex all the time and ogling and objectifying women, but this is what we men sometimes do and we have to write about it. We fervently promise, however, to avoid the mistake of the late Updike novels: we will always, always, call our characters out when they’re being self-absorbed jerks and louts. We will make them comically pathetic, and punish them for their infractions a priori by making them undesirable to women, thus anticipating what we imagine will be your judgments, female reader. Then you and I, female reader, can share a laugh at the characters’ expense, and this will bring us closer together and forestall the dreaded possibility of your leaving me [...]
Into this theater of struggle, in 2000, arrived The Elementary Particles. Houellebecq’s loser characters have thoughts like “her big, sagging breasts were perfect for a tit-job; it had been three years since his last time.” And he doesn’t call them on it. Except occasionally he does. Houellebecq has a relaxed looseness about the whole matter of whose point of view (author’s or character’s) is being expressed in a given moment. He is happy to keep readers guessing about what he actually believes and what he’s satirizing.
American male novelists (post-Updike et alia), according to Blair, want to be liked by female readers; Houllebecq is more interested in the reality, i.e. the duplicity, of maleness.
Now I suppose I really do want to give The Map and the Territory (and The Elementary Particles) a look.
7 March 2012
Harriet Doerr, author of the National Book Award winning novel Stones for Ibarra, published that beautiful novel – her first – at the age of 74 (she also went back to college to earn her BA at the age of 65). She wrote, in a personal essay called “The Tiger in the Grass,” about speaking at a writers’ conference:
I explained my late start as an author after forty-two years of writing “housewife” on my income tax form. These years without a profession, from 1930 to 1972, were also the years of my marriage. Hands were raised after my talk, and I answered questions. The final one was from a woman who assumed, incorrectly, these were decades of frustration. ”And were you happy for those forty-two years?” she asked, and I couldn’t believe the question. I asked her to repeat it, and she said again, “Were you happy for those forty-two years?”
It was then that I said, “I never heard of anyone being happy for forty-two years,” and went on, “And would a person who was happy for forty-two years write a book?”
I love the complexity – which is to say the honesty – of Doerr’s answer. I love the “incorrectly” coupled with the answer she gave the woman. We want things to be simple, to be this or that; they never are.
I’ll be writing more about Harriet Doerr for our Post-40 Bloomers column at The Millions.
1 March 2012
I can only report that something did happen and it happened all of a sudden. Other writers have reported a similar experience. It is not like learning a skill or a game at which, with practice, one gradually improves. One works hard all right, but what comes, comes all of a sudden and as a breakthrough. One hits on something… It is almost as if the discouragement were necessary, that one has first to encounter despair before one is entitled to hope.
I have four of Percy’s books on my shelf and haven’t read any of them. He’s been on my must-read list for years. Not sure what the hang-up is. At the moment it’s (lack of) time, but I’m newly inspired to get on it.