Lately, I've had some doubts about the level of discourse here on Metafilter. To remedy the situation, here is that great American essayist and thinker, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe, on diddling. [more inside]
"Great war novels inevitably follow great wars, and in literary circles following World War II, everyone was wondering what would be the successors to A Farewell to Arms and All Quiet on the Western Front — and who would write them. But when John Horne Burns, age 29, in his small dormitory suite at the Loomis School in Windsor, Conn., on the night of April 23, 1946 (Shakespeare’s birthday, at that), finished The Gallery — 'I fell across my Underwood and wept my heart out,' he later recalled — he was convinced he had done just that, and more. ‘The Gallery, I fear, is one of the masterpieces of the 20th century,' he wrote a friend." (SLNYT) (via) [more inside]
Your parent dies. You hurt. You weep. You mourn. You do and say the necessary things even as your daemon’s disciplined askesis has you (against your will) coldly taking notes on what the emotion feels like, how others around you react to the death, what the corpse of your parent looks like, how you feel while looking down at it, what voids there are in that feeling, what pretenses, what posturings. It's all part of finding your daemon that dwells perpetually in the Condition of Fire. Other entries in Dan Simmons' series On Writing Well.
Jonah Lehrer has reportedly sold a book proposal to Simon and Schuster. In Slate, Daniel Engber examines the book proposal for possible plagiarism and comments: Having read through this proposal, I’ll propose a different lesson: If your underwear is full of grit, it might be time to change.
"I wondered why someone who hates words would take the trouble to arrange so many of them in a row." The Millions reviews Tao Lin's new novelty.
Orson Scott Card's Unaccompanied Sonata [Google Books], which he has called one of his favorite short stories, is an darkly enchanting tale about a boy who, at a young age, is taken from his family and brought to a house deep in the forest...
Christopher Pound combines and weights lists and ratings from Project Gutenberg, Goodreads, and elsewhere to produce novel sortings of familiar data—Shakespeare's plays by popularity, for example. The most successful fiction writers at Gutenberg, and the top thousand most popular works of fiction found there. The most highly rated films of 2012 and 2011. The most popular Sci-fi and fantasy sub-genres at Goodreads. [more inside]
The Essayification of Everything (SLNYT)
The 2013 Man Booker International Prize went to Lydia Davis, best known as a short story writer—some just a single sentence long—but also a novelist and translator. There is a wealth of material by and about her online, and here are few favorites: Video of Davis reading some very short stories, PennSound MP3 collection of readings, talks and interviews, writer James Salter reads and discusses Davis' story Break It Down, interview by Francine Prose, Frieze Talks reading and interview, video of reading followed by Q&A, "A Position at the University" and a a discussion about the story, and finally, a number of links to her short stories: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. [Lydia Davis previously on MeFi]
The Library of Babel is online! Recently digitized classics include Rtvcdg Lxcxahssds Qgflvab mge Bjbpd Orrq, Dgqqjv Iqfold xpx Ljg vjd Vapdophr, and Vmcyogxmvyrnle Lgjmyqsh Hfmni Lyvvdahec Bajvp Hlibiov, which appears by the gracious permission of Lbtddnbdqh Pjnghbdtvmi. [more inside]
Next to a beautiful, elegant woman, between the silky spirals of her train, on the back of a chair, in a dark angle in the background, he accurately painted, although almost invisible, the animal that recalled the face of the protagonist. He thus had a series of ladies and gentlemen from the squirrel, from the lizard, from the sea horse, etc.From "The Real Face," by Guido Gozzano, "first and finest representative of the Crepuscolari, the poets of the Twilight." [more inside]
The New Yorker is publishing excerpts from Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985, translated by Martin McLaughlin, on its book blog. (via) [more inside]
Finnegans Wake, Joyce's famously unreadable masterpiece (read it online here), was considerably more readable in one of its earlier drafts. Watch Joyce cross out decipherable words and replace them with less decipherable ones! Watch him end, not with a whimper, but with a slightly less impressive whimper! Sadly, Shem's schoolbook, which in the finished version is a House of Leaves-esque compendium of side columns and footnotes, was not written until much later (according to the footnotes of that section). The introduction to this draft by David Hayman, who assembled it, is worth a read.
Daniel Handler, best known for A Series of Unfortunate Events and his accordion work with Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields, reads a chapter from his novel Adverbs, which made Dave Eggers describe Handler as "something like an American Nabakov". An excerpt from another chapter, Immediately, is available courtesy of the New York Times. Handler's first adult novel, the nightmarishly satirical The Basic Eight (think the movie Heathers with a less reliable a narrator), is also well worth a read (excerpt from Google Books).
First editions, second thoughts. [The Guardian] "Interactive: From Amsterdam to Wolf Hall, Booker winners and bestsellers – authors annotate their own first editions.
Literature and Form is a series of four lectures by Oxford literature academic Dr. Catherine Brown. The lectures are on the themes of unreliable narrators, chapters, multiple plotting and what comparative literature is. You can listen to it as a podcast or through iTunes U. In this lecture series Brown primarily looks at some central structures of the novel as well as examining what the study of literature entails. Brown weaves in examples from world literature, especially English and Russian literature of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries.
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Swann's Way, the New York Times is publishing a series of blog posts on In Search of Lost Time. (via) [more inside]
Claire Messud: “A woman’s rant” [National Post] "Over the last week, discussion surrounding Claire Messud’s new novel, The Woman Upstairs, has shifted from the book to an interview its author recently gave to Publishers Weekly, in which Messud took issue with the following question: “I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim.” [more inside]
Comics made out of covers for books in the Oxford World's Classics series. For earlier editions, see here, here, here, here, and here.
My Psychic Garburator by Margaret Atwood [The New York Review of Books]
"Most dreams of writers aren’t about dead people or writing, and—like everyone else’s dreams—they aren’t very memorable. They just seem to be the products of a psychic garburator chewing through the potato peels and coffee grounds of the day and burping them up to you as mush."[more inside]
Great artists rise early, stay up late, float themselves in coffee, flirt with amphetamines, drink carefully, eat if necessary, take morning walks followed by afternoon naps, procrastinate, amuse themselves, avoid their friends, hold down jobs, indulge their oddities, and work — work like draft horses. [more inside]
The Pickwick Papers, one of the most honored first novels of all time, was conceived as a showcase for the comic etchings of the celebrated illustrator Robert Seymour. His publishers tapped a 24 year old journalist named Charles Dickens (their third choice) to provide the humorous "commentary" linking the pictures, which were to depict the hunting mishaps of a club of cockney sportsmen. Dickens, who knew nothing about hunting, ignored the prospectus and wrote his own way forward. As it became clear that Seymour was ill-equipped to depict the darker turns of Dickens' imagination, illustrator and writer fell into a conflict which ended in horror. [more inside]
Shortly thereafter, one of the nuns died. La Maupin disinterred the body of the deceased nun and, placing it in the bed of her beloved, set the room afire so that the two could flee in the ensuing confusion. Julie d’Aubigny a.k.a. La Maupin or Mademoiselle Maupin was a 17th century fencer and opera singer of the Paris Opera. In detail. [more inside]
Guantánamo prison library for detainees. [tumblr] New York Times reporter Charlie Savage set up a Tumblr dedicated to cataloging some of the books available in the Guantánamo prison library for detainees.
What Is the Business of Literature?
Publishing is a word that, like the book, is almost but not quite a proxy for the “business of literature.” Current accounts of publishing have the industry about as imperiled as the book, and the presumption is that if we lose publishing, we lose good books. Yet what we have right now is a system that produces great literature in spite of itself. We have come to believe that the taste-making, genius-discerning editorial activity attached to the selection, packaging, printing, and distribution of books to retailers is central to the value of literature. We believe it protects us from the shameful indulgence of too many books by insisting on a rigorous, abstemious diet. Critiques of publishing often focus on its corporate or capitalist nature, arguing that the profit motive retards decisions that would otherwise be based on pure literary merit. But capitalism per se and the market forces that both animate and pre-suppose it aren’t the problem. They are, in fact, what brought literature and the author into being.[more inside]
Sunday, April 28, would have been Roberto Bolaño's 60th birthday. The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona is holding an event that day, in conjunction with their recent exhibit of Bolaño's archive, to celebrate the life and work of the writer. Or if you're not in Barcelona, the celebration is #DiaBolaño on twitter. [more inside]
"...forcing its cast to act around a Jack Russel terrier decked out in full period costume." Blogger Josh Marsfelder of Soda Pop Art explores the legacy of Wishbone.
For this year's National Poetry Month, the Poetry Foundation has set up a SoundCloud group called "Record-a-Poem." They're inviting people to record themselves reading their favorite poems. (via) [more inside]
Robert Adams delivers book reviews as lectures. TVO's Big Ideas posts the videos on the internet. So far, they have posted lectures on: Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Aravinda Adiga's The White Tiger, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and Elie Wiesel's The Forgotten.
When Dickens Met Dostoevsky. "So now the meeting between two literary giants had led me to two names with very little behind them: Stephanie Harvey, who had written only these two articles, and Leo Bellingham, whose chief claim to fame may be that he was once compared by Stephanie Harvey to Doris Lessing." [more inside]
An Orange Prize nominee speaks out about her experience as a woman in literature: weakened titles, pink covers, snubbed for reviews. [more inside]
"But you have not told us a syllable about the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world. We want to know something about him. He was a hero. He spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as the rock and as sweet as the fragrance of roses. The angels appeared to his mother and predicted that the son whom she would conceive would become the greatest the stars had ever seen. He was so great that he even forgave the crimes of his greatest enemies and shook brotherly hands with those who had plotted against his life. His name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America, which is so far away that if a youth should journey to reach it he would be an old man when he arrived..." [more inside]
‘I am a phantasmagoric maximalist. I like things to be overwhelmingly strange and capacitous. I want what I write to live; it isn’t about something, it is something’— Michael Cisco. [more inside]
STREET OF THE IRON PO(E)T, A Paris Diary by Henri Cole: "Today I visited the cenotaph to Baudelaire..." Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Cult writer Renata Adler, whose novel Speedboat has been reissued by NYRB Classics, sits down for an interview with The Believer. [more inside]
T.S. Eliot’s cultural clusterfuck and middle finger to the stripped-down simplicity of the Imagists. Let the folks over at rapgenius breakdown The Waste Land for you. [via]
Percy and Sagan in the Cosmos: On the 30th anniversary of "The Last Self-Help Book." "Lost in the Cosmos is the most peculiar book of Percy's career, and in my judgment his finest achievement. I read it when it first appeared, and if you had asked me at the time whether I expected the book to be relevant in 30 years, I probably would have said no. It seemed so topical, so of its moment; and how long could that moment last? But re-reading it in preparation for this essay I saw how little it matters that many people today will know nothing or nearly nothing about Phil Donahue or Carl Sagan. Their immediate heirs are with us every day when we turn on the TV." [more inside]
"It was John Polidori's misfortune to be comic without having a sense of humor, to wish to be a great writer but to be a terrible one, to be unusually bright but surrounded for one summer by people who were titanically brighter, and to have just enough of an awareness of all of this to make him perpetually uneasy. Also, he couldn't jump."
Edith Maude Eaton (1865-1914), better known by her nom de plume Sui Sin Far ("lotus blossom" in Cantonese), was a North American journalist, author, essayist and travel writer who has been dubbed the "'mother' of Asian North American literature." Born of an English businessman father and a Chinese mother adopted by British missionaries, Eaton lived and worked in New York, Montreal, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston. Her short stories, known principally through her only published collection, Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912), offer sympathetic depictions of Chinese and Eurasian immigrants while prejudice against Asian peoples in North America was rampant. [more inside]
Famous writer Anne Carson on ice bats: "I made up ice bats, there is no such thing." (SLNYT) [more inside]
Today, VIDA (Women in Literary Arts) published their annual VIDA count, breaking down the treatment of women in literature in 2012 and the past three years of trends.
At this point I usually feel it would be a good idea to say something about this , Exercices de Style, But as it's rather difficult to know where to begin, if I'm not careful I find that my would-be explanation goes rather like this: "Oh yes, you know, it's the story of a chap who gets into a bus and starts a row with another chap who he thinks keeps treading on his toes on purpose, and Queneau repeats the story 99 times in different ways - it's terribly good . . . [more inside]
Pablo Neruda (bio, pics, recordings) was a Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner. His work comprises 48 books* (excluding posthumous publications), the most famous of which remain Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (scribd, alt) (Spanish, alt) and Canto General (Spanish). Documentary. [more inside]
The Turn Against Nabokov [newyorker.com]
"The author, whose novels thrum with ironic recurrences, might have been perversely pleased with this: thirty-six years after his death and twenty-two years after the fall of the Soviet Union with all its khudsovets, Vladimir Nabokov is, once again, controversial."
Kevin Pang's profile of Chicago chef Curtis Duffy recounts how Duffy emerged from a turbulent family life to become a Michelin-starred chef. [more inside]
Post & Prejudice: [guardian.co.uk] "The Royal Mail is joining in the celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice with the release of a series of stamps featuring all six of Jane Austen's novels. Royal Mail commissioned the artwork by Angela Barrett." [Slideshow]
"A talented writer such as John Jeremiah Sullivan might, fifty years ago, have tried to explore his complicated feelings about the South, and about race and class in America, by writing fiction, following in the footsteps of Walker Percy and Eudora Welty. Instead he produced a book of essays, called Pulphead, on the same themes; and the book was received with the kind of serious attention and critical acclaim that were once reserved for novels. But all is not as it seems. You do not have to read very far in the work of the new essayists to realize that the resurrection of the essay is in large measure a mirage." (via) [more inside]
In theory: the unread and the unreadable - "We measure our lives with unread books – and 'difficult' works can induce the most guilt. How should we view this challenge?"