Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories by Colleen Gillard [The Atlantic] Their history informs fantastical myths and legends, while American tales tend to focus on moral realism.
If Harry Potter and Huckleberry Finn were each to represent British versus American children’s literature, a curious dynamic would emerge: In a literary duel for the hearts and minds of children, one is a wizard-in-training at a boarding school in the Scottish Highlands, while the other is a barefoot boy drifting down the Mississippi, beset by con artists, slave hunters, and thieves. One defeats evil with a wand, the other takes to a raft to right a social wrong. Both orphans took over the world of English-language children’s literature, but their stories unfold in noticeably different ways.
In 2010 Alan Prendergast wrote a long article about the life of novelist John Williams and how he was beginning, at long last, to find a sizable audience. How true that turned out to be, as Williams' 1965 novel Stoner subsequently became a bestseller all over Europe, first in French translation, but later elsewhere in Europe, and it has begun to get glowing notices in his native US. Williams is not around to enjoy the success, as he passed away in 1994. Now another of his novels, Augustus, has also begun its rise from obscurity. The New York Review of Books republished it last year on the occasion of the 2000th anniversary of the first Roman Emperor's death. On the NYRB website you can read Daniel Mendelsohn's fine introduction to the book.
[T.S. Eliot] both recognised and skewered in Four Quartets the routines of "eminent men of letters" who became "chairmen of many committees". As a banker, then as a publisher, he worked at jobs where committees were de rigueur and he accomplished his work with aplomb. Yet part of him always sought an escape hatch, a way to elude his official self. His nephew Graham Bruce Fletcher remembers Uncle Tom taking him as a boy to a London joke shop in the 1960s. They bought stink bombs and let them off at the entrance of the Bedford Hotel, not far from Eliot's workplace in Bloomsbury's Russell Square. With a fit of giggles, Eliot put on a marked turn of speed as, Macavity-like, he and his nephew sped from the scene of the crime, Eliot twirling his walking stick "in the manner of Charlie Chaplin".—TS Eliot: the poet who conquered the world, 50 years on by Robert Crawford, poet and biographer of Eliot. You can listen to a lecture by him entitled T. S. Eliot's daughter on the poem Marina. You can hear it, and other poems, read in between classical music as part of an episode of Words and Music. And if you want to get to know the poet, the T. S. Eliot Society keeps tabs on what works are freely available online.
The Decline of Harper Lee: [Vulture] The iconic 88-year-old author is involved in [another] messy tussle over a new biography. Does this mean she'll never tell her own story? [more inside]
"I love your work, Jonathan…but in a way you are smeared by English American literature…I think certain American literature is overrated, massively overrated." In the session on the global novel during the first day of this year's Jaipur Literature Festival, Jonathan Franzen served as a giant piñata, as Xiaolu Guo and Jhumpa Lahiri bemoaned American literary culture and lamented "the lack of energy put into translation in the American market."
"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]
Letter from the Pulitzer Fiction Jury: What Really Happened This Year. Michael Cunningham on what it was like to serve on the fiction jury for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, when no prize was awarded. Part 2. (Previously.)
An American writer hasn't won the Nobel Prize for Literature since 1993 (Toni Morrison). Slate's Alexander Nazaryan tells us why: "The rising generation of writers behind Oates, Roth and DeLillo are dominated by Great Male Narcissists — even the writers who aren’t male (or white)."
"Freedom" by Jonthan Franzen: is one of the most hyped, most anticipated literary novel in years and it goes on sale today. Jonathan Franzen's new book Freedom is being hailed as "The Tolstoy of the Internet Era" [slate]. "The novel of the century" [guardian]. "a novel that turns out to be both a compelling biography of a dysfunctional family and an indelible portrait of our times." [nytimes] "Jonathan Franzen: one of America's greatest living novelists?" [telegraph] Jonathan Franzen is best known for his award winning book The Corrections [nytimes]. Maybe you're wondering why his name is familiar, [Oprah Book Club sticker incident].
"... many critics and editors, especially male ones, make a fetish of "ambition," by which they mean the contemporary equivalent of novels about men in boats ("Moby-Dick," "Huckleberry Finn") rather than women in houses ("House of Mirth"), and that as a result big novels by male writers get treated as major events while slender but equally accomplished books by women tend to make a smaller splash." [more inside]
A wonderful obituary in the NYT for Grace Paley, who died yesterday at her home in Thetford Hill, Vt. She was 84.
"[M]y writing's not making a distinction between physical/muscular action and mind action or between events of history and minute events between people." -- Leslie Scalapino. Leslie Scalapino is an American poet associated with the language poetry movement. -- How2 Special Feature on Scalapino. -- Excerpt from The Forest is in the Euphrates River. -- Audio links to Scalapino reading from and discussing her work. -- Another audio link, to Scalapino reading from her book The Pearl. -- Excerpts from The Tango. -- Scalapino's Nov. 11 2006 reading at The Poetry Project in NYC. -- Scalapino is the daughter of controversial Berkeley scholar Robert Scalapino, who founded Berkeley's Institute for Asian Studies. -- Scalapino defends her father. -- Scalapino co-edited a volume of poets against the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. -- Scalapino's discussion of "relation of writing to events" with Judith Goldman.
Thomas Pynchon Paper Dolls Something light because, yes, it's the run-up to the November 21st release of Against the Day, the new 1000 page doorstop from Thomas Pynchon. The Modern Word is using the time to update their already vast Pynchon site. Good luck. (A whole lot of other paper dolls previously.)
An interview with John Updike on Terrorist, his most recent novel. Some reviews: Kakutani, Donohue (USAToday), and fellow novelist Amitav Gosh (Wapo).
Today is the anniversary of the famous Hatrack case, in which H.L. Mencken was arrested for selling indecent literature in Boston. (Herbert Asbury, the author of the Hatrack story, was largely forgotten, except for this incident, until Scorsese made his novel in Gangs of New York.) The case was just one episode in the career of an American literary giant, reporter, columnist, and editor. Gore Vidal said, "Mencken is a nice antidote. Politically, he is often right but seldom correct by today's stern standards." This is perhaps the best website devoted to Mencken, with extensive links. Particularly recommended are The Hills of Zion, part of his coverage of the Scopes trial; and his obituary savaging William Jennings Bryan. If you've never read Mencken it's almost impossible to convey how well-written, incisive and funny his writing really is.
"but I come back, I come back, as I say, I all throbbingly and yearningly and passionately, oh, mon bon, come back to this way"
The Ladder is a website devoted to the writer Henry James (1843-1916). It comprises electronic editions of a selection of James’s works and also * a textual note on the source and any amendments required during editing * annotations of the text explaining such things as references to real persons and places, references to other fiction by James, or in in his notebboks * a summary and a detailed (chapter by chapter) synopsis of the plot, so you can easily find passages you remember, by what happens * a bibliography including original publications, subsequent reprints Interestingly enough, lately more than a few writers seem to have a bit of James-mania: in June, Colm Tóibín published "The Master", a portrait of James recovering from his humiliating failure as a playwright. Now comes "Author, Author", by David Lodge, which is about James' humiliating failure as a playwright as well. These in turn arrive on the heels of Emma Tennant's "Felony", a novel about James' near-romance with Constance Fenimore Woolson, and Alan Hollinghurst's "The Line of Beauty", a BookerPrize-winning novel in which James plays an important off-the-stage role.
James Branch Cabell's Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice. One of the many treasures at Documenting the American South. Mike Keith's James Branch Cabell Page (Mike Keith has also performed and recorded an obscure symphony based on Jurgen). Owlcroft's overview of Cabell's work.