“Whatever interrupts her work only makes her more broke.”
July 17, 2016 8:51 PM   Subscribe

Helen DeWitt is the author of the cult-classics The Last Samurai and the (partly inspired by battles with publishers) Lightning Rods, and has written about the terror of being stalked for The London Review of Books Previously
TLS is finally getting a well-deserved reprinting! As part of the press run-up Christian Lorentzen has written a detailed profile of the author and her struggles for New York Magazine. Miranda Popkey has re-assessed the book for The Paris Review, and DeWitt has recorded a video describing her creative process. DeWitt previously
posted by Going To Maine (26 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have to say that the juxtaposition of DeWitt’s current poverty and her anger at the system makes me think a bit of Kanye. Which is strange, but there you go.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:53 PM on July 17, 2016


re: the stalking piece: Jesus Christ :-/

And then that first comment. So gross.

Quite a writer, though. DeWitt, I mean.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:12 PM on July 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Reading about DeWitt's arguments with her (apparently quite stupid) martinet of a copyeditor for The Last Samurai is also kind of crazy-making—I believe langaugehat posted about it, back in the day. (I'd really like to know about how she wound up owing her publisher $75K, too.)
posted by kenko at 9:29 PM on July 17, 2016


The Last Samurai deserves to have "cult" removed from its description.

It's a straight-up classic, on any fair reading.
posted by flabdablet at 11:52 PM on July 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


This is great news! I was just talking about this book with a friend last week.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:01 AM on July 18, 2016


I thoroughly enjoyed Lightning Rods. This is languagehat on DeWitt & TLS
posted by chavenet at 12:14 AM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's a straight-up classic, on any fair reading

I think of it as being "cult" mostly because it's been out of print and consequently a little obscure. Hopefully the reprinting will help purge the adjective.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:18 AM on July 18, 2016


TLS is staggeringly brilliant. It makes genius entertaining, dazzling, and fun. I think of that book the way some people here think of that boring Ted Chiang short story about the smart dude.

And Lightning Rods is great too. So tongue-in-cheek that it sorta forces you to draw the line for yourself, which is an interesting way for a book to make you feel.
posted by rorgy at 3:49 AM on July 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


I had never heard of DeWitt before reading this FPP, so it has led to at least this small amount of awareness. I've always thought one of the advantages of a more generous safety net would be to liberate creative people from such a high level of stress about day to day finances. There is so much societal value in having writers and painters and composers, but we largely leave them unsupported, which seems shortsighted.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:45 AM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Tom Cruise adaptation seems to have completely missed the point of the novel.
posted by Naberius at 6:31 AM on July 18, 2016 [9 favorites]


I loved Lightning Rods and can't wait to pick up The Last Samurai. I had heard if its existence but did not know that it was headed for reprints - thanks for posting this!
posted by everybody had matching towels at 7:00 AM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow. I did not know "The Last Samurai" was out of print. That's one of my favorite novels. Apologies to all the friends I have recommended it to over the years. Hope you found a decently-priced used copy!
posted by thivaia at 7:08 AM on July 18, 2016


The Last Samurai is an extraordinary novel. It's laugh-out-loud funny, but also deeply affecting. DeWitt refuses to follow conventional tropes about the timing and arc of story beats, and it really works.
posted by grimmelm at 7:49 AM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the post, Going To Maine, which finally prompted me to order a copy of The Last Samurai, after years of not quite getting around to it. For an out-of-print classic with a devoted following, I was a little surprised to find no shortage of cheap pre-enjoyed copies of it to choose from at AbeBooks.
posted by misteraitch at 8:47 AM on July 18, 2016


Thanks for this post. TLS is great, and so is Lightning Rods. paperpools, though updated infrequently, is my favorite blog.
posted by OmieWise at 9:47 AM on July 18, 2016


Thanks for this post. This is far more content than I can hope to absorb in a single day. DeWitt's blog paperpools has definitely been fantastic for so many years. I've kept hoping her struggles with the publishing industry would end in victory so this amazing writer could write more novels for me.
posted by doteatop at 10:58 AM on July 18, 2016


Somehow I had no idea The Last Samurai was out of print. Guess that might be why I haven't gotten The Last Samurai Yuletide fic of my dreams yet despite hopefully nominating and requesting it every year for like the past five years. WHOOPS.
posted by yasaman at 12:07 PM on July 18, 2016


She and I are related,and many of our early experiences parallel. She's a much more dedicated artist than I, and I'm a better mother than she. She is unsung, given the vastness of her talent. I've often thought that if she had a penis, the literature world would have treated her like DWF, rather than a disposable commodity.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 3:49 PM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Shit I gotta read this dang book
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:55 PM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've often thought that if she had a penis, the literature world would have treated her like DWF, rather than a disposable commodity.

The penis: mightier than the words.
posted by flabdablet at 11:14 PM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


She's a much more dedicated artist than I, and I'm a better mother than she.

Does Helen DeWitt have children?
posted by OmieWise at 7:30 AM on July 19, 2016


No. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed TLS, it’s never seemed particularly sympathetic to, uh, actual parents.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:35 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


No. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed TLS, it’s never seemed particularly sympathetic to, uh, actual parents.

(To elaborate, DeWitt seems to have had a rough time with her own parents -hence the book’s theme- and according to the interview doesn’t want kids of her own.)
posted by Going To Maine at 8:33 AM on July 19, 2016


The Last Samurai is one of those books I'd often pick up secondhand copies of at library sales and charity bookshops, just so I'd a) always have a copy on hand, in case I'd loaned mine to someone else, and b) if possible, have extras to give away when the opportunity for biblioevangelism presented itself. (I don't know what happened to that dog-eared British publisher copy that didn't make it back from Istanbul, but I hope it's delighting some friend of a friend someplace now.) I'm so glad it will be back in print.
posted by karayel at 11:11 PM on July 19, 2016


Yeah, I didn't think she had kids, which makes the comment I quoted really weird.
posted by OmieWise at 4:36 AM on July 20, 2016


(To correct on my elaboration, I picked up TLS to give it a reread and one of the acknowledgements is a heartfelt one of her mother. So maybe not as strained as I thought? But the interview makes it clear that she doesn’t desire children.)
posted by Going To Maine at 2:48 PM on July 20, 2016


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