Category Archives: Daniyal Mueenuddin

Links: The Secret History

At Jewish Ideas Daily, D.G. Myers—who from where I sit sets the standard for rigorous, thoughtful, and provocative litblogging—is in the midst of an ambitious study of landmarks in American Jewish literature, with a focus on lesser-known works. His second essay in the series looks at Ezra Brudno‘s 1904 novel, The Fugitive.

Thomas Doherty‘s excellent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Death of Film Criticism,” is worth reading on its own terms, but there are plenty of obvious parallels to be drawn from it book criticism and arts journalism in general. If there’s anything to be learned, it’s that plugging your ears and pretending the Internet doesn’t exist won’t help. Plenty of critics embrace it, of course, and a few just might make a buck off it.

Mary Gaitskill wasn’t a fan of the cover of her 1997 story collection, Because They Wanted To, which featured a large screw. “I threw a fit, I tried to get them not to do it, but they gave me even worse covers—pictures of cannibalistic-looking women stripping the clothes off of a screaming man, or a girl in a wet dress leaning over with her hands on her butt.” The paperback cover seems reasonable enough.

Some literary passings get more attention, but few have inspired the range of thoughtful and affecting remembrances the way Barry Hannah‘s death has. A.N. Deverspiece evokes the shock of learning about his death. HTMLGiant gathers a few thoughts from admirers. Justin Taylor recalls Hannah’s influence. Nathan Deuel offers a contrary view. Wells Tower‘s 2008 profile includes the Hannah story “Water Liars.”

Tower, by the way, didn’t wind up winning the Story Prize this week. But Daniyal Mueenuddin‘s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders was a fine choice.

Lionel Shriver
talks with the Wall Street Journal about her new novel, So Much for That: “I don’t assume any sentence is good just because I wrote it.”

An American in Tangier, a 1993 documentary on Paul Bowles, is available on the incomparable cultural archive UbuWeb.

A guide to the J.D. Salinger letters now on display at the Morgan Library & Museum.

Paul Theroux isn’t impressed with John Edwards‘ charitable efforts in Haiti.

Lots of folks get suckered into Ayn Rand‘s philosophy as teenagers. Count George Saunders among them.

Missouri legislators are planning to rename a stretch of highway in Saint Louis after Mark Twain, having decided that Mark McGwire doesn’t deserve the honor. A radio station doesn’t think Twain deserves it either, so a petition is making the rounds. Hall of Fame Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith seems to be getting most of the votes, though I’d feel skittish driving on a highway named after somebody known for backflips.

Links: Aisle Seats

Every so often, somebody online shows up to announce a surprising discovery: Roger Ebert is a pretty good writer! Such is the curse of being a TV celebrity, I suppose, where his closest peers have been Gene Shalit and Michael Medved—if you’re running with those clowns, small wonder people reduce to some kind of Fatty McThumb caricature. It may help to have grown up in a Chicago household that received the Sun-Times on weekends to contradict that reputation for shallowness. (The uninitiated or the unconvinced can pick up his 2006 collection, Awake in the Dark.) At any rate, HTMLGiant is the latest to bring the news, inspired by some of his recent personal essays on subjects like cancer and abstinence directives on college campuses. If it takes Ebert’s Twitter feed to get bloggers enthusing, so be it, but even given his emergence as a sharp cultural commentator in recent years, his skill and talent has always been there.

Case in point (and more directly relevant to this blog): The death of Erich Segal prompted Ebert to dig up his 1970 review of Love Story, which includes this gem of an opening:

I read Love Story one morning in about fourteen minutes flat, out of simple curiosity. I wanted to discover why five and a half million people had actually bought it. I wasn’t successful. I was so put off by Erich Segal’s writing style, in fact, that I hardly wanted to see the movie at all. Segal’s prose style is so revoltingly coy — sort of a cross between a parody of Hemingway and the instructions on a soup can — that his story is fatally infected.

Mark Twain was similarly talented at writing a good lede for a newspaper.

Virginia Quarterly Review editor Ted Genoways is so despairing of the fate of literary magazines that he resorts to absolutisms and strange steams of thought: Postmodernism is dead, but it persists, which means nobody wants to write fiction about Iraq, which means university-based literary journals are dying, but to solve that writers need to move away from academia.

Where, Wesley Morris asks, “are any of the promising films to be made from hundreds of years of black writing?”

Yiyun Li doesn’t feel her novel, The Vagrants, is entirely a downer: “There are actually some very funny moments. I was laughing, maybe I shouldn’t have been. Some of the reviewers picked up on the lightness. I’d say about one-sixth of reviewers picked that up, and I was very happy for them.”

Atlantic fiction editor C. Michael Curtis is behind a collection of short stories but writers in Spartansburg, South Carolina.

Daniyal Mueenuddin is working on short stories set in his native Wisconsin, as well as “a novel involving a love triangle, set in Pakistan in the early 1970s, involving a farmer who is married to an American.”

N. Scott Momaday, in a lengthy interview with the Santa Fe Reporter, on winning the Pulitzer Prize for his first book, 1969′s House Made of Dawn: “I was too young to receive it. It was a good thing, all in all. The benefits were very great and continue to be, but I don’t know, I think that if I had won it at 45 instead of 35 or whatever I was, it would have been somehow more appropriate.”

Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson is still in the habit of giving books to his players. Among the authors he’s selected are Larry Watson, Walter Mosley, Sherman Alexie, and Roberto Bolano.

Lastly, the National Book Critics Circle recently announced eight new board members. I’m honored to be among them.

Genuinely Good and Genuinely Political

Writing at Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell, an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, asks if there are any “genuinely good, genuinely political novels” available. He sets the baseline for a genuinely bad political novel by mentioning Ralph Nader‘s new book, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!. But lacking any strict definitions of what “good” and “political” mean, the commenters were free to run rampant. And so they have—as I write this, there are 202 comments.

I’m responsible for one of them comments, pitching Ward Just, though I’m pretty sure he’s not the writer Farrell is looking for. Just is a keen observer of political personalities and of what public service does to a person’s (OK, a man’s) sense of ethics, but I haven’t read anything he’s written that forwarded a political argument. That’s a difficult, if not impossible thing to do in a way that isn’t awkward: Caleb Crain quotes Stendahl in the New York Review of Books as saying, “politics in a work of literature is like a gunshot in the middle of a concert, a crude thing and yet it’s impossible to withhold one’s attention.” Crain breaks out the quote in the context of his review of Daniyal Mueenuddin‘s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. The short-story collection isn’t overtly political when it comes to its setting, Pakistan, but does suggest that the wealthiest classes there have grown only more hubristic as time goes by. Is that still a political work?

Two-hundred-odd comments aren’t going to resolve the matter, but the discussion did take an interesting turn into whether science fiction is the best available source in fiction for political ideas, for better or for worse. The author who seems to come up most often on that front is Ursula K. Le Guin, who apparently wouldn’t disagree with the commenters’ claims about her work. As she told an interviewer last year:

The world is so weird that (as the Magical Realists showed us) the only way to describe it is by accepting its weirdness – we begin to understand it by accepting the fact that we can’t understand it. … And fantasy and sf are good tools, the best tools, for getting perspective on the big social and political stuff (think of Orwell’s “Animal Farm”), and for figuring out what might be changed in our society – for better or worse – and what change might involve (think of “The Handmaid’s Tale”).

In any event, the thread is worth a look, especially given that it appears to still be going strong after three days.

Links: A Winning Style

The nominees for the National Book Award were announced earlier this week. I can recommend two of books in the fiction category: Daniyal Mueenuddin‘s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, a carefully turned collection of stories that focus on class divisions in Pakistan, and Jayne Anne PhillipsLark and Termite, a novel about the intersection of the Korean War and a broken family back in America. It’s harder for me to recommend Colum McCann‘s ambitious Let the Great World Spin a novel that seemed to foreground its bigness at the expense of its characters. My review of the book in the Chicago Sun-Times wraps up this way: “There’s plenty to admire in Let the Great World Spin, especially for anybody predisposed to the widescreen style of Don DeLillo’s Underworld. But the magic of Petit’s wirewalk was that it seemed so effortless, like walking on air. McCann too often lets the reader know just how difficult a balancing act he’s trying to pull off.” The rest of the nominees? Your guess is as good as mine.

The typewriter that Cormac McCarthy has used to write all his novels until now is going up for auction.

The pleasures of reading To Kill a Mockingbird aloud.

Perhaps Lorrie Moore is trying too hard to be funny? (I haven’t gotten to A Gate at the Stairs, but the “jokes” in Self-Help do do a lot of the work. But they’re often anti-jokes, planted to show how sad or despairing or resentful a character is. She jokes a lot, but she’s not trying to get you to laugh.)

Cynthia Ozick on the Kindle: “A robot!” “A foreign object!”

Willa Cather‘s development as a novelist.

Junot Diaz in Oprah magazine: “[A] writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.”

Will Ferrell will star in a film based on a Raymond Carver short story (“Why Don’t You Dance?”, I think).

Lastly, this from the Department of Condescending Media: When a football player reads books, it’s news.