Category Archives: Paul Theroux

Links: Last Words

You likely don’t need to hear one more commentary about the Huckleberry Finn foofaraw, but consider reading Jon Clinch‘s, as somebody who spent a lot of time attempting to inhabit Twain’s world in his 2007 novel, Finn.

What happened to the literary prodigy Barbara Follett? (via)

Granta‘s 1983 “Dirty Realism” issue, which featured stories by Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason, Jayne Anne Phillips, Angela Carter, and many more, is claimed as the best single issue of a literary magazine ever. (via)

Two editors discuss their discovery of three previously undocumented Zora Neale Hurston stories.

Toward a complete guide to Dashiell Hammett‘s Baltimore haunts.

On the growth of David Foster Wallace studies.

Richard Ford on his home state, where he’s returning to teach: “I think the state, in the hands and eyes of its writers, has a lot that needs to be explained. Writers are imaginative explainers. There’s a lot of received wisdom, history, a lot of drama in the fabric that is Mississippi that could be seen not to make a whole lot of sense.”

Why Paul Theroux will not be writing an autobiography.

The National Book Critics Circle gathers up some recommendations for books that should be back in print; I put in for Renata Adler’s Speedboat, a novel I wrote about here last spring.

“[T]he relation of literary production to social inequality has changed, and it is that relation, or was that relation, and that relation only, that constituted African American Literature.”

Paul Auster is a potato, not a tropical flower. Allow him to explain:

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.

End of the Road

It’s no substitute for William Least Heat-Moon‘s Blue Highways, but Paul Theroux‘s road-trip story in the latest issue of Smithsonian is an entertaining chronicle of a speedy trip across the United States. It can be difficult to think of Theroux as an American author sometimes, given how rarely his fiction is set there, and Theroux himself confesses he feels a bit like an outsider working on the piece:

In my life, I had sought out other parts of the world—Patagonia, Assam, the Yangtze; I had not realized that the dramatic desert I had imagined Patagonia to be was visible on my way from Sedona to Santa Fe, that the rolling hills of West Virginia were reminiscent of Assam and that my sight of the Mississippi recalled other great rivers. I’m glad I saw the rest of the world before I drove across America. I have traveled so often in other countries and am so accustomed to other landscapes, I sometimes felt on my trip that I was seeing America, coast to coast, with the eyes of a foreigner, feeling overwhelmed, humbled and grateful.

A book by Theroux that attempted a broad treatment of the country would be worth reading (though hopefully it would have fewer clunky generalizations like “as a nation, we are warriors as well as peacemakers”). But would enough people want to read it to make it worth publishing? The road novel seems like a relic now, runoff of the enthusiasm that followed the WPA guides and the construction of the interstate highway system. (Last year’s collection State by State was a weak attempt to revive that spirit; the majority of the pieces were drab once-over-lightlies, scanning each state the way people tend to scan magazines.) I recently (finally) finished Richard YatesRevolutionary Road, and among its many pleasures is how it underscores the intense feeling of wanderlust in the mid-50s—the open road was new and exciting, suburbia was new and oppressive, and can’t we just get the hell out? Decades later, the highway has become less interesting, and more and more writers have taken Sherwood Anderson‘s command to William Faulkner to heart—try to understand your “little postage stamp of native soil” instead of trying to figure out a whole nation. (The only contemporary road novels that immediately spring to mind are Mark Z. Danielewski‘s Only Revolutions, an experimental narrative that drenches the story in wordplay and irony, as if a road story were now so trite it would be foolish to tell it straight; and Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road, which decimates the landscape, as if we were idiots to ever romanticize it.) We’re not worse off for this lack—now that we no longer live in a monoculture, a big, nation-swallowing novel seems both impossible and pointless—though it’s a little surprising that writers are less inclined to figure out how we fit in the larger scheme of things, in favor of figuring out the tiny spots where we are in the first place.

Links: The “Intergalactically Challenging Jacket” and More

The summer issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is dedicated to travel, excerpting Paul Theroux‘s Dark Star Safari, Marilynne Robinson‘s Gilead, Tobias Wolff‘s This Boy’s Life, and Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road, among many other writers around the world and throughout history. The journal’s Web site features James Franco reading that Kerouac excerpt in an appropriately slackerish way. The most entertaining piece, though, not online, is a 1935 article from Pravda describing the despairing life of American cities, which are sad and largely empty of people. Contrary to popular belief in the Soviet Union, the authors write, in New York and Chicago “brokers don’t run down the sidewalks knocking over American citizens; they simmer, invisible to the public, in their stock exchanges, making all kinds of shady deals in those monumental buildings.” The West Coast is no better: It’s home to the “American film industry, which releases around a thousand well-made but egregiously tasteless and idiotically stupid films per year.”

Speaking of Theroux, he recalls hanging out at Michael Jackson‘s Neverland, and talking with the late pop star on the phone in the wee hours about, among other things, his reading habits: “‘Somerset Maugham,’ he said quickly, and then, pausing at each name: ‘Whitman. Hemingway. Twain.'”

Jennifer Weiner
on studying under Toni Morrison: “Toni Morrison used to read her students’ work out loud, and hearing her read it made me believe that it was good (of course, Toni Morrison being Toni Morrison, she could have been reading my grocery list and I would have thought, ‘Genius!’ She’s one of the world’s all-time great readers).”

Edgar Allan Poe, supernatural detective.

The sad, long struggle of Kaye Gibbons.

Ernest Hemingway‘s grandson has reworked Papa’s posthumous memoir, A Moveable Feast, in a way that “attempts to give the impression of a work which is not completed but which is nevertheless readable.”

The second issue of Wag’s Revue is now online, with an interview with T.C. Boyle as its centerpiece. Excerpt: “I do not reveal much of myself, either publicly or in the work. I may have no problem wearing an intergalactically challenging jacket on TV and cracking jokes with the best of them or investing everything I have in a performance of a story, either live or recorded, but all of that is simply a way of rubbing up against the public world while all the while keeping the private world private.”

Joseph O’Neill ponders the president reading Netherland: “I suppose you flatter yourself that the story is the history of the United States. That’s the weird, disorienting feeling you get.”

And, apropos of nothing in particular except that anybody who follows the Washington Nationals badly needs a laugh, this is great.

Links: Crunching the Numbers

For about another week, the great works of American literature come dirt cheap: The Library of America is having a 50-percent-off sale.

Edgar Lee Masters had it in for Abraham Lincoln (and Carl Sandburg too).

Paul Theroux wore bell bottoms in the 70s.

Mathematician Manil Suri spent seven years working on his second novel, The Age of Shiva—by his accounting, 64.19 words a day.

Bob Hoover finds a few connections between John Updike and William Dean Howells.

One of the better takedowns of a book I’ve seen in a while is Benjamin Alsup‘s assessment (not online, best as I can tell) in Esquire of Philipp Meyer‘s American Rust: “[I]t sounds like an Ivy Leaguer mimicking the speech patters of white working-class people. It’s one part Woody Guthrie, one party All the Pretty Horses, and 98 parts Hillary Clinton.” (I haven’t read it.)

On a more positive note: Newsweek catches up with Yiyun Li, whose debut novel, The Vagrants, is one of my favorite novels of the young year.

(And while I’m playing tipster, Peter Stephan Jungk‘s Crossing the Hudson, out next month, is one of the best contemporary novels I’ve read in quite some time.)

Toward a Complete Guide to Haruki Murakami’s Translations of American Writers Into Japanese

Last May I blogged about Haruki Murakami‘s translations of major works by American authors, including The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and more. At the time I idly speculated about the depth of Murakami’s translation efforts. Today I received a little more clarity. The list below comes courtesy of Naoko Mayuzumi (aka Miss Brolly), based on the Japanese Wikipedia entry for Murakami and her own research.

I’m deeply grateful for the time she took to assemble this; it’s a fascinating list. I’m not surprised that there’s so much Raymond Carver in here, nor is it shocking to see the early-’80s Sudden Fiction collection—both contain plenty of exemplars of the minimalist style that Murakami made his own. But it’s interesting to see a little John Irving thrown in there, and a whole lot of Chris Van Allsburg and Ursula K. Le Guin. I’ve tweaked some of the formatting here, but everything else, including links, comes direct from Mayuzumi.

List of American Books and Essays Translated (from English to Japanese) by Haruki Murakami

Note: The month and year in parentheses indicates the time when the Japanese translation was published in Japan.

By author:

C. D. Bryan:

The Great Dethriffe (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in November 1987)

Truman Capote:

I Remember Grandpa (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in March 1988)

One Christmas (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in December 1989)

A Christmas Memory (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in November 1990)

Children on Their Birthdays (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in June 2002)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in February 2008)

Raymond Carver:

Where I’m Calling From (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in July 1983; includes “Why Don’t You Dance?,” “Tell the Women We’re Going,” “Cathedral,” “Sacks,” “Are You a Doctor?,” “Where I’m Calling From,” “So Much Water So Close to Home,” and “Everything Stuck to Him”)

At Night the Salmon Move (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in July 1985; includes “Feathers,” “The Pheasant,” “Vitamins,” “Put Yourself in My Shoes,” “Jerry and Molly and Sam,” “My Father’s Life,” “At Night the Salmon Move,” “For Semra, with Martial Vigor,” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is”)

A Small, Good Thing (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in April 1989; includes “They Are Not Your Husband,” “Neighbors,” “Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes,” “I Could See the Smallest Things,” “Popular Mechanics,” “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” “A Small, Good Thing,” “The Bridle,” “Boxes,” “Whoever Was Using This Bed,” “Menudo,” and “Elephant”)

Carver Country: The World of Raymond Carver (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in October 1994)

Carver’s Dozen (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in December 1994; collected and translated by Haruki Murakami; includes 10 stories ["Fat," "Nobody Said Anything," "Are You a Doctor?," "Collectors," "So Much Water So Close to Home," "Why Don't You Dance?," "Cathedral", "Where I'm Calling From", "A Small, Good Thing," and "Errand"], 1 essay ["My Father's Life"], and 2 poems ["Lemonade" and "Late Fragment"])

The Complete Works of Raymond Carver (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc./Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc.)
* Volume 1: “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” (February 1991)
* Volume 2: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (August 1990)
* Volume 3: “Cathedral” (May 1990)
* Volume 4: “Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories” (September 1992)
* Volume 5: “Where Water Comes Together With Other Water / Ultramarine” (September 1997)
* Volume 6: “Elephant / A New Path to the Waterfall” (March 1994)
* Volume 7: “No Heroics, Please” (July 2002)
* Volume 8: “Call if You Need Me” (July 2004)

Raymond Chandler:

The Long Goodbye (published by Hayakawa Publishing Corporation in March 2007)

Bill Crow:

From Birdland to Broadway (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in January 1996)

Jazz Anecdotes (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in July 2000)

Terry Farish:

The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup (published by Kodansha Ltd. in November 2005)

F. Scott Fitzgerald:

My Lost City: Personal Essays (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in May 1981)

The Scott Fitzgerald Book (published by TBS-Britannica Co., Ltd. in March 1988; a book by Haruki Murakami about Scott Fitzgerald, but it includes his translations of Fitzgerald’s two essays, “On Your Own” and “The Rich Boy”)

Babylon Revisited (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in April 1996)

The Great Gatsby (published by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. in November 2006)

Jim Fusilli:

The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in February 2008)

Mikal Gilmore:

Shot in the Heart (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in October 1996)

Mark Helprin:

Swan Lake (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in December 1991)

John Irving:

Setting Free the Bears (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in May 1986)

Ursula K. Le Guin:

Catwings (published by Kodansha Ltd. in March 1993)

Catwings Return (published by Kodansha Ltd. in December 1993)

Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings (published by Kodansha Ltd. in June 1997)

Jane on her Own (published by Kodansha Ltd. in September 2001)

Tim O’Brien:

The Nuclear Age (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in October 1989)

The Things They Carried (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in October 1990)

July, July (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in March 2004)

Grace Paley:

Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in May 1999)

The Little Disturbances of Man (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in June 2005)

J. D. Salinger:

The Catcher in the Rye (published by Hakusuisha Publishing Co., Ltd. in April 2003)

Mark Strand:

Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in October 1998)

Paul Theroux:

World’s End and Other Stories (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in July 1987)

Chris Van Allsburg:

The Wreck of the Zephyr (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in October 1985)

The Polar Express (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in December 1987)

The Stranger (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in August 1989)

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in November 1990)

The Widow’s Broom (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in June 1993)

The Sweetest Fig (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in September 1994)

Ben’s Dream (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in April 1996)

The Wretched Stone (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in November 2003)

Two Bad Ants (published by Asunaro Shobo in September 2004)

The Garden of Abdul Gasazi (published by Asunaro Shobo in September 2005)


Collections:

Watashitachi No Rinjin, Raymond Carver (Published by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. in March 2009; the title translates to “Our Neighbor, Raymond Carver.” Murakami collected these essays about Carver by nine writers/editors who personally knew him from Remembering Ray: A Composite Biography of Raymond Carver [except “Ridin' With Ray and the Old Game” by Jon A. Jackson and “Raymond Carver” by Michiko Miyamoto] and translated them [except Miyamoto's essay which was written in Japanese originally]):

* “Raymond Carver: A Still, Small Voice” by Jay McInerney
* “Raymond Carver Had His Cake and Ate It Too” by Tobias Wolff
* “All-American Nightmares” by Marcus Morton
* “The Days with Ray” by James D. Houston
* “Ridin’ With Ray” by Jon A. Jackson
* “What We Talk About When We Talk About Carver” by David Carpenter
* “Raymond Carver” by Michiko Miyamoto
* “Hope This Finds You Well and All” by Gary Fisketjon
* “Bulletproof” by William Kittredge

And Other Stories―Totteoki No America Shosetsu 12 Hen (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in September 1988; the title translates to “And Other Stories―12 Treasured American Short Stories.” Five Japanese translators brought their favorite American stories and translated them for this collection.) Murakami translated the following stories:

* “The Moccasin Telegraph” by W. P. Kinsella
* “Thirty-Four Seasons of Winter” by William Kittredge
* “What’s Your Story” by Ronald Sukenick
* “Samuel” by Grace Paley
* “Living” by Grace Paley

Getsuyobi Wa Saiakuda-to Minna Wa Iu Keredo (Published by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. in May 2000; the title translates to “They Call It Stormy Monday.” American short stories and essays collected and translated by Murakami):

* “The Carver Chronicles” by D. T. Max
* “Good Raymond” by Richard Ford
* “The Vietnam In Me” by Tim O’Brien
* “Nogales” by Tim O’Brien
* “Loon Point” by Tim O’Brien
* “John Irving’s (Revised) World” by John Paul Newport
* “I Am A…Genius!” by Thom Jones
* “Secret Agent” by Denis Johnson

Birthday Stories: Selected and Introduced by Haruki Murakami (I think this American edition just contains the original stories in English. The Japanese edition of this book, published by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. in December 2002, contains translations of these American stories by Murakami.)

Murakami Haruki HybLit (published by ALC Inc. in November 2008; a bilingual book containing three stories, selected by Murakami, in English and Japanese: “On the Rainy River” by Tim O’Brien [Japanese translation by Murakami], “A Small, Good Thing” by Raymond Carver [Japanese translation by Murakami], and “Lederhosen” by Haruki Murakami [English translation by Alfred Birnbaum]; “HybLit” in the title is the compound of “hybrid” and “literature”)

Sudden Fiction is translated into Japanese by two translators (Haruki Murakami and Takayoshi Ogawa) and published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in January 1994. The following stories are translated by Murakami:

* “A Sudden Story” by Robert Coover
* “Mother” by Grace Paley
* “The King of Jazz” by Donald Barthelme
* “Reunion” by John Cheever
* “Twirler” by Jane Martin
* “Five Ives” by Roy Blount Jr.
* “Song on Royal Street” by Richard Blessing
* “The Merry Chase” by Gordon Lish
* “Popular Mechanics” Raymond Carver
* “Turning” by Lynda Sexson
* “Say Yes” by Tobias Wolff
* “The Hit Man” by T. Coraghessan Boyle
* “A Questionnaire for Rudolph Gordon” by Jack Matthews
* “I See You Never” by Ray Bradbury
* “The Bank Robbery” by Steven Schutzman
* “Tent Worms” by Tennessee Williams
* “Sitting” by H. E. Francis
* “Dog Life” by Mark Strand
* “The Hatchet Man in the Lighthouse” by William Peden
* “Happy” by Joyce Carol Oates
* “The Anatomy of Desire” by John L’Heureux
* “Class Notes” by Lucas Cooper
* “The Neighbor” by Russell Banks
* “Reading the Paper” by Ron Carlson
* “Speed of Light” by Pat Rushin
* “Gerald’s Song” by Philip F. O’Connor
* “Blind Girls” by Jayne Anne Philips
* “The Signing” by Stephen Dixon
* “The Quail” by Rolf Yngve
* “The Artichoke” by Marilyn Krysl

Links; Housekeeping

David Foster Wallace used his Amherst undergraduate thesis to dismantle a philosophical brand of fatalism. Quite successfully, to hear some scholars tell it.

Tobias Wolff‘s short story “Awake” is available in full on the London Times‘ Web site.

Jhumpa Lahiri
wins a lot of prize money. She gives a lot of it away.

The young, brilliant, intellectually and sexually tormented Susan Sontag.

Care to go on a train ride with Paul Theroux?

Bantam is reprinting Ernest Callenbach‘s ’70s cult novel, Ecotopia, which imagined a world of slow food and recycling bins years before such things got traction in American life. (Also: Nice to see the byline of Scott Timberg, who was recently laid off by the Los Angeles Times.)

Denis Johnson doesn’t have a damned clue what the future of the book is, and it’s anybody’s guess why he was invited onto a panel to discuss the matter. “He admitted to an audience member who wondered how much of the panel’s resistance to digital media was old fogeyism, ‘I think I can give you an exact figure on that: 87 percent. We’ve become irrelevant. We no longer point the way for the culture, but we’ll always be important to individuals. That’s the communication and always has been — between one individual, the writer, and another, the reader.'”

———

Some News About Me

When I started this blog in January, I stubbornly, perhaps foolishly, told myself that I would feed it at least once daily. Eventually I eased up on the throttle and took Saturdays off, then wound up using that day to update the D.C.-Area Readings list. (Some great events have recently been announced, by the way, especially the Nextbook reading series at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center, featuring Etgar Keret and Rivka Galchen, among others.) Running a blog is addictive, not just because it forces you to keep an eye on a beat but because it introduces you to a whole crowd of friendly, supportive people. I’m flattered by the attention and subscribers and support my effort has received—especially from the litbloggers who welcomed my arrival to the blogosphere despite the fact that I showed up about five years late.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that things may get unsettled here in the coming weeks and months. Dec. 19 will be my last day at Washington City Paper, where I’ve worked for the past two years (following two years at its sister paper, the Chicago Reader). Starting in January I’ll be working at Associations Now, a magazine published by the D.C.-based American Society of Association Executives & the Center for Association Leadership. I’m excited about the change: I’ll be joining a group of smart people doing idea-driven journalism, working at a glossy, learning more about the nonprofit world, and hopefully finding a use for some of my more egghead-y reading on networks and organizational theory—subjects one winds up absorbing osmotically when there’s a sociologist in the house.

Happily, my new employer has no problem with my freelancing and blogging, though updates may not come as often as usual—the day job always comes first, and I’ll be spending some time getting up to speed with the new one. (And anyway, book reviewing and blogging has always been a sideline for me. With very rare exceptions, I never read or wrote about books at the office. The blogging was always completely separate.) The upside to all this, for me, is that it’s an opportunity for me to rethink this whole enterprise. If Twitter is teaching us anything, it’s that link journalism via blog has its limits; seeing as 90 percent of what this blog does is link journalism, I’ve been pondering what to do here in the way of interviews, essays, and more. (N.B.: I’ve updated the page for authors and publicists, both of whom are welcome to contact me directly regarding ARCs, readings, and interviews.)

I’ll see how things work out in the coming months. In the meantime, thanks to the many folks who read these posts, wrote in, suggested links, and commented. I’ll make this confounded thing work one way or another.