Rohan Maitzen has a lovely stemwinder in Open Letters Monthly about her experience reading Gone With the Wind for the thirty-second time. Her conclusion is blunt, and she’s not alone in coming to it: “[I]t rejects precisely the qualities I had always celebrated in its heroine, while embracing her most loathsome values. Punishing Scarlett for rebelling against her identity as a ‘lady,’ it endorses racism and romanticizes slavery. For all its undeniable narrative power, its passion, drama, and pathos, it is, morally, an appalling book.” But she takes a thoughtful and entertaining path to get to that point.
Sue Miller on her new novel, The Lake Shore Limited, makes a comment that may be relevant to the discussion about sentiment here a few days back: “I teetered between two opposing modes of writing: the mode that wanted to make the story emotionally compelling, to make you cry, and the other mode, which was to leave the story open, in some sense, and to make it ask more than it resolved for you.”
If publishers are having a hard time figuring out how to make money off e-books, they have a kindred spirit in Johannes Gutenberg, who died bankrupt.
Coming soon: A book-length appreciation of John Carpenter‘s cult classic They Live by Jonathan Lethem.
Myla Goldberg: “Certain issues stick with authors whether or not they want them to. Memory might be mine.”
Remembering Thomas Wolfe, born 110 years ago today.
Scenes from the first international conference of the John Updike Society, where the author’s childhood friends recalled his disinterest in tying his shoes and odd use of a basketball.
Paying tribute to Mark Twain on a Swiss trail.
Theodore Dreiser‘s “Library of American Realism.”
Ishmael Reed on why colleges shouldn’t teach The Wire.
“Here I am, a guy who has written seven novels about life in my 20th and 21st century (and has had five agents sell none of them), and I find less than seven contemporary novels worth reading about my time on earth.” Can’t imagine why…
At the Reading Experience, Dan Green is hoping to launch a regular feature dedicated to critical appreciations of American fiction since 1980. This excites me for all the obvious reasons—it could supplant the generally fine but intermittent “In Retrospect” series dedicated to older works, and might even prompt me to start doing more long-form criticism, now that newspaper reviewing doesn’t offer much in the way of that. (When I started doing it a few years back, the standard word count was still around 1,200 words; these days it’s closer to 400.)
I think you and I can both agree on the usual suspects that such a new canon might include—Green’s first choice, Russell Banks‘ Affliction, being one of them. (Wouldn’t Continental Drift be better, though? Anyway.) The list of ten books below is a hasty attempt to propose a few ideas that go beyond the typical choices. In general, they’re all books of relatively recent vintage that I admire but haven’t seen much sustained critical thought about; I’ve clanged a bell for most of them before, here or elsewhere, and I’d be excited to see a smart, precocious critic tackle any one of them.
Laird Hunt, Indiana, Indiana
Daniel Alarcon, Lost City Radio
Nathaniel Rich, The Mayor’s Tongue
Ward Just, Echo House
Sue Miller, The World Below
Adam Langer, Crossing California
JT Leroy, Sarah
Ben Fountain, Brief Encounters With Che Guevara
Carter Scholz, Radiance
Ken Kalfus, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country
Not a very diverse list at first glance, I confess. But as I mentioned, it goes without saying that, say, Marilynne Robinson and Edward P. Jones would be on any longlist. Who else?
Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities, the blog of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, is full of all manner of interesting literary arcana, from lesbian pulp novels to old Raymond Pettibon drawings. The Hartford Courant catches up with the blog’s minders, with a particular eye toward its collection of writer’s notebooks.
Henry Kisor, mystery author and former books editor at the Chicago Sun-Times (where he gave my so-called critical career a boost a few years back), is going through his old files and digging up some fun stuff, including letters from Art Buchwald, and a vicious missive from G.P. Putnam’s Sons editor William Targ calling Nelson Algren an “inhuman turd.”
Esquire deems Colson Whitehead‘s John Henry Days a candidate for great American novel of the new century. Which is….interesting…considering the magazine didn’t think much of it when it came out.
Sherman Alexie has a whole bunch of works in the pipeline. He tells the Northern Arizona University Lumberjack: “I’ve got a new book of poems coming out shortly called Face. This fall, I have a book of short stories coming out called War Dances. Next spring is the release of the sequel to my young adult novel. The sequel’s called The Magic and Tragic Year of my Broken Thumb. And I have a novel coming out fall of 2010 called Fire with Fire. And then I have another young adult novel coming out the Spring after that called Radioactive Love Song, and then I have another novel coming out the fall after that called Thunder and Lightning.”
I’m still thinking about novels about motherhood, a subject that D.G. Myers raised recently. Seems to me that Sue Miller‘s The Senator’s Wife, and a few other Miller novels besides, should enter the discussion.
But this novel? Not so much.
Last week the Contra Costa Times (the paper of record for East Bay, California, suburbia) hosted a roundtable of authors, including Sue Miller, Vendela Vida, Beth Lisick, and Andre Aciman. Nice panel, but I confess that I winced when I read that the moderator, Lynn Carey, asked them, “Which literary character would you like to date?” Then I cringed when I learned that Carey’s choice is John Galt. So I’d love to know what tone of voice Miller used to respond by saying that she doesn’t like dating, but it seems like she was game to bat away the “doyen of domesticity” tag: ” “I don’t complain, as my grandmother used to say when she finished complaining.”
Richard Ford has had enough of this place: He’s taking a job teaching creative writing at Ireland’s Trinity College.
Connor Simons, an eighth grader living in Clark County, Washington, decided to protest the state standardized test by pulling out a copy of The Catcher in the Rye at his desk while the test was being administered. Simons’ review: “I’ve heard it’s supposed to be the great American novel, but it seems overhyped, to me.”
My capsule review of Sue Miller‘s new novel, The Senator’s Wife, is up now:
Men tend to have a hard time getting out of Sue Miller novels in one piece: They get flung into light posts, wind up with tuberculosis, or get banished from their homes due to some disloyal fuck-up. (The film Inventing the Abbots was based on a Sue Miller story; so, it seems, are most episodes of Cheaters.) Miller’s anger at men nearly rivals Philip Roth’s rage at women, though it’s impossible to confuse the two writers….
USA Today‘s Web site has an excerpt from the novel. Miller reads at Politics & Prose on Jan. 14.
Complete with an odd if strangely compelling snowman widget, USA Today previews some of the bigger books coming out in the next three months, among them novels by Geraldine Brooks and Dan Brown. Mentioned among the high-profile literary fiction releases:
The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller, due Tuesday. “She doesn’t write often, but when she does, it’s always an event,” [Barnes & Noble’s Sessalee] Hensley says. Also: Russell Banks‘ The Reserve (Jan. 29). In March: Lush Life by Richard Price. In April: Unaccustomed Earth, stories by Jhumpa Lahiri.
I can speak to the worthiness of both Miller’s and Price’s novels, and I’m hoping to get to The Reserve soon. The Namesake put me off Lahiri a bit, but her talents as a short-story writer (if not a novelist) is indisputable. [Shelf Awareness]