For a poet as anthologized as Elizabeth Bishop, it’s fair to say there’s a certain lack of serious criticism—or perhaps, critics thinking seriously—about her work, compared to the Modernists against whose influence she was writing. Eavan Boland reviews a new volume by Colm Tóibín that aims to begin closing the gulf....more
Simultaneously divisive and overlooked, Saul Bellow’s work has produced both fervent supporters and detractors while alienating many younger readers. This spring, a new biography by Zachary Leader will bring the late author back into the conversation. Vulture‘s Lee Siegel reflects on the strengths and shortcomings of a writer whose political incorrectness was matched only by his liberating language....more
There is a certain writerly allure to casino gambling that I find difficult to resist — or perhaps I should call it a not writing allure. Having a crowd chant my name as I shoot dice is not something I’ll ever experience revising sentences in the UNLV library.
At the Guardian, A.D. Miller wonders why writers struggle to describe the “bonds” of friendship in fiction. What he finds is that close friendships are often difficult to “rationalize” because they limit access to common literary tropes:
Friendship denies writers the shortcuts they enjoy in the portrayal of other ties.
For all our worrying about essay-writing robots, it’s easy to overlook the Fordist production models already in place in the publishing industry. Over at Flavorwire, Jonathon Sturgeon considers the implications of literature that is ghostwritten and consumer-driven:
Under automation, fiction loses the power to alter what we think is possible.
Among other quips, Willis offers that “on a long bus trip, the different between a tolerable ride and a miserable ride is having two seats to yourself....more
“I hate literature,” wrote Varlam Shalamov in a 1965 letter. “I do not write memoirs; nor do I write short stories.”
Despite his claim, Varlam Shalamov would become one of the most prolific Russian writers, producing 147 short stories about life in the gulag....more
David Samuels fact checks Herman Melville down at Lapham’s Quarterly:
Who Herman Melville was and what he actually thought about anything are altogether unsatisfying questions that have never been answered in a satisfying way. This has led critics from the beginning of his literary existence to accuse him, often rightfully, of fraud.
Monday 3/23: When’s the last time you volunteered at 826LA? It’s probably been a while. You should fix that.
Tuesday 3/24: A Night with Robert Crane & Christopher Fryer. 7 p.m. at Book Soup....more
In the Saturday Essay, Scott Borchert wonders about the symbiosis of author James Agee and folklorist Harry Smith. Though it is unclear if they met in New York during the 1950s, “their works do converge —in spirit, perhaps, and not chronologically.” The “fever-dream” of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men complements the nightmarish quality of Smith’s landmark folk music compilation....more
“Tax law is like the world’s biggest game of chess with all sorts of weird conundrums about ethics and civics and the consent of the governed built in,” Wallace wrote in an email to his friend, the novelist Jonathan Franzen, in 2007.
You missed your once every two decades chance to see the island of Mont Saint-Michel.
Just stumbled on this in the archives: old pamphlets and tracts from 50 Watts....more
Rob Crawford, Sabra Embury, Hannah Assadi, Genna Rivieccio, Amanda Killian, Armando Jaramillo Garcia, Stu Watson, and Daniel Adler celebrate opiates....more
Why spend another Friday night binge-watching Treehouse Masters when you could be meditating on the passage of time and the lifelong project of self-actualization we humans must all undertake? If you’re in San Francisco tonight, swing by Four Barrel Coffee at 6 p.m....more
When it comes to offering tips for those growing old, apart from sitting on the sofa thinking smugly about all your great achievements, Cicero recommends taking up agriculture.
For The Spectator, Richard Ingrams reviews Tom Payne’s The Ancient Art of Growing Old and discusses how Cicero turns out to be “a humourless and self-satisfied bore.”...more
Gender transition seems to fascinate just about everyone who hasn’t gone through it, so it makes sense that we get a lot of literary fiction on the subject . . . All these books were penned by cisgender—that is, non-transgender—authors. In that, they join a very twenty-first-century sub-genre: sympathetic novels about transition by people who haven’t transitioned.
For centuries the study of flowers and the cultivation of gardens were deemed to be safe pursuits for genteel young ladies – providing they did not aspire to become professional botanists…Carl Linnaeus’s sexual system for the classification of plants, based on stamens and pistils and expressed in overtly sexual terms, changed all that.