Remainders

  • I wanted to link to James Wood’s Atlantic review of the new Muriel Spark novel, The Finishing School, after I picked up the magazine (at Laila‘s recommendation), but all The Atlantic‘s offerings are behind a subscription wall these days and it’s annoying to be sent off to a single, tantalizing paragraph. Fortunately, Powell’s picked up the review, so you can see for yourselves that nobody — but nobody — critiques a book and places it in a cultural context like James Wood. I can’t stop myself from excerpting the first paragraph and a half, but you should read the whole thing:

    If American fiction has been swarmed over recently by so-called chicklit, British writing has been dominated by its tougher sibling, ladlit. It is hard to enter any London bookstores — memorably disdained by V. S. Naipaul as now resembling “toyshops” — without being assailed by a dictator-size poster of some bullet-headed pugilist, his lips pursed in a macho moue, the apparently unhappy author of a novel whose title is invariably a punchy single word, such as Porno. The ideal title might be Dumpbin, because the quality of most of these books is almost beside the point; they exist as easy windows onto their authors, who have found themselves in print largely because they are so young, and whose promising juvenility represents the real raison d’être of the publishing event. In a world in which one can still be a “younger writer” at forty, to be twenty-five and a published author — or, better still, nineteen — is to be indeed a mere chick or lad, loaded with metropolitan gold.

    In his Dictionary, Dr. Johnson defined Grub Street as a place inhabited by hacks and writers of “temporary poems,” and of course publishing’s current superficiality will not last. Nevertheless, it feels long enough, and perhaps Muriel Spark, now in her eighties, fears that she will not outlive it. Her new novel, The Finishing School, satirically assails, among other things, the culture of spectacle that has grown up around novel-writing, and in particular around novel-writing by attractive young people. In a Swiss finishing school run on distinctly liberal lines are gathered nine pupils, most of them girls.

  • Speaking of James Wood, Mark Sarvas sends word that Wood will be discussing Graham Greene with Michael Gorra, author of the introduction to the reissued The End of the Affair (only my favorite book of all time) at the Harvard Book Store, on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, on Thursday, Oct. 28, at 6:30 p.m. If anyone is going, please let me know everything they say. Maybe I should hire a court reporter.
  • If you haven’t gotten your fill recently of raving right-wing “criticism” of literature, take a gander at Stephen Schwartz’s jeremiad about this year’s Nobel Prize award. According to Schwartz, this year’s recipient, Elfriede Jelinek, is a “sensationalist, communist, anti-American hack” whose “writings mainly verge on gross pornography.” (Via Xian.)
  • Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk discusses, among other things, his writing regimen:

    . “Oh, I’m a hard-working, obsessive type,” he says with happy matter-of-factness. “I go to my office, then I stay there 10 hours. I’m working all the time. I have no holidays. Book tours, ha, these are my holidays.”

  • This summer twenty-nine high-school freshmen and sophomores studying at a program for gifted students at Duke University got seventeen letters into print in The New York Times. Nobody tell Jack Shafer, okay?
  • To mark the centenary of Alejo Carpentier‘s birth, a year-long homage is planned to celebrate the accomplishments of the Cuban writer.
  • No doubt you’ve noticed, but just in case: the venerable MobyLives is back in action.

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