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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Dahling, I Loved It

So we've all read the New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of the Year. Now, go through this list compiled by the critics of the still-alive-and-kicking New Statesman. And for those who just don't have the time, here's their bluffer's guide.

Update: And this is from The Guardian's critics and writers.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

On Jewish-American Literature

"I had no idea of what Jewish fiction should be, or even if it should be. Hemingway (with his fondness for the word 'kike') and Fitzgerald (also not above the occasional slur, despite occasional bouts of semitophilia) were my idea of American fiction writers. To the extent that an American author of Jewish birth could match their achievements, fine.

"I put aside my preconceptions and prejudices and experienced the exhilaration of reading Augie March, the splendor of Bellow’s achievement standing as it does as a bridge between the 19th century novel with its echoes of Dickens and the 20th century, speaking in a voice and language completely American yet completely his own. In Roth, I found an heir to Franz Kafka, Isaak Babel, Nikolai Gogol and Lenny Bruce. I reveled in the humor, wit and prodigious talent manifest in his novels, continuing to this day, a run without parallel in American literature...But more remarkable than Roth and Bellow — who, let’s face it, are remarkable by any standard in any category — are all their contemporaries and all the American Jewish writers who have followed them. Jerzy Kosinski, Cynthia Ozick, Singer, to name but a few whose books have given me many pleasurable hours."

Musing on Who We Are, a collection of essays by Jewish-American writers, film producer and columnist Tommy Teicholz offers a personal overview of the subject.

How To Get Into The New Yorker

From an interview with Deborah Triesman, the magazine's fiction editor:

I’m sure you get asked this every time you do an interview, but how does it work? How do you choose the stories you choose?

There are six people in the fiction department. Most of us do nonfiction as well, so we don’t have as much time as it sounds. But basically stories come in, whether they come in through slush or to one of the editors or to me, and they get read and whatever we’re taking seriously gets circulated to all of the editors and we have a meeting once a week where we sit around and argue. Everyone writes a short opinion of the story and those get attached to the manuscript as it makes its way around. And sometimes it happens that all six of us think a story is great—that’s maybe one in 10 of the stories that get to this level. What most often happens is three people like something and three people don’t, or four people versus two. It’s a funny mix and there’s lots of argument—you know, arguments that can be very frustrating because you’re never going to convince the other person, but that is probably what the response is among the readership as well. You just hope that, in general, the majority is going to be affected by what you publish.

(Link via Bookslut)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

And They All Lived Happily Ever After

In the Arts Telegraph, novelist Philip Hensher talks of endings of works of fiction: from the End Ending to the Bored to the Plot-Resolving to the Ambiguous. (One likes this man's articles. He sifts. He sorts. He enlightens.) And here's how he ends:

"All-time favourite ending? Too many to choose among, but it might be hard to beat the end of The Code of the Woosters, with its drowsy confusion of quotation and happy oblivion, now that everything has been tidily sorted out: 'And presently the eyes closed, the muscles relaxed, the breathing became soft and regular, and sleep, which does something which has slipped my mind to the something sleeve of care, poured over me in a healing wave.' You'd sleep soundly after that, no doubt about it, whether you'd written it, or merely read it."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Marketing Wisdom

"Of all the logos presented, I like this one the best. I can see it looking very good on tie-pins and cufflinks."

- Observation by a marketing manager at a meeting one attended last evening.

Monday, November 21, 2005

If On A Winter's Night A Reviewer

On the occasion of Italo Calvino's 20th death anniversary, Jonathan Lethem writes of his admiration for the man's work: "Calvino was more than simply one of my favorite writers...his novels and stories and fables were both classically modernist and giddily postmodern, embracing both experiment and tradition, at once conceptual and humane, intimate and mythic."

He goes on to propose the publication of a "fat volume" entitled The Best of Calvino. Hmm...perhaps when such a volume is finally published, Lethem's essay will become the foreword -- in the same manner that the Vintage UK paperback of Alice Munro's Runaway is prefaced by Jonathan Franzen's rave that originally appeared in the New York Times Book Review.

The Argumentative Pakistani

In The Nation, Tariq Ali gently upbraids Amartya Sen for his thesis in The Argumentative Indian:

"Given the title of Sen's book, it would be churlish to prove him wrong by simply nodding in approval, as is so often the case in our wonderful subcontinent. What follows, then, from this argumentative Pakistani is the expression of a few doubts concerning his central thesis and the odd complaint with regard to some omissions....Can the lineages of modern Indian democracy be traced back to the holy texts, as Sen suggests? And does the affection of ordinary citizens for democracy have any material (as opposed to mystical) links to the arguments once heard by Buddha or King Ashoka (273-232 B.C.), let alone the Mughal emperor Akbar (1556-1605)?

"... Ancient India produced great poets, philosophers and playwrights, along with art forms, gods and goddesses to match anything on offer in Athens, but it did not give birth to an Aristotle. And nothing remotely resembling the Assembly in Athens or the Senate in Rome arose on the subcontinent. Surely this must reflect some deficiency. Despite arguments within the elite and some wonderful expressions of skepticism cited by Sen, the demos was kept under strict control throughout Indian history. Uprisings threatening the status quo were brutally crushed by Hindu and Muslim ruler alike. Superstition and irrationality were institutionalized via a network of priestly domination."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Oh, Those Russians

"A great novel says something about people and their time, but for a while now, it has been hard to figure out what time it is in Russia."

A brief article in the St Petersburg Times bemoans the state of contemporary Russian literature.

Sunday Reading

Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep, reviews a new biography of Virginia Woolf.

In yet another appreciative review of Auster's The Brooklyn Follies, Toby Lichtig says that the author's prose is "sharp, simple, compelling" and his "characters and vignettes are well constructed and often entertaining."

Some food-for-thought extracts from the forthcoming English PEN compendium, Free Expression Is No Offence. (Salman Rushdie: "I never thought of myself as a writer about religion until a religion came after me.")

And Walter Mosley tells would-be writers some truths, including: "If you want to make money, go into real estate. The most successful writer's income is nothing compared to the wealth of a modern-day land baron. One office building in Soho could buy the careers of at least half-a-dozen successful writers."