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Friday, December 08, 2006

Precocious Realism

27-year-old Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics -- still lying unread on one's shelf, alas -- was almost unanimously hailed as one of the most promising debuts of the year, even finding a place on the New York Times' 10 best books. Now comes the inevitable backlash: Meghan O'Rourke coins the phrase "precocious realism" to describe the book (taking a leaf from James Woods' "hysterical realism") and goes on to point out its chief failing: "A lack of self-control is all too easily disguised as purposeful uncertainty."

Reviewing Reviewers

TimeOut New York asked a panel of "experts" across various fields to judge and rate the city's critics. When it comes to books, Michiko Kakutani -- not surprisingly -- attracted comments such as "no human depth", "mean-spirited" and "reactionary". What's surprising, though -- as Gawker points out -- are some of the people on the panel, which featured the likes of Jonathan Franzen and Rick Moody. Hardly a recipe for an unbiased appraisal.

Taking On The Big Three

Ziauddin Sardar takes issue with Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan for asserting "the absolute supremacy of American culture", for stating that "Islam is the greatest threat to this idea of civilisation" and for believing that "American ideas of freedom and democracy are not only right, but should be imposed on the rest of the world". Surely the brushstrokes here are too broad, the tenets too general?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

An Enchanted Bridge

"You can’t say what any great book is about in one sentence. However, if I could take a verbal snap shot, this sentence might be the negative: Lolita is a bridge between ecstatic dream and broken reality; it is an enchanted bridge beset by mirages and trolls; as the narrator crosses, it bursts into flames behind him; in the end it falls into an abyss."

- Mary Gaitskill on Nabokov's great novel.

The Benefits Of Difficulty

Marilynne Robinson to the inmates of the Newton Correctional facility: "Expect [writing] to be difficult. If you don't encounter difficulty you're probably not doing it well enough. Every writer gets discouraged and stops. You put it away and think about it."

(Her one piece of advice: Do not underestimate yourself or the reader. There's a cultural tendency to teach people to undervalue themselves.")

Pynchon Unmasked

One supposes one ought to be respecting his right to privacy, but still...

(Information courtesy this piece.)

Where The Next Big Novel Is Going To Come From

Submit. Critique. Monitor. That's the simple three-step process by which The Front List -- with a little help from the ethos of YouTube -- is planning to use the Internet to identify great pieces of writing. Says Euan Thorneycroft, an agent at A.M. Heath, a leading London literary agency: "It's a really good idea. We're always looking for new ways to get writers to submit works, especially with some kind of filter."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Five Enter The House Of Mouse

Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog will now feature in a 26-episode cartoon series to be made by Walt Disney.

I Heart Blogs

The print media's love affair with blogs -- fuelled no doubt by the fact that blogging is seen as the cool new way to attract eyeballs -- has thrown up many knotty questions relating to values and standards. Dana Hull reports.

Are The US Immigration Authorities Listening?

Yiyun Li wins the Guardian First Book Award.

Standing Up For McEwan

In his corner: Thomas Pynchon, John Updike, Martin Amis, Thomas Keneally, Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood.

Advice For Writers

"The only advice I have for any would-be novelists out there is: don’t. Live a happy life. Become a technical writer; there’s good, steady money in that. If you do decide to become a novelist, names like Pynchon, Kundera, Heller, Broch, Cervantes, Bronte, and Kafka better be near and dear to your heart. If they aren’t, stop writing and spend a decade in a good library."

- David Paul Kleinman tells us what he learnt while participating in National Novel Writing Month.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

John McGahern's Last Story

In wild, wet January weather, two months after Mr Waldron's death, Mrs Waldron and her daughter, Eileen, closed their big house outside Castlebar and moved to their summer cottage on Achill.

Continued here.

India's Jewish Community

Carmit Delman travels from the US to Mumbai -- and the Himalayas-- to find them: "We spent Shabbat at one of the few synagogues that still drew a minyan, a musty wooden building with balconies painted turquoise and lazy ceiling fans that seemed to chop at the air in random bursts of will. There was a sense of bitterness that turned the day’s simple d’var Torah into a brimstone tirade, a complaint of no one to oversee it all. Resources were lacking; the leaders wore too many hats. For Kiddush, we gathered in the basement, women and men separately, and ate curry egg, rice and chicken with formality—a meal of mechanics and inertia."

Reinstating 'The End'

Commenting on the trend of novelists appending biographies to their novels nowadays (Norman Mailer and Martin Amis, for example), James Wood says: “It’s terribly off-putting. It would be very odd if Thomas Hardy had put at the end of all his books, ‘I’m thankful to the Dorset County Chronicle for dialect books from the 18th century.’ We expect authors to do that work, and I don’t see why we should praise them for that work. And I don’t see why they should praise themselves for it...I like the idea that the story itself is autonomous and self-sufficient.But I’m terribly old fashioned. I wish they would reinstate ‘The End.’ ”

(The pro and con discussion in the article actually brought to mind T.S. Eliot's notes to 'The Waste Land' which were added at the request of his publisher, who needed a longer manuscript to justify printing it as a separate work.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Not Too Much To Ask, Surely

"I always say it's harder for him than me. It's clear what I want: I want him to read it, love me, be honest, be his critical self, then love it. What could be easier? He just has to square the circle."

- Author Claire Messud on what she expects from husband James Wood

Reviewers Skewered

"Most criticism is an exercise in vanity, a bid to showcase the critic's mastery of language than any real desire to taketh from the plot what the plot can giveth. The three things he will not do are: evaluate author's work vis-a-vis previous writings, describe context, genre or milieu, admit to drunken hangover while writing of review."

- From Shinie Antony's broadside on the state of reviewing in India. Some of her points are valid, but the ranting tone is quite unnecessary. And "taketh from the plot what the plot can giveth"? Please.

(Link courtesy The Literary Saloon.)

Forbes' Editors Have Spoken

"People are reading more, not less. The Internet is fueling literacy. Giving books away online increases off-line readership. New forms of expression--wikis, networked books--are blossoming in a digital hothouse."

- From the introduction to the magazine's special issue on the future of publishing, featuring articles on ebook downloads, plagiarism, book burning, Harry Potter and Dave Eggers.

Best Book, 2008

While the papers are still anointing the best books of 2006, here's a publisher who's visionary: he's looking at the best book of 2008.