Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
In the Times Book Review, Year in Reading alum and Edinburgh author Alexander Chee reviews the latest by Celeste Ng, a Millions contributor. He describes the book as, among other things, a departure from your average literary thriller: “If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now.”
How was Charlotte Brontë at 8? According to her school reports, she “‘[wrote] indifferently’ and ‘[knew] nothing of grammar, geography, history, or accomplishments”. Of course, she went on to write Jane Eyre, and as The Guardian points out, many a famous writer received middling reports in school, so maybe there’s hope for other “indifferent’ writers.
The immigrant who arrives too late in life to adapt to his new country, but too early to survive on nostalgia for the old country, has to create a third, imagined country to live in.
“Characters are ciphers. … We are ever reviewing and reconsidering our mental portraits of characters in novels: amending them, backtracking to check on them, updating them when new information arises.” Peter Mendelsund writes about what we think we see when we read.
I only returned to reading thrillers a few years ago when I started to write my own series, and, much to my surprise, something fundamental had changed. The new breed of thrillers were no longer set within the geography of the Cold War but located all over the globe—in Thailand, North Korea, Kenya, and Marseilles.
And something else was radically different. During the Cold War, the conflicts that powered the thriller were rooted in ideology: Le Carre’s Berlin and Greene’s Havana were mainly backdrops against which the clash of the superpowers was played out. The new thrillers were not focused on ideology but on place; it was the peeling away of layers of culture and history that gave these novels their impetus.
“Writing a book is the most complete experience I’ve ever had,” said Lauren Bacall, who passed away on Tuesday. She wrote three memoirs over 30 years – By Myself, Now and By Myself and Then Some.