In his end notes to his biography of David Foster Wallace, D.T. Max of The New Yorker, writes that “David may have been the last great letter writer in American literature” and that “with the advent of email [Wallace’s] correspondence grew terser, less ambitious.” Burn echoes the same view, observing that “the major difference probably stems from the more rigidly linear format of some of his emails. Some of the great letters look like spiderweb art: in these notes, Wallace has written over the top of the letter he’s replying to, with comments between the lines, spiralling into the margins, running up to headers and down to the footers.”
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin, “You’ve Got Mail: On the New Age of Biography”
Sometimes I worry that jazz has been ruined for the 21st century by caricatures of zoot suits and hirsute beatniks snapping away over black coffee, or has been relegated to the pathetic limbo of aural wallpaper at cocktail parties. It’s a shame that jazz doesn’t get the same kind of attention and mainstream buzz it used to.
Novelists tend to be repulsed by and attracted to the literary biographer, who is both kindred spirit and antagonist, reviver and executioner, exalted Boswell, and the “lice of literature” (to quote Philip Roth from Exit Ghost). The literary biographer is a novelistic double whose diligent quest to flesh out a life mirrors the novelist’s “savage snooping calling itself literature” (again, Exit Ghost); he is also a monstrous interloper whose obsessive search for real-life parallels threaten the sanctity of the work of art, which in a world legislated by poets would be free from the insights — facile or penetrating, doggedly literal of irresponsibly speculative — of biographical criticism.
Matt Seidel, “Biographers Cannot Be Choosers: On The Biographical Drive”
E.L. Doctorow has been doing that hard work for more than half a century, producing novels and stories that have illuminated the American soul by bringing American history to life. It’s why he deserves his Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. It’s what makes him a national treasure.
One thing that makes Roth Unbound interesting is that Pierpont was able to interview [Philip] Roth in the first years of his retirement. You can feel Roth’s reflective, relaxed state of mind as he looks back on his career, cataloging his regrets and triumphs.
Our lives won’t be all kangaroos and blond ballet dancers. And difference can be painful, it can be felt like a disfigurement, and it’s easy to envy, at times, the ease of life for people in the majority. As O’Hara laments ‘you were made in the image of god / I was not / I was made in the image of a sissy truck-driver.’ But there’s joy in loving what you love, a purity in expressing it exactly in its unchecked, effusive and messy truth…
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