Last October marked the release of a new volume in The Cambridge Edition of the Letters of Ernest Hemingway. Spanning three years in the writer’s early twenties, the letters in the volume track events including his first bullfight, the birth of his son Jack and the publication of his first collection of stories and poems. In The New York Review of Books, Edward Mendelson reads through the new volume. This might also be a good time to read our own Michael Bourne on A Farewell to Arms.
The big second-half 2014 preview is here at last, and it’s a doozy — with books by Haruki Murakami, David Mitchell, Ian McEwan, Marilynn Robinson, Denis Johnson, Hilary Mantel, Margaret Atwood, and 77 more.
Zacharias, who had previously published a collection of short stories and two novels, brings a pair of vital skills to the enterprise of essay writing: she notices, and she remembers. These skills are invaluable to any writer, but especially so to the creator of the kind of deeply personal essays Zacharias has produced in this collection. When noticing and remembering are fused, as they are here, they can breathe life into anything, from the most intimate moments to the most cosmic subjects – the nature of light, writers’ workplaces, a father’s suicide, the visible and invisible lessons of the Grand Canyon, even the surprising allure of buzzards.
And the dish spares no one, from Green’s family to the giants of history and art. A poem about Pavarotti begins: ‘We had concerns. He was so huge his tux / Looked like a tent.…’ An elegy for lost astronauts ends up recounting Samuel Johnson’s reckless gunplay. We meet the senile, awkwardly flirtatious mother of Green’s friend. We meet Green’s own mother, a devout woman who dreamed of walking ‘among the lilies with the Lord,; but grew to such Pavarottian proportions that her son ‘had to laugh’ picturing it. We learn about Mao’s constipation, John Wayne’s hangovers, and Warhol’s social climbing. We don’t learn much about Green himself, except in fleeting glimpses.
Often she is very funny. This is the full text of ‘Idea for a Short Documentary Film’: ‘Representatives of different food products manufacturers try to open their own packaging.’ But what knocks you for six is how much emotion Davis is able to draw from her pedantic scrutiny of language. ‘Grammar Questions’, composed during her father’s terminal illness, begins: ‘Now, during the time he is dying, can I say, ‘This is where he lives’?’
It is precisely because she does believe [translation] to be so crucial that she wants it to be taken seriously. Her concerns lie with a notion of world literature that erases difference or sifts out the foreign or the unsettling in the name of easy consumption. In this way world literature mimics a free-market fantasy of the endless, frictionless circulation of goods and information. In this McDonaldisation of the written word there is no room for difficulty or opacity.