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.
Bill Morris, ”Lee Zacharias Writes Again: On The Only Sounds We Make”
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.
Gossip is often seen as inherently frivolous and trashy, which is why it’s odd that a poet would use it as the subject of his or her work. On The Poetry Foundation’s blog, Austin Allen writes about George Green’s collection Lord Byron’s Foot, in which, as Allen puts it, “the dish spares no one.” (h/t Arts and Letters Daily)
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.
We tend to take it for granted that the world needs more translated works. The dictates of common wisdom state that reading translated works help us understand the reality of foreign cultures. But what if translation, which erases at least some nuance from works of literature, instead “sifts out the foreign or the unsettling in the name of easy consumption”? In The Irish Times, Michael Cronin reviews a recent book by NYU professor Emily Apter.
For Austrian novelist and short story writer Stefan Zweig (1881–1942), it is precisely those Habsburgian frivolities that define Vienna’s tragedy in their presence and absence alike. If The Third Man is cynical, Zweig’s is elegiac, beckoning us into a vanished world: a world of Baronesses and bibliophiles, gamblers, and actors — all suffering from the inevitable decline of their own personal eras of innocence.
Leslie Jamison’s new collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, demonstrates the kind of connection Orwell describes: she manages to bridge that ‘gulf of language and tradition’ and meet her subjects ‘in utter intimacy’ like Orwell does, whether they’re imprisoned long-distance runners, sufferers from a possibly imaginary disease, or writers living in some of the most violent places in Mexico.
Ryan Teitman, ”Fellow Creatures: Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams”
This is a novel about obsessive love and at some point during my reading of it, I became obsessed with the story in a way that surprised me. You could say my experience mirrored Cress’s own love affair, which starts out simply and easily but then somehow turns into a life-altering event that keeps Cress captive in the mountains for years. Although I wouldn’t characterize Off Course as a life-altering novel, it did cast a very strong spell. The fairy tale theme is pervasive and like all good fairy tales, there is a sense of unease, of darkness unseen. Cress describes her love as “a sad old king,” the arrival of spring is “a clear flammable gas in the air,” and a pocketknife is found buried in the dirt, like a bad omen.
Hannah Gersen, “Lost In The Sierras: On Michelle Huneven’s Off Course”
There arose a sense, as it were, during my progress, that despite James’s attention to circles of social intercourse that couldn’t, in good faith, be called anything but rarefied—that still, his plots are marked by the basest sort of pecuniary maneuvers, the grimmest cruelties. A kind of wary discomfort, furthermore, in encountering such troubling portraits surfaced throughout my reading, nevertheless it does not follow that James’s depictions, while necessarily harsh, contained untruths. Indeed I have seen, in my limited three decades of existence—encompassing in their span very little fortune-hunting and almost no underhanded impositions on consumptive heiresses—a great deal, that is to say almost limitless, social rigidity and, one must also add, capacity for greed and selfishness, all of which are shown by James in his process of storytelling so that, if we must be honest, it has both agonizing and resonant effects on the reader.
Sometimes, when you read a lot of work by a single writer, you end up writing unconscious imitations of their work. The reliability of this effect raises an ourobouric possibility: what if you reviewed a writer’s fiction in their own style? At The Awl, Sarah Marian Seltzer reviews Henry James as Henry James. You could also read Charles-Adam Foster-Simard on binge-reading James’s fiction.
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