Although I would hardly have been able to articulate the thought at the time, what I found most attractive in Chandler’s work was the sumptuousness of the prose style. Even when the streets that Marlowe was obliged to go down were the meanest, the language in which they were described was rich in metaphor, at once sensuous and crisp, and marvellously redolent of mid-century California, a place and a time we all thought we were familiar with from the movies.
Poems are adept at expressing interior conflict, at enacting complex thought, at feeling strongly through not-knowing—but somehow, when we enter the territory of politics, we expect our poems to shill for votes, to argue strongly for particular beliefs. Emily Dickinson does not know if there is a god or a void, an afterlife, a stasis, or a zero at the bone. But reading her theologically inflected poems allows us to wrestle with these unanswerable questions with her—and to come out not with answers, but with a deeper sense of the questions.
In a Simpsons episode from the late nineties, Lisa Simpson, concerned that her mental skills may be deteriorating, manages to finagle her way onto a local TV news broadcast, where she urges the residents of Springfield to read two books: To Kill a Mockingbird and Harriet the Spy. At first glance, the two novels might not seem to have that much in common, but as Anna Holmes argues in a blog post for The New Yorker, the books share “ideas about the complexity, sophistication, and occasional wickedness of young girls’ imaginations.” (You could also read our own Garth Risk Hallberg on Malcolm Gladwell and To Kill a Mockingbird.)
I couldn’t care less really if I’ve disillusioned you. It is within your gift not to read the book. So really, it didn’t give me the minimum pause for thought.
Her characters sleepwalk to their certain fates through artificial pocket universes, each one seemingly constructed to satisfy the curiosity of an inhumane, omniscient narrator. Few writers have been so consistently and brilliantly unkind.
Is it possible to read fiction by an actor without thinking of them as the character that made them famous? It’s a question many people asked when reading James Franco, and it’s a question they’re likely to ask again when reading One More Thing, a new book of short stories by The Office star B. J. Novak. At Open Letters Monthly, Justin Hickey reviews Novak’s collection.
Philip Roth may have retired, but that doesn’t mean he’s done giving interviews. The author recently sat down with the editor of a Swedish newspaper, who talked with him about misogyny, Sabbath’s Theater and the need for “obstinacy” in a writer. (Related: our own Hannah Gersen reviewed Roth Unbound.) (h/t The Paris Review)