Conversation. A shared subject of discussion. Something complex for minds to meet around. This is particularly the case when we’re talking to people we don’t know well, people we meet, as it were, socially. Of course there are plenty of other topics available. The weather. Sports. Politics. But there’s only so much that can be said about cloud formations, not everyone sees the fascinations of baseball, and politics, as we know, can be dangerous territory. Novels—or films or television dramas for that matter—offer a feast of debate and create points of contact: are the characters believable, do people really do or think these things, does the story end as it should, is it well written? The way different people respond to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, or J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, will tell you a lot about their personalities without anything personal needing to be said. Novels are ideal subjects for testing the ground between us.
All over the country research libraries are canceling subscriptions to academic journals, because they are caught between decreasing budgets and increasing costs. The logic of the bottom line is inescapable, but there is a higher logic that deserves consideration—namely, that the public should have access to knowledge produced with public funds.
A true birthday is the day of your death.
One reason why The Divine Comedy remains the most generous work in literary history is because it brings together these three phenomena—God, love, and art—in a first-person story where they flow into and out of one another promiscuously, such that it is impossible finally to distinguish between the Comedy’s art and ‘the love that moves the sun and the other stars.’ Even if one knows nothing about the Christian theology that structures the poem, the love that keeps it moving sweeps the reader up along with it.
Repressed homosexual yearnings certainly would account for some of the more striking of Kafka’s darker preoccupations, including the disgust toward women that he so frequently displays, his fascination with torture and evisceration, and most of all, perhaps, his lifelong obsession with his father, or better say, with the Father—the eternal masculine.
The fact is, Kafka was a son of Prague to his phthisic fingertips. As a young man he remarked ruefully that the city had claws, and would not let go. He knew well both himself and his birthplace.
Books you want
Books you didn’t know you wanted
Presents for your niece
(and lots of books not even shown in the picture)
Check out the whole sale.
New York Review of Books Classics is having its annual Summer Sale, and some of the bundles this year are particularly enticing. For instance, you can grab perennial Millions favorite (and current international bestseller) Stoner as part of a bundle that also includes Renata Adler’s Speedboat. The publishers are also offering John Horne Burns’s lost masterpiece, The Gallery, as part of a collection of World War II novels. You may recall David Margolick’s great profile of Burns from the New York Times Magazine last month.
There’s something familial, deeply comforting in the sound of a pig oinking in the peace and slumber of a summer afternoon.