The year is 1937 and Leonora Calaway, a wealthy art collector, has gathered up the artists “the Führer decided were the most degenerate in Europe” and sailed to Costalegre in Mexico, where Surrealists and Dadaists, writers and painters, all live together to wait out the coming war. Continue reading…
“Where were you when you first heard President Kennedy had been shot?” asks Bowman (1957–2012) in the opening of his big, bold, and brilliant posthumous novel, and for the next 600 pages, he investigates what occurred in the years leading up to that monumental event in American history. Through the lives of such iconic figures as Norman Mailer, Elvis, William de Kooning, Marilyn Monroe, Dr. Spock, Ngô Dihn Diem, the Kennedys themselves, and dozens of others, Bowman conjures an enormous narrative out of the troubled years from 1950 to 1963. Continue reading…
Kristen Radtke’s meditative graphic memoir Imagine Wanting Only This ruminates on ruin and decay—of an abandoned city, of a genetically faulty heart, of love and relationships, and, in the long run, of all things. Through black-and-white images with stark juxtapositions, Radtke braids together the death of her favorite uncle, Dan, the end of her engagement to her college boyfriend, her travels to various ruins around the world, and her own struggle to find a home somewhere that isn’t in the process of deteriorating. Continue reading…
On the 30th Anniversary of Borges’s death. Maybe my favorite essay I’ve published yet.
“The Other” and “August 25, 1983” are twin stories sharing a mirror: a young man fears the unknown future, while an old man accepts the unchangeable past. (In fact many have dismissed Borges’s later work as “geriatrica” too full of nostalgia.) But as I read Borges’s Selected Non-Fictions, his essays and reviews I considered taking him at his word: maybe there are two Borges in the world, existing at the same time. One is the fiction writer we know, the lover of paradox, the trickster, the forger, the artist who describes fantastical events with straight-faced authority, using the syntax and tone of academia; and then there is this other Borges, the critic, who writes reasonably and clearly, companionably and insightfully, about high-brow and esoteric subjects, whose aim is elucidation rather than bewilderment. As I moved through each review and essay of Selected Non-Fictions, I felt a similar shock that the young Borges did upon seeing his own name on the register: this couldn’t possibly be the same Borges, could it?
Now as a critic I love these essays; I get a kick out of seeing how others define what it is that I do. Moreover, many of these writers have brought brilliant insights into what can often be a dismissed vocation. But while I appreciate the efforts of my fellow critics, there is one aspect to nearly all of these defenses that I disagree with, deeply, and that is the implication that criticism is separate from the literature it describes, as if novelists, poets, playwrights, and nonfiction writers were the players in the game and we critics merely the referees. What’s intimated in many defenses of criticism is this gap between observer and observed, between artist and non-artist.
This is bullshit. Criticism is also literature. Now, by that I do not mean that criticism is both outside and inside of literature. No, no, no. The word “also” there insists on criticism’s inclusion as a genre of literature, and not as a subject that stands outside of it.
Here Be Dragons: On Literary Cartography | LA Review of Books
An essay-review of Andrew DeGraff’s beautiful and witty book of literary maps Plotted: A Literary Atlas for LA Review of Books: “For Plutarch, fiction was what was off the map, a land beyond the reach of historians with their “credit” and “certainty,” where the only “inhabitants are the poets and inventors of fables.” But, as DeGraff and others have shown, we can’t help charting that space, too, however imperfectly. Here’s another way to put it: maps describe places where people have already been in order to show others how to get there. Fiction is made of maps to places no one has ever seen, and when we all arrive at our destinations, none of us end up in the same place.”
Happy Birthday, Gary Larson! | Literary Hub
For exactly 15 years—from January 1, 1980 to January 1, 1995—Gary Larson wrote and drew The Far Side, a comic strip so funny and daring and biting that it cleared the path for the likes of Matt Groening and Trey Parker in the 1990s. Larson’s humor relished irony, hypocrisy and stupidity, and his view of humanity was, ultimately, a bleak one. He was one of my heroes growing up. Here’s to you, Gary, on your 65th birthday!
The Art of The Art of the Novel | Northwest Review of Books
For me, my life as a reader challenges my views as a writer. There are so many techniques to try, so many styles, so many types of stories. It’s all a bit overwhelming, which in part accounts for the appeal of books like Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel. Someone as accomplished as Kundera must have some useful insights into writing, right? Well, yes and no.
Wordsmith: The Beguiling Gifts of Ali Smith | The Millions
Ali Smith, appropriately enough, is one of the few writers (along with Nabokov, Stoppard, Woolf, Wallace, and Hitchens) who qualify as a “wordsmith.” Her prose, however, isn’t as rich or ornate as some of the other wordsmiths, but no one else can mine ordinary words for such rich, emotional meaning.