Last summer, I wrote a piece about a number of books that were themselves about books, a category that happens to be my very favorite. Though I maybe should have anticipated it (it was, after all, a decidedly literary essay on a decidedly literary website), “The Best Books About Books” attracted a lot of attention—more so, I’m sure, because of the titles collected than for the quality of my writing. But nonetheless I was pleased to see those works receiving due promotion, which is mainly the only joy a critic experiences.
Classic works of literature can seem so historical, so chiseled in stone by antiquity or genius, that it’s easy to forget the frail human beings behind them. We forget—or overlook—that all writers from Shakespeare to Sophocles possess the same weaknesses and idiosyncrasies as the rest of us, because their artistry not only survived history but created it. So ancient tragedies like “Antigone” and “Oedipus the King” become foundational texts around which subsequent tragedies are designed, retroactively creating the impression that the originals, rather than copied templates, were always crystalized paragons. Continue reading…
All the Dumb Young Literary Stand-ins | The Millions
I was reminded of Tom Perrotta’s Bad Haircut and Junot Díaz’s Yunior stories in Drown and This Is How You Lose Her. And then going back to Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in On the Road and further back to Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Sad Young Men (and Keith Gessen’s Sad Young Literary Men). Essentially, these are all just stories about young men doing stupid shit, or young men not doing enough good shit, or young men doing good shit in the wrong way.
The Art of the Final Sentence | The Millions
Unlike almost all other elements of fiction, the final lines do not participate in the project of keeping a reader reading. This may appear to grant a writer complete freedom, like the final two years of a two-term presidency — the absence of an impending re-election ostensibly allows for sweeping, public-opinion-be-damned initiatives. But in fact the last moments of a novel are its most delicate and important.
The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing | Buffalo Almanack
“Laing’s book does not try to reduce these writers to messy, drunken archetypes. Instead, Laing’s investigation into the drinking lives of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Berryman, John Cheever, Tennessee Williams and Raymond Carver takes a more sympathetic approach. Alcoholism remains a major social problem. The issue of why so many of our great artists suffer from such an affliction seems an important question, not to be dealt with lightly…”