Category Archives: literature for literary folk

May 13, 2013, 5:38 pm

He Would Certainly Have Killed Me (Sherlock Holmes and Sookie Stackhouse Edition)

9781937007881HCharlaine Harris is the author of a massively successful series of novels with a southern heroine, Sookie Stackhouse. There have been 13 books, and a (ahem, so NSFW) HBO series. But now Harris is looking to be done with Stackhouse and the current novel is intended to be the last one:

But after more than a decade, Ms. Harris, a cheerful 61-year-old grandmother, grew tired of the characters, even as her hyper-dedicated followers lusted for more. She ran out of fresh story lines about her bubbly blond protagonist, Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress who tangles with an ever-expanding supernatural cast of vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, demons, goblins, elves, witches and fairies. She struggled to keep track of the convoluted mythology she’d invented. Things that used to excite her, like unveiling new supernatural creatures, started to feel stale.

So Ms. Harris decided to shut …

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August 1, 2012, 1:07 pm

Gore Vidal: pretty good historian, and a great character in US history.

I read Henry Adams before I read Gore Vidal, but I liked Vidal better. Both were funny, but only Vidal was having fun. Which is not something everyone understands, that you can have great fun at the apocalypse. It was perhaps his least American trait.

A critic complained about the versions of Henry Adams and Henry James that Vidal made up. Vidal responded, but they made me up. He shared with Adams an apparent sense that American politics ought to have belonged to him, and as it didn’t, American history would. As motives to write history go, it isn’t the worst. He knew that the affairs of the republic were run by a small group of people who wanted to protect its property. He judged each faction of the group more or less by its tendency to agree with him.

In consequence, he had mixed feelings about FDR, who employed his father and disagreed with his grandfather; he held enduringly…

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June 15, 2012, 4:38 pm

On Scalzi’s Redshirts and historical narrative.

NO SPOILERS.

John Scalzi‘s Redshirts is great fun, and honestly, I read it because I expected it to be great fun, and I got what I expected. But it also made me think seriously about how historians handle narrative.

It is no spoiler to say that the book is about the peripheral characters who, in Star Trek, get killed to advance the plot – or really, not even to advance the plot, just to give a sense of great stakes to the story. Kirk, Spock, Chekhov and some random crewperson in a red shirt beam down to the planet. The person in the red shirt – the redshirt – is going to get killed, because they’re expendable and we need to know how deadly the threat is this week. The poor redshirts aren’t people, they’re cannon fodder – not for the Enterprise, mind you, but for the script-writers. Even if their details get filled out a bit, it’s only in the service of giving their deaths greater…

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June 14, 2012, 4:46 am

New students for an Orwellian tomorrow.

Seen on campus.

December 12, 2011, 12:05 pm

What is an anthology?

Helen Vendler’s review of the Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove, is quite a piece of work. (It’s been widely noted in the blogosphere, e.g. here, by I think the same Anderson seen commenting on likeminded blogs.)

Dove’s response is well worth reading. But not having been gored directly, the rest of us may wonder if Vendler hasn’t just missed the point. Do we expect of an anthology that it will supply a complete and final list of the “poems to remember?” That’s from the headline, but it does reflect Vendler’s thinking –

No century in the evolution of poetry in English ever had 175 poets worth reading, so why are we being asked to sample so many poets of little or no lasting value?

How flatly she equates “lasting value” with being “worth reading”! For me, these are pretty different categories –  especially for recent work, part of whose…

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October 23, 2011, 8:49 pm

Didion, obviously (the homers say).

Salman Rushdie is running a series of #LiterarySmackdowns on Twitter, currently pitting Joan Didon against Susan Sontag, and Flannery O’Connor against Eudora Welty.1 I take it Didion and O’Connor are the obvious choices.


1This is a very Norman Mailer-ish conceit.

November 30, 2010, 9:08 pm

-amount

This is far from the usual remit of this blog, but that remit, indeed the blog in general, seem to be in abeyance, and I don’t have another outlet for such trivia.

Eliza Griswold writes, warming up to praise Gjertrud Schnackenberg as highly as she can:

Despite this atmosphere of youth and mirth, there were a small handful of things about which the editorial staff was deadly serious. Language, the rigor and talent to wield it, was tantamount.

But not, evidently, the rigor to look in a damn dictionary to check that words mean what you think. And indeed, Schnackenberg’s poetry, by the examples given, appears to measure up perfectly to such proud but fallible praise.

(Photo by Flickr user M.V. Jantzen used under Creative Commons license.)

July 9, 2010, 5:14 am

Regarding the cyclone.

We should always be so lucky as to have a new pithy Mark Twain essay to read. This week we are lucky. Twain gets interviews exactly right.

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January 25, 2010, 8:22 pm

speaking of Gary Snyder

(Image by Flickr user northcascadesnationalpark, used under Creative Commons license.)

Gary Snyder has written a lot of rewarding poetry over the years. But for me no single poem has been as coherent and satisfying as the first piece in his first collection:

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January 25, 2010, 11:37 am

“both brief in this world, both foolish, and we have earthly fates”

Gary Snyder, UC Davis professor emeritus of English and Beat poet, has this to say about his Mac:
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January 23, 2010, 4:23 pm

A choice of Sydney Bernard Smith’s verse.

Since I was reminded of it, a brief selection. Despite the post title, I’m not going to write an essay on why we do not know Smith’s poems so well as we might, I’m just going to offer you three that might divert you on a weekend.

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January 19, 2010, 2:18 pm

My foos still won’t moos.

In the 12/18/2009 NB column in the TLS, we find the following presumably real-live riff on “Humiliation”:

In 2003, Sebastian D. G. Knowles looked at himself in the mirror: he was the author of a study of James Joyce; he was Professor of English at Ohio State University (specializing in Joyce). He had attended dozens of Joyce conferences. But he had never read Finnegans Wake. “Worse, I had never even tried to”, Professor Knowles writes in the current James Joyce Quarterly. Guilt-ridden, he decided to confess his failing in a song to be sung at the after-dinner entertainment at a Joyce conference in Miami:
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September 4, 2009, 3:31 pm

Historical novels, underrated or no, are only ever incidentally historical.

In the comments to Eric’s post about underrated historical novels, I pointed out that there is a problem with talking about the “historical novel” as a self-evident genre. I did not, however, go into much detail as to why, because I covered the topic on my qualifying exams and the less said about that experience the better. But since Eric asked so nicely, I will oblige and show you why this discussion’s so painfully tangled.

Short version: Its knots all sport thorns.

Long pedantic version:

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September 2, 2009, 4:54 pm

Best underrated historical novel.

What’s your choice? Mine is Richard Powers, Gain. What a terrific book about American capitalism. And how often do you get to say that? (Go on, nominate JR.) Also full of neat wordplay and eminently readable. Plus, Powers has an excellent and timely sense of what it means to slide into the Best Healthcare System in the World™.

Your turn.

June 28, 2009, 3:12 pm

“Polygraph-level scholarship may suffice for harmless speculation about the authorship of Midsummer’s Night Dream, but not for Dreams From My Father. Too much is at stake.”

(by request.)

As all actual, practicing literary critics know, few sentences in critical works scream tendentiousness louder than:

What should be transparent to any literary critic is that . . .

Literary matters are only “transparent” when they’re not properly literary. If something is transparent, you don’t need a literary critic to ponder the depths it doesn’t have—any old idiot will suffice. And that’s exactly why Jack Cashill, author of the above and an idiot of long-standing, is just the man to prove that Bill Ayers wrote Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father. For Cashill and his mysterious contributors (“[t]he media punishment that Joe the Plumber received” requires they remain anonymous), the case against Obama is a compelling one:

What Mr. Midwest noticed recently is that both Ayers in [A Kind and Just Parent] and Obama in [Dreams From My Father] make reference to the…

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