Category Archives: literary lint

Favorite 2012 Books, 1/4 Year Late

Well, it’s Spring, at least in terms of the calendar, if not the temperature. That means it’s time for my small list of favorite books from last year.

Colm Tóibín, The Master
This novel shouldn’t work, but it does: Henry James, fresh from his opening-night Guy Domville catastrophe, slowly retreats into novel writing and moves to a new house away from London — Lamb House. That’s it. The story has almost no suspense and only the gentlest of plot-pressure, and yet I was pegged. James comes across as put upon, perversely prim, persecuted by desire, and, when provoked, ruthless. It’s a somber book with a happy ending.
 
Geoff Dyer, The Missing of the Somme & Otherwise Known as the Human Condition
What was life like before Geoff Dyer? I don’t want to remember. I thought these two books showed Dyer at his extremes. Otherwise … is the huge compendium of book reviews, travel pieces, art reviews, etc., that he’s accumulated thus far, and it both shows how far his eye travels but also how focused his attention actually is. The fact that the book is sometimes repetitive turns out to be more interesting than not. Even hitchhikers have routines. And The Missing of the Somme is an excellent condensed punch to your reading weekend — an analysis of memorials of the Great War and what memorials actually mean.
 
Adam Gopnik, The Table Comes First
Food is, weirdly, now a fashionable topic, and this book is Gopnik’s latest collection of essays culled from the New Yorker. All relating to food, they’re organized around “letters” to the 19th-century food writer Elizabeth Pennell. I myself enjoy how Gopnik braids his individual New Yorker essays into loose, book-length arguments; it both preserves the exploratory nature of the original essays while giving the books themselves argumentative thrust. Two things make this particular book worth your time: Gopnik is professionally curious and he’s relentlessly eloquent. One of the pleasures of reading him is to see what he’ll make of something.
 
Paul Maliszewski, Fakers: Hoaxers, Con Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders
In contrast to the stuntlike effect of The Lifespan of a Fact and John D’Agata’s other fact-bending shenanigans, this book actually investigates the how and why of artists who fake it, everything from recent false memoirs to intentionally fabricated journalism to the author’s own stint as a con-artist-in-prose. It moves beyond the shock-and-hand-wringing phase of frauds uncovered and points the finger back at the readers who believed originally in the fakes and what that might mean.
 
Cynthia Ozick, Fame & Folly
This collection of essays actually came out in 1997, but I picked up a copy this fall and reread it. To me, Ozick is to the literary essay as James Brown is to funk. Sometimes I thumb through her five collections just to feel better about human existence. Such talent relentlessly applied is inspiring, overwhelming, a model and a curse. If there’s any American writer alive who should be in a vest on a billboard in Times Square, it’s Cynthia Ozick.

And for special mention:
Tom Bissell, Magic Hours
It’s a grab bag of his nonfiction but it’s good.

Notes on ‘We Looked Like Giants’

Well I’ve started to blog for Full Stop, and my first post is about Craig Mod’s idea of “subcompact publishing” and how it might relate to the future of literary magazines. I realize that it’s a bit strange that I’ve started blogging elsewhere, since I seem to be constitutionally incapable of updating this blog with any semblance of regularity. But we’ll see how it goes.

Here are some notes and tangents that didn’t make it into the little piece but that for some reason seem worth preserving, despite their fragmented nature. Or perhaps this is just the age-old desire to have every thought appear in some type of print. (Also, it could reveal the true reason these scraps weren’t included in the first place.)
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In the wake of The Magazine beginning, and Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily folding, and Mod’s essay appearing, and The Awl’s own Weekend Companion app appearing, there’s been a great deal of chatter in the system about all of this. Felix Salmon thinks that tablet-only publications won’t work ultimately, though admittedly he’s focusing more stringently on daily journalism.
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Related question: what exactly is journalism now? If we define journalism simply by its frequency of delivery–that is, a periodical publication, a publication that continually publishes installments–rather than its actual content, then aren’t we all journalists now? In that light the crisis of newspapers is simply the crisis of certain information delivered in this particular way, but periodical publication itself is quite healthy (at least in terms of as an endeavor of human attention).

For a better, more cogent version of this paragraph, read this piece from the Awl published yesterday.
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What is the point of subscribing to a publication? I mean for the individual reader, not the advertising-hungry eyes of the publisher. Is it simply the relief of not having to pursue each issue. (Why is it again that I can’t subscribe to groceries?)
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I do realize that I did not talk about Byliner, The Atavist, Longform, etc., and that I generalized (am generalizing) kind of recklessly about literary magazines as a generic whole, which is probably not smart given that the variety is so great that even the term “literary magazine” isn’t completely useful.
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Related: what exactly is a literary magazine? What does that phrase mean? A magazine of literature? But then, what exactly is literature? Or is it a magazine of items that aspires to be literature?
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Is there an aesthetic or structural reason that the long-form in-between size e-publications have focused almost exclusively on nonfiction? (Is there some wealth of e-pub novellas that I’m missing?) Or is just because no one reads fiction, at least in a large enough way to motivate this kind of experimental publishing work?
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I didn’t mention The Periodical Co in my post and I should have. This application/service (what do I call all this stuff?) was created while I was writing the piece and it provides a way for civilians to create their own subscribable newsstand app.
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Hold on. I have to go back to Craig Mod’s website for a few minutes.
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A corollary to this is the online versions of the New Yorker. For personal organizational reasons I won’t go into here (i.e., hoarding), I subscribe to the New Yorker via the Kindle. Doing this, I lose so much of the magazine: the wonderful feel of the glossy paper, the spot illustrations, all those perfume ads, that typeface, that general concrete weekly manifestation of the New Yorker as some asteroid of civilization careening into my life. But all that aside, it still shows up without me having to lift a fat finger, and after getting over what I’ve lost, it’s awfully convenient to read it on the Kindle, which because of its sea green e-ink get up (I’ve got the slate grey Kindle that has the keyboard at the bottom; I could look up which specific model it is but what is this? some kind of tech blog?) renders the New Yorker fairly “subcompact” in this version. And I’ve resisted the temptation to download the iPad app version because of the horror stories I’ve heard of download time and complications.
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My one goal in life is to minimize the time I spend do anything that could be remotely construed as “syncing.”
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I’ve always wanted to write in pretentious epigrams!
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All this is to say that I’m predisposed to think whatever Mod says is right and true but he does have a point. He made me overcome my tendency to procrastinate and finally download The Magazine. And it’s usability is great: sharp and crisp and quickly there on my phone and just easy to use. I was thumbing away happily in no time. The writing itself is somewhere in the middle. It’s not yet quite good enough. My favorite article thus far is “The Sound of Silence,” Glenn Fleishman’s longer piece on the Library of Congress’s sound archive in the wilds of Virginia. It’s full of information and neat detail. The rest of the articles are a little too bloggy so far. (I realize the irony of this criticism.) What I mean is that the essaylets are essentially personally informe-but-fleeting-feeling opinions about observable trends in the tech-net-blogo-plex. Not that these are unworthwhile, but I felt an interior grain of conventional desire for something with a little more fiber, since it was a, you know, magazine. But anyway, I’m enjoying it.
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Man, that is just one lovely smooth interplanetary excellence gold medal of a website.
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Sometimes, in my more vein-popping moments, I think that fiction and the like should simply stay off line as a matter of principle, a concrete illustration of how they are different. That is, you buy print copies of stuff you actually intend to read and you skim what’s freely available online.

But then I think that idea is just wilfully dumb.
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The history of tech has shown that people will forgo fidelity/excellence/fanatical attention to detail for cheap and fast, that is, for efficiency. And then, after everything is efficiently available, the fanatically excellent becomes a recidivist status symbol.

Am I using “recidivist” correctly?

A note from the official interlocutor

Well Philip Roth is in the news again, which must mean it’s time for me to blog once again. This time, Roth has written an “open letter” to Wikipedia to correct a collectively generated mistaken presupposition about the origin of his 2000 novel The Human Stain.

The letter is fascinating and amusing for lots of reasons. (O to have one’s open letters published online in the New Yorker!) On the one hand, Roth gets to correct the record, which he seems intent on doing here in his later years. My last blog post and the last occasion for a newsy flare-up related to the novelist was Roth writing in to The Atlantic magazine to clarify whether or not he in fact had a “crack up” way back when, as the magazine had alleged. Both of these clarifications hit the he-doth-protest-too-much sweet spot, and this last Wikipedia correction in particular strikes one as an older generation being caught in the barbed snares of the younger generation, the mustard gas of Web 2.0 wafting overhead.

But at the same time the letter also provides Roth a “second source,” the item he needs to correct the record on Wikipedia. Here is Roth:

Yet when, through an official interlocutor, I recently petitioned Wikipedia to delete this misstatement, along with two others, my interlocutor was told by the “English Wikipedia Administrator”—in a letter dated August 25th and addressed to my interlocutor—that I, Roth, was not a credible source: “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,” writes the Wikipedia Administrator—“but we require secondary sources.”

He gets to point out the ridiculousness of the Wikipedian policy while also submitting to it.

This is of course ludicrous—the man’s Philip Roth!—and simultaneously right and correct. Because even though Roth protests that Coleman Silk, the protagonist of The Human Stain, was not modeled on the late literary critic Anatole Broyard, as the Wikipedia comment claimed, we as readers are free to make that interpretive mistake. It’s not like that charge came out of nowhere. That intrepretation—that the black literary intellectual who was “passing” as a Jewish intellectual, which is essentially what Broyard did—has been in critical circulation ever since the novel came out. And as biographically interpretive theories go, it ain’t that bad (or, all things considered, that violent of a conjecture to the author’s reputation or the novel’s aesthetic import). In short, if we, as readers, want Silk to be modeled on Broyard, then he is modeled on Broyard.

But at the same time it’s awfully fascinating to hear Roth go on in a Henry James-ian rumination about the germ of the original novel and to pontificate briefly about the need to make stuff up. In all of the semi-recent internet chatter about fiction vs nonficton vs nonfiction that may perhaps contain some not-quite-verifiably-truthful elements, it’s heartening to see someone so fully committed to making stuff up—where grafting imagined activities onto the root of reality is both a freedom and a burden.

And at the same time the whole thing reads like a scrap from one of Roth’s own novels—the novelist claiming that he is who he says he is despite the Kafkan internet behemoth claiming that’s not good enough, a desperate impotent rhetorical flight of self-validation! Of all the things that Roth’s ouvre has contained, surely that’s a main ingredient of it.

Notes on Notes

I was on Twitter today and I wondered if people tweet about not tweeting, the way that people used to blog about not blogging. And I have been myself thinking of drafting a blog post about my inability to regularly post a blog post, but then I thought christalmightywhocares. There’s nothing to blog about anyway.

But then, I thought of something to blog about, so here we go. I saw on the Atlantic magazine’s website today that Philip Roth had written them a letter disputing Joseph O’Neill’s claim that he had a “crack-up” in the mid-80s. The factual correction is interesting in and of itself. One could imagine the source of confusion, since Roth’s novel Operation Shylock, narrated by a fictional Philip Roth, talks about a breakdown resulting from taking the same true, factual medication Roth mentions in his letter. (Halcion.) On the one hand, you kind of nod your head primly at the fact-checking wrist-slap, but then think, Well isn’t this factual/fictional biographical confusion partly the point?

But more important than that, one reels at the idea that Roth is up there in New England reading Atlantic essays about himself. Did he actually read it? Was he tipped off? Or is it actually not that hard to imagine him reading the Atlantic? I imagine him writing, walking in the woods, lifting weights with dumbbells made of volumes of the OED, and, for some reason, doing a lot of bikram yoga.

I haven’t read the O’Neill essay, mainly because I’ve grown so crotchety and proprietary in my complicated affection for Roth’s books that I’m wary of reading additional criticism. (How’s that for being intellectually stubborn?) However, cynical defense mechanisms aside, I can recommend without reservation David Gooblar’s recent book The Major Phases of Philip Roth. I interviewed Gooblar about the book for the Quarterly Conversation. His book gives you the best kind of scholarly double-pleasure: it shines new light on Roth’s work while sending you speedily back to the books themselves. It’s scholarship as harmony, a dedicated major third humming above the source text.

One last note about that Atlantic piece: it’s illustrated with what must be one of the only pictures of the older Roth with visible beard stubble. He looks — with his stare, his slightly mussed hair, his stubble — old. I realize that he in fact is old, but it seems like the Atlantic is trying to highlight this with the photo. That is, it seems like they’re trying to make him look bad. Perhaps I’m just projecting but this seems to me in poor taste.

But what’s really in poor taste is how they handle the article’s URL. Here’s how they title the article: “Philip Roth Clears Up His ‘Crack-Up.'” But here’s the web address of the article:

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/05/philip-roth-clears-his-crack-/52754/.

Thank you, Atlantic Monthly, for keeping it classy. You must be so proud of yourself.

And with that, I return to my glacial pace of irregular blogging.

All the Rage

Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence
Geoff Dyer
Picador, 2009

Dyer and his brand of blurrily personal nonfiction is much in the ether lately, or at least the certain subsection of slightly literary inclined internet ether I breath, for better and worse. But more than the chatter overhead, Dyer has been urged on me by a well-read, much-respected friend, and I have finally buckled against my own inability to take reading suggestions and have read Out of Sheer Rage, his book charting his failure to write a sober, academic study of Lawrence.

I thought the book was almost an undiluted joy. Like much of Nicholson Baker’s writing, the book sounds unendurable when subjected to brief description: it’s a book which chronicles the author’s inability to sit still and write about D.H. Lawrence, a writer he both admires and who has penetrated his life to a cellular level. But also like Baker’s U & I, the book manages both to avoid its way into its subject, to be both about the author’s own interests, obsessions, tics, neuroses, while also being about Lawrence, and teaching me–a Lawrence neophyte–a great deal and making me want to read Lawrence desperately.

It also makes me want to read more Dyer. I’m not sure if Dyer’s brand of nonfiction–novelistically pliable and complex and yet learned without being fusty, essayistic without mooning into abstraction, curling into scholarship, or shedding its style into reportage–is indeed the Next Wave, but he is one of those author’s who, as I think Martin Amis said somewhere, you discover with muffled enthusiasm, realizing as you read that you’re now going to have go read everything the man has written.

But I do have a quibble. And for better and worse, quibbles are easier to write about than straight praise: I wished the book had a bit more novelistic furniture, especially toward the end. When discussing Milan Kundera in the middle of the book (pgs. 118-122 in my paperback, where he mounts his quiet assault on the novel), Dyer says, “After reading Immortality what I wanted from Kundera was a novel composed entirely of essays, stripped of the last rind of novelization.” And while I find this idea fascinating and while what I liked about this book of Dyer’s was its associative leaping from idea to idea, I found myself still wanting a little more rind. There are personal, scenic-like details that crop up repeatedly–Dyer’s girlfriend Laura is a wonderful foil, for instance–but these ingredients raise certain expectations that go unfulfilled. For example, Dyer buys a flat in Oxford, England–Dullford, he calls it. And it occurs at a point in the book where this seems like the most reckless action he could take, and yet he doesn’t really go into the why or the how of the purchase. He doesn’t pay it the same kind of narrative attention I was expecting. He thinks about so much in this book, but he doesn’t really allow himself the room to think about this. And it seems less like an interesting narrative maneuver than it does an avoidance of his responsibility as a narrator. In a novel, we would just call this an example of an unreliable narrator, but in a work of nonfiction, does this not just become an author’s mistake?

And while it’s his book, his life, his aesthetic, and while I realize he wants to rid himself of these kind of well-made novelistic restrictions, and while I’m not sure if this fault is either his or mine, I still wanted to hear more about that stupid flat; I wanted to see him besotted by all that paperwork, signing his life away. This is a problem with personal nonfiction of this sort, in that it’s personal only up to a point. It is open but shields the true, fully honest self off from the reader. So, paradoxically, a novel feasibly becomes a more honest way to communicate with a reader because an author isn’t always deploying these invisible firewalls between himself and the reader while maintaining a facade of jocular openness.

Does this reaction make me hopelessly old-fashioned? I feel suddenly like an old man at a concert, complaining about the volume.

The Portable Son comes out today

Well the day is finally here. My first book of short stories, The Portable Son, has been published by Aqueous Books and is now for sale. I have flipped the switch from someday forthcoming to recently published.

The hard sell: The Portable Son is available at Amazon as paperback and KindleBarnes&Noble.com, and directly from the publisher. It is also for sale at Burke’s Books in Memphis, Tenn., and Lemuria in Jackson, Miss. More brick-and-mortar stores as I line them up.

I can’t believe it has actually happened.

I remember the first time I thought that I wanted to write a book of short stories. I was 20 and a sophomore in college. I was taking an introduction to fiction writing workshop, and the book that did it was The Watch by Rick Bass. I’d had a vague desire to write throughout junior high and high school, and I had written the requisite notebook or two full of deeply impassioned, hormonally drenched poetry. But it wasn’t until this particular workshop and that particular book that I realized what I wanted to do, or that I found a shape in which to write, a model to draft after.

In that book Rick Bass’s writing seemed ideal: he talked about men and women in an unsentimental, masculine way, but he wrote with a lyrical yearning that kept it from being too spare, too much like Hemingway. He wrote about bullfighting and drinking and reckless male desire but without boiling his language down to elliptical fragments. He kept it looser, more musical, and reached for a panoramic level of detail when it came to nature. Another way of saying this is that he wasn’t afraid of an adjective. And he wasn’t afraid of using a dash if he felt like it. And he wasn’t afraid of building up his effects into a long, cumulative paragraph, like a crescendo before the big chorus.

Also in those stories there is a mythic element underneath the surface. The characters, seemingly relatively normal at first glance, are told at a mythical slant. Everything is always on the verge of becoming a tall tale, which paradoxically didn’t make the stories seem magical or fantastic but realistic, more like how I experienced life.

It didn’t hurt that one of the stories, “Cats and Students, Bubbles and Abysses,” was not only about wanting to write but set in my hometown of Jackson, Miss. In that story Bass, who lived in Jackson for a few years when he was a young adult, makes fun of streets I’ve driven, places I’ve been. It was that alchemical fictional recognition: I didn’t know you could write like that about the place I grew up.

I wrote the first couple of stories in The Portable Son while I was in college, though they have changed a good bit since then. The rest of the stories were cobbled together in the intervening years. Going over the final proofs of the book, I was frankly amazed that I had written these stories. They seemed less like pieces I wrote than pieces I found, though I can’t rightly remember the location where I found them.

A lot has happened in the years since I first read that book by Rick Bass: graduation, grad school, marriage, kids, moving, job changes, teaching, not teaching, innumerable bagels, and, of course, car insurance. But I still think fondly of that book of stories and of the idea behind a collection of short stories. The essayist Elif Batuman says somewhere that she thinks that short stories are historically obsolete, that the economic and reading conditions that brought forth their popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century are gone, never to be recovered. I disagree with her, obviously, but not just because I wrote a book of short stories. Because of their brevity, because of their portability, because of the way they visit a make believe world rather than map it (which is what the novel does), short stories seem like a perennially handy way to comprehend life. That is, a short story offers a way of understanding not available in any other arrangement of language. It is a mode of understanding as much as it is a certain page length.

They’re sort of like songs, except you can’t dance to it.

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

I’m happy to report that Lady Chatterley’s Brother: Why Nicholson Baker Can’t Write About Sex, and Why Javier Marias Can, an ebook I have written with Scott Esposito, is now officially on the cyber shelves. It’s sort of like an electronic pamphlet, long and argumentative yet sprightly and topical, covering how two contemporary authors treat that most hazardous of subjects: s-e-x. The booklet consists of two long essays, each approximately 35 pages in length. Mine is called “I Know It When I See It: Nicholson Baker’s Sex Trilogy” and Scott’s essay is called “Just Do It: Javier Marias’ Sexless Sexuality.”

Cover of Lady Chatterley's Brother

The ebook is the first installment in the TQC Long Essays series, and happily it’s another iteration of the current crop of longish essays and pieces of nonfiction sprouting up to take advantage of ereaders. I am personally really enjoying how ereaders provide an as-yet-unthought-of market for pieces that are too long for traditional magazine space and too long for a regular website/blog posting and yet too brief for an actual book. It’s like a pamphlet without the staple binding.

As for the topic, it grew out of conversations Scott and I were having about Baker. I’ve written about Baker several times. I kind of have a thing for Baker, but when word came that his newest novel House of Holes was going to be another sex novel, I wanted to run for the hills. Instead, Scott forced me to articulate why I disliked these novels and why I felt they were an aberration on an otherwise wonderfully rewarding and idiosyncratic career. And he coupled all of my criticisms of Baker with his analysis of Marias. The result was, as they say, a learning experience.

Finally, it simply feels rewarding to write this kind of long, impassioned literary criticism. It’s not academic scholarship (obviously), but it’s also not your typical lite journalistic fare–either the too-brief newspaper book reviews, or the reviews that use books to make undercooked socio-political observations rather than actually analyzing the writing on the table. The hope is that essays like these debate books at full volume while also recognizing the personal grain of the actual writer, book reviews birthed within a writer’s sole sensibility. Or to put this much more simply: bookish essays that are fun to read in and of themselves, in addition to the commentary they provide.

For excerpts of these essays, please visit here. It’s available for sale in these formats: ePub, MOBI, Amazon Kindle, and PDF. You can buy it directly from Scott’s website via PayPal, from B&N.com, or from Amazon.

(Now that this project is complete, my personal plan is to buy the book on my Kindle and then enable the text-to-speech feature and listen to my own sentences come back at me with that pauseless, speak-n-spell voice they have rigged up in that little machine–like bedtime reading conducted by the Terminator.)

Notes on Notes on Sontag

Notes on Sontag
by Phillip Lopate
Princeton University Press, 2009

In many ways this is the perfect book about Susan Sontag, because Phillip Lopate is so much her opposite—warm where she is cold, personal where she is stiff-armed, steely maned where he is bald, self-doubting where she is authoritarian in her judgment, discursive where she is aphoristic. And yet, despite these differences in approach and sensibility, there is a genuine sympathetic vein running throughout this commentary. Lopate didn’t just read Sontag regularly; his professional life kept intertwining with hers. He was an undergraduate at Columbia when she was teaching there, young and married with a teenaged son. And they knew each other in the professional way of postwar intellectual Jewish writers in New York City. (Ah, it makes one want to move to New York!) They were both interested in many of the same foreign, obscure, aggressively arty films and novels, and they both ended up writing fiction and essays, but are mostly known for the latter. In Sontag’s case, she is of course famous for the aphoristically brilliant, perceptive, withering critical gaze at various artists and intellectuals, not so much “personal essays” as essays as personality. Judgment as a style. Lopate is of course the old king of the personal essay, a bard of wandering through the porousness of his own life tying knots of comprehension, then loosening them.

In fact, one of the most interesting parts of this book, for me, is when he discusses her fiction. He says, “Her fiction is, for the most part, unsuccessful. . . . She lacked broad sympathy and a sense of humor, which are usually prerequisites for good fiction. More germane, perhaps, she did not convincingly command a fictive space on the page.” She often thought of her essays as a distraction from fiction writing, which Lopate finds absurd: “I, who revere the art of essay writing, and who can never regard literary nonfiction as even a fraction inferior to fiction, find puzzling Sontag’s need to be thought primarily a novelist.” It is a strange provincialism of the mind, still prevalent today, that nonfiction is below the novel, that greedy fat king of prose, who, like a threatened toddler, takes all the attention and yet still demands more. He says that Sontag was always overvaluing her fiction while kicking the legs from under her magisterial essays, while he himself thinks that the ratio of critical acclaim portioned out to his essays (high) versus his fiction (not nearly as high) is perfectly fitting. (Why that is, why he’s so agreeable on this, is never explored, and is something I would love to know. Just how did he get this levelheaded about the great novelistic beast?)

But aside from this shop talk, there is just the sympathetic explication of her work. Sontag seems more complex and difficult here and yet warmer somehow in her chilly remove. The judgments on her work are complexly layered and precise, and it makes one want ot read more Sontag, while importing Lopate’s heightened example of sympathy.

The looseness of the book is also a pleasure. The book, a tidy, narrow volume issued by Princeton University Press, rambles, juts forward, and then recycles itself. It’s not redundant, but it’s also not a belligerently progressive, teleological argument. It’s a rumination, a chewing through of Sontag’s oeuvre. If it dwindles somewhat in energy toward the end, it’s only appropriate. Sontag’s career does the same, as does Lopate’s enthusiasm for it.

And finally, it’s one of the best things I’ve read by Lopate. Like Sontag, but yet so unlike her, the peculiar glimmer of his aesthetic sensibility is illuminated by his studious concentration on another writer’s work.

The Heming Way

I realize it’s the 50th anniversary of Hemingway’s death, but this is ridiculous:
A poster with mottos drawn from Hemingway's life
This is the most absurd misinterpretation of Hemingway’s life, much less his value as a “great writer,” and what’s worse is that I think this is how the broader U.S. culture “appreciates” Hemingway. (The previous winner in absurd Hemingway cultural appropriation–Thomasville’s Hemingway Furniture Collection.)

When will people stop looking to Hemingway’s life as some sort of model of uber-manliness and adventure? When will people actually start reading Hemingway? Read something like In Our Time and try to neatly conventionalize how the women and men behave in there or try to ascertain an unequivocal “way to live” from those stories. Have you ever seen a string of stories that embody such an absolute male terror of women and children? Hemingway, from an accumulation of snapshots, may appear confident and husky, an urban woodsman’s wet dream. But the people in his stories are one hot mess and speak of a complex appreciation of human character, not easily posterized.

I realize that celebrity culture always distorts the source text, but this poster seems the latest incarnation of insult. “Appreciate the finer things in life”–do they realize that Hemingway was a drunk? “Live to tell the tale”–do they realize that Hemingway lived right up until he stuck a shotgun in his mouth?

It’s like his persona has completely split from the actual books he wrote, so that there is this free-floating pop cultural Hemingway, himself composed of little metonymies of manliness: guns, big game, sex with nurses, mustaches, and ribald drinking. Not only is it an insult to the legacy of Hemingway; it’s an insult to the concept of manliness. Besides, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his death is just numerology marketing.

Here’s a short poster for an ideal life: don’t be mold, growing on the damp back of cliche.