The spring books issue of the Chicago Reader features remembrances by Chicago authors of their favorite writers. Luis Alberto Urrea and I disagree on the virtues of Ninety-two in the Shade, a book that for me exemplifies the notion of “you had to be there” in the late 60s and early 70s, but we agree on this much: “You had to be smart to read him, even in books that seemed to promise—like so many American novels—that you could be a drooling idiot and still get a real kick out of the deal.”
McGuane: “I remember feeling when I started Driving on the Rim that serious fiction had gotten entirely too gloomy. I’m happy to see that some of our best young writers are going after this problem tooth and nail.”
Salman Rushdie picks a handful of books by American authors for bedside reading at a New York hotel.
Arthur Phillips—whose new novel, The Tragedy of Arthur, I very much enjoyed—on the disingenuousness and uselessness of the question, “What is the author trying to say?” Phillips’ point that you shouldn’t/needn’t read a novel as an author’s autobiography makes sense, though he so eagerly pushes the notion that a novelist has no real argument to make I’m left wondering why he feels fiction is worth writing at all. The Tragedy of Arthur isn’t the didactic novel he studiously avoids, but its satire of memoir is crystal-clear.
Aimee Bender: “I know, a lot of people really don’t care for younger narrators but I’ve never understood that; as a reader, I really like a kid’s POV and when writers really submerge themselves in that limitation, often there are such rewards. I just reread The Sound and the Fury, (which was kind of like reading it for the first time since it was a high school assignment years ago and I think I took in about two pages of the whole) and the Benji passages are so amazing to read, really stunning, because of how deeply Faulkner is able to skip over the ways we see the world and show a new view. How light looks, how flowers look. He’s not a kid, but he’s also a kid.”
Francine Prose: “Another reason I don’t teach writing workshops-and why I’m not a doctor or psychiatrist-is because other people’s suffering has become so painful to me that I can’t bear it.”
The Boston Globe‘s Sebastian Smee is this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize in criticism—for art writing, not book reviewing, but his comments on the form at ARTicles apply generally: “It’s not imposing that value judgment as the only possible judgment about the thing. I see it very much as starting a discussion, but the discussion is going to get off to a much less interesting start if the critic hasn’t actually said whether he thinks the thing he’s looking at is good or bad.”
Yiyun Li on translating Chinese author Shen Congwen‘s letters.
Paul Harding on how the tricky language of Tinkers makes it something an asset for translators: “Its language-based aesthetics actually help the translation…. The translators aren’t limited by trying to find just one corresponding word in the other language.”
The would-be American Writers Museum makes its pitch to the Twin Cities.
A brief history of the speculation over the authorship of Henry Adams‘ Democracy.
“Why are these young American Jews trying to find out things about their fathers and grandfathers? I think each is attempting to answer the question: how does one write Jewish-American novels after Bellow and Roth?”
Would Saul Bellow support the Tea Party?
I would not be surprised if Joyce Carol Oates is working on a coffee-table book about cats.