While assembling this post, I’ve been listening to the Saul Bellow episode in Yaddo’s Yaddocast series (h/t TEV), and it’s a nice 20-minute primer on the writer’s life and thought. The lineup for podcasts and interviews is impressive: Not just writers but artists like Martin Puryear, Aaron Copland, Philip Guston, and more.
Edmund White has a thoughtful appreciation of Glenway Wescott in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. It’s not online, unfortunately, but the New York Times catches up with White and his newfound acclaim as a dramatist.
D.C. restaurant/bookstore/Democrat-apparatchik-hangout Busboys & Poets enjoyed an uptick in book-sale revenue of more than 800 percent just before President Obama’s inauguration.
Tomorrow night Salt Lake City’s PBS affiliate debuts an hourlong documentary it produced about Wallace Stegner. No word if it’ll get wider play, but the Web site for the program includes transcripts with interviewees, including Sandra Day O’Connor, Thomas McGuane, and Carl Brandt.
I’ve just finished Laila Lalami‘s debut novel, Secret Son, a carefully turned story about a young man who’s shuttled up and down the class ladder in contemporary Casablanca after he learns the identity of his father. Lalami’s characterizations and descriptions have depth and grit—it thoughtfully maps the city’s slums, palatial hotels, and extremist hangouts. But it’s more a story about class than place, and in showing how the poor are often victim of circumstance it has the wide-open feeling of a fable. (Which is a long way of saying she earns the right to invoke The Great Gatsby in the early pages.) I bring this up mainly because I was pleased to learn that she’ll be appearing on a pair of panels in D.C. next month about Arab literature. Mark your calendars.
Many of the discussions following John Updike‘s death have brought up the question of who’s left?—what real competitors did Updike really have who can claim the role of great American novelist? Philip Roth‘s name gets bandied about the most. But the list of others mentioned rarely seems to include Joyce Carol Oates, which surprises me. Her work mirrors his in many ways: Both covered small-town life, both were fixated on both intimate relationships and history, both were prolific as fiction writers and critics. Oates, in her appreciation of Updike for the New Yorker, is more demure about their connection. I’m also surprised they weren’t closer friends.