Links: Crunching the Numbers

For about another week, the great works of American literature come dirt cheap: The Library of America is having a 50-percent-off sale.

Edgar Lee Masters had it in for Abraham Lincoln (and Carl Sandburg too).

Paul Theroux wore bell bottoms in the 70s.

Mathematician Manil Suri spent seven years working on his second novel, The Age of Shiva—by his accounting, 64.19 words a day.

Bob Hoover finds a few connections between John Updike and William Dean Howells.

One of the better takedowns of a book I’ve seen in a while is Benjamin Alsup‘s assessment (not online, best as I can tell) in Esquire of Philipp Meyer‘s American Rust: “[I]t sounds like an Ivy Leaguer mimicking the speech patters of white working-class people. It’s one part Woody Guthrie, one party All the Pretty Horses, and 98 parts Hillary Clinton.” (I haven’t read it.)

On a more positive note: Newsweek catches up with Yiyun Li, whose debut novel, The Vagrants, is one of my favorite novels of the young year.

(And while I’m playing tipster, Peter Stephan Jungk‘s Crossing the Hudson, out next month, is one of the best contemporary novels I’ve read in quite some time.)

Opinions Are Like…

“After I finished [The Age of Shiva], I showed it to people, and my god. They had these opinions. If I’d had that kind of advice while writing the book, it would have completely derailed me. That’s something for writers to be cautious about: getting well-meaning advice. You’ve got to have seven or eight people, but even that’s way too much. So I’m very suspicious about advice. I used to be in several writing groups. It was very helpful with short stories. But then I started The Death of Vishnu, and I remember someone really ripping into the first chapter, saying, you know, rearrange it, take apart everything, and then explain where you are, why you’re there, and do all this explanation. I didn’t follow any of it, as it turned out.” —Manil Suri, interviewed in Baltimore City Paper

Dept. of Self Promotion

Now live on Washington City Paper‘s popular blog, City Desk, is my video interview with Manil Suri. Right: I’m learning. As I mentioned elsewhere, it’s a little frustrating to realize how much work is required to do something that winds up looking like a 5 a.m. public-affairs show in Schenectady. But Suri is a great conversationalist and was a great sport about the awkward filming setup (we recorded this in my office). More importantly, just by doing it, I figured out a ton of things that’ll make the next one go better. I didn’t get into journalism to do video–heck, I got into writing precisely to avoid that sort of thing–but with the journalism world what it is, everything is worth trying. And there’s a similar degree of satisfaction with recording something as with writing something–when it’s done, you’ve still done a Made Thing, and you’re still eager to get people to take a look at it.

Dept. of Self Promotion

My brief review of Manil Suri‘s The Age of Shiva is now available at Washington City Paper‘s Web site. Suri reads at Politics & Prose on Monday.

Another D.C. note: I’ll be spending much of tomorrow, Saturday, at American University, checking out Washington Independent Writers’ Fiction Writing All-Day Seminar. A number of interesting writers are on the docket, including Susan Richards Shreve, Olga Grushin, and Edward P. Jones. The walk-in registration rate is a bit steep, but it’s a full day, and casual opportunities to meet writers don’t come along too often.

Suri Explained Infinity

I’ve just finished Manil Suri‘s second novel, The Age of Shiva, which prompted me to do some googling. I’m curious about Suri’s dual life as a novelist and a mathematician–I can’t think of any career that’d put more of a burden on both the left and right brain simultaneously. In the process, I came across the video below, in which Suri gives a presentation he coauthored on the concept of infinity. My brain started hurting about a half-hour into the lecture, but the fault isn’t with Suri, whose genial and patient discussion also touches on the way that mathematicians have a way of being depicted as madmen in popular culture.