As an urban dog owner I greatly enjoyed Jonathan Safran Foer’s article in the New York Times about the trials and tribulations of having a dog in a city. This op-ed piece is an argument against a plan to eliminate “off leash” hours in city parks. As someone who has many times appreciated the ability to let his dog “off leash” in parks in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia, I agree with Foer. I also enjoyed his musings on what it means for us (as in humanity) to have this desire to bring animals into unfriendly environs like cities. Kudos, as well, to Foer for letting his guard down in this piece in a way that many other writers might not have. (via Gwenda)
It’s tough times for newspapers in many American cities and Philadelphia is no exception. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News were bought by a group of investors under the name Philadelphia Media Holdings following the split up of the newspapers’ former parent Knight Ridder. Already in decline due both to the cuts of its corporate owners and the negative climate for newspapers, the pair of papers has struggled even further under their new owners.Earlier this month, Inquirer book editor Frank Wilson departed and described the machinations of newspaper management that led him to step down. The story is fairly familiar to anyone who has followed the industry over the last few years.While cost cutting and streamlining have become almost mundane at America’s newspapers, a new story emerging regarding one of Philadelphia’s most storied journalists is a bit more strange. As reported by Steve Volk for Philadelphia magazine, the newspaper company is now going after Pete Dexter, a one time Philadelphia journalist who has gone on to have a fruitful career as a novelist. Last year, he hearkened back to his days as a newspaper columnist in Philadelphia and elsewhere by publishing a collection of his old columns, Paper Trails.However, there must’ve been some miscommunication along the way because Philadelphia Media Holdings is now asking for a chunk of Dexter’s $60,000 advance, which Dexter gave to his editor Rob Fleder who did all the work of digging through the archives at compiling the collection. Meanwhile, the book’s paperback release has been delayed. In the above-linked article, it appears as though Dexter and Fleder acted in good faith, though the introduction to Paper Trails does describe the somewhat cavalier attitude with which Dexter and Fleder approached the book. In it, the reader is told that the 82 columns and articles we are about to read will lack dates and any indication as to where they first appeared because, basically, Dexter and Fleder didn’t want to dig them up. This adds to the collection’s charm but doesn’t exactly lend an aura of due diligence.Regardless, it’s hard to get behind what Philadelphia Media Holdings is doing here. By Philadelphia magazine’s account, the paper is attempting to intimidate Dexter and his agent, with little regard for the papers’ already bad reputation. One would think a compromise could have been reached over a relatively minor sum.As an aside, earlier this week, we looked at books for fans of HBO’s Deadwood. I would say that Paper Trails is a must read for fans of another HBO hit, The Wire. I posted my thoughts on Paper Trails early last year.
Again, the current issue of The New York Review of Books features one splendid fiction writer’s meditations on another brilliant fiction writer Last his time, it was Eisenberg on Nádas; this time it’s Zadie Smith considering the critical legacy of E.M. Forster, who provided the inspiration for On Beauty.As a novelist, Forster has suffered by comparison to his more conspicuously innovative contemporaries (for my money, Howards End is as much a technical achievement as that other Bloomsbury monument, Mrs. Dalloway); Smith suggests that Forster is underrated as a critic, as well.Perhaps his critical medium – BBC radio – made it easy to overlook Forster’s seriousness; perhaps his characteristic modesty did as well. Still, we can learn much from Forster, and from Smith’s appreciation of him:He could sit in his own literary corner without claiming its superiority to any other. Stubbornly he defends Joyce, though he doesn’t much like him, and Woolf, though she bemuses him, and Eliot, though he fears him […] Forster was not Valéry, but he defended Valéry’s right to be Valéry. He understood the beauty of complexity and saluted it where he saw it.
The new British quarterly, The Book, is kicking things off with a poll to determine, by popular vote, “the Greatest Living British Writer.” As Gordon Kerr writes in his essay introducing the poll, “Now, there’s a question! It’s such a big one, in fact, that it requires capitals at the beginning of each word!” Indeed. If you’ve got an opinion on the matter, cast your vote. I couldn’t decide – how does one pick in polls like this? – so I selected John Le Carre, who seems to be sufficiently influential and popular while at the same time a little bit outside of the literary box. Thoughts?
Last week, The New Yorker ran a profile (subscription required) of Ian McEwan that was scarcely shorter than McEwan’s most recent novel, On Chesil Beach. For all its expansiveness, however, the article failed to offer readers the supreme pleasure of McEwan’s best fiction: a kind of psychological X-ray. And where writer Daniel Zalewski did manage to see inside McEwan the man, he seemed to discover there – perhaps unwittingly – a certain metaphysico-aesthetic complacency. For example, of John Banville’s quite valid complaint about Saturday’s “rosy” view of marriage (the wealthy and brilliant protagonist starts his day with wake-up sex), McEwan remarked, “The critic was revealing far more about himself and his wife’s teeth-flossing habits than anything about the book.”A measure of pride may be in order – Atonement sold 2 million copies! Still, self-satisfaction represents one of writing’s occupational hazards, in both senses of the phrase. Doubt is for the novelist what faith is for the priest.Anyway, I’m pleased to report that my worries about McEwan were short-lived. His meditation on John Updike in the New York Review of Books shows us an empiricist still capable of wonderment. Better yet, unlike the New Yorker piece, the NYRB essay is free to all online. If time constraints force you to choose between reading Ian McEwan and reading about Ian McEwan… well, you know what to do.
CBC journalist Ghazal Mosadeq recently returned to Tehran from Toronto and filed an audio report for the Dispatches program on the current state of publishing and censorship in Iran. Writers, readers and book-sellers are all trapped in a system of rules which are often tacit, confused and haphazard.Of particular interest is the lack of trust that has developed between reader and publisher as a result of years of censorship. Mosadeq also reports from a cemetery which contains the gravesite of twenty Iranian writers, some specifically requesting that they be buried there as a final chance to be separate from the repressive state. The government, meanwhile, tries to stop this, in an effort to avoid turning the cemetery into a shrine to its critics. Censored while alive; still censored after death.Hear the 8-minute audio dispatch here (RealPlayer)
Sitting here in Chicago, there’s not much I can write about the terrible events that occurred in London yesterday. But I think Ian McEwan does a good job of capturing both the inevitability and the sadness of yesterday’s bombings in his piece in the Guardian: Those rehearsals for a multiple terrorist attack underground were paying off. In fact, now the disaster was upon us, it had an air of weary inevitability, and it looked familiar, as though it had happened long ago. In the drizzle and dim light, the police lines, the emergency vehicles, the silent passers by appeared as though in an old newsreel film in black and white. The news of the successful Olympic bid was more surprising than this. How could we have forgotten that this was always going to happen?Read it here.
Soon after learning that books are, quite literally, cool, we now find that reading may become a more popular pastime in Thailand, but not because of a sudden interest in all things literary.Bomb worries help book sales: After New Years Eve bomb blasts put Bangkok on edge, “Thailand’s book market looks likely to grow by 10% this year, partly thanks to the new-found preference of many to stay at home rather than going out.”Reading: a good way to pass the time in the bomb shelter.