“We live in the age of opinion — offered instantly, effusively and in increasingly strident tones. Much of it goes by the name of criticism, and in the most superficial sense this is accurate.” The New York Times approached six accomplished critics, Stephen Burns, Katie Roiphe, Pankaj Mishra, Adam Kirsch, Sam Anderson, and Elif Batuman to explain, in the spirit of Alfred Kazin, “what it is they do, why they do it and why it matters.”
Recommended reading: one essay on George Orwell‘s stomping grounds on the Scottish island where he wrote 1984 in the throes of a tubercular fever, and another on the tiny Indian town of Motihari where he was born.
We’ve heard about the weak dollar making things tough on Canadian readers, but the pain is being felt by Canadian publishers as well, as profit margins diminish. The latest casualty is publisher Raincoast Books.Philip Agee died today. His Inside the Company in 1973 may have created a modern day genre, one that would be contributed to by many former agents, the CIA tell-all.The Atlantic reaches deep into the archives to bring us “The History of Children’s Books,” from 1888:It is hard to imagine a world without books for children. There have been children’s stories and folk-tales ever since man first learned to speak. “Many of them,” in Thackeray’s words, “have been narrated, almost in their present shape, for thousands of years since, to little copper-colored Sanscrit children. The very same tale has been heard by the Northmen Vikings, as they lay on their shields on deck; and by the Arabs, couched under the stars in the Syrian plains, when the flocks were gathered in, and the mares were picketed by the tents.” Children’s books, however, are a late growth of literature. Miss Yonge says, “Up to the Georgian era there were no books at all for children or the poor, excepting the class-books containing old ballads, such as Chevy Chase, and short tales, such as The King and the Cobbler, Whittington and his Cat.” We shall nevertheless see that there were English books for children (and it is with no others that we have to deal) long before this time.
“I know the words for elk and water. There are other Shawnee nouns as dense as koans with metaphor and meaning, but they remain inscrutable to me.” Poet Laura Da’ authors the most recent Rumpus Saturday essay, a stunning meditation on concessions made to both the body and the body politic. A member of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, Da’ is the author of Tributaries, a 2016 American Book Award winner. See also: our review of Philip Meyer’s latest novel, The Son.
It’s not every day that you come across a defense of literary elitism, but The Guardian’s Nicholas Lezard is tired of explaining that not everyone is a critic. “What I want when I read a book review is to find out what someone cleverer than me and better read than me thinks about whatever’s being reviewed,” he writes.