Out this week is a highly touted seafaring debut We the Drowned. This book in translation is by Danish writer Carsten Jensen. Another debut effort arriving this week is Open City by Teju Cole, which PW likened to Coetzee, Sebald, and Nicholson Baker. Out in paperback today are Adam Haslett’s Union Atlantic and controversial Millions Hall of Famer Reality Hunger by David Shields.
The world isn’t exactly wanting for character studies of Captain Ahab, but Chris Power manages to come up with a novel analysis of the character in this essay about the Moby-Dick antagonist. In Power’s telling, Ahab was valuable in part for what he told us about the 20th century — namely, he foreshadowed the dictators and despots to come. You could also read Hester Blum’s contribution to this essay about the best American novels.
“For about 15 years, every time I had a really good dance party that went late, with people lolling around drunk and exhausted, at about 2 a.m., I would hand out paper and ask everyone to draw a vomiting cat. . . . I ended up with an incredibly thick file of drawings, some by people who went on to be published cartoonists and writers.” The New York Times reports that (Year in Reading alum) Jonathan Lethem has sold his papers to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, a trove that includes comic books, manuscript drafts, notes, letters, and yes, drawings of vomiting cats. You can read our review of Lethem’s Dissident Gardens, which may or may not feature hairballs in a crucial plot point, here.
“They say ‘kill your darlings,’ but I think darlings are your voice — your favorite parts, the parts you’d admire even if you didn’t write them. Why destroy what you love? If you feel that strongly about something you’ve written, pay attention!” Elisa Gabbert pens Electric Literature‘s “Blunt Instrument” column, which this month involves how to find one’s style as a writer. And for more scrivening advice, see our own columnists Swarm & Spark on the best way to seek feedback on your work,sending a memoir into the world, and whether writing a novel will jeopardize your mental health.
Implicit in a lot of the discussions about how negative a book reviewer can be is a question of utility: is a book review an act of public service or a work of art in itself? In the Times, James Parker and Anna Holmes debate the purpose of the review. Sample quote: “I’d argue that a majority of the reading public doesn’t necessarily benefit from the sorts of reviews for which artistry is the point.” You could also read our own Matt Seidel’s hypothetical worst review ever.