Ruth Franklin of TNR probes the weaknesses of American novels about terrorism.
In a short biographical piece for Open Letters Monthly, Sam Sacks writes about the book reviewing career of Katherine Mansfield and the ways in which it "helped her build the writing muscles needed" to finish her masterful short stories. While some critics might take umbrage at the way Sacks characterizes Mansfield as "turning out deadline copy like an ink-stained Fleet Street hack," his look into her reviews culminates in the realization that "the point [of reviewing books] is not to be constructive but to construct something of lasting value in the little space and little time you’re granted. Like all writing, it should be a passion, not a pastime. The point is to dazzle."
"The story that Lee’s book tells (or tries to tell, because much evidence has been obscured or lost) is not about patience on a monument but about talent buried under a heavy plinth, and discovered only just in time—the late achievement less a measured distillation than a lifesaving decoction." James Wood reviews Hermione Lee's new biography of novelist Penelope Fitzgerald for The New Yorker. Pair with Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin's Millions essay on the new age of biography.
"[T]hat might be what liberal readers needs right now: Not just portraits of the Brexit and Trump-voting domestic Other, but a clearer sense of their own worldview’s limits, blind spots, blunders and internal contradictions." The New York Times's Ross Douthat assembles a "Books for the Trump Era" reading list, including Michel Houellebecq’s Submission, Christopher Lasch's The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, and Samuel P. Huntington's Who Are We? The Challenges to American National Identity. You can also read our own review of Houellebecq's latest here.
The true story of the Whaleship Essex – which was deftly recounted in Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2000 book In the Heart of the Sea – will soon be adapted into a 90-minute documentary for the BBC. As avid whale watchers already know, the plight of the Essex is what ultimately inspired Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick. You can get an overview of the disaster at Melville House’s blog, Moby Lives. (How appropriate!)