Robert Darnton at the New York Review of Books considers the feasibility of creating a National Digital Library: “I know: the devil can cite Jefferson. Anyone can cull through the papers of the Founding Fathers in order to find quotations in support of a cause. But I can’t resist.”
Year in Reading alumna Parul Sehgal’s column for The New York Times debuted last week with her reflections on the great Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. As she puts it, "He is a spider of a writer: subtle and sly, patient, with invisible designs. He never proclaims — he never needs to. He envelops." Pair with John Yargo’s Millions essay on Hrabal’s fiction.
"Year-end lists are always subjective and incomplete, but they are especially tricky for books. A dedicated film critic can watch every wide release film and a theater critic can go to most every play, but the book critic is faced with an insurmountable mountain of books each year. The sheer number of books is inspiring as a reader, but it can make “best of” lists laughably subjective when the critic has only read a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of books published each year." This might help to explain the logic and intent of our own Year in Reading series, but it also prefaces Electric Literature's list of the top 25 story collections of 2014 (which includes recent Year in Reading alum Phil Klay's Redeployment).
There are plenty of new books to this week to fill that post-election void: Both Flesh and Not: Essays, a posthumously published collection from David Foster Wallace; Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior; Prosperous Friends by Christine Schutt; Magnificence by Lydia Millet; and These Things Happen, a debut by longtime TV writer Richard Kramer. From the indies, we have The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets by Diana Wagman and Keyhole Factory by William Gillespie. Also out are Philip Pullman's new version of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm; Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks; and a big new Michael Jackson biography by a former Rolling Stone editor.
"I'm trying to think of something really suitable to say. What do you think I should say? Look, you tell me what to say and I'll say it." That was Doris Lessing, who found out she'd won the Nobel Prize from a group of journalists who surrounded her when she was exiting a taxi. NPR has that great audio, plus other reactions of former Nobel literature laureates, including Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, and Mario Vargas Llosa. Our own fearless editor-in-chief, Lydia Kiesling, admires Lessing, but felt rather differently about reading one of her most famous works, The Golden Notebook: "Among other things, she did an uncanny job of creating a malaise that was actually infectious. It oozed right off the page and into my own spirit."