“Since the middle of the 20th century, the academy has conditioned us to stay grounded within texts and steer clear of writers’ biographies for insights while biographers are often timid about the kind of playful speculation that we can undertake here in Slate. Readers, myself included, tend to wonder about the sources for characters the likes of Kurtz, Sherlock Holmes, and Jay Gatsby—larger-than-life, mysterious, existing on a kind of separate plane—and in doing so we are continuing the quests of the narrators who tried first (Marlow, Watson, and Carraway).” Matthew Pearl asks: was Robert Louis Stevenson the blueprint for Conrad‘s Kurtz?
As if demonstrating exemplary literary skill weren’t enough, some overachieving authors were accomplished visual artists as well, notes AbeBooks in a roundup of talent that includes e e cummings, Günter Grass, Herman Hesse, and Jack Kerouac. Consider also our own Bill Morris on artists who channel writers in their own aesthetics.
Recent Pulitzer laureate Adam Johnson has a new short story in Esquire, and it’s a doozy, invoking drone strikes, Obama and Kurt Cobain in the course of its tightly-knit plot. Sample quote: “I wonder if the First Lady was the one to turn off the machine.”
In a piece for the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik writes about a new life of C. K. Scott Moncrieff, the first translator of Proust into English, and about the strange success and beauty his imperfect translation of Remembrance of Things Past achieved. The essay as a whole pairs well with both our own Bill Morris‘s essay against literary biography and Barclay Bram Shoemaker‘s Millions review of Mo Yan‘s Frog and “the trouble with translation.”
We are all Beliebers: the London Review of Books reviews The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, whose author, Teddy Wayne, told us last month that “it misses the point to discard fiction simply because it’s about social media or the celebrity-gossip machine and not Iraq or divorce.”