James Salter’s women are “described over and over again as meals for the male protagonists to enjoy and then leave behind in various western European countries,” Lidia Jean Kott argues. Read Sonya Chung’s take in our review of All That Is.
We like big books and we cannot lie. But are books just continuing to get longer and longer? A new survey of bestsellers has concluded that the average book is now 25% bigger than its counterpart fifteen years ago. The Guardian investigates. Mark O’Connell at The Millions has his own theory about long books.
What can we learn from anachronisms? That mistakes are “ultimately unavoidable – the best you can hope for is to keep them to a minimum and noticeable only by a tiny coterie of demanding experts” – and that if those mistakes are big enough, they can eventually turn into “enduring ideological constructs.”
“So a single image can split open the hard seed of the past, and soon memory pours forth from every direction, sprouting its vines and flowers up around you till the old garden’s taken shape in all its fragrant glory.” Read an excerpt from Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir at Longreads. Pair with Beth Kephart’s essay on how memoir can be a conversation between reader and writer.
“The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway. Those things are beside the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.” Year in Reading alumna Sarah Manguso on envy and the purpose of writing. Pair with Jaime Green’s Millions review of Manguso’s Ongoingness.
Sam Tanenhaus asks, What do this season’s political books tell us about the election? As he puts it, “Election-year analyses always seem to arrive too late or too soon. They are useful nonetheless. The mistakes and misapprehensions — what the authors thought they knew — mirror the broader thinking of their moment.” Pair with this Millions essay on politics and excessive language.