Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to take Kathryn Schulz’s book recommendations. However when she refers to something – in this case J.M. Ledgard’s Submergence – as “the best novel I’ve read so far this year,” you really ought to listen up. By the time she invokes Philip Gourevitch, Anne Carson, W. G. Sebald, and John Le Carré in her review of that book, you ought to be reaching for your wallet.
“It’s the marriage of one kind of darkness to another… the black storm cloud of Neel’s pen is well suited to Dostoyevsky’s questions of God, reason, and doubt.” On Alice Neel‘s illustrations for The Brothers Karamazov, from The Paris Review. Pair with our own Kevin Hartnett’s much lighter take on the novel, “Reading The Brothers Karamazov: Even a Toddler Knows a Funny Name When He Hears One.”
“The call isn’t for a literature to, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has described, stop people from hitting us. […] But for a multiplicity of presence. A mingling, if not an acceptance, of a duality of presence. The right to be average. For the black guys in our literary fiction, if nowhere else, to be given the benefit of the doubt.” Over at the Ploughshares blog, Bryan Washington makes a case for inclusion in literary fiction.
The translators behind books such as Don Quixote, My Struggle, and Swann’s Way talk about their translation process. Lydia Davis explains, “When I was translating novels, I would not read the text first, and that was very important to me because it let me retain the excitement of the unknown.”
“Art isn’t a footrace. No one comes in first place. Greatness is not a universally agreed-upon value. … America isn’t one story. It’s a layered and diverse array of identities, individual and collective, forged on contradictory realities that are imbued with and denied privilege and power. Our obsession with the Great American Novel is perhaps evidence of the even greater truth that it’s impossible for one to exist. As Americans, we keep looking anyway.” Cheryl Strayed and Adam Kirsch discuss the Great American Novel in this week’s New York Times Bookends. For a slightly different take, consider the 9 novels our experts chose as the Greatest American novels, from Moby-Dick to The Godfather.